Sunday, August 31, 2008

Review of Wanderlust

Wanderlust, which just came out this past Tuesday, is the second book in Ann Aguirre's Jax series following her debut novel Grimspace. Grimspace did have the distinction of being the most entertaining, easy to get into and most difficult to put down book I had read this year - at least until I read Wanderlust, which I liked even better. Fair warning for those who haven't read Grimspace yet: some spoilers follow.

After exposing the corruption and deception of the Farwan Corporation, Sirantha has been sequestered from the rest of the crew and questioned for many days. Because of this, she is expecting more interrogation when she is summoned to the conference room. Instead Sirantha finds herself reunited with her telepathic boyfriend March and ship's mechanic Dina and offered a job as an ambassador for the Conglomerate. If she accepts her first task is convincing the bug-like aliens on Ithiss-Tor to join the Conglomerate, since Sirantha is in the unique position of having befriended one of them, the bounty hunter Velith who was sent to kill her in the last book.

Although ambassador is not Sirantha's first choice of jobs, it is difficult to refuse the money, especially after discovering her despicable husband wiped out all her funds when she was declared prematurely dead. To further complicate matters, Sirantha's mother shows up and says someone has threatened to kill her unless her daughter takes the job. The would-be assassins consider Sirantha the only acceptable candidate; they are opposed to Ithiss-Tor joining the Conglomerate, and think Sirantha has an excellent chance of screwing up negotiations. In spite of the danger, Sirantha, March, Dina and Vel begin the journey to Ithiss-Tor with several mishaps along the way.

Wanderlust was never difficult to get into but the earliest chapters did not immerse me into the book quite as quickly as its predecessor did - mainly since there was a lot of recap interspersed with new plot in the first chapter. The viewpoint is first person from Jax's (often humorous) point of view so when she kept interjecting thoughts that would be very obvious to her by now about March being a telepath or how Kai died, it did not seem natural. Chapter 1 is short, as all the chapters are, and this was not something I noticed much after that so this was a minor quibble, especially considering there was enough introduction to the new book in this section to keep me interested.

Once I got past the first couple of chapters, it was very difficult to put the book down. It's very fast-paced and I always ended the chapter wanting to read the next one to find out what happened next. Sirantha's perspective is told in present tense which just adds to the urgency when she or one of the other characters is in danger.

In spite of a lot of action and adventure, this is not a book that is all about the plot and equal time is dedicated Sirantha herself and her relationships with the other crew members. Sirantha, our mouthy, bald, and scarred heroine, has lost a lot and deals with paranoia from being the center of so many conspiracies. She's tough and sarcastic on the outside but vulnerable to the core. Reading about interaction between the crew members is as much fun as reading about their adventures. Sirantha and Dina are constantly ragging on each other but are obviously good friends in spite of the way they sound. March and Sirantha have a complicated relationship and Vel's attempts at learning human customs make him quite endearing.

Although the characters are not particularly deep or complex, they are interesting and very likable. Everyone seems to be fighting the demons from their past and present. March had a difficult time adjusting to his telepathic abilities and has a dark side that comes out at times, and Dina was a member of a royal family until her parents and siblings died. In addition to the humans, there are some interesting alien species and one of the more intriguing characters is the bounty hunter Vel, known as a "Slider" because he can wear human skin and slide into someone else's life, appearing indistinguishable from the real person he's imitating.

From start to finish, Wanderlust had me hooked with its submergence of fast-paced action, humor, and enjoyable characters. I read this book in a day, which I almost never do anymore, but I always had to read "just one more chapter." Highly recommended to anyone looking for a light and diverting story that draws you in easily and keeps you reading.


Read the first chapter online

Reviews of other books in this series:
Grimspace (#1)

Friday, August 29, 2008


After finishing The Cipher one week ago, I've finished 3 more books (it helps that I've had the last 3 days off from work). Here are the next books I need to review and some short impressions of them:

The Cipher by Diana Pharoah Francis (of course) - This one started off somewhat good (although never that great) but by the end, I really didn't like it very much at all. I won't be continuing with the Crosspointe series.

Archangel Protocol by Lyda Morehouse - This is the first in a series I definitely will be continuing with - a cyberpunk story about not just the tech but religion with an interesting female lead and a mystery. Any time I have tried reading cyberpunk I haven't liked it because the character and story always seemed secondary to the cyberpunk aspect of it but this one didn't have the same problems.

The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia - A lovely, well written story using the character of an intelligent automaton to explore social inequality.

Wanderlust by Ann Aguirre - I read this in one day. That is something I have not done in forever but this was very difficult to put down. I liked it better than the first book in the series, Grimspace (which I also couldn't put down). It was very fast paced with lots of adventure yet still had focus on character interaction (this one was more about friendships than the romantic relationship although there was some of that too).

Now I'd better read some longer books while I get caught up on all these...

Iain Banks Q&A

Part two of the Q & A with Iain Banks is up on his site. Readers emailed him questions about the books, writing quirks, video games, and what kind of tattoo based on his books he'd get.

Part one, which was put up in July, is available here. This one has more questions related to the books but if you ever wanted to know what places to visit in Scotland, this is the one to read.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Free Revised Version of Primary Inversion

I signed up for a Catherine Asaro mailing list a while ago when I was desperately trying to find a copy of The Radiant Seas. Yesterday Catherine sent an email to the group to let us know that a revised version of her first novel Primary Inversion is now available at the Baen Free Library. Here is what she had to say about the new revisions:
This is a rewritten version of my first published book. I'm a better writer now, so I went through the entire book earlier this year, polished, streamlined, and updated it. If you're in the music business, you could say I remastered it ;-)
I am curious about the changes since I thought this was already a pretty good book. Primary Inversion was one of those books I couldn't put down and read in about 2 days (review). Actually, it was the book that convinced me I might like space opera after all.

There are many other titles also available for free at the Baen Free Library.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Guest Review of Before They Are Hanged

Joe Abercrombie's Before They Are Hanged is the middle book in his First Law trilogy, following The Blade Itself and preceding Last Argument of Kings (which has an official US launch date of Sept. 23, but is already available from some outlets). Much like The Blade Itself, Hanged is a book that I enjoyed reading for reasons I don't entirely understand. When viewed separately its components all seem to be between weak and average, but the whole is more than the sum of its parts and it has left me eagerly awaiting the final book in the trilogy.

Having joined forces in the previous book, Logen (21 lvl. human berzerker), Ferro (23 lvl. fey fighter), Bayaz (30 lvl. demi-human mage NPC) and Luthar (5 lvl. human dumbass) set off on a quest to the literal end of the world. They are seeking a weapon of great power, though exactly what that weapon is only becomes clear once they are well on their way. What is known, though, is that they need the weapon to fight Khalul, a rival of Bayaz who has set himself up as a false prophet in the South and is the power behind the growing Gurkish Empire.

Sand dan Glokta, now Superior of the Royal Inquisition, finds himself on the frontlines of the battle with the Gurkish. He has been tasked with the impossible: defend an isolated city on a distant continent with no money, no reinforcements, and a possible conspiracy among the ruling council to hand the city over to the Gurkish. The reason for the lack of reinforcements is that a second a war in the North is also raging, which is where we find Major West in a different, though almost as difficult, situation. He must defend the northern borders from both barbarian invaders and the vastly incompetent crown prince Ladisla who, for better or mostly worse, has taken control of a third of the defending army.

Before They Are Hanged
is a bit of a mystery for me. Without question, it was a fun read. But exactly what made it good is hard to pin down. The story is fairly standard, with no outstanding features or particularly unusual spin to distinguish it from the run-of-the-mill fantasy novel. As I implied above, the characters are also mostly stock. This does not mean that they are without depth and complexity, but even there the depth is the same sort of depth you often find in their character archetypes. I even found the twist ending to be predictable in outcome, if not the exact mechanism used to achieve that outcome.

And yet...I liked it. In fact, I read it from cover to cover in one day. The characters and relationships are well executed, particularly Glokta, who I found to have both the most compelling personality and subplot in the book. While the quest largely turns into an excuse for extended exposition on the backstory of the world and the northern war stalls for time until its conclusion in the next book, Glokta's political, martial, and personal battles in the city of Dagoska keep the book afloat during all of the setup in the other two major subplots. It is also the closest view Abercrombie gives to the central threat overarching all of the plotlines, the violation of the rules of magic.

In Dagoska we can see the effect of Khalul's violation of the Second Law and the great power the violation has granted his forces. Bayaz's storytelling during his quest provides an example of what can go wrong when you violate the laws and shows why his intended violation of the First Law of Magic (which, surprisingly, is not "Don't talk about magic") is so dangerous, but only through Glokta's subplot do we see why the Second Law violation is a threat when it is done correctly. Maybe this is why I see Glokta's story as the most successful in the book; it advances the larger story through action instead of exposition and does so in a well-paced, interesting way.

Before They Are Hanged appears to be a standard middle book in an epic-fantasy trilogy, but it is well executed and entertaining to read. Though slow in places, there is enough plot progression to show glimmers that the final book, Last Argument of Kings, may break out of this mold and provide an exceptional story that is on par with the execution and writing in Hanged. I'd recommend reading Hanged on its on merits, but if Kings can follow through the series may become a must-read for fantasy fans.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Review of Use of Weapons

Use of Weapons
by Iain M. Banks
512pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 8.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.1/5
Good Reads Rating: 4.23/5

The Culture novels by Scottish science fiction writer Iain M. Banks are stand alone stories taking place within the titular universe, an egalitarian interplanetary utopia in which capitalism, disease, and (to an extent) even death no longer pose a problem to humanity. Although each book has a different storyline with a separate set of characters, it is often recommended that The Player of Games or Consider Phlebas be read before the more complex Use of Weapons. Having read the former earlier this year, it is the more accessible novel for newcomers to the series and a better introduction to the Culture since it has more examination of the society and an easy-to-follow yet intelligent storyline. (It is also my favorite of the two although I enjoyed them both.) Use of Weapons is more difficult to read with its utilization of a fractured timeline and is a more of a character study than a social study. However, Use of Weapons is a brilliant and rewarding novel and I am very glad it was recently released once again in the United States.

Diziet Sma is interrupted from her party by news from the drone Skaffen-Amtiskaw: she must leave the very next morning to retrieve Cheradenine Zakalwe for a very important mission. Zakalwe, a man of many talents who is occasionally employed by the Culture as a last-resort problem solver, had forged a peace many years ago on a distant planet. Following the premature retirement of President Tsoldrin Beychae, the power who had been holding together the strained peace that Zakalwe created, intensifying local strife is now threatening to break out into a larger regional conflict. Beychae must be pulled from his comfortable retreat if the planet is to have any hope of regaining stability, and Zakalwe is the only man who can find him and convince him that he is needed. But before Zakalwe can convince Beychae to return to the presidency, first Sma and the smart-ass drone must convince Zakalwe to return to service.

Each chapter in Use of Weapons alternates between two different storylines, one that is sequential beginning with Diziet Sma's quest to enlist Zakalwe to the cause of the Culture once again and another that moves backwards throughout various points in Zakalwe's life. The prologue and epilogue also deal with a separate storyline involving Zakalwe. Because of the sequence of events, this is a book that cannot be read passively but requires some attention from the reader.

There is a twist at the very end that I did not see coming at all (don't worry, there is no way I will spoil the fun by revealing it!). It completely changes the perspective of the entire novel, meaning it would be a great book to read again once you know how it ends. I suspect everything would tie together much better during a reread between this surprise conclusion and the unordered chapter structure.

Banks creates a nice balance between conciseness and description. His writing is not dense yet his depictions of simple subjects add beauty to the story. I particularly loved this line on the very first page about the appearance of a glass held up to the sun:
The glass sparkled like a hundred tiny rainbows, and minute twists of bubbles in the slender stem glowed golden against the blue sky, spiraling about each other in a fluted double helix.
Zakalwe is a fascinating, complex character who is not at all static - a very intelligent, competent outworlder hired by the Special Circumstances division of the Culture to do their dirty work. This role also creates a rather interesting ethical dilemma about the utopia. It is against violence yet is uses Zakalwe and arms him in order to achieve certain ends on planets that are not a part of the Culture.

Use of Weapons is a clever story that slowly discloses the various pieces until the stunning final revelation that changes everything. I highly recommend it to readers looking for a thoughtful novel that will leave them pondering once they have put the book down.


Review of other books in this series:
The Player of Games

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Review of Crystal Rain

Crystal Rain
, Tobias Buckell's debut novel, is the first book in a series of stand-alone space operas set in the same universe (if it has a series name, I can't find it on Buckell's site or Amazon). It is followed by Ragamuffin, which was nominated for a Nebula Award in 2007, and Sly Mongoose, which just came out a few days ago. These books seem to receive a lot of praise; however, bad writing, lack of strong characterization, and some slow pacing despite a lot of action kept me from enjoying this book.

Twenty-seven years ago, John deBrun was found in the water by the citizens of the land of Nanagada. With no memory of his life to that point, John begins a new life with a wife with whom he eventually has a son. Haunted by nightmares he believes are from his former existence, he paints these scenes from his dreams hoping it will allow him to recall his past but never with any success. Other than this disturbance, he lives a quiet life until his family is separated when the Azteca unexpectedly make it past the mountains and attack, looking for more victims to sacrifice.

Oaxyctl, an Azteca, is charged by one of his gods to find the man who will travel north carrying codes to free the Ma Wi Jung. They tell him his name is John deBrun, that he is very important, and Oaxyctl must not let him die before attaining his secret. If he succeeds in his mission, he will be rewarded but if he fails the consequences will be deadly. Meanwhile, a very dangerous man is also seeking John deBrun and seems prepared to stop at nothing to find him.

Crystal Rain is an adventure story which takes place in a Caribbean setting in space. At the beginning I was expecting some interesting storytelling with the "gods" of the planet, the loss of technology and the tale of the arrival of the old-fathers many years ago. Most of this is developed somewhat later in the story, but I ended up feeling like Buckell could have done more with this and did not end up satisfied with the amount of information revealed in the story, particularly about the gods (although this may be expanded upon further in the next two books).

The pacing was terribly uneven as it bounced back and forth between too much talk about politics and the city from the prime minister's viewpoint and the occasional explosive scene containing lots of action and violence. There was also one storyline involving what happened to John's son while he was in hiding that did not add anything to the story and was not particularly compelling. Most of the story did not interest me and seemed like a huge set up for the action-filled conclusion of the book.

To add some authenticity, many of the characters spoke using Caribbean dialect. Although I understand the reason for this, it still bothered me since deciphering it took me out of the flow of the story at times. This meant that "we" was used instead of "us," "you" instead of "your," and "go" instead of "going," as in this sentence from the book, "He go kill we dead" (page 58). There is a lot of this depending on which characters are in the spotlight.

Perhaps the patois would not have impacted my reading experience as much if the writing in this book was not terrible to begin with. There were lots of short, choppy sentences and sometimes it seemed as if a thirteen word limit on sentences had been imposed, such as in this fight scene (page 150):
Oaxyctl walked forward. They didn't spread apart. When Oaxyctl stepped between them, they threw their shoulders forward to stop him. The young man on the left punched Oaxyctl in the belly. Oaxyctl crumpled. Several lightning-quick kicks and punches disoriented him.
Buckell may have been using this style for effect in the action scene above, but I also noticed it in many other places where there would be no reason to write this way and found it distractingly bad. Also, many sentences began with the same word such as in this paragraph from page 105:
John unstrapped himself from the chair. He wrapped a foot around the rail and leaned out. He looked down, saw the world far below his knees, and looked right back up at the distant and safe horizon. He grabbed the rope net swaying from the gasbag with the outstretched fingers of his right hand.
The next 3 paragraphs mainly consist of sentences beginning with the word "He" or "John."

The characters seemed rather flat and underdeveloped with just a few characteristics to set them apart. John had lost his memory, did not age, and had a hook for a hand (I found myself wondering if this had been added just so the scene on the cover could take place). Dihana was the prime minister who wanted to live up to her father. There was also a token mysterious badass character by the name of Pepper. Oaxyctl was the only personality who had some depth with his conflicted feelings about his god-given task of retrieving the codes from John.

The story in Crystal Rain had some promise with its backstory about the how the old fathers came to the planet. However, it was poorly written and contained too much slow plotting that did not seem to go anywhere until the end of the novel.


First 1/3 of the novel

Addendum from John: I haven't read this yet, but the review could have stopped after 'amnesia with nightmares about his past' and I would be guaranteed to never touch the book. Can we please come up with some new backstories?

Thursday, August 21, 2008


I have no plans for this weekend other than catching up on some cleaning so I am hoping to get caught up on my reviews then (or at least caught up on what I have right now since I'm almost done with The Cipher by Diana Pharoah Francis and don't think I'll be able to manage 3 reviews over the weekend). These next reviews will be Tobias Buckell's Crystal Rain and Iain M. Banks's Use of Weapons. I seem to be pretty much the only speculative fiction fan who didn't enjoy the former, but I did like the latter very much (although still not quite as much as the fantastic The Player of Games in the same series).

Diana Pharoah Francis is an author who is new to me. So far, the book is all right but I'm not so sure I'll be seeking out the next book in the series.

After The Cipher, I think I might try another book by an author I've never read before.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Contest for $200 To Spend on Books

It doesn't get much better than this - Ann Aguirre is giving away $200 to spend at the bookseller of your choice! All you have to do is buy a copy of Wanderlust when it comes out on August 26 or preorder a copy and post either your receipt number or order confirmation number in the comments of this post on her blog. The contest runs until September 3.

Wanderlust is the second book in the Sirantha Jax series, following Aguirre's debut novel released earlier this year, Grimspace (review).

I didn't need any incentive to buy Wanderlust since I was planning to do so anyway as soon as it came out -- its predecessor is exactly the type of book I'm in the mood to read right now -- but now I really must buy it. It would be a dream come true - I'd have to spend the money on books so I wouldn't even have to feel guilty about spending so much money on them. I'm already dreaming of which books I'd get from the wish list if I had $200...

What books would you get if you could go on a $200 book-buying binge?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

More Songs Inspired by Fantasy and Science Fiction

The Sci Fi Songs blog has a few more songs inspired by science fiction and fantasy, including Sarene which is of course based on Brandon Sanderson's novel Elantris. This is a good song but my favorite so far is definitely The Return of Titus Quinn, a beautiful instrumental piece about a character from Kay Kenyon's Bright of the Sky (a book I really need to read at some point). More information on the songs can be found at the blog.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Review of Young Miles

Young Miles
is an omnibus containing three stories in the "Miles Vorkosigan" series by Lois McMaster Bujold -- the novel The Warrior's Apprentice, the Hugo award winning novella "The Mountains of Mourning" and the Hugo award winning novel The Vor Game. Although the books in this series are self-contained and not written in any particular order, these three are compiled in chronological order and come after the omnibus Cordelia's Honor. It is debatable whether the series should be read in order at all and if so, whether to begin with The Warrior's Apprentice or Shards of Honor, the first book in Cordelia's Honor. The former is the first book that actually has Miles Vorkosigan as a main character since the two books in Cordelia's Honor tell the story of Miles's parents. Having read them both, I would recommend fans of romance begin with Shards of Honor as it is more focused on relationships and very different in tone from the books in the following set, but fans of light, fun adventures would probably find The Warrior's Apprentice a better introduction to this series.

The Warrior's Apprentice begins with the failure of Miles to be accepted into the Barrayaran Imperial Military Academy that his father and grandfather both attended. Growing up in a powerful martial family instilled in Miles a desire to serve his planet despite being a dwarf with brittle bones that tend to break very easily. While most of the young men seeking admittance into the academy find the written exams to be far harder than the physical tests, the intelligent Miles breezes through the former but is unable to finish the latter due to breaking a bone while coming off the wall climb. Although deeply disappointed, Miles is soon busy trying to find a way to live up to his paternal history of service in a way more fitting to his abilities (and limitations). Chance and some fast thinking soon find Miles acquiring a couple of irregular recruits, followed soon after by an entire band of mercenaries and the title of "Admiral Naismith."

In "The Mountains of Mourning," Miles has finally graduated from the Imperial Academy and is on break before being given his first assignment. When a sobbing woman comes to the front gate wanting to see Lord Vorkosigan the guards are ready to turn her away, but Miles feels sorry for her and knows it is her right to have a hearing before her lord. She explains that her baby girl was born with a slight birth defect (any physical problem is frowned upon in the military society of Barrayar) and was murdered. She seeks justice for the infanticide and Miles's father sends him to the woman's town to solve the murder mystery and give whatever judgment he deems fitting.

The Vor Game starts with Miles being assigned his first post as a graduate of the Imperial Academy - Chief Metereology Officer at Lazkowski Base, otherwise known as "Camp Permafrost." Having never even taken a course on this subject while in the academy, Miles suspects there has been a mistake. Instead he finds that he was placed there as a test; Miles has a long history of problems with authority, and if he can successfully blend in with the hardened soldiers at this camp, a position more to his liking will be waiting when he's done. Miles certainly finds this a challenge once he meets his abrasive superior officer and of course events lead to more mayhem when he has to resume his role of Admiral Naismith and foil a plot against the Emperor.

The books contained in this omnibus are a lot of fun. It is light reading and very easy to breeze through, heavy on dialogue and humor. There is a mixture of serious storytelling dealing with themes such as oppression and prejudice and light-hearted humor that provides a nice balance between the two.

Miles is an enjoyable character - extremely bright and energetic with a strong mischievous streak. However, the other characters are definitely secondary as Miles always takes center stage with a shining personality that overshadows the rest. His name is in the series title, after all, so I suppose this is not all that surprising.

The Warrior's Apprentice was a rather fast-paced, entertaining story that was fairly flawless. It is followed up by a more somber tale about a society terrified of people who were different in "The Mountains of Mourning." It was not all serious, though, and this novella contained one of my very favorite lines in this entire book with Miles's thoughts about all the young women gathering around and pampering his horse:
God, thought Miles jealously, if I had half the sex appeal of that bloody horse I'd have more girlfriends than my cousin Ivan.
The murder mystery in the novella was not hard to figure out, but I don't really think the story was about figuring out who did it.

While it was great fun to read, the military adventure The Vor Game was probably the weakest of these stories. It very heavily relied on major coincidences (such as Miles just happening to run into the Empire while not even on their home planet) and the "Camp Permafrost" storyline seemed to only be relevant for introducing the character of the superior officer at this place. At one point, Miles found a dead body in a drain which seemed to be setting the stage for another crime to solve. However, this event proved completely random and was never mentioned again, making it seem very out of place. (Bujold writes in the afterword that originally Miles also found some money but she later changed this to cookies since everyone thought this meant there was going to be a big fun who-done-it story.)

While the series is technically science fiction, these space operas are about plot and character and do not have a lot of gadgets or long explanations of advanced technology. Space is the setting but not the main attraction, so these books may appeal to those who do not normally enjoy the science fiction genre.

Young Miles is a diverting romp through space featuring a clever main character who has a knack for getting himself into (and out of) trouble. It's thoroughly enjoyable and easy to get into, making it a great read for times when you just want a light story that does not require too much brain power.


Reviews of other books in this series:

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Toads of glory, slugs of joy

The results from this year's Bulwer-Lytton contest are in, and the future of western literature has never looked, um, brighter. Bulwer-Lytton challenges entrants to write the worst opening sentence possible for imaginary novels in a variety of genres, and they generally succeed horribly. A few choice examples:
(Children's literature) Joanne watched her fellow passengers - a wizened man reading about alchemy; an oversized bearded man-child; a haunted, bespectacled young man with a scar; and a gaggle of private school children who chatted ceaselessly about Latin and flying around the hockey pitch and the two-faced teacher who they thought was a witch - there was a story here, she decided. - Tim Ellis, Haslemere, U.K.

(Fantasy) "Toads of glory, slugs of joy," sang Groin the dwarf as he trotted jovially down the path before a great dragon ate him because the author knew that this story was a train wreck after he typed the first few words. - Alex Hall, Greeley, CO

(Romance) Like a mechanic who forgets to wipe his hands on a shop rag and then goes home, hugs his wife, and gets a grease stain on her favorite sweater - love touches you, and marks you forever. - Beth Fand Incollingo, Haddon Heights, N.J.
Though some of them actually have potential as hooks into a Pratchett-esque sort of book:
The day started out as uneventfully as any other, and continued thus to midday and from there it was nothing at all to ease into an evening of numbing, undiluted monotony that survived unmarred by even the least act of momentary peculiarity-in fact, let's skip that day altogether and start with the day after. - Jon Starr, Rumford, ME
The worst part is that I know there are worse lines than most of those in actual published books (oh John Ringo no!)...if you have any, I'd love to hear them!

Thursday, August 14, 2008


I've been tagged for this science fiction book/movie meme by Thea and Ana of the wonderful blog The Book Smugglers. I have a feeling I've watched or read very few of these, but here goes!

Copy the list below.

Mark in bold the movie titles for which you read the book.

Italicize the that you’ve watched.

Tag 5 people to perpetuate the meme. (You may of course play along anyway.)

1. Jurassic Park
2. War of the Worlds
3. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
4. I, Robot
5. Contact
6. Congo
7. Cocoon
8. The Stepford Wives
9. The Time Machine
10. Starship Troopers
11. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
12. K-PAX
13. 2010
14. The Running Man
15. Sphere
16. The Mothman Prophecies
17. Dreamcatcher
18. Blade Runner(Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?)
19. Dune
20. The Island of Dr. Moreau
21. Invasion of the Body Snatchers
22. The Iron Giant(The Iron Man)
23. Battlefield Earth
24. The Incredible Shrinking Woman
25. Fire in the Sky
26. Altered States
27. Timeline
28. The Postman
29. Freejack(Immortality, Inc.)
30. Solaris
31. Memoirs of an Invisible Man
32. The Thing(Who Goes There?)
33. The Thirteenth Floor
34. Lifeforce(Space Vampires)
35. Deadly Friend
36. The Puppet Masters
37. 1984
38. A Scanner Darkly
39. Creator
40. Monkey Shines
41. Solo(Weapon)
42. The Handmaid’s Tale
43. Communion
44. Carnosaur
45. From Beyond
46. Nightflyers
47. Watchers
48. Body Snatchers

Wow, the low number of those I've seen or read is even sadder than I thought. A lot of blogs have been tagged with this one already and I don't remember who has and who hasn't, so if you haven't done it yet and want to, consider yourself tagged.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Companion to Wolves Contest Winner

The contest for a signed copy of A Companion to Wolves has been closed. The winner of the drawing is:

Shaun Duke (California)

Congratulations, Shaun! I hope you enjoy the book.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Elizabeth Bear's Promethean Age Novels

The other day I was browsing Elizabeth Bear's website and found out that she plans to write at least a dozen "Promethean Age" novels. When I heard there were two books out and two more coming out this year, I figured that would be the end of the series. However, Bear would like to write a large number of novels that are either stand-alones or duologies that take place during various time periods within this setting. So far, I am loving this complex series with its vast blend of references to mythology, literature, and history, and I would really like to see the rest of these books published.

The first set of "Promethean Age" novels is comprised of Blood and Iron (review) and Whiskey and Water (review). These recount tensions between our world and the Faerie realm in 1997 and 2004.

Ink and Steel
, the first book in "The Stratford Man" duology, came out last month and the next book Hell and Earth is out tomorrow (supposedly - I actually saw it in my local Borders today). The most recent pair of novels focuses on Elizabethan England and sounds as though it tells more of Christopher Marlowe's story that we're given brief glimpses of in Whiskey and Water. I'm looking forward to reading these two.

Information on the series including the first three chapters of Blood and Iron and Ink and Steel can be found here.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Review of Whiskey and Water

Whiskey and Water
by Elizabeth Bear
448pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.89/5
Good Reads Rating: 3.82/5

Whiskey and Water is the second book in Elizabeth Bear's urban fantasy series "The Promethean Age." It takes place a few years after the end of Blood and Iron, the first book in the series, which should be read before this one. The next two books in the series, Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth (to be released in just a few days on August 5) form the "Stratford Man" duology, which are prequels to the first two books set during the time of Queen Elizabeth.

Blood and Iron was fantastic, a dark fantasy containing many references to mythology, and I had hopes that the following book would be even better since the title promised more of my favorite character, the water horse Whiskey. While the (already lovely) writing had improved, I felt that the story told in Whiskey and Water was not as good as the one told in the first book and that was too much focus on a wide variety of characters instead of a few select ones.

Seven years after the war between the fae and the mages of the Promethean Club, Elaine Andraste still sits upon the painful Seelie throne and the mage Matthew has appointed himself as a protector of New York City. On Halloween night, Matthew patrols the city and finds the mangled body of a young woman that looks much like the body of a man Matthew once saw after he was attacked by Elaine's demon when she was a seeker for the previous Seelie Queen. Matthew determines to find out why this happened before his former mentor the archmage Jane can begin another war against the fae like the one that destroyed Matthew's life and ended the lives of most of the other Promethean mages. He and the dead woman's friends, a young Otherkin woman who calls herself Jules and a young man with potential to be a mage named Geoff, meet with the merlin and embark on a journey to Faerie.

The former Promethean mage Christopher Marlowe decides to leave hell to seek revenge upon Jane for the death of Murchaud, the duke of hell who was Marlowe's lover. First he visits Faerie so he can pay his respects to Murchaud by laying some flowers upon his grave. There he meets Whiskey, who is still carrying the burden of Elaine's soul so she can sit upon the Seelie throne without dying, and becomes entangled in the affairs of the fae.

Bear's prose is exquisite, detailed, beautiful, and just plain impressive. She uses a very lush, rich vocabulary to paint a vivid picture. The wide variety of rare words means I did have to look a few words up in the dictionary (most of them probably could be skipped without losing a lot of general knowledge of the story but I really wanted to know what they meant). Her dialogue is also wonderful and I particularly loved the discourse between Geoff and Matthew in which Matthew informed Geoff that all the fairy tales he had read had gotten it wrong when the happy children returned home after their adventures to Narnia or Oz:
Books are lies. All books are lies, but the books that say you can walk out of Faerie unscathed are more so. It's not that you come back and not a moment has passed -- it's that you're gone a moment, and fifteen years have gone, and everyone you loved has forgotten you.
Only Peter Pan has ever told the truth, according to Matthew:
You can't have it all; you have to choose. The iron world, or Faerie. You can't have both, and once you visit one, you can't return untouched.
It's not your Disney fairy tale with happy singing creatures where everyone lives happily ever after.

As in the first book in this series, many mythologies play a role in the story in which it is often stated that "All stories are true." Heaven and hell are introduced with the roles of the archangel Michael as well as Marlowe's beautiful, smooth Lucifer and Milton's more brutish Satan. The legends of the British isles are still present along with some inclusion of Australian folklore with the character of the bunyip. Yet Bear still takes these elements and makes them her own, giving each character a distinct presence and some have their own twists, such as the archangel Michael being female.

There is so much packed into this book that it would be helpful to reread it to tie all the threads together. The first book had many characters but the story still focused on Elaine and, to a lesser extent, Matthew. While the earlier book was more Elaine's story, the sequel feels more like Matthew's story although it introduces so many new characters and perspectives that it loses that feeling of having just a main character or two. I felt that made this book weaker in spite of its stronger prose since it made it harder to grow attached to the characters. Elaine is still (rarely) present, but the story now includes the viewpoints of Matthew, Marlowe, Whiskey, a cop named Don, Jules and Geoff, Carel, a goth girl named Lily, the various devils, and various pagans who meet with the merlin's girlfriend Autumn. Matthew and Marlowe interested me and I loved all things fae, but I did find myself a bit bored with Jules, Geoff, Lily, and all the pagan/goth/Otherkin characters in general. I missed Elaine's point of view and the scenes with her and Whiskey that were so well done in the first book were few and far between. However, I did love some of the scenes with Lucifer and Satan, Matthew and Marlowe so there are certainly still interesting characters and conversations.

If you like dark, complex tales incorporating mythological and literary concepts and enjoyed the first book in this series, I'd recommend continuing with Whiskey and Water in spite of a few problems with too many central characters for one story of this length.


Reviews of other books in this series:
Blood and Iron