Monday, April 28, 2014

Completely Melded at SF Signal

Last week, I appeared on the great SF Signal twice! (Two, ponderous!)

First was my participation in the Mind Meld curated by the wonderful Kristin Centorcelli (AKA MyBookishWays), the topic of which was: Books That Have Had a Profound Effect on Readers and Writers

Books have the power to make us laugh, cry, and everything in between, and there are those books (you know what I’m talking about) that can actually change the way we think and influence us in very powerful ways, even changing the course of our lives. I asked our panel this question:

Q: As authors, and readers, what book or books have affected you in a profound way, and why?
Here’s part of my response…

As kid, I was I thoroughly enthralled with The Three Investigators series of books, which initially featured Alfred Hitchcock as mentor to young investigators Pete Crenshaw, Bob Andrews, and Jupiter Jones....Stephen King’s books appear on this roadmap twice, the first of which is Cujo. My parents were two of his many constant readers and Cujo was the first of his that I read, oh maybe around fifth grade? Why Cujo? While my mom was always a big reader my dad was not. That is, until he read Cujo (quite frankly he still isn’t unless King or Joe Hill wrote the book), so naturally, this was the one I gravitated towards and it was the first true for-grown-ups book I read.... the work of Matthew Woodring Stover came to my attention with Heroes Die. This is the book in the genre I use as a measuring stick to judge most of everything else I read in the genre nowadays.

John D. also posted my latest "Completist" column was also posted, featuring Mark Chadbourns's Celtic-flavored Apocalypse The Age of Misrule:

Mark Chadbourn’s AGE OF MISRULE trilogy is the first of three connected trilogies and it was the first set of his books to make their way to the US. As I’ve indicated in previous columns, the imprint Pyr made a nice splash in its early years through a combination of brilliant new voices (David Louis Edelman’s Jump 225 Trilogy) and bringing books to US readers previously only available in other countries. I recalled reading about Chadbourn’s Celtic-flavored apocalyptic series and was curious about the books so I was very pleased when Lou Anders signed Chadbourn and published these books. What’s more, he had the three books wrapped in stunningly gorgeous artwork from John Picacio.
Flavors of Horror, Dark Fantasy, Mythic Literature, and Epic Fantasy blend very well and that might be the strength of the trilogy. Early on, the series has a slight feel of horror and even urban fantasy. Chadbourn does a very good job of giving an overall unsettling feeling to things. It proves for a fascinating read, but for the characters, this unsettling feeling is transitioned well from fear and shock to understanding and acceptance.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-04-26)

The latest titles for your perusal which arrived at either the physical or virtual mail stop of the 'o Stuff...

The Shadow Master by Craig Cormick (Angry Robots, Trade Paperback 06/24/2014) – This looks like a historical fantasy with undertones of romance that could be fun.

In a land riven with plague, inside the infamous Walled City, two families vie for control: the Medicis with their genius inventor Leonardo; the Lorraines with Galileo, the most brilliant alchemist of his generation.

And when two star-crossed lovers, one from either house, threaten the status quo, a third, shadowy power – one that forever seems a step ahead of all of the familial warring – plots and schemes, and bides its time, ready for the moment to attack...

Assassination; ancient, impossible machines; torture and infamy – just another typical day in paradise.

File Under: Fantasy [ Wherefore Art Thou • Fathers of Invention • Unexpected Journeys • Secrets & Lies ]

American Craftsman by Tom Doyle (Tor, Hardcover 05/06/2014) – Doyles’ debut looks like it is playing with similar themes as Myke Cole’s Shadow OPS novels, but with some different ingredients. The book even has a cool trailer.

In modern America, two soldiers will fight their way through the magical legacies of Poe and Hawthorne to destroy an undying evil—if they don’t kill each other first.

US Army Captain Dale Morton is a magician soldier—a “craftsman.” After a black-ops mission gone wrong, Dale is cursed by a Persian sorcerer and haunted by his good and evil ancestors. Major Michael Endicott, a Puritan craftsman, finds gruesome evidence that the evil Mortons, formerly led by the twins Roderick and Madeline, have returned, and that Dale might be one of them.

Dale uncovers treason in the Pentagon’s highest covert ranks. He hunts for his enemies before they can murder him and Scherie, a new friend who knows nothing of his magic.

Endicott pursues Dale, divided between his duty to capture a rogue soldier and his desire to protect Dale from his would-be assassins. They will discover that the demonic horrors that have corrupted American magic are not bound by family or even death itself.

In Tom Doyle's thrilling debut, American Craftsmen, Seal Team Six meets ancient magic--with the fate of the United States hanging in the balance . . .

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Review Round-up: Addison, de Pierres, and McIntosh / SFFWorld &

It's been a couple of weeks since I rounded up the book reviews I've posted, so here goes, starting with the 'oldest' first.  That book is Defenders by Will McIntosh and has become the measuring stick by which I will judge all SF I read this year.  This was a stellar, elegant novel that was as close to perfect as I've read in SF in quite some time:

McIntosh tells the story from three primary points of view: Oliver Bowen, Kai Zhou, and Lila Easterlin and an occasional POV chapter from Dominique Wiewall. Oliver is a scientist working for the government who soon becomes a liaison to the Luyten, specifically to the Luyten known as Five. Kai was mentally connected to Five during the war, Lila’s family was killed in the war against the Luyten, and Dominique Wiewall is highly placed in the government and the creator of the Defenders. Through the first half of the novel, we get to know these characters, how the war with the Luyten affected them (drastically, natch) and the path this put them on to deal with the world once the Defenders were created in to save the human race.


What makes Defenders such an incredible novel is McIntosh’s pure elegance, the beauty of its simplicity. Each element of the novel, the characters, the situations, the world, the results of the world’s actions, organically feed into each other as the novel progresses. Oliver could very easily have been the typical geeky scientist and there are elements of that in him; he’s a bit socially awkward for example. However, it isn’t a defining trait. Wiewall could, in the hands of a writer with lesser skill at fleshing out characters, been the proverbial bitch on wheels so many women in power are painted as with shallow strokes. However, in the (relative to other characters) small amount of space we are in Wiewall’s head, she comes across as a woman who is admirably head-strong, as well as flawed and nervous. In other words, she’s reads like a real, living and breathing person.

The second review on this round-up is one that didn't work for me nearly as well as did Defenders. I refer to Katherine Addison's The Goblin Emperor.  This book has been getting nearly universal love/acclaim from the folks in my twitter/blogger stream, but it didn't work for me. In other words, I'll just call this one Ancillary Justice 2014: The Fantasy Version:

The true strength of this novel is the character of Maia. He makes decisions that go against convention and surprise those advisors he takes into his innermost circles. To say his opinions and decisions to problems goes over in a refreshing manner is an understatement. He actually treats all of his subjects as people rather than annoyances, and acts in the personal interests of his siblings who still live. What makes Maia such an easy character to empathize with is that he is experiencing life in the Untheileneise Court for the first time.


What all of these elements were for me was a barrier erected between the core elements of the novel that worked very well (strong protagonist, inventive setting) and the cumbersome elements (overlong linguistic affectations and idiosyncratic naming conventions) that ultimately prevented me from enjoying the novel. While I understand and enjoy novels that challenge me and challenge conventions of the genre in terms of form, gender assumptions, etc., there’s a line that “challenging” crosses and becomes an impediment to enjoyment. Unfortunately that was the case with The Goblin Emperor.

Last, most recent, and most certainly not least is Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres, which was a blast and was posted to just yesterday. I was very pleased that Marianne jumped into the comments to shed some light on a couple of things. In other words, a case of an author APPROPRIATELY addressing a review of her work:

Told from Virgin’s point of view, de Pierres’s narrative is very intimate. We see everything through her eyes, including the United States Marshall assigned to shadow her on the strange goings-on at the park, Nate Sixkiller. He comes across as polite and mannered in a classic cowboy sort of fashion, yet quite stoic and unbending.


Virgin Jackson is a very well-rounded character: she’s successful in her chosen vocation, she’s got a romantic life and friends, etc. In some ways she reminds me a bit of the character Kate Beckett from Castle, as both are fierce, strong women who followed in their father’s footsteps. Because we are literally in Virgin’s head, we get a better sense of her relationship to her father. He died under mysterious circumstances, and she has carried on in his place, seeing the park preserved and safe. Virgin is much more than a simple “action girl,” however. Virgin isn’t perfect or invincible—while she does take part in her fair share of daring moments, she is also rescued from danger equally. Much to her consternation, Sixkiller happens to be the one saving her at times.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-04-19)

This week's batch includes two of my most anticipated 2014 releases...

Half a King (Book one of The Half a King Trilogy) by Joe Abercrombie (Del Rey Hardcover 07/15/2014) –Joe’s first venture into the waters of Young Adult. It is a new Joe Abercrombie book, nothing else needs to be known abou tit..

”I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.
Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.
Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?
But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (Crown Trade Paperback 09/14/2014) – I said when I was on the SF Signal Podcast a few weeks ago this was one of the books I am most looking forward to reading mainly because his two most recent (as of 2013) novels The Troupe and American Elsewhere are two of my favorite books of the last few years. I’m going to be reading this one sooner rather than later even though it won’t be out for months.

An atmospheric and intrigue-filled novel of dead gods, buried histories, and a mysterious, protean city—from one of America’s most acclaimed young SF writers. 

The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions—until its divine protectors were killed. Now Bulikov has become just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power, but the surreal landscape of the city itself—first shaped, now shattered, by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it—stands as a constant, haunting reminder of its former supremacy Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country’s most accomplished spies, dispatched to catch a murderer. But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem—and that Bulikov’s cruel reign may not yet be over.

The Ultra Thin Man by Patrick Swenson (Tor Hardcover 08/12/2014) – Debut SF Thriller novel from Swenson, who’s published short stories and edited anthologies.

n the twenty-second century, a future in which mortaline wire controls the weather on the settled planets and entire refugee camps drowse in drug-induced slumber, no one—alive or dead, human or alien—is quite what they seem. When terrorists manage to crash Coral, the moon, into its home planet of Ribon, forcing evacuation, it’s up to Dave Crowell and Alan Brindos, contract detectives for the Network Intelligence Organization, to solve a case of interplanetary consequences. Crowell’s and Brindos’s investigation plunges them neck-deep into a conspiracy much more dangerous than anything they could have imagined.

The two detectives soon find themselves separated, chasing opposite leads: Brindos has to hunt down the massive Helk alien Terl Plenko, shadow leader of the terrorist Movement of Worlds. Crowell, meanwhile, runs into something far more sinister—an elaborate frame job that puts our heroes on the hook for treason.

Crowell and Brindos are forced to fight through the intrigue to discover the depths of an interstellar conspiracy. And to answer the all-important question: Who, and what, is the Ultra Thin Man?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-04-12)

Three books this week, one of which is a great sourcebook for the Pathfinder RPG...have a look, won't you?

The Wurms of Blearmouth (A Tale of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach) by Steven Erikson (Tor Hardcover 07/08/2014) – This is the fifth novella featuring Bauchelain and Korbal Broach. The most recent Malazan novel I read (Forge of Darkness ) didn’t quite work for me and I’m still three books short of completing a read of the main sequence.

A new novella from New York Times bestselling author Steven Erikson, set in the world of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, The Wurms of Blearmouth.

Tyranny comes in many guises, and tyrants thrive in palaces and one-room hovels, in back alleys and playgrounds. Tyrants abound on the verges of civilization, where disorder frays the rule of civil conduct and propriety surrenders to brutal imposition. Millions are made to kneel and yet more millions die horrible deaths in a welter of suffering and misery.

But leave all that behind and plunge into escapist fantasy of the most irrelevant kind, and in the ragged wake of the tale told in Lees of Laughter’s End, those most civil adventurers, Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, along with their suitably phlegmatic manservant, Emancipor Reese, make gentle landing upon a peaceful beach, beneath a quaint village at the foot of a majestic castle. There they make acquaintance with the soft-hearted and generous folk of Spendrugle, which lies at the mouth of the Blear River and falls under the benign rule of the Lord of Wurms in his lovely keep.

Make welcome, then, to Spendrugle’s memorable residents, including the man who should have stayed dead, the woman whose prayers should never have been answered, the tax collector everyone ignores, the ex-husband town militiaman who never married, the beachcomber who lives in his own beard, the now singular lizard cat who used to be plural, and the girl who likes to pee in your lap. And of course, hovering over all, the denizen of the castle keep, Lord—Ah, but there lies this tale.

Promise of Blood (Book Two of The Powder Mage Trilogy) by Brian McClellan (Orbit Hardcover / eBook 05/06/2014) – Second book in the series, the first of which I thought was the best fantasy debut novel I read last year.

When invasion looms, but the threats are closer to home…Who will lead the charge?

Tamas’ invasion of Kez ends in disaster when a Kez counter-offensive leaves him cut off behind enemy lines with only a fraction of his army, no supplies, and no hope of reinforcements. Drastically outnumbered and pursued by the enemy’s best, he must lead his men on a reckless march through northern Kez to safety, and back over the mountains so that he can defend his country from an angry god, Kresimir.

In Adro, Inspector Adamat only wants to rescue his wife. To do so he must track down and confront the evil Lord Vetas. He has questions for Vetas concerning his enigmatic master, but the answers might lead to more questions.

Tamas’ generals bicker among themselves, the brigades lose ground every day beneath the Kez onslaught, and Kresimir wants the head of the man who shot him in the eye. With Tamas and his powder cabal presumed dead, Taniel Two-shot finds himself as the last line of defense against Kresimir’s advancing army.

Inner Sea Gods (A Pathfinder Campaign Setting) edited by James L. Sutter (Paizo Hardcover 04/30/2014) – These Pathfinder RPG hardcover books are beautiful looking and chock full of monsters and magic. I’ve been s-l-o-w-l-y incorporating elements of the world into the gaming group I’m part of, though I wish we could play more often.

Unleash the Power of the Gods!
Through the miracles of priests and the weapons of crusaders, the deities of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game command unrivaled influence over the lands of the Inner Sea. Tap into their incredible might with Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Inner Sea Gods! Inside you’ll discover the deepest secrets of an entire pantheon of incomparable beings, claim relics suited to both sinners and saints, and wield immortal might as a character of any background, race, or class. No longer does the favor of the gods belong to clerics, paladins, and other divine spellcasters alone—choose your faith and make holy power your own!
This volume expands upon the world and religions detailed in Pathfinder Campaign Setting: The Inner Sea World Guide. Inside this tome of mysteries, you’ll find:
  • Massive articles on the most powerful deities of the Pathfinder campaign setting, revealing everything you need to know about the gods and their followers, temples, adventurers, holy days, otherworldly realms, divine minions, and more! 
  • Details on nearly 300 deities from across the Inner Sea region and beyond.
  • New prestige classes to imbue you with the power of the gods! What’s more, each of these three classes is uniquely customized to make worshipers of all 20 core gods mechanically distinct from each other—that’s 60 different prestige class variations!
  • Tons of new feats to help optimize your character and make you a champion of the church.
  • More than 140 magic items tailored to religious characters of all classes! Unleash righteous wrath or spread divine corruption with sacred armor, weapons, altars, holy symbols, and other relics for every faith.
  • A library of spells and subdomains to help your caster sow destruction, spread divine love, or remake reality in your god’s name! 
  • Character traits to help you get the most out of your character’s beliefs and backstory. 
  • Dozens of monsters, including high-level heralds and divine servitors for Pathfinder’s most prominent deities.

Friday, April 11, 2014

SFFWorld & SF Signal Round-up: Moon, Edwards, and McCarthy plus Links!

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had some new content posted; two reviews to SFFWorld and my regular (as it turns out twice-per-month) Completist column at SF Signal. I’ll start with the oldest (if a week ago can be considered “oldest”) first and my review of Elizabeth Moon’s Echoes of Betrayal. I returned to her fiction earlier this year after not having read anything from her in a few years, for reasons I can’t fully explain and I feel somewhat bad for that because I’ve connected with everything I’ve read from here. This third installment of her Paladin’s Legacy series is no exception

Moon begins the tale with the thief Arvid Semminson a jail cell. That setting doesn’t last long as he and his gnome companion Dattur escape. Arvid was the enforcer of the Thieves Guild, but was betrayed by them which led to his incarceration. As much as the novel focuses on Kieri and Dorrin, perhaps Arvid undergoes the greatest change and character development over the course of the novel. Soon after Arvid escapes, he assumes the identity of a merchant, all the while searching for a lost necklace from Dorrin’s crown and jewel set. Dattur is his constant companion, a result of the gnome thinking he owes Arvid a life debt. Arvid begins hearing a voice in his head that he comes to realize is Saint Gird. Arvid does not consider himself a good person or a religious person, after all he spent much of his life as a thief and an enforcer for thieves, so much of his narrative journey in Echoes of Betrayal is an examination of his past and the struggle to redeem himself, even if such a word or change is never fully admitted or quantified. Moon captures the internal struggle Arvid is going through at this juncture in his life, he’s fighting against himself, who he was and who he wishes to become.
I’ve had this book for a couple of years and just never got around to reading it, as such, the last time I ventured into the series was with the second book, Kings of the North, nearly three years ago. Because of this, the longer I waited to read Echoes of Betrayal, the more trepidation I felt picking it up. I wasn’t sure how much I would remember from the previous installment or how easily I would slip into the world and narrative. I shouldn’t have worried nearly as much. The names began ringing bells as did their plight and Moon’s narrative connects with me so well that I was soon right beside Arvid, Kieri and the other characters during their plights/journeys.

Earlier this week, I posted my review of a book that took me by surprise. I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected (and the premise looked enjoyable). The mystery couched in a historical/mythic setting Talus and the Frozen King by Graham Edwards: 

Edwards works with a very straight-forward mystery structure, murder, investigation, solution, but what happens between those pillars of the structure make for a very entertaining read. The island of Creyak through the absolute rule of Hashath, has all but cut itself off from the world, shrouding itself in privacy and superstition. Now that the king is dead, his eldest son is in line for the throne. Of course, things are not that easy. Tharn, the king-to-be, is at first very untrusting of Talus and Bran considering their arrival coincided with the king’s death.

Part of what makes a good mystery enjoyable are the characters because frankly, going in, the reader pretty much knows the mystery will be solved when the book is finished. In the case of Talus and the Frozen King, I thought Talus and Bran were both engaging characters who had a deep past that was hinted at from the start, but in the case of Talus, becomes only minimally clear by novel’s end. The people of Creyak felt genuine and the king-to-be Tharn stood out as a man torn between duty to his people’s traditions and how he wants the village to live on in the future.

Yesterday, my Completist column featured a superb, recently completed Military SF trilogy, The Subterrene War by T.C. McCarthy:

While I haven’t read every Military SF novel out on the shelves, I’ve read my fair share and nothing I’ve read in the subgenre feels so filthy, dirty and uncomfortable as do these books by McCarthy. McCarthy is, after all, telling a story of war and nothing is spared – the death, the blood, the sickness, even the pure discomfort of having what is essentially power armor which includes a system to get rid of personal waste – there’s the rawness, and that is merely one fraction of it. Some people may consider disjointed a negative comment, but here, the disjointed feeling of the narrative is, I gather, completely intentional on McCarthy’s part.


McCarthy’s claustrophobic feel extends to personal freedoms. When ‘out’ of the theater of war, at home, or in civilian life, Stan, like all citizens, is constantly monitored. He is unable to have any private discussion with his estranged wife and only when he is in the deepest, least civilized sections of the jungles does Stan come close to feeling unsurveilled. This ratchets-up the paranoia level and lack of privacy that pervades the narrative.
Also at SF Signal:

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-04-05)

As a reviewer for SFFWorld and maybe because of this blog, I receive a lot of books for review from various publishers. Since I can't possibly read everything that arrives, I figure the least I can do (like some of my fellow bloggers) is mention the books I receive for review on the blog to at least acknowledge the books even if I don't read them.

Sometimes I get one or two books, other weeks I'll get nearly a dozen books. Some weeks, I’ll receive a finished (i.e. the version people see on bookshelves) copy of a book for which I received an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) weeks or months prior to the actual publication of the book. I’ve been receiving a greater percentage of electronic ARCs this year which is good because death via drowning in a sea of unread books is not how I want to say goodbye to this world.

Sometimes I'll want to read everything that arrives, other weeks, the books immediately go into the "I'll never read this book" pile, while still others go into the nebulous "maybe-I'll-read-it-category." More often than not, it is a mix of books that appeal to me at different levels (i.e. from "this book holds ZERO appeal for me" to "I cannot WAIT to read this book yesterday"). Have a guess in the comments about which book fits my reading labels “I’ll Never Read…” “Zero Appeal” or “cannot wait” "maybe I'll get to it later" and so forth...

Since nothing new arrived this week, I figured now was a good time, with the start of the year, for this filler post.

Friday, April 04, 2014

The Last King of Osten Ard - Tad Williams Returns to Memory, Sorrow and Thorn World & Characters

It was publicized (Sarah’s Web site was the first place I saw it) around the genre blogosphere (I know Aidan reveres this series as much as I do) late yesterday, DAW Books announced they will be publishing a sequel series to Tad Williams Memory, Sorrow and Thorn returning to his most popular series and the characters of Simon and Miriamele in The Last King of Osten Ard. The book titles will be (as of now):

The Witchwood Crown

Empire of Grass

The Navigator’s Children

As folks who know me through this blog and my moderation and postings at the SFFWorld forums are likely aware, Tad Williams is one of my favorite writers and Memory, Sorrow and Thorn is one of my favorite (as in top 5) if not my favorite fantasy series.

Years ago, back in the days of yore before the Internets and only one book of GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire was on the shelves and I then recently graduated college I was getting back into non-academic reading I knew I wanted to dive into Science Fiction and Fantasy so of course I jumped into the Wheel of Time and other books I knew as landmark novels/series like Stranger in a Strange Land, Ender’s Game, Hyperion among others.

However, one series I latched onto in late 1998 after browsing’s reviews and suggestions was Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. I was lucky enough that hardcover copies of the trilogy were still in print and available so I purchased the books in their original publication format, a trilogy of three books. To this day, the trilogy is a standard-bearer in my personal fantasy pantheon and one against which I measure nearly all fantasy I read. The physical books are some of the most treasured physical books I own, not the least of which is because of the gorgeous and iconic artwork from the legendary Michael Whelan.

As is now known by many of us who have read both authors, George R.R. Martin was strongly nudged/influenced by reading Memory, Sorrow and Thorn that Smart Epic Fantasy could be done. I think we know how that worked out.

Since reading Memory, Sorrow and Thorn that first time back in 1998, I’ve been a fan of Tad’s work and joined up the old Shadowmarch online community and re-read Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Though at that time (over a decade ago now, so with the new series looming, I’ll be re-reading again), I bought the mass market paperbacks because I didn’t (a) want to lug around those gigantic hardcovers and, (b) perhaps more importantly, didn’t want to damage my precious 1st edition hardcovers.

So in short, you could say I’m more than a little excited about this series.

This sort of begs the question (as is often the case in such situations), can a creator return to their best known creation after an absence?  Not an easy answer, but there are few writers who I trust more to than Tad Williams.