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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Upcoming Orbit Titles - Fall/Winter 2012

Below are the novels coming this Fall and Winter that I think are must reads. The truth is, I can't read them all so I'm looking forward to seeing what interests you. I'm not going to mention Joe Abercrombie's Red Country and Brent Weeks's The Blinding Knife because they fall into the no-shit category. I want to read them, and so does everybody else.

Here's what else caught my eye:

Stray Souls by Kate Griffin (September 2012)

Sharon Li has just discovered she’s a shaman. And not a moment too soon: London’s soul has gone missing. If anyone can solve the mystery and rescue the dying city, she can, but she’ll need help—from the support group she’s just set up for people with magical issues. Now, this motley crew must find a way to save the world….

I've never read Griffin's work before and as my readers know I'm not generally a big fan of urban fantasy as a subgenre. That said, I like to give one a try every now and again. I think Stray Souls might be my fall UF gamble.

Fade to Black by Francis Knight (September 2012)

Today isn’t Rojan’s day. His latest bounty almost killed him three times, his girlfriends all found out about each other and trashed his rooms—and his niece has been kidnapped. Now he’s got to use his magic to find her—and there is a good chance it will end up destroying him.

Rojan follows his niece’s trail to the Pit, the underbelly of the city. The Pit was evacuated when the Synthtox wiped out most of the city’s residents—and a new city was built over it. But what he wasn’t told is that the Pit was never emptied. And Rojan isn’t the only one using pain magic. And there is more at stake than the life of one little girl.

Being honest, this blurb doesn't do a lot for me, but it's a great cover and I've come to trust Orbit's editorial direction in recent years (with some reservation). What I didn't mention above is that the Hachette catalog compares Knight's writing to a combination of China Miéville and Jim Butcher. Yeah, I'm interested.

Humanity's Fire by Michael Cobley (Sep-Nov 2012)

The first intelligent species to encounter mankind attacked without warning. Merciless. Relentless. Unstoppable. With little hope of halting the invasion, Earth’s last hope was to dispatch three colony ships to different parts of the galaxy. The human race would live on.. .somewhere.

150 years later, the planet Darien hosts a thriving human settlement, which enjoys a peaceful relationship with an indigenous race, the scholarly Uvovo. But there are secrets buried on Darien’s forest moon. Secrets that go back to an apocalyptic battle fought between ancient races. Unknown to its colonists, Darien is about to become the focus of an intergalactic power struggle. And what choices will the Uvovo make when their true nature is revealed and the skies grow dark with the enemy?

This series has been well reviewed the UK and I'm looking forward to getting a look at it finally. I'm a big fan of space opera. It's a relief to see publishers continue to bring these kinds of titles to the US given the generally flagging sales of SF here. All three books in the series are being released over a three month span. Orbit style!

The Folly of the World by Jesse Bullington (October 2012)

On a stormy night in 1421, the North Sea delivers a blow to Holland: the Saint Elizabeth Flood, a deluge of biblical proportions that drowns hundreds of towns, thousands of people, and forever alters the Low Countries.

Yet even disaster can be profitable, for the right sort of individual, and into this flooded realm sail three conspirators: a deranged thug at the edge of madness, a ruthless con man on the cusp of fortune, and a halfferal girl balanced between them.

In a topsy-turvey world where peasants feast while noblemen starve, these three uneasy confederates discover that betrayals born of greed, rage, and lust are simply politics as usual in Dordrecht, and even if their scheme succeeds they may not live long enough to enjoy it.

I read The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart a few years back. Impressed I was not. Bullington's writing was great, but the story meandered and I lost interest. Fast forward to 2011, and The Enterprise of Death was released and subsequently shortlisted for The Kitschies, an award I hold in high esteem. I'll be giving Billington another shot this year with The Folly of the World. Great cover if nothing else.

The Red Knight by Miles Cameron (December 2012)

Winning a throne is not as easy as winning a fight. Twenty eight florins a month is a huge price to pay, for a man to stand between you and the Wild. 

Twenty eight florins a month is nowhere near enough when a wyvern’s jaws snap shut on your helmet in the hot stink of battle, and the beast starts to rip the head from your shoulders. But if standing and fighting is hard, leading a company of men—or worse, a company of mercenaries—against the smart, deadly creatures of the Wild is even harder. 

It takes all the advantages of birth, training, and the luck of the devil to do it.

The Red Knight has all three, he has youth on his side, and he’s determined to turn a profit. So when he hires his company out to protect an Abbess and her nunnery, it’s just another job. The abby is rich, the nuns are pretty and the monster preying on them is nothing he can't deal with.

Only it's not just a job. It's going to be a war...

My gut reaction to this blurb is that The Red Knight will either be a train wreck or genius. It's either going to be Joe Abercrombie or John Fultz. Interesting both Fultz and Cameron have the same editor though I'm fairly sure neither were acquired by Tom Holman who's replacing DongWon Song.

Given that Gollancz has the UK rights, I'm holding out hope it's got a lot more Abercrombie in it than not. Also good to know that book two in the series is already schedule for publication in the Spring of 2013.

Oh, Miles Cameron is an as yet undercover pseudonym. I bet he's K.J. Parker.


Orbit is also rereleasing three series in omnibus/boxed set format: The Newsflesh Trilogy by Mira Grant (Oct 2012), The Culture 25th Anniversary Collection by Ian M. Banks (Oct 2012), Godspeaker Trilogy by Karen Miller (Nov 2012). 

Based on the catalog it appears that all three will also be released in an eBook set (read: cheaper than buying the individual books).


What say you? Any of these catch your interest?

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Redshirts: A Novel of Three Codas - John Scalzi

Around these parts I commit myself to (at least try) finishing everything I start. Why, you ask? Because I think it's important for me to help my readers make decisions about what they should buy and what they should avoid. If I only read things that I enjoy, how will I ever fulfill the second half of that commitment? I'm also loathe to spend 800 words eviscerating someone's baby. Thus, Cheryl was born. Cheryl is my imaginary personal assistant who helps me "review" novels I really did not like. Instead of just doggedly attacking a novel's failures, I try to have some fun with it and get some laughs. Hopefully it's taken the way I intend it.

This is my sixth installment of posts featuring Cheryl. If you enjoy this one, I suggest finding the Cheryl tag on the right sidebar for the others. Interestingly, in the case of John Scalzi's new novel Redshirts, I finished it because I found it legitimately intriguing. I'm a fan of his work historically and the writing was strong enough to keep me searching for the thread to tie it all together. Alas, that thread never came and this post was born.


Justin: Cheryl, I'm going to be working on my Redshirts review for the next few hours. Please hold all my calls.

Cheryl: Yes, Mr. Landon. Does that include Tor and/or Mr. Scalzi?

Justin: Tor does seem to have an eerie sense of timing. Yes, even them. And please, whatever you do, don't let that pain in the ass wizard show up.

Cheryl: You know I have no control over Fizbane. He's your blog wizard.

Justin: *impatient waving* Thank you, Cheryl. Now lets see... I'm going to need a snappy headline. Something like....

Spoof Trekkie Fiction: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There is



Cheryl: Mr. Landon, Ricardo Montalbán is here to see you.

Justin: *bewildered* I said no interuptions and Montalbán has been dead for three years.

Cheryl: You said no calls.

Justin: I'm pretty sure no interruptions was implied and I shouldn't have to specifically mention no dead people.

Cheryl: Look, I don't tell you how to be a pretentious blogger cum literary [hack] critic. You don't tell me how to be a personal assistant. See how I broke the hack part out into brackets? That's called meta conversation.

Justin: Whatever. Get it? Because I'm writing about a John Scalzi book right now.

Cheryl: I'm unimpressed.

Justin: I'm really funny.

Cheryl: It's more sad funny, wouldn't you say?

Justin: *glare* Show him in.


Justin: Excuse me, Mr. Montalbán, are you a zombie searching for John Scalzi's brain?

corpse of Montalbán: Not at all, señor. I am just getting over my long standing grudge against Shatner for stealing the best line in my Oscar worthy performance of Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. I find that Scalzi's name works nearly as well to express frustration and anger over an injustice.

Justin: You mean where he yells Khan?

corpse of Montalbán: Por favor, I cannot speak of it.

Justin: You are dead though right?

corpse of Montalbán: Sí.

Justin: You've got a rather well developed chest for a man... er... corpse(?) your age.

corpse of Montalbán: Gracias. Thankfully being one of the undead has done wonders for my skin elasticity.

Justin: Ok, so why are you here Ricardo? Can I call you Ricardo?

corpse of Montalbán: I prefer The Montalbán, if it's all the same to you.

Justin: It's not.

corpse of Montalbán: *ignoring Justin* I'm here because I too have read SCAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALZI's Redshirts and I have some concerns.

Justin: I'm getting pretty sick of prescient layabouts that appear whenever I'm writing a review.

corpse of Montalbán: More of a shuffle-about, aren't I?

Justin: Granted. I find myself oddly gratified that the corpse of Ricardo Montalbán agrees with me about Redshirts. But, given that you seem to have a bit of an inferiority complex, forgive me if I'm skeptical that you're just mad the plot highjacks Star Trek IV: The Return Home, and thus does not include a Khan simulacrum.

corpse of Montalbán: Uh.. no.. you're way off base.

Justin: It's ok if that's why, literature is subjective after all. I would hope that you could find a few other things to talk about though.

corpse of Montalbán: *blushing* Well, umm... I giggled a bit. Macho giggling of course. More of a guffaw really.

Justin: This is a safe placed, Ricardo. I can't disagree with you. It is an awfully funny first 80 pages or so. The prologue is particularly good. He riffs on the idea that a certain segment of the starship crew are increasingly likely to die in an away mission. It's a clever application of the old Star Trek plot device. I was immediately concerned about how he would turn it into a novel though. How does the conflict get resolved? What's the explanation for why the conflict exists?

corpse of Montalbán: Verdad! That's exactly what I meant.

Justin: Of course it was. You're the Montalbán. Since neither of those questions are adequately answered, I found the first two-thirds of the novel fairly uninspired, albeit initially intriguing. I dealt with it because it's the perfect playground for Scalzi's standard sarcastic back and forth.

corpse of Montalbán: Interesting you should mention that. I've read the entire SCAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALZI catalog...

Justin: Really?

corpse of Montalbán: I have lots of free time. Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to find the same characters from Fuzzy Nation and The Android's Dream returning in Redshirts! I love series.

Justin: I can see how you would think that, but no. This is a stand alone novel; Scalzi just writes the same character over and over again with new names and places. In fact, I suspect he's writing himself over and over again. Sarcastic. Cynical. Player of small instruments.

corpse of Montalbán: *gasp* I am dismayed. I had not made the connection. If my little friend Hervé were alive today he would be saying , Da' plane da' plane, and I would look to the sky and instead see my opinion of SCAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALZI plummeting to the earth.

Justin: *head hanging* Indeed. What did you think about the last third of the novel, Ricardo?


Justin: Mother f*cker.

Fizbane: It is I! Hello, Senor Montalbán, I'm a big fan. Would you mind signing my Kindle Fire, now available for a low introductory price of...

Justin: God, you're such a shill. Ignore him Ricardo, what do you want Fizbane?

Fizbane: *straightens his robe* Right, to the chase. I'm here representing the Science Fiction Writer's of America. I've been asked to inform you that criticizing President Scalzi is not appreciated. You are to cease and desist from writing a bad review due to President Scalzi's years of service in promoting the genre. Regardless of how incoherent the last third of his book may be, you are encouraged to praise his work because of his standing in the community. Also, even if he conveniently posts controversial things to his blog at convenient times before and after he launches a book, please disregard the timing and instead focus on his dry wit.

Justin: You've got more clients than Heidi Fleiss. I think you're making things up at this point. Have you even talked to someone at SFWA?

Fizbane: *sputtering*

Justin: I might have known. You just want to be in Scalzi's good graces don't you?

Fizbane: *ashamed* He gets a lot more traffic than you do. And I've heard he's looking for a new blog wizard.

corpse of Montalbán: It seems that SCAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALZI has quite the following.

Justin: You're not kidding. And you know what, Ricardo? His fans are going to eat this book up. It's John Scalzi to the nth. I do wonder how even his hardcore fans will react to the literary device he tries to use to tie the novel together. It didn't work for me really at all, although I suppose I applaud the attempt.

corpse of Montalbán: Oh, I thought that whole section was a preview of his next book.

Justin: Sadly, same book.

corpse of Montalbán: Well, ok then. I'm going to be getting back to my box. Glad we got this straightened out together. Adios!


Justin: Cheryl, can you get security to escort Ricardo and Fizbane out of the building?

Cheryl: We don't have security, as you well know, but if you'd like you could get off your pontificating ass and walk them out yourself.

Justin: *sigh* I have to do everything around here.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Railsea by China Miéville

China Miéville, international man of mystery & outlandish science fictional ideas, has released a new novel targeted at readers of 'all ages', which is (typically) code for: a young adult novel that old people should like too. I would say in this case it means something closer to: this is a novel for adults that young people ought to read. I tried hard to come up with a clever way to describe my feelings about it. Instead I came up with this. Imagine those Magic Eye prints from the 1990's. Stare at them for a few minutes, allow the eye to unfocus, & a 3D image appears within the 2D pattern. That's Railsea. Unfortunately, just like the Magic Eye prints, some people will be incapable of seeing anything in it.

Surprisingly, that analogy works quite well as the concept of the railsea looks something like the jumbled mess of Magic Eye art. Tracks, rail & tie, blanket the world, connecting enclaves of habitation with a criss-crossing of infinite possibility that can change direction at any moment. Beneath it all is an unstable network of subterranean creatures that are as anathema to humanity as Miéville himself is to main stream political discourse. It's a world that's inherently unnatural, a fact which Railsea's protagonist Sham Yes ap Soorap is well aware of & can't help but push against.

A doctor's assistant on board the moletrain Medes, Sham watches his captain's obsession with a moldywarpe (giant mole) she’s been chasing for years. It's a singular determination Sham cannot rationalize. He wants more from life than hunting. He wants to know where the railsea comes from & where it ends.

There's natural connection to be drawn between Railsea & the Herman Melville classic Moby Dick. Those comparisons are not without merit as the captain's story arc is very much a retelling of Ahab's search for his white whale. It would be easy to draw a line there & move on, but the truth is Miéville is also exploring a lot of other themes & structures beyond that obvious one. Most strongly, there's a sense of wonder & drive for self exploration that will resonate strongly with younger readers.
Sham could be with them. & while he wouldn't be a salvor, or would he be a train doctor nor a moler either. He'd be something else.
Sham is a character pushing against the boundaries placed on him by a society that's stuck in doing things the way they've always been done. A social & cultural fear pervades life in the railsea that is untenable to Sham's need to explore

In that sense, I suppose Miéville's newest work is a tremendous success. It addresses things of thematic import & follows through on them. What it doesn't do, unfortunately, is tell a coherent & readable story. Short chapters intermingle with longer ones, referencing themselves as a narrative & pointing out the literary devices being used -- all seemingly done in asserting the author's cleverness. For example,
We have just had a story of a story. Tell it yourself, again, & story of a story in a story will be born, & you will be en route to that abyme. Which is an abyss.
Alas, Miéville is being too clever, or not clever enough. I never felt a thread of connectivity between the first chapter & the last. I kept looking for a moment in which all the machination & manipulation of the text would become meaningful. I never got there.

I'm sure it's been noticed by now that I've used '&' instead of 'and' at every opportunity in this review, echoing the same choice made in Railsea. One of the aforementioned short chapters provides some explanation for why it's done, but it's not an explanation that made any sense to me. Likewise, neologisms abound, from moldywarpe, to ferroviaoceanology, to homo vorago aperientis. All combined to frequently break me out of the narrative & into pondering Miéville, rather than the novel.

Going back to the Magic Eye analogy (is it tired yet?), Railsea & Miéville in general, seem to receive the same kind of reception that 3D art did back then. Those who could see it were flabbergasted by those who couldn't. I remember people asking to me, "How can you not see it?! Are you blind?!" In much the same way, I find Miéville adherents taking a similar stance with regards to his work.

Of course, the analogy falls apart quickly. I'm not on either extreme. I don't always see the beauty in his work, as though the precise pattern was interrupted during production. Other times the beauty of the ingrained image shines through, as it did in The Scar & The City & The City. I believe China Miéville is singularly talented. He knows it, occasionally resulting in a work of fiction that reaches too far. Railsea is such a novel, but I, for one, would rather he reach too far than not far enough.

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Fantasy: A Subgenre Taxonomy

The subgenre. Oh ye fickle beast. As a genre fiction blogger I find that when in doubt, argue a novel's right to claim itself as urban fantasy or paranormal romance or magical realism. Trust me. It's great fun and always manages to generate comments. In reality, genre predates blogging. Hard to imagine, I know.

The first recorded use of genres can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle. Plato argued for a triptych including drama, dithyramb, and epic. Aristotle provided something that makes a lot more sense to a modern reader with tragedy, epic, comedy, and parody. Modern discussions of genre get real complex real quick with concepts like rhetorical situation, ecology of genre, social contract, et. al. One of the more salient concepts that's sprung from modern criticism is the notion of 'tyranny of genre'. Genre theorist Richard Coe wrote that "the 'tyranny of genre' is normally taken to signify how generic structures constrain individual creativity" In other words, move along nothing to see here. Where's the fun in that?

For the modern layman, there are three primary literary genres -- fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. From a reader's perspective, genre is an invaluable tool. It helps define preference. Unfortunately, 'fiction' as a genre doesn't narrow things down very well, and thus the subgenre is born. I could list the dozens of different fiction subgenres, but since this is an article about Fantasy, let's skip ahead. Fantasy is a subgenre of the speculative fiction subgenre, which is a subgenre of fiction.

Oh, this is going to be fun!

According to the infallability that is Wikipedia, fantasy "is a genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary element of plot, theme, or setting." Not bad. Wouldn't you know it though, for the purposes of marketing things get quite a bit finer. Below I offer the subgenres of fantasy fiction and the definitions I work from when categorizing the books I read. I'll say up front that I strongly value structure and theme over plot and setting when it comes to describing subgenres.

Either way, I'm right and you're wrong. Also, I am not including every possible subgenre here, merely some of the larger ones that I believe are either frequently debated, misused, or poorly conceived in the first place.

First up...


High Fantasy - Low Fantasy -Epic Fantasy

I group these together because they are often intermingled with one another.

High and low fantasy are, in my mind, two sides of the same coin that provide the base unit for most of the traditional fantasy market. They are set in a secondary world, or alternate reality (portals), with magic and individual efficacy as common plot devices. Themes include a hero's journey and conflict between good and evil, or the subversion of same. They tend to be narrower in scope with single (or dual) points of view.

Traditionally, low fantasy has been used to describe stories with unexplained magic in the real world. An example in that case might be The Indian in the Cupboard or The Green Mile (both probably belong in Magical Realism, see below). Under this definition magical realism is highfalutin low fantasy. I think it's a flawed term.

I use low fantasy to describe the emerging (some would say its always been there) wave of gritty anti-hero fantasy. If high fantasy is the heroes journey, low fantasy is a more realistic and cynical reflection. There's also a tendency in low fantasy to remove the wonder from magic, to make it a blunt, messy tool, or in some cases to remove the magic all together.

Both high and low fantasy are often integrated with epic fantasy to form 'The Neverending Tome'! Believe it or not though, epic fantasy has very little to do with length. Instead, it's about scope and narrative style. By that I mean the narrative encompasses a wide swathe of the world and the world's history -- not a snapshot in time. Likewise, the author gives points of view to characters on both sides of the conflict. Politics, large scale wars, and cataclysmic events are common plot elements.

Many series start out high/low fantasy and become epic over time, making it easy to wrongly assume that standalone novels cannot be epic.

High Fantasy Examples: Spellwright (Charlton), The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (Jemisin)
Low Fantasy Examples: Prince of Thorns (Lawrence), Heroes Die (Stover), Among Thieves (Hulick)
High/Epic Examples: The Wheel of Time (Jordan/Sanderson), Malazan Book of the Fallen (Erikson/Esslemont)
Low/Epic Examples: A Song of Ice and Fire (Martin), The First Law Trilogy (Abercrombie)

Sword & Sorcery

Originally coined by Michael Moorcock and Fritz Lieber in the fanzine Amra, this subgenre is all about small stakes and self interest. If the goal of the epic fantasy is to save the world, then the goal of Sword & Sorcery is make money, score some tail, and poke holes in monsters. It is therefore inherently character driven and tends to be shorter in length as the simplicity of the plot can fall apart the longer it gets. I believe in the modern fantasy novel, it makes more sense to use Sword & Sorcery to describe characters, as opposed to narratives. For example, in  in The Wheel of Time, Mat is a Sword & Sorcery inspired character. Regardless, elements of this genre have spilled heavily into all others, making its themes somewhat pervasive.

Examples: Conan the Barbarian (Howard), Elric (Moorcock), Legend (Gemmell)

Dark Fantasy

In simple terms, dark fantasy implies the integration of overt horror themes into the fantasy model. Setting isn't terribly important, nor is there a particular narrative arc that fits the mold. The term is often misused to describe what I call low fantasy. Dark Fantasy, like Sword & Sorcery, is often an element as opposed to a style in itself. Peter V. Brett's Demon Cycle has a huge horror influence, but is more epic fantasy with dark tones. Nevertheless, full length Dark Fantasy novels do exist, often wrongly classified as straight horror.

Examples: The Croning (Barron), Fevre Dream (Martin), Mr. Shivers (Bennett)

Mythic Fiction - Magical Realism

These are easily blurred, and with the right argument, a qualifying book could be placed in either. The notion that joins them together is magical elements blending with the real world and explained as real occurrences. There's also an aesthetic quality to prose and structure that lends itself to this particular genre, although I would argue that's an entirely subjective measure at the best of times. As a result, I'm going to have to throw that criteria into the famous pornography exemption (i.e. - I know it when I see it).

The divergent points between the two subgenres is the use of recognizable cultural mythology as the fantastic element. Themes reflected tend toward human relationships with the divine and why belief structures exist.

Magical Realism Examples: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (Clarke), The Magicians (Grossman)
Mythic Examples: Mythago Wood (Holdstock), American Gods (Gaiman), The Magician King (Grossman)

Urban Fantasy

Let's get one thing out of the way... I don't believe Urban Fantasy has ANYTHING to do with place. Saying it "is a sub-genre of fantasy defined by place; the fantastic narrative has an urban setting," is plain nonsense as far as I'm concerned. Are you telling me that if The Dresden Files were set in Laramie, Wyoming on a farm, but was the same in all other ways it wouldn't be Urban Fantasy? Please. I'm not buying that.

In my opinion, Urban Fantasy is about NARRATIVE STRUCTURE. It requires a single protagonist, either in a tight third person or first person point of view, and follows a crime/suspense style of storytelling. The novels are often by nature episodic, with change to the characters taking place slowly or not at all. There's an element of humor or sarcasm that usually manifests itself in the protagonists cynical personality.

Examples: Rivers of London (Aaronovitch), Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter (Hamilton)

Paranormal Romance

See above, integrated with romance elements. Almost always contain vampires, werewolves, or demons.

Examples: I don't read this. I'm sure you can find it!


As said above, there are plenty of subgenres I don't mention here. Regency, Slipstream, Historical Fantasy, Mythpunk, Hard Fantasy, Weird, New Weird, and Sword and Planet, to name a few. I haven't talked about them because:
  • I don't think they're different enough from what's above to justify their own subgenre, or
  • They're clear cut enough to warrant not discussing them, or
  • It's a false genre (i.e. historical fantasy which has no reason to be its own genre as historical fantasy does nothing but describe the time period and has nothing to do with the stylistic or plot elements).
I'd love to hear what everyone has to think. Where am I off base? Are there any novels you can think of that don't fit into any of these molds? Is there a significant subgenre that I should flesh out a definition for?


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Today I wrote a post somewhere else...

Jared Shurin of Pornokitsch, who along with his partner Anne Perry writes one of the best blogs on planet Earth, queried the Twitter about people's favorite novels from their childhoods. I responded with The Sword of Shannara and thought nothing else of it. Then Jared asked me to write about it. It took me a while. I had no idea what angle to take or how to put my thoughts into words.

This is what I can up with:
Not a date the world recognizes. It's not 5/8/45 or 11/22/63 or 7/20/69 or 9/11/01. But, January 17, 1994, just outside Los Angeles, California, an earthquake struck. Fifty-seven people lost their lives and nearly nine thousand were injured. Twenty billion in property damage, it remains one of the most devastating natural disasters in history. 
It was a seminal moment in my life for wholly different reasons.

Read the rest of the post at Pornokitsch. 


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day and Giveaway Winners

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. I try not to under appreciate mine. This holiday has become increasingly complex for me in recent years. Mom, wife (mother of my child), and mother-in-law. It's a triumvirate that used to be a single. I'm not complaining, but it seems like they're ganging up on me. Right?

in any case, I just got back from brunch the family and I'm a lucky guy.

Yes, that's Diego. No this photo wasn't from brunch. How awesome would that be? No, that's not me inside the suit, nice try though. Do I look like I can pull off the one strap backpack? Please.


I also pulled the winners of the recent "clear the shelves" giveaway! The winners are:

Kevin, NC, USA
Galena, MI, USA
Elias, Oviedo, Spain

Congrats! I'll be getting your books out Monday.

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Thursday, May 10, 2012

Alexander Outland: Space Pirate - G.J. Koch (and giveaway)

Comedy is a real bitch to write. When I asked G.J. Koch, author of Alexander Outland: Space Pirate to talk with me about her new novel she said, "Dying is easy, comedy is hard. In part because everyone can agree that the hero dying before he gets to marry the princess is tragic, but what makes me laugh and what makes you laugh can be very different things."

I can identify. I try to be funny around here sometimes and my success rate is probably in the neighborhood of an Orson Scott Card keynote speech at the Democrat National Convention. I'm going to stop typing for a minute to give everyone a minute to recover from that hilarious image....


Interestingly, I feel like 2012 has a chance to be revitalizing year for comedic science fiction. As Koch points out, "For a long time, it seemed like Robert Lynn Asprin was the only one 'writing funny' and then Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett arrived, and then Adams and Asprin died and it was only Pratchett out there. My world will be a little darker when we have no more of Pratchett’s Discworld series to read." Some have dabbled -- Lois McMaster Bujold at times in her Miles Vorkosigan series or Connie Willis in To Say Nothing of the Dog or Tom Holt in Snow White and the Seven Samurai, to name a few -- but saying such titles are scattered and intermittent would be an understatement.

This summer appears to bring a shot in the arm to the flagging comedy market. Joined by John Scalzi's Redshirts: A Novel of Three Codas and Rob Reid's Year Zero, Koch's novel is a cinematic space opera, blended with plenty of sexual innuendo and a dash of bathroom humor, told in a wry sarcastic voice.

Alexander Napoleon Outland, Nap to his friends, is the captain of Space Vessel 3369, or Sixty-Nine for short. He’s also a pirate, smuggler, and womanizer. His crew misfits includes a socially awkward engineer, a deposed ruler, a Sexbot copilot, and a bonkers-hot weapons chief who refuses to give it up. Into this picture of domestic bliss comes along an invisible band of space pirates trying to put a stranglehold on commerce of the legal and illegal variety. In true comedic form, shenanigans ensue.

Everything in Alexander Outland begins with Nap. He's Koch's first person narrator and moral center (If I asked Nap, I'm sure he'd rather be the center of a babe sandwich). Not the kind of man a woman would bring home to mom, he does hold a certain charm. "You don’t date a guy like Nap to give him a list of acceptable behaviors. You date a guy like Nap BECAUSE he’s a guy like Nap. We do love the bad boys, you know," says Koch. Despite his irascible behavior Nap's a do-gooder at heart, more sexually overt Han Solo, with a dash of Mal Reynolds completes the picture.

Telling the story from Nap's perspective does result in the novel's female characters being colored in a certain way. Slinky, the hard to get weapons chief, is Nap's primary target for sexual conquest and responds amorously when he treats her possessively. Audrey, the sexbot created by Nap's chief engineer, is programmed to serve in all ways. Or so Nap perceives it.

For the record, Koch doesn't "consider the female characters to be sex objects, and they don’t consider themselves sex objects, either. If being smart, sexy, attractive, and capable makes a girl a sex object, then the same makes the men sex objects, too. So, in that light, Nap’s a sex object, as well, as are several of the other male characters. A book full of sex objects! (Get it now, before all that sex sells out!)"

She goes on to argue, "One man’s negative stereotype is another’s satiric take on a variety of tropes. Where you fall on that scale will determine whose humor you like and whose you don’t." I find myself nodding. Too often critics talk about the character types and stories they want to see. Whether it's done in service to a social agenda or mere preference, it would be more appropriate to acknowledge that the subject is no longer about the quality of the writing, or humor, but a rather different, albeit no less valuable, kind of discussion.

Some will notice that G.J. Koch looks like Gini Koch, of the Alien/Katherine “Kitty” Katt series from DAW Books. They are one in the same. For fans of that series, she offers, "the Alexander Outland series is actually funnier than the Alien series. There’s a focus on romance in both series, but the Outland series has no graphic sex at all, and the Alien series does. They’re different enough that it made sense to write and publish under another pen name, and Night Shade agreed."

I can't speak for Koch's previous work, but there's also a ton of action and adventure in Alexander Outland. Earlier in this review I used the word cinematic to describe the novel, and it's apt. As I tried to consider what other novels might compare favorably to it, only films came to mind: Spaceballs, Serenity, The Ice Pirates, and Galaxy Quest. Plenty of explosions, daring rescues, and space battles, dot the narrative. For all that, and the romance angle mentioned above, this is a novel of humor. And it is genuinely funny. G.J. Koch brings it home:
I worship the literary ground Terry Pratchett walks on, but most of my friends don’t find him funny at all. And yet he’s managed to have a fabulous career and carry on with his life and writing. He doesn’t need every single person to love his writing in order to be successful, and neither does anyone else. 
I’m sure there were plenty of others doing humor in a variety of ways, but there’s always been less humor than drama in fiction as a whole, not just genre fiction, and there probably always will be. Writing humor is HARD, and despite what they’ll tell you, not everyone is funny. Some of us are, and out of those of us who do bring the funny, we’re all different and carrying on the Humor Torch, so to speak. 
I think we have humor out there because no matter who you are, sometimes you want to laugh, and sometimes you need to laugh.

Last week my father-in-law found out he may have pancreatic cancer. It's been a rough couple of weeks as my family comes to grips with what that means. Sometimes we need to laugh, a more appropriate choice of words than I imagined a month ago. Alexander Outland: Space Pirate couldn't have come along at a better time for me. If anyone else has a need, I strongly suggest G.J. Koch as a remedy.

G.J. Koch writes science fiction. Not the hard stuff, though. Because that requires actual scientific knowledge or at least actual scientific research. Knowledge may be power and research may be cool, but they take time away from writing jokes, action, and romance, and being witty in the face of death is what it’s really all about. Check out G.J.’s rollicking Alexander Outland: Space Pirate series from Night Shade Books and reach G.J. at Space…the Funny Frontier (

Giveaway Details:

The giveaway is open to everyone. A US winner will receive a print copy, while an international winner will receive an electronic copy. You must be 18 years of age or older to participate. Void where prohibited by law. Giveaway rules are subject to change.  

How to participate:
  • To enter the giveaway, e-mail me at, with the subject THE OUTLAND and declare intention to participate.
    • You must include a valid mailing address(US) in the e-mail. Failure to do so will result in disqualification.
    • One entry per person, or face disqualification.
    • Entries accepted until 11:59pm ET on May 17, 2012
    • Winners will be chosen by random sorting entries, and then using a random number generator.
    • There will be 1 winner who will receive 1 book.
    Although not required, it sure would be nice if you:

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    Wednesday, May 9, 2012

    Is it just me...?

    I was looking through my Goodreads Read-2012 shelf and I was intrigued by a pattern I saw developing. Namely, that there seems to be a goodly number of high profile science fiction titles released this year.

    In the next few weeks:

    Blue Remembered Earth by Alistair Reynolds
    Redshirts: A Novel of Three Codas by John Scalzi
    2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

    Existence by David Brin
    Railsea by China Mieville
    The Drowned Cities by Paolo Baciagalupi

    We've already seen the release of:

    11/22/63 by Stephen King
    Arctic Rising by Tobias Buckell
    Triggers by Robert J. Sawyer

    In the coming months we'll have:

    The Great North Road by Peter F. Hamilton
    Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujols
    The Hydrogen Sonata by Ian M. Banks

    Not to mention some high profile authors diving back in with co-wrtiers:

    Bowl of Heaven by Larry Niven and Gregory Benford
    The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick
    The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxyer
    Fate of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward M. Lerner

    I haven't even typed out the titles for new books from these authors:
    Neal Asher, Charles Stross, David Weber, Eric Brown, James S.A. Corey, Hannu Rajaniemi, C.J. Cherryh, Jack Campbell, Kameron Hurley, Daniel H. Wilson, and Ken MacLeod
    And woe be to anyone who forgets the phenomenally interesting debuts of:
    Rob Reid, John Love, Christopher Bennett, Paul Tobin, and E.J. Swift, among others

    I guess what I'm saying is that there seems to be a disproportionate number of exciting science fiction titles this year. Some of the best selling and critically acclaimed authors all seemed to be publishing something in 2012.

    So I ask you, fair reader, is it my imagination or are we in the midst of a special year for SF?

    Admittedly, who knows if any of them are any good? I've only read a handful.


    Tuesday, May 8, 2012

    The Desert of Souls - Howard Andrew Jones

    One Thousand and One Nights, or as it's better known in the English speaking world, Arabian Nights, is a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age. The basic premise is that a Persian king discovers his wife's infidelity and has her executed. Deciding all women are the same, the king marries a series of virgins only to execute each one the next morning, before she has a chance to cuckold him. Eventually the vizier cannot find any more virgins until his daughter, Scheherazade, volunteers herself as the next bride. On the night of their marriage, she begins to tell the king a tale, but does not end it, forcing the king to postpone her execution in order to hear the conclusion. The next night, as soon as she finishes the tale, she begins a new one, and the king, eager to hear the conclusion, postpones her execution once again. So it goes on for 1,001 nights.

    Built around that frame story, Scheherazade narrates historical tales, love stories, tragedies, comedies, poems, burlesques, and even erotica. The book in its entirety demonstrates many innovative literary techniques like the aforementioned frame story, embedded narratives, foreshadowing, and unreliable narrators. Thematically, the stories heavily utilize fate and destiny, most prevalent being the notion of the self-fulfilling prophecy. Elements of genre tropes from crime fiction, horror, and science fiction, pop up frequently. The stories aren't just incredibly compelling, but they paint a much different perspective of the Islamic history and culture than Western perception might imply.

    This is a review about The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones, or at least it was when I started it. The truth is I can't talk about one without the other.

    Desert of Souls is the story of two common men -- Asim and Dabir -- in 8th century Baghdad. It begins with a strange plea to the vizier to safeguard a relic from falling into the wrong hands. The vizier tasks his resident scholar, Dabir, to unlock the mystery. When the relic is stolen, both Dabir and Asim are sent to retrieve it. Along the way they'll struggle against fate and destiny, and their fair share of monsters. While written very much in a sword and sorcery tradition, Jones's debut novel is more the adult version of Disney's Aladdin (sans Robin Williams and Gilbert Godfrey) than a Middle Eastern Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, utilizing the tropes and structures from Arabian Nights to accomplish a modern interpretation.

    The main motive power of the narrative comes from the mystery surrounding the relic. At its core, Desert of Souls is a crime thriller. Laced around its edges are elements of both horror and science fiction, most of which comes from interactions with the fantastic, be they djinns, magic powers, necromancy, or annoying talking parrots (just kidding, it's really a giant snake). Jones ups the ante by challenging his characters early on with a fortune teller who reveals their fates further paying tribute to Scheherazade's tales.

    Jones doesn't stop with just the flavor of Arabian Nights, he also uses similar structures and literary traditions. Although not couched as a frame story (a la Rothfuss's The Kingkiller Chronicles) Jones tells his story via a first person narrator that recognizes himself as a storyteller. Asim is frequently self referential, acknowledging his role in the telling and his capabilities therein. Jones likewise treats the reader to 'stories within stories' that recount Asim and Dabir's earlier adventures. As one ended, a question arose:
    Mahmoud drew close. "Last time you told the tale, the dead king called forth a demon with a man's and you fought it while Dabir struggled through the magic circle." 
    "Well," I said, "a good storyteller tailors his story for his audience."
    A short passage, but one that calls into question the veracity of the entire narration.

    I would be remiss if I didn't credit Jones's other inspiration, and one that he has often cited as the managing Editor of Black Gate Magazine. Much of the pacing and action can be credited to his love of Robert E. Howard (and his disciples). I couldn't put it down once I started it, carried forward by the enthralling pace and engaging prose. I was invested in the fate of the characters despite the choice in narration that assured their survival. The final product is something that isn't just a 'Middle Eastern Fantasy'. It's a novel that honors the time honored themes and techniques on which today's stories rest.

    It embraces the past, infused with Arabian Nights and early 20th century fantasy, though not at the expense of good storytelling. None of the purple prose predilections of either era make their way into Jones's text. He relies on excellent technique, building his world through sensible character interaction, dialogue, and his clever use of the 'story within a story'. Many will call Howard Andrew Jones a writer of historical adventure fantasy. It's an accurate description, but one that sells him woefully short. The Desert of Souls is a masterful novel that resonates on a visceral and meta-fictional level that's rarely equalled. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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    Friday, May 4, 2012

    If you liked... American Gods

    My goal is to recommend books for fans of a larger book franchise. For example, if you liked The Wheel of Time, you might also really like Raymond Feist's Riftwar Saga. Easy enough, right? Except I'm going to try to be less obvious than that. I fully expect half of the people reading this post to say, 'no shit dude I read that like 10 years ago!' To you I say, you're right. Most of this stuff will be widely read, but I hope not all of it. I also hope to recommend things outside of genre that will appeal to fans. We'll have to wait and see. Hopefully, this post, and others like it, will turn people on to things they've never heard of, or never considered reading.


    Before I get into the post, I should probably talk about American Gods first. I've not reviewed it myself, but my friends over at The Ranting Dragon have and I like how they put it:
    American Gods is at times disturbing, strange and mysterious as we follow Shadow and his employer, Mr. Wednesday, as they travel the country, interacting with mythological and modern gods. This book examines [America] in a way few have attempted. American spirituality, obsessions and heritage are gathered together into a single novel that comments not only on the country we have become, but the nation we once were.
    If someone is reading this post without having read American Gods, well... I want you to read it this anyway. It might not be terribly cogent, but I hope it will give you something to think about and encourage you to read Gaiman's novel and the five listed below.

    With that said, if you liked American Gods by the great Neil Gaiman, you might also like:

    The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett

    Like American Gods, Bennett's novel has a protagonist trying to find his way, and a gruff elder showing him the ropes. The Troupe follows sixteen-year-old pianist George Carole as he joins vaudeville to find Heironomo Silenus, the man he suspects to be his father. Chasing down Silenus's troupe, he begins to understand that their performances are unique even for vaudeville. It's not until after he joins them that George realizes the troupe isn't simply touring and larger existential crises are at hand.

    While George has almost nothing in common with Gaiman's Shadow, there are many similarities between Silenius and Mr. Wednesday. A withholding of knowledge and a larger understanding of the workings of the world, create a mystery that enfolds the entire narrative, unraveling a page at a time. In both novels there exists a palpable alternate reality beyond the pale of the average human experience. They are also steeped in myth, more obviously in American Gods, but also in The Troupe, with appearances by elemental forces, fairies, and primordial chaos. Beyond the superficial similarities, there's a very Gaiman tone -- dark tones and moments of tenderness all the more poignant for there scarcity.

    One Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

    On the surface, there's not much to One Hundred Thousand Kingdoms that would recommend it to fans of American Gods. Jemisin's novel is told in the first person, employs a narrator of dubious reliability, and isn't remotely grounded in myth (it's second world fantasy). Beneath that though is a novel fundamentally about a divine family's struggles against the human condition. Itempas, father of the sky, has banished his children to the human world to live among them and at their command. They plot to return to 'Mt. Olympus' (so to speak), using whatever tools they can to further their end, including an innocent girl named Yeine.

    Such a conceit should ring familiar to fans of Gaiman's novel. Like Yeine, Shadow is much more than he appears. Used by Mr. Wednesday and his compatriots to fight the rising tide of the new American gods, Shadow finds himself in a similar struggle. Unlike much of the fantasy genre, the gods in both novels are not only knowable, but they have faces and weaknesses of character. Interacting and confronting them, Yeine and Shadow try to recognize not only their place in the world, but the justification for faith in anything larger than themselves.

    It should also bear noting that both novels contain one disturbing and all together odd sex scene.

    Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

    Warbreaker is the story of two princesses, the God King one of them has to marry, the lesser god, Lightsong, who doesn’t like his job, and the immortal who’s still trying to undo the mistakes he made hundreds of years ago (I totally stole that from the dust jacket). Among the five novels on this list, Sanderson's is the worst fit stylistically. His prose is far more straight forward, including more light hearted humor that lends the work a brighter tone throughout. However, the notions of belief sustaining the divine and the complex relationship between the worshiped and worshiper are well done in a way not dissimilar from American Gods.

    Not to be overshadowed is the notion of changing identities as time marches on, an unraveling of relevance that is part and parcel to American Gods. Sanderson expresses these ideas more clearly than Gaiman, using his two princesses whose roles shift as the novel moves along, eroding the person they thought they were to be replaced by the person they'll become, an experience anathema to Gaiman's gods. Even though fans of Gaiman may find themselves frustrated with Sanderson's novel, I firmly believe that the issues he's tackling make it well worth reading.

    White Noise by Don DeLillo
    Microserfs by Douglas Coupland

    I'm putting these last two recommendations together because both are part of the post modernist literary tradition. I personally put DeLillo on the short list of best living writers and Coupland is someone whose work I've greatly enjoyed over the years (Miss Wyoming, jPod, Hey Nostradamus!, to name a few). They address what I view as one of the most important themes in Gaiman's American Gods, America's burgeoning relationship to technology (or progress). As Mr. Wednesday fights to preserve his existence, it's revealed that those 'gods' seeking to replace him in the pantheon are none other than the Personal Computer and the Internet. America's gods are no longer the same as their forefathers. They are replaced by new faiths.

    In Microserfs, Coupland writes an epistolary novel that tells Microsoft's story through a somewhat derranged cast of "serfs" (i.e. - employees of the Lord of the manor, Bill Gates). In an interview, Coupland said:
    "What surprised me about Microsoft is that no one has any conception of an afterlife. There is so little thought given to eternal issues that their very absence make them pointedly there. These people are so locked into the world, by default some sort of transcendence is located elsewhere, and obviously machines become the totem they imbue with sacred properties, wishes, hopes, goals, desires, dreams. That sounds like 1940s SF, but it's become the world." 
    Similarly, DeLillo's White Noise speaks to something like 'American numbness'. The story is a year in the life of Jack Gladney, head of the department of Hitler studies at a Midwestern college. Exposed to a noxious black cloud of chemicals, Jack finds himself seeing his death in everything, an emotion that Mr. Wednesday certainly shares. His impending death is part of the march toward progress, a doom ensured by rampant consumerism and media saturation. As I thought about how to best describe these notions, I decided instead to let DeLillo tell it himself:
    ''Am I going to die? . . .'' 
    ''Not in so many words.'' 
    ''How many words does it take?'' 
    ''It's not a question of words. It's a question of years. We'll know in fifteen years. In the meantime we definitely have a situation. . . . I wouldn't worry. . . . I'd go ahead and live my life. . . .'' 
    ''But you said we have a situation.'' 
    ''I didn't say it. The computer did. . . .'' 
    ''. . . .Name one thing you could make. . . . We think we're so great and modern. . . . Could you rub flints together? Would you know a flint if you saw one? . . . What is a nucleotide? You don't know, do you? . . . What good is knowledge if it just floats in the air? It goes from computer to computer. . . . But nobody acutally knows anything.'' 


    Wednesday, May 2, 2012

    Pod - Stephen Wallenfels

    Warning. Short Review. It's a short book!

    Yesterday, someone whom I did not know very well walked up to me and asked, "I've been hearing about this post-apocalypse thing. The The Windup Girl was too gnarly for me, Seed sounds like an agriculture text book, The Stand is eleventy billion pages too long, and The Hunger Games makes me want to eat a sandwich, what should I read to see what all the hubbub is about?" It was a fortuitous moment as I had just a few days prior finished reading Stephen Wallenfels's Pod. That's because Pod is easy to stomach, has aliens instead of seeds, clocks in well under 300 pages, and tells an extremely authentic story about some teenage kids. Sure the novel uses some well worn tropes, and contains a veiled political message I'm not terribly jazzed about, but the final product is an expertly fashioned young adult appropriate novel that I could not put down.

    Set in what appears in all respects to be the modern day, Pod begins with the arrival of giant spinning black balls in the sky. An alien presence, or some kind of watcher from beyond, the balls strike dead anyone caught outside. They also seem to have a penchant for automobiles. An observant reader will quickly pick-up on Wallelfels's undertones that seem to suggest the invasion as a response to the Earth's current condition, and humanity as a herd that needs to be culled. As the novel goes along the characters notice new 'earthy' smells and wild animals returning to the world. It isn't judgmental, but hovers right on the edge, a fact that may turn off some readers. I found the whole thing a little unnecessary.

    Narrative wise, Wallenfels tells his story from two perspectives: a hard luck twelve-year-old girl named Megs trapped in a hotel parking garage and sixteen year old Josh stuck at home with his borderline obsessive-compulsive father. Not surprisingly, the hotel quickly devolves into an authoritarian regime that Megs has to navigate for survival. Guns, drugs, and food are scarce resources. Josh, on the other hand, is staving off a different kind of crisis -- teenaged angst locked up with an overprotective father.  It's in this setting where Pod shines best. Wallenfels perfectly captures the teenage boy psyche as Josh and his father try to relate to one another.

    All told, Pod tells a simple story with simple themes -- human nature is selfishness and aliens probably aren't going to show up to make friends. It eschews the grand apocalypse story that's become so popular in recent years, choosing instead to tell an intensely personal one on a minuscule scale. For the experienced post-apocalypse and/or alien invasion reader, there's very little new to Stephen Wallenfels's debut. But that shouldn't be misconstrued to mean it isn't worthwhile. Pod is an excellent example of the subgenre and something I would encourage everyone to share with their favorite teenaged reader.

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