Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Links for a Tuesday that is really a Monday

It was a nice 3-day weekend with friends, food, drink, and toddlers that I swear found caffeine someplace. The weather could have been nicer since there was a fair amount of cool rain, but at least it didn't snow like last year. Anyway, here are a few interesting weeks I found as a I sorted through Google Reader this morning.

  • There is a new author collaborative blog out there called Science Fiction and Fantasy Ethics. There is along list of contributors and the blog's mission statement starts with "The SFFE is a core platform, a hub of authors who have banded together with the aim of celebrating all that is positive in genre fiction.". I wonder how Jeste de Vries and his Shine Anthology relate?

  • Yesterday, I missed Towel Day. Oh well, I now have 364 days to prepare for next year.

  • The video below is an amusing round-table discussion by Gollancz authors Jaine Fenn, Alex Bell, Suzanne McLeod, Joe Abercrombie, Richard Morgan and Alastair Reynolds that highlights the difference in writing approach by women and men.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Kindle Blogs

Amazon now lets people publish their blogs on Kindle so that Kindle users can subscribe for a fee. A few of the SFF blogs I follow (such as SF Signal and Grasping for the Wind – who has a good write-up about it) have set it up. The blog owner gets 30% of the proceeds with the rest to Kindle – I believe the fee is on the order of a couple of bucks a month, so proceeds are very modest unless a blog has a large number of subscribers.

So, what are your thoughts on this? Should I set up Neth Space for this service – would any of you actually subscribe? I can’t ever see me making much money, so it wouldn’t be about the money but about giving my readers more ways to easily read this blog.

But, I’m not really a fan of the Kindle. Not only am I just not ready to embrace e-readers yet, but the Kindle uses proprietary format and Kindle e-books can’t be read by other e-readers (such as Sony). As long as this is the case, I won’t consider purchasing one myself – but should I allow this stance to keep me from publishing my blog for Kindle. If no one out there would subscribe anyway, then it doesn’t matter, but if there people interested, I’ll consider it. So, let me know your thoughts – would you pay money to read this blog on a Kindle when it’s free here? Do people believe that this is a good additional form of blog promotion for getting new readers? How many of my regular readers actually own a Kindle? I’m guessing a fairly low percentage that probably works out to numbers that can be counted on my hands and feet.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Review: A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin

Magic – it lies at the heart of the fantasy genre, the very definition for many. Often magic can do anything and equally often it has limits, but one thing that magic nearly invariably fails to do is evolve. The inspiration for magic is typically rooted in myth and legend resulting in a concept that feels stuck in distant past. It’s rare that a book truly shows magic evolve with the experience of the human species – A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin is one such rarity (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound).

In Griffin’s London magic has urbanized. The mythical last train is powerful magic, the electricity flowing through wires is powerful magic, the graffiti scrawled across walls is powerful magic, the litter thoughtlessly discarded is powerful magic, even the disclaimer written on an Underground ticket is powerful magic. Bikers travel magical routes through time and space, bag ladies and beggars are magical gods, and the phone lines possessed by blue electric angels. Sorcerers rise above other magic users to be become a thing of magic itself – magic is life – and urban sorcerers are the city of their magic.

The sorcerer Matthew Swift died by the hands of a magical creature of shadow wearing the face of his former mentor and benefactor, Mr. Bakker. A Madness of Angels carries the subtitle of Or, the Resurrection of Matthew Swift, giving away what comes next. The book opens with the bewildered Matthew Swift’s resurrection, the reader feeling every bit of the confusion of Swift. Once bearings are gained, what remains is a story of vengeance. Swift focuses on killing the shadow creature he names Hunger even as he knows that in reality he must kill his former master, Mr. Bakker.

The brilliance of A Madness of Angels is magic – the urban magic of London. Urban Fantasy has evolved of late into a new feeling genre, and while Griffin’s magic evolves, A Madness of Angels is classic Urban Fantasy. The mood is reminiscent of Gaiman and Mièville with a magical feel closer to de Lint – and the result is splendid. The unique-feel of Griffin’s magical view of London permeates the book and is enough all on its own to make A Madness of Angels a great success – of course there is more.

Madness plays an important role throughout the story while somehow not taking it all over. Swift and Bakker become a yin and yang of madness – one a madness of multiplication and the other of division. Both suffer confusion along with moments of intense fear and great confidence. With the entire story told through Swift’s first person view point, it’s this madness that allows Griffin to carry a sense of mystery through the book, hiding information from the reader that Swift knows but won’t necessarily admit.

A Madness of Angels suffers from a few weaknesses that are largely overshadowed by the simple magic of her writing. Griffin is new to adult fiction and like Mièville’s early work, at times Griffin over-writes her vision of London and its magic, particularly early in the novel. In terms of characterization for all but Swift, Griffin lays a good foundation and seems to leave off the finishing touches that bring a character fully to life. It’s a wonderful journey that we see, and as often happens, the ending suffers in comparison. Griffin’s desire to hold back key information until the end does maintain a mystery, but it doesn’t quite make sense at the end – particularly with its abruptness. But, as I hinted above, the magic of Griffin’s London dominates, washing out the weaknesses, with a promise of Griffin’s future improvement as an author.

Kate Griffin has written books for younger audiences since her early teens, starting even younger than the infamous Christopher Paolini. Now in her early 20s, A Madness of Angel is her first effort aimed at the adult market – and it’s a great start. The dark, magical atmosphere of Griffin’s London saturates everything, making it wonder to read and A Madness of Angels a book that I enjoyed a lot. 7.5-8/10

Related Posts: Inteview with Kate Griffin, Review of The Midnight Mayor

Sunday, May 10, 2009

What does a Bookmark Say?

Well, I'm off on vacation to Colorado for a few days and I thought I'd leave behind something of a meme. Bookmarks - what bookmark to you use? Has it been the same for a long time? Do you use multiple bookmarks? Is your system even more complicated?

The one below has been my primary bookmark for about 8 years now. My wife gave it to me - it came from the promotional materials of the NASA mission Odyssey - she's on the science team. I'm shocked it hasn't fallen apart or been lost (aside from a day or two hiatus from time to time). It's held up remarkably well.

Here is a shot of a pile that I have laying around - some get used from time to time when I'm reading multiple books (usually parenting nonsense) and I know I others around someplace - but mostly work hard at collecting dust.

So, show us your bookmark(s).

Friday, May 08, 2009

Brent Weeks Answers Questions Five

Brent Weeks introduced himself to the world of epic fantasy in 2008 with something few new authors can offer – a completed trilogy. The Night Angel Trilogy was released in three successive months in mass market paperback making it very accessible to the average reader. As a result, Brent has seen quite a bit of success, including the resume entry of New York Times Best Selling Author. The trilogy begins with The Way of Shadows (US, UK, Canada, IndieBound, my review), continues with Shadow’s Edge (US, UK, Canada, IndieBound) and concludes with Beyond the Shadows (US, UK, Canada, IndieBound). Brent is currently hard at work writing.

Thanks to Brent for taking the time to answer
Questions Five.

So, why don’t you own cats or where a pony tail?

BW: Oh, man, I hope that didn't come out too snarky. Once I got my contract, I went to the book store and was flipping through people's bios and author photos and I was like, Um, wow. Good thing I'm not weird.

If the Night Angel Trilogy were a fortune cookie, what would its fortune be?

BW: 11 26 38 02 21. Oh, you mean the OTHER side of the fortune?

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

BW: You already got lucky enough to get published, why should winning Keno be any harder?

Please describe one reason why the Night Angel Trilogy would inspire a reader to strip naked and run into the forest.

BW: That tickle on your back? Not a tickle. Spider. Poison that liquefies flesh. Incurable. Untreatable.
Read chapter 1, you'll get it.

Why should the Night Angel Trilogy be the next thing that everyone reads?

BW: It's like Jane Austen, without the boring stuff. Hold on, that doesn't make any sense at all. It's like James Bond, but with character development. Wait, no better. It's like Dancing With the Stars, without the awkward celebrities or commercials. Dang! It's like Saturday Night Live, but funny sometimes. Okay, okay, last shot. Here's how I'd describe it to my former high school students: it's like a book, but fun.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Hunt for Gollum

So, I took the time this morning to watch The Hunt for Gollum. For those who haven't heard, it's a fan-produced 40-min internet film that follows the hunt for Gollum just prior to the start of The Lord of the Rings. It's a low-budget, non-profit film that flirts with copyright laws.

Basically, my reaction is that it wasn't bad - especially with the budget they were working with. I'm not one of those Tolkien fans who can quote the Silmarillion and speak elvish, so I can't really comment to how accurate it was, but it seemed pretty good. I think that they may have tried to piggy-back too closely to the movies, but I'm not sure they had a choice with that. In my opinion, the weakness was the fight scenes - they tried to get around a low-budget look, but didn't quite pull it off. Oh, and the sound through my computer was pretty weak.

But, it was 40-min of decent entertainment, and I can't argue with that.

EDIT: It looks like there is more to come - this fall is Born of Hope, another story of the Rangers.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Review: The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy presents an alternative interpretation of the relatively standard epic fantasy quest. Abercrombie takes the trope of a guiding, mysterious wizard with a traveling group of people of wide-ranging origins and tweaks the formula, creating a story in which said wizard may actually be a malicious manipulator with self-serving goals and the traveling troupe may not become poster children for an after-school special.

Abercrombie achieves his unique take on epic fantasy by first embracing many of the tropes commonly found. We have a wise, guiding wizard, we have a brutal barbarian from the north, we have a spoiled nobleman, we have a long-lost king, we have a raging war in the north, we see a siege, and a threat that could destroy the world. It’s the way in which he defines and combines these elements that sets The First Law apart.

Abercrombie chooses to emphasize characters in The First Law. The world-building isn’t as grandiose as typical of epic fantasy and while the plot is good, it takes a definite backseat to characterization. Bayaz is the all-knowing wizard and guiding force of The First Law. When first introduced, he does have the jolly, Gandalf-feel of the standard, wizened, fantasy wizard. However, Abercrombie quickly shows that Bayaz is not the copy and paste wizard expected, but someone with a biting sense of humor, a spiteful temper, and a mysterious agenda that may not be all that ‘good’.

Logen Ninefingers (the Bloody-Nine) represents the standard, ‘good-guy’ barbarian – a fierce warrior from the north with a bloody reputation and a tendency towards an insane, bezerker, fighting style. He is also kind, thoughtful, and introspective – that is when he isn’t killing children and long-time companions. It is this slight, but important dichotomy and Abercrombie’s skillful portrayal that makes Logen succeed. The trilogy begins and ends with Logen as Abercrombie shows that in spite of everything that happens along the way, any growth experienced by our characters is arguable.

Inquisitor Glokta is the friendly neighborhood torturer – a once spoiled nobleman, captured and brutally tortured by a ruthless enemy, he provides the reader with a supremely cynical internal dialogue. Glokta lives a life of pain in the middle of deadly, Machiavellian politics, and is entirely aware of the irony that his life has become. Throughout the trilogy Glokta grows and digresses as a character, provides stunning insight and horrible pain through the dark wit that makes him the strongest character to come out of epic fantasy since George R.R. Martin’s Tyrion.

Jezal dan Luthar is the spoiled-rotten noble to balance the scarred torturer of Glokta. Jezal is blissfully ignorant, short-sighted, and an overall idiot. He’s also one of the most skilled swordsmen in the kingdom, an up-and-coming military officer, and quite the ladies man. Through the course of The First Law, it’s arguable that Luthar sees the most change and has his world shaken more than the others, but just how much this matters is up for debate.

There are a whole slew of other supporting characters including love interests, more barbarians from the north, and an actual decent human being. Out of a need for at least some sort form brevity, I’ll not cover them any more than to say that the same philosophy towards their characterization – they are both full of surprises that fly in the face of most epic fantasy and they are exactly as they seem and as they should be.

I’ve concentrated heavily on characterization as I believe it is Abercrombie’s greatest strength in The First Law, but the plot certainly deserves discussion. The plot really isn’t all that complicated and as with the characterization, the plot first embraces convention before turning an ugly mirror to it. In this, it is subversively clever. Epic quests turn out with unexpected results and the ultimate conclusion to the trilogy is so unsatisfying that it distinguishes itself as one of the best ends to a fantasy series that I can think of. The way that Abercrombie presents this is equally stunning – I can almost see him flipping the bird to epic fantasy.

The glue that holds all the above together is Abercrombie’s tone of seething, dark, sardonic wit. Most fully embraced in characters like Glokta and Bayaz, it is the satirical feel to this dark humor that binds it all together. The language is dirty, vivid, and perfect for the goal of subverting the traditional epic quest. Two examples still stand out above the rest. There is a moment in the first book, The Blade Itself, when Logen, Bayaz and an apprentice enter a costume shop because they need to purchase clothes that are more suiting to their positions – apparently the wizard needed to be more wizard-like and Logen more barbarian-like. Stereotypes are wonderful thing in Abercrombie’s world. Another moment comes in the final book, Last Argument of Kings, in an off-hand comment.

“I’ve been trying to get through this damn book again”…

The Fall of the Master Maker”…”That rubbish? All magic and valor, no? I couldn’t get through the first one.”

“I sympathize. I’m onto the third and it doesn’t get any easier. Too many damn wizards. I get them mixed up one with another. It’s all battles and endless bloody journeys, here to there and back again. If I so much as glimpse another map I swear I’ll kill myself.”

This single exchange may best sum up Abercrombie’s thoughts on epic fantasy and show what The First Law is answering to. Of course it’s tinged with sarcastic humor and I can’t help but chuckle knowing that Abercrombie’s forthcoming book set in the same world, Best Served Cold (
US, UK, Canada, Indiebound), does have a map, unlike books of The First Law.

While my discussion has been overtly positive to this point, The First Law isn’t a series for everyone. Abercrombie’s unique writing style can be grating, especially as its novelty wears thin. The dialogue is loaded with grunts and other fragments that will drive some readers bonkers. The story won’t appeal to all and some people will be left thinking ‘I just don’t see why people speak so highly of this series’. Of course, it’s the same for everything, and can be summed up by saying that Abercrombie’s writing isn’t for everyone, though it certainly resonates with me.

The First Law Trilogy begins with The Blade Itself (
US, UK, Canada, Indiebound, my review), follows with Before They Are Hanged (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound, my review), and concludes with Last Argument of Kings (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound, my review). This series stands apart of the vast majority of epic fantasy available – while embracing cliché, the tropes are of the epic quest are thoroughly subverted with a dark, satiric wit and clever vision. I highly recommend this series for fans of epic fantasy, particularly those who have subversive tendencies. 9/10

Related Posts:
Review of The Blade Itself, Review of Before They Are Hanged, Review of Last Argument of Kings, Joe Abercrombie Answers Questions Five, Review of Best Served Cold, Review of The Heroes

Buy Indie Day

May 1st is Buy Indie Day:

The idea: buy one book—paperback, hardcover, audiobook, whatever you want!—at an independent bookstore near you.

If you can't make it into a store near you, IndieBound can help you out.


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