Tuesday 30 April 2013

Books Received in April, 2013

I'm trying something new with this page today.  Instead of posting the synopses for the books I'll be posting links to the author sites (if the author's site doesn't have a synopsis, then I'm linking the book title to their Amazon page and the author's name to their website).

Without A Summer by Mary Robinette Kowal - The third book featuring Jane and Vincent begun with Shades of Milk and Honey.  I started reading it yesterday and expect to have a review up for it soon.
Quintessence by David Walton - I haven't read much alternate history, but this one sounds pretty cool, dealing with alchemy and magical creatures.  The author has the first 3 chapters up on his site.
Pandemonium by Warren Fahy - A follow up to his debut novel, Fragment, Pandemonium's a Michael Crichton style scientific adventure novel.

Swans and Klons - Nora Olsen - I've already read this and my review will be up this coming Tuesday.
The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord - I've seen a number of positive reviews for this book and the premise sounds quite intriguing.
Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear - Sequel to Range of Ghosts, which has received amazing reviews.

The Shape Stealer by Lee Carroll - The third book in the Black Swan Rising series.
14 - Peter Clines
Sihpromatum by Savannah Grace - This is a travelogue/biography but it sounds very interesting.

So, do you like this method of reporting or do you like seeing the synopsis here, on my site?

Monday 29 April 2013

Book Review: A Turn of Light by Julie Czerneda

Pros: gorgeous setting, lyrical writing, interesting characters and magic, unique creatures

Cons: Jenn is surprisingly obtuse at times, uneven pacing

Jenn has never been outside the village of Marrowdell, but she's turning 19 soon and with adulthood comes her opportunity to leave and visit all the place she's heard of.  But Jenn is special, and if she leaves Marrowdell, it will destroy not only Marrowdell but the magical Verge it borders.  

A dragon, and creature of the Verge, Wisp's penance is to keep Jenn happy - and in the village.  But when she wishes him into human form, it becomes more difficult to do both.  Because now that he's a human named Wyll, she can marry him, and fulfill her dream to leave.

Bannon is a Rhothan captain and a truthseer, able to see lies.  His country's new alliance has forced him to leave and search for a new home.  When he stumbles on Marrowdell he realizes he's found it.  He quickly falls in love with the village, the life of a farmer, and Jenn.

The Great Turn is coming, an eclipse during which anything is possible.  And Jenn isn't the only one hoping to change her destiny.

Czerneda's writing is very lyrical and she does a brilliant job bringing Marrowdell and it's people to life.  You quickly get a feel for who's who and what the various connections between the families are.  Peggs, Jenn's older sister, who funnels her emotions into baking, was especially fun to read about.

The magic in the book is interesting, from Jenn's ability to wish things into being to Wen's ability to talk to the Verge creatures trapped on their side.  I especially liked how Wainn, considered simple, has wisdom where magic and knowing yourself comes into play. 

The Verge creatures, dragons aside, are all unique to this book.  I loved how they look different in the human realm vs when they're in the Verge.

This is a book that calls out the joy of the fantasy genre.  Reading this I felt how I did when I was younger and reading a book for the first time - fully immersed in the experience.  Czerneda's book feels fresh and optimistic in a way I'd forgotten fantasy could, what with the influx of gritty, more 'realistic' fantasy these past few years. 

That doesn't mean it was perfect.  My main complaints centered on Jenn and her use of magic.  For the most part I really liked her, but there were times when she seemed very naive of consequences and the fact that other people have wishes and desires that might disagree with her own.  She's also fairly oblivious to her use of magic, which makes sense when she doesn't know she can do magic.  But even once she learns what she is capable of, she still somehow remains ignorant of the magic she performs.  I also disliked how, though she promises to ask Wisp/Wyll what he wants before making decisions for him, she continues to do so anyway.

Because the book is so long and focused on so many people, I found the pacing somewhat uneven.  There were parts that were fascinating and others that weren't.  At times my interest was in the sections dealing with magic and the main plot while at other times the scenes that were about village gossip and daily life were much more fun.  And while I enjoyed the various romance threads, particularly Peggs', Jenn's waffling about which guy she wanted drove me nuts.

The ending was a little anti-climactic given the build up.  I did, however, appreciate that it didn't depend on everyone keeping secrets.  Indeed it was great seeing everyone learning about the various difficulties Jenn would face and trying to find solutions.  I also liked that the various plot points were tied up, making this a self-contained novel, though it's the first of a series.  Still, if you like a good pay-off with lots of action, you won't find it here.

If you're nostalgic for the feel of wonder in your stories or like soap opera style drama and coming of age tales, than this is for you.  If you want action and gritty reality, look elsewhere.

Friday 26 April 2013

Strange Chemistry Will Open for Unagented Submissions

Strange Chemistry is doing it again...

Strange Chemistry Unagented Submissions 2013

Okay, I know that some of you have been waiting for a long while for this announcement! Strange Chemistry is once again opening to unagented YA submissions. We opened to unagented submissions last year and, although a number of novels came close, none of them completely matched what we were looking for, but this has not deterred us from trying again!
This year the unagented submission period will last for SIX months. It is opening on May 1st and closing 31st October. This gives you half a year to prepare the best submission you are able. If your novel is not quite ready right now, please take the time to polish and give yourself the very best chance of publication.
We are also opening up to thrillers, crimes and contemporary YA as well as our customary SF and fantasy.
Your submission package:
– one page, containing your name, address, social media outlets and a one line pitch for your novel
– two pages, containing your two page synopsis of your novel
– 5 chapters of your novel, or 10,000 words (depending on the length of your chapters)
This is ALL we want to see.
Because we’re opening the submission period for longer and to a wider variety of novels, we will be incredibly strict with submissions. If you do not provide everything asked for above, your novel will be rejected. If you provide more than asked for above, your novel will be rejected.
There's a lot more information, including more details about submitting that they want you to read carefully and the submission email address on their website.

New Author Spotlight: Steve Bein

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 Steve Bein!

He's written and published several short stories and his debut novel is:
Here's the cover copy:

As the only female detective in Tokyo's most elite police unit, Mariko Oshiro has to fight for every ounce of respect, especially from her new boss. But when he gives her the least promising case possible—the attempted theft of an old samurai sword—it proves more dangerous than anyone on the force could have imagined.
The owner of the sword, Professor Yasuo Yamada, says it was crafted by the legendary Master Inazuma, a sword smith whose blades are rumored to have magical qualities. The man trying to steal it already owns another Inazuma—one whose deadly power eventually comes to control all who wield it.
Mariko's investigation has put her on a collision course with a curse centuries old and as bloodthirsty as ever. She is only the latest in a long line of warriors and soldiers to confront this power, and even the sword she learns to wield could turn against her.

Mr. Bein's book is pretty unique, but I found some comparison titles going a bit outside traditional SF/F channels.  So if you like his book you might enjoy some of the following.

Crossfire by Miyuki Miyabe (Kodansha International)
Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn (Riverhead)
Deathnote, Volume 1 by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata (Viz Media)
The Ring by Koji Suzuki (Vertical Inc.)

Thursday 25 April 2013

Review: The Terror of History: Mystics, Heretics, and Witches in the Western Tradition

Pros: knowledgable professor, interesting subject matter, lots of topics/periods covered

Cons: lectures are short making it hard to cover all the information

This is a course offered by The Teaching Company and taught by Professor Teofilo F. Ruiz from the University of California at Los Angeles.  There are 24 lectures on DVD (or CD) in the series and a range of topics that span from the Middle Ages to the late 1600s.

Due to the nature of this course, some topics got greater coverage than other and some topics were more interesting than others.  The last seven lectures especially, the ones dealing with the witch craze, were fascinating.  Prof. Ruiz carefully set each lecture - or set of lectures - in its historical context, giving you the information you need to understand each issue from a historical, rather than modern, perspective.

My favourite lecture, number 21, The Witch Craze and Misogyny, was brilliant.  It contained an overview of Western thought and concisely explained how religions shifted from female centered fertility cults in ancient times and became male centered.  This shift created male centered societies and laid the groundwork for beliefs that are still with us today - like the fear of female sexuality and women as objects.  

While witches got a good deal of attention I was disappointed that so little time was spent on the explanation of magic, alchemy and astrology, all of which had a great deal of importance at various times in the past.  Similarly, the 30 minutes provided for each lecture was never enough time to deal with all of the information, and so some topics were just lightly touched on, so there would be time to examine examples in detail.  For example, lecture 12 deals with mysticism in the 12th century and focused specifically on the experiences of Hildegard of Bingen and Bernard of Clairvaux.  So, not only did this lecture talk about how mysticism changed between the 11th and 12th centuries and how those two people experienced it, it also exained how men and women experienced mysticism differently.  Any of these points would have made a great 30 minute lecture on their own. 

Having said that, the courses are accompanied by a course guidebook which summarizes the points from the lectures as well as give suggestions for additional reading.  Like any university course (and that's what these are), you're expected to study the topic matter on your own.  Indeed, I found this course a fantastic jumping off point for researching aspects touched upon that I wanted more information about.

This particular professor had an accent.  As most of my professors in university did as well, this didn't bother me.  But if English isn't your first language, you may have some trouble getting used to his accent.  Also, there are only a few images used in this course, so you're not missing anything by getting the CDs rather than the DVDs.  It was filmed in 2002, so the film quality isn't the best either.  Still, you're not getting the course for the great visuals, but for the interesting information.

I really enjoyed this course and will be starting my next one soon.

If you want a taste of the lectures, UCLA has posted The Terror of History: The Witch Hunt in Early Modern Europe that combines material included in several of the Great Courses lectures.  It's a 51 minute presentation.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

Re: The Strange Horizons 2012 SF Count

io9 has a post about the number of male vs female SF authors who were reviewed last year by a variety of venues in response to this post by Strange Horizons.  As usual, books by women were greatly underrepresented.

But what surprises me are the comments by people asking where these books by women are and what they should read if they want to read a science fiction book by a woman.

Seriously?  You're writing a comment on a website on this amazing thing called the internet, and you can't figure out how to find books by women?  Try doing a google search.

Here are two websites with lots of suggestions that came up immediately under the search "science fiction books by women": Goodreads' Science Fiction Books by Female Authors and The New York Review of Science Fiction's 200 Significant Science Fiction Books by Women, 1984–2001, by David G. Hartwell.  Wow, that was easy.  There's also a list of female SF authors I put together some time ago with a lot of suggestions.  

It's really not hard to find female authors in any genre.  I can't walk two steps at the bookstore where I work without stumbling over several books by women in any genre (though you don't find many books by men in the romance section).  I'll admit, I'm spoiled in that my store's unusual in its size and the variety of books we carry.  I forget sometimes that all the backlist titles we carry in full aren't available in other stores.  And online bookstores leave a lot to be desired when it comes to discovering books.  If you don't know what you're looking for, good luck finding it.

Which is where the Strange Horizons' findings become a problem.  More than ever book review magazines and blogs are how readers discover books, and if women's books aren't reviewed, how are readers supposed to find them?  And how many more readers will wonder in the future, where the books by women are?

* Edited to add

I just read this great article by Radish Reviews responding to the Strange Horizons info, questioning why Romantic Times Magazine, which reviews a good number of SF/F isn't included in their survey.  I've made a habit over the past few years of reading their reviews every month.  Ok, I read the SF/F, urban fantasy, graphic novel and teen reviews but they do so much more (general fiction, all branches of romance, and mysteries).  They review a mix of titles by men and women, including a few ebook originals.  While I don't always agree with their ratings, they've got some great reviews.  The reviews are also a good way of seeing what's coming.  The magazine itself often has information about the state of the publishing industry.  So don't let the "Romantic" label fool you, this is a good source for book reviews.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Book Review: Terminal Point by K. M. Ruiz

*  Note, this is a review for the second book in the series and as such contains spoilers for the previous book.

Pros: lots of action, powerful characters had limitations, complex plot gets resolved

Cons: hard to believe just how much Lucas's group achieves with so little rest and time to heal from previous injuries

This is the second volume of the Stryker Syndicate duology that started with Mind Storm.  The action starts directly where Mind Storm ended, with Lucas and his group heading to the Arctic while their actions in Buffalo cause problems for the Strykers, the Warhounds and the World Court.  The World Court continues their preparations for leaving the Earth, even as Lucas undermines their efforts.

This is a quick moving book with a lot going on.  Lucas pushes his people on mission after mission, which, considering the amount of damage they take each mission gets a bit hard to believe.  On the other hand, it makes the psions less uber powerful, so the fights have more of a challenge to them.  Indeed, I really liked the fact that psions as powerful as Lucas and Jason had limits to their abilities.  I also liked how lower powered psions could link their abilities, making their enemies powerful as well, even though they're not as highly ranked.

There's non stop action in this book, with so many missions and so many plot threads that all come together in a final, climactic battle that no one, neither psions nor the humans around them, is left unscathed.

If you like post-apocalyptic societies and characters with super powers, you'll love this duology.

Friday 19 April 2013

Author Interview: Chandler Klang Smith

Novels: Goldenland Past Dark  
            - two ghostwritten YA novels

Website: http://www.chandlerklangsmith.com

> What is Goldenland Past Dark about?

Goldenland Past Dark tells the story of a hunchbacked clown, Webern Bell, who survives unpleasant experiences by translating them into circus performances that come to him in dreams. When murder, heartbreak, and betrayal throw his life entirely off the rails, though, he loses his already frail grip on reality and falls into the vortex of his imagination. Other characters include a delusional ringmaster, a haughty Lizard Girl, an imaginary friend with a mind of his own, and a kindly, Scotch-swilling ape.

> What drew you to writing about a travelling circus?

Circuses are like misfit families, made up of people united by their difference from the norm – not necessarily their similarity or compatibility with each other. I was interested in the variety of characters a circus would allow me to use, and the colorful conflicts and personality clashes that would result. Also, as a writer in a culture that’s usually focused on celebrities and new media more than books, I wanted to explore an art form that was going out of fashion, as the circus was in the 1960’s, when my book is set.

> Were the various talents of the characters in your book drawn from real circus acts or did you create some of them yourself?  

It was really a combination. As part of my “research,” I attended a bunch of live circus, clown, and carnival shows: Ringling Bros & Barnum and Bailey, Cirque de Soleil, the New York Goofs, the Coney Island Sideshow, and most notably, Circus Contraption (an extraordinary vaudeville team from Seattle). I also watched many classic films, including Children of Paradise, Tod Browning’s Freaks, The Greatest Show on Earth, and Charlie Chaplin’s The Circus, to get a sense of historical perspective. These all seeped into my imagination in various ways and informed the performances I describe in my book.

> You've ghostwritten two YA novels. How did that process differ from being published under your own name?

Ghostwriting taught me a lot about how to create a page-turning structure, and how to write quickly, even when I didn’t feel inspired or excited about it. But it’s not something I’d want to do again, unless the money was amazing. Writing is inherently an act of communication, and there’s something straining and false-feeling about speaking for that many pages in a voice that’s not your own.

> What made you want to be a writer?

I’m an only child, and, like many writers, grew up feeling lonely, awkward, and weird. Reading gave me a way of feeling connected not only with fictitious characters, but also with the authors who created them. My hope is that someday my books will reach readers the same way.

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

Probably not – a lot of terrible things happen to them! But I do greatly admire the way that clowns, stage magicians, and other performers can create their art on the spot, in front of a live audience. I wish I could do that.

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

It’s ironic that I became a writer partly because of loneliness, because it’s one of the loneliest activities a person can undertake. So that’s the downside. The upside, though, is that it’s one of the few modes of creative expression where it’s possible to do practically anything you want. Unlike filmmaking or theater, you don’t have to consider the cost and logistics of special effects, costumes, or sets when you come up with fantastical imagery to use in your work. If you can find the words to describe it, then it’s there. To me, that’s magic.

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

Fortunately or unfortunately, I had a lot of experience working in publishing prior to the publication of my first book, even successfully selling a nonfiction title by a client during a stint as an associate agent at a literary firm. So there weren’t a lot of surprises in the process for me… although I did learn that it feels very different when it’s your own work at stake!

> Do you have any advice for hopeful authors?

Don’t get too attached to your first draft of a novel – keep yourself open to reimagining even the major things, like structure and characterization.

> Any tips against writers block?

If you’re struggling to muster the enthusiasm and energy required to get through a scene or expository passage, take a second to pull back and consider what purpose you want the section to serve in the work. Why does it matter? Too often, I think writers (myself included) get it in their heads that certain events or ideas have to be included in the book when they’re actually just an unnecessary slog – for writer and reader both. Jonathan Lethem has a great quote about how to avoid this conundrum: "I learned to write fiction the way I learned to read fiction - by skipping the parts that bored me."

Thursday 18 April 2013

Book Review: The Burn Zone by James Decker

Pros: interesting story, fast pacing, unique aliens, complex plot

Cons: too many big revelations at the end made it hard to comprehend them all

Sam Shao's apartment is attacked and her adopted military father accused of treason and taken away by four military personel.  Aside from the fact that Sam knows her dad's innocent, she's also stunned that one of their attackers is a disguised haan.  As a surrogate for haan young, Sam is able to pick up on the aliens' emotions through her brain-band and can't understand how one of the fragile beings could survive the violence of the attack and its aftermath.  Running from the authorities, Sam tries to figure out what her father discovered that's worth killing for.   

This is a fast paced SF thriller, jumping from place to place as Sam tries to find a twistkey her father acquired and hid.  Along the way she gets help from a hacker friend, a rogue haan and friends from her, and her father's, pasts.

The story takes place in an overcrowded future, where street meat and scrapcake (made from human flesh) are illegal substitutes for feeding humans when over 80% of the food produced goes to feed the alien haan in return for haan technology.  Some of the descriptions in the book are brutal, as humans are pushed to the brink of reason.

The plot is complex and it's interesting watching Sam try to avoid the various groups hunting her.  Information about what's really going on is doled out in bits and pieces, making it hard to put the book down.  I did find the ending a bit rushed in that you learn a LOT, too much to process so quickly.  I'm sure I missed a lot of the nuances of Sam's discoveries because there were so many all at once.

The aliens were really cool.  The more you learn about them the stranger they become.

In the end I really liked the book, though I'm hoping if there's a sequel some of the end of book revelations will get more discussion.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

If I Had ALL the Time in the World Teen Edition part 3

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. :)

These are books I heard of from some of the publisher previews I've been privileged to attend.  Note, a few of these are kids books rather than teen, but they still sound fun. :)

Ashes by Ilsa Bick

It could happen tomorrow . . .
An electromagnetic pulse flashes across the sky, destroying every electronic device, wiping out every computerized system, and killing billions.

Alex hiked into the woods to say good-bye to her dead parents and her personal demons. Now desperate to find out what happened after the pulse crushes her to the ground, Alex meets up with Tom-a young soldier-and Ellie, a girl whose grandfather was killed by the EMP. 

For this improvised family and the others who are spared, it's now a question of who can be trusted and who is no longer human.

Bonechiller by Graham McNamee

Danny is sick of running. Harvest Cove is the latest nowhere place he's drifted through with his dad. In summer, people come to stay in cottages on the vast lake. In winter, Harvest Cove is a ghost town hidden away in Canada's Big Empty. Danny's been running forever, but Harvest Cove might be his last stop. The place has a way of making people disappear.

As the cold sets in, Danny and his new friends stumble on a centuries-old nightmare. They start seeing things. Impossible things. And in winter, there''s no escape from Harvest Cove.

Bookweird by Paul Glennon

Norman Jespers-Vilnius is just an average eleven-year-old kid-until he absentmindedly nibbles on the edge of a page and wakes up inside his favourite book, the Undergrowth Series. Norman finds himself smack in the middle of an epic battle of animal kingdoms, where he forms a close friendship with young Malcolm, a future king. After joining Malcolm's fight he winds up back in his own bed, dirty and in torn pyjamas. But his adventures have only just started. It soon becomes clear that Norman has been caught by a mystifying force called "Bookweird"- Norman finds himself inside books his family is reading, mixing up plotlines. When he tries to undo an act of violence in his sister's horse novel, he has to explain the appearance of a pony to some disgruntled policemen at a crime scene in his mother's favourite thriller. Can Norman put all of the stories back on track and return these fictional worlds to normal? Or will Bookweird trap him in the pages forever?

Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty? by David Levinthal

Break-in at the Three Bears family home? It could only be one dame. Wicked witch gone missing from her candied cottage? Hansel and Gretel claim it was self-defense. Did Humpty Dumpty really just fall off that wall, or was he pushed? Here are five fairy-tale stories with a twist, all told from the point of view of a streetwise police officer called Binky, who just happens to be a toad in a suit and a fedora. When Snow White doesn''t make it to the beauty pageant, Officer Binky is the first to find the apple core lying by her bed. When an awful giant mysteriously crashes to the ground, upsetting the whole town, Binky discovers exactly who is responsible. Author David Levinthal and illustrator John Nickle retell these classic stories in the style of a 1940s noir detective novel-for kids!

The Infects by Sean Beaudoin

A feast for the brain, this gory and genuinely hilarious take on zombie culture simultaneously skewers, pays tribute to, and elevates the horror genre.

Seventeen-year-old Nero is stuck in the wilderness with a bunch of other juvenile delinquents on an "Inward Trek." As if that weren't bad enough, his counselors have turned into flesh-eating maniacs overnight and are now chowing down on his fellow miscreants. As in any classic monster flick worth its salted popcorn, plentiful carnage sends survivors rabbiting into the woods while the mindless horde of "infects" shambles, moans, and drools behind. Of course, these kids have seen zombie movies. They generate "Zombie Rules" almost as quickly as cheeky remarks, but attitude alone can't keep the biters back. Serving up a cast of irreverent, slightly twisted characters, an unexpected villain, and an ending you won't see coming, here is a savvy tale that that's a delight to read - whether you're a rabid zombie fan or freshly bitten - and an incisive commentary on the evil that lurks within each of us.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Book Review: Firebrand by Gillian Philip

Pros: characters feel real, interesting story, compelling, emotionally gripping

Cons: Kate's cruelty made her queenship hard to understand, worldbuilding had some gaps

Seth is an angry child, abandoned by his mother and ignored by his father.  Only his older half-brother, Conal, cared for him in his youth.  So when Conal is exiled to the mortal realms by Kate, the Sithe queen, Seth travels with him.  But life in the late 16th century is hard, especially when they're obvious targets for the witch craze.  This is the first part of Seth's tale.

I'm not a fan of character driven novels, but there are exceptions to every rule.  And boy, is this an exception.  Seth's angry youth and damaged pride grabbed my interest and never let it go.  This isn't an angsty story and Seth does grow up, but he only learns there are more things in the world that deserve his anger and that love brings its own kinds of pain.

As a narrator, Seth constantly alludes to future happenings, meaning that even when things are going well for him in the book - as rare as that is - it won't last.  Indeed, the tension caused by knowing things will get worse is partly why this book was so compelling.  It's also what makes the ending so forceful.

I was surprised that Kate, a queen who ruled by consent, was able to keep power considering as readers we only hear of the cruel things she does.  I found this a flaw in the worldbuiding, that we're so focused on Seth's family's dun (holding) that there's no sense of a larger world on their side of the veil.

It also took me longer than I'd care to admit to figure out that the Sithe switched terms with humans, calling themselves human beings, us the full-mortals and stories about us 'fairy stories'.  At first I thought the fairy story reference was an error.  This swapping of terms could have been made clearer, though Philip did do a great job of explaining other aspects of Sithe culture through realistic circumstances.  I loved the inclusion of truenames and water-horses, and the Lammyr were a creepy invention.  There was also a great conversation half way through the book between Seth and one of his lovers about some differences between Sithe and mortal customs with regards to women.  And I loved that the Sithe were an equal society, with no bias with regards to lovers, though also little love for offspring.

I don't always mention this but there are 2 rapes that occur in the book.  One is off stage and neither is described in any detail.  I appreciated the care given one of the characters with regards to healing and finding love despite the reality of the horrors of the world.

Ultimately it's a great book that's hard to put down, though it won't leave you feeling warm and fuzzy at the end.

Friday 12 April 2013

Movie Trailer: Antiviral

This film, available on Sundance Now (for, presumably, Americans, since it won't work for me) as well as other venues, has a very... unique premise.  I'd like to believe that humans aren't dumb enough to do this, but I suspect we are.

Syd March is an employee at a clinic that sells injections of live viruses harvested from sick celebrities to obsessed fans. Biological communion – for a price. Syd also supplies illegal samples of these viruses to piracy groups, smuggling them from the clinic in his own body. When he becomes infected with the disease that kills super sensation Hannah Geist, Syd becomes a target for collectors and rabid fans. He must unravel the mystery surrounding her death before he suffers the same fate.

Written and Directed by: 
Brandon Cronenberg
Caleb Landry Jones, Sarah Gadon, Douglas Smith, Wendy Crewson, Malcolm McDowell

Thursday 11 April 2013

Book Review: Earth Girl by Janet Edwards

Pros: fascinating premise; intelligent characters; great mix of humour and sadness; linguistic shifts, history and scientific cohesion give a sense of realism, minor romance

Cons: everything goes a little too perfectly for Jarra 

For Parents: no content but there are references to porn, called 'Beta vids' in the book 

Jarra is an ape, a throw back, a nean(derthal), handicapped: a human born with an immune system that won't allow her to portal to other worlds the way the Norms can.  Dumped on Earth to be raised by Earth Hospital as a ward just after birth.  She's fascinated with history, having worked on archealogical digs from the time she was 11.  She wants to prove that she's as good as any Norm, so she enrolls in a pre-history course run by an outside university for the purpose of meeting, fooling, and then telling off some Norms.  But as she gets deeper and deeper into her cover story, lying about most aspects of her life, she also realizes that maybe she didn't think her plan through very well.  And maybe these people don't deserve her hatred any more than she deserves their derision.

Set 600 years in the future, the book touches on a lot of science (solar arrays, Planet First, colonization, and most importantly, transportation portals), but the main focus of the book is on Jarra's decisions.  This is a character driven book that reads at a quick pace (I finished it in a day).  

The author does an amazing job of making Jarra feel real.  One minute you're laughing out loud and a few pages later you're crying.  Jarra is almost a Mary Sue in that everything seems to go well for her, but she's definitely got some negative character traits.  And around the half-way mark something goes very wrong that affects her deeply.

I loved the linguistic shifts that allowed the characters to swear without swearing, and showed how culture and morality had shifted (both due to time and on various planets).  For example, Beta is more sexually liberated than the other systems, allowing for nudity and having triad marriages.  Meanwhile Gamma, who runs the university course Jarra is on, is much more conservative.

While most of the characters were 18, there were a few instances when they acted younger (mostly when baiting each other at the beginning of fights) but they generally acted their age, learning more about the freedoms of adulthood without going overboard.  

There's an understated romance that pops up about half way through the book.  I really appreciated the mature way it was handled.  Unlike most teen books where angst rules, here the characters thought carefully about the future and what their current decisions would mean for their future.  I also liked that when Jarra was strong her beau went along with things, but when she needed help he stepped up, showing that they were both strong characters, but in different ways.  

While in no way preachy, the book examines prejudice - and how it can hurt people on both sides.  Facing your own beliefs - both positive and negative - is a part of growing up, and it was nice to see Jarra questioning her hatred once she's interacting with Norms, rather than watching them in vids.  The Norms too, get some lessons on how important - and knowledgable - the Earth dig teams are, making them question their beliefs.

The book has a few flaws but I highly recommend it.  The humour alone is worth the read.

Julie Czerneda's Blog Tour Scavenger Hunt

To celebrate the launch of her newest book and give some lucky Canadians and Americans books (sorry, this isn't an international giveaway), Ms. Czerneda is having a scavenger hunt.  She's got a list of questions, one for each stop on her blog tour.  Answer the questions (including the 3 that haven't been posted yet) by April 16th, and email them to her, and you can win a copy of A Turn of Light.

You can find all the details on a pdf here.

About A Turn of Light

The village of Marrowdell is an isolated pioneer community, but it is also the place where two worlds overlap, and at the turn of light--sunset--the world of magic known as the Verge can briefly be seen.
Jenn Nalynn belongs to both Verge and Marrowdell, but even she doesn't know how special she is--or that her invisible friend Wisp is actually a dragon sent to guard her... and keep her from leaving the valley. But Jenn longs to see the world, and thinking that a husband will help her reach this goal, she decides to create one using spells. Of course, everything goes awry, and suddenly her "invisible friend" has been transformed into a man. But he is not the only newcomer to Marrowdell, and far from the most dangerous of those who are suddenly finding their way to the valley...

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Tarcher Books Hosts Who Was Dracula? Fanfiction competition

[Note: This competition is only open to US residents.]

Tarcher/Penguin is pleased to announce the launch of the WHO WAS DRACULA? Fanfiction Competition to celebrate the much-anticipated new book from LA Times bestselling author, Jim Steinmeyer (THE LAST GREATEST MAGICIAN IN THE WORLD, CHARLES FORT). The winner of the competition will be rewarded with a 16 gig iPad mini and a signed copy of the book!

Steinmeyer’s work has been praised by the likes of author Neil Gaiman, who called Steinmeyer’s “combination of enthusiasm and erudition a joy,” to Teller (of Penn and Teller) who said he “writes about events a century ago as vividly as if he had been there.”

In the spirit of bringing new life to classic characters, Tarcher’s WHO WAS DRACULA? fanfiction competition will reward the best adaptation (fitting into the provided guidelines) of Dracula’s creation story with a 16GB iPad Mini and a signed hardcover copy of WHO WAS DRACULA? Bram Stoker’s Trail of Blood by Jim Steinmeyer.

There is no fee to enter, though reading the book is encouraged.


  1. Email a vignette of 800-1000 words to tarcherpublicity@us.penguingroup.com by no later than April 25th.
  2. Title of the vignette must be “WHO WAS DRACULA?”
  3. Story must include at least two (or more) of these five people who appear in WHO WAS DRACULA?: Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Henry Irving, Bram Stoker, or Count Dracula.
  4. Story must also incorporate at least two (or more) facts from the WHO WAS DRACULA? fact sheet found here.

Check out their website for the full contest rules.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Book Review: Awakening by Karen Sandler

Pros: great characters, complex story, multi-racial cast

Cons: Kayla and Devak's waffling with regards to their relationship got a bit irritating, several plot twists were obvious

Note: as the second book in the series this review contains potential spoilers for book 1, Tankborn (reviewed here).

It's been several months since the events of Tankborn and Kayla misses Devak.  He's been avoiding meeting with her and she's not entirely sure why.  Her transport job with Risa has kept her from visiting home and though she's done a lot of work for the kinship, transporting information and materials, she's not as sure their goals are in line with hers anymore.  

Two other matters concern her: the spread of the Scratch, a plague that only infects GENs, one their internal circuitry can't cure, with a 100% mortality rate.  That is, 100% until one victim came back to life with the ability to heal others.  And the graffiti scribbled on the door of a warehouse that blows up: Freedom. Humanity. Equality. 

This is a great book with a series of complex, interconnected plots.  The characters are great, with a mix of races represented, and a positive portrayal of a lesbian couple.  

Kayla's dealing with several issues, both in her love life and with regards to her treatment by the kin.  She's fed up letting people mess with her brain without explaining what they're doing, even if it's just to transport information from one group to another.

While I found her relationship issues with Devak a bit irritating over the course of the book, I acknowledge that it's a realistic portrayal of how two sixteen year olds react in the face of challenges they hope - perhaps without hope - to overcome.  Devak's realized just how hard a relationship with a GEN would be, and even if Kayla took the treatment that would turn her into a lowborn, a life together would be difficult.  She meanwhile feels he's making decisions for her, just like the other trueborns in the kinship.

Some of the plot twists were fairly obvious, but that didn't make the book easy to predict.  There were a number of twists I didn't see coming, particularly the cliffhanger ending.

Thursday 4 April 2013

Author Interview: Julie Czerneda

Novels: WAY too many to list. She's written numerous science fiction novels one fantasy novel and several short stories. She has also edited anthologies

Website: www.czerneda.com

> What made you want to be a writer? 

I can't say I ever did. I've always wanted to be a biologist. There was a time when I passionately wanted to be a nuclear physicist too, because that skill set -- according to the movies -- guaranteed me a spot on the first starship to go forth and greet any aliens. Being of a family where the motto was do your best, whatever you do, with a hefty dose of anything's possible if you work at it, I did my utmost to figure out how to do just that, only to be stopped by the whole “astronauts must be test pilots” bit. (I did enrol in ground school, but that's another story.) Suffice to say, by the tender age of ten, I'd decided I'd best stick with biology and stay interested in everything else. In Case.

Being a writer wasn't remotely on my radar. Though it was about then I started typing out my own stories, but they were for my own fun. A hobby.

I was on maternity leave from the University of Waterloo when a job writing textbooks found me, through a friend who knew my “hobby.” After my surprise -- weren't published authors dead people? -- I realized here was something to keep my brain active, while bouncing a baby, while earning a living. Bring it on! Writing about science turned out, to my joy, to be something I was good at and thoroughly enjoyed. After all, I could stay interested in biology and everything else! Before I knew it, I was a professional writer and editor -- even a publisher.

As for my own stories, well, those were still in a drawer. It took a fair amount of convincing before I put one of them out into the world. That was A Thousand Words for Stranger. I haven't looked back since.

> You have a background in biology and have written quite a number of science fiction novels. What made you decide to switch to fantasy for, A Turn of Light?

Several things came together to make it happen. I'd been working, quietly, towards writing fantasy for many years. It's something I love, and I've many favourite authors who do it sublimely. At last, I felt I had a story worth telling. But when? I'd finished the prequels in The Clan Chronicles, setting the stage for the final trilogy. I knew I could use a change of pace and wanted to write something lighter. So the time seemed right. My editor at DAW, Sheila Gilbert, was willing to let me take the gamble, though she cautioned I'd be a “new” author again. (This is why Turn is in trade paperback rather than hardcover. I'm new!) Last, but not least, I had to see if I could do it. Could I develop a strong fantasy “voice” in my writing? Could I find the words, the cadence, the flow that, to me, makes fantasy stories come alive? The only way was to do my best and work at it.

> You've also edited several anthologies. How has editing others' writing affected your own?

It's made me humble. There are writers out there of astonishing ability and imagination. Whenever I read their work, I'm overwhelmed with delight that it's ALL MINE!!! Yes, I eventually share their stories with the world, but believe me, there's chortling and greedy sighs of joy first. Editing is a joyful occupation.

I do work with authors who need a wee polish or two, and that interaction is something I treasure, especially with new authors. MINE!!! (Sorry. My inner chortle at that never ends. Ask MY authors.) As for any impact on my work? I relish discovering how many authors, new and pro, are better than I am. It gives me confidence that I've more to learn and do. I love that challenge. Otherwise, there's no overlap. I was a professional editor for several years and it's a hat I don when required, then take off. Yes, I know what will make production's job a little easier and I try not to make the same mistakes two books in a row, but otherwise, as an author, I'm as much a quivering bowl of jelly as the next.

> When and where do you write?

I have an office in my home. I do the bulk of my writing there. In summer, I take a laptop out beside the pond, but I suspect that's more to sit by the pond than it is to really produce much. Bus and train stations. Airplanes. I write in those. The bathtub. As for when? Whenever I can. I'm a morning person, so early is my preference. That said, some stories insist on taking off just before supper, so meals can be late. Others are evening tales. Close to deadline -- or to a story's end -- I'll write non-stop unless reminded about the exercise/sleep/be social thing.

> Any tips against writers block?

I don't believe in it, so I'm not sure what help I can be. Writing is my job. Sometimes it's hard, sometimes ridiculously easy. If I catch myself fixated by a blinking cursor, i.e. not accomplishing much, I get up and do something else for a while. The brain needs a break and so does the body. I'll get dirty in the garden. Bike around the block. Play. Sometimes I'll take a pad of paper anywhere but my office, lie down, and scribble some other part of the story. After a bit (bit can be 10 minutes or a couple of days), I go back to my office, sit down, and write.

> How do you discipline yourself to write?

Fear helps. Okay, maybe not fear but definitely a sense of responsibility. This is how I earn my living, after all, and has been since 1985. Deadlines matter. My readers matter. Doing my best matters most. The books I've yet to write are the only job security available. I like that feeling, but it's not for everyone.

But there's more. A long time ago, I heard Cory Doctorow describe writing a novel as a marathon. It's that. The finish line is beyond the horizon and you can't use it as a goal. You have to be satisfied by the innumerable steps along the way. This scene, that paragraph, those words. And every now and again, they work so well your heart pounds with joy.

You asked at the start what made me want to be a writer. That's what's made me stay one. Those moments. That joy. I wish it for everyone.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Making a Medieval Manuscript Interactive Presentation

Have you ever wondered how a medieval manuscript was made?  Well, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England has put together an interactive presentation that takes you through the entire process, from making the parchment from animal skin to binding the folios.  There are also video clips for some of the more interesting processes (like painting initials).  It's pretty cool.  It's found on the museum's Pharos website, which also has interactive presentations for making a bronze sculpture, a 15th century panel painting, a Japanese print and how to conserve art (specifically a manuscript and vase restoration), as well as images from the museum's collection.  Note, you need Flash to watch the presentations (they include the download link if you need to install it).

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Book Review: Who Was Dracula?: Bram Stoker's Trail of Blood by Jim Steinmeyer

Pros: well researched, details Stoker's connection with numerous people despite the focus on Dracula

Cons: fairly repetitious

This non-fiction look at Bram Stoker and the men who influenced the character of Dracula is part biography, part fan letter.  It's obvious that the author is a huge fan of Stoker's life and work and has written this well researched book in order to share that love with others.

The book starts out by pointing out the fact that what most people think of when they picture Dracula isn't how the Count was written and that most of the movie features modern audiences are familiar with are not in the novel.  If you haven't read Dracula, there's a fairly thorough synopsis of the novel in chapter five so you can follow along.

The book is written in many ways like a novel, with dialogue and set scenes as though the reader was present during the important moments of Stoker's life.  This decision helps pull the reader into the story as well as make the book feel less scholastic than the twelve pages of notes at the back reveal it is.

While little is detailed about Stoker's childhood (including his illness when his mother told him fairy tales and about the influenza epidemic of her own youth), there is a lot of detail from his university time onward.  In fact, there's a lot of information included on several people, including Henry Irving, Oscar Wilde, the Jack the Ripper murders, other actors, playwrights, poets, etc.  But the focus is on Stoker's time as Irving's stage manager and the goings on in and around the Lyceum Theatre.

It's quite a fascinating story, and Steinmeyer mentions how scholars have changed their ideas about Dracula and where Stoker's inspiration came from, over the years.

My only real complaint - and I use that word loosely - is the amount of repetition in the book.  The author will mention something in a decent amount of depth in an early chapter and then revisit it later in the book, giving the matter even more depth.  On the one hand this means rereading the same information several times, on the other hand, the repetition makes it hard to forget the people/places/events mentioned in the book.  

I was a little surprised that the final chapter, which focuses on Dracula's success in the modern age neglected to mention the Francis Ford Coppola film, which greatly emphasized the erotic aspects and meaning of blood in the story to an extent that previous movies had not.  Especially since the author seemed so surprised by Stoker's apparent lack of awareness of the erotic overtones of his own story (I have to admit I'm more on Stoker's side on this issue than Steinmeyer's.  I probably have to read it again, but I don't remember Dracula being particularly erotic in any sense.  The Lucy scenes I'll give you could have been seduction, but Mina's attack was anything but.  And I found Dracula's brides more scary than sexy).  Similarly, the Stoker estate's acknowledged sequel to Dracula, Dracula: The Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt, wasn't mentioned.

Those are minor quibbles and on the whole I found this a highly enjoyable and very educational read.

Out April 9th.

Monday 1 April 2013

Science Fiction and Fantasy Books Coming in May, 2013

Since Indigo changed their website I can no longer use them for these posts.  After some consideration I've decided to try using the Canadian Amazon site.  This will - I assume - give me Canadian release dates (which is what I need when deciding subjects for my author interviews).  I did, however, notice some discrepancies between where Amazon files books (not needing to actually put them on a shelf) vs where I'd be shelving them at the store (most notably with general fiction books that have a speculative nature, for example: Christopher Brookmyre's new book, Bedlam).

I chose not to list the kindle short stories, but I did add the kindle original novels to the ebook section below.  On a few occasions no authors were listed for books, so I left those out.  Also, some books up for reprints on the list might actually be kindle releases (ie, in ebook format rather than in paperback).  It was often hard to tell which edition the listings were for.

I imagine I'll learn Amazon's quirks over time (as I did for Indigo).  In the meantime, I apologize for any inaccurate listings here.  If you notice a mistake or missing book, please mention it in the comments and I'll get it fixed.


Every Boy Should Have a Man – Preston Allen
Bedlam – Christopher Brookmyre
Guardian – Jack Campbell
Mythica: Dark Uprising – Scott Colley
Magician's End – Raymond Feist
Portal – Eric Flint & Ryk Spoor
Dead Ever After – Charlaine Harris
The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black – E. B. Hudspeth
Deeply Odd – Dean Koontz
Star Wars: Into the Void – Tim Lebbon
The God Tattoo – Tom Lloyd
I Travel by Night – Robert McCammon
Tunnel Out of Death – Jamil Nasir
Red Moon – Benjamin Percy
The Gist – Michael Marshall Smith
Shadows of Falling Night – S. M. Stirling
The Fall of Arthur – J. R. R. Tolkien & Christopher Tolkien

Trade Paperback:

Albert of Adelaide – Howard Anderson
The Bone Chime Song and other Stories – Joanne Anderton, Ed.
Nebula Awards Showcase 2013 – Catherine Asaro, Ed.
Zero Point – Neal Asher
Hello America – J. G. Ballard (reprint)
The Drowned World – J. G. Ballard (reprint)
The Unlimited Dream Company – J. G. Ballard (reprint)
The Garden Stones – Mark Barnes
Moxyland – Lauren Beukes
The Televisionary Oracle – Rob Brezsny
Intelligent Designing for Amateurs – Nimue Brown
Vyrkarion – J. A. Cullum
Gateway of the Saviours – A. J. Dalton
The Fictional Man – Al Ewing
Of Death and Beauty – Barbara Grenfell Fairhead
Star Trek: Into Darkness – Alan Dean Foster
Goodbye for Now – Laurie Frankel
The Stranger's Magic – Max Frei
Warhammer 40K: Baneblade – Guy Haley
Shadow of Night – Deborah Harkness
Light – M. John Harrison
The Wall – Marlen Haushofer (reprint)
Tarnished – Rhiannon Held
The Dog Stars – Peter Heller
Wolfhound Century – Peter Higgins
Shield of Sea and Space – Erin Hoffman
The Shambling Guide to New York City – Mur Lafferty
Rebirth – Sophie Littlefield
Love Among the Particles – Norman Lock
Eladria – Rory MacKay
The Human Front – Ken MacLeod
The Disappearances – Gemma Malley
Zombie Versus Fairy Featuring Albinos – James Marshall
The Daedalus Incident – Michael Martinez
The Shifting Price of Prey – Suzanne McLeod
Warhammer: Elves Omnibus – Graham McNeill
Ghost Spin – Chris Moriarty 
Children of the Gates – Andre Norton (reprint)
Warhammer 40K: Deathwatch – Steve Parker
Samantha Moon Rising – J. R. Rain
Lady of the Forest – Jennifer Roberson (reprint)
Adam Robots: Short Stories – Adam Roberts
The Red Plague Affair – Lilith Saintcrow
Dr. Who: Who-ology – Cavan Scott & Mark Wright
Warriors – Barbara Galler Smith & Josh Langston
Prepare to Die! – Paul Tobin
The Sea and Summer – George Turner
Destiny Quest: The Legion of Shadow – Michael Ward
House of Steel: The Honorverse Companion – David Weber
Unclean Spirits – Chuck Wendig
One Small Step: An Anthology of Discoveries – Tehani Wessely
The Place of Dead Kings – Geoffrey Wilson
Sorry Please Thank You – Charles Yu
The Legend of Snow Wolf: Redemption – F. Lit Yu 

Mass Market Paperback:

Fiery Edge of Steel – Jill Archer
Binding the Shadows – Jenn Bennett
Generation V – M. L. Brennan
Ride the Star Winds – A. Bertram Chandler
DragonLance: Protecting Palanthas – Douglas Clark (reprint)
The Lost Fragrance – Amit DasGupta
Fringe: The Zodiac Paradox – Christa Faust
Eberron: Marked for Death – Matt Forbeck
Starcraft II: Flashpoint – Christie Golden
Forgotten Realms: Elminster Enraged – Ed Greenwood
The Havoc Machine – Steven Harper
The Mist-Torn Witches – Barb Hendee
DragonLance: Flight of the Fallen – Mary Herbert (reprint)
DragonLance: The Clandestine Circle – Mary Herbert (reprint)
Alien in the House – Gini Koch
Assassins' Dawn – Stephen Leigh
Star Trek: The Shocks of Adversity – William Leisner
The Price of Peace – Mike Moscoe
The Red Menace – James Mullaney & Mark Maddox
Tempest Reborn – Nicole Peeler
Blue Remembered Earth – Alastair Reynolds
Silence – Michelle Sagara
The Eighth Court – Mike Shevdon
Life on the Preservation – Jack Skillingstead
Elfhome – Wen Spencer
The Craving – Jason Starr
Fearsome Journeys: The New Solaris Book of Fantasy – Jonathan Strahan, Ed.
DragonLance – The Middle of Nowhere - Paul Thompson (reprint)
Wizard's Fate – Paul Thompson & Tonya Cook
War Maid's Choice – David Weber
Eberron: Rise of the Seventh Moon – Rich Wulf
Flight of the Dying Sun – Rich Wulf

ebook (Kindle originals and Carina press): 

Aurora: Darwin – Amanda Bridgeman
Motions of a Reckless Soul – Zachary James Davis
How Beauty Loved the Beast – Jax Garren
Nova Swing – John Harrison
The Brazen Amazon – Sandy James
Dreamer – Patrick O'Scheen
Deep Deception – Cathy Pegau
The Stolen Luck – Shawna Reppert
Journey of Dominion – Shawna Thomas
Journey of Dominion – Shawna Thomas