Friday, December 30, 2011

SFFWorld 2011 Year in Review - Fantasy & Horror

As has been the custom for Mark Yon (aka Hobbit in the SFFWorld Forums) for the past few years, we spent a fair amount of time exchanging e-mails over the past couple of weeks as we hashed out what we thought to be the best genre offerings of 2011. We generally do this recap in three parts, so this year was no exception. The first of three parts has been posted to SFFWorld, so go and take a look:

We also have a thread in our discussion forum where you can join the forum members why we chose the wrong books for our personal top five of the year or where you can tell us how brilliant Mark and I are for covering what we covered.

Also, don't forget to vote for your favorite read of 2011!

I'll be posting my annual review of the year in reading once we hit 2012.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Astounding Apocalypse and Robots!

Mark kept busy during the holidays, posting several reviews while I continued my weekly pace of a review per week.

Mark continues to produce reviews in the same way people breathe – rapidly and without missing a beat. A novel that turned out to be a favorite of his upon completion is the latest: The Astounding, the Amazing and the Unknown by Paul Malmont:

Here’s a great example of a book that mixes real events with fiction, and real people with some fictional.

The real events involve the war work of some of our legendary science fiction writers: Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, L. Ron Hubbard. It is well documented in books, such as William H. Patterson’s recent biography of Robert A. Heinlein, that these writers worked together under Heinlein at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyards.

Here things are taken a step further, in that Malmont supposes that in 1943 this gang of intensely serious, studious and gifted authors are actually involved in a covert war mission. The so-called Kamikaze Group, led by Bob, are given the task of turning the science-fictional flights of imagination into something real. Ron and Isaac are employed to create an invisibility paint but really want to make scientist Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe Tower work as a Wunderwaffe, a ‘wonder weapon’. The rumour is that Tesla has made this work, but shut it down following its initial tests. Tesla is now dead, believed by some such as Gernsback as murdered, so its purpose is unclear. Is it an energy beam with unlimited power, a weapon of mass destruction or a means of providing free energy to those who want it? And does it work?

Lots of debuts were published this year, but perhaps the most interesting and ranging group of debut novels were published by Nightshade Books. I haven’t had chance to read all of them, but Rob Ziegler’s Seed, is quite impressive:

The Earth Mother waking and a bleak, dystopic future aren’t new trappings of the genre, but Ziegler’s voice gives these elements a freshness. To this, he’s added a traveling band of nomadic Hispanic youths in the dustbowl-like plains focusing on Brood and his younger brother Pollo who is abducted early in the novel. The chaos continues when a designer once beholden to Satori goes her own way and the government, in the form of agent Sienna Doss, is charged with bringing her back in the hopes of the government regaining control of Satori, and therefore, the United States itself. Along the way, Ziegler brings these separate plot threads together, interweaving them with a skill that belies the fact that Seed is his first published novel.

The book itself is really a work of art, the cover by Cody Tilson is eye-catching and encapsulates the feel and theme of the book very well. To be balanced, though, at times I felt the narrative to be a little uneven. I know, that seems to be a criticism I use often, but some parts of the novel did not move along as swiftly as the others. Despite that, Seed is an impressive debut and one that hopefully, signals more wonderful things to come from Rob Ziegler’s imaginative voice.

Continuing on his readthrough of classics, Mark had a look at two recently r-issues from the Golden Age of SF. The first of which is the story that gave us the term ‘robot,’ Karel Čapek’s RUR and War with the Newts

To be honest, RUR’s reputation beyond that of creating and using the word ‘robot’ is fairly unimpressive. What is interesting though is the fact that the robots in the play are not metal nor manufactured, as you would perhaps expect these days (and the cover rather misleadingly portrays), but are rather what we would these days call bio-engineered: that is, they are biological, created by biotechnology and, unlike R2-D2 or C-3PO, can be seen as human in appearance, even mistaken for human.

Though the book is titled War with the Newts, most of it deals with how the Newts were first met, how they became servile to humans and what led to the war, which actually only take up the last thirty-five pages or so. However when it does happen the war is both sad and weirdly affecting in that such catastrophic events are recounted in such a matter-of-fact manner. The last two sentences of the novel describes what must have been a common feeling at the time of writing: “And then?” “...Then I don’t know what comes next.” (page 349.)

The other Golden Age classic is the story on which the various iterations of the film The Thing is based, Who Goes There by legendary SF editor John Campbell

First published in Astounding in August 1938 (yes, that long ago!) it is a tale of identity and survival in the Antarctic. Scientists and the military discover the body of an alien stranded there. At first assumed to be dead and buried in the ice for millions of years, the alien revives and, in its place of icy isolation, kills its enemy, taking the form of the dead human. The men on the base must kill it before it escapes to repopulate amongst the urban metropolises of Earth, but first they have to determine which one of them is the alien.

Campbell was only 28 when Who Goes There? was published and it both impresses and reflects this. It is still rather pulpy in style and content, though more thoughtful than the ‘one-bound-and-he-was-free’ style of SF dominant at the time. Characters gasp rather than speak, bound when they could walk, and so on.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Books in the Mail (W/E 2011-12-24)

A few last books before Christmas 2011 to share with you, my faithful readers, this fine day. Christmas being Sunday in 2011 is why this post goes up on Monday rather than the usual Sunday.

Galaxy in Flames(Audio) (Horus Heresy) by Ben Counter and read by Martyn Ellis (Black Library, Abridged CD 7/4/2011) –These audio versions are a lot of fun, as my reviews for Horus Rising and False Gods might suggest. So yeah, I’ll be listening to this one.

Having recovered from his grievous injuries, Warmaster Horus leads the triumphant Imperial forces against the rebel world of Isstvan III. Though the rebels are swiftly crushed, Horus’s treachery is finally revealed when the planet is razed by virus bombs and Space Marines turn on their battle-brothers in the most bitter struggle imaginable. Ben Counter brings the opening trilogy of this bestselling series to explosive life as the Horus Heresy begins!

Shadows in Flight by Orson Scott Card (Tor Hardcvover 01/17/2012)– Who hasn’t read Card’s landmark Ender novels? I went through a phase over a couple of years where I was devouring most of Card’s back catalogue zipping through the Enderverse. I made it through a few of the Bean sequels before stopping. I liked Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead very much and they still stand pretty high in my mind. Of course many people will say Card is milking the Ender franchise for everything he can. This is the second book following Shadow of the Giant.

Ender’s Shadow explores the stars in this all-new novel...

At the end of Shadow of the Giant, Bean flees to the stars with three of his children--the three who share the engineered genes that gave him both hyper-intelligence and a short, cruel physical life. The time dilation granted by the speed of their travel gives Earth’s scientists generations to seek a cure, to no avail. In time, they are forgotten--a fading ansible signal speaking of events lost to Earth’s history. But the Delphikis are about to make a discovery that will let them save themselves, and perhaps all of humanity in days to come.

For there in space before them lies a derelict Formic colony ship. Aboard it, they will find both death and wonders--the life support that is failing on their own ship, room to grow, and labs in which to explore their own genetic anomaly and the mysterious disease that killed the ship’s colony.

And Blue Skies From Pain (Fey and the Fallen Volume 2) by Stina Leicht (Night Shade Books Trade Paperback 03/17/2012) – The second book in Leicht’s well-received urban fantasy series.

It's November of 1977: The punk rock movement is a year old and the brutal thirty-year war referred to as "The Troubles" is escalating. According to Irish tradition, the month of November is a time for remembrance of the dead. Liam Kelly, in particular, wishes it were otherwise. Born a Catholic in Londonderry/Derry, Northern Ireland, Liam, a former wheelman for the Provisional IRA, is only half mortal. His father is Bran, a puca - a shape-shifting, ghostlike creature - and a member of the ancient Fianna. Liam must dodge both the Royal Ulster Constabulary, who want him for the car bombing that killed Constable Haddock, and the Provisional IRA, who want him for the deaths of Éamon Walsh and several others found ripped apart in a burned down farmhouse in Armagh. Fortunately for Liam, both the Ulster Constabulary and the Provisional IRA think he's dead. On the other hand, the Militis Dei - a group of Roman Catholic priest-assassins, whose sole purpose is to dispose of fallen angels and demons found living on this earth - is very aware that Liam is alive, and very aware of his preternatural parentage. With the help of his unlikely ally Father Murray - a Militis Dei operative who has known Liam since childhood - he must convince the Church that he and his fey brethren aren't demonic in origin, and aren't allied with The Fallen.

Jane Carver of Waar by Nathan Long (Night Shade Books Trade Paperback 03/17/2012) – Long’s been plying his writerly trade for quite a while now, having written numerous novels in the Warhammer milieu as well as some writing for TV. This book looks like a lot of fun and a psin on the John Carter of Mars story.

Jane's having a bad day. On the run from the cops after accidentally killing a pervert outside her favorite biker bar, she first had to ditch her beloved Harley in a swimming pool, and then the weird, glowing gadget she found in the cave in which she decided to hide appears to have transported her to another planet... a planet with a Tidy Bowl-blue sky, a fat orange sun, and bizarre blue shrubbery. A planet where Jane encounters a gang of nearly naked purple men in gold cloaks beating the crap out of a bunch of other nearly naked purple men in red cloaks. A planet rife with slavery, feudalism, monsters, pirates, and priests. What's a biker girl to do in a strange, savage land? Kick a little ass, of course!

From Nathan Long, author of the Warhammer novels Orcslayer, Tainted Blood, and Bloodborn, comes Jane Carver of Waar, a pulpy adventure with a very contemporary heroine.

The Doctor and the Kid by Mike Resnick (Pyr, Trade Paperback 12/07/2010) – Resnick’s second weird western featuring Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid.

The time is 1882. With the Gunfight at the O. K. Corral and the battle with the thing that used to be Johnny Ringo behind him (see The Buntline Special), the consumptive Doc Holliday makes his way to Deadwood, Colorado, with Kate Elder, where he plans to spend the rest of his brief life, finally moving into the luxurious facility that specializes in his disease.

But one night he gets a little too drunk—hardly a novelty for him—and loses everything he has at the gaming table. He realizes that he needs to replenish his bankroll, and quickly, so that he can live out his days in comfort under medical care. He considers his options and hits upon the one most likely to produce income in a hurry: he’ll use his skill as a shootist and turn bounty hunter.

The biggest reward is for the death of the young, twenty-year-old desperado known as Billy the Kid. It’s clear from the odds the Kid has faced and beaten, his miraculous escape from prison, and his friendship with the Indian tribes of New Mexico that he is protected by some powerful magic. Doc enlists the aid of both magic (Geronimo) and science (Thomas Edison), and goes out after his quarry. He will hunt the Kid down, and either kill him and claim the reward or die in the process and at least end his own suffering.

But as he is soon to find out, nothing is as easy as it looks.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Spirits

The chances of me posting here before Christmas again is quite slim, so I’ll take the time now to highlight a review of Mark did of an odd-bird of a Christmas story from, of all writers, Whitley Strieber. The Christmas Spirits is a short novelette/novella published in an e-only version, here’s the usual link, cover, and review excerpt:

Here’s a brief novella that’s A Christmas Carol revisited but given a topical update and a slightly more SF slant for good measure.

George Moore is a futures trader who runs the hard-ass firm of Moore Futures. At a time of good will, George has very little. To him, Christmas is an irrelevance that gets in the way of making money 24 hours a day, and George is an exemplary worker. This also applies to them around him. His assistant Megan is refused permission to go home early on Christmas Eve, even though she has Charlie, her autistic son to look after. However George is due a surprise this Christmas. When George gets home, he finds his late employer Bill Hill, who warns him of three visitors due that night to show George Christmases past, present and possible future, and that his life needs to change and not make the mistake deceased Bill made in his lifetime...

You might have heard of this one, before, right?

Some other Christmas Cheer, in the form of Christmas/Holiday themed beer labels

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

DEADLINE, 11/22/63, and Ciaphas Cain Reviewed at SFFWorld

We’ve got a few new reviews up at SFFWorld, three of which I’ll mention in today’s blog post.

I’ll start with my review…which is the second book in a trilogy that has fast become an addictive read that is ranking among my recent favorites. Deadline, is the second novel in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy:

It isn’t long before the conspiracy hinted at in the first volume comes to the forefront as a supposedly dead scientist, Kelly Connolly, from the CDC comes a knocking asking for Shaun’s help in unraveling the conspiracy that has killed many of the people Shaun loved and is controlling the world. In a world where the zombies are the result of the Kellis-Amberle virus, itself a combination of two virus cures – essentially a disease – the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is the most powerful organization in the world. With that in mind, Shaun and his team, including Rebecca “Becks” Atherton, Maggie Garcia, Alaric Kwong, Dave, and Mahir are logically a bit skeptical about Kelly’s claims. She was after all part of the organization, and her death was faked with the help of some of her colleagues.

This is most assuredly not a typical Middle Book and to sum it up, partly because of the superb pace, partly because revealing the deepening plot would cushion the impact of the novel’s power. What I found to be very impressive on Grant’s part was how, despite both novels in the Newsflesh Trilogy utilizing the first person narrative, she was able to really set Shaun’s voice apart from George’s. In that respect, Grant’s ability at giving readers engaging, believable and unique characters is superb.

Stephen King needs no introduction. His most recent stuff has been hit or miss for many, but Mark had a good look at 11/22/63 his latest novel involving time travel and the JFK assassination:

In a slight change to most of his other fiction, this time around, 11.22.63 attempts the difficult task of merging real life events as an important element of King’s fictional world. It involves a topic of global significance but one, like the Vietnam War, that still cuts the American psyche most keenly. The assassination of a President is always shocking, but this one especially so when it happened so clearly in the full glare of the media. It also happened in the President’s own country, not whilst visiting somewhere else, at a time filled with optimism.

The story, in its bare outline, is pretty self-explanatory. Told in the first person, it is the story of Jake Epping is a High School teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine (where else?), who is asked to meet a friend, the local greasy-spoon owner Al Templeton, who wants a favour. Jake goes to the cafe to find that, overnight, Al has aged. What we find out is that this is an older Al, who tells Jake that he’s just spent years in the past, though only two minutes (‘it’s always two minutes’) have gone now. In his larder Al has a portal that links to Lisbon Falls 1958. Jake now has the chance to go back and change history: to stop President Kennedy being shot in 1963. Jake goes back to small-town America of the 1950’s, first as a trial then for real, revelling in the relative simplicity of life there – the look, the sounds, the peacefulness, the politeness – and falls in love with colleague Sadie Dunhill, whilst all the time preparing to alter history.

Last, but not least, Kathryn (aka Loerwyn) dove into Sandy Mitchell’s first omnibus Ciaphas Cain: Hero of the Imperium, and had some good things to say:

In this collection, Cain meets a variety of the Emperor's enemies – The Tau, the Chaos, the Tyranids, the Orks and the Necrons – but he also becomes involved with the most dreaded and destructive of all things, politics. With support from his malodorous aide Jurgen, the Inquisition, a Lord General of the Imperial Guard as well as the Valhallan 597th to which he attached himself, Ciaphas manages to escape a premature death countless times. Despite his self-depreciative attitude, he proves to be more than capable as a Commissar, inspiring those around him and ensuring victory in the name of the Emperor.

Mitchell is quite clear in his writing style, and it fits the book perfectly. I rarely found myself puzzled over the events or the dialogue. The combat scenes, of which there are many, were largely clear and seemed believable in both their length and their brutality, but the descriptions of the violence never went beyond what was necessary. The same applies to the descriptions of characters, in that we weren't told everything about them, just some basics. This meant confusing the different characters' identities wasn't particularly an issue, especially as the core cast was largely the same through the three novels. I can't say I found it perfect, however. Due to the novels being interconnected yet standalone, there's a lot of repetition of basic facts. We are frequently reminded in each novel that Jurgen has a distinctive smell, for example, sometimes to the point of it being reiterated a number of times per archive.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Books in the Mail (W/E 2011-12-17)

With the year drawing to a close, publishers are continuing to push their early releases for the next year. This week's arrivials were brought to me (and you, my faithful readers) from the fine folks at Tor and DAW.

Arctic Rising by Tobias S. Buckell (Tor (Hardcover 02/28/2012) – I’ve enjoyed just about everything I’ve read by Tobias Buckell, his Xenowealth novels (Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, and Sly Mongoose) and the handful of short stories I read by him. This is, seemingly, a bit of a departure from his linked Caribbean flavored Space-Opera/Voodo Punk novels, but I expect Arctic Rising (the first ARC I’ve received for my Kindle) to be good nonetheless.

Global warming has transformed the Earth, and it's about to get even hotter. The Arctic Ice Cap has all but melted, and the international community is racing desperately to claim the massive amounts of oil beneath the newly accessible ocean.

Enter the Gaia Corporation. Its two founders have come up with a plan to roll back global warming. Thousands of tiny mirrors floating in the air can create a giant sunshade, capable of redirecting heat and cooling the earth's surface. They plan to terraform Earth to save it from itself—but in doing so, they have created a superweapon the likes of which the world has never seen.

Anika Duncan is an airship pilot for the underfunded United Nations Polar Guard. She’s intent on capturing a smuggled nuclear weapon that has made it into the Polar Circle and bringing the smugglers to justice.

Anika finds herself caught up in a plot by a cabal of military agencies and corporations who want Gaia Corporation stopped. But when Gaia Corp loses control of their superweapon, it will be Anika who has to decide the future of the world. The nuclear weapon she has risked her life to find is the only thing that can stop the floating sunshade after it falls into the wrong hands.

Immobility by Brian Evenson (Tor (Hardcover 04/12/2012) – This is Evenson’s first novel with a major publisher, he’s written some acclaimed horror in recent years both in short and novel form.

A far-future thriller that looks at a post human world struggling to stay human.

You open your eyes for what you know is not the first time and you remember nothing. You find out that a catastrophic event known as the Kollaps has destroyed life as we know it.

Suddenly someone claiming to be your friend tells you you're needed. Something crucial has been stolen — but under no circumstances can you know what or why. You've got to get it back or something bad is going to happen. And you've got to get it back fast, so they can freeze you again before your own time runs out.

Paralyzed from the waist down, you're being carried around on the backs of two men who don't seem anything like you at all. Who inject you regularly and tell you its for your own good... to stop the disease, or else they must cut directly into your spine.

Welcome to the life of Josef Horkai...
Critically-acclaimed and O. Henry prize-winning author Brian Evenson turns his literary eye to a post apocalyptic earth in this dazzling science fiction novel, his debut original work for a major publisher.

Sisterhod of Dune by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson (Tor (Hardcover 01/12/2012) – Another in the long line of Dune stories told by KJA and Frank Herbert’s son, Brian. I’ve only read the very first Dune by Frank Herbert, but since I haven’t read any of the books by KJA and Jr, I’ll not say anything.

It is eighty-three years after the last of the thinking machines were destroyed in the Battle of Corrin, after Faykan Butler took the name of Corrino and established himself as the first Emperor of a new Imperium. Great changes are brewing that will shape and twist all of humankind.

The war hero Vorian Atreides has turned his back on politics and Salusa Secundus. The descendants of Abulurd Harkonnen Griffen and Valya have sworn vengeance against Vor, blaming him for the downfall of their fortunes. Raquella Berto-Anirul has formed the Bene Gesserit School on the jungle planet Rossak as the first Reverend Mother. The descendants of Aurelius Venport and Norma Cenva have built Venport Holdings, using mutated, spice-saturated Navigators who fly precursors of Heighliners. Gilbertus Albans, the ward of the hated Erasmus, is teaching humans to become Mentats…and hiding an unbelievable secret.

The Butlerian movement, rabidly opposed to all forms of “dangerous technology,” is led by Manford Torondo and his devoted Swordmaster, Anari Idaho. And it is this group, so many decades after the defeat of the thinking machines, which begins to sweep across the known universe in mobs, millions strong, destroying everything in its path.

Every one of these characters, and all of these groups, will become enmeshed in the contest between Reason and Faith. All of them will be forced to choose sides in the inevitable crusade that could destroy humankind forever….

Sins of the Demon (Kara Gillian, Book 4) by Diana Rowland (DAW Mass Market 1/03/2012)– Fourth in a series about vampire hunter on the police force and second after a publisher switch (rare in the middle of a series) from Bantam to DAW.

The homicide beat in Louisiana isn't just terrifying, it's demonic. Detective Kara Gilligan of the supernatural task force has the ability to summon demons to her aid, but she herself is pledged to serve a demonic lord. And now, people who've hurt Kara in the past are dropping dead for no apparent reason. To clear her name and save both the demon and human worlds, she's in a race against the clock and in a battle for her life that just may take her to hell and back.

Leaves of Flame by Benjamin Tate (DAW, Paperback 01/03/2011) –Sequel to Tate’s previous novel, which is still on the stack. These are flying under the radar (and in my terms, not discussed all that much at SFFWorld), and I plan to read at least the first book in this series sooner rather than later.

One hundred years have passed since Colin Harten--transformed to something more than human by the magic of the lifeblood contained in the Well of Sorrows--used his new powers to broker a peace agreement between the human, dwarren, and Alvritshai races of Wrath Suvane. Since then all three races have greatly expanded their empires. And Colin has continuously sought ways to defeat the dark spirits known as the sukrael--and the Wraiths they have created to act for them in the physical world. Yet Colin has not been able to prevent the dark spirits from reawakening more and more Wells, thus extending their power across the lands.

Having mastered three of the five magics of Wrath Suvane, Colin has gifted each race with a magical Tree to protect them from incursionso f the dark forces. He has also realized that unless a certain number of the Wells are left open, their magic can never be stabilized, and the land will be torn apart by this uncontrolled force.

But now the enemy has located the one Well that is key to controlling the entire network, and if Colin can't find a means to stop them from claiming and activating this Well, it could mean the end of all three races...

House Name (The House Wars Book 3) by Michelle West (DAW Hardcover 01/03/2011) – HOUSE NAME is the third novel in The House War, the series that began with The Hidden City and City of Night. Set in the same rich fantasy universe as Michelle West’s Sacred Hunt duology and her six-book Sun Sword series, the House War novels recount the events leading to the momentous battle between the demonic minions of the Lord of the Hells and defenders of the Essalieyan Empire–a realm with a long and bloody history. The empire is ruled by the Twin Kings, themselves the sons of gods. It is also controlled by The Ten, the heads of the most influential Houses in Averalaan, the capital of the Empire.

But The House War focuses no only on the larger war but also on the campaign to control the most powerful of the ruling Houses in the Essalieyan Empire–House Terafin.

As House Name opens, former street orphan Jewel and her den have been given shelter in House Terafin. The price for them to remain there is that Jewel must prove her value to the House. And saving The Terafin, the ruler of the House, from a demonic assassination attempt is certainly a good start.

Now Jewel has been assigned the task of finding the entryways to the ancient undercity that lies beneath the streets of the empire’s capital, Averalaan. But even with the aid of the most powerful First Circle Mage of the Order of Knowledge, Jewel’s search seems hopeless. All of the ways into the undercity seem to be magically disappearing before Jewel can lead the mage to them. And if they can’t find a means to reach the undercity, they will not be able to prevent the demon kin from whatever attack they are planning.

Not only does Jewel fear that failure on her part will see her den expelled from House Terafin, but she has been troubled by grim visions of the future–visions of the death and destruction of all she has come to hold dear.

Yet is is not until the unthinkable happens–a direct attack on House Terafin–that the stakes are raised to a whole new level. And both Jewel and the Terafin can only hope that it is not already too late to prevent the demon kin from reaching the goal they have worked centuries to achieve–the return of the Lord of the Hells to the mortal realm…..

Count to a Trillion by John C. Wright (Tor Hardcover 12/20/2011) – First in a quartet of Space Opera novels by the author of Fugitives of Chaos, which I reviewed a couple of years ago.

Hundreds of years in the future, after the collapse of the Western world, young Menelaus Illation Montrose grows up in what was once Texas as a gunslinging duelist for hire. But Montrose is also a mathematical genius—and a romantic who dreams of a future in which humanity rises from the ashes to take its place among the stars.

The chance to help usher in that future comes when Montrose is recruited for a manned interstellar mission to investigate an artifact of alien origin. Known as the Monument, the artifact is inscribed with data so complex, only a posthuman mind can decipher it. So Montrose does the unthinkable: he injects himself with a dangerous biochemical drug designed to boost his already formidable intellect to superhuman intelligence. It drives him mad.

Nearly two centuries later, his sanity restored, Montrose is awakened from cryo-suspension with no memory of his posthuman actions, to find Earth transformed in strange and disturbing ways, and learns that the Monument still carries a secret he must decode—one that will define humanity’s true future in the universe.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Jackal, Blackdog, and Dragons - New SFFWorld Reviews

Here we are, another Tuesday at the Blog o’ Stuff and that means some new reviews to mention that have recently been posted to SFFWorld.

Chris Wooding has been one of the more discussed writers at SFFWorld lately, and he’s just published The Iron Jackal, the third Tales of the Ketty Jay novel, which Mark liked a lot :

The heist occurs, though it is unexpectedly messier than anticipated. The artefact is taken and foolishly taken out of its transport case by Darian. A two-bladed sword, the object stabs Darian’s hand and gives him a ‘black spot’, something that, it is told, will kill him. As the tale unfolds, things get complicated for Darian and this has consequences for his motley crew.

If I had any complaints this time around, and I am struggling a little, really, it’s that this time around, more so than at any time previous, I’m noticing the joins a little more. The train heist is reminiscent of the Firefly TV episode The Train Job, the roof chase Jason Bourne, the Thief of Baghdad or Hitchcock’s Vertigo. It’s very well done, it’s clearly an homage, yet unlike previous books in the series, in places I’m getting that feeling of ‘been here before’. Though some of the events here are pretty much telegraphed before they happen, it’s like watching the inevitability of a car crash that keeps you reading.

Standalone fantasy novels, not part of any series, are a rare beast in the genre. That is just one element that makes K.V. Johansen’s Blackdog stand out from the crowd. I posted my review of Blackdog today, which I thought was impressive in its mythic resonance:

Where to begin? I suppose the world itself is good enough – Johansen has created a world that resonates with ancient powers and oozes with mythic resonance. I recall one of my college courses – World Mythology – and the text of world myths on the reading list. Johansen’s novel seems as if it could fit right in with those stories, though thankfully for us as readers she’s fleshed out the bones of the myth, added muscle, organs, and more life to the story to make a compelling novel. It should, then, come as no surprise Johansen’s academic background is Medieval Studies. The knowledge and passion, she has for ancient text comes through very well in the narrative energy of the story and world she created.

Johansen’s hook of showing a goddess coming into her maturity is slightly different in that her protagonist is not just an avatar, but the Goddess herself. That fascinating conceit and the requisite storytelling, characters and world-building back up that hook very nicely. Am I stating the stories are similar? No, not exactly, but the vein of myth coming to life and immensely powerful beings striding alongside the common man is similar. Where Johansen’s storytelling, characters and overall ‘feel’ of the novel finds the most similarity, for me, is in Glen Cook’s writing. The raw and almost primitive milieu reminded me a bit of Cook’s Darkwar.

Mark posted his review The Cardinal's Blades, the first in a series that has been called 'The Three Musketeers with dragons’:

The Cardinal’s Blades are the legendary group rumoured to have carried out secret missions on the cardinal’s behalf. Disbanded after some 'nasty business during the siege of La Rochelle’, Richelieu and the Crown have need of them again, as there are signs that the Black Claw, a dragon-led secret society, are up to no good, dealing in secret with France’s enemy, Spain. Led by the beautiful-blonde-looking Vicomtesse de Malicorne, the Black Claw are the Blades’ nemesis in this tale.

The first part of the novel therefore introduces us, in the third person, to the original members of the group, led by Captain LaFargue, as they are summoned to return to Paris. This means that we meet a motley group of superb swordsmen and women, all currently pursuing alternative lifestyles. We’re introduced to the characters that make up the band. These include Nicolas Marciac, who spends his time running up debts and duelling, living off the money he makes in such matters. Red spectacle-wearing Saint Lucq is a half-dragon, half human assassin. Arnaud de Laincourt is a Blade suspected of being a traitor to France. We have to add to this a strong heroine, Baroness Agnes de Vaudreuil. The weak point for me was the unfortunately named LePrat (who manages to get injured!) is a bit of a misstep, though clearly just one of those names that just translates badly internationally...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Books in the Mail (W/E 2011-12-10)

A batch of December books from the fine folks at Night Shade Books plus a couple of other odds and ends from some of the usual suspects.

The Daemon Prism (A Novel of the Collegia Magica #3) by Carol Berg (Roc, Trade Paperback 01/03/2011) – Berg has been on my radar for a couple of years, even more so over the past year as a few SFFWorld forum members whose opinion I trust (Erfael, NickeeCoco, and suciul specifically) have recently been raving about her work. Yet another author who I want to remove from my unread list.

“Thou’rt Fallen, Dante. Born in frost-cold blood; suckled on pain. Thy repentance was ever a lie…”

Dante the necromancer is the most reviled man in Sabria, indicted by the King, the Temple, and the Camarilla Magica for crimes against the living and the dead. Yet no judgment could be worse than his enemies’ cruel vengeance that left him crippled in body and mind. Dante seeks to salve pain and bitterness with a magical puzzle - a desperate soldier’s dream of an imprisoned enchantress and a faceted glass that can fill one’s uttermost desires.

But the dream is a seductive trap that ensnares Dante’s one-time partners and unlocks his own deepest fears. Haunted, blind, driven to the verges of the world, Dante risks eternal corruption and the loss of everything he values to unravel a mystery of ancient magic, sacred legend, and divine truth…

An Ill Fate Marshalling (The Last Chronicle of the Dread Empire Volume II) by Glen Cook (Night Shade Books Trade Paperback 12/06/2011) – I read the first two omnibus editions Night Shade published A Cruel Wind and A Fortress in Shadow a couple of years ago so it is very nice to see Night Shade continuing to publish the series, especially this new one.

King Bragi Ragnorson decides to join Chatelain Mist's coup against the Dread Empire. Varhlokkur - the King's wizard - tries to dissuade Ragnorson from this chosen path, but only the drum-beat of war is heard. The King's Spymaster Michael Trebilcock joins with the wizard to stave off The Ill Fate Marshaling, to no effect.

Many of the characters from past volumes take center stage, and the climatic events of this book shake the world of the Dread Empire to its very core, creating A Path to Coldness of Heart. Glen Cook's final Dread Empire novel was to have been published 20 years ago, but the manuscript was stolen, and the fate of The Dread Empire has been in Limbo - until now! Night Shade is proud to present the long delayed final Dread Empire Trilogy, of which An Ill Fate Marshaling is Volume 2.

Between Their Worlds (The Twelfth Novel of the Noble Dead) by Barb and J.C. Hendee (Roc, Hardcover 01/03/2011) – Another year passes, and almost exactly to the date, the prolific Hendees publish another installment in their Vampire Epic Fantasy saga. I’d wanted to read the first one for a while, but it keeps getting pushed back.

Here’s the snippet:

Magiere and Leesil must rescue Wynn Hygeort from her captivity in the Guild of Sagecraft. But Wynn doesn't want to give up access to the ancient scrolls that may help them locate the last of the magical Orbs coveted by the Ancient Enemy.

Of Limited Loyalty (The Second Book of The Crown Colonies) by Michael A. Stackpole (Night Shade Books Trade Paperback 12/06/2011) – Michael Stackpole is one of the more prolific genre authors currently being published. What I’ve read by him I enjoyed, though it is only a small portion of what he’s written. Between the various writing projects and his podcasts, I wonder if he ever sleeps. I have a copy of the first in the series (when it was a free Kindle book) so I may just get to this series which seems to have thematic similarities to Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books. .

1767. In the three years since defeating the Tharyngians at Anvil Lake, The Crown Colonies of Mystria have prospered. Colonists, whether hunting for new land or the Promised Land of prophecy, have pushed beyond the bounds of charters granted by the Queen of Norisle. Some of these new communities have even had the temerity to tell the Crown they are no longer subject to its authorities. To survey the full extent of the western expansion, the Crown has sent Colonel Ian Rathfield to join Nathaniel Woods, Owen Strake, and Kamiskwa on an expedition into the Mystrian interior. They discover a land full of isolated and unique communities, each shaped in accord with the ideals of the founders. Conflicts abound among them, and old enemies show up at the least useful moments. Worse yet, lurking out there is a menace which the Twilight People only know from folklore as the Antedeluvians; and westward penetration stumbles into their lands and awakens them. Alerted to this threat by his men, Prince Vlad petitions the Crown to send troops and supplies to destroy this new and terrifying enemy. The Crown refuses, citing massive debts from the last war. They dismiss Vlad''s claims as fantasy, and impose a series of taxes on Mystrian trade to finance their own recovery. Faced with fighting an inhuman foe in a land seething with resentment against the Crown, Vlad must unite the Colonies in a common cause, or preside over their complete destruction.

Rise of Empire (Riyria Revelations Omnibus #2) by Michael J. Sullivan (Orbit, Trade Paperback 12/14/2011) – The second of the wide release of Sullivan’s popular Riyria Revelations series. I thoroughly enjoyed, the first OmnibusTheft of Swords and recently interviewed Michael

The adventure continues as Royce and Hadrian aid the struggling kingdom of Melengar as it alone stands in defiance against the newly formed empire. War approaches and a desperate gamble behind enemy lines is their only chance at forming an alliance with the Nationalists to the south.

But Royce has plans of his own as he uses this opportunity to discover if an ancient wizard is using Riyria as pawns in his own bid for power. To find the truth, Royce must unravel Hadrian's hidden past. What he discovers will lead them to the end of the known world, on a journey rife with treachery and intrigue.

When author Michael J. Sullivan self-published the first books of his Riyria Revelations, they rapidly became ebook bestsellers. Now, Orbit is pleased to present the complete series for the first time in bookstores everywhere.

The Emperor's Knife (Book One of The Tower and the Knife Trilogy) by Mazarkis Williams (Nightshade Books, Hardcover 12/06/2011) – Debut novel, which was published earlier in the year in the UK, which has drawn some comparisons to Robin Hobb and Daniel Abraham. Yet another debut from Night Shade which is generating a great deal of positive buzz on teh intarwebs.

There is a cancer at the heart of the mighty Cerani Empire: a plague that attacks young and old, rich and poor alike. Geometric patterns spread across the skin, until you die in agony, or become a Carrier, doing the bidding of an evil intelligence, the Pattern Master. Anyone showing the tell-tale marks is put to death; that is Emperor Beyon''s law...but now the pattern is running over the Emperor''s own arms. His body servants have been executed, he ignores his wives, but he is doomed, for soon the pattern will reach his face. While Beyon''s agents scour the land for a cure, Sarmin, the Emperor''s only surviving brother, awaits his bride, Mesema, a windreader from the northern plains. Unused to the Imperial Court''s stifling protocols and deadly intrigues, Mesema has no one to turn to but an ageing imperial assassin, the Emperor''s Knife. As long-planned conspiracies boil over into open violence, the invincible Pattern Master appears from the deep desert. Now only three people stand in his way: a lost prince, a world-weary killer, and a young girl from the steppes who saw a path in a pattern once, among the waving grasses - a path that just might save them all!

Mazarkis Williams is a writer with roots in both the US and UK, having worked in and been educated in both countries. Each year is divided between Boston and Bristol and a teleport booth is always top of the Christmas wish-list.

Mazarkis has degrees in history and physics with a diverse set of interests accumulated while misspending a hectic youth. Cooking has always been a passion and in addition to feeding six children and a sizable herd of cats Mazarkis regularly caters for crowds of permanently hungry friends.

The Emperor's Knife is Mazarkis' first novel.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

VanderMeers, Weber, and Howard Reviewed at SFFWorld

This is the first Tuesday in December (also St. Nicholas Day), but that won’t stop the reviews!! Two more reviews were posted to SFFWorld this past week, one from me and one from Mark.

As a follow-on to his interview with the Vandermeers Mark posted his review of the landmark tome The Weird currently available in the UK via Corvus and available next year via Tor (YAY!):

Where this collection really scores is that there is a lot here even the experienced expert will find new. Many of the tales have been translated from other languages, especially for this edition, and so were new to me. Authors I have heard of (Belgium’s Jean Rey, for example) I was now reading for the first time. There’s Kafka and Borges here, but new to me were France’s Michel Bernanos, Spain’s Merce Rodreda, Italy’s Dino Buzzati and Japan’s Ryunosuke Akyutagawa. What this confirmed to me was that there is an amazing world of the Fantastic beyond the English prose.

I haven’t even tried to review the tales in depth here. I was pleased to read some old favourites but was more pleased to read stories I’d never heard of before. Consequently there was a joy in just not knowing where a story was going to lead.
There is enough here for everyone. It is awesomely weird. There are stories of drama, of fantastic mythology, of creepiness and unease, of tales in the past and ones that might just be happening now.

Last week I posted my review of the latest installment of David Weber’s Safehold saga. I nearly forgot I had a review of the first book, Off Armageddon Reef sitting in my files (in an incorrect folder) for a couple of years, so now is as good a time as any to post the review. This is the novel that really hooked me into the series (obviously) and started me on my path to becoming a fan of Weber as a whole. For my money, this is one of the stronger opening volumes on the shelves.

The novel begins in the 25th Century, during the twilight of human civilization on Earth. Although humanity has expanded beyond the confines of the Solar System, the alien Gbaba have nearly exterminated humanity in a galactic war that has lasted decades. In a last ditch effort to keep humanity alive, a great space Ark is constructed to transport humanity thousands of light years away to the planet that comes be known as Safehold, far beyond the reach of the Gbaba. With most of humanity eradicated by the Gbaba, only the highest ranking military leaders commandeer this mission. One of the sacrifices; however, is that in order to survive, the remaining survivors are implanted with false memories. These memories wipe away the knowledge of the Gbaba, advanced science and mathematics, bringing the level of technology to the age of sail. You see, the Gbaba are able to detect radio waves and other aspects of technological growth as civilizations approach the space faring technology and have wiped out civilizations in the past.

Clearly, Weber has big things planned for this novel, and this epic series. The story then jumps 800 years as society has come to know that God created them and placed them on Safehold 800 years ago. The story is joined at this 800 years later juncture as Shan-wei’s counter-plan takes form – he implanted the memories, perhaps even the soul, of one of his people (a young woman named Nimue) into a program that would awaken to help return humanity’s freedom of thought and knowledge of the past to the people of Safehold. As the personality of Nimue slowly reawakens and comes to learn about human history on Safehold over the prior 800 years, she realizes that because of the theocracy that has been established, her best bet at fitting in and having an effect on the people is to be a man, so she adopts the name Merlin.

The mighty-thewed barbarian continues to see his tales being reprinted in the UK in what look to be very nice editions. As such, Mark reviewed the second repackaging entitled Conan the Berserker:

And so to Conan: the Midlife Crisis, in the second volume of this re-released series, publishing the original Conan tales in chronological order. The first of the three volumes, Conan the Destroyer, was reviewed HERE, with Volume Three, Conan the Indomitable, to follow. Here Conan is at his most vibrant, less the inexperienced youth of the earlier tales and not yet the grimmer, more sombre King of Aquilonia in the later tales.

This will make many fans happy: both tales are regarded as classic Conan.
People of the Black Circle is often regarded as one of the best Conan tales, a story of the countries of Vendhya and Ghulistan (though we would perhaps call them India and Afghanistan respectively today). It is, at its heart, a revenge tale, the tale of Devi Yashmana who seeks revenge for the death of her brother, Bunda Chand, the King of Vendhya. Conan kidnaps the Devi, intending to use her as hostage in return for seven of his men. Together Conan and the Devi create a grudging alliance. Conan wants his men back, Devi wants to kill the Black Seers of Yimsha. We later discover Kerim Shah, a secret agent who killed Bunda on the orders of King Yezdigerd of Turan.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Books in the Mail (W/E 2011-12-03)

Another week with only a couple of arrivals, here they go:

Well-Tempered Clavicle (Xanth #35) by Piers Anthony (Tor, Hardcover 11/22/2011) – What can I say about a book series, heavy on puns, that is one book away from three dozen in the sequence? Not much, at this point with Anthony’s Xanth novels you are either reading them or ignoring them. Lots of folks must be buying them if this is the 35th.

Picka Bones and his sister Joy’nt are off in search of adventure with three creatures newly arrived from Mundania--and not the sort of creatures you might expect! Join them in a madcap quest, in this 35th tale of the land of Xanth.

“Here we go 'Adventuring' in Xanth once more, meeting a horde of the familiar characters while running the gauntlet of a multitide of sins. …Xanth remains a land of happy endings, however, and readers can expect the usual amount of enjoyment from this thirty-fourth Xanth tale.” --Booklist on Knot Gneiss

Planesrunner by Ian McDonald (Pyr , Hardcover 12/20/2011) – Ever since Pyr started, McDonald’s been one the writers Lou Anders has consistently pushed as one of their best. I loved River of Gods, his books with Pyr have been nominated for the Locus, Nebula, and Hugo (Brasyl) while The Dervish House was nominated for the Hugo and Arthur C. Clarke Award and won both the John W. Campbell Memorial Award and the BSFA. This is his first YA novel and looks like a lot of fun inside that terrific John Picacio cover.

Multiple-award-winning author making his YA debut

There is not one you. There are many yous. There is not one world. There are many worlds. Ours is one of billions of parallel earths.

When Everett Singh's scientist father is kidnapped from the streets of London, he leaves young Everett a mysterious app on his computer. Suddenly, this teenager has become the owner of the most valuable object in the multiverse-the Infundibulum-the map of all the parallel earths, and there are dark forces in the Ten Known Worlds who will stop at nothing to get it. They've got power, authority, and the might of ten planets-some of them more technologically advanced than our Earth-at their fingertips. He's got wits, intelligence, and a knack for Indian cooking.

To keep the Infundibulum safe, Everett must trick his way through the Heisenberg Gate his dad helped build and go on the run in a parallel Earth. But to rescue his Dad from Charlotte Villiers and the sinister Order, this Planesrunner's going to need friends. Friends like Captain Anastasia Sixsmyth, her adopted daughter Sen, and the crew of the airship Everness.

Can they rescue Everett's father and get the Infundibulum to safety? The game is afoot!