If there were a genre for a book that includes the Old West, an alternate American history, a rebel Mormon kingdom, a slave-free Confederacy, more tha...moreIf there were a genre for a book that includes the Old West, an alternate American history, a rebel Mormon kingdom, a slave-free Confederacy, more than a bit of steam punk, fantasy, and an all star cast of historical-larger-than-life-and-truth-is-stranger-than-fiction characters, I don't know what it would be called, but City of the Saints by D.J. Butler has invented it.
And did I mention that it was explosive, fast, and action packed?
On the eve of the American Civil War, the Kingdom of Deseret is the destination for for diplomats, spies, and explorers, Pinkertons, criminals, and mountain men as agents of Queen Victoria, the United States, the Confederacy, and Mexico converge on Salt Lake City. War is imminent, and each is seeking an edge.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I opened City of the Saints. I met Dave Butler at Salt Lake Comic Con in 2013, and then ran into him again at Life, the Universe, and Everything (LTUE)earlier this year. The first time I met Butler, he had been on a panel discussing themes in Lord of the Rings. Then, at LTUE he started off a panel on folklore in modern fiction by informing the other panelists that he was in the mood for a good debate...which it was.
I couldn't help but like Butler's style, and I opened his book that night, not sure what to expect, but with promises from Butler that I would enjoy it.
And Butler did not oversell. From the first pages, City of the Saints is fast paced, with a swirling and full cast of colorful action figures. Pulling a whose who of the mid-nineteenth into the ranks of his characters, Butler cleverly saves himself time in character development by leveraging the very real lives of some of the most vibrant characters of the time. From Captain Richard Burton to Edgar Alan Poe, Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) to Porter Rockwell, Butler weaves in nods to American history, western lore, and Mormon heroes, villains and misfits, including Eliza R. Snow, John D. Lee, Brigham Young, and John Moses Browning, whose guns are among the most famous, even today.
This isn't to say that Butler doesn't develop his characters. In fact, Butler does very well building a large cast, multiple protagonists, streaming the plot lines together, and building on the relationships each has with others. For any novelist, its a feat. For a first time novelist, it's most impressive.
And despite the setting in the early Mormon west, this is not a "Mormon" book. Quite the contrary. Featuring swearing Irish, mad scientists, and an almost endless supply of thuggish Pinkertons, it's a mix that defies a simple description, niche, or market, but is well-written, engaging, and, surprisingly, self-published.
Yeah, I know. Self-published. I don't get it. Well written, a romp to read, and thoroughly and carefully conceived: I guarantee I'll be reading another Butler book soon.(less)
I've never made a secret about my love of Terry Pratchett's writing. In the lottery of picking a good book, choosing one with Pratchett's name on the...moreI've never made a secret about my love of Terry Pratchett's writing. In the lottery of picking a good book, choosing one with Pratchett's name on the cover dramatically increases the odds of winning.
Orphaned by a giant wave on the way home from his coming of age ritual on a deserted island, Mau finds himself alone among the dead of his people, the wreckage of his village, and the flotsam left behind by the wave's receding foam...including a "trouser man" canoe, stranded high above the shoreline where the wave deposited it, carrying but one living inhabitant: a girl, the off-spring of royalty from far of England.
As Mau begins to rebuild, he faces the specter of Death, his fallen (and often annoying) ancestors, cannibals, crises of faith, and, ultimately, both his and the Nation's future. Daphne, the English girl awaiting rescue, will help him, giving him tools, companionship, and guidance, and both will face the prejudices and misconceptions of their cultures and history, remaking the world anew.
And, of course, because it is Pratchett, it will be funny.
Set in a world that is somewhere parallel to our own (that's Pratchett's description), Nation is full of the wonderful twists and plays on language that set Pratchett's writing apart. His characters and plots are full of the playful color and magic that leave you wondering if you just read a book of fantasy or have been enjoying the imagination of the characters themselves. In the end, it doesn't matter, really, because the characters have progressed in tandem with the events, real or imagined, and Pratchett's creative use of imagery, myth, fantasy, and conflict has become a well-woven fabric of the whole.
Nation is a fun read that felt targeted at a young adult audience, but can be easily enjoyed by the adult reader. The tone, even when dealing with difficult subjects, is never dark or depressing, but always seems calculated to bring the reader along with the characters. I can't wait to reread it along with my teenagers (once I have some),and to enjoy their journey to a little island in the long chain of islands in a world somewhere just to the left, or perhaps the right, of our own.(less)
V-Wars, edited by Jonathan Maberry, is a collection of stories set in the same world but written by a bevy of talented authors.
In the world Maberry c...moreV-Wars, edited by Jonathan Maberry, is a collection of stories set in the same world but written by a bevy of talented authors.
In the world Maberry creates in V-Wars, a prehistoric virus has been released from polar ice, awakening recessive genes in the human genome. The virus triggers changes in some humans, awakening physical changes that are varied and dramatic. Before long, vampires walk among us. Some are benign; many are not.
Maberry's collection of tales does well and more credibly what X-Men (at least the movies--I'm not familiar with the comics) tries to do: it portrays a genetic mutation that changes a portion of humanity, causing ostracization, fear, violence, and, of course, government action. I've always been dubious about what the reaction to the X-Men. After all, the powers they have seem to be magical and useful. On the other hand, the mutations in V Wars result in a change that seems to drive its mutants to, well, suck blood.
That seems a bit more against the public interest than the power to start fires, freeze objects, levitate, or any of the other number of changes that Stan Lee's X-Men undergo.
Maberry does an excellent job tying the stories together with a common story that intersperses the tales. While the majority of the stories seem to take place in and around the American northeast, especially New York City, V-Wars treats readers to a semi-global perspective, with stories from the American southern border with Mexico, in the shadows of the Appalachian Mountains, and one that crisscrosses the globe, starting in Antarctica, jetting off to Romania, and stopping through France, too. Some times we read from the vampire's perspective; other times, from the humans. Maberry breaks up the stories, too, giving the collection something of novel-like feeling.
As interesting as the collection is, the stories are not all created equal, and it's part of the reason I had a hard time settling on just three stars. I wanted badly to give the book four stars--but several of the stories disappointed, even bored me.
They were few, however, and generally the stories were creative and enjoyable, if occasionally not for the faint of heart. Here are a few of my favorites:
"Stalking Anna Lei" by James A. Moore brings together legends of vampires from East Asia, as John Lei searches for his sister while navigating the dangerous world of Asian gangs amid reports of a monstrous creature that seems to be haunting his every step. Told from John's perspective, Moore has a great voice that makes his story one of the most enjoyable, and his plotting makes the final twist satisfying and unexpected.
"Vulpes" by Gregory Frost begins in Antarctica and trails Ruksana back to her home in Romania. Beware, though: when the change comes to her, the results are anything but vampiric.
Yvonne Navarro's "Epiphany" asks what happens when society's most weak go through the vampiric change, trading vulnerabilities for superhuman power. Red Moon is the orphaned daughter of Native Americans, raped, pregnant, and infected by the virus. Beset by changes she cannot explain, she finds herself on the edge of motherhood in a world that threatens to destroy her for the changes that have come over her.
V-Wars deserves a second installment. It is, in many ways, only the opening chapter in the new world that emerges as vampire and human eye each other and wonder if they will live together or in conflict. (less)
I’ll admit it: I picked up Unnatural Creatures from the bookstore shelf because it carried Neil Gaiman‘s name on the front. A collection of short stor...moreI’ll admit it: I picked up Unnatural Creatures from the bookstore shelf because it carried Neil Gaiman‘s name on the front. A collection of short stories focused on fantastical creatures “that exist only in our minds,” each is a golden nugget by writers both classic and new, every one an enjoyable and creative read.
Which is why I was more than a little disappointed to put Unnatural Creatures down after the last story. Introduced by a short paragraph by Gaiman, each tale was a refreshing and creative new creature, each defying or belying any fairy tale paradigm.
In addition to more traditional creatures like the griffin and phoenix, there are the cartographer wasps and anarchist bees, time travelers inadvertently stealing away history’s fantastical creatures, multidimensional dots, and a werewolf against Nazi spies. Some are fun, others dark, and nearly all have a twist that leaves a smile.
In “The Compleat Werewolf” by Anthony Boucher we find Professor Wolfe Wolf, who is mocked behind his back by his associates and students as “woof woof.” It is California in the 1940s, though, and Nazis are more a danger to America than werewolves.
In “Prismatica,” Samuel R. Delany writes an homage to James Thurber with the tale of the poor by clever Amos, who will journey to the deepest swamp, to meet the North Wind, and to a land of many colors in search of his fortune.
The incomparable Larry Niven is here, as well, with a story of a time traveler from a time when the horse is extinct and the General Secretary wants one for his birthday. However, information about what exactly a horse looks like is sparse, almost as sparse as information about the middle ages. The result is a humorous and grin inducing trip to the middle ages.
The sixteen tales collected are as creative as the creatures they feature, and with them Gaiman has produced a book as interesting and complete as any that he might have written himself.(less)
Finding an interesting, new author is a fantastic experience, like discovering a new favorite restaurant or traveling to a place you’ve never been bef...moreFinding an interesting, new author is a fantastic experience, like discovering a new favorite restaurant or traveling to a place you’ve never been before. It is full of exploration, of discovery, and the refreshing feel of something new and fresh.
Imagine, then, what it’s like to find one book with 12 interesting new authors, all at once. It’s exactly what you get with Writers of the Future Volume 29. As a collection of the fiction, it’s a cornucopia of clever tales and excellent writing, and you won’t even need to buy 12 different books to enjoy each author.
Perhaps only slightly hyperbolically, the cover says that the stories “show us who we are, what we may become, and how far we can go.” Indeed, the stories may be more imaginative than predictive, but it does nothing to diminish their ability to convey the reader away from the ordinary and to lands and worlds unbounded by time or physics. And, eschewing the cliches even as it embraces them, the stories prove that science fiction and its close cousin fantasy are just as much about people and relationships as spaceships and magic.
The Writers of the Future contest is unique among collections of short stories. Where others focus on a topic, share a single author, or even share the same imaginary world, the commonality between tales in Writers of the Future Volume 29 is in their selection by a panel of judges comprised of the who’s who of science fiction and fantasy authors and headed by Dave Wolverton. Authors submit their work to the panel and their submissions are reviewed blind.
In other words, the only commonality is the genre and the high level of writing. Only the best selections win, and it shows. Each tale is carefully crafted, from “cut to the chase” openings that thrust the reader right in the middle of the action, to heart breaking conclusions that both satisfy and leave you wanting more. In addition to the tales, the contest features art from the parallel contest for art, as well as essays on writing by L.Ron Hubbard, Dave Wolverton, and others.
One of my favorite s was “Planetary Scouts” by Stephen Sottong. In the far future, he writes, technology has taken humanity to the stars, but only to confront the harsh reality that many of the planets we might colonize are already occupied, often by forms of life not welcoming to our exploration.
Another exciting tale by Brian Trent is “Hero,” a fast paced story about a young man who must face his nemesis not once, but twice, in a revolution that sweeps the peaks of Mars.
“Dreameater” by Andrea Stewart is a clever and horrifying story about a girl coming to grip with the terrible legacy that may become her future.
And there are more. Writers of the Future Volume 29 is replete with great writing and good stories. If you want a bead on tomorrows great writers, this is the place to start reading.
Review first published as "Book Review: ‘Writers of the Future Volume 29′ edited by Dave Wolverton" on Blogcritics.org.(less)
Steelheart, first in the Reckoners series, may have the broadest appeal of Brandon Sanderson's growing variety of imaginary worlds. At a time when Mar...moreSteelheart, first in the Reckoners series, may have the broadest appeal of Brandon Sanderson's growing variety of imaginary worlds. At a time when Marvel and DC turnout multiple blockbusters at the movie theater each year--think The Avengers, Iron Man, the Dark Knight, and Man of Steel--interest in superheroes is at an all time high and Sanderson's look at the dark potential of superpowered humans is a timely and relevant addition to the genre. For a guy who kicked of his career with epic fantasy, it also shows the breadth of his imagination and flexibility.
Rather than swords and sorcery, Sanderson's premise is flight and telekinesis, invisibility and fire. What if the supernatural powers of Superman, the Flash, and Captain America didn't just make them more than human, but also corrupted them, too?
For a genre that has always been willing to show the light and the dark sides of human nature, compounded exponentially by the bright and dark natures of the heroes and villains holding those powers, it's not an entirely new look, but it does take a new spin. Any reader of comic books knows that almost every superhero is just as likely to take a turn to the dark side, but only in Sanderson's world does that actual endowment of superpowers nearly guarantee that the turn will happen. Power corrupts, Sanderson says, quoting Lord Acton, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Sanderson's super-powered humans--or Epics--are power hungry and evil, killing and taking at whim.
How does humanity survive?
Told from the perspective of David, a normal human who at the outset of the story accidentally witnesses one of the nascent superheroes, Steelheart--of whom his description of superpowers it eerily similar to the better known "Man of Steel," Superman--Steelheart is about the quest to find a way to defeat the villainous super-powered humans that have carved out fiefdoms for themselves across America (and presumably the rest of the world). David is obsessed with understanding each Epic, charting their powers, their weaknesses, and more as he plots his revenge against Steelheart for the death of his father.
Conceived in 2007 when Sanderson was still a newly published author, Steelheart may be recognition by his publisher that he has a platform and an audience that will buy Sanderson's books, almost no matter what he writes. This isn't to say that Steelheart is not good, or that it would not have been published otherwise, but it is a step outside of Brandon's brand of epic fantasy, a bit more young adult than Elantris, Warbreaker, or the Mistborn series, and far more comic book than anything else Sanderson has yet produced.
In that sense, I see in Steelheart the most potential of any of Sanderson's own works (I'm not including the Wheel of Time since I consider that to be Robert Jordan's creative genius to which Sanderson added his considerable writing ability). The story, set in a post-apocalyptic and dystopian Chicago (Newcago, Sanderson's renames it), featuring day-after-tomorrow weapons and technology, capped supervillains, and a cast of colorfully written characters, would translate well into film or television. Videogames could be easy to add to the brand, as well.
All good ideas aside, though, I wish Sanderson had spent just a little more time with the novel. The plot feels rushed and the relationships only superficially developed. When David meets Megan, about the most we learn about his attraction to her is about how she looks in a short, red dress and her ability to shoot a gun. I'm no stranger to the attraction of a woman in a short skirt (cue up Cake's Short Skirt, Long Jacket please), but the depth of the relationship and David's motives never really deepen much more. I suspect that this is in large part because Sanderson is writing for a young adult audience, but age has never been a reason to short-thrift the young. Gary D. Schmidt's Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now prove that you don't need to be superficial or shallow, nor do you have to treat them like they can't understand human nature. Granted, we're reading about superheroes here, and maybe my expectations are too high, but the driving force of the conflict is David's relationships, and Sanderson's handling feels rushed.
That said, Sanderson executes the premise almost flawlessly. His Epics are epic villains, his plotting is careful, and the final twist is a satisfying moment for the triumph of good--real good, not just the 'good guy'--over evil. Borrow or buy, Steelheart is a welcome addition to the fast growing Sanderson collection, one that you should read soon. (less)
Schlock Mercenary: Under New Management, and its author Howard Tayler, is unlike anything I've ever read before.
Wait--hold that thought. It's not comp...moreSchlock Mercenary: Under New Management, and its author Howard Tayler, is unlike anything I've ever read before.
Wait--hold that thought. It's not completely true. Yes, it's unique, a veritable cornucopia of creative energy and humor, entertaining and--dare I say?--educational at the same time.
But it is also reminiscent, in so many happy ways, of the late Douglas Adams and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The setting is space, the humor is satirical, and the plot twists are absurd and unexpected. And yet, like Adams, Tayler makes ample use of big numbers and real science to make his comic more than fluff.
Indeed, if Adams were alive, I think he'd have little problem plugging Arthur Dent into one of Tayler's panels, alongside Ford, Zaphod, Trillian, and all the others...
But enough about Adams and the Hitchhiker's Guide. This is about Schlock Mercenary.
Schlock Mercenary: Under New Management is the first print collection of Tayler's webcomic Schlock Mercenary. The story of a semi-disciplined band of mercenaries but ostensibly about Sergeant Schlock, who really just wants to "hurt people and break things" and will warm up his plasma cannon at any excuses, this installment includes extensive annotations (which left me wondering if Tayler was tricking me into learning something about science, space, physics...yeah, seriously. I was laughing and learning about science at the same time) and an origin story about Schlock (and don't ask me exactly what Schlock is. Apparently, he's all but indestructible, not to mention as malleable as Gumby).
I've long listened to Tayler on the Writing Excuses podcast ("It's all about eyebrows," says Tayler) that he does with Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, and Mary Robinette Kowal (and for which they won a Hugo this year...a Hugo!), and I felt lucky when was able to track him down at the Salt Lake Comic Con. He's about as cool as anyone I met there and was glad to pose (and I do mean pose--the guy just doesn't take himself serious, which is refreshing) for a photo.
I'm not much of a comics guy, but I'll keep reading Schlock Mercenary. The story telling is solid, the jokes are clean and clever, and the creativity is refreshing. It's enough to make a fan out of me.(less)
Let's be completely honest: we all pick up books for various reasons. A recommendation from a trusted friend. It was up front i...moreLife is just too short.
Let's be completely honest: we all pick up books for various reasons. A recommendation from a trusted friend. It was up front in the airport bookshop. Written by a favorite author. A great cover.
I picked up Psychoshop because it was written by Alfred Bester. I was at Powell's in Portland, and it seemed like a good find. A classic author, a previously unread title, and a giant bookstore.
A win, right?
Perhaps for some. For me, time is too precious and life is too short.
Psychoshop was left unfinished by Bester on his death and was finished by Roger Zelazny, another classic science fiction writer. Comparing the work to a jazz duet, Greg Bear says in an introduction that the book is "Brisk, fast, memorable, a rare improvisational duet from two of our best[,]" but to be honest, I just couldn't get through it. As creative as it is, and it is, I just found it schizophrenic and undefined, a story looking for a conflict to be resolved. (less)
Reading Variant felt like I had jumped into a toboggan on a tall, snow covered hill, pushed off, and sped down it at breakneck speed, dodging trees an...moreReading Variant felt like I had jumped into a toboggan on a tall, snow covered hill, pushed off, and sped down it at breakneck speed, dodging trees and bushes. Only when I slammed into a rock under the snow at the bottom of the hill was I able to look back and see everything that I had flown through on my haphazard journey.
In other words, Variant is quite a fast ride.
Benson Fisher is a foster child who thinks he's found a way out of the system. Not unlike Bron from David Farland's Nightingale, he's above average, enjoys learning, and has proved himself to be enough of an achiever to obtain a scholarship to an elite private school in the backwoods of New Mexico.
When he is unceremoniously dropped off at the school, it's immediately clear that something isn't right. Fisher soon realizes that there are no teachers and that breaking the rules could mean death. And that's all on day one.
Robison Wells moves the story at a breakneck pace, and it's hard to fault him for creating a thrilling story that pulls the reader in and speeds them along. It's a page turner that's well suited to young adults and teens. Written in the first person, it has an urgency that will keep teens satisfied and reaching for the sequel, Feedback.
And yet, as exciting as the Variant plot is, sometimes it felt like the pace got in the way of the character development. While we get to know Fisher more than most (after all, it is his perspective we're reading from), the majority of the cast seems to be stuck in time. Wells does a good job of filling in details sufficient to give them color and personality, but it's hard to see them as three dimensional.
Perhaps this fits, though. Variant is owes as much to thrillers as it does to the Twilight Zone, though, and readers might not require the level of depth that other young adult novels might provide. After all, Fisher is more concerned with staying alive and escaping than he is with all that a teenager might deal with growing up, especially one who has spent much of his life in foster care.
That's biggest rub for me. I'm not one generally inclined to an overabundance of feelings, emotions or drama--I've never been able to stomach a Stephenie Meyer novel, for instance--but I do want the protagonist to be credible and sympathetic. It's hard not to be sympathetic with Fisher who comes across as a typical teenager who enjoys the same movies and activities that any teen would enjoy. However, it's also hard to believe that a life lived in foster care would not affect him more than it appears to have. (And how does a foster kid from Pennsylvania get to New Mexico? There's no way the state of Pennsylvania would have let a ward of the state leave the state by himself).
It's a good read, though, and I won't complain too much. Wells kept me turning pages, and I suspect this would make a great movie. Pick it up, and enjoy an evening lost turning pages.(less)
I have no idea where I found Killer of Enemies. Something about the title caught my attention, I think, but by the time I had picked it up (from the l...moreI have no idea where I found Killer of Enemies. Something about the title caught my attention, I think, but by the time I had picked it up (from the library) I had already forgotten why.
Somehow, though, I decided to read it, anyway. Despite a title that probably should have died in marketing (as one commentor already noted), the description promised a little bit of everything: dystopia, magic, Apache prophecies, monsters...
Also, it's YA. How much time commitment could it require? I'll take a gamble.
I'm glad I did.
Lozen is a seventeen year old survivor after the end of the world. Poor even before a cosmic cloud obliterated all electronics worldwide, Lozen is an Apache, a gifted hunter, and she is utilized as a tool to kill the enemies of the elites who rule on this side of the end of civilization. She is, however, not a consenting tool, and as she hunts the strange mutant monsters that roam the Earth, she is scheming and planning to free her family, held as hostages to control Lozen. Meanwhile, with the Earth held in a permanent technological dead-end, psychic powers begin to awaken in Lozen.
Let me just pause here and note that despite a pretty strange premise--not mention some concerns about the book not really knowing what it wants to be--Joseph Bruchac seems to do a great job telling a story. It starts at a run, and it never really slows down. And that makes it worth the read. It's fast, it paces well, and it's fun to read.
But it doesn't know what it is. There are mutant monsters, vampires, giant eagles, high tech electronics that are genetically integrated with humans (at least until the Cloud arrives and ends anything electronic), psychic powers, Big Foot, and old Apache myths and prophecies...
Yes. The book is all over the place. I couldn't tell if Bruchac has been watching too many horror movies or if he was trying to channel his inner Larry Correia, but aimed at a younger audience than Monster Hunter International. There's really no cohesive mythology or explanation tying it all together, though, and though there is a plausible explanation each time a new creature or plot twist pops in--whether its vampires (some plague that escaped) or Big Foot (preexisting human civilization) or psychic powers (they had been repressed during the electronic era)--in the sum, it gives me the impression that Bruchac was winging it, pulling little slips of paper out of hat to figure out what was going to be the next "miniboss" or obstacle.
But don't let that deter you from reading. It's a fun read, clean, and with good character development. Lozen is sympathetic, and it's easy to feel her emotions for her family, the Ones who control her, for the gardener boy, and her desire for freedom. If you're looking for a wild ride, The Killer of Enemies is good to go. Just don't look too closely at the scenery on your ride.(less)
If you've enjoyed Larry Correia's Monster Hunter International series, then you'll love Hard Magic, the first of his series set in an alternative hist...moreIf you've enjoyed Larry Correia's Monster Hunter International series, then you'll love Hard Magic, the first of his series set in an alternative history in 1930s America, where for just over seventy years (since the 1860s) magic has begun to manifest in random people around the world. Some become stronger, others can walk through walls, and still others can heal, curse, see the future, teleport, control the weather, raise demons, or create zombies.
That's right. You didn't think that Correia would write a book and not include zombies and other ghoulish monsters, did you? And, true to form, Correia gives his heroes plenty of armaments because a fair fight is only fair when the good guys are armed to the teeth.
So we've got monsters, magic, guns, and alternate history...did I mention that there are aliens, too?
If it sounds like Correia is blending too many genres, trust me: it works, and it's every bit as enjoyable as the rest of Correia's novels. Not only does Correia make it fun, weaving a creative new universe where almost anything goes, he brings his usual care to create characters that are both sympathetic and conflicted, diverse and credible. There's something for everyone, from the tough guy who is soft inside to the fem fatal with a heart of gold, from the wizened and ancient mentor to the young, naive, and innocent prodigy on a mission of vengeance. There are pirates, gangsters, war heroes and villains, and Correia tells it with an almost effortless style.
Truth be told, Hard Magic kept me up burning the mid-night oil several days in row, and it was worth the lost sleep.
I ran into Correia on the floor of the Salt Lake Comic Con last week. Introduced by a mutual friend of ours, I was lucky enough to get a picture with him, but to look at the picture, you'd think he was the one who thought he was lucky. He's wearing this smile that says "I can't believe they pay me to do this." It's the smile of a man having the time of his life.
And, if you talk with him long enough, he'll take the opportunity to note that he would have the number one audio book in the country right now, but for J.K. Rowling. Her revelation that Robert Galbraith was her pen name behind the critically acclaimed Cuckoo Calling catapulted her just over Correia ("Let's start a rumor that 'Larry Correia' is a pen name for J.K. Rowling," he said at one panel during the Salt Lake Comic Con). He says it with mock bitterness, and though other, less successful panelists occasionally rolled their eyes at him, he clearly enjoys the success that he's enjoyed, and perhaps, as his smile seems to betray, he really can't believe that he gets to write novels featuring his monsters, magic, and munitions. (less)
Brandon Sanderson's creativity seems to know no bounds. It's no secret that he likes use magical systems for his novels that follow rules. But is it s...moreBrandon Sanderson's creativity seems to know no bounds. It's no secret that he likes use magical systems for his novels that follow rules. But is it still magic when the magic is so predictable that it's almost scientific?
With The Rithmatist, Sanderson uses his not insubstantial talents to spin a tale about an alternate world just one step removed from ours, where nations small and insignificant in our world are conquerors, North America is a giant archipelago instead of a continent, and gears and springs have replaced steam as the primary method of power. More, a battle is being waged by men and women who can use chalk to draw lines that take form, come alive, and move in the real world. They are Rithmatists, and they are all that stand between the dangerous Wild Chalklings and the survival of mankind.
Joel is nothing more than the son of a chalk maker, a poor boy who wants nothing more than to be a Rithmatists. As students at his school start to disappear, he finds himself pulled into the mystery against a foe that he cannot fight alone.
It's a great story. There are moments when The Rithmatist felt less like a fantasy, or a steam punk, and more like a mystery. Joel is a sympathetic Harry Potter-like character, and while Sanderson keeps the tone threatening, the promise of danger is never dark or hopeless.
The Rithmatist is the beginning of another creative Sanderson endevour, and while aimed squarely at adolescent boys, includes the beginnings of a romantic relationship that could appeal to girls, as well. While the systematic way in which Sanderson lays out magic may be almost scientific, his ability to tell a fun and delightful story is completely magical, from opening page to denouement and the final "to be continued." (less)
Even if you've never read it, almost every reader know the story of Moby-Dick. Opening with "Call me Ishmael[,]" Hermann Melville's novel is the tale...moreEven if you've never read it, almost every reader know the story of Moby-Dick. Opening with "Call me Ishmael[,]" Hermann Melville's novel is the tale of the white whale and obsessed Captain Ahab's quest to kill it, a hunt that does not end well for anyone. Only Ishmael, the narrator, survives to put the story down, drifting on the coffin of his bunkmate, Queequeg.
And that's where Philip José Farmer begins The Wind Whales of Ishmael. As he floats adrift, Ishmael finds himself falling out of our time and into the future, the far future, landing adrift in a future Earth dramatically different from our own. The oceans have nearly evaporated, life has evolved to the air, and man survives in air balloons hunting the leviathans of the air.
The Wind Whales of Ishmael is an intregeuing and fun story, if a bit dated. I recently read Edgar Rice Burrough's A Princess of Mars, and I couldn't help but see echoes of John Carter in the Farmer's Ishmael. He arrives in a strange and foreign world, is saved, and saves, a beautiful princess, and soon rises to prominence using his specialized knowledge and skills. The tale is short and exciting, the plot creative and the setting strange and exotic. Ishmael is an every man, a hero that survives and thrive a hundred thousand years in the future.
First published in 1971, Titan Books has put out a new edition of The Wind Whales of Ishmael with a foreword by Michael Croteau and an afterword by Danny Adams.(less)
Unless you want to be entertained, intrigued, and possibly disturbed, do not read this book.
On the other hand, if you enjoy thoughtprovokingshort fict...more
Unless you want to be entertained, intrigued, and possibly disturbed, do not read this book.
On the other hand, if you enjoy thought provoking short fiction, then download a copy of Guy Hasson's The Emoticon Generation today. A collection of short stories that seem to focus on human nature when technology allows us to play with the rules of physics, each is an interesting tale with a twist.
In one we see a controversial national war hero confronted with a technology that in one moment vindicates his version of events while simultaneously forcing him to reconsider history's premise. Another story questions what it means to be human and sentient. A third allows a man to revisit his past, with results that are disturbing.
The stories fascinated and intrigued. I saw echoes of Philip K. Dick or the Twilight Zone in several.
Ironically, the title story was the selection that I struggled with the most. In it, the author poses himself as a journalist who becomes interested in the effect of emoticons on rising generations. Satirically, it wonders if too many words are unnecessary, and if we can communicate meaning just as well, if not better, with smiley faces. Then, in just a couple of paragraphs, the author concludes that, no, it is the power of language that has allow great engineering feats, Shakespeare, and the progress of the human race, and the failure of language presages our decline. I laud Hasson for writing so convincing that I almost thought he was serious--until the last few paragraphs--but I felt cheated that he didn't respond to his own arguments. On the other hand, it is perhaps a tribute to his ability to satirize emoticons that his arguments for simpler language were so simple and sarcastic that response is perhaps unnecessary.
If creativity, an eye for human nature, and insight are strengths Hasson's stories can rely upon, an editor might be the single thing to improve them. While some stories clearly showed sharp and efficient use of language, others rambled beyond when Hasson had made his point.
As I opened with, go pick up a copy of The Emoticon Generationfor your ereader. If Hasson's stories don't make you think, then you may not be paying attention.
HHhH may be one of the most intriguing novels I have read in recent memory. Translated from French, its title is based on a German sentence: “Himmler...moreHHhH may be one of the most intriguing novels I have read in recent memory. Translated from French, its title is based on a German sentence: “Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich”, or “Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich”. It is the story of the 1942 attack in Prague on Reinhard Heydrich, one of the most dangerous men in the Hitler's inner circle, if not in all of Nazi Germany, and one of the main architects of the "Final Solution," the Holocaust. Known variously as "the Butcher of Prague" by those who feared him and "the man with the iron heart" by Hitler, Heydrich was a dangerous, evil man.
But Binet's novel, cleverly if awkwardly named, is something more, and something different. Perhaps the best way to describe it is to say that the novel is as much about Binet's obsession with the attack, the Czech and Slovak heroes Jozef Gabćik and Jan Kubiš who carried it out, and its central villain, Heydrich himself. I have heard the writing of a novel described as requiring a certain level of insanity and obsession, and Binet demonstrates a level of intense scrutiny that could match this description.
Almost pageant like, his unconventional style puts him in the middle of the book, a narrator that at times reminded me of the Chorus in the Prologue of Shakespeare's Henry V, eager to be both in the scene and to describe it. Indeed, we move with him as he tells the story, quibbling over what details to include, what to exclude, how to tell the scene, and what were the characters really thinking. For, after all, the characters lived, were real, and the events described happened.
Strange and unconventional, but oddly gripping and thrilling, even as it ends tragic and triumphant. For the end of the story is not a secret--you can find the facts of the tale on Wikipedia. But the imagination with which Binet approaches his subject, the path his obsession takes, is worth hearing it told in his voice. "O for a Muse of fire[...]"(less)
If you liked the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you'll like Year Zero, too. Robert Reid's satirical look at what happens when aliens realize they h...moreIf you liked the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you'll like Year Zero, too. Robert Reid's satirical look at what happens when aliens realize they have violated American copyright laws will have you smiling and chuckling from the moment two oddly dressed people (a redheaded mullah and a curvaceous nun) appear in Nick Carter's office and ask for him to straighten things out. Reminiscent of the sarcastic and over-the-top style made Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy a cult classic, Reid has a style all his own.
Nick Carter is an junior attorney at a large New York law firm that makes its money suing every possible threat to their entertainment industry masters. On the verge of crossing over into the big time, Carter finds himself thrust into a plot to save the Earth from its own universe renowned music, all because he shares a name with a member of a once popular boyband still famous from Alpha Centauri to Andromeda. Before he's done, Nick will face the awesome power of unionized government employees, travel with entitled and bumbling reality stars from the stars, hoodwink a vacuum cleaner made of heavy metals, and argue before a tribunal of spineless alien bureaucrats. Also, he'll win love and impress a tough as nails partner in his firm.
Reid's Year Zero weaves a smart and satirical tale that mocks politics, pop music and the music industry, recording artists, Branson, Missouri, big law firms (and lawyers in general), Microsoft, bureaucrats, government unions, the United Nations, Senator Orrin Hatch, and indie musicians, just to name a few. Along the way, Reid peppers the story (heavily) with footnotes, and footnotes on the footnotes, that are humorous and informative in themselves.
As it goes in Jerry Maguire, Reid had me at 'hello," and I blazed through Year Zero and was almost sad to see it end. With any luck, it won't be Reid's last. I can't wait to read Rob Reid's next book. Whatever it is, I'm picking it up. If he can write anything even half as fun, insightful, and witty as Year Zero, then it will be worth the time.(less)
Danny is an almost orphaned child raised in a family of magical adepts, while he himself lacks the skills and talents that set his family apart from humanity. Instead, he focuses on his academic studies, absorbing history, languages, and learning at a voracious rate. One day, almost by accident, that all changes when he realizes he unexpectedly inherits magical powers long thought to be lost from the world. This discovery is a death sentence in his family, and he does the only logical thing—he runs, narrowly escaping certain death.
On his journey, he explores his new and strange magical powers, as well as the non-magical world he has been hidden from his whole life. He is a mage, descendent of the gods and goddesses man worshiped in ancient times, but he travels among normal people, finding his way among the beggars and thieves in the underworld of Washington, D.C.
Even as he does, he is hiding from his family, the descendents of gods. You see, the ancient pantheons in the Greek, Nordic, Roman, or Hindu world are really visitors to Earth, mages whose powers were amplified by their journey through magical gates between their world and Earth. Those gates were lost many centuries ago, stranding them here and weakening their powers. Now, Danny is about to find himself at the center of an ancient struggle to get back to their world, renew their powers, and regain control of the Earth as gods and goddesses. His very existence will reignite a power struggle between the modern descendents of the pantheons for the control of the gates, and he will be at the center of it.
While not an entirely original story, it is clever and creative. A young boy finds out he is not actually as normal as he thought, but is really a being of unique magical powers (like Harry Potter), the son of gods (like Percy Jackson), and those powers make him among the most powerful people in the world. Orson Scott Card brings his own flavor to the story, but it is a story that has been done better before.
Even so, The Lost Gate is full of interesting ideas. Some of the best sections are during jumps from Danny’s perspective on Earth to that of another mage on the gods own world. While most of Danny’s story is focused on his learning about his magic, by interweaving the alternate perspective, we catch glimpses of the greater conflict, one that began thousands of years before Danny’s birth. However, the story feels rushed, and in the rush, Card’s best ideas falter. Rather than flesh out the characters and plot, the story leaps from point to point, never really building on the ideas.
In short, Card’s newest novel is too many good ideas and not enough time. The result is an average story by an above average author. Card’s intermingling of the two perspectives and their genre blending works well, setting the stage for a war between worlds. Even as the novel closes, we have only seen glimpses of the real fight, and we know that before the tale is through (this is only the first in the series), Danny will be at the center of that conflict.
Even with those glimpses, I often felt disappointed by the story-telling itself. The plot felt jumpy and lacked tension. Even on the run for his life, Danny feels more like he is meandering than fleeing. Card lets his character out of any kind of scrape that might actually threaten him, with little or no cost. At the end of the day, we all want the hero to win, but we want the win to feel like a victory, not a foregone conclusion.
Another concern I had with The Lost Gate was Card’s heavy use of info dumps. With the creation of any system of magic, an author has to explain things and fill in the reader on how things work. But Card’s info dumps were constant, going so far as to feel more like a Wikipedia entry than a piece of the story. Rather than supporting the story, the story sometimes seemed to play second fiddle to the info dumps or sudden character introductions. To be sure, the world and ideas are very interesting and very creative, but the alacrity with which Card makes stuff up to fit the situation, rather than providing all the rules upfront, makes the internal logic of the story feel contrived and inconsistent. As a result, the story hurts, even while the ideas flourish.
If that was my only complaint, the story might still have been an enjoyable experience. But problems arose when Card lets his characters talk to each other. I know, right? The audacity. But rather than move the story forward, though, the characters’ dialogue seems to get in the way. They argue and complain, bicker and whine...constantly. In one “memorable” scene, the characters seem to flip-flop between decisions they had already agreed upon just so that the dialogue can continue (and by “continue” I mean “argue”) for another page. It makes them look inconsistent and unlikeable, not to mention irritating, and it rarely does anything to affect what we can already see is going to happen next in the plot. As a result, I could not decide whether I thought a character was unlikable, or had just been poorly scripted. In the end, I rarely felt any connection with the characters, including the protagonist, Danny.
While The Lost Gate is full of ideas and potential, for me it fell flat. I found myself frustrated that I was too far into the book to put it down, but not far enough to be done.
Last comment: at the end of the novel, Card inserts an Afterword where he explains the roots of his inspiration for The Lost Gate. After thirty years, he figured out how to work the ideas together. My concern is that while it may have had its genesis 30 years ago, the book feels like it was rushed to be finished in the last month before it went to print. While Card is not G.R.R. Martin (and nobody wants to wait as long as we already do for Martin’s sequels), I do wish he would take a page out of George’s book. Slow down to redraft, rewrite, and edit. With great ideas, it’s worth the time, and I think it would make all the difference.
"Monster Hunter International" is horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and right-wing gun show (yeah, is that a genre...moreAnd now for something completely different...
"Monster Hunter International" is horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and right-wing gun show (yeah, is that a genre? Because after reading this book, I half-way want to buy a gun or three, myself).
It opens when our protagonist, Owen, is attacked by his boss, a newly minted werewolf, and kills him, with his bare hands. This catches the attention of the premier monster killing company in the country, Monster Hunter International (or MHI for short), and before Owen knows it, he's been recruited, finding himself killing vampires, zombies, wights, and worse, armed with more ordinance than anyone not in the US Army.
I was surprised how much I enjoyed the book, though it definitely falls into brain candy territory. I only carefully recommend it because it is violent at points and the characters do occasionally cuss.
That aside, it is a fun romp of a book and a very quick read.