Previous to 500 Ways to Write HarderI'd never read anything by Chuck Wendig, and I still may never. But if you're looking to kick start your writing hPrevious to 500 Ways to Write HarderI'd never read anything by Chuck Wendig, and I still may never. But if you're looking to kick start your writing habits, Wendig has the weirdest, most energetic, and, well, most kick butt ways of telling you to write...harder. Yes, harder.
It's a fun, foul mouthed list of 500 thoughts, insights and ideas to help the budding writer. Wendig divides the 500 bite size thoughts into lists of 25, dealing with character, ideas, stories, publishing, agents, critics, editing, and more. Truth to tell, I didn't really read this straight through. Rather, I have it on my mobile phone and iPad, and I would pull it out between...stuff. Outside the elevator, waiting in line, and on the porcelain throne. I'd read a couple of Wendig's "ways to write harder" and recharge my motivation to write, be awesome, and to create. I'll keep it on there, too, because writing doesn't seem to get easier, just better, with practice.
The 500 ways all seem to have one thing in common: write, write, and write more. Reading a book about writing is not writing. Writing is writing.
Which is why this review is shorter than as is typical for me. I'm going to go write.
PS. When I say "foul mouthed," I really do mean it. Wendig likes to cuss. ...more
If you're on my Christmas gift list and you read fantasy, I'm sending you a copy of Shattered Shields. It's just that good of a collection.
One of theIf you're on my Christmas gift list and you read fantasy, I'm sending you a copy of Shattered Shields. It's just that good of a collection.
One of the most surprising and enjoyable selections on my reading list this year, Shattered Shields has something for everyone. In addition to providing hours of enjoyable reading, the collection of stories from authors like Larry Correia, David Farland, Glen Cook, and Seanan McGuire is full of bite-sized portions of fantastical adventure. If commitment is a problem for you, each story gives you a full dose of adventure and daring. If you're looking for new authors, then you'll be pleasantly surprised at high number of quality stories in the collection, including at least a few authors you've not read before.
Jennifer Brozek and Bryan Thomas Schmidt deserve serious credit for finding and curating the collection of thrilling, exciting, and thought provoking tales. Not a single one is a loser and some are among the best short stories I've read.
The premise behind Shattered Shields is simple, but leads to incredible results: a look at the soldiers—"ordinary and otherwise–struggling against extraordinary odds to survive the day."
In "Ashes and Starlight," David Farland turns to his Runelords series to tell a story about an outcast who must betray his own to survive.
Seanan McGuire's "The Fixed Stars" turns to Irish folktales for a story as heartbreaking as it is moving, weaving myth and mystery.
"The Keeper of the Names" by Larry Correia is his first foray into high fantasy and, as far as I can tell, it bodes well for the novel that the story presages.
"The Smaller We Are" is tragedy done right, and John Helfers puts the spotlight on the very lowest of the soldiers in a fight much bigger than themselves without losing perspective.
"Invictus," by Annie Bellet, was perhaps the most intriguing world in the collection, for me, mixing something of Patrick O'Brian with otherworldly creatures to show a battle on the waves.
If dragons are your thing, then "Rising Above" by Sarah A. Hoyt, which places the legendary beasts in a World War I setting, will prick your interest. I'm sure there are more tales where Hoyt got this one.
"A Cup of Wisdom" by Joseph Zieja takes a step back from the glorification of violence and measures the weight of war on the soldier.
"Words of Power" by Wendy N. Wagner is a gritty and well-spun story from the perspective of a golem mechanic who finds herself closer to the front than she wants to be.
In "Lightweaver in Shadow," Gray Rinehart creates a magic system and a hero whose resourcefulness and wits keep him alive when the battle seems to turn against him.
"Hoofsore and Weary" by Cat Rambo is about centaurs caught behind enemy lines, but more, it addresses the conflict and friction between commanders and their new recruits.
"Vengeance" by Robin Wayne Bailey is one of my favorite stories from this collection. In a world that reminded me of Conan the Barbarian's Hyborian Age, Samidar seeks justice and revenge for the destruction of a village.
"Deadfall" by Nancy Fulda follows a soldier on the frontier of the empire as he tries to get to the heart of a threat that seems to be growing in strength. Between floating cities and addictive magic dust, Fulda spins a solid tale and creates fight scenes that were vivid and colorful.
"Yael of the Strings" by John R. Fultz was very fun to read, but left me frustrated at how tidily everything wrapped up. Maybe I wanted the result to be just a little more gray, but Fultz made it just a bit too easy. The story is beautiful, weaving in the importance of music over arms.
Dark and grim, "The Gleaners" by Dave Ross does not end well...for the protagonists. As a story. it's full of awesome and I'll be adding Gross to my list of authors to read more frequently.
"Bonded Men" by James L. Sutter has one of the most innovative ideas I've ever seen in military or fantasy fiction: a military unit entirely composed of gays and their partners. Sutter proceeds on the assumption that they would fight differently than soldiers who have a family to go home to, and while I'm not sure that I agree, it's an interesting idea.
I've never read Glen Cook before, but his "Bone Candy" selection in Shattered Shields was curious enough to get me interested. Long time fans will enjoy this story set in his Black Company universe.
"First Blood" by Elizabeth Moon is a truly wonderful story, a hero's origin tale that I loved from the start. It asks the question common to each soldier: will you rise to the challenge when you are tested? If there's one story you read from the collection, this should be it.
But read them all. Shattered Shields is full of great writing, interesting stories, and gripping action. It's well worth adding to your collection or your Kindle. ...more
I've long followed Connor Boyack's career. A libertarian and out of the box thinker, Boyack has never been afraid to defend his conclusions, and he doI've long followed Connor Boyack's career. A libertarian and out of the box thinker, Boyack has never been afraid to defend his conclusions, and he does so with articulation and passion.
His latest literary foray is no exception.
In Feardom: How Politicians Exploit Your Emotions and What You Can Do to Stop Them, Boyack fervently argues for greater individual responsibility in the face of growing and often deceptive government communication and behavior. The argument is timely. Trust in government, whether it is Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, or even police, is at a record low.
Nor is the government alone, says Boyack, finding that the press occasionally take common cause with the government. As headlines fill with threats from ISIS and Ebola in the weeks before the election in October 2014, then quietly take a backseat to other news after, it's hard not to support his point. The press seems to be either complicit, as manipulated as average person, or unaware.
While I don't agree with all of the examples that Boyack cites--his examples stemming from Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War are especially jarring when weighed against the result of ending slavery in America--I am sympathetic to his message. At the heart of the book is a message of increased individual responsibility, urging the reader to take control of their life, to become aware and informed beyond short media sound bites, and to be willing to live with risk in order to maximize liberty. I doubt this is a message that anyone of any political stripe with an interest in a more civic minded population would argue with. Better informed people make better decisions, elect better representatives, and create stronger communities.
To that point, then, Feardom is a thought provoking call to arms. Not of guns or of violence, but to self-activation and participation in communities and our country.
There are those that will note that fear does at time have a very useful function, warning us about danger and encouraging us to take action to remediate or avoid the harm. I agree with them, but I think that Boyack--an Latter-day Saint Christian--would note that knowledge and faith triumph over fear and allow individuals to stride forward confident in spite of risk. In that sense, I would expand Boyack's thesis and message beyond just a polemic against the political machinations to anyone that attempts to use fear as a tool. Hackers recently shut down the release of a motion picture by threatening, probably in futility, terrorism. Special interest groups email blast their followers with threats of government action if they don't send money soon.
Yes, sometimes it is fear of the government itself that is levied against us just as the government and politicians weld fear to take us to war, raise taxes, or expand governments reach. In short, we ought to be wary of anyone--politician, journalist, or citizen activist--who oversimplifies an issue with an aim to provoking us to action for fear of a result.
In the end, I agree with Boyack's message, even if I don't necessarily find the evidence he portrays as robust or fully persuasive. Remember that even Winston Churchill was for a decade portrayed as a fear-monger by Neville Chamberlain, even as Adolf Hitler rearmed Germany with an eye to conquer the world. Fear has a place, but it needs to be answered with information. Churchill knew what most of England did not, receiving and reading reports on Germany's radical changes that were not available to most Britains or even much of Parliament. In the early 21st century, we have access to information in a way that should allow us to form our own opinions without resort to cable news spin doctors.
According to the "authoritative" Urban Dictionary, feardom is "the state of having freedom, but being afraid of expressing it." Connor Boyack's new book, may not spell it out quite that way, but it's a sentiment that I am sure he would agree with, and I believe that he would argue that only in the willingness to exercise that freedom in the face of potential repercussion can Americans fully enjoy, and expand, the liberties once guaranteed to them by virtue of their citizenship....more
Bad Penny was one of the most surprising reading experiences of my year, to date, and in all the right ways.
John D. Brown, who is otherwise known forBad Penny was one of the most surprising reading experiences of my year, to date, and in all the right ways.
John D. Brown, who is otherwise known for his fantasy writing, has written a story that is both compelling and entertaining, not to mention viscerally realistic.
Bad Penny's hero, Frank, is a nice guy. He's a felon, the result of a few poor choices, but he's trying to make things right, live life clean, and start anew and all that. Not unlike Liam Neeson's character in the film Taken, Frank is a trained warrior, the product of his service in the US Special Forces. When his former cell mate from prison shows up and then disappears with Franks nephew, Frank takes to the road after them. He is assisted by what is perhaps the least likely of sidekicks I've ever seen in the thriller genre: a do-gooder Mormon dad in a not-so-souped up minivan and a coterie of Wyoming ranchers with more heart than muscle.
It's an unlikely group, but Brown makes it feel authentic, taking them from bad to worse as they race against time and villains across the Wyoming and Colorado mountains and prairie.
Without any remorse, I willingly admit that I had a hard time putting the book down the few nights that it took me to read Bad Penny. Each scene seemed to beg me to read just a little further.
What made the read perhaps most interesting was how real it felt. As I closed the book on the last page, I couldn't help but go to the internet for more research into human trafficking and prostitution, two of the felonies that get raised by the baddies in Frank's hunt for his nephew.
Bad Penny was not what I was looking for when I met Brown at a con earlier this year, but it was by far one of the best reads of my summer reading list. I look forward to seeing what Brown spins out for Frank next....more
Equally touching, tender, and socially exploratory, A Rarefied View At Dawn by David Farland is a short story that takes place in the far future on aEqually touching, tender, and socially exploratory, A Rarefied View At Dawn by David Farland is a short story that takes place in the far future on a planet far from here.
Men and women are segregated by gender and on the mountain top fortress of Kara Kune most births are controlled, allowing only females to be born. But not always. Bann is a boy, but until he begins to approach puberty he doesn't realize that there are any differences between himself and the others around him, including his best friend Maya. Only then does his mother take him on a journey that will change his view of everything.
The story begins high on a mountain above thick heavy mists and clouds over a low, sweaty jungle, and as the story progresses the reader literally and figuratively descends with Bann and Maya from the heights of innocence. It's a dystopian society, and Farland's short tale is a curious exploration at what happens when trends are taken to the extreme.
What is most interesting, though, might be Farland's notes to the story. He tells a personal story about young woman who bounced from destructive relationship to destructive relationship, and his desire to examine what he sees as a societal trend towards the abandonment of young men and his interest in what happens if we allow these trends to cycle out of control.
The end result is a society that is, to say the least, distressing and destructive, hardly the kind that any of us would want. But that's exactly what fiction is supposed to do: to hold up a mirror to our own world and ask what will happen if we continue down the current path. Farland does it well here, and I laud the effort, despite its conclusion. ...more
Yesterday, I was disappointed with a story written early in David Farland's career. He's one of my favorite authors, and I didn't get why. It was writYesterday, I was disappointed with a story written early in David Farland's career. He's one of my favorite authors, and I didn't get why. It was written early in his career, and even by his own admission was a real downer.
Then I hit up on this story, another written early in Farland's career as a writer. Unlike what Farland would someday become known for, Charley in the Wind is not fantasy, science fiction or in any way paranormal. For that reason, I think, it surprised me, beat my expectations, and more than a little yanked at my heart strings.
I know. That's pretty sappy. But it did. Coming right after reading At the Virgin's Doorstep, it was a dramatic change.
The story is short, and Farland wastes no time with excess background and description. Here are two boys, growing up in what we would today recognize as tough circumstances, but they don't know that, and who band together to survive the kinds of things kinds face: bullies, little brothers, and abuse.
Okay, I hope that no one has to experience abuse, and I would be lying if I said I ever had. However, the story resonates with adolescent boy scenes. Playing with matches. Making promises. Irritating little brothers. Sleep overs with less sleep than is probably known by parents. Exploring the outdoors. And more.
When things take a turn for the worse, though, something caught in my throat, and I felt it. No one should have to go through this to grow up. And yet, I could fully see and feel like it had really happened.
Charley in the Wind is heartbreaking, disturbing and painful, but pulling on all the right strings to build a tale that is well worth the read....more
Ugh. Just Ugh. At The Virgin's Doorstep by David Farland is just really bad. It starts out as something of a coming of age story, and then, before youUgh. Just Ugh. At The Virgin's Doorstep by David Farland is just really bad. It starts out as something of a coming of age story, and then, before you know it, you don't even want to come of age in this world. Who wants to live in a world that kills unicorns? By decapitation? Including baby unicorns?
And that's not even the worst of it. The worst is seeing the author's name on the cover, looking forward to reading it with anticipation, and then finishing the last paragraph in stunned disbelief. Was that really David Farland? What the...?!
Yeah. Something like that.
I like David Farland. A lot. I read at least one novel from his back list each year. I eagerly read his books and newsletters on writing. I make an effort to find him and say 'hi' at the cons, because he is so approachable and he's full for great writing advice (a clue: like everyone else out there, I'd love to be writing, and publishing, awesome stories, too).
But I hated this story. It was horrible. To be clearly, I'm not even a unicorn fan (I leave the love of ponies and unicorns to my daughters), but Farland's At The Virgin's Doorstep makes them a pest, slut-shames, and, well, is an all round downer. It's a pretty depressing story, once you get down to it.
To be fair, Farland has added an addendum/explanation to the short story explaining that he's not a fan of it himself and he would be worried about anyone who was. Indeed, he recognizes that there are elements of the story that are morally repugnant. I get that. But really: why even publish it? If it's so bad, why not shelve it, write it off to experience, and just leave it as part of the past?
At least one thing is clear after reading it. Farland has come a long way. This was his first attempt at a fantasy story, and he's become a solid legend in the genre since. It won't stop me from reading his other novels, and I suppose I'm even glad to have read this. After all, we all write junk at least once. ...more
Set in the late 19th century, Burning Girls is about Deborah, the daughter of Polish Jews in the years after Cossacks stopped burning villages but while the threat of pogroms against Jews was still very real. While her sister is raised to follow her mother as a seamstress, Deborah is trained by her grandmother to be a witch. She uses a white magic that draws on arcane and mythical Kabbalah-like Jewish writings and beliefs. As her power grows, she learns of a demon stalking their little family. Then, one day, the long feared pogroms come for them, and they set their sights on America, to start over, to escape the violence, and to escape the demon.
Part of what I enjoyed about this fantasy (a period fantasy, maybe?) was how it felt authentic, while at the same time avoiding cliches. Sure, there's a bit of handwaivium going on, but the magic is not without a cost. Based on language and the calling on power from certain angels and names of God, Deborah uses the magic to help women, and it lends a certain sense of sympathetic feminism to it.
And yet, it's Schanoes use of pathos, rather than magic, that makes the story worth the read. They struggle, grow, hurt, and are hurt. They grow together and apart, are tossed and turned in the trends and politics of the day. With each obstacle overcome, sympathy builds until a final denouement that both surprises and moves.
Burning Girls was nominated for the 2013 Nebula in the novella category, and while it didn't win, it was a worthy nominee. ...more
So, this story is something different. And, for some reason, it's a Hugo nominee, too.
Near the end of the Mae Ping River in Thailand, a town plays aSo, this story is something different. And, for some reason, it's a Hugo nominee, too.
Near the end of the Mae Ping River in Thailand, a town plays a special role in an annual ritual that runs river long. Villagers will put their wishes in floating down river in paper boats and hope that they will be answered. In Doi Saket, the villagers will be led to read those wishes.
Told scattered and piece meal in the voice of an omniscient, native story teller, the disparate pieces come together to create a coherent whole. The reader can expect a twist, some loss, but also, a happy ending. The good guy is redeemed, and the bad guy gets it.
But still, something different is here, and I think it's in the voice. Thomas Olde Heuvelt has written an interesting story, and with an interesting voice, but still...it's just kind of odd. In some respect, it may be due to my expectations, and I think if I read this as a fable rather than as science fiction or fantasy, I might have enjoyed it differently. But Huevelt can't seem to make up his mind. Maybe that's okay. But it kept me from enjoying it more. ...more
There's something clever about this story. Water that falls on you from nowhere...when you are fibbing. The conceit is the narrator is an in the closeThere's something clever about this story. Water that falls on you from nowhere...when you are fibbing. The conceit is the narrator is an in the closet gay, at least to his parents, and without the ability to lie to them since the water started falling, is faced with the conflict of how he is going to keep up the facade in front of his aged parents over the Christmas holidays when any lie he tells will be given away by...water, falling out of nowhere.
Right. But science fiction?
John Chu won the Hugo this year for Best Short story with The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere, and I don't quite understand why. There is almost nothing that is even related to science in it. And, lest you argue that fantasy gets consideration for the Hugo, as well (just look at The Wheel of Time series, a Hugo nominee this year), let me just say that I'm not quite sure it falls well under that category, either. Maybe surrealism or, as I saw one person call it, "magical realism." No, I'm not sure what that oxymoron means, but it sounds good, and feels about as good a label for this strange story as anything else.
So, anyway, it got the Hugo and I picked it up to read it, because that's what people who like science fiction often do: they read the stories that the Hugo.
I finished it, put down my device (it was on my Kindle app), and scratched my head. Literally. "That's all it takes to get the Hugo?"
There's no accounting for taste, I suppose, but even in a year with a lot of controversy, I don't see why this story won. It's just not very good scifi. Clever, emotional even, but send it over to one of those literary houses for consideration and leave the science fiction to something that might be remotely recognizable as belonging to the genre.
No bones about it: I am a slow reader. Worse, I am a serial book buyer and starter, and years can pass after I buy a book before I actually start it,No bones about it: I am a slow reader. Worse, I am a serial book buyer and starter, and years can pass after I buy a book before I actually start it, to say nothing of finish it.
Except for anything by Larry Correia.
Somehow, Correia has figured out the secret combination to writing novels that are fun, satisfying, and one hundred percent engrossing. If you're going to interrupt me while I'm in the middle of one of his novels, the house better be on fire. Not because I won't come otherwise, but because I may not notice the interruption at all. Correia hasn't not win any literary awards for his prose (at least not from the over-cultured classes of literary fart sniffers), but he's going to win the award that matters most: eyes on pages and dollars in the bank.
Monster Hunter Nemesis is the fifth installment in the Monster Hunter International series, and like others in the series, the story can stand alone (although it does tie in to an arc that connects the entire series).
Nemesis turns to the infamous Agent Franks, a reoccurring character in the previous novels. He is the US government's last resort for all monster related disturbances. If there's a monster sighting--be it vampire, zombie, or demon--Franks is sent into the field to, literally, crack a few heads, obliterate the monster, and restore order. He's the absolute worst combination of the best and the worst you can expect from the federal government: a very effective bureaucrat with single-minded purpose and no sense of morality, but the execution of his duty.
As a personality, there's always something just a little off about him. Other characters treat him with a mixture of fear, respect, and hate, and Agent Franks does nothing to dissuade them of these. And, you can't really blame them. He's mean, he's ruthless, and he has all the personality of a low functioning sociopath. Franks' job is to fight the existential and supernatural threats to humanity, and it's not his fault that he lacks all the sympathies, qualities, and emotions that makes humanity redeemable.
In short, he hasn't got many friends. It makes him an easy target when a shadowy rival government agency set out to replicate, and replace, Agent Franks. A big target, but not an easy one, I should say, if Agent Franks has anything to do with it.
The thing is, the supernatural attacks are getting worse. As has been foreshadowed in previous Monster Hunter books, something is trying to break through, enslave the Earth, and harvest its inhabitants souls. Call it Cthulhu or shaggoth, it's a threat reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft, and it's a danger to everything under God's creation. Indeed, God might have a word or two to say about making sure his Creation can avoid enslavement by other dimensional beings.
With Nemesis, Correia takes this uncharitable and unlikable character and puts him at the center of the story as the protagonist.
And boy does he protag (as Howard Tayler would say). This is Franks' origin story, and with it, Correia spins him into a sympathetic character, showing him competent and effective and active in controlling his destiny. The pages fly by, thick with action.
If you're looking for an emotionally charged, literary soap opera, this is not the place to look. There are no weighty, emotionally charged passages about social inequality and unfairness. Rather, its escapist, pitting Frankenstein's monster, werewolves, assault weapons, and humans in the middle of the fight between heaven and hell and--
Oh, yeah. Did I mention that the bad guy in Nemesis really is one of the original the Bad Guys that figure prominently in Milton's Paradise Lost? One of the best things about Correia's Monster Hunter International world is that no mythology, legend or religion is really out-of-bounds. From H.P. Lovecraft to modern Christianity (with a hat-tip to Mormonism, too, if you're paying attention), Correia works it in to his world. The boundless limits of his story telling gives him broad latitude, creates resonance that the tough-guy exterior of the novel belies, and carries nuggets of depth at unexpected moments.
That's right. Monster Hunter Nemesis might make you think.
Content Warning: I hate to include content warnings, but since not everyone who reads this site is over 18, I feel like Nemesis merits a warning. Be aware that there is occasional swearing and cussing in Correia's novels. I don't think it's necessary--I just finished John D. Brown's Bad Penny that had characters far tougher and rougher than anyone in Monster Hunter Nemesis, and I didn't see him resort to any cussing. However, it is Correia's prerogative. Just be aware, before you crack the cover, that if you are bothered by swearing you might find the occasional offensive word in the dialogue....more
Ansible 15715 is going to be hard to review without spoilers, but it so worth the read. Okay, let's see if we can give it a go...
If you've reWowsers.
Ansible 15715 is going to be hard to review without spoilers, but it so worth the read. Okay, let's see if we can give it a go...
If you've read Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series, Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep, or Dan Simmons Hyperion Cantos, you've run into the concept of an ansible before. For the rest of you, an ansible is a fictional device that allows authors overcome the light speed barrier with instantaneous communication from point A to point B.
In Stant Litore's formulation, a person is merged with the power of an ansible to travel across space and, eventually, time. That journey leads to a world that is both dark and despairing, and more so because there is almost no one there to be aware of the sad imprisonment of its inhabitants, with exception of Ansible 15715.
Ansible 15715 should be classified as science fiction, but Litore reminds us why science fiction has as much in common with horror as it does with the literature of wonder. He takes in loops of darkness, creating a sense of impossible terror limited only by the bounds of human comprehension. Indeed, it is perhaps because of Lovecraftian nature of his tale that it is chilling. Compared to what we know, the horror is incomprehensible.
Ansible 15715 is the first in a series of tales, The Ansible Stories. I wanted to give it four stars, but wasn't quite satisfied enough to bump it up a notch. However, the tale was short (I read it while waiting for an appointment) and I was intrigued, so I'm game to try the sequel, Ansible 15716. ...more
Equoid by Charles Stross is a Hugo winner, in a year that's had quite a bit of controversy. Initially, I was impressed by the story, but the more I thEquoid by Charles Stross is a Hugo winner, in a year that's had quite a bit of controversy. Initially, I was impressed by the story, but the more I think about it, the less I am. Intelligent, articulate, and witty, it has undercurrents that are dark and disturbing.
It's hard not to see echoes of Larry "Lord of Hate" Correia in Charles Stross' Equoid. Sure, there are fewer guns in Equoid than, well, anything that Correia writes, but I suspect that's only because Correia knows his firearms better than Stross. Both deal with a world under assault from supernatural monsters and both are occasionally influenced by the Lovecraftian. Both fall into the category of fiction that could best be described as a cross between horror and what happens when the victims are armed to the teeth. And both have a really great voice.
End comparison. Stross's hero is a government bureaucrat who calls in the artillery , while Correia's protagonists usually ARE the artillery, and while they both have different means to accomplish the same ends, they are very different voices.
In Stross's Equoid, Bob Howard is a computer geek that works for a secret British government agency. It's his job to look into the things that go bump in the night, as well as to file the appropriate paperwork to deal with it. It's a soul crushing job--and that's just a comment on the paperwork.
This week Howard has been sent out in to the countryside to look into a rumor about unicorns, and lest you keep that fond smile on your face, be warned that unicorns in this construction are anything but rainbows and sparkles. Rather, the threat of a unicorn infestation is a Lovecraftian horror that would drown the world and end humanity.
It's just another day for Howard, though.
If you pick this up, note that it's not the first in the series, but this is one of those times when you can jump in mid-stream and never miss a beat. Equoid by Charles Stross is winner of the 2014 Hugo in the novella category, I picked it up primarily for that reason, but, due to how much I enjoyed it, I suspect that I'll go back and find others in the Laundry series, of which it is a part, as well. Stross has a style that is equal parts intelligent, relying on a reader's knowledge and reading outside the story, and humorous.
If you like British humor--heavy in sarcasm and dripping with grim humor--you might enjoy dipping into Equoid. Bonus points if you've any taste for Lovecraft. Be warned, though, that there are some disturbing aspects to the story--especially if you like unicorns....more
I have been known to use hyperbole. I have also been known to love two books with equal passion even when they have absolutely nothing in common, whetI have been known to use hyperbole. I have also been known to love two books with equal passion even when they have absolutely nothing in common, whether one be a time-tested classic (like, say, Anna Karenina) and the second all fun (think Larry Correia).
I use no hyperbole, then, when I say that D.J. Butler hits the sweet spot with his Rock Band Fights Evil series opener Hellhound on My Trail. It may not withstand the test of time, but I'd pick it up over Ulysses almost any a dry summer afternoon.
If there's one thing that delayed me from picking Hellhound up earlier than I did, it was the cover. But don't let the comic book-like art on the cover dissuade you. Hellhound on My Trail has more in common with the Monster Hunter International series: guns, monsters, and magic, and a rip roaring adventure more fun than a barrel of zombies...and maybe even including zombies, too, as well as demons, monsters, and any number of versions of evil and mythical creatures.
Don't be deceived, though. While Butler's Hellhound seems straightforward, it is anything but simpleminded. Rather, Butler seems bent on proving that fun can be intelligent. Whether you get that the title is riffing on Robert Johnson's blues classic or that the incarnation of the devil is a play on the Hebraic translation of Beelzebub or not, the book is a romp to enjoy.
And just because his lead character might be one beer from a DUI, it doesn't mean that the supporting cast can't be witty, intelligent, and articulate, either. This doesn't mean you should expect them to spout Shakespeare, but you can at least plan on laughs and no wasted dialogue.
One of my favorite exchanges happens between Eddie and Mike as they try to open a door. Eddie has been pulling all sorts of items out of his pockets, including duct tape.
"Man of action has to be prepared," Eddie sniffed.
"Maybe you should MacGyver open the door."
"You MacGyver open the door," Eddie chuckled. "I'm gonna MacGuyver me a little Baal Zavuv."
"I don't think MacGyver used guns."
Eddie's eye skewed sideways and then he gritted his teeth and blinked. "I don't think MacGuyver was ever on Hell's Ten Most Wanted list."
Delivered during snappy, non-stop action, the lines feel fluid and made me smile.
Then there's the narcoleptic "wizard" on the team, constantly dozing off in the midst of crucial moments of the fight. Butler writes him spouting cliches...but never to complete them. Rather than finish the cliche, the wizard breaks off half way through, once you've pegged which cliche it is, and finishes with "and so on" or "et cetera" or something like that.
"A stitch in nine, et cetera," he says. And because it becomes almost a verbal tick for the character, it adds to the color and character depth. I found it very clever.
If there's one thing that I would have liked to see more of, it's a bit more attention to detail on some of the details that seem to be lost in the rush of action. Mike, the protag, has a death wish and is on the verge of suicide, and has a pretty dark background. Which, of course, is part of the reason he makes a great addition to the band of the doomed fighting Hell. But Butler brushes past it so quick I almost missed it. Perhaps an updated and expanded draft would fill it in a bit more?
Hellhound on My Trail is short and fast, one long action scene, really. It's so fast, I almost read it in a single sitting, and would have if I didn't have work the next day. You can pick it up singly, in ebook, or in a collection with other installments in Rock Band Fights Evil in paper back. It's worth it. It's not Tolstoy, but if you like Correia, and I do, this is a fantastic read....more
Author Doris Lessing once noted that "That function of a writer is to raise questions not find answers."
A Nobel Prize winner, Lessing famously respondAuthor Doris Lessing once noted that "That function of a writer is to raise questions not find answers."
A Nobel Prize winner, Lessing famously responded to a critic of her Canopus in Argos series--a work of science fiction, in contrast to what critics considered her more serious literature--by saying: "What they didn't realize was that in science fiction is some of the best social fiction of our time."
That was thirty years ago. Today, Brad Torgersen (a Hugo, Nebula, and Campbell award nominee in 2013) carries on that tradition, raising and addressing questions in his science fiction. His first novel, The Chaplain's War, is as much an examination of society, belief, and technology as it is of aliens, spaceships, and interstellar war. Whether you're looking for military scifi or existential introspection, you'll find it here. And, because Torgersen is a military man himself, his description of life in a boot camp in a near future war against alien species feels authentic and accurate.
Torgerson's The Chaplain's War began as the short story "The Chaplain’s Assistant," which he later expanded into the novella "The Chaplain's Legacy" before filling it out into a full novel. I discovered him for the first time at the 2013 Salt Lake Comic Con, where he was sitting on several panels on writing and science fiction.
The Chaplain's War follows Harrison Barlow, a young soldier who is to become the pivotal figure in humanity's war against a fearsome half cyborg, half insect alien race that is bent on humanity's eradication from the universe. Alternating between the present--where Barlow is sequestered with other humans as POWs--and the past, Barlow is a Chaplain's Assistant, becoming so almost by accident. It's a story of the path less traveled making all the difference, and Torgersen executes it with a deft and sensitive touch.
It makes for a tale that is both exciting and thought-provoking, fresh even while harking back to a time when science fiction was less about the political agendas and more about the fantastic possibility and wonder that the future holds. He aims for broad appeal, not the narrow "diversity" crowd of science fiction literati struggling to find readers among the average Joes just looking for a good story.
This isn't to say that Torgersen shies away from the controversial. Indeed, his story--that one man for peace can be as powerful as a whole armada of space going warships--may be controversial in itself. This is especially notable when you consider that movie audiences are flocking to see superhumans and lovable scoundrels (think Man of Steel, Thor, Captain America, or Guardians of the Galaxy) duke it out with the enemies of liberty, justice, and the American way, saving humanity by violence and destruction writ large.
Torgersen's implicit question, never directly addressed, but clearly central to the solution, is whether violence is necessary.
But he doesn't leave it at that. Torgersen weaves in themes on faith and technology, using the cyborg-insect alien menace to raise questions about the existence of deity, providence, and a divine guiding hand, both in the universe and in the individual lives of all sentient beings. At the same time, it's impossible to miss Torgersen's reticence to fully embrace technological innovation without thought for the consequences. Could acceptance and use of technology with humanity come at the cost of our humanity and our ability to connect to the natural and transcendent?
Even though his title character is a chaplain, he is by no means a believer. Belief in God is a bridge too far for him, and yet, it is his role as the Chaplain's assistant that thrusts him into his place as a mediator between two enemy races. There are scenes that seem reminiscent of Enemy Mine (take your pick: the novella by Barry Longyear or the movie starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr.), but Torgersen takes a more existential and transcendent approach and walks his readers through the process of how an unbeliever might begin to believe, even while trying to survive to live through another day.
Meanwhile, the bullets are flying and the action is intense. It's cliche to say that there are no atheists in foxholes, and Torgersen seems willing to test that proposition.
And yet, his message--if there is one--is not a heavy handed paean to religion. Rather, his approach seems to be a new spin on an oft addressed question: are we alone in the universe?
Torgersen's perspective may just be that perhaps our existence alone, as that of any sentient race, is evidence that we are not alone, but that there is in nature a force greater than us with an interest in our happiness and progress. But it is a journey that every man, or woman, must walk on their own terms.
As I finished The Chaplain's War, it was clear to me that Torgersen had raised as many questions as he had intimated answers. Rather than sewing confusion with his inquiries, though, his aim is towards hope and possibility, encouraging the reader to look out from himself rather than in.
I've often heard Torgersen note--at cons, on his blog, and in social media--that his aim is to entertain, reach a broad audience, and regain some of the footing that the science fiction genre lost when it became obsessed with pet ideological projects. The Chaplain's War is a step in that direction (and one is tempted to make comparisons to Heinlein), entertaining and thoughtful at the same time, without forgetting what made science fiction great during its golden age. It bodes well for Torgersen's career, and I look forward to what he crafts next. ...more
Kenobi is a beautiful surprise, a wonderful scene in the larger arc of the Star Wars drama. I had no idea what I was in for when I started it, and I'mKenobi is a beautiful surprise, a wonderful scene in the larger arc of the Star Wars drama. I had no idea what I was in for when I started it, and I'm glad I gave it a try. It's an exciting and moving story of one of Star Wars most important characters.
I had stopped reading novels in the Star Wars universe after Timothy Zahn's Thrawn series, way back high school (long, long ago in a high school far, far away...). There are a lot of novels set in the Star Wars universe, but few have ever captured my imagination the way the original series and its characters did. Give me Han, Leia, and Luke and their supporting cast of the droids, Obi-Wan, and Chewbacca. I didn't have the energy to devote to a gazillion novels with the same premise, but a different cast.
Then, earlier this year, I was asked by Salt Lake Comic Con to help write-up a couple of blog posts for their then upcoming convention, including one about the hero's journey, especially as it appears in Star Wars. Already a Star Wars fan, I decided to binge research, ordering nearly every book I could get my hands on from the local Salt Lake County Library system. I didn't read most of them--in fact, I ended up doing a more surgical review of the stuff that seemed germane and purchasing the only book I actually needed (The Hero of Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell). But one book among them struck me, though, and I found myself listening to it in the car one day: Kenobi.
Set in the period directly after the end of Episode III, Revenge of the Sith, Kenobi picks up with the story about the beginning of Obi-Wan Kenobi's long years in the Tatooine desert as he watches over Luke Skywalker. He is a wanted man, a fugitive from the nascent Empire and, as far as he knows, the lone survivor of the Jedi Order. Disturbed by his failure to foresee Anakin's fall to the Dark Side, and wrestling with the ramifications of Order 66, he retreats to the desert to meditate, to hide, and to watch, from afar, the Lars and young Luke Skywalker.
It is a life of anonymity and peace that Kenobi wants, but even on distant Tatooine adventure seems to seek him out. Almost immediately upon his arrival he finds himself, before even delivering baby Luke to the Owen and Beru Lars, in the midst of a cantina fight. Soon, it becomes more, and Kenobi is increasingly sucked into defending the locals against the depredations of Sand People, thugs, and even Jaba's lackies. And yet, like the Dark Side's subversion of the Republic, things are seldom what they seem, and even Kenobi will need to rely on all of his skills as a Jedi to survive and maintain secrecy from the eyes of the Empire.
On it's face, the novel is little more than a spin-off from the Star Wars cannon, a tiny window into the events surrounding one of the story's most important characters: Old Ben Kenobi, that hermit that will save Luke from Sand People in A New Hope and set him on the path of the Jedi before falling to Darth Vaders' light saber. And yet, John Jackson Miller surprised me and created what is perhaps one of the best constructed and most satisfying stories that I've read this year.
Among the many characters that George Lucas created, Kenobi stands supreme as the epitome of the Jedi standard. Where Yoda is the head of the order, Dark Sidious the ominous overlord of the Sith, and Anakin the example of the allure of the Dark Side, Kenobi develops as an easy going, steady, trust worthy, and consistent image of the mentor, brother, and stalwart of the Jedi. It is his relationship to Anakin that makes Anakin's fall so tragic because it sets the fall into deep highlight. Kenobi begins as Anakins master, but by Revenge of the Sith is more an older brother to Anakin and in that roll finds himself in the position of Anakin's executioner on Mustafar.
The Kenobi who arrives on Tatooine, then, bearing newborn Luke Skywalker, is a downtrodden and worn man. He has lost everyone he loves, including his brother, and no longer has the purpose that the Jedi order provided to his life. He is, in many ways, a lost man, and worse, he has no one to whom he can turn for counsel, advice, or consolation.
And yet, trouble doesn't seem to leave him alone. Before long, Kebobi is pulled into a local drama, and despite his efforts is repeatedly called upon to play role that he had served his entire life--a peace keeper and protector of the weak against evil.
In Obi-Wan Kenobi, Miller has an already well established character. And yet, he manages to deepen and enrich and grow the person, a feat that could just as easily have backfired as provided a jumping off point for his story. In the end, Kenobi is a tragedy and a triumph, not because of poor choices--as is the case with Anakin/Darth Vader--but because of his choices in spite of the madness around him. He remains a proactive actor, albeit reluctantly, and his tale is a moving one.
It only adds to it that Miller's plot is constantly on the go, moving from one moment of action to the next with barely a pause to breath. More than once I found myself sitting in the driveway, waiting for the scene to play out, gripped in the drama and action of a Jedi knight bringing order to a lawless desert world.
That's why Miller's story, ultimately to be just another spin-off from the Star Wars cinematic universe, managed to resonate with me. It moves, building on a character that is already well established but not permanently fixed. If you're going to read anything in the SWU, this is the novel to pick up. I guarantee you a moving story in a galaxy far, far away that will feel as much at home as if you were there. ...more
One of the podcasts I listen to in my spare time (or rather, while I'm mowing the lawn or doing laundry or in the car, because really: who has spare tOne of the podcasts I listen to in my spare time (or rather, while I'm mowing the lawn or doing laundry or in the car, because really: who has spare time?) is Writing Excuses, which includes Mary Robinette Kowal. She is author of the Glamourist Histories, which I hear is something like Pride and Prejudice meets Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell). I say hear, because I've never read one of them. There's really no accounting for taste, but I've just not been able to work up the interest in Regency England romance sufficient to crack Shades of Milk and Honey.
But I love the podcast, and I've always been impressed with Kowal's contributions to it. When I heard she had been nominated for the Hugo, and for science fiction to boot, I found it a good excuse to finally read something by her.
And I was impressed. The Lady Astronaut of Mars takes place on Mars in a future where an astronomical catastrophe has driven us to space before even the development of the information age. Space ships utilize punch cards for programming, and Mars has been colonized. Our protagonist is the first woman astronaut--the "Lady Astronaut of Mars" of the title--who has settled down to care for her slowly dying husband while she longs for the stars.
It's a tear-jerker of a story, light on the science and heavy on the fiction. Kowal hits all the right keys to build sympathy for characters that are real, even though they are A) astronauts and B) on Mars. If there's two things I'm not (and, chances are, neither are you), it's a Martian astronaut. But it doesn't matter, because Kowal connects us to her characters with the twin sympathies for dying and of longing for more. Instead of carrying her story with the details and excitement of space exploration, which is certainly there, she focuses on the relationship between the characters, listening to the desires and hopes in their head, and guiding their actions accordingly. It makes for a sad, but hopeful, story, and one worth the read.
Whether Kowal gets the Hugo for the story or not, I wish her the best. It's a worthy addition to the selections, and I hope she gets full consideration. ...more
If Andy Weir isn't up for the Hugo next year for The Martian, then scifi fandom doesn't deserve good fiction anymore, becauseThe Martianis pure awesomIf Andy Weir isn't up for the Hugo next year for The Martian, then scifi fandom doesn't deserve good fiction anymore, because The Martian is pure awesome sauce.
Left behind on Mars after a freak dust storm puts a hole in his suit and buries him, Mark Watney--astronaut, biologist, engineer--knows that the odds are against him returning back to Earth again. But he'll be damned if he's not going to do his best to make it happen. He doesn't have anyway to communicate with Earth, his food is running short--far too short to last until NASA sends a rescue, and, to boot, NASA thinks he's dead, anyway.
Though it's been described as Apollo 13 meets Castaway (and probably you could use Robinson Crusoe meets Apollo 13, too, since that's what Castaway is based on), I found it far more exciting. No,you won't find any lasers guns, alien encounters, or Martian princesses (you'll need to go look up Edgar Rice Burroughs for that), but the story is gripping from page one and it doesn't let up until the very last paragraph.
Not only is it exciting (and how he manages to make being stranded on a frigid desert planet millions of miles from Earth is impressive in itself), but Weir spares no effort to build Watney's character along the way, making him not only sympathetic, but interesting and entertaining, even when Watney is explaining the technical details of how he is saving himself from yet another crisis during his Martian sojourn. And there are a lot of crises.
Which leads me to another thing that Weir does so well: the science. First off, I'm not a scientist, and second, I'm pretty sure we haven't yet developed a lot of the technology that Weir brings to bear as part of his imaginary Martian expedition. But it sure felt like it. I would not be surprised if most of the technology Weir uses in his book is out there, maybe even part of NASA's arsenal, just not perfected, yet, or ready for application on a Mars mission.
The level of detail Weir provides, though, is enough to provide the how, but not so much as to provide a nap. There's no "handwaivium" or application of Clarke's law, here. Rather, it's technology just a few years ahead of our own, making an expedition (or two or three) to Mars credible (if we could all just forget the cost for a few minutes, as well as the public's aversion to all things extraterrestrial and not produced by Hollywood). What Weir adds is a fantastic job of explaining the tech without coming off like an engineer.
Have you had an engineer explain something? Trust me. It's not exciting.
Weir fools us all, though, with great lines, dripping with sarcasm as Watney McGuyver's his way across the surface of Mars and to survival. Some of my favorites?
“Actually, I was the very lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be “in command” if I were the only remaining person.”
What do you know? I’m in command.”
“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”
“As with most of life's problems, this one can be solved by a box of pure radiation.”
“The screen went black before I was out of the airlock. Turns out the “L” in “LCD” stands for “Liquid.” I guess it either froze or boiled off. Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”
“I started the day with some nothin’ tea. Nothin’ tea is easy to make. First, get some hot water, then add nothin’.”
“It’s true, you know. In space, no one can hear you scream like a little girl.”
“I guess you could call it a "failure", but I prefer the term "learning experience".”
With great character development, page flipping writing, and an edge-of-your-seat plot, Weir's The Martian might be the best book I've read so far this year, and I hope it'll be on the short list for the Hugo in 2015. Scifi needs more like it and giving Weir scifi's top award would be a great step in that direction.
Parental Warning: there be cussing here. In fact, you'll find it on the first page. In the first sentence....more
The thing about I like about short stories is that you don't have to commit much to get a certain amount of satisfaction.
Any novel worth reading willThe thing about I like about short stories is that you don't have to commit much to get a certain amount of satisfaction.
Any novel worth reading will spend a certain portion of time introducing conflict, stringing together a plot, creating characters and relationships, and, if were in science fiction or fantasy, building a world. After all, in these genres, the world is as much a character as the characters all. It's what makes science fiction different from science fact.
With a short story, you've got anywhere from 3,500 words to up to maybe 30,000 to build that world, create conflict and tension, introduce empathetic characters, spin a plot, and tie it all up. Done well, it can be as satisfying as a full novel, albeit with less depth and, of course, far less commitment.
With Writers of the Future Volume 30, edited by Dave Wolverton, you can count on a full slate of fulfilling stories, each crafted with a deft touch to provide a full and satisfying meal of a story. Comparing it with even last year's crop (which I also reviewed), it's a truly excellent group of writers that the contest has discovered.
A caveat, though: don't open the collection of twenty short stories and essays with your expectations set. Book marketing departments may craft covers to help reader predictions, but nothing can prepare you for each story. And, in a sense, that's refreshing. Too many of us go to the writers and genres that we like, whether it's selections from military scifi like David Weber's Honorverse, epic fantasy like Patrick Rothfuss's or Brandon Sanderson's thousand page tomes, or the urban fantasy of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. As readers, we tend to find what we like, devour it, and then cast about for more by the same author or in the same world or universe. Even better if it's the same characters. We get to escape a little longer with the characters we know.
Short stories, especially in a collection such as L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future offers no such comfort or safe harbor. You will be constantly facing new situations, new worlds, new characters, and--here's the clincher--new writers.
And you should embrace them all. They're the future of science fiction and fantasy.
In "Animal" by Terry Madden, you'll find a dystopian future where humanity has pushed all wildlife into human controlled preserves underground, where a child is so valuable that a would be mother will risk everything to have one.
Megan O'Keefe's "Another Range of Mountains" and Paul Eckheart's "Shifter" both introduce systems of magic as clever as anything out of Sanderson's Cosmere, and including twists just as fulfilling and heart wrenching.
"Rainbows for Other Days" by C. Stuart Hardwick asks what it means to be human, examining how losing our natural world, and becoming transhuman, might wreck damages on our humanity that we would rather die than give up.
One author from whom I expect a lot more from, because of how well the story seemed to shadow so much more to come, is Leena Likitalo. The Finnish author's "Giants at the End of the World" allegedly has a whole novel beyond the short story, somewhere, and I would love to see it in print. If anyone from Tor, Baen, or Orbit is reading this, please pick it up.
"Long Jump" is a dark trip down the rabbit hole of virtual reality, space travel, and the end of the world, and Oleg Kazantsev absolutely nails it, giving me chills that made me want to go outside, roll on the grass, and soak up the smells of the real world.
One of my favorites was "The Shaadi Exile" for author Amanda Forrest's protagonist, Daliya, the emissary of a wife to her future husband in a universe where marriages between people light years apart are arranged decades before either spouse meets.
There are more, including a clever tale by the legendary Orson Scott Card, called "Carousel," another, "Beyond All Weapons," by L.Ron Hubbard. Each is worth the experience, a trip to another universe and a glimpse at some writers who may just be the future of science fiction and fantasy. ...more