Friday, June 29, 2007

Free Copies of The Lies of Locke Lamora

Waterstone's is offering a huge giveaway of The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch - they are giving away 1000 copies! The information and entry form is here - I don't really see any fine print, so as far I can tell it's open to anybody and you aren't signing up for a credit card or anything. If you don't have this book, now is the time.
Book Promotion and Book Buying

I saw this survey via Tobias Buckell’s blog (which has some interesting commentary on it). Basically, about 400 people responded to a poll about what has influenced book buying in the past – they were asked to select all that apply from a long list. These are the summarized results on what promotional tools led to the purchase of a book.

1. Previous familiarity with author’s work – 98% (it’s cutoff, so I tried to back calculate it)
2. Recommendation of a friend – 90.6%
3. Reading about the book on another person’s blog or website – 80.3%
4. Reading about book on author’s blog or website – 64.2%
5. Reading first chapter of book online or in store – 63.2%
6. Cover Art – 62.9%
7. Cover or flap blurbs (promotional quotes) – 57.7%
8. Published (print or electronic) book review – 56.4%
9. Attending a reading or signing event with author (including conventions) – 53.5%
10. Bookseller or librarian recommendation – 42.6%
11. Other – 8.1%
12. Contest sponsored by author or publisher – 7.6%
13. Receiving promotional email from author – 5.7%
14. Receiving postcard in mail from author – 3.9%
15. Receiving toys or other promotional gimmicks from author – 2.9%

I find this all very interesting on multiple levels – partly because I’ve speculated on the actual influence of cover art in the on-line world (at least how I feel about it) and mostly out of general curiosity as an avid reader. Of course since I am a blogger and fan reviewer I’m also very curious to see what kind influence someone like me has.

Of course the study is very unscientific and highly biased towards on-line and blog answers – after all it was a survey on the blog. Also I think that it may underrepresent the actual impact of some these. What happens when that one person who bought the book because a promotional gimmick writes a review of it on their blog, talks it up on various message boards, and highly recommends it to friends and family? There is some quality factor in there. Also, message boards and social networking sites aren’t really covered – perhaps they fall under the ‘friend recommendation’?

So, where do I fall in this mix – am I a published review provider (number 8), or a simple blogger (number 3)? I’m merely curious as I don’t feel it matters – bias aside, the importance of the internet, and blogs in particular, is striking (and good news for someone like me).


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Just How Much Do You Like Author Blogs?

I have to say that I love author blogs - I like the greater connection that I feel when I read there thoughts on whatever they choose to blog. I like that I can interact directly with them in a way that simply wasn't possible even a few years ago. I think it's good for the author in a business sense as well. And I also think that many, many people also like author blogs.

But, what do you feel about the potential for unintended consequences? How do you feel about it be written into contracts that authors must blog __ amount of posts per __ amount of time? Does that make you feel uncomfortable? (I sure do) Well, this is exactly what seems to be happening.

This is news to me (but not entirely suprising) and I found out from a reference on
Orbit's own blog. A new author of theirs (Jeff Somers) has started to meet his contractual requirement by blogging - and it's quite entertaining. Here's the blog where he talks about being required to blog - it sounds awefully tongue-in-cheek, but there is also some real bitterness there.


PS - Also, what are the implications of even clicking on the link to the blog? Seems to reinforce the requirement to me? Isn't life simple?

PSS - I've read a bit of his blog - it's hilarious, really you should go and read many of the entries. And now I want to read his book - see I'm a sheep now.

PSS - Of course I really wonder if he's contractually obligated or not. It's certainly an entertaining way to frame his blog - maybe I'm not a sheep, perhaps a goat.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Interview with David Anthony Durham

Here is an interview with David Anthony Durham that was put together by Pat over at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist with contributions from myself, Rob of SFF World, and Larry of Wotmania OF. It is a very long and in-depth interview that offers a lot of insight into Durham and his newly released book Acacia (my review). It was a fun one to be a part of.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Brasyl by Ian McDonald

Imagine a trip abroad where they don’t speak your language, the climate and smells are all different, the rapid pace makes you believe everyone must be on methamphetamines, and all the while you see clear yet seemingly out of place influences from the good old USA. You’ve got your guidebook in hand, but for all the help it is once you step out of the airport you should throw it away.

“You like this car? You like it?” She was shrieking like a shoutygirl-presenter. João-Batista looking pityingly at her. On the car cams the boys looked as if a bomb had gone off under their Knight Rider LEDS. Don’t bail, Lady Lady Lady, don’t bail. “It’s yours! It’s your big star prize. It’s all right, you’re on a TV game show!”

McDonald drops us into a Brazil where the reader is the tourist in a foreign land, McDonald the ex-pat guide fully immersed in local culture, and it’s a constant struggle at first to keep track of what’s going on.

Brasyl begins in Rio in the year 2006, following a morally ambiguous producer of reality-shock TV setting the stage for her next show. Immediately thrown into a high-octane police chase full of the sights, sounds, and lingua franca of Brazil, the reader is left trying to catch up and make sense what exactly is happening. I imagine this approach is designed to grab hold of the reader with an immediacy they are not prepared for, however, this early disorientation made it harder for me to connect and involve myself in the story. The glossary thoughtfully provided by McDonald offers some reprieve, but breaking the carefully constructed rhythm of the prose looses much of its effectiveness.

Each of the three ultimately inter-related story arcs and their main characters embody the time-line they come from and McDonald’s view of the world as it was, is, and could be. The first arc introduces us to Marcelina Hoffman, trashy television producer. McDonald utilizes Hoffman and her pop-culture ties to orientate the reader to Brazil. Her up-to-the-minute fashion sense and stratospheric ambition form a shallow shell around a confidently clueless core as we see Brazil through her distinctive point of view. Marcelina slowly realizes who she is and what she truly desires in life as she is literally confronted with herself.

In the second arc we jump ahead to a mid-21st Century Brazil and the fringes of an Orwellian society. Here we follow Edson Jesus Oliveira de Freitas, the sixth son of a sixth son, a semi-legit businessman of the slums of São Paulo who becomes enthralled by Fia, a black-market quantum physicist pawning her skills to crack quantum tracking devices in stolen goods. Edson struggles with his identity and sexuality as he cons his way through life as his world overlaps with others, his puppy-love for Fia at the heart it all.

The third arc takes us back in time to 18th Century Brazil where Father Luis Quinn, a Jesuit priest, embarks on a journey to the dark heart of the Amazon to confront a renegade Jesuit missionary. Father Luis is accompanied by the French intellectual and spy, Robert Falcon, a friend and foe. Both are brilliant, introspective, hard and dangerous men with the best of intentions of this dark past.

Brasyl is the first novel by McDonald I have read as the oft-compared River of Gods languishes in The Stack of books to read. McDonald has earned a reputation for his stylistic prose, and he certainly justifies it. Brasyl is a stylistic tour de force where the techno-punk soul of quantum physics permeates his multidimensional Brazil. The emotional response invoked in this American was as otherworldly as any SFF book set in its own created world.

McDonald carefully styles the look and feel of each story arc with a rhythm not often found in SFF writing. It’s almost a beat you could dance to (you, not me) that changes from arc to arc. This rousing Latin beat begs a soundtrack and McDonald happily obliges with a set list provided at the back of the book. The beat of 2006 is fast and reckless with the occasional moderation of elderly, more sedate characters.

Gunga spoke the rhythm, the bass chug, the pulse of the city and the mountain. Médio was the chatterer, the loose and cheeky gossip of the street and the bar, the celebrity news. Violinha was the singer, high over bass and rhythm, hymn over all, dropping onto the rhythm of gunga and médio then cartwheeling away, like the spirit of capoeira itself, into rhythmic flights and plays, feints and improvisations, shaking its ass all over the place.

The beat of the future has the same fast and reckless feel of 2006 with an added bi-polar identity crisis and at times, extreme paranoia.

The loading ramp extends, lowers. Steel hits road. Sparks shower around the brothers Oliveira. Black Metal beckons them again: Come on, come on, on the ramp. Sparks peel away round Edson as he lines up the run. He’s a businessman, not a stunt-rider. Edson edges forward: the concentration pill gives him micro-accelerations and relative velocities. Wheel on wheel off wheel on wheel off, wheel on; then Edson throttles hard, surges forward, and brakes and declutches simultaneously.

The 18th Century slows down to a more traditional and introspective classical dance of events while keeping the feel that Brazil is not like any other place.

Luis Quinn sipped his coffee, rapidly achieving equilibrium with the general environment. An unrelenting climate; no release in the dark of the night. A cigar would be a fine thing. After months of enforced chastity aboard Cristo Redentor, he found his appetite for smoke had returned redoubled. The beginning of attachment, of indiscipline?

While stylistically superb, Brasyl falls short with a lack of resolution of its plot. The 18th Century story arc of Father Luis concludes well, while the other two offer more ambiguous conclusions. Ambiguous conclusions often add strength and the feeling of the right kind of completeness to a plot, and if each of the three story arcs existed independently, this would be the case. The problem arises with the inter-relation of the three arcs and their eventual convergence. At the point of convergence the plot just ends, leaving over-arching questions about the nature of quantum universes, human existence, and the mysterious factions in conflict unanswered. Early ascertains for award recognition may be justified, but for me, Brasyl falls flat at precisely the time it should and could have blown my mind.

Brasyl reflects the high-on-meth, ambitious, and paranoid times suffering an identity crisis emerging in the world around us and infuses it with the Latin beat of the Brazilian melting pot. It’s a view of our world and its possible future directions as reflected in a seemingly warped mirror. Brasyl is a good book, but for me it failed to reach its full potential as a great book, an important book. Even so, dust off the thrown-out guidebook and read Brasyl, but don’t don’t don’t lick the frog.
Scalpel Appears to Have Imploded

Well, I’ve been patiently waiting for Scalpel Magazine to get its technical issue in control. And I kept on waiting. Now it appears that Jonathan McCalmont (one of the editors) is giving up on it, so I’m going to consider Scalpel dead to me. There may be a good reason why Scalpel has flopped, but I’m not privy to the details.

Anyway, my review of Brasyl by Ian McDonald which has been in limbo for over a month now is now free to be published. I’ll be publishing it here quite soon (edit: the review is here) – it’s a bit different and more lengthy than my typical review as it is an attempt at meeting the ‘street-level criticism’ that Scalpel was aiming for (part of the manifesto is preserved here). I’d be remiss not to acknowledge the editorial help that Scalpel did provide for this review, and by Gabe Chouinard in particular.

I’m sad to see Scalpel fail and I’ve been both disappointed and frustrated as I’ve hoped and waited for it to survive.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

New Amsterdam by Elizbeth Bear

My review of New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear is here over at FantasyBookSpot. I really enjoyed this quite a bit - 8/10.

Set in a Victorian era and a New Amsterdam still apart of the British Empire, where many of the familiar vampire tropes made popular by the likes of Anne Rice and Laurell K. Hamilton, and a good bit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle the mix, Elizabeth shows what can be produced at the hands of a talented writer. Think vampires, sorcerers, detectives, political revolutionaries, corrupt aristocracy, and a British Empire still in its prime where places like New England never achieved independence framed with a skillfully woven character study.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Zombie Log – Day 1

6:40 am – I decided to bike to work today in spite of the extreme heat. Lots of helicopters in the air, must be a bad traffic day – yeah me for biking.

7:00 am – NPR is telling me that there is a plague of zombies taking over the world (checks, no it’s not April 1). This sucks, but at least I won’t have to finish that damn report that’s due next week. Of course I chose to bike today – getting out of town is going to be a bitch.

8:00 am – Home now, it looks like some zombies trashed the car, damn! Reports are that the university was overrun…sounds like my wife is a zombie now. The cell phone isn’t working – maybe the first good news today.

8:30 am – I biked to Wal-Mart, I may hate the store, but there isn’t an easier place get a shotgun that I know of. On the way I saw the weirdest thing – a young (and apparently enterprising) zombie was selling water and other supplies on the side of the street. He offered me lemonade, I passed.

8:45 am – I stole a truck and bunch of gas – Wal-Mart was pretty well trashed, but I got what I needed. Zombies are everywhere, but I think they don’t like the heat…first time in my adult life I could truly say I wish I had a flame thrower.

9:30 am – Went to university anyway, it seems that the geology department put a hell of fight. Wife not a zombie – but she is in a terrible mood. I checked my blog – yes I’m addicted. The guys over in Australia are holding out well, and following all the happenings.

10:00 am – Zombie speed bumps!

11:00 am – Fortify Josh’s house since it’s pretty nice and where we keep the homebrew (we sacked Trader Joes on the way).

2:00 pm – Apparently when it gets over 105 degrees zombies tend to spontaneously combust. Summer in Phoenix is good for something.

4:00 pm – Burning zombie flesh smells really bad – maybe spontaneous zombie combustion isn’t as cool as we first thought.

4:30 pm – Heard a report that zombie Dick Cheney has taken over the military and is invading countries to corner the market in brains…typical.

6:00 pm – Homebrew is running low, we are considering suicide run to empty out the brew supply store.

8:00 pm – We emptied the homebrew store and found more guns – tonight’s going to be a hell of brew party. It’s cooler now – zombies are back out. Zombie speed bump is just as fun now as it was this morning. NPR is off the air, but conservative talk shows still going strong – typical (one has zombie Cheney lined up for an interview at 9:00…I’ll pass). It seems that there’s a call for a new organization intent on keeping Mexican zombies out of the country – unbelievable.

9:30 pm – Bruce Campbell movies are funnier than ever!

10:30 pm – Josh prefers the Belgian Abbey while shooting zombies, I stand by my British IPA. Mike and Chris are adding the aroma hops to Zombie Ale (no fooling around with this one – it’s an Imperial Stout). The wife doesn’t think much of our conversations.

11:45 pm – It turns out that zombie plagues aren’t so bad, I haven’t had this much fun in ages. Later we’re going out for drunken zombie speed bumps – Chris gets to drive first. I’m riding shotgun.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mainspring by Jay Lake

Mainspring is the first full-length novel with a wide-release by short story mainstay, Jay Lake. I’ve seen it called steampunk, even clockpunk, and however you ultimately choose, it is an alternative Earth like none before it. This is the story of a savior, a humble clockmaker apprentice who is set on a journey to wind a very big clock.

Don’t think too hard about the Earth in Mainspring – it doesn’t work, it can’t, but it matters not. The Earth and all the heavenly bodies follow enormous orbital tracks as their clockwork drives rotation and orbit through the stars. Imagine that antique globe you once saw – that is the Earth of Lake’s imagination. The gears of heaven meet the gears of Earth at the miles-high equatorial wall as the planet slowly spins on a very literal axis, driven by the Mainspring, which has started to wind down.

The continents are shaped as we know them (excepting the giant barrier along the equator), though the geopolitical lines of this Victorian-era world are different. America is still a colony of the all powerful British Empire, with China as its only remaining adversary. The northern hemisphere is a place of rational thought and empires at war – the southern hemisphere is a wild, untamed of land exotic beasts and other human-like species with magic replacing logic.

Hethor is a young apprenticed clockmaker in still-colonial New Haven who is visited in the night by the archangel Gabriel and tasked to save the world by rewinding the Earth’s Mainspring. It’s a world of Rational Humanism, where in spite of the obvious world origin at the hands of an all-powerful creator, God’s direct intervention in the world is generally disbelieved. Young, naïve Hethor is ridiculed and ostracized as he fumbles through the start of his quest. Ultimately, aboard a dirigible of the Royal Navy and with the help of multiple guides of variable quality and loyalty, Hethor travels beyond the equatorial wall in his quest to save the world.

This is the story of self-discovery and growth through faith in God as Hethor fills the role of the reluctant Christ-figure. His trials are many – ranging from imprisonment to temptation by a devil in the form of a Rational Humanist sorcerer and true mortal danger at the hands of savages and clockwork constructs. Hethor gains loyal followers who willingly sacrifice themselves repeatedly for the Messenger (of God). Through it all, Hethor’s trust in God brings him to the fulfillment of his goal (which I never doubted regardless of numerous obstacles along the way). As he settles into his role as a Christ, slowly gaining confidence, the narrative increasingly fills with purposeful Deus Ex Machina, which while annoying at times, belongs.

If you haven’t stopped reading the review by now out of fear of didactic religiousosity, good. While the above description of Christ figure breaking the chains of a Rational Humanist world sounds like it must come from the heavy hand of a religious fanatic, it doesn’t. Truth be told, Lake never comes across as if he actually believes what he seems to be preaching. It’s all laid out for the reader to think on, for reflection. Implications are potentially heavy, and even though the message of Mainspring superficially seems to be clear, further thought makes me doubt this very much – and I think that just might be the real point of it all.

Mainspring is destined to be a steampunk classic of much discussion. Perhaps it will achieve a label of religious fiction, becoming spurned by the masses, but my hope is that readers look into the book deep enough to see the thought, the question, the rationality as well as the faith. This book is not a sermon, but a thought exercise and it kept me up late last night. Until about five minutes ago, I didn’t know if I would rate this book a 6 or a 9 (which is a huge difference for me) – Mainspring gets an 8, not necessarily for the surficial story it tells, but for the lack of sleep I got last night.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Blog Like It's the End of the World

This Wednesday, June 13, zombies are taking over the world - or at least there's a bunch of bloggers who are pretending this to be the case. It sounds like fun and I worry that I may not get much work done. Oh well - look for my post.

Oh and kudos to Steve over at My Elves are Different for releasing the plague.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora set the SFF world abuzz last year as a strong debut about lovable scoundrels taking lots of money from rich people in a fantastically dangerous setting. Red Seas Under Red Skies follows as the second book of the planned seven book Gentlemen Bastards Sequence and fans will not be disappointed with this superior follow-up.

The first half of Red Seas Under Red Skies is structured in much the same way as The Lies of Locke Lamora with alternating views of past and present. The present finds Locke and company in the middle of another grand scheme two years later – a scheme more grandiose and treacherous than ever before – this time in the island city-state of Tel Verrar. The past takes us back to events immediately following events in The Lies of Locke Lamora where recovery and loss strains previously unbreakable bonds.

Look, to avoid spoilers for the first book and appropriately keep you guessing for this one, I’m not going to say much more than these next few hints. We see towering houses of decadent gaming and yes, there are pirates – lots of pirates, maybe even Locke and Jean. The plot twists and turns, death happens and is narrowly avoided, love is found, old love hinted, and bondsmages make their power known while that fight is for a later book – and this barely touches on main storyline where a wannabe tyrant clashes with a merchant guild and underworld kingpin, throws pirates in the mix and places Locke and company in the bloody middle of it all. Locke just may be in over his head this time, and it’s a long, deadly swim in these waters.

The often light and fun, raw and witty Robin Hood meets Ocean’s 11 feel from the first book takes a more strained, forced, and altogether darker hue in Red Seas Under Red Skies. At first this may feel like a failing, but rather this is Lynch being true to his fully realized main cast – past events have taken their toll and some scars never fully heal. This is not to say that the witty humor is lacking, it’s just not at the glib forefront that it was for much of the first book.

Where The Lies of Locke Lamora suffers from occasional first-novel jitters, Red Seas Under Red Skies shows the improvement of Lynch gaining his sea-legs. Supporting characters are still a bit too often paper-machete thin, but Locke and Jean in particular shine even brighter than before. While we learn little new about their past, we see clear character growth, particularly with Locke, and a few hints of what’s to come.

Things start out a bit slow and tedious, but quickly heat up to an all-out gale as Locke’s machinations spin out of control. One the greatest strengths of Lynch is the ability to carefully balance the predictable with the not-so predictable and to get the reader so wrapped up in the story that implications of long forgotten earlier events hit with full force at just the right moment. Any yes, he keeps you guessing. When I was at a point about 100 pages from the end, my thought was ‘how can he possibly wrap things up in a satisfying way in only 100 pages’ – well, Lynch answered with the force of a hurricane. Sure a couple of things may have been a bit too convenient, but high entertainment value cancels such issues out. I once again challenge you to put down the book in the final 100 pages – I sure couldn’t.

Fans have waited a year to see if Lynch will sink or swim after his successful debut. From the card tables to the high seas, assassins in the dark to out-right mutiny, Red Seas Under Red Skies is the real deal – a sequel showing growth and improvement, and offering all the fun a book can. Fans can rejoice while the un-initiated need to join the club and we all anxiously await The Republic of Thieves. 7.5-8/10

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Ray Bradbury on Fahrenheit 451

This article in LA Weekly talks with Ray Bradbury and he has interesting thing to say about what Fahrenheit 451 is really about. Instead of it being about government censorship (which is what pretty much everyone believes), Bradbury say it’s really all about TV and how it destroys interest in literature.

I find this very interesting on two very different trains of thought. First, I have to say that I think he’s dead-on. In general terms, TV does destroy interest in literature – in fact, I think that in general TV destroys thought. I’ve ranted before about TV and movies being a passive activity versus the active activity that reading is – I believe very strongly this to be the case. Now, sure I watch my fair share of TV, but I do prefer reading. So, in this respect, I’d say that Bradbury’s intent with Fahrenheit 451 hit the mark in perhaps even a more relevant and scary way that the usual interpretation of censorship.

I also can’t help but feel that Bradbury is wrong – Fahrenheit 451 is clearly about censorship and to say otherwise is a mistake. In many ways a book is not about what the author thinks it is – it’s about what the reader thinks it is. Once something is written and published, the author is no longer in control in terms of interpretation of that book – it’s now all in the hands of the readers. So, if almost everyone who reads Fahrenheit 451 believes it to be about censorship, then it is about censorship – regardless of what Bradbury says or believes.

Anyway, my intent isn’t to on and on in some essay form here, but just to express my thoughts on an interesting article and piece of news. If you haven’t read Fahrenheit 451, you need to – it’s more relevant now than ever however you choose to interpret it. If you haven’t read in your adult life, it’s time to revisit this true classic of science fiction literature.


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