Thursday, December 31, 2009

SFFWorld Year in Review - Part 2 Science Fiction

Mark posted the year-end-review of Science Fiction at SFFWorld a couple of days ago. By no means is this exhaustive, just the take of what two fans read and observed in books published Science Fiction in 2009.

Though no nearly as popular as Fantasy, the topic discussing our little review is up in the forums.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

SFFWorld Year in Review - Part 1 Fantasy

Mark posted the first part of our annual year in review at SFFWorld yesterday, which focuses on Fantasy. Take a look and see if Mark and I summed it up pretty well or were way off base.

Some of the forum members are already chattering about it here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan - Rob's Final SFFW Review for 2009

Well folks, here it is, my last official SFFWorld review of 2009. Throughout this year, I’ve managed to post at least one new review per week, and in some cases, I’ve posted more than one of my reviews in said week.

That’s 52+ reviews and I don’t think … check that, I know I won’t be maintaining that pace in 2010. I’ve got too much of a backlog of books I’ve been acquiring that I want to read that have slipped while I’ve pushed review books to the top of the pile. More on that in a later blog post.

This week’s review is a complete 180 compared to last week’s book, The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan. That isn't a bad thing because I very much liked Kiernan's novel.

One of the things Kiernan points out through her protagonist early on is how unreliable narrators can be. With only a few pages per day of a diary by which we can know Sarah, it is difficult to get a complete handle on her. We don’t see how other characters react to her, only how they interact with her, and these interactions themselves are from Sarah’s recollections of the events. One of these events in particular, is a black cloud over Sarah’s entire presence in Rhode Island – the death of her former lover Amanda. While Sarah recounts how the two met in her diary, she does not fully or explicitly disclose the manner in which Amanda died until later in the novel.

The death of Sarah’s former lover becomes a bone of contention between Sarah and the unexpected boarder in the attic, Constance who happens to be an artist … just like Amanda was. A tension that vacillates between expected sexual tension, resentment, trust, and anger exist at multiple times, and often at the same time, between Sarah and Constance. One of the other major bones of contention between Sarah and Constance is the manuscript Sarah finds in the basement and Constance’s continual desire to read it firsthand.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Obligatory Avatar Post

Avatar is quite possibly, the most anticipated film in the last decade. It is what James Cameron has been working on for the better part of that decade and his first fictional film since the Oscar-winning Titanic in 1997.

Cameron has a great pedigree in film and science fiction, boasting some of the most well received films of the genre by both critics and larger audiences: The Terminator, Terminator 2, Aliens and one the favorite films of both my wife and myself: The Abyss. Both Terminator 2 and The Abyss helped to take special effects to another level in film making – the T-1000 in T2 and the water creatures in The Abyss. So to say expectations are high on this film is an understatement.

The story is one that may be quite familiar – an ambitious military man is told to invade the enemy to gain intel about their society and their faith so his superiors can gain a better foothold in conquering them, but who is then so taken with the enemies he joins their side instead once he falls in love with a woman of this enemy ‘tribe’ and their way of life. The native tribe, in this case, is the 14-foot tall Na’Vi who inhabit the planet Pandora. The Na’Vi are strong, agile, large and their bones are much more strong and dense than a human’s bones. The military man is Jake Sully, who is tasked by Colonel Miles Quaritch to get the Na’Vi to leave Hometree (the Na’Vi’s enormous living home), which sits above a large cache of unobtanium, a spectacularly valuable mineral that could make the RDA corporation extremely rich. Zoë Saldaña plays Neytiri a Na’Vi princess who takes Jake into the tribe once he is revealed to be some kind of unique, nigh-saviour figure. Quaritch eventually attacks Hometree before Jake can convince the Na’Vi to leave and a war between human and Na’Vi erupts.

While I never saw Dances with Wolves or Ferngully the two movies many (perhaps jokingly) compare to the story in Avatar, it was difficult not find elements in the film that seem to have been lifted from other movies or books. The bonding with banshee creatures (horse-sized creatures similar to dragons) was very reminiscent of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern. The super-armor the marines wore was reminiscent of both the robotic assistant Sigourney Weaver wore in Aliens as well as the armor of a Warhammer Space Marine. This is just a smattering of the similarities.

Despite the predictability, Cameron is able to tell this story convincingly enough to keep the emotional investment strong throughout the majority of the film. Sam Worthington as Jake Sully does an acceptable job; Zoë Saldaña as his love interest is terrific; Sigourney Weaver is very good as Dr. Augustine, the authority on Na’Vi and her role here (perhaps intentionally) echoes similar themes to her role as Diane Fossey; Giovanni Ribisi is also fine as the corporate punk who wants the unobtainium, and is reminiscent of Paul Reiser’s corporate scum character in Aliens. The stand-out performance; however, is Stephen Lang as Colonel Miles Quaritch, the Bad Ass villain of the film. Lang was very good as the despicable Ike Clanton in Tombstone, but here he chews up the scenery quite nicely. He exudes strong will and Bad-Assery.

The color palette and CGI effects were, in a word, mindblowing. The creatures, the Na’Vi themselves, and the floating mountains were a seamless element of the film. I didn’t once find myself thinking the Na’Vi were computer generated, the facial expressions, the body movements, and perhaps most importantly the eyes were remarkably rendered. It was only when the Na’Vi were standing next to humans did their alien-ness come to the fore, but that is likely only because they are 14-feet tall. Much like Gollum was able to seamlessly interact with the Hobbits, (and the Hobbits themselves as 3-foot tall humanoids) in the Lord of the Rings films, so do the Na’Vi seem as other actors on the proverbial stage.

I’ve already mentioned the predictability of the story as a drawback. The other drawback was actually seeing the film in 3D. Many people have told me the best way to see this film is in 3D. I have to disagree. While it wasn’t a distraction entirely, both my wife and I found that my eyes were straining to see through the glasses and my sense of awareness was later distorted after the film. My wife and I also both concluded how spoiled we are by HD Television. This was confirmed by seeing a trailer for the film on HD NET when we got back home and realizing how much more crisp and beautiful the dragon-creatures looked in HD compared to the 3D film.

This is a must see film and a doorway into the future of filmmaking. Cameron laid some good groundwork on this one and could build impressively with the supposedly planned sequel.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Books in the Mail (W/E 12/26/2009)

Nothing to see here folks. No new books for review this week. Santa did bring some books, though....

Captain America Omnibus by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. I've been eying this mammoth compilation of Brubaker's electrifying Captain America story every time I've visited my local comic shop with my wife. She nabbed this one and stuck under the tree for me this year.

By Schism Rent Asunder by David Weber
By Heresies Distressed by David Weber
I read and absolutely loved Off Armageddon Reef earlier this year and needed to get these books. The thrust of the series, in which Weber does a very good job of combining Space Opera/Military SF with Fantasy: "It follows a group of humans who have settled a planet they name Safehold, far from the reach of an alien race known as the Gbaba which is bent on destroying all humans wherever they are found. While all other human colonies have been destroyed this one was saved by trickery. Over 800 years after the humans land on Safehold an android, Nimue, with the personality of one of the starship officers who helped found the world is revived and discovers that the technology level of the colony has been reset to a primitive level. A disagreement between the leaders of the expedition resulted in the brainwashing of the colonists -- they believe that they were created and placed on Safehold by the Archangel Langhorne and all advanced technology or innovation is forbidden by the Church of God Awaiting. Nimue must find a way to help the colonists gain the technology necessary to defeat the Gbaba without letting the Church know what she is doing."

Heris Serrano by Elizabeth Moon
The Deed of Paksennarion by Elizabeth Moon
Ever since Mrs. Moon started contributing some terrific posts at SFFWorld, I've been curious about her fiction. Since I have Oath of Fealty on the reading docket, I wanted to check out her earlier work.

Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin - I needed to read what many people consider a definitive Vampire novel by a storytelling master. This book has been one of those I've wanted to read for a lot of years and was waiting for it to be re-released.

When struggling riverboat captain Abner Marsh receives an offer of partnership from a wealthy aristocrat, he suspects something’s amiss. But when he meets the hauntingly pale, steely-eyed Joshua York, he is certain. For York doesn’t care that the icy winter of 1857 has wiped out all but one of Marsh’s dilapidated fleet. Nor does he care that he won’t earn back his investment in a decade. York has his own reasons for wanting to traverse the powerful Mississippi. And they are to be none of Marsh’s concern—no matter how bizarre, arbitrary, or capricious his actions may prove.

Marsh meant to turn down York’s offer. It was too full of secrets that spelled danger. But the promise of both gold and a grand new boat that could make history crushed his resolve—coupled with the terrible force of York’s mesmerizing gaze. Not until the maiden voyage of his new sidewheeler Fevre Dream would Marsh realize he had joined a mission both more sinister, and perhaps more noble, than his most fantastic nightmare...and mankind’s most impossible dream.

Here is the spellbinding tale of a vampire’s quest to unite his race with humanity, of a garrulous riverman’s dream of immortality, and of the undying legends of the steamboat era and a majestic, ancient river.

The Warrior-Prophet by R. Scott Bakker - You people are probably saying, "Rob, you reviewed this book way back in 2004. Why are you just getting a copy of the book now?" Well, faithful readers, I had the ARC and never got around to getting the finished book.

"Following and teaching Kellhus, is Drusas Achamian, the Mandate Scholar who has been waiting his whole life, as well as the life of all who preceded him, to proclaim another Anusûrimbor in the face of the returning No-God. The implications of what Kellhus represents as a person and as a symbol are biblical, apocalyptical, so of course there will be much strife in the world once it knows of his existence. Throughout the novel, we see the chaos he causes, or rather this aforementioned knowledge of his existence causes. Rumors of the No-God’s return have always been floating through the winds of gossip, but with the advent of Kellhus’s coming, this rumor grows into fearful belief. Bakker does an excellent job of capturing the tension, fear, and hatred of what people might feel at the advent of such a world-shattering event. At the center of this tension is Drusas. Early on, he flutters between what his training tells him to believe of Kellhus and what his heart urges him to have faith in, regarding what Kellhus represents. It is truly fascinating to see Drusas unfold in the heart of the conflict, to see him still holding faith in Kellhus, despite what even his wife-like lover, Esmenet."

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson - After reading and loving his Mistborn trilogy, Warbreaker, and having The Gathering Storm on the to-read pile, I wanted to see where Brandon started. Elantris was the capital of Arelon: gigantic, beautiful, literally radiant, filled with benevolent beings who used their powerful magical abilities for the benefit of all. Yet each of these demigods was once an ordinary person until touched by the mysterious transforming power of the Shaod. Ten years ago, without warning, the magic failed. Elantrians became wizened, leper-like, powerless creatures, and Elantris itself dark, filthy, and crumbling. Arelon's new capital, Kae, crouches in the shadow of Elantris. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives for a marriage of state with Crown Prince Raoden, hoping -- based on their correspondence -- to also find love. She finds instead that Raoden has died and she is considered his widow. Both Teod and Arelon are under threat as the last remaining holdouts against the imperial ambitions of the ruthless religious fanatics of Fjordell. So Sarene decides to use her new status to counter the machinations of Hrathen, a Fjordell high priest who has come to Kae to convert Arelon and claim it for his emperor and his god. But neither Sarene nor Hrathen suspect the truth about Prince Raoden. Stricken by the same curse that ruined Elantris, Raoden was secretly exiled by his father to the dark city. His struggle to help the wretches trapped there begins a series of events that will bring hope to Arelon, and perhaps reveal the secret of Elantris itself. A rare epic fantasy that doesn't recycle the classics and that is a complete and satisfying story in one volume, Elantris is fleet and fun, full of surprises and characters to care about. It's also the wonderful debut of a welcome new star in the constellation of fantasy.

Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany - I've been wanting to read this one for quite a while and I may just be ready to read it. Delany's masterpiece about a wanderer who searches for meaning and identity in the ruins of a devastated city.

Thor Visionaries Volume 2
by Walter Simonson - Simonson's run on Thor is legendary and I've been waiting for Marvel to reissue this second volume for a couple of years now.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Gaunt and Grey - Two New Reviews

With the last “here are new reviews” post before Christmas, I bring you two new reviews at SFFWorld, one by me and the other by Dan.

In my ongoing attempt to become more familiar with the Warhammer 40,000 universe, I reviewed The Founding: Gaunt’s Ghosts Omnibus #1 by Dan Abnett:

Although the novels contained within this omnibus (First and Only, Ghostmaker, and Necropolis) tell of the exploits of the Tanith First and Only, each novel is slightly different stylistically speaking. This is one of the strengths of the book.

Led by Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt, the Tanith First and Only are the last survivors of their homeworld, which is how they were dubbed “Ghosts.” The first entry, First & Only, details one of the early campaigns of Gaunt’s Ghosts, hinting at the history of their founding. It is something of a cold start as Abnett gives readers a story of the Ghosts in action. Intertwined are episodes from Gaunt’s past as a teen and young man being educated at Schola Progenium, a military school for orphans of Imperial Officers. Abnett effectively introduces the regiment and what to expect in these stories – action, nice character interaction, and fast-paced plotting.

Dan reviewed Thomas Day's A Grey Moon over China:

To fully appreciate the story, you must tolerate characters who refuse to grow from beginning to end, who never learn from experience, who persist in their tunnel-visioned approach to life. You must cheer for those like the narrator who seem to have some modicum of rationality though their behavior will often tempt you to throw the book away in despair.

I stopped reading for a few days because the attention to politics was driving me crazy. When I came back to it, I discovered I had stopped just short of the saving plot line that made the rest of the book as enjoyable as the opening had been..

Monday, December 21, 2009

Reviewer Time Interviews Me

Harry over at Temple Library Reviews claimed me as his latest victim in his Sunday Reviewer Time feature.

So click on the image or this link (or the word "victim" above) and learn a bit more about the man behind this particular blog. I know my millions and millions of readers have wanted to know.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Books in the Mail (W/E 12/19/2009)

An enormous haul this week thanks to the Penguin imprints. Oddly, the majority of these books (5 out of 11) are written by authors whose surname begins with the letter H and two with authors whose surname begins with B and not surprisingly, many of the books feature zombie/vampire-hunting female protagonists – Urban Fantasy by today’s standards.

Spirit Lens (College of Magica #1) by Carol Berg (Roc, Trade Paperback 01/05/2009) – I read Berg’s debut novel, Transformation a couple of years ago and enjoyed it. Since then, she’s put out an impressive number ov novels and this one kicks off a new trilogy.

For Portier de Savin-Duplais, failed student of magic, sorcery's decline into ambiguity and cheap illusion is but a culmination of life's bitter disappointments. Reduced to tending the library at Sabria's last collegia magica, he fights off despair with scholarship. But when the King of Sabria charges him to investigate an attempted murder that has disturbing magical resonances, Portier believes his dreams of a greater destiny might at last be fulfilled...

Hastur Lord (A Darkover novel) by Marion Zimmer Bradley and Deborah J. Ross (DAW, Hardcover 01/05/2009) – Bradley’s Darkover saga is popular and extremely long-running, especially considering it has been a decade since she passed away and this is a new book.

A never-before-published fantasy novel set in Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover universe.

The world of Darkover, a unique, isolated, and protected world, has long avoided becoming part of the technologically advanced Terran Empire. But things are about to change. Regis Hastur, lord of the most powerful of the seven Domains in Darkover, learns that the Empire is about to become a Federation, and is extending an invitation for all of the worlds to join. While the offer seems tempting to his people, Regis knows that Darkover would become little more than a military base, used for its unique planetary position, and will be sapped of its resources. He must now stop at nothing to save his world.

The Good, the Bad, and the Uncanny (The Eleventh Novel of the Nightside) by Simon R. Green (Ace, Hardcover 01/05/2010) – Green is automatic – you can count on at least one book by him a year, and this is the first one of his books to publish in 2010.

Things were going so well for P.I. John Taylor, that it was only a matter of time before everything hit the fan. Walker, the powerful, ever-present, never­to-be-trusted agent who runs the Nightside on behalf of The Authorities, is dying. And he wants John to be his successor-a job that comes with more baggage, and more enemies, than anyone can possibly imagine.

Starbound by Joe Haldeman (Ace, Hardcover 01/05/2010) – Haldeman is a living legend and will be named Grand Master by the SFWA next year. I read and enjoyed both The Forever War and Forever Peace this is his latest novel and the synopsis sounds pretty interesting..

A New from the Hugo, Nebula, and John W. Campbell Award-winning author of Marsbound.

Carmen Dula and her husband have spent six years travelling to a distant solar system that is home to the enigmatic, powerful race known as "The Others," in the hopes of finding enough common purpose between their species to forge a delicate truce.

By the time Carmen and her party return, fifty years have been consumed by relativity-and the Earthlings have not been idle, building a massive flotilla of warships to defend Earth against The Others. But The Others have more power than any could imagine-and they will brook no insolence from the upstart human race.

Through Stone and Sea (The Eleventh A Novel of the Noble Dead) by Barb and JC Hendee (Roc, Hardcover 01/05/2010) – These Hendees are nothing if they aren’t consistent, the previous book in this series came out just about exactly a year prior to this one.

Here’s the snippet:

Wynn journeys to the mountain stronghold of the dwarves in search of the "Stonewalkers," an unknown sect supposedly in possession of important ancient texts. But in her obsession to understand these writings, she will find more puzzles and questions buried in secrets old and new-along with an enemy she thought destroyed....

Deadtown by Nancy Holzner (Ace, Mass Market Paperback 12/05/2009) – First in a series about a leather-clad, gun-toting, female demon killer.

Vicky’s demanding job keeping the city safe from all manner of monsters is one reason her relationship with workaholic lawyer (and werewolf) Alexander Kane is in constant limbo. Throw in a foolhardy zombie apprentice, a mysterious demon-plagued client, and a suspicious research facility that’s taken an unwelcome interest in her family, and Vicky’s love life has as much of a pulse as Deadtown’s citizens.

But now Vicky’s got bigger things to worry about. The Hellion who murdered her father ten years ago has somehow broken through Boston’s magical protections. The Hellion is a ruthless force of destruction with a personal grudge against Vicky, and she’s the only one who can stop the demon before it destroys the city and everyone in it.

Sleepless by Charlie Huston (Random House, Hardcover 1/28/2010) – What I’ve read by Huston (The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death and Already Dead) were both very good, so Huston taking on post-apocalyptic fiction seems a no brainer for me.

From bestselling author Charlie Huston comes a novel about the fears that find us all during dark times and the courage and sacrifice that can save us in the face of unimaginable odds. Gripping, unnerving, exhilarating, and haunting, Sleepless is well worth staying up for.

What former philosophy student Parker Hass wanted was a better world. A world both just and safe for his wife and infant daughter. So he joined the LAPD and tried to make it that way. But the world changed. Struck by waves of chaos carried in on a tide of insomnia. A plague of sleeplessness.

Park can sleep, but he is wide awake. And as much as he wishes he was dreaming, his eyes are open. He has no choice but to see it all. That's his job. Working undercover as a drug dealer in a Los Angeles ruled in equal parts by martial law and insurgency, he's tasked with cutting off illegal trade in Dreamer, the only drug that can give the infected what they most crave: sleep.

After a year of lost leads and false trails, Park stumbles into the perilous shadows cast by the pharmaceuticals giant behind Dreamer. Somewhere in those shadows, at the nexus of disease and drugs and money, a secret is hiding. Drawn into the inner circle of a tech guru with a warped agenda and a special use for the sleepless themselves, Park thinks he knows what that secret might be.

To know for certain, he will have to go deeper into the restless world. His wife has become sleepless, and their daughter may soon share the same fate. For them, he will risk what they need most from him: his belief that justice must be served. Unknown to him, his choice ties all of their futures to the singularly deadly nature of an aging mercenary who stalks Park.

The deeper Park stumbles through the dark, the more he is convinced that it is obscuring the real world. Bring enough light and the shadows will retreat. Bring enough light and everyone will see themselves again. Bring enough light and he will find his way to the safe corner, the harbor he's promised his family. Whatever the cost to himself.

It is July 2010. The future is coming. Open your eyes.

Blood Cross (Jane Yellowrock #2) by Faith Hunter (Roc Mass Market Paperback 1/06/2010) – The second in a Vampire Hunter series. The twist here is that the hunter is a Native American shapeshifter.

Jane Yellowrock is back on the prowl against the children of the night...

The vampire council has hired skinwalker Jane Yellowrock to hunt and kill one of their own who has broken sacred ancient rules-but Jane quickly realizes that in a community that is thousands of years old, loyalties run deep..

Turned (The Blood Lily Chronicles #3) by Julie Kenner (Ace, Mass Market Paperback 12/05/2009) – Another series about a hunter of the undead, this is the third book in a trilogy.

Three consecutive months-three explosive novels of The Blood Lily Chronicles.

When Lily Carlyle died in an act of vengeance, she came back as an assassin for the light. But when she discovered her masters' true darkness, she decided to choose the right side for once...Her own.

With her cover as a double agent inside the forces of evil blown, Lily has no choice but to go underground. She takes along a cadre of warriors: humans, angels, demons, and other trusted creatures. Their only hope is to stop the forces who are attempting to use the Ninth gate as a wedge that will unleash the fury of Hell.

Dopplegangster (Esther Diamond #2) by Laura Resnick (DAW, Mass Market Paperback 01/05/2010) –Second in a series mixing magic and the mafia with humor .

In Laura Resnick's Doppelgangster, the New York actress is 'resting' between roles by working as a singing waitress at a Manhattan mob restaurant because wiseguys tip well. Then duplicated gangsters appear, bullets start flying, and it's up to Esther and her friend Max the Magician to fight Evil by stopping the gang war before it starts killing the wrong people. And if she has time, maybe Esther can actually keep a hot date with her hunky detective friend Lopez, who doesn't believe in magic. Yet. Unplug the phone and settle down for a fast and funny read.

Dark Creed (Warhammer 40,000: Word Bearers) by Anthony Reynolds (Black Library Mass Market Paperback 12/19/2009) – This is the third book in one of BL’s many Warhammer sub-series.

Dark Apostle Marduk face challenges from within his own Legion as he wages war with the White Consuls Space Marine Chapter. Harnessing the power of the Nexus Arrangement, a powerful necron device, Marduk can turn the tide in the Word Bearers' favour. But just as the White Consuls are on the verge of defeat an old enemy returns to throw the entire dark crusade into ruin. If Marduk is to survive and fulfill his ambition, he must defy an onslaught from the necrons, the White Consuls and his own legion.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Time Travelers Never Die @ Sacramento / San Francisco Book Review

In addition to reviewing for SFFWorld, I’m now reviewing for the Sacramento Book Review /San Francisco Book Review. The über cool Dot Lin connected me with the fine folks who run the magazine, so a big thanks goes out to her for setting this up and them for agreeing to bring me aboard.

I was waiting to announce this here on the blog until my first review, Time Travelers Never Die, went live which it did sometime yesterday.

So, click through and to read and find out my thoughts on Jack McDevitt’s latest novel.

The review also appears in the print version of their magazine, which is distributed to a bunch of bookstores, libraries, coffee shops, colleges, and other gathering places each month in the Greater Sacramento and San Francisco Bay Area every month.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blood of Ambrose reviewed

Sometimes you get a book and you really want to like it. The cover is great, the premise is intriguing and other people whose opinions you trust have expressed liking said book. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen, as was the case with James Enge’s Blood of Ambrose. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but it didn’t quite hold my interest throughout:

Initially, I was a bit put off by the flow of the story. It wasn’t immediately clear just how young a boy Lathmar is. Through his interaction with both Urdhven and Ambrosia it become apparent how young the King is. As the King and Ambrosia escape, they call upon Morlock to defend Ambrosia’s honor in a trial by combat against the legendary Red Knight. These scenes firmly entrenched the story darkness of Enge’s world. It also was the first hint of the humor evident in Enge’s writing – upon defeating the Red Knight, Morlock is found to be simply asleep.

The other somewhat off-putting element of this novel was that I expected Morlock to be more front-and-center character throughout the story. It takes him a while to show up for that aforementioned trial by combat and even after that, he takes more of an advisor role to the young King than as the central figure of the story. In a way, that does work in the favor of the novel. Primarily because Morlock is spoken of as such a legendary character by the outlying characters – Morlock is the Crooked Man, a man always in shadows, almost an urban legend. So in this sense, Enge introduces the character through hearsay and sort of deconstructs the legend as Morlock comes more front-and-center into the novel.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Books in the Mail (W/E 12/12/2009)

My usual readers know the drill – every Sunday I post the books I received for review the prior week.

Catalyst (A Tale of the Barque Cats) by Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough (Del Rey , Hardcover 01/05/2009) – I’ll be right up front with this: books about cats are one of my reading cooties* so I will not be reading this one myself. That said, Scarborough and McCaffrey have impressive bibliographies on their own and together, so this book probably has a decent built-in audience. .

*Reading Cooties term thanks to Elizabeth Moon

Pilot, navigator, engineer, doctor, scientist—ship's cat? All are essential to the well-staffed space vessel. Since the early days of interstellar travel, when Tuxedo Thomas, a Maine coon cat, showed what a cat could do for a ship and its crew, the so-called Barque Cats have become highly prized crew members. Thomas's carefully bred progeny, ably assisted by humans—Cat Persons—with whom they share a deep and loving bond, now travel the galaxy, responsible for keeping spacecraft free of vermin, for alerting human crews to potential environmental hazards, and for acting as morale officers.

Even among Barque Cats, Chessie is something special. Her pedigree, skills, and intelligence, as well as the close rapport she has with her human, Janina, make her the most valuable crew member aboard the Molly Daise. And the litter of kittens in her belly only adds to her value.

Then the unthinkable happens. Chessie is kidnapped—er, catnapped—from Dr. Jared Vlast's vet clinic at Hood Station by a grizzled spacer named Carl Poindexter. But Chessie's newborn kittens turn out to be even more extraordinary than their mother. For while Chessie's connection to Janina is close and intuitive, the bond that the kitten Chester forms with Carl's son, Jubal, is downright telepathic. And when Chester is sent into space to learn his trade, neither he nor Jubal will rest until they're reunited.

But the announcement of a widespread epidemic affecting livestock on numerous planets throws their future into doubt. Suddenly the galactic government announces a plan to impound and possibly destroy all exposed animals. Not even the Barque Cats will be spared.

With the clock racing against them, Janina, Jubal, Dr. Vlast, and a handful of very special kittens will join forces with the mysterious Pshaw-Ra—an alien-looking cat with a hidden agenda—to save the Barque Cats, other animals, and quite possibly the universe as they know it from total destruction.

Sons of Dorn (An Imperial Fists Novel) by Chris Roberson (Black Library , Mass Market Paperback 12/29/2009) –I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read by Roberson as well as the Warhammer universe so I’ll get to this one at some point.

The Imperial Fists Space Marine Chapter is know for their brutal recruitment regime and three new recruits, rivals Zatori, du Queste and Taloc have survived long enough to advance to the Ranks of Scout. Their latest mission is to join their Imperial Fists battle brothers in action on Vernalis, a planet blighted by Chaos. Here their loyalty to the Emperor and their fortitude in battle will be sorely tested, as they must overcome the power of the Roaring Blades Traitor Guard and prevent these old enemies from bringing their downfall.

Galileo's Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson (Spectra Hardcover 12/29/2009) – Robinson is one of the biggest names in American Science Fiction and this is no doubt a major release for him and the genre itself. Although I couldn’t get through Red Mars, I’m definitely giving this one a try and maybe, just maybe I’ll revisit his Mars books one more time.

The winner of every major science fiction award, Kim Stanley Robinson is a novelist who looks ahead with optimism even while acknowledging the steep challenges facing our planet and species: a clear-eyed realist who has not forgotten how to dream. His new novel offers his most audacious dream yet. At the heart of a brilliant narrative that stretches from Renaissance Italy to the moons of Jupiter is one man, the father of modern science: Galileo Galilei.

To the inhabitants of the Jovian moons, Galileo is a revered figure whose actions will influence the subsequent history of the human race. From the summit of their distant future, a charismatic renegade named Ganymede travels to the past to bring Galileo forward in an attempt to alter history and ensure the ascendancy of science over religion. And if that means Galileo must be burned at the stake, so be it.

Yet between his brief and jarring visitations to this future, Galileo must struggle against the ignorance and superstition of his own time. And it is here that Robinson is at his most brilliant, showing Galileo in all his contradictions and complexity. Robinson's Galileo is a tour de force of imaginative and historical empathy: the shining center around which the novel revolves.

From Galileo's heresy trial to the politics of far-future Jupiter, from the canals of Venice to frozen, mysterious Europa, Robinson illuminates the parallels between a distant past and an even more remote future—in the process celebrating the human spirit and calling into question the convenient truths of our own moment in time.

Starfist : Wings of Hell by David Sherman & Dan Cragg (Del Rey, Hardcover 12/30/2008) – This is the 13th entry in a Military Science Fiction saga set in the 25th Century. This marks the third time I’ve received a copy of this book, after the ARC and hardcover. Sherman and Cragg have Military experience, so maybe that translates into the books. I haven’t seen much chatter about the books online or at SFFWorld, either they are not that good or an overlooked gem.

No one captures the action and sacrifice of war better than real combat vets David Sherman and Dan Cragg. Now their blazing space epic Starfist continues as Marines of the Confederation’s Thirty-fourth Fleet Initial Strike Team (FIST) go head-to-head against the deadly Skinks. Of course, Company L’s third platoon has fought these aliens before, but never before in these numbers. . . .

Planet Haulover has been invaded by Skinks. Until now the aliens’ existence has been kept confidential. But Force Recon’s shocking report leaves the Confederation no choice but to mount a military campaign and reveal to the public its biggest secret: the threat of fierce alien predators bent on human destruction. What’s no secret is that the four army divisions and two Marine FISTs sent to Haulover aren’t nearly enough to defeat the well-entrenched aliens, who have a tunnel system second to none.

Back home, the Confederation’s president is being denounced as a warmonger bent on exterminating “harmless” aliens. And if she loses the upcoming elections, the Confederation will have a lot more Skinks than those on Haulover to worry about.

Newly promoted Lieutenant Charlie Bass and his third platoon have more pressing concerns, such as staying alive. But what would be a suicidal mission for most–whether it’s raiding a well-defended Skinks base or destroying the enemy’s most lethal weapons during a desperate firefight–is for them just another job.

Starfist: Double Jeopardy by David Sherman and Dan Cragg (Del Rey, Hardcover 12/29/2009) – This would be the ‘finished copy’ of the ARC I received about a month ago. Y’know, after receiving so many of these StarFist books, I really ought to give them a try.

The thrilling pace of the Starfist space epic quickens as the explosive series rockets to dazzling new heights, packed with the hell-for-leather action only two battle-hardened and decorated combat vets like David Sherman and Dan Cragg can provide.

The Confederation has finally disclosed the existence of Skinks, fierce aliens bent on wiping out humankind, and announced its plan to find and destroy their home world. While the rest of the universe grapples with the news, the Skink-savvy Marines of the Confederation's Thirty-fourth Fleet Initial Strike Team (FIST) have their own take on the situation.

Though they're no longer in danger of being exiled to a ghastly netherworld for spilling the beans about the deadly aliens, the men still can't transfer out of the unit where they've been confined since they first laid eyes on the Skinks. The reason is obvious: Who else but the legendary Thirty-fourth FIST has the skills and experience to spearhead the invasion of the Skinks' home world?

Morale isn't improved by a report of Skinks on the uncolonized world of Ishtar near a mercenary force engaged in slave-driven mining operations there—which means that FIST must turn around and head right back into the jaws of hell with no downtime. But none of that matters to Lieutenant Charlie Bass and the third platoon of Company L. They're Marines, they're the best, and they've got a job to do.

The Marines will find a planet ripped apart by all-out war, with enemies on all sides. The only certainty is that the fighting will rage red-hot and relentless, and Charlie Bass and his men will be right in the thick of the action.

Spellbent by Lucy Snyder (Del Rey , Mass Market Paperback 12/29/2009) – Snyder’s been publishing short stories for a few years, this is her debut novel. Although the cover here, on one hand, is very typical for the tough-midriff-bearing-hot-female, the other elements really help it stand out – the colors and the cool-looking skeletal serpent.

In the heart of Ohio, Jessie Shimmer is caught up in hot, magic-drenched passion with her roguish lover, Cooper Marron, who is teaching her how to tap her supernatural powers. When they try to break a drought by calling down a rainstorm, a hellish portal opens and Cooper is ripped from this world, leaving Jessie fighting for her life against a vicious demon that's been unleashed.

In the aftermath, Jessie, who knows so little about her own true nature, is branded an outlaw. She must survive by her wits and with the help of her familiar, a ferret named Palimpsest. Stalked by malevolent enemies, Jessie is determined to find out what happened to Cooper. But when she moves heaven and earth to find her man, she'll be shocked by what she discovers—and by what she must ultimately do to save them all.

Trade of Queens (Merchant Princes #6) by Charles Stross (Tor Hardcover 03/16/2010) – That B&W scan is the only image I could find of the cover. I’ve read some of Stross’s SF and enjoyed it, but this is the final and 6th book in a six-book series.

A dissident faction of the Clan, the alternate universe group of families that has traded covertly with our world for a century or more, has carried nuclear devices between the worlds and exploded them in Washington, DC, killing the President of the United States. Now they will exterminate the rest of the Clan and keep Miriam alive only long enough to bear her child, the heir to the throne of their land in the Gruinmarkt world.

Mike Fleming, late of US intelligence, has just survived an attack on his life in Massachusetts and knows the worst and deepest secret: behind the horrifying plot is a faction of the US government itself, preparing for a political takeover in the aftermath of terrifying disaster. There is no safe place except, perhaps, in the third alternate world, New Britain — which has just had a revolution and a nuclear incident of its own.

Charles Stross’ Merchant Princes series reaches a spectacular climax in this sixth volume. Praised by Nobel laureate Paul Krugman as “great fun,” this is state-of-the-art, cutting-edge SF grown out of a fantastic premise.

Shadow King (A Tale of the Sundering) by Gav Thorpe (Black Library , Mass Market Paperback 03/13/2010) – Thorpe sent almost a decade and ahalf with Games Workshop so he’s got a good feel for the worlds. This book is the second in a series of stories set in the (I think) pre-history of the Warhammer Fantasy world.

When his family is betrayed and slain, Alith Anar, ill-fated prince of the Nagarythe, is forced to walk a dark path. With the island of Ulthuan in the grip of a civil war with their evil counterparts, the druchii, Alith Anar follows his destiny to become the Shadow King. Hunting his enemies from the darkness, he is now on a quest for vengeance that will never end.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

SF is dying...again

It seems Mark C. Newton's article and response have caused something of a stir - the latest internet kerfuffle as some might say.

It's been a rather hot topic at SFFWorld lately.

I may (or may not) have a more considered response or thoughts to this, but I'm not sure if I'll post here or at SFFWorld or Mark's blog.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Dimebag & Destoyermen Redux

Talk about a strange twist of fate… Last year when I mentioned the death of Dimebag Darrell I posted my review of Taylor Anderson’s second Destroyermen novel Crusade. So here we are a year later and I’m publishing a nearly identical post, lamenting the loss of one of the greatest and most influential guitar players in the history Metal/Heavy Music/Rock and posting a link to my review of a Taylor Anderson novel. I knew I mentioned Dime about this time last year, but hadn’t gone back in my blog archives to actually read the post until this very day.

So, here’s part of my review of Maelstrom:

As with the previous volumes, Anderson capably renders the characters as people of their time. One of the elements lingering in the background in the previous two volumes comes to the forefront here – population control. Men far outnumber the women so committed relationships, such as marriage, is something of a faux pas. It isn’t touched on with too much depth, but that suits the story just fine since the most pressing matter is the looming threat of the Grik-Japanese force.

The Destroyermen, rightfully so, have had little time to explore or even become accustomed to the world in which they find themselves. Through the entire series Anderson has captured this sense of disorientation very well, but he juxtaposed it nicely with the growing trust, admiration, and respect between the humans and Lemurians. So much so that some of the men become drawn to the female Lemurians.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Books in the Mail (W/E 12/05/2009)

Three ARCs and Three shelf-ready publication books this week, not bad.

The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming (Putnam, Hardcover 12/31/2009) – Having this book arrive on my porch was the first I heard of it, and it the description below is intriguing. .

An incredibly original, intelligent novel-a love story set against New York City at the dawn of the mechanical age, featuring Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, and J. P. Morgan.

After discovering an old photograph, an elderly antiques dealer living in present-day Los Angeles is forced to revisit the history he has struggled to deny. The photograph depicts a man and a woman. The man is Peter Force, a young frontier adventurer who comes to New York City in 1901 and quickly lands a job digging the first subway tunnels beneath the metropolis. The woman is Cheri- Anne Toledo, a beautiful mathematical prodigy whose memories appear to come from another world. They meet seemingly by chance, and initially Peter dismisses her as crazy. But as they are drawn into a tangle of overlapping intrigues, Peter must reexamine Cheri-Anne's fantastic story. Could it be that she is telling the truth and that she has stumbled onto the most dangerous secret imaginable: the key to traveling through time?

Set against the mazelike streets of New York at the dawn of the mechanical age, Peter and Cheri-Anne find themselves wrestling with the nature of history, technology, and the unfolding of time itself.

Unholy Ghosts by Stacia Kane (Del Rey Mass Market Paperback 05/25/2010) – This is a real early ARC, as for the story it seems part ghost story, part urban fantasy.


The world is not the way it was. The dead have risen, and the living are under attack. The powerful Church of Real Truth, in charge since the government fell, has sworn to reimburse citizens being harassed by the deceased.

Consequently, there are many false claims of hauntings from those hoping to profit. Enter Chess Putnam, a fully-tattooed witch, freewheeling Debunker, and ghost hunter. She’s got a real talent for nailing human liars and banishing the wicked dead. But she’s keeping a dark secret from the Church: a little drug problem that’s landed her in hot and dangerous water.

Chess owes a lot of money to a murderous drug lord named Bump. And Bump wants immediate payback. All Chess has to do is dispatch a very nasty species of undead from an old airport. But the job involves black magic, human sacrifice, a nefarious demonic creature, and crossing swords with enough wicked energy to wipe out a city of souls. Toss in lust for a rival gang leader and a dangerous attraction to Bump’s ruthless enforcer, and Chess begins to wonder if the rush is really worth it. Hell, yeah.

Gardens of the Sun by Paul McAuley (Pyr Trade Paperback 03/15/2010) – This will be a welcome sequel to The Quiet War for many. However, I’m one of the only people who didn’t seem to connect with that book.

The Quiet War is over. The city-states of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, founded by descendants of refugees from Earth's repressive regimes, the Outers, have fallen to the Three Powers Alliance of Greater Brazil, the European Union, and the Pacific Community. A century of enlightenment, rational utopianism, and exploration of new ways of being human has fallen dark. Outers are herded into prison camps and forced to collaborate in the systematic plundering of their great archives of scientific and technical knowledge, while Earth's forces loot their cities and settlements and ships, and plan a final solution to the "Outer problem."

But Earth's victory is fragile, and riven by vicious internal politics. While seeking out and trying to anatomize the strange gardens abandoned in place by the Outers' greatest genius, Avernus, the gene wizard Sri Hong-Owen is embroiled in the plots and counterplots of the family that employs her. The diplomat Loc Ifrahim soon discovers that profiting from victory isn't as easy as he thought. And on Earth, in Greater Brazil, the democratic traditions preserved and elaborated by the Outers have infected a population eager to escape the tyranny of the great families who rule them.

Meanwhile, in the outer reaches of the Solar System, a rag-taggle group of refugees struggle to preserve the last of the old ideals. And on Triton, fanatical members of a cabal prepare for a final battle that threatens to shatter the future of the human species.

After a conflict fought to contain the expansionist, posthuman ambitions of the Outers, the future is as uncertain as ever. Only one thing is clear. No one can escape the consequences of war—especially the victors.

Starship: Flaghsip (Book Five of the Starship Series) by Mike Resnick (Pyr , Hardcover December 2008) – This I’ve read the first three books (Starship: Mutiny, Starship: Pirate, Starship: Mercenary) but haven’t read the fourth yet, which I plan to remedy now that I have the full series..

The date is 1970 of the Galactic Era, almost three thousand years from now, and the Republic, created by the human race but not yet dominated by it, finds itself in an all-out war against the Teroni Federation, an alliance of races that resent Man's growing military and economic power.

The rebel starship, the Theodore Roosevelt, under the command of Wilson Cole, is preparing to lead Cole's ragtag armada into the Republic, even though he is outnumbered thousands to one. Cole is convinced that the government has become an arrogant and unfeeling political entity and must be overthrown.

The trick is to avoid armed conflict with the vast array of ships, numbering in the millions, in the Republic's Navy. For a time Cole's forces strike from cover and race off to safety, but he soon sees that is no way to conquer the mightiest political and military machine in the history of the galaxy. He realizes that he must reach Deluros VIII, the headquarters world of the Republic (and of the race of Man), in order to have any effect on the government at all—but Deluros VIII is the best-protected world in the Republic.

But a new threat looms on the horizon. Cole, the Valkyrie, David Copperfield, Sharon Blacksmith, Jacovic, and the rest of the crew of the Teddy R face their greatest challenge yet, and the outcome will determine the fate of the entire galaxy.

Empire in Black and Gold (Shadows of the Apt) 1 by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Pyr , Trade Paperback 03/13/2010) – I’ve seen and read good things about this series of books, so I was pleased to find out Pyr is bringing this books out for US readers. This is an ARC of the first book of the series.

The city states of the Lowlands have lived in peace for decades, bastions of civilization, prosperity and sophistication, protected by treaties, trade and a belief in the reasonable nature of their neighbours.

But meanwhile, in far-off corners, the Wasp Empire has been devouring city after city with its highly trained armies, its machines, it killing Art . . . And now its hunger for conquest and war has become insatiable.

Only the ageing Stenwold Maker, spymaster, artificer and statesman, can see that the long days of peace are over. It falls upon his shoulders to open the eyes of his people, before a black-and-gold tide sweeps down over the Lowlands and burns away everything in its path.

But first he must stop himself from becoming the Empire's latest victim.

The Inquistion War by Ian Watson (Black Library Paperback 12/29/2009) – Watson is a respected British SF author and this is what Black Library considers one of the classics of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and as such, they’ve reissued it.

The phenomenal trilogy is back in print!

The Inquisition War is the classic story of Inquisitor Jaq Draco and his desperate mission to uncover a plot that will bring mankind to its knees before the Dark Powers. Written by award-winning author, Ian Watson, The Inquisition War explores areas of the Warhammer 40,000 mythology that few other authors have dared to tackle!

Collected in this omnibus is the seminal trilogy of Draco (previously released as Inquisitor), Harlequin, Chaos Child and two linking short stories which together make the legend of The Inquisition War complete.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Elizabeth Moon & SFFWorld

Over the course of the past near-decade at SFFWorld, particularly in my role as moderator/administrator of the SFFWorld forums, I’ve seen a fair number of published authors participate. It always pretty neat

James Barclay
(author of the awesome Raven series of books, the first trilogy of which recently hit US shores thanks to Pyr is a regular participant and moderator, R.A. Salvatore was participating for a while, Jim Butcher dropped in once, Jeff VanderMeer stopped by during our Book Club discussion of Veniss Underground, and perhaps most recently Brandon Sanderson (posting as EUOL).

Heck, we host official author forums for R. Scott Bakker, Alison Croggon, Gary Wassner, Kevin Radthorne, and Matthew Stover

This all brings me to the latest top-name author to become a member of SFFWorld forums, Elizabeth Moon. Mrs. Moon has gone full gusto since joining, providing some great writing advice and discussing both her SF work and her Paksenarrion saga with our members, as well as Science Fiction in general.

She’s got a major release coming out early 2010, the next of her Paksenarrion saga, Oath of Fealty.

In addition, she’s written some popular and acclaimed Science Fiction:
Vatta’s War, Serrano Legacy and the Nebula Award winning Speed of the Dark

So, after reading some of her posts and interacting with Mrs. Moon, I'm very inclined to jump into some of the books she's written. I will likely start with Oath of Fealty, an ARC of which I received a few of weeks ago, and hope to get the omnibus of The Deed of Paksenarrion for Christmas, then I might jump into some of the Heris Serrano books.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Devil's Alphabet by Daryl Gregory

After last week’s whirlwind week of reviews, we are back to one review up at SFFWorld today.

That book under review is Daryl Gregory’s second novel, The Devil’s Alphabet:

Gregory’s protagonist is Paxton Abel Martin, Pax for short. Pax was one of the few residents of Switchcreek not affected by TDS, and because he was unaffected, he is considered a “skip.” As a result, his father, a preacher and a charlie, urged him to leave. Pax settles in Chicago and fifteen years later, Pax is called back to Switchcreek to attend the funeral of Jo Lynn who was his closest friend as a child. What Pax finds most surprising is that her death is ruled a suicide. When he returns to his childhood home he finds his father in worse condition than he could have imagined. Pax soon learns that one of the side attributes of the grotesquely enormous charlies is the secretion? of the Vintage, essentially a new drug. Pax is unable to not try the vintage and it sends him into an incredible, hallucinogenic high.

What Pax learns about his father; however, is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The theme of small town secrets is prevalent both in real life and in fiction, and Gregory does an incredibly convincing job of revealing the many secrets of Switchcreek. Though some of the secrets are both dark and benevolent at the same time, the path Gregory wends in revealing these secrets is clever and plausible.

Last week I also finished The Road by Cormac McCarthy and I’m still thinking about the book’s simple, elegant and profound story. It took me a bit to get accustomed to McCarthy’s very sparse style – barely any punctuation like opening and closing quotes for dialogue and brief sentences in said dialogue. However, once I was swept up in the story, I couldn’t imagine it being told in any other style since the style mirrored the story being told very well.