Sunday 30 September 2012

Books Received in September 2012

Fate of Worlds by Larry Niven and Edward Lerner 
Synopsis from Tor (where you can also read a preview of the book).

For decades, the spacefaring species of Known Space have battled over the largest artifact—and grandest prize—in the galaxy: the all-but-limitless resources and technology of the Ringworld. But without warning the Ringworld has vanished, leaving behind three rival war fleets.
Something must justify the blood and treasure spent. If the fallen civilization of the Ringworld can no longer be despoiled of its secrets, the Puppeteers will be forced to surrender theirs.

Knife Sworn by Mazarkis Williams
Synopsis from Nightshade Books.  I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in this series, The Emperor's Knife, and am looking forward to this one.

Williams returns to the sumptuous palaces and treacherous back alleys of the Cerani Empire, where intrigue, passion, and dangerous magic threaten the very soul of a newly-crowned emperor.

After spending most of his life in captivity and solitude, Sarmin now sits upon the Petal Throne of Cerana. But his reign is an uneasy one. Ambitious generals and restless soldiers want war at any cost. An insidious foreign religion stirs fear among the people and the court. And the emperor's own heart is torn between two very different women: Mesema, a Windreader princess of the northern plains, and Grada, a lowborn untouchable with whom Sarmin shares a unique bond. A natural-born mage, Sarmin also carries within him a throng of bodiless spirits whose conflicting memories and desires force him to wage a private battle for his sanity.

In times past, a royal assassin known as the Emperor's Knife served as the keen edge of justice, defending the throne from any and all menaces, but the last Knife has perished and his successor has yet to be named. For his own safety, and that of the empire, Sarmin must choose his own loyal death-dealer . . . .but upon whom can be he bestow the bloody burden of the Knife-Sworn?
The Unincorporated Future by Dani and Eytan Kollin
Synopsis from the Indigo Books website.  I'm currently reading the first book in this series, The Unincorporated Man, and am really enjoying the world-building and characters.

Sandra O'Toole is the president of the Outer Alliance, which stretches from the asteroid belt to the Oort Cloud beyond Pluto. Resurrected following the death of Justin Cord, the unincorporated man, O'Toole has become a powerful political figure and a Machiavellian leader determined to win the Civil War against the inner planets at almost any cost. And the war has been going badly, in part because of the great General Trang, a fit opponent for the brilliant J. D. Black. Choices have to be made to abandon some of the moral principles upon which the revolution was founded. It is a time of great heroism and great betrayal, madness, sacrifice, and shocking military conflict. Nothing is predictable, even the behavior of artificial intelligences. There may be only one way out, but it is not surrender.
The Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis
Synopsis from Indigo Books.
Not only did I read - and love - this Renaissance based historical fiction, I was privileged enough to meet the author at a publisher event.  I'll be posting my review soon.

A sweeping, intense historical thriller starring two of the great minds of Renaissance Italy: Niccolò Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci. Based on a real historical mystery, and involving serial murder and a gruesome cat and mouse game at the highest levels of the Church -- it was the era of the infamous Borgias -- The Malice of Fortune is a delicious treat for fans of Umberto Eco, Sarah Dunant, and Elizabeth Kostova.
This brilliant novel is an epic tale exploring the backdrop of the most controversial work of the Italian Renaissance, The Prince. Here, Niccolò Machiavelli, the great "scientist" of human behaviour becomes, in effect, the first criminal profiler, while his contemporary and sometime colleague, the erratic genius Leonardo da Vinci, brings his observational powers to the increasingly desperate hunt for a brilliant, terrifying serial murderer. Their foil and partner is the exquisite Damiata, scholar and courtesan. All three know their quarry is someone who holds enormous power, both to tear Italy apart, and destroy each of their most beloved dreams. And every thrilling step is based on historical fact.
Tears in Rain by Rosa Montero
Synopsis from Amazon.  Sounds pretty cool.  I'm hoping to read it before its November 27th publication date.

Death is inevitable. Especially when you have an expiration date.

As a replicant, or “techno-human,” Detective Bruna Husky knows two things: humans bioengineered her to perform dangerous, undesirable tasks; and she has just ten years on the United States of Earth before her body automatically self-destructs. But with “anti-techno” rage on the rise and a rash of premature deaths striking her fellow replicants, she may have even less time than she originally thought.

Investigating the mysterious deaths, Bruna delves into the fractious, violent history shared by humans and replicants, and struggles to engage the society that fails to understand her—yet created her. The deeper she gets, the deadlier her work becomes as she uncovers a vast, terrifying conspiracy bent on changing the very course of the world. But even as the darkness of her reality closes in, Bruna clings fiercely to life.

New Author Spotlight: Douglas Hulick

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 Douglas Hulick!

Hulick's debut novel is Among Thieves published by Roc.
Here's the cover copy...
Drothe has been a member of the Kin for years, rubbing elbows with thieves and murderers in the employ of a crime lord while smuggling relics on the side. But when an ancient book falls into his hands, Drothe finds himself in possession of a relic capable of bringing down emperors - a relic everyone in the underworld would kill to obtain.
Check out his book, and these others, if you like stories about thieves:
  • Den of Thieves by David Chandler (Harper Voyager)
  • Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan (Orbit)
  • Giant Thief by David Tallerman (Angry Robot)

Saturday 29 September 2012

Klingon Style

If you haven't heard Psy's "Gangnam Style" you've been missing out on quite a phenomenon.  The latest in a string of remakes including (my favourites only) Gangnam Style by Waveya (5 women wearing ridiculously high heeled shoes), Gangnam Style without music, Gandalf Style and many, MANY, others comes Klingon Style by Comediva.  It's actually in Klingon - with several people in Star Trek costumes doing Star Trek things behind the Klingon singer.  :)


Book Review: American Science Fiction Edited by Gary K. Wolfe

The American Science Fiction collection, volume one, consists of 4 classic novels written from 1953 to 1956:

The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth
More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon
The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett
The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson

Pros: original book versions of the stories; biographical information, note on the texts and end notes for each story, diverse sub-genres represented, influencial stories and authors

Cons: some of the novels contain parts that modern readers may find boring

This is the first of a two book American Science Fiction collection.  It's a hard bound book set of books that match others in the series.  The four novels reprinted here are all by authors who have greatly impacted science fiction as we know it today.  The novels themselves represent different subgenres: dystopic, evolutionary, post-apocalyptic and fantastical.  [OK, I'm making some of these categories up, but each novel here has a different feel and used science fiction in a different way.]

The back of the collection has a number of good, short resources.  There are biographical notes on each author, a note on the texts (what versions are printed here (as most of them first appeared in magazines)), and end notes.  In addition to textual notes, the end notes also print an additional 3 chapters of Gravy Planet (renamed The Space Merchants) for its syndication in Galaxy magazine.  They come after the events of The Space Merchants as printed in book form.  There is also an introduction to The Shrinking Man writen by Richard Matheson for a 2001 printing of the book that explains where he got the idea for the story, where he wrote it and how it was turned into a movie.

If you're interested in the history of science fiction, this is a good collection, even if parts of the stories may be boring to those with modern sensibilities.

Also, check out the collection's website: for commentary on all of the stories by modern SF writers, a cover gallery, an explanation of SF in the 50s and more.

Friday 28 September 2012

Book Review: The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson

The final classic SF novel reprinted by the first volume of the American Science Fiction collection, is The Shrinking Man.

Pros: interesting premise, intense, sympathetic protagonist

Cons: no time for the reader to take in what's happening, the shrinking is offhandedly explained 

Scott Carey fights for his life against a giant spider in the cellar of his house, imprisoned by his ever shrinking size.  Between trying to find food and water in his dangerous world, he remembers the difficult road that brought him here, losing 1/7th of an inch each day.

Scott is an angry man.  From the time his shrinking began he's raged against his ultimate fate, denying the reality of his situation, yelling at his wife and ignoring their daughter.  He's also a scared man, dealing with the reality of his situation even as work becomes harder, medical bills mount and supporting his family becomes impossible.  

He's a highly sympathetic character.  While it's hard to like how he treats his wife in the flashbacks, it's also hard to deny that anyone would feel the same in similar circumstances.  The novel explores his continuing sexual urges as well as his desire to be 'a man' in a world that increasingly views him as a kid, then a doll, then nothing at all.

It's a pulse pounding novel.  Whenever you think he's caught a break something goes wrong.  Then several more things go wrong and you wonder how he keeps going on.  Both the present scenes and back story are fraught with new perils he must face and, generally, escape.  The intensity rarely lets up, as everything becomes a danger to him.

Having said that, there's no time for the reader to do more than hang on for the ride.  A few times the author brings up more philosophical questions, but it's hard to contemplate life the universe and everything when you're running for your life, so the questions are asked and quickly forgotten as Scott gets on with living.

Readers who like solid science will be disappointed by the haphazard explanation of why Scott is shrinking.  

At just over 200 pages, it's also a fairly short read, but detailed enough to give you insight into the characters and a wild ride.

It's a fantastic conclusion for this collection and an interesting read.

Thursday 27 September 2012

Book Review: The Long Tomorrow by Leigh Brackett

The third of the four books included in the first volume of the American Science Fiction collection edited by Gary Wolfe is The Long Tomorrow.

Pros: good writing, realistic extrapolation of the aftermath of a nuclear war

Cons: boring at times, Len becomes increasingly hard to relate to

Len and Esau are cousins growing up in the New Mennonite Community of Piper's Run a hundred years after the atomic war that destroyed the United States.  The Thirtieth Ammendment states that no cities beyond a certain size are allowed to be built and the country has splintered into a variety of religious farmers and traders.

After witnessing a stoning, the boys realize their curiosity is peaked and they start dreaming of going to Bartorstown, a mythical city where old technology is still used.

Brackett is a good writer.  Her descriptions are solid and her plotting is direct.  The idea that a nuclear war would find religious zealots banning cities, in the hopes of avoiding such a thing in the future, is realistic (even more so for the early post-WWII world Brackett wrote this in, when fear of nuclear bombs was very high), as is the idea that many people would become Amish or Mennonite, learning from people who have always eschewed technology.

Having said that, if you like your post-apocalyptic fiction more Mad Max than Little House on the Prairie, like me, you'll find this book fairly boring.  What technology there is, is obviously patterned off of 50s understanding.  But it's so limited that it doesn't detract from the story.

Len's story arc, however, does.  I liked him in the first two sections.  He's young, idealistic, and unwilling to let go of his dreams regardless of how he's beaten and shamed.  By the third segment I realized that he's also the kind of person who's always chasing a dream.  He's never satisfied with where he is in life, because he's always sure it's better somewhere else.  Only at the very end, when he finally decides as an adult what he wants out of life and what he believes in, does he stop waffling and settle.

This is the first thing by Beckett I've read.  I wouldn't mind picking up something else by her, given the writing chops she shows in this book, but The Long Tomorrow isn't a book I'd read again.

Form 1 3D Printer

Got lots of cash?  Want a 3D printer at home?  Check out this kickstarter campaign by Formlabs:

Honestly, $3000 for a 3D printer with the precision of the Form 1 (which can print layers as thin as 25 microns (that's 0.001 inch) ) is quite good.  And they're going fast.  Today's the second day of their campaign and they've already sold out of the first two printer tiers.

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Book Review: More Than Human by Theodore Sturgeon

This is the second book in the new American Science Fiction Collection, volume one, edited by Gary Wolfe.

Pros: parts 2 & 3 are brilliantly written with an interesting message, very diverse cast of characters 

Cons: part 1 has several purposely obscure but important pieces of information, 1950s racial situations/terminology

Normally I write my own synopsis for books I review, but this book's quite complex so I've decided to grab one from the Indigo website instead:

From one of the greatest practitioners of science fiction comes a genre-bending novel that is as affectingly humane as it is speculatively daring.
There's Lone, who can make a man blow his own brains out just by looking at him. There's Janie, who moves things without touching them, and the unique power of the teleporting twins. There's Baby, who invented an antigravity engine while still in the cradle, and Gerry, who has everything it takes to run the world -- except for a conscience. Separately, they are talented freaks. Together they compose a single organism that may represent the next step in evolution. As the protagonist of More Than Human struggle to find out whether they are meant to help humanity or destroy it, Theodore Sturgeon explores the questions of power and morality, individuality and belonging, with sophistication and lyricism rarely seen in science fiction.

This is the kind of book that makes me question my 'if I'm not enjoying it, stop reading it' policy.  The book is split into 3 parts, and I actively disliked part 1 while finding parts 2 and 3 brilliant.  Had this not been a review book, I would have stopped reading in part 1, which would have been a shame.  Part 1 introduces the decently large cast of very diverse characters including a mentally handicapped man, a baby that won't grow, two black girls, etc.  It does this by jumping from person to person, often giving descriptions via characters who see the world... differently.  Lone, for example, is mentally challenged and only towards the end of the section does he develop speech and anything close to a 'normal' understanding of events.  But his scenes are still written in an understandable way.  

The author, however, purposefully obscured certain events in this part of the book making the reader guess what's going on.  By the time you understand the situation, you have to go back and reevaluate what's happened.  For example, there's a father who has secluded himself and his two daughters on a piece of land.  It's easy to assume from things in the text that he's sexually abusing his oldest daughter.  Or maybe he's just beating her to drive out her sexual awakening.  Or maybe nothing abusive is happening at all besides the girls being locked up.  Even after finishing the book I'm not sure which it was, though later events make me assume it's the second scenario.

The first section is set-up for the rest of the book, and the characters the author spends so much time introducing aren't as active in the other two parts (they're mentioned and shown in flashbacks in part 2 and only one of them shows up for any length of time in part 3, with the others having bit parts). 

Modern readers will find a few scenes uncomfortable as 1950s racial prejudice is portrayed, including period terminology.

Parts 2 and 3 have a lot more suspense and drive behind them.  While I felt like putting part 1 down and not picking it back up, parts 2 and 3 had me on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next.  The writing was clear, linear and the author tantilized you with bits of the answer at a time.

The ending was great and worth pushing through the first section to get to. 

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Book Review: The Space Merchants by Fredrick Pohl and C. M. Kornbluth

The first of the 4 novels published in the American Science Fiction two volume collection, The Space Merchants was originally published in 1953.  This is the original version (rather than the recent updated edition) of the book.

Pros: creepy future, interesting politics/worldbuilding, great plot twists

Cons: protagonist is unlikable (as are most of the supporting characters), protagonist can't think past himself  

Mitchell Courtenay is assigned as head of Fowler Schocken's new Venus Section: making the planet look appealing for colonization and subsequent subversion by their company.  But this is a tough sell, not the least because of Venus's harsh atmosphere.  To help, he gets on retainer the only man who's ever been there, Jack O'Shea, little person pilot and new to fame and fortune.  The future overcrowded corporate run world has one main enemy - Consies (Conservationalists), whom Mitchell must deal with.  Finally, he must convince his not quite wife to take him back.

This book details a very scary future, and given that it was written in 1953, a surprisingly relavent one.  Corporations have nigh absolute power, and what little remains to governments can be easily bought.  Advertisers like Fowler Schocken cash in on the art of persuasion, with a touch of a mildly addictive substance added to their products that force consumers to keep buying them.

The novel is told mostly from the priviledged POV of Mitchell, though we eventually learn how others live and are treated by the corporations that come to own them (in a form of indentured slavery).

The plot has several fantastic ups and downs to keep readers on their toes.

I wasn't a fan of Mitchell.  He's fairly out of touch with the rest of the world (and how 'consumers' live) to be sympathetic.  Even at the end, when he's started to understand the larger picture, he's not particularly likable.  Having said that, I did want to see him succeed at the end, his enemies being even more dispicable (if characters wore hats he'd be in gray while most of the others would be wearing black).  

The supporting characters aren't that sympathetic either.  Jack starts out as a great guy but quickly descends into - and is destroyed by - debauchery.  Mitchell's not quite wife, a surgeon, has her own negative aspects that are revealed later in the book.

St Martin's Press recently published a revised 21st century edition of this book.  Having read the original, it doesn't seem necessary to have updated it.  The story still has relevance in its original form and packs quite a punch with regards to where humanity is potentially heading.

Monday 24 September 2012

Paolini's Inheritance Series gets Enhanced Ebook Treatment

With ebooks becoming more popular, publishers seem to be playing more with the idea of enhanced ebooks, with added content (videos, music, pictures, etc.).  October will see the release of Christopher Paolini's Inheritance Series (Eragon, Eldest, Brisingr, Inheritance) in a deluxe enhanced ebook edition with videos.  Details from their press release below:

The INHERITANCE DELUXE Enhanced Ebook with Video (On sale October 23, 2012 / $13.99) includes all the features of the hardcover Deluxe, plus 17 exclusive videos that take readers behind the scenes with Christopher Paolini for a unique reading experience, as he shares stories and secrets about Inheritance. Videos are embedded throughout the text, allowing readers to watch Paolini’s commentary on scenes as they unfold. He touches on topics and characters ranging from the Capture of Nasuada, the Siege of Urû’baen, the Fall of Galbatorix, Angela the Herbalist, and his thoughts on returning to the world of Alagaësia in the future.

In addition to the full text of Inheritance, the Deluxe Edition includes never-before-seen artwork by Christopher Paolini, a letter from Paolini to fans reflecting on the series, and a new scene within the text.

The all-new Enhanced Ebook with Video follows the June announcement of the Inheritance Deluxe (available in print and ebook). The new releases follow the November 8, 2011, publication of Inheritance, the fourth and final installment of the #1 bestselling Inheritance cycle, which achieved the highest first-day sale in 2011 of any fiction or nonfiction, adult or children’s title published in the U.S. and Canada, selling a staggering 489,500 copies in print, digital, and audio formats.

Watch Paolini’s introduction for a sneak peek of the exclusive videos here,

For more information, check out the author's website.

Friday 21 September 2012

Author Interview: Alex Hughes

Novel: Clean

> What is Clean about? 

Clean is about a recovering addict telepath who helps the police in future Atlanta solve a series of murders where the killer kills with the mind. Author James Knapp calls it “a fun blend of Chinatown and Bladerunner.”

> What drew you to writing about a telepath, and why give him a drug addiction?

I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of telepathy, of knowing what someone else is thinking. It would be a shortcut to knowing someone, really knowing someone at a deep level, but you might not like what you find… or understand it correctly. I also like the idea of someone starting over, of making a brand new life through hard choices, and the two ideas went together nicely, I think.

> What made you want to be a writer?

I was a big reader as a kid; there was nothing I loved better than disappearing in the pages of a great book. In my early teenage years it occurred to me that you could do that for a living – write books for others to disappear into, sharing your own joy and sorrow and everything else. When I met my first science fiction book, I knew for certain that’s what I wanted to do with my life.

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

I’d love to be Kara. She’s a strong teleporter who’s managed to transition from courier work to the responsibility of representing the Guild to the public. She’s an intensely ethical and loyal person and she’s known great love. She’s also known great heartbreak and responsibility, but that’s real life.

> What were your literary influences for Clean?

Joan D. Vinge’s Catspaw was a huge influence. I’m also a big fan of TV police procedurals, particularly The Closer.

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

For me, it’s much easier writing novels. A good novel is like an oak tree, with branches and ideas growing out in many directions to build one whole. A good short story is more like an oak sapling with a few branches – tightly focused. Making that focus happen in a short story, to me, requires a lot of pruning – a lot of ideas I can’t include. With a novel, though, I can let things grow to their full potential.

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

My first novel was a fantasy/fairy tale starring a silent assassin and a rebellion against an evil prince. It’s terrible. It took me five years to write, and although there’s a lot in it I still love, there’s far more in it to make me wince. Maybe someday I’ll bring it out and polish it up, but not any time soon.

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

In Clean, the hardest scene for me to write was actually the first crime scene with Mindspace, which originally opened the book. I tried draft after draft with no success. I think I was just trying to do too many things in one place; it felt muddled and odd. So eventually I split it up into several scenes a little bit into the book, and it feels much cleaner. (No pun intended :) )

 > When and where do you write?

Whenever and wherever I can. A lot of Clean’s first draft I wrote at a college library. I did hard-core revisions years later in a small apartment sitting on the floor. And the final set of revisions I did sitting at a computer desk, feet propped up, coffee cup getting cold to the side. I’ve written late at night and early in the morning, in coffee shops and at my desk, in stolen spurts and longer, dedicated blocks. All I need is quiet and a sense of inspiration.

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

The worst? The empty page. And the fact that sometimes, for no reason, I go from writing thousands of words a day to sitting there, staring at that empty page mocking me, until I can figure out what’s wrong. Sometimes that takes awhile, and it’s always frustrating.

The best thing is exactly what got me into this thing in the first place: that feeling of disappearing down the rabbit hole of a great story, the moment when it all falls away. When it’s not work, but pure, tangible joy.

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

The publishing industry is slow. And there’s a lot of what my dad calls “hurry up and wait.” You can’t take it too personally, and you have to do your best to make deadlines even if they’re last minute, because some opportunities don’t come up again. But the core of it – no matter what people say – is still words on a page. If you start and end there, you won’t go wrong.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Get a day job that you enjoy but that doesn’t take up your whole life. Getting published takes a long, long time, and you’ll need the income. Then write. Write consistently over time, write some more, and study craft until your fingers bleed. Then send it out. Don’t get upset when people reject you, but as the editor of Apex says, “become more awesome.” If you don’t give up and you don’t stop getting better, you will make it. And what you can do at the end will amaze you.

> Any tips against writers block?

Writer’s block is a signal that something is wrong – and usually what’s wrong is you’re afraid you’re going to mess it up. The thing is, you’re going to mess it up – that’s what revision is for. So, go ahead. Mess it up. Do it badly. Splash amateur words all over that page and get it done. Then, tomorrow, come back, and make it better.

On the other hand, if there’s something else going on with either you or the story, be honest with yourself, deal with whatever it is, then start over. Do it badly again. Then make it better again. Writers write. Talking about writing is not writing.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

I make myself sit down to write at a certain time whether I feel like it or not, and if I mess up or get distracted I pick myself up again. I also promise myself treats at various stages of the project and stay accountable to other writers for my progress. The muse is like an adorable 5 year old, receptive to chocolate, praise, and peer pressure.

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

Honestly? I don’t know. I never counted by project, and I stopped counting total rejections somewhere around two hundred. Rejection is part of the process.

Book Review: The Death of Grass by John Christopher

Pros: well-developed characters, thought provoking, realistic, tense

Cons: several disturbing scenes implied

Not only do John and David Custance lead very different lives, one as a farmer in a remote valley in the British countryside, the other an architect in London, they also have very different views on most things.  But they love each other dearly.  

When the Chung-Li virus that attacked rice in China spreads and mutates, no one is prepared for how quickly things deteriorate.  Given short notice to leave London, John takes his family and, with others, tries to get to his brother's farm.  The group is not only horrified by how far society has crumbled in such a short time, they're forced to make difficult moral choices that change them forever.

This is a story that could come true.  There are diseases that attack specific plants and the reactions of the countries - to give aid as long as they've got plenty of food stores and then to hoard their food when things threaten to get bad for them - is entirely realistic.

The characters themselves all act in realistic ways.  Rodger, John's best friend, whose family accompanies that of the Custances', starts out as a thoroughly unlikable, though extremely practical, man.  He understands how humans act in a crisis.  And the book bears him out as the simple motivation of get their families to safety eventually requires acts that at any other time would seem reprehensible to these same people.  On the other hand, Ann, John's wife, begins as the voice of reason and charity, but as the world falls down even she becomes both a victim and perpetrator of the violence around them.  

The novel's tension surrounds both whether they will find safety and whether they'll digress into animals like so many around them.  And it is a very tense read, with actions and questions that will make you think long after you've put the book down.

Several things take place in the course of the story that are, without being detailed in the text, still disturbing in their implications.

This novel proves that sometimes the scariest possible futures are caused by natural disasters rather than war. 

Thursday 20 September 2012

If I Had ALL the Time in the World

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. :)  Synopses are from the Indigo website.

Bone Song by John Meaney

In this darkly luminous thriller, John Meaney blends gritty futuristic noir with gothic fantasy to create a stunningly seductive world of death and desire. Here an honest cop must face his own darkest impulses as he hunts a perverse killer through a city of the dead. 

There have been four celebrity murders already. Now it's up to Lieutenant Donal Riordan to make sure that Tristopolis isn't the scene of a fifth. But the necropolis's vast underground network is already mobilizing for a battle of epic proportions against a powerful death cult whose dark influence reaches up to the highest echelons of Tristopolis's elite. Riordan's only hope is an unlikely alliance with a para-live female agent as they hunt-both aboveground and below-among gargoyles and zombies, spirit slaves and assassins, for the killers even the dead have reason to fear.

The Repossession Mambo by Eric Garcia

Thanks to the technological miracle of artiforgs, now you can live virtually forever. Nearly indestructible artificial organs, these wonders of metal and plastic are far more reliable and efficient than the cancer-prone lungs and fallible kidneys you were born with-and the Credit Union will be delighted to work out an equitable payment plan. But, of course, if you fall delinquent, one of their dedicated professionals will be dispatched to track you down and take their product back.

This is the story of the making-and unmaking-of the best Bio-Repo Man in the extraction business, who finds his soul when he loses his heart . . . and then he has to run.

The Electric Church by Jeff Somers

Avery Cates is a very bad man. Some might call him a criminal. He might even be a killer - for the Right Price. But right now, Avery Cates is scared. He''s up against the Monks: cyborgs with human brains, enhanced robotic bodies, and a small arsenal of advanced weaponry. Their mission is to convert anyone and everyone to the Electric Church. But there is just one snag. Conversion means death.

Up Against It by M. J. Locke

Jane Navio is the resource manager of Phoecea, an asteroid colony poised on the knife-edge of hard vacuum and unforgiving space. A mishap has dumped megatons of water and methane out the colony's air lock, putting the entire human population at risk.

Jane discovers that the crisis may have been engineered by the Martian crime syndicate, as a means of executing a coup that will turn Phocaea into a client-state. And if that wasn''t bad enough, an AI that spawned during the emergency has gone rogue…and there's a giant x-factor in the form of the transhumanist Viridian cult that lives in Phocaea''s bowels.

Jane's in the prime of her career-she's only a bit over a century old-but the conflict between politics and life-support is tearing her apart. To save her colony and her career, she's going to have to solve several mysteries at once-a challenge that will put her up against all the difficulties, contradictions, and awkward compromises entailed in the human colonization of outer space.

Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey

Humanity has colonized the solar system - Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond - but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, The Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for - and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him toThe Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations - and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe.

Wednesday 19 September 2012

Webseries: Glitch

I've only seen the first of the 3 episodes they've made of Glitch so far, but it's got a pretty interesting concept.  *Still, I'm not sure how I feel about the roommate's harassing a female gamer in the second scene considering how that's been such a big issue in real life lately...

From their website:

Brian "Glitch" Banner fulfilled a childhood dream of working on video games—but he’s only a tester, and although his friends love their jobs, he has yet to become the developer he really wanted to be. He feels like a failure. Day in and day out, he searches for bugs in games he’d rather be playing for fun, and lately his life has begun to feel like his job. Like so many nerds before him, he wishes his life was a little less ordinary, a little less boring, a little more like a video game...
Unfortunately for him, he gets his wish: his life begins to glitch and video game bugs that only he can see begin to surface everywhere.
Glitch is an episodic comedy about growing up and staying a geek. It is so awesome it will rip your face off. Tell your friends about it! This show basks in the glory of old-school nerdery and makes no bones about being for geeks, by geeks. Don't try to fight it. The only thing that beats this is that picture of the Star Wars cast rocking out...or maybe Mass Effect.

  Here's the NSFW first episode.

*It's taken me a bit, but I finally figured out why I've been a bit reluctant to post this video.  I read an article earlier this week about the Big Bang Theory and how it's about geek culture, but more to mock it than to celebrate it, and that's sort of the feeling I got here.  A female gamer bashes Trekkies and there's the awkward Metal Gear fan the protagonist (and viewer) tries to ditch.  I don't know.  I'll probably watch a few more episodes to see if the feeling persists but the pilot left me feeling uncomfortable.

Angry Robot Ebook Sale

If you've had your eye on an Angry Robot titles from their store, today's the day to pick them up.  They're having a sale for Talk Like a Pirate Day.

From their press release (including the terms/conditions at the bottom):

Arrrrrr! Today be International Talk Like a Pirate Day

To mark the occasion, for today (September 19th 2012) only, Angry Robot are making you a very special offer, via the Robot Trading Company
Buy any two novel-length Angry Robot ebooks and we’ll let you “plunder” one of them, absolutely free!
That’s right: for every two Angry Robot ebooks you add to your shopping basket, you’ll only be asked to pay for one when you check out.
You'll have to be quick though: this ship sails just as soon as we get into the office tomorrow morning and remember to switch the offer off again. And once it's gone, it's gone... 
Terms, Conditions and Articles of Association:

1. The offer does not apply to ebooks on sale at the Robot Trading Company that are not published by Angry Robot.
2. The offer does not apply to Strange Chemistry ebooks, Angry Robot Bundles, Omnibus Editions, Print Editions, Subscription Packages, or Angry Robot Nano Editions.
But everything else is fair game; a prize ripe and ready for the taking! 
Check out the Angry Robot Catalogue page on the Robot Trading Company website and start counting out those dubloons...*
*Pieces of Eight are sadly no longer legal tender and cannot be accepted in lieu of actual money.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Book Review: Skylark by Meagan Spooner

Pros: very unique dystopian situation, very good opening, terrifying potential fate for Lark, end reveal of Lark's abilities was interesting

Cons: protagonist is conflicted, middle dragged, it became tiresome watching Lark get saved over and over again

For Parents: one swear word, some violence (killing), no sex

At sixteen Lark is older than the other kids at school, but she won't become a full adult until she's harvested for her magic and assigned her place.  Magic runs the city and keeps up the wall that protects them from the ravaged outside world.  When she's finally called, she's apprehensive about the procedure no one talks about and curious why they waited so long to harvest her.

An unescorted jaunt around the famicility shows her someone's horrific fate, a fate she soon realizes she might share.  She's able to regenerate her magic, a lost skill and valuable - for harvesting.  Fleeing for her life and her sanity, she breaches the wall and discovers how bad things outside really have become.  She knows she will be hunted.  She also knows there are other people outside the wall who are like her.

Kudos to Spooner for creating a dystopian setting that was substantially different from the rest.  It has touches of steampunk and a truly terrifying fate for Lark should she remain in the city.  After Lark leaves the city however, the setting becomes commonplace, post-apocalyptic (even if the apocalypse was caused by magic).

While I liked Lark, she waffled between competent and needing to be saved too often.  I understand that she didn't know how to survive in the wild, and I was ok with Oren helping her, but having him leave and come back to rescue her over and over again became tiresome.  This repetition made the middle section feel too long and drawn out.  She also waffled between altruism and necessity when it came to violence and dealing with those she met outside the wall.

The ending picked up the pace again and returned to the high tension, and high stakes, of the opening.  While I wasn't keen on Lark's choices at the end of the book, it was an exciting ending.

A good book for those who want a different dystopian setting.  

Out October 1st.

Friday 14 September 2012

New Author Spotlight: Adam Christopher

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 Adam Christopher!

 Mr. Christopher's books are:

  • Empire State by Adam Christopher (Angry Robot)
  • Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher (Angry Robot)

Here's the cover copy for Seven Wonders:

Tony Prosdocimi lives in the bustling Metropolis of San Ventura - a city gripped in fear, a city under siege by the hooded supervillain, The Cowl. When Tony develops super-powers and acts to take down The Cowl, however, he finds that the local superhero team Seven Wonders aren't as grateful as he assumed they'd be...
Check out his books if you like noir style super hero stories. Or any of these:
  • Astro City Vol. 5: Local Heroes by Kurt Busiek (WildStorm)
  • A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King (Touchstone)
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore (DC Comics)

Thursday 13 September 2012

Movie Review: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari)

Directed by: Robert Wiene, 1920  
colour tinted black & white, silent film

Pros: suspenseful, good use of shadows, clever ending

Cons: music was sometimes out of place

The version I saw was reconstructed by the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv of Germany with a musical score by Rainer Viertblock (1994) and English subtitles by Kino International (2002).

After hearing that a man sees ghosts, Francis (Friedrich Feher) tells the terrifying tale of recent events that affected himself and his fiancee Jane (Lil Dagover).  Francis is dragged to see the travelling fair by his friend Alan, who insists they see Dr. Caligari's somnambulist show and asks about his future.  Meanwhile several murders take place in the town.

This is a masterful film.  The director makes great use of shadows, making characters look sinister just by darkening the eye sockets and lips.  At times the music is used to advantage, heightening the suspense.

Having said that, there were other times when the jazz inspired score seemed out of place, using synthesizers and beets that thrust this viewer out of the scene.

The subtitle plates were up longer than necessary, but had a nice gothic look to them.

As with the other silent films I've seen, the acting was overdone with grand gestures and melodrama.  Given the horror aspects, the overacting actually works here, giving the drama a boost.

The ending's quite clever.  If you've wanted to try seeing a silent film, here's a good one to start with.

It's also in the public domain, meaning you can find it for free online.  You can find the version I saw here.

Culture Days, September 28-30

Culture Days is a collaborative coast-to-coast-to-coast volunteer movement to raise the awareness, accessibility, participation and engagement of Canadians in the arts and cultural life of their communities. With the support of a National Steering Committee and volunteer Provincial and Territorial Task Forces, thousands of activity organizers self-mobilize at the grassroots level to present and coordinate free public activities that take place throughout the country over the last weekend of September each year.
The third annual Culture Days weekend will take place September 28, 29 and 30, 2012, and will feature thousands of free, hands-on, interactive activities that invite the public to participate “behind-the-scenes,” to discover the world of artists, creators, historians, architects, curators, designers and other creative people in their communities.

If you're Canadian, check out their website to see if there's an activity near you!

In Kingston, Ontario that weekend?  Why not check out Battle of the Books!  Ten local authors are chosen as champions to argue the merits of 10 books.  Among the champions this year is Violette Malan, author of Mirror Prince and it's recent sequel Shadowlands, as well as the Dhulyn and Parno series.

For more information on Culture Days in Kingston, check out their website.  For more information about the Battle of the Books, watch the video below.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Harper Voyages Announces Global Digital Publishing Opportunity

Harper Voyager Books has just posted this announcement on their website, which sounds like an amazing opportunity for anyone with a publishable manuscript lying around.  And they're accepting unagented submissions.

Call for Submissions: Harper Voyager Announces Global Digital Publishing Opportunity

Yes, it’s true! We are delighted to announce an exciting joint venture that will offer talented aspiring writers the chance to join our global science fiction and fantasy imprint.

The submission portal,, will be open from the 1st to the 14thof October 2012. The manuscripts will then be read and those most suited to the global Harper Voyager list will be selected jointly by editors in the USA, UK and Australia. Accepted submissions will benefit from the full publishing process: accepted manuscripts will be edited; and the finished titles will receive online marketing and sales support in World English markets.

Voyager will be seeking an array of adult and young adult speculative fiction for digital publication, but particularly novels written in the epic fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, horror, dystopia and supernatural genres. Submission guidelines and key information can be found at

The submissions and digital publications are a joint, global effort by Harper Voyager, spearheaded by Deputy Publisher Director Emma Coode in the United Kingdom, Associate Publisher Deonie Fiford in Australia, and Executive Editor Diana Gill in the United States. The three editors note that: “No other publishing company has done a coordinated submission period for unagented authors across three continents, and all of us at Harper Voyager and at HarperCollins Publishers are absolutely thrilled to be launching this huge opportunity. We look forward to discovering and digitally publishing many new exciting voices globally at Harper Voyager.”

Please check our guidelines at, prepare your manuscripts, and get ready to submit between 1 October 2012 and 14 October 2012!

Medieval Manuscripts On The Internet

I stumbled across this website a few weeks ago.  As a Medievalist, I think it's the coolest thing.  It's a website that lists all the Medieval manuscripts / collections / exhibits that have been digitized in North America and Europe! Basically, it's links to manuscript collections from around the world.  I've had the opportunities to visit several manuscript collections (though not actually sit down and 'read' any - my Latin sucks, so I'd just be looking at the illustrations anyway) and they're simply amazing.

For example, want to see what's in a Medieval Bestiary?  Here's one site that is an amalgamation of different manuscripts, with the pertinent information, in this site's case, translated into English.  You can see a gallery of images, which manuscripts mention which animals, etc.  So, you can read up on creatures you've probably never heard of, like Amphisbaena and Parandrus or supposedly common creatures, like pelicans and salamanders.
Pelican - Museum Meermanno, MMW, 10 B 25, Folio 32r
Other sites, like this one show images for an exhibit on Apocalyptic Literature by the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York City.  I visited this exhibit the last time I was in NYC, and it's incredible.

Or this site, also from the Morgon Library, that allows you to scroll through one manuscript, the Black Hours (Belgium, Bruges, c. 1470 (MS M.493), a Book of Hours written and illuminated in silver and gold on parchment that was stained or painted black.
"Black Hours," for Rome use. Belgium, Bruges, c. 1470 (MS M.493).

Tuesday 11 September 2012

Book Review: Chronicles of the Lensman: Triplanetary by E. E. "Doc" Smith (1948)

Pros: fast paced writing, interesting concepts, unique alien life forms

Cons: this entire 'book' is backstory, each section but the last reads like a short story

After hiding their existence from the evil alien Eddorian race, the Arisians try to mitigate the damage the Eddorians do to the burgeoning human race. 

This review needs some explanation.  My husband has a fantastic collection of old SF classics.  For months he told me about a particular set of novels I should read: The Chronicles of the Lensman by E. E. "Doc" Smith.  I was game, though I had to fix my reading schedule to allow myself the time to start.  Now, my husband had told me the Lensman were not only classic stories, but stories that were the basis for a lot of other adventure style SF novels and stories, most notably the Green Lantern Corp (from the Green Lantern comics).

Ready for something different, I started the first novel (which, according to Wikipedia was serialized in magazines and brought together afterwards, so my thought that each section reads like a short story is justified).  You have to understand that the first novel is purely set up for the rest of the series.  My husband probably didn't remember that, knowing that the stories on the whole were good, and so didn't warn me that the Lensman don't actually exist in the first book.

So I'm reading about the history of two alien races, one purely good, the other purely evil.  I'm reading about how both races manipulate humans and our development over the centuries in a silent war (though one race is unaware of the other's existence).  Frustrated - and pressed for time with other reading obligations - I stopped reading.  I wanted to read about Lensman.  What was the rest of this?

Almost a year later, feeling bad that I hadn't even finished one of the Lensman books, I picked it back up.  I had to skim a bit of the previous chapters as I'd ended in a futuristic space setting where the Triplanitary fleet was fighting a pirate ship and three characters were kidnapped.

As I started reading this time, I could see the inklings of what I knew would become the Lensman (and the next book is called The First Lensman, so I know they're coming). Interesting spy equipment was used, a very alien alien race was introduced, Triplanitary (a government formed of Earth, Mars and Venus) created a new super ship.  Suddenly everything was happening, and unlike the previous sections, which were written as short stories with a common thread pieced together, this section started to feel like a novel, with characters that I could get to know and like.

While I remember the other sections being well written, the final section had the feeling of adventure I was expecting all along from a pulp SF story.  It was fun, it was imaginative, it had me on the edge of my seat wondering what would happen next.

It made me want to read the rest of the stories. :)

Having said that, there were a few things I didn't like so much.  Of the three protagonists in the final segment, one was a woman.  And while she was treated as though she was smart in some respects, there was still a somewhat condescending attitude towards her.  This was mitigated by the fact that on several occasions both she and the two men with her, were referred to as children and treated as such.  I know it was a product of its time and so I can't expect full female equalty, I found her portrayal an interesting mix between competency and the need to be protected.

Now that I know the backstory, I'm hoping to have the chance to read the rest of the novels in the collection.  With less interruption.

Friday 7 September 2012

Author Interview: Benedict Jacka


To Be A Ninja / Ninja: The Beginning
Ninja: The Battle


> What is your Alex Verus series about? 

Fated, Cursed, and Taken are the first three books of an urban fantasy series set in London. Magic is real but most people don't know about it, and the rulers of the magical world are the Light and Dark mages, human beings who can use one particular type of magic like air or life or fire. The protagonist is Alex Verus, an ex-Dark mage who runs a magic shop in Camden. He's a diviner, able to see the future, which makes him very good with information but not so good at brute force, which is a problem given his habit of getting into difficulties with other mages, who usually have access to a very large amount of brute force which they're more than happy to use.   

> What drew you to writing about a diviner and is this an ability you'd like to have?

Basically it was a writing decision.  I'd written four previous novels in the Alex Verus setting, but the main characters in all of those books used elemental magic like air or ice.  A problem I kept running into was that I found it difficult to write interesting conflicts using elemental magic:  too much of it just came to force on force.  So at some point (I'm not sure how) I came up with the idea of a character who's magic couldn't affect the physical world at all, but could only provide information.  It kind of snowballed from there.  

I've never thought about whether I'd like to have the ability or not.  Different perspective I guess.  :)

> What made you want to be a writer?

I never particularly wanted to be a writer.  I just started doing it one day!  

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

But then who'd write the stories for them?

> What were your literary influences for the Alex Verus series?

Jim Butcher, Diane Duane, and Agatha Christie, along with lots of less literary influences like RPGs, movies, and video games.  

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

A children's fantasy story set in Cornwall with a Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe feel.  Took about a year and ended up over 100,000 words long.  I haven't looked at it in the best part of a decade because I'm sure I'd find it cringe-inducingly terrible.  First novels always suck.  

> What was the hardest scene for you to write?

For which book – Fated, Cursed, or Taken?  Can't remember – writer's block-inducing scenes occupy me completely while I'm doing them but I forget about them afterwards.  I can tell you which scenes have been the hardest for the book I'm working on right now though (which is Alex Verus #4) – it's the ones set in Elsewhere.  They've been driving me crazy.

> When and where do you write?

On my bed, and irregularly.  

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

How slow it is!  Don't expect anything to be done quickly, ever.

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

The first thing to understand is that it's very unlikely that you'll ever make a living as an author (as in VERY VERY unlikely – we're talking 1000-to-1 odds against).  Do it because you love it, not because you're expecting to make your fortune.  

> Any tips against writers block?

It happens and there's not much you can do about it.  Either you just force yourself to write anyway, or you do something else until you figure out a way through the problem (in which case you'll need to work twice as fast later to pick up the slack).  

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

Having bills to pay is a pretty good motivator.  :)

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

Surprisingly few – I think only 4.  This was because I only sent it to 4 agencies.  By the time I started taking submissions seriously I'd finished writing my second book, so I was sending that out instead. That one got more like 40 rejections.