Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thoughts on 2009 World Fantasy Award Nominees: Novella

“Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel”, Peter S. Beagle (Strange Roads)
“If Angels Fight”, Richard Bowes (F&SF 2/08)
“The Overseer”, Albert Cowdrey (F&SF 3/08)
Odd and the Frost Giants, Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury; HarperCollins)
“Good Boy”, Nisi Shawl (Filter House)

Now it is time to look at the Novella nominees for the World Fantasy Award.

My thoughts on “If Angels Fight”: The story consists of the search for Mark Bannon, a long dead scion of a major political family...a man who the narrator has been able to find over the years, even though Mark really is dead. That would be impossible to explain. My main problem, though, is that every step of the search results in long digressions about that new person meeting Mark. It becomes tedious because there is no core story, just digressions. For me, the digressions don't work.

My thoughts on “Good Boy”: Regarding “Good Boy”…honestly, I don’t know. It’s a blending of tribal spiritual practices, computers, biology. It deals with medicine’s inability to cure a malady in a time and setting where futuristic medicine is quite powerful, and that older traditions may be able to cure the malady. It’s about mothers and daughters. It was good, but unremarkable. From reading Filter House, that is also the overall impression I have with Shawl’s fiction, which also suggests that as accomplished as Nisi Shawl is as a writer, her stories so far just do not work for me. No harm. No foul.

“Odd and the Frost Giants”: Originally published in the UK for World Book Day, “Odd and the Frost Giants” is a weaker entry from Neil Gaiman, especially in a year that we have the inevitable comparison of a YA novella to The Graveyard Book (or even just to the previously published “The Witch’s Headstone”). Most stories would come up wanting in such a comparison. “Odd and the Frost Giants” may be aimed at a slightly younger audience than The Graveyard Book is and that may explain some of the over-simplistic storytelling here. Odd is a young boy who doesn’t quite fit in, is not well liked by his step father (as is the case in many a story of this sort), and prefers to spend time by himself out in the woods. When he frees a bear’s paw Odd finds himself among exiled Norse gods and in an adventure he could scarcely have imagined. It’s an adventure that would change him forever. On one hand, “Odd and the Frost Giants” is a solid story for younger readers that can also be appreciated by older readers. On the other hand, it’s not *that* good. It’s a perfectly decent story and parents should feel at ease giving this to their kids to read. It’s a good story and age appropriate. It’s just not award-level work. Not this award.

I rank this above “If Angels Fight” and “Good Boy” simply because of an enjoyment factor that so significantly trumps those two stories that I can’t drop this one down farther.

My thoughts on “The Overseer”: “The Overseer” did not grip me from the start, but the deeper we got into the history of Lerner and the betrayals and the nastiness, the more engaged I became. Every notable character in this story, save two of them, is a fairly despicable human being. They aren’t good people, but watching the haunting and the paranoia unfold is a pleasure for this story.

My thoughts on “Uncle Chaim and Aunt Rifke and the Angel”
: There is nothing flash here, but we are left with something quite wonderful in the end. A story of grace and power and beauty, a story that ends just when it needed to and leaves the reader satisfied.

This was a disappointing category with only one true standout. If I had anything to say about it, which I do not, this award would go to Peter Beagle's story. I don't know if it will because "Good Boy" will likely offer a strong challenge. Hopefully the award will go to Beagle.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Thoughts on 2009 World Fantasy Award Nominees: Short Story

“Caverns of Mystery”, Kage Baker (Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy)
26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”, Kij Johnson (Asimov’s 7/08)
“Pride and Prometheus”, John Kessel (F&SF 1/08)
“Our Man in the Sudan”, Sarah Pinborough (The Second Humdrumming Book of Horror Stories)
A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica”, Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld 5/08)

Welcome to the first of the World Fantasy Award coverage posts. I’m going to take a look at the Short Story category today. If this is your first time reading one of my award wrap-ups, welcome. I list the stories out in reverse order of my esteem for them. The first story listed is, relatively speaking, in the place of dishonor. This year that dishonor goes to…

“Pride and Prometheus”.

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

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

My thoughts on "Caverns of Mystery": The story features Baker's usual quietly graceful writing. Seldom is Baker ever flashy in her storytelling, but "Caverns of Mystery" fails to deliver...well, mystery, or wonder, or anything to compel readers to want to commit to the story. Obviously that statement cannot be entirely true given the World Fantasy Award nomination, but "Caverns of Mystery" isn't even the best story in Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy, let alone one of the best five fantasy stories of 2008.

The struggle here is how to articulate this. "Caverns of Mystery" isn't bad, it's just ordinary. It's the sort of story that if I wasn't trying to talk about the World Fantasy Award nominations, or of it was not nominated (which it shouldn't have been), I would never have mentioned the story at all. It's just a story. Competent. Well written. Ordinary. Slightly boring.

My thoughts on "A Buyer's Guide to Maps of Antarctica"
: “A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of Antarctica” has been recognized and praised by many and is being reprinted in Best of the Year anthologies, and the story deserves that praise. On its surface it is not a straightforward narrative going from Point A to Point B, but in a sense, it does. It features a hero, a villain, a conflict, and a resolution. Valente just tells the story in a non-traditional manner, one which serves the emotions of the story in a more authentic manner. The story works.

My thoughts on “Our Man in the Sudan”: The deeper level of spookiness that pervades the story, beyond what Stephen Jones said about it, is that for so much of the story the reader never knows what happened to Cartwright. The death is written off as just a death, but Fanshawe has very strange messages from Cartwright prior to his death. It’s that feeling of knowing something is around the corner, but you don’t know exactly what.

At the very least “Our Man in the Sudan” is a fascinating look at the environs of Khartoum, but there is more than that. There is atmosphere and there is *something* going on. There are hints of what it is, but Pinborough never comes right out and tells the reader. That’s okay, because the story works.

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

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

Sarah Pinborough’s story was an excellent one and well worth the nomination, but I’ve been enamored with “26 Monkeys” since it was nominated for the Nebula earlier this year. It’s just one of those stories that connected with me and grabbed me and didn’t let go. With that said, I have a feeling “Our Man in the Sudan” will win this award. I would much prefer if the John Kessel or the Kage Baker stories fail to win the award, and I don’t have a problem with Catherynne Valente winning, but if I was on the jury this would be a two horse race between Sarah Pinborough and Kij Johnson. You can’t go wrong with either.

Stuff: 10/30 Edition

I've been meaning to listen to this for a while but The Sofanauts has a podcast regarding the state of Asimov's Magazine. Participants are Jeff VanderMeer, Sheila Williams (the editor of Asimov's), Jeremy Tolbert, and Brian Bieniowski.

Elizabeth Bear has posted the first chapter of her new novel By the Mountain Bound. It's in three Parts. One, Two, and Three.

The Amazon Blog is counting down the Top 100 books of the year.

Publisher's Weekly reveals their Top 10.

No, you're not getting my list until the end of the year. Geez.

Carrie Vaughn announces there are four more Kitty Norville books forthcoming
: three novels and a short story collection. Woo to the hoo!

Pat gets cranky about the state of SFF fandom. Personally, I think he's at least partially cracked. I don't see it the way he does.

Oh, and here's a bunch of reviews of The Gathering Storm. Mine is coming next week.
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
Neth Space
OF Blog of the Fallen
The Wertzone
Grasping for the Wind

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Knife of Dreams, by Robert Jordan

Knife of Dreams
Robert Jordan
Tor: 2005

With Knife of Dreams Robert Jordan picks up the relatively glacial pacing of the previous two to three novels (the cleansing notwithstanding) and begins to move the characters to a point where readers can reasonably say that an end is in sight. Even if that end is still one large novel told in three volumes away. To be fair, while Knife of Dreams reads faster than the previous volumes we shouldn’t assume that what we have is anything like the first four novels in the series. This is still a novel in which characters wait around for things to happen and Elayne still spends much of the novel trying to maneuver herself onto the throne of Andor while her rivals besiege Caemlyn. That said, there is much to like here.

One of the freshest storylines in Knife of Dreams is that of Egwene al’Vere. Egwene is the rebel Amyrlin Seat and, at the end of Crossroads of Twilight, was captured by the Aes Sedai of the White Tower after partially blocking the harbor. Though she is prisoner, Egwene decides to act as the Amyrlin she knows herself to be and allow her actions and words to slowly bring about change inside the White Tower and be a quiet pocket of resistance. She receives regular beatings as penances, but never wavers in her stance and gradually, over a period of two weeks (or so) begins to see results.

The Egwene chapters are some of the most effective and most interesting in the novel. Egwene in the White Tower gives a true comparison in how things have changed since she was first a novice and also a stark demonstration of the growth and maturity Egwene has experienced over the year(s) from when she first left Emond’s Field to now. As much as any other character, Egwene is a far different woman than the girl who we met in The Eye of the World, and her quiet leadership in Knife of Dreams is a storyline which promises to have as much impact on the world as anything Rand or the Seanchan do. Plus, Egwene’s determination is just compelling storytelling that gets beyond the regular machinations of the Aes Sedai in Salidar or the Tower itself.

My Noal Charin watch continues and for the first time Mat asks Noal straight out if he was Jain Farstrider. Noal reluctantly admits that Jain was a cousin, but given how Robert Jordan has set all this up, there’s no reason to actually believe that. Tuon’s presence here allows her to ask a question nobody else would have, which is asking who Jain Farstrider was. Everyone from the Randland side of the ocean would have already known. But, this lets an outsider ask the question and Noal answer. His answer is revealing.

“He was a fool,” Noal said grimly before Mat could open his mouth, though Olver did get his open and left it gaping while the old man continued. “He went gallivanting about the world and left a good and loving wife to die of a fever without him there to hold her hand while she died. He let himself be made into a tool by---“ Abrubtly Noal’s face went blank. Staring through Mat, he rubbed at his forehead as though attempting to recall something.

Young Olver is a huge fan of Jain Farstrider comes to Jain’s defense and reminds Noal of of some of the great things Jain did.

Noal came to himself with a start and patted Olver’s shoulder. “He did that, boy. That much is to his credit. But what adventure is worth leaving your wife to die alone?” He sounded sad enough to die on the spot himself.

This may not be the heart of the novel or the series, but the Noal Charin / Jain Farstrider bits are some which add so much richness to the history and shape of the world and story. It also provides something to wonder about. If Noal really is Jain Farstrider as an old man, what happened to him? The most common theories is that he ran afoul of the Shadow at some point and was captured by either Graendal or Ishamael and was left a broken man. But, the question is whether Noal can be considered a potential sleeper agent with a hidden compulsion. Probably not, but just maybe. It’s worth wondering about.

Another interesting thing around is the storyline is Mat with Aludra the Illuminator and what appears to be the introduction of gunpowder and artillery cannon to the world. How will this change things and can it be accelerated enough to make a difference in the Last Battle? Between Aludra’s cannon and the inventions created as a result of Rand’s school, the world is about to undergo its first technological revolution since the Breaking some three thousand years ago. Rand’s got people inventing “steam wagons”, which is an early version of cars / trains.

Now, Knife of Dreams has a solid focus on Perrin and a couple of climactic battles near the end of the novel and it features the resolution to the Faile kidnapping story (finally!), but more than anything else, what people will take from this novel is the letter from Moiraine to Thom and the confirmation of what many people were guessing for years: Moiraine isn’t dead. She needs rescuing. Hell yeah.

For me, The Wheel of Time has always been about the little things more than the big story arcs. It gets me through the times when the major story arcs had slowed to a crawl and it adds richness to the times when Jordan is absolutely nailing the major story arcs. Knife of Dreams succeeds as well as it does because of those smaller moments as well as the battles (also finally, another Trolloc battle here). The Ogier. Nynaeve beginning to rally the Borderlands so that Lan won’t ride alone. Steamwagons. The changing corridors and the loosening of the pattern. The detail about the Amayar. Rand briefly seeing “black flecks” in his vision, which makes me wonder about that link to Moridin and the saa. The revelation to folks that Rand really is hearing voices. Anytime the Forsaken get together. Seriously, Knife of Dreams is a novel loaded with awesome bits to quietly thrill longtime fans of the series and reward them for their wait.

Is this a better book because the last couple weren’t quite as good? Yeah, maybe. I’m not exactly unbiased here and I can only admit that I love this series and frequently overlook flaws. But, this one is just better than Wheel of Time had been for a while and the Egwene chapters are top notch.

All that is left now is A Memory of Light, the three volume conclusion to The Wheel of Time which begins with The Gathering Storm.

Except for whenever I write about New Spring, this will be the last trip through memory lane. The Gathering Storm has been published and it is all new content from now. I have thoroughly enjoyed the re-read of the series and I’m ready to jump back into a new Wheel of Time story*.

Previous Reviews
The Eye of the World
The Great Hunt
The Dragon Reborn
The Shadow Rising
The Fires of Heaven
Lord of Chaos
A Crown of Swords
The Path of Daggers
Winter's Heart
Crossroads of Twilight

*at this point I am 300 pages into TGS.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Registration Open for Shared Worlds Teen Writing Camp

Completely ganked from Jeff VanderMeer's blog, but I think this is a very cool thing and wanted to help spread the word.

Registration is now open for the 2010 teen science fiction/fantasy writing camp Shared Worlds. Shared Worlds is a unique two-week inter-disciplinary experience on beautiful Wofford campus in Spartanburg, South Carolina. (It’s also fun!) A number of scholarships will be made available. The official sponsors of the camp include Tor Books, Wizards of the Coast LLC, and Realms of Fantasy. SF Signal and io9 have also provided support.

Instructors for 2010 will include Spiderwick Chronicles creator Holly Black, critically acclaimed YA and adult authors Kathe Koja and Marly Youmans, Nebula Award winner Michael Bishop, writer and gaming expert Will Hindmarch, and World Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer, plus Wofford College’s own Dr. Christine Dinkins, philosophy professor, and Jeremy Jones, lecturer and camp director. Artist Scott Eagle will also conduct a workshop during the camp. Although the full 2011 roster will be announced later, Shared Worlds is pleased to note that Philip K. Dick Award finalist Minister Faust and Nnedi Okorafor, winner of the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature for her novel Zahrah the Windseeker, have both accepted invitations to attend as visiting writers.

“We feel this is the only writing camp of its kind available to teens,” says Shared Worlds assistant director Jeff VanderMeer. “Not only do they learn the skills necessary to build their unique fantasy or SF worlds, which will hold them in good stead in any career they decide to pursue, but they also get expert creative writing instruction and lots of practice developing their ideas collaboratively as a member of a world-building team. As an added benefit, we take the time to conduct one-on-one sessions with each student so we have a better understanding of not only their writing but what they want to get out of the camp.”

The 2010 summer camp will be held from July 18 through July 31.

Recent highlights from the website :

* Students can register now for the 2010 camp.

* The Shared Worlds chapbook, designed by renowned designer John Coulthart and featuring a selection of student writings, can now be viewed online.

* The complete wikis for the worlds created in 2009 are now available. Students create the wikis during the two-weeks of camp.

Doxus Olum

Monday, October 26, 2009

returned and forthcoming

I'm back from a four day weekend trip to South Carolina and since I spent a fair amount of time in airports and on planes, I was able to do copious amounts of reading.

As such, I was able to finished five books.
Imaro, by Charles Saunders
Seven for a Secret, by Elizabeth Bear
Ace in the Hole, by George R. R. Martin (editor)
Jhereg, by Steven Brust
The Living Dead, by John Joseph Adams (editor)

I also expect to finish Robert Jordan's Knife of Dreams tonight. See, while I was away a little birdie dropped a copy of The Gathering Storm in my mailbox (the day I left for SC, no less), and even though I won't be reading it well before everyone else, I do plan to make a decent dent in it tonight.

I expect I may end up with one of the more gushing reviews Aidan pointed out recently. I'm a Wheel of Time fanboy at heart. This is one of the most formative series of my reading life and even the volumes that have serious flaws still provide me with hours of enjoyment. I may (or may not) notice some of the flaws which are likely in The Gathering Storm, but I will be as honest as possible in reviewing the book - which will also include a clear disclaimer of my bias. It's not going to be an impartial reading. It can't be. That's okay.

In other news, on vacation I picked up a copy of Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest. That's one of my more anticipated volumes of the year. Also, Barnes and Nobles had the two volumes of GRRM's Dreamsongs retrospective collection for $6 each. In hardcover. Yeah, I pounced on that and damn near doubled the weight of my luggage.

In terms of blogging this week, I've got a couple of ideas of how I want to proceed but nothing definite.

The World Fantasy Awards will be given out this weekend and I want do a bunch of posts about the nominees, but I'm a little behind on what I want to do. I can adequately cover the short fiction, but I don't know if I'll get The House of the Stag done before the awards are given. There's no chance to catch up on the anthologies and collections.

Otherwise, I've got a host of reviews lining up which should provide a couple weeks worth of content. After I write them, of course, but that's something to look forward to. Real content!!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Swords and Dark Magic Table of Contents

Jonathan Strahan has announced the Table of Contents for the forthcoming swords & sorcery anthology Swords and Dark Magic, edited by Strahan and Lou Anders.

1. Introduction, Lou Anders & Jonathan Strahan
2. “Goats of Glory”, Steven Erikson
3. “Tides Elba: A Tale of the Black Company”, Glen Cook
4. “Bloodsport”, Gene Wolfe
5. “The Singing Spear”, James Enge
6. “A Wizard of Wiscezan”, C.J. Cherryh
7. “A Rich Full Week”, K. J. Parker
8. “A Suitable Present for a Sorcerous Puppet”, Garth Nix
9. “Red Pearls: An Elric Story”, Michael Moorcock
10. “The Deification of Dal Bamore”, Tim Lebbon
11. “Dark Times at the Midnight Market”, Robert Silverberg
12. “The Undefiled”, Greg Keyes
13. “Dapple Hew the Tint Master”, Michael Shea
14. “In the Stacks”, Scott Lynch
15. “Two Lions, A Witch, and the War-Robe”, Tanith Lee
16. “The Sea Troll’s Daughter”, Caitlin R Kiernan
17. “Thieves of Daring”, Bill Willingham
18. “The Fool Jobs”, Joe Abercrombie

Is that an exciting list of writers? Oh...lord, yes. I discovered most of these writers in my mid to late twenties, but this is the kind of stuff I cut my fantasy-teeth on when I started reading in the genre. (more or less)


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stuff: 10/20 Edition

Galley Cat has the cover for Point Omega, the forthcoming Don DeLillo novel. Point Omega will only be 128 pages, which after reading his equally slim novel The Body Artist, doesn't exactly fill me with hope. That said, it's DeLillo.

Over at Omnivoracious, Jeff VanderMeer interviews Subterranean Press founder and publisher Bill Schaefer. SubPress is one of my favorite publishers and it's a good interview.

Classic SF Book Covers (via Genreville)

It's not final cover, but Jonathan Strahan has posted the Todd Lockwood art for his forthcoming Night Shade dragon anthology Wings of Fire

I'm behind on posting (and writing) reviews, but in the next few weeks I've got some stuff planned (but not written). If all goes well, we should see reviews of:
Odd and the Frost Giants, by Neil Gaiman
Chasing the Dragon, by Justina Robson
Burn Me Deadly, by Alex Bledsoe
Knife of Dreams, by Robert Jordan

Also, I'm hoping to get to reading a handful of books I've purchased and also received:
Finch, by Jeff VanderMeer
Seven for a Secret, by Elizabeth Bear
Metatropolis, by John Scalzi (editor)
Busted Flush, by George R. R. Martin (editor)
The Living Dead, by John Joseph Adams (editor)
Canticle, by Ken Scholes
Jhereg, by Steven Brust
The Quiet War, by Paul McAuley
The Gathering Storm, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

And then there's still those graphic novels I want to do. Plus a World Fantasy Award wrap-up post.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


John Joseph Adams announced he will leave his position of assistant editor at the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction at the end of the year and start his new role as editor of the new magazine Lightspeed.

From the Press Release
LIGHTSPEED will focus exclusively on science fiction. It will feature all types of sf, from near-future, sociological soft sf, to far-future, star-spanning hard sf, and anything and everything in between. No subject will be considered off-limits, and writers will be encouraged to take chances with their fiction and push the envelope. New content will be posted twice a week, including one piece of fiction, and one piece of non-fiction. The fiction selections each month will consist of two original stories and two reprints, except for the debut issue, which will feature four original pieces of fiction. All of the non-fiction will be original.

We've read JJA's various anthologies and we know he has a great editorial eye, so it'll be quite interesting to see what he comes up with as the fiction editor for this new SF magazine.

Lightspeed will be under the Prime Books umbrella. Prime also publishes Fantasy Magazine (yes, which I write for) and has built a reputation for quality fiction.

The non fiction side of Lightspeed will be edited by Andrea Kail.

The first fiction and nonfiction won't appear until June 2010, but I think this is one to keep and eye on.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Twin Cities Book Festival

This past Saturday I went to the Twin Cities Book Festival. It’s sponsored by Rain Taxi and I really didn’t know what it was all about. What I did know is Alison McGhee was doing a reading from her children’s books and some other authors were also reading (Robert Owen Butler, Lorrie Moore, and some folks I haven’t read).

After a bit of a parking debacle in the ramp across the street (not my debacle, somebody else who held up the line waaaay longer than needed), I have a pocket full of one dollar coins prominently featuring the head of James Polk.

I wander in and see tightly packed rows of tables. There’s not much going on with this part of the book festival. It’s kind of like the dealer’s room at a larger con, only with less ability to move around. I check the time and realize that I completely missed McGhee’s reading. I found out about the Festival from Alan DeNiro’s twitter, so I meander my way through the tables looking for the Rabid Transit table.

Now, here’s the weird thing. I signed up for some drawing / giveaway for artwork and the guy at the table saw my name on the sheet and as I asked him if he was Alan DeNiro he asked if I was the blogger. That’s right kids, due to my immense fame and a popularity unmatched even by Neil Gaiman, my name alone is enough to make people perk up.

We chatted a bit about various things and DeNiro seemed especially chuffed that I paid for one of the Rabid Transit chapbooks with the Polk dubloons (his book deals with an invasion and a breakdown of technological society in Minnesota). To be honest, as a fantasy reader, I was amused to have a pocketful of gilded largish coins to pay for stuff.

I picked up a couple of used books from the Rain Taxi booksale and having pretty well done everything that I wanted to do, I started for the door. I stopped for a moment to check the program to see if there was anything I really wanted to do that I missed. There wasn’t, but I saw a woman walking towards me who looked suspiciously like Alison McGhee. I wasn’t quite sure and I didn’t say anything, but I’m 90% convinced that it was McGhee. One of these days I’ll actually catch one of her readings and get to say hi, but not that day.

After that I left and went home, too.

The Book Festival was fine, but I’m not sure it was exactly my thing. I would have to look carefully at who will be there next year and plan better to get there for that particular reading. There’s some authors who I’d love to see read (besides McGhee, Louise Erdrich is probably first on that list), and Minnesota does have a very strong contingent of local authors so hopefully there will be someone I want to see next year. Outside of the reading, there’s not a lot going on. Maybe 60 or so vendors, small presses, a couple of bookstores and some authors I’ve never heard of and who may well be self published authors (I’m just guessing). The lineup of authors doing the reading was strong, though.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Me > Neil Gaiman?

Thanks to John Scalzi I spent some time looking through the new technorati rankings for books because, like everybody else, I want to see where I was ranked.

I expect these rankings to change on a daily basis, but at the time I ran the search, I was ranked 148. Not bad, if a little high. I recognized some blogs ahead of me and have no doubt that they have a bigger readership (and linkership) than I do. No probs. I kept going down and then it hit me.

Where the hell is Neil Gaiman? Oh…Neil is sitting at 215.

I’m more popular than Neil! We may live in the same state, but victory is mine! No longer will the talk be about Prince and Neil Gaiman, no, no! Prince and Joe Sherry. FTW!!!!

What’s that? The rankings are probably inaccurate? Oh, alright. Can I still beat up Chuck Norris? Fine.

I listed out the top ten (as of 12:00 pm Central Time 10/14) and also most of the other ones I’ve recognized or read. No claims are made for getting everything or for the rankings to not change by the time you read this.

I would expect SF Signal and Torque Control to be a little higher. I can accept my ranking relative to Nicola Griffith’s. That might be accurate in terms of readership (I’m making this up as I go along), but then I realized that my ranking was higher than Neil Gaiman, Jeff Vandermeer, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, Mary Robinette Kowal, and freaking Galley Cat.

The hell?

Galley Cat is probably a top 20 blog at the very least, if not higher. Top 10. Galley Cat gets hella links.

I may have missed it, but I didn’t see Livejournal blogs in there. I suspect that would change the game quite a bit (and would also help the number of links back to here).

My take on this is that the technorati ranking is just about as accurate as my sitemeter counter, which is to say that it probably missed at least a quarter of all visits / links, if not half. Sitemeter is better at telling me when I’m getting tracks from livejournal, but Technorati is horrible at that. There’s probably a reverse from something else.

Regardless, here’s a snapshot at one particular time.

1. Jacket Copy
2. Whatever
3. Becky’s Book Reviews
4. Chasing Ray
5. Jen Robinson’s Book Page
6. The Book Smugglers
7. Romancing the Blog
8. if: book
9. Maw Books
10. Angieville

13. Fantasy Book Critic
15. Temple Library Reviews
16. Fantasy Café (tie)
24. SF Signal
49. Grasping for the Wind
69. Fantasy & SciFi Lovin’ News and Reviews
72. Torque Control
148. Adventures in Reading (wooo!)
214. Ask Nicola
215. Neil Gaiman’s Journal
218. Ecstatic Days
283. Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist (tie)
283. Mary Robinette Kowal (tie)
323. Fantasy Book News & Reviews (tie)
396. Galley Cat (tie)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Stuff: 10/14 Edition

Genreville is looking for opinions on the best books of 2009. I thought I had done better at reading 2009 releases, but I have not. I feel behind.

John Scalzi's latest Big Idea is Cherie Priest on Boneshaker
. I will read this book, I must read this book. I love Cherie's work to begin with, and have been giddy with anticipation for a while now (a while being a year)

Colleen Lindsay points out a positive Kirkus review of Alan DeNiro's forthcoming debut novel Total Oblivion, More or Less. Another book I expect to get my grubby little hands on.

Louise Erdrich was interviewed on Minnesota Public Radio a couple of weeks ago. Okay, I haven't listened to this one yet, but I discovered the link a couple of days ago. "Twenty five years ago, Louise Erdrich's novel "Love Medicine" was published and soon became a bestseller. It begins with the snowy death of June Kashpaw." That's part of the text below the audio button and it describes the scene which completely hooked me on Erdrich, though I think of the character as June Morrissey. The image of June walking out into the snow is utterly haunting and beautiful and I couldn't get enough. I really need to make time to listen to this.

"And Death Shall Have No Dominion", a poem by Dylan Thomas
. I think Elizabeth Bear pointed this out a few weeks ago. I don't read poetry very well, but I did like that.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

finding Glen Cook

I have a bit of a quandary. I’ve read the first five Garrett PI novels from Glen Cook and thought they were collectively fantastic. I want to read the sixth volume Red Iron Nights. My library doesn’t have it. My library’s interlibrary loan can’t find it at another library in Minnesota.

I’ve checked Uncle Hugos, and suppose I’ll have to continue to do so, but I’m stuck. Even though the novels are all self contained, they reference events and characters from the previous novels.

So here’s where I’m at.
6. Red Iron Nights
7. Deadly Quicksilver Lies
8. Petty Pewter Gods
9. Faded Steel Heat

I can get the tenth volume (Angry Lead Skies) through the library, so there’s only four that I’m going to be short on.

I could buy them, except they seem to be out of print. Volumes 6 and 7 are on the pricey side, while 8 and 9 are available used on Amazon for $3 + shipping (which amounts to buying a new paperback, if there was a new paperback)

The problem is, I don’t really *want* to buy these books. If they’re available at Uncle Hugos I’d pick them up because I wouldn’t pay any more than $3 for any individual volume and there would be no shipping (and I’d just sell them back for a buck later), but $6 or more? I don’t want to build a Garrett collection.

So what the hell do I do? Do I just skip ahead to Angry Lead Skies and read the missing four when I get the chance? I wouldn’t miss *too* much, but I like to keep series in order, and like I said, Cook is very referential so that readers who have been following the series gets just a touch more out of the books than those who just picked up the book cold.

Friday, October 09, 2009

World Fantasy Award Nominee: "The Overseer"

"The Overseer"
Albert E. Cowdrey
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, March 2008
Nominated for the World Fantasy Award: Best Novella

“The Overseer” moves back and time in telling the story of Nicholas Lerner. The “Present Day” of the story is 1903 with Lerner as an older man. He is a wealthy man living in New Orleans and working on his memoirs. Through the memoirs Lerner tells his own story as a younger man in the Civil War era. His father poorly ran a plantation until he hired an overseer to take over the daily running of the operation. Then profits came with the cruelty. For the rest of his life Lerner was haunted by the specter of the overseer, a man named Felix Marron. Eventually the story of the memoirs meets up with the “present day” story in an unexpected way, though it is only unexpected at the beginning of the tale.

So, here’s the thing. As much as any World Fantasy Award nominated story, I expected to appreciate this one the least. I was fairly sure I had read a previous story from Cowdrey (though on reflection, it may have been another author will a last name beginning with a C), and I was so not impressed that I almost avoided “The Overseer” altogether. In the end I ponied up the $5 for the March 2008 issue of F&SF from Fictionwise and was pleasantly surprised.

“The Overseer” did not grip me from the start, but the deeper we got into the history of Lerner and the betrayals and the nastiness, the more engaged I became. Every notable character in this story, save two of them, is a fairly despicable human being. They aren’t good people, but watching the haunting and the paranoia unfold is a pleasure for this story.

I had unconsciously maligned Cowdrey in my mind before I had read “The Overseer”, it was a reputation that may well have been built on someone else’s story (which makes it doubly embarrassing). Cowdrey reveals details slowly, but with each word and with each page he builds the atmosphere and character backstories to the point that by the end, Lerner inhabits a very real place – even though it is the same quiet room in which the story began.

Though the Novella category is a bit weak this year for the World Fantasy Awards, “The Overseer” is thus far one of the stronger stories with a nomination. It’s a good story, nothing that I’m unhappy to have read, but I am a little surprised it was held up as one of the year’s best.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Graphic Novels: DMZ

One of the graphic novels that has me the most excited right now is DMZ. DMZ is written by Brian Wood and imagines a near future America which has suffered through a second Civil War. A militia in Montana rose up and nobody thought much about it or took it very seriously until, almost without anyone realizing what had happened, the Free States of America had already taken over much of the country. Now, in the time of DMZ the Free States of America have pushed all the way into New Jersey until a stalemate was reached.

Manhattan island was closed off and considered a demilitarized zone. Manhattan island became a war zone with warlords and parts of the city becoming impenetrable. Chinatown, for example, closed itself off from the rest of the city and became a private enclave. Open areas were to be avoided. The Free States and the United States had their areas and accesses to the city, but in general, nobody was allowed out.

Enter Matthew Roth, a young photo journalism intern (with parental connections) who is sent into the Manhattan, the DMZ, with a Liberty News crew. Think of Liberty News as a version of a FOX News, a not at all impartial news network in the United States. The news crew is one of the first to enter the DMZ and report from the ground. Upon landing, the crew is attacked and killed and Matty is left on his own. Because of his press credentials and because he is the only one left, Matty continues to report (as he can) from the DMZ and becomes something of a celebrity both inside the DMZ and outside.

The story of Matthew Roth and the DMZ is far more complicated than that. Matty was rescued by Zee Hernandez, a former medical student who stayed behind in Manhattan to continue to help the victims of the bombings and attacks in the DMZ. That’s the set up. Through the initially innocent eyes of Matthew Roth readers are introduced to the world of the DMZ, an urban battlefield with no law, no oversight, and very little true hope. But even that isn’t entirely true. This is New York City and the people survive as they can. They are suspicious of outsiders (which Matty initially is), but in a variety of authentic ways, they band together and try to get by while their city is the last frontier of the war between the Free States and the United States of America.

DMZ deals with entitlement, terrorism, war crimes, politics, elections, and a private security organization named Trustwell which has a striking resemblance to Blackwater. At no point does Brian Wood shy away with tackling difficult and complicated issues and the perceived moral ambiguity about what is right on the ground versus what is right from the perspective of the United States government. It’s not that easy and it isn’t clear. The warzone is different from the inside.

This is gripping, gritty, raw, and painful storytelling. The world of DMZ is all too plausible. Matthew Roth may be the “hero” of this series, but he’s just a man. Roth is young and sometimes naïve. He makes mistakes, he is betrayed (and betrays in turn), and sometimes his best efforts results in more damage than if he had stayed out of it. He’s just like us, only with just a little bit more gumption and luck. But that’s the thing. This is, at its heart, a story about America. ALL of the characters are just like us because the ARE us. Even then, this isn’t just a story about America. It’s a story about people and it is analogous to other occupied cities in the world.

I’ve had the chance to read the first six collection editions (covering the first 34 issues of DMZ) and I can say that if this is not considered one of the top comic series running today, people don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. It’s that damn good, and I would even suggest that DMZ is an important comic series.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Crossroads of Twilight, by Robert Jordan

Crossroads of Twilight
Robert Jordan

On my first reading of Crossroads of Twilight I was satisfied with the novel, that even though the action of the novel is lacking and Robert Jordan did not build on the Cleansing in Winter’s Heart, it was Wheel of Time and it told the stories of characters who caught short shrift in the previous volume. Only later, thinking back on the novel, did I feel a sense of disappointment that except until the very end of the novel could I say that “nothing happened”. My complaints grew. Maybe we didn’t need to be caught up with all the other characters. There’s nothing wrong with jumping ahead a couple days or a week and just picking up then.

So what now? This is either the first or second time I have read Crossroads of Twilight since 2003. All I have are vague recollections. Now we have a volume following Crossroads of Twilight and the first part of the three book series finale is a month away from publication. Frustrations regarding the passivity of Crossroads of Twilight are lessened because now this is only a chapter in the larger story, rather than the book we’ve waited several years for.

The first half of so of the novel runs concurrently with the conclusion of Winter’s Heart. There is this great “beacon” off in the distance that tells any woman who can channel that a great use of Saidar is being used. Readers of the series know that this is the Cleansing of saidin, but the other characters don’t. The general assumption is that the Forsaken are involved and when the Aes Sedai scout out battlefield after the fact, they assume that what happened at Shadar Logoth is some new Forsaken weapon. Otherwise, there are four primary storylines running through Crossroads of Twilight.

Perrin continues to chase the Shaido Aiel who have kidnapped his wife. Elayne works to hold on to the Lion Throne in Andor and is facing a siege from rival houses. Mat tries to evade the Seanchan in his flight from Ebou Dar. Mat also works to improve his relations with Tuon, the Daughter of the Nine Moon. Egwene and her rebel Aes Sedai are outside the gates of Tar Valon. She’s working on a plan to block the harbor at Tar Valon.

This may be a gross simplification of the basic plotlines of Crossroads of Twilight, but I do believe it is an accurate summation of the bulk of what happens in Crossroads of Twilight. Not a whole lot.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t quality here. When Robert Jordan gets down to it, he can write excellent scenes and put together a good book. Most of this book just isn’t Jordan getting down to it. The White Tower intrigue works, as does the burgeoning (and confusing) Mat and Tuon relationship. Elayne’s chapters are turgid, but the closer Egwene gets to acting the better her chapters are.

Crossroads of Twilight does not suffer from Middle Book Syndrome. It suffers from Middle Chapter Syndrome. It answers any questions as to what was happening with the rest of the characters while Rand and Nynaeve are off cleansing the taint off saidin. It also sets up the next part of Egwene’s storyline, and the future of how the major protagonists will relate to the Seanchan. That’s about all that Crossroads of Twilight is.

It’s this that makes Crossroads of Twilight such a disappointing novel. There is very little that occurs in the text that needs to be told directly. Not that required 800 pages of paperback text. A couple of chapters could reasonably have covered it, maybe three hundred pages at most that could have been spread between The Path of Daggers, Winter’s Heart, and Knife of Dreams. That’s not what happened, of course, we were given Crossroads of Twilight. It’s a novel that isn’t a novel, it’s a long interlude in between novels. It is a collection of chapters in a larger novel. Taken from that perspective, Crossroads of Twilight is not an offensive novel. It’s really not much of anything at all.

On to Knife of Dreams, please.

Previous Reviews
The Eye of the World
The Great Hunt
The Dragon Reborn
The Shadow Rising
The Fires of Heaven
Lord of Chaos
A Crown of Swords
The Path of Daggers
Winter's Heart

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Obsession: The New Fragrance from Vertigo Comics

The last time I wrote about comics in any extended manner was back in April when I noticed that the list of what I was reading was becoming dominated by graphic novel collections.

It's happened again.

Then I was reading Queen & Country, Girl Genius, and Fables. The whole comics scene was entirely new to me. Oh, I had read some Star Wars and Buffy books and had a brief foray into Joss Whedon's X-Men work, but the scene was really new to me.

I've barely scratched the surface of the goodness that is out there, but I'm pretty much caught up with the three above-mentioned series (in terms of what has been collected and published in trade paper). I've been working on a few other series.

Not surprisingly I've expanded my Fables reading into the spin-off Jack of Fables. What has surprised me is that I've enjoyed those books. Yeah, it's still Fables and it is written by Bill Willingham, but I never liked the Jack character in those first Fables volumes. I still don't, but the storytelling is well done and Willingham has created an excellent villain in Revise and the Jack series works.

I'm also working on Y: The Last Man, Transmetropolitan, Ex Machina, DMZ, Preacher, and Bone. I've just started 100 Bullets and Echo. The first volume of Scalped is on hold at the library.

Seriously, I'm becoming obsessed. Some of those series have been completed, so I'll work my way through, finish, and move on (while enjoying some damn fine storytelling), and others I'll have to wait for the next volume to be published (Fables and DMZ, I'm looking at you).

And should I somehow run out of things to read, which is not at all likely, and I forget that there are probably another dozen Vertigo titles out there worth reading - not to mention other publishers - I have this list from Paul Cornell. That's actually where I discovered Ex Machina, DMZ, and Echo. Of those three, I am most excited about DMZ, for what it is worth. The other two are just interesting enough so far, but not enough to fully hook me.

What this means is that I intend to write up a couple of the newer volumes I've been reading. Right now that'll be DMZ, Y: The Last Man, Transmetropolitan, and Preacher. We'll see if I want to do more after that.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Support our Zines Day

From Damien Walter, today is Support Our Zines Day.

What are ‘zines?

The short answer is that ‘zines are where we go to find good, new short fiction. Magazines like Asimov’s or Weird Tales. Fanzines like Electric Velocipede or Shimmer. Webzines like Clarkesworld or Strange Horizons. Podcasts like Escape Pod and The Drabblecast. There are hundreds and maybe even thousands of ‘zines publishing speculative fiction stories, and from the largest to the smallest they all contribute to building the SF community.

But our ‘zines need support. Professional ‘zines rely on subscriptions to pay their staff and the writers who make the stories. Smaller ‘zines often rely on donations just to cover their costs. But with the speed of life in the 21st Century it can be difficult to remember to renew subsciptions or make donations to the ‘zines who’s work we enjoy.

So. We need to do something to remind ourselves how much we love our ‘zines of all kinds and want to support them. We need a ‘Support our ‘Zines Day’. (SOZD) A day when everyone who has enjoyed reading and listening all year subscribes / donates to their favourite publications. We need to promote it as far and wide as we can and let all readers of ‘zines join in.


What to do on Support Our “zines Day.

It really could not be easier. On 1st October list the ‘zines you have enjoyed that year, then subscribe / donate to as many as feel you can afford. You can be modest and keep your donations a secret, or you can show off and list your donations on your blog or elsewhere top help encourage others to show their support.

I do have a sidebar list of some short fiction 'zines which I try to read as often as I can. My favorite is probably Electric Velocipede because of the variety of fiction it publishes. There's some free stories on the website to check out.

Subterranean publishes some of the best fiction on the market, and I've been waiting to see some of those stories nominated for Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards. Maybe next year. Because of Subterranean Online I've discovered Joe Lansdale and Lucius Shepard, and they've also published Elizabeth Bear, Cherie Priest, John Scalzi, Charles Stross, Rachel Swirsky, Norman Partridge, and Mary Robinette Kowal. And others.

Apex Magazine publishes science fiction and horror and is a frequent publisher of Jennifer Pelland's work.

Published monthly, we've got Clarkesworld, which tends to publish two stories each month. One from a more established writer and one from a new writer making it through the slush pile. Solid fiction here.

Some of the more interesting and exciting new fiction can be found at Strange Horizons.

In terms of what actually gets published as a printed magazine, you can't beat Weird Tales. There are other "major" publications I am less interested in subscribing to, but Weird Tales is outstanding and is one of my favorite genre publications.

And finally, Shadow Unit. This is probably the best thing going on the web. Shadow Unit runs on a donation model, and it's free fiction based on a television show that doesn't exist. The stories run as "episodes" and we're days away from the finale of Season 2. I think of Shadow Unit as a blend of Criminal Minds and The X-Files, but the monsters are all human. Shadow Unit has contributions from Emma Bull, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Will Shetterly, Leah Bobet, Amanda Downum, and Holly Black.

Oh, and uh...Fantasy Magazine. I write for them, so I definitely think you should check out that 'zine. They've got good fiction, too.