Monday, April 30, 2007

John Scalzi Signs My Books

This evening John Scalzi was in town as part of his book tour for The Last Colony up at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale. As with pretty much every book signing I’ve been to, I had a good time. Scalzi is a very personable kind of guy who manages to come off quite genuine as he tells stories – stories that you don’t necessarily get the sense of being stock stories for the tour. He was very animated as he jumped from many varied subjects – how he met his wife, his first failed book tour, interpretive dance, how he missed much of college (the class part) and the old girlfriend from those days, and some actual talk about his books – pretty much the same sort of thing he blogs about sans politics. I found it interesting at just how much emphasis he puts on the opening lines to his books – I think the Scalzi writes very good opening lines, and have featured the opening line of his books in two of the reviews I’ve done.

As he signed my books we had the usual nice small talk – I mentioned the opening line thing and that I reviewed his books at FBS. He responded with recognition that I’m the Neth Space guy and complimented me on my review style. I like to think that people appreciate what I do and it was reassuring to hear Scalzi compliment me – particularly since he’s written a fair share of reviews since his movie critic days out of college.

Scalzi has rather brief post here about the event (and a more in-depth one here), with a picture. I'm in there....well half of my head and a quarter of my torso is anyway.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Cover Art Rumblings

On the cover art front, it seems that the Agony Column has similar feelings as I do. I haven’t talked about The Name of the Wind cover art, but I essentially agree with the article – though I’d like to point out that there isn’t a sword on that cover, but a lute. Over at the Science Fiction Book Club they don’t seem to agree.

It’s nice to see that I’m not alone out there in my feelings about cover art.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Scourge of the International Pixel-Stained Technopeasants!

Ok, I’m not a writer and certainly not a member of the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA), so I’ve been mostly apathetic with slight amusement over the contested and controversial election going on. However, Howard V. Hendrix made a bit of an idiot of himself with this diatribe – I’m guessing he just pissed his chance away. On a side note – these webcomics are pretty amusing.

Well, there have been a few responses that I’ll not bother to look up, but the most notable is the rise of the International Pixel-Stained Technopeasants. What does this mean for the average reader – well, it’s a good place to find some free on-line fiction. Remember, if you enjoy what you read, consider buying the hard copy if available.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Tale of More than Two Covers – Contemporary

For this installment of my semi-regular discussion series on cover art, I’m going to cover the more modern/contemporary style that is often used. Generally I like this style more than a traditional one – it just feels better to me. I suspect that my primary reason for liking contemporary covers more is the stigma that I feel is often attached to SFF books and my insecurities about it – or to put it much more simply – I’m often embarrassed to be seen reading a book with a silly looking traditional SFF cover. When I’m reading a book with a more contemporary cover design, these insecurities go away – in fact something of the opposite effect results, possibly due to a perceived or imagined feel of intelligence or coolness associated with such a contemporary book.

To be fair and honest, I’m exaggerating the above emotional responses significantly; however, they are there. It’s simple enough to say that traditional covers often evoke negative feelings of self consciousness while contemporary covers are more likely to evoke positive feelings.

So, after all that rambling, let’s get to a few covers. We’ll start with the main point of this post – a couple of examples of contemporary styled covers that I like a lot.

David Rankine is the cover artist for the hardback publication of R. Scott Bakker’s books in The Prince of Nothing trilogy. Above are the covers for The Darkness That Comes Before and The Warrior Prophet. Both covers are well done in my opinion, but The Warrior Prophet certainly stands apart as the better of the two. The scroll-like script gives the feel of something ancient with a strong hint of the east with the similarity to Arabic, Cyrillic, and Chinese/Japanese. The well-chosen font and other patterns further enhance the feel from the cover, matching perfectly with the feel of the words from the books. This is cover art that works.

Chris Shamwana and Neil Lang created the above cover art for Vellum by Hal Duncan. While the initial glance at the cover is not as appealing as it is for The Warrior Prophet, the cover of Vellum does succeed, and the longer I look at it, the more strongly I believe it. The art is similar to that discussed above, especially with the use of script, but it soon becomes clear how much more is shown. The cover gives a sense of depth, of multiple levels within. The image of the hand and the use of red, orange, and black add a sense of unease, leaving a disturbing feeling – it’s hard to imagine a more appropriate cover for Vellum.

I had originally intended to leave this post as a discussion of only of the contemporary styled covers above, but fate would not allow it. The cover art by Todd Lockwood for the US release of The Bonehunters by Steven Erikson was released this week, and it screams for commentary.

Once again, the art is done very well, as seen in the full jacket cover before any text is added. With the addition of the badly chosen font, the art suffers greatly. The cover looks more like a Western rather than SFF; however the real travesty is matching this cover to The Bonehunters. While this is a recognizable scene within the book, it’s a very poor choice for the cover as it fails to match the book and the Malazan world at all. Do things look magical? Otherworldly? Even Ominous? No, this looks like nothing more than a wrecked stage coach. It’s simply amazing to see Tor appear to blatantly sabotage any chance of success for Erikson’s books.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Last Colony by John Scalzi

I finished the newest book in the Old Man’s War sequence by John Scalzi: The Last Colony, and my review is posted here at FantasyBookSpot.

Scalzi is quick, fun reading – I doubt you’ll be inspired by new insight into the human condition, but you’ll probably be entertained. To quote one of my favorite lines from Caddyshack:

The world need ditch diggers too.

I’m not accusing Scalzi of digging any ditches, but he’s playing an important role by providing accessible and entertaining science fiction for the masses.

Scalpel Dissects Reviewing

Gabe Chouinard and Jonathan McCalmont have teamed up to create a new on-line magazine that focuses on reviewing – specifically the newly coined ‘street-level criticism’ style of review. Checkout Scalpel Magazine – they are currently looking for reviewers.

Our Mission

Jonathan McCalmont and Gabe Chouinard founded Scalpel Magazine to serve as an outlet for what they have come to term “street-level criticism”, a style of reviewing that serves to bridge the gap between academic criticism and standardized reviews.

Our purpose is to allow reviewers to utilize the rigor and tools of literary criticism in order to properly assess genre fiction, while discarding the elevated tone and reliance upon jargon that often mars academic criticism. In order to create useful, critical reviews far removed from the publicity-style “Four Flaming Swords of Five” reviews that dominate the speculative fiction field, Scalpel Magazine encourages its contributors to honestly and fully engage not only with what a given piece of genre fiction is about, but also the context in which the piece exists, as well as its thematic, stylistic, political and conceptual content.

What We Desire

Scalpel Magazine seeks sharp, intelligent reviews and interviews. Period. Achieving sharp, intelligent reviews and interviews’, however, is another matter.

In many ways, good reviews are like pornography… we’ll know them when we see them. We have no stringent limitations, no hard and fast rules on what we seek. However, there are some quick and easy benchmarks that can be used to decide if a review is right for Scalpel Magazine:

  • Does the review consist of a summary of the work under review, followed by a brief summary of your likes and dislikes? If so, this is not a review for Scalpel Magazine.
  • Does the review indulge in easy, generalized relativism? If you have used the stand-by line of “If you’re the type of person who likes books like this, then you’ll like this book.” or any of its permutations, this is not a review for Scalpel Magazine.
  • Does the review sound like a fourth-grade book report? If so, this is not a review for Scalpel Magazine.
  • Does the review read as if it could have been written by anyone but you? If so, this is not a review for Scalpel Magazine.

What We Really Desire

At Scalpel Magazine, we treat reviews and interviews seriously. However, we are not some lofty glass house. Sure, we seek sharp, intelligent reviews and interviews. But more than anything, we are seeking strong, individualized voices. We want reviewers that are not only informed about their subject, but also confident in their judgments. We are looking for skewed views, humor, and irreverence to be coupled with intelligence. Street-level criticism is about breaking the mold of traditional reviewing and traditional criticism. In our opinion, reviewers should be just as creative as the writers under review. Good reviewing is an art, not a science, and we treat it as such.

Some of you may be wondering why I would post this since I don’t really write reviews that really fit into the ‘street-level criticism’ envelope. Well, Gabe and Jonathan have assured me that there is hope for me yet and I certainly hope they succeed. Will you see a review of mine in Scalpel Magazine? Time will tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Keeping It Real by Justina Robson

Multidisciplinary Studies is a buzz term often heard in the realm of higher education. Essentially referring to exactly what it sounds like, it is often praised and criticized by many people, though it’s generally agreed that it is an important part of dealing with our modern, integrated and global world. Genre-bending in the term most often used for a book that seems to fit into more than one existing genre category. Referring to Keeping It Real as genre-bending is not good enough – this book is multidisciplinary.

In Keeping It Real, the near-future Earth as we know it has suffered a catastrophic event – the explosion of a quantum bomb. The affects of this are not what we would generally associate with the explosion of a bomb, such as widespread physical destruction, but the breakdown of dimensional barriers separating parallel worlds that humans were unaware of. The worlds of elves, faeries, elementals, demons, and the dead have been revealed and uneasy integration has begun.

Lila Black is a human agent recovering from extreme injuries suffered at the hands of elfin agents. As a result she has been remade into a human-cyborg, a unique, powerful, and fully integrated super spy. Her new assignment is to guard an eccentric rock star elf under threat from his own kind in a conspiracy of unknown dimensions.

Keeping It Real has been called a book for the twenty-first century and I can see why. A gadgety, techno-punk feel prevails in a story with rock concerts, groupie parties, motorcycle chases, sex, shifting loyalties, and explosions. Ass-kicking female protagonists have become hot sellers, and Agent Black fits the typical mode of a damaged soul struggling to deal with her past as it’s confronted in the present – same story, different setting. In this aspect, Keeping It Real neither succeeds nor fails, it just is.

The flow of the book is somewhat uneven as Robson struggles with her hard sci-fi roots and comes across a bit bi-polar while inconsistent characterization never allowed me to fully care about Lila and the most intriguing characters are essentially ignored. Until the final 100 pages, I was never fully committed to this book and it was too easily set aside; however the final 100 pages generally rocked in spite of continued unevenness.

Keeping It Real is the first installment in the Quantum Gravity Sequence, with the second installment, Selling Out coming to the UK in June. It stands on its own well, as it contains a complete story arc, but leaves overarching questions unresolved – I’m comfortable with not knowing where the story will go next. In the future I hope to see more development of the secondary characters as they were simply more interesting than Lila.

Keeping It Real succeeds as a techno-punk romp through fantasy and science fiction while not quite achieving full integration elsewhere. For me, it scores a 6.5 out of 10 – this book will really appeal to some people while leaving others behind.

Related Posts: Review of Mappa Mundi

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Reaper’s Gale Release Date

Ok, so I’m going to bow to reader demand here – every day I get quite a few search hits looking for the release of Reaper’s Gale by Steven Erikson. So, here are the dates you need to know.

No word (that I know of) for a US release (or other languages) – I would suspect it’ll be sometime in 2008 or early 2009.

Now wait, another very common search is for the release of Return of the Crimson Guard by Ian Cameron Esslemont. To my knowledge, there is no firm date on this one yet, but it is slated for some time in 2008. However, Night of Knives is about to have a wide release:

Review Theory

Reviews are everywhere now and as the ultimate venue of reviews continues to abandon paper for screen, thoughts on reviews seem to change. People endlessly debate about it, and pretty much any average schmuck can set up a blog or the equivalent and spout out reviews (just like me). Here are some of the recent grumblings happening (from SFBC and elsewhere).

In response to things like this, a couple of months ago Gabe Chouinard set an entire message board devoted to reviews and their discussion. And Steve (a member) was quick to make fun of it.

I’m not a critic, just a reviewer. I’m not out to provide a long, in-depth analysis of anything. I write relatively short reviews providing a brief summary of the book and why I did or did not like the book. What you see is what you get, and I’d say that with the growth in viewers of this blog I’m providing something people find value in. I plan to keep doing things in this way because it works and it's what I'm looking for in a review (more depth is for after I've read teh book). If you’re curious, I go into a bit more depth on my reviews here.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Once Upon a Time Challenge

Carl V. over at Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting The Once Upon a Time Challenge. It’s basically personal challenge to read books within a few subgenres of SFF: fantasy, fairy tales, mythology, and folklore. There are many levels of participation encouraged, so check it out. Links to reviews people have written for the challenge are being posted here.

I’m not a strong participant as I’ve got a pretty big list of books that I’ll be reading in the near future, however I’ll be trying to participate as I can. Go check out his blog – there are lots of posts relating to the challenge there and elsewhere that include reading lists and recommendation among other stuff.
Interesting Discussion on Differences

Over at the OF Blog of the Fallen, Freebird/Dylanfanatic/Larry has posted an interesting blog about differences (such as gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc.) of authors and readers. I comment at length there and don’t really have the energy to rehash and update it.

So, do you have gender preferences in your reading? How about other cultural preferences? It is my belief that this is the case to some degree or another for all of us – which is not (necessarily) a bad thing. I also believe in the value of challenging one’s self from time to time. For those of us that are part of the English as our only language, Western culture, when is the last time you read a book that was translated from some other language?

Anyway, comments and discussion is certainly encouraged.


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