Friday, February 27, 2009

Nebula Award Final Ballot

The SFWA has announced the nominees for the 2008 Nebula Awards. You know, the awards they give out in 2009 for stuff that mostly came out in 2007. Mm hmm.
(Via SF Awards Watch)

Little Brother - Cory Doctorow (Tor, Apr08)
Powers - Ursula K. Le Guin (Harcourt, Sep07)
Cauldron - Jack McDevitt (Ace, Nov07)
Brasyl - Ian McDonald (Pyr, May07)
Making Money - Terry Pratchett (Harper, Sep07)
Superpowers - David J. Schwartz (Three Rivers Press, Jun08)

“The Spacetime Pool” - Catherine Asaro (Analog, Mar08)
“Dark Heaven” - Gregory Benford (Alien Crimes, Resnick, Mike, Ed., SFBC, Jan07)
“Dangerous Space” - Kelley Eskridge (Dangerous Space, Aqueduct Press, Jun07)
"The Political Prisoner” - Charles Coleman Finlay (F&SF, Aug08)
“The Duke in His Castle” - Vera Nazarian (Norilana Books, Jun08)

“If Angels Fight” - Richard Bowes (F&SF, Feb08)
"The Ray-Gun: A Love Story" - James Alan Gardner (Asimov's, Feb08)
“Dark Rooms” - Lisa Goldstein (Asimov’s, Oct/Nov 07)
“Pride and Prometheus” - John Kessel (F&SF, Jan08)
“Night Wind” - Mary Rosenblum (Lace and Blade, ed. Deborah J. Ross, Norilana Books, Feb08)
“Baby Doll” - Johanna Sinisalo (The SFWA European Hall of Fame, James Morrow & Kathryn Morrow, Ed., Tor, Jun07 )
“Kaleidoscope” - K.D. Wentworth (F&SF, May07)

Short Stories
“The Button Bin” - Mike Allen (Helix: A Speculative Fiction Quarterly, Oct07)
“The Dreaming Wind” - Jeffrey Ford (The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, Ed., Viking, Jul07)
“Trophy Wives” - Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Fellowship Fantastic, ed. Greenberg and Hughes, Daw Jan08)
“26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” - Kij Johnson (Asimov’s, Jul08)
“The Tomb Wife” - Gwyneth Jones (F&SF, Aug07)
“Don’t Stop” - James Patrick Kelly (Asimov’s, Jun07)
"Mars: A Traveler's Guide" - Ruth Nestvold (F&SF, Jan08)

Commentary on stories and novels to come later.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

preliminary nebula nominees from Asimov's

Just in case you needed something to read, Asimov's has put up their stories on the preliminary Nebula ballot.

So, for your reading pleasure (and mine):

"The Ray-Gun: A Love Story", by James Alan Gardner
"Dark Rooms", by Lisa Goldstein
"The Prophet of Flores", by Ted Kosmatka

(I've previously read both "The Ray-Gun" and "The Prophet of Flores" and these are two good stories. Both worth checking out. "Dark Rooms" is new to me, I think)

Short Story
"Skull Valley", by Michael Cassutt
"26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss", by Kij Johnson
"Don't Stop", by James Patrick Kelly
"How Music Begins", by James Van Pelt

(I haven't read any of these, but I've read one other story from Kij Johnson and it was fantastic. James Van Pelt also had a story in Alembical which I enjoyed. I'm mixed on James Patrick Kelly. Never heard of Michael Cassutt before.)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Scenting the Dark now available for pre-order

Now, I don't think I engage in a whole lot of blatant pimpery and promotion 'round here, though I certainly might be wrong about this - but there are certain writers for whom I will.

Mary Robinette Kowal
's first collection of stories, Scenting the Dark and Other Stories, is now available for preorder at Subterranean Press.

The announcement from SubPress (with art)

Read Mary's annoucement here.

Only 500 copies. Perhaps you'd like to pre-order. Hmm?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

nothing about "The Blue Shift"

I've been reading through Spicy Slipstream Stories with the intent to post about each story as I come to it.

After reading Joe Murphy's "The Blue Shift" I found myself without anything of any substance to stay about it.

I was completely baffled by the story, something about a detective showing up at the scenes of crimes and seeing people as a woman wearing a blue shift, and then they switch back to being the people they are supposed to be. The entirety of this story was a big ol' "huh?" to me.

If I didn't think I would have run into something worth saying about the story, beyond whatever it is that I'm writing now, I would have quit on the story and moved on to the next. I persevered, but the story wasn't worth it.

I really wish I had something better to say about the story. Not necessarily more positive, but something that could analyze or explain what I found so dissatisfying.

All I've got is that I was confused from start to finish. Is that enough?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

SSS: "Sequined with a Vengeance"

Sometimes you briefly forget that titles mean something before the title slams back home after just a couple of pages. "Sequined with a Vengeance" opens backstage at a strip club with a rivalry between two of the dancers, Inari and Lily. The story centers on Lily. The first impression is that the dislike is just plain old regular dislike, until somebody mentions that the man who may have bailed Inari out of jail was Lily's man on the side, Dominic Marlowe.

There is magic, real magic, as part of the performances and even used as sniping attacks between Lily and Inari and the initial thought is that the vengeance of the title might have something to do with Lily and Inari. A page or two later gives lie to that first impression when the true recipient of Lily's long planned vengeance is revealed and Lily is shown to be far more than just a dancing moll.

This third story in Spicy Slipstream Stories continually plays with the reader's expectations. "Sequined with a Vengeance" is an ever-evolving story that evokes the pulps with dolled up dames and well dressed men who exude danger, but never rests or stops to let the reader remain comfortable. Lisa Mantchev provides reveal after reveal in a very natural way that does not distract from the story but rather enhances it. Even the big reveal at the end is less of a mind trip and more of an "aha!" moment that brings the story full circle.

In short, it's a good and pleasing story that messes with the expectation of genre and form. Much like what we should expect from Spicy Slipstream Stories.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Last Days, by Brian Evenson

Last Days
Brian Evenson
Underland Press: 2009

Mr. Kline is recruited by two men to investigate a murder, only Kline refuses to take part. Rather than have the story end in the first three pages, Kline is then abducted and coerced to conduct the investigation at the compound of a mutilation cult. Investigate or die. That’s the deal for Kline. The reason Kline was sought out is because when face with “the gentleman with the cleaver”, Kline didn’t flinch. Kline let the man take his hand, cauterized his own stump on the stove, and then shot the man through the eye using his off hand. The cult, the brotherhood, believes Kline is one of them. An amputee. A self-cauterizer.

In the terms of the brotherhood, Kline is only a “one” with only one body part amputated. Normally, if he was not a special case and a self-cauterizer, Kline would barely be allowed entrance into the brotherhood, let alone be able to speak with the higher-ups in the brotherhood (eights, and above). Even so, Kline is hampered in his investigation because he is only a “one” and those he must speak with are “eights” and “tens”. The investigation is rife with lies, misdirection, and a constant threat to his life.

Last Days is an expansion of Brian Evenson’s 2003 novella The Brotherhood of Mutilation. While I haven’t read The Brotherhood of Mutilation I believe that rather than taking the core story of the novella and making into a full length novel, Last Days the novel is simply The Brotherhood of Mutilation the novella + Last Days the novella. This is neither praise nor condemnation, but rather an acknowledgement that this is a story told in two parts. It reads as such. There are two distinct stories in Last Days, though the second ties to the first.

The jacket copy describes Last Days as “intense and profoundly unsettling” and “a down-the-rabbit-hole detective novel set in an underground religious cult”. Last Days is, in fact, intense and profoundly unsettling. Last Days is downright disturbing. The mental images Evenson creates simply by having a cult which takes pride in amputating body parts, places respect for the more parts removed, is deeply unsettling. The obsession of the brotherhood, the extremes to which they will go for their identity…well, it’s what drives the novel. Not the investigation. The investigation is a side show.

The prose is reminiscent of a more twisted Don DeLillo. DeLillo never wrote about people who dismember themselves, but the dialogue, the manner of description Evenson uses. There are echoes of DeLillo.

“Look at you,” said Torn-Lip. “Do you want to die in bed?”
“You don’t want to die in bed,” said Low Voice.
“We’re here to save you,” said Torn-Lip.
“I don’t want to be saved,” said Kline.
“He doesn’t want to be saved,” said Low Voice.
Pg 7

The cadence of the conversation, of the questions, answers, and non answers – it flows well and moves right into the description of Kline’s circumstances. The rhythms may be DeLillo, but the story is all Evenson.

Last Days the novella continues the story of The Brotherhood of Mutilation, but it goes off in a different direction and has a different tone. It is a natural follow up to The Brotherhood of Mutilation.

It should probably go without saying that Last Days is not a novel for everybody. This a bloody and gruesome novel, filled with violence and profane language. This is an impressive work of imagination, creative in its use of violence and mutilation. Kline is single minded in his will to survive and Evenson does well in putting together a compelling narrative that drags the kicking and screaming reader along until the reader has no choice but to run and keep up. It’s quite a ride.

Reading copy provided courtesy of Underland Press.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Reminder: Blogger Book Club

Time for the one month warning: don't forget that next month is the Blogger Book Club!

We'll be reading Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and posting about it March 9 - 15. That's right, smack up against the ides of march.

Be there, or be...rectangular.

Friday, February 13, 2009

New Moon, by Stephanie Meyer

New Moon
Stephanie Meyer

What in the world am I doing writing a review of New Moon when I disliked Twilight as much as I did? Like the aftermath of a car accident, I felt compelled to slow down and gawk. It isn’t because I think that I would enjoy what I saw, but rather because I simply could not look away.

New Moon opens with a few chapters of Edward and Bella before something happens and Edward elects to leave Falls never to return, telling Bella that he doesn't love her and it will be as if he never existed. This throws Bella into a major funk until she re-strikes up her friendship with Jacob.

The real point of New Moon seems to be an excuse to expand Jacob Black as a character and as a potential love interest for Bella Swan, our almost plucky heroine. New Moon, like Twilight, is still told from the third person perspective of Bella, but gives Jacob a much larger role than he had in Twilight. Astute readers will remember a brief story Jacob told early in Twilight regarding the members of his reservation, lycanthropes, and their hatred of the “cold ones”. The “cold ones” are the vampires, and the reader was left to suspect that Jacob and his tribe at La Push are werewolves. New Moon answers any question that may have been lingering and yes, Jacob is a werewolf. Like the vampire legends, the truth about werewolves is not the same as the lore. Happily, no werewolves sparkle in the sunlight. I’m not sure if I had the stomach for that.

Given my stated position about Twilight and the Bella / Edward relationship I was told that I would like New Moon much, much more than I did Twilight. I would become a member of Team Jacob because he treats Bella better and lets her do anything she wants.

Yeah. That’s not entirely true.

The truth is I was initially irritated by the fact that Bella was 18 and Jacob 16 if I was intended to take seriously any potential romantic relationship between the two. Such a relationship is possible, but unlikely. A senior girl and a sophomore boy? Not likely. Stephanie Meyer makes a point to show just how much Bella enjoys Jacob’s company (I buy this) and that he acts with more maturity than his age (I’ll grant this). Bella and Jacob play a game which they come up with their “real” ages based on how they act and what they can do, and Jacob is said to be “older” than Bella. I can see the game, and Bella acting with less emotional maturity than her actual age (despite being capable of otherwise taking care of her father), but the entire time the burgeoning relationship was a stretch.

The other reason for the stretch was that Stephanie Meyer seemed to be playing a heavy-handed allusion to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Edward and Bella talk about the play early on. Later Bella thinks repeatedly about the play, and at one point flatly places herself as Juliet, Jacob as Paris, and Edward as Romeo. This is not subtle. This is a very large hammer.

Oh, and while I'm thinking about it, let's get back to my moral issue of the Edward / Bella almost-abusive relationship. Now, Jacob can be considered a good boy up until he becomes a werewolf (puberty?). After which, the big concern about the werewolves is that once they get mad they will get uncontrollably violent. Hence Emily Young's disfigured face. So, the implication is - and this is the fear of the vampires regarding werewolves - that if Jacob gets mad HE will hurt Bella in the future. So, the otherwise normal and potentially healthy relationship Bella has a chance at? Yeah, that one too is a potential abusive relationship for Bella. Girl can't catch a break and the story answer to this would be "but he can't help it that she makes him mad."

I've got a seriously unhealthy level of disgust for the portrayal of Bella Swan and both of her potential relationships in this series.

The major issue I have, is that New Moon is simply not a very good book (despite wasting all these words on it). There are no glaringly offensive passages such as the "incandescently sculpted chest" from Twilight, though Edward's late declaration of love is borderline hideous. It's just...not...good. The R&J hammer just drives the nail through the heart of the book. The borderline-suicide fantasies of Edward and Bella...ugh.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

SSS: "Heroes Welcome"

I had to remind myself of what the editors said in the introduction.

Spicy Slipstream Stories was born of two things - a burning desire to make fun of all things 'slipstream', and a love of the occasional brilliant line that bubbled out of the classic pulp tales of the first part of the last century. pg 10

See, John Bowker's "Heroes Welcome" opens as an obnoxious pulp story with a hyper-masculine James Carter having a post-coital cigarette in the breeze of the open door of a plane. When the woman wakes and tells him no man ever made her feel like that before, Carter quickly puts a parachute on her and pushes her out of the plane.

My disgust was evident from the start. So, like I said, I had to remind myself of what I only hoped Bowker was doing here. The story opens with all sorts of pulp absurdity like Carter saving the plane as it crashes, having sex with all sorts of women who are also on randomly deserted island, and all in all talking serious hero smack.

Then the story turns with the introduction of an independant woman named Rose who doesn't think the world revolves around Carter and has her own ideas as to how to get off the island. It's not that things get better for Rose, but things get progressively worse for Carter as the hero-worship wears thin.


I don't know. Intellectually (or, as intellectual as I get), I like what Bowker does with "Heroes Welcome" and how he turns the whole thing on Carter and gives the man comeuppance. That's great.

I never could exactly get past my opening disgust even though I knew, more or less, where the story was going. I should be able to accept the absurdity of the story and and there was no chance Mamatas and Lake would have bought a straight pulp tale that doesn't turn the conventions of pulp tales, but "Heroes Welcome" still doesn't work for me. I understand what the story is doing and why. It just wasn't enough.

"Heroes Welcome" isn't my kind of story.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow
Mary Doria Russell

The thing about The Sparrow is that from the very beginning that the mission is doomed to fail, even before we know what the mission is. Father Emilio Sandoz, Jesuit priest, will be the only survivor of a mission to Rakhat. Before we know who will accompany Father Sandoz, or why, we know they don’t survive. This is, of course, and automatic interest piquer. What happened? What could leave Father Sandoz an utterly broken man?

And what does the title mean? I don’t often wonder about titles, but I wondered about this one.

Mary Doria Russell tells two stories in The Sparrow. What I consider to be the primary story is the aftermath, when Emilio Sandoz has returned to Earth from Rakhat in 2060 and is dealing with what happened. In the Aftermath, the reader is never given the perspective of Father Sandoz. The perspective the reader has, which is a limited third person perspective, is of the other senior Jesuit priests as they gently (mostly) probe Father Sandoz and also try to heal the man from his ordeal. When I called Father Sandoz “an utterly broken man” the description was regarding his emotional state, but Emilio Sandoz was also left without the ability to use his hands. He was physically broken on Rakhat. Throughout the novel the reader gets deeper and deeper into what happened. Early on, though Sandoz is not forthcoming, one set of assumptions can be made regarding what took place on Rakhat. Almost without exception, whatever that first assumption is, it’ll be wrong.

The secondary story is the gathering of the “fellowship”, the discovery of Rakhat, the travel to the planet, and what happens on the ground. I consider this to be the secondary story simply because I found it less interesting than that of the emotionally broken Sandoz. This story introduces all the primary characters of the novel – the ones fated to join Sandoz on the mission to Rakhat and thus ultimately doomed. What we don’t know from the start is how.

One might think that with foreknowledge that everything ends in disaster and scandal and misery that The Sparrow would be a gloomy book. It’s not. Even knowing from the start how Sandoz ends up, so much of The Sparrow feels borderline triumphant and filled with grace. The continual switching of time from “past” to “present” reminds the reader that any feeling of triumph or grace should be tempered with the understanding of how it all ends, but the feeling persists.

The thing is, The Sparrow is a beautiful and painful story. Perhaps knowing how the mission ends before it begins is part of what makes the doom bearable. The loss and death and failures are still shocking, but not unexpected. How can they be? The beauty and the grace and the pain is in the telling. Russell tells it well.

The Sparrow is an emotional novel. Mary Doria Russell does a masterful job unfolding the story and allows the reader to care for characters she states up front are doomed. The novel demands an emotional response. I most appreciate the emotional response The Sparrow evoked when I read the novel.

This brings us back to the title. The Sparrow. Given that the novel prominently features Jesuits, and thus Christianity, the use of the word “sparrow” immediately brings to mind the song “his eye is on the sparrow and I know he is watching me”. It also is an affirmation that God knows everything that occurs, that not even a sparrow falls without God seeing. The real question is whether The Sparrow, the novel, is condemnation or affirmation of that belief. Ultimately it is neither. It depends on perspective, on who is looking and who is judging. It also leads to this passage, late in the novel:
"Matthew ten, verse twenty-nine," Vincenzo Guiliani said quietly. " 'Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your father knowing it' "

"But the sparrow still falls," Felipe said.
-pg 401

Normally I would not include that quote because it speaks to the ultimate theme of the novel, but it does so after more than 300 pages of discovery and revelation. I include the quote because if we think about it, we know the sparrow falls from the beginning of the novel. The mission to Rakhat is doomed with only one survivor, a Jesuit priest now disgraced in the public eye because of the nature of his fall. The sparrow still falls.

But oh, what a fall.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Mary Robinette Kowal sells Shades of Milk and Honey

Mary Robinette Kowal, she of the Campbell Tiara, has just recently sold her first novel Shades of Milk and Honey to Tor.

The elevator pitch for Shades of Milk and Honey is "Jane Austen with magic".

If you don't know that I very much like Mary's work, well, you've been reading someone else's blog.

What makes this even's a two book deal. Mary's editor will be the same one who works with Cherie Priest's novels (which shows just how good the editor's taste is).

And the icing - as I previously mentioned, Mary has her first story collection, a chapbook, coming out from Subterranean Press later this year.

Its, uh, been a really good year for Mary Robinette Kowal.

Congrats, Mary, can't wait to read it!

And to readers of this blog - you haven't heard the last of this here.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Shadow Rising, by Robert Jordan

The Shadow Rising
Robert Jordan

Robert Jordan concluded The Dragon Reborn with Rand Al’Thor holding the Stone of Tear and the crystalline sword Callandor, the sword that is not a sword. Taking the sword and holding the stone were the two primary signs to the world that Rand was, in fact, the Dragon Reborn. The surprise was the desert dwelling warrior Aiel helped Rand take Tear, believing he may be their Car’a’carn, one spoken of in their prophecies the same way the Dragon Reborn is spoken of, except that the Aiel actively search for their Car’a’carn and the Dragon Reborn is dreaded.

The Shadow Rising deals with the fallout of Rand taking Tear. The novel opens with stagnation, with Rand refusing to act (much to Moiraine’s frustration), but after a couple hundred pages (really) Robert Jordan begins to move the action. Perrin returns to the Two Rivers to protect his home and his people. Rand travels with the Aiel to Rhuidian, though he may not know exactly why. Mat, too. Moiraine and Egwene follow, Egwene to study with the Aiel Wise Women to learn more of being a Dreamwalker.

I can grant the argument some readers may make about the opening stagnation, but even there Jordan lays out some fascinating stuff. Weird things occur to Rand, Mat, and Perrin. They are each randomly attacked – Rand by his reflection, Perrin by his axe, and Mat by playing cards. Jordan pulls it off, though when written down in a single sentence it may not sound very thrilling or dangerous, but this is evil tainted and well done. Lanfear makes another appearance, telling Rand that he will need to learn to control saidin or the other Forsaken may destroy him…and that Rand needs a teacher, a male Forsaken to teach him. Rand and Mat each step through a ter’angreal leading to the world of the aelfinn, weird creatures talking in riddles.

Mat is told that his fate is “to marry the Daughter of the Nine Moons”, “to die and live again, and live once more a part of what was”, “to give up half the light of the world to save the world”. Just in case anyone thought that Mat might NOT be important…yeah, Mat is important.

See, this is part of what I like best about The Shadow Rising. Robert Jordan doles out mystery and history throughout the novel and more than his skill at storytelling, the weaving of the history and foreshadowing draws me in. If we’ve been paying attention we know already that the Court of the Nine Moons is Seanchan, though it is easy to overlook because we don’t know why those mentions in the previous two books might be important. This is why.

The main reason I am so fond of this book, though, is Rhuidian. When Rand walks through the ter’angreal rings at Rhuidian he gets to live scenes from his ancestry, scenes of the history of the Aiel, who they are and who they were. What they were. Through these sequences we get our second glimpse of the Age of Legends – before, during, and after the Breaking of the World. For me, Rhuidian is worth the price of admission. But, there is more, some of which I thought was in the next book – the uprising in the White Tower, Nynaeve besting Moghedien, Rand fighting Asmodean, Rand discovering how to Travel, Slayer, Lord Perrin, more.

The Shadow Rising is ultimately an uneven book. There are long, long passages with little of note occurring and we may well feel that we’re just waiting for the next major set piece to come up, but at the same time Robert Jordan’s world is an old friend and though this is the fourth book in the series Jordan delivers several major events that continue to build towards something potentially very big. Jordan has not yet hit the wall, and while The Shadow Rising is a bit slower than I remembered, there was also more goodness than I remembered.

Nynaeve Braid Tug Count
The Eye of the World: 0
The Great Hunt: 0
The Dragon Reborn: 8
The Shadow Rising: 1

Okay, giving The Shadow Rising a braid-tug count of 1 is an arguable position but I feel confident about it. There are several moments throughout the novel where Nynaeve grabs her braid or holds her braid, but only the one tug that I noticed. Nynaeve “gripped the end in her fist” on page 85 and “gripped her braid hard” on page 90. The braids don’t make another appearance (that I noticed) until page 586 where Elayne observes that Nynaeve “seemed to have given up trying to pull at those braids when she was angry.” It is only on page 596 that Nynaeve tugs her braid for the first time in the novel. It is unclear if there are multiple tugs in this passage or just one, so I’m going with a count of 1 for The Shadow Rising. So far the braid tugging doesn’t seem overwhelming, with only 9 total tugs over the 2000+ pages of text.

Previous Reviews
The Eye of the World
The Great Hunt
The Dragon Reborn

Friday, February 06, 2009

January 2009 Reading

Here's the final list for what I read in January 2009. Links are to the reviews.

1. Wild Space – Karen Miller
2. After the Downfall – Harry Turtledove (link is to the Sacramento Book Review)
3. The Seeing Stone – Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi
4. Fathom – Cherie Priest
5. Alembical – Lawrence Schoen and Arthur Dorrance (editors)
6. Soldiers Live – Glen Cook
7. A Companion to Wolves – Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
8. The Somnambulist – Jonathan Barnes
9. Last Argument of Kings – Joe Abercrombie
10. Peeps – Scott Westerfeld

Graphic Novels
1. After 9/11 – Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon
2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season Eight: Wolves at the Gate – Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon
3. Uptown Girl: Begin the Begin – Bob Lipski
4. Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 – David Petersen
5. Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft – Joe Hill

This was a good month. There are three books I would consider Best of Year candidates: Fathom, A Companion to Wolves, and Last Argument of Kings.

Nothing is really bad, nothing I want to point as as a Worst of the Year candidate (or even a Worst of the Month candidate).

There were some happy discoveries: Uptown Girl, Mouse Guard, Locke and Key. There was re-familiarizing with excellent authors and excellent series. The Somnambulist was crazy. There was good reading.

This was a good month.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

passage from The Sparrow

I've been reading Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow on my lunch breaks at work. I'm not sure if I'm going to write up a review on this or not, but I came across this passage about love that I really like. There is very much a place for this passage in the novel and it is appropriate to both characters involved.

It's also a beautiful passage in general. The topic is something I've been thinking about a lot lately.

She waited to see if he had more but when he fell silent, she decided to take a shot in the dark. “You know what’s the most terrifying thing about admitting that you’re in love?” she asked him. “You are just naked. You put yourself in harm’s way and you lay down all your defenses. No clothes, no weapons. Nowhere to hide. Completely vulnerable. The only thing that makes it tolerable is to believe the other person loves you back and that you can trust him not to hurt you.”
-pg 179

Regardless. Just wanted to share this one.

Sacramento Book Review: February 2009

My review of Harry Turledove's After the Downfall has been published in the February issue of Sacramento Book Review.

The link on "February Issue" is to the PDF.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Peeps, by Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld
Razorbill: 2005

Scott Westerfeld is probably best known for his four volume YA Uglies series, but he has also written a handful of other YA novels. I figured the man who could do such a great job with Uglies could be trusted with a vampire novel. After all, it had to be better than Twilight. This brings me to Peeps.

When we meet Cal he has been hunting his ex-girlfriend Sarah. Sarah is infected with some disease, some parasite, something that makes Cal label her a “peep”. Westerfeld takes a bit of time getting to it, but Sarah, and other peeps, are vampires. Only it’s not exactly what vampire lore tells us. I won’t get into the mechanics of what Westerfeld’s vampirism is, except to say that Scott Westerfeld is both true to the history of vampire legends as well as true to what could be a semi-plausible science. I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Most peeps (parasite positive) become semi-mindless animals, existing only to hunt, kill, and infect more humans. Most peeps. Some peeps, like Cal, get all the benefits of the parasite (increased strength, vision, reflexes, longer lives, etc) with few of the drawbacks. In fact, the only real drawback is that Cal is contagious. This limits the social / romantic possibilities for a normal 19 year old male who would infect with just a kiss. Regardless, those peeps who are otherwise human are recruited into the Night Watch to hunt down the nasty peeps. Cal hunts Sarah (whom Cal infected), and later Morgan (who infected Cal). By doing so Cal discovers more secrets about what being a peep means and the larger (under)world of peeps.

It’s good stuff.

Westerfeld could tell the story straight and probably have an interesting novel. Rather than telling the story straight Westerfeld instead alternates Cal’s chapters with brief chapters discussing a variety of real world parasistes in gory (yet entertaining) detail . This accomplishes two things. First, it grounds Peeps into a more realistic setting where there are parasites already infect humans (and everything else). In this world, our world, the evolution of a parasite that might do something like the peep parasite doesn’t seem so extraordinary. After all, what might this parasite be but a variety of rabies? Or something else that humanity has experienced in real life. Second, the parasite chapters tells a dual story in Peeps, building to a conclusion that in entirely intertwined with that of Cal.

Scott Westerfeld is slick that way.

While not quite as instantly and deeply engaging as the Uglies series, Peeps is still the compelling and easy reading story one should expect form Scott Westerfeld. He builds tension and interest in his narrative with each passing chapter and each small reveal as he slowly tears the canvass wide open and shows the larger story hiding underneath.

Peeps is a vampire novel, but it really doesn’t have to be. It’s a novel about a young man trying to hunt down and capture (not kill) people infected with a virus that the public can’t know about. It’s also a vampire novel, but not in any sort of cliché manner. It’s well done and worth a look. I suspect everything from Scott Westerfeld is worth a look. I’ve read five of his novels so far and each has been quite good.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Last Argument of Kings, by Joe Abercrombie

Last Argument of Kings
Joe Abercrombie
Pyr: 2008

With his concluding volume in The First Law trilogy, Joe Abercrombie brings his major characters back together in Adua once again, if only to give them a moment to regroup before Abercrombie spins them all off in unexpected ways. After the failure of a months long quest to distant ends of the known world, Bayaz returns to Adua with Logen Ninefingers, Jezal Luthar, Ferro, and a couple of other far less important characters. The quest was to find some mystical artifact called “The Seed”, though nobody other than Bayaz seemed to have a clue as to what that might be.

No sooner do they arrive back in Adua that Bayaz begins some sort of game with Jezal dan Luthar’s future, publically proclaiming Jezal to be a hero and a great warrior despite the fact that Jezal is nothing more than a young man only just starting to mature into a better man. Logen Ninefingers, known as the Bloody Nine, rejoins the group of Northmen fighting alongside the Union against the invading army of Bethod’s Northmen. Logen has been escaping his reputation on Bayaz’s quest, but back among men who have reason to hate and fear him Logen’s homecoming can be nothing more than an epic battle. The crippled Superior Glotka continues to serve Arch Lector Sult as Inquisitor and Torturer, and the return of Bayaz and company is about to upset the balance in Adua even as the Open Council prepares to elect a new King.

That’s just the part that came before, the set up for the story. Prologue, if you will. There is only a brief pause before Abercrombie gives each of the major characters everything they thought they might have wanted. Except, everything each character might have imagined turns out nothing like they would have expected.

This is where Abercrombie excels, in creating characters the reader can care enough about that when Abercrombie brings the pain and the nasty, the reader can’t help but be fully engaged. Make no mistake, Abercrombie brings the pain and the nasty. Abercrombie excels at pain and nasty and Last Argument of Kings is chock full of pain and nasty. This is Abercrombie’s wheelhouse.

Several things are done very well here. The first, and most obvious is the battle sequences in the north. The general fighting sequences are done well, but the blood-lusts of the Bloody Nine are something else, and how Abercrombie describes both the fighting and the blood-lust is exceptional. It is not that the reader feels as if he (or she) is there in the battle, but we can feel it and almost see the madness. Almost.

The second thing done very well is even when describing the unbelievable (Jezal’s ascension, for example), Abercrombie somehow makes the character development realistic. Sure, Glotka never really changes, but Jezal does and while there is a hint of a the farmboy-fantasy development to Jezal, it is not at all the same. Abercrombie twists even that convention of the genre, playing with it and then playing it false. All is not as it seems and Jezal does the best he can with it, but Jezal is not Belgarion of Riva. This is not the average ascension. Abercrombie makes even this work. The rest of the characters…well…they’re men and women grown. They don’t change so much as adapt and play out their natures. Logen attempts to develop, but circumstances forces him to what he knows best. Glotka just gets by, delightfully nasty as he is.

The only thing in Last Argument of Kings that feels almost false is something that comes across as a villain’s cliché speech explaining the reasons why. The speech itself doesn’t play well, but what follows is excellent. On one hand, there is no clear answer if the speechmaker is a villain. He may just be a puppetmaster with no clear cut good or evil. On the other hand, even if it is a false note played by Abercrombie, it is only one false note followed by awesomely brutal destruction.

That’s the key in this novel and the entire series, it is brutal. Bad things happen to good people and many of the “bad guys” really don’t get what they deserve. Late in the novel Glotka says “I don’t deserve this”, but the only answer given him is “No one gets what they deserve.” Last Argument of Kings is not about the righteous. In Abercrombie’s world none are righteous. Nobody gets what they deserve, except perhaps, the reader. The reader deserves the brutality told in such an entertaining way. It’s nasty, but that’s why we read Abercrombie, for the pain and the nasty and the humor laced through all of it.

For all the ramble of this review, I’m not sure I’ve truly covered what I wanted to cover or done Last Argument of Kings justice. The deal is, this is a damn fine book and one of the best conclusions to a trilogy I have had the pleasure to read. The last chapter, “The Beginning”, is fitting since the trilogy opened with a chapter titled “The End”. The events in “The Beginning” mirror those of “The End”, suggesting that we are only jumping into the middle of a larger story, that there is neither beginning nor end, not for these characters (or anyone else). Even now I ramble. Rather than prolong this, a simple “Well done, Mr. Abercrombie” and a “thank you” will have to suffice. The First Law is one hell of a ride and one that doesn’t relent from start to finish. It’s a damn fine novel.

Previous Reviews
The Blade Itself
Before They Are Hanged

Sunday, February 01, 2009

January 2009: Short Stories Read

1. “Keep Calm and Carillon”, by Genevieve Valentine (Farrago’s Wainscot, Issue 9, Jan 2009)
2. “Tanglefoot (A Story of the Clockwork Century)”, by Cherie Priest (Subterranean, Fall 2008)
3. “America, Such as She Is”, by Jay Lake (Alembical, 2008)
4. “13 Miles to Paradise!”, by Bruce Taylor (Alembical, 2008)
5. “Harvest”, by James Van Pelt (Alembical, 2008)
6. “Errata”, by Jeff VanderMeer (, Jan 2009)
7. “Now You See Us”, by Ray Vukcevich (Alembical, 2008)

The four links to the Alembical stories are to my reviews, the other three links are to the actual stories. I should probably be more consistent with that, huh?

The two stories worth paying extra attention to are Cherie Priest's "Tanglefoot" and Jay Lake's "America, Such as She Is". I tend to like Cherie's novel length work, and "Tanglefoot" is shares a setting with her forthcoming Boneshaker. "Tanglefoot" both whets the appetite for more, and satisfies as a story.

I've previously written about "America, Such as She Is" (see link above), and what I said then stands. This is a damn fine story and will hopefully be recognized later this year for major awards.