Thursday, February 26, 2009

Patrick Rothfuss on Book Two (with comics)

Things come around over and over again in the blogosphere. Lately it’s been the focus on writers and their writing schedules (or how long it takes them to write a book). It started with all the crap surrounding GRRM. I’m not going there again, I’ve said my small bit. Then John Scalzi took up the cause. Then Charlie Stross. And I’m sure others have since.

Now Patrick Rothfuss has crawled out of his cave to say his peace. I love the comic story – it made me laugh and laugh. The rest was a bit sad and hopeful at the same time – mostly though I feel it isn’t something an author should feel the need to do. Anyway, that’s not the point – the real point is that you should go and read Pat’s blog post and enjoy the comic rendition of fan response.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Review: Twelve by Jasper Kent

Jasper Kent’s Twelve (US, UK, Canada) combines the tragic history of the Napoleonic Wars in Russia with an Eastern European vampire tale. This approach has been received with much fanfare – dozens of glowing reviews can be found with ease, the book has already had multiple reprints and the buzz seemingly builds by the day. While I add my voice to the chorus, I hope I’m not lost in the buzz, because I think that Twelve is a very special novel – not just as an unique take on historical fiction, not just as brilliant vampire tale in a tired sub-genre, but most notably as a war novel that deserves deeper discussion than I’ve seen elsewhere and that I can provide in a simple review.

Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov is a Captain in the Russian army and member of a covert team of four thinking soldiers at work behind enemy lines to thwart the French invasion through non-traditional means. As it becomes clear that the French march cannot be halted before reaching Moscow, the group reaches out to a mysterious band of twelve mercenaries, colloquially referred to as the Oprichniki. While the reader is well aware from the beginning that the Oprichniki are in fact vampires, we follow Aleksei as he slowly comes to realize that he has enlisted the help of inhuman monsters and then sets a course for their extermination.

In other discussions of Twelve I’ve noticed emphasis on its clever emplacement of historical context and the successful use of Eastern European vampire folklore (which stands in contrast to most of the vampire fiction in circulation these days). Sadly lacking is the realization that this is a also great war novel in the same vein as classics such as For Whom the Bell Tolls, All Quite on the Western Front, and others (even Jasper Kent’s discussions seem to concentrate on the larger historical context rather than the war). Through Aleksei’s largely internal view of conflict, we see the horrors of war, the camaraderie of soldiers, the pain of being separated from one’s family, and the solace found in the arms of another woman.

The Oprichniki play an important part is the war narrative – their role eerily mirrors that of the French. The plague of their ‘invasion’ of Russia can be clearly tracked, their impact on Moscow is in its own way equally horrific, ending in a retreat from a land that ultimately beat them. It’s easy to imagine how the inhuman and horrific nature of vampires could be utilized as a window into the atrocities committed in war (and they are), but the personal war that Aleksei declares on the Oprichniki reinforces the moral complexity of a soldier at war (and even a man being unfaithful to his wife). Kent’s vision of vampires in Russia’s defense of Napoleon’s invasion creates a complex allegory that had me thinking late into the night.

The success of Twelve lies not in the refreshing tale of vampires, the intelligent integration with historical context, or even the allegoric use of vampires in a war novel, but in its central character, Aleksei. Throughout the novel, the reader only sees events through Aleksei’s eyes and memories. While at times we see the horrors of a battle and vampiric atrocities, it is the internal wanderings of Aleksei that dominate. We follow his journeys through rural Russia, through Moscow, into a brothel and his emerging love for a whore, through the love and betrayal of his comrades, longing for his family, and into battles with faceless enemies and supernatural creatures. This Russian everyman is the wonderfully realized guide through it all and the success of Twelve rests firmly on his shoulders alone.

Whether your are looking for a beautifully told historical novel, a cunning vampire tale, or a stark war novel, Twelve will satisfy. Kent embraces both genre and history, resulting in a book that defies classification and spans multiple boundaries. Early success has already lead to the expectation of more to come – the Danilov Quintet will span important events throughout 19th and early 20th Century Russia, with Thirteen Years Later coming soon. After Twelve, I can’t wait to see what Kent throws at us next. 9/10

Friday, February 20, 2009

Just Who Do You Think I Am?

So, when you read this blog, is your impression that it is part of the ‘Conservative Blogosphere’?

As the one writing this blog, I would say no.

But apparently I’m wrong.

When I saw this the other day, I had a huge variety of mixed reactions. At this point amused is winning out, but other notable reactions include baffled, annoyed, curious, and even a bit offended. While, I wouldn’t say that I wear my politics on my sleeve around here, I don’t shy away either. I’m guessing that my blog wasn’t read all that closely by whoever set up the feed.

Anyway, I good laugh out of it.*

EDIT: It appears that the editors of NetRightNation have removed the RSS feed linked above (it now takes you to a different blog), thus kicking me out of the Conservative Blogosphere. I feel strangely proud to be able to say that I was kicked out. Can I at least get a medal or something?

*And perhaps this is grounds for entry to the Evil League of Evil ;)

GRRM Responds

Now, I’ve generally avoided all the discussion, ranting, and vitriol that surrounds George R.R. Martin’s rate of writing. I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again – I just don’t care. There are far too many good books out there for me to get worked up about the delay of the next volume in his landmark A Song of Ice and Fire series. I’ll read the series when he finishes, until then, it can wait.

Since I apparently enjoy occasionally inflicting needless pain to my psyche, I do keep up with some of the discussion I reference above (however, I have no desire to search out the latest crap and link it here). And I also follow GRRM’s blog – so I not only saw his
latest update (which matters little to me), I saw his response to his detractors. While part of me strongly believes that Martin shouldn’t have bothered, another part of me can understand how infuriating all this likely is for him – especially since he apparently can’t take a leak without someone thinking he should be writing A Dance With Dragons.

Martin doesn’t (exactly) say FUCK YOU – he is a bit more subtle and relaxed about it,
but he certainly makes his point – Ricky Nelson style!

And I thought it was awesome! Good job George – write as you are able, finish when you’re done, and live life along the way.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Review: The Two Pearls of Wisdom (Eon: Dragoneye Reborn or Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye) by Alison Goodman

The Two Pearls of Wisdom (US, UK, Canada) is a title that evokes an Eastern-feel that is largely absent from fantasy and instantly had my interest – making it all the more disappointing that it was published with the thoroughly unimaginative title of Eon: Dragoneye Reborn in the US and the only slightly more imaginative title Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye in the UK (an unrealized rant that could be a post all its own, so I’ll leave it be) – here’s to hoping that the sequel will still be titled The Necklace of the Gods.

Alison Goodman’s YA-aimed novel is the first half of a duology following Eon, a young boy aspiring to be chosen as an apprentice to a Dragoneye Lord. The Dragoneye Lords are uniquely powerful individuals with their ability to connect directly with one of the 12 dragons of power, each associated with a cardinal direction, color, calendar year, and emotional trait – for example, events in The Two Pearls of Wisdom occur in the Year of the Rat Dragon who is the Keeper of Ambition and is associated with the direction north-northwest and the color blue. This magical connection allows Dragoneyes to achieve great power in the Empire and in their service to the divine Emperor. Each year one apprentice is chosen by the ascendant dragon itself (which are invisible to everyone else).

Eon trains for this honor, but must overcome significant obstacles to achieve the goal. Eon is crippled, which is considered untouchable in the caste-oriented society of the Empire – but the greater obstacle, a secret that must not be known, is that Eon is actually a girl disguised as boy, the charade made possible by her untouchable handicap. The Empire is a strongly patriarchic society and women are not allowed (or even viewed as capable of) the power of the Dragoneyes. The obvious events happen and Eon is thrust into a dangerous world of politics that threaten to reveal her greatest secret.

For me, the real strength of The Two Pearls of Wisdom is its setting – the primary influence stems from medieval China and Japan, not medieval Europe. This setting doesn’t make The Two Pearls of Wisdom unique, just a member of a small club within the wider SFF genre. Not only does this different feel prove refreshing, but it lends itself to be much more poetic in its presentation. While I would hesitate to call Goodman’s writing poetic, it does have an elegant flow to it while maintaining its appropriateness for a YA audience.

The Two Pearls of Wisdom is decidedly YA – it’s written with that audience in mind and marketed towards the YA audience. However, it’s also billed as a cross-over that should equally appeal to adults, ala Harry Potter. As a cross-over, I’d say that The Two Pearls of Wisdom succeeds very much like the Harry Potter – the writing is plenty good enough to keep me interested, the created world is interesting, and the plot complex enough to engage the mind. Of course there are many of the same drawbacks as well – the protagonist is a teenager, with all the blinding certainty common to that age, leading her to do things that are simply stupid. While this may be annoying to me at my more advanced age, it is presented in a consistent and convincing manner.

Much of the plot falls prey to the same sort of issues – this book is rather predictable. If a person is mentioned, they play a role in the plot and have importance that is often greater than it would seem. This is a coming-of-age story and many of the standard plot points are hit. But, Goodman’s story-telling ability smoothes over these weaknesses (if you choose call them such), creating a great story that I simply needed to see through.

The Two Pearls of Wisdom has an almost feminist quality about it with the central theme of a girl who must learn confidence in herself as a young woman in a man’s world. A large part of me looks around at the women I see on the news, in society, and even living in my own house (after all, my wife is more educated and makes more money than I) and wonders if this message really has a place anymore. The unfortunate conclusion I come to is that while significant progress has occurred, more is still needed, and the young women in our society can benefit from a message that encourages them to succeed through being the young women that they are. While the feminism present isn’t what I’d consider radical or militant, I do find it interesting that some man-hate does seem to slip through the cracks. This is most evident in the relative lack of likeable male characters – there are essentially two, one is a trans-gender who lives as a woman and the other is a eunuch.

The Two Pearls of Wisdom is a relatively fast read that I rather enjoyed, suggesting that it does succeed as a cross-over between YA and adult-oriented fiction. The strong story telling and vivid setting largely overcome the weaknesses and annoyances that generally result from the consistent portrayal of a teenager. 7/10

Related Posts: Interview with Alison Goodman

Friday, February 13, 2009

(Another) Book Reviewers Meme

I often shy away from them, but John (Grasping for the Wind) has another meme in mind and it seems rather interesting.

Here is how it works: Find a favorite book, movie, or videogame review (Science fiction and fantasy related) that you have written, no matter where it was posted, and add it to the following list. Make sure to repost the whole list, because in doing so, we accumulate what the reviewers themselves think is their best work, and give each other some linkages, increasing everyone's rankings.

Again, I plan to keep track of all the blogs that link back to me, and I will add the review of choice to the list. If you are one of the early adopters, you can check back here occasionally and add the new ones that get added to the list at your blog or website.

This probably won't be as successful as the
Book Reviewers Linkup Meme, but I certainly would find it useful to know what reviews are considered their best by the writers themselves.

The Book Review Meme @ Grasping for the Wind

1. Grasping for the Wind - INFOQUAKE by David Louis Edelman
2. Age 30+ ... A Lifetime of Books -
A COMPANION TO WOLVES by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear
3. Dragons, Heroes and Wizards -
4. Walker of Worlds -
THE TEMPORAL VOID by Peter F Hamilton
5. Neth Space - TOLL THE HOUNDS by Steven Erikson

Ken Scholes Answers Questions Five

Ken Scholes is an author I expect to hear a lot about. He’s become well-regarded for his short fiction, but it’s the release of his debut novel, Lamentation (US, UK, Canada, my review), that has everyone buzzing. The language used is bold – Jay Lake proclaims that Scholes is poised to “step into the shoes of the late [Robert Jordan]”and Booklist hails Scholes for his “rare gift for inventive storytelling that invites comparisons with the genre’s leading practitioners.” Whatever you think of the buzz, I strongly recommend that you give Lamentation a try – for the record, I really liked it.

Thanks again to Ken for stopping by to answer
Questions Five. So, without further ramblings…

In your opinion, should the Pacific Northwest be best known for better beer, better wine, or better coffee?
KS: Well, I like all three but I'd have to go with coffee. I wake up every morning, grind the beans and drink most of a pot while I'm writing.

If Lamentation were a fortune cookie, what would its fortune be?

KS: Change is the path life takes.

How would you interpret this fortune if it were your own?

KS: I'd be prepared for change and embrace it as a part of what moves us forwards.

Please describe one reason why Lamentation would inspire a reader to strip naked and run screaming into the forest?

KS: I can't think of a reason. Apart from the possibility of a swarm of angry bees being drawn to the ink that the book is printed with. Or just some random fetish that causes such behavior.

Why should Lamentation be the next book that everyone reads?

KS: To see if it's the sort of book they like to read; to see if it's the next series they'd like to swim in for four more volumes. Oh, and because we have twins on the way who've already told us (via morse code) that they expect a college education if they're going to cure cancer and bring about world peace.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Review: Lamentation by Ken Scholes

Lamentation (n): (1) an act or instance of expressing sorrow, mourning, or regret; often demonstrably. (2) a song, poem, or piece of music expressing grief, regret, or mourning.

I often find that the titles of the books I read mean rather little – they generally trend towards sounding cool or clever rather than representing anything within the book itself. This makes it all the more refreshing when a book’s title so perfectly fits the text it represents – as is the case of Lamentation by
Ken Scholes (US, UK, Canada).

Ken Scholes’ debut novel, Lamentation, begins The Psalms of Isaak, a five-book series expected to be completed in 2010/2011. It follows the reactions of a handful of people after the destruction of the greatest city in the Named Lands, Windwir, and the seat of the great religious order known as the Androfrancines. Leaders of nation-states clash in the disorder of the city’s destruction, witnesses are changed forever, new Popes emerge to claim power, and a potential puppet master’s plan is slowly revealed – or so we think. The political machinations of the players are complex and fluid as the reader struggles to catch up.

As I mentioned above, the title of Lamentation relates very well to the text within. The events of the novel are horrific – the opening scene is the death of a great city, library, and the Androfrancine order. In that respect, the rest of the novel laments this destruction. However, each character has their own lamentation(s) – Neb looses his innocence and the father he wanted to know more, Petros is reluctantly forced back into the life he left decades earlier, Rudolfo learns more of his own roots and deals with other loss, Jin Li Tam laments the loss of her relative freedom and family, Isaak regrets his role in Windwir’s destruction, etc. The entire book is a lamentation about recent events, ancient events and everything in between.

To me a word like lamentation is loaded with religious context – with the Androfrancine order front and center to the events of the book, this context is embraced. The next books in The Psalms of Isaak series are Canticle, Antiphon, Requiem, and Hymn, continuing the religious context and the sense of poetic song with the titles. While Scholes’ prose is more pragmatic and efficient than it is poetic or song-like, it could be imagined that Lamentation is an oral re-telling of long-past events.

Scholes explores some interesting ideas, somewhat in opposition to what is expected. The Androfrancines spent much of their time exploring the wasteland ruins of an ancient (and far more advanced) civilization. This civilization destroyed itself in a horrendous war, devastating much of the world. When the Androfancines and their great city of Windwir are destroyed, it is a fairly direct result of knowledge gained from studying this past – the take-away meaning of which could be ‘those who do learn from history are doomed to repeat it’. The exploration of these implications and how they relate to the future direction of the Named Lands adds a rich layer to Lamentation.

Some other aspects of Lamentation that I enjoyed are the Machiavellian politics and high degree of skillful political manipulation present. Secret languages and codes abound and every aspect of person’s bearing has meaning. While Lamentation does have a few battles, the true battles are political, and the players at work are masters. In fact, Scholes may take things too far – the political maneuverings often seem too intricate, precise and long-reaching to actually be possible. However, this is quickly lost within the skillfully laid layers of intrigue.

My only real complaint aside from the small quibbles mentioned above is the relatively slow start. Scholes lays the groundwork for a five-book series, and it took time for me to connect with any of the characters. None were immediately of interest – but as the book moves forward and layers are unearthed, a strong connection does develop.

As the buzz around Lamentation’s release builds, I’m seeing more and more mixed reviews. People are throwing around comparisons to recent debuts from authors like Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie and others – some with praise, others using terms like hype and over-hyped. My advice is to pick up Lamentation and judge for yourself – I found it to be a powerful new addition to epic fantasy and a series that I can’t wait to read the rest of. 8/10

Monday, February 02, 2009

Locus 2008 Recommended Reading

Locus has come out with their annual recommended reading list. I've posted part of it below with links to any reviews I've written. I've left out the categories that have been outside of my reading this past year.

SF novels

Matter, Iain M. Banks (Orbit UK) *
Flood, Stephen Baxter (Gollancz, Roc '09)
Weaver, Stephen Baxter (Gollancz, Ace)
City at the End of Time, Greg Bear (Gollancz, Del Rey) *
Incandescence, Greg Egan (Gollancz, Night Shade)
January Dancer, Michael Flynn (Tor)
Marsbound, Joe Haldeman (Ace)
Spirit, Gwyneth Jones (Gollancz)
Escapement, Jay Lake (Tor) *
Song of Time, Ian R. MacLeod (PS Publishing)
The Night Sessions, Ken MacLeod (Orbit)
The Quiet War, Paul McAuley (Gollancz)
The Company,K. J. Parker (Orbit) *
House of Suns, Alastair Reynolds (Gollancz, Ace '09)
Pirate Sun, Karl Schroeder (Tor)
Anathem, Neal Stephenson (Atlantic UK, Morrow)
Saturn's Children, Charles Stross (Orbit, Ace) *
Rolling Thunder, John Varley (Ace)
Half a Crown, Jo Walton (Tor)
Implied Spaces, Walter Jon Williams (Night Shade Books) *

Fantasy novels

An Autumn War, Daniel Abraham (Tor)
The Love We Share Without Knowing, Christopher Barzak (Bantam)
The Knights of the Cornerstone, James P. Blaylock (Ace)
The Ghost in Love, Jonathan Carroll (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) *
The Island of Eternal Love, Daina Chaviano (Riverhead)
The Shadow Year, Jeffrey Ford (Morrow)
Shadowbridge/ Lord Tophet, Gregory Frost (Ballantine Del Rey)
The Memoirs of a Master Forger, William Heaney (Gollancz) ; as How to Make Friends with Demons, Graham Joyce (Night Shade Books '09)
Varanger, Cecelia Holland (Tor/Forge)
Lavinia, Ursula K. Le Guin (Harcourt)
The Bell at Sealey Head, Patricia A. McKillip (Ace)
The Hidden World, Paul Park (Tor)
The Engine's Child, Holly Phillips (Ballantine Del Rey)
The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie (Jonathan Cape)
The Alchemy of Stone, Ekaterina Sedia (Prime Books)
The Dragons of Babel, Michael Swanwick (Tor)
An Evil Guest, Gene Wolfe (Tor)

First novels

The Ninth Circle, Alex Bell (Gollancz)
The Painted Man, Peter V. Brett (HarperVoyager); as The Warded Man (Ballantine Del Rey) *
A Curse as Dark as Gold, Elizabeth C. Bunce (Scholastic)
Graceling, Kristin Cashore (Harcourt)
Alive in Necropolis, Doug Dorst (Riverhead)
Thunderer, Felix Gilman (Bantam Spectra)
Black Ships, Jo Graham (Orbit US)
Pandemonium, Daryl Gregory (Ballantine Del Rey)
The Gone-Away World, Nick Harkaway (William Heinemann, Knopf) *
Last Dragon, J.T. McDermott (Wizards of the Coast/Discoveries) *
Singularity's Ring, Paul Melko (Tor)
The Long Look, Richard Parks (Five Star)
The Red Wolf Conspiracy, Robert V. S. Redick (Gollancz, Del Rey '09)
The Cabinet of Wonders, Marie Rutkoski (Farrar, Straus, Giroux)

Young Adult Books

City of Ashes, Cassandra Clare (Simon & Schuster/McElderry)
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins (Scholastic Press)
Monster Blood Tattoo, Book Two: Lamplighter, D. M. Cornish (Putnam; Omnibus Books Australia) *
Little Brother, Cory Doctorow (Tor) *
The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins, Bloomsbury)
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, Alison Goodman (Viking); as The Two Pearls of Wisdom (HarperCollins Australia) *
Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan (Knopf)
How to Ditch Your Fairy, Justine Larbalestier (Bloomsbury USA)
Ink Exchange, Melissa Marr (HarperTeen)
Chalice, Robin McKinley (Putnam)
The Knife of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness (Candlewick Press)
The Adoration of Jenna Fox, Mary E. Pearson (Henry Holt)
Nation, Terry Pratchett (Doubleday UK, HarperCollins)
Zoe's Tale, John Scalzi (Tor)
Flora's Dare, Ysabeau S. Wilce (Harcourt)

*Books that are waiting on The Stack

In Honor of the new Land of the Lost: She's a Sleestak

As a kid I loved Land of the Lost. As a young adult (well, even now), I loved Nerf Herder's music. So, here are the lyrics of one their more amusing songs - She's a Sleestak.

The whispers in the hall never bother her at all,
Or the laughter from the boys in the gymnasium,
Frauline Mueller is alarmed at the scratches on her arm,
And the German homework is late again,

oh no, She's a Sleestak
She's a Sleestak
She's a Sleestak
She's a Sleestak

The neighbours are concerned about the bruises and the burns,
And the seaweed smell that comes in from the rain,
And there's something wrong with the Johnson's lawn,
Someone says "Honey, have you seen the cats today?"

She's a Sleestak
She's a Sleestak
She's a Sleestak
She's a Sleestak

Post-Game Links

I’ve lived in Arizona for 10 years now, and while I will always be a Cowboys fan I was rooting for the Cardinals last night and I’m a bit disappointed that they didn’t win – but I’m quite happy that it was a close game. Of course, I kind of like the Steelers too so I’m not too upset. Anyway, here are a few links of interest to me over the past week or so that have nothing to do with American football.

  • There has been a whole lot of discussion about George R.R. Martin’s delays in writing – my reaction, get over it people. There are far too many other good books out there to waste your time defending or attacking the speed of Martin’s writing.

  • A real-life friend of mine has just started a blog called What Kind of Beer Will They Serve on Mars. He’s a smart dude who loves to wax philosophical about things like space exploration (he works for NASA), religion, humanity, and beer.

  • As I often do, I’ll leave you with a video that’s making the rounds on blogs – Billy Dee Williams and Ewok love.


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