Friday, July 30, 2010

Brent Weeks meme

Bah, I got sucked into another meme. This time, it's Liviu's fault. I saw his post that had his meme result up and went over to Weeks' site to give it a go.

I'm a yellow magic drafter!

Take the quiz at Brent

Swann Scalzi

Let's say you've written a fairly well received work of speculative fiction. A stand-alone work of speculative fiction. What do you do if the publisher wants a follow-up work written? It's in interesting question, but largely because it's not a theoretical one. This actually happened to author S.A. Swann.

Swann explains how he handled the conundrum in a recent interview. An interview by fellow author, Jon Scalzi, no less. Head on over and enjoy yourself.

Review: Evil for Evil

Evil for Evil, by K.J. Parker
Paperback: 684 pages
Publisher: Orbit, ©2006
ISBN 10: 0-316-00339-5
ISBN 13: 978-0-316-00339-5
Copy: Out of pocket

From the back cover: CIVITAS VADANIS is in trouble. The Mezentines have declared war, and the Mezentines are very focused on their goals when it comes to killing.

DUKE VALENS, of Civitas Vadanis, has a dilemma. He knows that his city cannot withstand the invading army; yet its walls are his sole defense against the Mezentines. Perhaps the only way to save his people is to flee, but that will not be easy either.

ZIANI VAATZES, an engineer exiled by the Mezentines for his abominable creations, has already proven that he can defend a city. But Ziani Vaatzes has his own concerns, and the fate of Civitas Vadanis may not be one of them.

The war upon Civitas Eremiae, by Mezentia, is all but complete. The ultimate goal of which, however, has not been achieved. Several of the individuals marked for death, by Mezentia, have survived. As a result, Mezentia's eye turns to Civitas Vadanis and it's remarkable amount of native wealth, in the form of silver mines. It won't be long before Mezentia manufactures a pretext upon which to make Civitas Vadanis the next target of the war.

In fact, who can hope to be safe from Mezentia. Indeed, the only thing they seem to fear are the vast, innumerable hoard of Cure Hardy beyond the desert. The Aram Chantat tribe alone numbers over one million. The only solace for Mezentia is that there is no easy path across the desert. If there were, or one was discovered, Mezentia would be facing what would amount to certain annhiliation, a fact Ziani Vaatzes is poignantly aware of and hopes to exploit.

And then, a most unique political alliance is proposed. Among all these machinations, Ziani Vaatzes continues to poke, file, trim, shave, thread, calibrate and nudge events into an alignment most suited to his own ends. Indeed, Parker's core message is that, for love, a human being will do anything. It is the direct by-product of this dynamic that gives humanity it's notions of "good" and "evil." While I may not agree, you can certainly see that Parker has an extremely coherent and salient point.

The characters are much the same: the Eremian Duke Orsea and his wife, the Duchess Veratriz; the Eremian Duke's former chief of staff, Miel Ducas; the Vadanai Duke Valens; the exiled Mezentian engineer, Ziani Vaatzes; and the Mezentian bureaucrat Lucao Psellus, who is slowly unwinding, and understanding, several intricately laid webs. The only new character installment of note is the unusual and bizarre, Gace Daurenja. What Vaatzes does for the story, Daurenja does to Vaatzes. Daurenja is able to twist and mold Vaatzes to fit his own agenda. As each man vies to incorporate the other into their plan, which one will come to a complete understanding, thus mastering, the other first? It would seem the outcome is overwhelmingly dependent upon the answer.

The more I read this trilogy, the more difficulty I have in pinning down a definitive description of Parker's style. It reads like a hybridization of the third-person voice and narrative, interwoven with first-person thoughts cavalierly tossed onto the page. I really, really like it - with one minor exception.

With perhaps 150 pages to go in the book, I became mildly aware of an acute irritation I was developing toward some of the characters. In stopping to analyze precisely why and what, I realized it wasn't the characters, but a particular theme beginning to be espoused by multiple characters. It was the theme that concepts such as duty and love are the true motile power for other concepts - like good, evil, creativity and destruction. Apparently, love makes the world go round. Some of the characters began to bemoan their individual circumstances because love, duty, or both, had 'done them wrong.' The Self-Pitysburg Address was tolerable once, but after reading it from Orsea, Ducas, Veratriz and Valens, it went from being old to an irritant rather quickly.

All in all, however, this is the strongest 'middle book' to a trilogy that I have yet read. K.J. Parker has, with this book, lived up to the standards set for me in the previous one, and I now look forward to getting my hands on all-things-K.J. Parker that I can find.

Highly Recommended to Must Read

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ian Cameron Esslemont's Stonewielder: Prologue

The prologue to Ian C. Esslemont's Stonewielder: A Novel of the Malazan Empire has just been posted online at SFFWorld, with permission from Transworld. Follow this link to view for yourself.

The current plan, by Bantam Press, is to publish in hardcover on November 25, 2010. This excerpt is of uncorrected pages, but should be all the taste one requires to begin the anxious wait for Esslemont's next contribution to the MalazVerse.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Contract News

Dave Brendon, a short while ago, reported that Stephen Deas has recently signed a 4-book deal with Gollancz.

Follow the link on over to Dave's and read up on the deal, which will bridge his current series -- which began with The Adamantine Palace -- with his up-coming YA series, through a third intermediary series. Phew, series and series and series. Congratulations to Stephen and his family.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Review: The Left Hand of God

The Left Hand of God, by Paul Hoffman
Hardcover: 372 pages
Publisher: Penguin USA (Dutton); ©2010
ISBN 10: 0-525-95131-5
ISBN 13: 978-0-525-95131-5
Copy: Penguin Group publicists

From inside the dust cover: In the Redeemer Sanctuary, the stronghold of a secretive sect of warrior monks, torture and death await the unsuccessful or disobedient. Raised by the Redeemers from early childhood like hundreds of other young captives, Thomas Cale has known only deprivation, punishment, and grueling training. He doesn't know that another world exists outside the fortress walls or even that secrets he can't imagine lurk behind the Sanctuary's many forbidden doorways. He doesn't know that his master Lord Bosco and the Sanctuary's Redeemers have been preparing for a holy war for centuries -- a holy war that is now imminent. And Cale doesn't know that he's been noticed and quietly cultivated.

And then, Cale decides to open a door.

It's a door that leads to one of the Redeemers' darkest secrets and a choice that is really no choice at all: certain death or daring escape. Adrift in the wider world for the first time in his young life, Cale soon finds himself in Memphis, the capital of culture -- and the den of Sin. It's there that Cale discovers his prodigious gift: violence. And he discovers that, after years of abuse at the hands of the Redeemers, his embittered heart is still capable of loving -- and breaking.

But the Redeemers won't accept the defection of their special subject without a fight. As the clash of civilizations that has been looming for thousands of years draws near, a world where the faithful are as brutal as the sinful looks to young Cale to decide its fate.

When I received this book in the mail, I wasn't sure what to think. There had been a fair amount of hype concerning the book, and some reviews that seemed to indicate that the amount of hype received was, perhaps, too generous. I'm glad I am fairly removed from that time -- the time of the original release -- because I can now look on the book fairly.

First, Hoffman opens the book with a great line -

"Listen. The Sanctuary of the Redeemers on Shotover Scarp is named after a damned lie, for there is no redemption that goes on there and less sanctuary."

Yeah, it has some grim aspects to it. While there are a couple of POVs in the book, the lion's share of the reading follows Cale. The reader trails along with Cale, and friends, from the fretful and angst-ridden drudgery in the Sanctuary, to the daring escape across the Scablands and their rise through the society of Memphis, the most relevant city of the region. It is a slow process of revelation by which we discover what the true nature of the boys' lives, in the Sanctuary, was like and to what purposes they existed.

In Memphis, the reader bears witness to Thomas Cale's discovery of love. Like all young boys and girls, Cale also discovers love's twin - the pain of a broken heart. The reader follows these things through a standard third-person, limited, approach with some sprinkling of first-person insights, offered through the ponderings of Cale.

Indeed, the most developed character we see is Cale. The rest of the cast seem richly developed, perhaps because they conform to conventional expectations of them. People have read, and viewed, such characters before and, thus, familiarity brings the reader closer to an easy understanding of the characters than might have been otherwise.

A pet peeve of mine is the search for something "new" or "innovative" in a piece of fiction that, if not properly satisfied, must render a judgement of bad, poor or "m'eh" to a work. Seriously, "there is nothing new under the sun." Such innovation is an extreme rarity, so I prefer to simply work with what we have. All this having been said, Hoffman takes great handfuls of the familiar, and makes it work rather well.

Is the book worthy of all it's early hype? I have no idea. It is, however, worth reading.


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Review: Devices and Desires

Devices and Desires, by K.J. Parker
Format: P.O.U.S's (Paperbacks of unusual size)
Publisher: Orbit, ©2005
ISBN-10: 0-316-00338-7
ISBN-13: 978-0-316-00338-7
Copy: out of pocket

From the back cover: When an engineer is sentenced to death for a petty transgression of guild law, he flees the city, leaving behind his wife and daughter. Forced into exile, he seeks a terrible vengeance -- one that will leave a trail of death and destruction in its wake. But he will not be able to achieve this by himself. He must draw up his plans using the blood of others...

This is the extraordinary tale of a man who engineers a war to be reunited with his family.

I have seen and read a great deal on K.J. Parker throughout the blogosphere. As a result, I became rather circumspect, due to the nature of the differing reactions. Regular readers/bloggers of sf&f liked Parker, while casual readers/forum posters seemed only mildly moved, at best. I jumped to the conclusion that it was "an elite thing," thus I wouldn't be interested. I was most definitely wrong.

This glorious find, for me, occurred one evening as I took my birthday gift card (Books-a-Million) to the closest store in town. I was there, primarily, looking for Ranger's Apprentice books I could hold onto for my son one day (I'm certainly hoping he'll become a reader). I found one such book and then, with plenty of gift card value remaining, began searching the sf&f section. I found the entire Engineer's trilogy sitting there -- staring at me. It was simply time for me to give Parker a try.

This story follows the actions of an engineer, and fugitive from justice, of an industrial, regional power as he lays a proactive strategy to bring about a war that will return him to his wife and daughter. The engineer, Ziani Vaatzes, uses his keen mechanical insight, and native intelligence, to pre-arrange a course of events that leaves the Guilds, as well as rivaling, next-door aristocracies reacting in a most flat-footed manner. The realization that there has been a set-up, or 'long game' if you will, usually comes after ruination, while a very few seem to know precisely what is taking place -- waiting for their proper moment to assert themselves, and achieve their own ends.

There are no heroes or villains in such a tale. The intrigue is non-stop and most of the characters involved are surprisingly unaware of the stakes involved. In the end, it felt like a combination of the character driven dramas of Tad Williams and the tantalizing and pivotal plot points dangled just beyond the reader's reach, common in works by R. Scott Bakker. There are no epic scale battles, no quest objects, no magic system, no mythical creatures and no dark overlord. There is a lot of engineering though. Parker takes the reader on an adventure that could be described as historical science fiction. Science fiction, traditionally, takes its reader into a futuristic setting, imagining what technology will be able to do one day. Parker takes science fiction, and the reader, retro. The reader follows learning how to improvise mills, lathes and cams and the author makes it all more interesting than I'm sure the topic truly is.

Parker writes in a third-person quasi-limited approach. That is to say that the author drops occasional subtle hints which leave the reader speculating about impending, foreshadowed and massive plot shifts upcoming in the tale. If all such Parker works are like this, I will have found another favorite author to watch.

There is simply no other way to say it, K.J. Parker, in Devices and Desires, hauls the reader through the pages.

Highly Recommended to Must Read

Friday, July 16, 2010

Free Reading: The Choir Boats

The Choir Boats is a debut, fantasy novel by Daniel Rabuzzi and is available, for free, during the month of July. It is DRM free, thus perusable on any device compatible with PDFs.

The Choir Boats explores issues of race, gender, sin, and salvation, and includes a mysterious letter, knuckledogs, carkodrillos, smilax root, goat stew, and one very fierce golden cat.

One early review described it as, "Gulliver's Travels crossed with The Golden Compass and a dollop of Pride and Prejudice." Another stated that The Choir Boats is, "a muscular, Napoleonic-era fantasy that, like Philip Pullman's Dark Materials series, will appeal to both adult and young adult readers."

The Choir Boats is featured as Wowio's July Book of the Month. It has also been selected by January Magazine as a Top Ten YA Novel for 2009.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Rhone, by John Karr

I have a joint review up, with Tyson, over at Speculative Book Review, on Rhone. If you're a fan of the "old style" sword and sorcery (think Howard), then this would be worth reading for the induced sense of nostalgia alone.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Review: The Last Princess and the Cup of Immortality

The Last Princess and the Cup of Immortality, by D.R. Whitney
Format: Trade paperback; 368 pages
Publisher: Avilon Press
ISBN: 978-0-9822508-0-8
Copy: provided by author

From the back cover: When Vivienne Le Faye, a sixteen-year old, with intuitive powers inherits a priceless family amulet, she becomes an instant target.

Unaware of her noble heritage, she only knows that a strange family CURSE haunts her. And when DANGER suddenly threatens her, a mysterious boy with blazing golden eyes appears out-of-nowhere to protect her.

Convinced he's real and positive she has fallen in love with him, Vivienne bravely follows her 'gift of sight' to England where her Amulet allows her passage through a Portal of Mists. There, in a mystical world of witchery and magic where many perils await her, she discovers he is an Immortal and she is the last Princess of the Misty Isle, destined to become the next Lady of the Lake.

Called to fulfill her birthright and armed with her new gifts, of spell craft and war craft, together they must confront a terrifying enemy, so that she can save their magical world and allow the Misty Isle to rise again.

For me, a rare thing occurred with reading this first book of The Goddess Prophecies - I was unable to finish the book, something which hasn't happened for thirteen years (I distinctly remember the last such occasion). I made it to page 242 of 368. While my reading speed is definitely better than average, those 242 pages took me forever. After reading ten pages, I had to stop and move on to doing something else. Ultimately, it had taken so much time, that I could no longer proceed.

Through those 242 pages, I encountered a tale based upon a unique mix of Arthurian legend, Celtic mythology and mysticism, Gaia- or earth-based magic and a theme of female empowerment. All in all, not a bad mix to go with. Unfortunately, for me, it read like a work written by Dan Brown to an audience of twelve-year olds.

As my mind fluttered away from what I was reading, memories of the distant past drew me along. Reminiscences of early reading came up, snippets of the Hardy Boys novels my father used to buy for me, or the copies of The Three Investigators that I had signed out from the elementary school library as a child. Undoubtedly, had I read this book at that long ago time, I would have enjoyed it greatly. Currently, I no longer possess the requisite capabilities in the realm of suspension of disbelief - at least on the scale necessary to overlook rather implausible story elements.

For example, while our protagonist is making her way from Philadelphia to New York, to catch a plane to England, she realizes she is in need of some muscle to help cover her. She calls her former master at the New York chapter house of the "Martial Arts Academy" to acquire some help. Incidentally, our sixteen-year old protagonist is an Olympic calibre black belt in her own right. This sixteen-year old has also been emancipated by her grandmother and is living on her own, at school, in New York City. This sixteen-year old also happens to be far more certain and secure than the majority of all the adults I've ever encountered.

I just couldn't finish. Well, I still think that, as a twelve-year old, I would've had great fun with it - especially the cover art.


Saturday, July 10, 2010

Review - Return of the Crimson Guard

Return of the Crimson Guard, by Ian C. Esslemont
Format: Hardcover; 702 pages
Publisher:Tor, ©2008
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2370-5
Copy: Out of pocket

From inside the dust cover: The return of the mercenary company the Crimson Guard could not have come at a worse time for a Malazan Empire exhausted by warfare and weakened by betrayals and rivalries. Indeed, there are those who wonder whether the Empress Laseen might not be losing her grip on power as she faces increasing unrest as conquered kingdoms and principalities sense freedom once more.

Into the seething cauldron of Quon Tali - the Empire's heartland - marches the Guard. With their return comes the memory of the Empire - and yet all is not well with the Guard itself. Elements within its elite, the Avowed, have set their sights on far greater power. There are ancient entities who also seek to further their own arcane ends. And what of the swordsman called Traveller who, with his companion Ereko, has gone in search of a confrontation from which none have ever returned?

As the Guard prepares to wage war, Laseen's own generals and mages, the "Old Hands," grow impatient with what they see as her mismanagement of the Empire. But could Laseen have outwitted them all? Could she be using the uprisings to draw out and finally eliminate these last irksome survivors from the days of her illustrious predecessor, Kellanved?

My first trip down Esslemont Lane, in the Malazan world, was good enough. I know, it sounds like the kiss of death. Seriously, I liked Night of Knives well enough, but not nearly as much as previous Malazan offerings. Return of the Crimson Guard, however, is quite fine indeed.

The style employed, whether it's Esslemont or Erikson, is something of a third-person limited-omnisicient. C'mon, I know it's rather oxymoronic, but bear with me here. The story regularly offers subtle hints and characters nod their heads knowingly, even when the reader is struggling to uncover the point/mystery involved. I'm sure that there are Malaz-oid fanboys (complete with self-drawn maps, timelines, etc.) out there who can, speculatively, tie together all of the hints nicely. I, on the other hand, sit in blissful suspense through each new offering in the Malazan world because I expect the answers will fall into my lap, in the end.

This story follows an implosion, seemingly, of the empire. The empress is forced to make alliances and betrayals, which seem to be pivotal to survival when faced with the empire's arch-nemesis, the Crimson Guard. The Crimson Guard aren't having an easy time of it either, as there appears to be no dearth of covert manipulations employed to advance the agendas of internal factions in their corner as well.

Into this possible implosion come several parties. There are a group of exiled and imprisoned mages from the Seven Cities otataral mines - that end up en route to Quon Tali. There is the enigmatic Traveller, with his companion Ereko - bound in a similar direction, complete with tag-alongs from a parallel plot line. When combined with the Crimson Guard, en route to Quon Tali, the locals who are uprising in hopes of independence once more and, let's not forget, the empire itself, you get quite the stew.

This is my segue into the reason I love all things Malazan, so much. Scope. As in an extraordinarly ambitious and over-the-top scope. When you consider the variety of races, locations, mortals, deities, demi-deities, warrens, etc., it's almost numbing - oh, but I just love it (right down to the cover art - seriously, just look at that). Return of the Crimson Guard, among a couple of other works written within the Malazan world, perfectly epitomizes this.

I will readily admit it - I'm a fan of big, fat fantasy series (BFF). Generally speaking, I like them all. However, the Malazan world is, and has been for some time now, the best (ok, my favorite). Esslemont's Return of the Crimson Guard only further cements my opinion on the matter.

Highly Recommended

Monday, July 5, 2010

Dante's Journey & J.C. Marino

Dante's Journey, by J.C. Marino
Trade Paperback: 366 pages
Publisher: Star Publish, ©2010
ISBN: 978-1-935188-09-4
Copy: provided by author

I finished Marino's book some time ago, but since it was the prototype test subject for the 'Round Table' feature at Speculative Book Review, I've waited until now to put anything down here about it. To see how I weighed in on the story, follow the prototype test subject link.

I liked the story well enough, but from what I have run into in our first 'Round Table' exercise at SBR, I would say that most will like it more than I did. Also, the author is a particularly decent fellow and a pleasure to interact with. In fact, there was a subsequent interview with Marino at SBR, thanks to Tyson.

While I would rate Dante's Journey as "Recommended", I would also call Marino an author to keep an eye on with future books.

An aside: It's been some time since I've been able to swing through the internet, and this stop is the exception rather than the rule. Work life has made of itself a larger priority that it, perhaps, ought to be. I hope to rectify the matter sooner, rather than later.

In the meantime, my rate of reading has been suffering as well. Other than Marino's work, I have also read Return of the Crimson Guard, by Ian C. Esslemont; Rhone by John Karr; Field of Fire, by Jon Connington; The Left Hand of God, by Paul Hoffman; 242 of 368 pages of The Last Princess and the Cup of Immortality, by D.R. Whitney (D.N.F. - a once every dozen years rarity for me) and Devices and Desires, by K.J. Parker. I will have something to post for some of these books here, but a little something to post for all of them over at SBR.

I was struck soundly enough by Parker's Devices and Desires to immediately pick up the second book of the Engineer's trilogy, Evil for Evil.