Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Nebula Award Nominee: "Vinegar Peace"

Vinegar Peace, or, The Wrong-Way Used-Adult Orphanage
Michael Bishop
Asimov’s: July 2008
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novelette

Does knowing the barest hint of the author’s real life influence one’s reading of a story? I think it does, and it can color that reading to the point that you can’t be sure if your reading is fully textual or inferred from what little you know of the author. Is the author saying what you think he is saying? Is the story a commentary on his real life or, not?

That’s what I think about when reading “Vinegar Peace”. Very early on the reader is told

That’s why they call it a Wrong-Way, Used-Adult Orphanage, he says. You get into one not because you’ve lost a parent. Your last living child has to die.
If you know that Michael Bishop’s son Jamie was killed in 2007, how do you read this story? Do you read it straight, or is metaphor for the experience of a grieving parent? Is it fair to read “Vinegar Peace” in that manner?

Note that I’m talking around the story. There’s a reason for that. As a story, divorced from any wondering about where it came from, I was completely disinterested in “Vinegar Peace”. I don’t see the appeal or what the Nebula nominators saw in the story, and the weird journey through that new adult orphanage failed to peak my interest.

So, beyond acknowledging the existence of the story on the Nebula ballot, and perhaps unfairly overthinking how “Vinegar Peace” relates to the author’s personal loss and grief (for which Mr. Bishop has my deepest sympathies), I find nothing to say *about* the story itself. All of my questions and thoughts circle the story without getting at the actual text because I have no interest in the text.

Monday, April 26, 2010

upcoming stuff

I've been a bad blogger lately, but I do have some stuff I plan to get up in the near future.

I should have a post on my re-read of Dragon Prince. It is half written and it's fixing to be a long one. I'll also have reviews of Starship: Flagship and The Shadow Pavilion, and then some very brief thoughts on The Windup Girl to resume my award posting.

I expect to talk about the steampunk issue of Weird Tales that recently arrived in my mailbox.

Elizabeth Bear's Bone and Jewel Creatures should hopefully be showing up any day now. I'm pumped to read this one. I also have a shiny new ARC of Mary Robinette Kowal's debut novel Shades of Milk and Honey.

Oh, and Aaron Wilson, he of the former Soulless Machine Review blog, has a nasty little flash fiction story up called "Dog Fight". Gotta support my Minnesota peeps, plus, I like the story.

And, since I'm supporting local peeps and friends - keep the name Kelly Barnhill in the back of your minds for next year. Kelly has her debut YA novel from Little, Brown AND her first (of many, I hope) short story collection from PS Publishing both set to come out next year. Woo!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Rule Number Two, by Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft

Rule Number Two
Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft
Little, Brown: 2007

Rule Number Two is sort of my counterpoint to Mass Casualties. Both are memoirs from the medical personnel serving in Iraq. Mass Casualties was from an Army surgeon, Rule Number Two from a Navy psychologist serving as part of a Combat Stress unit. This is just about as far as the two memoirs are similar because where Mass Casualties was personal to the author, Dr. Heidi Squier Kraft’s account is able to bring the emotion of service home to the reader.

The title “Rule Number Two” refers to an episode of MASH where Henry explains to Hawkeye that “when he went to school for commanding officers, he learned that there are two rules of war. Rule number one is that young men die. Rule number two is that doctors can’t change rule number one.” (pg 133)

Dr. Kraft realizes that there may a third rule left unspoken. “War damages doctors, too. They are damaged by rule number two.” (pg 134)

This is the heart of Rule Number Two, the striving to heal and save Kraft’s fellow soldiers and the struggle to remain whole herself.

The seven months of Dr. Kraft’s service brings home both the pride of her service as well as the physical and emotional challenges of her service. Combat Stress brings comfort to the Marines through the trials of tragedy and trauma. Several times Dr. Kraft mentions how the Marines rely on and take care of their doctors, but she makes a point that as important as the Navy doctors are to the Marines, the Marines are equally as important to the Navy docs. These are HER Marines.

Through quick paragraphs every few chapters, Rule Number Two gives readers glimpses into the home life Dr. Kraft left behind to service in Iraq. She left fifteen month old twins in the care of her husband and her parents. These passages are poignant because as restrained as Dr. Kraft is with expressing just how she felt due to the separation, the e-mails from home frames everything else in her narrative.

Rule Number Two is a superior memoir and should be considered a must-read account of service in Iraq. Dr. Kraft brings a non-combat perspective to the reader and she does so with grace and skill.

Monday, April 19, 2010

March 2010 Reading

Okay. I'm way late in getting this post up.

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

24. Teckla, by Steven Brust
25. Starship: Flagship, by Mike Resnick
26. Once a Runner, by John L. Parker, Jr.
27. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, by Haruki Murakami
28. The Pluto Files, by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
29. The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi
30. The Shadow Pavilion, by Liz Williams
31. The Runner’s Rule Book, by Mark Remy
32. Misery, by Stephen King
33. Personal Record, by Rachel Toor
34. Judas Unchained, by Peter F. Hamilton
35. Horns, by Joe Hill
36. The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett

Graphic Novels
30. The Umbrella Academy: Dallas, by Gerard Way
31. The Walking Dead: The Calm Before, by Robert Kirkman
32. Criminal: The Dead and the Dying, by Ed Brubaker
33. Star Wars Legacy: Storms, by John Ostrander
34. 100 Bullets: The Hard Way, by Brian Azzarello
35. Echo: Atomic Dreams, by Terry Moore
36. The Walking Dead: Made to Suffer, by Robert Kirkman
37. 100 Bullets: Strychnine Lives, by Brian Azzarello
38. Criminal: Bad Night, by Ed Brubaker

Previous Reading

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mass Casualties, by Michael Anthony

Mass Casualties
SPC Michael Anthony
Adams Media: 2009

In the realm of books about military experience, readers are far more likely to encounter accounts from embedded journalists and first person accounts from front line soldiers than they are to find a memoir from an Army surgeon. Mass Casualties, subtitled "A Young Medic's True Story of Death, Deception, and Dishonor in Iraq" is the operating room perspective from the current Iraq war.

Filled with youthful idealism about what life in the Army was life, Michael Anthony enlisted in the Army at age 17 to serve his country and follow a family tradition of military service. His year in Iraq was nothing that he expected. Anthony faced ineffective and sometimes petty leadership, other soldiers acting out and acting dishonorably, and the general danger of being in a war zone.

Viewed from the perspective of a memoir providing another wartime account, Mass Casualties is a valuable book. Anthony’s base was under repeated mortar fire and the memoir gets at the stresses placed on the soldier on base. Equally important, Mass Casualties provides a glimpse into what a poorly run and dysfunctional Army unit is like and what the impact is on the morale and psyche of the soldier.

To understand whether Anthony’s experience is an aberration or the norm of the Army, a much larger survey of returning soldiers would be required. It should safe to say, however, that even if that Michael Anthony’s experience was atypical of soldiers who were not on active patrol, it may not have been an unusual experience . . . even if the Army’s upper echelon would never, if they only knew, condone some of the poor leadership Anthony encountered.

As a memoir, and as a book of the modern military experience, Mass Casualties is not as well written as other books on the market. A memoir is not likely to hold up well next to a piece of professional journalism (think Generation Kill or The Interrogators), so that wouldn’t be a fair comparison. But, other memoirs such as My War: Killing Time in Iraq, by Colby Buzzell or Philip Caputo’s Vietnam classic A Rumor of War are more accomplished works and provide a better comparison.

What Michael Anthony offers here is a perspective easily overlooked next to a movie focusing on a bomb squad, embedded reportage, and memoir from combat soldiers patrolling the streets of Iraq or fighting in Afghanistan. Anthony’s voice here is quite valuable, especially as he recounts the experience of the Army pushing Anthrax pills on soldiers despite medical evidence suggesting serious risk.

Mass Casualties may not be a top shelf military memoir, but readers looking to understand different facets of what the modern soldier faces will do well to take a look at this book.

Reading copy provided courtesy of the author.

Monday, April 12, 2010

2010 Pulitzer Prize Winners

Via Omnivoracious, the 2010 Pulitzer Prize Winners have been announced.

Fiction: Tinkers, by Paul Harding
History: Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World, by Liaquat Ahamed
Biography: The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, by T.J. Stiles
General Nonfiction: The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and its Dangerous Legacy, by David E. Hoffman
Poetry: Versed, by Rae Armantrout
Drama: Next to Normal, by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey

I was aware of the eventual History and Biography winners, but Tinkers? Never heard of it. Just reserved it at the library.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

New Tom Clancy: Dead or Alive

According to a Publisher’s Weekly article (via Omnivoracious), Tom Clancy is set to publish his first novel in seven years this December.
Dead or Alive will feature all of Clancy's best-know characters, including Jack Ryan who, along with other Campus recruits, is dispatched by the new president to track down the "Emir," the mastermind of "vicious terrorist attacks on the West," according to Penguin. The new novel "is very much of the moment," Putnam head Ivan Held said. "It's Clancy's all-stars taking on the modern threat of terrorism."
Now, while Clancy’s novels have generally featured moments (or novel-length chunks) of glacial pacing filled with techno / political jargon and code words, I have enjoyed nearly every novel Clancy has published and I had hopes that after The Teeth of the Tiger Clancy might re-invigorate his franchise with Jack Ryan, Jr at the forefront. Or, perhaps, write another novel on the Ding Chavez / Rainbow Six side. Instead, nothing followed and all signs pointing that to be the last novel Clancy would write / publish.

Not so!

Looks like this time around Clancy has a co-writer and I’ll be very interested to see if Clancy will return in top-form, or if we’ll have a doorstop tome with just a hint of goodness.

Either way, I’m kind of excited about this news. It’ll be very interesting to see what sort of scenario Clancy has come up with and I will definitely be reading this one.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

finding the Best Related Book books

I've begun work to check the availability of the Hugo Nominees for Best Related Work. This is an interesting experience, at best.

Canary Fever: Reviews, by John Clute (Beccon)
Hope-In-The-Mist: The Extraordinary Career and Mysterious Life of Hope Mirrlees, by Michael Swanwick (Temporary Culture)
The Inter-Galactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children’s and Teens’ Science Fiction, by Farah Mendlesohn (McFarland)
On Joanna Russ, by Farah Mendlesohn (ed.) (Wesleyan)
The Secret Feminist Cabal: A Cultural History of SF Feminisms, by Helen Merrick (Aqueduct)
This is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is “I”), by Jack Vance (Subterranean)

John Scalzi noted that while he will not be putting together the Hugo Voters Packet this year, the good people at AussieCon4 will be. While I was not a member of previous Worldcons and thus was not a beneficiary of John's hard work in putting together previous packets, I would like to thank him for his past work on this. It's a fantastic idea that helps get the work in the hands of the voters and thus allows a more informed vote. It also adds to the value of even a Supporting Membership in Worldcon.

I mention the Packet because it is my hope that the nominees for Best Related Work will be included.

Hope-in-the-Mist is completely sold out. This is Me, Jack Vance would run $40, assuming it was a volume I might have been interested in purchasing anyway (it is not). Canary Fever is another $35 (including shipping), and a book of Clute's reviews would be a tough sell for me.

Checking the online catalogs of my otherwise excellent library, I think I heard laughter in the background of my searches.

On the other hand, I did reserve On Joanna Russ from the University of Minnesota library via interlibrary loan, so I'm set there...unless I find out that the book was published too recently and they won't send it (this happens sometimes on volumes published within the first year).

This is an interesting experiment, trying to track down the Best Related Book nominees.

Nebula and Hugo Award Nominee: "Act One"

Act One
Nancy Kress
Asimov’s: March 2009
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novella
Nominated for the Hugo Award: Novella

There is a feeling I get from some of Nancy Kress’s recent work that she is only giving readers a fraction of the story, and the stuff that is most interesting is the stuff she is leaving out. That was part of my issue with Steal Across the Sky, and it is my biggest problem with “Act One”.

Now, let us be fair here. The story is called “Act One”, suggesting that it is the beginning of something (of a new society, promises the Asimov’s intro) and that any ending is only a preliminary ending. It is inherent to the story.

Kress sets the reader up with the introduction of Jane Snow, a beautiful fifty-something actress whose best professional days are behind her. Jane, through her manager (and the narrator) Barry, has arranged an interview with a cell of The Group, a mysterious organization devoted to changing the world by changing humanity through gene modification. The Group has began with changing children, giving them “Arlen’s Syndrome”, something they believe will change the world. Readers learn what it is a bit later in the story. Jane’s interview is to prepare for a movie script which could be her big comeback.

The story hinges on the believability of a biological vector for The Group to somehow “ripple” out into the wider world and infect and alter the rest of humanity, to force that better world into being. Science fiction and popular fiction have been riddled with enough stories of mutating contagions to make just about anything plausible. From The Stand to Wild Cards to a myriad of zombie tales, it is an easy enough leap to make for the reader.

As per usual, Kress mostly concerns herself with the human stories of Barry, Jane, and a couple of other characters. How Jane is affected by the research she has done, how Barry’s past continues to hurt him, what the children with Arlen’s Syndrome are like is the true core of the story. This is what makes a Nancy Kress story (or novel) so readable. She deals with her characters in a natural and honest manner and because the stories never get bogged down in jargon, the overall storytelling is so smooth.

The problem is that while the core stories of the protagonists are resolved, readers will still be left wondering “what next” in regards to the societal changes that have begun as a result of the actions of The Group. Whether this story is only the first act in a cycle of stories, or “Act One” is complete as Kress intended, “Act One” is ultimately unsatisfying in its conclusion. When a story reveals that something just happened that will (likely) irrevocably change the world, and then fails to show what that change looks like on a macro scale, there will be an inevitable sense of disappointment.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Nebula Award Nominee: "Divining Light"

"Divining Light"
Ted Kosmatka
Asimov's: August 2008
Nominated for the Nebula Award: Novelette

Holy crap.

Seldom do I finish a story and find myself stunned, staring off into space trying to wrap my head around what I just read.

That’s just what happened with Ted Kosmatka’s superb story “Divining Light.” Kosmatka begins simply enough, with a once famous scientist receiving a research grant as a mercy from an old friend who had the means to help him out. Eric, the scientist, tells James, the friend, that he can no longer do what he once could and that he couldn’t promise he wouldn’t have another breakdown. The position in the Hansen Labs is a four month mercy.

Through the opening pages readers are introduced to some of the other researchers, a hint of their experiments, and how Eric passes the time. Kosmatka’s prose is hypnotic and even though there is very little expectation that Eric will do anything of note in his four months at the lab, Kosmatka is luring readers in, suckering them into believing that “Divining Light” is just a simple, quiet story of a guy who no longer has the capacity to do serious research passing time in a research lab and drawing a healthy salary on the basis of an old friendship. That’s the sucker’s bet.

Eric’s discovery of equipment in the lab with which he could reproduce a long-proven experiment finally piques his interest and he sets out to do just that experiment. He does not wish to disprove it. Eric had used the theory in his own work in the past. He just wishes to see it with his own eyes, to do the science himself.

This is the turning point of “Divining Light” and though Ted Kosmatka is still lulling readers with his quiet and easy prose, he is setting them up for a conclusion with profound implications for…well…if I said what the conclusion implied, some of the surprise would be spoiled. Let’s not do that.

“Divining Light” is a beautifully written and thoughtfully constructed story. The conclusion is such that many readers may well sit back and wonder if what Kosmatka posits might actually be true, if it could be real. This is the best sort of science fiction.

Monday, April 05, 2010

It Takes Two available, and other links

Nicola Griffith's excellent Hugo Nominated story "It Takes Two" will be available online for the duration of the voting period. You really must check it out.

I have updated the nomination list with Nicola's story as well as a bunch of other links to the zines, fan writer, and Campbell nominees. I'll take some more time tonight to link up the artists and editors as available and check on the missing story (Asimov's is sure to post it) and the novellas (questionable with three published in book form, but I wouldn't be surprised if Pyr posted the McDonald).

Sunday, April 04, 2010

2010 Hugo Award Nominees

Nominees for the 2010 Hugo Awards have been announced.

For a point of comparison, here is my nomination ballot.

Best Novel
Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest (Tor)
The City & The City, by China MiƩville (Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America, by Robert Charles Wilson (Tor)
Palimpsest, by Catherynne M. Valente (Bantam Spectra)
Wake, by Robert J. Sawyer (Ace; Penguin; Gollancz; Analog)
The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade)

Best Novella
Act One”, by Nancy Kress (Asimov’s 3/09)
The God Engines, by John Scalzi (Subterranean)
Palimpsest”, by Charles Stross (Wireless)
Shambling Towards Hiroshima, by James Morrow (Tachyon)
“Vishnu at the Cat Circus”, by Ian McDonald (Cyberabad Days)
The Women of Nell Gwynne’s, by Kage Baker (Subterranean)

Best Novelette
Eros, Philia, Agape”, by Rachel Swirsky ( 3/09)
"The Island”, by Peter Watts (The New Space Opera 2)
It Takes Two”, by Nicola Griffith (Eclipse Three)
One of Our Bastards is Missing”, by Paul Cornell (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume Three)
Overtime”, by Charles Stross ( 12/09)
"Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest; Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast”, by Eugie Foster (Interzone 2/09)

Best Short Story
The Bride of Frankenstein”, by Mike Resnick (Asimov’s 12/09)
Bridesicle”, by Will McIntosh (Asimov’s 1/09)
The Moment”, by Lawrence M. Schoen (Footprints)
Non-Zero Probabilities”, by N.K. Jemisin (Clarkesworld 9/09)
Spar”, by Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld 10/09)

Best Related Book
Canary Fever: Reviews, by John Clute (Beccon)
Hope-In-The-Mist: The Extraordinary Career and Mysterious Life of Hope Mirrlees, by Michael Swanwick (Temporary Culture)
The Inter-Galactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children’s and Teens’ Science Fiction, by Farah Mendlesohn (McFarland)
On Joanna Russ, by Farah Mendlesohn (ed.) (Wesleyan)
The Secret Feminist Cabal: A Cultural History of SF Feminisms, by Helen Merrick (Aqueduct)
This is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This is “I”), by Jack Vance (Subterranean)

Best Graphic Story
Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? Written by Neil Gaiman; Pencilled by Andy Kubert; Inked by Scott Williams (DC Comics)
Captain Britain And MI13. Volume 3: Vampire State Written by Paul Cornell; Pencilled by Leonard Kirk with Mike Collins, Adrian Alphona and Ardian Syaf (Marvel Comics)
Fables Vol 12: The Dark Ages Written by Bill Willingham; Pencilled by Mark Buckingham; Art by Peter Gross & Andrew Pepoy, Michael Allred, David Hahn; Colour by Lee Loughridge & Laura Allred; Letters by Todd Klein (Vertigo Comics)
Girl Genius, Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm Written by Kaja and Phil Foglio; Art by Phil Foglio; Colours by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
Schlock Mercenary: The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse Written and Illustrated by Howard Tayler

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form
Avatar Screenplay and Directed by James Cameron (Twentieth Century Fox)
District 9 Screenplay by Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell; Directed by Neill Blomkamp (TriStar Pictures)
Moon Screenplay by Nathan Parker; Story by Duncan Jones; Directed by Duncan Jones (Liberty Films)
Star Trek Screenplay by Robert Orci & Alex Kurtzman; Directed by J.J. Abrams (Paramount)
Up Screenplay by Bob Peterson & Pete Docter; Story by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, & Thomas McCarthy; Directed by Bob Peterson & Pete Docter (Disney/Pixar)

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form
Doctor Who: “The Next Doctor” Written by Russell T Davies; Directed by Andy Goddard (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who: “Planet of the Dead” Written by Russell T Davies & Gareth Roberts; Directed by James Strong (BBC Wales)
Doctor Who: “The Waters of Mars” Written by Russell T Davies & Phil Ford; Directed by Graeme Harper (BBC Wales)
Dollhouse: “Epitaph 1″ Story by Joss Whedon; Written by Maurissa Tancharoen & Jed Whedon; Directed by David Solomon (Mutant Enemy)
FlashForward: “No More Good Days” Written by Brannon Braga & David S. Goyer; Directed by David S. Goyer; based on the novel by Robert J. Sawyer (ABC)

Best Editor, Long Form
Lou Anders
Ginjer Buchanan
Liz Gorinsky
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Juliet Ulman

Best Editor, Short Form
Ellen Datlow
Stanley Schmidt
Jonathan Strahan
Gordon Van Gelder
Sheila Williams

Best Professional Artist
Bob Eggleton
Stephan Martiniere
John Picacio
Daniel Dos Santos
Shaun Tan

Best Semiprozine
Ansible edited by David Langford
Clarkesworld edited by Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, & Cheryl Morgan
Interzone edited by Andy Cox
Locus edited by Charles N. Brown, Kirsten Gong-Wong, & Liza Groen Trombi
Weird Tales edited by Ann VanderMeer & Stephen H. Segal

Best Fan Writer
Claire Brialey
Christopher J Garcia
James Nicoll
Lloyd Penney
Frederik Pohl

Best Fanzine
Argentus edited by Steven H Silver
Banana Wings edited by Claire Brialey and Mark Plummer
CHALLENGER edited by Guy H. Lillian III
Drink Tank edited by Christopher J Garcia, with guest editor James Bacon
File 770 edited by Mike Glyer
StarShipSofa edited by Tony C. Smith

Best Fan Artist
Brad W. Foster
Dave Howell
Sue Mason
Steve Stiles
Taral Wayne

The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer
Saladin Ahmed
Gail Carriger
Felix Gilman
Seanan McGuire
Lezli Robyn

Congratulations to all the nominees. Looks like we've got an excellent lineup of folks and works nominated.

I would like to take this moment to call special attention to Cherie Priest, Rachel Swirsky, and Nicola Griffith. Y'all are just awesome. Congrats! I am also quite pleased to see Clarkesworld and Weird Tales on the ballot for Semiprozine. Just awesome.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Dragon Prince Re-Read

Just wanted to mention that I'm beginning my re-read of Melanie Rawn's Dragon Prince and Dragon Star trilogies tonight.

Dragon Prince is one of my favorite fantasy novels and one that has lingered with me over the years. It's probably been at least ten years since I've read it, though so many of the details still come starkly across my memory. I love this book.

I'm less familiar with the other novels. I've read The Star Scroll and Sunrunner's Fire a couple of times, but have less recall (I do remember some rather important moments, though). My high school library only had copies of the first and third Dragon Star novels, so that's all I've read of those, and only once each. Except for one very memorable and heartbreaking scene in Stronghold, I'll have an almost fresh experience for the second trilogy.

Very much looking forward to this re-read.

Also, check out Michael Whelan's cover art. Gorgeous. This cover marked the first time I ever really thought about where the covers came from and notice the artist as an artist.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Small Thoughts on Running Books

I'm not quite sure what I want to call this new old feature here. Once upon a time I called it "Quick Takes", but I like the "Small Thoughts" part of the title. We'll see. Regardless, I've been lax in posting full length reviews and I want to get out a bit more of what I've been reading.

Once a Runner, by John L. Parker: I wonder how much anyone who was not a runner would enjoy this book. Once a Runner is perhaps the seminal book about running, a novel that has been praised by many an elite runner as being the most realistic depiction of what it takes to run and compete at the highest level. If I think too much about the prose, Once a Runner has flaws and the opening chapters were a bit rough. Parker settles in, though, and tells a thrilling story about an elite college athlete, some of his personal travails, and gets into his training for what is, without hyperbole, the race of his life. For runners, even those of us who couldn’t sniff high level competition, Once a Runner is a thrilling novel and it truly is the best fictional depiction of running I have come across (or expect to encounter).

The Runner’s Rule Book, by Mark Remy: The Runner’s Rule Book focuses on the unwritten “rules” of running. The courtesies. Mark Remy has put together a slim volume of semi-humorous examples of what to do and what not to do during races, training runs, and general behavior and attitude. It reads quick, but it isn’t the sort of book you read from cover to cover. It’s a book to pick up, read a few, put down, and go on with your day. Decent enough, I suppose.

Strides, by Benjamin Cheever: This one was a real disappointment. Cheever mixes some of the history of running with his own running history, and one would think this would be right up my alley. I put it down after just a few chapters. Dull.

Personal Record, by Rachel Toor: This book is a series of essays (26.2 in all) from Running Times writer Rachel Toor. Many are personal, as this is ultimately Toor’s journey through life and running, but the essays occasionally come across a touch distant and impersonal (the one about her pacing a guy through the Western States 100 notwithstanding – that one was quite moving). The essay format of Personal Record created a choppy feel to the book and what might have otherwise been a volume to recommend, was just mostly decent. A few essays were highlights (the two pacing ones, and the high school coaching experience), but as a collected whole, Personal Record didn’t thrill. One the other hand, Personal Record is worlds better than Haruki Murakami’s tedious running memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett

The Warded Man
Peter V. Brett
Del Rey: 2009

The Warded Man is a novel in the tradition of the epic fantasies of the 80’s and early 90’s. At the start of the novel Arlen is an eleven year old boy living in a remote village. He dreams of the wider world outside Tibbet’s Brook, of the famed Free Cities, and of becoming a Messenger, one of the hardy few who venture out into the unwarded wilderness and brave the coreling demons that come out at night and slaughter anything not safely protected by a warded a building or a warding circle. Arlen is not an orphan and there does not appear to be a prophecy suggesting that he may be one to save the world from a great evil.

Except, there is a prophecy. The villages speak of “The Deliverer”, one who will come again and drive the corelings away and essentially save the world for humanity. Arlen is a farm boy, and we know that he is the hero of the novel, so there is reason to believe that if the prophecy is true, that he may be the one.

In many ways The Warded Man skirts around the conventions of epic fantasy novels from ten to fifteen years ago. The prophecy is often dismissed by educated folk and few believe that any such redemption is possible. The demons that come out every night with the setting sun cannot be killed and they are a fact of life. The wards that protect the cities and towns are for defense only. The symbols for combat wards were lost thousands of years ago. All that is left is legend and “prophecy”, which may well just be a last bit of hope for humanity.

The story of The Warded Man is told with three protagonists and takes place over more than a decade. Besides Arlen, there is Rojer and Leesha, both young apprentices. Rojer is a jonguleur in training, basically a minstrel, and Leesha is apprenticed to the Herb Gatherer, a village wise woman. They don’t know each other, but this is the sort of novel that suggests these three will form a motley traveling party at some point in the future.

The core, no pun intended, of The Warded Man is a fairly standard and stock epic fantasy novel. Long time readers of David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Tad Williams, Raymond Feist, and Robert Jordan will be in very familiar territory. While this is not exactly a standard “quest fantasy”, the novel has that feel. In a sense, Arlen = Warrior, Rojer = Bard, Leesha = White Mage / Healer. On a basic level, there are standard roles in play here.

This is only to say that Peter Brett’s debut novel has a familiar, slightly derivative feel from the start. Readers have been here before. What works, though, is Brett’s execution. The magic system of offensive and defensive wards is very well done and Brett doesn’t attempt to describe in detail the shape and appearance of each ward or give a grimoire of what each does (though, see The Great Bazaar for just that grimoire). Instead, Brett provides the rough edges of how the system works and the effects of the wards. Also, and this is very much to the benefit of the novel, this is a world that has lost much of its ward knowledge and there is no known central repository of ward-lore. This allows for a sense of discovery and it serves the story well.

Readers looking for the minutiae of how everything works will be disappointed with The Warded Man, but everyone else will be satisfied with the level of description.

The Warded Man does not break new ground in the fantasy genre. It is very much in the tradition of what has come before and it should hold up well next to the epic of fantasy of the earlier part of the last two decades. The novel has a semi-slow start as readers sit through three separate character introductions, but the pacing picks up speed as Arlen, Rojer, and Leesha come closer to meeting up and the novel’s finale will likely thrill fans looking for a big fight.

The Warded Man is a solid, though not outstanding, piece of epic fantasy. It is a worthy debut novel from Peter Brett and is good enough to have readers anticipate what happens next in The Desert Spear.