Apr 28, 2011

Riyria Revelations Redux: An Interview with Michael J. Sullivan

Earlier this month, I got a glance at the Orbit Fall 2011/Winter 2012 catalog and I was quite surprised to see Michael J. Sullivan amongst the featured authors. Not because he's incapable of writing new books (I assume he isn't), more so that Orbit plans on republishing his current series, The Riyria Revelations - a series which has yet to be completed.

Sullivan began publishing The Riyria Revelations with Ridan Publishing back in 2008 with The Crown Conspiracy. It wasn't an overnight success but thanks to an aggressive release schedule, a grass roots marketing campaign, and a bevy of strong reviews, the series eventually did the improbable and joined the exclusive ranks of the small press success stories.

Like the series itself, that success story hasn't wrapped up just yet. With the new Orbit deal, Sullivan has the opportunity to get his novels in front of the thousands of casual readers who don't scour the internet looking for new recommendations on review blogs and message boards. Michael (and his wife/co-conspirator Robin) have done a great job getting the book out there. At the same time, there's no denying the benefits of a major publicity department.

After I heard the good news, I was curious about how everything fell into place and what the new deal meant for the sixth and final book, Percepliquis, which was originally slated for release later this year. So I did what any mediocre blogger would do, I asked him.

Here's what Michael had to say.

SoY: I understand that Orbit is publishing the series as a trilogy. Is it going to be two Ridan books to each Orbit book or will they be broken down in a more complicated fashion?

MJS: Yes, Orbit’s books break down as follows: Theft of Swords (Volume 1) will contain The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha; Rise of Empire (Volume 2) contains Nyphron Rising and The Emerald Storm; Heir of Novron (Volume 3) will contain Wintertide and Percepliquis. For those reading in print, they can get the entire series for half the price. If given the choice, I would prefer more readers than money so making the series affordable is very attractive to me.

Orbit is also doing something really great as the three books come out in consecutive months: November 2011, December 2011, and January 2012. They already have pre-order pages up on sites such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Usually books in a series come out once a year, or sometimes longer, and the fact that they were fast-tracking the series was one of the things that really drew me to their offer. I was originally concerned about the inevitable delay in the final installment (originally due in April 2011). With this release cycle, people only have to wait an extra nine months, which is short in comparison to many delayed fantasy books and much quicker than if the books were being put out as six staggered books.

Cover Art Not Final
SoY: Will there be any updates to the text of The Riyria Revelations which has already been published?

MJS: All the books have already gone through editing, which was a frightening time for me. I had worked so hard to develop the arc of the series that I waited on pins and needles afraid of what Orbit might want different. Orbit assigned their senior editor to the project, Devi Pellai, and I had heard from others in the industry that she is one of the best in the business so I was willing to keep an open mind on any changes she might require.

To my great surprise and relief, there weren’t any major changes. Most of the comments concerned adding additional detail about places, the political system, and clarifying minor characters. That being said, having a whole new series allowed me to make some minor changes. For instance, there will be a new starting chapter for the first book, which will immediately introduce the main characters, Royce and Hadrian. This wasn’t something Orbit required, but Devi wanted to get to them faster. I’ve also had some readers who thought Archibald Ballentyne (a very minor character) was the focus of the book as he was the first person who was originally introduced. The fact that Archie is a disagreeable fellow turned a few people off of the book as they thought it might be about him. One other little tweak I made was to rewrite history with regards to one of my characters. Originally, he was forced to kill someone in self-defense and that never sat well with me regarding his character, so he’s been saved from such a hardship, for which he has expressed his gratitude.

One thing I would like to point out about editing. There have been people who have complained that there are a number of errors in the original books, typos, misplaced commas, and the like. This has led some to think the books were not edited, which was not true. In fact, they each have had multiple editors and proof readers. That being said, the copy editing of Orbit has been superlative. Their attention to detail has been astonishing and I’ve been totally impressed.

SoY: Reviewers have been saying great things about the self published Riyria Revelations for years now and I believe they've been fairly successful as far as independent/small press books go. How does it feel to have your writing (and other people's reviews) validated by a major publisher?

MJS: I’ve always thought the series was good, but then again I wrote it primarily for myself and my family. Because they were tailor made, it is no surprise that I like them. For me, the real validation came when sales started to take off on their own. This told me that people were referring the books to others and that made me think I had written something that had a wider appeal.

With the release of the fifth book, Wintertide, my sales went from 1,000 books a month to more than 10,000. I was impressed, but really didn’t have anything to compare that to until I was at a recent fantasy/scifi convention and talked to some other traditionally published authors. I discovered that I sold more in one month, then many did over their books lives.

Of course almost every author wants validation from a major publisher. There is always a twinge of pain when some naysayer says, “Well if the books were any good, why did he have to self-publish.” It never occurs to these people that I hadn’t submitted them—that I chose self-publishing. They just assume the books were turned down and self-published as a last resort. When we finally did submit, I was floored that we had multiple publishers immediately interested. That was a real kick in the head. Especially since this was before I started selling so well. At the time, my sales record was a respectable 1,000 books a month but nothing like the explosion that occurred later in 2010 and early 2011.

Cover Art Not Final
SoY: Five books in, what made you decide to finish your series with Orbit? How did the entire process happen?

MJS: Well, it wasn’t intentional. I thought any contract would come long after the last book was released. My wife, Robin, spends a lot of time studying various aspects of Amazon, like the fantasy bestsellers lists and the people also bought listings. I appeared on many fantasy lists but so did a lot of other self-published indie authors. But at some point, Amazon added a new feature where they showed buying habits on an author by author basis instead of book by book. If you look on the author’s page, or at the bottom of a books page, you’ll see sixteen authors whose books sell well with the audience of the author you were looking at. Robin noticed that on pages such as Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, V.S. Reddick, Brent Weeks, and about thirty others, mine was the only self-published author listed. There were even a number of places where I was number one or two. This was a real eye opener, which demonstrated that I was selling very well against major authors in the genre. Seeing this made Robin think she could leverage this success.

I had a foreign rights agent, and we asked her if it would make sense to make a try in the US market. She agreed and put together a proposal and sent it to seventeen houses. Usually publishing moves very slowly, and I figured it would take years before we saw any results. I figured that when the last book was out, and hopefully selling well, that we could get generate some interest. I had no idea it would snowball so quickly and seven houses immediately expressed an interest. I really like the choices Orbit has made and how they are growing their brand so we agreed on a six-figure deal with them just a few weeks after the original submission.

SoY: If you don't mind me asking, do you prefer the Ridan covers or the Orbit ones? Did you have any input as to the content?

MJS: The Orbit covers are very professional and much more in line with other books in the genre. They each depict the major characters, Royce and Hadrian. In general, I don’t like seeing the faces of characters on book covers. I prefer the reader to come up with their own idea of what they look like. That being said, I fully understand that Orbit is developing covers from a marketing perspective and they feel showing the characters is a good idea. I will say that if I saw both theirs and mine on a shelf I would be drawn to Orbit’s over my own.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the covers I did are pretty good and I get a lot of compliments on them. But in a lot of respects, the covers reflect what I’m capable of producing. I didn’t choose the scenes and landscapes motif because I thought they would sell best, or to try to put out something different. To be honest, I selected something that I was capable of producing well. I could never have created anything like what Orbit did. So, for the most part, I made the best covers I could with my limited resources.

As for input on the content, in general authors usually don’t get much say in the cover designs and many have a problem with this. I have a background in marketing, so I understand that the cover design is one that is selected to maximize sales. We talked about various ideas, but until I saw them I really didn’t know which way they had decided to go. If the covers had turned out badly, I suspect I would have had a lot to say. Luckily for me that wasn’t necessary.

Most authors don’t have the advantage of producing their books with their covers. Because I already had released them with my vision I really didn’t have a desire to interfere with Orbit’s ideas. In general I have like the covers they’ve done for other books, and I trusted them to do whatever they felt was best. The result was a very positive one and I’m very pleased with what they came up with.

Cover Art Not Final
SoY: Will book collectors ever be able to get the Ridan Press edition of Percepliquis or will their book shelves remain forever incomplete?

MJS: They will be able to complete their sets. We made a deal with Orbit that when their last book is released (the one that has Percepliquis in it) Ridan can also publish a limited edition of Percepliquis for a limited time with my covers and formatting. I think this is an exceedingly generous offer for Orbit to allow them to complete their sets and is just one of the reasons that I’m confident that I picked the right publisher to work with. Oh, and for those who prefer digital, Orbit will be putting out a Percepliquis only ebook version (using my cover), which will be half the price of the two-book set so that people who already paid for Wintertide won’t have to purchase it again.

For those people who are interested in the Percepliquis only version you should send an email to riyria6@gmail.com and we’ll email them a buy link as soon as it is available.

SoY: What's next after The Riyria Revelations?

MJS: I’m about forty-percent done with my next book entitled Antithesis. It is a complete rewrite of a book I originally wrote in 1984. Unlike The Riyria Revelations which is set in a medieval time period, Antithesis takes place in modern day Washington D.C. and explores the duality of good and evil. This is as a stand alone novel and not part of a series.

I also have a completed literary fiction piece entitled A Burden to the Earth that just needs some copy editing. It is nothing like my other works and I’m not sure how I should market it which is one of the reasons that it keeps just sitting there. The Riyria Revelations is a very fast-paced, plot-driven story with lots of twists told in a fairly straight forward writing style. Burden is almost the exact opposite. For this piece I focused on the craft of writing, taking great care to craft each sentence. This work is a character study of a man slipping into madness so the pace is much slower. Everyone who has read it loves it but they also note how different it is from my other writing, so I’m not sure if my current fans will be interested in this book.

As for The Riyria Revelations, this was very carefully designed to end at six-books. To tack on additional adventures to the end has zero interest for me, as I think it ends on the perfect high note and I don’t want to have anything that messes with that. But I did leave myself some threads and plenty of opportunities for spin offs. Some of them I can’t discuss because it could spoil the last book. In addition, there are several prequel s that intrigue me. I’m fleshing out a story that explores the truth behind the mythology about Novron, the original savior of mankind. The idea that he was exactly different than what they have been taught is an interesting notion to me. I’m actually really excited to write this and it feels like a trilogy to tell that full arc, but I’m not sure it makes sense to start until we see how the first series does. There are also possibilities to explore more of Royce and Hadrian’s pasts. Some of this comes out in the last book, but there is a lot more that can be further detailed. My wife is always bugging me to do “Royce and Hadrian, the Earlier Years” so I might give her a present and tell the full story someday.

Orbit's first collection of Sullivan's stories, Theft of Swords, is due out November 23rd with Rise of Empire (12/14/11) and Heir of Novron (1/31/12) to follow shortly thereafter.

Thanks again to Michael for talking the time out of his increasingly busy schedule to answer my questions.

Apr 25, 2011

YetiStomper Picks for April

So I sat down to start selecting my YetiStomper Picks for May and realized that the April selections were still in draft status. Better late than never right?

Soft Apocalypse - Will McIntosh

Sci-Fi Stand Alone - McIntosh looks to follow up on last year's Hugo win with Soft Apocalypse, his debut novel, which paints a picture of a post-apocalyptic America teeming with rebel scientists, designer diseases, and anarchist gangs. We've got a lot of work to do to destroy the world by 2023 as McIntosh speculates but I'd say humanity is clearly on the right track. (April 1 from Night Shade Books)

Retribution Falls - Chris Wooding

Tales of the Ketty Jay, Book 1 - Firefly. That's the word that I hear time and time again in reference to Chris Wooding's SF series. Chonicling the misadventures of the motley crew of the Ketty Jay, Wooding's work has been out in the UK for a couple of years and based on the strong word of mouth it received, it was only a matter of time before it made the leap accross the pond.. Sky-pirates ahoy! (April 26 from Del Rey Spectra)

The Winds of Khalakovo - Bradley P. Beaulieu

The Lays of Anuskaya, Book 1 - While The Winds of Khalakovo isn't the most hyped fantasy debut on this list (That honor belongs to The Unremembered), it might be the best reviewed. Don't ignore this promising new talent whose detailed approach to worldbuilding has already garnered comparisons to GRRM. Word of mouth always beats hype in my book, so I plan to visit Beaulieu's Russian-inspired archipelago sooner rather than later. (April 1 from Night Shade Books)

The Alchemist in the Shadows - Pierre Pevel

The Cardinal's Blades, Book 2 - Pyr provides US audiences with an English edition of Pierre Pevel's second Cardinal's Blades adventure. Pevel, an award winning French writer, re-imagines a 17th century France where Cardinal Richelieu defends the realm against foreign powers, secret societies, and more than a handful of dragons with his specialized team of swashbucklers. If you thought The Three Musketeers was decent but needed a few more fire-breathers, this book might be for you. (April 26 from Pyr)

The Unremembered - Peter Orullian

The Vault of Heaven, Book 1 - Arguably the most hyped debut this year, The Unremembered is getting an absolutely massive push from Tor. Someone over there is convinced Orullian is the next master fantasist and considering the glut of interviews, excerpts, and short stories on Tor.com, they're trying to convert you too. And The Vault of Heaven appears up to the task, promising a complex world with a sprawling history to rival even the most epic of epic fantasies. But the past few "Next Big Things" have failed to live up to the high expectations bestowed upon them - will Orullian be able to break the streak with his Tolkien inspired tales? Read some of the free companion stories (Sacrifice of the First Sheason / The Great Defense of Layosah / The Battle of the Round) and decide for yourself. (April 12 from Tor)

Deathless - Catherynne M. Valente

Fantasy / Folklore Stand Alone - When you think about immortal Russians, you typically think Rasputin or possibly even Ivan Drago. But the original Slavic survivor is Korschei the Deathless, an antagonist whose legend dates back to traditional Russian folklore. Valente modernizes his story somewhat, setting it against the tumultuous history of the Soviet Union and telling it through the eyes of one of his abducted victims. Based on Valente's prior work, I'd expecting nothing less than an utterly enchanting tale teeming with lyrical prose and magical moments. (April 1 from Tor)

The Dragon's Path - Daniel Abraham

The Dagger and the Coin, Book 1 - With his critically acclaimed but criminally underread Long Price Quartet, Damiel Abraham proved that fantasy can be so much more than Tolkien 2.0. Now Abraham brings his appreciable talent to Orbit where he begins a brand new, more traditional saga in The Dagger and The Coin. The combination of powerful banks, post-medieval economics, ancient dragons, designer races, warrior priests, and dread elder gods might seem like a strange blend but it goes down smooth when sipped through Abraham's deceptively simple prose. AND if you order the eBook edition from certain retailers, you also receive a free advance copy of Leviathan Wakes, a highly anticipated space opera due out this summer from Abraham and co-conspirator Ty Franks. (April 7 from Orbit)

Theories of Flight - Simon Morden

Samuil Petrovitch Trilogy, Book 2 - It seems like it was just last month that Orbit published Equations of Life, the first entry in Morden's Samuil Petrovitch trilogy. Oh wait, it was. Theories of Flight delivers a blend of intelligent science fiction and relentless action adventure that Hollywood wishes they capable of.  (March 29 from Orbit)

WWW: Wonder - Robert J. Sawyer

WWW Trilogy, Book 3 - OMG!!! The Internetz is alive! If Webmind, your AI BFF, was in danger of being shut down by the US government, wouldn't you want to save it? Hugo and Nebula Award winning author Robert J. Sawyer continues his exploration of conscious thought, morality, and artificial intelligence in the final entry in his WWW Trilogy. (April 5 from Ace)

The Company Man - Robert Jackson Bennett

Alternate History Steampunk Noir Stand Alone - It's 1919 in an alternate America where a single company controls enough power to stop the Great War before it even begins. But deep underneath Evesden, something strange is killing the employees of the McNaughton Corporation. It's up to Cyril Hayes to figure out what in Robert Jackson Bennett's sophomore effort. His debut, Mr. Shivers was one of the best books of 2010, and Bennett's is a name to watch. (April 11 from Orbit)

Among Thieves - Douglas Hulick

A Tale of the Kin, Book 1 - This book wasn't even on my radar until the Mad Hatter blurbed that Douglas Hulick was "undoubtedly the best debuting author [Ace/Roc] has premiered since Jim Butcher." That's some high praise from a blogger who doesn't proffer it lightly. Among Thieves appears to be your typical artifact caper (think Maltese Falcon meets Lord of the Rings) but a brilliantly executed one. (April 5 from Roc)

After the Golden Age - Carrie Vaughn

Super Hero Stand Alone - For whatever reason, superhero prose novels always seem to be in short supply. Which is hard to fathom considering how much fun they usually are. Carrie Vaughn continues the tradition of reverent parody with After the Golden Age in which Celia West, daughter of Captain Olympus and Spark, struggles to take down the evil Destructor. But she's a forensic accountant, not a superhero and Destructor is battling tax evasion, not some over-powered boy scout. As events get super-er, tensions rise and West soon finds herself in the middle of a mystery that threatens to change everything she thought she knew about her family. So basically, par for the course. This is a book that should be fun for everyone but especially enjoyable for those familiar with the superhero subgenre. (April 12 from Tor)

YetiStomper Pick Of The Month: As much as I'm looking forward to each of these books, particularly After the Golden Age and The Winds of Khalakovo, I'd be lying if I selected anything but The Dragon's Path for my Pick of the Month. Abraham is a soul-crusher type talent, the kind whose work convinces you that no matter how long or hard you try, you'll never be that good. For whatever reason, as brilliant and inventive as The Long Price Quartet was, it never found it's audience. The Dagger and The Coin will and not just because Abraham has created something familiar yet challenging - more so because if you ignore it now, you're going to be hearing about it for years to come.
YetiStomper Debut Of The Month: April is another strong month for debut authors with Among Thieves, The Unremembered, The Winds of Khalakovo, and Soft Apocalypse all hitting shelves within a few weeks of each other. If you had asked me three months ago, The Unremembered would have been my clear pick. But since then, I've seen nothing but strong reviews for Beaulieu's intricate work and while I haven't finished it, the chapters I have read have been impressive. The Grand Duchy of Anuskaya is a harsh environment full of bitter cold and wasting disease and Beaulieu populates it with hardy individuals who may have emigrated from Westeros. I've got a ton on my plate at the moment but I'm really looking forward to getting back into The Winds of Khalakovo when I get a chance. Therefore, I knight it the YetiStomper Debut of the Month.

YetiStomper Cover Of The Month: While I've managed to reduce the number of recommended books by 25% since March's record-setting slate of 16, it's still a struggle to determine which cover is king. Some quick thoughts -
  • Rarely will you see a better executed pair of fantasy covers than The Unremembered and The Winds of Khalakovo.
  • Theories of Flight is eye-catching if abstract. Morden's ecclectic plot doesn't lend itself to a single image, so Orbit is banking that a lot of people will pick it up and read the cover summary.
  • Who made the cover for After the Golden Age? They'd be my first pick if we were playing cover art at recess.
  • The implied texture really works for The Company Man, lending it a gritty noir feel which is echoed by the Sam Spade silhouette.
  • I wonder if there's a link between serif fonts and fantasy novels. All 4 traditional fantasy novels showcase the same style of lettering.
  • I can't help but think of mass produced serials when I look at the cover of Deathless. The lithographic style has an old-fashioned quality that seems to pair nicely with the novel.
  • Arrrrrrgggghhhhh. That's a bad Johnny Depp lookalike on Among Thieves.
  • What's with the kerning on Soft Apocalypse? Too many I's and L's, too similar, too far apart.
  • WWW: Wonder would be a great cover without the girl. With her? Meh.
  • As much as I love Daniel Abraham's work, that cover doesn't do much for me. It's not bad but Orbit isn't exactly doing Abraham any favors. Luckily, his work will speak for itself.
So we've got a variety of covers almost as diverse as they stories they promote. Per usual, I'm having a tough time deciding. Fortunately, I've got a graphic designer for a wife and she is willing to help me break the tie by looking at these covers from a technical perspective and as a genre outsider, someone who isn't going to be seduced by a streamlined spaceship or distracted by a dragon's cold stare. Her votes goes to After the Golden Age for it's well-balanced color palette and the way that the uniquely diagonal presentation of the text conveys a feeling of motion.  I can't help but agree, Vaughn really lucked out on this one. It's not too often that a book cover manages to be both modern and playful.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Among Others (with the assistance of Admiral Jak Sperrow) earns my vote for Worst Cover of the Month, an honor typically given out to a book that I'd like to read just not in public.

Anyway, as always, if you are interested in more details regarding any of the above books, just click on through the Amazon links. Yeah, I get a little bit of money out of it. In a few more years I'm hoping to earn enough to purchase a single book. It's also the best way to learn more about these books and others. Be sure to let me know if there is anything I may have missed in the comments.

You can view previous installments of YetiStomper Picks here.

Apr 21, 2011

YetiContest Reminder: Signed Copy of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere

As a reminder, I've got a signed copy of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere up for grabs. The contest is still open for another 8 days or so but blog posts tend to disappear after a few days so I thought I would provide a halftime reminder.

All you need to do is send an email to YetiContest [at] gmail [dot] com and follow the rules below.

-Subject of e-mail must read "Neverwhere Contest"
-You should probably use @ instead of [at] and . instead of [dot]
-Limit 1 entry per e-mail address
-Open to everyone (I might regret this)
-Contest will be open until 11:59pm CST, Friday April 29th
-Winner will be selected by random number generation
-E-mail must include
  • Name
  • Snail Mail Address
  • Book you are looking forward to most for the remainder of 2011 and why
As of writing this, there were less than 20 entries so you've still got a great chance to take home one of Gaiman's classics.

Good luck!

Apr 19, 2011

Covering Covers: The Islanders - Christopher Priest

Cover Artist: Unkown
A tale of murder, artistic rivalry and literary trickery; a chinese puzzle of a novel where nothing is quite what it seems; a narrator whose agenda is artful and subtle; a narrative that pulls you in and plays an elegant game with you. The Dream Archipelago is a vast network of islands. The names of the islands are different depending on who you talk to, their very locations seem to twist and shift. Some islands have been sculpted into vast musical instruments, others are home to lethal creatures, others the playground for high society. Hot winds blow across the archipelago and a war fought between two distant continents is played out across its waters. The Islanders serves both as an untrustworthy but enticing guide to the islands, an intriguing, multi-layered tale of a murder and the suspect legacy of its appealing but definitely untrustworthy narrator. It shows Christopher Priest at the height of his powers and illustrates why he has remained one of the country's most prized novelists.
What else can I say? Gollancz gave Priest's latest a cover as impressive as he is. Will definitely be importing this one once Gollancz releases it in September.

Apr 17, 2011

Yeti Review: Fuzzy Nation - John Scalzi

In A Few Words: A compulsively readable collision of tightly plotted legal thriller and idea-centric science fiction, Fuzzy Nation evokes fond memories of a simpler era of storytelling.

-Light-hearted adventure appropriate for all ages.
-Holloway shines in a revamped, more cohesive cast
-Story moves quickly and continues to surprise even if you've read Piper's original Little Fuzzy
-Full of Scalzi's trademark humor, Fuzzy Nation is eminently entertaining and impossible to put down for the last 2/3 of the book

-Jack Holloway is the same character we've seen from Scalzi multiple times before
-Ending wraps up a little too cleanly
-Antagonists are borderline archetypal, albeit very fun to hate.

The Review: Ladies and gentleman of the jury, Fuzzy Nation is a strange amalgamation of a book. The facts are clear: 1) It's a science fiction novel written by notorious internet troublemaker John Scalzi. 2) It's a more complex re-imagining of H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy. 3) It was originally fan fiction, written for personal pleasure and without the intention of ever being published. 4) It's revenge fantasy, allowing the reader to revel in the pain of a corporation too concerned with the bottom line and too willing to look the other way. And 5) as cliché as it is to say, Fuzzy Nation is also compulsively readable; a reminder that SF doesn't have to be as sterile as the vacuum of space.

Like so many space age novels, the original Little Fuzzy is a novel of ideas. Character and prose take back seat to the thought experiment of the Fuzziess, a newly discovered species that seems sentient but not undeniably so. After all, how do you define sentience? Scalzi returns to this same question half a century later but he does so within a genre that has matured significantly in the mean while. The once novel ideas of space exploration and alien encounters are fifty years played out, and it's no longer enough to simply wonder "what if?"

To that end, Scalzi gives Piper's original account of adorable aliens a welcome reboot and in the process manages to modernize the tale without sacrificing the optimistic heart at its core. Jack Holloway's persona might have been passed for "gritty" back in the space age but he'd be squeaky clean amongst the anti-heroes of today's fiction. Holloway 2.0 remains a prospector digging for sunstones on ZaraCorp's newest colony but now touts a law degree, a checkered past and a less than healthy affinity for Schadenfreude Pie. The other supporting players aren't so lucky - even though the story follows the same general arc as the original, Scalzi more or less replaces the cast in its entirety. The end result is an ensemble that feels more cohesive than its largely two dimensional progenitor (not to mention considerably less sexist).

It's this cohesion which allows Scalzi to deliver his revamped plot at a breakneck pace, pulling new readers in quickly while establishing that Fuzzy Nation is much more than a page-by-page remake of the original. The book starts with a bang - literally - and it's not much longer until Holloway discovers the titular Fuzzies, Scalzi's versions of which feature a little less prominently than Piper's critters. If Little Fuzzy depicts Holloway's relationship with the Fuzzies as impaired by ZaraCorp, Fuzzy Nation depicts Holloway's relationship with ZaraCorp as complicated by the Fuzzies. The difference is minor but nontrivial as Scalzi refines Piper's idea-centric explorations into a superiorly plotted story.

Either way, Holloway and his new-found furry friends are soon inextricably tied to ZaraCorp's financial future and it's employees start to test those links anyway they can, without regard to those silly things called laws. As the story races toward it's epic courtroom conclusion, those tightly wound threads begin to snap in unexpected places, much to the delight of anyone tired of the gross corporate malfeasance which plagues the world today.

Pleasantly distracting as it may be to see a corporation get what's coming to it, fans of Scalzi's popular blog will have no trouble recognizing his particular brand of biting rhetoric (and a penchant for pet anthropomorphism) in the ever-sarcastic (and dog owning) Holloway. The delicate balance of intelligent commentary and unrelenting snark has always been Scalzi's trademark and it's clear he knows what his audience has come to expect. Part of me worries that he isn't stretching himself enough narratively and as such risks overexposure of his primary voice. I'd hate to see him become the literary equivalent of a one hit wonder, stuck playing the same tune when he wants to diversify his sound. Fortunately, the other part of me isn't paying attention, he's two nostrils deep in the book and isn't coming up for air any time soon.

Ultimately, it's this hard to pinpoint "unputdownability" which really defines Fuzzy Nation. Like Little Fuzzy and so many of its space-age counterparts, the focus is less on the science itself, and more on the ideas and questions that science might one day allow us to explore. No advance theoretical physics degrees or quantum mechanics textbooks required. But that's not to say he ignores his physics; Scalzi clearly understands that the heavier something is, the more energy it takes to move it at a given speed. In support of this hypothesis, the prose is kept light and lean, allowing the reader to rocket through the book in just a few sittings.

After all, the key to a successful reboot isn't originality, it's execution - whether or not the changes you make result in a story worth reading, regardless if you've read the original. In Fuzzy Nation, Scalzi executes flawlessly, proving that Piper's core concept is just as relevant today as it was fifty years ago with a pitch perfect summer sci-fi novel that both embraces and enhances the source material. While there's still the lingering question of whether or not John Scalzi needs to write something outside his comfort zone, as long as his books are this entertaining, it's going to be difficult to prove that case in court.

Apr 15, 2011

Covering Contents: Eclipse Four - edited by Jonathan Strahan

Pretty in Pink?

Last year, Eclipse 4, (quite obviously the fourth entry in Strahan's excellently eclectic "Eclipse" series of anthologies) was pushed back from October to May of this year. I don't know if cause of the delay was ever fully explained but whatever the reason, I'm glad to know one of the few original anthology series will continue (at least through Eclipse 5).

As strange as it is to say, one of the strengths of the series is Strahan's refusal to pick a theme or at least his unwillingness to stick to one. Each book seems to be an almost random assortment of original work from strong genre writers, most of whom tend toward the literary end of the spectrum. My personal stance is that the Eclipse books are discovery anthologies. You won't love every story, not by a long shot - you might even hate a few. But there will also be a few that will surprise you, from writers you might never have heard of and which open your eyes to an new (or at least new to you) talent who will become one of your favorite authors.

As true as it may be, the seeming random end result doesn't keep Strahan from claiming to have had a strategy when he originally set out to build each anthology:
"What of Eclipse Four? In some ways it is the strangest and most eldritch volume yet. When I started work on it I intended it to be very much a sister volume to Eclipse Three, but like the wilful, living thing it is it insisted on being the book it would be, not an echo of its predecessor. During the nearly sixteen months I've been working on Eclipse Four writers have joined and left the book, have delievered and redelivered stories, and in some cases have moved from delivering one type of story to delivering another. In the end the fourteen stories [in Eclipse Four] range from tall tales to coming-of-age stories, move form the deep South to the outer reache sof our solar system, and approach everything from how we find love and happiness to how we cope with death and grief"
Here's the full list of those 14 stories:

  • Introduction - Jonathan Strahan
  • "Slow as a Bullet" - Andy Duncan
  • "Tidal Forces" - Caitlin R. Kiernan
  • "The Beancounter's Cat" - Damien Broderick
  • "Story Kit" - Kij Johnson
  • "The Man in Grey" - Michael Swanwick
  • "Old Habits" - Nalo Hopkinson
  • "The Vicar of Mars" - Gwyneth Jones
  • "Fields of Gold" - Rachel Swirsky
  • "Thought Experiment" - Eileen Gunn
  • "The Double of My Double Is Not My Double" - Jeffrey Ford
  • "Nine Oracles" - Emma Bull
  • "Dying Young" - Peter M. Ball
  • "The Panda Coin" - Jo Walton
  • "Tourists" - James Patrick Kelly

I can't say I'm especially excited for any particular story, except possibly  Swirsky's "Fields of Gold" or Ford's "The Double of My Double Is Not My Double". Not because I doubt the others are good stories, more so that I am largely unfamiliar with the work of the remainder of that list. Many I know by reputation (Swanwick / Bull), others are entirely new to me (Ball / Broderick). All I can say for sure is that Strahan is an editor I trust and Eclipse 4 looks to be another melting pot of imagination, adventure, and discovery.
Eclipse 4 will black out the sun on May 17th from Night Shade Books.

Apr 13, 2011

Dr. StrangeNeil, Or: How You Can Stop Worrying and Win A Signed Copy of Neverwhere

I love Twitter. It doesn't do a lot, but what it does, it does well. Take for example, last minute event reminders. Yesterday, I would have completely missed the fact that Neil Gaiman was not just in Chicago, but scheduled to give a free talk on imagination and creativity less then 5 blocks from where I work. No one relegates Gaiman to the suburbs.

They don't have these in the suburbs.
Unbeknownst to me, Gaiman's Neverwhere was selected as part of One Book, One Chicago, a reading campaign put on the by Chicago Public Library. From what little I know, the point is to get the entire city reading and talking about the same book to bolster community and promote literacy. Whatever the reason, I don't think the selected authors are complaining. And with the program comes a budget, and a portion of that budget goes to throwing author events. At least part of my tax dollars are going to something interesting, I suppose. The standard format is a causal lecture framed as a discussion with another well known writer. Gaiman's conversation partner? Chicago's own Audrey Niffenegger, author of the absolutely incredible The Time Traveler's Wife.

Which makes the math all but remedial. Gaiman + Niffenegger + Free + Next Door = Must See. Unfortunately, I wasn't the only one who could put two and two together. I ran out the door at 4:55, got over to the library by 5:15, and found myself in line behind about a thousand people by 5:18. The auditorium seats about three hundred. So close and yet so far.

Cue disaster, right?

Wrong. YetiWife to the rescue.

My wife, Jennifer, (who has been previously established as being awesome) was able to get over to the library before I was and snag a coveted seat inside the main arena. After she realized I wasn't going to be able to make it inside, she (have I mentioned she's awesome?) volunteered to give up her seat so I could see the Neil himself. I resisted at first but she argued that she had never read anything by Gaiman and knew how much I wanted to see him speak. Add in the fact that I was extremely willing to negotiate and I somehow found myself with a yellow wristband, a ticket, and a seat in the auditorium. [Don't worry she still got to see them speak, albeit from the overflow room]. Twenty minutes later and Gaiman's on the stage.

To be honest, I was expecting a much larger persona, a character who would live up to the rock star status Gaiman currently commands. Instead I found a quieter, meeker writer; seemingly less sure of himself than anyone of his caliber has any right to be. This couldn't be the same man who gave us American Gods and Sandman, could it?

But as the room grew quiet in an attempt to hear his almost whispered words, I realized that he was doing something profoundly more impressive. Gaiman isn't the boisterous man at the bar, he's the silent soul with the scotch by the fire, sipping slowly as he contemplates the burn of each. He won't force you to hear to his story but if you're lucky enough to listen, you'll end up captivated long after roaring flames give way to glowing coals. It's as if he's not completely corporeal - an amalgamation of man and myth that might disappear with a moment's inattention.

I couldn't help but be amazed by the peculiar sense of wonder with which Gaiman explores every day life. If you every get a chance to see him speak, don't miss it. After an hour or so flew by, it was time for the standard Q & A. I attempted to ask him about when we could expect his next novel or even a hint or two as to it's subject but my question quickly disappeared into a sea of hands and I wasn't fortunate enough to be selected by Ms. Niffenegger. The mystery continues...

Along with a few unanswered questions, a handshake and a confirmation that Gaiman is every bit the oddball creative genius I imagined him to be, I also left the Harold Washington library with signed editions of American Gods and Neverwhere. Actually, two signed copies of Neverwhere, which brings me to the point of this post:

Signed (Not By Me).
I have 1 copy of Neverwhere to give away. It's unread and completely brand new aside from a weird Neil Gaiman shaped scribble on the title page. It was like that when I bought it. I swear.

 So if you are interested in obtaining a signed copy of Neil's work without having to fight the hoards of literary fanboys that follow him everywhere, you can send an e-mail to YetiContest [at] gmail [dot] com. You might even win provided you follow the rules below.

-Subject of e-mail must read "Neverwhere Contest"
-You should probably use @ instead of [at] and . instead of [dot]
-Limit 1 entry per e-mail address.
-Open to everyone (I might regret this)
-Contest will be open until 11:59pm CST, Friday April 29th
-Winner will be selected by random number generation
-E-mail must include
  • Name
  • Snail Mail Address
  • Book you are looking forward to most for the remainder of 2011 and why.
And since I would have missed the talk entirely if not for it, there's going to be a twittercentric bonus chance to win. Keep an eye on @YetiStomper for additional details today or tomorrow...

Good luck!

Apr 11, 2011

Call for Comments: Brand Name Authors

Note: Not a real book.

Today's hypothetical for discussion - You walk into the local bookstore. On the front table there is a book with nothing on it but a "?" and an author's name. It's sealed in shrink wrap. Curious, you turn it over in your hands. There's no cover art, no description, no publisher icon on the spine, no author blurbs, no way to read a single word of prose without first paying the price of admission - let's say $20.

So knowing absolutely nothing else about the book, what name on the cover is enough to inspire a purchase?

My picks? In no particular order:
  • China Mieville
  • Daryl Gregory
  • Michael Chabon
  • Neil Gaiman
  • John Scalzi
  • Daniel Abraham
  • Lauren Beukes
  • Joe Hill
  • Paolo Bacigalupi
  • Joe Abercrombie
  • Norman Partridge
Who are your brand name authors?

Apr 6, 2011

What Do We Have Here?

Cool, no?

Last week was my birthday and my wife (also a photographer/graphic designer) surprised me with a short stack of custom designed bookmarks based on the logo which she previously fashioned for me. They've even got my website and e-mail address on the back if I ever need to pass along a business card in the book blogging world. For whatever reason, I have trouble keeping track of my bookmarks. Possibly something to do with the thousand or so books I have cluttering up our apartment.

These reach the elusive PhoenixYeti Level of Awesomesaucity so I just might have to hold a contest or two in the near future so I can send a few of these little guys into the wild. I think I might have an extra signed 1st edition of The Wise Man's Fear somewhere around here... but no one would be interested in that, right?

More on that later... In the mean time, what good are new bookmarks without new (or, in this case, old) books to put them in?

How about a pile of classic science fiction short story collections? In pitch perfect, The Price Is Right style, Jennifer rounded out my geek gift showcase not with a new DeLorean, but by providing approximately 5,000 pages of genre goodness for me to bookmark to my heart's content.  If you're counting (from top to bottom), the books pictured are the 17th, 12th, 9th, 16th, and 11th editions of Gardner Dozois's seminal Year's Best Science Fiction series. Each year, Dozois pulls together the stories he feels best represent the science fiction genre and republishes them in one massive collection. For context (and to make Dozois feel old in the off chance he's reading this), he's been doing it for longer than I've been alive. I've made it my latest project to pull together the complete set so the 19% jump was more than appreciated.

At this point, I'm not sure which part of the gift I'm excited about more. All I know is life could be worse.

Thanks kid!

Apr 5, 2011

Junior YetiReview - The Boy At The End of the World - Greg Van Eekhout

[Editor's Note: The Boy at The End of the World is a middle grade novel. While I read and enjoyed Greg Van Eekhout's latest, I am by no means a member of his target audience. To that end, I passed the book along to my youngest brother, Keegan, who at 10 is smack in the middle of Eekhout's key demographic. Aside from a few suggestions about what to discuss (what he liked about the book, how easy it was to read, etc.) and a few grammatical errors and spelling mistakes which I helped him correct, this review is essentially a 10 year old's unfiltered response to the book.]

In A Few Words: This book took my imagination into the future, across the country, and beyond.

- The story is very creative, mixing a lot of weird stuff together to make cool creatures and exciting ideas
- Detailed desciptions make the story feel very real
- There were a lot of funny parts that made me laugh

-The ending just drops off so you don't know what happened to your favorite characters
-Fisher gets injured too often and he always gets better too quickly.

The Review: The Boy at the End of the World is an interesting book about a boy, a robot, and a woolly mammoth who go on a long adventure across the country after the human race was destroyed. Fisher wakes up in the ruins of an ark and doesn't know much more than how to fish. An ark is a preservation building built to keep the human race alive after they polluted the world. Fisher's ark was destroyed by it's own defense system but he thinks there is another ark across the country where he might find other humans. He goes to three different arks and find a different danger at each stop. The ending was good but it would have been better if it hadn't ended so quickly. I liked the characters a lot so I really wanted to know what happened to Fisher and his friends after the book ended.

There weren't too many characters which made it easy to keep track of everyone. The characters I liked the most were Fisher and Zapper. Fisher was smart and adventurous like me and Zapper was hyper like me. I didn't like Click as much because he was overprotective and he pretty much said the same thing through the entire story. He always said stuff was too dangerous.

I'm in fifth grade so the book was pretty easy to read but there were still some big words I had to ask my parents about. There were a lot of cool ideas in the book like the piranha-gators that attacked Fisher while he was sailing or the Intelligence which was a mixture of nanoworms that could change shape and take any form. There was a lot of fighting which was very fun and exciting. I also liked how the story was never too sad even though most of the humans were dead. I thought parts were really funny too, like when Fisher found a McDonalds sign or when he named the woolly mammoth Protein because he wanted to eat him. Overall, it was a very good book full of action and comedy and it would be perfect for fourth to seventh graders like me. If the author writes more books, I will definitely want to read them.

Apr 2, 2011

A Shameful Secret (#NotAprilFools)

[Author's Note: I was going to post this on Friday but I figured no one would believe me.]

It's time for everyone's favorite/least-favorite/only abominable reviewer to come clean about one of the skeletons in his closet. I don't know any good way to sugarcoat it so here goes nothing....

I have never read George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones.

I'll give you a couple of line breaks to let that sink in.

Done yet?

I don't know what this is
but it looks awesome

I know, I know. Everyone's so excited for April 17th. Game of Thrones. Sean Bean. Peter Dinklage. The Iron Throne. Wooooooo!!!!!!!!!...........? 

Or if you're not geared up for April 17th, then you've got July 12th circled on your calendar. It's the closest thing the fantasy genre has to Christmas. A Dance With Dragons! For reals. Finally. We swear, even more so than the last time we set a final date.

Don't get me wrong, I'm excited to see HBO take on what is undoubtedly the most significant epic fantasy series of the Oughties. They really look like they're doing it justice. And I've always had every intention of catching up on GRRM's modern masterpiece once the end was in sight, assuming of course that he hadn't gone Goodkind by that point.

But with the pilot debut mere weeks away, I had to ask "Can I sample HBO's version of A Song of Ice and Fire without first experiencing it as originally intended?"

A quick twitter survey revealed the answer wasn't just "no", but rather a much longer and harsher no preceeded by several explicitives unfit for even an abominable soul like myself to publish. Just for context, Brad Beaulieu (author of April's The Winds of Khalakovo) suggested that I should read Game of Thrones before reviewing his own debut novel. If that's not a killer recommendation, I don't know what is.

So while I do have a lot of promising books I need to finish in the near future (including The Winds of Khalakovo, The Dragon's Path, Up Against It, and The Quantum Thief among others), I've decided to take a break from the never ending new release pile and finally fill the gaping hole in my fantasy reviewer resume. Otherwise, I risk depriving myself of the first-read experience that is Game of Thrones - something I've been assured I'll regret.

Feel free to let your disgust show in the comments. The more contemptuous the better, I can take it. That is, if you're still will to talk to me at all. I won't blame you if you don't.
And if you're like me - a fantasy fan with this shameful secret - don't be afraid to admit it. There's still time for us to redeem ourselves.

But not long...
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