Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Goblin Corps and Vampire Companions at SFFWorld

Over the past week another two reviews have gone up at SFFWorld by the usual suspects – you friendly neighborhood Rob and everyone’s favorite Hobbit, Mark. We’ll kick things off with my review first.

Fantasy and humor have been mixing since Terry Pratchett, and probably before. There’s also been trend of viewing the Fantasy Quest/Battle/Epicness from the other side (i.e. not the “good guys”) as well (Mary Gentle, Stan Nicholls, Jacqueline Carey). Ari Marmell’s, The Goblin Corps is a superb confluence of these two trends. This is the second novel I’ve read by Mr. Marmell and much as I enjoyed the earlier (The Conqueror’s Shadow), this one is even stronger and more enjoyable:

However, when the squad is assembled and the diverse creatures begin to mesh, first as a set of conflicting personalities, eventually as a functioning unit, the narrative power increases and the novel became much more enjoyable. The banter initially illicits chuckles because the words/phrases are humorous; but the banter becomes all the more effective as the characters become more familiar and the cadence of their dialogue is more fluid.

What also works in the novel is that, despite goblins, orcs and the other creatures of the Demon Squad typically being on the evil side of the good v. evil battle, rarely does the term evil even come up as a descriptive for our protagonists. Much like he’s given the characters of Cræosh, Katim, Belrotha a unique and believable perspective from their side of the great struggle (in as much as I was rooting for them), Marmell doesn’t really play the whole good v. evil card, except to play with reader expectations and the general notions of the fantasy tropes with which Marmell is playing in the novel. Even the Charnel King Morthûl is painted sympathetically at points in the novel and his opposite number on the “good side” (again implied from genre/reader expectations) is a less savory individual than one would expect to be leading the heroic efforts.

Vampires are popular, as always, and at the forefront in popular culture as of late is Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels, thanks in no small part to the hugely popular TV Show True Blood. What’s always been popular for long-running series is to publish a compendium or reference to the book series, in this case, Mark reviewed The Sookie Stackhouse Companion:

As a Companion, it fills in those little details that obsessive fans just want to know.

Such details can be quite diverse. There’s the usual expected elements here - a miscellany of characters, places and key events, a detailed time line and summary of the books up to Dead Reckoning, comments by the author on how the books came about and what she was trying to achieve with them, and a detailed map of town of Bon Temps.

What makes this more interesting are the other elements. So, for example, within the summary of the books up to Dead Reckoning we also have some intriguing ‘secret’ telephone conversations transcribed between vampires Bill and Eric, which no doubt fans will enjoy. We also have Sookie’s family tree, a short story, an interview with Charlaine based around website questions (from clearly quite dedicated fans), Sookie Stackhouse Trivia Quizzes (thankfully with answers) and, believe it or not, cookbook recipes. So if you want to know how to make and serve
Perdita’s Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce (page 275) or Classic Southern Sweet Tea (page 278), obviously to be eaten and drunk whilst reading the books, then here’s your chance!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Books in the Mail (W/E 2011-09-24)

Another week, another batch of books for review here at the offices of the o' Stuff. This week brings me the October mass market releases from DAW plus some final copies of ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) I received in the past as well as late books (concluding or middle books) in series for which I haven't received previous installments.

Magebane by Lee Arthur Chane (DAW Mass Market Paperback 10/04/2011) – “Lee Arthur Chane” is a (fairly) open pseudonym for SF writer Edward Willett. Very often, when writers want to try something different they’ll write under a different name in order for a fresh start (basically from the public notions and more importantly Bookscan/bookstore tracking) in a different genre. I think I will give this one a try, since Willett’s SF novels looked interesting and there isn’t nearly enough standalone fantasy on the shelves, which this seems to be.

The kingdom of Evrenfels is the last bastion of magic in the world, cut off from the outside by the Great Barrier through which magic cannot penetrate.

For centuries, the Magelords have ruled their kingdom with an iron hand while beyond the Barrier, magic and the Magelords have faded into an almost forgotten myth, replaced by low-level technology. Now all of that is about to change, for one man, Lord Falk, the Minister of Safety—the most powerful of the Magelords—has plans to assassinate the king and his heir, to break down the Barrier, and to conquer the lands beyond.

All it will take is the lives of two innocents: Prince Karl and Falk’s own ward, a girl named Brenna, a small sacrifice to Lord Falk’s way of thinking. One is the heir and the other is the legendary Magebane, anathema to all magic.

But there is one thing Lord Falk hasn’t foreseen, one thing that could unbalance all of his plans—the unexpected arrival of a young man whose airship suddenly comes sailing over the top of the Great Barrier …

Undead and Undermined (A Wyndham Werewolves Novel) by MaryJanice Davidson (Berkeley Sensation, Trade Paperback 10/04/2011) – A spin-off novel from the popular vampire series by Davidson

The howlingly good spin-off of the Undead series from the New York Times bestselling author.

Rachel, a werewolf/accountant, is asked to keep one eye on Vampire Queen Betsy Taylor and the other peeled for a rogue werewolf who's itching to start a war. But her attention is mostly on a sexy, mysterious stranger she wishes she could trust.

The Death Cure (Maze Runner Series #3) by James Dashner (Random House Teens Hardcover 10/11/2011) – Final book of a trilogy (and the only book of the series I’ve received). The dystopian series seems well-received and will likely appeal to readers/fans of The Hunger Games.

Thomas knows that Wicked can't be trusted, but they say the time for lies is over, that they've collected all they can from the Trials and now must rely on the Gladers, with full memories restored, to help them with their ultimate mission. It's up to the Gladers to complete the blueprint for the cure to the Flare with a final voluntary test. What Wicked doesn't know is that something's happened that no Trial or Variable could have foreseen. Thomas has remembered far more than they think. And he knows that he can't believe a word of what Wicked says.

The time for lies is over. But the truth is more dangerous than Thomas could ever imagine.

Will anyone survive the Death Cure?

Intrigues (Collegium Chronicles #2) by Mercedes Lackey (DAW Mass Market Paperback 10/04/2011) – Mass Market re-issue of the second novel in sub-series of Lackey’s popular Valdeamar books.

Mags was an orphan and slave of ‘bad blood’ who toiled a gem mine all his young life. He would have died before adulthood, had he not been Chosen and taken to Haven to be trained in the new Herald Collegium.

Now, Mags was never hungry and never cold. He slept in a real bed in his own room and, most importantly, he had Dallen, who was like another part of himself. And yet, aside from Lena and Bear, both loners like he was, he couldn’t relate to most of the Herald, Healer, or Bard trainees. He was the only trainee who came from what—to the others—was unimaginable poverty. There was another factor that contributed to Mag’s isolation. Foreign assassins, masquerading at court as envoys were discovered. As they fled from the Guard, one of them seemed to “recognize” Mags. Now, Mags was an object of suspicion.

He had always been curious about his parents, but after the incident it became urgent for Mags to discover exactly who his parents were. And at Haven, he had access to the extensive Archives. Poring through the Archives, he got only incomplete information: his parents, found dead in a bandit camp, had been two of a number of hostages, some of whom had survived. The survivors had told the Guard that Mags’ parents spoke a language that no one understood or recognized.

This information did not help, for the ForeSeers had been having visions of the king’s assassination by “one of the foreign blood”. Some had even Seen Mags with blood on his hands. How could Mags defend himself against a crime that hadn’t yet been committed?

The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod (Pyr Tradet Paperback 09/20/2011) – MacLeod is one of those British Writers who exploded with a raft of books about a decade ago. This is a switch from his usual Space Opera flavored fare and again, a nice job of Pyr bringing a book published in the UK a couple of years ago to US readers.

There is no such place as Krassnia. Lucy Stone should know—she was born there. In that tiny, troubled region of the former Soviet Union, revolution is brewing. Its organizers need a safe place to meet, and where better than the virtual spaces of an online game? Lucy, who works for a start-up games company in Edinburgh, has a project that almost seems made for the job: a game inspired by The Krassniad, an epic folk tale concocted by Lucy’s mother, Amanda, who studied there in the 1980s. Lucy knows Amanda is a spook. She knows her great-grandmother Eugenie also visited the country in the ’30s, and met the man who originally collected Krassnian folklore and who perished in Stalin’s terror. As Lucy digs up details about her birthplace to slot into the game, she finds the open secrets of her family’s past, the darker secrets of Krassnia’s past—and hints about the crucial role she is destined to play in The Restoration Game. . . .

Combining international intrigue with cutting-edge philosophical speculation, romance with adventure, and online gaming with real-life consequence, The Restoration Game delivers as science fiction and as a sharp take on our present world from the viewpoint of a complex, engaging heroine who has to fight her way through a maze of political and family manipulation to take control of her own life.

The Cold Commands (A Land Fit for Heroes #2) by Richard K. Morgan (Del Rey Hardcover 10/11/2010) – This is one of the three or four most anticipated fantasy novels of 2011 for a lot of people. The first book The Steel Remains was reviewed by both myself and Hobbit a couple of years ago.

With The Steel Remains, award-winning science fiction writer Richard K. Morgan turned his talents to sword and sorcery. The result: a genre-busting masterwork hailed as a milestone in contemporary epic fantasy. Now Morgan continues the riveting saga of Ringil Eskiath—Gil, for short—a peerless warrior whose love for other men has made him an outcast and pariah.

Only a select few have earned the right to call Gil friend. One is Egar, the Dragonbane, a fierce Majak fighter who comes to respect a heart as savage and loyal as his own. Another is Archeth, the last remaining daughter of an otherworldly race called the Kiriath, who once used their advanced technology to save the world from the dark magic of the Aldrain—only to depart for reasons as mysterious as their arrival. Yet even Egar and Archeth have learned to fear the doom that clings to their friend like a grim shadow . . . or the curse of a bitter god.

Now one of the Kiriath’s uncanny machine intelligences has fallen from orbit—with a message that humanity faces a grave new danger (or, rather, an ancient one): a creature called the Illwrack Changeling, a boy raised to manhood in the ghostly between-world realm of the Grey Places, home to the Aldrain. A human raised as one of them—and, some say, the lover of one of their greatest warriors—until, in a time lost to legend, he was vanquished. Wrapped in sorcerous slumber, hidden away on an island that drifts between this world and the Grey Places, the Illwrack Changeling is stirring. And when he wakes, the Aldrain will rally to him and return in force—this time without the Kiriath to stop them.

An expedition is outfitted for the long and arduous sea journey to find the lost island of the Illwrack Changeling. Aboard are Gil, Egar, and Archeth: each fleeing from ghosts of the past, each seeking redemption in whatever lies ahead. But redemption doesn’t come cheap these days. Nor, for that matter, does survival. Not even for Ringil Eskiath. Or anyone—god or mortal—who would seek to use him as a pawn.

Ganymede (Clockwork Century Series #4) by Cherie Priest (Tor , Trade Paperback 10/11/2011) – The fourth book in Preist’s most popular and acclaimed series, which is steampunk. I haven’t read any of the previous installments, but this one seems to be standalone yet connected to the others..

The air pirate Andan Cly is going straight. Well, straighter. Although he’s happy to run alcohol guns wherever the money’s good, he doesn’t think the world needs more sap, or its increasingly ugly side-effects. But becoming legit is easier said than done, and Cly’s first legal gig—a supply run for the Seattle Underground—will be paid for by sap money.

New Orleans is not Cly’s first pick for a shopping run. He loved the Big Easy once, back when he also loved a beautiful mixed-race prostitute named Josephine Early—but that was a decade ago, and he hasn’t looked back since. Jo’s still thinking about him, though, or so he learns when he gets a telegram about a peculiar piloting job. It’s a chance to complete two lucrative jobs at once, one he can’t refuse. He sends his old paramour a note and heads for New Orleans, with no idea of what he’s in for—or what she wants him to fly.

But he won’t be flying. Not exactly. Hidden at the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain lurks an astonishing war machine, an immense submersible called the Ganymede. This prototype could end the war, if only anyone had the faintest idea of how to operate it…. If only they could sneak it past the Southern forces at the mouth of the Mississippi River… If only it hadn’t killed most of the men who’d ever set foot inside it.

But it’s those “if onlys” that will decide whether Cly and his crew will end up in the history books, or at the bottom of the ocean.

Vamparazzi (Esther Diamond #4) by Laura Resnick (DAW, Mass Market Paperback 10/04/2011) –Wow, Resnick has really banged out these books fairly quickly, this being the fourth (three in the past couple of years).

That's what Manhattan's resident mystical mage, Dr. Maximillian Zadok, explains to struggling actress Esther Diamond when the deadly world of real vampires intrudes on The Vampyre, an off-Broadway play in which Esther plays a vampire victim who's bitten nightly by a co-star who claims to be a real-unlive creature-of-the-night.

After a grisly murder casts a pall over The Vampyre, Max and Esther confront a dizzying array of suspects among the vamparazzi—the rival factions of vampire groupies and anti-vampire obsessives who surround the theatre every night. Meanwhile, Esther's almost would-be boyfriend, Detective Connor Lopez, fears that she may be the killer's next target!

Esther's quest to thwart Evil and ensure a decent run for her play ultimately brings her into conflict with real vampires, vamparazzi, and an ancient cult of vampire hunters with whom her friend Max has a checkered past. Her adventure takes her into the forgotten tunnels and vaults beneath New York City, where Esther learns that having your neck gnawed upon by a bloodthirsty prince of the night isn't nearly as much fun as she makes it look onstage.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sniffing, Healing, and Being Raised to the Seat - Lord of Chaos

For the uninitiated, Lord of Chaos is book number six in The Wheel of Time. This is an entry in the series, that looking back on it now (seventeen!) years later, some consider the book where Robert Jordan’s indulgence in exposition becomes ever more problematic.

For my part, I originally read the book about 13 years ago (1997 – 1998 ish) in a catch-up series of reads for the Wheel of Time where I’d rotate a WOT book in with my other reading. I remember really liking Lord of Chaos having built off the events of Fires of Heaven. The novel starts out with a lengthy prologue setting the table, what I got out of it is how the Forsaken are shown to tremble at the power of the Dark One both despite of their infighting and as the impetus to much of their infighting.

Then the novel proper begins and early on, we meet a character who has been spoken about fairly often and has gone one to be one of the more controversial characters in the series – Mazrim Taim. The exchanges/scenes when both Taim and Rand are ‘on page’ worked very well for me, showing promise of big things to come, not the least of which is the beginnings of the Black Tower, where the male channelers are to be trained. These scenes also illustrated Taim's frustration with Rand.

Then RJ switches over to the girl's power trio (or one of the female power trios) of Elayne, Egwene, and Nynaeve. Well, Egwene is undergoing training with the Aiel Wisewomen, which is a stand-in for her Aes Sedai training. Elayne and Nynaeve are still dithering about with the leashed Moghedien. I can sum up those chapters (and a fair portion of the book) as follows, using Nynaeave:

Sniff…sniff…braid-tug…sniff…braid-tug..sniff sniff...braid-tug...sniff-sniff..random fish metaphor...SOMETHING AWESOME.

Granted many of the ladies in Randland are guilty of the sniffing, and to say it becomes very pronounced in this volume is a kindness.

That something awesome is the momentous event of Nynaeave healing the previously stilled Logain Ablar, something many of the Aes Sedai thought impossible. Ablair is an interesting character for many reasons. He claims to be a Red Ajah political puppet set up to be False Dragon and Min foreshadows that he goes on to do great things. He also mentions having seen Rand in Camelyn, hinting that Logain can se Ta’Veren. For the moments I read of him in Lord of Chaos, I was intrigued and wanted to read more about him.

As I’ve said in my other discussions of my WOT re-read, Nynaeve is a character I’ve come to respect a lot more. However, here in Lord of Chaos is where the braid-tugging trait/character tick gets tiresome. That having been said, what I’ve been liking about her character is how she cuts through a lot of the bullshit, especially the haughtiness of the Aes Sedai. So for her to have a great watershed moment like healing a stilled man was rewarding. A bit too much sniffing and braid-tugging preceded it; however.

Egwene, up to this point in the saga, was something of a furniture piece getting shuffled about and trapped as the girl in peril. With her training under the Wise Ones, her power begins to shine and WHAM she’s made the Amyrlin Seat nearly 2/3 into the book. It was a surprise on one hand, but she’s gone through the training, has the power, seems an impressionable age for other Aes Sedai to use her as a puppet. Early on in her ‘reign’ as the Amyrlin, it becomes clear she may not be one have her strings pulled. Lest people forget she also is a Mayor’s daughter, so she spent many years first hand learning how to govern, even if she didn’t realize it.

Mat doesn’t get enough page time in this book, though when he does he vacillates between stubborn hot-headed jerk and father-in-the making with Olver. He and Rand share some good scenes, though my favorite (which does come to bite him in the ass) is when he yells at the aforementioned Power Trio. Lots of pigheadedness to go ‘round in that whole scene, but still kind of entertaining nonetheless, IMHO.

The early portions focusing on Rand, however, were perhaps the most enjoyable portions of the novel. Lews Therin's voice grows and the burden of what Rand needs to do and the constant juggling is starting wear on his patience, thoughts, bearing, and sanity. What is as powerful is Moiraine's absence. Rand doesn't say it so much, but his actions speak that he misses having her around.

I’m about 175 pages (in the original hardcover) from the end, so I know the proverbial shit has yet to hit the fan. I’m enjoying the ride quite a bit, despite the wordiness, sniffing, and braid tugging. Lord of Chaos would not have suffered, nay it would have benefitted, from a substantial trimming of details, but it still holds up as a fun read where BIG STUFF happens.

Of course as I read and finish each chapter, I've been going back to Leigh Butler's AWESOME re-read of the series, as well as the Wheel of Time Wiki.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Manhattan in Reverse, Hammered at SFFWorld

It’s Tuesday so my millions…and MILLIONS of blog readers know what time it is. That’s right, the weekly link/blurb/cover of the latest reviews to be posted to SFFWorld. As has been the case in recent weeks, there’s one new review from me and another from Mark. This week. Mark’s review will lead off things then I’ll get the hot tag and jump in the ring.*

(*right, I’ve been watching WWE again so sue me for using some wrestling lingo)

Mark takes a look at the second and latest short fiction collection from, arguably, the biggest name in Science Fiction (specifically of the Space Opera variety) today, Peter F. Hamilton, Manhattan in Reverse:

Before we get started properly, just take a look at that page count. No, that’s not a misprint. Peter’s latest book is about a third to a quarter of the size of his usual blockbusting tome. This is Peter’s second short story collection, the first being A Second Chance At Eden in 1998.

The stories here show many of Peter’s strengths, highlighting key human themes in a variety of different settings in an entertaining way. There are those great ideas, still: super-technology, evolution, planets connected by wormholes, alien biology and habits. However, here the typical widescreen baroque of those larger epic narratives have been replaced by something a little more focused and intimate, but these are still engaging and fun.

My review, Hammered finishes out the initial trilogy/storyline of Kevin Hearne’s supremely enjoyable Iron Druid Chronicles. I don’t think I’m giving anything away by indicating the protagonist, Atticus O’Sullivan, leads a battle against the Norse Gods, and Thor in particular. Fun stuff indeed:

Of course, since plotting to kill a major god isn’t enough for one Druid, Atticus is beset by a sect of Kabbalistic Russian Jews calling themselves the Hammers of God, warnings from the Morrigan, the increasing time spent tutoring his Druid-in-training Granuaile, keeping watch over his widow friend Mrs. MacDonagh, and last but certainly not least, taking care of his Irish Wolfhound Oberon.


So, with Hammered, Hearne has done a lot of things well. For starters, he pays off an undercurrent subplot from the previous two novels. He continues to flesh out his mythological world, and by including Jesus Christ, really shows he isn’t really restraining himself. Hearne also changes up the type of story he’s telling. Whilst the previous two novels had a bit of a quest and battle feel, Hammered adds the feel of a heist/thriller to the mix – both in Atticus’s first foray into Asgard, and the final onslaught with his companions. What he also shows in Hammered is that nothing should be taken for granted and that nothing is safe.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Books in the Mail (W/E 2011-09-17)

A decent batch of arrivals, with a substantial portion being the October 2011 Black Library releases, plus a few other in the mix as well as "finished" (the copy you see on the bookshelves in bookstores) versions of ARCs I've previously received.

Salvation’s Reach (A Gaunt’s Ghost’s #13) by Dan Abnett (Black Library 10/04/2011) – Black Library’s most popular author, penning what is (arguably) one of (if not THE) most popular Military SF series (not just from Black Library, but Military SF, period) latest adventure.

The Tanith First-And-Only embark on a desperate mission that could decide the fate of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade in the thirteenth book of this popular Imperial Guard series.

The Ghosts of the Tanith First-and-Only have been away from the front line for too long. Listless, and hungry for action, they are offered a mission that perfectly suits their talents. The objective: the mysterious Salvation’s Reach, a remote and impenetrable stronghold concealing secrets that could change the course of the Sabbat Worlds campaign. But the proposed raid is so hazardous, it’s regarded as a suicide mission, and the Ghosts may have been in reserve for so long they’ve lost their edge. Haunted by spectres from the past and stalked by the Archenemy, Colonel-Commissar Gaunt and his Ghosts embark upon what could be their finest hour… or their final mission.

Sabbat Worlds (A Gaunt’s Ghost’s Anthology) by Dan Abnett (Black Library 10/04/2011) – Although Gaunt’s Ghost’s and Sabbat Worlds are indeed owned by Black Library, they are very much Dan Abnett’s babies and this anthology gives other writers from the BL stable a chance to join in the fun.

Across the Sabbat Worlds, a bitter conflict is fought, a conflict that can only end in victory or annihilation. The innumerable forces of the Arch enemy attack without mercy, and planet after planet burns with the flames of war. Yet even amidst this nightmare, the Imperial Guard stand stoic against their foes. The Phantine Air Corps battle the enemies of mankind across burning skies, while the Gereon resistance tries to break the foothold of Chaos on their beleaguered world and the legendary Gaunt’s Ghosts fight in the most violent and bloody of warzones. This anthology opens the gateway to the Sabbat Worlds like never before, featuring new stories from some of the Black Library’s best-known authors including Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill, Aaron Dembski-Bowden and many more.

Firestorm (Destroyermen Book 6) by Taylor Anderson (Roc Hardcover 10/04/2010) – I’ve read and enjoyed the first trilogy (Into the Storm, Crusade, and Maelstrom) and recently read the fourth (Distant Thunders) which goes to show that Anderson is really steaming along in this series, though I personally thought the fourth seemed to be half of a novel stretched a bit.

"I cannot recommend Taylor Anderson too highly." -David Weber, author of Out of the Dark

Lieutenant Commander Matthew Reddy and the crew of the USS Walker find themselves caught between the nation they swore to defend and the allies they promised to protect. For even as the Allies and the Empire of New Britain Isles stand united against the attacks of both the savage Grik and the tenacious Japanese, the "Holy Dominion"-a warped mixture of human cultures whose lust for power overshadows even the Grik-is threatening to destroy them both with a devastating weapon neither can withstand.

The Traitor’s Daughter by Paula Brandon (Spectra Trade Paperback 10/04/2011) –This could be a promising debut from fellow NJ native Paula Brandon, what with a very nice blurb from Jacqueline Carey. I don’t know the name of the trilogy nor does the author yet have a Web site so information, other than what is on BN.com, is somewhat scarce.

Here’s the beginning of a lush, epic, wholly original new trilogy that shines with magic, mystery, and captivating drama.

On the Veiled Isles, ominous signs are apparent to those with the talent to read them. The polarity of magic is wavering at its source, heralding a vast upheaval poised to alter the very balance of nature. Blissfully unaware of the cataclysmic events to come, Jianna Belandor, the beautiful, privileged daughter of a powerful Faerlonnish overlord, has only one concern: the journey to meet her prospective husband. But revolution is stirring as her own conquered people rise up against their oppressors, and Jianna is kidnapped and held captive at a rebel stronghold, insurance against what are perceived as her father’s crimes.

The resistance movement opens Jianna’s eyes―and her heart. Despite her belief in her father’s innocence, she is fascinated by the bold and charming nomadic physician and rebel sympathizer, Falaste Rione—who offers Jianna her only sanctuary in a cold and calculating web of intrigue. As plague and chaos grip the land, Jianna is pushed to the limits of her courage and resourcefulness, while virulent enemies discover that alliance is their only hope to save the human race.

The Riftwalker (A Vampire Empire #2) by Clay and Susan Griffith (Pyr Trade Paperback 09/09/2011) – Second novel in the Griffith’s entertaining mix of Steampunk and Vampire Romance..

Princess Adele struggles with a life of marriage and obligation as her Equatorian Empire and their American Republic allies stand on the brink of war against the vampire clans of the north. However, the alliance's horrific strategy for total victory drives Adele to abandon her duty and embark on a desperate quest to keep her nation from staining its hands with genocide. Reunited with her great love, the mysterious adventurer known to the world as the Greyfriar, Adele is pursued by her own people as well as her vengeful husband, senator Clark. With the human alliance in disarrray, Prince Cesare, lord of the British vampire clan, seizes the initiative and strikes at the very heart of Equatoria.

As Adele labors to bring order to her world, she learns more about the strange powers she exhibited in the north. Her teacher, Mamoru, leads a secret cabal of geomancers who believe Adele is the one who can touch the vast power of the Earth that surges through ley lines and wells up at the rifts where the lines meet. These energies are the key to defeating the enemy of mankind, and if Princess Adele could ever bring this power under her command, she could be death to vampires. But such a victory will also cost the life of Adele's beloved Greyfriar.

The Rift Walkeris the second book in a trilogy of high adventure and alternative history. Combining rousing pulp action with steampunk style, the Vampire Empire series brings epic politcal themes to life within a story of heartbreaking romance, sacrifice, and heroism.

Uncharted: The Fourth Labyrinth by Christopher Golden (Del Rey Trade Paperback 09/09/2011) – This video game series seems a spiritual successor to the old classic Pitfall. Golden is a proven writer so his authorship of the novelization seems a smart choice.

The official novel of Naughty Dog’s award-winning videogame franchise!

In the ancient world there was a myth about a king, a treasure, and a hellish labyrinth. Now the doors to that hell are open once again.

Nathan Drake, treasure hunter and risk taker, has been called to New York City by the man who taught him everything about the “antiquities acquisition business.” Victor Sullivan needs Drake’s help. Sully’s old friend, a world-famous archaeologist, has just been found murdered in Manhattan. Dodging assassins, Drake, Sully, and the dead man’s daughter, Jada Hzujak, race from New York to underground excavations in Egypt and Greece. Their goal: to unravel an ancient myth of alchemy, look for three long-lost labyrinths, and find the astonishing discovery that got Jada’s father killed. It appears that a fourth labyrinth was built in another land and another culture—and within it lies a key to unmatched wealth and power. An army of terrifying lost warriors guards this underground maze. So does a monster. And what lies beyond—if Drake can live long enough to reach it—is both a treasure and a poison, a paradise and a hell.

Welcome to The Fourth Labyrinth.

Transformers: Exiles by Alex Irvine (Del Rey Mass Market Paperback 10/04/2011) – Irvine has written some terrific novels outside of shared worlds/media tie-in and he seems to be building a nice base of shared world novels. This is his second Transformers novel:

The epic battles between Optimus Prime and Megatron have long thrilled Transformers fans. But these two giants weren’t always great leaders and bitter foes. This new novel continues the electrifying saga that started with Transformers: Exodus, unveiling the origins of the conflict—the explosive events that unfolded before Optimus and Megatron arrived Earthside, forever altering the destiny of their kind.

Once allies, Optimus and Megatron are now enemies in a civil war. To prevent Cybertron from falling into Megatron’s hands, Optimus jettisons the planet’s heart, the AllSpark, into space, then sets out to find it with Megatron hot on his heels. Optimus is determined to defeat Megatron, bring the AllSpark home, and restore Cybertron to its former glory.

But a saboteur lurks aboard Optimus’s spaceship, and ahead lie lost colonies, some of them hostile. Optimus needs help of the highest caliber, but from whom? Heroes such as Solus, Nexus, and Vector Prime are just names from make-believe stories of long ago. Or are they? Maybe it’s time for Optimus Prime to find out. Maybe it’s the only chance he has to vanquish mighty Megatron.

Prospero Regained (Book Three of Children of Prospero) by L. Jagi Lamplighter (Tor (Hardcover 09/13/2011) – Third and concluding volume in Lamplighter’s retelling/continuation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Prospero, the sorcerer on whose island of exile William Shakespeare set his play, The Tempest, has endured these past many centuries. His daughter Miranda runs the family business, Prospero, Inc. so smoothly that the vast majority of humanity has no idea that the Prosperos’ magic has protected Earth from numerous disasters. But Prospero himself has been kidnapped by demons from Hell, and Miranda, aided by her siblings, has followed her father into Hell to save him from a certain doom at the hands of vengeful demons. Time is running out for Miranda, and for the great magician himself. Their battle against the most terrifying forces of the Pit is a great fantasy adventure.

MetaMauas: MetaMaus: A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus by Art Spiegelman (Pantheon Trade Paperback 10/04/2011) – A DVD-style edition of the Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel, with a ton of extras and behind the scenes history (including a DVD).

Visually and emotionally rich, MetaMaus is as groundbreaking as the masterpiece whose creation it reveals.

In the pages of MetaMaus, Art Spiegelman re-enters the Pulitzer prize–winning Maus, the modern classic that has altered how we see literature, comics, and the Holocaust ever since it was first published twenty-five years ago.

He probes the questions that Maus most often evokes—Why the Holocaust? Why mice? Why comics?—and gives us a new and essential work about the creative process.

MetaMaus includes a bonus DVD that provides a digitized reference copy of The Complete Maus linked to a deep archive of audio interviews with his survivor father, historical documents, and a wealth of Spiegelman’s private notebooks and sketches.

Compelling and intimate, MetaMaus is poised to become a classic in its own right.

Thanquols Doom (A Thanquol and Boneripper [#3]) by C.L. Werner (Black Library Mass Market Paperback 10/04/2011) – Werner’s third novel featuring the Grey Seer (wizard, prophets of the Horned Rat) and his Rat Ogre bodyguard. The series, set in the Warhammer Old World is a spin-off of the popular Gotrek and Felix

Upon his return to the Old World, the ambitious Grey Seer Thanquol is coerced into leading an army against the dwarfs of Karak Angkul. Renowned for its engineer clans, this city will not fall easily, but the true object of Thanquol’s fascination is their secret artefact of incredible power which he believes will assure his ascension to the Council of Thirteen. His efforts are thrown into disarray when the infamous skaven Ikit Claw usurps control of the army for his own nefarious schemes, and so Thanquol must act quickly before the warlock can unleash his ultimate weapon – the Doomsphere.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Lord of Chaos, WOT Re-Read

I didn't even realize it when I cracked open Lord of Chaos yesterday or today until getting onto teh intarwebs, but has been four years since Robert Jordan passed away. Eerie timing for me to continue my Wheel of Time re-read, having paused in the re-read project with The Fires of Heaven way back in July 2010. I'm only a few chapters into it and I'm really enjoying having just gone through the first meeting of Rand al'Thor and Mazrim Taim.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Zombies, Thieves, and Circuses - Oh My!

I’ve got one review over the past week, Mark has two. Normally with that ratio, I’d go Mark’s review-Rob’s review-Mark’s review. I’m changing it up, linking to my review first, since the book I reviewed is a nominee for this past year’s Hugo Award. Mark reviewed a classic of the fantastic and a debut that received a fair amount of acclaim when it hit shelves earlier in the year.

Sometimes a book comes along, you overlook it initially then when you read it you want to go back, slap yourself for initially passing on it because the book is That Damned Good. Case in point, Mira Grant’s FEED, the first of her Newsflesh trilogy:

Georgia Mason and her brother Shaun run a popular blog newsite, After the End of Times in the year 2039, about 25 years after the Rising – the first time the dead rose in 2014. Georgia is a Newsie, who reports straightforward news; Shaun is an Irwin (so named after Steve Irwin), since he goes out and pokes & prods the zombies for the cameras, which draws in viewers to their blog; while their third primary leader, Buffy, is a Fictional, who writes stories and poems. Their blog grows in popularity, especially when Senator Peter Ryman invites Georgia and crew to join his campaign trail, becoming the first bloggers allowed access to such a presidential campaign. This, of course, increases their popularity/ratings, but with the legitimacy afforded by such an invite, consequences and fallout are naturally expected. The consequences in Feed, being a science fiction/horror hybrid (with political thriller elements thrown into the mix), are more than anything for which Georgia, Shaun, and Buffy bargained.

Grant goes into great detail about the scientific nature of the cause of zombies, and she does it an informal conversational way through Georgia that it is both gripping, provides a breather from some of the more intense narrative scenes, and pushes the story forward. While the narrative is told mainly in Georgia’s first person voice, it is interspersed with passages from the blogs of Georgia, Shaun, and Buffy. In both the ‘breaks from action’ and well handled scientific rationale, I was reminded a great deal of Scott Westerfeld’s brilliant vampire novels Peeps and The Last Days.

The debut Mark reviewed has been released in both the US and the UK this year and features a rogue-ish protagonist Among Thieves, which serves as both Douglas Hulick’s debut and the first of the Tales of the Kin saga:

This is a lively and very competent debut. Rising above what could’ve been a difficult sell – a man whose life revolves around deception and murder is not often a character to like – but Douglas manages this difficult balancing act pretty well. For Drothe is an honourable thief, a murderer with scruples.


This one rattled along nicely from revelation to revelation. We find that items are discovered that may have consequences for all of those involved. Drothe and Degan engage in a pact that will have implications for them both, and may indeed be connected to a plot to kill the Emperor. Unrest in the Kin-run areas of town lead Drothe and his compatriots being involved in a series of street fights, setting and avoiding traps for the unwary and trying to avoid being both betrayed and the betrayers of all they hold dear.

The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles Finney is a classic of early 20th Century fantastic literature, which was filmed in the 1960s starring Tony Randall. I read the book a few years ago, liked it a lot, and Mark recently reviewed it:

The book begins in what we would now see as a small-town USA / Stephen King kind of way, as the town’s inhabitants read of the circus through an advertisement placed mysteriously in the town’s newspaper. The book shows us the effects of the circus on various members of the Abalone community, amongst them the newspaper printer and copy editor, a local schoolteacher, the children of the town and a down-and-out (this was the time of the Great Depression) recently discharged from the Army, amongst others.
Some of the language is Bradbury-poetic, lyrical and obscure. It’s not every day that you read the word ‘pulchritude’, even less so on the first page of the novel. It is also deliberately ambiguous in its plot, a book that doesn’t explain everything and doesn’t finish with an ending that ties everything up, though it is apt. It even poses some questions at the end not answered in the book!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Books in the Mail (W/E 2011-09-11)

Very small batch this week, I suspect in part, due to the continued ravaging storms in the New Jersey area.

Lord of Souls : An Elder Scrolls Novel by Greg Keyes (Del Rey, Trade Paperback 09/27/2011) – This is the second novel by Keyes set in the Elder Scrolls milieu just in time for a new game (I think). I like Keyes's writing quite a bit and considering the game creators brought him in for the second novel, I would think he did a good job with the first.

Forty years after the Oblivion crisis, the empire of Tamriel is threatened by a mysterious floating city, Umbriel, whose shadow spawns a terrifying undead army.

Reeling from a devastating discovery, Prince Attrebus continues on his seemingly doomed quest to obtain a magic sword that holds the key to destroying the deadly invaders. Meanwhile, in the Imperial City, the spy Colin finds evidence of betrayal at the heart of the empire—if his own heart doesn’t betray him first. And Annaïg, trapped in Umbriel itself, has become a slave to its dark lord and his insatiable hunger for souls.

How can these three unlikely heroes save Tamriel when they cannot even save themselves?

Based on the award-winning Elder Scrolls® series, Lord of Souls is the second of two exhilarating novels that continue the story from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, named 2006 Game of the Year by numerous outlets, including Spike TV, the Golden Joystick Awards, and the Associated Press.

The Book of Cthulhu edited by Ross E. Lockhart (Nightshade Books Trade Paperback 10/04/2011) – Ross has been in the Night Shade fold for quite a while and this is his first full anthology with them. Who doesn’t love some Cthulhu craziness? Only crazy folks and this looks to be another in an impressive line of themed anthologies from the NSB folks.

The Cthulhu Mythos is one of the 20th century''s most singularly recognizable literary creations. Initially created by H. P. Lovecraft and a group of his amorphous contemporaries (the so-called "Lovecraft Circle"), The Cthulhu Mythos story cycle has taken on a convoluted, cyclopean life of its own. Some of the most prodigious writers of the 20th century, and some of the most astounding writers of the 21st century have planted their seeds in this fertile soil. The Book of Cthulhu harvests the weirdest and most corpulent crop of these modern mythos tales. From weird fiction masters to enigmatic rising stars, The Book of Cthulhu demonstrates how Mythos fiction has been a major cultural meme throughout the 20th century, and how this type of story is still salient, and terribly powerful today.

Table of Contents:

Caitlin R. Kiernan - Andromeda among the Stones Ramsey Campbell - The Tugging Charles Stross - A Colder War Bruce Sterling - The Unthinkable Silvia Moreno-Garcia - Flash Frame W. H. Pugmire - Some Buried Memory Molly Tanzer - The Infernal History of the Ivybridge Twins Michael Shea - Fat Face Elizabeth Bear - Shoggoths in Bloom T. E. D. Klien - Black Man With A Horn David Drake - Than Curse the Darkness Charles Saunders - Jeroboam Henley''s Debt Thomas Ligotti - Nethescurial Kage Baker - Calamari Curls Edward Morris - Jihad over Innsmouth Cherie Priest - Bad Sushi John Hornor Jacobs - The Dream of the Fisherman''s Wife Brian McNaughton - The Doom that Came to Innsmouth Ann K. Schwader - Lost Stars Steve Duffy - The Oram County Whoosit Joe R. Lansdale - The Crawling Sky Brian Lumley - The Fairground Horror Tim Pratt - Cinderlands Gene Wolfe - Lord of the Land Joseph Pulver, Sr. - To Live and Die in Arkham John Langan - The Shallows Laird Barron - The Men from Porlock

The Highest Frontier by Joan Slonczewski (Tor Hardcover 09/13/2011) – Slonczewski is a highly acclaimed writer who is also a scientist, this is her latest novel which is getting strong positive comparisons to Heinlein’s juveniles.

One of the most respected writers of hard SF, it has been more than ten years since Joan Slonczewski's last novel. Now she returns with a spectacular tour de force of the college of the future, in orbit. Jennifer Ramos Kennedy, a girl from a rich and politically influential family (a distant relation descended from the famous Kennedy clan), whose twin brother has died in an accident and left her bereft, is about to enter her freshman year at Frontera College.

Frontera is an exciting school built with media money, and a bit from tribal casinos too, dedicated to educating the best and brightest of this future world. We accompany Jenny as she proceeds through her early days at school, encountering surprises and wonders and some unpleasant problems. The Earth is altered by global warming, and an invasive alien species called ultraphytes threatens the surviving ecosystem. Jenny is being raised for great things, but while she's in school she just wants to do her homework, go on a few dates, and get by. The world that Jenny is living in is one of the most fascinating and creative in contemporary SF, and the problems Jenny faces will involve every reader, young and old.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Grant Morrison and Neal Stephenson Reviewed at SFFWorld

The two-new-reviews-per-week-at-SFFWorld theme continues with a review from Mark Yon and yours truly. We both reviewed books by giants in their chosen subgenre, so both books could be seen as eagerly anticipated.

Mark takes a look at one SF’s brand name writer’s latest novel, Neal Stephenson’s Reamde:

So: your starter for 10. Is it Reamde? Remade? Reamed? Read Me?

Just working out the title can be a complication in itself. But then that’s what you should expect with Neal Stephenson’s books. It’s a well known adage in the genre that if you read Neal Stephenson’s books, you’re there for a long journey.

For what is typical of Neal’s work is that when you buy into it, you’re there for the immersive experience. Often challenging (Anathem invented new language, for example), it’s not usually for the faint hearted.

But where this one scores is that, unlike some of his earlier work, it’s more accessible to the layman and I suspect will be another one of those genre books read by non-genre readers. In other words, I suspect that, in the UK at least, this is where Neal does ‘a China Mieville’ and achieves mega-status as Neal has already done in the US.

I’ve been reading comic books for the better part of a quarter century (holy shit!) and one of the writers who always has, at the very least, some interesting stories is Grant Morrison. A couple of months ago, he published Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human., which is one part historical overview, one part love letter to comics/superheroes, and one small part biography. Great stuff, here's the obligatory cover shot, link, and review excerpt:

Where he seems to have the most joy in expounding knowledge is The Silver Age – the second major era of comics from roughly 1956 through the 1970s which serves as the second part of the book. In this era, some of the most bizarre storylines and characters came to the page and it is an era in which much of Morrison’s writing seems to evoke or homage. This is the time when DC Comics relaunched many of their existing superheroes under new guises – the Barry Allen Flash and the Hal Jordan Green Lantern being the two most notable. The Silver Age, as Morrison points out with glee, is also the birth of the Multiverse.
While the book is indeed a must-have historical overview of the capes and tights characters and their stories, Supergods also serves as a partial personal memoir. Morrison doesn’t shy away from highlighting his own impressive work, and if it wasn’t so impressive and important to the genre, it could be considered shilling his own work. What keeps it from being simple shilling is the sheer honesty with which Morrison relates the historical perspective in which his comic-book work sits.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Books in the Mail (W/E 2011-09-03)

Only a couple of shipments make up the following post of arrivals. I’ve a feeling Hurricane Irene severely impacted the abilities UPS/FedEx/USPS of getting places. I’ll just say the o’ Stuff household was one of the very lucky ones last week, not just in the State of New Jersey, but the immediate vicinity where we live.

Spellbound (Book 2 of The Spellwright Trilogy) by Blake Charlton (Tor Hardcover 09/13/2011) - I read and enjoyed Spellwright, the first book in the series, last year and hope to get to this one soon. I thought Charlton built up an interesting world and his story showed potential.

In a world where one’s magical prowess is determined by one’s skill with words and ability to spell, Nicodemus is a wizardly apprentice afflicted by a curse that causes him to misspell magical texts. Now, the demon who cursed him has hatched a conspiracy to force Nicodemus to change language and ultimately use it to destroy all human life. As Nico tries to thwart the demon’s plan, he faces challenges from all sides. But his biggest challenge is his own disability, which causes him to create chaos wherever he goes. And the chaos surrounding Nico is affecting the world so profoundly that the kingdom to which he has fled to gather strength is on the brink of civil war, and he suspects that his closest allies—even Francesca, whom he loves more than life itself—may be subject to the demon’s vast powers. As Nico tries to forestall the apocalypse, he realizes that he doesn’t know if he can fully trust anyone, not even the woman he loves. And if he makes one wrong move, not only will his life be forfeit, he may end up destroying all mortal life as well.

Introducing new twists to the unique magical system of Spellwright, and exploring issues that will bring readers a deeper appreciation of a fascinating world, Spellbound is sure to please Blake Charlton's fans and increase their number.

Revan (The Old Republic 3) by Drew Karpyshyn (Del Rey/Star Wars Books Hardcover 11/15/2011) –Considering Karpyshyn had a big hand in crafting the early early days of Star Wars in the Knights of the Old Republic games, I’m a bit surprised it has taken until the third book in the series for him to pen a novel-length story.

There’s something out there: a juggernaut of evil bearing down to crush the Republic—unless one lone Jedi, shunned and reviled, can stop it.

Revan: hero, traitor, conqueror, villain, savior. A Jedi who left Coruscant to defeat Mandalorians—and returned a disciple of the dark side, bent on destroying the Republic. The Jedi Council gave Revan his life back, but the price of redemption was high. His memories have been erased. All that’s left are nightmares—and deep, abiding fear.

What exactly happened beyond the Outer Rim? Revan can’t quite remember, yet can’t entirely forget. Somehow he stumbled across a terrible secret that threatens the very existence of the Republic. With no idea what it is, or how to stop it, Revan may very well fail, for he’s never faced a more powerful and diabolic enemy. But only death can stop him from trying.

Black Dog by K.V. Johansen (Pyr) Trade Paperback 11/01/2011 – Adult debut for an accomplished YA novelist. The combination of something like werewolves, gods-amongst-men and ancient civilizations seems tough to resist. Plus, that cover by Swanland is another beaut’.

Long ago, in the days of the first kings in the north, there were seven devils...

And long ago, in the days of the first kings in the north, the seven devils, who had deceived and possessed seven of the greatest wizards of the world, were defeated and bound with the help of the Old Great Gods...

And perhaps some of the devils are free in the world, and perhaps some are working to free themselves still…

In a land where gods walk on the hills and goddesses rise from river, lake, and spring, the caravan-guard Holla-Sayan, escaping the bloody conquest of a lakeside town, stops to help an abandoned child and a dying dog. The girl, though, is the incarnation of Attalissa, goddess of Lissavakail, and the dog a shape-changing guardian spirit whose origins have been forgotten. Possessed and nearly driven mad by the Blackdog, Holla-Sayan flees to the desert road, taking the powerless avatar with him.

Necromancy, treachery, massacres, rebellions, and gods dead or lost or mad follow hard on the their heels. But it is Attalissa herself who may be the Blackdog’s—and Holla-Sayan’s—doom.

Darth Plagueis by James Luceno (Del Rey/Star Wars Books Hardcover 12/27/2011) – Luceno is one of the more productive, knowledgeable and respected Star Wars writers today. He’s also dependable, which is probably why he was chosen to write the closing novel on the mega-saga The New Jedi Order, pen the definitive Millennium Falcon novel, chart Darth Vader’s rise to power, and now, to tell the legend of one of the most powerful Sith Lords.

He was the most powerful Sith lord who ever lived. But could he be the only one who never died? “Did you ever hear the Tragedy of Darth Plagueis the Wise? It’s a Sith legend. Darth Plagueis was a Dark Lord of the Sith, so powerful and so wise that he could use the Force to influence the midi-chlorians to create life. He had such a knowledge of the dark side that he could even keep the ones he cared about from dying.” —Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith Darth Plagueis: one of the most brilliant Sith Lords who ever lived. Possessing power is all he desires. Losing it is the only thing he fears. As an apprentice, he embraces the ruthless ways of the Sith. And when the time is right, he destroys his Master—but vows never to suffer the same fate. For like no other disciple of the dark side, Darth Plagueis learns to command the ultimate power . . . over life and death. Darth Sidious: Plagueis’s chosen apprentice. Under the guidance of his Master, he secretly studies the ways of the Sith, while publicly rising to power in the galactic government, first as Senator, then as Chancellor, and eventually as Emperor. Darth Plagueis and Darth Sidious, Master and acolyte, target the galaxy for domination—and the Jedi Order for annihilation. But can they defy the merciless Sith tradition? Or will the desire of...