Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Review: Kraken by China Miéville

Kraken by China Miéville (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) is a bad joke. How can I say that about a book by the only 3-time Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author (not to mention all the other awards he’s won)? Read the book – it is literally a bad joke. Of course, it’s also an excellent novel from an excellent writer – wonderfully dark and creative, what urban fantasy should be.

Billy is a curator at the Natural History Museum of London, a curator specializing in preserving mollusks, including the museum’s prize specimen, a giant squid. Impossibly, one day the squid and the tank that preserves it disappear. Slowly Billy finds himself immersed in an underworld of magical cult worship – he may be a prophet, but he’s also wanted by the most dangerous forces in London, and he just may be the key to ending an impending apocalypse.

First I must state just how far my geekiness goes – a few years ago I read The Search for the Giant Squid by
Richard Ellis (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) for fun and because I thought it would be cool (and it was) – probably the only nonfiction book I’ve read for pleasure in the last 15 years. So, to say that a fantasy book by an author like China Miéville about giant squid is a book I’m going to like is one hell of an understatement. And predictably, I loved Kraken.

Kraken is urban fantasy as it should be – dark, dangerous, and creative with both a modern and nostalgic feel, and lacking trite pop culture interpretations of mythological monsters covering up romance and wish fulfillment. Miéville slowly reveals the underbelly of magical London through religious and criminal fanatics, including a tattooed kingpin, squid-worshiping cult, rogue assassins, cults of all kinds and personalities, familiars on strike, and a duo of bad guys channeling the likes of Gaiman’s Croup and Vandemar, Bond’s Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd , and even Pen & Teller. Miéville further peppers the text with homage to science fiction and fantasy books, film, and television and a wicked sense of dark humor largely lacking in his earlier works.

Kraken generally takes the form of an action-thriller with Billy and his allies frantically evading enemies while trying to avert the coming apocalypse, full of the usual action and plot-twists. Hell, it’s practically a classic ‘buddy movie’ complete with all the action, adventure, and sardonic one-liners (if a bit more clever than most). However, this is China Miéville and he simply can’t write without at least a bit of social context. Perhaps the most obvious is through Wati, a sort of magical union boss directing the familiars of London in a strike – this story line is complete with picket lines, strike breakers and a scab familiar squirrel. But more subtle a the discussion of religion and humanity. Religion, cultism, fanaticism, and the like all play a key role in Kraken and the inevitability of humans relying on such – perhaps not a condemnation, but a conversation bearing a mirror, a conversation occurring between the lines.

Kraken will likely prove to be the most buzzed/hyped SFF book of 2010 – how could it not, being a Miéville novel, anticipated for years, and coming at the heels of an unprecedented 3rd Arthur C. Clarke Award. I fear this will lead to the inevitable letdown even though this review will likely only add to the buzz. Kraken is a bit hard to get into – the style is dense and full of scientific, religious, psychological, and street language. It took me a while to adjust, and as a scientist, I was not challenged by the scientific lingo. I was also a bit annoyed by the ending, perhaps the one thing Miéville is regularly criticized about. Warning, the next couple of lines could be considered spoilers – there was an over-reliance on Darwin versus religion, it was a bit too cheeky with it’s ‘but it’s not over yet feel’ and while I like the openness, I fear for the push of a sequel. However, the overall strength of Kraken far outweighs its few weaknesses.

Kraken is the latest from the highly decorated China Miéville and a return to London. It’s a story of religious, cultist and criminal fanatics, it’s the story of a young man awakening to world around him, it’s a story of loss, it’s an apocalyptic, action-packed thriller, it’s magical, it’s squidpunk, it’s all a bad joke…and it’s simply an example of a master at work. Highly recommended. 8.5/10

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Links O’Stuff

So, as usual, here I am saying just how busy I am. Part of it has been very satisfying (my garden is looking pretty great), but the rest has just been exhausting. Busy with work, busy at home, life decides to throw me a curve ball that nobody saw coming, but I persevere. I hope I can even find some reading time soon (in the last week, I’m guessing I’ve only managed 2 or 3 hours of reading). I’m almost finished with Kraken by Miéville (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) – just one more evening should do it. Maybe tonight, maybe I’ll take a break from work this afternoon, or maybe I won’t get to it until next week. We’ll see, but I hope to have a review up soon.

I’ll be traveling to St. Louis for a few days and then I’m hoping things will slow down enough for me to breath, sleep and read. Of course the reality is that I’ll probably come back with even more responsibilities and be busier than ever. *sigh*

Anyway, onto some interesting links:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Hey There Cthulhu

Awesomeness via

The SFF Literary Pub Crawl

Welcome to the (updated) SFF Literary Pub Crawl. It was almost 3 years ago that I started my Questions Five interview series, which has had 31 participants (and more to come). I’ve always used a blend of repeat questions with questions specific to the author I’m interviewing – and all have been an attempt at humor that gives authors a chance to have fun with questions they’ve likely never seen before and blatantly plug a project.

It didn’t take long for me to begin asking questions about food and alcohol, with a favorite question that essentially asks to recommend me a pub – probably owing to my fascination and love of the pub culture of Britain and Ireland.

So, I’ve decided that to embark on a related theme – the SFF Literary Pub Crawl. Below I’ve share the recommendations from those interviews mentioned above – I divide first by location and then by the author making the recommendation. Surprisingly enough, not every author is alcoholic with a list of favorite drinking establishments, so some have submitted coffee/tea houses as well. As with any decent pub crawl, an end simply isn’t in sight, so I’ll continue to ask the question when I feel like it and I encourage all authors, editors, publicists, bloggers, and generally anyone who bothers to read this to share their recommended put to include in the SFF Literary Pub Crawl. Try to limit recommendations to just one or two and be sure to tell us why it’s a favored pub/ drinking establishment and a link if possible.

On to the pubs/drinking establishments:

Austin, Texas, USA

Ari Marmell: This is a surprisingly tricky question for me, because I’m actually not a drinker. I’ve been to a few clubs in Austin for various shows, but never actually for the sake of just hanging around and having a few drinks. (I’m more of a coffee shop guy for that sort of thing.) So as far as a pub/club, I’d say Prague is the coolest one I’ve been to in Austin, if only because of the ambiance; it’s got a really nifty feel and aesthetic to the place.And if I may stretch the definition to include the aforementioned coffee shop, I’ve never found any better than It’s a Grind. It’s local to Austin, and it’s absolutely fantastic. Wonderful ambiance and people, and their blended mochas are what the gods drink when they want a special treat in place of their usual ambrosia.

Brighton, England

Jasper Kent: The Shakespeare’s Head. It has good beer (of the warm, brown variety), serves about a dozen different kinds of sausages (except Sundays – boo!) and it’s within spitting distance of me. It’s not to be confused with the other Shakespeare’s Head, on Spring Street, which is good but not as good.

Brussels, Belgium

Jeff VanderMeer: An unnamed 16th century pub in Brussels where Ann tells me I wound up singing with a Frenchman at the top of my lungs. I don’t remember any of it, except that it was glorious.

Capitola, California, USA (south of San Francisco)

Gail Carriger: Well, this is me, so you're getting tea houses instead. My favorite is Bloomsbury Tea Room, in Capitola. If you're ever out driving Hwy 1 up the California coast you should stop in. It's a wonderful fusion of fresh California style ingredients coupled with a cozy British high tea aesthetic.

Dublin, Ireland

Peadar Ó Guilín: Most of them are ridiculously bad: giant sports games on every wall and pop music loud enough to murder the conversation we used to be famous for. Our ancestors even had a god of eloquence, once upon a time, did you know that? I miss him.So, for the real experience, you need to find what we call an “old man's” pub. If you walk through the door and half the stools aren't occupied by lads with pitted red noses and beer mustaches, then you should take your custom elsewhere.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Brian Ruckley: This is my kind of interview. It’s obviously absurd to try to narrow Edinburgh’s titanic array of drinking establishments down to a single recommendation, but given how long I spent on the haggis question I should probably try.I think the best I can come up with for you is the Bow Bar. There are two reasons: one, it’s a small, friendly pub with a mix of locals and visitors (but mostly locals), good beer and a startling array of whiskies if you’re into that kind of thing; two, it’s just round the corner from Edinburgh’s sf/f bookshop, Transreal Fiction, so on a rainy afternoon (it rains a lot in Edinburgh, but don’t let that put you off visiting) you can potter around the bookshop, have a chat with the owner, buy a few books and then retire to the pub to settle into a corner with a drink and read. Lovely. Also, if you lose track of time and end up drunk, there’s a chip shop within staggering distance to supply you with haggis and chips: a perfect end to a perfect day.

Glasgow, Scotland

Hal Duncan: Easy one. It has to be Stravaigin, on Gibson Street, in the West End. Funny enough, they have the_second_best_ way to serve haggis, because they're basically a gastro pub with a restaurant in the basement, and haggis is one of the staples of their menu. They tend to do a sort of Scottish fusion cuisine -- lots of game and seafood but influenced by recipes from around the world. As pub food goes, you can't beat it -- top-quality grub but in a really informal atmosphere. Also their cocktails are to die for. And I mean proper cocktails -- Bloody Mary, White Russian, Dry Gin Martini, Mojito and suchlike. None of those crappy 80s cocktails with nudge-nudge wink-wink sexy names, mixed by the pitcher from a couple of random spirits, a splash of Cointreau and a half bottle of Bailley's. No, we're talking cocktails for the committed lush. Martinis so dry you know the vermouth pretty much just got _shown_ to the gin: look, gin! Meet Mr Vermouth. Oh, dear, looks like Mr Vermouth can't stay. Bye, Mr Vermouth.Also Stravaigin is within staggering distance of my house. And I'm a very good native guide, you know. I'll show you round _all_ the best seats in the pub, for payment in the form of booze.

Lisbon, Portugal

Jeff VanderMeer: The Chinese Room (sic) in Lisbon, Portugal, which our friend Luis Rodrigues introduced us to, because it has more amazing airplanes and bric-a-brac while remaining sophisticated of any place on Earth. [Possibly the Chinese PavillionPavilhão Chinês]

London, England

Joe Abercrombie: You could try the Phoenix Artist’s Bar off Shaftsbury Avenue, where a glittering array of genre writers are often to be found arguing with their editors over that most eternal of literary questions – whose round it is. It has the added advantage of being right next to several of the UKs biggest bookstores. Once you are drunk enough, I therefore recommend you stumble outside and buy any and all copies of my books that you can find. The dizzy rush of excitement you’ll experience will be far superior to anything you can get in a pub. Honest.

Kate Griffin: Well, I kinda don't drink, owing to expense and taste and the fact that I never really had much fun doing it. But I do have fond memories of the Sherlock Holmes, which is to the north of Hungerford Bridge, and the Castle on Pentonville Road has a very nice roof terrace in the summer, which almost redeems the fact that it's on the Pentonville Road. If you're after drink + fun, may I heartily recommend Cafe Kick on Exmouth Market, which is a sports cafe. This essentially means a lot of football, many photos of men in bad shirts looking mud-splattered, much booze and, best of all, bar footie. Many, many hours have been happily whiled away playing bar footie in Cafe Kick.

Los Angeles, California, USA

Charlie Huston: [Note: Charlie used to support his writing habit by tending bar in New York City] I hate pubs – they are places people drink cocktails in stem glasses.My favorite bar at the moment is the Lost & Found in L.A. It’s in a strip mall with a cleaners and across from a grocery store. It has a pool table and popcorn machine – things I value in a bar.[Note: right after answering this question, Charlie caught a ride to a nearby dive bar – Tallyho Cocktail Lounge in Scottsdale, Arizona]

New York, New York, USA

Jeff VanderMeer: The Brandy Library in NYC that Gabriel Mesa introduced my wife and me to; because it is set up like a real library and the lighting is magnificent and the liquids contained therein are insanely amazing.

Nottingham, England

Mark Chadbourn: I would certainly recommend going to The Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham - you not only get good beer and food and good company, you also get great atmosphere and an unforgettable history lesson. The Trip is the oldest pub in Britain. You can tell that the moment you stoop through the tiny medieval doors into a maze of small rooms where you could lose yourself for quite a while. The rear part of the pub is actually carved out of the rock and there is a tunnel leading to an underground labyrinth that links vast sandstone caves running beneath Nottingham. Right overhead, Nottingham Castle towers. The Trip was founded in 1189, when King Richard the Lionheart announced the crusade against the Saracens in the Holy Land - hence the pub name. If you're looking for ghosts, there are supposed to be several here. But watch out for the locals - they may try to entice you into one of the medieval pub games, particularly swinging a small hoop on a rope on to a horn fixed to the wall. It looks simple, but is fiendishly hard - and the locals ensure a constant supply of free beer betting against unwitting visitors. It's also one of the favourite watering holes of Britain's fantasy authors, and when the annual Fantasycon is in town (usually September) you can find many of them propping up the bar. You can find out more here:

Mark Charan Newton: An easy one! The Alley Cafe - - in Nottingham. I'm a vegetarian; this place serves vegetarian food, locally sourced, freshly prepared, and stunning. Not only that, but the bar is funky, and has a good mix of people and ages. It's tiny though, and you end up sitting close to other people, which really shakes us Brits out of our preference for personal space. So, good food, good people, decent DJ at the weekend - what more can you want? (Don't say meat.)

Palo Alto, California, USA (south of San Francisco)

Blake Charlton: Antonio’s Nut House in Palo Alto: closest thing you’re going to get to a dive bar anywhere near Stanford University. So…not very divvy, but still it makes a respectable attempt. The place is covered with pool tables, stools, knick-knacks, neon signs, and strange Americana. The jukebox alternately rocks out Jonny Cash and Dr. Dre. A Mexican restaurant shares one side of the bar and you can get good enchiladas until around 11pm. The floor’s covered with peanut shells because they’re free on the house. You just have to fish them out of a barrel that’s in a cage with a giant gorilla suite. The gorilla used to be automated to move when someone came near, but too many of the non-regulars would freak out and jump away from the gorilla and into a pool game. Best part is the crowd, which is about one third town locals, one third Stanford grad students, and one third bar hopping types (some bikers) from up and down the peninsula. Sometimes a glut of undergrads will take it over, and that’s kind of a drag (unless you are one, I suppose.) But normally conversation topics range from quantum physics to football to Desperate Housewives to beer. Actually, everyone’s always talking about beer. I like the high geek ratio and that everyone in the place is pretty different and that they mix with each other, especially around the pool tables and dart boards.

Pilsn, Czech Republic

Jeff VanderMeer: The Pub in Pilsen, Czech Republic, where you get a tap at your table and can pour your own fresh beer—no preservatives or additives—and they have electronic scoreboards for every table at every The Pub in the country…and after four or five pints you definitely want to be at the top of the scoreboard. We spent an amazing night there with our Finnish friends Jukka, Tero, and Juha, Hal “The Wonder” Duncan, Alistair Rennie, Ian MacLeod, and several others…at the end of which I pretended to be Czech to the family from Montana at the next table.

Sonoma, California, USA (north of San Francisco)

Gail Carriger: Then there's Fiorini's cafe off the square in Sonoma, wine country. Real, authentic Italian pastries, tea in a proper pot, and wonderful coffee if you bend in that direction.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Review: The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas

Dragons – where would epic fantasy be without dragons? Portrayals run from cute and cuddly to ferocious and evil to mysterious and metaphorical. In The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) dragons are beasts of burden and weapons of mass destruction upon which the entire civilization is built. But these dragons are enslaved with alchemical potions and far too dangerous to allow freedom.

The Adamantine Palace follows two story arcs with only a bit of overlap. First is the predictable – a dragon is attacked, looses its rider and ends up out of the control of the alchemical drugs used to enslave it. This dragon slowly ‘awakes’ to its true self and sets out to free other dragons as it unleashes vengeance on the humans who enslaved it – of course there are a couple of humans helping the dragon out. The other main story arc is political – the Dragon Kings and Queens play a deadly power game using proxies and pawns with allegiances gained and betrayed.

Words to explain how I felt about The Adamantine Palace include pretty good, OK, adequate, decent and the like. Damning with faint praise – maybe. But in a time when on-line outlets like message boards and blogs (awkwardly peers into the camera) stand up and shout out about the next great thing, where debut novels often gain buzz, even hype, where we can’t wait compare this year’s greatest to last year’s, The Adamantine Palace fails to stand-out. It is a quick, fun political thriller on the same level as a Hollywood blockbuster or modern video game that uses dragons cleverly enough to feel somewhat original. The chapters are short, the pace fast, and the page-count moderate for epic fantasy. But ultimately, it remains unremarkable, in spite of my attempts at the opposite.

Being somewhat fast and furious, The Adamantine Palace suffers a bit in the details. Deas is light on the worldbuilding – which is not (necessarily) a criticism. Much is hinted at, yet little shown – and in the world of epic fantasy, some fans may want more. Unfortunately, the same goes for characterization, which is a criticism. The best are the dragon Snow, who seems like any other talking dragon in fantasy and Prince Jehal, who for all his witty, clever evilness comes across too cartoon-ish. The other characters feel like they were designed to be three dimensional, but can’t hide the fact they are two-dimensional paper reproductions. And the hapless sell-sword Solo, leaves me wishing that Deas hadn’t killed off the interesting one.

Another minor annoyance really has little to do with the book itself. The Adamantine Palace is the first book in a planned trilogy, yet nowhere on the book’s cover, jacket, or description is it even hinted to be part of a series (at least the version I have published by Roc). Now sure, it is epic fantasy with dragons, and therefore must be part of a series, but it feels dishonest that it isn’t mentioned anywhere. Hell, I can’t even find a name for the series. The name of the series is Memory of Flames. While the story arcs of The Adamantine Palace do come to a conclusion, it is clearly an ending within a greater story, an ending not terribly satisfying. The second book, The King of Crags (
Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound), is already out in the UK and will be coming to the US soon and last book of the trilogy, The Order of Scales, is expected sometime in 2011.

One aspect of The Adamantine Palace that I enjoyed is how the enslavement of dragons is portrayed. Dragons are somewhat akin to weapons of mass destruction and the entire society is built on the power of controlling dragons. Yet it is also society’s greatest sin – the enslavement of sentient beings – of course they are sentient beings that would hunt you down, burn you, and then eat you for a snack if they were free. This control of dragons has subtle parallels to aspects of our own world culture and leads to some interesting and troubling questions. As I said, Deas keeps this subtle and does not attempt answers or justifications in The Adamantine Palace, yet I anticipate this thread will continue and increase in the volumes to come.

Stephen Deas’ debut novel, The Adamantine Palace, provides a fast, fun escape into a world with just enough political intrigue and some pretty nasty dragons. However, it’s far from perfect and simply fails to stand-out in the crowded epic fantasy genre. Fans of dragons and the like will love it, younger (and mostly male) fans will also probably enjoy this one quite a bit, the more discerning fantasy fan may want to pass it by. 6.5-7/10

Friday, April 16, 2010

Something Completely Different

Busy, busy, busy. I have little time at the moment for reading or blogging - though I'll hopefully calm down in a bit. I still need to finish writing a review for The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound), which I enjoyed but I don't think it really stands out all that much. And I'm well into Kraken by China Mièville (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound), which is proving to be pretty great.

But on to something completely different...

Yesterday I was working out in the desert somewhat close to a 'secret' army base that locals all refuse to talk about. We were buzzed and apparently used for target practice. Oddly this something has happened to me several times in the past in different parts of the desert around Arizona, if not always with Apache Helicopters.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Gail Carriger Answers Questions Five

The Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger is a fun mix of urban fantasy, alternative history, steampunk, and paranormal romance set in Victorian-era London. The tag-line for the books is ‘A Novel of Vampires, Werewolves, and Dirigibles’. It’s certainly a fun sounding concept, but what makes it work for me is infusion of self-aware humor throughout – yes it goes too far at times, just like its supposed to. Soulless (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) is the first book in the series (which I enjoyed), followed by the just-released Changeless (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound), which just made the New York Times Best Seller list. Forthcoming Blameless (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) is set for release in September, 2010.

Thanks again to Gail for taking the time to answer
Questions Five.

What is the perfect cup of tea for writing your books? Do ever need something a bit more…leaded? How is said cup of coffee (and/or leaded beverage) reflected in your writing?

GC: I drink Twinings English Breakfast gold label tea imported from London. It's difficult to get hold of. So far, I've not needed to imbibe anything more stringent to survive my word count. That could change in the future. There is so much tea in Soulless I actually had to change it to a different beverage in one scene because it was getting totally ridiculous.

Far into the future, the equivalent of an archaeologist from a significantly advanced culture (not necessarily a human culture) unearths a set of THE PARASOL PROTECTORATE. What theories about us might they come up with?

GC: Americans were weirdly fascinated with vampires, fashion, and the British. They may have had some serious humor issues as well.

If Soulless were a fortune cookie, what would its fortune be? How about Changeless?

GC: Soulless: Hold on to your parasol, there's a wax man in your future.
Changeless: Don't look under the kilts.

How would you interpret these fortunes if they were your own?

GC: Soulless: Wear lots of sunscreen and shave.
Changeless: Don't look under the kilts. Duh.

Why should Soulless (and then Changeless) be the next thing that everyone reads?

Everyone needs a little frivolity in their lives.

Bonus question for inclusion in The SFF Literary Pub Crawl:

Please recommend a favorite pub or similar establishment – it doesn’t have to be local to you, but that is encouraged and if you can’t limit to just one, recommend more, but try to keep it to 3 or less. And don’t forget to say why it’s so great.

Well, this is me, so you're getting tea houses instead. My favorite is
Bloomsbury Tea Room, in Capitola. If you're ever out driving Hwy 1 up the California coast you should stop in. It's a wonderful fusion of fresh California style ingredients coupled with a cozy British high tea aesthetic.

Then there's
Fiorini's cafe off the square in Sonoma, wine country. Real, authentic Italian pastries, tea in a proper pot, and wonderful coffee if you bend in that direction.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Review: King Maker by Maurice Broaddus

Escapism – in many circles it’s a dirty word as no discerning, intelligent reader could possibly read for a reason as mundane as escapism. Well, I will stand up and happily shout that escapism is absolutely the primary reason I read (it’s not like it’s the first time either). But, escapism isn’t the only reason I read and sometimes a book comes along that is absolutely not an escapist read. Generally I know in advance that a book will be such, but sometimes they sneak in and catch me by surprise. King Maker by Maurice Broaddus (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) is one of those stealth, non-escapist books.

King Maker, the first book in The Knights of Breton Court trilogy, re-tells Arthurian myth in the streets of Indianapolis. On the surface it is definitely fantasy and a clever version of urban fantasy at that – and it is both of those. But the reality is much different. Whether the story of violent gang-banger, crack-head, drug-dealing, youths of the Indianapolis ghetto is an allegory for Arthurian myth, or if Arthurian myth has become an allegory for the struggles of the lost urban core of an American city, I can’t say for certain. But King Maker is a poignant vision into an aspect of American society that most of strive to ignore. King Maker is a book that I wouldn’t have chosen to read if I had known what it was really about – and for precisely that reason, it’s a book that a guy like me should read.

The tag-line for King Maker reads ‘The Wire meets Excalibur…’ and it is an apt description. The story is full of gang warfare, drug addiction, youth violence, racial issues, poverty, economic class, homeless, mentally ill, and most of the elements of society that so many of us intentionally and/or ignorantly have absolutely no understanding of. It’s bleak, it’s violent, it’s depressing, it’s eye-opening, it’s tragic, and it’s real.

And it is fantasy – Broaddus increasingly weaves elements of Arthurian myth into the story while keeping it founded in reality. That is until the end when the fantastic takes over. To maintain the delicate balance, Broaddus cleverly mingles the tough language of the street with the fantastical prose of Arthurian myth. The result is likely still quite watered down from actual street language, but none the less, a challenge at times.

One of the most effective aspects of King Maker is its setting – Indianapolis. These aren’t the hard streets of New York, Chicago, L.A., Detroit or any other of those more iconic American cities. The setting is Indianapolis – perhaps one of the most generic cities in the US – most people know of it, but don’t know it. It’s in the heart of the ‘nice-guy’ country, the American Mid-West, and certainly a place that I don’t associate with intense gang violence (though I haven’t ever actually been to Indianapolis). It may simply be that since Broaddus is from Indianapolis, he chooses to set his books there – after all, write what you know – but the generic settings adds even more weight to King Maker.

Unfortunately for such a potentially powerful novel, King Maker is terribly uneven. Fans of Arthurian myth will delight in the way Broaddus fills out the cast – the crazy, ranting, homeless man Merle is Merlin. The homeless youth Lady G, Guinevere. The gang leader Dred, Mordred. And the list goes on. Reality rules the start of King Maker, with only subtle underpinnings of the fantastic. But toward the end, Broaddus abruptly throws all sorts of fantastic elements into the story. While I found it clever (especially what he does with the fiends – drug addicts), I also felt that it totally ruined the affect of a few good people rising up against he criminal elements that control the streets.

Equally uneven is the characterization. Everyone is only a minor character – while this is good in that Broaddus does best with minor characters, it also causes problems. Who is the hero? Who am I a routing for or against? My knowledge of Arthurian myth gives me these answers, as well as hints to where the series is going in the future, but I’m not endeared to any of the characters. Yes, Broaddus is great with the back-story, the tragic, unfortunately past and present that youths experience in the streets – absent fathers, misogynistic abuse, hunger, easy money through drugs, drug addiction, casual violence, etc. It’s horrifying, but the characters soon become rather faceless, just a list of characteristics. The situation is steeped in tragic reality but the characters never become as real – particularly the ‘good guys’. Of course there are exceptions (such as Wayne and Percy), but how is this supposed to work without endearment to King, Lott, and Lady G?

From time to time any avowed escapist such as myself needs a shock to the system – and King Maker provides just that. The wonderfully creative premise and horrific reality make it a book that should be read. Unfortunately, it is a flawed work that undermines the weight of the powerful punch it should deliver. But even with its flaws, even if it stays true to Arthurian myth, giving me the knowledge of how things will end, The Knights of Breton Court is a series I will continue reading. 6.5-7/10

Friday, April 02, 2010

Something Completely Different

In honor of Good Friday, I give you something churchy.

St. Nicholas Cathedral, Prague, Czech Republic

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Literary Mash-Ups: What do You Think?

Last year Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith hit the shelves and became an instant success. Due to the copyright being long expired and other legal complexities that basically don’t apply to a work of fiction so old, the text to Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) is essentially open to whatever use someone dreams up now. So, the original text is intermingled with new text from Grahame-Smith to change a classic Victorian Romance into a zombie apocalypse.

Part of me rejoices – I mean it just sounds so fun. Another part of me wonders if it’s really just an unoriginal hack job on a literary masterpiece. Is this something new and equally creative as any wholly original work? Is this a next evolution of literature? Is it a gimmick? Is this the new tie-fiction ghetto? Is this a way to get more people reading? Did that absurd high-school reading assignment just get a bit cooler? A clever idea taken way, way too far? I haven’t made up my mind on this and in all honesty, I haven’t yet read any of these new mash-ups. But I want to hear what others think on this. And should I start reading one?

Of course the success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has bread faster than rabbits on Viagra. The prequel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by
Steve Hockensmith (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) is out now and there other springing up like those listed below. Heck, we’ve even got one coming where a vampire Jane Austen is a bit pissed off by what people have done with her fiction and get revenge – no joke, for real – in Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound).

  • Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound)

  • Android Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound)

  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer by Seth Graham-Smith (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound)

  • Queen Victoria: Demon Slayer by A.E. Moorat (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound)

  • Mansfield Park and Mummies by Jane Austen and Vera Nazarian (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound)

  • Emma and the Werewolves by Jane Austen and Adam Rann (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound)

  • Adventures of Huckleberry Flinn and Zombie Jim by Mark Twain and W. Bill Czolgosz (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound)

  • Alice in Zombieland by Lewis Carroll and Nickolas Cook (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound)

  • Robin Hood and Friar Tuck: Zombie Killers by Paul A. Freeman (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound)

  • War of the Worlds: Plus Blood, Guts, and Zombies by H.G. Wells and Eric S. Brown (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound)

  • and many more.

    • Thoughts?


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