Friday, 30 November 2012

Books Received, November 2012

I got my holiday work schedule yesterday and it's a doozy.  I work retail so I know Christmas is going to be busy but I think this is the most I've worked in succession since I moved away from Toronto and got an hour+ commute each way.  Needless to say I may not be posting as much for the next few weeks and I definitely won't be commenting that promptly.

Next week is still pretty light, so I'll try to set up posts in advance for the weeks I'll be busier.  I'm not sure how reviews will go as the commute gives me time to read, but I've been pretty slow with finishing books the past few weeks and I don't really expect that to change as I'm going to be pretty tired.

Anyway, here are the books I got in November and hope to read soon.

Dualed - Elsie Chapman.  This book reminds me of Marie Brennan's Doppelanger and Warrior & Witch duology (republished as Warrior and Witch), which I really enjoyed.  I'm interested in seeing how the author deals with the subject matter here.

Two of you exist.
Only one will survive.

The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate-a twin raised by another family-and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage-life.

Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West's confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she's no longer certain that she's the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.

Etiquette & Espionage - Gail Carriger.  This one sounds like The Agency by Y. S. Lee, which I haven't had time to read but has an intriguing premise.  A finishing school novel told with Carriger's humour... gotta read this and soon.

It's one thing to learn to curtsy properly. It's quite another to learn to curtsy and throw a knife at the same time. Welcome to Finishing School.

Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners--and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality.

But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine's, young ladies learn to finish...everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but the also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage--in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year's education.

Set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate, this YA series debut is filled with all the saucy adventure and droll humor Gail's legions of fans have come to adore.

Every Day - David Levithan.  I heard about this book at the Random House kids preview, and it sounds incredible.

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.

There's never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.
It's all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin's girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with-day in, day out, day after day.

The Kassa Gambit - M. C. Planck.  This is an alien first encounter novel that caught my eye.  It's out in early January.

Centuries after the ecological collapse of Earth, humanity has spread among the stars. Under the governance of the League, our endless need for resources has driven us to colonize hundreds of planets, all of them devoid of other sentient life. Humanity is apparently alone in the universe. 

Then comes the sudden, brutal decimation of Kassa, a small farming planet, by a mysterious attacker. The few survivors send out a desperate plea for aid, which is answered by two unlikely rescuers. Prudence Falling is the young captain of a tramp freighter. She and her ragtag crew have been on the run and living job to job for years, eking out a living by making cargo runs that aren't always entirely legal. Lt. Kyle Daspar is a police officer from the wealthy planet of Altair Prime, working undercover as a double agent against the League. He's been undercover so long he can't be trusted by anyone--even himself.
While flying rescue missions to extract survivors from the surface of devastated Kassa, they discover what could be the most important artifact in the history of man: an alien spaceship, crashed and abandoned during the attack. 
But something tells them there is more to the story. Together, they discover the cruel truth about the destruction of Kassa, and that an imminent alien invasion is the least of humanity's concerns

Fast Archery Technique Rediscovered

People have been posting this video to facebook and it is amazing.  Danish painter, writer and archer, Lars Anderson has been breaking world records by using ancient archery techniques that have been lost for generations.  On his youtube site he comments:

Shooting with bow and crossbow. In the beginning I built repeater crossbows, but discovering man is faster than machines, so today I shoot only with bow.
I try to get back to a orginal archery before today's archery only focused on hitting a target. Historically, archery was to shoot series of arrows, fast, and hit targets in the Movement and even be in motion simultaneously, and also hit a target that shoot back.
His english isn't the best grammatically, but that doesn't detract from the awesomeness of his abilities.  I'd love to see more information about this technique, especially how he holds all the arrows in his hand and reloads without fumbling (though I imagine there's a TON of practice involved with that).

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Real Life Transformer

Kenji Ishida has posted a video on youtube of an actual remote control car that transforms into a robot made by Brave Robotics.  Pretty awesome.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

New Author Spotlight: Sharon Lynn Fisher

New Author Spotlight is a series designed to introduce authors with up to 3 books in the different SF/F subgenres.

Today's spotlight shines on Sharon Lynn Fisher!
Sharon's debut novel is:
  • Ghost Planet, Published by Tor
Here's the cover copy:

Psychologist Elizabeth Cole prepared for the worst when she accepted a job on a newly discovered world—a world where every colonist is tethered to an alien who manifests in the form of a dead loved one. But she never expected she'd struggle with the requirement to shun these "ghosts." She never expected to be so attracted to the charming Irishman assigned as her supervisor. And she certainly never expected to discover she died in a transport crash en route to the planet. 
As a ghost, Elizabeth is symbiotically linked to her supervisor, Murphy—creator of the Ghost Protocol, which forbids him to acknowledge or interact with her. Confused and alone—oppressed by her ghost status and tormented by forbidden love—Elizabeth works to unlock the secrets of her own existence. 
But her quest for answers lands her in a tug-of-war between powerful interests, and she soon finds herself a pawn in the struggle for control of the planet…a struggle that could separate her forever from the man that she loves.  
Check out her book if you like alien first encounter stories with romance, like:

  • Touched by an Alien by Gini Koch (DAW)
  • Triptych by J.M. Frey (Dragon Moon Press)
  • Solaris by Stanislaw Lem (Mariner Books)

Book Review: The Scarlet Plague by Jack London

Pros: doesn't use dialect/guttural speech you're told the characters are actually speaking, good post-apocalyptic story, lots of description, good attempt at extrapolating future of telephone and air travel, cites 2012!

Cons: second half of the story especially is racist and has class overtones

Professor James Howard Smith tells his 3 grandsons about the plague that destroyed civilization in 2013.

Note: I read this on vacation just a few days before the US presidential election.  It was with a sense of shock that I came to this passage early in the book.  The professor is walking with one of his grandsons and mentions money, which the boy doesn't understand.  He remembers that he has a coin and shows his grandfather.  The old man looks closer to see the date the coin was minted, prompting the following speech:

"2012," he shrilled and then fell to cackling grotesquely.  "That was the year Morgan the Fifth was appointed President of the United States by the Board of Magnates.  It must have been one of the last coins minted, for the Scarlet Death came in 2013..."

According to London then, the world won't end in December 2012, we've got one year more before a plague decimates the world population.

The characters in the book, we are told, speak a guttural, clipped language.  Only the grandfather uses any refined speech, and that only when he's deep into reminiscence of the past.  Thankfully London doesn't write the book in dialect.  He gives a bit of it at the beginning for colour, but not enough to annoy the reader, and the longer the book goes on the less you see of it.  

The story is interesting, plausible given current populations and the speed with which this particular plague kills.  The decline of language and banding together of the remaining people into clans is very believable.

While London tries to extrapolate what the world of 2012 will look like, he's coming from a time (1915) when airplanes are in their infancy, the Hindenburg disaster hasn't happened and telephone communication is just beginning.  In other words, he's completely wrong, but you have to give him credit for trying.  I imagine steampunk affictionados would have enjoyed his mix of planes and airships.

London's prose is highly descriptive, giving the reader a real sense of place and time.  Unfortunately part of that time includes the racism of his own day.  In the first half of the novel it's easier to ignore, as the character in question isn't described physically, only his negative character traits are brought up.  But towards the end of the tale it becomes clear that this horrible person has dark skin and is 'lower class' than the white woman he enslaves.  For modern readers the language he uses really kills an otherwise great post-apocalyptic story.  I found a few parts towards the end painful to read due to this issue.

It is well written, and, given the referencing, 2012 seems the right time to read it.  But be aware of the content before you crack this open, and if you don't like other books of its period for their racist references, give this book a pass.

The book is in the public domain and can be downloaded for free from the Gutenberg site. If you like paper, HiLoBooks has reprinted The Scarlet Plague as part of their Radium Age SF series.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Publisher Spotlight: HiLoBooks

I've slowly become aware of this publisher due to their republication of Radium Age Science Fiction, SF stories that were published from 1904-1933.  These are stories that predate the Golden Age of science fiction, and no doubt influenced it.

Some of the books HiLoBooks has already brought back into print are:

When the World Shook and The People of the Ruins have been abridged, but the other novels are complete. Note, that though these have been out of print for years, most of these are available as free ebooks through and other sites.  But kudos to HiLoBooks for bringing these classics back into print and highlighting an often forgotten period of science fiction.  Look for my review of The Scarlet Plague tomorrow.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Author Interview: Daniel O'Malley

Novel: The Rook


> What is The Rook about?

"The body you are wearing used to be mine." So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Checquy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Checquy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

> Why did you choose to put the focus of The Rook on the bureaucracy?

For a couple of reasons, really. Firstly, I knew that The Rook was going to deal with that old cliché, the secret Government agency that deals with the supernatural. We’ve all seen it a million times, but it always bugged me that they were all so… tidy. They just swoop in and save the day, without ever having to do any paperwork. They never seem to have to worry about budgetary restrictions, or occupational health and safety. I decided this was an omission that needed to be rectified. And secondly, I always like it when the ridiculous and the bizarre are treated as the most routine and blasé of occurrences.

> You've got a degree in medieval history.  Do you see any historical fantasy novels in your future?

I definitely want to explore the history of the Checquy in more detail, and that’s an organization that stretches back well into history. And I’m working on a (non-fantasy) piece set in the Ottoman Empire right now, but it’s on the back burner while I work on the sequel to The Rook.

> What made you want to be a writer?

My mom is a writer, although she writes non-fiction, so I grew up thinking that writing for money was something that people can do. I was also fairly firm that I would not be a writer (this was my form of rebelling.) But, I kept having ideas, and I was bored, and I was having one of those days when nothing seems appealing on TV, and I’d read all the books on my shelf a dozen times, and I needed something to do. So I started writing. And I haven’t stopped.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

I don’t think so, no. I tend to put them in fairly dangerous situations, and while it mostly works out for the best (mostly), there are still several casualties along the way. And besides, in my day job, I’m already a public servant, so I already know the stress of the job, without adding the possibility of getting my head clawed off by a gigantic weasel.

> What were your literary influences for The Rook?

Many, many books. But the ones I’ve read and re-read most frequently are Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series (for their brilliant humour), George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman books (for a protagonist that can suffer the most undignified and dangerous of situations), and anything by China Mieville (for the sheer amount of detail and ideas that he crams into every book.)

> What's the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

I wrote a brilliant children’s novel, called Providence, during the last year of undergraduate university, and the first year of graduate school. So, two years. It dealt with sorcery in the Rhode Island city of Providence, and an underground army of mutants. It was genius, possibly one of the most important works of modern literature, and so naturally, it was not published. I am not at all bitter over this.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

I think perhaps the scene where (pre-amnesia) Myfanwy gathers with her colleagues for a Christmas party, and knows that one of them will betray her. The knowledge that one of your closest comrades will deliberately destroy you seems like it would be an awful burden, and I found it hard to write that sort of emotion without pitching it over into melodrama.

> When and where do you write?

Generally, I’m writing on the couch, with a muted TV on nearby. That way, if I get stuck, or if a good fight scene comes on, I can take a little break. Most of my writing happens in the evenings or on the weekends, since I also have a fulltime job.

> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

Best thing: when you surprise yourself, when the story takes an unexpected turn, or an idea occurs to you that changes everything.

Worst thing: when you stare at something you’ve written, and honestly have no idea if it’s good or not.

> What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

Before they will buy your book, publishers want to talk to you. On the phone. I was really surprised, I thought “you’re looking to acquire the book, not me,” but there were several phone calls made, during which I was extremely worried that I would say something demented and alienate them. To make matters worse, they were all in radically different time zones from me, so I ended up trying to sound intelligent and witty whilst sitting in my PJs in the dark at 3 in the morning.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Write the sort of thing you like to read, not what you think will be popular. And remember, you have to be very lucky to get published. Keep writing, but always have something that can support you, and make you happy while you wait for your big break.

Also, once you’ve finished your book (and you must finish your book before you start trying to sell it), look for an agent. Having an agent makes all the difference, partially because having someone believe in you is glorious, and partially because many big publishers will be wary of someone who lacks representation.

> Any tips against writers block?

I find it useful to have several projects on the go. If you’re stuck with one, then switch to something completely different. Also, I find that I get my best ideas when I’m walking the dog last thing at night. Therefore, anyone struck down by writer’s block should come walk my dog.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

I’m fairly good at manufacturing copious amounts of guilt for myself. If a day goes by, and I haven’t gotten my minimum of two pages down (five on a weekend day), then the last few minutes before I fall asleep are filled with me staring at the ceiling, judging myself.

> How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

Oh, Man. An abundance. I don’t have the exact number, but they’re all festering away somewhere in the depths of the O’Malley archives

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Book Review: Kop by Warren Hammond

Pros: gritty, complex characters, intricate mystery

Cons: gritty

Juno Mozambe is a member of the Koba Office of Police, and like the chief, Paul, his former partner, and numerous other members of KOP, he's dirty.  When Paul asks him to take a homicide case his trembling right hand and concerned wife remind him that his enforcer days are over.  But this is an important case and Juno can't say no to Paul, even when Paul sticks him with a new partner, fresh from the academy Maggie Orzo.  Something's going on that's even dirtier than the partnership between the chief of police and Koba's kingpin of crime, Ben Bandur, and Juno's got to prove it.

This is a noir SF set on a planet 15 light years from Earth.  The planet's main export dried up years ago and now its economy is dead.  The worldbuilding is quite good, with various slum neighbourhoods and the remnants of the plantation rich in crime free neighbourhoods.  Most outside money comes from tourism, but even that's turned bad for the locals.  It's the perfect setting for a crime novel, and the mix of races gives it flavour.

The grittiness is both a pro and a con for this book as it is the scene, but can become overbearing at times.  The world is thoroughly depressing and it's unclear if the protagonist is doing the right thing.

Juno's dirty but he's also, somehow, a decent guy.  His enforcer history is mentioned and towards the end of the book he denegrates back into the lifestyle somewhat, and yet, he's very sympathetic and likeable.

As is Maggie.  I was impressed that the two of them end up working together so well and trusting each other despite his being dirty and her being a straight arrow.  It's entirely realistic when she discovers that his way gets results that hers wouldn't, and so she starts letting things slide while still being optimistic about cleaning up the force in the future.  

The case begins as fairly straight forward, but takes several turns as the pair discover just how much things are changing for the worse.  It's very intricate with twists that are hard to predict.

This is a fantastic noir tale.  If you like gritty SF, pick this up.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Gotham High

Apparently last year there was talk of a cartoon featuring the characters from Batman as teenagers, all attending the same high school, called Gotham High.  (click the link to see more concept art)

Well, the fine people at College Humor found this and created a live action trailer for the show.  It's actually quite good, bringing in scenes of Heath Ledger from 10 Things I Hate About You, Powder (for Victor Freeze) and even a short clip from The BreakfastClub.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Book Review: Repossession Mambo by Eric Garcia

Pros: fascinating protagonist with very interesting life, great narrative style

Cons: some crass scenes, light world-building

The unnamed protagonist of Reposession Mambo (republished as Repo Men) is typing his memoirs on an old Underwood typewriter in an abandoned hotel.  Once a level five repo man, charged with repossessing the artificial organs of those who stopped making payments, for the Credit Union (and others), he's now on the run, having his own artificial organ and unable to pay the extremely high interest rates.

Despite being character driven I never found my interest lagging.  The protagonist's life is so interesting, from his 5 ex-wives, to his job as a repo man, to his time in the military and friendship with Jake, it's a non-stop adventure.  He's a mix of contradictions.  He's described by a therapist at one point as having a great capacity for love, but each of his ex's call him a bastard.  He's not a cold hard killer, but has no problem ripping out someone's liver or heart, despite knowing the person's going to die because of his actions.  There's a brief mention of him repossessing children's organs, but no description (for which I'm thankful).  Perhaps the author realized that heading in that direction would destroy any sympathy the protagonist otherwise gains.  And he does gain some.  He's somehow a likable guy, despite the work he does.  

The narrative is disjointed, jumping from time to time, keeping you on your toes trying to figure out what's happening and why he's now on the run.  Within that jumbled framework, comes a fairly linear life story, from highschool through military life, joining the Credit Union and all his wives along the way.  Even the present day story is fascinating, with everything he knows about repo men giving him a better chance at survival.  The mystery of why he's on the run is quite compelling.

As for the negatives, the story is crass at times.  His first wife's a prostitute and there's a lot of sex humour (though no eroticism or graphic descriptions).  It's not on the level of, say, Porky's style humour, but it is highschool style crass humour at times.  While I'm not a fan of that kind of writing, it did fit the book and character and wasn't overdone.

The world-building is very light.  You're only told about what the protagonist finds interesting, namely his life.  He's quite self-centered and focused in that respect.  There's some information about how the organ shops got started and the high interest rates that keep people's names on his pink slips, but not as much about this new world as I'd have liked given the interesting premise of the book.

The ending... I'm still not sure how I feel about it.  Again, it fit the story but I wasn't entirely satisfied by it.  The character has a chance to grow as a person and things don't work out as you're expecting.

A decent amount of action and a fascinating crew of characters make up Repossession Mambo.

Friday, 16 November 2012

New Author Spotlight: Christopher Buehlman

New Author Spotlight is a series designed to introduce authors with up to 3 books in the different SF/F subgenres.

Today's spotlight shines on Christopher Buehlman!

Winner of the 2007 Bridport Prize in Poetry and author of several plays, his novels are:

  • Those Across the River by Christopher Buehlman (Ace)
  • Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman (Ace)
Here's the cover copy for Those Across The River:

Haunted by memories of the Great War, failed academic Frank Nichols and his wife have arrived in the sleepy Georgia town of Whitbrow, where Frank hopes to write a history of his family's old estate-the Savoyard Plantation-and the horrors that occurred there. At first their new life seems to be everything they wanted. But under the facade of summer socials and small-town charm, there is an unspoken dread that the townsfolk have lived with for generations. A presence that demands sacrifice.  
It comes from the shadowy woods across the river, where the ruins of the Savoyard Plantation still stand. Where a long-smoldering debt of blood has never been forgotten. Where it has been waiting for Frank Nichols…
Check out these other books if you like horror novels about things lying in wait in old houses:

  • A Twisted Ladder by Rhodi Hawk (Tor Books)
  • Black Creek Crossing by John Saul (Ballantine Books)
  • Neverland by Douglas Clegg (Vanguard Press)

Thursday, 15 November 2012

2013 Movie Trailers

Looks like there will be some awesome movies coming out in 2013. Catching Fire, the next film in the Hunger Games trilogy, Iron Man 3, Avengers 2, etc. While the Iron Man 3 trailer has me very impressed (is that Stark experiencing character growth? About time.), the World War Z trailer has me thinking it's just another disaster movie focused on a family I couldn't care less about with whiny kids.

Here are three movie trailers that haven't been spread about as much as those above (with the exception of Catching Fire, which doesn't have one yet).

For a zombie movie that's as unique as the book version of World War Z is the movie adaptation of Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion. While zombie love stories are - bizarrely - not unique anymore, the humour this one brings to the screen makes it highly appealing.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer. I haven't read anything by her, but I must admit, The Host sounds interesting.

Beautiful Creatures (Kami Garcia) also has an intriguing trailer.  I've seen the book around, but don't know much about it.

Some other movies I'm interested in that don't have trailers yet are:
1. The Maze Runner (James Dashner). I thought the book was interesting and it could make a pulse pounding film if done correctly.
2. Delirium (Lauren Oliver). I haven't read this yet, but it's high on my list for when I get the chance.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

ElfQuest Online

Time just flies, doesn't it?  I came across this some time ago and just never seemed to have time to post about it.  But this has me tickled pink.  Not only are the ElfQuest comics online, they are FREE.  I read a lot of these comics when I was in university (and didn't have time for books that weren't school related) but never finished the series.  I have (somewhat unrealistic given my pile of things to read) plans to reread these, and maybe review them, next year.

For those of you who have never heard of ElfQuest, here's a very brief synopsis from the site:

Elfquest (the original series): 20 "magazine-sized" comic book issues published in black and white from 1978 to 1984. These tell the story of Cutter, his tribe the Wolfriders, and their quest to find and unite other groups of elves against the threat of humans, trolls, and other assorted nasties.

If I remember the plot correctly, Cutter's tribe of elves have linked with wolves to help them survive life in the forest.  When the trolls force them from their homes, they go in search of other elves, and meet other groups of elves, most with more powerful magic than theirs and some that have adapted by linking with other creatures or have remained 'pure'.  If you want a fantasy story that has a variety of elves (in terms of cultures and races) than this is it.

The original series was written and drawn by Wendy and Richard Pini, but apparently other authors and artists have expanded the series.

If you're thinking of reading them, be aware that they're adult comics, with a fair amount of sex either shown or implied.  Personally I loved the artwork and thought the stories were pretty cool.  I even did a bit of fan art for this, though not as much as I'd wanted (I'd had plans to do all of the major characters and only managed to do two of them - maybe something else to do next year?).

You can find the comics gallery here with several more series than existed when last I picked up a volume (I read The Original Quest, Siege at Blue Mountain and, I believe the start of Kings of the Broken Wheel).  If you want to know what order to read the books in, here's a guideline.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

All Men of Genius Out in Paperback

All Men of Genius by Lev A. C. Rosen was one of my favourite books from last year.  But it's tough to sell hardcovers nowadays, so I was very happy to see the trade paperback arrive in store yesterday.  This is a fantastic book (reviewed here) and I highly recommend it.  I also had the pleasure of interviewing the author for my blog, and he's very nice.

So if you're looking for a great book with some steampunk, women's lib, cross-dressing, romance and humour, pick this up!

Book Review: Knife Sworn by Mazarkis Williams

Pros: tight storytelling, several interesting viewpoints, complex characters

Cons: no book one synopsis/reminders

A year as Emperor hasn't brought Sarmin or his empire peace.  His army, under General Arigu at the command of the previous emperor, has attacked Fryth.  In an attept to mitigate the army's evils, Sarmin invites a Fryth envoy to discuss peace between their nations.

Cuious about the gifts of concubines he has received, Sarmin sends the untouchable Grada to follow the slave caravans that train the women.

Meanwhile, Sarmin's mother is worried that his new child will force the death of her own newborn son and a kitchen slave hears more than she ought while avoiding a fellow slave who likes to beat her.  And Mesema finds Sarmin turning away from her as a dangerous emptiness spreads from Beyon's tomb.

If you haven't read the first book, The Emperor's Knife, you'll definitely need to before picking this book up.  And if you haven't read the first book recently, you'll want to reread or skim it as this book has no recap for those with poor memories.

The writing is tight with several interconnected plots running through the book, showing various viewpoints.  The characters are all complex, with some unrepentant scoundrels as well as serious growth by Sarmin and his mother.

As with the first book I highly recommend this series.  And the ending really has me wishing the third book were already out.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Vacation in Punta Cana

If you commented on one of my posts this past week or emailed me you probably noticed my lack of response.  I spent the week at a destination wedding in Punta Cana.  It was a fantastic wedding on the beach and we had a wonderful time relaxing on the beach.  I've put together a small picture album on Picasa for anyone who's interested.  We stayed at the Now Larimar, which was a very nice resort.

Anyway, I'm back and you'll see me responding to comments/emails soon.  :)

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Author Interview: Steve Bein

Novel: Daughter of the Sword

eSpecial: Only a Shadow


> What is Daughter of the Sword about?

Honestly, Publisher's Weekly did a much better job of summing this up than I can.  Is it a cop-out if I just give you what they said?

Det. Sgt. Mariko Oshiro is fighting an uphill battle against sexism and tradition in the narcotics division of the Tokyo police. Her antagonistic boss assigns her to a mundane case involving the attempted theft of a sword, but it gets a lot less boring when Mariko winds up on the trail of a ruthless killer. As she learns the hidden history behind a trio of ancient magical swords, she discovers that she may be destined to wield one of them. Alternating segments switch between Mariko’s present-day adventures and other owners of the swords throughout history.  (PW 8/27/12)

> Do you have plans to write other Fated Blades novels or stories, in addition to the eSpecial, Only a Shadow?

Last month I turned in the manuscript for book two, Year of the Demon, and right now I'm working on plotting book three.  This afternoon an idea jumped into my head about another possible eSpecial.  I'll have to toy around with that one for a while before I can say whether it's got legs.

> You've lived in Japan, studied 25 martial arts and are currently teaching Asian philosophy and history.  Did you need to do any research for this novel, and if so, how much?

Yes, heaps!  It's true that I know a lot about Japan, but no one can know everything, and of course when you're writing you can never predict exactly which details you'll need.  The experience I've gathered serves very nicely as a background for the story, and sometimes little details pop out of the background that are just right for the scene, but most of the time I'm inserting footnotes to myself as I write, so that when I've got a finished draft I can go back and hunt down all the details I need.

> You have travelled to numerous places to study, work and vacation including Germany, Japan, Hawai'i, Antarctica, the Mediterranean and Africa.  Which place did you like the most and why?

I love wildlife photography, so the top two would be the Antarctic Peninsula and Kruger National Park in South Africa.  Very different animals, of course, and fascinating for very different reasons.  I had a bull elephant aggress me in little my rental car in Kruger, and I had penguins stand on me in Antarctica.  Not everyone's idea of a vacation, I guess, but those were two of the greatest thrills of my life. 

> What made you want to be a writer?

I don't know that I ever wanted to be a writer.  I am a writer inasmuch as I write stories, and in that sense I've been a writer for as long as I can remember.  If the question is, what made you want to be a published author, I guess I got prodded into it.  A friend read one of my stories and said I ought to submit it to Writers of the Future.  I wasn't sure my stuff was good enough, but on his recommendation I bought the most recent edition, and I felt like half of the stories in there were a lot better than I could write, and the other half weren't as good as what I could write.  I guess the judges agreed, because in the next year's edition I got second place.

> Who is you favourite character in your book and why? 

Okuma Daigoro.  He's a boy on the verge of manhood in a samurai clan, struggling to live up to his father and his brother.  In Daughter of the Sword he's the character who struggles the hardest to live up to the bushido code.  It's impossible -- no one could ever become the perfect embodiment of the samurai ideal -- and yet he just doesn't know how to give up.  I love making his life worse and worse, and watching him struggle and refuse to quit.

> If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?

Yeesh, I don't think so!  The reason they're interesting is that I make their lives difficult.  Mariko curling up with a book on a quiet afternoon is a lot less interesting than Mariko's family life going to hell while her boss tries to sabotage her career and a yakuza enforcer tries to kill her.  Thanks but no thanks.  I'll stick with a nice quiet afternoon and a good book.

> What were your literary influences for Daughter of the Sword?

China Mieville for making setting come alive.  James Clavell for making Asian cultures real for Western readers.  J.R.R. Tolkien and Frank Herbert for world-building.  Neal Stephenson and William Gibson for unabashed Japanophilia.  Kurosawa isn't literary, but he's a huge influence for me, both for telling samurai stories on an epic scale and for giving me permission to let a story unfold at its own pace.

> Beyond the matter of length, do you find it easier writing short stories or novels?

Novels.  I'd love it if the ideas that pop up in my head were short and sweet, easy to encapsulate in five or six thousand words, but they're not.  Most of the stories I want to tell are more complex than that.  Daughter of the Sword is a case in point: it's four storylines woven together, and even each of those is too long to be a proper short story.

> What's the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

Daughter of the Sword is the first published novel, and it's been in the works since 2003.   But that's misleading: it's not as if I was sitting with a pen in hand agonizing over this book for nine years.  I got my PhD in the interim, and finished a couple of academic books, and moved across the country four or five times.  Plus, when you're an aspiring novelist and not yet a novelist, you can polish and revise endlessly. Year of the Demon is a better example.  It's the first book I wrote under a deadline, and it took me fifteen months to write, soup to nuts.

> When and where do you write?

I have a notebook with me almost everywhere I go, but I'm most productive at home after everyone else goes to sleep.

> What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

For me the worst is not being able to see where I need to go.  I can only write well after I have a clear outline all mapped out, and it is enormously frustrating to have a vision of where I need to go but have no map for how to get there.  I've had a sci fi novel set in Antarctica percolating in my head for four years because I just can't see where I need to go.  It can be really painful.

And the best thing?  It's hard to say.  When the writing is going well, time just disappears.  I like that.  It's meditative.  And I enjoy going through the editing process and discovering a passage that's really well written.  I'm so critical in editing, so it's really nice to find passages where I have to salute myself for a job well done. 

> What is something you didn’t know about the publishing industry before you had your first book published?

How much time have you got?  I was pretty naive going in.  I guess one of the most surprising lessons was that editors are nice people.  They sure don't feel like that when you're on the outside getting shot down.  

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

This is going to sound completely banal, but the best advice I can offer is don't give up.  Daughter of the Sword collected rejection after rejection, year after year, including twice by the same agency that now represents me.  To tell the truth, I did give up once.  I tried every trick in the book to get an agent and none of them worked, so I said screw it and stopped submitting the manuscript.  Luckily for me, my memory isn't so great, and six months later I forgot that I'd given up.  The next agent I submitted to picked me up.  A few months later she got me a two book deal with Penguin.

> Any tips against writers block?

Have lots of writing projects going at once.  Make a list of what you've got to do, and tackle the easiest thing on the list.  That way you always feel like you're getting away with something, and yet you're always making forward progress.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

Sometimes the only thing to do is turn off the phone, cut off your internet access, and sit in front of the keyboard for an hour no matter what.  Sooner or later you get bored and you have to write.

> How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?

This was a bit of a curse, actually.  My first short story was accepted on its first submission.  That put the idea in my head that you're supposed to get accepted when you submit.  Not so.  I've collected my dozens of rejection letters since then, but stepping into the learning curve at the wrong spot can be really depressing.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Robert J. Sawyer's TED Talk

Earlier this year multiple award winning Canadian SF author Robert J. Sawyer spoke at TED x Manitoba on the topic: To Live Forever - Or Die Trying.  It's quite interesting.  If the embedded player doesn't work, you can find the video here.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Movie Review: The Thirteenth Floor

Directed by: Joseph Rusnak, 1999

Pros: smart SF, fantastic 30s sets

Cons: several other movies have done smiliar things, making it easier to guess the twists towards the end

Three men working on the 13th floor of an office building for the past 6 years have created a virtual replica of 1937, complete with people who don't know they're in a computer simulation.  When the genius behind the idea, Hannon Fuller (Armin Mueller-Stahl), is killed, his subordinate Douglas Hall (Craig Bierko), tries to find out what secret he'd discovered.  Meanwhile Detective McBain (Dennis Haysbert) tries to solve Fuller's murder, making Douglas a suspect and Fuller's previously unmentioned daughter Jane (Gretchen Mol) attempts to shut their company down.

Given the nature of the twists at the end, it's best not to read too much about this film before seeing it.  Other films have done similar things, and their comparisons reveal what is otherwise quite a brilliant revelation.  It's a shame too, as this movie is very smart and excellently plotted.

The inclusion of the 30s virtual reality gives it a noir SF feel.  That atmosphere carries out from the computer world into the stark sets of the present and the grim expression of the protagonist.  

The mystery is intriguing even for those who figure out what's going on before the end.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

If I Had All The Time In The World

Fantasy edition, part 2

There are so many books I'd love to read, both old and new.  Since I won't actually get to read them all, I figure I could showcase some.  Maybe other people will read them and tell me what I'm missing. :)

The Last Stormlord by Glenda Larke

Shale is the lowest of the low-an outcast from a poor village in the heart of the desert. In the desert water is life, and currency, and Shale has none. But he has a secret. It''s the one thing that keeps him alive and may save all the cities of the Quartern in the days to come. If it doesn''t get him killed first...

Terelle is a slave fleeing a life as a courtesan. She finds shelter in the home of an elderly painter but as she learns the strange and powerful secrets of his art she fears she may have traded a life of servitude for something far more perilous...

The Stormlord is dying in his tower and there is no one, by accident or design, to take his place. He brings the rain from the distant seas to his people. Without a Stormlord, the cities of the Quartern will wither and die. 

Their civilization is at the brink of disaster. If Shale and Terelle can find a way to save themselves, they may just save them all. Water is life and the wells are running dry...

Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charon Newton

The ancient city of Villjamur is threatened by a long-expected ice age, and thousands of refugees from the coming freeze are camped outside its gates. When the Emperor commits suicide, his elder daughter, Rika, is brought home to inherit the Jamur Empire, but the sinister Chancellor plans to get rid of her and claim the throne for himself. Meanwhile an officer in the Inquisition, in pursuit of a mysterious killer, also uncovers a conspiracy within the Council to solve the refugee crisis by wholesale slaughter. The first volume in a superb action series of enthralling fantasy.

The Spirit Lens by Carol Berg

[I've read, and loved, all of her books but haven't had time to read this trilogy yet.]

For Portier de Savin-Duplais, failed student of magic, sorcery''s decline into ambiguity and cheap illusion is but a culmination of life''s bitter disappointments. Reduced to tending the library at Sabria''s last collegia magica, he fights off despair with scholarship. But when the King of Sabria charges him to investigate an attempted murder that has disturbing magical resonances, Portier believes his dreams of a greater destiny might at last be fulfilled...

Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan

When young Wynter Moorehawke returns to court with her dying father, but she finds her old home shadowed with fear. The king has become a violent despot, terrorizing those he once loved. His son and heir Alberon has fled into exile and now there are whispers everywhere of rebellion. Meanwhile, Alberon''s half-brother Razi has been elevated to his throne. He struggles to meet his King''s demands while remaining loyal to his beloved brother and to his friend-Wynter.

Now, she must choose- her father or her dreams, her friend or her king, her duty... or her love.

The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin

The city burned beneath the Dreaming Moon.

In the ancient city-state of Gujaareh, peace is the only law. Upon its rooftops and amongst the shadows of its cobbled streets wait the Gatherers - the keepers of this peace. Priests of the dream-goddess, their duty is to harvest the magic of the sleeping mind and use it to heal, soothe . . . and kill those judged corrupt.

But when a conspiracy blooms within Gujaareh''s great temple, Ehiru - the most famous of the city''s Gatherers - must question everything he knows. Someone, or something, is murdering dreamers in the goddess'' name, stalking its prey both in Gujaareh''s alleys and the realm of dreams. Ehiru must now protect the woman he was sent to kill - or watch the city be devoured by war and forbidden magic.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Book Review: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Pros: sympathetic characters, unique take on traditional fairytale creatures, fun twist to Cinderella story, good mix of humour and seriousness

Cons: it seems unfair that Lucirda doesn't undo the spells she casts

Ella of Trell was given the fairy gift of obedience at birth, she must do whatever shes ordered, whether it's to put on a cloak or let ogres eat her.  After the death of her mother she is befriended by Prince Charmont and sent to finishing school with the odious daughters of Dame Olga. One of whom has learned her secret.

While the film version of his book was fun, it depends more on slapstick for its humour than anything else. The book on the other hand, has a delightfully humorous slant of a different nature.  Ella loves making Char laugh, and comes up with fantastic stories that bring him, and the reader, delight.

The novel uses its own brand of elves (human sized, green skinned), ogres (able to hypnotise others with their language) centaurs (near mindless animals) and more.  Each race and county uses a different language and has vastly different cultures.

The curse adds real tension to Ella's romance with Char and her dealings with others. You can really feel her horror at having to obey everything and the underlying fear that someday that obedience will kill her.

This is a fantastic book. Don't let the kids categorization stop you from reading this delightful and clever retelling of Cinderella. 

*** Spoiler ***

My only complaint is that after Lucinda realizes the trouble she's caused with her gifts, she doesn't remove them. I know the point of the novel is for Ella to break the curse herself, but Lucinda caused a lot of harm with her gifts and gels off rather easily.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

David Brin on The Postman +

Orbit Books has posted a fantastic talk by David Brin about his novels, specifically The Postman, The Earth and his new book, Existence.  I had to read The Postman in university and really enjoyed it.  If you've seen (or heard of) the movie, do yourself a favour and pick up the book.  You can find his website here.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels Coming in December, 2012

As usual, this list was compiled using the Indigo Books website and therefore reflects Canadian release dates.  The only exceptions being the Carina ebooks, which come from their site.  


Luck of the Draw – Piers Anthony
Rising Sun – Robert Conroy
Andromeda's Fall – William Dietz
Blood and Bone – Ian Esslemont
The Bones of the Old Ones – Howard Andrew Jones
Elfhunter – C. S. Marks
The Complete Ankh-Morpork: City Guide – Terry Pratchett
The Educated Ape and Other Wonders of the Worlds – Robert Rankin
The Hermetic Millennia – John Wright

Trade Paperback:

Brave New Worlds – John Joseph Adams (reprint)
Tamsin – Peter Beagle
The Folly of the World – Jesse Bullington
The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe – D. G. Compton
No Sister's Keeper – Jeanne Fellers
Mass Effect: Homeworlds – Eduardo Francisco
Star Trek: Her Klingon Soul – Michael Jan Friedman
Foundation's Friends: Stories in Honor of Isaac Asimov – Martin Greenberg, Ed.
Darkship Renegades – Sarah Hoyt
Warhammer: The Rise of Nagash – Mike Lee
The Killables – Gemma Malley
The Very Best of Barry N. Malzberg – Barry Malzberg
Down These Strange Streets – George Martin & Gardner Dozois, Ed.
Witchbreaker – James Maxey
Power Under Pressure - Andrew Mayer
Nightstalkers – Bob Mayer
In the Mouth of the Whale – Paul McAuley
Nexus – Ramex Naam
Robert Asprin's Myth-Quoted – Jody Lynn Nye
Agatha H. and the Clockwork Princess – Phil & Kaja Foglio 
The Fractal Prince – Hannu Rajaniemi
Moscow But Dreaming – Ekaterina Sedia
Star Trek Academy: Collision Course – William Shatner
Scent of Magic – Maria Snyder
Black Halo – Samuel Sykes
Skybound Sea – Samuel Sykes
The Sea Witch – Adrian Tchaikovsky
The Bookman Histories – Lavie Tidhar (omnibus)
Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution – Ann Vandermeer
The Siren Depths – Martha Wells
The Place of Dead Kings – Geoffrey Wilson
Peace – Gene Wolfe

Mass Market Paperback:

Arctic Rising – Tobias Buckell
Chicks Kick Butt – Rachel Caine & Kerrie Hughes, Ed.
Gilded – Karina Cooper
Spellbound – Larry Correia
Forgotten Realms: Lesser Evils – Erin Evans
Blood Winter – Diana Pharoah Francis
THe Bride Wore Black Leather – Simon Green
Earthbound – Joe Haldeman
Against All Enemies – John Hemry
Sisterhood of Dune – Brian Herbert & Kevin Anderson
Alien Vs. Alien – Gini Koch
Elemental Magic – Mercedes Lackey
Future Imperfect – Keith Laumer
The Merchant of Dreams – Anne Lyle
Star Trek TNG: Cold Equations – David Mack
Blessed by a Demon's Mark – E. S. Moore
Mecha Rogue – Brett Patton
The Ramal Extraction – Steve Perry
Ack-Ack Macque – Gareth Powell
Touchstone – Melanie Rawn
Isaac Asimov's I, Robot: To Protect – Mickey Zucker Reichert
Warhammer: Neferata – Anthony Reynolds
Shadow's Heir – K. J. Taylor
Supervolcano: Eruption – Harry Turtledove
Cobra Gamble – Timothy Zahn

Carina Ebooks:

The League of Illusion: Legacy – Vivi Anna
All for You – Dana Marie Bell
A Galactic Holiday – Stacy Gail, Sasha Summers & Anna Hackett
How the Glitch Saved Christmas – Stacy Gail
Winter Fusion – Anna Hackett
Galileo's Holiday – Sasha Summers