Jun 30, 2009

YetiStomper: Mid-Year Review

So far this year, I've managed to read 27 books although 7 of which were graphic novels.

Here's a few interesting stats about my reading habits the last 6 months.

Science Fiction: 7
Fantasy: 9
Non-Fiction: 2
Star Wars Books: 3
Short Story Anthologies: 2
Young Adult Books: 3
Fiction Writers I Hadn't Read Before: 8
Books over 500 pages: 7
Graphic Novels: 7
Male Authors: 15
Female Authors: 4

My goal for this year was to average at least 50 pages a day or about 1 full length novel a week. I've found this is about as aggressive as I can be while maintaining a full-time job and a social life. Without graphic novels I am stand at 20 books, 6 off from the pace at the half way mark. However, I might still be there in terms of page count since I made an effort to get through some of the doorstopping tomes that had been taunting me from the Reading Pile particularly Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell as well as the mammoth (and classic) Bone omnibus.

I managed a decent mix between Fantasy and SF with Fantasy getting a little boost from the two Fantasy trilogies I read (Power/Voices/Gifts and The First Law) versus only Star Wars (3 books) adding to the SF side of things. If you count series as a single book it's a 1:1 ratio so I'm happy with the blend of SF and Fantasy along with some non-fiction and graphic novels. It helps to avoid getting too burnt out with a specific genre or sub-genre. I recommend keeping it fresh by balancing "heavy" reading with faster "popcorn" reads and not to try too many new authors back to back to avoid the potential of several "misses" in a row.

I managed to sample a portion of Short Fiction with the 2 anthologies but I'd still like to be better read in that subsection of genre fiction. I'm also a little disappointed in the ratio of male to female authors. You could say my reading habits are sexist but honestly I never even thought about it until now.

I also managed to read 8 fiction authors I never have before.

-Paolo Bacigalupi
-Joe Abercrombie
-Stephenie Meyer
-Jose Saramago
-Bryan Lee O' Malley
-Susanna Clarke
-Bernard Beckett
-China Mieville

Out of those 8 I would say Abercrombie, Bacigalupi, Mieville and Beckett are the ones I would be most likely to read again although I will have to finish the Scott Pilgrim series whenever the concluding volume hits stores.

Favorite Read of the Year: The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. I know the books didn't come out this year but it doesn't stop Abercrombie's debut trilogy from being the most enjoyable and entrancing thing I pulled off the shelf this year. I absolutely tore through them at least a 100 page a day pace. Such a fun, fresh, and face paced take on the genre really revitalized my opinion of Fantasy, which was somewhat jaded after watching so many long series drag on forever only to end poorly.

Goals for the 2nd Half of 2009
-Continue to read at a 50+ page a day pace
-Read at least 3 more short fiction anthologies
-Read Shadows of the Wind
-Read at least 3 more Hugo/Nebula winners
-Tackle Y: The Last Man (10 Graphic Novels)

So 6 months into 2009, how many (and what kind of) books have you read? What are your reading related goals for the rest of the year?

Jun 29, 2009

YetiPreview: Moxyland

Moxyland is the debut title from new genre publisher Angry Robot Books. It's written by a South African author named Lauren Beukes and I believe it's her first novel as well. Amazon promises:

A frighteningly persuasive, high-tech fable, this novel follows the lives of four narrators living in an alternative futuristic Cape Town, South Africa. Kendra, an art-school dropout, brands herself for a nanotech marketing program; Lerato, an ambitious AIDS baby, plots to defect from her corporate employers; Tendeka, a hot-headed activist, is becoming increasingly rabid; and Toby, a roguish blogger, discovers that the video games he plays for cash are much more than they seem. On a collision course that will rewire their lives, this story crackles with bold and infectious ideas, connecting a ruthless corporate-apartheid government with video games, biotech attack dogs, slippery online identities, a township soccer school, shocking cell phones, addictive branding, and genetically modified art. Taking hedonistic trends in society to their ultimate conclusions, this tale paints anything but a forecasted utopia, satirically undermining the reified idea of progress as society's white knight.
The blurb has me intriguing and I always love reading about projected futures for non-American cultures. Charles Stross's Halting State (Ace Science Fiction) and Ian McDonald's Brasyl and River of Gods were great reads so it will be interesting to see if Beukes can do the same for her native South Africa. The SF ideas sound like something straight out of a Stross novel. Add in the fact that Beukes is the debut author Angry Robot Books is hanging their hope on

The cover art is attention grabbing and those "image missing" icons get me every time. The neon orange really attracts the eye and the missing faces would probably get me to flip the book over. It's not my favorite cover ever but it certainly gets the job done. I'd give it a B/B+

Moxyland is 304 pages long. I'm not sure when I will be able to post a review because of the upcoming holiday weekend but it will be up in the near future. As always, read along if you can!

Thoughts on Virtuality

I watched the 2-hour pilot of Virtuality on Friday and long story short: I want to see more.

While not perfect, Virtuality is legitimate SF of the kind not seen on network TV. While I'm sure they took some liberties with the physics, Virtuality is plausible Hard SF. Lost, Firefly, Fringe, Battlestar Galactica, Dollhouse, Heroes and every other example of "genre" TV current on the airwaves has at least some elements that could be considered fantastical.

The only questionable item in Virtuality was the virtual reality system they used for R&R and escape from the reality TV cameras. It seemed to be a little too immersive for just the visors but it certainly didn't break any fundamental rules of physics or try to explain why genetic mutations would allow you to fly or predict the future. Cough *Heroes* Cough. This is the kind of SF that could get a new generation interested in space travel.

I was fairly impressed with every aspect of the show. The cast was great. The writing was good. The premise was solid. The effects were better than most on TV. The show wasn't predictable (the events toward the end of the pilot really surprised me). The plot threads they introduced were intriguing. While somethings could have been better, I didn't have too many complaints, especially for a pilot. Compared to Dollhouse or Fringe, Virtuality hit a home run.

I'm not sure why they were trying so hard to screw over the show. Maybe Ron Moore wanted too much money, maybe the SF budget is too high for the expected ratings, who knows? But they did dump the premiere show on a Friday night, in the middle of summer, against the opening weekend of Transformers 2 with almost zero advertisement. I don't get it. What did they expect to happen? Record ratings? Add to the fact that it was also running against specials commemorating the lives of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett and it's no surprise it didn't do well. Pair it against Dollhouse and I guarantee it will find an audience.

Virtuality is definitely marketable. It has the spaceship and SF tropes to connect with the core geek audience but it also has the reality TV and relationship drama that could reach out to female viewers without alienating them with the more extreme SF tropes like aliens or time travel. More than Stargate, Heroes, or Fringe, I feel like Virtuality could be watched in mixed company. I've even heard from a source or two that the eye-candy on board the ship works both ways.

All in all, I'm disappointed that Virtuality did so poorly. The show has a lot of potential and I want to know what was going on. Who is the murderer on board? And what did the victim's last message mean? I would definitely tune in again to find out. The fact that I will most likely never know makes me hate the economics of network TV. Any chance the SyFy channel is looking for another show?

You can watch Virtuality on Hulu here if you enjoy the pain of knowing this decent show most likely died before it even aired.

Jun 28, 2009

YetiReview: Omen (Fate of the Jedi, Book 2)

20 words or less: Mediocre Star Wars novel that takes no chances while slowly progressing the overall plot of Fate of the Jedi.

My Rating: 2.5/5

Pros: Avoided mistakes of Legacy of the Force, no glaring continuity errors

Cons: Mostly a set-up novel, overly cutesy at times, poor execution of Luke/Ben subplot, weak page count.

The Review: If I were judging Omen by itself, I would give it a 1 or a 2. But Fate of the Jedi appears to be trying a more serialized structure than Del Rey’s two previous SW series so it's hard to distinguish one book separately from the series. Fate of the Jedi is really putting the “opera” back in “space opera.” Rather, I’m going to focus on its role within the series. There are the overarching threads that began in Outcast and continue here but aside from a very poor sub-plot featuring Luke and his son Ben there are no internal plotlines that get resolved by the end of the book. Young Jedi continue to go crazy with the mysterious Force sickness, Jaina and Jag continue to investigate what could be causing it in the face of government pressure, Luke and Ben continue to retrace Jacen’s five year sojourn, and Leia and Han continue to do nothing of importance. The book felt like a continuation of the series but it didn’t do anything that necessitated it as separate release from that of Outcast, especially given the fact that fans of the series waited 3 months to get a meager 236pages.

The only new information or plot development that we really gott was the introduction of a Sith remnant that had been marooned on the planet of Kesh for the last 5,000 years. Recent developments in the SW universe had set in motion a series of events that ended up with an ancient and sentient Sith ship locating the planet and allowing the Sith castaways to escape the planet. This was one of the more interesting plots of the book but it felt strange that it was introduced in this book rather than the previous one. It’s almost as if the series planners decided there wasn’t enough plot to carry a 9 book series without filler so they decided to introduce another plotline to boost the still low page count.

Other the insane Jedi plotline, which is interesting but extremely slow paced, the other characters have very little to do. Han and Leia took their granddaughter to buy a pet. Seriously? This very predictably started out as a mash-up of all of the creatures ever witnessed in a Star Wars film (rancors,rontos,banthas,etc.) and even more predictably turned into a fairly boring action sequence when the creatures get loose. The probability that Han Solo dies from being attacked by that large cat species from Attack of the Clones is so small that C-3PO couldn’t quote me the odds. Han and Leia are stuck in a character limbo where they can’t be killed off but they also can’t be fade into retirement; either of which would apparently upset the fanbase more than just making up ridiculous, implausible ways to give them something to do. But I can’t blame Christie Golden for making nothing out of nothing. She’s writing in a set series and she has to work within what she has assigned.

What I do blame Golden for is the lack of delivery in Luke and Ben plotline. She was giving the Aing Tii monks to develop, a mysterious Force sect that can use the Force to teleport, time travel, and who knows what else. There was so much potential and all of it ended up wasted, with the Aing Tii being extremely boring and developed as well as Michael Bay plot. There was a brief thread about a mysterious prophet that was interesting at first but that thread ends up being very poorly resolved with a conclusion straight out of an after school special. This wasn’t too different that the Baran Do (another Force sect) plotline in Outcast which didn’t do much other than give something for Luke and Ben to discuss and resolve until they figured out the next stepping stone in Jacen’s journey. They could give these Force traditions so much more depth and character but they turn them into these boring groups which are too stupid to solve their own poorly developed problems.

Another problem I had with Golden’s delivery was her choices of language. More than a few times, she chose weird turns of phrase that I can’t really describe other than “not Star Wars.” Even when they weren’t bad writing, they were still just off somehow. For example, towards the end of the book, Ben Skywalker gets excited and exclaims “Lubed!” That’s not a Star Wars utterance, and it shouldn’t every be said. Anywhere. At other times, she tried to be a little too cute with the dialogue between characters in relationships (Han/Leia or Jaina/Jag) and the conversations felt more at home in a romantic comedy than in Star Wars. Han and Leia tease each other in the movies but they aren’t so sappy about it. Golden seems to be the weakest of the 3 series authors so far, at least in terms of pure writing ability. I was not impressed with her Star Wars debut.

Regardless of quality, the overall plot did advance and it managed to do so without the rehashing and confusion that happened in the Legacy of the Force series which was one of my major concerns going into the series. They planners have really made an effort to organize FotJ, almost to the point where it seems like the books are overly simplistic because there is no room for organic growth. This book was released in hardcover with only 236 pages (the shortest HC Star Wars book ever, I believe). There were 4 major plotlines and I think that it wasn’t until page 90 or so that a single POV was repeated. 236 pages isn’t enough to write a complex and compelling story for four distinct groups of people whose storylines have yet to intertwine. If they combined it with the 309 pages of Outcast and edited out a few of the unnecessary scenes, you would have had a 545 page book that clearly established the plot of the series and would be worth the cover price. As a single 236-page book, Omen fails significantly. However, the faults of the book are independent of the faults of the series. As an entry in the Fate of the Jedi series, Omen manages to progress the story along without screwing up characterization or retreading old plot and I'm interested to see what happens when the storylines finally do manage to intertwine.

Jun 27, 2009

YetiPreview: Omen

I got Omenon Wednesday and but I still had a couple hundred pages of Powers left so I had to get through that first. Any book in the Star Wars "present" automatically jumps to the front of my reading queue. It might be bad, it might be pulp, but it's Star Wars, which has always had a special place in my heart.

Omen is Book 2 in the Fate of the Jedi after March's Outcast. Outcast was a huge departure from Del Rey's usual offering in the sense that it was a fairly stand-alone book, despite being the first of the 9 book arc. It gave some hints at a larger plot but not a whole lot. Basically, we know that something is driving the Jedi insane, we know there is something in the Maw that is being omnious, and we know that Luke and Ben are off in the Unknown Regions looking for what happened to corrupt Jacen but that they haven't found anything yet. It terms of open plot threads, almost everything was neatly tied off at the end of Outcast. I found this a bit strange but also a positive sign of change.

The previous series, Legacy of the Force was another 9-book series, but it only contained about 5 books worth of story. Because the books were being written simultaneous by different authors, there was often a lot of rehashing and repeated character development between books. It seemed like there wasn't a clear definition of where one book was going to end and where the next would begin. Characters would make the same decisions or realizations two, three, or more times, leaving readers confused and irritated. It was messy, poorly organized, and the story suffered.

But it looks like Fate of the Jedi is avoiding that by using clearly defined milestones between each book. I guess I'll be able to judge that better after I finish Omen.

Omen is the first book I've read by Christie Golden, so I'm not familiar with her writing style. If she can describe an action sequence better than Troy Denning and write humor like Mike Stackpole or Aaron Allston then I'm sure she will do fine. Just stick to the continuity, try to research the characterizations, and you will do fine.

Here's the Amazon description:

The Jedi Order is in crisis. The late Jacen Solo’s shocking transformation into murderous Sith Lord Darth Caedus has cast a damning pall over those who wield the Force for good: Two Jedi Knights have succumbed to an inexplicable and dangerous psychosis, criminal charges have driven Luke Skywalker into self-imposed exile, and power-hungry Chief of State Natasi Daala is exploiting anti-Jedi sentiment to undermine the Order’s influence within the Galactic Alliance.

Forbidden to intervene in Jedi affairs, Luke is on a desperate mission to uncover the truth behind Jacen’s fall to the dark side–and to learn what’s turning peaceful Jedi into raving lunatics. But finding answers will mean venturing into the mind-bending space of the Kathol Rift and bargaining with an alien species as likely to destroy outsiders as deal with them. Still, there is no other choice and no time to lose, as the catastrophic events on Coruscant continue to escalate. Stricken by the same violent dementia that infected her brother, Valin, Jedi Knight Jysella Horn faces an equally grim fate after her capture by Natasi Daala’s police. And when Han and Leia Solo narrowly foil another deranged Jedi bent on deadly destruction, even acting Jedi Grand Master Kenth Hamner appears willing to bow to Daala’s iron will–at the expense of the Jedi Order.

But an even greater threat is looming. Millennia in the past, a Sith starship crashed on an unknown low-tech planet, leaving the survivors stranded. Over the generations, their numbers have grown, the ways of the dark side have been nurtured, and the time is fast approaching when this lost tribe of Sith will once more take to the stars to reclaim their legendary destiny as rulers of the galaxy. Only one thing stands in their way, a name whispered to them through the Force: Skywalker.
I already gave a discourse on the FotJ cover art here. In summary, I like it. A lot. The Omen cover features a Sith looking female so I am slightly curious to see where that goes.

I'm also curious as to what Omen refers to. Star Wars is often extremely bad about having titles that actually pertain to the events of the novel. Invincible featured a death. There were no revelations in Revelation. However, Outcast did feature an outcast so Del Rey is currently 1-for-1 with FotJ.

Omen is a disappointly short 250 pages. I should be able to get through it today so hurry if you are reading along.

Jun 26, 2009

YetiReview: Gifts, Voices, and Powers

20 words or less: This trio of YA fantasy novels focuses on teens maturing through difficult situations but contains a deeper message for readers everywhere.

My Ratings
Gifts: 4/5
Voices: 3.5/5
Powers: 5/5

Pros: Simple yet elegant prose, allegorical themes pulled off by a genre master, accessible at multiple levels

Cons: Some YA tropes. Slowly paced. Lacks concrete plot.

The Review: When I learned that Ursula K. Le Guin’s Powers had won the Nebula, I was surprised. I hadn’t heard any buzz about the book and knew almost nothing about it other than it was YA (Side Note: I am not prejudiced against YA, Little Brother was one of my favorite reads last year). I assumed that it was a prestige award based on name recognition alone. I thought it was 2004 all over again, when Joe Haldeman won the Nebula with the almost indescribably terrible Camouflage. I do make an effort to read the award winners though and I set out to read her Annals of the Western Shore books, if only to satisfy my completist compulsions.

I could not have been more wrong.

I was going to review these books individually but I realized that they were best read together, so I might as well speak to them together. In fact, as I read the second and third books, my feelings toward the prior books morphed and changed and I started to take meaning from the stories that I wasn’t expecting; mostly due to their YA “stigma”. These books may be written for kids and about kids, but they have some very profound ideas hidden in their depths.

Each book focuses on a different protagonist growing up in a different part of the Western Shore in a different social climate. In Gifts, Orrec Caspro faces the pressures of being the son and heir of a noble bloodline. In Voices, Memer deals with being a young woman born into a once noble family subjugated by misogynistic and repressive conquerors. In Powers, Gavir struggles with the harsh realities of being a slave in a rigid class structure. Without spoiling the details, each of the characters experience life changing events that affect themselves as well as the social structure in which they were raised. I will say that the events are not epic in the sense of the traditional fantasy novel. There is no Dark Lord, no Chosen One, and no Elves, no Dwarfs, no Dragons, or other fantastic creatures. Aside from the imagined geography and some minor mystical abilities, these books are very personal stories that could have taken place within our own history.

All three novels deal primarily with the paths the protagonists take through their formative years, foregoing strong plot cohesion to focus on who these characters are. The stories meander through their lives, lingering on seemingly mundane moments but not hesitating to leap forward months or years without warning. In this respect they are typical YA fare, focusing closely on the central characters and dealing with the questions and uncertainties that are a part of growing up. There are also some even more adult topics, namely slavery, rape, and murder. These are definitely not children’s books. While some YA novels get heavy handed with their discussions of maturation and societal expectations, Le Guin demonstrates why she is a master of the craft, managing to write realistic teen characters without having them come across as angsty and putting them through difficult situations without being explicit or gratuitous. In case you didn’t know, Le Guin is 79. She hasn’t been a teen for 61 years.

The Annals of the Western Shore work as YA fiction, and work well. However, the real enjoyment for me was the message within the stories that Le Guin seemed to be sharing with her readers. Granted, I could be reading things from the text that were not intentional but Le Guin’s love for writing and literature really came across in her characters. I’m reluctant to use the term “swan song” because I’m confident Le Guin has more stories to tell, but I got the sense that these novels were a reflection on her career as an author and the importance that writing and storytelling has had in her life. Despite dramatically different situations, each one of these teens has the benefit of literacy and education in their lives, and in each case, it becomes a source of satisfaction and strength. Through her characters, Le Guin demonstrates her belief in the power of stories; that they can transcend mere words to become beauty, healing, inspiration, knowledge and more. Stories can motivate people to change, bind communities together, preserve history and culture, bridge societal gaps, and capture the imaginations of all that hear them. There is a intrinsic power in stories, a power available to anyone regardless of class.

Mirroring this theme, Le Guin also addresses the common reasons why people in real life don’t read and creates analogs within the lands of the Western Shore. There are people who believe stories are only for children, cultures that think books and knowledge can only corrupt, and places where the written word simply doesn’t exist. She doesn’t belittle them for their beliefs but pities them for all they are missing. I really connected with her emphasis on the power of words (it’s more discreet and less cheesy than my brief synopsis), especially as a lifelong bibliophile who has often felt like their passion for reading wasn’t fully understood. I also fully endorse and respect her efforts to communicate this idea to the YA readers at which this book is targeted. I encourage anyone who loves reading and literature to try these books, or at least to give them to your teens. I know I will be.

As a final note, Powers might not have fit my expectations of a Nebula winner but this book connected with me and spoke to me on a level few do. Le Guin is truly a master of the craft and Powers is yet another spectacular book in a continually unbelievable career.

Reminder Virtuality Airs Tonight

Just a reminder, Ron Moore's Virtuality airs tonight on Fox from 8-10 ET (7-9 CT). I haven't read a ton on it, but I know it deals with crew of astronauts on an extended mission in outer space passing the time using a sort of virtual reality. The astronauts' lives aboard the Phaeton.

Here's the official Fox blurb:
From Ron Moore and Michael Taylor, the minds behind "Battlestar Galactica," comes the World Broadcast Premiere of the new science-fiction thriller VIRTUALITY. As the crew of the Phaeton approaches the go/no-go point of their epic 10-year journey through outer space, the fate of Earth rests in their hands. The pressure is intense, and the best bet for helping the crew members maintain their sanity is the cutting-edge virtual reality technology installed on the ship. It's the perfect stress-reliever until a glitch in the system unleashes a virus onto the ship. Tensions mount as the crew decides how to contain the virus and complete their mission. Meanwhile, every step of the journey and every minute of the crew members' lives are being taped for a reality show back on Earth.

Sounds interesting. I'll be watching and I encourage everyone to do the same, even if it's only leaving the TV on and turned on to Fox. C'mon, who really goes out before 10 anyway? Don't give me Transformers as an excuse. The reviews sucked.

You should watch, and watch live because regardless of quality this "pilot" is one of the few actual examples of speculative fiction with the potential for airtime next year. And it needs to have spectacular ratings because right now, it's just a movie. There's no follow up series without a spectacular rating. I don't know what defines spectacular for a series airing at 8 PM on a Friday night in the middle of the summer with absolutely no advertising but I'm guessing it's unreasonable. I'm confident Fox will manage to outfox themselves again but still; the more watchers the more likely we get an actual SF series.

There's always the possibility that the series will suck, but we will never know unless it gets made. No series is perfect from it's pilot episode so be forgiving and try to stick with it the whole two hours, even if it means leaving the TV and reading a book in the other room. There's always time to cancel it later.

This is just one episode on one day. It's a minor commitment. You don't have to do much, just make sure your DVR/Cable Box/ratings monster thinks that you are watching Virtuality (preferably live). Your geek friends will thank you later.

As an aside...

Don't leave half-finished red Slurpees with extra long straws on your bedside table and attempt to turn off your bedside lamp while half-asleep at 2am.

Why? No particular reason. Just suggesting it might lead to something most would consider to be unpleasant.

In other news, I have a fool-proof idea for an alarm clock.

Jun 24, 2009

Star Wars News Round Up

I'm a shameless Star Wars geek but I will keep it brief.

Omen (Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi, Book 2) came out yesterday. Look for a review sooner rather than later. You can welcome Christie Golden to the New York Times Bestselling Author list next week.

Fate of the Jedi Book 5 was given the title Allies. Like Omen, Allies will be written by Christie Golden. It will hit shelves in March 2010 as a Hardcover.

Blood Oath by Elaine Cunningham will hopefully be released in April 2010. I posted about the delay earlier here. According to Sue Rostoni over at the StarWars boards, the book was delayed due to "events beyond the author's control, or wishes." If there were in fact circumstances beyond her control, I apologize and I hope that everything turns out okay. More on Blood Oath as details surface.

Lastly, there is a preview section for Issue #2 of Dark Horse's new series, Invasion, which is set during the NJO. Insanely obsessed fans like me will know that the extragalactic Invasion story arc was originally proposed by Dark Horse but somehow Del Rey ended up with a 21 book arc instead. Check it out over at Dark Horse and pick up issue #1 at your local comic shop on July 1st.

Jun 23, 2009

Let's Try a Meme: Blogs that are doing it right.

I though with the discussion about blogs that are mailing it in floating around lately, it might be interesting to stay positive and focus on those blogs out there that are putting out quality content.

The rules are simple, link a blog you enjoy, admire, or one that does something better than everyone else out there. If you get tagged, copy the list in a post on your own blog, pick one of your favorite blogs to add to the list, and then notify them that they've been tagged.

With all of the crap out there, who do you recommend?

1. Fantasy Book Critic - Among other things, they do the best monthly genre round-up I've found on the Internet. I can't count the number of books/authors I've picked up becaue of FBC.

2. OF Blog of the Fallen - From Liviu at FBC - "Of course Larry's blog is number one favorite even when disagreeing with its contents. Lots of "different" books talked about is the main reason. I found quite a few gems from Of Blog of the Fallen

So how about it FantasyBookCritic? Who do you recommend?

Update: Fantasy Book Critic weighed in with their recommendation and tags Blog of the Fallen. I've updated the list accordingly but I hope that the tagged blogs will continue the meme on their own sites so more people can follow the recommendations for the upper echelon of blogs.


By way of A Dribble of Ink, I found my way over to OF Blog of the Fallen, where Larry expressed his distaste for bloggers who were using promotional giveaways, excerpts and other content-light methods to attract readers rather than providing quality content. Without going into specifics, I would have to agree. Several blogs I used to consider to be high content have recently become giveaway heavy and content light to the point where they are little more than P.R. shells for the publishers which send them books.

It’s the primary reason that I started blogging (very recently) after months and months of contemplating it. I just wasn’t seeing the kind of content I wanted to see and I wasn’t finding the discussions I wanted to participate in. Also, I felt like I was reading a lot but not really thinking about what I was reading and why I did or didn’t like it. Like many bloggers, I would like to be an author someday. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an author. I’ve taken a creative writing class but I’ve also went skydiving. And I don’t call myself a bird. Sitting down and actually thinking about what works and what doesn’t feels like the first step toward deciding the kind of story I want to write someday.

Aidan over at Dribble of Ink added to the discussion by discussing why he was blogging and what he looks for in a blog. I would recommend checking it out if you haven’t see it yet.

His post inspired me to write a Blogger’s Anthem. Many people start out with an post about what they intend to do with their blog but I wasn’t really sure what I was looking to do.

On Blogging: I’m not here to make money and I’m not here for free books (although I wouldn’t say no to either as long as I can still write about what I want to). I’m here because I love speculative fiction and I want to talk about it. There aren’t enough people in my daily life that are truly interested in the ins and outs of the SFF world and I’ve wanted a better outlet for my rants, recommendations and interests. Book blogging seemed like a natural enough choice. I could provide the kind of content I like to see and hopefully have some people interested enough in what I had to say to generate some conversation. I love the feeling of having someone come back and tell me that they absolutely loved a book I recommended to them. I’m happy to say I got my first comment like that today and it meant a lot.

On Content: In my brief time in the blogosphere, I’ve noticed a few things. First, it’s hard to generate significant amounts of original content on a daily basis, read at a decent pace, AND manage the other aspects of your work/life balance. I try to post something once a day, just to remind anyone who happens to be reading that I’m still here. Whenever I do post, I try to personalize it, even if it’s only a response to cover art or my feelings on the new authors’s press release.

On Press Releases/Blurbs/Excerpts: A brief blurb is okay to give with reference to a book received or being read/reviewed. Excerpts should be linked, not pasted on the front page, I enjoy reading press releases and commentary on them. One of my favorite things about reading book blogs is discovering new authors and learning when one of my favorite authors announces a new book and short of walking through the SFF section in the local bookstore, book blogs are one of the best ways to find out about what’s coming out soon. I absolutely love fantasybookcritic’s next-month-preview that they publish at the end of each month. It’s probably my singular favorite feature post out there.

On Free Books: I wouldn’t say no to free books but I wouldn’t feel obligated to review anything that I didn’t personally solicit from a publisher. I would only solicit something I was interested in reading anyways. There’s too much quality content out there to read something you’re not interested in. If I did receive something in the mail, I would mention in a weekly/monthly post but I’m not guaranteeing I will read it or give it a starred review.

On Finishing Books: I’m a finisher, I don’t like putting down a book unfinished regardless of quality but at the same time I am fairly selective about the books I pick up. I might buy a subpar book on a whim but chances are it won’t make it to the top of my reading list.

On Contests: I never win them. They suck. The two thoughts might be connected

On Posting Cover Art: Covers are shiny. I like to look at them. They work in a bookstore, why wouldn’t they work in a blog?

On Reviews: I love SFSignal’s style of reviews. Give a quick summary, hit the high points and the low points and then give an extended review for the benefit of someone who is really interested. I don’t like an overly verbose review that rambles on without saying much. I try to keep my reviews to 500 words or less.

On Interviews: Like them when they are well done. I’ve got some author’s I would like to contact down the road once they release their new books. To feel comfortable writing an interview I feel like I would need to 1) really like the author and want them to get some more press or 2) have read their current book or at least previous books to tailor questions appropriately.
On Posting Personal Information: If you can write it as interestingly as John Scalzi, go for it. But keep it short. If I really wanted to know everything about your life I would be your friend.

If you are still reading, thanks! And what's you're blogger list of ethics?

Jun 22, 2009

Pyr-o-mania: You're Going to Love Eva Forge

Pyr-o-mania: You're Going to Love Eva Forge

Pyr is walking on dangerous ice. And you really shouldn't mix hot and cold like that.

In the above link, Lou Anders has announced that they picked up .the second book in Tim Akers debut steampunk/noir trilogy a new Tim Akers steampunk/noir book entitled The Horns of Ruin. Steamnoir? Noirpunk? Anyway, Akers' has another fantasy series going starting with Heart of Veridon which is being published later this year. By Solaris.

Now I have nothing against Solaris or Pyr. Business is business and if Pyr thinks that Akers going to be a big enough draw then good for Tim and good for Pyr. I'll admit the book sounds intriguing.

What has me worried is my bibliophilia. When books series change publishers they do one or more of the following.

1. Change cover sizes (HC to TPB, PB to HC, etc)
2. Change cover artist
3. Change cover layout (fonts,positions,etc.)

When this happens, the bibliophile in me loathes to line up two disparate books on the shelf. Try to get a matching set of Stephen King's Dark Tower series. Doesn't exist. Jim Butcher's Dresden Files went to HC around Book 7 and the cover art changed dramatically. I'm still not sure what to do with myself.

So Pyr has purchased the 2nd book in the series, the 1st of which is being released in mass-market paperback. The majority of Pyr titles are released in trade paperback format (which I prefer to MMPB). So chances are that we will have a situation.

Something similar happened before with David Louis Edelman's Jump 225 series. I believe Solaris put out the 1st edition of Infoquake and then Pyr took over with the 2nd Book, MultiReal. I know there was a cover change and maybe a format change but I believe Pyr actually put out a reissue of the 1st book with a spine close enough to the 2nd book that they could line up on a shelf together.

I've spoken with Lou Anders in the past and I believe he as much of a bibliophilic cover-junkie as I am. If Pyr covers are any indicator, then he is. If that's true Pyr might manage to republish the Heart of Veridon in a matching format. Or at least something that won't make me cringe every time I look at the shelf.

Heart of Veridon will be released September 29th, 2009.

UPDATE: Lou Anders was kind enough to stop by and explain that the books are in different series so there will be no bibliophilic anxiety after all. I misread his post and combined it with some information from Amazon.com regarding Heart of Veridon being the first book in a trilogy. Most of this post makes no sense now but I am glad the Pyr has vowed not to hijack authors mid-series.

Congrats to Tim!

Jun 21, 2009

5 Minute Review: Merlin

Earlier tonight, NBC debuted the first two episodes of the BBC produced Merlin. Merlin is a new twist on the Arthurian legend. Merlin features the typical heroes as teenagers with Arthur, Merlin, Morgana and Guinevere making appearances in the first two episodes. Lancelot is nowhere to be seen but I'm guessing he will be appearing sooner or later. I read somewhere that Merlin is best described as a Smallville meets Camelot and I really couldn't agree more. Sub-par acting, lazy plot devices, and teens. That's Smallville 101.

The first two episodes featured MotW (Monster of the Week) villains; a haggish witch out for revenge against the King and a duplicitous knight whose attempts at cheating would put Sammy Sosa to shame. They do little but establish the world of Uthar's Albion; magic is illegal, Merlin has an inate but untrained magical ability, Merlin gets a job as Arthur's manservant, etc. The plots themselves are fairly tame and predictable, relying on a few agonizing techniques to get the characters from point A to point B. For example, when the weapons dealer sells the crooked knight a magical (and illegal) shield and shows him how to use it, the crooked knight kills the weapons dealer in a fit of predictability that would be right at home on CSI: Denver.

The production values aren't anything to write home about. The special effects are fairly poorly done and it's pretty obvious most of the SE budget went into the dragon in the cave which manages to always give Merlin the right idea (He's 2 for 2!). None of the characters are especially attractive (my fiance provided the female perspective) so there is no eye candy there, either. The scenery and the props are decent but more often that not the poor special effects and/or awkward cinematography really drew attention to themselves.

Honestly, while I didn't particulary enjoy the show, I wouldn't go so far as to give up on Merlin. The first two/three episodes of any series are garbage. You have to go through the paces of establishing the rules of the world and the relationships between the characters before you can really let loose. Look at Fringe or Dollhouse, both of which started with subpar first and second episodes (Fringe was especially horrible) and both of which managed to hit a few homers by the end of their rookie seasons. I apologize for the excessive baseball references, I was at a thirteen inning Cubs game yesterday and I haven't got it out of the system just far. So while Merlin didn't wow me from the get go, I'm not going to cancel it off the DVR just yet. After all, there's nothing else on TV.

TV Reminder: Merlin

NBC is airing the British series Merlin today starting at 8 (7 CT). I believe its a reairing of a British series.

I haven't heard too much one way or the other on Merlin. From the previews the special effects don't look up to par with most genre TV but I'm always willing to forego the special effects as long as the plot is strong and the characters are intriguing.

Genre TV is extremely lacking this summer. Other than Merlin, I can think of Warehouse 13, Eureka, and the Virtuality 2-Hour movie/pilot. That's not a whole lot.

Anyway, set your DVRs if your interested. I might have a short review if I find its worth watching.

Jun 20, 2009

See you tomorrow...

Taking the day off. Cubs Game followed by Comedy Festival. It's a nice day...go outside and read a book.

Back to posting tomorrow.

Jun 19, 2009

Covering Covers: Backlash

The cover for Book 4 of the Fate of the Jedi series, Backlash, hit the Interwebz this week.

I really like the stylized covers they've been using for the Fate of the Jedi series. The vibrant yellow color (after orange, blue, and red for Books 1-3 pictured below) with the shaded single character against a Coruscant skyline looks great. Previous Star Wars series have had poorly photoshopped covers of movie characters or ships or generic Star Wars action shots of lightsaber duels and X-wings that have virtually nothing to do with the actual plot. These covers all have a theme to them and it really separates them from the other 50-ish Star Wars books on the shelf at the end of the SFF section. Until they put a character on the cover that isn't even in the book, these covers are full of win for me.

My one nitpick is that I'm not sure who the lightsaber wielding Jedi is suppossed to be. It might be Ben Skywalker (Luke's son for those of you that aren't up to date on the Star Wars present). The face just looks off though and I can almost see Harrison Ford's Han Solo in there. I think Ben is suppossed to be in the neighborhood of 20-25 and this character look older.
It might not be Ben though. If it was a new Jedi not related to the Big Three, I would be happy as a fanboy at a Jar Jar stoning.Omen (Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi, Book 2), which arrives on shelves next week, features a mysterious tattooed vixen wielding a red lightsaber. Unless Jaina (Leia and Han's daughter) got into some kinky stuff between Books 1 and 2, it's pretty safe to say shes a new character (and possibly Sith).

Also, can you spot the significant difference between the covers of Books 1-3? If you can't, try to figure out which author hasn't written in the Star Wars universe before and then read this post.

I wasn't lying.

Jun 18, 2009

Sub-genre Declaration: Theopunk!

Over at Omnivoracious, China Mieville is guest-blogging about new literaty movements in the vein of Steampunk or the New Weird. My personal favorite is Noird, which could apply to Mieville's The City and The City which I reviewed earlier this week. Giving some serious thought to the discussion, I've noticed a sub-genre without a name for a while now.

I've realized that there seems to be a prevalence of theology related books that don't quite fit into the traditional Epic Fantasy/Fantasy genres/subgenres. They aren’t straightforward fantasy since they are often set in the real world and use real theologies. Most aren’t going to be unobjectionable enough to get shelved in the Religious Fiction section either. And they sure as hell (or heaven) aren’t regular fiction.

I’d classify these books as “Theopunk”

Theopunk: A subgenre of fantasy literature primarily dealing with existing theology or theological beings/elements typically in the context of struggle against oppression/authority.

Notable Works of Theopunk
His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman
Vellum/Ink by Hal Duncan
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
God's Demon by William Barlowe
Preacher (Graphic Novels) by Garth Ennis

Marginal Theopunk Works
Sandman (Graphic Novels) by Neil Gaiman
Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins

Anyone else have examples of Theopunk that I might not have read or be aware of?

Or what's your new sub-genre?

Why am I not surpised?

I guess it's fair. Alec Guiness hated playing Obi-Wan Kenobi and asked to be killed off.

Fact or Fantasy?

I've seen blogs about SciFi to SciFact. Here's a story straight out of a fantasy novel.

Raining Tadpoles

Now I assuming that somehow the tadpoles were in a body of water that somehow got sucked up very rapidly in some kind of water cyclone/tornado funnel and hurled into the distance, at which point it looked like they were raining.

I highly doubt they were swimming around in the clouds.

And if we assume that it is a supernatural rain of tadpoles, what gives? Some kind of new stealth operation? Regular frogs would be too dramatic?

Jun 17, 2009

Resizing Title Font

So far I realized I'm not so great at the whole html thing. Anybody got any advice about how to resize my title posts?

Any help would be appreciated.

Adrian Tchaikovsky Coming to the US!

Pyr-o-mania: Adrian Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt Coming to the US

Pyr has picked up the Shadows of the Apt series for US release. The series is written by Adrian Tchaikovsky, who is just one of the many UK authors who I have read good things about but don't have books available in the US yet. It's not that difficult to get around this with the internet and whatnot but I try to support the US publishers and bolster the US sales where I can.I would hate if an author sold extremely well in England due to American readers cannibalizing the sales and then flopped when the books finally made it across the pond since the most interested people already bought them internationally.

Here's a blurb from the first book to give you an idea what the series is about:

Seventeen years ago Stenwold witnessed the Wasp Empire storming the city of Myna in a brutal war of conquest. Since then he has preached vainly against this threat in his home city of Collegium, but now the Empire is on the march, with its spies and its armies everywhere, and the Lowlands lie directly in its path. All the while, Stenwold has been training youthful agents to fight the Wasp advance, and the latest recruits include his niece, Che, and his mysterious ward, Tynisa. When his home is violently attacked, he is forced to send them ahead of him and, hotly pursued, they fly by airship to Helleron, the first city in line for the latest Wasp invasion. Stenwold and Che are Beetle-kinden, one of many human races that take their powers and inspiration each from a totem insect, but he also has allies of many breeds: Mantis, Spider, Ant, with their own particular skills. Foremost is the deadly Mantis-kinden warrior, Tisamon, but other very unlikely allies also join the cause. As things go from bad to worse amid escalating dangers, Stenwold learns that the Wasps intend to use the newly completed railroad between Helleron and Collegium to launch a lightning strike into the heart of the Lowlands. Then he gathers all of his agents to force a final showdown in the engine yard...

Pyr is also publishing them with brand new covers by Jon Sullivan who did the 2nd and 3rd covers in the UK. Hopefully, he will maintain (or exceed) that level of quality.

Pyr will be releasing these books in quick succession, hitting shelves in March/April/May 2010. The quick release schedule is one of my favorite things about Pyr. (Besides the quality, that is)

Congrats to Adrian and check these out if you like insect steampunk fantasy. Who doesn't?

Jun 16, 2009

YetiPreview: Powers

Since finishing The City and The City I decided to finish up Ursula K. LeGuin's Annals of the Western Shore trilogy with Powers (Annals of the Western Shore). Powers was also this year's Nebula award winner. This was extremely unexpected as I had never heard of the book before seeing the award shortlist.

Powers is Young Adult, but I try make a point to read the award winners (and most of the shortlist if I can) just so I can see if I agree with the awards process. I've read the first two books in the trilogy (although they aren't a dependent trilogy) and I have a sneaking suspicion that if these books had been written by anyone but Le Guin they wouldn't have won. But being fair, I've only read the first two (Gifts and Voices) so it still could be worthy of the praise.

I was going to pull a synopsis from Amazon and insert it here but I think I just managed to spoil myself as a significant plot event appears to have been included in the general description. I'm amazed at ability of reviews to ruin good plot twists or entire stories, just because they can't write anything besides a freaking plot summary.

Plot summary =/= Review.

End Rant. Anyway, on to the cover art. For the most part, I don't like seeing characters on my covers especially photorealistic ones. There are some exceptions but for the most part I would avoid it if it was my decision. I like the blues and greens of the rest of the cover though and the 1 word titles work well. I did notice that it's not readily apparent which book is which in the series, something that can be annoying if you aren't ordering online.

I also like the balance between the author and the title. Some famous authors just overshadow the rest of the cover and it's a sign that the publishing company thinks the book will sell on name alone. More often than not, an author who has that much recognition might be phoning it in. Read the latest Grisham legal thriller or Clancy military doorstop and tell me I'm wrong. Ursula K. Le Guin, who has more than earned the name recognition (although maybe not with the YAs at which this is targeted) is prominent but not overwhelming, especially given the white flash which draws the eye toward the title. Overall, I would give the coverart a C, mostly due to my distaste of photorealistic people.

Powers is 512 pages long. I invite anyone to read along.


I'm going to start doing a companion piece to the YetiReviews here at Stomping on Yeti. The brilliant name is... wait for it ... YetiPreviews.

Basically, I'm going to just provide the cover and the publisher's blurb and my thoughts on both along with some general thoughts on the author and what I'm expecting from the book.

Look for the first YetiPreview later today/tonight.

Resisting the Robotic Revolution is Futile

Robots are coming. Angry robots. An army of angry robots. And that army is growing...

Angry Robot Books is a new imprint that will be hitting bookstores this fall (summer in the UK). They've confirmed a few books thus far across a variety of speculative fiction sub-genres including horror, urban fantasy, and near-future SF thriller. I've heard of a few of their debut authors but for the most part, it looks like they are giving some new talent a chance.

I'm always curious about new imprints as they usually bring some fresh perspective, new authors, and fantastic stories. Most imprint debut novels are winners as it makes little sense to establish a reputation of poor quality with your readers. Hopefully, the editors are picking those first few novels very carefully as it can make or break the reputation of your brand.

Earlier this week, Angry Robot Books detailed 3 more authors they have added to their line up. Some quick thoughts

Maurice Broaddus is writing a trilogy about the "Knights of Breton Court" which is being described as King Arthur retelling set among the drugs gangs of modern day urban America. This doesn't strike me as necessarily speculative but I'll read anything that's good so this will definitely be added to my watchlists. I'm most curious who the Merlin character will be. A corrupt cop? The dope suppliers? An old and wizened ex-dealer?

The 2nd author, Matt Forbeck, has sold a pair of novels. The first, Amortals, which is scheduled for November 2009, sounds like your typical neo-noir futuristic noir in the vein of Blade Runner or Altered Carbon. These books can be either really good or really meh. Hopefully, Forbeck can make it something worthwhile.

His second book intrigues me more. In late spring 2010, VEGAS KNIGHTS will hit the shelves. Touted as Oceans Eleven meets Harry Potter, this sounds like a fun thriller that I'll keep an eye out for.

The 3rd author, Mike Shevdon has two books in queue, both in a Fantasy/Urban Fantasy series (can't tell which). Sixty-One Nails and The Road to Bedlam are the first two books in the Niall Petersen chronology, promising a hidden world below our own. I love good urban fantasy but loathe paranormal romance and this sounds like its more of the former which is a good thing. Plus the first book is touted as "immense" something many publishers are reluctant to give debut authors unless they think they have something worth the page count.

Be sure to keep an eye on Angry Books and their cadre of authors in the coming months, they might be up to something special.

YetiReview: The City and The City

20 words or less: Engrossing murder mystery combining masterful worldbuilding with one heck of an idea piece with a very fulfilling ending.

My Rating: 4.5/5

Pros: Imaginative worldbuilding that had me thinking about the book even when I wasn’t reading it, very strong ending that flowed naturally from the set-up.
Cons: Character depth/backstory a little lacking, occasional infodumping

The Review: China Mieville has written some weirdly wonderful stories. His latest offering, The City & The City, is no exeception. In his first few works, Mieville established a reputation for creating astounding cities almost beyond description emphasis on the word “almost.” Mieville has now taken his talent for urban worldbuilding and raised the bar, weaving a murder mystery in, over, and through the cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma. Without getting into the particulars (which is half the fun of the story), it is clear the two cities are closely intertwined in ways that are not fully understood by even the denizens of the two cities themselves.

When Detective Tyador Borlu discovers the lifeless body of a young woman in Beszel, he refuses to let it go. His quest for answers eventually leads him across borders and boundaries he never planned to cross: some physical and some something else entirely. Soon it is not one but two mysteries that drive this story forward; why was this young woman murdered and what does her murder suggest about The Cities?

While less overtly fantastical than some of his other novels, The City and The City captured my imagination pretty much from the get go. It started off a little heavy as Mieville tries to relate the rules of the world he’s writing in quickly and succinctly, at times resorting to the dreaded info-dump. However, as soon as I finally felt like I understood the rules of the story, Mieville started breaking them. Just trying to wrap my mind around the potential solutions became increasingly difficult as the twin mysteries began to intertwine. As the clues surfaced, I began to doubt everything I thought I knew about these strange exotic cities. The twists kept coming until the very end and I was impressed with Mieville’s ability to make me fluctuate between potential answers without ever feeling manipulated. Some mysteries lay it on too thick and characters act in irrational ways, solely for the sake of throwing the reader off the trail. In interviews, Mieville describes his feelings toward the whodunnit genre and what he believes is its intrinsic flaw: that the questions are always more interesting than the answers the author provides. If this is true, then he has managed to combine his attempt at noir with his penchant for the fantastic into something that rises above perceived genre trappings.

While strong, the mysterious plot and the imaginative world Mieville has concocted often dominate the story to the point where the characters seem less important than the settings and situations they find themselves in. While I am glad he didn’t resort to such tropes as the alcoholic divorced cop who only lives for the thrill of the case, the characters didn’t have much back story of their own. This seemed strange and off putting at first, the more I considered the missing characterization the more I was glad Mieville didn’t try and force a specific vision of Borlu or any of the other characters on us. By visualizing my own character concepts, I really got into the story itself and imagined myself walking side by side with Borlu down the city streets. Without realizing it, I had gotten lost in The City and The City and I was glad I did.

Jun 15, 2009

Comments Open

Just as a reference, I've opened the comments to make it easier to post.

Don't go too crazy.

Primeval Extinct?!

Horrible puns aside, Primeval’s cancellation is just another kick in the teeth for us fans of sci-fi television. While it wasn’t the deepest SF show on TV, the first two seasons were quality fun (haven’t seen the full 3rd season yet) and they managed to elevate the story quality past Monster of the Week. Primeval improved on itself in Season 2, both in terms of quality and sci-fi content (time-travel/alternate history). Unless the quality dropped significantly toward the end of Season 3, this is somewhat surprising, especially the spoilers floating around which suggest that there is absolutely zero closure to any of the plot lines.

I know TV is all about money. While the showrunners and writers might be crafting labors of love, the networks executives have all the power. Unless you are George Lucas (who could afford to run a Star Wars TV show without any advertisers at all, probably on its own channel), without the networks, you don’t have a TV show. Things are slowly changing with the internet but without a network budget profitably lower than your advertising revenue, your show is dead. Primeval either cost too much or was watched by too few. And now it’s extinct.

I’m not sure about the actual percentages but I'm sure a not-so-insignificant amount of revenue comes from DVD sales. I know Family Guy and Futurama sold well enough on DVD to get new episodes. Firefly did well enough to get Serenity which, while not a box-office smash hit, was a quality SF adventure. There has to be some money there, right? You’ve seen them in the stores: Jericho: The Complete Series, Firefly: The Complete Series, Journeyman: The Complete Series. The fans who loved the series will buy the DVDs. Some for enjoyment, others with some deranged hope of getting the series renewed, yet others to gift to their friends to show them what they were missing. “Can I borrow Season 2?” “Cancelled, you say?” “Thanks, asshole.”

I for one won’t buy a series DVD without some resolution, at least not for serialized TV like most SF tends to be. I didn’t buy Firefly until there was Serenity. I’ll admit I should have been watching when it was on, but I didn’t realize it was there until after it was gone. Journeyman, I watched the episodes on TV but why would I want to rewatch a show with no ending? If you are going to pay good money for some story content, shouldn’t you want at least some semblance of a completed story? There is more quality content out there than you can ever hope to consume. And most of it has a resolution.

Would you buy a book that was missing the last 200 pages? Sorry, the book got canceled. A CD that abruptly cuts off in the middle of track 7? How about a video game with no bosses? The final level just doesn’t happen. Go see Shakespeare on a stage where the actors just do the first two acts because the runtime was getting too long. These would be lampooned by reviewers, consumers, and everyone else in between. So why can the TV production companies get away with it? Why do we let them kill our favorite TV shows AND then pay them for the privilege of owning the headless corpse?

Primeval: The Incomplete Series will be arriving in your local Best Buys and Wal-marts this fall

Jun 13, 2009

A Tale of A City and Another City

Deeply engrossed inside Mieville's The City and The City. Should have a review up tomorrow or Monday. Then comes Best Served Cold or the Nebula award winning Powers by Le Guin.

Anyone else reading/finished TC&TC? What do/did you think?

Also, if you aren't reading xkcd, why not?. Here's a recent favorite:

Jun 12, 2009

Throw another book on the Pyr...

No, not Farenheit 451. Over at Pyr-o-mania Lou Anders has announced that debut author Jon Sprunk has been signed to a 3 book deal with Pyr. His fantasy trilogy, comprised of Shadow's Son, Shadow's Lure, and Shadow's Master is given the following blurb.

The first book, Shadow’s Son, is the story of an assassin thrust into the
middle of a political and religious upheaval that threatens to topple the
last bastion of civilization. It's got everything that Pyr fantasy is coming
to represent - great action, grit & grime, morally ambiguous characters,
strong females who are more than foils, complex politics, actual magic, and
lots and lots of swordplay.

Now, I'm a huge fan of Pyr. They've only been on the scene for a few years and in my mind, they have established a reputation of quality publishing, to the point where I will give a book a chance just because its got the Pyr insignia on the spine. Ian McDonald (Brasyl, River of Gods), Joe Abercrombie (The Blade Itself), Kay Kenyon (The Entire and the Rose), the Fast Forward anthologies (Fast Forward 1). All quality. All Pyr. Right now, I'm eagerly anticipating Paul McAuley (The Quiet War), another British author getting a lot of good press before his US debut.

One of my favorite things that Pyr does is publishing on a schedule thats reader-centric. Rather than rolling out US releases for UK books out several months or even years apart, like some publishers are apt to do, Pyr has debuted several trilogies in consecutive months. I absolutely love this. When you read 40+ books a year, waiting a year between books can make it almost impossible to enjoy the second or third book in a trilogy without rereading. This quick schedule allows me to either wait a few months until all the books are released to begin reading without losing interest in the series or forgetting to look for the book release. Just right now, I have the first 2 Age of Misrule books (Mark Chadbourn) on my shelf waiting for the concluding volume.

I'm not sure off the release schedule for Jon Sprunk's Shadow trilogy, but if it's anything like previous Pyr releases, it's something you will want to check out.

Congratulations Jon!

Jun 11, 2009

Horrible News Everyone!

Word around the internet suggests that a certain animated show created by Matt Groening set in the year 3000 is getting new episodes on Comedy Central. No, not The Simpsons: Season One Thousand and Eleven, the other one. FUTURAMA!

Futurama has always been a favorite of mine since its original debut in 1999. It was The Simpsons for the hardcore geek, blending math and science jokes, science fiction clich├ęs, and floating celebrity heads. Futurama offered a cast of characters more diverse and almost as numerous as that of The Simpsons. Fry, Leela, Bender, Professor Farnsworth, Zap Brannigan, Calculon, Morbo, Hedonism Bot. My list of favorite characters could go on and on. If you haven’t seen the original episodes, do yourself a favor: Futurama, Volumes 1 - 4

Unfortunately, Futurama debuted in an unfortunate timeslot, airing on 7:00 PM ET Sundays, just early enough to be pre-empted every other week by the long running NFL football game. I remember the traumatic experience of popping in a VCR tape only to watch 25 minutes of a game I could care less about followed by a mangled 5 minutes of insensible Futurama if anything. Those were the days before Tivo. Those were dark days. For the most part, a geek audience is a loyal audience as long as they are happy. Pre-empting episodes, showing episodes out of order, and generally abusing a show is not how you keep a geek audience happy. (See Firefly).

Eventually, the production of new episodes for Fox ceased but Futurama refused to die. Lingering on in comics and syndication on Cartoon Network, Futurama (paired with Family Guy) got enough ratings to eventually justify a syndication promotion to Comedy Central in combination with 4 Direct to DVD feature length movies (Bender's Big Score, Bender's Game, The Beast with a Billion Backs, Into the Wild Green Yonder), the last of which was released in February of 2009.

Obviously the cable ratings remained decent enough and DVD movies and TV seasons sold well to prove that Futurama was still a viable property. It might not be sustainable on Network TV like CSI: Cincinnati or Law & Order: Campus Police but for a smaller station like Comedy Central, Futurama represents a profitable franchise with a built in audience. Something increasingly hard to develop in today’s mediaverse, resulting in the re-use and overuse of any tangible property.

So Futurama is coming back with 26 brand new half-hour episodes. It’s like Christmas in June. But which Christmas? Christmas 2000? Or X-Mas 3000, complete with Evil Robotic Santa? Since cancellation we’ve gotten 4 feature length Futurama movies. They were ok. I laughed occasionally, but most of the time I didn’t want to admit to myself I was disappointed. It could just be that Futurama works best in 22 minute chunks and when expanded to feature length most of the plot-centric jokes get too stale to still be funny. Hopefully, the new episodes will recapture the tone of the old.

Family Guy, the original animated Lazarus, was renewed after stores realized they couldn’t keep the DVDs on the shelves. However, when it debuted it returned like something buried in sacred Indian soil. It looked like Family Guy and sounded like Family Guy but it wasn’t the same thing that we buried. The characters seemed different and the jokes weren’t as funny. Maybe the jokes were all used up. Maybe the cancellation/rebirth made the writers feel like they could get away with anything. The jokes that used to be offensive and hilarious were just offensive now. The magic was gone. Not to mention the fact that Family Guy somehow mutated the once classic Simpsons into a shadow of itself.

I want more Futurama. But only on the condition that it’s quality Futurama. Family Guy, once great, is now merely passable. The Simpsons, as iconic as iconic can get, is no longer remotely watch-able. I don’t think I can stand to watch another property slowly ground into bachelor chow.

I hope the new Futurama episodes will reach Omicron Persei 8 before they destroy the planet. I fear our alien overlords might obliterate us anyway.

All Glory to the Hypnotoad.

Jun 10, 2009

Best of the Naughties

Classic. Must-read. Essential.

These words are thrown about a lot with books and movies, particularly in SFF circles. But ask someone how to choose a classic and you’ll get more definitions than examples of bad science in Star Trek.

I think fundamentally, it comes down to the answer to the question “If I am going to grant a portion of my finite existence to SFF, which SFF books have the highest probability of being worth a fraction of my life?” Much to the chagrin of many completists like myself, you can’t read/watch/experience everything. You can certainly try. You will also most certainly fail.

Like most abstractions, it’s easy to ask the question. It’s harder to answer it. And it’s almost impossible to explain why your answer is correct.

For example, try and tell me what science fiction books written in the current decade are classics. What are the must read fantasy tomes of the past ten years? What is in the essential SFF geek library on the shelf marked 2000-2009?

Do you go by popular opinion? I would include Harry Potter in my classics but I’ll burn the library down before I put the Twilight books on my shelf. Kevin J. Anderson’s Dune books outsold Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, what does that say about the popular vote?

How about the award winners?

Nebula Award
2000 - Parable of the Talents
2001 - Darwin's Radio
2002 - The Quantum Rose
2003 - American Gods
2004 - The Speed of Dark
2005 - Paladin of Souls
2006 - Camouflage
2007 - Seeker
2008 - The Yiddish Policeman's Union

Hugo Award
2000 - A Deepness in the Sky
2001 - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
2002 - American Gods
2003 - Hominids
2004 - Paladin of Souls
2005 - Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell
2006 - Spin
2007 - Rainbows End
2008 - The Yiddish Policeman's Union

American Gods. Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Spin. There is some good stuff there, certainly. Some of the winners might be classics but I doubt that 10 years from now every one of those books will be consider the best book of the year.

Outside of sales and awards, there isn’t a whole lot else to go on. Internet reviews? Blog consensus? Convention panels? I don’t think you can pick a classic. Some might be early bloomers, books with classic potential from day 1, and some might not hit their essential spurt til their junior year of high school.

It might be a simple as the right book at the right time. I’ve picked up books I couldn’t finish the first time and absolutely devoured them later. It might be an event years later that makes society read a book in a different light. It might be classics are just the favorite books of the upper echelon of the genre authors, editors and other influential voices. In the end, I think attempts to declare essential or classic genre books within a few years of their release is, while extremely fun, ultimately futile. Not to mention the chances of your predictions lasting long enough to be confirmed or disproven.

So all that being said: what are your three essential books of the new millennium?

Jun 9, 2009

Do or Do Not: There Is No Try.

Ewan over at http://www.swbooks.co.uk/ is reporting the following about the Dec 2009 Star Wars novel Blood Oath.
"It appears that Elaine Cunningham's much anticipated Legacy of the Force sequel, Blood Oath, has either been postponed again (it was originally scheduled for release in April this year but had to be put back to December because LucasBooks had not received Elaine's manuscript in time), or even cancelled. This is because RandomHouse.com has removed their listing and Amazon.com have stopped taking Pre-Orders for this paperback. The last time Blood Oath 'disappeared' from RandomHouse.com was when it's release was re-scheduled from April 2009 to December 2009. However since RandomHouse.com's listings can only list scheduled releases for the next six months, it is possible (and more likely than cancellation) that Blood Oath's release has been put back beyond RandomHouse.com's listing capabilities, i.e. it has been re-scheduled for release beyond December 2009 for reasons, as yet, unknown."
This is disappointing and also somewhat unexpected. The information deluge incarnate in the internet often results in projects being announced, discussed, and available for pre-order months, if not years before they hit the shelves. Given that, this isn’t the first, second, or hundredth time an announced book has gotten delayed (care to comment GRRM?). But it’s not just the fact that the book was delayed that has me scratching my head.

It’s the fact it was a Star Wars book.

Now I’m a Star Wars junkie but I’m not going to pretend SW books are higher literature. They are tie-in novels for a franchise. A popular franchise. A profitable franchise. A very profitable franchise. A Star Wars tie-in novel isn’t just a book, it’s an opportunity. Ask Mike Stackpole, Timothy Zahn, Karen Traviss, or Matthew Stover. These are four authors who write phenomenal stuff. These are also four authors I probably wouldn’t have heard of or tried if not for their Star Wars novels. These are also 4 authors who can now put “New York Bestselling Author” on their books any time they want. I don’t know their financials (or they hope I don't) but I’m guessing they also get at least 10x the sales for their Star Wars novels then they do for their other books (if they are even still in print). They also probably get a monthly residual check from Star Wars that their other books don't provide. Don’t let the literary elite trick you, writing a “hack” tie-in novel can be a great career move, both in terms of financial support and name recognition.

I’ve read a lot of Star Wars novels. Some are extremely good (see authors mentioned above). Some are agonizingly bad. Most, however, are mediocre. I don’t think it’s exceedingly difficult for a previously published writer (requirement for Lucasbooks) to put together a story that meets their standards. Don’t kill Luke, Han, or Leia and you’re halfway there. I find it hard to imagine that Ms. Cunningham (or any other contracted author) can't put together an acceptable novel within the agreed upon time. There's just too much incentive on the table.

Maybe the folks over at Lucasbooks feel like their publishing schedule is too strong for the weakened economy to fully support. Maybe George Lucas swung his incontestable lightsaber of final edit. Maybe there were extenuating circumstances I’m not privy too. But if you get the opportunity to write a tie-in novel for Star Wars (or Halo, Warcraft, or any of the New York Times worthy franchises), I suggest you take it. Then aside from other work to which you are contractually obligated, make it your No. 1 priority. Write it to the best of your ability. Don’t phone it in, the effort you put in this juncture could have implications throughout your career. And for the love of Yoda, turn it in on time!
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