Monday, December 24, 2007

Review: Firefly Rain by Richard Dansky

Firefly Rain by Richard Dansky launches the new Wizards of the Coast Discoveries imprint featuring original speculative fiction works that cover a wide range of subjects. I stepped outside of my typical reading habits for this one – Firefly Rain is more horror-suspense and southern-gothic (or snowbird gothic as Dansky himself describes it) than the typical SFF I read. In many ways this is an enjoyable step back in time for me since I read a lot more within the horror genre (mostly Stephen King and Dean Koontz) when I was younger.

Jacob Logan is returning home and the vacant house and empty land deep in the Carolina countryside are the last place he wants to be. His last visit was to bury his mother along side his father and he hopes this visit will be equally brief. Jacob immediately notices a few oddities as his luck turns even worse – things just don’t feel right. Encounters with Carl, the particularly surly groundskeeper and equally surly local cops only add to his worries has he struggles with the ghosts of his past.

Firefly Rain takes two of the more common horror tropes – estranged relations with family and the creepy small town – and writes a really decent story with them (well, there’s a third common trope but I’ll leave that out here). It reads fast and the descriptive prose captures the dark and threatening mood of the story well while interjecting just the right amount of humor at the right times. Dansky really shines in his portrayal of the small southern town with friendly hospitality laced with a distrust of outsiders and a sharp word for superior-minded city-folk.

Told in a first-person point of view, a lot of time is spent getting into the mind of Jacob. As a result, Jacob’s character is presented well, though it left me wanting more. The estranged relationship with his parents lies at the heart of things, but we are never given very convincing reasons why. I suppose it could be viewed positively that Dansky didn’t feel the need to go over the top and throw all sorts of horrifying abuses at Jacob’s childhood, but I did find myself questioning why things seemed so bad to Jacob.

With the concentration on Jacob, the supporting cast is regulated to little more than caricatures that manage to serve their roles well. In an all-too predictable way, every person we are introduced to has an eventual role to play. It could be considered efficiency, but it rubbed me a bit wrong in the ‘everybody really is out to get me’ kind of way.

The plot moves forward adequately, with the best parts of the book coming in the more descriptive aspects. At times you could feel the oppressive wet heat of the south and the lightening-quick change of weather that a storm can bring. It had me remembering the ominous feeling you can get when visiting that distant relative in the country and their creepy old house – where my city car gets stuck on the road or a flat tire in the mud.

Firefly Rain was a quick and refreshing change of pace from my usual fair. I enjoyed it quite a bit in spite a couple flaws and have no trouble recommending it to most any audience. It’s a decent debut for Wizards of the Coast Discoveries and I look forward to seeing what comes next. 7/10

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Review: Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost

As I struggled to figure out just where to start this review, I continually found myself thinking on how some other people have reacted to Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost. In this world of on-line reviews, Shadowbridge has so far provoked a wide-range of reactions. Patrick St.-Denis couldn’t even finish the book while Jay Tomio singles it out as one of the best of the year. I read the whole book, so I obviously thought more of it than Pat did, but I can’t claim to have enjoyed it enough to be throwing it on any best-of lists…yet.

Shadowbridge is a story about stories and a world’s greatest story-teller in particular. It’s a world made up of endless bridges, with each of the countless spans a magical world unto its own – related to and inspired by other spans, yet unique. A young woman, Leodora, is developing into the world’s greatest storyteller, surpassing even the father she never knew. She runs from the tyranny of her past, seeking to know and tell all the world’s myths through her shadow-puppetry while reconciling with a lack of knowledge of the past.

Literally and thematically, Shadowbridge is a world of bridges. Jay delves into this more eloquently and completely than I could hope to, so I won’t go into much detail. Suffice to say that this is a book of bridges – the characters are bridges, the world is made of bridges, the focus is on the bridge, the change, the journey, but and the beginning and end of these bridges may be as important as the bridges themselves.

The plot itself is a rather strait-forward example of a young orphaned woman escaping her past under the guidance of a paternal figure who knew her parents. There are the expected hints of mysterious and sinister events in her parents’ lives that appear to be catching up with Leodora and her companions. She is the abused orphan who finds greatness and appears to be the key to a much larger plot. While my description of the framing arc is less than flattering, it is both serviceable and interesting – told with skill allows for deeper revelations of our storyteller’s stories.

The prose is economically poetic in its frame of stories within stories. Just as The Old Man and the Sea is not just about a man fishing in a boat, the myths, legends, stories of Shadowbridge offer much more than initially meets the eye, often of a decidedly disturbing nature. It’s the thematic depth of these stories and their interlacing with the over-arcing plot that highlight the ambitions and strengths of Shadowbridge.

Frost approaches his worldbuilding from a different angle – through the myths of the people and Leodora’s stories while honoring the relative ignorance and mystery of his main characters. This approach contrasts with the typical epic fantasy with its pages of detail and various methods of infodumping. It is refreshing to see a well-written fantasy book at only 272 pages– of course this is a duology that easily could have been published as a single volume, which is annoying to a paying audience.

Surficially, Shadowbridge is seemingly strait-forward and even plain in its execution, though it’s told with skillful and poetic prose. It’s the depth beyond the surface that provides a hint of genius and a sense of powerful understanding. The problem is that Shadowbridge is not complete – for the time being, it’s a bridge to nowhere. The concluding sequel, Lord Tophet, will be published in summer ’08 and should bring a conclusion to a potentially great story. I won’t anoint Shadowbridge with either greatness or mediocrity until I can see how Frost brings it all together – however, the potential is vast. For that reason, this book is particularly tough to rate – it deserves a good rating with skill of its telling and wonderful set-up it provides, but it is incomplete without its second half. Therefore, it gets something of a cop-out at 7.5 – it could be over 8, but if the concluding volume doesn’t produce, Shadowbridge will suffer for it.

Related Posts: Review of Lord Tophet

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Year in Review – 2007

It’s been a great year of reading. I did not read as much as I’d have liked – I expect by year’s end I’ll number just short of 40 books read this year. Out of those 40 or so books, most have been books I’d happily recommend, but there’s always a desire to single out the year’s best. Below are my top 11 for 2007 – why 11, because I like it better than 10 (top 11 for 2006). These are presented in no particular order and I’ve starred 2007 releases – enjoy!

Neth Space’s Top 11 Reads for 2007

Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett (review). The second adventure of Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep of the Royal Thai Police provides a unique view on so many aspects of western culture from the east. I simply love these stories – I also really enjoyed *Bangkok Haunts (review).

Vellum by Hal Duncan (review). Started in 2006 and finished in 2007, this book is numerically speaking, the highest rated book I’ve read since starting this blog. The language is beautiful in ways that genre books rarely show and story can be powerfully evocative.

*Mainspring by Jay Lake (review). This book debuted with mixed reviews and widely different interpretations – some have seen religious allegory (both positive and negative) and others something else entirely. It is a unique vision of a steampunk earth with God’s creation obvious to all. I include this book because it made me think – possibly more so than any other book I read this year – and that is a powerful thing.

*The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie (review). I simply love this first book of The First Law trilogy. It is epic fantasy that does very little that is new or original – but, it’s all about the execution. Abercrombie laughs at maps and detailed world building while putting all his emphasis on the characters – and they are great characters. It’s written with more wit than most writers use in their entire career.

*The Metatemporal Detective by Michael Moorcock (review). These are the collected stories of Moorcock’s detective Seaton Bregg and his nemesis through the multiverse, Count Zenith. It’s an homage to pulp mysteries of the past, often presented with biting satire, and full of fun for those who have been following Moorcock’s multiverse (and perfectly safe for those who, like me, haven’t). Moorcock is a master writer that any lover of books should read.

*The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss (review). This book debuted to huge amounts of buzz and tremendous support from its publisher – it deserves every bit of it in my opinion. It’s a wonderfully told story that engages the reader in a way that few books do.

*Feast of Souls by C.S. (Celia) Friedman (review). Another first book of a new trilogy (three of these recommendations are), and another great introduction. Friedman has been at this for a while and delivers a wonderful set-up with an intriguing magic system and a gritty take on gender relations (yes, I used the word gritty – just not where you typically see it these days).

*New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear (review). A wonderfully told mosaic novel set in an Elizabethan, steampunk world. Framed with Sherlockian mysteries, New Amsterdam is a character study of two courtesans and their master, an immortal and two mortals, two men and woman, two respected investigators and a youth – it all depends on the point of view.

*Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (review). A completed series is a wonderful thing – and this is probably the most anticipated series completion in human history. I was amazed to Rowling deal with this unprecedented level of pressure and deliver what I consider to be a great conclusion to her landmark a series.

*The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski (review). Polish master fantasist Sapkowski delivers a powerful mosaic introducing his protagonist of the Witcher Saga. Image fairy tales retold from the distinctive point of view of the Slavic world – you’re only part of the way there.

Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock (review). This World Fantasy Award-winning novel has justifiably become a classic of fantasy literature. Evoking a deep, primal reaction from within the reader, I cannot recommend this book enough.

* Released in 2007

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mind Melded

The folks over at SF Signal have a long-running feature – The Mind Meld – where they pose a single question to a group of invited participants in the SFF world. Somehow I was chosen as one of the bloggers in a group including editors and authors. It was a lot of fun and I encourage you all to go read – some of the answers might just surprise you. Participants include David G. Hartwell, James Patrick Kelly, John Joseph Adams, Paul Raven, Alan Beatts, Niall Harrison, and Larry of the OF Blog of the Fallen.

The question posed was

From your point of view, how has the proliferation of online book reviews affected the publishing world?

Some of excerpts include

Online reviewing at this point is a hopeful mess…
-David Hartwell

Everyone wants something different from a book …and the anarchic economics of internet publishing mean that all those needs can be supplied in proportion to demand.
-Paul Raven

At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter what publishers, booksellers, authors or reviewers think of a book.
-Alan Beatts

…when was the last time you saw Gary Wolfe reviewing Steven Erikson or Kate Elliott?
-Niall Harrison

…it may mean a sort of Darwinian fight in the near future to see which blogs are best qualified…
-Larry of OF Blog of the Fallen

How about that for a self-serving, pretentious answer?
-Ken of Neth Space

Isn’t it great to see quotes taken out of context?

Monday, December 10, 2007

Brandon Sanderson to Finish Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time
Via SFScope

Tor has announced in Publisher’s Weekly that Brandon Sanderson will finish A Memory of Light, the final book in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.
Tor Books announced today that novelist Brandon Sanderson has been chosen to finish writing the final novel in Robert Jordan’s bestselling Wheel of Time fantasy series. Jordan—described by some as Tolkien’s heir—died Sept. 16 from a rare blood disease. The new novel, A Memory of Light, will be the 12th and final book in the fantasy series which has sold more than 14 million copies in North America and more than 30 million copies worldwide. The last four books in the series were all #1 New York Times bestsellers.
(full article)

Sanderson mentions it on his blog as well and points to discussion on his forum. He is also interviewed about it on Dragonmount. I imagine, it’ll see quite a bit of discussion soon enough. For me, it means the book wasn’t in as good of shape as I had hoped, but with Jordan’s fight with illness, it was colossal effort for him to do what he did manage. I figured if anybody other than Jordan’s wife (also his editor) or assistant got the job it would be Sanderson – mainly because he wanted the job (or seemed to anyway).

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Rating Trends

In all honesty, I’m not a big fan of giving numeric ratings in reviews even though I have chosen to do so. There are so many factors that go into what makes a book good, bad, week, strong…that it is really unfair to sum it all up in a single number between 0 and 10. Just look at the books I’ve reviewed and rated – two books that are vastly different will score the same.

All that complaining aside, ratings do provide some useful information for some people. And they allow for me to geek out and look at things through a statistical lens. The chart below shows the distribution of ratings for the 78 books and series I’ve reviewed since starting this blog. It’s interesting to see some of the trends that are evident.

As I’ve described elsewhere, I have some general guidelines as to what the ratings mean and I’ve included them on the above chart. Simply said, below 5 is bad, between 5 and 7.5 is good with some reservations, and above 7.5 is great. Since I ultimately choose the books I read, and I only rarely read a book that I’m not already pretty sure I’ll enjoy, the ratings are skewed significantly toward the good and great end of things. But looking at the data trends makes me think that a better division of the ratings might be what’s shown in the chart below. While I’ll still aim to rate as I always have, I think that I’ll have to keep this distribution in mind as it just might more accurately reflect my feelings.

Anyway, I hope that people out there might actually find all this interesting – I know I did.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Review: Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

World Fantasy Award (1985) winning Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock represents a departure from the traditional epic fantasy of its day with elements of science fiction and historical fiction while imbuing an atmosphere all its own. Defying easy categorization, it explores the mythos of humanity in a setting eerily recognizable and reminiscent of something more primal in origin.

Steve Huxley returns from the Second World War to his home in rural England, located at the edge of an untouched, wild wood that has long fascinated his family. His father, a source of familial strife due to his obsession with the wood, has died while Steve was away at war. Christian, Steve’s older brother, has since explored his father’s research into the wood and become more like his father than Steve could have imagined.

The Rhyope Wood is the source of a mysterious energy that creates people and creatures out of the myths of humankind (called mythagos) – particularly myths of British soil like Robin Hood, King Arthur and others long lost from modern memory. Through the proximity of the family home to the Rhyope, the wood’s influence brings obsession, love, pain and death, and ultimately inspires a journey into its ancient, haunted heart where the mythagos have myths of their own.

From the start of Mythago Wood Holdstock reaches into the primal heart of the reader, drawing them into his imagined ghost wood filled with myths remembered and not. The wood itself becomes a dominating character bringing about the realization of just how powerful of a force primeval forests were in ancient times. As someone who traces the majority of their ancestry to that part of the world, there is a sense of this coming being of my past – these mythagos are my own.

Having inspired such a deep connection remarkably early in the book, Holdstock proceeds to tell an inspired tale – a modern myth all its own. Solitary Steve reflects often and subtly on the familial rivalry dominating his past and present while he is seemingly destined to love one of the forest’s mythagos, as did his father and brother before him. The resulting modern sibling rivalry follows the path of myth, as ancient as the myth they both pursue.

Much can be taken from the many of the aspects of Mythago Wood – in some ways it reads as a series of myths, tales, and parables framed by more myths, tales, and parables. Questions are presented, rather than asked and reflected upon more than answered. Contemplation is the result – hopefully lacking the compulsive quality of the book’s characters.

The haunting beauty of Mythago Wood is wonderfully realized as it penetrates to primeval heart of the Britain. The World Fantasy Award it won is well deserved and this timeless tale is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. 8/10

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Guy Gavríel Kay’s Toastmaster Address

Many of the reports from last months World Fantasy Convention make passing reference to the toastmaster speech of Guy Gavríel Kay, particularly its remarks about Jim Rigney (a.k.a. Robert Jordan). Kay has posted the transcript at his website – go forth and read; it’s both touching and amusing.
Celia Friedman Answers Questions Five

C.S. (Celia) Friedman is a best selling fantasy and sci-fi author. It’s probably debatable about what book she is best known for – her first book In Conquest Born (nominated for the John Campbell Award), The Coldfire Trilogy, or This Alien Shore (a NY Times Notable Book). Through the years, she has been both a costume designer and university professor, in addition her career as a writer. Her latest book is Feast of Souls, book one of the Magister Trilogy (my review).

I’m very happy that Celia has taken the time to answer
Questions Five.

You’ve referred to your cats at “hirsute writing assistants” – how exactly to they assist in your writing and does all that hair interfere in any way?

My youngest cat Tasha is concerned that I might not be warm enough while I am writing, so she drapes herself over my arms whenever I type. Sometimes she tries to actually help with the typing but her spelling is poor, so I discourage that. The others are worried about whether my computer has enough insulation, so they take turns napping on top of it, near the air intake vent, to make sure the hard drive gets a nice coating of fur.

Now and then when I need ideas for alien landscapes I open up the case and take a look inside. Quite inspiring.

If Feast of Souls were a fortune cookie, what would its fortune be?

"Sometimes the things you desire most are hidden in the darkest places."

How would you interpret this fortune if were your own?

Probably as a comment upon my housekeeping :-)

Please discuss one reason why Feast of Souls may inspire costume designers to do unexpected things with needle and thread.

Ah, you clearly missed the note on my web site that questions about costuming might result in an act of violence. Fortunately the Atlantic Ocean is between us so you are safe...for now.

Why should Feast of Souls be the next book that everyone reads?

'Cause it's shadowy and sexy and NOT like everything else out there. Possibly the best thing I've written yet (though the cats say they won't confirm that until the last volume is finished.) Suffice it to say that if you like your fantasy dark and intense, you won't want to miss this one.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Review: In the Eye of Heaven by David Keck

It’s a great time to be a fan of epic fantasies with numerous examples of pure quality, whatever the cover looks like. With so much good stuff out there, there is going to be something that doesn’t rise to the top; that instead sinks into the muck below. David Keck’s medieval fantasy, In the Eye of Heaven does just that.

Durand is the second son of a noble with modest holdings in the wilds of a duchy far removed from the seat of the kingdom. His only chance at inheritance is ruined by the return of a lord’s son, long thought to be dead. He is left to scrape by as an errant knight, loyal to the lord willing to pay up.

Durand finds the service of a Duke’s son and witnesses a horrible atrocity while becoming privy to the treasonous plots circulating the land. He flees to find service with another Duke’s second son, seeking to re-gain his honor through anonymous success in the tournaments of the land. Eventually Durand’s past catches up with him as civil war threatens the kingdom.

Hmm…where to start? First off, things begin in a confused mess. Perhaps Keck wanted an heir of mystery or maybe he just didn’t want to be accused of laying everything out all nice and pretty-like. The result for me was a complete break down in just what Keck was trying to communicate to me as the reader. I spent the first half of the book in almost constant confusion as to what was going on, who was who, etc. The confusion moderated to merely abundant for the second half of the book.

The goal seems to have been for the world and its history to slowly become clearer at things progressed, while avoiding the temptation to resort to infodumps. This led to problems since Durand is really a rather clueless young man and needed the infodumps almost as badly as the reader – so Keck introduces Heremund the Skald (a skald is a medieval Scandinavian bard or minstrel – I had to look it up). Heremund simply knows everything that is needed to know at the time and he immediately completely trusts Durand and guides him through the world. Now, Durand has the tendency to jump around and end up in all sorts of tricky situations, many of which end up in separation from Heremund. However, there is no need to worry since Heremund always appears (no matter how far across the kingdom Durand has traveled) just when he is needed most.

Conveniences in the plot are rather numerous, with Heremund just being the most glaring. In another example, late in the story Durand suddenly becomes an expert sailor just in time to save an entire ship from certain destruction in a scene that as far I could tell did nothing to advance the plot anyway.

In addition to these surficial annoyances, some of the deeper implications bothered me as well – for anyone worried about potential (minor) spoilers, I suggest skipping the rest of this paragraph. The background plot basically surrounds the actions of a king that seems to be something of an idiot who nobody really likes anyway. In the name of honor, Durand and a bunch of other knights are completely loyal to said king, even though he has borrowed way more money than he can pay back to the people and blown it all on a distant war that is rather unpopular with the general population. About half of the kingdom’s nobility favors complete support of the king and forgiveness of his debts – the other half wants to de-throne him (did I mention the part about his ascendancy to throne being controversial). Even if the parallels with today’s world were unintentional, the blind loyalty to bad leaders that is at the heart of so many motivations in this book just doesn’t agree with me.

In the Eye of Heaven is not all bad – mixed in the confusion mentioned above is some really compelling writing. At times the book does become a real page-turner and Keck can write a pretty decent battle scene. His portrayal of the chivalry culture of knights traveling a land and competing in tournaments is at times very interesting and at least feels well researched. But, these bright spots cannot overcome what remains.

In the Eye of Heaven is a medieval fantasy that I found to be almost a complete mess – honestly, I’m still surprised I managed to finish the book. In my opinion, there is a lot of better fantasy out there. 5/10

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Other End …

Aidan of A Dribble of Ink has gone and turned the tables on a few of the bloggers and reviewers out there in the SFF world (and even a publicist). He asked us a bunch of questions in a round-robin interview format – the answers are as verbose, self-serving and uninteresting as you would expect (so you should drop everything and go read them immediately). The list of participants includes me, Pat of the Hotlist, Chris (the book Swede), the SciFiChick, Graeme, Jeremy of The Fantasy Review, Robert the Fantasy Book Critic, Rob of SFF World, and La Gringa.

It looks like the interview has been cut out into two parts:

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Scalzi LOLCreashun

John Scalzi has visited the Creation Museum at the monetary insistence of his minions fans. One outcome is the LOL Creashun Contest. I couldn’t resist. Below are my entries, which are my first attempts at the LOL craze.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Winner of The Metatemporal Detective by Michael Moorcock

With the help of, I have a winner of the copy of The Metatemporal Detective by Michael Moorcock that I had up for grabs. Congratulations to Teresa W. from Toledo, Ohio. Thanks again to the folks over at Pyr for making this happen.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Review: The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

The Last Wish is the first English translation of master Polish fantasist, Andrzej Sapkowski, and it is long overdue.

Geralt is a Witcher – a man for hire dedicated to ridding the world of monsters, while through his own training, he has become both more and less than human. Told as a mosaic of short stories framed by sequence where Geralt recovers from injuries, The Last Wish is reflection on recent events in his life, providing a perfect and stand-alone introduction to Sapkowski’s Witcher Saga.

Geralt travels through a land of change; the past is moving on and the future less clear. Old monsters are less common, while the monstrosity of humanity cannot be denied. He is constantly aware of his own differences from humanity – his superior senses and strength, his muted emotion and increased focus. A victim of many false perceptions and outright scorn, Geralt adheres to his unique moral ground as he searches out the true monsters and discovers his own humanity.

The familiar characters and settings of medieval European fantasy are all present – we have elves, dwarves, trolls, sorcerers, knights, kings and princesses along side creatures of Slavic lore – however, the tone and view seem older, with a depressive optimism that seems foreign to fantasy from further west. Sapkowski utilizes a dreary, yet poetic prose interjected with sometimes surprising droll-ish humor that perfectly sets the mood. The stories of The Last Wish offer their own unique perspective as they often re-imagine both familiar and unfamiliar fairy tales.

I can’t help but think that this tone is only possible from a place like Poland, still healing from the yoke of fascism and communism, and now in the grip of capitalism and unification of Europe. Prices aren’t the same, old ways die out, the faces of monsters have changed, and a unique depressive optimism rules over striking generational differences. This is what The Last Wish is about while providing fantastic tales for fans of genre and literary fiction alike.

Sapkowski is one of the best-selling fantasy authors outside of the English-speaking world. Do yourself a favor and read the familiar yet so different tales of The Last Wish. 8/10

Monday, November 05, 2007

Heliotrope 3

My buddies over at FantasyBookSpot have released the latest issue of their magazine, Heliotrope. Check it out – in addition to the usual short fiction and poetry, there are some very interesting non-fiction pieces by Jeff VanderMeer, Michael Moorcock, and Jeffrey Ford, as well as a few exclusive previews.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Win a Copy of The Metatemporal Detective by Michael Moorcock

The good folks over at Pyr have offered up a copy of Michael Moorcock’s latest, The Metatemporal Detective (my review). This is fine book that can serve as an introduction to Moorcock’s multiverse or satiate the biggest fan.

Collected for the first time, eleven tales of Sir Seaton Begg vs. Count Zodiac, including the never before seen “The Flaneur of the Arcades d'Opera.”

Seaton Begg and his constant companion, pathologist Dr. “Taffy” Sinclair, both head the secret British Home Office section of the Metatemporal Investigation Department — an organization whose function is understood only by the most high-ranking government people around the world — and a number of powerful criminals.

Begg's cases cover a multitude of crimes in dozens of alternate worlds, generally where transport is run by electricity, where the internal combustion engine is unknown, and where giant airships are the chief form of international carrier. He investigates the murder of English Prime Minister “Lady Ratchet,” the kidnaping of the king of a country taken over by a totalitarian regime, and the death of Geli Raubel, Adolf Hitler's mistress. Other adventures take him to a wild west where “the Masked Buckaroo” is tracking down a mysterious red-eyed Apache known as the White Wolf; to 1960s’ Chicago where a girl has been killed in a sordid disco; and to an
independent state of Texas controlled by neocon Christians with oily (and bloody) hands. He visits Paris, where he links up with his French colleagues of the Sûreté du Temps Perdu. In several cases the fanatical Adolf Hitler is his opponent, but his arch-enemy is the mysterious black sword wielding aristocrat known as Zenith the Albino, a drug-dependent, charismatic exile from a distant realm he once ruled.

In each story the Metatemporal Detectives’ cases take them to worlds at once like and unlike our own, sometimes at odds with and sometimes in league with the beautiful adventuresses Mrs. Una Persson or Lady Rosie von Bek. At last Begg and Sinclair come face to face with their nemesis on the moonbeam roads which cross between the universes, where the great Eternal Balance itself is threatened with destruction and from which only the luckiest and most daring of metatemporal adventurers will return.

These fast-paced mysteries pay homage to Moorcock's many literary enthusiasms for authors as diverse as Clarence E. Mulford, Dashiell Hammett, Georges Simenon, and his boyhood hero, Sexton Blake.

So, the rules are basically the same as you see elsewhere. Send me an email at

nethspace [at] cox [dot] net

You’ll need to appropriately edit the email so I can avoid the spambots, or you can click on the email link in the sidebar which is coded ‘special’ to block the bots. Use METATEMPORAL in the subject and include your full name and mailing address (no P.O. boxes please). Only one entry per person. This contest limited to those who live in North Amercia. The deadline is Sunday, November 11th.

Good luck to all.

Michael Moorcock Answers Questions Five

Michael Moorcock is an author who needs no introduction in the world of fantasy. He’s been around since the 60’s writing everything from pulp crime fiction to literary fiction and SFF. He’s won pretty much every meaningful SFF award and few more beside. His most recent book gathers his Sir Seaton Begg stories, including a new offering – The Metatemporal Detective (my review). I also happen to have a copy (graciously provided by Pyr) to giveaway, so go here and follow the rules

I am honored that Mike has taken to the time to answer Questions Five.

As a forerunner in the coming mass migration of brilliant English writers to central Texas, what advice do you have about life in Texas?

MM: Get good health insurance. Don’t come unless you want to discover just how many allergies you can possibly pack into one body.

Compare a typical English pub with a Texas bar. Have you found anything good to drink in Texas? How about the food?

MM: Shiner Bock and a LOT of outstanding beers. Our local cowboy bar has good company and excellent live music. As good as the best UK pubs. Food’s more problematic since I’m allergic to TexMex (jalepenos mostly) and Mexican food and don’t much like BBQ. But I do like a good grass-fed local steak.

If The Metatemporal Detective were a fortune cookie, what would its fortune be?

MM: ? There are many roads to resolution.

If this fortune were your own, how would you interpret it?

MM: ? Write some more stories, you lazy bastard.

Why should The Metatemporal Detective be the next book that everyone reads?

MM: Well, I think I’m too much of a libertarian to take that attitude. If they like it, well and good. They might enjoy the humour or even alternate worlds without the internal combustion engine…

Joe Abercrombie Answers Questions Five

Joe Abercrombie is the author of The Blade Itself (my review), the first book in a new epic fantasy trilogy that has been garnering a bit of attention lately. It’s been out in the UK for some time, but was released last month in the US by Pyr. The second book, Before They are Hanged is out in the UK and will be available in the US around March, 2008 and rumor has it that advanced proofs of the final book in the trilogy, Last Argument of Kings, have been sighted. Joe was born in Lancaster, England and currently resides in London

I’m very pleased that Joe has taken to the time to answer Questions Five.

If I were going on holiday to London and I can only visit one pub, which pub do you recommend and why?

JA: You could try the Phoenix Artist’s Bar off Shaftsbury Avenue, where a glittering array of genre writers are often to be found arguing with their editors over that most eternal of literary questions – whose round it is. It has the added advantage of being right next to several of the UKs biggest bookstores. Once you are drunk enough, I therefore recommend you stumble outside and buy any and all copies of my books that you can find. The dizzy rush of excitement you’ll experience will be far superior to anything you can get in a pub.


So, which is preferable, reading The Blade Itself or visiting a dentist? Why?

JA: The Blade Itself will not give you a whiter smile. The Blade itself will not leave you with a minty fresh sensation on the tongue. The Blade Itself will not alleviate dental pain. Indeed, with its many scenes of mouth-based torture it may have the opposite effect. It will, however, I am reasonably sure, be cheaper than a visit to the dentist. In that respect, it is a winner.

Please describe one reason The Blade Itself would inspire a reader to strip naked and run screaming into the forest?

JA: Ah, interesting that you should ask. The Blade Itself contains a number of scenes set in forests and, yes, several of these involve moving faster than walking pace at various levels of undress. The very first line, in fact, has someone ‘plunging through the trees, bare feet slipping and sliding’. The book furthermore contains a great deal of screaming, yelling, wailing, blubbering etc. It also includes at least one instance of a stark naked wizard.

The possible effects on impressionable readers of these elements?

You do the math.

What other peculiar qualities of The Blade Itself should readers be aware of?

JA: It isn’t immediately clear from pictures on the internet (and I’m talking about pictures of the book, here), but potential readers should be aware that both the US and UK editions of The Blade Itself are covered in a sumptuously textured paper that puts one in mind of aged parchment, that caresses the fingertips and invigorates mind and body. Many criticisms have been leveled at my writing, but no-one has ever said that my books are not Grip-Friendly.

Why should The Blade Itself be the next book that everyone reads?

JA: Because I need a massive house.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie’s debut novel, The Blade Itself, has been quietly gathering praise since its initial release in the UK last year. I’ll say it right up front – I’m not going to say anything different, though I just might say it more emphatically. The Blade Itself easily equals anything released in epic fantasy in the past few years, and just may rise to the top.

The Blade Itself is book one of The First Law Trilogy and serves as the beginning of what should be considered a single story told in three parts. The reader is introduced to the central players – the aging and surprisingly contemplative warrior from the barbaric north with his mantra of ‘I’m still alive’, the spoiled-rotten nobleman with a purchased commission in the army training for a contest, the crippled, formerly spoiled-rotten nobleman and survivor of indescribable torture turned torturer of the King’s Inquisition, and the ancient magi with unknown goals, a wicked sense of humor and a biting temper.

This book is about characters first, and Abercrombie skillfully portrays them with near-perfect internal and external dialogue set at an ideal pace. These seem like real people from history rather than some over-done cliché or archetype. I simply loved the part where the magi, his apprentice, and the barbarian from the north must purchase clothes from a costume shop to look the way they should. This clever, verging on satirical, humor and wit infuses Abercrombie’s writing as he plays with many of the common fantasy tropes, makes them his own and shows us how things can be done in capable, yet irreverent, hands.

The closest I can come to a criticism of The Blade Itself isn’t really a criticism at all, just the realization that this isn’t a complete story. This is only the beginning – the players emerging, meeting and just embarking on the real adventure. Only hints of the underlying political struggles as well as re-emerging ancient battles are given with answers presumably forthcoming in the remainder of the trilogy – Before They Are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings. And I’m looking forward to finding out just where Abercrombie takes us from here.

The Blade Itself is the beginning of one of the most promising epic fantasies that I’ve read in years. Abercrombie had me laughing with his guile as he stops just short of spitting in the face of genre and set my heart racing through some the best written fight scenes of any genre. This one is not just for fans of epic fantasy. 8.5/10

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Cover Art Discussions

I've been quite on the cover art side of things for a while - I guess I just haven't had much to say, and especially in the last couple of weeks, I've just had other things on my mind. Anyway, while I've been quite the rest of the internet/blogosphere has been buzzing about the subject. There's lots of interesting stuff out there - Lou Anders' latest post points to most of the relative discussions and is well worth reading in its own right. For my thoughts on cover art - the various discussions can be found here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Review: Postsingular by Rudy Rucker

Rudy Rucker is a mathematics professor who has at times made a career of writing with 30 books to his credit, Postsingular being one of his latest. Rucker’s take on the singularity, the oft-considered inevitable merger of humans and computers, draws from an irreverent approach to the world and his background in mathematics and computer science. The result is a mixed a bag of quantum physics, alternate dimensions, nanotechnology, sociopathic megalomaniacs, and cephalopods that just didn’t quite work for me.

Postsingular follows a variable array of characters around San Francisco in a not-too distant future. Through the course of the book, we see two separate singularities occur through the development of nanotechnology – one event destroys everything, replacing it with nanomachines referred to as nants and creating a virtual earth. Another singularity event occurs where nanomachines serve as means for linking humanity through a virtual ‘orphidnet’ that allows for the equivalent of telepathy, mind-reading, and seeing through people’s clothing. The varied cast includes the brilliant, and somewhat absent-minded, inventor of the nanotechnology, his autistic son, his sociopathic, megalomaniac business partner with a tortured past, his wife, friends, visitors from an alternate dimension, and a group of free-loading, orphidnet junkies who augment their intelligence and coast through life. Buried within are love stories, tragedy, and the rescue of the world from real and virtual destruction.

The concept of Postsingular is just the quirky, irreverent take on life and a possible future that appeals to me, making it all the more disappointing when it did not work for me. The two areas that I struggled the most with are the dialogue and the jumbled mess of a plot. In a book that is 320 pages long, at page 150, I could not have told you what the point of it all is; there was no satisfactory idea of what the book was even about. The ideas within Postsingular are great, but it seems that Rucker just couldn’t find a good enough story to go along, or the story that was found is told in such a convoluted way that making sense of it all is too a daunting task.

The dialogue that Rucker forces into the mouths of his characters ranges from merely adequate to flat-out horrible. I suspect that the goal was to be both clever and a bit cheesy in a good way, but I could never get past that cheesy stench. Rather than a smell of the feet of angels, Rucker’s dialogue smells of the feet of bad B-movie directors.

Somewhat, but not completely, redeeming Postsingular are its characters. These are real flawed people. They have real problems, addictions, troubled love lives and often come with a past. There are some surprisingly touching human’ moments that are ultimately spoiled by Rucker’s choice of an ending. Included in the cast of characters are a few clearly satirical leaders that may look familiar. This is just the sort of thing I love in a book, but rather than pulling off a cleverly silly satire, Rucker seems to reach too far, becoming kitsch.

Rudy Rucker’s Postsingular takes some very interesting ideas, mixes them around with some rather interesting characters and attempts to create a brilliant mess of novel. For me it was simply a mess – but it does come with a great cover. 5/10

Sunday, October 14, 2007

New Arrival

The picture says it all, so I'll probably be a bit scarce around here for the next week or so. If you've sent me an email in the last week, I'm not ignoring you, I've just been very busy and very tired.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Review: Feast of Souls by C.S. Friedman

The foundation of Feast of Souls (Book One of the Magister Trilogy) by C.S. (Celia) Friedman lies at the way magic works in this world. For those that can use magic, there is a cost – their own soulfire that resides in every human and drives life. Every time a witch uses magic, they shorten their own lifespans. Exceptions to this are magisters, a sorcerous, near-immortal upper class. Magisters have mastered a way of feeding off of the soulfire of other human beings – their magic use slowly kills some poor individual, while they live long lives free of natural death. Magisters fervently guard this secret source of their power from the mortal world. An important aspect of magisters is that they are all male – women are not appreciated in this world and the common ‘wisdom’ is that they are too compassionate to survive magister training and feed from the souls of other human beings.

A young and abused peasant woman, Kamala, has the gift of witchery, but refuses to slowly kill herself through magic use. She seeks out a reclusive magister to avert the inevitable fate of witches, early death. One common thread in the word of magisters is that they grow bored through centuries of life, so Kamala is apprenticed, and eventually the impossible does happen and she becomes something new – a female magister.

This sets up the events of the rest of the book, which serve as an introduction for the trilogy to come. A prince of the most powerful kingdom has become the ‘magical food’ for an unknown magister, a secret the royal magister must keep at all costs. Events move forward from here, as the larger story takes shape. Feast of Souls is a complete, if introductory, story. But the greater struggle is to come, a struggle I look forward to reading about.

Friedman creates a vivid, unnamed world while not spending a great deal of time or effort at worldbuilding. Instead, she concentrates on characters, fully showing their motivations while maintaining proper mystery for some and slowly revealing the history and workings of the world. Feast of Souls largely serves as an introduction to characters that will presumably have key roles in the remaining books of the trilogy. The growth of Kamala with her tortured and abused past and the mystery surrounding Magister Colivar leave me anxiously anticipating book two.

Aside from the magic system, the defining aspect of the Feast of Souls is the gender relations of the world. Friedman has built a fairly standard, medieval fantasy society, and along with it, the fairly standard gender relation. Women are second class, barely human. Young girls are bought and sold as sexual objects, routinely abused, and can only hope to gain anything in life through men. Rather than keep this at a subtle level, rather than sweeping it under the rug or pretending it doesn’t exist like the majority of fantasy books, Friedman throws it into the face of the reader, never letting you forget this horrible aspect of the world. At times, there is an uncomfortable, even man-hating feel about it all, which is entirely appropriate – it works for this world. There are a few redeeming men here and there, but they are the exception to the rule. For those concerned about this aspect of the story, I say don’t be – this is a fundamental part of the world, its characters, and their motivations, and the most intriguing feature of the book.

Friedman’s Feast of Souls (Book One of the Magister Trilogy) begins what is so far an excellent new fantasy trilogy, distinguished from others with its life-stealing magic system and sharp gender relations. This was my first exposure to the writing of Friedman and it won’t be my last. Highly recommended – 8/10.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Manga: The Complete Guide

I recently received Manga: The Complete Guide by Jason Thompson from Del Rey. I’ve never been a big comic person, and by extension, I’m not into manga – I have a busy life and I need to draw the line somewhere and comics/manga is just one place I’ve drawn that line. But, I did flip through this book a bit and found it to be a rather informative outline of manga. It seems best suited to relative newbies to manga who are looking to expand their reading into new things and the many different sub-genres of manga. I don’t know what the value would be to a full blown fan of manga, but the guide does appear to be very complete, so I imagine that it would be of good use. I also think that this book could be a tremendous resource to the informed parent looking to know more about what their kids are reading – it might be an opportunity to relate to their tastes a bit more as well a source of information for gifts and such, and it appears to be a great source for helping with figuring what manga is appropriate as you see it.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Winner of River of Gods by Ian McDonald

With the help of, I have a winner of the copy of River of Gods by Ian McDonald that I had up for grabs. Congratulations to Chris M. from St. Catharines, Ontario (I prefer not to give out last names due to privacy concerns – i.e. it annoys me a bit when my full name gets out on the internet). Thanks again to the folks over at Pyr for making this happen.

Stay tuned for future giveaways – I’ll be announcing a giveaway of The Metatemporal Detective by Michael Moorcock (my review) a bit closer to its publication next month.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Review: The Metatemporal Detective by Michael Moorcock

Michael Moorcock is a legend in the SFF world, mostly as a result of his Elric stories, written in no small way as a (critical) response to the fantasy tropes most often associated with J.R.R. Tolkien. Beyond his stories of Elric and the development of the multiverse, Moorcock has penned well-regarded literary novels, such as Mother London and Byzantium Endures, and is an acclaimed musician. So, it is with some amount of embarrassment that I admit that The Metatemporal Detective is the first work of Moorcock’s that I’ve read.

The Metatemporal Detective collects the stories Sir Seaton Begg as he faces off with his with his counterbalance in the multiverse, Count Zenith the albino. Begg is often joined by his ever faithful partner, Dr. “Taffy” Sinclair as Moorcock pays homage to the crime fiction he loves – not only to the likes of Doyle’s eternal Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, but more directly to his childhood favorite, Sexton Blake.

The crime fiction Moorcock creates in The Metatemporal Detective imagines worlds only possible in the multiverse. At times Moorcock achieves a steampunk-noir quality, where air ships and electric cars dominate a book without the internal combustion engine. The loose mosaic is brought together with the only new story, “The Flaneur des Arcades de l’Opera”, with implications to other events of Moorcock’s multiverse, while being entirely enjoyable for those who, like me, are not familiar with exactly what these implications are.

My immediate impression of Moorcock’s writing was one of awe and appreciation for someone who clearly is a master of language. The writing was an absolute joy to read while never becoming flippant. In mere moments, the mood was set and characters brought to life. This man knows how to write.

Interwoven in the mysteries of such varied settings as England, France, Germany, and an independent Texas are deeper issues. Moorcock’s multiverse is a struggle between Chaos and Order where things must be in balance. Begg seeks to right the wrongs of his nemesis, Zenith, even while respecting and sympathizing with his foe. Internal conflicts arise at times when Begg represents the likes Nazis and even Hitler himself; working for justice for all, even some of the most reprehensible people of any history.

Included at times is pointed political satire, most sharply realized in “The Mystery of the Texas Twister”. Moorcock portrays an independent Texas Republic slipping into an expansionist fascist regime run by a corrupt government headed by the likes of “King” George Putz and “Dicky” Shiner. At times I wanted to laugh and cry with such exaggerated satire while being reminded bit of home (having been raised in Austin), with my only disappointment in Moorcock’s homage to Shiner Bock beer and its attachment to “Dicky” Shiner.

While some are more memorable than others, there isn’t a bad story in the bunch. Moorcock demonstrates his mastery of language, sets the mood, and takes the reader on a trip through the multiverse, guided by the great metatemporal detective, Sir Seaton Begg. The Metatemporal Detective is one of the more enjoyable books that I’ve read in a while – 8.5/10.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Passing of Age

I would not be here if it weren’t for Robert Jordan.

Growing up, I was always an avid reader, but the tastes of my youth were more attuned to action-adventure, spy thrillers, and horror best sellers – I read very little in the way of true SFF. Shortly after I went away to college, I finally bought The Eye of the World after seemingly every member of my extended family recommended it to me.

I was completely and totally hooked. This was reading unlike any I had ever experienced before. I immediately bought all the books that were available in The Wheel of Time series to that point (The Lord of Chaos had just been released in mass-market paperback). Then I re-read them just in time for the release of A Crown of Swords – the release of which first brought me to the internet world in search of books.

As the years have passed, I continued to read and re-read the series. In 2000 I once again searched out information on the web for news of the soon-to-be released Winter’s Heart. This was neither the beginning nor the end of my SFF journey, but a beginning as I became a true internet SFF geek shortly thereafter. The culprit was the huge on-line community at Wotmania that celebrates and discusses the books of The Wheel of Time endlessly. This eventually led me to the newly-formed OF Section of Wotmania. This was yet another beginning in my life as a reader.

By this time I had of course read Tolkien and a handful of classic sci-fi, but through the guidance of people more knowledgeable and better-read than myself I had a whole world to discover. I was introduced to the likes of George RR Martin, Steven Erikson, Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Kim Stanley Robinson, and so many others. I even picked up the Harry Potter books as early as I did in part due to my involvement with on-line communities.

The rest, as they say, is history– I was off. I’ve since read hundreds of books recommended to me and have become one of those more knowledgeable and well-read individuals (though I’m still way behind so many others out there). In early 2006 I decided to start a blog to catalog some of the few reviews I had written. And now my blog has had over 30,000 visitors and I’m constantly surprised and amazed at just how many ‘industry insiders’ and authors are familiar with it. All of this is due to my love of The Wheel of Time books.

Thank you Robert Jordan for writing The Wheel of Time and having such a positive impact on my life. I’m just one of your many fans, and the way my life has been touched is just one of many. I struggle to find the right words of gratitude.

My voice is only one of many celebrating the life you lived.

James Oliver Rigney Jr. (a.k.a. Robert Jordan)
October 17, 1948 – September 16, 2007


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