Mar 31, 2010

YetiStomper Picks for April

April 1st. April Fool's Day. While it's tempting to spotlight A Dance With Dragons and Harper Lee's new Sci-Fi Lovecraftian Hybrid, I would like to retain something of a reputation here. If you are looking for new books, these are worth checking out, no joke.

Ghosts of Manhattan - George Mann

Steampunk meets superhero in George Mann's latest novel from Pyr. Set back in the decadent 20s, Ghosts of Manhattan is a noir vision of an alternate New York City full of vigilantes, mobsters, and more. George Mann's other steampunk work (Newbury & Hobbes) is very enjoyable so it will be interesting to see how he works in the pulp/superhero feel. Another great Pyr cover!

Changes - Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files, Book 12 - The Dresden Files is my favorite Urban Fantasy series, no exceptions. Butcher's voice as Dresden is top notch and the series only continues to get better. While most series stagnate after a few volumes, The Dresden Files have continued to evolve along with the central character. Dresden continues to rise in the ranks of his wizarding society, making increasingly powerful friends and foes. This book features the return of former reporter and love-interest, Susan Rodriguez, whose daughter bears a striking resemblance to Chicago's favorite wizard. A must read for sure.

Up Jim River - Michael Flynn

The January Dancer Universe, Book 2 - Flynn's last book, The January Dancer, came and went with a lot of critical acclaim but didn't seem to get the attention it deserved. Later this month, Flynn is returning to the same SF universe and many of the same characters in a new adventure. Up Jim River follows a group of renegade explorers as they explore an incredible river on a backwater planet, one that holds many secrets in its winding branches and treacherous bayous. The January Dancer was advertised as The Maltese Falcon IN SPACE, this may be Flynn's take on The African Queen or any of a number of Amazon adventures.

Under Heaven - Guy Gavriel Kay

Unbelievably, I haven't read any of Guy Gavriel Kay's work to date. Shame on me, I know. From everything I've read about him, he is one of the best fantasy writers working today. From what I've read about Under Heaven, this book could be one of the best speculative fiction novels of the year. Set in a fantasy world rooted in an 8th century Chinese culture, Under Heaven promises a unique story that begins when a poor man is unexpectedly given a gift fit for an Emperor. Between Kay's reputation and the hype from early reviews, this is another must read for anyone who considers themselves a serious genre fan.

Bitter Seeds - Ian Tregillis

The Milkweed Triptych, Book 1 - Ian Tregillis is one of my next round of Authors Worth Watching and his debut novel is one I've been anticipating since I first heard the tagline: "It’s 1939. The Nazis have supermen, the British have demons, and one perfectly normal man gets caught in between." Daniel Abraham (whose work I love) has had very, very high praise for this series, saying "It's pretty much the coolest structure for a trilogy I've ever seen." Those two quotes had me sold and this is one of my most anticipated debuts of the year. Plus it's got Nazis and Demons in an alternate WWII, what's not to love?

Dragonfly Falling - Adrian Tchaikovsky

Shadows of the Apt - Adrian Tchaikovsky returns to the visceral world of The Shadows of the Apt with the US release of Dragonfly Falling. Dragonfly Falling combines personal conflicts with battles on a more epic scale and the insect based culture makes this series distinct among other comparable modern fantasies. This series also has the benefit of being released shotgun style from Pyr so if you start reading now, you can read the first three books back to back to back.

New Model Army - Adam Roberts

The good news is that Adam Roberts' new novel sounds awesome. The bad news is that it won't be out until March 10th, 2011 in the US. Huzzah for the Book Depository and Free Global Shipping! New Model Army is advertised as "a terrifying vision of a near future war - a civil war that tears the UK apart as new technologies allow the world's first truly democratic army to take on the British army and wrest control from the powers that be." I love SF that has one foot in the present and this book appears to be just that.

WWW: Watch - Robert J. Sawyer

WWW Trilogy, Book 2 - Robert Sawyer is responsible for another book with one foot in the present. WWW: Watch, the sequel to last year's WWW: Wake, continues the story of Caitlin Decter and the emerging internet based consciousness referred to as Netmind. Netmind is seen as a threat by certain portions of the US government and must be shut down. But how? Sawyer is one of Science Fiction's best writers and he manages to make his work realistic, interesting, and human, something atypical in a genre that is increasingly obsessed with distant futures and posthuman plotlines.

The Emerald Storm - Michael J. Sullivan

The Riyria Revelations, Book 4 - Michael J. Sullivan is an author who has quietly been up to some pretty cool things. His series, The Riyria Revelations, is being published by small press outfit Ridan Publishing and supported by targeted internet marketing campaigns rather than expensive, shotgun style publicity. Sullivan himself is very internet aware, often reaching out to new bloggers before any of the mainstream publishers are willing to give them the light of day. The series itself focuses on The Emerald Storm is Book 4 in this 6 book series and the books have been releasing on a twice yearly basis (starting with The Crown Conspiracy) so you only have to wait until next April to get the full story. All books have been written so you don't need to worry about him GRRMing you to death. They are also very affordable Kindle books, if that's your preferred method of absorbing fiction. This is a series a lot of people aren't aware of and one that's worth taking a look at.

Shine: An Anthology of Optimistic SF - Jetse de Vries

One of the biggest problems with science fiction is its dystopic nature. It's easy to predict ways in which the world takes a turn for the worst. It's much harder to fix things and even more so to do so in a way that also offers interesting storytelling opportunities. Jetse de Vries has pulled together a "collection of near-future, optimistic SF stories where some of the genre’s brightest stars and some of its most exciting new talents portray the possible roads to a better tomorrow." Featuring short fiction by Alastair Reynolds, Kay Kenyon, Lavie Tidhar, and Jason Stoddard among others, this anthology offers a glass half full approach to SF. Additionally, there is a Shine Anthology Blog that expands on the anthology theme by providing an open source platform for promoting and discussing optimistic SF.

April is yet another strong month and one that will likely see the reading pile graduate into a small hill. I'm declaring Under Heaven my YetiStomper Pick for April with the YetiStomper Debut going to Bitter Seeds. I'm very excited to read both. Anyway, as always, if you are interested in more details regarding any of the above books, just click on through the Amazon links. I'm more interested in telling you why I recommended them rather than simply what the books are about. Let me know if there is anything I may have missed in the comments. And which one of these covers is your favorite?

You can view previous installments of YetiStomper Picks here

Mar 30, 2010

Recovering Covers: Nights of Villjamur [US cover]

Over at his always challenging blog, Mark Charan Newton is showing off the revised cover art for the US release of  Nights of Villjamur.

New US Cover
Original US Cover (Artist Unknown)

Original Cover Art: Artist Unknown

While I love the color of the stone walls in the original cover, I think that the new cover increases the epic feel of the cover in almost every way. There is more of a sense of foreboding between the miniscule figure and the castle that dwarfs it. Rather than accompanying it or (the sense I get from the original), they now seem to be at odds. Like the man is watching the castle and contemplating evil plans. The original figure could just be talking a walk. Who do you think that outsider represents? Here's the blurb.

Beneath a dying red sun sits the proud and ancient city of Villjamur, capital of a mighty empire that now sits powerless against an encroaching ice age. As throngs of refugees gather outside the city gates, a fierce debate rages within the walls about the fate of these desperate souls. Then tragedy strikes—and the Emperor’s elder daughter, Jamur Rika, is summoned to serve as queen. Joined by her younger sister, Jamur Eir, the queen comes to sympathize with the hardships of the common people, thanks in part to her dashing teacher Randur Estevu, a man who is not what he seems.

Meanwhile, the grisly murder of a councillor draws the attention of Inspector Rumex Jeryd. Jeryd is a rumel, a species of nonhuman that can live for hundreds of years and shares the city with humans, birdlike garuda, and the eerie banshees whose forlorn cries herald death. Jeryd’s investigation will lead him into a web of corruption—and to an obscene conspiracy that threatens the lives of Rika and Eir, and the future of Villjamur itself.

But in the far north, where the drawn-out winter has already begun, an even greater threat appears, against which all the empire’s military and magical power may well prove useless—a threat from another world.

I also think the text is sharper and less flowery. I'm not sure about the snowflake design in the original cover but you get the same cold and snowy sense without the excess "flake-iness" (sorry). From a marketing perspective, it does have the castle and cloaked figure that suggest fantasy, although its not as heavy handed as some other covers. While I prefer this, it might not be as clear for the normal fantasy fan looking for fantasy books channeling the original Wheel of Time covers. It definitely unique, which is a good thing in my opinion.

Overall, the new cover is an improvement although it doesn't have the same visual pop that the original had with the sharp contrast of the brown castle walls and the blue winter sky.

Nights of Villjamur hits US bookstores on June 29th, 2010 from Spectra. It's out now in the UK!

How Do I Organize My Library?

A few weeks back, John Ottinger III asked members of the book-blogosphere "How do you organize your library?"Over on Grasping For The Wind, you can see my response along with approximately 25 others.

You might also want to check it out if you are a sucker for bookcase porn of the SFW variety there is also a full complement of accompanying images.
Here's a sneak preview of my library (although its about to change with the big move).

Ok, not really... But I wish...

The display bookcase

SF Masterworks

The Overflow

These bookcases are all past tense as I am now in the midst of moving to a new place (explains the lack of posts recently). Once I figure out what the plan is for the new place, I should be able to post my newly shelved and newly organized library.

Anyway, head on over to Grasping for the Wind and see how everyone else does it.

Mar 29, 2010

Covering Covers: The Heroes - Joe Abercrombie

The blogosphere is abuzz with the cover debut of Joe Abercrombie's latest book, The Heroes, due out in Q1 2011. You can read Orbit's post about it here. Or read what Niall at The Speculative Scotsman thinks here. Or the Mad Hatter at his Bookshelf and Book Review here. Or Aidan at a Dribble of Ink here. Needless to say, everyone is excited for this one, with good reason.

Here is the US cover. (May or may not show up, blogger is being difficult today)

Cover Artists: Steve Stone (primary) / Lauren Panepinto (creative director)

And the accompanying blurb

War: where the blood and dirt of the battlefield hide the dark deeds committed in the name of glory. THE HEROES is about violence and ambition, gruesome deaths and betrayals; and the brutal truth that no plan survives contact with enemy. The characters are the stars, as ever, and the message is dark: when it comes to war, there are no heroes…


Curnden Craw: a ruthless fighter who wants nothing more than to see his crew survive.

Prince Calder: a liar and a coward, he will regain his crown by any means necessary.

Bremer dan Gorst: a master swordsman, a failed bodyguard, his honor will be restored—in the blood of his enemies.

Over three days, their fates will be sealed.
Abercrombie is a love him or hate him kind of author, mostly due to his dark and gritty style. His books are full of blood, violence, sex, betrayal, violence, and blood. Oh so much blood. As you can plainly see, it's starting to leak through the dust jacket. I think Abercrombie works best with people who have read a lot of fantasy, so much so that the standard tropes have begun to stagnate. He takes those tropes and alters them, sometimes subtly, sometimes drastically, thereby creating something distinct and original. It's both pulpy and commentary on the fantasy genre itself.

I'd also be comfortable saying that Abercrombie may write the best action sequences out of any fantasy author writing today. If there is someone better, please let me know, I'd be very interested in reading them.

On the cover itself, I've always enjoyed the original UK covers with the maps. This one takes the map elements of the UK originals and mixes them with the feel of the US cover of Best Served Cold, the first Abercrombie book to be published by Orbit US. That cover was a little meh for my liking but with The Heroes Orbit has emphasized the best aspects of that cover and minimized the worst while bringing in the map theme of the UK covers that works so well. The cover of The Heroes replicates the violence of the first cover while remaining distinct. I think that people will see this on the shelves and realize its an Abercrombie cover and if that name doesn't do anything for them, the blood will catch their eye.

The one questionable aspect is that it doesn't have easily recognizable hoods or swords so I have to ask "How will people know it's fantasy?" It's also important to note that this isn't the final cover so we will see what happens there along with the UK cover.

The Heroes is due out in Q1 2011 and I can't wait to return to the Circle of the World and the brilliant characters Abercrombie has created there.

Covering Covers: Side Jobs by Jim Butcher

Typically every spring marks the release of yet another entry in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series. This spring is no exception with the debut of Changes, the 12th novel in the series, coming April 6th. But fans of the series will be excited to know that they don't need to wait another year to get more Dresden. Roc has decided to release all of Butcher's Dresden short stories to date in an HC anthology entitled Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files this October, along with a few brand new stories.

Here's the cover.
Cover Artist: Chris McGrath
 Here is the ToC
  • "Restoration of Faith" - (Read Online)
  • "Vignette" - (Read Online)
  • "Something Borrowed" -- from My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding
  • "It's My Birthday Too" -- from Many Bloody Returns
  • "Heorot" -- from My Big Fat Supernatural Honeymoon
  • "Day Off" -- from Blood Lite
  • Backup -- novelette from Thomas' POV, originally published by Subterranean Press
  • The Warrior -- novelette from Mean Streets
  • "Last Call" -- from Strange Brew
  • "Love Hurts" -- from Songs of Love and Death
  • And exclusive, all-new material!
Regarding the cover, it's the standard Dresden cover by Chris McGrath which typically focuses on mostly on Harry. I don't love the focus on a single character but the point of this cover is to say "HEY DRESDEN FILES OVER HERE" and it that respect it succeeds tremendously. Butcher has reached the point where you could put almost anything on the cover. It breaks no new ground artistically or stylistic but it's commercial perfect. I'm not an author but I can guess which one most would choose (especially M.C. Newton). I do love the implied textures in the cover, giving it a very gritty, noir feel. Most Urban Fantasy covers don't have any stylistic direction. McGrath knows what he's doing.

Regarding the collection, I'm excited to get all of these short stories in one place. I've got a few of the Urban Fantasy anthologies in which they originally appeared but they are expensive when you only really want to read a few of the stories. [Confession: I've read a few of these stories in a Barnes and Noble coffee shop without buying the book]. Butcher is a great name to have on your anthology cover but the tone and content of his stories is decidedly different than the majority of the stories in those anthologies (paranormal romance anyone?). The stories themselves are as much fun as the full length adventures albeit more tightly focused. I've read probably 75% of them but The Dresden Files are fantastic enough for a reread.

If you haven't read The Dresden Files yet and aren't completely opposed to Urban Fantasy (some people hate vampires in all their forms), you are really missing out. You might have even read the 1st or 2nd novels and then gave up. The 1st and 2nd books (Storm Front and Foul Moon) are without a doubt the weakest books in the series (focusing on fairly generic vampire and werewolves) and they only get better. Butcher had some issues with plotting early on even though his narrative voice was there. In my opinion, I would say that Butcher's/Harry's voice is best male POV in Urban Fantasy. Butcher has progressed tremendously in his writing over the years and his books are fun, fast-paced, and addictive as hell.

Changes comes out April 6th and Side Jobs: Stories From the Dresden Files hits shelves October 26th.

Mar 23, 2010

Question: Do You Read Online Excerpts?

I've noticed a trend recently of many publishers coordinating the release of excerpts (exclusive or not) through their websites or book blogs. Chapter 1 of one book. Chapter 3 of another.

I see the posts come and go but I almost never read them. Occassionally, I will bookmark the excerpts with the intention to go back to them but I very rarely do. I read excerpts if it's a book I'm really, really looking forward to (not that many of those) or if it's an author or book I'm researching for my blog and I can't get a hold of a hard copy. If I'm going to read the book already, why waste my time rereading something awkwardly online that I am just going to read again? If I've got enough time to read an extended piece of fiction, why don't I just grab my book?

If anything the excerpts are nothing more than a reminder that the book exists. Aside from that, I wouldn't miss them. Do any of you like book excerpts? Do any of you read them? Do you use them to pick out future reads?

Mar 22, 2010

Poll: A few more site changes...

In response to comments about the font size and the grey/blue contrast, I've lightened the grey background and increased the font size.

Yay? Or Nay?

Mar 21, 2010

A few site changes and a functionality check

If you haven't noticed, there are a few changes to the layout of Stomping on Yeti. Not much, but I've added a few page links along the top. They are pretty basic right now but over the coming weeks I'll be organizing a lot of the work I've done over the past several months. If you want to easily look back at review, interviews, recommendations or see what I've had come in my inbox lately, those will be the places to look.

I would be a lot further along but my computer crashed mid creation and I lost about 3 hours worth of work. Not sure why it didn't save but I do know that I wasn't pleased about it.

On a related note, how is the readability of Stomping on Yeti. Do the colors work? Font too small? Widget problems? Difficultly commenting? Or finding things?

I'm not extremely happy with the blogger platform but I don't have enough free time at the moment to switch everything over. In the meantime, let me know if anyone has any comments on how I could improve things from readability perspective. Telling me I suck at writing can't be fixed with html work, no matter how true it is.

Any comments would be appreciated.

Mar 16, 2010

YetiReview: Backlash (Fate of the Jedi, Book 4) by Aaron Allston

20 words or less: Despite some illogical character decisions, Backlash appeals to fans of both the original and prequel trilogies while continuing to build on the groundwork of the series and fix the expanded universe.

My Rating: 3.5/5

Pros: Luke and Ben feature in a worthwhile plot with memorable scenes; Crazed Jedi plotline continues to build slowly but steadily toward an unpredictable conclusion; Fate of the Jedi continues to build a strong groundwork with consistant characterization and few continuity errors;

Cons: Humor doesn't work as well as in previous Allston novels; Although necessary, the youth movement creates frustratingly illogical scenarios;

The Review: The writers and editors of the Fate of the Jedi series might not be Jedi Masters yet but they are getting closer and closer to hitting that wamp rat sized target located in the middle of nostalgia and innovation. Fate of the Jedi is supposed to be a return to the lighter, more escapist fare of the early Star Wars adventures after years of doom and gloom that robbed the galaxy far far aware of its most promising protagonists. While early installments struggled to drive forward the series plotlines and maintain individual narratives, in Backlash, Allston appears to have placed the flailing series on solid ground with the help of the Sith threat introduced in Book 3.

As young Jedi continue to inflicted by an unexplained insanity that makes their fellow Knights appear to be evil doppelgangers in their maladied minds, the Jedi Order struggles to maintain credibility with a government that has been seen Jedi become Sith one time too many. The Order must defend itself from these mentally ill Jedi, the politicians of the Galactic Alliance, and the power hungry moffs of the resurgent Empire. At the same time, Luke, convicted of endangering the galactic population by training these fallen Jedi and failing to control them and subsequently exiled from the Jedi Order, continues to explore the galaxy with his son Ben, hoping to find what caused his nephew Jacen Solo to become the Sith that killed Luke's wife, Mara. After encountering and repelling a Sith ambush in the previous installment, Luke and Ben track the sole survivor to Dathomir, where she attempts to hide herself within the innately force-sensitive, rancor-riding, indigenous population. When they do ultimately catch up to her, all is not as it appears.

Like the previous novels, the main Jedi plotline and the Skywalker plotline are for the most part separate although Han and Leia do jump between threads, providing that nostalgic feeling of reunion previously missing. However, unlike the previous novels, the Skywalker plotline is more substantive, developing the Force witches of Dathomir into a deeper culture than the wasted opportunities represented by the Baran Do Sages of Outcast and the Aing-Tii monks of Omen. As Luke and Ben attempt to capture the rogue Sith warrior, they find themselves in the middle of a clan war between a progressive clan rejecting the matriarchal traditions of the past and the secretive, darkside-wielding NightSisters. Whether it's the inclusion of the Sith element or the depth of the Dathomiri culture, there is a relevance to their actions that surpasses the "after-school special" superficiality of earlier plots. The re-emergence of the Sith as a threat, although a somewhat tamer version than Palpatine's evil incarnate, also raise the stakes of the series overall. It took awhile but Luke and Ben's actions finally matter again.

The second string concerning the political struggles of the Jedi amidst a crisis of crazies is about as strong as it has been all series but rather than being forced to carry the weight of the book, the strength of the Dathomir plotline allows it to slowly ratchet up the tension. While it's strange that major players are still being introduced into the series in the fourth book, the multi-dimensional power struggle appears to reaching a tipping point and it's difficult to predict how it will all play out, something atypical for the average Star Wars novel. After the extended break between books 3 and 4 caused by Allston's unfortunate heart attack, I'm very excited to see the series continue despite some of its flaws which admittedly may be more a result of my departure from the ranks of the targeted demographic than any flaw on Allston's part.

Through the half dozen or so Allston SW novels I've read, the single most notable aspect of his writing is his gift for humor. Despite suffering the aforementioned heart attack, Allston returns to his trademark humor here, albeit with somewhat less impact. Some of the changes that the Del Rey/Lucas Books editors have been introducing into the Fate of the Jedi are storylines that are somewhat lighter in tone. After the genocidal plots of the New Jedi Order icosikaihenilogy (21 books) and the fratricidal plots of the Legacy of the Force enneilogy (9 books), the fans were clamoring for lighter fare. Del Rey delivers this in Fate of the Jedi but unfortunately at the expense of the effectiveness of Allston's humor. In his X-Wing books and his NJO work, the dark comedy stood out in contrast to the bleak situations our characters found themselves in. Like a coping mechanism, the characters seemed to laugh because it was the only way to distract themselves from the death surrounding them. Even the humor of The Empire Strikes Back broke the tension between Imperial assaults and torture sessions. With the lighter tone of FotJ, Allston's writing comes across as almost cutesy, especially in scenes involving the pre-teen Allana Solo and the young adult Ben Skywalker.

This cutesy factor has been one of the largest problems of the series so far and the lack of appropriately aged characters continues in Backlash. Luke, Leia, and Han are considered to be either "too skilled" or "too old" for major action sequences and as a result an unrealistic amount of weight is placed on the shoulders of young protagonists, namely Ben and Allana. In the past the mainstream SW novels have been separated from the YA stories but Fate of the Jedi appears to be catering to both the old guard of the original trilogy and the younger fans of the prequel era. While understandable, this fanboy doesn't like watching his heroes throw their children into danger with terrible parenting decision after decision for the sake of their screen time.

As an example, Han and Leia leave their daughter alone for weeks where she eventually encounters a murderous junker who runs the local chop shop. Ben is given command of a tribe of older, trained warriors whose culture he doesn't understand to defend their redoubt from a rancor siege. And it's not so much the fact that they are put into dangerous situations, it's that they are portrayed as more capable than any of the adults around. It's only a matter of time before Ben is teaching the tribes strategy so basic a Gungan should know them and using his "detective skills" to suss out decades old secrets in days. Under the flimsy pretense of training, the authors marginalize Luke Skywalker to create artificial tension in scenarios where he could easily resolve conflicts with minimum bloodshed. Why would a Jedi let hundreds of people die when he has the power to save them? This illogical youth movement is frustrating at times but unfortunately necessary as the editorial staff has killed off or marginalized the majority of strong appropriately aged characters over the past few years and continually overpowered Luke and Leia.

Regardless of my fanboy criticisms, Backlash is still a worthwhile entry into the Star Wars canon and my favorite of the Fate of the Jedi books thus far. It ends on an enigmatic note that begs for further exploration in Troy Denning's Allies (due out in late May). Despite the younger, lighter tone of the series, Fate of the Jedi continues to present enjoyable Star Wars adventures in an episodic format that allow you to jump back to the galaxy far, far away that you explored in the imagination of your youth for a few hours. It's clear that Star Wars is in a bit of a transition period as LucasBooks attempts to rebuild the universe from catastrophic events of the past few years but I'm hopeful that once the youth movement completes, the character development will be worth it. It should be expected but character continuity has been something that hasn't always made an appearance in Star Wars fiction, so the increased attention in Fate of the Jedi is appreciated even if it creates other smaller problems. If you were a Star Wars fan that has abandoned the series because it lost the escapist elements that made it Star Wars, it might be time to take a second look.

Mar 15, 2010

Where am I?

That's a good question and unfortunately one with a sad answer. My grandfather passed away last week and blogging/reading was the one of the last things on my mind. He was a great man in every sense of the phrase and someone I can only hope to live up to someday. Nonetheless, life must go on so I got back to town today and back to work at the day job and I thought I would just pass along a quick update for those of you who keep visiting every five minutes looking for new posts... [Crickets]... Anyway, I plan on being back to work on Authors Worth Watching Parts 4 and 5 in the near future as well as getting through the last of my review catch up (2 books to go). Hopefully, I can get those out of the way and move on to the author interviews shortly. I've got way too many books to read at the moment and this whole marriage thing just doesn't seem to go away. It's like she likes me or something. Gah.

Anyway, I was gone. Now I'm back. Real content forthcoming. YetiStomper Out.

Mar 8, 2010

YetiReview: The Entire and The Rose by Kay Kenyon

Note: This review was cross posted on SF Signal.

30 Words or Less: An undeniable triumph of world building, Kay Kenyon's The Entire and The Rose is a science fantasy tale of two worlds worth exploring despite the gradual pace dictated by occasional prose problems.

Bright of the Sky: 3/5
A World Too Near: 3.5/5
A City Without End: 4.5/5
Prince of Storms: 4/5

The Good: Absolutely unique world-building that combines science fiction and fantasy elements and continues to grow throughtout the entire series; Carefully plotted narrative that spans and evolves over four volumes; The world is exceptionally well integrated into the narrative rather than being adjacent to it.

The Bad: Early volumes have problems with jarring perspective changes; Worldbuilding often uses infodumping rather than in-narrative elements; The story isn't well segmented into individual novels, leaving readers with an all-or-none decision.

The Review: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Rarely is this truer than in Kay Kenyon's science fiction/fantasy hybrid quadrilogy. An undeniable triumph of world building split into four books, The Entire and the Rose is 1700 pages of complex characters and intricate narrative. The events of the series revolve around Titus Quinn, the first denizen of the Rose (our universe) to cross through into The Entire, a complex infinite world constructed by the harsh, alien Tarig and inhabited by a number of races of their creation. Several years before the series begins, Quinn and his wife and daughter were pulled into the Entire when the ship he was piloting broke apart mid-wormhole jump. Quinn returns months later in our time with no family and little recollection of what happened despite living in the Entire for over a decade. When science proves that his ravings about a second reality may in fact be true, Quinn returns to the Entire in search of his missing wife and daughter and to explore what, if any, benefit The Entire may offer Earth. As Quinn quickly becomes embroiled in the politics of the world he left behind, it becomes obvious that much more is at stake than the fate of his family. The plot only gets more complex from there, the majority of which takes place in the profoundly strange world of the Entire, although the story does take place in both universes.

To provide any more detail than that would ruin the game-changing revelations that occur frequently throughout the series, shifting plots and loyalties in unexpected but exciting ways. There are several power players on both sides of the divide and rarely is there any way of knowing who is playing who. If the Earth universe is referred to as the Rose, the other universe labeled as the Entire might be better known as the Onion. From the start of the series to the final pages, Kenyon slowly peels back layer after layer of world building, unveiling an amazingly concocted world. Religion, politics, cultural divides, a forever war, teenage cults, complex transit systems: the facets of the Entire go on and on. Kenyon details aspect after aspect of her created universe and she does an unbelievable job of unobtrusively bringing the elements she has previously cultivated back into the main plot.

It's a rare occurence but if anything there is almost too much world building. The Entire is inhabited by a number of races and species all of which are fairly unique when compared to the genre standards. However, a few of these races are almost superfluous, with not a single primary or secondary character coming from their ranks. Kenyon could have either edited them out or integrated them into the story as well as she did the primary species of Humans, Chalin, Tarig, Inyx, Hirrin, and Paion. The cultural depth of these imagined races is continually capitalized upon by Kenyon and as a result the few species that don't get starring roles ultimately fall to the wayside.

While the extraneous elements could have been handled better, the world of the Entire and the thoroughly constructed characters that inhabit it are the main attractions of the series. Kenyon's writing, on the other hand, leaves a little bit to be desired especially in the early volumes. Kenyon writes from an extremely tight third person perspective and she has an unfortunate tendency to jump perspectives mid-scene without warning, generating confusion and necessitating rereading just to confirm which character was thinking what. Kenyon gets better at this as the books go on but early on these jarring transitions occur disappointingly often especially considering a small change symbol (which is often used to switch perspectives between scenes) could have easily been used to remedy this problem. As the books progress, Kenyon does manage to reduce the frequency with which these occur. The third and fourth volumes are much stronger than the first in this regard.

Kenyon also has a propensity to take a "tell not show" approach to her worldbuilding and while the world is interesting enough, there is no in-narrative reason for the characters to lecture the way they do. Consequently, the books of The Entire and The Rose read somewhat slowly. While not a bad thing in and of itself, these are not necessarily beach reads and due to the complex nature of the world and plot, it should be read in its entirety for full effect, commanding a significant time investment on the part of the reader.

Additionally, it is important to bear in mind that this epic series would be best described as science fantasy. While Kenyon maintains the premise that all of the places and structures of her world are science-based, the science satisfies Clarke's axiom and is indistinguishable from magic. Anyone who goes into this series expecting to understand the physics underpinning the world will be sorely disappointed. Despite the trappings of science that frame the Entire, at its core it's a fantasy world; it exists and behaves the way it does because the story dictates the way it does. But it works and it works well.

Here are individual reviews of each of the four volumes in the series.

Bright of the Sky: Arguably the weakest book in the series, Kenyon's series debut suffers from exposition overload. Kenyon essentially sets up the story three times; first in the future Earth universe, than in the future Entire world, and then revealing Quinn's backstory and what occurred during his first trip to the Entire. With three full histories to explain in additional to all of the characters she introduces, it doesn't feel like a whole lot happens. The last fifty or so pages feel rushed when compared to the whole and while the end of the book comes at a natural stopping point it doesn't really resolve any of the threads introduced. With such a To-Be-Continued ending, it produces contradictory emotions - on one hand there was too little payoff after the slower prose associated with complex world building; on the other hand, A World Too Near beckoned from the shelf immediately. Bright of the Sky is also the book that suffers the most from those aforementioned perspective shifts.

A World Too Near: With A World Too Near and subsequent novels, the pace begins to pick up as Kenyon spends less time crafting her world and more time playing in it. Building on some of the surprises that emerge toward the end of Bright of the Sky, the principal conflict of the series is revealed and the battle lines are drawn. The question of who to trust is paramount and a looming decision allows Kenyon to really dig into her cast of characters. Where Bright of the Sky was about introducing the Entire, A World Too Near is really about establishing the key characters and fleshing out their motivations as they traverse the fantastic civilization. One of the most significant developments in this regard is the introduction of Helice Maki, another transplanted Earthling with an endgame that may or may not align with Quinn's. Upon entering the Entire, the plot evolves from a simple us-versus-them conflict into a more complex adventure. Although it suffers slighty from middle novel syndrome, A World Too Near really sets the stage well for the last half of the series.

A City Without End: The strongest and most science fictional of the volumes, A City Without End sees Kenyon accelerate the thread of Quinn's battle with the fearsome Tarig to a frenetic pace. Even though she still pens a few new characters, Kenyon's takes advantage of the gradual set up of the first two novels and really pushes the plot forward in unexpected directions. Unlike the other novels, A City Without Endalso includes a strong second plotline set in the Rose universe; one that could support an entire novel in and of itself. As it is, this thought provoking idea is only furthers the existing conflict. As the Rose and Entire plotlines collide on an unexpected battleground, the pages really start to turn. While the first two books were structured similar to classic "journey fantasies", A City Without End is more of a political SF thriller than a traditional fantasy. There is a great balance between closure and setup as Kenyon slams some doors and opens others, creating numerous possibilities for the direction of the concluding volume, Prince of Storms.

Prince of Storms: In the concluding volume of the series, Kenyon manages to wrap up the numerous threads of The Entire and The Rose while continuing to grow her characters in the face of new challenges. At first the final volume feels likes it would just be a prolonged epilogue especially after the spectacular ending of A City Without End but it's clear that Kenyon has a few more tricks up her sleeve. Prince of Storms takes a more fantastical approach to the Entire, taking advantage of some of the more unexplained intricacies of the Entire to raise the stakes once again. Reading the final book made it extremely clear how well Kenyon had planned out the entire series. Things that seemed to be throw away lines in the first two volumes were brought full circle, adding an appreciated cohesion to the story and lending credence to the final climax. Prince of Storms ends the series on a strong note, leaving the readers with a robust narrative that doesn't leave the door open for future derivative adventures.

Ultimately, The Entire and The Rose is more than a sum of its composite volumes, so much so that it was too difficult to reach a conclusion on one book before reading the others. The story flows through the pages like one of the arms of the Nigh (a river of exotic matter from the story), bearing strongly motivated characters through alternating periods of slow progress and torrential action. The narrative twists and turns unexpectedly, creating new letters to place between points A and B. At the core of Kenyon's series is her imagined Entire, rivaling any fantasy world for its complexity and surpassing the vast majority for sheer inventiveness. Despite some missteps in presentation, Kay Kenyon's The Entire and The Rose has created a unique science fantasy series that is worth reading, well, in its entirety.

Mar 5, 2010

Covering Covers 1776 Edition (US vs UK): For the Win by Cory Doctorow

Cory Doctorow has a new YA novel coming out this May. After the success of Little Brother, I'm very excited for this one. I saw the UK cover for the first time today and I thought I would share, along with the US cover.

UK Cover Artist: Unknown                                 US Cover Artist: Unknown

[YetiNote: Is there any recommended site or way for finding out cover artists? If I find the cover via amazon I have no way of tracking down except via google search. You try finding searching "For The Win" on the internet and finding the result you want.]

So we have two covers, each of which communicates significantly different ideas. The UK cover has a silhouette of a teen jumping over a fence and a giant two-tone robot. The teen makes me think of rebellion and sneaking out; the robot makes me think of anime or Japanese video games. The UK text is similar to that of Little Brother's with a graffiti look that also creates a teenage rebellion type of look. The US cover on the other hand makes me think of a police state and riots. The characters behind the masks do look young though, possibly suggesting something about children being soldiers behind the anonymity of the internet. The US text I'm not quite sure if there was any purpose behind the grid lines. At first glance though, it makes me think of flood lights. I'm not sure if that is intended. The mustard color choice links the text with the shields of the child soldiers.

So different feels but which represents the book best? Here's a description
In the virtual future, you must organize to survive

At any hour of the day or night, millions of people around the globe are engrossed in multiplayer online games, questing and battling to win virtual 'gold,' jewels, and precious artifacts. Meanwhile, others seek to exploit this vast shadow economy, running electronic sweatshops in the world's poorest countries, where countless 'gold farmers,' bound to their work by abusive contracts and physical threats, harvest virtual treasure for their employers to sell to First World gamers who are willing to spend real money to skip straight to higher-level gameplay.
Mala is a brilliant 15-year-old from rural India whose leadership skills in virtual combat have earned her the title of 'General Robotwalla.' In Shenzen, heart of China's industrial boom, Matthew is defying his former bosses to build his own successful gold-farming team. Leonard, who calls himself Wei-Dong, lives in Southern California, but spends his nights fighting virtual battles alongside his buddies in Asia, a world away. All of these young people, and more, will become entangled with the mysterious young woman called Big Sister Nor, who will use her experience, her knowledge of history, and her connections with real-world organizers to build them into a movement that can challenge the status quo.
The ruthless forces arrayed against them are willing to use any means to protect their power - including blackmail, extortion, infiltration, violence, and even murder. To survive, Big Sister's people must out-think the system. This will lead them to devise a plan to crash the economy of every virtual world at once - a Ponzi scheme combined with a brilliant hack that ends up being the biggest, funnest game of all.
I would say that the UK cover is more representative of that blurb although in both cases the title For The Win, should let you know that the story is internet-influenced at the least. I do like the subtle touch of the children in the riot gear of the US cover but I think that it's too understated to pick up at first glance. That's a bad thing in book stores. From a business perspective, the giant orange robot of the UK cover is going to catch the eye of the intended audience more so that the US edition. Once again, I have to defer to the UK cover. It's more representational of the story and better for the target audience. It is important to note that both covers are strong and appear to have more thought put into them than the standard Fantasy (SwordCloakMan), Space Opera (Spaceship), or UrbanFantasy (VampStamp) covers. More like this please.

Which cover do you like better?

For the Win comes out on May 11th from Tor Teen in the US and May 12th from HarperVoyage in the UK.

Mar 4, 2010

Covering Covers: Gardner Dozois's Year's Best SF 27th Annual Collection

Cover Artist: Unknown

This is the first time I've seen the cover of the 27th edition of Gardner Dozois's yearly best SF collection and I must say I'm a little disappointed. It screams 70s/80s SF and the early days of computer rendered images. The bright purple doesn't do it any favors either. I do however appreciate the text continuity. Thinking on this, I pulled the last few of Dozois's collections off the shelf. Here are their covers:

Looking back on it, I don't really care for 3 of these 4 covers. The 24th collection, in green, is fantastic. The 26th, in light blue, reminds me of something out of the 70s and the 25th, in red, has a somewhat of a steampunk vibe. I also think that the 24th collection is the only one that looks SF rather than Fantasy. I'm not sure what the driving force behind these covers is but they seem to be stuck in the past rather than representing the best of the last year of SF.

Now take a look at the covers for the last 3 volumes of The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year. These books are produced by Night Shade Books's and edited by Jonathan Strahan.

While the 2nd and 4th collections have similar cover art, I think all of them are extremely strong, particularly this year's 4th Volume. The design is modern, the art is crisp, and the colors don't remind me of a nameless purple dinosaur. Maybe I don't have the proper appreciation for the history of genre art, but I find these covers superior to the art of Dozois latests efforts. I don't know the compartive art budgets for Night Shade Books and St. Martin's Griffin Press or if that is a factor but Night Shade Books definitely has a feel for SF covers. The Windup Girl, The Dread Empire Omnibuses, The Eclipse Anthologies. All Night Shade, all beautiful art.

But back to the point of this post: If you saw each of these books at the bookstore and didn't know Strahan from Dozois, which set of books would you choose?

Mar 3, 2010

Authors Worth Watching, Spotlight 3 of 5

Although I'm quickly running out of way to say, "this author is a good writer and you should read their work", I'm back with the 3rd set of spotlight authors from list of 25 Authors Worth Watching. If you haven't read the first two installments (Part 1 / Part 2) the basic format is as follows: I'll give you a little background on the writer, where you can find early work to sample, and what you should watch for in the next year or two.

This week's group features a pair of genre-aware fantasy writers, a hard SF prodigy, an Australian rising star, and a puppeteer responsible for some of the best short fiction I've ever read.

Update: Some of the information provided for Ari Marmell and Kaaron Warren was slightly incorrect out of date. I've updated accordingly.

Ari Marmell - In my experience, some of the best fantasy authors are the ones who have successfully emerged from early work with role playing games. RPGs are essentially disassembled stories: interesting characters, exotic locales, powerful items, monstrous creatures, and incredible potentialities detailed in the pages of guidebooks and manuals but ultimately left unconnected. When you get an author like Marmell who possesses both the creativity to imagine intricate fantasy worlds beyond the scope of a single novel and the skill to forge those elements into a well-structured, professional narrative, chances are you're going to get a story worth reading. Marmell appears poised to take the genre staples he's worked with for years and turn them inside out. His first two novels, The Conqueror's Shadow and The Warlord's Legacy are set in a fantasy world where a former dark lord must come out of retirement to save the day. His third non-shared universe release, The Goblin Corps, is written from the perspective of minions facing the final days of the evil empire they served. Both worlds sound tremendously genre-aware and I predict I'll be reviewing The Conqueror's Shadow in the near future. 

Early Work:
In the Future:
  • The Conqueror's Shadow -  Epic Fantasy - Spectra - 2/23/2010 - To be followed by The Warlord's Legacy in early 2011
  • The Goblin Corp - Pyr - Mid-to-Late 2011
Website / Blog / Twitter

Hannu Rajaniemi - A mathematician and physicist, Hannu Rajaniemi seems like he was born to be a Hard SF writer. From the stories I've been able to read so far, it appears he's well on his way to fulfilling that destiny. Rajaniemi is the type of writer who can fit into a single sentence the type of idea that others would write entire books about. "His Master's Voice," a story about two post-pet characters, is a great example of this, detailing the miniaturization of humanity for resource conservation in nothing more than a throwaway line. When I was browsing various lists of "anticipated novels" Rajaniemi's debut The Quantum Thief seemed to pop up again and again. Labeled as Neuromancer meets Ocean's Eleven, Rajaniemi sold a three book deal on a total of 24 pages. If that doesn't suggest he's capable of writing something special, you can always take Charles Stross's word for it. Stross ( one of the premiere Hard SF writers today) predicted Hannu would become "the biggest thing to hit hard SF in the next decade." The Quantum Thief makes its UK debut this September and I'll be violating my waiting-for-US-edition policy shortly thereafter.

Early Work:
In the Future:
  • The Quantum Thief - Far-future Hard SF - Gollancz (UK only) - 9/16/10
Website / Blog / Twitter

Kaaron Warren - Over the past several years, Kaaron (don't call her Karen) Warren has made a name for herself over in Australian publishing circles. Wherever she is now (it's no longer Fiji), she is well on her way to repeating that accomplishment on a global stage. Her debut novel, Slights, impressed both critics and horror fans alike, at the same time earning a Publisher's Weekly Starred Review and the honor of being selected as Pick of the Week. Although most of her work has at least a tinge of horror, Warren is actually a genre nomad, fluctuating between horror, fantasy, and SF depending on the story. She's also the perfect author for the eclectic reader having written 3 novels to date (and is working on at least 2 more), none of which are written in the same world. In a publishing landscape in which every book seems to be part of a series, Warren propensity for standalones is much appreciated and a sign that she has in mind many different stories to tell.

Early Work:
In the Future:
  • Walking the Tree- Fantasy - Angry Robot - July 2009 (UK) / June 2010 (US)
  • Mistification - Horror Novel - Angry Robot - June 2010 (UK) / TBD (US)
  • Untitled - 2nd Short Story Collection - Ticonderoga Publications - Before Sept 2010
  • "The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfall" - Exotic Gothic 3 (Danel Olson, ed) - Ash-Tree Press - Q1 2010
Website / Blog / Twitter

Mary Robinette Kowal - Mary Robinette Kowal won the 2008 Campbell Award. After reading her debut collection, Scenting the Dark (full review here), it was easy to see why. Several of her stories are ten pages or less, but they pack an emotional punch disproportionate to their word count. Kowal can do in 5 pages what some authors can’t do in 50. I highly, highly recommend Scenting the Dark and Other Stories. One of the most interesting things about Kowal is that she actually works as a puppeteer for her day job. I've seen it suggested that her experience with puppets and stage performance contributes to her exceptional grasp on dialogue and her ability to do more with fewer words. After reading her work, it's hard to disagree. Her debut novel, a historical fantasy entitled Shades of Milk and Honey, comes out from Tor this August and I've already requested an ARC.

Early Work:
In the Future:
  • Shades of Milk and Honey - Historical Fantasy - Tor - August 3, 2010 - To be followed by Glamour in Glass
  • "The Bride Replete" - Apex Online  -March 2010 (Read Online)
  • "Beyond the Garden to Close" - Apex Online - March 2010 (Read Online)
  • "Horizontal Rain" - Apex Online - March 2010 (Read Online)
  • "Changed Itinerary" - L├ęgendes - March 2010
  • "Ring Road" - Dark Faith Anthology - May 2010
Website / Blog / Twitter

Sam Sykes - Sam Sykes is crazy. While I'm tempted to stop there, it's also worth nothing that he's both fiendishly creative and the author of Tome of the Undergates, one of the "hot" fantasy titles of 2010. From following his twitter feed and reading his blog, it's clear that Sykes has an effortless way with words. His writing has a razor sharp edge and while a blog isn't equivalent to a novel, I'm going to be very interested to see the prose style that emerges from that same mind. I've also seen comparisons to Abercrombie and Lynch, two of my favorite fantasy authors of the last 5 years. Sykes is one of the few authors I haven't sampled yet, and one of the authors I'm most interested to read

In the Future:
  • Tome of the Undergates - Epic Fantasy - Gollancz (UK) / Pyr (US) - April 2010 (UK) / TBD 2010 (US) - To be followed by Unnamed Books 2 and 3 in the trilogy
Website / Blog / Twitter

15 down, 10 to go. Although its hard to find enough time to sample so many authors in a relatively short period and keep up with normal blogging activities, these authors are all putting out material worth reading.
As always, let me know if there are any other key pieces of info you would be interested in or if I somehow managed to get something incorrect. I'll probably have the next piece ready next week unless I suddenly stop working 10 or 12 hour days.

Mar 1, 2010

Covering Covers: The Way of Kings - Brandon Sanderson

Over at, Irene Gallo is showing off the cover for Brandon Sanderson's The Way of Kings as well as the creative process behind it.

Cover Artist: Michael Whelan

If you go over to (and you definitely should), you can see the evolution of Whelan's cover, complete with rough sketches and early alternate drafts of the cover. I love reading about how cover art comes together and although I feel like something went astray here its still interesting. There is also a reference to a 1400 page manuscript, which Whelan said was dismaying long upon arrival. He did go on to say that he "was soon hooked and lost in the world Mr. Sanderson so skillfully realized. It helped that the writing had a rich cinematic quality that brought images of scenes, characters and creatures to my mind as if [Whelan] were immersed in a Myst-style virtual reality adventure, or watching a movie."

Regarding the cover itself, it's not my favorite. I know Tor is selling Sanderson as their next Jordan or Goodkind but does his name really need to be that big? It takes away from the detail of the sword and standard which is lost behind the name/title text combo. I actually really like the rough draft a lot [shown below] before the ridiculous looking sword and color were added. I can't really place my finger on what changed beside the sword, it might be how the cliffs/crags changed, but something was lost between the draft and the final version.

So what do you think? Sanderson is quickly reaching the point where he doesn't need a cover to move books, as evidenced by THE GIANT NAME, but good cover art is always appreciated.

And what's with the tentacled onion things anyway?
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