Tuesday 29 December 2009

Mr. Shivers - Robert Jackson Bennett

To be published on January 15th, 2010, Mr. Shivers is a hard book for me to review. I loved it. The writing was superb. The main character developed over time making the ending the only one possible.

So what's the problem? The ending was predictable. In fact, I predicted it about a quarter of the way through the novel. Is that bad? Not necessarily. The inevitability of the protagonist's ... end (since I don't want to spoil the book) creates tension in the reader that really forces you to keep reading. It reminded me of a story by Chaucer. I'll let you figure out which one. Ultimately the ending left me a bit unsettled and not entirely satisfied.

And yet, this was a book I COULD NOT PUT DOWN. Even though I wasn't interested in depression America, I found Connelly, the protagonist, so intriguing I had to read on. And Mr. Bennett brings the era to life, both in terms of the living conditions and the belief systems of the time.

Mr. Shivers has dome something bad. Several bad things actually and Connelly intends to make him pay for one of those things. While Connelly tracks him across America, becoming a hobo on the train lines, he encounters others who want to make Mr. Shivers pay.

The real question is not so much whether Connelly will find him or not - he's determined to do so or die trying - but whether Mr. Shivers is even human, and therefore able to be stopped.

Try not to read the back cover as it gives away a piece of information that the book holds in reserve until later in the story, doling out bits of Connelly's past as he continues his quest.

And make sure you have some uninterrupted time in which to enjoy the read. And remember, though it's not particularly gory, it is a horror novel, so the unsettled feeling at the end is probably intentional.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Debut Authors To Watch For

I posted a list in June of debut authors, so this is an update.

What this list IS: authors who have recently published their first book in the sci-fi/fantasy field.

What this list is NOT: my personal endorsement of these authors and/or their books (though I'm sure there are gems here or I wouldn't be posting this). This is NOT a comprehensive listing. Feel free to comment if you know a book/new author I've missed who's published in the past 3-4 months or if one of these authors shouldn't be on this list (mistakes happen).

As usual, there's no reasoning behind the order of the books.

Heart of Veridon - Tim Akers
The Drowning City - Amanda Downum
The Cardinal's Blades - Pierre Pevel (not his first book, but it's his first book translated from the French to make it to Canada)
Nights of Villjamur - Mark Charan Newton
The Stoneholding - James Anderson & Mark Sebanc (originally self-published a few years back under the author Mark James)
The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart - Jesse Bullington
Peter & Max - Bill Willingham (the author of the graphic novel Fables)

Urban Fantasy
Indigo Springs - A. M. Dellamonica
The Better Part of Darkness - Kelly Gay
Close Encounters - Katherine Allred
Tempest Rising - Nicole Peeler
Three Days to Dead - Kelly Meding
Norse Code - Greg Van Eckhout

Science Fiction
Bitter Angels - C. L. Anderson
Harmony - C. F. Bentley
Eve: The Empyrean Age - Tony Gonzales
Darkscape: Redemption - R. Garland Gray (also writes romance, but it's her first science fiction novel so I'm including it here)
Elom - William Drinkard

Tuesday 22 December 2009

Harry Potter the Exhibition comes to Toronto

A travelling exhibition of Harry Potter movie memorabilia will be at the Ontario Science Center from April 9th to August 22nd, 2010. Visitors will be able to see the Gryffindor common room, Hagrid's hut, the herbology and defense against the dark arts classroom props as well as various costumes and other iconic things like the Marauders' Map.

For more information check out the exhibition's home page and that of the science center.

Friday 18 December 2009

Jeff Carlson - Author Interview

Plague Year
Plague War
Plague Zone

Website: www.jverse.com

> Pitch the first novel in your series:

It’s a bizarre truth that most writers don’t have any say in the cover art for their books, much less the jacket copy. I’m lucky that the first drafts of both were topnotch for Plague Year. Heck, they even let me add a sentence and a half!

This is exactly the kind of book I’d pick up myself:

The nanotechnology was designed to fight cancer. Instead, it evolved into the machine plague, killing nearly five billion people and changing life on Earth forever. The nanotech has one weakness: it self-destructs at altitudes above ten thousand feet. Those few who've managed to escape the plague struggle to stay alive on the highest mountains, but time is running out. There is famine and war, and the environment is crashing worldwide. Humanity's last hope lies with a top nanotech researcher aboard the International Space Station — and with a small group of survivors in California who risk a daring journey below the death line...
> What are your favorite three books, either in the field or out of it?

If I was trapped on a desert island with only one book to read over and over for the rest of my life, it would be Catch-22. I love a good tragicomedy, and Catch-22 is loaded with great language and intricately laid timelines, character arcs, and drama.

But my favorite three books of all time? Lucifer’s Hammer by Niven and Pournelle, The Long Walk by Stephen King, and The Cider House Rules by John Irving.

I’ve read each of ‘em more than twenty times. For my money, Lucifer’s Hammer is the greatest disaster novel of all time, even surpassing King’s The Stand because in no way does it rely on make-believe or the supernatural. Don’t get me wrong. I worship The Stand and I’ve read it twenty times, too — but Hammer works harder and therefore earns better, if that makes sense.

The Long Walk is the most horrific novel King ever wrote for the same reason. Sure, it’s an alternate history story — the Nazis got the bomb in World War II — but it’s real all the way through and absolutely mesmerizing because of it.

As for The Cider House Rules, this is the kind of story I wish I could write. If you’ve only seen the movie, forget it, go buy the book. I like to think my novels are full of evocative writing and honest human drama, but, wow, Irving can really sock it to you. His other books like The Water Method Man and A Prayer For Owen Meany also capture the happy, wistful, tragic beauty of life, but Cider House is my favorite.

> In the books you’ve written, who is your favorite character and why?

It’s gotta be Cam Najarro, one of the heroes in Plague Year. He’s a survivor, quick and smart, if uneducated. He’s the Everyman in a very bad situation, terribly wounded and yet unwilling to quit.

I like that about him.

> How long did it take you to write Plague Year?

A year and a quarter — but I’m getting faster. I think writing is like any other job or sport. The more you exercise your skills, the stronger you become. At this point, I’m writing close to a book and a half in one year, and I definitely feel like my craftsmanship is improving with each effort.

> Where and when do you write?

I wish I was one of those people who could write anywhere — in line at the post office, hiking, crammed into the back of a Greyhound bus — but, alas, I’m an obsessive-compulsive freak.

I like to write in the same room at the same time of day wearing the same 49ers Hall of Fame t-shirt (I wash it regularly!) drinking from the same USSPOSCO coffee mug with the blinds on the two windows drawn into the same low pattern that allows some natural light but blocks my view of the yard.


Because if I can see too much of the yard, I’ll watch the ground squirrels and the trees and the occasional traffic on our street. A lot of my ritual is about reducing distractions and putting my subconscious at ease. There’s already plenty of noise in my head. What I want is to be able to follow the thread of whatever scene I’m working on, not contemplating the hyper kung fu moves of the squirrels.

> What was the most fun convention you’ve ever attended and why?

That has to be Denvention in August 2008. The con itself was well-organized and great fun, and, even better, my wife Diana and I left our kids at home with grandma, so we were able to sleep in for four mornings in a row. Trust me, I’d fly anywhere for the chance to sleep in for four mornings in a row.

The funny part is that half the time we weren’t even at the con itself. A lot of the pleasure I took from Denvention was the feeling that I’d finally come into my own as a pro. Plague War had just hit stores; a USAF colonel who’s a fan invited us on a VIP tour of the old NORAD complex under Cheyenne Mountain; my German editor was in town and took us out for drinks; an editor from Ace took us out for drinks; we ate with a number of other writers and editors who treated us like equals; and Diana and I drove into the Rockies for a book signing in Leadville, which becomes the U.S. capital in Plague Year, where we were treated like royalty despite visiting civil war and hundreds of thousands of starving refugees upon their small mountain town (in the book, I mean; there wasn’t room for starving refugees in our rental car).

That’s heady stuff for a guy who grew up as a serious bookworm.

> Share an interesting fan story.

The best email I ever received is from a guy who said he liked the first two books so much, he’s planning to stake out his local chain at midnight before the release of Plague Zone… wearing a hazmat suit, of course. How else will we be safe from the nanotech?

I hope the police drag him away screaming. You can’t buy that kind of publicity. :)

> What’s the worst thing about writing?

Solitude. That’s why cons are so great — you get to see real live people.

I’m someone who enjoys his own company. Like I said, there’s a lot of noise in my head and I’m perfectly capable of having conversations with myself. When the writing is going well, I really do hear voices in my head. Ha ha.

But day after day, month after month, sitting alone in a room with your laptop can be wearing. There’s no one for me to hang out with in the break room. Heck, there’s not even a break room. I’m just at home all the time.

> Which do you think is easier to write, fantasy or science fiction?

I’m not touching that one with a ten-foot-long power coupling.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Patience and persistence. Breaking in is very tough. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from Anne Perry, who told me, “If you want to be a novelist, write short stories.” That may seem counterintuitive, but she’s right.

Breaking into magazines is also tough, but you can write a short story in a couple weeks or a month. With each one, you can try new a voice or style, honing your craft, receiving feedback from editors and maybe even making a few sales. A short story isn’t a three-year commitment like writing your magnum opus what-if-Ishmael-was-the-living-dead novel.

(Whoa, that’s high concept right there! Very marketable. “Call me Zombie.”)

It’s a real challenge to fit an entire story into forty pages, much less a character arc and maybe a B story, too, a subplot, so mastering the short story is like working in crash courses for novel writing.

What’s more, it doesn’t hurt to have professional sales under your belt when you approach agents — and it’s a help to an agent to have your short fiction sales to talk about when the agent approaches editors. Book editors say they can tell the difference between would-be novelists who’ve written short stories and those who haven’t. Those who’ve sold short fiction tend to be crispier in their plots and characterization.

Is that a word? Crispier?

> How many rejection letters did you get before you sold your first story?

A lot. Dozens. I still get them. Rejection is a way of life for any artist. Painting and songs and books and so forth are all very subjective. There are always going to be people who don’t connect with what you’re doing or even loathe it. Heck, there are white supremacists who’ll send you hate mail if some of your main characters have, gasp, brown skin.

The idea is to ignore the lunatics, accept the people who just don’t like what you’ve written, and enjoy the people who do.

> What are you working on now?

A big new stand-alone thriller. I can’t tell you what it’s about except to say that it’s another high concept present-day adventure — new problems, new characters — and I’m having an absolutely fantastic time with it. Right now the book is out of its infant stages but still learning to sing and dance, so I’m playing it close to the vest.

Thank you for having me. I welcome correspondence at www.jverse.com, where readers can find free excerpts of my books, contests, videos and more.

Be safe out there!

Thursday 17 December 2009

More post-apocalyptic books

For those of you who can't get enough of post-apocalyptic fiction, Books Worth Reading has posted a list that includes several books I missed on my own list:


Wednesday 16 December 2009

The Great Video Round Up

Thanks to my husband, I stumbled across a wide variety of good videos last night and decided to spread the word. The first one details the Harry Potter theme park in Orlando, using the Marauders map as a basis.

The second is a video of some of the giants in the field (Isaac Asimov, Harlen Ellison, etc.) talking about the value of science fiction.

The next few can all be found at www.collegehumor.com.
The End of the World Parody (The song modernized.)
Dangerous Wands (A Dangerous Minds trailer a la Harry Potter.)
The Dark Knight is Confused Rap (I saw this elsewhere a few days ago, but it's a good one. Batman raps about some of the more disjointed aspects of Dark Knight.)
Hardly Working Star Wars Fantasy (What happens when your fantasy life is too concerned with film accuracy than, um, other things.)

And last but not least, for science buffs, here's a star size comparison video:

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Animated Optical Illusion Books

When Gallop: A Scanimation Picture Book came out in November of 2007 I thought it was a completely original, stunning new way of using books. Turns out that it's not as original as I thought, but it's still a cool way of introducing books to kids who are used to TV (ie, to things MOVING).

In 1975 the Magic Moving Picture Book came out, containing a ruled acetate screen which, once pulled over the pages makes "volcanoes erupt, houses go up in flames, a steamboat plows through the water, and 15 other illusions come to life".

A similar arrangement is used in the newer Magic Moving Images, from July of 2007, shown working in this video:

The difference between Gallop and these others? With Gallop no hand held acetate is required to make the pictures come to life. The act of opening the pages pulls one across the images, making them move, and making them more child friendly as a result.

It's incredible what can be done with books.

Friday 11 December 2009

Kelly Gay - Author Interview

The Better Part of Darkness

Website: http://www.kellygay.net/

> Pitch your novel.

THE BETTER PART OF DARKNESS is my make-believe answer to the following question: What if our myths and traditions of heaven and hell were grounded in some obscure truth? What if the beings in these places were nothing like we had imagined, but as real and as diverse as the human race? And what would our world be like if they integrated into our society?

The story takes place in Atlanta about a decade after the Revelation (the discovery of two alternate dimensions: heaven-like Elysia and hellish Charbydon). Atlanta has become a crossroads of sorts, a thriving melting pot of human and off-world races.

My heroine, Charlie Madigan, is a divorced mother of one and her job with the Integration Task Force puts her right in the middle of the off-world population. It's her job, along with her partner, Hank, a siren from Elysia, to see that everyone obeys the law, but when a new off-world drug is released in Underground, her daughter is targeted, and her ex-husband makes a fateful bargain to win her back, there's nothing in heaven or earth (or hell for that matter) that Charlie won't do to set things right.

> What are your favorite three books?

This is a tough one! I have a large group of all-time favorites, but, let’s see . . . this time I’ll pick: THE MISTS OF AVALON by Marion Zimmer Bradley, THAIS by Anatole France, and INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE by Anne Rice.

> What made you want to be a writer?

I’ve thought a lot about this question, and I’m not sure I can pinpoint a particular ‘what’ that made me want to be a writer. I must’ve been born this way. J When I was a toddler (according to my parents), I’d tell them these incredible make believe stories and get myself all worked-up about it. As an older child, I was a ‘watcher’ more than a ‘participator’. I was quiet. I daydreamed a lot. And I gravitated toward books. When all the other grandkids were playing, I sat in front of my grandparents’ books shelves and lost myself in Time Life Books, especially the ones on ancient civilizations and mythology. Don’t get me wrong, I participated and played, but I always ended up back at the bookshelf. So, later, it was just a natural progression to start writing those daydreams on paper.

> In the books you’ve written, who is you favorite character?

Charlie, the heroine, is very close to my heart. She’s the super hero I wish I could be. In some ways, she’s very much like me, and in others she's the total opposite. And that’s what I like about her. When I write her, I can draw from my own deep emotions and experiences, but I can also draw from all these crazy, fictional ideas, too. Makes me feel, or hope, anyway, like she has a good balance of realism and fantasy to her.

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

Maybe for a day. I’d love to walk through Underground and meet a few off-world beings…

> If you could live in your fantasy/sf world, would you? Would you live in somebody else’s?

No to both questions. Escaping into fictional worlds via reading is a nice break for me, but to actually live in those worlds – my life is hectic enough without having to deal with the threat of otherworldly environments and creatures that haunt the pages of books. I like being safe and warm, curled up on the couch . . .

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

The first novel I wrote and finished (I’d started a handful before, but never got past the third or fourth chapters) was a paranormal romantic comedy. I wrote it in three and a half weeks during a patch of alone time away from my family. I did it to prove a point to myself -- that I could write a novel from start to finish. It was a lousy piece of work, I’ll admit, but once I knew I had it in me, it gave me the encouragement I needed to keep pursuing my dream.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

I think the toughest scenes for me to write are descriptive scenes; places where I have give a sense of time and place. I get so involved in the story and the action (whether it’s good or bad things happening) that I want to move right along and stay in the thick of things.

> What is the strangest question you have ever been asked by a fan?

Fans? Me? Maybe, hopefully, one day! I had a few folks who read early copies of BPOD and wrote to tell me how much they enjoyed it. And, boy, is that an incredible feeling! To know that my work has entertained people . . . just awesome.

> What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you’ve attended and why?

I’m having my first signing in December. I’m so comfortable behind the PC that the idea of leaving my comfort zone and actually meeting people . . .is a little scary, truth be told. Wish me luck!

This year, I’m hoping to attend San Diego Comic-Con and Dragon-Con. Those seem like a lot of fun.

> What is your university degree in and does it help with your writing?

I might hold the world record for how long it’s taken to get through college. I’m still trudging through. I take classes whenever I can, but several years worth of learning had to be put on hold when I started my family, etc… One of these days I’ll graduate! My major is not English, or Literature, or Creative Writing. It’s History.

> When and where do you write?

These days, I write mostly on the couch with my laptop. I can never seem to get comfortable at a desk. I write new material in the mornings (for some reason the creativity flows better at that time), and I prefer to do revisions and editing in the afternoons. Of course, if there’s a deadline looming I’ll write whenever time allows.

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

The best thing is being able to do what I love. That’s really the ultimate dream come true for me. I get to spend my days writing, creating things from nothing, building my own worlds and beings. It’s wonderful, and even better is that now I can share my worlds and characters with others.

The worst thing would be the inactivity. It’s not good on the body to sit for hours at a time, day after day. I try to get up every hour and move around, or break for lunch to go for a walk or work-out, but when the words are flowing or I’m approaching a deadline . . . Let’s just say there is a lot of stiffness when I get up!

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Yes. And it’s insanely simple. Keep reading and writing. That’s the only way you learn, the only way to practice and hone your craft. Rejection is unavoidable. And creativity/art is subjective. Take what you can from the constructive rejections and criticisms to make your work better, and leave the mean, unhelpful stuff behind you. Believe in your work, but don’t be afraid to move on to the next manuscript! I know a lot of people who have focused on their first novel for years. Years. Once you’ve rewritten and polished and exhausted the agent and/or editor pool, write something new. It doesn’t mean you have to give up your first novel (heck, you just might sell it after you’ve become published with, say, your third novel), but keep writing new material. Let your creativity grow. Hone your craft with each new manuscript.

> Any tips against writers block?

Writer’s block for me is a crutch I lean on when I don’t feel like pushing through a bad spot. My advice, if you’re stuck on something or blocked, would be to write a ‘come back to this later’ note within the manuscript and move on. You’re going to turn around and revise anyway, so it’s okay to push through a rough spot with horrible writing or leaving yourself a note to ‘Fix This!’ or ‘Figure This Out!’. The point is to get to the end. Like Nora Roberts says: “I can fix a bad page, but I can't fix a blank page.”

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

Oh, boy. Over thirty agent and editor rejections on that first book. I’ve amassed hundreds since I started writing over a decade ago. I have them all, somewhere in my mess of an office… Maybe one day I will actually sit down and count them, and then offer them up to the recycling gods. :)

Thursday 10 December 2009

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers - Book Review

As an aspiring writer, I occasionally read book on how to improve my work. This one was suggested to me by a co-worker and it is fabulous. Authors Renni Browne and Dave King go into detail about the major mistakes novice writers tend to make. These are things they, as editors, often ask their clients to change before a novel is ready for publication. Each section has numerous examples through which they explain what's wrong and how to fix it. The chapters all end with point form notes of things to look for in your own writing and exercises to practice what you (hopefully) learned.

The Table of Contents is as follows:
1. Show and Tell
2. Characterization and Exposition
3. Point of View
4. Proportion
5. Dialogue Mechanics
6. See How it Sounds
7. Interior Monologue
8. Easy Beats (points of action between lines of dialogue)
9. Breaking up is Easy to Do (paragraphing)
10. Once is Usually Enough (avoiding unnecessary repetition)
11. Sophistication
12. Voice

I found the earlier chapters the most useful (perhaps this is a commentary as to where my writing currently stands). I would highly recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print for anyone who wants to become a better writer.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Book Trailers - Effective or not?

I was reading a post from a publisher's blog I recently came across, Dr. Syntax, talking about book trailers. I've seen several book trailers, both by professionals, like the one below, and by amateurs (often the author him/herself).

I would say the effectiveness of a book trailer really depends on the book and the trailer. And professional ones aren't always the best. Something that really shows what the problem is and what's at stake to the main character(s) can go a long way to drawing reader attention.

But are they watched and do they succeed in convincing readers to pick up the books?

While I've seen several great book trailers, the only one that's gotten me to buy and read the book is this one:

I think the medium is too new to have a wide effect, but that in time book trailers will be a good way of discovering new authors and interesting titles.

How about you? Do you find yourself picking up new books that you've seen videos for? Do you feel this is a good form of marketing when it comes to books?

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Going West - Book Video

This is a book video from the New Zealand Book Council. From their website:

"Like no other human activity reading opens up our imagination. It enables us to understand those around us. It allows us to project the future and reach back into the past. Reading can entertain, challenge and educate. We believe that reading can transform people's lives."

The graphics are so cool I actually found it hard to pay attention to the story!

Tuesday 1 December 2009

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming in January 2010

Disclaimer: Normally I compile this list from the Chapters/Indigo website. Due to the new year, the search I perform did not bring up titles for January 2010. So I used my previous method, going one by one to publisher pages to see what is coming out. Unfortunately not all publishers have easy searches for this purpose. So I finished my list by using a search on Amazon.ca. What this means is this list is not as accurate as previous lists (I've already found, and removed, a few books added by error). In other words, I would double check titles if you're waiting for something on this list to come out. I simply don't have the time to double check this entire list myself. Also, there appear to be a higher than usual number of reprints coming, particularly from Neal Asher.


Orbus – Neal Asher
The End of Eternity – Isaac Asimov
Player's Ruse – Hilari Bell
Mr. Shivers – Robert Jackson Bennett
Hastur Lord – Marion Zimmer Bradley & Deborah Ross
The Great Bazaar & Other Stories – Peter Brett
Iorich – Steven Brust
Veracity – Laura Bynum
Kingdom of Ohio – Matthew Flaming
The Sorceress of Karres – Eric Flint & Dave Freer
The Good, the Bad and the Uncanny - Simon Green
Starbound – Joe Haldeman
Through Stone and Sea – Barb & J.C. Hendee
Dragon Keeper – Robin Hobb
Brain Thief – Alexander Jablokov
Prince of Storms – Kay Kenyon
Catalyst – Anne McCaffrey & Elizabeth Ann Scarborough
Book of Heroes – Miyuki Miyabe
Arms Commander – L.E. Modesitt Jr.
The Girl With Glass Feet – Ali Shaw
The Shadow Pavilion – Liz Williams
Shadowrise – Tad Williams
The Domino Pattern – Timothy Zahn

Trade Paperback:
Men of the Otherworld – Kelley Armstrong
The Skinner – Neal Asher
The Spirit Lens – Carol Berg
Shadowline – Glen Cook
Digital Domains: A Decade of Science Fiction & Fantasy – Ellen Datlow, Ed.
Lone Wolf: Glory & Greed – August Hahn
Yukikaze – Chohei Hambayashi
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Termination Booth – Gareth Hanrahan
Podkayne of Mars – Robert Heinlein
Queen of Hearts – Daniel Homan
Darkship Thieves – Sarah Hoyt
City Without End – Kay Kenyon
Republic of Thieves – Scott Lynch
Spindle's End – Robin McKinley
The Jewel in the Skull – Michael Moorcock
Who Fears the Devil?: The Complete Silver John – Manly Wade Wellman

Mass Market Paperback:
The Trouble With Humans – Christopher Anvil & Eric Flint
Flight Into Darkness – Sarah Ash
Cowl – Neal Asher
The Gabble & Other Stories – Neal Asher
Gridlinked – Neal Asher
Prison Ship – Michael Bowers
Bone Crossed – Patricia Briggs
Horizon – Lois McMaster Bujold
Mean Streets – Jim Butcher, Kat Richardson, Simon Green & Thomas Sniegoski
Death's Mistress – Karen Chance
Regenesis – C. J. Cherryh
Unperfect Souls – Mark Del Franco
Spider's Bite – Jennifer Estep
Time Spike – Eric Flint & Merilyn Kosmatka
Shadow Blade – Seressia Glass
World of Warcraft: Arthas: Rise of the Lich King – Christie Golden
Keepers of Sulbreth – Susan Gourley
Hand of Isis – Jo Graham
Vampire Babylon: Break of Dawn – Chris Green
Arch Wizard – Ed Greenwood
A Madness of Angels – Kate Griffin
Killing Dance – Laurell Hamilton
In Shade and Shadow – Barb & J. C. Hendee
Brooklyn Knight – C. J. Henderson
Happy Hour of the Damned – Mark Henry
Blood Cross – Faith Hunter
Iron Man: Virus – Alex Irvine
Star Wars: Crosscurrent – Paul Kemp
War Hammer: Death & Dishonour – Nick Kyme, Lindsey Priestley & Alex Davis
Blood in the Water – Juliet McKenna
Dragon Lance: The Fate of Thorbardin – Douglas Niles
War Hammer 40k: Rynn's World – Steve Parker
Star Trek: Inception – S. D. Perry
Night Tides – Alex Prentiss
Hardcore – Andy Remic
Doppelgangster – Laura Resnick
War Hammer 40K: Dark Creed – Anthony Reynolds
Hallowed Circle – Linda Robertson
Wild Hunt – Margaret Ronald
Forgotten Realms: The Realms of the Dead – R. A. Salvatore & Richard Lee Byers, Ed.
Sea Glass – Maria Snyder
Armor – John Steakley
Coyote Horizon – Allen Steele
Eldin of Yashor – C. Tyler Storm
The Jennifer Morgue – Charles Stross
War Hammer 40K: Black Tide – James Swallow
Kitty's House of Horrors – Carrie Vaughan
Saint Anthony's Fire – Steve White
This is Not a Game – Walter Jon Williams

Thursday 26 November 2009

Audible.com Free Audio Book Download

Just a heads up, until midnight tonight (November 26th), Audible.com is offering a free download. They have a couple good SF titles, so check them out.

Sorry, the link above takes you to their homepage. Here's the link for the free audio book:

Death Is Quite A Character - Reading List

I've seen several books with 'Death' as a character come in recently and decided to see how many titles there were (that I could find on our shelves). The list was large enough for a half display. I stuck to traditional western views of death, though things like Deathnote and The Anubis Murders did come under consideration. Feel free to suggest other titles in the comments. I also know that several of Neil Gaiman's Sandman comics have Death as a character, but chose to use the spring off Death comics in the list instead.

Mort, Reaper Man, Soul Music, Hogfather, Thief of Time - Terry Pratchett (I know Death shows up in his other books but these are the ones that focus on him)
A Dirty Job - Christopher Moore
Death With Interruptions - Jose Saramago
Death: A Life - Death & George Pendle
Death: Time of Your Life, Death: High Cost of Living - Neil Gaiman, Chris Bachalo & Mark Buckingham
On a Pale Horse - Piers Anthony
Good Omens - Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
Death's Daughter - Amber Benson

Friday 20 November 2009

The Dragon Book - Book Review

Penguin recently released a new short story collection centered around dragons. It's edited Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois. The table of contents follows along with my quick reviews for each story.

The author line-up in The Dragon Book is a bit unusual for a collection by "the masters of modern fantasy", especially considering that some of the authors in the book would likely not appreciate their works being classified as fantasy. The stories themselves are diverse and entertaining, with some completely unexpected takes on the mythos of dragons. Most of the stories are alternate histories, where dragons exist in the real world. A few at the end of the book have fantasy world settings. (My review code is as follows ^ = thumbs up, ^^ = 2 thumbs up, v = thumb down)

v "Dragon's Deep" - Cecelia Holland (I liked the beginning of the story, about a village whose taxes have been raised and what the villagers must do in order to survive, but an ... unpleasant event occurs part way through that made the ending less plausible - and palatable - for me.)
^ "Vici" - Naomi Novik (I haven't read her novels, but if this story, set in ancient Rome, is an example, then I'll definitely be picking them up.)
^ "Bob Choi's Last Job" - Jonathan Stroud (An interesting detective story where dragons can cloak themselves to look like humans.)
^ "Are You Afflicted with Dragons?" - Kage Baker (Loved the premise, that dragons are small pests, kind of like pigeons, and need to be dealt with. However, I found the ending too abrupt.)
^ "The Tsar's Dragons" - Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple (Taking place just before the Russian Revolution, both Rasputin and Leon Trotsky make appearances.)
^ "The Dragon of Direfell" - Liz Williams (This story, about a magician called in to deal with a dragon, was cleverly written and had a great ending.)
^^ "Oakland Dragon Blues" - Peter S. Beagle (Another great story, a cop's called in to move a dragon who's obstructing traffic, not that he'd later admit that's what it was. Shows how reality is shaped by belief.)
v "Humane Killer" - Diana Gabaldon & Samuel Sykes (Two stories that intersect, one half tells of a magician and her knight protector, the other half tells of a knight in training and his scarred sister companion. Neither group is what they appear and both are sent to kill the same dragon. I found the story rather long and boring with rather unsympathetic characters.)
^^ "Stop!" - Garth Nix (A man walks onto an US army a-bomb test site. Sounds odd but the story works and is one of the best in the collection.)
^ "Ungentle Fire" - Sean Williams (A coming of age story where a boy is sent to slay a dragon, but is unsure whether following his master is still the correct course of action.)
^^ "A Stark and Wormy Knight" - Tad Williams (A fantastic tale of a dragon telling her son a bed time story. It uses dialect, but the tale itself is fun, not the least for being from the dragon's POV.)
^ "None So Blind" - Harry Turtledove (Colonial soldiers examine a mountain range inhabited by savages concerning rumours of dragons.)
^ "JoBoy" - Diana Wynne Jones (A strange but interesting story of a man whose father mysteriously dies and who, himself, falls prey to an undiagnosable illness.)
^ "Puz-le" = Gregory Maguire (Ellen's so bored from being stuck in the cottage due to rain that she decides to do a puzzle. Only the picture keeps changing. The character's aren't that likable, but Maguire writes them so well you don't really care.)
^^ "After the Third Kiss" - Bruce Coville (This story has the feel of a fairytale in that it's bizarre, has an evil step-mother and a relatively happy ending. There are some great twists in the tale of a girl changed into a dragon who needs her brothers kisses in order to become human again. It was another one of my favourites.)
^ "The War That Winter Is" - Tanith Lee (An ice dragon terrorizes those living in northern climes, freezing whole villages with his breath, until a hero is born. A tale about discovering your own purpose in life rather than doing what others want you to do.)
^ "The Dragon's Tale" - Tamora Pierce (A second story told from a dragon's POV, this time a young dragon who wants to help a woman and her child.)
^^ "Dragon Storm" - Mary Rosenblum (Tahlia of the 'bad-luck eyes' has a way with dragons, but a bully from the grove where she lives threatens her life, and the role she might play in keeping the groves safe from the Kark. A highly enjoyable story, with interesting characters.)
^ "The Dragaman's Bride" - Andy Duncan (Mountain youths are disappearing and Pearl, a magician stumbles onto the reason for the mystery.)

The book has, in my opinion, 5 exceptional stories and 2 bad to mediocre stories. The others were fun reads and did show originality in dealing with dragons. Ultimately, this is a great collection for anyone who loves dragons or who wants to know more about them.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Runaway - Movie Review

I remember seeing this film, written and directed by Michael Crichton, as a child. I remember it as the only movie that scared the daylights out of me and gave me nightmares. So I decided to rent it as an adult and see WHY it scared me so much as I only remembered a few scenes from the film.

Tom Selleck plays police sergeant Jack Ramsay, whose job is to stop machines that have circumvented their programming and become dangerous. Runaways. In the process of investigating a few runaways, he discovers that the machines aren't runaways at all. A chip has been inserted that turns them into killing machines.

While the acting is often over the top (or, in the case of Ramsay's son, underacted), and the special effects cheesy by today's standards, the plot holds. As does the creepiness of seeing spider like robots jump on people and stab them in the throat with needles (the scenes that creeped me out as a kid).

Crichton had no problem killing characters either, which made watching this a real edge of my seat experience.

Here's the movie trailer:

Friday 13 November 2009

Mark Teppo - Author Interview




website: http://www.markteppo.com/

Q: Pitch The first novel of your series.

A: LIGHTBREAKER is a Dan Brown thriller written by Aleister Crowley, wherein everyone who is after the mystical secret key of the universe actually knows how to use it. And they're willing to break things in order to get it. It's the first book in a longer series, the CODEX OF SOULS.

Q: What are your favourite three books ?

A: Gene Wolfe's BOOK OF THE NEW SUN series (it's all one book, really, and one of them by itself doesn't bake your brain like the whole quartet does), Grant Morrison's THE INVISIBLES (again, the sum is mightier than the parts), and James Elroy's WHITE JAZZ. No one packs more degradation, guilt, and despair in a single sentence fragment than that man.

Q: What made you want to be a writer?

A: Huh, I can't remember, actually. Couldn't be that school-wide writing competition I won back in sixth grade, mainly because I didn't know there was one until my English teacher submitted the piece I had written for my creative writing class. Though, it probably has something to do with Lloyd Alexander-esque story I wrote as my final paper on T. S. Eliot for my Survey of English Lit class in college. When you manage to convince the grad student running the class that such a story will, in many ways, display more effectively one's understanding of "The Wasteland" than a mind-numbing ramble—with footnotes--that's a pretty clear sign that you'd rather be making things up for a living than anything else.

Q: In the books you’ve written, who is you favourite character and why?

A: I really like my version of Rudolph in the Christmas stories, which, alas, no one other than the people on my Christmas card list (three years running) have seen. Of course, should someone like to publish them…

I do like Markham, the protagonist of the CODEX books, quite a bit. He's been in my head long enough that he's become somewhat emo from all that time of waiting for something to happen, but I think I'm breaking him of that habit fairly quickly. LIGHTBREAKER and HEARTLAND have been "works-in-progress" for so long that there's a certain amount of psychic baggage attached to them, and it's been nice to finally be done with them. I'm actually excited about ANGEL TONGUE (book 3) and the ones that follow, as they're books which have no previous drafts floating around. It'll be new ground for me, and I think that'll reflect pretty clearly in Markham's attitude.

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

A: Oh, dear, no. I try very hard to break them--psychologically and physically. It wouldn't be much fun to be on the receiving end of a capricious deity's whims. Though, they do surprise me, which is part of the fascination with being a writer. You have these creatures whom you think operate on very specific rulesets--ones that you've given them--and they always break free and find their own path. It's when the characters start pushing back on the outline that I feel like I've got a real book on my hands.

Q: If you could live in your fantasy/sf world, would you? Would you live in somebody else’s?

A: I'm trying to ground the CODEX enough in reality (especially in books 3 and 4) that it's only fantasy by a stretch of my imagination, and some days, I wish it were more true that it is. It would certainly explain a lot of things. Given the opportunity, though, I think it'd be fascinating to live in some of the worlds of the French graphic artists: Moebius, Druillet, or Schuiten.

Q: What was the first novel (published or unpublished) that you wrote and how long did it take to write it?

A: It was called SOULS OF THE LIVING and I wrote it in a sixty-day spurt at the beginning of 1995. All that remains of it are the framework of a few scenes and a handful of characters, but it was the first draft of what became LIGHTBREAKER.

Q: What was the hardest scene for you to write?

A: The first one on an otherwise blank page. It may not be the first scene of the book, but it's the first scene I write of a new book. I hate getting started.

Q: Share an interesting fan story.

A: Someone, who I've known for a very long time, recently finished LIGHTBREAKER and gave me a strange look the day after. "Are you," she asked, "You know, one of them?" I played dumb. "One of who?" "One of those guys. A…Traveler?"

For a second or two, I thought about saying yes, but I could tell it took a lot for her to even ask the question, and to mess with her would have been mean. Though, it may be like the old maxim about the Rosicrucians. If you say you are a Rosicrucian, you aren't. If you deny it, you probably are.

Q: What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you’ve attended and why?

A: I still get a kick out of being able to publicly point to the book and say (in a loud voice), "Why, yes, I wrote that. Why do you ask?" LIGHTBREAKER has only been physically on the shelves for about six months and so people are still discovering it. So any opportunity I have to do some sort of promotion or event has been a hoot. It's not work yet. It's not the grind of "Oh, drat; a sixteen city tour this month." It's: "Oh, look! A stack of books I've not signed. Who has a pen?"

Q: If you still have one, what’s your day job?

A: I still have the day job, where I do a variety of technical things for a biotech company in Seattle. Most of the time the job involves taking data from one system, massaging it, and giving it to another system, but doing it all through the magic of "middleware."

Q: What is your university degree in and does it help with your writing?

A: I had enough science for a B.S. in the Arts and Letters, but I couldn't say it with a straight face. It was a generalized liberal arts degree, but we were expected to declare a focus and write a thesis. I did mine on Creative Mythology, and wrote about the use of mythological tropes and sacred elements within both popular fiction and literature. Clive Cussler's TREASURE was actually a cornerstone to my thesis. I think my advisor was appalled on some level; more so because I made it work. Has it helped? Yes, I'm still milking the research I did back then. Every time I mention Mircea Eliade or use the phrase 'in illo tempore' in the books, I'm just validating my college degree.

Q: Do you think it is easier to write fantasy or science fiction?

A: I used to think fantasy was, because you could make everything up and no one would be able to call you on the places where you got things wrong (unlike science fiction), but I've come to realize that making things up--on such a global level--is probably more work. None of it is easy, I think, the trick is to make it fun, and both have their pluses and minuses.

I just finished a 21st century corporate espionage piece for Electric Velocipede (in issue #19; www.electricvelocipede.com) that was the first real "science fiction" that I've written, and I think I managed to not embarrass myself on the tech side of things. But it was an entirely different set of mental peregrinations than the sort of thing I do for the fantasy. In fact, now that I think about it, I made everything up for that story, whereas a lot of the fantastic elements in the CODEX books are researched fairly intently. Apparently, I'm doing it backward.

Q: When and where do you write?

A: I write on the train or at the coffee shop, mostly. I finally admitted to myself recently that I don't really write at home. Partly it is because the way my day is structured, the commute is set aside as my writing time, and I guard it religiously. As I became more accustomed to being a mobile writer, working at the coffee shop became the obvious extension of that.

Q: What’s the best/worst thing about writing?

A: I used to think it was the editing, but now I really enjoy the process of fixing a story. First drafts tend to be fragmentary (not surprising, based on how I write them), and so there's a real sense of satisfaction in putting this awkward, jagged thing together. The worst part is how isolating the work can be. By the time someone reads a book you've written, it may be several years--and several projects--later for you, and it can be hard to share in a reader's excitement about the work. At the same time, all the things you find fascinating RIGHT NOW are meaningless to anyone else because they're not as involved in them as you are.

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

A: Nothing happens overnight, even when it looks like it does. A writer has to be stubbornly determined in order to get a book done; they also have to be Zen masters of patience while they wait for something to happen.

Q: Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

A: Write every single day. Doesn't matter where or how or how much. Do it. Do it long enough, it gets easier. Do it more, and it becomes part of who you are.

Q: Any tips against writers block?

A: Writer's block is mainly an issue of you over-thinking what needs to go on the page. Usually, I do something else as I've found that whatever I manage to eke out during these periods is usually so bad that it all gets cut anyway. There's always reading to be done, so that's what I go do. Eventually, the knot dissolves itself and the flow starts again. Or if you stack up enough projects, when one stalls out, you switch to something else. I don't get writer's block much anymore, really, as my writing time is broken up enough that any trouble I'm having with a scene is usually worked out in my subconscious between sessions.

Q: How do you discipline yourself to write?

A: I have two forty minute blocks in a day. I need to do 30,000 words a month. I typically write 1000 words an hour. My schedule only has six days a week of writing time on it, so…(doing the math)…yeah, I'm always behind in the word count. That does wonders for disciple.

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

A: SOULS OF THE LIVING was shopped for two years before we shelved it. I got about a dozen rejections during that iteration. When we tried again with it a half-dozen years later (after a page one rewrite to make it LIGHTBREAKER), we had one rejection before two houses went to the mat for it.

Thursday 12 November 2009

Zardo - Photographer and Artist

For those of you who like fantasy art, here's a photographer who makes his work look more like goth paintings. Check him out: http://zardo.deviantart.com/

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Previously Posted Author Interviews

As promised, here's a list of all the interviews I've posted since I began in December of 2007. They're in order, first to latest. In brackets is either their first book or their most recent.

Joshua Palmatier (Skewed Throne)
Joel Shepherd (Crossover)
Carol Berg (Transformation)
Paul Chafe (Genesis)
Gail Martin (Summoner)
Edward Willett (Terra Insegura)
Jim Hines (Goblin Quest)
John Varley (Rolling Thunder)
Maria Snyder (Poison Study)
Rob Thurman (Nightlife)
R. Scott Bakker (The Darkness That Comes Before)
Kevin J. Anderson (The Edge of the World)
Chris Evans (A Darkness Forged In Fire)
Mark L. Van Name (One Jump Ahead)
Violette Malan (Mirror Prince)
C. L. Wilson (Lord of the Fading Lands)
Lynda Williams (Courtesan Prince)
Chad Corrie (Seer's Quest)
Brent Weeks (Way of Shadows)
Bernardine Evaristo (Blonde Roots)
Peter Brett (Warded Man/Painted Man)
Matthew Sturges (Midwinter)
Robert J. Sawyer (WWW:Wake)
A. J. Hartley (Act of Will)
Brandon Sanderson (Elantris)
Faith Hunter (Bloodring)
Tony Ballantyne (Recursion)
Joe Abercrombie (The Blade Itself)
Freda Warrington (Elfland)
John Ringo (Eye of the Storm)
Gail Carriger (Soulless)

In the works are interviews with Mark Teppo (Lightbreaker), Jeff Carlson (Plague Year) and Kelly Gay (The Better Part of Darkness).

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Previously Posted Reading Lists

Given that I've got a lot more readers than I used to and knowing how rarely people read older posts, I'm listing the reading lists I posted in the past. I'm not adding the links (too time consuming) but you can use the blog search box to find the posts.

These are listed from oldest to newest. The older the list the older the books on them, but knowing what authors are writing what genres can help you find something new to read.

Time Travel
Space Opera (not my best list, I'll admit)
Alternate History
Urban Fantasy P.I.'s
Not Quite Human (ie, cyborgs, etc.)
It All Started On A Farm (SFF novels that start on a farm)
Writer's Resources (books on the writing craft)
Pulp SF and Fantasy
Christmas SF & F
Not Your Children's Fairy Tales
Epic Fantasy to Watch Out For
Literary Vampire novels
Fantasy On the High Seas

Tomorrow I'll list all the author's I've interviewed.

Friday 6 November 2009

Carrie - Stephen King

R. A. Salvatore mentioned something during his talk at the World's Biggest Bookstore that Guy Gavriel Kay said to him. Mr. Kay, in discussing the Lord of the Rings movies said something along the lines of, "Do you realize that no one from now on will approach the Lord of the Rings the way we did, by reading the book?"

At the time I thought that was improbable. Tolkien's books are classics, and while the movies were good, there's something to be said about reading the books. But that doesn't necessarily mean the books will be read first. Which would be a shame.

Take Carrie, by Stephen King. The book came out in 1974, several years before I was born. It's considered a classic of horror. And yet, I saw the movie long before reading the book (which I finally did this week). I imagine most people know the story. Or think they do.

Carrie is about a 16 year old girl who is brought up by a fundamentally religious woman, and whose unfortunately public onset of puberty set forth a chain of events that resulted in death and destruction. It's the kind of story where you imagine the suspense is in the ending, and is therefore ruined by knowing what's coming.

But it's not. The novel itself is told from many viewpoints and many time points. You get third person narrative following the various characters as the events slowly unfold interspersed with sections by future scholars analyzing the events, as well as memoirs and testimonies by survivors at the White Commission, designed to discover if such a disaster could reoccur. In other words, from early on in the novel you've got a pretty good idea of what's going to happen. You may not know all the details, but you already know telekinesis is involved and that... Well, I don't want to spoil the book for those who haven't read it. Suffice it to say, the suspense doesn't come so much from the ending as it does from two other things:

1) The explanation of how events proceed to bring such a conclusion, and
2) The personal motivations of the characters for their actions, all of which combine to form the final conclusion.

In other words, it's the journey not the destination that makes reading so much fun. And most of the interesting nuances from the book are necessarily lost when making a film. You can see some motivations but not all. It's one of those instances where telling actually works better than showing (something that's hard to do with movies).

Carrie White herself is an intriguing character. It would be easy to hate her, especially given her description at the start of the novel. And yet, as the book progresses you sympathize with her more and more, wanting things to go well for her. You honestly want the prom to be a chance for her to start anew, even while you know (because King tells you) that that's not going to happen.

Carrie's a great book. And there's more to it than the movie would have you believe.

I'm left wondering however, how the book would have affected me if I hadn't known the ending in advance. I found myself constantly trying to fit what was happening into my fuzzy recollections of what I remembered about the film. So maybe it is true that future generations will be less likely to read the book if a movie's out based on it.

Thursday 5 November 2009

Abandoned Books - Dracula: The Un-dead by Dacre Stoker & Ian Holt

I've never considered doing a review of a book I decided not to finish but then I saw this post by Andrew Wheeler and realized it can work.

One of my co-workers who's read a lot of vampire books read Dracula: The Un-dead and recommended it to me with the proviso that the ending was a little weak but the book itself was interesting. So I started it.

I loved the first quarter of the novel. The book takes place 25 years after the events of Dracula, and a new enemy vampire, Countess Bathory. The first section focuses on two characters, Dr. Jack Seward who still hunts vampires though that has cost him his family, his money and his practice and Quincey Harker, son of Jonathan and Mina, who wants to be an actor against his father's wishes. The book mixes these new storylines with flashbacks to the Dracula hunt and how the heroes met (which isn't in the original and so rather intriguing).

So far, so good. There's even an inspector who thinks current happenings will lead him to Jack the Ripper so his failed career can be saved. But all those great things seem to fall apart for me around the halfway mark.

From here on there be spoilers, so if you'll be avoiding the rest of this post I will say one last thing. If you want to read the book, and enjoy it, I suggest NOT reading Dracula first. Around the halfway mark the book starts drawing more heavily on Dracula, and the inconsistencies here were what have prevented me from reading on.

*** Spoiler Alert ***

I haven't seen Francis Ford Coppola's movie adaptation of Dracula since university, but I strongly suspect the authors pulled more from that then they did the original novel. In Dracula the Un-dead Mina calls Dracula her 'dark prince' and purportedly still loves him. Now, unless I missed something in the novel (and I went back to check) there's no such emotion in the book. Jonathan, in this continuation, feels overshadowed by Dracula as Mina's lover, feeling that he can never satisfy her.

Here's a rather badly taped clip from the move from the Dracula/Mina love scene.

It's a very sensual scene where Mina asks to join him in his life and consents to become a vampire.

Now, here's that same scene from the book. We've previously been told that Mina's had trouble sleeping the past few nights and that she's seen mist entering her room, but that she remembers nothing after that.

This scene is in the form of Dr. Seward's diary and is the only account we are given. He and Van Helsing have been warned that Mina's already been visited by Dracula in the past and her blood drained. They rush to the room she is sharing with her husband and see the following. Jonathan is on the bed, flushed and breathing heavily as though in a stupor.

"Kneeling on the near edge of the bed facing outwards was the white-clad figure of his wife. By her side stood a tall, thin man, clad in black. His face was turned from us, but the instant we saw it we all recognized the Count - in every way, even to the scar on his forehead. With his left hand he held both Mrs. Harker's hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand ripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom. Her white nightdress was smeared with blood ... The attitude of the two had a terrible resemblance to a child forcing a kitten's nose into a sauce of milk to compel it to drink."

When he sees the intruders he throws Mina on the bed and goes to attack but is stopped by a Host wafer, held by Van Helsing.

The description of Mina after this is as follows:

"Her eyes were mad with terror. Then she put before her face her poor crushed hands, which bore on their whiteness the red mark of the Count's terrible grip, and from behind them came a low desolate wail which made the terrible scream seem only the quick expression of an endless grief." *

Not really the reaction of a woman in love. Dracula is a horror novel. There is no romance attributed to the vampire. Mina mentions later that Dracula made her drink his blood as a form of revenge, knowing he'd then be able to compel her to act for him. She's convinced she's damned because of it and contemplates suicide at one point. That Dracula: the Un-dead, as a continuation of Dracula, doesn't seem to understand this is rather bizarre. The point where I stopped reading is when Mina decides she truly loved Dracula more than Jonathan (there's a rewritten ending to Dracula where Mina picks up a gun and has to decide between her two loves and chooses Jonathan, something she now regrets - this scene, and consequently this choice, is not in Dracula. Nor, given the religious underpinings of the novel where Dracula is equated with the devil, would it be.).

At the conclusion of Dracula, Van Helsing, 7 years after the events of the book exclaims during a meeting with the Harker family, "This boy (Quincey Harker) will some day know what a brave and gallant woman his mother is."

Well, the Quincey Harker of Dracula: the Un-dead certainly has a different take. He learns of their past (which was hidden from him) and determines that his mothers infidelity with Dracula is what ruined his father and caused all the grief in his family. A sorry end for a character who was portrayed as a strong woman in the original. This sort of reminds me of how people blame rape victims for being attacked. In the original novel Mina did not ask to have her blood drained and she certainly had no love for Dracula. There was no ambiguity in her mind as to whether or not the vampire ought to be killed.

Anyway, back to the review. If you've never read Dracula than none of this is important. The writing of Dracula: the Undead is good and the story was interesting. I'd be interested in hearing thoughts from those who finished the book.

* I'm quoting from the Wordsworth Classics Unabridged 1993 edition of Dracula.

Wednesday 4 November 2009

What Speculative Fiction Works Would You Put On A Highschool Curriculum?

The most recent Mind Meld on SF Signal deals with what speculative fiction novels first published in the last 10 years should be included in high school literature courses.

I had to read the Chrisalids and 1984 in class, but most of my speculative fiction reading was done after school. I read mostly fantasy but felt after a while that I should read some of the SF classics as well, and started with Asimov's Foundation series. I didn't get much past that, so in university I took an SFF English lit course. We read some interesting works, and some I'd never want to read again. I'd expected the list to include SFF classics. The prof however, chose to revise the traditional list so while we'd read the masters we wouldn't read their most famous works. Here's the list:

The Two Towers - J. R. R. Tolkien
The Postman - David Brin
Grass - Sheri Tepper
Time's Arrow - Martin Amis
The Hollow Man - Dan Simmons
Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus - Orson Scott Card
Woman on the Edge of Time - Marge Piercy
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep - Philip K. Dick
Parable of the Sower - Octavia Butler
Dune - Frank Herbert
The Shining - Stephen King
Neuromancer - William Gibson
(I'm missing one or two, but you get the picture)

If you're looking at this list and thinking, 'what a lot of dystopian fiction' you'd be thinking what I was (after I'd read them all). If I were building a curriculum, I'd try to vary my speculative fiction to portray the spectrum of what's been done and what's being done now.

The problem with SF Signal's guidelines is it removes all the classics from the list. I'd love to see more people reading The Postman, which, in my opinion, was a better post apocalyptic novel than The Road by Cormac McCarthy (though I liked that novel). And it just seems odd to leave authors like Clarke, Asimov, Card, Herbert, Tolkien, Butler, Dick, etc. off a list of books intended to teach SFF literature (not that all of them need to be included, but to avoid all of them? That's just wrong.).

Of course, thinking of a list of great books to read and coming up with a curriculum of 'books with themes and meanings' is different. While I didn't like all the books I had to read for my class I can honestly say there was a lot of discussion involved with each of them.

I'd probably include The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie. The book has a lot to offer in terms of rewriting the classics of the fantasy genre (which means discussion of what is considered classic fantasy, especially for those with no prior background). The problem for a high school course would be the high level of profanity included.

I'd also include Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold. Fantasy has always appealed to me because of it's propensity for using philosophical topics. The book deals with religion, belief and being a good person (though mostly indirectly).

Terry Pratchett would need to be on the list somewhere. Hogfather would be my choice. It works as a stand alone, but it also brings up questions of belief and reality, making the reader question things they take for granted. It helps that it's a hilarious story.

For an example of alternate history I would use Bernardine Evaristo's Blonde Roots, because it opens the avenue of discussion about the history of and reasoning for slavery and prejudice.

Along the same lines, though more futuristic is Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon, which shows how those with different abilities are still worthwhile members of society.

Ultimately there are a lot of great books out there, and students should be exposed to more of it, both in class and outside of it.

Sunday 1 November 2009

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming in December 2009


Hastur Lord – Marion Zimmer Bradley & Deborah Ross
Hidden Empire – Orson Scott Card
Muse & Reverie – Charles de Lint
Divine Misdemeanors – Laurell Hamilton
Star Wars: Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil – Drew Karpyshyn
Wildcards: Suicide Kings – George R. R. Martin, Ed.
Marion Zimmer Bradley's Sword of Avalon – Diana Paxson
Starship: Flagship – Mike Resnick
Galileo's Dream – Kim Stanley Robinson
Starfist: Double Jeopardy – David Sherman & Dan Cragg
One Good Soldier – Travis Taylor
Liberating Atlantis – Harry Turtledove
Cobra Alliance: Cobra War – Timothy Zahn

Trade Paperback:

Young Flandry – Poul Anderson
Best American Fantasy 3 – Kevin Brockmeier, Ed.
The Light of Other Days – Arthur Clarke & Stephen Baxter
Forgotten Realms: The Return of the Archwizards – Troy Denning
1635: The Tangled Webs – Eric Flint & Virginia DeMarce
Fallen Dragon – Peter Hamilton
Dragon Rule – E. E. Knight
Death of a Starship – Jay Lake
Tuck – Stephen Lawhead
The Scroll Thief – R. F. Long
The Apocalypse Door – James MacDonald
Blood Vice – Keith Melton
Orcs: Army of Shadows – Stan Nicholls

Mass Market Paperback:

The Trouble With Humans – Christopher Anvil
The Judging Eye – R. Scott Bakker
Hell & Earth – Elizabeth Bear
Prison Ship – Michael Bowers
Cosmopath – Eric Brown
Ender in Exile – Orson Scott Card
Sunborn – Jeffrey Carver
The Gods Return – David Drake
Ill Met in the Arena – Dave Duncan
Afterblight Chronicles: Death got no Mercy – Al Ewing
Time Spike – Eric Flint & Marilyn Kosmatka
Black Ships – Jo Graham
Darkscape: Redemption – R. Garland Gray
Just Another Judgement Day – Simon Green
Dead Town – Nancy Holzner
Turned – Julie Kenner
Beyond the Wall of Time – Russell Kirkpatrick
Dragon Lance: The Gargoyle King – Richard Knaak
Changing the World – Mercedes Lackey, Ed.
Star Trek: Mirror Universe: The Sorrows of Empire – David Mack
Bound by Sin – Jenna Maclaine
Dark Lady's Chosen – Gail Z. Martin
Wildscards: Busted Flush – George R. R. Martin, Ed.
Tyrant's Blood – Fiona McIntosh
The Knight of the Red Beard – Andre Norton & Sasha Miller
Forgotten Realms: The Wilds – Mel Odom
Beneath the Skin – Adrian Phoenix
Spells of the City – Jean Rabe & Martin Greenberg, Ed.
War Hammer 40K: Dark Creed – Anthony Reynolds
War Hammer 40K: Sons of Dorn – Chris Roberson
Hallowed Circle – Linda Robertson
Flesh Circus – Lilith Saintcrow
Illegal Alien – Robert Sawyer
The Terminal Experiment – Robert Sawyer (reprint)
Starfist: Wings of Hell – David Sherman & Dan Cragg
Spellbent – Lucy Snyder
The Digital Plague – Jeff Somers
War Hammer: Shadow King – Gav Thorpe
The United States of Atlantis – Harry Turtledove
Bones of the Dragon – Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman
Saint Antony's Fire – Steve White
Confessions of a Demon – S. L. Wright
The Sapphire Sirens – John Zakour