Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Double A Reviews - Aaron and Arnott at SFFWorld

Mark and I check with two reviews this week...

Rachel Aaron’s Eli Monpress series was softly re-launched earlier in the year with a nice, big, fat omnibus with great new cover art.  The Spirit War, is the fourth book and another solid entry in an entertaining series

Having established her characters to great length in the first three novels, Aaron expands the scope of the story into one with a more global focus. With the characters established in previous novels, this also allows Aaron to open the novel with a flashback to one of the characters, in this case Josef, to days where we can piece together very quickly just who the character is and how Josef acquired the Heart of War – the greatest magical sword in the world.

She introduces, as the title might imply, a couple of warring factions into the mix; nations which were more or less on the periphery in previous novels. In addition to the two powers (The Nation of Osera and the reawakened Immortal Empress) on the brink of war, other powers who govern the world (The Spirit Council and The Council of Thrones) are embroiled in a philosophical conflict about how to handle the reawakened Immortal Empress. Wars about wars, one could say.

Perhaps the most enjoyable elements of the novel were the backstories of Josef and Eli that came more into the forefront of the novel. One lays the groundwork for much of the plot of The Spirit War while the other sets up Spirit’s End which is likely the conclusion of the saga. Though it becomes abundantly clear whose backstory fuels The Spirit War very early on in the novel, I’ll still leave that to the reader to discover.

Mark’s was pleased with Jake Arnott, The House of Rumour:

As the story progresses we get a variety of different characters and we are told of events shown from different viewpoints. In the present, Zagorsky is given details of a mysterious file that suggests that Hess’s defection to Scotland in the Second World War was possibly connected to the consequences of an occult temple service in the US in 1941. The story then goes back to the 1940’s and 50’s and tells of members of that meeting, which includes many SF filmmakers and writers whom Zagorsky knows. Jack Parsons, one of the founders of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) was not only a scientist and avid SF reader, with many connections in the genre, but also an active member of a Satanist cult who, in this story, is encouraged to perform strange deviant acts in order to encourage the world’s race into space. As flying saucers are first reported and Sputnik launches into space, UFO cults and space-based religions occur in the late 1940’s and 50’s as part of this global hysteria. Many of these people known by Zagorsky become involved in the move to the SF genre being more mainstream and B-movie film making.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Books in the Mail (W/E 2012-07-28)

This is one of the largest batches of arrivals at the 'o Stuff household in quite some time. Only two books this last full week of July.

Tarnished Knight (The Lost Stars #1) by Jack Campbell (Ace Hardcover 05/01/2011) – I suppose this could be called a side-quel series? In it, Campbell takes a look at the other side of the interstellar conflict as it was depicted in The Lost Fleet, which makes this a great entry point for new readers to Campbell’s space-based saga as well as fans of the previous novels, of which I’d consider myself. series The Lost Fleet: Dreadnaught, The Lost Fleet: Invincible and The Lost Fleet: Dauntless). Also, it has been pointed out that the fella on the cover bears a striking resemblance to Campbell’s fellow Ace author Myke Cole.

TARNISHED KNIGHT follows the events in the Midway Star System during the same period as DREADNAUGHT and INVINCIBLE. For the first time, the story of the Lost Fleet universe is told through the eyes of citizens of the Syndicate Worlds as they deal with defeat in the war, threats from all sides, and the crumbling of the Syndicate empire.

Dearly Departed by Lia Habel (Del Rey Trade Paperback 08/14/2012) – Debut novelist Lia Habel gives readers a cool-sounding mash up of future SF, steampunk, romance and the ever-popular zombies. This is the third copy of the book I’ve received (Advance Reader Copy, Final/Hardcopy and now this one), so it seems Del Rey is pushing this one pretty strongly.

Love can never die.

Love conquers all, so they say. But can Cupid’s arrow pierce the hearts of the living and the dead—or rather, the undead? Can a proper young Victorian lady find true love in the arms of a dashing zombie?

The year is 2195. The place is New Victoria—a high-tech nation modeled on the manners, mores, and fashions of an antique era. A teenager in high society, Nora Dearly is far more interested in military history and her country’s political unrest than in tea parties and debutante balls. But after her beloved parents die, Nora is left at the mercy of her domineering aunt, a social-climbing spendthrift who has squandered the family fortune, and now plans to marry her niece off for money. For Nora, no fate could be more horrible—until she’s nearly kidnapped by an army of walking corpses.

But fate is just getting started with Nora. Catapulted from her world of drawing-room civility, she’s suddenly gunning down ravenous zombies alongside mysterious black-clad commandos and confronting “The Laz,” a fatal virus that raises the dead—and hell along with them. Hardly ideal circumstances. Then Nora meets Bram Griswold, a young soldier who is brave, handsome, noble . . . and dead. But as is the case with the rest of his special undead unit, luck and modern science have enabled Bram to hold on to his mind, his manners, and his body parts. And when his bond of trust with Nora turns to tenderness, there’s no turning back. Eventually, they know, the disease will win, separating the star-crossed lovers forever. But until then, beating or not, their hearts will have what they desire.

In Dearly, Departed, steampunk meets romance meets walking-dead thriller, spawning a madly imaginative novel of rip-roaring adventure, spine-tingling suspense, and macabre comedy that forever redefines the concept of undying love.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tregillis, Brett, & Bergen Reviewed at SFFWorld

Back to Tuesday and back to three reviews – Mark, myself, and Nila..

Mark caught up with a novel I dubbed the most impressive debut I read in 2010, the first novel in The Milkweed Tryptich by Ian Tregillis, Bitter Seeds:

Two narrative threads run here. For the German point of view we are mainly told of events from the perspective of Klaus, who with his twin sister Gretel and a number of other children are being trained by the ‘mad doctor’ Doktor von Westarp. Westarp has been experimenting on the ‘bitter seeds’, in order to enhance select abilities. These include the skill to walk through solid objects, teleport, see the future, levitate, spontaneously combust and so on.

The novel alternates between the two perspectives. In terms of time, the story begins in the 1920’s, before the Second World War, but is mainly based in 1939-41, during what appears to be the first months of Britain’s conflict against the Germans.

In brief, the novel can sound, like the quote I gave at the start, rather sensational. However, after reading, I found it to be surprisingly well researched, and knowledgeable enough so to create a realistic world that enhances that often-desired suspension of disbelief when reading. Though the initial thoughts of the reader might suggest something superficial, it wasn’t long before I was thinking, ‘You know, it might just....’

I’ve been enjoying Peter V. Brett’s Demon Cycle since I first read The Warded Man nearly three years ago. A little over a year ago I had the chance to read Brayan’s Gold, a novella set in the same world. I’ve since re-purposed a very short review into a somewhat short review for SFFWorld (in the absence of a brand new review of a book I’ve more recently read). In short, it was nice novella:

Brayan’s Gold, a novella-length entry in the world of Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man recounts Arlen Bales’s first major job as an apprentice messenger. His job is to ferry a box of thundersticks to Count Brayan’s Gold Mine which lies atop a treacherous mountain. Being Arlen’s first real mission as a messenger, it of course doesn’t go quite so smoothly, which begins when Arlen buts heads with his mentor, Curk. Arlen is much more strong-headed than Curk would like, but having grown up with a father who lived in fear, Arlen sees much of his father in his mentor. When Arlen and Curk are threatened by raiders, Curk runs while Arlen stands up to the bandits, and he later battles the much feared demons who are humanity’s enemy.

Nila joins the Tuesday (sometimes Wednesday) book review-linkapolooza with another small press title, Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat by Andrez Bergen:

It all begins when Mr. Maquina manages to do what he has avoided in his job as a Seeker of Deviants: he kills one by mistake. In a blundered moment, Floyd kills a young, female Deviant, members of closed society that have been deemed unworthy and in need of Hospitalization. Until this one Deviant, Floyd had managed to avoid killing any Deviant, instead doing his job and bringing them in for treatment (that often killed them anyway). Floyd is haunted by the murder in more ways than one throughout the book, and we learn that until he comes to terms with it, those he loves will be hunted down and killed.

Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat (TSMG) is a first-person narrated tale, and it took me over half the book to get into the story. Floyd just didn’t do it for me. (Though, to be fair, most first-person narratives don’t.) He was drunk or high more often than not, experienced several blackouts that confused him (and me), and he seemed such a loser it didn’t make sense why he kept succeeding. It seemed there were no consequences for his failures. Sure, other characters paid for his shortcomings, but he didn’t. Couple all that with Mr. Bergen’s penchant to refer to antiquated, foreign, or just plain odd movies throughout the book, and one can understand that TSMG doesn’t score that high for me.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Books in the Mail (W/E 2012-07-23)

It’s about time I did the whole preface to the Books in the Mail post, so here goes….

As a reviewer for SFFWorld and maybe because of this blog, I receive a lot of books for review from various publishers. Since I can't possibly read everything that arrives, I figure the least I can do (like some of my fellow bloggers) is mention the books I receive for review on the blog to at least acknowledge the books even if I don't read them.

Some publishers are on a very predictable schedule of releases, making this blog post fairly easy to compose. For example, the fine folks at DAW publish exactly 3 mass market paperbacks a month and often, one of those books is a themed anthology of short stories, and most often, they send their books about a month prior to the actual publication date.

Sometimes I get one or two books, other weeks I'll get nearly a dozen books. Some weeks, I’ll receive a finished (i.e. the version people see on bookshelves) copy of a book for which I received an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) weeks or months prior to the actual publication of the book. Sometimes I'll want to read everything that arrives, other weeks, the books immediately go into the "I'll never read this book" pile, while still others go into the nebulous "maybe-I'll-read-it-category." More often than not, it is a mix of books that appeal to me at different levels (i.e. from "this book holds ZERO appeal for me" to "I cannot WAIT to read this book yesterday"). Have a guess in the comments about which book fits my reading labels “I’ll Never Read…” “Zero Appeal” or “cannot wait” "maybe I'll get to it later" and so forth...

Here's the rundown of what arrived either in the mailbox, in front of my garage (where most packages from USPS and UPS are placed) or on my doorstep...

Cuttlefish by Dave Freer (Pyr Hardback 07/23/2012) – Freer has written quite a few fantasies and science fiction novels for the folks at Baen, this is his first young adult novel.

The smallest thing can change the path of history.

The year is 1976, and the British Empire still spans the globe. Coal drives the world, and the smog of it hangs thick over the canals of London.

Clara Calland is on the run. Hunted, along with her scientist mother, by Menshevik spies and Imperial soldiers, they flee Ireland for London. They must escape airships, treachery and capture. Under flooded London’s canals they join the rebels who live in the dank tunnels there.

Tim Barnabas is one of the underpeople, born to the secret town of drowned London, place of anti-imperialist republicans and Irish rebels, part of the Liberty - the people who would see a return to older values and free elections. Seeing no further than his next meal, Tim has hired on as a submariner on the Cuttlefish, a coal fired submarine that runs smuggled cargoes beneath the steamship patrols, to the fortress America and beyond.

When the Imperial soldiery comes ravening, Clara and her mother are forced to flee aboard the Cuttlefish. Hunted like beasts, the submarine and her crew must undertake a desperate voyage across the world, from the Faeroes to the Caribbean and finally across the Pacific to find safety. But only Clara and Tim Barnabas can steer them past treachery and disaster, to freedom in Westralia. Carried with them—a lost scientific secret that threatens the very heart of Imperial power.

Falling Kingdoms (The Eternal Sky #1) by Morgan Rhodes (Razorbill, Hardcover 12/11/2012) – First in a new series, Morgan Rhodes is a pen name for the extensively published Michelle Rowen.

In a land where magic has been forgotten but peace has reigned for centuries, a deadly unrest is simmering. Three kingdoms grapple for power—brutally transforming their subjects' lives in the process. Amidst betrayals, bargains, and battles, four young people find their fates forever intertwined:

Cleo: A princess raised in luxury must embark on a rough and treacherous journey into enemy territory in search of a magic long thought extinct.

Jonas: Enraged at injustice, a rebel lashes out against the forces of oppression that have kept his country impoverished—and finds himself the leader of a people's revolution centuries in the making.

Lucia: A girl adopted at birth into a royal family discovers the truth about her past—and the supernatural legacy she is destined to wield.

Magnus: Bred for aggression and trained to conquer, a firstborn son begins to realize that the heart can be more lethal than the sword...

The only outcome that's certain is that kingdoms will fall. Who will emerge triumphant when all they know has collapsed?

Coup d'Etat (The War That Came Early #4) by Harry Turtledove (Del Rey Hardcover 07/31/2021) – The fourth in Turtledove’s latest re-imagining of events surrounding World War II. This has to be maybe the twentieth copy of a Turtledove novel I’ve received

In 1941, a treaty between England and Germany unravels—and so does a different World War II.

In Harry Turtledove’s mesmerizing alternate history of World War II, the choices of men and fate have changed history. Now it is the winter of 1941. As the Germans, with England and France on their side, slam deep into Russia, Stalin’s terrible machine fights for its life. But the agreements of world leaders do not touch the hearts of soldiers. The war between Germany and Russia is rocked by men with the courage to aim their guns in a new direction.

England is the first to be shaken. Following the suspicious death of Winston Churchill, with his staunch anti-Nazi views, a small cabal begins to imagine the unthinkable in a nation long famous for respecting the rule of law. With civil liberties hanging by a thread, a conspiracy forms against the powers that be. What will this daring plan mean for the European war as a whole?

Meanwhile, in America, a woman who has met Hitler face-to-face urges her countrymen to wake up to his evil. For the time being, the United States is fighting only Japan—and the war is not going as well as Washington would like. Can Roosevelt keep his grip on the country’s imagination?

Coup d’Etat captures how war makes for the strangest of bedfellows. A freethinking Frenchman fights side by side with racist Nazis. A Czech finds himself on the dusty front lines of the Spanish Civil War, gunning for Germany’s Nationalist allies. A German bomber pilot courts a half-Polish, half-Jewish beauty in Bialystock. And the Jews in Germany, though trapped under Hitler’s fist, are as yet protected by his fear of looking bad before the world—and by an outspoken Catholic bishop.

With his spectacular command of character, coincidence, and military and political strategies, Harry Turtledove continues a passionate, unmatched saga of a World War II composed of different enemies, different allies—and hurtling toward a horrific moment. For a diabolical new weapon is about to be unleashed, not by the United States, but by Japan, in a tactic that will shock the world.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Two SF Greats Reiewed at SFFWorld: Brin and Heinlein

A day late since the book I review this week took a tad bit longer to read (a good thing as I feel a more deliberate read allowed me to enjoy it more) and the weekend was extremely busy to the point that I didn’t have the opportunity to even open up the laptop Saturday or Sunday for an extended amount of time. Meanwhile, Mark continues his trek through the genre’s past.

Most readers of this blog are familiar with David Brin. He’s a giant of the SF field despite not having published a novel in over a decade. Well, Existience is his (ready for the cliché) triumphant return to the form and before I leap to the cover and review excerpt, has me eager to read more from him. Here’s part of what I thought about Existience:

The novel begins about a half a century in the future in a world not too dissimilar to our own, save for a slightly changed US, and a world hit with a destructive nuclear event. The Mesh, which is one of the many internets us viewable all times with special glasses like Google Glasses and AI is an every day fact of life. Although the world has suffered catastrophes, like the aforementioned war and a melting of polar ice caps, and changed drastically, Existence is not a dystopian novel even if it is set in a somewhat post-apocalyptic environment. Early on, one of the points Brin makes through his characters and the world-building is that people survive and persevere. Though bad things have happened, people will continue on and adjust. It is both a novel of ends and beginnings, a novel of first contact and a novel that approaches an answer to the question partially framed by the Fermi Paradox “Are we alone in the universe?”

Part of this world-building is achieved through snippets cushioning each relatively short chapter. These snippet chapters range in content from debates about the artifact between two prominent figures, journalistic entries from Tor, and other such passages to give an authentic feel to the world. For my reading sensibilities, this structure worked well to impart authenticity and keep the pace of the novel at a nice level. The structural element that was a bit jarring was the abrupt leap in time in some sections, particularly from the first ¾ or so of the novel to the chapters that conclude the novel.

Mark, the resident genre historian SFFWorld has been reading through his Heinlein Virginia Edition and his latest revisiting of an old Heinlein tale is Sixth Column

This one is what they call ‘a fixup’, originally being in three parts in the January, February and March editions of Astounding Magazine, under the editorial tuition of John W. Campbell. It became a slightly revised novel in 1949, with the author’s real name rather than his pseudonym, and a little tidying up.

It’s hard for me to decide whether this tale is a tribute or a criticism of L. Ron Hubbard, who both Heinlein and Campbell knew well. Campbell was an interested party in Hubbard’s development of Dianetics, and the idea of a religion being created to cover up other activities does sound like a veiled criticism that could be equally applied by its decriers to Scientology. It has been suggested by some critics that Calhoun, the stiff and rather disliked scientist who eventually ends up insane, believing himself to be an incantation of the god Mota, is at least partly based on Campbell himself.

Whilst Campbell’s version emphasised the race aspect, Heinlein’s tried to make it more scientific and using the so-called ‘soft sciences’ such as psychology and sociology to make the tale work. It is no accident that Whitey has a civilian background in advertising.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Books in the Mail (W/E 2012-07-14)

 After a fairly large batch of arrivals this week, a mix of publishers. I wasn’t expecting much to arrive this week with Comic-Con taking place the end of this past week.

Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch (Del Rey, Mass Market Paperback 07/31/2012) – Third in in Aaronovitch’s Paranormal Police procedural. With the third installment, Del Rey has begun to use the same cover design/style as the UK publisher. Mark review the first book Rivers of London / Midnight Riot and liked it.


It begins with a dead body at the far end of Baker Street tube station, all that remains of American exchange student James Gallagher—and the victim’s wealthy, politically powerful family is understandably eager to get to the bottom of the gruesome murder. The trouble is, the bottom—if it exists at all—is deeper and more unnatural than anyone suspects . . . except, that is, for London constable and sorcerer’s apprentice Peter Grant. With Inspector Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, tied up in the hunt for the rogue magician known as “the Faceless Man,” it’s up to Peter to plumb the haunted depths of the oldest, largest, and—as of now—deadliest subway system in the world.

At least he won’t be alone. No, the FBI has sent over a crack agent to help. She’s young, ambitious, beautiful . . . and a born-again Christian apt to view any magic as the work of the devil. Oh yeah—that’s going to go well.

The Wanderers by Paula Brandon (Spectra Trade Paperback 07/31/2012) –Sequel / Third in the series to / of the series which began with The Traitor’s Daughter, which has been getting quite a nice buzz. Brandon is something of an open pseudonym for Paula Volsky and this trilogy seems to have no name.

Paula Brandon’s acclaimed fantasy trilogy comes to a triumphant conclusion in an unforgettable collision of magic, intrigue, and romance.

Time is running out. Falaste Rione is imprisoned, sentenced to death. And even though the magical balance of the Source is slipping and the fabric of reality itself has begun to tear, Jianna Belandor can think only of freeing the man she loves. But to do so, she must join a revolution she once despised—and risk reunion with a husband she has ample reason to fear.

Meanwhile, undead creatures terrorize the land, slaves of the Overmind—a relentless consciousness determined to bring everything that lives under its sway. All that stands in the way is a motley group of arcanists whose combined powers will barely suffice to restore balance to the Source. But when Jianna’s father, the Magnifico Aureste Belandor, murders one of them, the group begins to fracture under the pressures of suspicion and mutual hatred. Now humanity’s hope rests with an unexpected soul: a misanthropic hermit whose next move may turn the tide and save the world.

Queen’s Hunt (River of Souls#2) by Beth Bernobich (Tor, Hardcover 07/17/2013) – Second installment in Bernobich’s fantasy saga. The first was well-received from what I’ve seen.

Queen's Hunt is the second title in Beth Bernobich’s River of Souls novels, following her startling debut, Passion Play. Filled with dark magic and sensual images, this is fantasy writing at its best.

Ilse Zhalina has left to start a new life in a garrisoned fort, leagues from her estranged lover, Raul Kosenmark. The violent quarrel that ended Ilse and Raul's relationship was quite public. And also, quite fake. They hope to mislead Kosenmark's enemies so that he can continue to influence the politics of the kingdom in an attempt to stave off an ill-advised war, while keeping Ilse safe from royal assassins who would kill anyone Raul is close to. Ilse longs for Raul, but is set on her own quest to find one of the three fabled jewels of Lir. One of the jewels is held by King Dzavek, sworn enemy of Veraene, who has used the jewel's power to live for centuries. Ilse seeks one of the other stones to counterbalance Dzavek's efforts to destroy her country.

In her search, she encounters a shipwrecked prisoner from another land, a woman who has a secret of her own...and the second jewel in her keeping. The two women become allies in their quest for the third jewel, because finding and controlling these stones could mean salvation for both of their nations. And their failure the ruin of their peoples..

The Passage by Justin Cronin (Ballantine Mass Market Paperback 07/11/2012) – This is the fourth copy I’ve received of this book (ARC, Hardcover, Trade Paperback and now Mass Market Paperback). You know what though, the book was superb as I noted when I initially read it in 2010 so that gives me the opportunity to share the book again.

"It happened fast. Thirty-two minutes for one world to die, another to be born."

First, the unthinkable: a security breach at a secret U.S. government facility unleashes the monstrous product of a chilling military experiment. Then, the unspeakable: a night of chaos and carnage gives way to sunrise on a nation, and ultimately a world, forever altered. All that remains for the stunned survivors is the long fight ahead and a future ruled by fear—of darkness, of death, of a fate far worse.

As civilization swiftly crumbles into a primal landscape of predators and prey, two people flee in search of sanctuary. FBI agent Brad Wolgast is a good man haunted by what he's done in the line of duty. Six-year-old orphan Amy Harper Bellafonte is a refugee from the doomed scientific project that has triggered apocalypse. He is determined to protect her from the horror set loose by her captors. But for Amy, escaping the bloody fallout is only the beginning of a much longer odyssey—spanning miles and decades—towards the time and place where she must finish what should never have begun.

With The Passage, award-winning author Justin Cronin has written both a relentlessly suspenseful adventure and an epic chronicle of human endurance in the face of unprecedented catastrophe and unimaginable danger. Its inventive storytelling, masterful prose, and depth of human insight mark it as a crucial and transcendent work of modern fiction.

An Officer’s Duty: (Book Two of Theirs Not to Reason Why) by Jean Johnson (Ace Mass Market Paperback 07/31/2012) – The first novel in this sequence was nominated for a Philip K. Dick Award and very nearly a year later, Johnson and her publishers manage to publish the second book. Impressive, though not surprising since Johnson is a popular and accomplished romance novelist.

Jean Johnson—the national bestselling author of the Sons of Destiny novels—returns to the world she introduced in A Soldier’s Duty with a terrible vision of the future...

Promoted in the field for courage and leadership under fire, Ia is now poised to become an officer in the Space Force Navy—once she undertakes her Academy training. But on a trip back home to Sanctuary, she finds the heavyworld colony being torn apart by religious conflict. Now Ia must prepare her family and followers to secure the galaxy’s survival. Her plan is to command a Blockade Patrol ship. Her goal, to save as many lives as she can. But at the Academy, she discovers an unexpected challenge: the one man who could disrupt those plans. The man whose future she cannot foresee...

Chasing Magic (Chess Putnam #4) by Stacia Kane (Del Rey Mass Market Paperback 06/26/2012) – Kane’s managed to churn out one book a year in this series, which is pretty impressive..


Magic-wielding Churchwitch and secret addict Chess Putnam knows better than anyone just how high a price people are willing to pay for a chemical rush. But when someone with money to burn and a penchant for black magic starts tampering with Downside’s drug supply, Chess realizes that the unlucky customers are paying with their souls—and taking the innocent with them, as the magic-infused speed compels them to kill in the most gruesome ways possible.

As if the streets weren’t scary enough, the looming war between the two men in her life explodes, taking even more casualties and putting Chess squarely in the middle. Downside could become a literal ghost town if Chess doesn’t find a way to stop both the war and the dark wave of death-magic, and the only way to do that is to use both her addiction and her power to enter the spell and chase the magic all the way back to its malevolent source. Too bad that doing so will probably kill Chess—if the war doesn’t first destroy the man who’s become her reason for living.

Love on the Run (Nola O’Grady Book 4) by Katherine Kerr (DAW Mass Market Paperback 08/07/2012) – Fourth installment in Kerr’s series. Impressively, she and her publisher have been releasing two installments per year.

A Fishy Situation

Nola O’Grady is sick and tired of psychic squid-images following her everywhere, waving their tentacles and generally making nuisances of themselves. She and her partner, Ari Nathan, have a dangerous job on their hands, hunting down two criminals who have escaped into another level of the multiverse, the San Francisco of Terra Six.

Terrorists have turned parts of that city into a deathtrap—religious fanatics, yes, but from what religion? Nola suspects that the Peacock Angel Chaos cult lies behind the bombings and mass murders. As she gathers evidence, she finds herself face-to-face with part of her own personal past that she’d prefer to bury forever.

And by the way, just who is it that keeps trying to kill her?.

King of Thorns (Book Two of The Broken Empire) by Mark Lawrence (Hardcover 08/07/2012 Ace) – I was extremely impressed with the first in this series, Prince of Thorns which I also thought was the best debut published in 2011, and I just posted my review about a week ago as of this posting.

In Book One of the Broken Empire, Mark Lawrence brought to life the “morbidly gripping”* (Publishers Weekly) story of a boy in search of power and vengeance. Now, in King of Thorns, that boy’s journey into manhood takes him to the dark depths waiting within his soul…

The boy who would be King has gained the throne...

Prince Honorious Jorg Ancrath vowed when he was nine to avenge his slaughtered mother and brother—and punish his father for not doing so. When he was fifteen, he began to fulfill that vow. Now he is eighteen—and he must hold on by strength of arms to what he took by torture and treachery.

King Jorg is a man haunted: by the ghost of a young boy, by a mysterious copper box, by his desire for the woman who rides with his enemy. Plagued by nightmares of the atrocities he committed, and of the atrocities committed against him when he was a child, he is filled with rage. And even as his need for revenge continues to consume him, twenty thousand men march toward the gates of his castle. His enemy is far stronger than him. Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight.

But he has found, in a chamber hidden beneath the castle, ancient and long-lost artifacts. Some might call them magic. Jorg is not certain—all he knows is that the secrets they hold can be put to terrible use in the coming battle...

Darksiders: The Abomination Vault by Ari Marmell (Del Rey Trade Paperback 07/24/2012) – Marmell is a smart, funny writer and I have no doubt he’ll do justice to this popular video game series.

Ride with the Horsemen of the Apocalypse as they seek to unearth a plot that could plunge all of Creation into chaos!

Ages before the events of Darksiders and Darksiders II, two of the feared Horsemen—Death and War—are tasked with stopping a group of renegades from locating the Abomination Vault: a hoard containing weapons of ultimate power and malice, capable of bringing an end to the uneasy truce between Heaven and Hell . . . but only by unleashing total destruction.

Created in close collaboration with the Darksiders II teams at Vigil and THQ, Darksiders: The Abomination Vault gives an exciting look at the history and world of the Horsemen, shining a new light on the unbreakable bond between War and Death.

Fever Moon (Fever Series) by Karen Marie Moning (Dellacorte Press Hardcover 07/10/2012) – Moning is another in the long line of urban fantasy authors whose stories are being told in graphic novel format. This one is a brand new story, though.

An all-new Mac & Barrons story by #1 New York Times bestselling author Karen Marie Moning, marvelously adapted into a full-color graphic novel by writer David Lawrence and illustrator Al Rio

In Fever Moon, we meet the most ancient and deadly Unseelie ever created, the Fear Dorcha. For eons, he’s traveled worlds with the Unseelie king, leaving behind him a path of mutilation and destruction. Now he’s hunting Dublin, and no one Mac loves is safe.

Dublin is a war zone. The walls between humans and Fae are down. A third of the world’s population is dead and chaos reigns. Imprisoned over half a million years ago, the Unseelie are free and each one Mac meets is worse than the last. Human weapons don’t stand a chance against them.

With a blood moon hanging low over the city, something dark and sinister begins to hunt the streets of Temple Bar, choosing its victims by targeting those closest to Mac. Armed only with the Spear of Destiny and Jericho Barrons, she must face her most terrifying enemy yet.

The Diviner by Melanie Rawn, - (DAW , Mass Market Paperback 08/07/2012) – Prequel to The Golden Key which Rawn co-wrote with Jennifer Roberson, and Kate Elliott. This is a re-reprint of the World Fantasy nominee by three of the top Fantasy writers from DAW’s stable.
Bestselling author Melanie Rawn's triumphant return to high fantasy.

The only survivor of royal treachery that eliminates his entire family, Azzad al-Ma'aliq flees to the desert and dedicates himself to vengeance. With the help of the Shagara, a nomadic tribe of powerful magicians, he begins to take his revenge-but at a terrible cost to himself.

The Grass King's Concubine; by Kari Sperring (DAW Mass Market Paperback 08/07/2012) – Sperring’s second novel is a follow-up to her debut novel.:

Kari Sperring's first novel was a finalist for the Crawford Award, a Tiptree Award Honor Book, a LOCUS Recommended First Novel, and the winner of the Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer. Now she returns to the same amazing and atmospheric world with an entirely new story set several hundred years after the earth-shaking events of Living With Ghosts.

When a wealthy young woman, obsessed with a childhood vision of a magical Shining Palace, sets out with her true love to search for a legendary land, she discovers the devastated WorldBelow - the realm of the Grass King - and the terrifying Cadre, who take her prisoner, and demand she either restore the king's concubine... or replace her.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

King, Heroes, and Blade Dancers - 3 SFFWorld Reviews

Returning to the weekly book review post is Nila White, whose been taking looks at books published. Meanwhile, Mark looks at another Superhero novel and I review the sequel to the most impressive debut novel I read in 2011.

A book I’ve been looking forward to reading ever since finished its predecessor is King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. The first novel, King of Thorns was the standout debut novel I read last year, does the sequel live up to the promise of the first?

The narrative which is billed as “Four Years Earlier” follows Jorg on a quest across post-apocalyptic Europe and has a similar feel to Prince of Thorns in the travelogue sense. Jorg is humbled by the heroic Prince of Arrow, a man who could be either enemy or ally to Jorg in the Hundred War raging across the known lands. More sign posts and artifacts appear which give credence to the fact that Jorg and his story take place in a far future that has fallen into pseudo-medieval trappings. Continual references throughout the novel to “the Builders” reinforces the awe and wonder of what is likely the current civilization in which we live.

The present narrative is indicated by the chapter heading “Wedding Day” and here we see a wiser Jorg preparing, with a fair bit of anxiety and trepidation, for the day of his betrothal. Unfortunately, a massive army is mounting a siege and the more-mature Jorg who seems to have shaken control of two demons helpers from Prince of Thorns and absorbed the necromancy of a third helper, realizes what a challenge this army will present. Though his bride is much younger than him, she proves not to be innocent and without her own will as we and Jorg get to know her better.

Superhero novels are becoming more prevalent, as evidenced by the fact that Mark reviews the second such novel in only a few months. Samit Basu has been writing for a while both in comics and prose, Mark takes a look at his latest, Turbulence, the aforementioned Superhero novel:


The story’s setup is fairly simple. On a plane journey from London to Delhi, Aman Sen and his fellow passengers (403 of them) experience something strange and the result is that everyone who disembarks in Delhi has superhuman abilities. Each one is different. Aman’s skill is the ability to access global communication networks without equipment. Others on the plane have similar strange powers: we have hopeful Bollywood actress Uzma who seems to charm everyone she meets, Vir who can fly at supersonic speeds without mechanical means, Tia who can be in more than one place at once. Throw in a mad scientist and his crackpot inventions and you have a Justice League team to end all Justice League teams (or rather “World-Changing-Super-Squad” as one of the characters calls themselves.)
This is good in itself. But what is most impressive is that the book takes common traditional superheroes themes and then writes about them from a very different perspective. Whilst some of the ideas are not new (see the list of other similarly themed work at the beginning of this review), as most of the action takes place not in the traditional locale of the US, but in Asia, in India, there is a different outlook to the superhero mythology that is quite refreshing and not something you would normally read in, say, a Marvel comic book. Turbulence involves topics as diverse as Bollywood, cricket, media networks, celebrity hype and Hindu god-worship. The characters are of varying social backgrounds, and each has enough variety to be both diverse and engaging.

Nila, reviews a book from one of the members of the SFFWorld forums, Kerry M. Tolan, who is an active and helpful participant in our writing forums. Blade Dancer is his first novel, here’s a bit of what Nila thought:

Blade Dancer is a complicated story set in an alien world rich in military history. The reader is immersed in the life of Mikial Haran, a new soldier in the Qurl Datha sect, while she struggles with her own personal demons and the events in her world that threaten to change the path of all its inhabitants - regardless of how much they hate each other.

This fast paced, military-bent, science fiction tale is Mr. K.T. Tolan’s first book. Epic in scope, Mr. Tolan does a great job at describing the military structure, and combat scenes. He’s also done an excellent job of detailing a rich history for an alien world at the brink of huge change. A winner of the 2009 EPIC (Eppie) Award, Mr. Tolan does know how to weave a grand tale, however, the book did have drawbacks for me.

There were quite a few times when I wished the author would have slowed down. I felt as if he rushed poor Mikial from one disaster after another. In itself, one disaster after another is fine, but there were a few times it felt as if his character went from one emotional extreme to another without enough explanation as to why.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Books in the Mail (W/E 2012-07-07)

A fairly slow week of releases, which isn't too surprising since Independence Day falls dead in the middle of the week.

Albert of Adelaide by Howard L. Anderson (Twelve Books Hardcover 07/17/20212) – Like Terry Brooks, Anderson is a lawyer, like George R.R. Martin and Daniel Abraham, he lives in New Mexico. Like none of them, his first novel is about a platypus.

At once an old-fashioned-buddy-novel-shoot-'em-up and a work of deliciously imagined fantasy, Howard L. Anderson's dazzling debut presents the haunting story of a world where something has gone horribly awry . . .

Having escaped from Australia's Adelaide Zoo, an orphaned platypus named Albert embarks on a journey through the outback in search of "Old Australia," a rumored land of liberty, promise, and peace. What he will find there, however, away from the safe confinement of his enclosure for the first time since his earliest memories, proves to be a good deal more than he anticipated.

Alone in the outback, with an empty soft drink bottle as his sole possession, Albert stumbles upon pyromaniacal wombat Jack, and together they spend a night drinking and gambling in Ponsby Station, a rough-and-tumble mining town. Accused of burning down the local mercantile, the duo flees into menacing dingo territory and quickly go their separate ways-Albert to pursue his destiny in the wastelands, Jack to reconcile his past.
Encountering a motley assortment of characters along the way-a pair of invariably drunk bandicoots, a militia of kangaroos, hordes of the mercurial dingoes, and a former prize-fighting Tasmanian devil-our unlikely hero will discover a strength and skill for survival he never suspected he possessed.

Told with equal parts wit and compassion, ALBERT OF ADELAIDE shows how it is often the unexpected route, and the most improbable companions, that lead us on the path to who we really are. Who you journey with, after all, is far more important than wherever it is you are going.

Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston (Tor Hardcover 07/17/2012)– Who hasn’t read Card’s landmark Ender novels? I know I read quite a few of them and made it through a few of the Bean sequels before stopping. I liked Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead very much and they still stand pretty high in my mind.

The mining ship El Cavador is far out from Earth, in the deeps of the Kuiper Belt, beyond Pluto. Other mining ships, and the families that live on them, are few and far between this far out. So when El Cavador’s telescopes pick up a fast-moving object coming in-system, it’s hard to know what to make of it. It’s massive and moving at a significant fraction of the speed of light.

El Cavador has other problems. Their systems are old and failing. The family is getting too big for the ship. There are claim-jumping corporate ships bringing Asteroid Belt tactics to the Kuiper Belt. Worrying about a distant object that might or might not be an alien ship seems…not important.

They're wrong. It's the most important thing that has happened to the human race in a million years. The first Formic War is about to begin.

Energized by Edward M. Lerner (Tor Hardcover 07/10/20212) – Lerner continues to split time with near future SF thrillers and contributing to Larry Niven’s vast Ringworld saga.

No one expected the oil to last forever. How right they were….

A geopolitical miscalculation tainted the world’s major oil fields with radioactivity and plunged the Middle East into chaos. Any oil that remains usable is more prized than ever. No one can build solar farms, wind farms, and electric cars quickly enough to cope. The few countries still able to export oil and natural gas—Russia chief among them—have a stranglehold on the world economy.

And then, from the darkness of space, came Phoebe. Rather than divert the onrushing asteroid, America captured it in Earth orbit.

Solar power satellites—cheaply mass-produced in orbit with resources mined from the new moon to beam vast amounts of power to the ground—offer America its last, best hope of avoiding servitude and economic ruin.

As though building miles-across structures in space isn’t challenging enough, special interests, from technophobes to eco-extremists to radio astronomers, want to stop the project. And the remaining petro powers will do anything to protect their newfound dominance of world affairs.

NASA engineer Marcus Judson is determined to make the powersat demonstration project a success. And he will—even though nothing in his job description mentions combating an international cabal, or going into space to do it.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

McCarthy & Wilson Reviewed at SFFWorld

Just because today might be like a Friday here in the US with tomorrow being Independence Day, doesn’t mean the weekly reviews from Rob and Mark are skipped.

Mark takes a look at an SF novel marketed to the mainstream to much buzz in 2011 which just received its UK release. I review the sequel to an award winning debut novel that ranked very highly for me last year. The topic of my book review is Exogene, the second novel in T.C. McCarthy’s Subterrene Ware Military SF sequence

Germline introduced readers to T.C. McCarthy’s bleak future through the first person narrator Oscar Wendel war correspondent on the frontlines of the Subterrene War. Exogene is a return to that world and first person narration, but McCarthy shows us the war from a soldier on the frontline, Catherine. As the novel begins, Catherine is beginning to spoil, though McCarthy flashes back in many scenes to her life before she goes on the battle-lines. This is an effective way to parallel where her character is going with how she came to be who she is.

McCarthy storytelling takes a leap in Exogene, on a thematic level. Here, through the characters a greater examination of what makes a soldier on the front line comes to light – the morals, the stress, the anguish all from the point of view of a soldier. Bringing religion and faith is nothing new to war, as many a historian have said more men/women/soldiers were killed in the name of god than anything else, so it would seem a logical thing for artificially created soldiers to be molded by faith in God with their ultimate purpose is to fight and die for that God.…

More excitingly, this edition includes Living Night, a two page poem, and more than a dozen other rarer story fragments, including James’s only novel, The Five Jars (1920) a tale written possibly for, but felt to be too scary for, children in 1920. Some of the other extras here – Speaker Lenthall’s Tomb, Merfield House for example - are the only remaining fragments of the writing, a tantalising glimpse of some of James’ unfinished material. To be frank, the additions are interesting but not essential and Five Jars is a slim novel, but they are worth a read and do give the reader a better idea of James’ canon.

Are Robots the new zombies? Maybe, maybe not. Last year (2011), Daniel H. Wilson made a splash with his debut Robopocalypse , when the book that was sold to Hollywood before it was published, gets a UK release and a review from Mark:


Whilst borrowing heavily from SF tropes - the near-future zeitgeist of Michael Crichton, Cameron’s The Terminator franchise, or perhaps even D.F. Jones’ Colossus - this story of how humans created robots, were deemed unworthy by robot intelligence and eventually fought against their robot creations, is a fast-paced tale of endurance and survival.

Written by a robot programmer, it is as you might expect - enthusiastic, and efficient, yet in the end surprisingly unemotional and even rather clinical. Whilst the variety of the different points of view in each chapter is potentially interesting and the ideas in the novel are often great, there’s actually not a lot of depth behind the action, and the dialogue and narrative in particular generally leaves a lot to be desired in its banality and predictability, especially in the last sections where the book concentrates around the viewpoint of Wallace. I suspect many readers will balk at this aspect of the novel.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Favorite SFF Books First Half 2012

I did this last year so I might as well keep the tradition alive. We’ve just passed the halfway point of 2012 and thus far, I’ve read 35 novels (some of those were part of an omnibus so the technical book count is 30).  19 of those books hold a 2012 copyright . Since it isn’t always easy to place one novel above another when the writers are creating different stories, I’ll do this top 6 alphabetically (6 months, 6 books). Right, I know that’s a cop-out but I make the rules here:

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
With Doctor Adoulla Makhslood is that overweight, aged (60+) protagonist. He loves the city in which he lives, Dhamsawaat; and is the foremost ghul-hunter in the city, in fact he’s the last. His young assistant is the holy/monk swordsman Raseed bas Raseed who takes out monsters with his dual-tipped sword. When the two are tasked with investigating a string of ghul appearances, the cross paths with the were-lion Zamia, or as her powers are considered in Ahmed’s world – angel-touched. Zamia is the Protector of the Band, a desert wasteland tribe that, as Adoulla and Raseed meet Zamia, has been decimated. As the appointed protector, Zamia blames herself, but soon joins Adoulla and Raseed since they have a mutual goal of finding and eradicating the man responsible for creating these powerful ghuls. Complicating matters is the roguish Pharaad Az Hammaz AKA The Falcon Prince, a master thief/rebel who is seeking to bring down the strong, controlling grip of Khalif who sits upon the titular Throne. In addition to these characters, Ahmed surrounds Makshlood with a strong-knit group of associates who are much of a surrogate family for the good Doctor who would rather relax with a cup of tea alongside Miri, “the one that got away” than battle demons
Where Ahmed excels is with his protagonist, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood. He’s the type of guy you want to have as the ‘crotchety but cool uncle’ at the bar with you to share a drink or at your side should that bar-room brawl occur. We get in the head of Makhslood as he re-examines the decisions he’s made in the immediate past and ponders of how he should best proceed particularly with the Falcon Prince. Where Adoulla shows the most emotion is in his regret of the lost love of Miri, who he set aside – for lack of a better term – to give into his calling as protector of Dhamsawaat, his city which he does truly love.

I hadn’t read any novel-length fiction from Elizabeth Bear before this year, though I did read various short stories in a few anthologies. Considering those stories often stood out, I wasn’t surprised I enjoyed Range of Ghosts, but I didn’t expect to be as entranced as I was:
Did I mention the gods are alive and real and each ‘nation’ has a different sky which contains different moons and stars? Yeah, there’s that too. One of the things that make this novel so amazing is Bear’s ability to weave these elements into a wholly cohesive narrative. Woven along with these elements is an incredibly lush and powerful resonant element of mythology. The vital connection between the creation myth one character recounts has great bearing on the world itself. In many other fantasies the gods may be part of the world, but more so in Bear’s richly developed world the gods, or beings thought of as gods, actions have logical connections to how the characters react, in terms of consequences of the gods actions and how the characters internalize those elements into their own actions.

I mentioned the resonance in this novel that Bear has constructed so wonderfully, I felt the same power reading Range of Ghosts I did reading and enjoying archetypal myths and folktales that have been around for thousands of years such. While I enjoyed reading the novel in the moment, the sense of gravitas in the story settled in with my imagination after I’d set the novel aside for the day’s reading or even when I completed the novel. In a sense, Range of Ghosts, from my reading experience, can be seen as a successful experiment in modern mythmaking. What is even more promising is that this is just the beginning and Bear has more to tell in this resonant story.

The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett was a stunning novel and like most of the other novels in this post, it was my first exposure to the writer’s novel (or in this case, any) writing
The small things are important, too, Bennett’s The Troupe reminds us. Sure there may be an apocalyptic, near biblical conflict that serves as the engine, or rather, the sheet music of the events, but engine parts and players are what put these elements into motion. In the case of The Troupe, George Carole is of course this major part although to call him the driving character may not be completely accurate. Sure his initial query about his father brought him to Silenus’s Troupe, but once there, he’s more of a front-seat passenger than the actual driver. He’s a young man searching for his family – an orphan if you will – and for a sense of purpose in life. Initially, he’s headstrong and unwilling to hear that he’s young and perhaps not ready to take the stage in Silenus’s Troupe. After all, as George likes to inflate himself by saying, he could headline and make an appreciable sum for his performances. What truly makes George stand out to Harry is that George is the only audience member who has ever been able to remember the Troupe’s final act.

Harry, comes across just as headstrong, but as the mentor who seemingly holds back necessary information from the young hero of the tale. Harry’s obsession – something he’s initially unwilling to share with anybody other than the silent Stanley – is what drives the story and the Troupe across the country in search of something supernatural and away from something equally supernatural, though much darker. There’s a great aura of confliction surround Harry, he’s got very honorable intentions and goals but he often comes across as a callous and harsh individual. I felt some resonance in the Harry/George relationship to the relationship portrayed in Gangs of New York between Daniel Day Lewis’s Bill the Butcher (who might make a terrific Harry if The Troupe ever made it to film) and Leonardo DiCaprio’s Amsterdam or even to Roland the Gunslinger and the boy Jake Chambers in King’s
The Dark Tower, and there was something about Harry that reminded me of Jessie Custer, the title character from Garth Ennis & Steve Dillion’s landmark Preacher comic book series. Bennett’s deft depiction of Harry as a conflicted character is evident down to his speech pattern, Harry’s dialogue often includes allusions to wondrous things which are soon punctuated with a contrarian “fucking…this” or “that fucking bastard.” In short, Harry is a gem of a character

In perhaps the most assured debut since Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man (no coincidence since the two writers are long time friends and share an agent). Shadow OPS: Control Point by Myke Cole really hit all the right cylinders for me:
Oscar Britton is part of a military unit responsible for rounding up ‘Selfers,’ those people who suddenly manifest magical abilities and run amok. In, Shadow OPS: Control Point, Myke Cole’s near future saga blends Urban Fantasy and Military Science Fiction, two branches of Speculative Fiction that don’t come together often. The Great Reawakening has taken place, magic is real as are the creatures out of fantasy and myth like goblins and Rocs. The military has permitted (and controls) schools of Elemental magic dealing with wind, fire, water, and earth control. Other ‘schools’ such as reanimating the dead and opening up portals for quick travel, are forbidden. Oscar manifests sorcerous powers in the forbidden school of magic – Portomancy, the ability to open portals allowing for instant transportation to any location. Due to the laws in place, he must immediately turn himself into the authorities. As an officer in the military responsible for bringing in those who manifest out of the public, Oscar has seen what happens to Latents, people such as himself, so he flees and becomes a fugitive. What drives home the fact that Latents such as himself are treated like dangerous criminals is the opening scene of the novel – Oscar and his military team, step into a dangerous scene where two young people have manifested and are causing havoc at a school, killing people, and harming the officers tasked with quelling the situation. Oscar must decide if it is better to turn himself in and eventually cooperate or if he should buck the system and forge his own path.
Told in a third person perspective, Cole still conveys the stress and conflict Britton experiences both physically and mentally in a supremely believable fashion. At times I found myself sympathizing with Oscar’s plight, other times, I wanted to whack him upside the head and shout “Just go with it!” It proved frustrating at times, but I’d almost say in a car-wreck kind of way because I wanted to see if Oscar would actually do what he’s told or continue to rebel. I don’t know if this is what Cole intended, but also found myself siding with characters that were likely set out as antagonists – specifically legally empowered magic practitioner Harlequin who was once part of Oscar’s team and then attempted to secure Oscar once he manifested.
Paul S. Kemp has been carving out a nice swath in the sword and sorcery genre with his popular Erevis Cale novels set in The Forgotten Realms. It can both be risky and rewarding for an author to jump from shared worlds to their own worlds, but it paid off VERY well for Kemp’s first non-shared world/tie-in novel: The Hammer and the Blade:
Sword and Sorcery is making something of a renaissance in genre fiction, thanks in no small part very recently to writers like Scott Lynch, James Barclay, and James Enge. Part of the reason for such a flourishing of these personal tales of fantasy featuring blue collar heroes getting in over their head is the popularity of role playing games over the past couple of decades allowing players to participate in what amounted to collaborative sword and sorcery storytelling. One of the most popular and widely played games during that time (and now) is The Forgotten Realms and one of the more popular authors of novels tied into that franchise is Paul S. Kemp. That’s the long way of saying how Kemp’s pedigree, for lack of a better term, provides him with a strong foundation to pen his first novel set outside any previous shared worlds to which he contributed. Thus, we have The Hammer and The Blade A Tale of Egil and Nix. I’m very pleased to say this sword and sorcery novel was a blast.

To say these characters and this story is a love letter to Fritz Leiber would be selling Kemp short of what he’s done. In Egil and Nix, he’s given readers possible long-distant cousins to
Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser in that he’s got the large bruiser and short thief duo, as well as the banter between the two. Furthermore, one of the main areas in this world is known as the Low Bazaar, an obvious homage the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser story Bazaar of the Bizarre. Kemp also throws out shout-outs to Green Lantern mythos along the way.

Regular readers of my blog and members of the SFFWorld forums are aware of how highly I rank Matthew Stover in my pantheon of favorite writers so it should come as no surprise that a novel by him makes this cut. In this case, the “last” Caine novel: Caine’s Law
Matthew Stover has carved out a solid niche for himself at the intersection of Fantasy and Science Fiction genres with hisActs of Caine sequence. The first book, Heroes Die was published in 1997 and introduced readers to Hari Michaelson the actor who portrays Caine, the most popular adventurer in Overworld, a fantasyland Earth discovered and exploits as the ultimate reality television experience. In Heroes Die, Caine is on what is thought to be his last adventure to save his girlfriend from a sorcerer (Ma’elKoth, probably my favorite hero antagonist) who has ascended to godhood. Heroes Die easily stands on its own, although thankfully, for readers like myself, Caine’s voice kept haranguing Stover to continue telling stories about him. The sequel novel, Blade of Tyshalle was at least as good as Heroes Die (some would say better, I might even say that sometimes) and is the story of both the fallout of Heroes Die and Earth’s continued exploitive efforts on Overworld. A few Star Wars novels later, Stover again picked up the story of Caine in Caine Black Knife (billed with the sub-title Act of Atonement, Book I) which was a dual narrative with one thread having followed the ‘modern’ day Caine while the other followed Caine on the adventure that made him a star, “Retreat from the Boedecken.”

The not-so-straightforward narrative not only changes POV character and voice, but time / history as we see a young Duncan Michaelson before he’s married and a father, a young Hari Michaelson while he’s a boy in the hospital where his mother dies, and an older grizzled Caine, among other character time-points. One of, if not the central question, of the narrative is whether or not one would change a past event filled with regret, given the opportunity. A simple question, on the surface, but of course the implications of such a question are more interesting than the question itself. To summarize the plot any more would be an injustice to the multiple branches of the narrative Stover leads the reader, but suffice it to say Caine’s Law is a novel about heroes and gods, past and present, power and manipulation. It’s about saying fuck you to the people trying to hold you down, control you and mess with your family; it’s about love and honor; and sometimes about being the right guy even if that means not being the good guy all the time. Simple enough, right? Didn’t think so.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Books in the Mail (W/E 2012-06-30)

A nice selection of books including one that was delayed for a while that I’ve been REALLY looking forward to reading.

The Errant King (Dark Sea Annals #2) by Wayne Batson (AMG Publishers, Trade Paperback 11/15/2011) – Second in a Mr. Batson's high fantasy series, and sequel to Sword in the Stars.

Deep in the caves of the distant Hinderlands, an ancient menace stirs. Townsfolk shudder at violent memories of The Red Queen and even dare to whisper the name Raudrim. At the same time, word comes to Alastair that Cythraul has at last resurfaced, seeking a devastating weapon in the ruins of Grayvalon. Blood-soaked clues lead Alastair into a confrontation from which only one warrior will return alive. Meanwhile in Anglinore, young Lochlan Stormgarden, the new High King of Myriad, leaves the pomp and politics of the throne once too often. While blending in with the people of his kingdom, Loch suddenly realizes that he's put them all at risk. The fate of his new found love Arianna, his best friend Telwyn, his family, and indeed the world of Myriad all depend on the decisions of the errant king.


A noble king discovers what happens when he leaves a door open for evil. The disastrous consequences impact generations, leaving the throne of Anglinore to a wicked despot, the kingdom in ruins, and Aravel's son Loch in exile. To throw down the vile new authority, Loch will need to find the fabled Halfainin and raise a new army from a world of reluctant citizens. Together with his archer friend Ariana, Loch will face adventures that span the world of Myriad, creatures that defy imagination, and choices great and terrible—all these recorded in The Dark Sea Annals.

Daughter of the Sword (A Novel of the Fated Blades) by Steve Bein (Roc Trade 10/02/2012) – Debut novel from Bein, whose published a handful of short stories. This one’s getting quite a bit of prepublication buzz.


Mariko Oshiro is not your average Tokyo cop. As the only female detective in the city’s most elite police unit, she has to fight for every ounce of respect, especially from her new boss. While she wants to track down a rumored cocaine shipment, he gives her the least promising case possible. But the case—the attempted theft of an old samurai sword—proves more dangerous than anyone on the force could have imagined.

The owner of the sword, Professor Yasuo Yamada, says it was crafted by the legendary Master Inazuma, a sword smith whose blades are rumored to have magical qualities. The man trying to steal it already owns another Inazuma—one whose deadly power eventually comes to control all who wield it. Or so says Yamada, and though he has studied swords and swordsmanship all his life, Mariko isn’t convinced.

But Mariko’s skepticism hardly matters. Her investigation has put her on a collision course with a curse centuries old and as bloodthirsty as ever. She is only the latest in a long line of warriors and soldiers to confront this power, and even the sword she learns to wield herself could turn against her.

Bad Glass by Richard Gropp (Del Rey Trade Paperback 09/25/2012) – This book/Gropp won Suvudu’s writing contests so we’ve got a nice little dark fantasy debut here..

One of the most hauntingly original dark fantasy debuts in years—perfect for fans of Lost and Mark Danielewski’s cult classic, House of Leaves.

Something has happened in Spokane. The military has evacuated the city and locked it down. Even so, disturbing rumors and images seep out, finding their way onto the Internet, spreading curiosity, skepticism, and panic. For what they show is—or should be—impossible: strange creatures that cannot exist, sudden disappearances that violate the laws of physics, human bodies fused with inanimate objects, trapped yet still half alive. . . .

Dean Walker, an aspiring photographer, sneaks into the quarantined city in search of fame. What he finds will change him in unimaginable ways. Hooking up with a group of outcasts led by a beautiful young woman named Taylor, Dean embarks on a journey into the heart of a mystery whose philosophical implications are as terrifying as its physical manifestations. Even as he falls in love with Taylor—a woman as damaged and seductive as the city itself—his already tenuous hold on reality starts to come loose. Or perhaps it is Spokane’s grip on the world that is coming undone.

Now, caught up in a web of interlacing secrets and betrayals, Dean, Taylor, and their friends must make their way through this ever-shifting maze of a city, a city that is actively hunting them down, herding them toward a shocking destiny.

The Kingmakers (Vampire Empire #3) by Clay and Susan Griffith (Pyr Trade Paperback 09/04/2012) –Third and final novel in the Griffith’s entertaining mix of Steampunk and Vampire Romance.

No description available on the internet yet for this one, but I suppose events building in books one and 2 come to a head here in the third and final volume.

Blood of the City (A Pathfinder Tales novel) by Robin Laws (Paizo Mass Market Paperback 09/04/2012) – I now have five Pathfinder novels and I do intend to read at least one of them to sample the world. Laws has been a game designer for quite a while and this is his second Pathfinder novel.

Luma is a cobblestone druid, a canny fighter and spellcaster who can read the chaos of Magnimar’s city streets like a scholar reads books. Together, she and her siblings in the powerful Derexhi family form one of the most infamous and effective mercenary companies in the city, solving problems for the city’s wealthy elite. Yet despite being the oldest child, Luma gets little respect—perhaps due to her half-elven heritage. When a job gone wrong lands Luma in the fearsome prison called the Hells, it’s only the start of Luma’s problems. For a new web of bloody power politics is growing in Magnimar, and it may be that those Luma trusts most have become her deadliest enemies...

From visionary game designer and author Robin D. Laws comes a new urban fantasy adventure of murder, betrayal, and political intrigue set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

The Coldest War (Milkweed Tryptich #2) by Ian Tregillis (Tor, Hardcover 07/17/2012) – After some publisher delay, the second novel and sequel to what I thought was the best debut novel published in 2010.

In Ian Tregillis' The Coldest War, a precarious balance of power maintains the peace between Britain and the USSR. For decades, Britain's warlocks have been all that stands between the British Empire and the Soviet Union—a vast domain stretching from the Pacific Ocean to the shores of the English Channel. Now each wizard's death is another blow to Britain's national security.

Meanwhile, a brother and sister escape from a top-secret facility deep behind the Iron Curtain. Once subjects of a twisted Nazi experiment to imbue ordinary people with superhuman abilities, then prisoners of war in the immense Soviet research effort to reverse-engineer the Nazi technology, they head for England.

Because that's where former spy Raybould Marsh lives. And Gretel, the mad seer, has plans for him.

As Marsh is once again drawn into the world of Milkweed, he discovers that Britain's darkest acts didn't end with the war. And while he strives to protect queen and country, he is forced to confront his own willingness to accept victory at any cost.