Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Mini-Review: Breach Zone by Myke Cole

Breach Zone by Myke Cole is the third and final book in the Shadow Ops Trilogy (though thankfully, not the final book set in that world) where magic invades the modern life and Cole explores the militarization, secrecy, and resulting political shitstorm of it all. Let me simply say it – I love this series and feel that it is a great addition to the fantasy world. These books are action-packed, fun reads that will please many. But they also feature deep thoughts and important ethical ramifications that echo much of what we see in the world today – the US battling terrorism, the militarization of more and more conflict, government secrecy, cover-up, and spying. And much more.

Breach Zone is the best yet in the series. It focuses on two characters who have been more tangential in the previous books – Harlequin and Scylla. Their history goes back far more than readily apparent in the first two books and a huge confrontation come about as Scylla invades New York City with an army of goblins and other magical creatures. Oscar Britton and Bookbinder both have their roles in the confrontation as well, less so for Britton than Bookbinder.

As I indicated above, I love the moral complexity of these books. Things are not sugarcoated or boiled down sound bites and unfortunate mission accomplished banners. Real people have real personal conflict. And the result makes Cole’s novels stand out way beyond most other military fantasy and science fiction stories. This trilogy is good, very good, and now all I can say is More Please!

Shadow Ops: Control Point (My Review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier (My Review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
Shadow Ops: Breach Zone (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Mini-Reviews: The Neon Court and The Minority Council by Kate Griffin

I like to write reviews for the books I read in a timely manner. The life I live these days often does not allow it – at least without me losing a lot of sleep, something that I really cannot afford to do. So, it comes to me writing up ‘mini-reviews’ for two books by Kate Griffin I read a number of months ago. Why did they get put off so long when I read and reviewed others since? Not because they are bad, or that I didn’t enjoy them. Both are good books that I enjoyed quite a bit. Mostly because they are books from an established series and I don’t really have that much to add to what I’ve already said before about A Madness of Angels and The Midnight Mayor (really, read those reviews, because what I write below is terribly brief and general).

Both The Neon Court and The Minority Council continue the story of Matthew Swift, urban sorcerer and the Midnight Mayor of London. Matthew is an eccentric, half-crazy character (in every sense of the word) who always surprises with his creative problem solving capabilities (think understatement here). In combination with the unique flavor of urban magic that Griffin has created, London transforms from the mundane into a magical wonderland where a pile of garbage just might come alive and try to kill you.

These books feature typical urban issues such as gang turf wars, religious zealotry, drug addiction, business and political conflict, and alderman wrapped in Griffin’s truly modern magical realization. This is a reflection (in part) of Griffin’s continued maturing as a writer, though for me, the biggest draw to these books and the London of Griffin’s vision is simply it being a whole lot of fun to read about.

As I’ve mentioned above, I enjoy Griffin’s version of a magically-infused London and look forward to reading more. While The Minority Council is (seemingly) the last book about Matthew Swift, her world lives on through a new protagonist in a new series – Magicals Anonymous (Book 1 – Stray Souls, Book 2 – The Glass God), and I believe that Matthew makes an appearance or two in them as well.

And I simply must say, Kelly, the Personal Assistant to The Midnight Mayor, is one of my favorite characters in genre. Her role is relatively minor, often comic relief, and perfect.

Matthew Swift Series
A Madness of Angels (my review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
The Midnight Mayor (my review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
The Neon Court (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
The Minority Council (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)

Magicals Anonymous Series
The Glass God (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Review: Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

What is YA fiction?

I ask because Half a King is Joe Abercrombie’s first foray into YA fiction (and the first book in the Shattered Sea series). Fans, or at least those familiar with Abercrombie’s fiction, may have a reaction along the lines of ‘what!?, ‘Really?!’, ‘No Fucking Way!’

Abercrombie has a bit of a reputation in the SFF world. His fiction is … messy. It certainly falls into the relatively newly coined term grimdark (which, for the record, I dislike as a sub-genre describer but I’m afraid it’s here to stay). Some would throw about the term ‘realistic’ to describe what Abercrombie does with fantasy, regardless of how silly the term realistic can be when describing fiction, and fantasy in particular, but I digress. What Abercrombie does do is explore the fantasy genre by destroying some of its core concepts – The First Law Trilogy turns epic fantasy on its head, stretches it out on the rack and slowly eviscerates it. Best Served Cold, The Heroes, and Red Country all similarly subvert the revenge, war/hero, and western narratives, respectively. And they are messy. The single unifying concept (beyond grunting dialog) is that nothing is romanticized.  War is hell, killing is necessary, and blood gets everywhere. People are flawed, scarred, and any ideals they hold to are crushed in creative forms of torture. Redemption is not something that is oft found in the Abercrombie tale.

So, I come back to my opening question, what is YA? Does YA feature a simple narrative, clean reality full of romanticized characters and beautiful ideals? Are triumph, redemption and similar ‘good’ outcomes needed? If you tend to jump to a ‘yes’ answer for any of the above questions, I’d suggest that you haven’t read much YA fiction, or at least much good YA fiction.

So, I ask, is it really a surprise that Joe Abercrombie, LordGrimdark himself, is writing YA fiction?

Just what does YA Abercrombie-style look like? Is there a boy? Yes. Is there a girl? A couple actually. Is there a classic mentor figure? Yes, maybe more than one depending on how one looks at it. Is there a struggle and ‘heroes’ journey to become oneself and achieve their goals? Yes. Do the good guys win? … Does the boy get the girl? … Is there a cute and tidy moralistic message to be learned? Umm… Abercrombie wrote this, OK? Is there a death that is important to the protagonists development? See previous answer. Is mommy proud of her crippled son? … Just what is being subverted here? …

Half a King is a wonderful example of good YA fiction – note, that it’s not ‘children’s fiction’ as some people tend to falsely equate with YA. In many ways, this book is just as dark (err…grimdark?) anything else that Abercrombie has written. Blood is splattered all over the place. Betrayal occurs…repeat. The person that our ‘hero’ grows into … well, I’ll let you decide.

To answer the question I began with, YA fiction (at least as I choose to define it) simply features a protagonist who falls into the YA age category. It may be shorter than other novels and a bit easier to read (both are true in the case of Half a King), though those aren’t necessary. It’s a book that is probably marketed to the YA audience, which may be the only real definition for YA that matters. But who looks back on their ‘YA’ years and thinks those were the best times of my life? Teenagers are brutal. They are impulsive, short-sighted, vain and cruel. Sure, there are more than a few positive attributes as well, but don’t forget that the ‘YA years’ are not the easy sailing, Disney years that so many wish them to be. Abercrombie (and grimdark) fit right in … or maybe not, because who actually fits in during those years?

So, yes, Half a King is awesome. It is YA and it will equally appeal to those beyond their YA years. This is probably Abercrombie’s best book to-date (I waffle because I’ve not yet read Red Country), and shows that he’s writing with a golden finger (of death).

And nothing is better than naming a character Nothing. Nothing.

Abercrombie wrote Half a King, and this is a whole review that talked for a bit about Nothing.*

The First Law Trilogy (my review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)

*This line doesn’t really make much sense in the context of this review, but after reading the book I had to write it. Once you read the book you will understand. Or not … my sense of humor is odd.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mini-Review: Shattered by Kevin Hearne

Good, fun, pulpy comfort reading.

That about sums my feelings of the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne, including the latest, Shattered. As I’ve said in previous reviews, these books are not deep, and one must not think too hard on things. But they are perfect for an escape into a funny, action-packed world of nerdy wish fulfillment.

Shattered features more points of view from Granuaile, which I’ve been critical of in the past. They are better in this book – they don’t feel quite as much as a 14-year old boy’s imagining how a beautiful 18-year old girl thinks … in the form of an essay. But there is still a lot of improving to be had. Shattered also features a point of view from a new character – Atticus’ archdruid. This serves to ‘freshen’ things up a bit and is quite welcome, if a bit overdone.

Shattered feels a bit less pulpy than the other books in this series, it actually feels like a complete novel rather than a serial adventure. Perhaps this is because it’s the first book in the series to see a hardback release. Or maybe Hearne has just improved his writing such that it feels more rounded with the added points of view. Or perhaps I’m imagining things. But I don’t think any of that matters – Shattered is the 7th book in this series, and if you’re still reading, this book is going to offer more of the same that has kept you reading this long.

So, it’s more of the same. And yes, I can’t wait for the next one, though it sounds like it may be a while since Hearne has a lot going on right now.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Did Not Finish: The Moon King by Neil Williamson

Sometimes a book just doesn't work well enough to be finished. Most often when this happens the reasons are obvious – the book is just poorly written, offensive, or just bad. But sometimes the reasons are harder to quantify.

The Moon King by Neil Williamson (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) is one such book. I simply got to the point where I didn't care to read it anymore. It was a gradual thing that I still can’t understand. Because I still think this is a book I should like. It’s an interesting exploration of the relationship of humankind and nature as well as the psyche of humankind itself. It focuses on characters who can’t quite conform. And one of those is an engineer – given my day job, I love to see such a character in a SFF book.

BUT I called the exploration interesting. Only for some reason it was not for me. The characters didn’t hold my interest. Even though the writing is quite well done, it couldn’t hold my interest either. The setting of a city dominated by the moon and its mysterious king who dominates all of culture just refused to work for me. And I don’t know why. 

That quality break-up line seems to fit best – ‘it’s not you, it’s me.’ Work and home life are crazy busy and more than a bit stressful. I have less and less time to relax and what time I do have is often spent in an exhausted daze. I suspect that what I’m looking for is just not the deep, subtle exploration of humanity through SFF, but something more shallow and entertaining. I suspect that if I return to The Moon King in the future when I’m in a different place, I will react differently. But I don’t know for sure. I do know that I decided not to finish the book, and once that decision was made reading became much more enjoyable for me.

Really, it’s not you, it’s me.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Review: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson has become the obvious heir to epic fantasy of this generation. Sure, there are plenty of great authors writing in the epic genre, and many more picking at or blending the edges, but when it comes to pure epic fantasy, Brandon Sanderson is King and in no danger of being usurped anytime soon. The focus of this effort is The Stormlight Archive, a projected 10-book series. Words of Radiance is the second book in this series, following The Way of Kings.
Above I called Brandon Sanderson the King of epic fantasy, I very much believe he deserves the honor and has earned it through work and dedication to the craft and just a bit of luck and goodwill along the way. King Sanderson* has benefited greatly from the unique opportunity to complete The Wheel of Time after Robert Jordan’s tragic and untimely death. His efforts to complete the final 3 books in the series based off writing fragments in various states of completeness, rough outlines, dictated scenes, thousands of pages of notes, and his own interpretation to bridge the gaps provided him with a view into a nearly completed work of the immense scale common to multi-book series of epic fantasy and the challenge of finishing the series in a satisfying way. As a result, he gained a great understanding of the consequences of choices made earlier in the series that become amplified in later volumes. This in turn provided King Sanderson the chance to set his own massive series up in a way to avoid such consequences (in theory), or to put in a few other terms, avoid jumping the shark or becoming tangled in a Meereenese Knot. Of course, it’s far too early to judge the ultimate success of this when King Sanderson is only 2 books into his projected 10-book series, but initially I think the signs are there showing that he could pull it off – particularly with the way that Sanderson has chosen to juggle character points of view, keeping it to a relatively bare few (just 2 or 3 per book), with brief interludes where others can be thrown in to expand the breadth of the story at hand.
Above I’ve liberally used the term epic fantasy and I will continue to do so throughout this review. This is because of the importance of acknowledging what this book (and series) is, and therefore, what it is not. The Way of Kings is 1008 pages long in hardback (US). Words of Radiance is 1087 pages (US hardback). These books are back-breakingly big and capable of propping open a ten-ton vault, let alone stopping your door. In other words, they are big and they are bloated. The pacing reflects this – not everything included is strictly necessary (though this opinion of mine could vary greatly by one’s own point of view) – with events playing slowly and deliberately. The primary characters are explored in great depth, dwelled on in ways that are often mind-numbingly blunt and repetitive. Brevity is not the soul of Wit in these books (though Wit is the most interesting character, of which we see relatively little, though I digress). These books are for people who want to dive in, staying immersed for hours on end, and experience all possible aspects of the story. The eloquence of word count plays out in the epic way of King Sanderson and fans will flock to rule. (OK, I’ll stop now with my attempts at radiant word play).
So, that 200+ word paragraph above basically boils down to knowing what you’re reading. If you don’t like big, bloated epic fantasy of the likes of Steven Erikson, Robert Jordan and George RR Martin, then don’t read these books. They are long and could be edited down to a fraction of their end size, but that’s not the point of epic fantasy – at least not this epic fantasy. Enjoy it for what it is, or move on. Because complaining about the word count of book 2 in a proposed 10-book series in a genre notorious for large page counts is just silly. (But friendly mocking of that word count is encouraged, at least by me)
If you are beginning to wonder about where I intend to talk about the plot or specific characters, let me spell it out that I have no intention of doing so. There are plenty of other places that do a wonderful job of that, and I have plenty to talk about in my thoughts on this book without ever going there. Basically, with Words of Radiance being a book within a series that isn’t the first book, I think that those discussions are largely pointless in a review like this – or at least I have no interest in them. I prefer to talk in bigger picture terms on whether or not I think it works or not.
Above I mentioned three other epic fantasy authors: Steven Erikson, Robert Jordan, and George RR Martin. These three were chosen with intent as I think that there are similarities to be had with each. Robert Jordan is obvious and clear in his in influence and Sanderson has talked in detail about it in many places as he completed Jordan’s series. George RR Martin may seem like me just pulling out a popular name with little more than surficial similarity for extra SEO. However, I do see some similarities and influence through how points of view are utilized and how, ‘petty’ human struggles dominate early in the series, with the ‘true evil’ or ‘big bad’ only becoming a bigger focus as things progress.
The comparison to Steven Erikson is a bit more nuanced, and perhaps, more worthy of discussion. In my opinion, Erikson is the first author to truly pull off what could be considered a post-modern epic fantasy (in many ways the term ‘post-modern epic fantasy’ is a complete oxymoron). In the past Sanderson has been lambasted for calling his Mistborn series post-modern. And while he did backtrack a bit on that, I still think that King Sanderson really believes in the idea of him being a post-modern epic fantasy author. Honestly, I can see where that comes from – King Sanderson’s epic fantasy is an answer to what has come before, and there is a bit of commentary built into it. In The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance, look no further than Wit (or Hoid of you prefer). Now do I think that The Stormlight Archive will ever rival Malazan in a postmodern view of fantasy – NO. But I do think it’s an interesting perspective to view this series through.
The Way of Kings was released in 2010 and with 4 years between releases, people may be struggling with the idea of whether or not they should re-read the 1000+ page first book in the series before moving on to the even bigger second book. I did not re-read and I did not look up any of the many summaries available online. I wanted to see how Words of Radiance held up given the time gap (plus I don’t have that sort of time these days). In general, I don’t feel that I was held back by my choice not to re-read, however there are of course caveats to this. I’ll start with the good – with The Way of Kings being a standard intro book and Words of Radiance being something of continuation and transitional book, it’s pretty easy to catch up on what’s important to know. But, one of the most popular aspects of this series does make it difficult to not be up-to-date with a full understanding of people and events – this series is huge and is meant to be huge. It is meant to be full of mysterious details and open-ended ideas that encourage ‘theory-craft’ to develop. King Sanderson absolutely wants his fans pouring over minute details to see what they may say about events to come and events that have already happened. And this does put the casual fan at a disadvantage. So far, King Sanderson balances things well enough to satisfy both, but he runs the risk of tipping one way or another as the series continues, and I doubt that potential tipping will favor the more casual fan.
This brings me to The Cosmere. King Sanderson is nothing if not ambitious, and from the start of his professional career he has developed an epic within the epics where most of the books he writes all take place in the same universe and all relate to each other in one way or another and an ultimate confrontation that is occurring. A single character known most often as Hoid (Wit in The Stormlight Archives) is present to one extent or another in each of these books. Up until now, this epic within the epics has been subtle and in the background, with only dedicated fans having much of a clue of what was going on. In Words of Radiance, it becomes clear that this series will become a central component of The Cosmere, and that the whole concept will grow and become much more important. This is another blow to the casual fan as only dedicated fans who read and digest all of books in The Cosmere will be able to fully enjoy and appreciate King Sanderson’s edicts. Or, from another point of view, this is a huge boon to King Sanderson’s fans as they get enjoy the epic within the epics as he brings something truly new to the genre. I suppose it’s time to throw Michael Moorcock into the mixing bowl of what has come before.
So, all you dedicated readers who have made it this far into the review may be wondering whether or not I liked the book and what I actually thought of – this is a very valid point to make considering I’ve rambled on for over 1600 words at this point and still haven’t really discussed this yet.
Yes, I liked the book – quite a bit actually. King Sanderson continues to improve as an author and I think this is one of his strongest efforts yet. Even though the book is so long, the pacing is remarkably consistent throughout and the writing is engaging enough to keep the reader (at least this reader) interested and entertained even while events progress at a measured pace. I believe that The Stormlight Archive is on pace to become the defining epic fantasy series of a generation and I will be along for the ride. Fans of epic fantasy and King Sanderson are getting more of what they crave with Words of Radiance – and likewise, those who aren’t fans of epic fantasy and/or King Sanderson should probably pass this one by.
So, all hail King Sanderson, overlord and archivist of The Cosmere…he’s earned it. But…
Wit, thy soul has brevity not.
And that works just fine for King Sanderson.
*I refer to Brandon Sanderson as King Sanderson throughout the review. I do not do this to mock Brandon, as I have the upmost respect for what he does and my personal interactions with him have always been wonderful. I do so partially to reinforce my point of him being at the top of epic fantasy at the moment, to help keep my rambling review somewhat cohesive, and because it amuses me.
Books of The Cosmere:
The Emperor’s Soul: Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon
The Well of Ascension: My Review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon
Full Trilogy Boxed Set at Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon
The Stormlight Archive
Words of Radiance: Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon

Friday, March 14, 2014

Review: Caine’s Law by Matthew Stover

I have raved in the past about the Acts of Caine series by Matthew Stover, so if you have a moment, take the time to read those other reviews.
Heroes Die (Act of Violence)
Blade of Tyshalle (Act of War)
Caine Black Knife (Act of Atonement, Book 1)
If you’re not familiar with Matthew Stover and the Acts of Caine series, please at least go back and read the review for Heroes Die. It’s a great start to get a feel for things, though the series really gets going in Blade of Tyshalle (in my opinion anwyway). Because, if you are a fan of epic fantasy, you are doing yourself a huge disservice by not reading these books. Do you like dark fantasy (or gritty/grimdark as it’s being called these days)? This series pre-dates and out does anything you’ll find in grimdark today. Seriously, this series is criminally under-read and I cannot state strongly enough that fans should read it.
Caine’s Law (Act of Atonement, Book 2) completes the series in what is the best conclusion to any series I’ve read. Let me say that again…this series has the best ending of any series I’ve read to date. The pure satisfaction of this ending is second-to-none. To give just the slightest hint at this, I will quote the last line of the book/series (now, this is slightly complicated due to non-linear storytelling, but this is essentially the last line).
Any fucking questions?
Caine is the antihero of antiheroes. He is not nice, he is selfish, he is ambitious, he will sacrifice whatever he needs to, and he will torture and kill without a second thought. But, he’s also the good guy. He is the ultimate take no prisoners, bad ass motherfucker. Caine is someone that you don’t want to mess with – it will end badly, and it will probably end just as badly for everyone you know.
And for all that Caine is fiercely protective of his own. Heroes Die is essentially about him saving his wife. Blade of Tyshalle is about him saving his daughter. Caine Black Knife is about Caine coming to terms (of sort) with his past and the wrongs that he has done (and about him saving his brother). Caine’s Law is about him saving everyone else. And it’s way, way more complicated than that.
Structurally, Caine’s Knife is a wonderful mess. As I indicated above, it’s nonlinear, but that doesn’t go far enough. It’s metaphysical – similar to what was seen in parts of Blade of Tyshalle, but much, much more. The best way to express this is to quote author’s note.
Several parts of this story take place before the events depicted in Act of Atonement Book 1: Caine Black Knife.
Other parts of this story take place after. Still others take place before and after both. Some parts may be imaginary, and some were real only temporarily, as they have subsequently unhappened.
This book begins with the end and ends with the beginning – framing it as a journey. Perhaps the hero’s journey…only not, because Caine is no hero…except when he is. This only adds another layer to the long list of what this book and series is about. Which is yet another reason to read these books – depth, depth unlike 99% of what’s out there. These books will make you think, they will entertain you, they will make you think about why they entertain you, they will make you lose sleep, and they just might make your language a bit more colorful.  
This book, and the series as a whole, are more than just the best, most badass character in fantasy. It’s a book about being human and what it means to be human. It’s a series the darkness of humanity and it’s a series about conquering the darkness. It’s a series about redemption and progress. It’s a series about the horror of oppression – both from government and gods. It’s a series about overcoming that oppression. It’s about love, sacrifice, family, and fatherhood. In short, it’s about progress, it’s about becoming better, and the inner strength of humanity to make it happen – in the face of all the pure evil that’s present as well. And along the way there is both romance, and lots and lots of graphic violence with equally graphic language.
It’s really ineloquent and ironic to continually gush my love for this book and series, so I think I’ll pause and to illustrate much of what goes on and what I was attempting to say above, below are a few of the chapter titles for Caine’s Law, in no particular order.

Beloved of God
Scars and Scars
What Dreams May Come
Times that Bind
Assbitch of the Gods
Enter Hero
Meat Puppets
Love Absolute
Consider Insanity
Truth to Power
Father Issues
The Art of Unhappening
Fuck God
To the Masters of the Earth
Assbitch of the Gods – is there a better chapter title ever? And as I said, it’s only better.
Go, read, now. That is all.
Any fucking questions?

Blade of Tyshalle: Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon

Caine Black Knife: Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Review: Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach

Science Fiction can at times be a tricky genre, especially for those who haven’t read a whole lot of it. It can be very dense as it relies on words and concepts that it assumes a reader is familiar with. So, it’s often the case that someone relatively new to science fiction is not and thus they dislike what they read. In response, there is often discussion on entry-level science fiction, which, as it sounds, is science fiction that provides a good entry into the genre for the uninitiated.
Another common issue in science fiction is the general lack of diversity of those writing it (or at least a perceived lack of diversity depending on the view point) – there is often a lack of women/minorities/etc. writing and/or as the intended audience. Sure, there are notable exceptions, and this is a generality, but it’s certainly the case, particularly with the most prominent and heavily marketed science fiction in the market.
Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach (aka Rachel Aaron) can be considered an answer to both of those issues.
It is an entry-level science fiction novel that really does nothing new, but is a whole of fun to read. We’re talking space marines, mechanized armor, abandoned alien ships, alien parasites, inter-stellar travel, space hippies, and tasty human flesh. It’s all the fun of a good military science fiction adventure and it has the beginning of an interesting space opera. And the way it’s written makes it a very accessible book.
Rachel Bach is indeed a woman writing a science fiction novel and the main protagonist of Fortune’s Pawn also happens to be a woman (named Devi). The best way I can think of to further illustrate this aspect of the book is that several reviewers (and even the author herself) have compared Fortune’s Pawn to urban fantasy. Now, my initial reaction to this (before reading the book) was to laugh – it’s set on a spaceship, calling it urban fantasy is absurd. However, I do see the point now as a shorthand for one of the ways the story sets itself up with (though the method certainly isn’t only used in urban fantasy). A strong woman with agency who is not looking for a love interest meets the tall, dark mysterious man who is hiding a big secret. They hit it off and fall in love, though there are many complications (in this case evisceration is but one). Of course this is a classic romantic plot line and one that is often disparaged by science fiction fans (yes folks, there is even sex in this book). For me it adds to the book and makes it better and the characters more interesting. Of course I don’t see how gratuitous violence is often accepted without question in SFF yet romance (or even sex) is often held at arm’s length like a nasty set of dirty underwear. So let’s remember that romance in our fiction is a good thing and in Fortune’s Pawn it works quite well.
While I’ve brought up romance, let’s not forget that Fortune’s Pawn is one hell of an adventure. You could also call it an analog to Firefly with a motley crew of characters on a spaceship having crazy adventures through the galaxy. Personally, I wouldn’t – the character development is almost completely focused on a relative few, the mystery is bigger, the consequences seem bigger, and the galaxy (and number of species) certainly is. But I bring up the point because it illustrates that this book has a lot going for it where most commentary I’ve seen ends up pigeonholing it in one way or another.
Fortune’s Pawn is simply fun. It is a well executed space adventure that should have wide appeal and is particularly accessible for relative newcomers to science fiction.  This is just the sort of book that science fiction needs more of right now and it’s great to see an author like Rachel Bach deliver in this respect. Fortune’s Pawn is the first book in the Paradox trilogy – book 2, Honors Knight is available now and Heaven’s Queen will be shortly. So, there are no excuses for waiting.
Fortune’s Pawn (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
Honor’s Knight (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
Heaven’s Queen (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
*Note: My one quibble about this book is the Force. OK, Fortune’s Pawn doesn’t have the actual Force in it, but there is a mystical energy that space hippies seem to be able to tap into that sounds suspiciously like the force. In Fortune’s Pawn it plays no big role(well possibly excepting ___ at the end), but I suspect it’s something of a Chekov’s Gun. For now I’m merely annoyed by it, hopefully it works better as things move forward.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Someone Disagrees With Me on the Internet

OK, I think a lot of people disagree with me, but that’s not really the point. Renay over at Lady Business doesn’t like my review of Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. She disagrees with me (in fact a lot of people disagree with my opinion on that book), but that’s not really the point. She takes the biggest issue with how I end the review.
My ultimate takeway is simply this. Seeing this book get so many accolades, so much attention, only emphasizes just how stagnant SFF is as a genre. With relatively few exceptions, the genre that’s best suited to explore what’s possible, what should and should not be, what our own expectations say about us and everything in between doesn’t do any of that in regard to many fundamental aspects of our society. 
And I can’t decide if that depresses me or pisses me off.
Renay really disagrees with the idea of SFF as a stagnant genre and expands this to disagreement with the very commonly espoused idea that SFF is dead. Perhaps it’s mostly due a poor word choice on my part, but that’s not really the point I’m making here. The point I make stems from a rather simple observation – compare Ancillary Justice with pretty much any book that Ursual K. Le Guin wrote 40-50 years ago, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s say The Left Hand of Darkness (my review if you're interested to compare my thoughts of each). How much progress is evident from that simple comparison? EDIT: For a more in depth comparison of these two books check out this post on
It seems to me that there is relatively little progress evident in that specific direct comparison given all the actual social change that’s occurred in the nearly 50-year time period covered. Or to put it another way, after 50 years the same issues keep coming up over and over again. Sure, it’s great to point out that the baseline (or perhaps goalposts?) shift every time these issues come up. But at least from my point of view, I can’t help but feel a bit saddened by apparent lack of progress evident in the SFF genre over that time period (admittedly, from a single comparison).
To go back to that excerpt from my review, I do consider Ancillary Justice to be an exception to the ‘stagnation’ I reference. And that’s why it depresses me, because after 50 years (or more) of this repeating cycle, a book like Ancillary Justice is still an exception, something outside of the mainstream of the SFF genre, something different. And it shouldn’t be. Not by a long shot. That’s what really pisses me off.
And as award season ramps up, Ancillary Justice is proving to be a shortlist favorite – and has already won its first with the Kitchies. Now, I personally would not have nominated it (I don’t really nominate for any awards so it hardly matters), but I am pleased to see it on the lists. To me it shows that a growing and increasingly vocal part of fandom craves books that push boundaries and expectations, just as the best of the genre always has. So, while not my choice, I am happy to see it gaining attention over the same old, same old that often populates award shortlists.
Oh, and by the way, I still thought Ancillary Justice was boring and an overall mediocre book. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth talking about.
*A note that I hesitate to even mention, but another unfortunate part in all this is some of the discussions I’ve seen on Twitter about my review – apparently writing the review I did has regulated me to being just another male critic who doesn’t get it. I find that reaction terribly hypocritical, but it’s also one I don’t plan on engaging any further than this note.

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