Monday, September 21, 2009

Shelf Space!

For a number of years, I have really wanted a library – basically my home office with a whole bunch of bookshelves. Of course the day dream I have when I think of winning the lottery has a spectacular, multi-story, octagonal library, but in all I really want is a lot of bookshelves.

This weekend went a long way towards realizing my goal. With the help of Ikea (perhaps not the best quality, but affordable and functional), I have lined one wall of my office from floor to ceiling with bookshelves. I spent a good amount of time building and then stocking the shelves, but it was all fun.

Unfortunately, I still have some books living in boxes and others spread throughout the house on other bookshelves, but this is something I’m really pleased about.

Below are some photos to enjoy. I’m off at a conference in Lake Tahoe (tough, I know) for the next week, so it’ll be quite around here. Note, most of the books that are visible are part of The Stack – books I haven’t read yet. At my current reading rate, I have a solid decade of reading to do (and that’s assuming I get no more books – which is a poor assumption).

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Yaaarrrrrr…Reading for Talk Like a Pirate Day

September 19th is Talk Like a Pirate Day – and while my reaction in the past has generally been something like ‘how stupid’ or ‘that’s just silly’, I must say that I have changed on that account (even though I don’t really participate). You see, I think that silly, even post-modern ‘holidays’ like this can only make the world a better place.

Anyway, every holiday deserves a few good books, so I’ll throw out a few recommendations on that account*.

Fast Ships and Black Sails edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (US, UK, Canada, Indibound). This is an anthology of original pirate fiction from authors like Naomi Novik, Michael Moorcock, Kage Baker, Elizabeth Bear, Garth Nix, Sarah Monette and more.

With the announcement of a 4th Pirates of the Caribbean movie that appears to be (loosely) adapted from On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound), I simply must recommend the book – which I’m very much willing to bet will be better than the movie, in-spite of Johnny Depp’s efforts.

Pirates in space? Why not? The Starship series by Mike Resnick may be just what you are looking for. Book one is Starship: Mutiny (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound) and the pirate theme really kicks with book two, Starship: Pirate (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound).

Pirate Freedom by Gene Wolfe (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound). A take on pirates by a master, Gene Wolfe.

These recommendations pretty much come from the flotsam of my brain, so feel free to share other recs in the comments.

*the honest truth is that I haven’t read any of these books (yet). But, I’m still confident enough to give them a nod.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Review: Dust of Dreams by Steven Erikson

When it comes to titling a book, few authors approach Steven Erikson for shear appropriateness. Dust of Dreams (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound) really does represent the words of the book that follows.

The statues shifted. Some straightened. Some hunched down as if beneath terrible burdens. The statures – my kin. My sisters, my brothers. There are none to look upon us now, none to see us, none to wonder at who we once were, at who shaped us with such … loving hands. As she watched, they began, one by one, falling into dust.

None to witness. Dust of dreams, dust of all that we never achieved. Dust of what we might have been and what we cannot help but be.

Statues are never mute. There silence is a roar of words. Will you hear? Will you listen?
How depressing. Erikson is often criticized and occasionally praised for an apparent nihilistic approach to writing The Malazan Book of the Fallen. The above quote certainly leans in that direction and after reading Dust of Dreams I can hardly imagine anything close to a happy ending for this series. The weight of the world grows heavier. The suffering of children is shown in horrid detail through a detached, defeated view. Soldiers march knowingly to their death. Entire peoples are destroyed. Hopes and dreams are reduced to dust and through dust unrealized hopes and dreams are shown. Humans and other species alike seemed doomed to never change, seemed doomed to destroy.

Yet hope, however small, however unlikely, remains. Sometimes people do change, sometimes evolution does happen. Sometimes mistakes of the past are learned from.

Dust of Dreams is the penultimate volume in Erikson’s magnum opus, The Malazan Book of the Fallen – though it may be more appropriate to consider it the first half of the final volume. It ends over a cliff that will leave many reeling. It is simply a beautiful mess. The timeline is a mess best left alone. Hundreds of names confound. Erikson is overly wordy, plots can trudge along at a minuscule pace, everyone is a philosopher, and you can’t walk 10 feet without tripping over another all-powerful being hiding in plain site who saves the day at the critical moment. Yet, Erikson shows a skill with prose far exceeding what has become accepted in epic fantasy. Erikson weaves a deep and meaningful thematic tapestry through the sword and sorcery. And Erikson will make you exclaim ‘Holy Shit!’ This is the best epic fantasy out there – and it’s a complete mess likely to drive away many a reader. Like so much in the series itself, there is an inherit duality.

As I discuss in
my review of Toll the Hounds (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound), The Malazan Book of the Fallen presents an interesting conundrum – while generally the focus is on those that live to fight another day, this series may be best viewed with a focus on those that die along the way. It is about the Fallen – just as the title says. Behind the series of wars that revolve around a central conflict among the gods where ancient species war and human pawns that just might attain checkmate, is the cost, the toll, the consequence and the dead – the real story. And then Erikson throws a wrench in it all – even when someone is dead, their ultimate purpose may just be beginning.

Yes, this ‘review’ is largely the pseudo-intellectual musing of an unabashed fanboy of Erikson’s writing. I have completely ignored such details as plot – this is the ninth book of a ten book series, the plot is largely irrelevant for an exploration like this – but, if needed,
Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist exhaustively provides the set-up. Larry Nolen of the OF Blog of the Fallen and I don’t always see eye to eye, but we have a very similar approach to this series and his review of Dust of Dreams helped reinforce and expand on some of my own reactions. Let me be clear, I love the plot – Erikson continually blows my mind – yet, he can be excruciatingly annoying at times. But I am ever fascinated by the writing between the lines, even when attached to overly-verbose musings that go on for pages.

What does it all mean? Well, that’s been the question since the first page of Gardens of the Moon (
US, UK, Canada, Indiebound). I don’t have an answer yet. The set-up points to something very bad, very depressing. Yet the words not spoken show a dogged hope that simply won’t be annihilated. I can’t wait to find out. 7.5/10

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mini Review*: No Dominion by Charlie Huston

Charlie Huston manages to reinvent noir crime fiction, urban fantasy, and vampire fiction with his Joe Pitt stories. No Dominion (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound) is the second book in the series of five (and counting?). While the plot differs, I honestly don’t have anything to add from what I’ve already said in my review of Already Dead (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound). 8/10
Charlie Huston ... takes the prototypical hard-boiled, noir detective template and injects it into a world of vampires. The result is not the Buffy-inspired urban fantasy romp that dominates the fantasy market these days, but a true noir detective tale that happens to star a vampire struggling for independence in clan dominated underworld.

This classic noir story with … a hard-ass, flawed, moralistic rogue vampire proves to be fast-paced, engaging read that I very much enjoyed.

*This is my first mini-review and hopefully it won’t become common. I managed to get way behind on reviews over the past couple of months and I just didn’t have it in me to write a full review for this one – particularly since I felt I would just be trying to re-write what I had already written for Already Dead, when I was quite happy with what I had said in the first place.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Something Completely Different

As this is being posted, I'm probably hard at work at around 9000 feet elevation in the Chuska Mountains of northwestern New Mexico. It's beautiful, remote, and sureal in the ways Indian Reservations tend to be. Anyway, I thought this week's photo should be something of an opposite to my current location.

Brainz (coral), Bonaire, Netherland Antilles

Friday, September 04, 2009

And Now, Something Completely Different

One of the great strategies for good blogging is knowing how to properly steal ideas. Something that I’ve really enjoyed seeing on Jay Lake’s blog lately are his moments of zen – photographs that he shares pretty much daily. They tend to be a bit more artistic and are very nice. So, I’m going to do my own version – not daily, but hopefully weekly. And most often on a Friday.

So, here is the first photo in my own ‘Now, Something Completely Different’ photo series.

At the feeder in the backyard.

Milestone Links

So, a couple days ago I reached a technical milestone – the SiteMeter hit counter that I put on the blog within a couple of days of it’s creation back in February 2006 officially went over 100,000 visitors. Of course, this is something of an imaginary milestone since SiteMeter reportedly misses up to 30% of visitors and since something around half of my readership occurs through RSS feeds and wouldn’t be counted. So, the reality is I probably crossed over 100,000 quite some time ago (and who knows where it really stands in terms of unique vs. repeat and all that). But anyway, it’s a milestone and source of a bit of pride (even though in terms of my blogger peers, I’m only mid-level in terms of visitors – for comparison, I’m roughly an order of magnitude less than Pat over at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist).

Anyway, enough narcissism around here and on to a couple links:

Brandon Sanderson’s tour dates for The Gathering Storm (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound) have been announced. I plan on being at the Arizona signing. In related news, apparently there will be some big Wheel of Time announcements at this-weekend’s DragonCon.

The Agony Column interviews authors from The Very Best Anthology of Science Fiction and Fantasy (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound), including Peter Beagle, Karen Joy Fowler, Michael Swanwick, Mary Rickert, Jeffrey Ford, John Kessel, Delia Sherman, Ellen Klages, Gene Wolfe, Charles de Lint, and Fantasy and Science Fiction publisher Gordon Van Gelder.

That’s it – enjoy your holiday weekend (if you’ve got one anyway).

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Review: Darkest Hour by Mark Chadbourn

Darkest Hour by Mark Chadbourn (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound) is the second book of the Age of Misrule Trilogy. In this trilogy, Chadbourn shows us a world where magic returns, along with all the nasty, indifferent beasts of legend. The modern world fails, the evil Formorii seek to destroy humanity, the Tuatha de Danaan stand apart, and the five human Brothers and Sisters of Dragons fight desperately for the sake of humanity.

Being the second book, too much of a plot summary will spoil events from the first book, World’s End (
US, UK, Canada, IndieBound). Having said that, Darkest Hour continues from events in World’s End. A new threat emerges and the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons set out to prevent something very bad from happening. Things don’t go as planned, and the group finds even more desperation and despair than they have seen yet, while their personal relationships continue to erode what little moral remains.

Bad things happen in Darkest Hour. After World’s End, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but Darkest Hour is a truly dark book with an apt title. Hope is fading, yet our decidedly not intrepid band of heroes perceivers and signs of adaptation to the new world of magic appear.

Darkest Hour is clearly the middle-book of a trilogy but doesn’t suffer as a result. Rather than bridging events from book 1 to book 3, Darkest Hour has a complete story-arc with clear beginnings and endings. The wonder I vividly describe in
my review of World’s End is still present, and Darkest Hour retains the feel of a wild tour through Britain’s magical sites, but everything is darker, more ominous as hope fades.

In the Age of Misrule, Chadbourn doesn’t fall back on the genre trope of having young, idealistic, and inexperienced people chosen to save the world. Chadbourn’s heroes are older and already well beaten-down by the world. And the five Brothers and Sisters of Dragons don’t immediately become best mates who always doe the right thing. We see realism – sexual tension, jealousy, hatred, apathy, biting insults, selfishness, etc. In Chadbourn’s band of heroes, people get fed up and decide they need to go out and get rip-roaring drunk rather than ‘take one for the team’. And yet these obviously flawed individuals do continue on, doing their best to do what is right – only their best isn’t always enough or even the right move.

The Age of Misrule is proving to be a fantastic read. Adding a bit to what is explored in a fantastic review at
rob will review, in the Age of Misrule Chadbourn presents something of the anti-Tolkien fantasy, while embracing many of its standards. Tolkien explores Britain’s mythology by creating a world where magic is leaving, and humanity in all its imperfection is rising. Chadbourn explores Britain’s mythology by taking our world and bringing back the magic, myths and legend – a world where humanity may be on the way out. All at once, humanity looses science, technology, and religion. Chadbourn shows us a world where all humanity has is each other as they fight for survival and they slowly understand what they may have gained through their loss. This is an exploration of humanity – the reality of humanity rather than its ideals, what has been lost through science, technology, and dogmatic religion, and what just might be gained. This is a series that has completely captured me and I can’t wait to see how it finishes in Always Forever (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound). 8.5/10

Related Posts:
Review of World’s End, Interview with Mark Chadbourn

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Review: The Last Hot Time by John M. Ford

John M. Ford was a giant in the SFF world – having won pretty much every major award, including the Nebula, World Fantasy, and the Philip K. Dick Awards. He was known equally for novels and short fiction, and praised by writers like Robert Jordan and Neil Gaiman. The Last Hot Time (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound) was published in 2000, just missing most of the internet revolution and the resulting attention. Tragic as his death was in 2006, it’s another tragedy that his work is largely overlooked in the vibrant SFF internet world (or at least the places I hang out).

The Last Hot Time is the story of Danny Holman, who leaves his small-town life in rural Iowa to experience the magical world of Chicago. In this case, magic is a literal term as parts of the world have merged a bit with lands of Faery, making magic a force of power and magical beings such as elves a reality. In a quick and violent moment, Danny becomes involved with a mysterious man simply known as Mr. Patrise, who takes Danny under his wings and introduces him to Chicago.

The Last Hot Time is a coming off age story, but it’s a coming of age story unlike anything you’ve read before. The world crosses millennial USA with faery lore and spins it with the 1920s-gangster world of Chicago, making The Last Hot Time a truly American story. Danny is the classic mid-west American young adult seeking independence in the big city of Chicago. This story follows him as he finds his place in the world, discovers who he is as a person, and gains a sense of responsibility for his impact on the greater world around him.

Ford tells a fast and confusing tale in only barely over 200 pages. The reader shares their confusion and disorientation with Danny, making for slow and even frustrating reading for such a short book. However, this is not a negative point for The Last Hot Time, but an intentional experience for the reader, creating a bond greater than the typical reading experience.

Ford’s writing is layered – The Last Hot Time is more than just a coming-of-age in America story, in some ways it is the story of America and its place in the world (or what should be its place). Included with the literal coming-of-age is a sexual awakening, with layers of its own meaning. To be completely honest, this book contains so many layers that I think I’d see and understand more and more with a re-read, and another re-read, and another…you get the point.

Interspersed throughout are the encounters with, and the writings of Lucius Birdsong, a syndicated columnist writing from the heart of magical Chicago. His erudite observations and writings add yet another layer to The Last Hot Time and another focus for future readings. The conflicted friendship Danny develops with this modern sage serves as a guide as Danny grows into his new place in the world.

So, what is The Last Hot Time? Well it’s an Americana, elf-punk, urban fantasy, gangster tale, love story hiding the classic American coming-of-age story that can serve as a metaphor for so much more. Or more simply it’s a new classic of SFF literature from a sadly deceased giant of genre and a must-read book. 9/10


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