Sep 30, 2010
1) Fast, fun stories that work both in print and audio formats
2) The Alchemist is a fantasy version of pitch perfect Bacigalupian exposition
3) Bramble ravaged world feels real as the vegetative threat influences the entire culture
1) The worldbuilding away from Lesser Khaim is underdeveloped
2) Buckell attempts to put too much story into The Executioness, resulting in pacing problems
The Review: Fantasy is a genre that lives and dies by magic. It's what unifies a thousand different worlds and yet makes each one distinct. Each author imbues their world with a unique approach, relying on the reader’s sense of wonder to make their words come to life. In some stories, magic is re-entering a world that had all but forgotten it. In others, powers relied on for far too long are beginning to wane. In the shared universe constructed by Paolo Bacigalupi and Tobias Buckell, magic not only defines the world, it attempts to destroy it. It’s a world where magic comes at a terrible price, even if it doesn’t earn you an encounter with the executioner’s axe. The world of The Alchemist and The Executioness is slowly being consumed by a poisonous bramble which thrives on magic, encroaching ever closer with every whispered word and forbidden act.
It may be difficult to sell coma-inducing vegetative growth as a legitimate threat but it’s hard to deny that the two stories are their strongest when firmly entangled in thorns and vines. You can’t write paired novellas (or good ones, anyway) without fleshing out the world in advance. In the case of The Alchemist and The Executioness, the entire world is structured around the bramble, the culture that created it, and its effect on the peoples that resist it. It’s got depth but not necessarily breadth. As a result, when the stories leave the bramble behind, they border on becoming generic fantasy.
Bacigalupi’s bread and butter has always been environmental fiction, and it doesn’t take a literary scholar to see the similarities between this imagined world and ours. With the ever encroaching bramble, humanity faces a slow death of their own creation while anyone capable of substantive change selfishly ignores potential solutions for personal gains. While the global warming analogs are hard to ignore, they are never heavy handed. This may be his first foray into fantasy but with it he proves that his trademark style transcends genre. Bacigalupi’s flawless execution of show-not-tell worldbuilding is what earned him the Nebula and Hugo awards. The same skills are present here even if they aren’t quite as ambitiously applied as in The Windup Girl.
The Executionness has a harder time keeping the story in the deep end of the world. The story begins promisingly as a middle-aged woman is called to do her dying father’s work. Tana reluctantly joins the ranks of the magister’s executioners as the only executioness - a title that sticks with her despite the tumultuous events that change everything else. Before long, Tana is off and running on a quest of vengeance. The problem is that Buckell attempts a novel’s worth of characterization and exploration but only has a quarter of the pages to deliver it. To compensate, he skimps on critical development, resulting in a strangely paced story that feels rushed on more than one occasion. The piecemeal presentation of the final two acts often resorts to what are essentially “training montages” and the scenes in which the novice quickly becomes a master are only missing the bad 80s soundtrack.
Ultimately, the combination of new characters, new locations, new cultures, and an aggressive plot is simply too much development to juggle in a novella of this length. None are intrinsically problematic but sometimes it’s necessary to cut scope in order to deliver higher quality. Even if increasing the word count wouldn’t have made the already 5+ hour audiobook unwieldy, it would still have the negative result of either inflating the word count of the well-composed The Alchemist or unbalancing the two stories.
As of this review, I’ve both listened to the audiobooks and read the advance print copies. I’m reluctant to steer readers one way or the other or suggest a definitive reading order. On one hand, the stories were original meant to be read aloud and the dialogue and sentence structure clearly reflect this. On the other hand, if you are anything like me, you will pick up on a lot more of the subtle details that create a cohesive world if you have the ability to easily re-read a line or two. Not to mention the promised interior illustrations from Subterranean Press.
While the stories are quick and entertaining, it’s difficult to label them complete successes or failures. The Executionness explores an atypical heroine as she travels across a diverse landscape dripping with potential for future narrative exploration. It also gets caught over-achieving at times, trying to do too much with too few words. The Alchemist is less ambitious but the simple tale is brilliantly executed and much more suited to the length and format. Neither would be the same without the other and together they are more than the sum of their parts. When the linked creation actually gets the detailed development it deserves, the magic is plain to see. The key to future entries into this shared world will be maximizing that magic while eliminating the bramble.
Posted by Patrick at 9/30/2010 01:28:00 AM
Sep 27, 2010
Now I hoped that Subterranean would put them together in a back to back edition like those old pulp SF doubles but with covers this good I can't complain. (Even if both characters look younger and healthier than their stories would actually indicate). Even better, the blurb on Subterranean's website also promises interior illustrations, something I consider to be severely underrated.
I've actually known that they were publishing print editions ever since I received some unexpected ARCs earlier this summer. That being the case, I've already read AND listened to these novellas and a review is just around the corner. If you want to know more about the story, check out the original story about the Audible.com exclusive audiobook.
The Alchemist and The Executioness will be out from Subterranean Press in January of 2011 from these two:
I had to show this one more time...
Posted by Patrick at 9/27/2010 08:07:00 PM
Sep 25, 2010
Sep 21, 2010
Fantasy pits a lot of strange creatures against each other. Vampires vs. Werewolves. Orcs vs. Elves. Dragons vs. Humans. Hobbits vs. Rings. And of course, the all-time classic match up:
Unicorn Pegasus Kittens vs. Auto-Immune Diseases.
What is a Unicorn Pegasus Kitten you may ask? The answer:
Cover Art by Jeff Zugale
One of my favorite things about the members of the genre community is the way they band together for a cause. The latest example of this is Clash of the Geeks, an anthology of "fanfic" inspired by the piece of Epic Imagery above. Besides being awesome, Clash of the Geeks is also a charitable project aimed at raising money for Michigan/Indiana affiliate of the Lupus Alliance of America. Lupus is an autoimmune disease which afflicts approximately five million people world wide, including the wife of Bill Schafer, editor of Subterranean Press and co-conspirator in this project. Other co-conspirators include fantasy wunderkind Patrick Rothfuss, the tragically underread Rachel Swirsky, and a couple of newcomers who won Scalzi's original fanfic contest. Here's the short description:
Wil Wheaton, John Scalzi and Subterranean Press are proud to announce the publication of Clash of the Geeks, a special and fantastical electronic chapbook featuring stories by Wheaton, Scalzi, New York Times bestseller Patrick Rothfuss, Norton Award winner and Hugo Best Novel nominee Catherynne M. Valente, Hugo and Nebula Award nominee Rachel Swirsky and others, for the benefit of the Michigan/Indiana affiliate of the Lupus Alliance of America. The chapbook is free to download, but voluntary payment is strongly encouraged, via Paypal or by tax-deductible donation forms, both linked to later in this entry. All proceeds from this chapbook will go to the Michigan/Indiana affiliate of the Lupus Alliance of America. Please enjoy the stories, link your friends to this page — and give!You can read the long version at http://unicornpegasuskitten.com/. I encourage everyone to check it out, download, and donate. It's good fiction for a good cause.
Posted by Patrick at 9/21/2010 09:10:00 PM
Sep 16, 2010
Labels: Author Interviews
Anyone who has finished The Way of Kings knows that when you get to the end of the book, you want more. More story. More words. More information. More anything. Ideally, you want the next book, but as that isn't set to hit shelves anytime soon, you will have to settle for what you can get.
I assumed that "what I could get" would be a whole lot of nothing until Michael (of Mad Hatter's Bookshelf and Book Review) offered me the opportunity to co-interview Sanderson (and to glean a few more tantalizing morsels about The Stormlight Archives in the process.)
Now, I'm not sure if together we would be called a StompingMad YetiHatter or a Mad Yeti Hat Stomper. What I do know is that we ended up with a pretty damn good interview. Sanderson graciously answered all of our questions. Except for the fact that his version of "answered" is like his version of "novel," resulting in a lengthy interview with lots of juicy details. Sanderson talks about his new novel, The Way of Kings, his work completing Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, and the future for his new flagship series, The Stormlight Archives. Sanderson also touches on the mystery of Asmodean...
It's a little bit lengthy than I like to post on the main page so you'll have to click through to read the whole thing.
Read Part 1 of the interview after the jump.
Read Part 2 of the interview over on Mad Hatter.
Posted by Patrick at 9/16/2010 11:50:00 PM
Sep 15, 2010
Labels: Anticipated Books
And if you try sometime, you ... still won't get what you want.
As productive and successful as your favorite word machine may be, they most likely are not literally a word machine (except for Brandon Sanderson, he bleeds oil, not sure what that is about). For the most part, authors are artistic creatures subject to all the risks of the creative life - project apathy, writer's block, the need to consume calories with the intention of continued existence. For whatever reason, authors decide to move on to other projects. It happens.
But in the age of internet immediacy, it's not a surprise to learn about a novel in its infancy, long before the first draft is finished and sometimes before a contract is even signed. If you hang around on Twitter enough, you might also witness a project's conception from an orgy of 140-character ideas. Writing a 250,000 word novel doesn't happen overnight, blog updates are expected on a semi-frequent basis. What do you think the authors are going to end up talking about?
As such, it's possible and even probable that you will get attached to the promise of a story long before you ever see a word of it. It doesn't help that the people who are reading about these prospective projects are also the people who admire an author's work enough to rifle through the garbage of the internet for mere scraps of news. What's the chance that those people (ok..ok...us people) get excited for a new book before the actually buy it?
But as the adage goes (sort of), not every egg does a chicken hatch. Novels don't sell, contracts fall through, publishers drop series, half finished manuscripts are shelved in favor of the new hot thing.
Compounding this problem is the fact that the situations that put a project into a literary limbo are often not of the variety that inspire detailed updates. As such, these projects can disappear quicker than Sprinkles the Hamster after your family went to Disney World, leaving rabid fanchildren with little to no explanation as to why they will never get to read the book that got them so excited. Even worse, sometimes authors pour salt on the wound by suggesting that they will take the book of the shelf "in a year or two" or "after they finish some other work."
Now, I am by no means arguing that the authors owe their readers every project they start or propose. Or that they should be required to finish something that they have no more interest in. Or that they even owe us an explanation of a situation that is often complicated, sometimes painful, or unsurprisingly both.
Consider this a lamentation for the loss of the potential project. That notion of a novel that never amounted to anything more more than a few words buried in the archived blogposts of your favorite author.
For me, the most painful of these abandoned books is undoubtedly John Scalzi's The High Castle. It's predecessor, The Android's Dream was published by Tor in 2006 and somehow ended up flying under most radars. Maybe it was dismissed as an aside from Scalzi's flagship Old Man's War series, maybe the fantastic cover art was too unique to connect with that part of the reader's brain that loves spaceships, swords, and tramp stamps - who knows? It was science fiction in the vein of Douglas Adams, the kind that is simultaneously hilarious and unputdownable. (Unputdownable is a word in the way that pineapple isn't). And the best part? There was going to be more!
Until there wasn't.
I've been following Whatever for years. John still mentions The Novel That Could Have Been from time to time. It just reminds me of what could have been. Sadly, there is no more concrete information than there was three or four years ago. Maybe one of these times, "next year" will actually see the book committed to paper.
For all those readers who got excited about a project that didn't ever materialize, here's hoping.
Posted by Patrick at 9/15/2010 09:59:00 PM
Sep 13, 2010
Cover Artist: Steve Stone
Update: I've redacted some of my comments but left them here because I feel selective editting destroys credibility. So you can still read my nonsense, if you so desire.
This is just another example of Angry Robot being Internet savvy and blogger friendly. They reached out to me to clear up some confusion about the situation in a very polite matter despite the light my poorly researched post portrayed them in. The model in question was always dark skinned and Angry Robot made sure that the author thought the cover was representative of book, going so far as to recommission a new cover when the first cover didn't live up to Broaddus's expectations. At no point was "whitewashing" suggested or pursued.
In my defense, I did think that they switched the model upon first glance and there was possible RaceFail afoot. However, that doesn't excuse my misrepresentation of the facts and the overly inflammatory nature of the original post. My apologies to Angry Robot and Mr. Broaddus.
Update: It is the same character, and in fact the same model. It appears that the greenish tint to the cover made me misinterpret things.
Update: Damn it. I am the blogger who cried whitewashing... Textbook case of BlogFail on my part in which a blogger makes assumptions and makes an ass of himself. As an aside, contrary to popular vernacular, when you assume you just make make an ass out of yourself.
Some further investigation on Maurice's blog reveals an interesting post in which not only raises the topic of RaceFail, but cites the King's Justice cover as an example of RaceWin!
"This is the cover art for The Knights of Breton Court Book Two: King’s Justice by the incredible Steve Stone (the model’s name is Lloyd Nwagboso*)"
"Now would be the time when I would point out that not all publishers buy into the cycle of reinforcing racist ideas. I would point to Angry Robot’s cover for South African writer Lauren Beukes‘ second novel, Zoo City (art by John Picacio). Or my own novel from them, Knights of Breton Court: Kingmaker. Instead, I will point to the just released art for my second novel, Knights of Breton Court: King’s Justice one more time because it’s just so pretty:"
"We’ll soon find out whether or not black people on a cover will hurt sales. Nevertheless, having this conversation won’t hurt. Apparently it’s long overdue to happen."So if I read that correctly (UPDATE - I read that pretty poorly indeed. ReadingComprehensionFail),
"*Lloyd was actually the second model chosen. In an interesting parallel to the Bloomsbury debacle, Angry Robot asked me what I thought of the first model the artist was leaning towards. I said that I thought he was too light as I had imagined King as much darker. The folks at Angry Robot immediately, and I mean, IMMEDIATELY agreed and changed course. You can’t ask much more than that from your publishers."
Here is a normal photograph of Lloyd Nwagboso
So he is definitely not a Caucasian model, as was the case in many of the past RaceFails (Liar and Magic Under Glass).
King's Justice: The Knights of Breton Court: Book 2 will be out in February.
What do you think? Am I just seeing things?
Update: I am.
Posted by Patrick at 9/13/2010 02:04:00 PM
Sep 9, 2010
Angry Robot is the newest kid on the publishing block. Originally born of HarperCollins UK, they made a big splash in the UK before being adopted by Osprey Publishing Group earlier this year. After a slight transition period, they've re-emerged ready to take over the world. As of September 1st, those lofty aspirations are firmly directed toward another prodigal son of the British Empire, the U.S. of A.
Now, if you happen to know anyone born after you, they are most likely more comfortable with technology and far better at it, than you were at a comparative age. Angry Robot, along side Pyr, represents the gold standard of what an internet savvy publishers should be. Not only have they embraced the blogosphere with their frequently updated blog, they've also organized one of the best virtual street teams, suitably referred to as their Robot Army. I also think every Angry Robot author is on Twitter, which is surprisingly uncommon.
But that's all just good marketing. Where Angry Robot really sets themselves apart is their willingness to embrace the digital publishing revolution. Where larger older publishers insist on price points to rival the hardcover editions and locking down their books like the newest Harry Potter manuscript, Angry Robot's eBook approach embraces 3 key principles:
- No territory restrictions
Regarding the catalogue itself, I'm not going to lie to you and pretend that every book in the Angry Robot batting order is a home run hitter. I like Angry Robot and their approach to publishing but they don't pay me anything.
On the other hand, I have read enough of the Angry Robot books have no qualms about saying that, while every book might not be perfect for you, you will absolutely love at least a few books in their eclectic catalog. And those aforementioned home run hitters do exist, specifically in Lauren Beukes' Moxyland, a veritable Jackson Pollack of ideas and Kaaron Warren's profoundly disturbing portrait of a sociopath in Slights. Out of the several Angry Robot books I've read so far, those two were the most impressive.
If you are interested in finding some quality fiction at a decent price from a publisher worth supporting, here are the main titles leading the Robot Army's charge.
Kell's Legend - Andy Remic
Moxyland - Lauren Beukes - My Review
Sixty-One Nails - Mike Shevdon - Review Planned
Slights - Kaaron Warren - Review Forthcoming
Triumff: Her Majesty's Hero - Dan Abnett
Winter Song - Colin Harvey
October (Available September 28th)
Angel of Death - J Robert King - Review Planned
The Bookman - Lavie Tidhar - Review Forthcoming
Crown of the Blood - Gav Thorpe
Edge by Thomas Blackthorne
King Maker: The Knights of Breton Court - Maurice Broaddus - Review Forthcoming
Nekropolis - Tim Waggoner - My Review
November (Available October 26th)
Book of Secrets - Chris Roberson
City of Dreams & Nightmare - Ian Whates
Damage Time - Colin Harvey
Road to Bedlam - Mike Shevdon
Servant of the Underworld - Aliette de Bodard - Review Forthcoming
Soul Stealers - Andy Remic
Posted by Patrick at 9/09/2010 09:13:00 PM
Sep 8, 2010
I apologize for the lack of updates around these parts. The day job is rapidly approaching project go-live and free hours are hard to come by. Things should ease up a bit after this weekend.
At the same time, I would be lying if I said that all was right in the world of this Abominable Blogger. I seem to have hit a bit of a reader's block of sorts. After finishing the highly enjoyable White Knight, I've had a hard time getting into my next book. I've sampled several but I haven't been able to get past the first few chapters and into the meat of the text. I fear my normally miniscule attention span may be further reduced by the veritable plethora of activities consuming my life at the moment.
While I haven't done any heavy reading in the past week or so, I have been burning through some of Bill Willingham's excellent Fables trade paperbacks and several short stories. I've also been working on sekrit stuff in the background, mostly interviews and the like.So I'm not being a total waste of literary consumption. But as I have way to many books on my reading list, I should really get back to the pile sooner rather than later.
Any advice for getting out from under an avalanche of books?
Posted by Patrick at 9/08/2010 11:42:00 PM
Sep 1, 2010
September has at least one book for everyone or in my case too many books for me. There goes any hope I had of catching up on the reading list.
Dreadnought - Cherie Priest
Clockwork Century, Book 3. Priest's Boneshaker was the surprise hit of 2009 and she returns to the world for a third tale after the limited edition Subterranean Press novella, Clementine, completely sold out earlier this year. Focused on a different character within the same shared world, Dreadnought explores more of the steampunk setting that made Boneshaker such a hit. Originally, I thought Steampunk was a bit of a stillborn subgenre that was talked about more than it was actually published but Priest is showing the the Steampunk style is very much clanking along. (September 28th from Tor)
Tome of the Undergates (The Aeons' Gate, Book 1) - Sam Sykes
The Aeons' Gate, Book 1. The debut novel from Sam Sykes made a sizeable splash across the pond earlier this year and Pyr is helping us poor ignored Americans catch up on the newest names in fantasy. Anyone who follows Sykes on Twitter or his blog knows that he's irreverent, hilarious, and endlessly entertaining. [He may or may not comment here if I bait him enough]. TSykes imbues his fantasy adventure with that same wit, creating a debut novel that should entertain any genre fan. (September 7th from Pyr)
Antiphon - Ken Scholes
The Psalms of Isaak, Book 3. Although I'm not happy about the change in cover direction, there is no denying that The Psalms of Isaak is one of the best fantasy series running today. Rather than settling to be just another doorstop fantasy series, The Psalms of Isaak gives you a fantasy fix in a fast paced package. The series mixes science fiction and fantasy elements in a far future Earth that is for all intensive purposes unrecognizable from our own. Antiphon is the middle book in a planned five book series and should be indicative of the direction of the series as a whole. (September 14th from Tor)
An Artificial Night - Seanan McGuire
October Daye Novels, Book 3. In a publishing landscape where there are a million new Urban Fantasy books trying to capitalize on the success of Jim Butcher and Charlaine Harris, the one name I've heard again and again is Seanan McGuire. McGuire returns to the world of her half-fae heroine for a third adventure dealing with abducted children. (September 7th from DAW)
Twelve - Jasper Kent
The Danilov Quintet, Book 1.. Where Naomi Novik's Temeraire novels insert dragons into Napoleonic times, Jasper Kent returns to the same historical period with a vampiric twist and from a Russian perspective. Pyr continues its trend of importing well reviewed fiction from foreign markets with a blend of intense action and historical detail. Book Two, Thirteen Years Later is out in UK now and the series shows no signs of slowing down. (September 7th from Pyr)
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack - Mark Hodder
Burton & Swinburne, Book 1. More Steampunk fun from Pyr. Hodder's new series puts real historical figures in fictitious but plausible situations. Assuming of course that time-travelers, werewolves, and demons are considered plausible in an alternate history which flawlessly integrates steampunk elements into a Victorian setting. (September 7th from Pyr)
Zero History - William Gibson
The Stormlight Archives, Book 1. In the third book of a loosely connected trilogy, Hollis Henry finds herself once again employed by the mysterious Bigend. Gibson is one of the most literary SF writers out there today. Even twenty plus years after the groundbreaking Neuromancer kick started the Cyberpunk genre, he is still providing commentary on the way that technology will shape our future. (September 7th from Putnam)
Monsters of Men - Patrick Ness
Chaos Walking, Book 3. August saw The Hunger Games trilogy come to a close. September sees the end to the Chaos Walking Trilogy, another excellent YA quasi-SF series that transcends age groups. Focusing on an apocalyptic world where women are all but extinct and men can read minds, Ness has constructed a trilogy that works on multiple levels. Early reviews label this as a strong finish but warn that newcomers may want to start with The Knife of Never Letting Go. (September 28th from Candlewick)
Out of the Dark - David Weber
Untitled SF Vampire Series, Book 1. Humanity is all but powerless against a race of conquering aliens. The impending extinction of the human race is met with resistance from a surprising source - vampires who believe humanity is their prey alone. This is probably the most interesting and original premise for a story involving vampires, I've heard in recent years. Weber is a proven genre master and he writes books like Brett Favre retires so the series should move along at a quick pace. (September 28th from Tor)
The Fall - Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Strain Trilogy, Book 2. Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's continue their quest to reclaim the vampire as vicious bloodsucking monsters worth fearing with the 2nd book in The Strain trilogy. After the huge debut of The Strain last year, this series fell off the map somewhat but I expect to see a return to prominence with the second book and the planned movie treatment. (September 21st from William Morrow)
Salute the Dark - Adrian Tchaikovsky
Shadows of the Apt, Book 4. Tchaikovsky's insect based fantasy series is as fun as Tchiakovsky is hard to spell. Fortunately, Salute the Dark continues the strong work Tchaikovsky has published so far, avoiding the typical stagnation that prolonged fantasy series typically experience. Unfortunately, Pyr is quickly reaching the end of Tchaikovsky's UK only backlist and soon us US fans will have to suffer the same wait as our British counterparts. (September 7th from Pyr)
Blameless - Gail Carriger
The Parasol Protectorate, Book 3. A combination of Urban Fantasy, Period Fiction, Steampunk and who knows what, Blameless is the latest entry in Carriger's well received Parasol Protectorate. Imagine if your favorite Urban Fantasy heroine lived in London a century or so ago and you'll only partially grasp the elements that Carriger successfully combines. (September 1st from Orbit)
YetiStomper Pick Of The Month: While I have to reserve judgement until after I get through the promising Out of the Dark, I have to go with the sure thing in Cherie Priest excellent Dreadnought. You aren't going to easily find a better combination of writing and world building. Plus zombies!
YetiStomper Debut Of The Month: I don't know if Tome of the Undergates still counts due to its UK release date earlier this year, but its still worthy of debut o' the month status. Sykes has a strong voice reminscient of the excellent Joe Abercrombie and although his debut isn't perfect, it shows that he has something worth saying.
YetiStomper Cover Of The Month: And which one of these covers is your favorite? I think it comes down to Out of the Dark and Dreadnought again. While it's pretty close, the edge has to go to Weber's latest, considering the gorgeous artwork and the way the arrangement of the text plays of the title. Bonus points go to Putnam for the atypical cover of Zero History. It is trying something different but there is something about the contrast that just feels off to me. Worst has to go to the new style for Antiphon which is abandons the stellar paintings of Lamentation and Canticle and replaces it with way too much blue
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. Let me know if there is anything I may have missed in the comments.
You can view previous installments of YetiStomper Picks here.
Posted by Patrick at 9/01/2010 07:14:00 AM