Thursday, December 31, 2009

The God Engines: Chapter One

John Scalzi has posted the first chapter of his novella The God Engines on his website.

Scalzi writes,
I’m really excited about TGE; it’s dark fantasy, which is a first for me, and quite a bit different than anything I’ve written before.

I've already ordered up a copy of this, so I'm going to hold off on reading the first chapter until my copy arrives in the mail, but this is totally worth checking out. It's Scalzi writing a story that isn't his typical quick witted science fiction.

John's excited about it, and so am I. I want to see what he can do with this, and plus, he really hasn't written anything that's disappointed me yet.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Nine Best Reads of 2009

As I've mentioned elsewhere: Some people do a top ten list, others do a top eleven, yet others may only do five. My list is 9 books long. Why? Partly to be a little bit different and partly because I want the tenth spot on my list to be reserved for that really great book which I simply did not get the chance to read during 2009. That really great book may also be something I have only heard whispers about and I may not discover for several more years. Whatever that tenth great book is, I’m holding a spot for it on my list.

Unlike my list of the top books published in 2009, this list is for the top books I read in 2009, no matter when the book was published.

1. Ammonite, by Nicola Griffith: This is easily the best novel I read in 2009. Griffith’s deft handling of the cliché reversing “all female world” is nothing like readers might expect, but it is powerfully and purposefully done. In lesser hands Ammonite might be trite or preachy. In the hands of Nicola Griffith the result is nothing short of amazing.

2. The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell: This is easily the second best novel I read in 2009. Knowing the result of a first contact mission to another world from the beginning of the novel does nothing to lessen the raw power of Russell’s storytelling.

3. By the Mountain Bound, by Elizabeth Bear: It seems I am not able to make one of these lists without placing one of Elizabeth Bear’s novels at or near the top, and for good reason. She’s really good. By the Mountain Bound is a prequel to All the Windwracked Stars. It ends where the first novel begins, and yet, knowing the ending, we find that we don’t know a thing about what came before. A surprising, beautiful, and heartbreaking novel. It changes our understanding of All the Windwracked Stars and makes the reader question what The Sea Thy Mistress will be.

4. Cyteen, by C. J. Cherryh: Murder. Genetic Engineering. Galactic, personal, ethical, and sexual politics. Cyteen has it all. Reading Cyteen caused me to go out and buy more of Cherryh’s work.

5. Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest: This is Cherie Priest at the top of her game. Her richly imagined alternate history Civil War era steampunk novel, now with airships and zombies, is outstanding.

6. Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld: A steampunk novel set in an alternate World War I where the factions at war are split down technological lines. It treats both the history are its audience with respect and in the end, what matters is that Leviathan is a rollicking tale.

7. Imaro, by Charles Saunders: An epic sword & sorcery novel featuring an alternate-African setting with a truly African hero. It’s fantastic.

8. Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson: With his last novel before the publication of The Gathering Storm, Brandon Sanderson proved his versatility in creating another distinct magic system in a world built with secrets. This thick single volume fantasy raises the bar for what readers should expect from Sanderson’s fiction and helped build anticipation for what he would be able to do with the Wheel of Time.

9. City Without End, by Kay Kenyon: If you’re not reading Kay Kenyon, you’re missing out on some great science fiction. This is the third volume of a series that improves with each offering.

Previous Best Reads

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


My review of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker is up at Fantasy Magazine. Go check it out.

One thing which I didn’t mention in the review, but that I did want to point out is the font. Yeah, we don’t talk much about font around here, but the text of Boneshaker is printed in a sepia-toned font that is both very easy on the eyes as well as simply beautiful to look at it. It fits the setting of Boneshaker and adds another layer to the overall presentation of that gorgeous cover.

Top Nine Books Published in 2009

Some people do a top ten list, others do a top eleven, yet others may only do five. My list is 9 books long. Why? Partly to be a little bit different and partly because I want the tenth spot on my list to be reserved for that really great book which I simply did not get the chance to read during 2009. That really great book may also be something I have only heard whispers about and I may not discover for several more years. Whatever that tenth great book is, I’m holding a spot for it on my list.

This Top Nine List is sort of / kind of in order. The first two on the list are very much in their proper order, but after that things get a bit trickier. Whichever order the list is in, these are the nine novels published in 2009 which I feel were the strongest titles of the year, popularity be damned.

1. By the Mountain Bound, by Elizabeth Bear: It seems I am not able to make one of these lists without placing one of Elizabeth Bear’s novels at or near the top, and for good reason. She’s really good. By the Mountain Bound is a prequel to All the Windwracked Stars. It ends where the first novel begins, and yet, knowing the ending, we find that we don’t know a thing about what came before. A surprising, beautiful, and heartbreaking novel. It changes our understanding of All the Windwracked Stars and makes the reader question what The Sea Thy Mistress will be.

2. Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest: This is Cherie Priest at the top of her game. Her richly imagined alternate history Civil War era steampunk novel, now with airships and zombies, is outstanding.

3. Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld: A steampunk novel set in an alternate World War I where the factions at war are split down technological lines. It treats both the history are its audience with respect and in the end, what matters is that Leviathan is a rollicking tale.

4. Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson: With his last novel before the publication of The Gathering Storm, Brandon Sanderson proved his versatility in creating another distinct magic system in a world built with secrets. This thick single volume fantasy raises the bar for what readers should expect from Sanderson’s fiction and helped build anticipation for what he would be able to do with the Wheel of Time.

5. City Without End, by Kay Kenyon: If you’re not reading Kay Kenyon, you’re missing out on some great science fiction. This is the third volume of a series that improves with each offering.

6. Best Served Cold, by Joe Abercrombie: Want some nasty violence that gets down in the mud? Want a novel of revenge filled with misplaced loyalty and double crosses? Want to expand on the world of the First Law trilogy which tells a completely different story? Joe Abercrombie gives the reader all that and much more in Best Served Cold, a nasty delight of a novel.

7. The Gathering Storm, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson: It should perhaps go without saying that this was my most anticipated volume of the year, but the thing is, I was also the most nervous about it. Yeah, I like Sanderson’s original fiction, but would he be able to pull off a Wheel of Time novel? Could he make it as good as the best of Jordan’s work? The answer, I think, was a resounding yes.

8. The Quiet War, by Paul McAuley: This is a smart, smart novel dealing with the future humanity and who gets to choose it. I very much wish to read Gardens of the Sun, and sooner rather than later.

9. Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins: Despite how awesome The Hunger Games were, my expectations were not exceptionally high for Catching Fire. The premise of the first novel did not seem to lend itself to a sequel and I wasn’t sure that Collins would be able to pull it off. She did, and then some.

All links are to the original reviews.

Previous Best Ofs

Monday, December 28, 2009

Top Nine Author Discoveries of 2009

There is something to be said about talking about books. After all, that’s what we read. But, just as much fun as discovering a great new book is discovering a great new author. Or, even discovering a great older author. It’s all new if you have never read an author before.

So, in honor of authors, those wonderful people who write the wonderful books, here is a list of some of the authors I encountered for the first time in 2009.

1. Nicola Griffith: I can’t say for sure what put Griffith on my radar, but I read Ammonite earlier this year and I fell in love. Ammonite is a beautiful novel and, spoiler alert, one of the best I read this year. I picked up a copy of Slow River and I hope to read more of Griffith’s work in 2010.

2. Steven Brust: For two years I had seen Brust at the Fourth Street Fantasy convention and for two years I heard people praising his Vlad Taltos novels. For some reason I didn’t pick one of them up until late this year. Folks, Brust is *good*. I’ve read Jhereg and Yendi and I expect to devour a good portion of his back catalog in 2010.

3. C. J. Cherryh: Blame Jo Walton. Walton had a series of posts on about Cherryh and her work and she sold me on giving Cherryh a shot. I had been carrying this lingering negative assumption about what sort of novel Cherryh wrote based entirely on her name (the H on the end was a weird turn off when I was fifteen) and some of the covers I saw on her books in the mid 1990’s. At this point I can only assume they were of the Chanur novels because those covers still make me cringe. What I discovered, though, was some smart science fiction that completely erased an irrational impression caused fifteen years ago. Cyteen was a fantastic starting point and I’ll be delving into more of Cherryh’s work in 2010.

4. Peter S. Beagle: By my age most fantasy readers had discovered Peter Beagle’s work some fifteen to twenty years ago with The Last Unicorn. I managed to make it past my thirtieth year without having read The Last Unicorn. I still haven’t. What I have read is two collections of Beagle’s short fiction and they were each fantastic. Next year I plan to read his career retrospective The Mirror Kingdoms as well as rectifying that failure of my childhood and read The Last Unicorn.

5. Mary Doria Russell: The Sparrow. Need I say more? It is a beautiful and painful novel.

6. Charles Saunders: His debut (thirty years ago) sword and sourcery epic Imaro is a fantastic novel and though he has published few novels over his career, Saunders may well be one of the unsung giants of the field. Imaro deserved to have a larger readership than it received and I expect to read the second Imaro novel in 2010.

7: Stephen Baxter: I’ve discovered Baxter through some of his shorter work and 2010 should see me delving into his novels, but what I’ve read of Baxter has been fantastic.

8. Ken Scholes: Lamentation was an impressive debut novel and I have high hopes for the rest of the Psalms of Isaak.

9. Suzanne Collins: I don’t know if I will be inspired to check out the rest of her work, but the first two volumes of The Hunger Games trilogy is absolutely fantastic.

For the curious, here are my lists from 2007 and 2008.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

5 Favorite Blogs: 2009 Edition

Aidan recently posted his list of his five favorite blogs of 2009, and Larry responded by talking about blogs that challenge the reader.

I figured, why not?

So, I took a spin through Bloglines with an attempt to identify five blogs I would imprecisely label as "favorites". Think of this a snapshot as to what I find the most engaging / interesting on December 27, 2009.

There is no order here.

OF Blog of the Fallen: What I like best about Larry's blog is the essays. He'll hit on something that interests him enough to write about that is outside the bounds of a review. It may be a take on an internet kerfuffle, or to take another reviewer to task for something, or his posing a question, or perhaps his answer. It's his questioning and searching and pointing out flaws that intrigues me.

The Wertzone: This is one of the few blogs I read for the reviews, though generally here I'm looking for his reviews of classic works of the genre. Retrospectively, I enjoy Adam's writing on books I've read and appreciated. Adam seems to have an inexhaustible trove of information about epic fantasy contained in his head. Very readable.

Torque Control: Nominally a blog of the editors of Vector Magazine, I tend to think of Torque Control as the personal playground of Niall Harrison. As such, this is very smart stuff and Niall writes as much about short fiction as he does novel length work - which I appreciate. Niall is very much into the conversation about fiction and his blog is a great resource (as well as part of that great conversation.)

Whatever: The personal blog of some strange chap named John Scalzi who finds time between taking pictures of his animals, sunsets, fingernails, his ranting, helping out other writers with his Big Idea, creatively consulting for television, and generally being a decent chap to occasionally string together enough words to put into book format. You may have heard of him. I focus a decent amount of my online attention to skiffy things, but John's blog is a fairly diverse cross-section of his interests. It's quite good. But, he gets some 45,000 visitors a day, so you probably don't need me to tell you that.

I've thought a bit about what the fifth blog I wanted to highlight when I checked Bloglines one more time. There were several blogs bolded with new entries, but only one brought a quiver of real interest and excitement.

Alison McGhee's Blog: Alison is an infrequent poster, but her posts are almost all lyrical stories rather than what we generally think of as a "Blog Post", be it an essay or a review. Her Christmas post is one example. Or this one about things she used to believe, which is a post that haunts me for a variety of reasons. McGhee is one of my absolutely favorite authors (and I think I almost met her once) and her blog is a quiet delight.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

For your holiday enjoyment, the good people at Shadow Unit have provided "A Very Special Holiday" episode.

Feast on "On Faith", written by Sarah Monette.

And to all a good night.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Steal Across the Sky, by Nancy Kress

Steal Across the Sky
Nancy Kress
Tor: 2009

This twenty-first novel from Nancy Kress opens with a fascinating premise: aliens identifying themselves only as the “Atoners” contact Earth via the internet. They state that 10,000 years prior they did a grievous wrong to humanity and request twenty-one volunteers to travel to another world and “Witness” something that will make clear what the Atoners did to humans all those years ago. The first half of the novel focuses on two of the twenty-one Witnesses: Cam and Lucca. Through Cam and Lucca the reader experiences two alien worlds that appear to be populated with humans. The Atoners’ crime is revealed by the end of the first half of Steal Across the Sky; the remainder of the novel centers on the human response to this information and what it means.

Typically for a Nancy Kress novel, Steal Across the Sky’s story is character-driven with the author giving only a limited third person viewpoint from a small number of Witnesses. Except for excerpts from news reports and presidential speeches, the global impact is not seen. One of Kress’s strengths as a writer is her ability to write compelling characters and to tell big stories through those character perspectives, but in this novel the characters—although well-written—may not deliver well enough for most readers and the Big Idea is left largely unexplored. Readers with an interest in the epic social ramifications of what the Witnesses learned will likely be disappointed.

There are also hints the story is much larger than the one being told, but whether the reader can decipher the big picture from the limited amount of pixels presented is debatable. The last quarter of the novel lacks satisfactory resolution because there’s simply not enough of the fictional photograph provided. Steal Across the Sky, despite its flaws, is a decent read but, unfortunately, it never completely lives up to its promising premise.

Previous Reviews
Nano Comes to Clifford Falls

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Missing: 2009

Last year Larry posted a list of books which he managed not to read over the course of 2008 and which might otherwise have had a chance to make his Year’s Best list. I liked the idea so much that I made a similar post of my own.

Well, it’s that time of the year and lists have been popping up all over the place.

This is my list of books published in 2009 and which I just didn’t get around to reading. While I can’t say for sure whether the books on this list would end up with a slot on my Year’s Best lists, I would consider them to be notable releases that have a shot.

With just over a week left in 2009 there is a chance I might get to one or two of the below listed books, but my first priority is to finish Eclipse Three, Canticle, and Makers.

Finch, by Jeff VanderMeer: I haven’t read much of VanderMeer’s fiction, though I think he’s got a great eye as an editor. I have a copy of this staring me straight in the eye and I really hope I can get to it this year.

The Shadow Pavilion, by Liz Williams: This is the latest Detective Inspector Chen novel and there is a new one scheduled for 2010. Williams does a great job with these.

Metatropolis, by John Scalzi (editor)

The Other Lands, by David Anthony Durham: This actually makes me sad. Despite how much I enjoyed Acacia: The War with the Mein, I completely forgot about this book and flat out missed it.

Diving into the Wreck, by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi: This is arguably the premiere release of 2009.

Flood, by Stephen Baxter: I have only just discovered Stephen Baxter but I have very much liked what I’ve read and I think this could be a great one. I should really make an effort to get to Flood next year or I’ll have no chance of reading the follow up, Ark.

Under the Dome, by Stephen King

Drood, by Dan Simmons

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman: Didja know I turned down a review copy of this one earlier in the year? It didn’t seem like something I would be that interested in. Then all the praise started flooding in. I doubt I’ll get to this one next year either, but it’s one for the list.

The City & The City, by China Mieville

The Devil’s Alphabet, by Daryl Gregory: After his World Fantasy Award nominated Pandemonium, I am very interested to see what Gregory has for the reader in his second novel.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

short fiction, me, a guest post

John Ottinger is away from his blog doing the Caribbean cruise thing, so he's invited folks over to keep the blog going.

My post on places to find really good short fiction is up now.

15 links and a bunch of name dropping of good stuff.

Go check it out. And stuff.

"First Flight", by Mary Robinette Kowal

Why, oh, why did I wait so long to read “First Flight”? It is not as if I needed to be convinced that Mary Robinette Kowal is a fabulous short story writer. “First Flight” is fantastic, charming, whimsical (sort of), and wonderful. This is a story which features time travel, only the farthest back anyone can be sent is to the day of their birth. Eleanor Louise Jackson is, according to the story, well over 100 years old and was born on the day of the Wright Brothers first flight. Not the second and more famous one, but the one that really proved it was possible.

Eleanor is sent back to covertly get footage for the future of that first, truly historic flight. The story has Louise interacting with the Wrights, as well as a younger boy from the era and how she talks and what she reveals is quite interesting. Even more fascinating is her conversations with the scientists from her time.

“Young lady,” Louise snapped at Dr. Connelly like one of her own children, “I’ve lived through two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Collapse. I lived through race riots, saw us put men on the moon, the Spanish Flu, AIDS, the Titanic, Suffrage and the Internet. I’ve raised five children and buried two, got twenty-three grandchildren, eleven great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren with more on the way. And you have the nerve to say I don’t understand history?”
In the end, though, what makes “First Flight” such a charming delight is the ease of Kowal’s prose and the storytelling. This is just a delightful story and it is one readers will wish was longer. While it is questionable if there could be any more Jackson stories, Kowal’s handling of time travel and the sorts of stories that would inevitably come from this. It’s reminiscent of Kage Baker’s Company stories, only better. And no cyborgs. But that’s okay.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

"The Horrid Glory of Its Wings", by Elizabeth Bear

You should read “The Horrid Glory of Its Wings”. It’s a new short story from Elizabeth Bear and, as one might expect, it is populated with the broken. As much as anything else, it is a conversation between Desiree and a harpy. Desiree is seventeen and has all sorts of things wrong with her.

I’ve also got lipodystrophy, which is a fancy doctor way of saying I’ve grown a fatty buffalo hump on my neck and over each shoulder blade from the antiretrovirals, and my butt and legs and cheeks are wasted like an old lady’s. My face looks like a dog’s muzzle, even though I still have all my teeth.
We never see Desiree in school, but we don’t have to. We already know. What we see is Desiree taking fifteen minutes before school to speak with the harpy who lives in the alley,

I think the harpy enjoys the company. Not that it needs it; I can’t imagine the harpy needing anything. But maybe . . . just maybe it likes me.

The harpy says, I want you.

I don’t know if I like the harpy. But I like being wanted.
This is a story filled with quiet pain, but not with a lick of pity. Bear doesn’t do pity.

What Bear does do is write damn good stories.

Friday, December 18, 2009

TOC for The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 4

Jonathan Strahan has announced the Table of Contents for the latest entry in my favorite Best Of anthology series, The Best of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Volume 4.

1. It Takes Two, Nicola Griffith
2. Three Twilight Tales, Jo Walton
4. The Island, Peter Watts
5. Ferryman, Margo Lanagan
6. A Wild and Wicked Youth, Ellen Kushner
7. The Pelican Bar, Karen Joy Fowler
8. Spar, Kij Johnson
9. Going Deep, James Patrick Kelly
10. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, Holly Black
11. Zeppelin City, Michael Swanwick & Eileen Gunn
12. Dragon’s Teeth, Alex Irvine
13. This Wind Blowing, and This Tide, Damien Broderick
14. By Moonlight, Peter S. Beagle
15. Black Swan, Bruce Sterling
16. As Women Fight, Sara Genge
17. The Cinderella Game, Kelly Link
18. Formidable Caress, Stephen Baxter
19. Blocked, Geoff Ryman
20. Truth and Bone, Pat Cadigan
21. Eros, Philia, Agape, Rachel Swirsky
22. The Motorman’s Coat, John Kessel
23. Mongoose, Sarah Monette & Elizabeth Bear
24. Echoes of Aurora, Ellen Klages
25. Before My Last Breath, Robert Reed
26. Jo Boy, Diana Wynne Jones
27. Utriusque Cosmi, Robert Charles Wilson
28. A Delicate Architecture, Catherynne Valente
29. The Cat That Walked a Thousand Miles, Kij Johnson
Recommended Reading

As far as I know, I've only read the Swirsky (was good), but Strahan has a great idea so I expect nothing less than a fantastic anthology.

Now, I am one of the "eagle eye readers" Strahan talks about in the next paragraph.
Eagle-eyed readers will note one of the spots is blank. This isn’t an error. I’ve agreed not to publicise one of the stories until the book comes out, so that publication here doesn’t step too badly on the toes of its original publisher. I will, however, reveal the omitted story in March. And yes, if space permits, there will be a Recommended Reading list in the book for the first time ever. If it doesn’t make it for length reasons, I’ll make sure it’s published online.
This is intensely curious. First, I have to wonder what the story is and who wrote it, but Second, I just wonder why. I assume the story has been previously published in 2009, because that's one of the requirements for the anthology (I think). So, what issue would the original publisher have with the announcement?

The only thing I can come up with is that it's from a limited edition print run that has only recently been published and that the announcement here could negatively impact sales of that limited print. That's what the stepping on the toes would be.


Actually, that makes a lot of sense to me and seems like a very respectful thing to do. After all, it's not like we the reader are owed an early TOC announcement of every story (we're not). Yes, now I'm speculating in my mind about what it could be and who the publisher is and I just came up with a snap idea that is probably and will invariably be wrong, but that's why it makes sense to me.

Regardless, I'm going to snap this one up.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Leviathan, by Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld
Simon Pulse: 2009

In his afterword, Scott Westerfeld writes

So Leviathan is as much about possible futures as alternate pasts. It looks ahead to when machines will look like living creatures, and living creatures can be fabricated like machines. And yet the setting also recalls and earlier time in which the world was divided into aristocrats and commoners, and women in most countries couldn’t join the armed forces – or even vote.

That’s the nature of steampunk, blending future and past.
From a background perspective, that’s about all the reader needs to know. Leviathan is set in the early days of an alternate World War I. The core events appear to be rolling out in a mostly historical fashion, except that the technology of the day is significantly different. England has followed the path of the “Darwinists” and have used genetic engineering (of sorts) to create great airships and military materiel which are biologically based. Austria and Germany have gone down a more industrial path and are referred to as “Clankers”.

This is all background, though it does form the underpinning of the philosophical differences between the various alliances and factions. It’s a part of the skillful worldbuilding of Scott Westerfeld, but it isn’t the story being told in Leviathan.

Leviathan follows two storylines which will eventually converge. The first is that of young Alek, the son of the Archduke Ferdinand. While his father is murdered in Sarajevo, men loyal to the Archduke spirit Alek away in the middle of the night in an attempt to escape away to a hideaway in Switzerland. Alek’s storyline brings Alek greater acceptance of who he is and what his life means in the greater scheme of the war and why he is a target. Through his escape Alek grows in maturity, though he still acts his age from time to time.

The second storyline is Deryn, a teenage girl in England who disguises herself as a boy so that she can enter the Service. Girls aren’t permitted to fly and all Deryn wishes to do is fly, in any capacity. Deryn is one of the top in her class, but her greatest challenge is to act like a boy at all times. She takes the name of Dylan, and her older brother helps get her into the Service. Quickly she, and the great whale-ship Leviathan, is thrust into war as England enters what readers know as World War I.

Leviathan is, at its core, a great adventure story. The danger of air travel and the inevitable battle is thrilling. Alek’s escape in the two legged “walker” (which puts me in mind of a somewhat more agile version of the AT-AT from The Empire Strikes Back) is likewise grand adventure laced with danger, action, and tension. Both characters are plunged directly into a world and a war they really know nothing about. Both are inexperienced and trying to find their way the best they can and are dragged around through forces they cannot control.

What makes Leviathan work, besides the admittedly excellent worldbuilding, the sense of adventure, and the sense of wonder, is that the characters of Deryn and Alek come across as equally sympathetic and real. Readers will want them to succeed, without knowing exactly what that means for either. The characters struggle in different ways and have different personal worldviews which will invariably clash with reality. The characterization here is top notch. Also notable is Westerfeld’s use of language. He gives each of the two sides (as shown through Deryn and Alek) particular ways of speaking. Alek uses exclamations like “God’s Wounds”, whereas Deryn uses “blisters” and “clart” as her society’s version of profanity. Those who disapprove of the genetic engineering are referred to as “Monkey Luddites”. It’s a perfect way to quickly distinguish culture and provides a bit of natural feeling pop to the dialogue.

In the end, what Scott Westerfeld has done is deliver one of the year’s best novels.

Previous Reviews

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

Catching Fire
Suzanne Collins
Scholastic: 2009

At the conclusion of The Hunger Games many readers likely wondered how Suzanne Collins could possibly follow that finale and still tell a compelling story which would at all live up to The Hunger Games. The Hunger Games was a particular event in the novel, a one shot deal, a reality television show meant to degrade and humiliate each of the twelve Districts surrounding the Capitol. The Games were a yearly event, but the winner would be exempt from future games and the losers, well the losers are all killed as part of the Games. Winning equals survival and The Hunger Games followed Katniss Evergreen, a girl from District Twelve, in her attempt to survive the games and return to her District and her family.

Now, early on in The Hunger Games the reader likely figured out that Katniss would win the Games. The novel featured first-person narration and a likeable heroine and it was the first volume of a proposed trilogy. While it would not be impossible for Collins to kill off her heroine, it should have been viewed as an unlikely event. The drama of The Hunger Games was in how Katniss would survive, in how many of the contestants she would have to kill, and whom. It would be in her struggle to live, but still be herself. Readers may have been able to guess one aspect of the ending, but the fun is seeing how it all comes together. Collins also had some surprises for the reader and it is those surprises which inform the set up of Catching Fire.

This is where those who don’t want to know the actual ending to The Hunger Games should stop reading.

Yes, Katniss survived and won the Hunger Games. Her method of winning, though, was a defiance of the rules of the game, and thus of the authority of the Capitol itself. That she was able to succeed was a testament to the social popularity of the Games in the Capitol. What happened was that the final two contestants were Katniss and the other boy selected from District Twelve, Peeta. During the Games Katniss and Peeta become close, though much was her strategy to win gifts from the viewers. Her strategy was to play up their relationship and in the end, to threaten mutual suicide using poisoned berries rather than for either to kill the other. It worked, and for the first time ever in the seventy-four year history of the Games, there were two winners.

The problem with the Capitol was that the ruling elite saw Katniss as defying their authority and the Games are meant to be a demonstration of their authority over the Districts. Her actions could be construed as inciting insurrection amongst the Districts, though she intended no such thing. President Snow threatens Katniss that she must keep up her charade of intense love for Peeta, a love she doesn’t feel. That she must do nothing on the post Games tour to incite any rebellion, intentionally or not.

That’s the opening set up for Catching Fire. Like The Hunger Games, the novel is centered around Katniss and her attempts to survive an impossible situation. Unlike The Hunger Games, the opening premise of the novel is not a physical fight to the death, though the stakes are equally high.

The question readers had at the end of The Hunger Games? It’s answered. Yes, Catching Fire lives up to the promise of The Hunger Games and, in fact, surpasses it and raises the bar once again. Collins throws impossible twists and threats at her characters, puts them in extreme danger, and requires impossible decisions of them. Catching Fire is, in turn, thrilling and heartbreaking, powerful and gutsy. Catching Fire takes everything good in The Hunger Games, and makes them better.

If it could be viewed as possible, Catching Fire raises the stakes of The Hunger Games and Suzanne Collins tells a story which is much more compelling than the one the suggested by the opening chapters of the novel. Unlike The Hunger Games, readers will be unlikely to predict how Catching Fire will end. Yes, Katniss is still the narrator of the novel, but she has a different aim in Catching Fire.

This is a fantastic novel.

The concluding volume of The Hunger Games trilogy should be one of the more hotly anticipated titles of 2010.

Previous Review
The Hunger Games

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Quiet War, by Paul McAuley

The Quiet War
Paul McAuley
Pyr: 2009

The enemy does not yet realize it, but we are already engaged in a small, quiet war of attrition and diplomacy, of propaganda and subtle sabotage. Their morale has been sapped. -pg 315

Paul McAuley’s definition of the “quiet war” late in the novel is really the comprehensive statement of what sort of novel The Quiet War is. The Quiet War is not a loud or flashy military science fiction novel. Though interstellar warfare is hinted at, especially in that first chapter with the pilots, The Quiet War has little to do with open warfare. There is military action, sure, but the novel is about the little political games that are played between two factions when all out war is not desirable.

As is likely in novels featuring colonization throughout the solar system (or beyond), Earth eventually comes into conflict with those colonies. With the extreme distance between Earth and the moons of Saturn, Earth-rule is a near impossibility, and space is the new West. The colonists left Earth because they were dissatisfied with life there and the longer humanity is away from the home-planet, the more the aims of the colonies differ from those of Earth.

The copy on the back cover purports that the central question of the novel is “who decides what it means to be human?”, but that doesn’t seem quite right. If The Quiet War has a central question, and it is perfectly acceptable if it does not, it may instead be “who decides the destiny of humanity?”, which is a somewhat different question. The governments of Earth desire that control, that the future, be on their terms. The “Outers” desire the freedom to chart their own individual destinies. Naturally, and naturally this is the central conflict of the novel told through the characters like Macy Minnot and Sri Hong-Owen and their roles in the conflict.

The Quiet War is smart science fiction and it is written in such a way that doesn’t require a PHD (or years of particular reading experience) for admission. The prose is clear and concise, conveying a good deal of information without bogging down the reader in technical jargon. The story stands without the jargon and is quiet beautiful in, well, it’s quietness. McAuley tells a story spanning multiple planets and moons, a potential war across the solar system, a reshaped and reformed Earth, introduces a variety of characters of intense scientific background, and he does it in a manner which fools the reader into believing this was all so easy to construct. Environmentalism, genetics, and galactic colonization and it is butter smooth.

This is an impressive novel. More science fiction needs to be like this.

Reading copy provided courtesy of Pyr.

Also, be sure to check out Adam Roberts' 2008 review of the novel.

Monday, December 14, 2009

19 Books I'm Looking Forward to in 2010

This is the third time I've attempted to put together a list of the books I am most looking forward to in the coming year.

If you take a look at the previous two lists you'll note that there are two particular novels which are frequent inhabitants of these lists. Hopefully 2010 is the year both are completed and published. I feel hopeful.

1. Towers of Midnight, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (November): After finding out just how good of a job Sanderson did with The Gathering Storm, and given that The Wheel of Time has long been my favorite fantasy series, this second of three concluding volumes to the epic has to be the most anticipated volume of the year for me.

2. A Dance with Dragons, by George R. R. Martin (unknown): Last year I wrote "I believe and hope that 2009 will give us the new George R. R. Martin. If it does then fantasy fans shall rejoice. Or, they should." Well, I believe that 2010 will give us the new George R. R. Martin. If it does, fantasy fans should rejoice. At the very least, I will.

3. The Republic of Thieves, by Scott Lynch (unknown / July): The first two volumes of The Gentleman Bastards were some of the freshest and flat out fun fantasy I've had the pleasure to read in some time. Recent livejournal posts from Scott Lynch have suggested that the third volume is almost complete and that there is a decent chance we'll see this in 2010.

4. Shadow Unit: Season One, by Emma Bull and Elizabeth Bear (editors) (unknown): Unlike every other book on this list (or previous lists), I've read every published word of Shadow Unit. Follow the link and you'll get to the main site. It's all free for the reading (donations accepted), but it'll be great to have a chance to have a copy on my bookshelf.

5. The Prince of Storms, by Kay Kenyon (January): The Entire and the Rose is a very strong science fiction series and with the bar set very high, I expect that Kenyon is going to deliver an outstanding conclusion.

6. Swords and Dark Magic, by Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan (editors): C'mon now, look at the Table of Contents. Can't wait for this one.

7. Fort Freak, by George R. R. Martin (editor) (December): New Wild Cards, now with Cherie Priest and David Anthony Durham.

8. Dreadnought, by Cherie Priest (September): "New Cherie Priest" is generally enough to get me in the door, but this is the follow up to Boneshaker. Nuff said.

9. The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson (August): In the middle of finishing Wheel of Time (and just after finishing both Mistborn and Warbreaker), Brandon Sanderson is launching a potential ten volume new series titled The Stormlight Archive. This is the first volume. Years before The Way of Kings was ever seriously announced there was a listing for it on and faux-reviews of the faux-novel began to appear. Now we get the real thing.

10. The Sea Thy Mistress, by Elizabeth Bear (November): The third and concluding volume to Bear's Edda of Burdens trilogy. By the Mountain Bound improved on an already good All the Windwracked Stars. With no idea at all as to how this will end, the end of the year can't come soon enough.

11. Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal (June): Most easily described as "Jane Austen with magic", I wouldn't necessarily be drawn to the subject. Except, this one is written by Mary Robinette Kowal and I am more than enamored with her short fiction.

12. Horns, by Joe Hill (February): Joe Hill's first novel was the outstanding Heart-Shaped Box. Doesn't matter what this is about. I'll follow Hill anywhere he wants to go. Literary-wise, that is. Anything more than that would be weird.

13. Eclipse Four, by Jonathan Strahan (editor): Arguably the best original anthology series on the market (not that there are many of them), and I'm happy that Strahan and Night Shade won't be stopping at Three.

14. Gardens of the Sun, by Paul McAuley: I only recently finished reading The Quiet War and my review is forthcoming, but there is no way the sequel wouldn't be on this list. That's some well done science fiction, y'all.

15. The Best of Joe R. Lansdale (February): The short fiction of Joe Lansdale is exciting and it is dangerous. There is an edge to Lansdale which is thrilling for the reader. A Best Of is something to celebrate.

16. Lesser Demons, by Norman Partridge (April): The last time I read a novella from Partridge it was Dark Harvest, so I'm itchin to see what Partridge has for us this time around.

17. The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, Volume 4, by Jonathan Strahan (editor) (March): My favorite year's best anthology series.

18. Who Fears Death, by Nnedi Okorafor (June): Post-apocalyptic Africa. I've previously reader Okorafor's The Shadow Speaker and was impressed. This should be one of the year's major releases.

19. Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld (October): Just yesterday I finished Westerfeld's Leviathan. It's all kinds of awesome. Alternate history of World War I. Westerfeld seems to play the war straight, but the technology change is fascinating in its execution. Oh, and did I mention it is awesome?

Now, obviously there are plenty of fantastic novels which will be published in 2010. We can expect new novels from Tobias Buckell, Steven Erikson, Elizabeth Bear (besides the one I mentioned), Kim Stanley Robinson, Connie Willis, Dan Simmons, Liz Williams, Alastair Reynolds, Adam Roberts, Robert Sawyer, Stephen Baxter, Cory Doctorow, China Mieville, and, and, and you get the point. There's plenty of goodness to go around.

These are the 19 pieces of goodness that I most want to read.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The last Karen Traviss Star Wars novel...

I hold in my hands the last Star Wars novel from Karen Traviss. Back in August I wrote about Karen's announcement that she was leaving the franchise and that she had two novels remaining in the pipeline. The first was Imperial Commando: 501st. This would be followed by the second Imperial Commando novel.

At the time this information was accurate and it came directly from Traviss.

Things have changed.

In a recent blog entry, Karen Traviss announced that she will no longer be writing the Imperial Commando sequel.

But today I'm reacting, because somebody blurted out something on a forum, and the rumours started. Yes, for once a rumour is actually true; I've withdrawn from the sequel to Imperial Commando 501st, which was going to be my final Star Wars novel. I had issues over contractual matters and working practices that still showed no signs of being resolvable after a couple of years, so I told the publisher that I would not be doing the book.
Color me bummed.

Traviss explains some more of the background to the situation, without going into details that should not be for public discourse, but what readers of her books may find most interesting is her description of the continuity / canon issues that are coming into play.

I was told that the Mandalorians were being revamped as long-standing pacifists who'd given up fighting centuries ago and that Mandalore was now a post-apocalyptic wasteland devastated by war. I was told not to refer to (recent) Mandalorian history because of that, as it was obviously at odds with the old continuity in my novels. That's fairly common procedure for any franchise - but unfortunately it wasn't that simple in practice. The two Commando series - and quite a few older books and comics, come to that -were based entirely on that original history, and basic logic meant that the fundamental plot of the series could never have existed if this had been a pacifist society. Neither could any of the characters or their motives have existed, because they were wholly based on a global warrior culture living on a non-nuked Mandalore.
That's that. Given the freedom that Traviss was granted to define Mandalorian culture, it's interesting that the television program is redefining who Mandalorians are after only a couple of years and while Traviss was still writing novels featuring the Mandalorian culture.

Now, it is certainly possible (if not probable) that the real story is a bit more complicated and that there was a way to bridge the gap and allow what Traviss was doing fit into the changing landscape of Star Wars.

The trouble with all of this is that one of the greatest aspects of the Star Wars universe is that continuity has been important. The writers (and the good folk at LFL) have been making continuity work, but this could be something different here. We don't need to know everything, but as Traviss was my favorite Star Wars writer and I felt she wrote the strongest stuff in the franchise, this is sad (for me).

Traviss has one last post on the subject.
It's clear from the mail I'm getting after yesterday's entry that many of you think this is some noble act of creative martyrdom. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but it just isn't. I tried to walk you through a complicated industry stage by stage, but I've failed with many of you, I think. If you read yesterday's blog slowly and carefully, I do spell it out. It's nothing to do with what I think of actual storylines - it's part technical, part business. It's nothing to do with liking or not liking changes. It's about whether I can make something work or not.

Business side - you don't need to know the details. But I'm a business, just like your local baker, plumber, supermarket, or car dealership. It's a job like any other. I make the same kinds of decisions for the same kinds of reasons. (By the way, I don't work for LFL - novelists almost always work for publishers, not directly for franchises. I know it's complicated, but then reality generally is. )
In the end, all I can do is enjoy Imperial Commando: 501st (and I expect to) and wish Karen Traviss best of luck in her future endeavors. I don't know if I will read work for other franchises or not. It's not loyalty to Star Wars, but more disinterest in other franchises. That said, if Traviss publishes more of her creator-owned non-tie-in fiction, I will be all over that.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Always Forever, by Mark Chadbourn

Always Forever
Mark Chadbourn
Pyr: 2009

With Always Forever, Mark Chadbourn brings his Age of Misrule trilogy to a close. After the previous two volumes, Chadbourn has left his heroes with just a shred of hope that victory might yet be possible, or if not hope, with just enough pluck to keep fighting the good fight. Either way, both World’s End and Darkest Hour ended on down notes of defeat snatched from the jaws of victory.

With Shavi dead at the end of Darkest Hour, and Laura impregnated with the dark god Balor and in captivity, Jack Churchill and the Brothers and Sisters of the Dragon are nearly broken. They failed. Again. Always Forever is their last ditch assault on the Fomorii and their attempt to ally themselves with the Tuatha de Danaan before all hope really is lost and Balor destroys the world. This small group is the only hope humanity has to not be crushed into nothingness by Balor OR to lose themselves to the Tuatha. Their mystical heritage and great hearts is the one shot to defeat all of faerie.

Chadbourn relies perhaps too much on the mythology of faerie and not enough on the story itself. Contrast the Age of Misrule trilogy with the four volumes of Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age and it is clear that Chadbourn is far weaker in characterization and his use of the tropes and mythology of faerie comes across as far more forced than it should in a trilogy of this potential. Much of Chadbourn’s use of the faerie is rather heavy handed.

If readers forget for a moment that Always Forever (and the trilogy as a whole) is set in a version of the real world, the novel (and trilogy) reads as a fairly standard quest fantasy. The characters hop from place to place working towards some nebulous objective, one which they barely understand and only Thomas the Rhymer seems to know for sure. Guide or not, he’s not telling. He just points, from time to time.

This is where the heavy reliance on mythology comes in. Chadbourn takes the reader almost through a travelogue of the deeply symbolic historical sites of England. There are brief wonderings of what might be happening in the rest of the world, but the fight is located solely in England. There is a strong emphasis on the travel, of discovery and “unlocking the long dormant power of the land”.

What Mark Chadbourn does well is built a story from the ground up, steep it in darkness, place the characters in perpetual danger and most importantly, have the outcome be in serious doubt. There is no promise that the heroes will win the day, or that if they do, any of them will survive to see the victory. While few of the characters are truly likeable, they are just interesting enough for the reader to want to know what happens to them and care enough to continue on and find out.

All this paints a more negative picture of Always Forever than the novel deserves. This isn't a bad book. It's just that the flaws of the novel and the series weigh heavier on the mind than the strengths. Always Forever closes out a solid, though not spectacular, fantasy trilogy. The Age of Misrule did not live up to the hype of being one of the best trilogies of the year, but Chadbourn did succeed in telling a dark story with the world in peril and doing it with a certain amount of style. Each volume of the Age of Misrule had a consistent level of quality. There was no weak link here, but in retrospect, no standout. Many readers will be satisfied with Mark Chadbourn’s storytelling. It’s strong, and fans of the first two novels should be satisfied. The novel mostly ends well and it clears up some niggling loose ends, but while Always Forever delivers everything promised from the first two novels, the reader is as likely to be tired of the near ceaseless bickering from the characters and may be ready for the whole thing to be over. Just for it to be over.

This is still more negative than the novel truly merits, but perhaps there is something to be said for the fact that the flaws of the novel stand out more sharply than the strengths.

Reading copy provided courtesy of Pyr.

Previous Reviews
World's End
Darkest Hour

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Imaro, by Charles Saunders

Charles Saunders
Night Shade Books: 2006 (DAW: 1981)

It would be easy to categorize Imaro as a novel in the tradition of Conan, only written with a black African hero. It would be easy, but only partially correct. The truth is that Imaro is a fully realized sword and sorcery novel set in an alternate Africa, one which respects the traditions and histories of Africa in general and Rwanda specifically, one which attempts to draw the Western reader into a world they have seldom encountered and never like this.

Originally published in 1981 Imaro tells a classic pulp sword & sorcery fantasy of a young warrior who was a half-breed and never truly accepted by his mother’s tribe. Betrayal and dark magic force Imaro to leave his homeland and seek a life elsewhere. Imaro’s physical prowess gains him renown and while Charles Saunders has written this hero in the tradition of Conan, Saunders has built upon Howard’s foundation and built a distinct hero in a mould of his own.

In the “Revisiting Imaro” essay at the front of the 2006 Night Shade Books edition, Charles Saunders writes of his decision to revisit and revise the text of Imaro. He wrote about his 1970’s story “Slaves of the Giant-Kings” and how it was adapted into Imaro. In that original story there was a slaughter (though not a systematic genocide) of one tribe modeled after the Tutsi by a tribe modeled after the Hutu. Then came 1994 and the real life Rwandan genocide occurred. Tutsi slaughtered by Hutu.

Saunders writes:
At the time of the Rwanda genocide the three published Imaro novels were out of print. I had entertained sporadic thoughts of reviving them, but those considerations ended as the impact of the events of Rwanda hit home. My fiction had inadvertently crossed the border into reality, and there was no way I could allow “Slaves of the Giant-Kings” to go into print again. To do so would have given the impression that I was trying to exploit the Rwanda genocide, even though the story was first written nearly twenty years before the event.

Saunders goes on to explain much of the process of how and why Imaro was revised for the 2006 edition, but it is important to note that this edition is, in the end, substantially different from the original 1981 edition. The consequences of this change, of replacing “Slaves of the Giant-Kings” with “The Afua” ripples through the rest of the novel and into the rest of the series.

The end result is that no matter what the original Imaro was, readers of the 2006 edition can rest assured that the book they hold in their hands was as carefully thought out and purposefully written as the original. That every word matters and that the impact of changes was considered. The end result is that Imaro is still a damn fine story which demands to be read.

Imaro the character and Imaro the novel are created as part of a warrior tradition. Readers can expect to encounter intense battles and feats of great strength and cunning. Readers can expect to be taken on a thrilling adventure in an unfamiliar yet very real world. This is a dark and violent tale and is a powerful vision of a proud warrior. Fans of Sword & Sorcery or Epic Fantasy should love this. Charles Saunders will draw readers in and keep them hooked with the strength of his storytelling. This is good stuff, and I would go so far as to say that Imaro is an important novel, and as such, not to be missed, though the relatively poor sales of Saunders would suggest that a lot of people have missed out on Imaro and the two sequels. That's a shame. Besides blazing a trail with a novel centering on a truly African hero in a truly African setting (something not seen near enough in fantasy), Charles Saunders has also just written an excellent novel. Period.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Waiting for Athena

John Scalzi has a holiday gift for you. I'll let him tell you what it is.
The holidays are about giving (well, actually, they’re not, but giving is what we do during the holidays, so close enough), and in that spirit, I and Subterranean Press have a gift for you. It’s a pdf version of Waiting for Athena, the printed chapbook that came as an extra with the signed, limited edition of Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded. It collects up several Whatever entries I wrote at the end of Krissy’s pregnancy with Athena, and is filled with observations from an about-to-dad, as well at the letter I wrote to Athena on the day she was born. For newer Whatever readers, it’s a glimpse at what I was like 11 years ago (yikes!), while for older readers it’s a chance to relive some stuff that hasn’t been on the site in years. And for everyone, it’s amusing to see me panic in my delightfully overthinky way about the fact I would soon be a dad. Fun for everyone!

Now, I wasn't a reader of Scalzi in 1998 and the odds of my going back and reading eleven year old blog posts on the site was pretty small, but I did read You're Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to a Coffee Shop: Scalzi On Writing, and that was also a collection of Whatever entries from the past, and I quite enjoyed that. So, the chance to read a limited amount of entries that were collected for theme was worth jumping on.

The PDF of Waiting for Athena was only 44 pages and even that included a handful of blanks and title pages, so it's a fairly short read.

It was interesting to step into Scalzi's mind from eleven years ago and see how he was publicly reacting to his pending fatherhood. It's a good read, especially his entry about a bedridden Krissy torturing telemarketers. Waiting for Athena ends a day after his daughter was born, with a letter John wrote to Athena.

It's a sweet little chapbook.

Thanks for putting it up, John.

Monday, December 07, 2009

November 2009 Reading

Here's my monthly wrap-up of what I read the previous month. Links, as always, go to the reviews.

114. Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout
115. Omen, by Christie Golden
116. Yendi, by Steven Brust
117. Nightmares in the Sky, by Stephen King and F. Stop Fitzgerald
118. The Living Dead, by John Joseph Adams (editor)
119. Always Forever, by Mark Chadbourn
120. By the Mountain Bound, by Elizabeth Bear
121. The Quiet War, by Paul McAuley
122. Steal Across the Sky, by Nancy Kress
123. Best Served Cold, by Joe Abercrombie

Graphic Novels
95. Y: The Last Man: Girl on Girl, by Brian K. Vaughan
96. Scalped: Indian Country, by Jason Aaron
97. Ex Machina: March to War, by Brian K. Vaughan
98. Transmetropolitan: Dirge, by Warren Ellis
99. DMZ: War Powers, by Brian Wood
100. Transmetropolitan: The Cure, by Warren Ellis
101. Y: The Last Man: Paper Dolls, by Brian K. Vaughan
102. Y: The Last Man: Kimono Dragons, by Brian K. Vaughan
103. Preacher: Dixie Fried, by Garth Ennis
104. 100 Bullets: Hang Up on the Hang Low, by Brian Azzarello
105. Preacher: War in the Sun, by Garth Ennis
106. Transmetropolitan: Tales of Human Waste, by Warren Ellis
107. Star Wars: Vector, Volume 2, by John Ostrander
108. 100 Bullets: A Foregone Tomorrow, by Brian Azzarello
109. Y: The Last Man: Motherland, by Brian K. Vaughan
110. Y: The Last Man: Whys and Wherefores, by Brian K. Vaughan
111. Transmetropolitan: One More Time, by Warren Ellis
112. Preacher: Salvation, by Garth Ennis

Previous Reading

Sunday, December 06, 2009


I've been interviewed by Harry Markov over at Temple Library Reviews. If you're interested enough to read this, surely you'll want to read that.

So, go check it out.


Friday, December 04, 2009

boxing day...

I stumbled across Katherine Dunn the other day. Don't remember what I was looking for when I did so. Dunn is best known as the author of Geek Love. Haven't read it. I have it on hold at the library now.

That's not why I mention Dunn, though.

Dunn is also known as an essayist on boxing. What I stumbled across was her essay "Imagine a Square". I read it and wanted more. I found "Defending Tyson", which was written after Mike Tyson bit the ear of Evander Holyfield. The Tyson episode makes some good points, but is a bit over the top at the same time.

I also ran across a recent interview with Dunn regarding her love of boxing and her new book of essays, One Ring Circus.

I'm just fascinated.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Best Served Cold, by Joe Abercrombie

Best Served Cold
Joe Abercrombie
Orbit: 2009

As can be guessed from the title, Best Served Cold is a novel of revenge. Monza Murcatto is betrayed by her employer, Duke Orso. Her brother murdered and Monza assumed dead and dumped down the side of a cliff, Monza was left with nothing but hate. Once a renowned and feared general Monza was alone in the world. All that was left was a burning desire to take her revenge on Orso and the six other men responsible for her betrayal.

With the damage done to her body from her almost-murder, Monza hires a strange assortment of very dangerous people to assist her in her vengeance.

Best Served Cold is set in the world of Abercrombie’s debut trilogy The First Law and it is set a few years after the conclusion to Last Argument of Kings, but Best Served Cold stands on its own and requires to knowledge of the events of the previous three books. Several minor characters from the first trilogy make appearances here, and references to others also crop up, so those readers who are familiar with The First Law will have a greater reference point to who “The Cripple” is and why he should be feared, and Shivers past experience with The Bloody Nine will be sharp in the minds of those readers. The thing is, Best Served Cold works just fine without that background. Despite the twists and turns and betrayals, Best Served Cold is a straightforward story of revenge. There are all sorts of side stories going on, but the core of the novel is Monza and her desire to revenge herself and her brother’s murder on Duke Orso and carve a path of death through the seven she believes to be ultimately responsible. Damn the consequences.

Readers familiar with The First Law have an idea what to expect from Best Served Cold. For the potential reader who has never heard of Joe Abercrombie before, Best Served Cold is violent and profane, the novel is fast paced with plenty of action and betrayal. There is a sense of grit to the novel, that the blood may hit readers in their face. Best Served Cold is dark and nasty and it is an absolute delight.

Previous Reviews
The Blade Itself
Before They Are Hanged
Last Argument of Kings

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Yendi, by Steven Brust

Steven Brust
Ace: 1984

Rather than picking up in Yendi where he left off in Jhereg, Steven Brust’s second Vlad Taltos novel takes the reader back to a time in which Vlad was still increasing the amount of territory he would control as a capo in the House of Jhereg.

Yendi tells two stories. First is the conflict between Vlad and Laris, a neighboring crime lord encroaching on Vlad’s territory. This conflict flamed into a street war which attracted the notice of the city’s ruling elite. The second story is of the meeting of Vlad and Cawti, the woman who would later be his wife. A good portion of Yendi details some of Vlad's background that was not covered in Jhereg, though this is something likely to continue throughout the series.

On his website, Brust has this to say about Yendi.
My least favorite book. It was such a relief to get back to Vlad after struggling with To Reign In Hell that I didn't pay enough attention to what I was doing--I just wrote a straight-ahead story with nothing much else to it. That's fine, in my opinion, if it's a Really Good Story. But Yendi is only an okay story. I'd love to be able write this one over.
Not very positive, and while I can appreciate the author’s perspective that he did not accomplish what he wanted to with the novel and his prerogative for feeling so, what Brust is overlooking here is that for the reader, Yendi is still a damn entertaining novel. If this is the Vlad Taltos novel which Brust feels is his weakest, the rest of them should be damn fine indeed. Yendi may be a straightforward novel which didn’t achieve Brust’s aims, but the fact is, Yendi was a pleasure to read. Readers will enjoy this second trip into the world of the Dragaera and the wise-cracking (yet serious) assassin Vlad Taltos. Vlad is smart (unsurprisingly, so is the author) and this comes across on the page. Violence is the trade of Vlad Taltos, and he will resort to it when needed, but first he wants and needs to figure out what is going on. It is that game of trying to stay one step ahead (or to catch up) that is the true pleasure for the reader of the Vlad Taltos novels, and in that, Brust was quite successful.

Other Reviews