Jul 24, 2011

Covering Covers: Shadows in Flight - Orson Scott Card

Cover Artist: John Harris

You can say what you want about the quality of OSC's most recent Enderverse work but there's no denying that John Harris's covers are still as good as it gets for Science Fiction. Whether it's Orson Scott Card, Ben Bova, John Scalzi, Jack McDevitt, or some random no-name - seeing Harris's iconic style on a cover will guarantee a second look from this reader. I've actually looked at purchasing some original Harris art. It may or may not be prohibitively expensive at the moment but I'm always accepting gifts and/or bribes. Hint, hint.

Now, I won't suggest that Shadows in Flight is a must read book. That honor is reserved for the brilliant first two Enderverse titles, Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, both of which won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards. But don't let that fool you, they're not just great SF novels, they're great novels. Period

But this many books into any series, it's up for each individual to decide if they want to keep reading. I personally enjoy both the Ender saga and its sister "Shadows" series but I'm also cognizant that the books aren't as good as they once were. We haven't reached Defcon Dune yet but it would be impossible to maintain the level of quality established in Card's first two books.  

Here's what Bean is up to in the latest "Shadow" novel.

At the end of Shadow of the Giant, Bean flees to the stars with three of his children—the three who share the engineered genes that gave him both, hyper-intelligence and a short, cruel physical life. The time dilation granted by the speed of their travel gives Earth’s scientists generations to seek a cure, to no avail. In time, they are forgotten—a fading ansible signal speaking of events lost to Earth’s history. But the Delphikis are about to make a discovery that will let them save themselves, and perhaps all of humanity in days to come.

For there in space lies a derelict Formic colony ship. Aboard it, they will find both death and wonders— the life support that is failing on their own ship, room to grow, and labs in which to explore their own genetic anomaly and the mysterious disease that killed the ship’s colony.

Orson Scott Card's return to the Enderverse will hit shelves on January 17th, 2012. Will you be reading it?

Jul 22, 2011

Quick Pics: Storms A Brewin'

Photograph Courtesy of Me. Minor* Editing Courtesy of Me. Watch Out.

*It came straight out of the camera like this, I swear...

Chicago decided it wanted to explode this morning [Much to the delight, I'm sure, of anyone trying to fly out of O'Hare]. We went from happy smiles sunshine to "did we remember to renew our building insurance?" in the span of about 5 minutes, which is all the time it took for heavy cloud cover to roll in over St. Michael's Church, pictured above.

Given the foreboding nature of the image, I'd like to think it would make a decent cover for an urban fantasy with apocalyptic/religious undertones. Maybe something that explores a secret society of exorcists and demon hunters within the Catholic Church; 12 men and women who can trace their bloodlines back to the apostles themselves. A plague of darkness has descended upon Chicago, inspiring an unnatural rise in violence and lust. It's up to these holy warriors [Is Saynts too cheesy? I think it is] to bring back the light.

I call it In the Shadows of Faith.

Now I just need someone to write it...  DON'T LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT.

Longstoryshort - Cool pic, no?

Jul 21, 2011

A Mission to Mars: Are You In?

To Infinity And Beyond!

Who knew that infinity stopped at 135? Two weeks ago this Friday, NASA launched the last mission of the undeniably iconic Space Shuttle program. While I'm sure plenty of older folks associate NASA with Apollo, the program that put man on the moon but for us children of the 80s and 90s, the Space Shuttle was our ticket to the stars.

But now it's gone, and with it, the promise of government-sponsored manned spaceflight, at least for the near future. Sure NASA still has interesting programs - the Juno Project, the Cassini-Huygens Mission, the Mars Science Laboratory, even the ARES Rocket - but all of those efforts are about bringing there to us, not taking us to there. As of a fortnight ago, tomorrow's scientists and science fiction authors were relegated to thinking about sitting at home while robotic instruments boldly go where no man has gone before (and probably won't for the foreseeable future).

Between the end of the shuttle program and the budget cuts threatening to hamstring NASA for years, there's no real way to know when humanity will once again set its sights on the final frontier. But while no one's really sure when we'll get there, everyone seems to agree on a destination: Mars.

Sure, we could go to the moon, AGAIN. But what are we really proving  by reaccomplishing what we were succeeded at over 40 years ago (and with much less sophiscated equipment). Or we could try for Venus, if you like 872°F balls of carbon dioxide and sulfuric acid. It's slight but there is a difference between sending a man to his death and sending a man on a very dangerous mission. Astronauts are crazy, not stupid.

Mars it is, then. But who will be first in line when NASA finally decides to get going?

To answer that question, I went to seven of the genre's best scientific speculators - writers who either specialize in science fiction (both near and far) or who spend their careers inching toward further technological innovation. The type of men and women who spend most of their waking hours thinking about where humanity goes next. And I asked them:

1a. If you were offered a chance to be the first person on Mars with supplies to set up a one-person self sustaining Marsbase (with the caveat that it was a one way trip and no guarantee that the mission would be successful), would you take it?

1b. If not, what would need to happen to get you on that spaceship? [It can be anything (a billion dollars for your family, a guarantee of safe arrival, a lifetime's worth of supplies, a colony of a thousand fellow travelers, a comet headed toward Earth) except the chance to return to Earth again.]

1c. Assuming we get you one planet down the line, what would be your version of "one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind"?

Find out who answered, and exactly what they said, after the jump.

Jul 10, 2011

YetiStomper Picks for July

Stop. Please. Or at least slow down, for the love of all things ~(;,,;)~ . I can't keep up, much less catch up on everything else.

Here are the 18 books I've tracked for July, the largest single month of recommendations in Stomping on Yeti history. The funny thing? Out of the three biggest books of the month (A Dance With Dragons / Ghost Story / Rule 34), none were originally scheduled to be published this month.

Flashback - Dan Simmons

Stand Alone - If you would have asked me a month ago, the newest novel from Hugo and World Fantasy Award winning author Dan Simmons would have been on the top of my most wanted list (well after A Dance With Dragons, who am I kidding). Flashback warns of a world where a drug that enables you to experience the most euphoric moments of your life has all but crippled the United States. Can flashback-addict Nick Bottom "change the course of an entire nation turning away from the future to live in the past?" There's no denying it's an intriguing premise - but is that enough to ignore the slate of early reviews accusing Simmons of overt racism and OSC-class politiking? I'll file this one under "Approach With Caution." (July 1 from Reagan Arthur)

A Dance With Dragons - George R. R. Martin

A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 5 - Either you knew this was coming or you didn't. But let's pretend you were in a coma for the last 8 years. The Chinese Democracy of fantasy novels, A Dance With Dragons tells the the rest of the story only partially depicted in A Feast for Crows, much to the chagrin of GRRMbling fans. It's bee nearly a decade but we'll finally find out what Jon Snow, Daenerys Targaryen, and Tyrion Lannister have been up to since we last left them in A Storm of Swords. (July 12 from Bantam)

The Clockwork Rocket - Greg Egan

Orthogonal, Book 1 - Greg Egan's latest combines the themes of Theordore Sturgeon's classic "Microcosmic God" with Einstein's exploration of relativistic time dilation in a hard SF novel sure to challenge readers (in a good way). Yalda's world is in danger of being obliterated by an extraterrestrial threat, yet the technology that might save them might not be invented for generations. But if a science vessel is launched at a high enough speed, they'd be able to complete decades of research while only a few years pass "at home." Confused yet? Now imagine that all of this takes place in a universe where the laws of physics as we know them don't apply. (July 4 from Night Shade Books)

Ghost Story - Jim Butcher

Dresden Files, Book 13 - I won't spoil it for those who are still catching up but rarely does a book live up to its title than Butcher's 12th entry in the Dresden Files, Changes. Fans of the series have been dying to know what happened to I CAN'T BELIEVED YOU LOOKED! WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO BE SPOILED? and after being pushed from it's original March pub date, it's finally time to find out. The Dresden Files is the single best Paranormal Detective / Urban Fantasy series on shelves right now and it's not even close. (July 26 from Roc)

Heart of Iron - Ekaterina Sedia

Stand Alone - Ugh. Not another tale of historical intrigue set in 19th century Russia riffing on a potential war between the great powers of Britain, Russia, and China. That subgenre is so played out. Why can't Ekaterina Sedia just do something interesting for a change..? Falser words were never spoken. With Heart of Iron, Sedia cements her place as a font of original speculation in a genre that innovates far less than it would admit. (July 26 from Prime)

Dead Iron - Devon Monk

The Age of Steam, Book 1 - On the subject of  paranormal detectives, Urban Fantasy stalwart Devon Monk shifts her attentions from sulty spellcasters to steampunk werewolves with Dead Iron, the first entry in a new series which combines elements from the two hottest publishing trends into a foggy, fast paced free-for-all. (July 5 from Roc)

Star Wars: Choices of One - Timothy Zahn

Star Wars, Rebellion Era - It's been 20 years since Timothy Zahn reintroduced the Star Wars universe to readers everywhere with his spectacular Thrawn trilogy. Two decades later, Zahn returns to the galaxy far far away with another adventure set during the dark days of the Rebellion when Vader still lurked among the stars, the Battle of Yavin was a recent memory, and Luke still thought he had a chance with Leia. All the familiar faces return, including Zahn's own creations - Mara Jade and the Hand of Judgement. (July 19 from Del Rey / Lucas Books)

Hell Ship - Philip Palmer

Stand Alone - Is there anything more fun than self-aware pulp fiction? Philip Palmer and Orbit deliver more genre goodness with Hell Ship, a SF novel in the same vein as their previous collaborations Red Claw and Version 43. The titular vessel is a intergalactic slave ship, devastating worlds and taking the remnants captive. For obvious reasons, forces inside and out plot the Hell Ship's destruction - but will they succeed?  (July 1 from Orbit)

Heaven's Shadow - David S. Goyer and Michael Cassutt

Heaven's Trilogy, Book 1 - "The science fiction epic of our time has arrived." While I wouldn't go quite that far, there's no denying that The Dark Knight scribe Goyer and his co-conspirator Cassutt are swinging for the fences. Heaven's Shadow, the first in a trilogy of first contact, has already been optioned for film. Here's the text trailer "Three years ago, an object one hundred miles across was spotted on a trajectory for Earth's sun. Now, its journey is almost over. As it approaches, two competing manned vehicles race through almost half a million kilometers of space to reach it first. But when they both arrive on the entity, they learn that it has been sent toward Earth for a reason. An intelligent race is desperately attempting to communicate with our primitive species. And the message is: Help us." Grab your popcorn! (July 5 from Ace)

Rule 34 - Charles Stross

Halting State, Book 2 - In quite possibly the least googleable book in recent history, Charles Stross returns to the world of 2007's Halting State for another police procedural. That is, if your hour long crime drama is set ten years in the future, chronicles internet crimes so bleeding edge their not quite illegal yet, and is uniquely presented in second person perspective. And the best part? The book kept getting delayed after the stuff Stross dreamt up, actually came true. Multiple times. (July 5 from Ace)

The Goblin Corps - Ari Marmell

Stand Alone - Ever tire of all that Elfing Hero Propaganda? You know what I'm talking about - child of prophecy journeys accross vast distances, overcomes impossible odds, blah blah blah. Ari Marmell finally tells the other side of the story in The Goblin Corps, an "alternative" fantasy which sets out to sarcastically prove that just because life is nasty, brutish, and short in the dark lands of Kirol Syrreth doesn't mean it isn't also a lot of fun. "Welcome to the Goblin Corps. May the best man lose." (July 26 from Pyr)

Heartless - Gail Carriger

The Parasol Protectorate, Book 4 - Steampunk alternate history meets urban fantasy once more in Heartless, the penultimate book in The Parasol Protectorate. Carriger's latest outing follows Lady Alexia Maccon once more as she attempts to save the queen from a maniacal ghost among other paranormal problems. (June 28 from Orbit)

7th Sigma - Steven Gould

Stand Alone - Gould, the author of the popular Jumper books, switches microscopic gears from teleporation to self-replicating nanotechnology in his latest book, 7th Sigma. The territory is a dangerous land, plagued by self-replicating, solar-powered, metal-masticating machines. Yet life prevails, rebuilt on a platform of plastic, ceramic and wood. Kimble Monroe is one of the hardy few that chose to remain in the American Southwest among the swarms of synthetic bugs. He's also one in a billion. Intrigued? I am. (July 5 from Tor)

Vortex - Robert Charles Wilson

Spin Books, Book 3 - After the delightful diversion that was Julian Comstock, Robert Charles Wilson returns to the universe of 2006's Hugo-award winning Spin which continues to spin further and further out of control. In Spin, a mysterious group of powers known as "the Hypotheticals" quarantined Earth and catapulted it into the far future of the universe. Two books later and it's time to find out why as their motives are ultimately revealed. Like fellow Canadian SF author Robert J. Sawyer, Wilson specializes in approachable character based science fiction and his talents are on display once again. (July 5 from Tor)

The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-eighth Annual Collection - Gardner Dozois, ed.

The Year's Best Science Fiction, Book 28 - After 27 entries, Dozois's yearly collection of science fiction shorts is an undeniable genre staple. Whether you're looking to wrap your brain around some new ideas or just discover a few new authors to satisfy novel needs, you won't find a better place to start than Dozois's latest weighty tome. (July 5 from St. Martin's Griffin)

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day - Ben Loory

Short Story Collection - Ben Loory's a new name on my radar but a interesting one. His relatively short collection is just over two hundred pages in length but boasts forty of the most peculiar (and often hilarious) stories I've ever read. Loory's short shorts feel like modern day fairy tales, albeit ones told by a Mother Goose with a penchant for hallucinogenics and whose eggs are more than a little scrambled. His style bundles complex themes in purposefully simplistic prose packages, providing plenty of dialogue tags bur far fewer conclusions. Frustration has never been this much fun. (July 26 from Penguin)

The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities - Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, eds.

Thackery T. Lambshead Anthologies, Book 2 - If we're talking about things that belong in a curious cabinet, look no further than the VanderMeers' latest anthology. Fans of their editorial projects may recognize Thackery T. Lambshead as the fictional doctor responsible for compiling a collection of bizarre but entertaining diseases. Apparently he also had an affinity for collecting oddities as was apparently discovered in his imaginary home after his fictional death. In truth, a number of noted genre authors and artists have come together to stock his strange shelves, combining visual and written elements to create an anthology unlike any I've ever seen. Ted Chiang, China Mieville,  Mike Mignola and Alan Moore are only a few of the names that helped compile this abstract anthology of "exhibits, oddities, images, and stories" (July 12 from Harper Voyager)

Paradise Tales - Geoff Ryman

Short Story Collection - Small Beer Press's niche collections have always been a great place to find "Not Ready For Prime Time Players" in the speculative fiction space. Which isn't to say Ryman isn't ready for the big leagues. Quite the opposite in fact - Ryman already has 7 novels under his belt, including the BSFA and Arthur C. Clarke winning modern masterpiece Air: Or, Have Not Have. Which is probably why Ryman's first collection of SF tales - mundane and not - earned a Starred Review from Publisher's Weekly. (July 12 from Small Beer Press)

YetiStomper Pick Of The Month: It's a good time to be George R. R. Martin (or if not him, one his fans). The almost flawless adaptation of Game of Thrones is HBO's newest smash hit. The graphic novel is due out in September from Dynamite Entertainment, to be penned by Yeti-favorite Daniel Abraham and illustrated by Tommy Patterson. And of course, Kong itself - the release of the book 5 years in the making. This month's YetiStomper Picks features more books than any other month in this blog's short history but out of all those books, only Jim Butcher's Ghost Story had even a shot of upsetting A Dance With Dragons for YetiStomper Pick of the Month. Now, I'm not fully caught up with A Song of Ice and Fire just yet but what I've read thus far has more than lived up to the hype. The only question is can A Dance With Dragons possibly live up to the colossal expectations placed upon it by the prolonged wait? The early word? - Yes!

YetiStomper Debut Of The Month: There is a man. The man wrote a story. It was made up of smaller stories. The stories say everything and nothing. There is another man. He read the first man's story of stories. He was impressed. "I will pick this book," he says. Which is how Stories for Nighttime (and Some for the Day) came be July's YetiStomper Debut of the Month. Loory uses refreshingly simple prose while exploring  frustratingly elusive themes, resulting in a book that goes down smooth but leaves a pleasant aftertaste for you to mull over in your mind. I'm still not sure if Loory's debut is crazy good or just plain crazy but I'll admit I enjoyed it immensely. Undoubtedly the best collection I've read since Livia Llewellyn's Engines of Desire.

YetiStomper Cover Of The Month: Hmmmm.... Where did this go? Stay tuned to find out...eventually

Anyway, as always, if you are interested in more details regarding any of the above books, just click on through the Amazon links. And don't worry, thanks to new state legislation, I don't get a single penny, nickel, or dime from it. It's been hard restructuring my budget without that extra $10 a year but I think I'll survive. Be sure to let me know if there is anything I may have missed in the comments.

You can view previous installments of YetiStomper Picks here.

Jul 7, 2011

eBook eConomics: Free-Ninety-Nine

Not good, skiffy fans.

Well, not really. More like good for us, bad for our collective fiscal solvency. Apparently, publishers have finally figured out that if you give people like me (and probably you) the option to click a button and receive an eBook for the price of a Katy Perry song or two, the results tend to be somewhat predictable. Unlike two consecutive blog posts invoking She Who Kisses Girls and Likes It. Who saw that coming?

Let's take a look at three different publishers who have been pummeling my purse money satchel recently (and the slightly different striking methods they use to do so). Also, it's worth noting that I'm a Kindler, not a Nookie, so apologies in advance if the mentioned deals don't translate to your preferred device. Blame divergent formats and DRM. I always blame DRM ever since they canceled Firefly. Don't tell them I told you.


First in my eBook eXplorations (tIred oF tHis yEt?), is Orbit, a publisher whose 2011 slate is so good it violates that statutes of four nations, seven states, a single Canadian province, and a handful of ancient city-states (apparently along with the laws of physics). And the best part? They seem to be willing to spread the love around by offering a different deal every month through their "Orbital Drop" Program, mostly in the form of discounted and bundled backlist books. It's one newsletter you won't regret signing up for.

But Orbit isn't just focusing on their back catalog. In addition to this month's deal [3 of Gail Carriger's eclectic Parasol Protectorate novels for 9.99], Orbit is willing to part with two of this year's biggest books for less than a penny a page. Ten bucks will get you over 1 kilopage of Daniel Abraham goodness with the double eBook edition of The Dragon's Path and Leviathan Wakes. Even better, people who bought the eBook edition back in March received Leviathan Wakes three months before the rest of us. An advance edition premium for eBooks could be interesting, although I don't see it working in the long run.

All things considered, Orbit's strategy seems to be centered around limited time offers on bundles with the intention on introducing you to a few new series with the hopes you'll stick around for later volumes. I don't know what the audience overlap is between The Dragon's Path (fantasy) and Leviathan Wakes (SF space opera) but you can be sure FREE will help blur the lines a little more. And while Orbit does have some below double dollar deals [Kevin J. Anderson's The Edge of the World for $1.99 (Kindle Only)], they don't seem too eager to get into a price war with their bundle deals still pricing out between  $3.33 and $5.00 a book.

Night Shade Books

Night Shade Books is also in on the fun, albeit in a slightly different way. A large portion of Night Shade's output is anthology based - either with themed anthologies from John Joseph Adams, "Best of" anthologies from Jonathan Strahan and Ellen Datlow, or their eclectic Eclipse series, also from Strahan. They've got a problem though; anthologies don't have the same backlist appeal their novelular (it's a word, trust me) counterparts command. While I don't have the numbers to back it up, I think it's safe to assume most anthologies don't demand multiple printings. Particularly "Best of" books which are going to cannibalize their own sales year after year.  

Enter the eBook.

Unlikely their corporeal counterparts, their is little to no cost in producing an eBook "print run" of an infinite number of copies. Each book might not sell a lot of copies during its twilight years but what it does sell is sure to be almost pure profit. When you combine the two (infinite supply and high profit margins) you've got a fantastic formula for lowering prices to generate demand. Which is exactly what NSB is doing.

The latest volume of Eclipse might cost you $7.99 but the first volume is a down right affordable $2.99. And like the cosmic crack dealer they are, you better believe they are hoping to hook you on that first taste. I'm not sure what the driver is for dropping the price point (end of the print run? 3 years old?) but we can all be glad it's there.

In addition to their anthology business, Night Shade also makes a point of using eBook promotions to expose some of their newer authors to the hungry masses [at least for some eBook readers]. Recently, Brad P. Beaulieu's The Winds of Khalakovo and Will McIntosh's Soft Apocalypse were given away for free for Nook users as part of Barnes and Nobles' Free Friday Program. While one can argue that those downloads mean fewer sales, there's no denying that 77,229 extra copies of The Winds of Khalakovo in the wild will generate a lot of interest in a format that can't be easily lent to other readers. Not to mention the boost it should give to the second volume. 

Here is a sample of a few of Night Shade Books' more attractive deals. Sadly the free Nook giveaways have since ended.


As Tim O'Reilly so aptly put it "the problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity", a motto which Pyr Books really took to heart. Like NSB, they know all about the power of selling something for free-ninety-nine. In fact they make a point of it, hoping to make up the difference when you return to finish one of their many multi-volume series (at full price). It's a great strategy and one more publishers should pursue, particularly those that typically traffic in long epics. Extended series have enough barriers to entry as it is, they don't need you counting your pennies before you jump into a ten book tale. Speaking of jumping in, you can try Kay Kenyon's Bright of the Sky or Joel Shepherd's Sasha right now for no risk.

If I published eBooks, once a series went to three books, I would give the first volume away for free (or close enough to not matter). No exceptions. And then watch my backlist sales climb as the new readership returns to the characters they've become invested in. Assume you've got 5 books in a series for $5 a pop - would you rather sell 0 books for $0 or 5 for $20?

Here's some of the goodness Pyr's got going for it at the moment.

Bright of the Sky: The Entire and the Rose, Book 1 - Kay Kenyon - FREE
Sasha: A Trial of Blood and Steel, Book 1 - Joel Shepherd - FREE
Empire in Black and Gold: Shadows of the Apt, Book 1 - Adrian Tchaikovsky - $1.99

[Side Note:  Empire in Black and Gold costs $9.59 on the Nook! And Bright of the Sky isn't available. Are you kidding me?]

Now at this point, I'm sure you're thinking that I've finally lost it - that I'm nothing more than a glorified publicity machine for "Big Book." Don't worry, I haven't sold out, I'm just completely selfish. Every book that I can help sell is another step toward convincing publishers that $1.99 is a price point that works. Which is good for me all of us. And by "all of us," I mean readers.

Authors, publishers, and distributors? Not so much.

So get to it, my expendable minions much appreciated readers. Are there any other publishers up to sales shenanigans? And what's this I hear about 99p eBooks across the pond?

Jul 2, 2011

Cause Baby I'm A Firework! [Not YetiPicks for July Post Just Yet]

Little known fact. I'm also Katy Perry
Didn't get through all 16 books for this month's YetiPicks Post just yet. Probably something to do with the fact that there were 16 books to select, sample, and spotlight. And that's with stricter selection criteria than usual. Blegh.

Let's face it, there are just too many good writers writing today. Something must be done. Any objection to sinking England?

Well, no, of course not EVERYONE. I've contacted Gollancz to build a boat. Two authors of every subgenre, you know the drill. And not necessarily one male, one female, mind you. We want authors writing, not fraternizing. Besides for every Joe Hill we get, there seem to be two Brian Herberts. Does the world really need Dune: My Dad's Shopping List?

I feel another cover spoof coming...

Instead have a nice, automatically produced widget of the most recent books I've received. There are some books I'm really excited to read, particularly The Alloy of Law, The Mall, The Clockwork Rocket, and Robopocalypse. See what the problem is....

Anyway, have a great [American holiday] weekend. Don't blow anything up. Nothing too important, anyway.
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