One of the reasons I rate this book so highly is because I was expecting so little from it, and it is very rare that I have been so completely surpris...moreOne of the reasons I rate this book so highly is because I was expecting so little from it, and it is very rare that I have been so completely surprised.
On one level, it contained all of the elements I would expect from a post-nuclear-holocost-survivalist-novel, lots of focus on gun models (which mean nothing to me), scaly flesh-eating mutants, slowly awakening psionic powers in the more "acceptable" mutants, bands of killers roaming the badlands, baronies run by cruel, insane gang leaders, all the tropes of the genre. This is pretty much what I expected.
What I didn't expect was a well crafted, tightly plotted action adventure taking place in a fully realised post apocalyptic world. I didn't expect the author to be able to portray such a believable set of characters, who somehow retain a glimmer of nobility underneath the vicious, dog-eat-dog attitude they have had to learn simply to survive.
What I most of all didn't expect was to finish this book, which ends on a cliff-hanger with the main driver for the next hundred books already in place, immediately thinking - pass me the next one, that was incredible!
This book is, in my opinion, a shining example of why pulp should never be written off as pap.(less)
How you rate this book, I think, depends primarily on what you expected when you sat down to read it. Lets clear up all confusion by starting off with...moreHow you rate this book, I think, depends primarily on what you expected when you sat down to read it. Lets clear up all confusion by starting off with what it -isn't-.
This book is not: - A how-to guide on the nuts and bolts of writing. - A how-to guide on getting published. - A how-to guide on growing potatoes. - A how-to guide. - New.
This last I think is particularly important to understand, Scalzi maintains a very popular blog that I myself have read daily for several years now where he covers topics ranging from his own work and the work of his friends to the politics of the day. It is well written, broad of topic and always entertaining. (He once taped bacon to his cat you know.)
Scalzi on Writing is a collection of posts on writing, or tangentially about writing, taken from the archives of this blog and arranged and edited to make a book format. This is not to detract from the book itself, it is arranged to flow very well and the articles are top-notch, but anyone who was expecting new material will be sorely disappointed.
That said, much of the material included dates from before I was a Whatever reader and so was new to me, so I didn't find this an issue. Some of the material has dated, some quite amusingly so, but on the whole this remains a useful book for any writer's shelf.
So what exactly is it about? It is divided into sections, each somewhat thematically linked, but what it is on the whole is a series of essays focused on the life of a working writer. He covers a variety of topics from how he supports himself and his family (it isn't with his novels), how much a writer can expect to make (not enough for that yacht you've got your eye on), how the publication industry works (blood sacrifice and virgin writer tears) to, my personal favourites, writers/publishers behaving badly. (Plagiarism, Dishonest vanity publishers, scams.. so much fun.)
It's not a large book, but there is a lot covered in the accessible, light-hearted manner that Scalzi's blog-writing is justifiably famous for.
The only thing that was missing was a picture of his cat.(less)
When it comes to RPGs, I've always been a bit of a traditionalist. I grew up with D&D and to this day roleplaying brings to mind the Silver Marche...moreWhen it comes to RPGs, I've always been a bit of a traditionalist. I grew up with D&D and to this day roleplaying brings to mind the Silver Marches of the Forgotten Realms and the blistering heat of the Anarauoch desert.
Over the years I've explored different rule-sets and settings but one thing has always remained constant; preparation. I've never been that good at improvisation and, like many, live in fear of sitting like a Roo in headlights with no idea what to do next.
So my first impression when I read these rules, particularly the part that said "DO NOT PREPARE ANYTHING", was "you gotta be kidding."
I finished reading the book though and I must say its got some fascinating ideas in it. The flavour text is well written with some nice classes and examples evoking all the grittiness of a post-apocalyptic setting. The rules were quite different than a regular GM would be used to as well, with the GM rarely (if ever) rolling dice, with all of that reserved instead for the players. All NPCs are named, but none have stats; so the full mechanical agency rests with the players, NPCs given narrative agency only.
By the time I got to the end of this book, I knew two things. 1) This was like no rpg I'd ever played and 2) I had to try it.
The book itself has nice production values, particularly for an independent PDF publication. It suffers a little from inconsistency as the same rules are sometimes presented in multiple places, with differences in wording that make one of the places far more clear. This can make it harder when searching for a ruling at the table. Some of the rules are also quite abstract and need several readings to understand what is being attempted (a few more examples wouldn't have gone astray.)
Overall, a well-thought-out and present core book, with plenty to interest the post-apocalyptic roleplayer. Even if you've never played improv before, give it a go. There are lots of little tools in the book to help you figure out how to do it; and they work excellently.(less)
This book gives us Hornblower's first outing as a full Master & Commander of his own vessel, as a commander assigned to a sloop of war in the chan...moreThis book gives us Hornblower's first outing as a full Master & Commander of his own vessel, as a commander assigned to a sloop of war in the channel blockade.
The novel takes place after the peace between England and France has broken down and Napoleon is preparing for an invasion of England. The book does a great job of showing not only the hopelessness of this prospect (there was no way to get an army across the channel in the face of England's naval superiority) but also the precariousness of the English position. Whilst at sea they were the superior, one bad storm leaving a break in their blockage could have allowed the French army an opportunity to dash across the channel and make landful. After this, as Hornblower puts it, "the tricolour flag would fly over the tower of London".
After the last novel, Lieutenant Hornblower, we're used to seeing the title character from the eyes of others (in that case, Mr. Bush). We know he is intelligent, dashing, daring and all the rest, what we see in this book is how wildly insecure he is. This becomes irritating at times, but it does help to flesh out a very real character of whom we wish to read more, despite his all too human faults.
Much is also made in this novel of the system of "Prize" money given to captains during the Napoleonic wars and the disdain Hornblower has for it. I think this is perhaps overstated somewhat and starts to feel a bit preachy, particularly towards the end when Hornblower gives up a chance at hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of prize to do the "right thing" and engage a frigate with his severely underpowered and outmatched sloop. The idea that he would do this is not at issue, it was the right thing to do for the war effort, however the book does have a tendency to paint those receiving prize money as opportunistic and corrupt officers, uncaring of the overall war effort and interested simply in lining their own pockets; which in this case was most patently untrue given that the capture of the treasure fleet was a major objective of the war effort, if only to keep the money out of Napoleons hands.
Overall, an entertaining book that paints a very human picture of a naval captain striving to do what he considers his duty and struggling with the fear that he is not up to the task that is required of him, whilst others watch the actions he considers simply "necessary" and see a remarkable and heroic man.(less)
Hull Zero three was another book that recently subverted my expectations. The description I read of this title suggested to me a dark survival horror-...moreHull Zero three was another book that recently subverted my expectations. The description I read of this title suggested to me a dark survival horror-style novel of a man being woken on board a generation ship to find the halls full of monsters and broken-down machinary and himself hunted.
Whilst that is not an entirely inaccurate description of the setup for the novel, I was somewhat disappointed to find this atmosphere somewhat lacking; in fact, that is one of my key complaints about this novel in general. I picked it up looking forward to the atmosphere of the setting only to find it minimised by the writing style and not delivering to my expectations. This is because I misinterpreted what this story actually was.
One it began to strike home I found myself drawn deep into a mind-bending story of Carrollian absurdity and creepiness, a drop at terminal velocity through a rabbit-hole full of surprises as the characters try desperately to understand why the ship is so damaged, why genetically-engineered monsters lurk in the hallways and, most importantly of all, who, or what, exactly are they themselves?
This is a classic science fiction novel of Ideas, and in that vein it most certainly does not disappoint, keeping you guessing as to the true villain (if there can be said to really be one) and tugging at your sympathies constantly until the very end.
There was perhaps one subplot (the silvery) that I think the story could have been stronger without, particularly the slight suggestion of deus ex machina provided right at the end, but on the whole it should be quite satisfying to anyone with a love of twisted philosophical plots.(less)
The biography of Lovecraft by S.T. Joshi is not a book for the meek or semi-committed. It is a hefty tome whose density of text is truly astounding; d...moreThe biography of Lovecraft by S.T. Joshi is not a book for the meek or semi-committed. It is a hefty tome whose density of text is truly astounding; don't be fooled by it's length of 700+ pages, it feels much much longer.
It is not often that I find a book that is both incredibly interesting and a challenge to work through. There is just so much information compiled by Joshi on Lovecraft's life, combined with astute analysis of his works, philosophy and even a brief examination of the field of analysis of his work and events in publication following his death; evens that led to his being misrepresented and misunderstood for more than thirty years.
It is not a happy read. Lovecraft's philosophy is sobering and his lifestyle is, quite frankly, heart-breaking. From his disastrous marriage and residence in New York to his impoverished last years in Providence, where he subsisted on 30c for food a day - worrying even during the great depression.
Joshi provides a sympathetic view of this complex and misunderstood giant of 20th century literature whilst pulling no punches whatsoever. In particular his racism, which has been well documented in the past, is examined many times throughout the biography without apology, but also without the overblown hysteria common to much of the earlier commentary.
This biography supersedes and perhaps makes irrelevant the earlier work by L. Sprague de Camp, but it is difficult to conceive of any biography replacing this one, at least without some major new evidence being unearthed. Any fan of Lovecraft who wishes to understand the work and life of the man can do no better; the analysis of his work alone with change the way you forever read the stories of Lovecraft. (less)
Prador Moon is the first Neal Asher novel i've yet read and although it was certainly a rollicking action fest that hit all the marks; man-eating crab...morePrador Moon is the first Neal Asher novel i've yet read and although it was certainly a rollicking action fest that hit all the marks; man-eating crabs, check, insanely powerful weapons, check, kick-ass but dark military protagonist, check, hilariously awesome ending, check... It didn't hit the right notes for me and i'm at a loss to explain why. It did seem somewhat rushed, somewhat distanced from the action, whereas most of my favorite space-opera (Reynolds, Moon, Banks...) tend to be very close in to the protagonists, so that may well be part of it.
Regardless, it was a well designed story in a well detailed universe and I enjoyed it enough to look forward to reading the next in the series.(less)
Moonrise, by Ben Bova, is a favorite of mine because it was the novel that finally convinced me that Hard Science-Fiction could be just as entertainin...moreMoonrise, by Ben Bova, is a favorite of mine because it was the novel that finally convinced me that Hard Science-Fiction could be just as entertaining as the action-packed space opera and military science fiction that I have always loved.
In Ben Bova's Grand Tour series, of which this is an early example, the action is confined only to technology that is theoretically within our reach now, the colonisation of the solar system and the actions of the human race as a whole. There are no aliens to fight or magic FTL drives (or FTL communication for that matter) and the drama comes primarily from the conflict between powerful individuals and groups of individuals.
Moonrise in particular depicts a very plausible Earth coming slowly under the grip of politically powerful anti-science morality groups made up of a frightening alliance of religious interests and the actions of a few individuals devoted to be science and the ideal of the "frontier". I am led to understand that as the series progresses, this morality movement gradually gets more and more power even as humanity spreads out across the solar system, but here we get to see its birth amidst violent repression and fear.
What makes Moonrise such a fantastic novel however isn't just this grand scale political story, but the way this canvas is shown to us through the eyes of very believeable, understandable characters, and how the events of the novel drive these people to stand at the turning points of human history.
Believeable, well written and at times brutal, Bova does not hold back as he piles problems on to his characters to see which will stand the strain and which ones, eventually, will break. It's a fascinating journey that I cannot recommend enough.(less)
It has looked so far to be a year of exceeded expectations.
When Innsmouth Free Press sent me a copy of this book to review I wasn't expecting a great...moreIt has looked so far to be a year of exceeded expectations.
When Innsmouth Free Press sent me a copy of this book to review I wasn't expecting a great deal from it to be completely honest. A press release sent along with the book mentioned a bit of the history and, rather than being a new publication, this is the first print release of a book originally released in 2007 as an eBook only.
A lot of people are currently reexamining the place of eBook only publishers and print-on-demand publishers in our society. Originally such publications were seen as "vanity" presses, because whatever else the mass-print-publishing industry may do, or not do, it acts as a quality filter of sorts. It may reject perfectly good books, and occasionally let pure tripe slip through, but on the whole it manages to weed a lot of the wheat from the chaff. Traditionally then those who sought publication through non-traditional channels, particularly to the point of self-funding, did not get the "indie cred" enjoyed by independent musicians, artists or movie-makers, but were rather seen as second-rate hacks incapable of securing a real publishing deal - because often they were.
So it was with this attitude, outdated though it might be, that I approached the urban fantasy thriller Fraterfamilias. What I instead got was catapulted into a very well developed world, populated by real people with extraordinary problems.
The first, and most important, feature of this book is the characterisation. The book is written from the perspective of several protagonists, and one very creepy and well-written antagonist, and despite the peculiarities of some of them they were all believable and for the most part likeable. In no time at all you really begin to care about these characters and are stuck wondering what will happen next, and what their real history might be. I connected so much with these characters and was so interested in uncovering more and more of their background that I found I couldn't put the book down, and that alone puts it in rare company in my own collection - up with books such as Jim Butcher's Dresden series, the early Laurell K. Hamilton's and my William Gibson's.
There weren't any astoundingly new ideas here, in fact the central premise may well have been lifted entire from the Highlander series of novels, though slightly altered. What sets this story apart is the colour and loving detail brought to these ideas, this world, and the characters than inhabit it.
The book isn't perfect however. Some of the situations seem a little contrived, and there were some relationships in particular that strained credibility; such as the readiness with which Jonah and Ballard, the interpol agents were able to accept the advanced age of Kedward and his brother Paul despite it being completely outside reality as we know it. Pushing even more at the boundaries of believability were the incredible leaps of logic that Jonah had to take to work out on his own, to the point of absolute belief, that he was the great grandson of Paul Farrell.
Despite this however, the characters and story is so engaging that the reader finds themselves able to suspend disbelief through the discordant notes and keep turning the pages, onward to the next revelation, and so on through the entire book.
The only real gripe I had by the end of the book was the feeling of disappointment I got when I had finished, when I knew there was no more to be read. So much was set up in this book, so many issues unresolved and character arcs unfinished. The main antagonist himself, known as the Inquistor and the Dominican, amongst other names, is perhaps the most fascinating character in the entire story and yet, despite being a dark and overarching influence on events, filling the other characters with fear and pushing events to suit himself, he remains mostly ineffectual and has very little real impact on the events at all. We are also left with a bit of a cliffhanger, with Paul riding off towards Seattle to lose himself and Kedward in custody, looking for a way to escape the men in white coats.
It seems quite obvious that what was planned here was a series of Urban Fantasy books, with a world so detailed and believable that it rivals the greats of the genre, and even better; is populated with all too human monsters instead of dipping into mythology for vampires and werewolves to distance the horror from ourselves a step.
Unfortunately, this book will have to go up with Firefly on my list of great works that could have been. Like Firefly, it is a wonderful start to a series full of dangling plot threads, fantastic history and evil antagonists ready to pursue our heroes wherever they may flee until some promised showdown sometime in the distant future, and like Firefly it is unlikely ever to come to fruition. Amongst the acknowledgements of this book is the note that one of the two credited authors here passed away of cancer in 2007, and so it seems unlikely that this series will continue, impossible for it to continue with the same authors in any case.
I think, in the end, this is a great loss to all of us genre readers, and I know I personally will be haunted for a great while by the ghosts of what might have been.
This was a great story, and deserves a place in any collection. If, like me, you've become a fan of the rapidly growing contemporary fantasy genre, treat yourself to something refreshingly different and give this novel a try. You wont regret it.(less)
A collection of columns written for Writers Digest, this is one of the best books I have read - covering both some interesting points of the business...moreA collection of columns written for Writers Digest, this is one of the best books I have read - covering both some interesting points of the business of writing (why should I or not use a penname?) and the finer points of the writing itself ("Why shouldn't I write this way?" he ejaculated.)
Chuckle-out-loud funny in places and always engaging, this is a must-read for anyone with an interest in the craft of fiction writing.(less)
This is a fantastic biography of a particularly interesting man, a man who pushed himself beyond the limit rather than admit defeat, who used his skil...moreThis is a fantastic biography of a particularly interesting man, a man who pushed himself beyond the limit rather than admit defeat, who used his skills in the aid of spy and police agencies as well as for entertainment, and who devoted his later years in attempting to hold fraudulent spiritualists responsible for the crimes they perpetrated on the credulous and vulnerable - a crusade that may have had a part in his somewhat suspicious demise. (less)