Nov 30, 2009

Various and Sundry

Things were quiet here over the holiday weekend. But I wanted to provide a brief update on what's coming up.

So other than copious ammounts of turkey, homemade bread (my favorite), and an assorted array of desert items, I plowed my way through 60 issues of Y: The Last Man. Overall, it left me extremely impressed and I'm not sure how I will structure a review but I expect to post about it in the near future.

I'm also about 80% of the way through M.L.N. Hanover's (Daniel Abraham's) latest Darker Angels. I am enjoying it so far. Jayne feels like a real person, more so than a lot of Urban Fantasy protagonists. Review likely in the next week or so.

Only 7 more days to vote on the Reader's Choice Poll for books to be read/reviewed by End of 2009. Right now the current favorites are Paolo Bacigalupi's Ship Breaker and Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan. If you would like to see something else covered, now's your chance to vote.

I'm not sure if I can create a Top 10 list or not but I should be able to provide my favorite/recommended reads of 2009. I also plan on completing a year end review similar to what I did for my Mid Year Review to assess what kind of books I'm reading by what authors and other potentially interesting tidbits.

I'm also working on the follow-up to Keeping An Eye On which is slowly (very slowly) developing. We will see how that goes.

Nov 24, 2009

Keeping An Eye On... New Releases

Today a pair of Keeping An Eye On authors have novels hitting shelves.

The first is Daryl Gregory's The Devil's Alphabet. I've been fortunate enough to read an advance copy, and this is one of my favorite books of the year so far. You can read my review here or an interview with Gregory here.

Also, releasing today is Alan DeNiro's Total Oblivion, More or Less: A Novel. I haven't had the opportunity to read DeNiro's debut novel yet but it's currently winging its way to my residence via Amazon courier. Unfortunately, due to the holidays, I won't be able to get at it until after I get home. Regardless, I'll be reading it sooner rather than later. You can read my interview with DeNiro here.

If you are looking for a couple of fresh voices in the genre, these are two novels you should definitely take a closer look at.

Nov 23, 2009

YetiReview: The Devil's Alphabet

21 Words or Less: Gregory manages to depict a town both strangely alien and profoundly human in a outstanding sophomore effort.

Rating: 5/5 stars

The Good: Phenomenal characterizations both in the protagonist and the secondary characters, Gregory manages to write difficult emotions with clarity and skill, the story manages to take a somewhat off-the-wall premise and grounds it firmly in reality, prose feels "literary" but reads effortlessly

The Bad: Not really bad persay but the story is more literary than the average genre title. If you are expecting a SF thriller, this isn't the book for you. Also, the cover could be better.

There are books that grab you from the first page, dragging you along at a relentless pace. Then there are books that slowly seduce you with strong characters and until you find yourself captivated and caring more than you would ever expect. Daryl Gregory's brilliant sophomore effort, The Devil's Alphabet, is definitely one of the latter. The Devil's Alphabet portrays Paxton Martin, an average twenty-something returning to his not-so-normal hometown of Switchcreek, TN to attend the funeral of one of his closest childhood friends. From the very first page, we accompany Pax as he reacquaints himself with his former neighbors. As Pax goes through the phases of awkwardness, reminiscence, responsibility, and finally belonging, Gregory develops a pair of brilliant characters: Paxton and the town itself.

Switchcreek, TN is not your normal small backwater town. It’s got the normal share of teen pregnancy, amateur drug market, and all the normal gossip and politicking but it also is the only town on Earth to undergo the Changes. The summer before Pax fled Switchcreek, the town was decimated by an epidemic of unknown origin, leaving two thirds of the population dead and the majority of the rest mutated into one of three different “clades.” The disease first created “argos”, veritable giants over twice as tall as a normal human, if they survived the painful procedure. The disease then mutated unexpectedly, creating a “Beta” strain and turning normal men and women into raspberry red, hairless versions of their old selves. The victims of this strain also happen to asexually reproduce at an alarming rate. Last came the Charlies, massively thick, powerful mutants who were discovered to produce hallucinogenic secretions as they got older. Then the diseases stopped and life returned to normal. Or at least as normal as life can be when your town is populated by gentle giants, parthenogenetic communes, and drug addicted men as wide as they are tall.

It’s a strange town and it’s no wonder Pax has such difficulty re-acclimating to the town he left behind. It’s also one extremely ambitious premise. Fortunately, Daryl Gregory proves up to the task. While the residents of Switchcreek are alien in appearance and genetic makeup they are deeply, deeply human at their core. Greed, hope, doubt, fear, lust, faith. Aside from the science fiction mutations, each and every citizen is multidimensional, flawed, and realistic. There are no antagonists in Switchcreek, only people trying to live their lives the best they can. It’s this realism that creates balance against the somewhat absurd premise. Scientifically, the disease most likely could not exist. Emotionally, the story resonates as well as any tale of “trying to go home again” that I’ve ever experienced.

It’s a testament to Gregory’s skill as a writer that he manages to write such a poignant story even discounting the fantastic elements. The Paxton who returns to Switchcreek is a twenty-something adult with no direction is his life. He smokes pot when he isn’t working a dead end job. Upon returning home, he mourns the loss of his former best friend and contemplates placing his mutant father into an assisted living facility. There are a lot of heavy issues in this book, issues that can often be agonizing to read. Angst is one of the hardest emotions to write without being whiny, and Gregory manages it expertly. His prose is fluid without being flowery, simple yet elegant. The pages turn easily and while the thoughts and actions are often dark and brooding, it’s hard to leave Switchcreek behind. Yet when there were no more pages to turn, I felt no qualms about how Gregory left things.

I wrote earlier this week that there is something intrinsically satisfying about finishing a well-written book. The Devil’s Alphabet is well written indeed. As was his also brilliant debut, Pandemonium. Looking at these two books together, it’s clear that Daryl Gregory is a world-class fantasist who is only just beginning an extremely promising career.

Nov 21, 2009

Saturday Thoughts

Via Surviving the World

A part of me wants to say NO, don't do that, thats the genre section!

The other part of me is bringing gasoline, matches, and an essay explaining the significance of the title Farenheit 451.

Seriously, the only good thing to come out of Twilight is Cody Deveraux on Conan O' Brian.

Nov 20, 2009

Release Date Rage Strikes Again!

I am a frequent sufferer of UKRDR. Unfortunately, my excessive and untreatable bibliophilia (which is troublesome in it's own right) if often exasperated by good authors publishing good books that are not available in the US markets. That doesn't stop British or Canadian book bloggers from talking about them. Mike Carey, Alastair Reynolds, Adam Roberts, Richard Morgan... the list goes on. I get to read about the books, I just don't get to read the books. The only prescription (other than cowbell) is a little trip to The Book D(Free shipping, worldwide!) which has the negative affect of diluting US sales when the books eventually do hit the US market.

The latest flare-up of UK Release Date Rage was a recent update from Chris Wooding on his blog regarding the US release dates for his Steampunk/Firefly-esque hybrid series Tales of the Ketty Jay.

Gather round, gather round. I am very, very (times infinity plus two) pleased to finally announce that Retribution Falls and The Black Lung Captain will be released in the US by Spectra, a division of the mighty Random House. The intention is to publish them back-to-back in paperback in October and November 2011. Obviously that’s, like, way far from now and if you’re reading this in the US then you are no doubt already navigating towards The Book Depository with credit card in hand, appalled by the vast gulf of time stretching between you and the moment when said books are nestled in your sticky mitts. But I’m still very happy about it, so there.

October and November 2011? Really?!?! It's November 2009 right now and I know the first book is already out and the second is to be released next summer. Two whole years to do what? Does Wooding speak only in British colloquialisms? That's bollux.

Publishing schedules suck. Quit trying to make money and give me what I want now. I'm an American, dammit. (Ok so maybe I should just read other books until then, it's not like I don't have a reading pile the size of a small manatee).

But still, The Book Depository calls...

Nov 18, 2009

Keeping An Eye On... Daryl Gregory

There's been a brief hiatus of Keeping An Eye On... entries as I've already had the pleasure of talking to most of the authors on SF Signal's Watchlist and there are only a few authors still escaping my completist grasp. When I first saw the list I checked out a few of the most repeated names that I hadn't heard of. At the top of the list was an author by the name of Daryl Gregory. A little google research led me to an unassuming book by the title of Pandemonium. A few hundred pages later, I had finished my favorite read of 2008.

So it was no suprise when Pandemonium, Gregory's debut novel was nominated for the World Fantasy Award, The Shirley Jackson Award for best dark fantasy or horror novel, the Locus Award for Best First Novel, The Mythopeic Award for Best Adult Fantasy Novel, and helped Gregoy take home the 2009 Crawford award for "outstanding new fantasy writer."

And that was just his first novel, not counting any of his other shorter work which has been nominated for various awards as well. It might sound like I'm a huge fan of Daryl's but I actually hate him. I read his stuff and I know that I could never write anything of comparable quality so I probably should just give up trying now. He's a veritable SoulCrusher.

But that doesn't mean I'm going to quit reading his stuff. I'm vitriolic not stupid.

SoY: If we are keeping an eye on you, what should be looking for in the near future? What have you been working on recently? If a reader has never heard of you before reading this, what should they be reading?

DG: Never heard of me? But… but… I was on the list of 21 Genre Writers to Keep an Eye On! I thought that after that everybody in the world would be, you know, eying me.

Excuse me, I’m going to have to take a moment to adjust.

Okay, I’m back. How about this? Read “Second Person, Present Tense,” a short story that first appeared in Asimov’s and was later picked up by some other anthologies. It's not too long. Then if you like that, read everything I publish from here on out -- it’ll make my mother feel better about this career path I’m on.

The next thing to come out is a story called “What We Take When We Take What We Need,” which will be appearing in a special issue of Subterranean that was edited by Jonathan Strahan. Any similarity to the title of the famous Raymond Carver story is entirely intentional.

And [later this month] my next novel will be published—The Devil’s Alphabet, from Del Rey Books. It’s a story about quantum mechanics, addiction, universe-hopping viruses, alternate evolution, and small-town politics. It’s my entry in that overplayed sub-genre, Hard SF Southern Gothic Murder Mystery.

SoY: Do you have anything planned after The Devil’s Alphabet?

DG: Regarding the next book, I'm only talking about it in vague terms. It has a working title of Raising Stony Mayhall, will be coming out from Del Rey at some point, probably late 2010 or early 2011, and is unrelated to the previous two.

SoY: Portions of Pandemonium read like a love letter to the genre. Was this something you set out to do when you were writing it or an unintentional consequence of your childhood reading habits?

DG: After that love letter—the first of many, actually—the genre sent me a restraining order. I’m ignoring it. The genre WILL know my love, no matter how many times it changes its address.

And the answer to your question is: Yes. It was both an intentional act and something I felt compelled to do by my childhood reading. And by “childhood” I mean “childhood and adulthood.” I haven’t stopped reading comics, or Philip K. Dick, or pulp novels for that matter. But when I started writing Pandemonium I realized I had an opportunity to create a mash-up of all those things, while still examining them a little critically. Are these power fantasies and superhero archetypes at all appropriate in a post-911 world? The answer is, Not Really. But I can’t help loving them anyway. It’s a moral failure.

SoY: Every author has that one story they’ve always wanted to tell. Is either Pandemonium or The Devil’s Alphabet that story? Or is that one still to come?

DG: I hope I never discover what that one story is. Because after I write it, then what? I mean, To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic, but you have to wonder what Harper Lee was thinking by publishing that first. That's just terrible career planning.

SoY: One of my favorite things about Pandemonium was how it was undeniably a piece of genre fiction but the narrative style felt very “literary” (albeit in a very hard to describe way) As an author who has dabbled across genre boundaries, do you have any opinions on the “ghettoization” of science fiction/fantasy/horror?

DG: All I can say about the ghetto is that it’s mug’s game for a writer to care about it, at least while he or she is trying to get some writing done. I’m aware of genre as I’m writing—Pandemonium, for example, was consciously designed to be a fantasy that feels like science fiction, and The Devil’s Alphabet is SF written to feel like fantasy—but whether it gets me out of the ghetto or keeps me there is a marketing problem for after the book is finished.

As for whether something is literary… well, I think that just means that the writer is trying to write as best he or she can, word by word, sentence by sentence.

SoY: Pandemonium almost defies classification. What sub-genres are you most interested in? Is there a difference in what subgenres you read and the ones you write?

DG: I’m a fairly picky reader. I have to be, because I’m short on time and I’m not a fast reader anymore. (At some point around age 16 I noticed that stories were made out of words, some of which were better chosen than others, and perhaps I should read all the words -- and that ruined my speed.) But what I do pick up ranges across sub-genres, or steps outside the genre entirely. The only thing I consistently avoid is anything similar to what I’m currently writing.

And when I write, I’m attracted to “+1” stories. Take the real world, add one strange thing, and follow that idea wherever it goes. That strange idea can be plausible—like the neurological oddities I write about in some of my short fiction—or completely implausible, like Jungian archetypes possessing people at random. The neuro SF is considered hard sf, some of the other stuff is fantasy, but for me, the similarities far outweigh the differences. Genre ain’t nothin’ but the spin on the pitch.

SoY: What has been the highlight of your career so far?

DG: My first sale, to F&SF, in 1989. Nothing yet has topped that moment. I was weeping in joy and relief. Publishing one story was all that I ever wanted, or expected. Everything since then—award nominations, getting into best-of anthologies, meeting my idols at conventions, drinking with my idols at conventions—has been wonderful, but it’s all gravy.

SoY: An incident occurs resulting in your removal from the list of up-and-coming genre stars. What is the most likely cause of that incident? (can be as serious or as funny as you would like) Who do you nominate in your place?

DG: Geez, I hope it’s because I become a current star of the genre. I want to stay in this game long enough to become a falling star of the genre, then a has-been known only by collectors, and finally a rediscovered artist who is finally recognized as a creative giant misunderstood in his own time. Then forgotten again.

But if I get removed from the list, it’ll probably be because of the usual cause—there are just too many damn good writers out there, and any poll of some assortment of editors is going to come up with an equally valid, equally varied list. In short, please give my spot to Jack Skillingstead, who should have already been on the list, and has released a short story collection and a novel this year.

SoY: You get to choose a single SF/F author (can be living, dead, or reincarnated spirit of Philip K. Dick) to write one additional book. Who do you choose and why?

DG: Philip K. Dick needs to kick one out from beyond the grave—perhaps an Ubik 2. But this time he has to do at least two drafts.

SoY: Every writer has a favorite word. Mine’s plethora. What’s that unique word that tries to find its way into everything you write?

DG: My favorite word is antisesquipedalianist, because if you use the word, you’re a hypocrite. I’ve never been able to get it into a story, though.

SoY: [Obligatory pimpage] Is there anywhere online that readers can follow you and your work? [/obligatory pimpage]

DG: Hit me up at Free stories! Free opening chapters! Ginsu steak knives!

So that's Daryl Gregory. I've had the pleasure of reading The Devil's Alphabet which comes out next week already and surprise, surprise, it's one of my early favorites for Book of 2009. And if you don't trust my word (why are you here?) you can refer to Publisher's Weekly who named The Devil's Alphabet one of it's Best Books of 2009 (one of only 5 genre novels on the list).

I'd go so far as to say that The Devil's Alphabet is the best Hard SF Southern Gothic Murder Mystery Novel in the history of fiction. All kidding aside, this is another great novel by one of the most impressive genre writers I've discovered in the past decade. I cannot recommend Gregory enough to anyone looking for genre fiction that is both intelligent and enjoyable.

I'll have a full review of The Devil's Alphabet up on Monday. You can buy it Tuesday. I recommend that you do.

Nov 17, 2009

Steal This Story: Evil Eggos?

Apparently there is an Eggo Waffle Shortage. Kellogg's claims "flood damage" is responsible but I think theres something more sinister afoot.
My challenge to you: What is really responsible for the missing Eggo waffles?

Did they finally lose a Leggo My Eggo tug-of-war with the tyrannical 5-star General Mills? Did Cthulu develop a taste for syrup?

Covering Covers: Swords & Dark Magic

Over at a Dribble of Ink, Aidan is showing off, praisingpromoting, acknowledging that the cover for the 2010 Swords & Dark Magic anthology has been released. I don't normally post covers Im not impressed with but this is an anthology I'm really looking forward to. To be fair, it's not a terrible cover but it's definitely not as strong as it could be.

I think this is a case where the anthology has so much potential that to give it a great cover would be unfair to other books.I mean take a look at the ToC

  • Introduction: Check Your Dark Lord at the Door" - Lou Anders & Jonathan Strahan
  • "Goats of Glory" - Steven Erikson
  • "Tides Elba: A Tale of the Black Company" - Glen Cook
  • "Bloodsport" - Gene Wolfe
  • "The Singing Spear" - James Enge
  • "A Wizard of Wiscezan" - C.J. Cherryh
  • "A Rich Full Week" - K. J. Parker
  • "A Suitable Present for a Sorcerous Puppet" - Garth Nix
  • "Red Pearls: An Elric Story" - Michael Moorcock
  • "The Deification of Dal Bamore" - Tim Lebbon
  • "Dark Times at the Midnight Market" - Robert Silverberg
  • "The Undefiled" - Greg Keyes
  • "Hew the Tint Master" - Michael Shea
  • "In the Stacks" - Scott Lynch
  • "Two Lions, A Witch, and the War-Robe" - Tanith Lee
  • "The Sea Troll's Daughter" - Caitlin R Kiernan
  • "Thieves of Daring" - Bill Willingham
  • "The Fool Jobs" - Joe Abercrombie 
I believe Subterranean Press is also doing a limited edition. I think I might be keeping an eye for that edition. As long as it comes out in a timely fashion.

Nov 16, 2009

Missed Mentions: Neuropath by Scott Bakker

Scott Bakker's Neuropath came out here in the US this October and I managed to miss it on my Books of October post. While I typically try to read US editions of books when they are available, sometimes my desire to read one book or another without an announced US release date has me heading on over to the UK Book Depository (Free S

Neuropath is half-thriller / half-ideaporn. While it's slightly flawed as a thriller, the deep and unsettling suggestions the book offers on the concepts of consciouness/causality/and thought itself more than make up for any plot holes.

This is a book you will definitely still be thinking about weeks after you read it. I thought this book was a lot of fun and more than slightly disturbing. Highly recommended if you are a fan of near future sci-fi thrillers and/or darker sci-fi.

Nov 14, 2009

Two for two.

There is an undeniable, intrinsic pleasure in finishing a well written book.

In a related note, Daryl Gregory is now two for two in career novels. If you aren't reading him, you should be.

Nov 12, 2009

Reader's Choice: Last Chance for 2009 Books Poll

It's rapidly approaching the end of 2009 and sadly my reading pile has only gotten larger. Looking over the books that I'm still considering fitting into my schedule, the following titles jumped out at me.
What books do I still need to read this year? Select as many as you think. Also, feel free to suggest any other "must-read" books that I left off my list in the comments.

I guarantee I'll read the at least the top vote getter and I'll try to get to the other top books as well.

Nov 11, 2009

Covering Covers: Gardens of the Sun

I read Paul McAuley's first book, The Quiet War a month or two back. It didn't exactly leave me excited to pick up the next installment but it's hard to argue with the cover that Lou Anders posted over at Pyr. Wow.

I thought the first cover was great but this cover is a step above even that strong piece of art.

Lou also blurbed the novel:

The Quiet War is over. The city states of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn have fallen to the Three Powers Alliance of Greater Brazil, the European Union and the Pacific Community. A century of enlightenment, rational utopianism and exploration of new ways of being human has fallen dark. Outers are herded into prison camps and forced to collaborate in the systematic plundering of their great archives of scientific and technical knowledge, while Earth's forces loot their cities, settlements and ships, and plan a final solution to the 'Outer problem'. But Earth's victory is fragile, and riven by vicious internal politics. While seeking out and trying to anatomise the strange gardens abandoned in place by Avernus, the Outers' greatest genius, the gene wizard Sri Hong-Owen is embroiled in the plots and counterplots of the family that employs her. The diplomat Loc Ifrahim soon discovers that profiting from victory isn't as easy as he thought. And in Greater Brazil, the Outers' democratic traditions have infected a population eager to escape the tyranny of the great families who rule them. After a conflict fought to contain the expansionist, posthuman ambitions of the Outers, the future is as uncertain as ever. Only one thing is clear. No one can escape the consequences of war - especially the victors.
I'm still undecided if I will pick up Gardens of the Sun. I wasn't impressed by the characterization in the first book but I felt a lot of the issues might have been caused by it being the first piece of a larger story rather than a stand-alone book. The characters that felt superfluous in The Quiet War may have instrumental roles in the sequel. Currently, Gardens of the Sun is the second book in McAuley's diptych as indicated by the author over in an Q/A session over at io9.
YetiStomper: I know the sequel Gardens of the Sun is coming out next year in the US, what is the overall scope of the series? Will it be a strict trilogy or are you planning something larger? 
Paul_McAuley: @YetiStomper: In one sense Gardens of the Sun is a direct sequel to The Quiet War, in that it picks up and follows the stories of the characters in the first novel through the aftermath of war and the development of new tensions. But I prefer to think of the two novels as a diptych. The first about the onrushing inevitability of war; the second about attempts to win some kind of conciliation and new direction out of war’s aftermath. The first is the lesson; the second is the lesson learned.

I'm kind of sort of thinking about a third book, set about a thousand years after the first two.
Note who asked the question. Wink Wink. I think I'll give the second book a try since it's only a two book arc. I sincerely hope that McAuley can bring the character quality to match his hard science.

It's just too bad you aren't suppossed to judge a book by its cover. Because this would be a guaranteed 5-star.

Nov 10, 2009

Can you trust Amazon?

Amazon just came out with their Best Books of 2009 List. Aside from the fact that it's only November and there are two months of books to be read the list seems to be a little questionable.

Where are the women authors?

Just kidding. The problem I found with the list is that 7 of the books came out within the last 3 months (Sept,Oct,Nov) with 1 in August and another in June. Aside from Catherynne Valente's excellent Palimpsest (February), the vast majority of the books came out in the last few months.

While it's certainly possible that all of the best books came out in the recent months and I have no reason to doubt any individual book on the list as I haven't read them all, I find that to be coincendentally advantageous for Amazon. After all, chances are someone is going to be more interested in a new book they haven't heard of before rather than one they may have seen and passed on earlier in the year or one they already read.

And it's not just SFF. If you look at the distribution of Amazon's entire Top 100 books list. There are 31 books (31%) that have been released in the past two months (16.6%) with 1/5th of all books on the list coming from September. While this isn't as horrible as the SFF distribution I believe it's still statistically significant.

So what's going on? Picking 10 good books is easy. You could easily take 50 books for a Top 10 list accross the genre and have no clear argument for selecting or not selecting any individual book of the lot. So why did Amazon pick these 10? If you choose a bunch of old books or 1 book per month, theres a higher probability that readers have heard of these books and already read them. For example, a book that's been out since January will have had 10 months of shelf time to get through someone's reading list, particularly if they have the quality writing and critical acclaim that comes with making these types of list. Translation: No New Sales.

However, if you load the list with new books, chances are that people won't have had the opportunity to read them. I can read the best book each month but if all 10 books come out in October, chances are I haven't caught up yet, even if I am aware of all of the books. If I'm trying to read the good books, I might find myself clicking the add to shopping cart button a few times.

It's also certainly possibly that the recent books were the most fresh in the minds of those people writing this list. But if they really didn't do their homework and look at the full years worth of books (instead just picking the 10 good books they read recently), how worthwhile is this list? Is it fair to the authors who published their fantastic books earlier in the year?

There's also coincidence which while possible, doesn't seem likely. Do publishing companies try and put out their best books during September? Is there a publishing pregnancy period where authors get most of their writing done during the winter (or NaNoWriMo!) and they finally hit stores 7-10 months later? Are their simply more books in September? I don't know.

In my mind there are 3 options:

1) Coincidence/Publishing Schedule (Improbable but not impossible)
2) The Editors have the most recent books they read fresh in their minds (Possible but suggests that the editors didn't put in their due diligence)
3) Amazon wants eyes on the newest books so that people will buy books rather than simply seeing books listed that they have already read. (Borderline unethical)

So what is it? Is Amazon unlucky, lazy, or just plain evil?

Nov 9, 2009

YetiReview: Child of Fire

21 Words or Less: An unwelcome addition to the already bloated ranks of Urban Fantasy, Child of Fire breaks no new ground with inconsistent characterization and bland writing.

Rating: 1.5/5 stars

The Good: Starts out firing with a rapid pace that doesn’t subside, author has no problem killing characters.

The Bad: No innovation within the Urban Fantasy genre, lack of consistent characterization, lack of plot resolution, overuse of the same solutions to obstacles, core writing fundamentals were lacking.

There are a lot of strong Urban Fantasy series out there. Based on Child of Fire, Harry Connolly's The Twenty Palaces Novels don’t appear destined to join that group. Mediocre at best and painful at worst, Child of Fire combines dozens of unsympathetic characters in a erratic plot that leaves as more plot points open than it manages to close. Child of Fire introduces us to one Ray Lilly, a gray character with a checkered past. When the plot hits the ground running on page 1, Ray is serving as the driver for Annalise, a senior member of the titular Twenty Palace Society. The Twenty Palace Society is a group of magicians who have taken it upon themselves to police the magical world preventing predators (evil spirits) and rogue magicians (as defined by the TPS) through executions and other zero tolerance measures. Ray and Annalise are investigating some curious activities in the town of Hammer Bay that include disappearing children, unusually successful toy companies, forgotten memories, and scorch marks. Unfortunately for the pair (and fortunately for the plot), Hammer Bay is hiding a lot more secrets than the average small town.

From the moment Connolly’s main characters enter Hammer Bay they are introduced to set after set of characters. Town bigshots who don’t want the balance of power disturbed. Police skeptical of outsiders. Local thugs looking to muscle their way to a few extra dollars. Connolly’s got them all, and multiple sets of them. The cast of characters in Child of Fire is huge and while that’s not a problem in its own right, Connolly fails to distinguish any of them beyond their stereotypical roles. If you’ve got only a half dozen archetypes you shouldn’t have two dozen characters. By the time they are all introduced, the plot gets extremely repetitive. Lilly gets kidnapped and escapes what must be a half dozen times while encountering the same sorts of people. While interactions with the local underground is a common occurrence in any type of noir fiction, changing the names and repeating the same sequence until Lilly has enough clues tires quickly. Especially when he uses the same method to escape throughout the entire book; his ghost knife.

The ghost knife is a magically infused piece of laminated paper that has the ability to cut through anything dead,inorganic, or magical. Guns/locks/magic tattoos: you name it, it cuts it. If you cut through a living person, it drains their life energy and they become passive and docile. Basically, it’s a magic lightsaber that turns opponents into coma victims instantly. Ignoring the fact that Lilly somehow keeps this object in his pocket without it falling out or stabbing himself, Lilly’s ghost knife becomes as much of a crutch as I’ve ever seen in a published novel. He uses it from the beginning of the book to the very conclusion without fail. It’s his only trick. The first time he uses it, it’s mildly intriguing (as a reference the other items in Connolly’s magic system are ribbons, tattoos and a piece of wood), by the end of the book, it’s laughable.

This in and of itself is a forgivable offense, the mischaracterizations and hanging plot points are not. One of the fundamental relationships in Child of Fire is Ray’s interactions with Annalise. The back cover blurbs that she “is looking for an excuse to kill him” but the story reads quite differently. She seems to harbor some resentment for Ray but with each passing chapter her attitude seems to change. Annalise’s feelings toward Ray rotate through several different states; hatred, indifference, acceptance, begrudging friendship, incompetence, and almost any emotion you can imagine. The reasons for the dramatic and repeated shifts in their relationship (if there are any) aren’t explained in any capacity. It reads like Connolly couldn’t exactly figure out how to make his characters interact and rather than picking one dynamic over another, he just used them all.

This haphazard style doesn’t just affect the characters, it also impacts the plot. Connolly’s interest in specific subplots seems to grow and wane throughout the book. This gets so bad that there is absolutely no resolution or closure for the third (arguably second) largest character in the book. She just exits one scene and is never seen or heard from again. Even the core plot of the book, the disappearing children which causes Ray Lilly to be physically sick with grief is left unresolved. As Ray drives away from Hammer Bay in the final pages, the true culprit responsible for the disappearances is still at large and the children and their memories are still gone. These aren’t minor dropped plotlines, these are critical elements that run through the core of the novel.

I hesitate at this point because I realize that my review is extremely long and extremely negative. To be fair, Jim Butcher’s debut novel wasn’t anything special. It wasn’t until he really developed his style and broke his repetitive plot outline that he really started to excel. Now Butcher is one of my favorite authors. Maybe future Twenty Palace novels will be better. Maybe we will finally get an explanation for all of the hints of Lilly’s back-story that Connolly drops but irritatingly never explains. Maybe he will decide that major characters shouldn't just disappear mid-book. Maybe he will realize that well-written dialogue doesn’t need repeated “he said, she said” dialogue tags to figure out who is speaking. If he does, let me know, because I won’t be reading the follow up to find out.

I’m not sure how I should end this review. Ghost Knife. That did it.

Nov 6, 2009

Pirate Latitudes Book Trailer

I saw this book trailer today. As I've said before, most book trailers are garbage but obviously the latest Crichton effort can afford a decent production quality. Have a watch, what do you think?

Honestly, I don't know if this makes me want to read Pirate Latitudes any more than I did previously (do book trailers ever do that?) but I did think it was very well done. The stylized animation is very sharp and it gets the basic plot of the novel across. It's clear that Pirate Latitudes isn't your typical Crichton novel. Sadly, its one of the last we will ever get. I hope its as enjoyable as the majority of his work.

Nov 4, 2009

Chris Roberson Spotting!

Got my January 2010 Asimov's in the mail today thanks to the time traveling mailman and I see Chris Roberson has a story inside entitled "Wonder House"

It's very short with not much of anything in terms of plot (it's obviously not trying to). It's basically two publishers (in an alternate history) discussing their failing brand and what they can do to save it. What I found most interest about Wonder House was trying to figure out what Roberson was trying to say about the genre via these alternate history dopplegangers.

There are hints of publishing monopolies (Asimovs/Analog perhaps)? Mentions of genres getting overused to death (Vampires anyone)? Single language dominance? (The English market...) The comic book medium? The difficulty of being an author trying to make a name for yourself among the established greats.

Lots and lots to think about in only a few pages. Hmmmmmm....

Well done Mr. Roberson.

Nov 3, 2009

The Next Big Thing? The FuturePast

Vampire books need to be staked. Zombies novels are overripe and starting to smell. Even Steampunk is getting a little rusty. So what's the next big thing?

I'm seeing a subtle but growing trend of books I call the FuturePast.

I feel like this emergent genre is a natural result from the rise and fall of posthumanist science fiction in years past. While the Singularity is an interesting topic, it's intrinsic nature makes it almost impossible to predict. The Singularity assumes exponentially change until the resultant species can no longer be defined as human.

While it's fun and frightening to think about but in terms of motivations people who don't eat, don't love, and don't die are very hard to empathize with. It's also hard to come up with logical plots that could even be comprehended by our inferior minds. There's a reason why there aren't a whole lot of PostSingular novels.

But at the same time, the Singularity appears likely. At least as likely as the chances of humanity colonizing other solar systems as depicted in the latest, greatest space opera. So authors looking to write in the mid- to far-future (200+ years) have a decision to make: implausible Space Opera or cold, unrelatable PostSingularity.

But with the looming threat of resource scarcity, overpopulation, and global warming, another option has presented itself: The FuturePast. The FuturePast assumes that the rise of environmentalism fails, that the Green Revolution will be too little too late. Instead the world will experience significant but not catastrophic change. Wars will be fought for remaining resources. The current transportation paradigm will crumble without the lifeblood of oil. The population will fall as millions or billions are cut off from society and starve. But not permanently. Eventually, we will again reach a sustainable way of living and begin to pick up the pieces. We will start over again, hopefully learning from our original mistakes and making strides in different directions than before.

This FuturePast allows for authors to prognosticate into the future without straying too far from the present. It reintroduces the conflict of mere survival that is virtually gone from 21st century American life. It resets technology to 19th century standards while still allowing for exotic exceptions. It offers any number of geopolitical states resulting from a war for resources that could offer story upon story in its own right. And if you write it logically, it could even be plausible.

Along with it's sibling subgenres of EcoPunk and GreenPunk in which humanity successfully manages to avoid a technological Dark Age before the Resource War, the FuturePast is poised to be the next big movement in science fiction. People are interested in green technology; new authors will want to preach about the dangers of consumer culture and rampant ecocide and provide their own solutions; readers will want to read about the dozens of different ways the green revolution will change our lives.

Spaceflight defined the science fiction of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Computers shaped the SF of the 80s, 90s and 00s. Will the Green revolution influence the SF of tomorrow?

You can already see the seeds sprouting. There's Robert Charles Wilson's Julian Comstock, Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl and Pump Six and Other Stories, and even possibly S.M. Stirling's Novels of the Change. There's a fun new playground out there for anyone who's willing. The FuturePast is coming. Or is it already here?

Feel free to add your own examples of FuturePast SF in the comments.

Nov 2, 2009

SciFi Group Think: Best Book Endings

Last week, I participated in a "Inside the Blogosphere" group think via John Ottinger III over at Grasping For The Wind. The question of the week His question was "What are the best endings in science fiction/fantasy novels?"
My response was:

Ender’s Game hands down. The implications of the ending are just incredible. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it makes the book because the rest of it is so good but the ending really completes Ender’s character and takes his internal conflict to a new level. I don’t want to get into specifics but if you haven’t read it, you need to.

Other SF stories with great endings…I Am Legend, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Dune Not a whole lot come to mind. Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl had a great ending but I’m just in love with that book in general. A lot of Science Fiction is about the ideas and the set-up. I find myself a little let down more often than not.

In terms of Fantasy, there are so many unfinished series or series where quality has dropped off that it’s hard to really think of a solid ending. Joe Abercrombie’s Last Argument of Kings has one of the most memorable Fantasy endings I’ve read in the past few years. It’s memorable because it takes the standard Fantasy cliche endings and slits their throat with a rusty dagger. A lot of people have mixed feelings on the ending because it was so atypical but that’s what I found so refreshing. Not to mention the fact that the whole worldview the reader sees suddenly explodes into something entirely different. Paradoxically, I found it that it left me both extremely satisfied and hungry for more. 
My answer (and many others) were posted earlier today here. Head on over to see all of the other great responses.

World Fantasy Award Winners w/ comments

Hot off the presses, here are the 2009 World Fantasy Award winners:
  • Lifetime Achievement: Ellen Asher & Jane Yolen
  • Best Novel (tie): The Shadow Year, Jeffrey Ford (Morrow) & Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin; Knopf)
  • Best Novella: “If Angels Fight”, Richard Bowes (F&SF 2/08)
  • Best Short Story: “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”, Kij Johnson (Asimov’s 7/08)
  • Best Anthology: Paper Cities: An Anthology of Urban Fantasy, Ekaterina Sedia, ed. (Senses Five Press)
  • Best Collection: The Drowned Life, Jeffrey Ford (HarperPerennial)
  • Best Artist: Shaun Tan
  • Special Award – Professional: Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant (for Small Beer Press and Big Mouth House)
  • Special Award – Non-Professional: Michael Walsh (for Howard Waldrop collections from Old Earth Books)

 My Thoughts: I was rooting for Daryl Gregory's Pandemonium (best book I read last year) but I can't say that The Shadow Year or Tender Morsels didn't deserve it as I haven't read them. Maybe I will need to give them a chance. I've heard a lot of good things about both Jeffrey Ford and Margo Lanagan but I have yet to read anything by them.

Also, yet another nod for Ekaterina Sedia. The Alchemy of Stone is jumping up the reading list very quickly.

Nov 1, 2009

YetiStomper Picks for November

Finch - Jeff Vandermeer

Great cover. I'm ashamed to say I haven't read any of Vandermeer's novels before but I have read some of his essays online as well of some the stuff he's edited. Regardless, I'm very excited to give Finch a try in this Noir-ish murder mystery set in Vandermeer's Ambergris.

Makers - Cory Doctorow

One of the authors I've been Keeping An Eye On. Doctorow publishes his first fiction novel since Little Brother (a favorite of mine) and his first adult novel since 2005. In typical Doctorow fashion, Makers is being serialized over on for free but if you want to read the entire story now (and with another great cover) you'll have to buy the book. I'd try to summarize the description in a few sentences but I honestly don't think I can. Click through to read it for yourself.

Under the Dome: A Novel - Stephen King

This Stephen King tome (1088 pages) is selling for $9.00 on That's less than a penny a page. King's latest tells the story of a Maine town unexpectedly cut off from the rest of the world by unexplainable invisible force field. That's the elevator pitch, it will be interesting to see how Stephen King puts his own touches on it. Creepy children and dark secrets perhaps?

Total Oblivion, More or Less: A Novel - Alan DeNiro

Alan DeNiro, another author I've been Keeping An Eye On (coincidentally last week's author), is publishing his debut novel this month. Debut novels are always interesting as the author attempts to make the leap from short fiction to the long form. Total Oblivion follows the story of Macy, a sixteen-year-old whose suburban lifestyle is unexpectedly interrupted by an invasion of ancient warriors. And thats apparently only the start of the strangeness. I've read DeNiro's anthology Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead and if anyone can pull of this surreal sounding novel, it's DeNiro.

The Devil's Alphabet - Daryl Gregory

Yet another Keeping An Eye On author with a November novel. Despite the cover, this is the single novel  you should buy this month. Along with Paolo Bacigalupi, Daryl Gregory is the best new author I've read in the past 5 years. Last year's debut, Pandemonium, was absolutely fantastic. The Devil's Alphabet visits Switchcreek, Tennessee where a horrific disease killed a third of the population and mutated the remainder into one of three types of new subspecies of human. Look for my interview with Daryl Gregory to hit the web shortly before The Devil's Alphabet hits stores.

How to Make Friends with Demons - Graham Joyce

This book was originally published in the UK as Memoirs of a Master Forger under the pseudonym of William Heaney. The fake memoir details Heaney's fictional life as he reflects on his broken family and his experiences dabbling in the occult.  This book just won the British Fantasy award and Joyner has a great reputation as a literary fantasist so this is another book I've got high expectations for. How to Make... is also Joyner's return to adult fantasy after writing YA novels exclusively for the past 4 years.

Pirate Latitudes: A Novel - Michael Crichton

This is either Crichton's last or second to last novel. I believe the manuscript for Pirate Latitudes was discovered among his files after his death and it was considered finished. I don't know if he meant for it to be published but I've enjoyed a lot of Crichton's work so I'll give it a chance. Be aware that this is not typical Crichton. As the title suggests, Pirate Latitudes appears to be an adventure story of swashbuckling pirates and hidden treasure. As far as I can tell, there's no SF here.

Time Travelers Never Die - Jack McDevitt

A physicist discovers time travel and mysteriously disappears. His son, Shel journeys through time to discover what happened to his dad. Across his journey through time, Shel encounters "a diverse cast of historical greats, sometimes in unexpected situations." I'm not exactly sure how serious this is suppossed to be but if you enjoy McDevitt like I do, you might want to check it out. It sounds kind of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure mixed with Back to the Future.

Princeps' Fury: Book Five of the Codex Alera - Jim Butcher

If memory serves me correctly, Butcher wrote this book when his friend bet him he couldn't combine a story about a lost Roman legion with Pokemon. That's right: Butcher not only wrote Roman Pokemon he sold it to a publisher. But in his defense, it's a pretty good story. The final book in the Codex Alera series comes out this December so if you want to catch up, now's your chance. Also, if you haven't read Butcher's Dresden Files series, you should check it out. It's the premiere Urban Fantasy series out there, at least in my opinion.

Unplugged: The Web's Best Sci-Fi & Fantasy - 2008 Download - Edited by Rich Horton

A short fiction collection of work originally published online in 2008. For those readers like myself who enjoy short fiction, know its available online, but have no idea how to go about finding the diamonds in the dirt. This anthology offers fiction from Jason Stoddard, Cory Doctorow, and Hal Duncan among others.

The Alchemy of Stone - Ekaterina Sedia

Like Charles Stross's Saturn's Children, The Alchemy of Stone features a non-human protagonist albeit it in a steampunk rather than futuristic setting. Very interesting premise that I would recommend looking into. Sedia's a name I keep seeing around the blogosphere so I'm curious to see what the buzz is about.

The Authorized Ender Companion - Jake Black and Orson Scott Card

Here's a Christmas present for the Ender fan. Card has expanded the scope of his Enderverse tremendously since the brilliant Ender's Game. There are 9 or 10 Enderverse books by this time and so many planets, characters, and plotlines that a guidebook would be useful in keeping it all straight. This is by no means a must buy book but it would be something to add to the Christmas list.

If you want to read 1 book this month, read Daryl Gregory's The Devil Alphabet. If you asked me to give you a second I wouldn't be able to decide between Makers, Finch,  Total Oblivion, More or Less or How to Make Friends with Demons. November is a very strong month, maybe in anticipation for the Christmas season.

Anyway, as always, if you are interested in more details regarding any of the above books, just click on through the Amazon links. I'm more interested in telling you why I recommended them rather than simply what the books are about. out there. Anything that might have escaped my genre nets? Which one of these covers is your favorite?

You can view previous installments of YetiStomper Picks here
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