Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Few Links for the Holidays

Of course most of these links really have nothing to do with the holidays, but it’s that time of year so I went with it. I’ll be fairly quite and mostly off-line for the holiday week, but I’ll be back in full-force in 2009 (actually it’ll likely be half-assed force, but whose keeping score).

Well, on to the links.

  • 2008 best of lists – well, I’ve been asked to participate in 4 of these, not counting the one at this blog. Each is a bit different, and each will offer a wide range of wonderful books to consider – and they aren’t always the same. BookspotCentral, SFF World, SF Signal’s Mind Meld, Wotmania. (I'll link in the others as they come on-line if I can)

  • Here’s a picture from the massive snow storm that hit us last week – kittycicle – I’m not sure my neighbor’s cat made it.*

  • And in closing, due to my Texas roots I’m a fan of Robert Earl Keen, so Merry Christmas from the Family!

    *to the best of my knowledge there isn’t actually a cat under there, but the neighbor’s cat has been strangely absent the last few days.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Review: Escape From Hell! by Hal Duncan

Hal Duncan stormed on to the SFF scene a few years ago with his much talked about, love-it or hate-it, debut – Vellum (US, UK, Canada). Since, he’s become known for long, thoughtful and often angry posts at his blog (sadly, it’s fairly silent these days) and reports from various conventions speak of a fun guy who really likes his drink. Escape From Hell! (US, UK, Canada) is his new novella from MonkeyBrain Books – and it’s just as wildly unconventional as I expected.

To borrow from the refreshingly un-PC words of Duncan – a hitman, a hooker, a hobo and a homo die and go to Hell. This version of Hell looks a bit like New York City, is run with a painful bureaucracy, and is well covered by Hell’s own media star. These four very different people find themselves swept up in events and choose to do what hasn’t been done before – escape from Hell. As they fumble along the way, leaving a bigger and bigger ‘body’ count, they free the angel Lucifer who has been held prisoner by the actual lord of Hell, the angel Gabriel, and real chaos begins.

Duncan gives the reader an insanely wild ride like nothing I’ve read before – the closest it comes to would be a wonderfully offensive B-movie. The jacket cover proclaims ‘it’s Escape From New York meets Jacob’s Ladder – and I have to agree that it’s a pretty good description.

The book is fast-paced, yet executed in a way that allows us to know the four main characters rather quickly. We start with witnessing each of their deaths – one goes out in a blaze of sinful glory, two are unceremoniously beat to death, and the crazy hobo throws himself from rooftop. Next we see them processed into their personal level of Hell. And finally, escape.

A strange sympathy develops with the characters – I quickly felt that the homo and the hobo certainly don’t ‘belong’ in hell, the whore seems to be more of a victim than anything, and the hitman is the perfect example of someone ‘deserving’ of damnation. I found myself instantly routing for each. Meanwhile, Duncan impressively and subtly condemns the damnation of each as he furiously advances the story.

The majority of this novella is set-up for what can only be described as the ‘kick ass’ escape itself. The novel peaks at the freeing of Lucifer, with a barely controlled free-fall from there. Lucifer provides the final focal mechanism to bring the book together – and the loudest condemnation of Hell and its ultimate creators – God and man together.

Duncan peppers this novel with unfriendly shots at what (presumably) boils his blood. The news channel of Hell is Vox News (sure sounds like Fox), the initial entry into Hell seems a lot like US customs, and Duncan once again references the tragic, hate-filled murder of Matthew Shepard. But the most pointed criticism seems leveled at the media. Hell is literally controlled in part by the media – in fact, in Duncan’s Hell it wouldn’t be Hell without the media.

Escape From Hell! is a wild ride through the literal Hell – a pulp adventure and angry condemnation. I suppose that some may consider it blasphemy – I consider it brilliant fiction. It’s rare for me to think such, but Escape From Hell! would make a great movie, if anyone had the guts to make it. 9/10

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Review: You Suck: A Love Story by Christopher Moore (Audio book)

Christopher Moore writes a unique style of SFF – part satire and all comedy. It isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely for a guy like me. The primary reason it’s not for everyone is that it’s just not serious enough on the surficial level for a lot of people – that and the large amount of what could be considered juvenile humor. Now, this doesn’t bother me, and if you look past the surface, Moore does offer at least a few serious insights into the world around us.

You Suck: A Love Story (US, UK, Canada)is the sequel to an earlier novel, Blood Sucking Fiends (US, UK, Canada) – a novel that I actually haven’t read. It follows a young couple, Tommy and Jody, who have both recently become vampires in San Francisco. As they sort out their feelings for each other they must learn how to survive as creatures of the night – they must have a minion. Tommy, the just-off-the-farm 19 year old now vampire, comes through with a 16 year old goth chick and wannabe vampire. Complicating their effort to live in peace are an old vampire who is very angry with Tommy and Jody and Tommy’s old night crew (and sometimes vampire hunters) from the local Safeway, colloquially known as the Animals.

As I mentioned above, I haven’t read Blood Sucking Fiends, but I didn’t find that a problem. Yes, it’s clear that I was missing out on a bit of history, but it wasn’t hard to piece together what happened in the that book and I didn’t feel that I couldn’t fully appreciate You Suck. The focus really is on the relationship of Tommy and Jody, but it’s the various subplots that steal the show. Abby, the 16 year old goth minion, slowly becomes a dominate force in the book. Her attitude seeks so much to be so very mature while reminding us on occasion that she really is little more than a child. Another subplot that really works for me is that of the Animals. These are a fun mix of complete slackers – we see first meet them after they’ve blown about $500,000 on a blue-skinned hooker from Vegas and from there we get see them drinking and smoking there way through quite an adventure (and there’s turkey bowling too).

Susan Bennett’s reading of this audiobook brings the story to life in ways that few audiobook readers that I’ve listened to have. She very neatly walks the line of creating unique voices for each character without becoming overly derivative and stereotypical. Her portrayal of Abby the minion is particularly well done.

Christopher Moore’s fiction is best known for its irreverent humor – as it should be – but under the surface it becomes clear that he is also a keen observer of humanity. And what better way to show humanity than through humor? Included in You Suck is a touching love story, a unique view into the adolescent goth world, and a unique view of the homeless in San Francisco. Of course there’s also vampires, a blue-skinned hooker, drunken night-shift stoners, a cornball kid from Indiana, the Emperor of San Francisco, and a giant shaved cat named Chet.

My wife can attest to just how strange my sense of humor can be, so it’s no surprise that I find books of Christopher Moore appealing. They are fun and fast and can make you laugh out loud. Moore’s writing easily translates to the audio form and Susan Bennett’s reading further brings the story to life. You Suck: A Love Story makes a great audiobook and I certainly recommend it for those who enjoy humorous books. I’ll now be on the look-out for more audiobooks by Moore. 7.5/10

Friday, December 19, 2008

Review: The Engine's Child by Holly Phillips

The Engine’s Child by Holly Phillips (US, UK, Canada) has been received with very mixed acclaim. Reactions seem to vary from love it to hate it with very little in between. In many ways, this is entirely appropriate for a novel that is all about contrasts, polar values and divisions. I find myself in odd place with neither loving, nor hating the book – appreciating the stylistic skill with which it was executed yet not feeling the connection necessary to truly enjoy a book.

Moth, a young woman in her early twenties, is training in the scholarly-priestly order that rigidly controls society under the direction of an elite few. Unlike most of those in her order, Moth’s origins are not aristocratic – she comes from the tidal slums. Through Moth and her contacts we learn of the deep political divisions and a society of the have’s and have not’s. The world is an island – a refuge of humanity that only barely escaped the sins of the past – the sins of magic and technology and Moth just may control its future.

Moth chafes in her religious role and rebels against the rigid rules. Her love affair with an engineer threatens her position as both a priest and as the key member of the secret organization seeking the freedom of the downtrodden tidal poor through blasphemous and magical means. Her actions become the lodestone of political tensions and secret organizations.

The Engine’s Child is all about the contrasts – one society seeks to save the world by looking to the past, one by looking to the future. One utilizes magic, another science and technology. One is for the rich and elite, another is a way for the poor to thrive. One is lead by a woman, another by a man. One is lead by an elder, another by a relative child. These contrasts are but a few in this world that is threatened by uncontrollable rain and impending disaster as well as its own overpopulation.

Phillips writes with poetic prose and with thematic depth. The stylistic strength of Phillips’ writing will equally attract and detract potential readers. This relatively dense style clearly demonstrates skill yet slows the pace and raised a significant barrier me forming a connection with the plot and characters and my overall enjoyment of the book.

Feelings about characterization will be largely determined by one’s like (or dislike) of Moth. At times she’s easy to relate to, at others she is completely moronic – I think an appropriate range for a relatively young, conflicted, and confused woman thrust into importance. One aspect I really enjoyed is that Moth acts – others react, and this is strangely rare for a protagonist in SFF. However, the secondary characters often steal the show – particularly Lady Vashmarna who seems the most rationally human of them all.

As The Engine’s Child defines the contrast of its world, the action takes place where these opposites come together – in the middle ground. So in a way I find it oddly comforting that my own reaction to the book is also found in this middle ground. I’m not singing its praises and calling for The Engine’s Child to win awards, nor am I proclaiming it a mess of book and waste of my time. To me the book is what it is – a story of the polarity of humanity – a skillfully stylistic novel – and a novel that failed to connect with me. Perhaps that’s reason enough for it to be read. 6.5-7/10

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

2008 - A Year in Review

So, it’s once again time for a year-end roundup of favorites, and it’s once again a bit before the new year as well (see the best of 2006 and 2007). This year has been a busy year for me – my 14 month old son has more or less completely consumed my life and we moved from the relative hell of the desert to the tranquility of the mountains – which included the stress of buying and selling a house in the early stages of what seems to have become some sort of financial armageddon. But, I digress.

A major impact is that this year, I’ve only read about 25 books, which is about half of what I generally aim for (I’ll probably knock out 1 or 2 more before it officially becomes 2009). Of those, 16 were 2008 releases, 8 were earlier than that, and 1 is a 2009 release.

The following 10 stand out above the rest (scoring around 8 or above on my rating scale). Furthermore, the top five stand out even more and are truly outstanding books. Of the top 10, 5 are 2008 releases, 4 earlier, and 1 is the 2009 release. In the top 5, 2 are 2008 releases, 2 are earlier, and 1 is the 2009 release.

Anyway, this year’s best reads at Neth Space:

The Best

Neuropath by Scott Bakker. Bakker branches out into the near-future thriller world with Neuropath, and I have to say that he does so in a big way. The disturbing audacity of this book alone is enough for it to appear on this list.

Already Dead by Charlie Huston. Already Dead is the first book in Huston’s Joe Pitt series. Pitt is your standard PI in a noir world, only he’s a vampire. This book is fun, fast and refreshing. I really need to read more of these.

The Lees of Laughter’s End by Steven Erikson. I believe that in spite of his fame for the mammoth Malazan Book of the Fallen big fat fantasy, Erikson really excels with his shorter fiction. The Lees of Laughter’s End is the best of these that I’ve read.

Lord Tophet by Gregory Frost. The concluding volume of the Shadowbridge Duology, Lord Tophet is the second half of a beautifully written story about stories.

Zoë’s Tale by John Scalzi. Scalzi cracks into the list with his best written book to date. Zoë’s Tale straddles the line between YA and adult oriented fiction and has all the usual charms of a Scalzi book with a bit of something extra.

The Best of the Best

The Final Empire and The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson. Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series is turning out to be a real breath of fresh air. It both subverts and embraces the typical epic fantasy genre and it does both well. Fans of epic fantasy should run out and read these now if they haven’t already – and the final book is already published.

Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson. Toll the Hounds is Book 8 in Erikson’s massive series The Malazan Book of the Fallen and perhaps the best one so far. With the strong thematic presence, this entry isn’t for the faint of heart, and I stand by my minority opinion about just how good this book is.

Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover. It’s been 10 years since Heroes Die was originally published and it stands that time well – in fact this is one of the first of what has now become the common, gritty fantasy. And it can kick the ass all those Johnny-come-latelies.

The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick. Along with the book below, The Dragons of Babel stands as my favorite read of 2008. Swanwick beautifully subverts and satires epic fantasy as it tackles both light and weighty themes. Swanwick is an author I need to read more of.

The Judging Eye by R. Scott Bakker. Sharing the top spot, Bakker offers a great preview for 2009. The first book in a new trilogy following his much-acclaimed The Prince of Nothing Trilogy, The Judging Eye is more accessible to the average reader without sacrificing the depth that gained Bakker so much acclaim. A powerful start to a new trilogy.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Today is officially Do It For Thelma Day - the day declared by Daryl Gregory as the day to buy his book, Pandemonium (US, UK, Canada, my review). It's gained some traction - below are a couple of groups that have sprung up in support of idea to buy Pandemonium on December 15th.

The story behind Do It For Thelma Day is below:

I recently did a Questions Five interview with author Daryl Gregory. Below in an excerpt from the interview:

Why should Pandemonium be the next book that everyone reads?

DJG: Do it for my mother. When I started my writing career, she said, You know what you ought to do, DJ? (My family calls me DJ.) You should write a best-seller.This seemed like excellent advice. But how to execute it?

Your question, Ken, points the way. If everyone—and I mean everyone, each man, woman, and child on this planet, plus any Russians and billionaires currently in orbit—makes Pandemonium the next book they read, then my mother’s dream can become a reality. You don’t even have to read the book, you just have to buy it. Let’s pick a day in December. December 15th. On that day, go out or get online and buy a copy for yourself and one for any relative that is bed-ridden and/or computer illiterate.

Come on, people, we can do this. If we can just put aside our petty excuses—for example, that you don’t like science fiction, or that you don’t read English, or that your refugee camp doesn’t have a decent internet connection—if we can just stop all that whining for a minute and buy my book, then, finally, my mother, ThelmLinka Gregory, will
know I’m a success. For more information on Do It For Thelma Day, see my website.

So, go forth and buy Pandemonium (US, UK, Canada), and come back and share your Do It For Thelma Day story here.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Review: The Judging Eye by R. Scott Bakker

R. Scott Bakker’s The Prince of Nothing Trilogy took the standard epic fantasy template very seriously. While it utilizes many of the usual tools, it also presents a literary and philosophical depth largely absent from the genre. The Judging Eye (US, UK, Canada) is the first book in a follow-up trilogy, The Aspect Emperor, and Bakker shows maturity as an author and demonstrates why his name belongs among the best epic fantasy authors.

The Judging Eye takes place 20 years after the conclusion of the previous trilogy – Anasûrimbor Kellhus has risen to become the Aspect Emperor – a human god who has forcibly united the nations of the south into a New Empire. Much of the intervening time has been spent in preparation for a new war with the No-God and Consult in an effort to avoid a Second Apocalypse. The Judging Eye shows us the start of this great march to war, known as the Great Ordeal.

The Judging Eye is told through three primary story arcs that generally rely on just a few points of view. The Empress Esmenet is left behind to manage the Empire as her husband leads the nations to war. The old, exiled Wizard Achamian lives as a hermit and finally sets out on a perilous journey to discover the very origins of Kellhus and the mysterious Dûnyain sect. A young barbarian King and his realm is absorbed into Aspect Emperor’s New Empire and he is forced to march into the wilds of the north under a new banner.

Anasûrimbor Kellhus has elevated himself as the God of Gods – no longer human and the central figure of a new religion, and the only religion tolerated in his New Empire. Bakker plays with the points of view – in The Prince of Nothing Trilogy, we got frequent views from Kellhus that slowly decreased in number as Kellhus increased in power and influence. In The Judging Eye, we don’t get a point a view from Kellhus the god like we had from Kellhus the man. The previous trilogy was about the origin of this newly acclaimed god and in The Judging Eye we can only look up to see him without the privilege of seeing his thoughts. The god Kellhus seemingly only looks forward to inevitable conflict with a rival, the no-god. This contrasts with the hermit-wizard Achamian, whose point of view dominates one of the three main story arcs. Achamian is obsessed with the past and finding the true origins of Kellhus the man.

This interesting aspect of looking back as the world moves forward is furthered in the story arc dominated the Empress Esmenet’s point of view. Much of this reflection focuses on the regret of choices made. Esmenet has the distance and history to see into the life of Kellhus. While she’s still dazzled when in his presence, in his absence she sees the horror and fears of past, present and future. Esmenet reveals fear of her and Kellhus’s children – each strangely powerful like their father (if not as strong) and each is not entirely sane. This backward look reveals much of the potential future – and it’s as bleak as I’ve come to expect from Bakker.

In The Prince of Nothing Trilogy, Bakker’s writing was heavy on the internal dialogue and philosophical end of things, turning off a number of potential fans. In The Judging Eye, Bakker lightens up significantly on the internal focus previously utilized, showing the deeper philosophical aspects in a much more subtle manner. The result is a much more accessible book with a faster pace that should appeal to a wider range of fans. Bakker doesn’t sacrifice the depth of his previous writing – he just shows improvement as an author as he keeps the intellectual feel to the book while making his writing more fun to read. Bakker even attempts a gallows sort of humor at times – though he has some improving to do in that area and the book’s overall feel is still depressingly dark and serious.

The Judging Eye shows influence from other epic fantasy works rather than the almost historic feel of the crusades of The Prince of Nothing Trilogy. The depth of the worldbuilding feels much greater and easily rivals works like The Lord of the Rings with its feel of a deep and tragic history to the world. Bakker further honors Tolkien with an homage to Moria – and Bakker truly stands on the shoulders of the giants that came before with an enthralling journey into the depths where you can feel the terror of the haunting dark. This series of events showcases Bakker’s writing at its best – the internal and external conflicts build, collide, and repeat in a crescendo that I could not set aside.

The Judging Eye opens The Aspect Emperor Trilogy, and as an opening book it doesn’t stand alone. Only one of the three main arcs comes to any sort of conclusion, and even that conclusion is just the end of the beginning. While the promise of greatness to come is huge, I can’t help but be a bit unhappy that I’ll have to wait for it. The Judging Eye is more accessible than The Prince of Nothing Trilogy – I suppose that one could read it without having read the previous trilogy, but to fully appreciate this book I feel that knowledge of the previous trilogy is important.

As if The Prince of Nothing wasn’t proof enough, Bakker shows again in The Judging Eye what can be done with epic fantasy – and what Bakker does is nothing short of excellence. 9/10

The Meme

So, this little meme has been going around and I'm late to the game. I've added a few - but I'm sure I'm missed some from my own blog roll. Anyway, the meme is below.

My list of fantasy and sf book reviewers is woefully out of date. I need your help to fix that. But rather than go through the hassle of having you send me recommendations or sticking them in comments, what you can do is take the following list and stick it on your website, then add yourself to the list, preferably in alphabetical order. That way, I will be able to track it across the web from back links, and can add each new blog to my roll as it comes along. So take this list, add it to your blog, and add a link to your blog on it. If you are already on the list, repost this meme at your blog so others can see it, and find new blogs from the links others put up on their blogs. Everybody wins! Be sure to send the list around to others as well. There is an easy to copy window of all the links and text at the bottom of this post to make it even simpler to do.

I would be ever so grateful if you would help me out.

A Dribble Of InkAdventures in Reading
The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.
The Agony Column
Barbara Martin
Bibliophile Stalker
Blood of the Muse
The Book Swede
Breeni Books
Cheryl's Musings
Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews
Darque Reviews
Dave Brendon's Fantasy and Sci-Fi Weblog
Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
Dusk Before the Dawn
Enter the Octopus
Fantasy Book Critic
Fantasy Cafe
Fantasy Debut
Fantasy Book Reviews and News
Fantasy and Sci-fi Lovin' Blog
The Fix
The Foghorn Review
The Galaxy Express
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Grasping for the Wind
Highlander's Book Reviews
Jumpdrives and Cantrips
Literary Escapism
Michele Lee's Book Love
Monster Librarian
Mostly Harmless Books
My Favourite Books
Neth Space
OF Blog of the Fallen
The Old Bat's Belfry
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
Post-Weird Thoughts
Realms of Speculative Fiction
Reading the Leaves
Rob's Blog o' Stuff
Sci-Fi Songs[Musical Reviews]
Severian's Fantastic Worlds
SF Signal
SF Site
SFF World's Book Reviews
Silver Reviews
Speculative Fiction Junkie
Speculative Horizons
Sporadic Book Reviews
Temple Library Reviews
The Road Not Taken
Urban Fantasy Land
Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic
Variety SF
Walker of Worlds
Wands and Worlds
The Wertzone
WJ Fantasy Reviews
The World in a Satin Bag

Foreign Language (other than English)
Cititor SF [Romanian, but with English Translation]
Elbakin.net [French]


Monday, December 08, 2008

A Brief Guilty Pleasure – The Librarian

Right now I’m pretty well slammed between work and real life (and a sick toddler this weekend only made matters worse). But, I thought I’d quickly share about a guilty pleasure – The Librarian.

If you haven’t seen these movies, they are made-for-cable on TNT. As you’d expect, the budget isn’t up to big studio SFF type, but that only makes these movies better. These are satirical, post-modern, ridiculously stupid movies – and I love them. They make fun of themselves right along side of making fun of the fantastical adventure movies along the lines of Indiana Jones and Alan Quartermain. Noah Wyle makes the perfect dufus-genius who is even more hopeless with women than I am (though I’m happily married and he always gets the hot chick, or hot vampire as it may apply).

I mention this now since the third movie just came out last night –
The Librarian: Curse of the Judas Chalice – it’s as perfectly ridiculous as the rest. If your sense of humor is as messed up as mine, I highly recommend these movies.


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