Thursday, October 30, 2008

Halloween Links

It’s been a while since I’ve thrown up some links of interest, so some of the links included are a bit older, but still interesting. And despite the title of the post, none of these links are really related to Halloween in any way. Now, if I can only find some time for reading.

  • There is an interesting discussion on hype, buzz, expectations and the like in this thread over at SFF World. You have to page through a few ‘I didn’t like ___ and don’t understand why so many people say it’s good’ type of posts to get there.

  • Dead Books has a ‘Hyper-Serialization’ that’s part novel, part movie, part radio show, etc. It’s something new. I haven’t had the time to really investigate it, but it’s something that may appeal to some of you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Brent Weeks Giveaway

Sometimes when a publisher sends me books they never arrive – and sometimes when a publisher sends me books I get double. Thanks to the latter, I have an extra copy of the first two books in Brent Weeks’ new epic fantasy The Night Angel TrilogyThe Way of Shadows (US, UK, Canada) and Shadow’s Edge (US, UK, Canada). These books are already gaining a certain amount of buzz on some SFF messageboards and look promising. Below is the publisher’s description of The Way of Shadows and you can read Chapter 1 on the Orbit webpage.

The perfect killer has no friends. Only targets.

For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art. And he is the city’s most accomplished artist, his talents required from alleyway to courtly boudoir. For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he’s grown up in the slums, and learned the hard way to judge people quickly - and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.But to be accepted, Azoth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins’ world of dangerous politics and strange magics - and cultivate a flair for death.

So, the giveaway is simple. Just send an email to nethspace ‘at’ gmail ‘dot’ com. Remove and replace the ‘at’ and ‘dot’ with the appropriate symbols or use the email link in the sidebar. Use the subject of ‘SHADOW’. Please include you're name and mailing address. We'll say the deadline is Sunday, November 2. Only one entry please and this is open to all. Good luck!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Interview with Ian C. Esslemont

Myself and a handful of other bloggers helped Pat come up with some questions for an interview with Ian Cameron Esslemont that is posted at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. It mostly regards his lates book, Return of the Crimson Guard (review). One rather large spoiler is contained in the question - Can you give us a bit of a synopsis regarding STONEWIELDER? - so beware.

Matthew Stover Answers Questions Five

Matthew Stover is at once well-known (he’s been on the NY Times Bestseller list) and obscure in the SFF world. He best known for his novels in the Star Wars Extended Universe and the novel version of Revenge of the Sith (US, UK, Canada) – though his other Star Wars books are often considered among the best out there – Shatterpoint (US, UK, Canada) – my pick for the best Star Wars book – and Traitor (US, UK, Canada). He’s less well-known for his original fiction, which is a real shame. His most prominent books of this kind are his Acts of Caine series, Heroes Die (US, UK, Canada, my review), The Blade of Tyshalle (US, UK, Canada), and the just released Caine Black Knife (US, UK, Canada).

I’m very happy that Matt took the time to answer Questions Five.

What type of protection do you recommend for genre promiscuity?

MWS: Abstinence only.

Would your Caine kill Abel?

MWS: Only if Abel really pissed him off.

The First Murder of Genesis arose, after all, from Cain's wounded vanity (God liked Abel's slaughtered ram more than Cain's harvested grains and veggies -- and who can blame Him?). The guy who spells his name with a final e, however, isn't into that kind of killing. If I may quote t'Passe of Narnen Hill, Overworld's leading expert on Caine:

"You never kill -- nor harm, nor even hurt -- merely to protect your vanity. You never have."

This is not to say that Caine wouldn't kill Abel, you understand. Just that Abel's murder wouldn't have happened over menu choices.

If Caine Black Knife were a fortune cookie, what would its fortune be?

MWS: Be careful what you wish for.

How would you interpret this fortune if were your own?

It is my own. No interpretation necessary. Another way of putting it would be to quote Tan'el Koth (because I disremember who he was quoting when he said it): "When the gods would punish us, they answer our prayers."

Why should Caine Black Knife be the next book that everyone reads?

MWS: It shouldn't. The Acts of Caine is an acquired taste; it's only for people with strong stomachs and high tolerance for moral ambiguity. People who take their violence straight, no chaser. Enjoy in moderation.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover

First published in 1998, Heroes Die (US, UK, Canada) and its sequel, The Blade of Tyshalle (US, UK, Canada), by Matthew Woodring Stover are seeing a resurgence in interest on the news of the October 2008 release of a third novel, Caine Black Knife (US, UK, Canada), in what has become known as the Acts of Caine series. Part science fiction and larger part epic fantasy, Heroes Die helped to set the trend for the darker, ‘gritty’ fantasy of today with a wit and skill all too rarely wielded.

In a future of strict social castes and virtual enslavement of the lower classes, Hari Michaelson is the most famous actor in the world and Caine is the character. Entertainment has evolved to more – it now serves as a way for the authoritarian government to placate, rule and distract all levels of society. The means have evolved as well, entertainment is no longer simple images on a screen, but a means for a person to fully experience everything from an actor’s point of view – thoughts, emotions, joy, pain, and the most popular aspect of all, death. The setting has evolved as well – science has discovered ways for people to shift phases from the ‘real’ world to alternative universes – the alternative universe used for entertainment purposes is Overworld and its central city, Ankhana. In Overworld, humans aren’t the only sentient species is a realm where magic is reality – also found are all things mythical – elves, ogres, orcs, dragons, and more.

Hari’s estranged wife, Shanna is the actor known as Pallas Rill – though much less popular. In her latest ‘episode’, Pallas disappears offline in the slums of Ankhana with only days to live before her phase shift expires. The opportunistic studio seizes the chance to for Hari, still in love with his wife, to realize his most popular adventure ever – the quest to kill a virtually indestructible Emperor and save the life of his wife…or die trying. Hari is freed to be Caine, the Blade of Tyshalle and most notorious assassin in the Overworld. Caine is pissed and more aware than ever of control from above and the long odds against his survival and that of his wife.

Hari and Caine together make the perfect anti-hero, a protagonist shaded in gray, likeable yet detestable, and someone who truly kicks ass. Caine is a fully realized character, a character that we see filtered through its creator, Hari. Hari is Caine…Caine is Hari. The blurring lines, the internal conflict, the pain – this is a character driven in a way that’s easy and impossible to relate to. Others in the book serve to support Caine, not as well developed, but they don’t need to be.

This exploration of the hero and anti-hero is wrapped up in a wonderfully realized plot. Hari’s quest in both the real world and Overworld intertwine. The high-octane pace only slows for us to catch our breath as Stover shows how well a fight scene can be executed – probably a result of his own devotion to the martial art of jeet kune do. While we see the plot unwrap largely from the point of view of Caine, details remain hidden and the climax brings it all together in a refreshing (and bloody) way that’s both anticipated and surprising. Caine is not someone to get on the bad side of.

The duel setting also provides a wonderful juxtaposition of two extremes that may be more alike then different. The city of Ankhana is an alien, dangerous, yet slightly familiar setting, though it never attains the level of a functioning character in the book. The vision of the future of our own world is even more disturbing – a rigid caste structure under the total control by the elite. Virtual slavery is the reality and the masses fall in line – it’s a future that hits home because it’s not entirely improbable.

I have been hearing the praises of Heroes Die and The Blade of Tyshalle for nearly 10 years now, and with the coming of Caine Black Knife, the volume has only increased. It was good from the start – however, at 100 pages in I was questioning if its reputation had become over-hyped. By the time I got to the latter half of the book, I wasn’t thinking one bit about the book’s reputation, I was completely absorbed and enthralled with Caine. Combine that with the thoroughly satisfying ending and the result is a book that is not over-hyped at all, but deservedly considered a must-read for fans of SFF. 8.5/10

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The YA Stigma

I’m noticing a sad, somewhat disturbing, and growing trend – the disdain and dismissal of anything even hinting at being ‘YA’. This trend is most noticeable on some of the message boards and blogs I read regularly. One of the most prominent examples comes from many of the reviews by Patrick over at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist – here is an example of one such review (and a reaction from a puzzled reader). But I’m not here to single out Pat (who I certainly consider an on-line friend) since he’s not nearly alone on this – for further examples check out these discussions on some recent books (I chime in occasionally as ‘kcf’). The basic point is that many ‘adult’ readers of SFF flat-out reject anything they perceive as being YA.

I react to this in many ways – I find it disturbing, ignorant, and simply sad while trying to not fall into the same trap. Why all the hate for YA? Is it a misunderstanding of what the meaning of YA is? Is it a rejection by younger adults (say 18 to 25) of what they now perceive as kids books since they are past their adolescent years? Is it simply ignorance due to the different shelving locations and marketing pushes?

First, let’s get some definitions out of the way. What is YA?

Young-adult fiction (often abbreviated as YA fiction, or simply YA) is fiction written for, published for, or marketed to adolescents, roughly between the ages of 12 and 18.

Of course the wiki articles does go on from there, but I find this tidbit to be one of the more interesting points:

From its very beginning, young-adult fiction has portrayed teens confronting situations and social issues that have pushed the edge of then-acceptable content. Such novels and their content are sometimes referred to as "edgy."

I’m not here to debate this article, and I’m certain it can be debated, but it does provide a common ground to begin a discussion. The impression I get is that the perception of YA by many adults is that it is simply ‘kids stuff’, that tough issues are glossed over and simplified. I disagree. Remember what it was like being an adolescent? The world wasn’t simple, conflict was everywhere, and some the moral and social issues that need to be dealt with are by no means ‘kids stuff’. This is the turf of YA – we aren’t just talking about coming-of-age stories, but real human issues that have to be dealt with in life – issues that don’t (necessarily) go away in adulthood. Basically, while it may be aimed at young adults, it certainly can apply to any adult.

One of the biggest problems as I see is the same everywhere – bad writing. If a book is full of simplified, moralistic ramblings in an entirely predictable plot that has been used hundreds of times, the problem isn’t that the book is YA, the problem is poor writing. If an adult novel is despairingly called YA, then perhaps the real issue is the quality of writing of the book and not some perceived notion that it’s really just a ‘kid’s book’. A well-written YA novel is equally accessible to both adults and young adults, and it will likely deal with issues that apply to both, at least if you take the time to think of it.

Now, admittedly, I’m not that well-read in the YA field (and I hope to remedy this over time), and I’m pointing toward Harry Potter. I enjoyed those books, but they are far from the best that YA has to offer. Take a look at Little Brother (US, UK, Canada) by Cory Doctorow or anything by Margo Lanagan – her latest is Tender Morsels (US, UK, Canada). While these may be aimed toward young adults, they provide prime examples of how YA is not just for the young. Remember Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn (US, UK, Canada)? That’s certainly YA, but a beautiful work of fiction as well.

In a recent interview , I asked John Scalzi [author of recent YA-adult crossover, Zoe's Tale (US, UK, Canada)] a simple question: Why YA? This was his answer:

Seriously? I think getting kids to enjoy reading is a pretty necessary step, and also essential for genre, which lives or dies on its ability to hook readers on its product before they're old enough to be convinced by a bunch of illiterate teenage popularity mongers that reading genre isn't cool. So we really need to lay the table for young readers. Not every SF/F writer can or should write YA, but we need to make sure that those who do write YA in SF/F are really good writers.

Now he’s taken this in a bit of different direction than most of what I’ve discussed above, but it is another aspect worth discussion. And for more discussion, take the time to read Scalzi’s more robust answers that are found on his blog. In those discussions he points out (and rightly so from a certain point of view) that Scott Westerfeld is the most significant SFF writer out there right now, and he’s (primarily) a YA author. He also dives into the financial side of things as well and that aspect is simple – YA sells a lot more than SFF and authors writing YA stand to make a lot more money.

So, I’ve jumped around quite a bit here and worked fairly hard to tone down my annoyance about the YA stigma and keep this from entering the ranks of rant. So, what are your thoughts? Do you decry YA or are you a fervent reader of it? Are you relatively ignorant of what it has to offer? What did I miss (and what did I get right)? Please…discuss.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Evil Seeks Evil – It Just Warms the Heart in an Election Season

The world stands at attention for the upcoming US election and the Evil League of Evil is seeking a new evil – I can’t wait to see what Whedon comes up with next.

So, without turning this into an actual election discussion, what election parodies are amusing you these days? I’m not really after SNL making fun of Palin or a YouTube video with an Obama Girl, but something more. Something like
Cthulhu for President – Why Vote for a Lesser Evil? (which will continue to live in the sidebar beyond this election). It’s the slogan that makes me laugh since it really does seem like I’m always voting for the lesser evil – screw that, maybe it is time for a superior evil (insert GWB joke if you wish).

Admittedly, I’m not on top of these sorts of things, so give me what you got. I’m still a bit bummed that Jeff VanderMeer never really got
Evil Monkey For President up and running.


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