Friday, March 21, 2008

2008 Hugo Finalists Announced

The 2008 Hugo Finalists have been announced. The nominees for best novel are:
  • The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins, Fourth Estate)

  • Brasyl by Ian McDonald (Gollancz; Pyr)

  • Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer (Tor; Analog Oct. 2006-Jan/Feb. 2007)

  • The Last Colony by John Scalzi (Tor)

  • Halting State by Charles Stross (Ace; Orbit)

The list seems a bit underwhelming, but I haven't actually read any of those so I guess I can't say too much about it. I would like to read Brasyl at some point, but I have no interest at all in Rollback or The Last Colony.

I'm hoping either Stardust or the first season of Heroes wins in the category of Best Presentation, Long Form.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke has died

Arthur C. Clarke, one of the few true visionaries of science and science fiction in the twentieth century, died today. Clarke is in a very select category of people, along with a few others like Isaac Asimov and Carl Sagan, who not only showed what the future could be but also worked to help create it. Anything I write would be insufficient to describe his impact on the world we live in, both through influencing others and his own direct contributions, so I'll just say he will be missed.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Update and Review Previews

I haven't put up a review in two weeks even though I have two to do. I feel like a horrible reviewer. Unfortunately, I have a big project at work due the end of next week and I knew there was no way I'd finish it on time with all my other projects if I didn't work extra, so a lot of my spare time has been going into that and I haven't had time to actually write a review (or read all that much). I'll just be glad when this month this over.

So I thought in the meantime I'd take a little break from my project and write a few brief thoughts on the books I've read recently before I get to review them. These are not reviews and my brain is pretty much mush right now, but hopefully it will at least give an idea on the books since I don't know when I'll get a chance to actually write in-depth reviews of them.

Catherine Asaro's Primary Inversion, the first book in the Skolian saga, took me about 1 1/2 days to start and finish. This space opera was very easy to get absorbed in from early in the novel, and it kept me wanting to find out what happened. It may be a bit angst-filled for some people's taste (and it had some romance, although the romance was not the entire plot or anything). It reminded me somewhat of a more connected version of C.S. Friedman's In Conquest Born with it's slightly telepathic race of empaths and empires at odds with one another. I can't wait to read the rest of the books in the Skolian Saga.

Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow was good, but a little disappointing after all I had heard about it. I had heard that the characterization was wonderful, but even though I liked the characters in the story, I felt they lacked something. I'm not sure what, though, since there were certainly a lot of gray areas and the depictions of their motives are problems were very real. There were a few elements of the story that I found hard to swallow even for science fiction - for instance, using an asteroid as a transport vessel to Alpha Centauri. The writing was ok, but nothing exceptional. The mystery of what had happened was riveting, but at times, the story dragged a little. This story was worth reading for the way it brought up interesting questions about religion and how it depicted Emilio's descent from a godly priest to a bitter man with a bad reputation.

Now I am back to fantasy and reading Melusine by Sarah Monette a little in the evenings when I have time. So far, it is very promising although I've only read the first three chapters.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Review of Breath and Bone

Breath and Bone is the second half of Carol Berg's latest set of books, The Lighthouse Duology. It picks up where its predecessor leaves off, so it is necessary to read the first part Flesh and Spirit before attempting to read this book. This means that this review may contain some spoilers for Flesh and Spirit since it would be rather difficult to discuss even the basic plot without giving away some events from the end of the first book.

The sorceror Valen, who has a talent for finding people and the realms of the magical Danae, is still bound in the service of Prince Osriel, the bastard prince with a frightening reputation. Watched constantly by an almost inhuman warrior, Valen is frustrated by his inability to help rescue the boy Jullian from the clutches of a man who had been posing as one of the monks he is was staying with. In an attempt to find one of Jullian's missing friends, the monks put a sleeping potion in the water of those watching over Valen so he can use his abilities to help them find him. They find his body in the well of the Danae where Valen again sees the same Dane who keeps appearing to him.

In spite of his many flaws - a rebellious reputation, illiteracy, and an inability to perform fundamental magic spells - the priestess Sila Diaglou also shows an interest in Valen and would like to obtain him from the prince. Valen finds the idea of being in the clutches of Sila Diaglou, who thirsts to banish knowledge from the world, even more abhorrent than serving the prince, who may not be quite as bad as Valen had feared but is still rather unnerving.

The highlight of this story is its characters. Although this story is told in the first person perspective from the point of view of Valen, all the characters are very well drawn and real. Valen's personality drips off the page with every thought and observation, simultaneously humorous and thoughtful. He is a very gray character who undergoes many changes since we were first introduced to him in Flesh and Spirit, and in many ways, this novel is about Valen coming to terms with himself.

The character of Osriel is also well done as Berg reveals there is more to the prince who practices dark magics than it may appear. His actions may at times be evil, but he has a vision and is doing his best to do what he believes to be right. Even the extreme fanatic Sila Diaglou has motives that almost make her seem understandable when she talks about her viewpoint. The characters come alive and that has always been Berg's strength - crafting characters the reader can really care about. Valen has struggles with his family and his relationships that are problems almost anyone can identify with, yet he has more intense issues such as his addiction to a drug that is so heart-wrenching anyone can identify with the emotions portrayed if not the situation itself.

The world of the Danae is also more fully revealed in this story and the descriptions of it are lovely. However, it is not perfect - their picturesque beauty is contrasted with their treatment of others and some rather ugly societal beliefs and practices.

This novel begins at a quick pace with several big revelations occurring within the first few chapters. After that, it slows down a bit, which makes the pacing seem a little bit off since some of the most interesting questions built up in the first book are answered so early in this book. This is not a big flaw, though, since the characters and well-written prose keep you reading.

Breath and Bone is an improvement over the first book, which was a little difficult to become immersed in early on. The conclusion more than makes up for the slow start since Valen's development would not have the same impact if it had not been shown in the first book.

I would recommend The Lighthouse Duet to anyone who enjoys characters who leap off the page into your imagination with some politics and magic thrown in.


Excerpt from Breath and Bone

Author's Website

Other Reviews:

A Reading Game

I was going to post this last night, but blogger was down when I went to do so. Over at OF Blog, there is a kind of fun reading game if you're one of those people (like me) who can never get enough of book lists. You list 5 books recently read and one you want to read in the near future.

I've read a couple of books this year that I would rather forget about, so I won't do 5 most recent, but 5 from this year:

The Book of Joby by Mark Ferrari (My Review)
Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (My Review)
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (My Review)
Breath and Bone by Carol Berg (working on a draft for the review)
Primary Inversion by Catherine Asaro

I have problems with only picking one book I want to read in the near future since there are many, but one I've been thinking I'd like to read a lot lately (but not necessarily next) is:

Melusine by Sarah Monette

What does your list look like?