Monday, December 31, 2007

Most Memorable Books Read in 2007

I've been debating whether or not to do one of those summaries of the Best of 2007 lists. Since I've not read a large number of books that came out in 2007, it doesn't seem fair to pick the best of 2007 and my favorite books of 2007 doesn't seem like it would be all that useful since I've read about 7 books published in that year. (Although if anyone is curious, my favorites of the few I did read were The Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and Flesh and Spirit by Carol Berg followed by Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch. Currently, I'm reading Joe Abercrombie's debut The Blade Itself which has potential to be better than any of those since I'm a fan of sardonic, well-written characters so it may dethrone them.)

So instead I've chosen the stories I read in 2007 that are the most memorable to me - the types that kept me thinking about them long after putting the book down.

by Storm Constantine

Yes, I cheated and put all the books together - the copies of the books I have are all contained in an omnibus called Wraeththu anyway so it's not quite cheating. This series may not be for everyone, but the lyrical quality of the prose, the uniqueness of the story, and the unforgettable characters made it easily my favorite story I read in 2007.

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

This is a story of politics and love that portrayed both the "good" guys and the "bad" guy, showing the "bad" guy in a light that made you feel like he might not be so horrible after all, particularly since he had a motive for the main reason a lot of people did not like him other than being pure evil. Gorgeous prose, gray characters, and an ending haunting in its sadness made this one memorable.

The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons

If you look at this book in relation to the previous Hyperion books, it is filled with flaws and inconsistencies. However, if you just focus on the story and try to forget it was the last book in a series, this is an excellent bittersweet story about a Messiah, her teachings, and her relationship with her first disciple.

Lords of Rainbow by Vera Nazarian

This book had a few flaws, but it was amazing considering that it was only the author's second novel and convinced me that Vera Nazarian is a name to watch out for. Well-written, poetic prose, a convincing female protagonist, excellent world-building, and well-developed main characters made me realize I must immediately read any future novels by this author!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Review of In Conquest Born

In Conquest Born, published in 1986, is the first published novel by C.S. Friedman, who is now known primarily as the author of the Coldfire trilogy. This space opera was originally written as a stand-alone novel, but a sequel called The Wilding was released in 2004. The second novel takes place approximately 200 years after the events of In Conquest Born and features completely different characters so it sounds as though you do not have to read it in order to finish the story - only if you are curious about what happened to the various races of people as a whole.

The Azeans and the Braxins are involved in a never-ending war against each other. Faced with the need to adjust to life on a harsh planet, the Azeans have used genetic engineering to alter themselves accordingly and have embraced and strengthened the telepathic ability belonging to some of their kind. The Braxins have bred a race of leaders known as the Braxana, who are ruthless and untrustworthy. The Braxana have been known to break peace treaties between the two peoples and plot against their own families in order to seize power.

All Azeans have been altered to have golden skin and white hair, so when Anzha, a girl with blood red hair, is born to an Azean family, she is immediately made an outcast and denied citizenship. After watching her parents die a slow and agonizing death due to a Braxana, Anzha's amazingly strong telepathic abilities are discovered. The Institute, the center of knowledge dedicated to teaching telepaths and researching these abilities, takes Anzha under its wing and attempts to manipulate her. Anzha only has one drive in life - taking revenge on the Braxana who murdered her parents. Thus the vendetta between Anzha and the Braxana Zatar begins.

Although there are some physical battles in this book, the plot largely focuses on political manipulation and enemies attempting to out-maneuver one another. The intelligence of the characters was refreshing and I felt that Friedman pulled this off very well. Many books that attempt to show devious people outsmarting others end up making the characters look stupid since you can see very big, obvious errors in their reasoning. This book actually made the characters look like they had brains, and I enjoyed seeing how the schemes played out.

The various races in this book were well-developed with distinct histories and beliefs. The values of the Azeans and the Braxins were so different that you could see why they continue to be at war with each other, even if the cause was long-forgotten.

Characters in this book were not black or white but gray, and I always appreciate an author who can pull off the feat of characters who are not clearly good or evil. The Azeans and Braxins both had their dark sides, yet their main representatives in the book (Anzha and Zatar) were not so despicable that you could never feel sympathy for them. I found both to be enjoyable characters, especially if you're not in the mood to read about perfectly nice goody-two-shoes-type characters.

Although I really enjoyed this story, the politics, the characters, and the portrayal of the various races, In Conquest Born is not flawless. The beginning was slow, making the story difficult to get involved in, and at times events were a little confusing. The prose was decent enough, but the story did not always flow very well as it jumped from character to character. Sometimes it switched from third person to first person from the perspective of a character who had not been mentioned previously (and was never a point of view character again), which could be rather jarring. Also, a rather large number of typos prevented me from getting lost in the story as well as I could have.

In Conquest Born contains many ingredients for an intelligent, well-plotted novel with interesting characters and diverse races; however, it fails to mix them in a way that creates a connected story. In spite of that, I do believe it is compelling enough to make it well worth reading.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Reprints of Old Tanith Lee Books

I have heard a lot about Tanith Lee's dark fantasy stories and have wanted to read some for quite some time. However, the stories I've heard the most about seem to be her older stories that are hard to find, so I was thrilled when I came across an omnibus edition of The Secret Books of Paradys in Borders the other day. Apparently, this came out last month and I never heard a thing about it. It's now toward the top of my "must have" list.

After that, I was thinking if only Flat Earth books would come back in print so I could read those. A couple of days ago I read this post on The Swivet, which mentioned that Norilana Books has acquired the rights to The Flat Earth series and are planning to publish it in 2009. I'm very excited since I've been wishing I could find these series by Tanith Lee for a while now.

Now I just need to get a hold of The Secret Books of Paradys... I think I know what to do with any Christmas money I receive.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Terry Pratchett Diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's

Here is a message from Terry Pratchett posted on Paul Kidby's site today:


I would have liked to keep this one quiet for a little while, but because of upcoming conventions and of course the need to keep my publishers informed, it seems to me unfair to withhold the news. I have been diagnosed with a very rare form of early onset Alzheimer's, which lay behind this year's phantom "stroke".

We are taking it fairly philosophically down here and possibly with a mild optimism. For now work is continuing on the completion of Nation and the basic notes are already being laid down for Unseen Academicals. All other things being equal, I expect to meet most current and, as far as possible, future commitments but will discuss things with the various organisers. Frankly, I would prefer it if people kept things cheerful, because I think there's time for at least a few more books yet :o)

PS I would just like to draw attention to everyone reading the above that this should be interpreted as 'I am not dead'. I will, of course, be dead at some future point, as will everybody else. For me, this maybe further off than you think - it's too soon to tell. I know it's a very human thing to say "Is there anything I can do", but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry.

This is very sad news for Terry Pratchett, his family, and his many fans. I was very sad to hear about this - it's a tragedy for this to happen to anybody, but it's especially heartbreaking when it happens to somebody as clever and witty as Terry Pratchett is.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Brandon Sanderson to Complete the Wheel of Time

Brandon Sanderson, author of Elantris and the Mistborn series, has been chosen to finish the last Wheel of Time book, A Memory of Light. Robert Jordan's wife Harriet made the selection and personally asked Sanderson to work on the book. Of course, being a huge fan of Jordan's work from the age of 15, Sanderson accepted the offer.

I have yet to read anything by Sanderson, although I really, really, really want to read both Elantris and the Mistborn books, but I was rather surprised to hear such a new author was chosen for this massive undertaking. Many will think Sanderson has some pretty big shoes to fill and this sounds like a rather daunting task with the many fans and high expectations. Congratulations and best of luck to Brandon Sanderson on this endeavor.

More information on the news:

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Review of The Winter King

The Winter King, the first book in the Warlord Chronicles trilogy by Bernard Cornwell, is usually referred to as a fantasy book since it is about the legend of King Arthur but leans more toward the category of historical fiction. Merlin, Lancelot, Guinevere, and, of course, Arthur, are still featured characters, but the story is not full of magic and is a realistic retelling of the familiar tale. It is similar to what Jack Whyte did with his series the Camulod Chronicles, although Cornwell's story is completely different, much grittier, and (at least so far) even less fantastic. The Winter King is not at all a traditional fantasy story any more than it is a traditional Arthur story.

Derfel, an old monk who once swore allegiance to Arthur and served in his army, risks the wrath of Bishop Sansum by writing the story of Arthur at his patroness's request. Since the bishop believes the story of this "enemy of God" should be forgotten, Derfel has to pretend to be translating the Gospel into the Saxon language. Derfel's story begins with his time as a young man who lived among the many orphans rescued by Merlin. At this time, the High King Uther has fallen ill and his son is dead, so the only hope of a successor is Uther's grandson, who has not yet been born. The baby, named Mordred after his father, barely survives and is born a cripple, which is considered to be a bad omen. Uther's bastard son, the warlord Arthur, and other men are sworn into the service of protecting Mordred and ensuring he ascends to the throne when he is of age. Uther's death leads to civil unrest throughout the land, since there is no High King and many of the kings would like to have that title.

Upon being forced by one of these would-be kings to flee his home at the Tor, Derfel meets and befriends the charismatic Arthur who comes to the rescue of him and the others who had to leave their residence. Once he has made his wish to become a great warrior known to the warlord, Derfel is disappointed when Arthur arranges for him to serve another man, although Arthur promises him that once he has more experience he can be part of his army. Derfel forges his reputation as a mighty warrior, and Arthur keeps his promise, allowing Derfel to observe the political turmoil that surrounds Arthur.

This story of Arthur is not for the faint of heart. It is dark and gritty, full of betrayal and bloodshed. Women are raped, people do die, and body parts are cut off. I have often heard this series compared to George R.R. Martin's well known A Song of Ice and Fire series for the level of grit involved, and this is a valid comparison. Anyone who tried to read A Song of Ice and Fire and found it too dark and depressing should avoid this book like its pages contain the plague.

Another part of this book that may be daunting to some is a few of the place and people names. They are largely Welsh, and sometimes the consonant to vowel ratio will make you stop and wonder how it can possibly be pronounced. The worst one I came across was "Wynebgwrthucher," but fortunately that one only appeared the one time.

Those looking for a somewhat traditional account of King Arthur will want to look for a different book. The setting is not medieval - events take place in the 6th century. Arthur is not a king but a warlord. Although he is kind and peace-seeking, he also can be quite rash and selfish, as evidenced by his choice to spurn his betrothed for another, angering her father, one of the kings. Lancelot is not a great warrior but a coward who coerces bards to sing his praises even though he sits on the sidelines during wars and comes home with feigned injuries.

Nimue, Merlin, and other Druids play a strong role, but their powers appear to be nonexistent and feared for superstitious reasons. Spells are cast, but they are always for protection or luck - no one is casting lightning bolts or making any obvious magical modifications to the world despite their dramatic displays.

The book starts out slow, but once Arthur showed up, I felt the story was no longer crawling along. Derfel is a very realistically portrayed and likable character, and Arthur and Merlin (on the few occasions he shows up) are very well-depicted as well.

There was not a cliffhanger ending to this book, but it is obviously not complete since Derfel makes references to events not in this book in his conversations with his patroness at the beginning of each section of his story. I have yet to read the other two books, but it is definitely not a book that feels complete in and of itself, although it is also not a book with an annoying ending that makes you ticked off when you do not have the next book immediately at hand.

The Winter King is recommended to fans of historical fiction or those who would like to read a story about Arthur that really could have happened - as long as they do not mind a lot of grit and blood and enjoy lots of political intrigue and long battles.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

FantasyCafe Holiday Gift Guide

I've been looking around for interesting books for presents this year and thought I'd list some of the more interesting ones in case others are also looking for fantasy and science fiction book gifts that are more special than books you can get from a nearby bookstore. All the books below are autographed and are divided into price ranges ($100+, $50 - $99.99, and under $50). Be aware to pay attention to the instructions on any books ordered from DreamHaven, as sometimes you have to specify if you want a signed version of the book when you place your order.

Happy holiday shopping! I'd like to get some of these for myself... But I must resist - I need to get gifts for other people instead!

  • Clive Barker Imajica Signed and Numbered First U.S. Edition Hardcover ($100) - More info here
  • Steven Brust To Reign in Hell First Edition Hardcover Signed and Numbered ($300) - More info here
  • Octavia Butler Fledgling First Edition Hardcover Signed ($175) - More info here
  • Ursula K. Le Guin The Left Hand of Darkness First Thus Hardcover signed ($120) - More info here
  • Terry Pratchett Pyramids First Edition Hardcover Signed ($150) - More info here
  • Dan Simmons The Fall of Hyperion First Edition Hardcover Signed ($125) - More info here
  • Jack Vance The Dying Earth First Edition Mass Market Paperback Signed ($200) - More info here
  • Vernor Vinge A Fire Upon the Deep First Edition Hardcover Signed ($145) - More info here
  • Clive Barker Imajica Signed First Edition Hardcover ($50) - More info here
  • John Crowley Little, Big First Edition Trade Paperback ($85) - More info here
  • Robert Asprin and Phil Foglio Myth Adventures One (comic book) First edition hardcover signed ($60) - More info here
  • Ellen Kushner Thomas the Rhymer First edition hardcover signed ($60) - More info here
  • Scott Lynch The Lies of Locke Lamora signed limited edition starting at $95 - More info
  • George R.R. Martin Wildcards #1 - #4 First Edition Signed by Martin ($54.10) - More info here
  • Terry Pratchett Interesting Times First Edition Hardcover Signed ($50) - More info here
  • Spider Robinson Callahan and Company First Edition Hardcover Signed and Inscribed ($50) - More info here
  • Gene Wolfe Fifth Head of Cerberus First Edition Signed with letter to Dickson ($60) - More info here
  • Peter S. Beagle The Last Unicorn: The Lost Version Signed and Numbered Limited Edition ($35) -More info here
  • Steven Brust To Reign in Hell First Printing Mass Market Paperback Signed (to author Gordon R. Dickson) ($15) - More info here
  • Lois McMaster Bujold The Curse of Chalion Hardcover signed ($10) - More info here
  • Storm Constantine The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit First Edition Hardcover Signed ($42) - More info
  • Hal Duncan The Book of All Hours #1: Vellum Signed First Edition Hardcover ($40) - More info here
  • David Anthony Durham The War with the Mein #1: Acacia First Edition Hardcover ($26.95) - More info here
  • Steven Erikson The Healthy Dead Limited Edition hardcover Leatherbound, signed, and numbered ($45) - More info here
  • Steven Erikson The Bonehunters Trade Paperback Signed by Steven Erikson and cover artist Todd Lockwood ($5) - More info here
  • Neil Gaiman American Gods Hardcover signed ($26) - More info here
  • Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett Good Omens Second Edition Hardcover black signed by Gaiman ($29.95) - More info here
  • Neil Gaiman Stardust (comic book) Trade paperback signed - More info here
  • Graham Joyce Dreamside First US Edition Hardcover signed ($10) - More info here
  • Guy Gavriel Kay Tigana First US Edition Hardcover signed ($38) - More info here
  • George R.R. Martin Fevre Dream First Edition Hardcover Signed ($30) - More info here
  • Robin McKinley Spindle's End Hardcover Signed ($12) - More info here
  • Sarah Monette The Mirador First Edition Hardcover signed ($24.95) - More info here
  • Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear A Companion to Wolves First Edition Hardcover signed ($24.95) - More info here
  • Richard Morgan Thirteen First Edition Hardcover signed ($24.95) - More info here
  • Vera Nazarian The Clock King and the Queen of the Hourglass Limited Edition Trade Paperback signed - More info here
  • Tim Powers The Anubis Gates First UK Edition Mass Market Paperback Signed and Inscribed ($20) - More info here
  • Terry Pratchett Going Postal First US Edition Hardcover Signed ($24.95) - More info here
  • Terry Pratchett Thud! First US Edition Hardcover Signed ($24.95) - More info here
  • Kim Stanley Robinson Red Mars Paperback signed ($20) - More info here
  • Spider Robinson Lady Slings the Booze First Edition Hardcover Signed and Inscribed ($35) - More info here
  • Patrick Rothfuss The Name of the Wind Hardcover Signed ($24.95) - More info here
  • Dan Simmons Ilium First Edition Hardcover Signed ($24) - More info here
  • Jeff VanderMeer Secret Life First Edition Hardcover Signed ($24.95) - More info here
  • Joan Vinge World's End First Edition Hardcover Signed ($10) - More info here
  • Vernor Vinge A Deepness in the Sky First Edition Hardcover Signed ($29.50) - More info here
  • Jack Whyte The Skystone First Edition Hardcover Signed ($39.99) - More info here