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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Comic Books Galore! (Visiting Mom and Dad)

I don't read comics anymore, but I sure used to. For the last three weeks I've been on a work trip, which blissfully coincides with where I grew up. I've been staying with my folks in the same room I was raised in, albeit with a much different decor aesthetic (mom didn't dig bikini clad women, wtf?). I'll be getting on a plane later tonight to head home.

In packing up, I stumbled across a few boxes in the closet. I thought some of you might get a kick out of what I found:

Is that the first issue of almost every one of Image's launch titles? Yes, yes it is.

Spawn #1, Cyber Force #1, Spawn #1 Signed
Youngblood #1, WILDCATS #1, Shadow Hawk #1, Shaman's Tears #1
StormWatch #1, The Maxx #1, Savage Dragon #1
Team 7 #1, Brigade #1

Tribe #1, Savage Dragon #1 (alternate?)

And then some old Marvel favorites:

Cable #1, X-Men #1 signed by Jim Lee

Quasar #1 (LOL?), X-Force #1, Hawkeye #1

 Did they actually MAKE these comics? And did I read them?

Turok #1, Darker Image #1
ALF, ThunderCats, KingArthur
As it turns out I own something like 250 different comic books. Lots of G.I. Joe and X-Men and New Mutants. I was also very in to Image at one point, who knew?

It was a fun trip down memory lane. I got a kick out of it, hope you did too.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks

Brent Weeks has a blurb on Terry Brooks' UK edition of Dark Legacy of Shannara: Bloodfire Quest. I'm sure that's a surreal moment for Weeks who was aided by a blurb from Brooks on his debut novel, Way of Shadows:
‘I was mesmerized from start to finish. Unforgettable characters, a plot that kept me guessing, non-stop action and the kind of in-depth storytelling that makes me admire a writer’s work’ — Terry Brooks on The Way of Shadows
On the back of that blurb and a brilliant marketing strategy from Orbit, Weeks' first trilogy was a huge hit (I'm sure it had something to do with it being good too). Since then, Weeks has been considered a rising star in the genre, further cemented by The Black Prism debuting at #23 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

Despite Weeks' commercial success, I wasn't quite ready to coronate him one of the heirs apparent to the epic fantasists of the 1980's and 90's. I felt that, while a tremendous creator, he hadn't yet come into his own as a storyteller. After finishing The Blinding Knife, his follow-up to Black Prism and the second installment in the Lightbringer series, I don't hesitate to grant him that status. His newest novel is a tremendous achievement and a logical next step for him as a writer.

Read more »

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Series of Short Audio Reviews

Having been on a work trip, I find myself spending a lot of time in the car commuting and driving to various meetings. The result is a lot of time with audio books. It's been a nice break and an opportunity to catch up on a few things I haven't been able to get into in print. The following three books are what I've recently finished. Before my trip is over I suspect to finish two more, John Steakley's Armor, and probably Ellen Kushner's Swordspoint

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregellis

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm pretty much done with World War II. It's just been done to death, hasn't it? The History Channel might as well be Hitler Channel for crying out loud. Or at least that's what I said before I listened to Ian Tregellis' Bitter Seeds.

Beginning in the early stages of World War II, Bitter Seeds shows the secret history of the conflict between Germany's Gotterelektrongruppe (Nazi mutants, a la X-Men) and Britain's warlocks. Tregellis uses four points of view, two from each side, to tell an immense story in an intensely personal way. It works beautifully, interweaving real events with invented ones, while never losing site of the characters that drive them.

Structurally, the novel reminds me very much of Stina Leicht's Of Blood and Honey. They both tell a story over a long period of time, jumping in at appropriate moments in the characters' lives and then jumping forward to the next. It makes for a disjointed story at times, but allows the author to only show the important bits. Tregellis also writes incredibly descriptive prose without being verbose, making even his minor characters come alive. Narrator Kevin Pariseau takes all that and uses it to great effect, creating one of the best audio book presentations I've ever listened to.

Bitter Seeds is a novel that should appeal to fans of almost any genre. Even in its most reality bending moments it feels grounded, a history that's just out of reach. I highly recommend it in any format.

The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp

No matter how much I tried, I couldn't make myself like Paul S. Kemp's The Hammer and the Blade.  It's a well put together novel, with entertaining characters and a good enough plot. Yet, even with the masterful narration of Nick Podehl, it couldn't overcome odd pacing, moments of sheer boredom, and plot devices that robbed the characters of agency. Oh, and a first chapter that I bounced on four times before finally getting past it.

Although I mention a host of issues, the one that most frustrates me is the pace and structure of the narrative. The novel begins with Nix and Egil (or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, or Locke and Jean, or Royce and Hadrian, et. al,) in a tomb, robbing it of the appropriate treasure and narrowly escaping with their lives. It's dungeon crawling at its finest--funny, mildly horrifying, and pulse pounding. It's also the last time the reader gets to enjoy that dynamic until the novel's penultimate chapter. Instead, Kemp gives the reader the machinations of a morally bankrupt sorcerer or Egil and Nix sitting in a bar drinking, puttering around blasted landscapes, and all the while grousing. In either case it induced in me long stretches of disinterest.

All that goes to say, it didn't work for me. I wouldn't discourage anyone from trying it themselves; it's been well received by hosts of reviewers I trust. My negativity could very well have been a result of wrong place and time for The Hammer and the Blade. I certainly won't hesitate to give Kemp another shot with his next novel despite my frustrations with this one.

Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein

Can you believe I've never read Starship Troopers? Me either! It wasn't the book I was expecting, bearing almost no resemblance to the film. I should have known better having read several of Robert Heinlein's other works.

Told in the first person by Juan Rico, a recently graduated teenager who enlists in the military, Starship Troopers recounts his experience from high school graduation to commissioned officer in the Mobile Infantry. The result is a no-nonsense look at a future dominated by the military, where humanity has embraced notions of duty and responsibility to his common man. I found it both immensely moving and horrifying in equal parts.

The vast majority of the narrative centers around Rico's training and conditioning, first in bootcamp, and later his memories of lessons taught in History and Moral Philosophy, a mandatory class every high school student is required to take. Throughout Heinlein waxes about social mores and the human condition--the things that separate us from other living organisms. It's fascinating and stimulating, often making my mind wander away from the story itself as I pondered the implications.

For Heinlein these mind expanding moments are absolutely vital to the success of the novel because the narrative itself is bone dry (a fact only enhanced by Lloyd James' detached reading). Rico shows little development as a character, often reacting to stimuli as designed, but rarely taking the time to ponder its implications. Instead, Heinlein leaves that to the reader. Very reminiscent of Ayn Rand's work, Starship Troopers isn't about the story, or even the characters, its about demonstrating a line of thought, a philosophical back and forth with his reader. Just like Rand's work, the reader's appreciation of it will vary greatly depending on the level of common ground he can find with author.

Either way, it's a vital piece of science fiction history and a novel I recommend wholeheartedly to anyone interested in how the genre got where it is today.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Debut Authorpalooza Winners Part Two

I apologize for the lack of activity around here the last week or so. I'm on a work trip and for some reason I have a hard time writing when I'm not in my own work space. And even worse, I have a hard time laying out blog posts. Who knows? In any case, here are the rest of the winners for Debut Authorpalooza. I want to thank the authors again for their awesome posts, and more importantly, their awesome novels. Thanks also to everyone who participated!

Here are the winners:

Miserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock

Mieneke van der Salm, Netherlands

The Emperor's Knife by Mazarkis Williams

Mia C., Elmhurst, New York
Ken F., Flagstaff, Arizona

The Winds of Khalakovo and The Straits of Galahesh 

by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Sandino S., Bulgaria

The Alchemist of Souls by Anne Lyle

Doug S., Chandler, Arizona
Elias C., Spain


Sharon R., Davenport, Iowa

I'm sure Sharon is wondering what she's won exactly. I'm going to try to summarize what she'll receive. I reserve the right for it to be incomplete.

Signed Hardcover of King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence
Signed ARC of Rapture by Kameron Hurley
Signed ARC of Tainted City by Courtney Schafer
Signed ARC or Finished Copy of Knifesworn by Mazarkis Williams
Signed copy of Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick
ARC of Merchant of Dreams by Anne Lyle
6,700 word critique of any story by Teresa Frohock
Signed copy of and Blues Skies from Pain by Stina Leicht
Signed copy of Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper
Signed copy of something by Bradley P. Beaulieu (I can't find the e-mail!)


I'm sending her a dozen books from my own shelves, just because.

Let this be a lesson to you readers! When I run a giveaway that mentions GRAND PRIZE, you should enter. I fully plan to run a Debut Authorpalooza 2013 next year, sooo... if you have a favorite debut author from 2012 let me know and I'll force them to participate.

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Debut Authorpalooza Winners Part One

Debut Authorpalooza was a two week event celebrating some of my favorite debuts from the last eighteen months. I posted guest posts from all the authors about their experience writing their second books and included an excerpt from their work in progress. All the authors chipped in books to giveaway, including a massive grand prize giveaway. Thanks to the god of random draw, one gentleman won twice. Since I didn't prohibit it in the rules... well... lucky guy!

Here are the winners from the first week of authors!

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

Brandon Z., Williamsport, PA
Ally R., Australia

God's War and Infidel by Kameron Hurley

Mark S., Bloomington, Indiana
Paul W., Roseville, Minnesota

Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper

Brandon Z., Williamsport, PA
Elton P., Canton, Georgia

The Whitefire Crossing and The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer

Chris H., Apple Valley, Minnesota
Mikael S., Sweden
Rebekah K., Morrisville, North Carolina

Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht

Scott C., Canada
Josh M., Perry, Utah

Check back tomorrow for the second half of the winners!

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Wards of Faerie by Terry Brooks

I owe Terry Brooks a lot, so much so that I hesitate to write this review. In 1991, I read The Sword of Shannara and opened the door to two decades of imagination. I still rank it as one of my favorite books ever written. I went on to read Elfstones of Shannara and Wishsong of Shannara, both superior novels to the original, as well as the subsequent Heritage of Shannara quartet, a spectacular follow-up series to my memory. Thirteen years later I haven't read any further. Encouraged by Aidan Moher of A Dribble of Ink to give Brooks another go, I picked up Wards of Faerie to see where the wind would take me.

Given that fourteen Shannara books filled the gap between The Talismans of Shannara and Wards of Faerie, I was moderately concerned that I'd be lost among the history of Brooks' creations. I'm happy report that fear unfounded. Brooks newest novel is an ideal place to jump back in with only a few knowledge gaps left unfilled. Unfortunately, I can also report that it is quintessential Brooks with all the good and bad connotations such a description elicits.

Aphenglow Elessedil, a Druid of Paranor, searches through the elven libraries for hints of lost magic. The Druid mission is, after all, to find lost magic for the good of all. She comes across a journal written by an obscure royal child a thousand years ago that tells of the elfstones, now lost to history. While the text reveals little about their whereabouts, Aphenglow believes she has found the first hints to uncovering the legendary elven magic. Beset by assassins and those who would keep the stones hidden, she returns to Paranor to rally the Druids to her discovery.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

The Great Bazaar and Brayan's Gold by Peter V. Brett

I'm going to keep this short.

Peter Brett's two novellas, published by Subterranean Press, fill in some of the time gaps in his first novel The Warded Man. Where Brett's novels are decidedly epic fantasy, both of his shorts ignore scope and grandiose machinations in favor of the here and now. Sword and sorcery is often described as a self-interested protagonist who does what needs doing while killing monsters. In this case it fits, but I would argue that the difference is much more about narrative pace and structure than any particular story element. In both senses, The Great Bazaar and Brayan's Gold are decidedly sword and sorcery.

Great Bazaar, the first of the two novellas, fills in a gap of time that was left unexplained in Warded Man. It provides the method by which Arlen gains the financial backing for his later trips into the desert. The tale is essentially a quest to find a deserted city destroyed by demons decades previous and return with the beautiful pottery it was once famed for. It's not particularly revelatory for Arlen, but it's a fantastic look at Abban's character, the shamed and wealthy Krasnian merchant who becomes so significant in The Desert Spear.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

New SF Signal Column by Yours Truly

A few weeks back SF Signal approached me about my interest in doing a column. After some back and forth we decided on a column about small presses. I've always been a fan of reading things a little off the beaten path around here and I hope to do even more of it in the months ahead. It's an important subject and one I'm passionate about. I very much appreciate SF Signal giving me the opportunity.

My point of view with the column centers around what role small presses play in the larger game of science fiction and fantasy. Not just what are they're doing, but hopefully a little bit about why they're doing it. I'll also be reading a few books from the press before each column to get a feel for what they're all about. When appropriate I'll be reviewing them here. I began with Small Beer Press:
I begin with Small Beer Press, founded by husband and wife Gavin Grant and Kelly Link who first teamed up in the late 90′s under the Hugo-nominated zine Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. I have no idea what a rosebud wristlet might be, but it sounds smart. Still publishing the zine, Link and Grant have expanded their domain to include chapbooks, original novels, and short story collections. Since Small Beer opened its doors twelve years ago, the pair have published over sixty titles. 
Read the rest...  

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

When Mainstream Publishers Do SFF

Daniel Polansky's debut novel, Low Town, was released last year by Doubleday. Owned by Random House, Doubleday publishes mostly mainstream fiction, with a smattering of science fiction and fantasy. Some of their more recent genre work includes David Anthony Durham's Acacia Trilogy and Graham Joyce's Some Kind of Fairy Tale. For the most part, they do a reasonably good job of crossing over to the different genres, marking them to the appropriate audience. 

David Anthony Durham's recent covers code perfectly for fans of genre and the George R.R. Martin quotes are fantastic.

With the paperback release of Low Town, not so much.

A quote from the Newark Star-Ledger and cover art that would be more appropriate on a Chuck Palahniuk novel, Doubleday has branded Low Town as literary fiction. If Polansky's novel was a crime thriller, or historical fantasy, or urban fantasy, or magical realism, I'd probably go along with it. Unfortunately, Low Town is second world fantasy with wizards and sword fights. It's as fantasy as something is like to get short of throwing in a dragon and an elf.

Sure, there's a lot of crime fiction noir roots in Polansky's writing, but readers expecting Elmore Leonard are going to be perplexed (although they might enjoy it). I'm not convinced Doubleday did a better job with the hardcover released either.

Comparing it to the UK version, I can only wonder who Doubleday is targeting with Polansky's work.

While I don't much care for the art, it does code fantasy much more clearly. Not to mention better titled.

What do you think of the Doubleday covers, particularly the new paperback one? Would the weird cover turn you off as a fan of genre?

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Monday, August 6, 2012

King of Thorns - Mark Lawrence

Prince of Thorns, Mark Lawrence's 2011 debut novel, was not well received in all corners, occasionally offending reader sensibilities. Jorg, the protagonist and narrator throughout the series, is a self interested often bloodthirsty teenager who's ruled equally by his emotions and lack thereof. Those hoping for a redemptive tale, or an ultimately apologetic tone from the author, found themselves woefully bereft. Deeply disturbing, and written with a haunting elegance, I called it the best fantasy debut of 2011. To say I was eagerly anticipating its sequel, King of Thorns, would be an understatement akin to George R.R. Martin sells a few books.

Jorg, no longer a wandering prince in search of revenge, has taken a throne. Not his father's or the Empire's, but it's a start. The path he carved has made him visible to those who share his lust for power, and now a six nation army marches toward his gates, led by a man far more suited to rule than he. An honorable man would lay down his sword and join the fledgling Empire in peace, leaving his kingdom whole and his people alive. That doesn't sound like Jorg, does it?

While Prince of Thorns was structured with frequent flashbacks, jumping between the past and present, there was a pace and direction to the novel that was clear, concise, and full of intent. The recollections merely filled in the back story, without directly participating in the primary narrative. King of Thorns is murkier. Instead of showing Jorg's past and how it influenced his future as he did in Prince of Thorns, Lawrence opts to merge two time periods into a single narrative with the present influencing the past and vice versa.

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

My Hugo Votes

Back in June, I posted my Hugo Nominees. Suffice to say, almost nothing I nominated made the final ballot. That was disappointing, particularly because what was ultimately nominated hardly represents the best work done in 2011. But, as a Chicon 7 Supporting Member, I have a vote and I used it. Below are the categories I voted in, who I voted for, my predictions, and my justifications. I also include the work I thought should have been nominated (and won).

Best Novel Nominees

Among Others by Jo Walton
A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin
Deadline by Mira Grant
Embassytown by China Miéville
Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dauntless - Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell came highly recommended. Myke Cole, author of Shadow Ops: Control Point, instructed an entire room of people at a recent convention to read Dauntless. Putting aside the fact that Cole and Campbell share an agent and a publisher, his strong opinion on the subject piqued my interest. Of course, it didn't hurt that my fellow bloggers Rob and Kathryn of SFFWorld like wise urged me. What I discovered is quintessential military science fiction that extrapolates naval combat into the vacuum of space with a real knack for storytelling despite archetypal characters, an extremely linear plot, and workmanlike prose.

Read that last sentence again. Dauntless is uninspired in a lot of ways except one and it's a big one. It's an absolute blast to read. In fact, it's such an entertaining read that I don't hesitate to call it the perfect cozy novel for the military science fiction fan.

It's essentially the story of a war between the Alliance and the Syndicate. As the name would suggest, the Syndicate functions something like an evil corporation who cares nothing for the cogs in the wheel, just the products it produces. Meanwhile, the Alliance is a functioning government by the people, for the people, or so the rhetoric goes in a story told entirely from their point of view.

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