Thursday, July 31, 2008


There are two reviews coming up soon, one on Elizabeth Bear's Whiskey and Water and the other on Young Miles by Lois McMaster Bujold (both by authors that I am now hooked on). I'm still getting caught up after a crazy couple of weeks but should be able to get one of those up in the next couple of days.

I've been reading two books - Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell and Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds. The latter has captured my interest even though it can be rather dense at times, but at least so far, I'm not understanding all the rave reviews of the former. I'm only a little past the halfway point now, though, so there's still time for that to change.

After these two, I think I'd like to go for something a bit more character driven. Any suggestions?

Monday, July 28, 2008

New Social Network: SFcrowsnest Hivemind

Stephen Hunt, author of The Court of the Air and The Kingdom Beyond the Waves, has a brand new social network for fans of fantasy and science fiction. SFcrowsnest Hivemind looks like it will be a lot of fun, even if it did make me answer the agonizing question of which genre/subgenre was my favorite if I wanted to fill out that section of my profile. It's very extensive - members can create photo albums, write blog entries, add friends, write messages to each other, create and vote on polls, participate in group discussions and more. I've signed up there as Kristen so feel free to add me as a friend!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Book Giveaway!

Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear are two new authors I have discovered this year that I feel are writing excellent stories. I really enjoyed their collaborative novel A Companion to Wolves (reviewed here) and have an extra copy to give away to one lucky person. Like my own copy, it is first edition hardcover and signed by Sarah Monette (sadly, it is not signed by Bear as well, but signed by Monette is still pretty cool).

The contest is open to anyone. If you would like to enter, send an email with the subject "A Companion to Wolves" to fantasycafe AT Please include your mailing address. Addresses will only be used for sending the book out quickly and all messages will be deleted once the contest is over. If you would like to include your screen name and any message boards you frequent, feel free to do so in the email.

Entries for the contest will be accepted through Friday August 8. Good luck and thanks for entering!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Review of A Companion to Wolves

A Companion to Wolves is a stand alone collaboration by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear. Sarah Monette's "The Doctrine of Labyrinth" series is currently my favorite book discovery of this year, and Elizabeth Bear's dark mythological tale of faerie, Blood and Iron, was also excellent so I was very much looking forward to this book. Although I did not enjoy it quite as much as either of these separate works, this tale steeped in Norse mythology still had me riveted and turning the pages.

As the oldest son of a jarl, Njall is to become jarl himself one day. This changes when a man and his wolf come to visit Njall's father to ask for his oldest son to join the wolfheall, a society of warriors and wolves bonded to each other to better protect the people from trolls and wyverns. Due to the homosexual practices of the men within the wolfheall, Njall's father refuses to give his son as a tithe, even though the wolfheall needs young men around Njall's age to train and there are not many fit lads in the village of the right age. Fascinated by the wolf and aware that it is his duty to defend the people, Njall agrees to join the wolfheall even though he is frightened by the stories he has heard. Njall's father tells him he is sixteen now so it is his decision but tries to persuade him to stay.

Njall travels to the wolfheall where he and a few other boys begin to train. Once the new litter of wolf pups is born, the young men must begin to get to know the pups and let them each choose one of them to bond with. It soon becomes apparent that Njall will be chosen by Viradechtis, who will one day be konigenwolf (queen wolf) of her own pack. As a konigenwolf, Viradechtis will be choosing her mate and Njall's partner, who will be her mate's companion. Njall finds this idea unpleasant, but he is very attached to Viradechtis and joins the wolfheall as Isolfr (each man changes his name when bonded). Since it is obvious that Viradechtis will one day be queen wolf, many attempt to win the favor of Isolfr and his wolf. Meanwhile, the troll threat increases and the wolfheall is very busy battling the creatures.

Even though A Companion to Wolves was written by two authors, it reads as though written by one. It keeps the same voice throughout the story and the writing flows well.

The story is told from the third person perspective of Isolfr, who is an interesting character. His tale is a coming of age story, as he learns about it means to be dutiful and to believe in his own point of view instead of what his father has taught him. Isolfr has to discover for himself what his own perspective of the world is and what it means to be a man or woman in the patriarchal society in which he lives. Minor characters are not fleshed out nearly as well as the main character, but the strength of Isolfr and Viradechtis, whose flashes of thought are often amusing, make up for this.

The society and politics of the wolfheall are also an intriguing aspect of the story. The animal companions in this story are not cute little pets - the wolves truly control rule within the wolfheall and the humans mainly follow the lead of their sister or brother wolf. The dominant trellwolf female chooses the male who will lead with her and determines both human leaders by deciding who to bond with and selecting the person bonded to her new mate. It can be a rough society; it's not all happiness and fun. When a female wolf is in heat, life in the wolfheall can get particularly brutal as the male wolves fight for the female. There are some rather intense sex scenes as a result (between the humans in addition to the wolves since the human companions to the wolves copy their companions, Pern-style), so those who are offended by sexual content that is not watered down should not read this book.

The one complaint I have about this book is that the names can be very confusing. Partway through the book, many of the character's names change once they join the wolfheall and these names all have some variation of 'olfr' or 'ulf' in them. It can get hard to keep track of the minor characters since many of their names are similar and their personalities are not terribly unique to begin with.

A Companion to Wolves is an engrossing animal companion story about growing up and becoming your own person that manages to avoid many of the common fantasy tropes about animal companions.


Other reviews (which were influential in my choice to read this one):

Monday, July 21, 2008 Launches; Free Ebooks for a Week has officially launched. I just signed up a little while ago to check it out. It has some free stories, an art gallery, and a forum for discussing science fiction and fantasy. Also, all the e-books and wallpaper Tor gave away through email are available for free in several different formats through July 27. So if you missed a few of the books when they were giving away one a week, you can go back and get the rest.

Books available are:

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
Farthing by Jo Walton
The Outstretched Shadow by Mercedies Lackey & James Mallory
Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell
Lord of the Isles by David Drake
Through Wolf's Eyes by Jane Lindskold
The Disunited States of America by Harry Turtledove
Reiffen's Choice by S.C. Butler
Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder
Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest
Spirit Gate by Kate Elliot
Starfish by Peter Watts
Touch of Evil by C.T. Adams & Cathy Clamp
A Shadow in Summer by Daniel Abraham
Orphans of Chaos by John Wright
In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker
In the Midnight Hour by Patti O'Shea
Battlestar Galactica by Jeffrey A. Carver
Flash by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
Soul by Tobsha Learner
Darkness of the Light by Peter David
Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa

I haven't read most of those but a lot of them are on the to-read list, so I'd say it's a pretty good selection.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Review of Blood Follows

Blood Follows is the first of the novellas Steven Erikson has written taking place in the Malazan universe. While the novels in the "Malazan Book of the Fallen" series contain complex plots and a huge cast of characters, Blood Follows focuses on a small set of characters with a much simpler plot. In fact, the main character in this book, Emancipor Reese, and his employers, the necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, do not even make an appearance until the third book in the series. Although reading the third book adds a little bit of depth to this story of how Emancipor comes to be employed by the two dark sorcerers, it is not necessary for enjoying this book. With its whimsical dark humor and the rather endearing main character, this is a fun book that is a lot less work to read than a regular novel in the series.

Emancipor Reese has always been unlucky, particularly when it comes to employment. When mysterious murders begin occurring in the city of Moll, one of the victims is the man Emancipor has been working for. Emancipor's shrewish wife orders him to begin looking for a new job before the bells of mourning have stopped tolling for his previous employer. Instead of looking for a new job, he heads to the local pub and has a few drinks with some men who inform him where he can find a job ad for a manservant.

Emancipor stumbles to the post containing the job ad and examines the job requirements. In spite of the death ward in the corner of the paper (that he might not ignore were he a bit more sober), he decides the job is perfect - it requires travel, meaning he would have to leave his wife and children behind much of the time. Emancipor marches over to the location given for applying and is hired by Bauchelain. Little does he know what he has gotten himself into...

Blood Follows is a charming little story containing humor, intriguing hints of the larger world Erikson has created, some interesting characters, and outright creepiness toward the end. This is a very quick read at 120 pages with somewhat large print and a few illustrations. I don't consider myself to be a fast reader at all, but I read this book in about an hour.

Although I enjoy the full-scale novels in the series, they are often longer than necessary and a bit of a chore to wade through at times. This book has none of those problems - it is light, easy to read, and far better written than the longer books. Words are not wasted and it does not require that you keep track of a vast number of characters, world events and history, and plot threads.

Blood Follows is a fun, darkly humorous tale set in the Malazan world. It offers a more intimate perspective on Emancipor Reese, Bauchelain, and Korbal Broach, but is also set apart from the storyline in the series enough to please newcomers to the series.


Other reviews:
Realms of Speculative Fiction

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

New Poll

I haven't had a what-to-read next poll in a little while and it's kind of fun to let you all make my hard decisions for me, so I put up a new one. The choices are:

Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell
His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik
Skyfall by Catherine Asaro
Ink and Steel by Elizabeth Bear

I'll read the winner once I finish reading Revelation Space and Young Miles (I'm going to start the latter because although Revelation Space is good, it has more description than my brain can focus on this particular week).

Work has been kind of hectic lately, and I've put in almost 10 extra hours so far this week, so I've been a bit too brain dead to actually get caught up on reviews when I have had a bit of time. I'm hoping to get at least one up this weekend, though. Next up is the Malazan novella Blood Follows, which I reread recently.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Review of The Radiant Seas

The Radiant Seas is the direct sequel to Primary Inversion, an earlier novel in Catherine Asaro's Skolian Saga. Although Asaro's website says all the books in the series are intended to be stand alone with the exception of the Triad duology (originally written as one book until it became too long), I would recommend reading Primary Inversion first. I don't think I would have enjoyed this novel to the same extent if I did not have the background information on the characters and world provided in its predecessor.

Since this is a review of a book that picks up immediately at the end of the sequel, spoilers for Primary Inversion are contained in this review.

The Skolians and Eubians have been at war for a very long time. The former are empaths and the latter are their antithesis - experiments in counteracting the Skolian's abilities led to their development as a race of anti-empaths who derive great pleasure from torturing them. After the Eubian heir Jaibriol II was captured by the Skolian Empire, he was rescued by the Skolian heir Sauscony, who had fallen in love with him after discovering he was actually a strong psion like herself. Unknown to anyone from either of the empires other than Sauscony's father, Sauscony and Jaibriol were married and faked their deaths under the pretense that both were killed when Sauscony pursued the escaping prisoner Jaibriol. Instead, the two took refuge on an uninhabited planet and began a new life together away from the animosity between their two worlds. They face obstacles such as allergic reactions to their new home and violent sentient plants and raise a family.

On Skolia, Sauscony's parents and siblings grieve her passing and her brother Kurj, the Imperator, selects their brother Althor as his new heir. Althor has reason to be suspicious that his sister is actually alive and manages to get the truth about her "death" from his father. He is sworn to secrecy, but is later captured by the Eubians who torture him mercilessly. Even though his mind is in the process of automatically erasing his memories, the empress discovers that Jaibriol is still alive. She sends forces to capture Jaibriol and bring him back to the Empire, and soon afterward, Sauscony returns to Skolia determined to rescue her husband without revealing to anyone that they are married and have four children.

The Radiant Seas was more difficult for me to get interested in than Primary Inversion, but it became very difficult to put down later. Sauscony was no longer the point of view character nor was she the main character since the story focused on her, various members of her family, and the Eubian emperor and his wife. She was not as compelling a character in the beginning, either, since a lot of the beginning of her story involved having and raising children, which I didn't find that interesting. However, I did really enjoy getting to see the softer side of the hard-hearted Imperator Kurj as well as glimpses into life in Eube. Although the anti-empaths were still not as sympathetic as the Skolians, they were more humanized than they were in the previous novel.

This novel combines the politics and adventure of space opera with hard science fiction. At times, there was quite a bit of technical discussion as theoretical scientific concepts were explored. This also dragged on a bit too much for my taste at times (although it probably didn't help that I was reading it when I should have been going to sleep).

One other aspect of this book that bothered me was Sauscony's AI developing a personality and attitude. It was not so much the way this was handled as it was that it seemed out of place to me since this AI was the very matter-of-fact type in Primary Inversion.

My favorite part of this book was definitely the world that Asaro has created in this series. The two sides are more black and white than I normally like, but I still can't help but love the intergalactic opposition between the Eubians and Skolians. The idea of telepaths and empaths is always appealing to me, and I am fascinated by the idea of a kind of far-future Internet powered by minds.

Fans of Primary Inversion likely will not be disappointed with its sequel. It does take a little more time to become immersed in the story, but the wider scope of character viewpoints gives a better perspective of the world Asaro has created.


Reviews of other books in this series:
Primary Inversion

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I Have Been Immortalized in Song...

Along with a few other bloggers.

Remember that book meme from a little while ago that circulated around the science fiction and fantasy book sites in the blogosphere like wildfire? The one where you pick up the nearest book and turn to page 123?

It has inspired a song! Page 123 is featured on a blog containing songs inspired by science fiction and fantasy. I found it very amusing - and flattering, even if there is apparently nothing to read here. ;)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Free E-book: City of Pearl by Karen Traviss

Since I just missed the last copy of City of Pearl when I made my Clarkesworld Books order, the owner of the store sent me an email to let me know that Eos currently has this available as a free e-book. It will be available through the end of August. They had Robin Hobb's Shaman's Crossing up for download a while ago so perhaps they will put up a new book after that.

I've been looking forward to reading this one for a while, although I'll probably wait and purchase a copy since I'm not particularly fond of reading long text on the computer screen.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Review of Witness

Bill Blais was kind enough to send me a copy of his self-published novel Witness, the first book in the "All Prophets Are Liars" series, to read and review. Intrigued by the series title and the premise of a prophesied hero being killed before fulfilling his destiny, I couldn't resist. Although there are certainly some interesting ideas building the foundation of this book, they are not interwoven into a coherent, tightly plotted storyline.

In Boston, Sarah and her drunk boyfriend Steve are having a screaming match/breakup that is annoying (or entertaining) her neighbors. Steve wants to come in to Sarah's apartment but she says it's over and won't let him in so they keep shouting at each other through Sarah's open window. He cheated on her then proposed to her to keep her and recently he followed her to her co-worker Rick's apartment to find that now Sarah is cheating on him. Eventually, Steve drives away in his truck after throwing a brick through an angry neighbor's window.

Meanwhile, a young man and woman are in a cab finding their way to Razmus, the one prophesied to save them all with the use of a special amulet. They are to meet up with him then finally go home to their own world. Instead, the two arrive just in time to see Razmus hit by Steve's truck when he was trying to hit Rick. Razmus is killed and Rick is pushed through the portal to the other world with the amulet and instructions to find Maia. Rick awakens in the other world along with his worst enemy, Steve. The two are found by a hospitable family who take them in and care for them while they adapt to this new world.

Getting into this story was very difficult to do and I never really got to the point where I wanted to know what happened next. The beginning especially was very confusing as it introduced too many characters in too few pages. There were often just 2 to 4 pages on one person and then it would move on to a new character for another 4 pages or so then bounce back to another new character for just a few pages. Some of these people were not in the story enough to ever seem to serve an important purpose. Later in the book, a few pages were dedicated to describing all the members of the family that Rick and Steve stayed with and although some of these people were in the book more, they always seemed less important than the characters who were briefly mentioned. Even with the description of these characters, no character other than Rick, Steve, and Sarah really stood out as an individual and it was difficult to keep track of who was who. I never connected with any of the people in this book or cared about what happened to them, even Rick, who was the most sympathetic character with his general goodness and insecurities about Steve being the one of the two men prospering in this new world.

The idea of a failed prophecy is one that is interesting in a genre in which prophecies usually come true and I would have liked to have seen this explored more. It is mentioned that there is a prophecy, it is important and involves saving the fantasy world, and the hero who was to fulfill this prophecy is killed. However, we are not given a reason to care that Razmus has died and there are not further details on what his purpose was. Since this is the start of a series, there may be more depth to this storyline in future installments but in this one the prophecy was vague.

Much of the story did not flow naturally - it was choppy, uneven, and often seemed as though the author was trying too hard. There were many comparisons to fantasy books and movies and many descriptions of all the things Rick missed from his own world that seemed to be repeatedly driving home the point that they were not in our world anymore. The side plot with Rick's walkman, perceived as containing trapped souls by those in the fantasy world, was given far too much attention with a whole chapter about someone trying to decipher the meaning of "AM," "FM," and "Vol." Residents of the fantasy world often spoke in different languages, but it was overdone, especially since they'd just rattle off a bunch of words with very little clue given as to what was actually being said.

Witness contains an interesting premise but this failed prophecy never really feels that important to the story other than the beginning even though it is driving many events in the story. Furthermore, the various storylines fail to come together into one interwoven story as it jumps from scene to scene and character to character.


Other reviews:

Dark Wolf's Fantasy Review

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Notable Reads of 2008 (so far)

With 2008 halfway over, I reached my goal of 25 books read halfway through the year so I'm hoping to actually finish 50 books this year. I really didn't think I'd make it that far since I had a bunch of extra work eating into my spare time a while ago and had a month where I didn't get much reading done because of it so I'm glad it's working out so far.

My favorite new author discovery of the year so far is Sarah Monette. I absolutely loved the first three books in her "The Doctrine of Labyrinth" series - Melusine, The Virtu, and The Mirador. Right now, I'm halfway through the book she co-wrote with Elizabeth Bear, A Companion to Wolves, and it's also very good. Elizabeth Bear may end up making it to one of my favorite author discoveries of the year if the rest of her "Promethean Age" series is as good as the first book, Blood and Iron.

The other reading discovery of the year so far is that I enjoy science fiction far more than I thought I did, so I have been reading and acquiring more of it.

Here are my favorite books I've read so far this year:

Melusine, The Virtu, and The Mirador by Sarah Monette
The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks
The Book of Joby by Mark J. Ferrari
Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear

Other books I've enjoyed more than the average enjoyable book:

Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas (review forthcoming) by Catherine Asaro
Cordelia's Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
Breath and Bone by Carol Berg
Dune by Frank Herbert

Most fun, easy to breeze through book:

Grimspace by Ann Aguirre

What are your favorite books/new authors so far this year?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Not a book, but...

Go see WALL-E. Now. I haven't been this impressed by a movie in a very long time...Pixar has really outdone themselves. The glowing reviews have been almost unanimous, but I just wanted to chime in that the critics are actually right for once. It's not a perfect story, but it is awfully close to perfect storytelling; so take a break from reading your current doorstop and go spend a couple of hours seeing what a great tale looks like in a different medium.