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 random.org, 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.


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