Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tor/Forge Goes DRM-Free - Bravo!

I received a copy of the press release announcing that Tor/Forge is going DRM-free for their ebooks starting in July.
Tom Doherty Associates, publishers of Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen, today announced that by early July 2012, their entire list of e-books will be available DRM-free.

“Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time,” said president and publisher Tom Doherty. “They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”

DRM-free titles from Tom Doherty Associates will be available from the same range of retailers that currently sell their e-books. In addition, the company expects to begin selling titles through retailers that sell only DRM-free books.


I'm very excited to see this - the DRM limiting what I can do with an ebook and where I can read it has been one of the biggest reasons I haven't yet bought an ereader and started reading ebooks. Seeing this move by one of the biggest SFF publishers is hopefully a step towards this being a standard in the industry. Tor - good job, I am now much more likely to buy digital books from you. Other publishers - if you go DRM-free, I'll be more likely to buy digital books from you too.

In case your curious on how some of Tor's published authors are reacting, here are links to a few that I've seen: John Scalzi, Tobias Buckell, Charlie Stross

UPDATE: Tor UK is going DRM-free too. Awesome!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Review: Arctic Rising by Tobias Buckell

As a geologist, as a concerned citizen, as a parent of 2 young children, I’m horrified by the (lack of) actions of my country regarding global warming. It’s happening, it’s real – it’s a problem that society needs to deal with. And as much of an issue as it is, it’s surprising how little it’s been explored in fiction, particularly near-future science fiction. Arctic Rising by Tobias Buckell (BookDepository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) does just this in an intelligent, fun and action-packed fashion. It is near-future science fiction, it is a techno-thriller where the world has warmed, the seas have risen, the Northwest Passage is ice-free, and money and power are not far behind.

The thawing of the arctic seas has opened the lands and waters to economic exploitation. Lands once buried in ice are rich in minerals. The seas have some of the last remaining oil and gas in a world past peak oil. The rising power and influence of the ‘Arctic Tiger’ nations has a global shift in power in an increasing unstable world and new a melting pot of opportunity. And a ‘green corporation’ has risen as the most powerful corporation on earth with a goal of reversing the climate trend, a goal at odds with economic boom of polar waters.

Anika is a young UN pilot patrolling the polar waters. She and her partner find a positive reading for radiation on a passing ship. Their airship is shot down with a surface-to-air missile. Anika survives only to find herself at the center of a conspiracy quickly spiraling out of control.

Thrillers are generally good, fun reading, but not necessarily a place to expect the best writing. The writing is usually adequate, but it’s the story and the action that dominate. In Arctic Rising the story is action-packed with compelling characters and it’s got quality writing. This is a smart thriller – Buckell has done his research. And for a book that set in a time reacting to the consequences of global warming, it’s not the didactic global warming research you may think of. The United States military has done lots of contingency planning based on what could happen in the future due to global warming – Buckell takes these studies and uses them to create a convincing story through the eyes of middling UN pilot of a new socio-economic order of nations and corporations battling it out in the arctic. There are spies, there are mercenary soldiers, there is a criminal underworld. There’s torture, redemption, hopelessness, nano-technologic wonders and an errant nuclear bomb.

All of this is told from the viewpoint of Anika, an unlikely character to be at the heart of a thriller. Buckell could have stuck to the tried and true protagonist – a white American guy from the coast, or even a nice white American girl from the Midwest. Instead, Buckell looks to his own mixed routes as an immigrant from the Caribbean and chooses a female protragonist who is from Nigeria. The perspective of Anika as someone from the developing world and her interactions with an independent spy, Roo, from the Caribbean are a fascinating touch. The lingering effects of colonialism are present, the distrust of the big developed nations and their corporations is palatable and the repeated jabs to the presentation of international espionage from James Bond are hilariously sharp.

Equally refreshing is the inevitable love story subplot. As the story progresses, Anika develops a potential relationship with an underworld boss. Only as cliché as this could be, Buckell throws expectations a curve ball with Anika being a lesbian. The story could have easily been told with a traditional man-woman love story, but instead it’s a same-sex romance. And the best part – it’s just there. This isn’t some big statement and it doesn’t control some critical part of the thriller plot. The romance just happens to be same-sex, and it’s presented as being as normal as apple pie. I look forward to the day that such a romance is normal enough to not merit mention in a review like this.

And Anika is wonderfully strong protagonist. She’s tough and vulnerable. She’s conflicted about her feelings for Vy and what she owes a criminal boss who has seemingly selflessly helped her so much. She has an interesting past as a pilot and was even something of a child soldier. She’s a victim and a survivor. But she doesn’t lay down and take it, and she doesn’t rely on a rescuer – to the best of her ability she stands up to take as much control of the situation as possible.

OK, this is my soapbox paragraph, so if you’re not interested in how I see this sort of novel as important to getting the message out to the public about the reality of global warming, just move along to the next paragraph and be thankful that even though Buckell writes about a world changed due to global warming, he never actually gets on a soapbox (though plenty of interesting statements populate the novel). Arctic Rising is just the sort of fun, intelligent fiction that needs to permeate through pop culture to help educate society on the reality and potential of global warming. When people see enough of it, they will slowly come to accept it’s real and something needs to be done. We see the shift in climate, we see the last refuge of the polar bear and we hear the regret of the loss of a hometown to rising seas. And I love that ‘the other side’ that Buckell presents is the very real truth that there will be at least some economic opportunity that results from global warming (access to new minerals and other natural resources). That and the big bad environmental corporation and its vision of saving the world. This is the sort of alternative view that should be shown, rather than climate denialsts, which to me is like giving equal time to those that believe the earth is flat.

Tobias Buckell has written an intelligent, fun and even poignant thriller in Arctic Rising. It’s set around a likely future that should warn us of the consequences of global warming, yet most of its focus is on the new opportunities that arise and the Bond-like escapades of Anika as she tries to figure out who shot her out of the sky and why. This is what a thriller can be and I highly recommend it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Whisky Review: Highland Park 18

Single Malt

Style/Region: Highland (Islands)
Age: 18
Cask Type: Oak
Alcohol: 43%

Water added: Yes
Nose: Light with a mix of oak and brine with a hint of vanilla sweetness. After water was added, the sweetness is more pronounced with a hint of honey and apricot.
Mouth Feel: Thick, velvet and smooth.
Flavor: Smooth and sweet. Flavors of honey and apricot, with a slight oak and brine flavor in the back. Subtle hints of smoke.
Finish: Lingering smooth sweetness with a hint of oaky brine.

Overall Impressions: A very nice drink. It’s smooth, sweet and well balanced. A fine scotch for pretty much any occasion. The Highland Park distillery is located on Orkney island, making it the furthest north distillery in Scotland – which is a fun and novel distinction that does add a bit to the drink. Highland Park whisky is a drink I come back to over and over again – it’s comfort. I only wish some the higher-end, specialty flavors were easier to find in the States.

Books Received: April 3 - 16

Books Received: April 3 - 16, 2012

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Winner: Winds of Khalakovo Giveaway

With the help of Random.org, I picked a winner for my extra copy of The Winds of Khalakovo by Bradley P. Beaulieu(Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound). The winner is:

Maria from Iona, Greece.

Congrats Maria!

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Review: The Wood Wife by Terri Windling

In my own experience, I find it very easy to see just how our ancestors came up with some pretty crazy ideas to put in the myths and legends they passed down. Just spend some time out in the wild – some real time in real wild. No electronic gizmos, no motorized vehicles, no electric lights, no walls. Then do it alone. Even being the rational, modern creatures that we are with science and connectivity to the entire world at our disposal, being alone in wilderness quickly conjures up some really crazy (and often terrifying) ideas. For me, if you are looking for real magic in the world, this is it. In a genre that is, after you strip away all the extraneous, simply about magic, I’m amazed that there are not more books that capture this magic.

Writers like Terri Windling and Charles de Lint call this flavor of SFF mythic fiction, where it was once lumped in with urban fantasy and now is somewhat orphaned and forgotten as urban fantasy has moved in a different direction. Most often it seems people think of deep woodlands, faerie and Celtic lore when presented with mythic fiction. But in The Wood Wife by Terri Winding (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) it’s the Sonoran Desert of Southern Arizona.

It’s easy to fall in love with the desert. The land is wide-open, the flora is unique with a tendency to be strangely aggressive and the fauna is terrifyingly wondrous when you actually see it. I’ve lived in Arizona for 14 years and I originally moved here because I had fallen for the desert on a previous visit. Being a geologist only adds to my appreciation while providing me with even more excuses to spend time in the wild and alien world that is the desert. And it’s this sort of personal connection that mythic fiction makes special – because the best of it does connect. Only it’s rarely surficially evident, it’s a deep, nearly subconscious connection that lingers, dwells and rises unexpectedly.

In The Wood Wife a struggling poet colloquially known as Black Maggie inherits the house of a pier that she has only corresponded with through letters. Shocked and surprised, she visits her new house in the desert east of Tucson, Arizona with thoughts of writing a biography only to discover that the land she now owns comes with other houses and the tenants that live there. It’s an eclectic bunch – artists, animal rescuers, a mechanic and gardener and a handyman musician who live in their little patch of desert just out of reach of the city below. A place in the heart of the Sonoran desert where the spirits of the desert take shape, come indoors and play their games with humans. A place that Maggie isn’t prepared for, and perhaps a place that isn’t prepared for Maggie.

The Wood Wife captures the magic of the desert I love. It showcases myths rooted in Native American traditions that are so often and so sadly unknown to those of us who now live on lands they once inhabited. It hints at the tragic destruction that urbanization and a fast-growing population has wrought on Arizona, a tragic destruction that lies close to my own heart due to the many ways it works into my own life. The Wood Wife is a love story – in more ways than the traditional. But mostly it’s the journey of Maggie as she discovers the past and finally settles on a future for herself. And the desert dominates it all.

Before I even started The Wood Wife I knew I’d like it. And it was everything I hoped for. But it’s not perfect. As magical as it is, the simple truth is that I’ve seen it done better. Charles de Lint wrote a similar book, Medicine Road (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound, myreview) that captures the magic of the region just a bit better, if in a different way. The similarity and comparison is unfortunate since both are great books and should be judged on their own. I’m not quite sure what it is that created a deeper connection with Medicine Road, though I think it may be music versus poetry. In Medicine Road, the magic of the desert is revealed in many ways, though music is most often at the heart of it. In The Wood Wife, the magic of the desert is revealed in many ways, though most often through poetry and to a slightly lesser degree, painting. I suppose I have a deeper connection to music than poetry, which doesn’t surprise me since I’ve never been very into poetry.

The Wood Wife is unfortunately a book that has been left behind, like much of mythic fiction. It’s often hard for this sort of book to work in the modern world of the internet, science, urbanization and the lost of wonder and magic that comes with such things. Some of us are lucky enough to recognize the deep connection it can make and I encourage all to try – whether it’s Charles de Lint, Robert Holdstock, TerriWinding or another1. The Wood Wife is the desert come alive – it is the fictional magic that can help you see the real magic alive in the world. 

1 I find the use of links in this part of the review terribly ironic, and I use the word terribly for its many potential interpretations. I wanted to find a clever or at least intelligent way to say as much in the review, and this is the best I could come up with.


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