Archive for May, 2012

On Goodreads

Posted: May 28, 2012 in Stuff
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The last couple months, whenever I like to a book title that I’ve discussed here, I always link to goodreads.com and I’ve been meaning to talk about it, but you know, life and all making me prioritize my blog posts.

This is a little bit backwards from most of the other blogs and websites I’ve seen. Most just drop a link to Amazon or a smattering of bookstores like Powell’s, B+N and something called Indiebound which I’ve never heard of until I saw it start showing up at the end of Scalzi’s Big Idea posts. They sound self explanatory though. Powell’s I’m told is actually quite epic. It’s not far from where my sister lives in Oregon and my parents have said getting lost in there is a requirement for visiting the city. Ironically, no one ever links anything to Books-a-million which apparently is second only to B+N in America since they bought out Borders and they’re also the only non-B+N option near Rhode Island.

I know a lot of people like to shun the biggun stores and hang out and the small little indie shops. There are a couple I know of kicking around Rhode Island, but seriously, just because the state is small, miniscule even, doesn’t mean it’s easy to get around. New England wasn’t designed with cars in mind. So the only one that’s actually convenient to go to, isn’t a regular seller. I think they buy up the excess stock from the bigguns and sell up the surplus. That means their genre selection is next to nothing.

So anyways, it was rather automatic to link to Amazon at first. It’s the 900 pound gorilla in the room and is easy. I’ve been burned by them a few times because I can’t flip through the book. There was one by a Rhode Island woman which was highly praised by Amazon, but it ended up being about an author character bitching for the first two or three chapters about how readers who leave reviews on Amazon suck and don’t know a thing. I was pissed and sent that book to hell and shake my fist whenever I see authors I follow RT her. But it’s like going to Home Despot or Worst Buy, if you know what you want when you walk in and don’t need any help, they’re perfectly useful.

A while back I saw this announcement from the SFWA floating around twitter, a lot of the people I follow are authors so were in the know. I was all like “Wow, jerk move Amazon.” I’ve noticed other jerk moves (lookit me not swearing excessively!) by them since with ebook pricing and whatever. So I realized I’m not here to shill for people who don’t need me shilling for them. Besides, anyone who can read a blog, can copy and paste into the bookseller website of their choice. Whatever my choice might be is rather irrelevant to anyone buying things.

So I dug up Goodreads. Apparently I made an account in 08 and forgot all about it. It said I was reading Un Lun Dun for four years. If anyone looks me up on it, my booklist has no rankings or anything and the list is woefully incomplete. I think it’d be a day and a half solid to try to get all my books filed in that.

Yeah, conclusions, I got a couple. Goodreads. It’s neutral. They’ve got some good community features. It happens to be ridiculously easy for me to use. Authors like seeing users ping things on it.

Age of Aztec

Posted: May 25, 2012 in Reading

Caught up on my reading with a book I grabbed the instant I knew it existed, Age of Aztec by James Lovegrove. I’ve read all three of the other Age books he’s written. They’re stand alone books about different pantheons being active in the world, Egyptian, Greek, Viking and now the Aztec. Let’s drop in on the back of the book, shall we?

The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monkey 1 House – November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning – and the Aztec Empire rules the world in the name of Quetzalcoatl – the Feathered Serpent – and his brother gods.

The Aztecs’ reign is one of cruel and ruthless oppression, encompassing regular human sacrifice. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador.

Then the Conquistador is recruited to spearhead an uprising, and discovers a terrible truth about the Aztec and their gods. The clock is ticking. Apocalypse looms, unless the Conquistador can help assassinate the mysterious, immortal Aztec emperor, the Great Speaker. But his mission is complicated by Mal Vaughn, a police detective who is on his trail, determined to bring him to justice

So the vigilante/terrorist vs cop is a different angle than the previous Age books. There was a lot more military to the other three, Ra was about an active duty SAS trooper, Odin was about an ex-infantryman and Zeus was about a cop picked for a mercenary unit. The two different angles works, even though I don’t think it is something done that often anymore. They’re separate for acts one and two and come together in act three. I’ve heard some people don’t like that kind of thing, but it doesn’t bother me since it was typical of the 80s and 90s fantasy books I used to ‘acquire’ from my parents when I was a kid.

As always with the Age books Lovegrove writes, the world building is detailed and intense. The Aztecs rule the whole of the world under the immortal jackboot of Mocatzuma II and their brutal as hell in doing it. There’s a lot of human sacrifice going on in downtown London right in chapter one. I actually remember feeling rather uncomfortable reading it, not because of gory details or any such thing as that, but it’s one of those things I don’t really like reading. An intense focus on human sacrifice is on a short list of things that will put me off a book, but it’s not too bad here. As much as it was uncomfortable, it was beneficiary to the world building.

That sacrifice shenanigans is what most people know about the Aztec. I’m not all that familiar with the Aztec pantheon and very little of their mythos unlike the other three Age books which focus on what are probably the three most well known pantheons. The book does a good job of introducing the readers while keeping the explanation integrated with the story. There’s no break for exposition. Made me feel like I was a’ learning something. “Oneness in duality” is apparently a big concept in their mythology and it moves about in the story accordingly.

The characters here are fun. The Conquistador, I’m not going to name him proper because his identity is a secret for a little while, is a cheeky way too full of himself. Inspector Mal Vaughn though is the best one here. She’s a hard ass cop (Jaguar Warrior in the book’s parlance) with a lot of guilt on her hands but damnit, she’s gonna get the job done. This is compounded by the fact that in the Aztec world, failure is met with execution.

There’s been a lot of talk around the genre websites about women characters written by men, the biggest being this piece from io9. While a lot of that talk is something I’m going to save for a proper post here, Age of Aztec is something you can point to with well written women characters written by men. Mal, which is short for something in the Aztec language I just spent ten minutes looking for by couldn’t find readily since its used only two or three times in 500 pages, is a character I found very strong and interesting. The book never plays up the “girl working with a bunch of guys” thing, being a cop is just her job and something she likes. I find it very odd though that the back of the book blerb doesn’t actually tell you Mal is a woman. Espicially being a book that starts out in England, Mal is assumed to be short for Malcolm. So there was a “oooh she’s a woman” moment in her first chapter. She’s on the cover in battle gear, but the giant priest head is more prominent so I didn’t put the two together at first.

A little more about the plot, Mal and the Conquistador cross paths earlier than I thought they would and the Conquistador falls in with a small Mayan rebel cell. The action jumps over to the Mexican jungles and the Aztec deities roll on in. The pacing picks up a lot in the jungles and the deities themselves make up an interesting cast of characters. One of the minor downsides ofAztec is that we don’t get enough of the deities. They’re interesting as hell and I wish there was more to their part of the story, especially since some of the ones that take the stage weren’t included in the Aztec Mythology Primer back in chapter three or four.

The ending… eh… I don’t want to ruin it for anyone but I had mixed feelings on it. It ended the only way it could which is satisfying that it didn’t force anything. Oneness in duality thing going on again even in the end.Age of Odin is still my favorite but I would still highly recommend this book based off the lesser known mythology, the excellent world building and Mal Vaughn.

Next up, Mogworld by Yahtzee Croshaw.

About Shultz

Posted: May 23, 2012 in Writing
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This is the first short story I’m throwing out to the world on this. Why? Well ’cause it’s the right time to do it and it’s a homeless story that I really like. About Shultz is the product of the 2011 Ocean State Summer Writer’s Conference. The exact exercise involved writing specifics about a character on a note card and passing it around the room, so everyone ended up with a card holding seven or eight different people’s answers.  Although not a genre specific writing conference, I managed to fit it in anyways. Hope everyone enjoys.

——–

Marcus trailed his frail fingers across the dirty chair haphazardly stacked with the other barn-fresh antiques in the shop’s back room. Memories of his childhood kitchen flooded his thoughts with the lines in the dust. The strong rays of a fading day came through the windows and made the dust sparkle. He envisioned the chair in the kitchen of the house his granddaughter just bought, tucked stately at the head of the table. He wanted it to share with his family, but also provide them with a physical link to a history he wouldn’t be able to share with them much longer. Marcus turned away from the other forgotten antiques. He could see a tremble in his hands and feel an ache in his bones. His aged body did not have enough time left on earth to save them all. Outside the Bull and Rabbit Antique Shop, the old kitchen chair soon saw the fresh air anew from the back of Marcus’ pickup truck.

#

Marcus rolled his weathered truck up next to his granddaughter’s polished foreign car. With pride, he carried the gleaming kitchen chair into Suzie’s home.

“Oh… um. It’s wonderful. It really is.” Suzie hovered around with a Starbucks while Marcus stood with a lean in the doorway, arms crossed, one foot kicked back resting on its toes.

Marcus came out of his lean calling out to his great-grandson, ignoring Suzie’s brush off. “Where’s Conner? I want to show him the chair.”

“It’s just a chair. It doesn’t matter now. It doesn’t even match any—“

“Of course it matters,” he pleaded. “It’s part of who he is.”

“A chair? Really? Look we have to go. Some other time.” Suzie shuffled her teenaged son out to her car. Conner looked back to Grandpa Marcus.

“Please…” Marcus reached out to her. His spirit was so wounded that when his body gave out right there in the driveway, there was no healing him.

#

“Mom, I’m going to be sixteen real—“

“I’m not hearing this.” Suzie waved that day’s Starbucks at her son.

“Grandpa Marcus wants me to drive his—“

A wordless frustration escaped Suzie. Coffee spilled. “My grandfather is dead Conner. He can’t want anything. And you will have a proper car, not a dinosaur he bought when my mother was little. It’s getting scrapped in the morning.”

#

Before morning came, Conner sat in the old truck’s cab. It smelled of oil and sawdust and work, his great-grandpa’s spirit on the cracked vinyl seat next to him. Conner breathed deep and felt love and respect. After a moment, he slammed the dash.

The mirror tilted. Conner saw the antique chair in the bed. Someone had put it back in the truck where it stood proud and proper in the darkened driveway. Conner could see how it fit Grandpa Marcus’ style, could see him relaxing in it. But why did he choose this specific chair and not some other antique? What made this one catch his great-grandfather’s eye? Did it remind him of a restaurant he enjoyed long ago or was it part of a set he always wanted but couldn’t afford when he had a young family? Knowing he could never ask made the death start to hit home.

#

Back in his room, Conner fussed with the chair, getting its position just right behind his desk. He stood back to take it in, leaning on his doorjamb with arms crossed, one foot kicked back on its toes. The air carried a hint of the refinished antique scent around the room. Between notes of a softly played swing album, he thought he heard the shade of Marcus Shultz speak to him.

“Let me tell you the first time I danced to this song…”

Kings of Eternity

Posted: May 16, 2012 in Reading
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A bit late to the party with this one, what with the aforementioned small child who was birthed last week. But the little guy is sleeping now and I already took a dad-nap so I’m going to cram in as much work as I can.

This time I’m going to throw down the Back Of The Book not out of laziness, but because Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown has a Big Question going for it which frankly will make talking about it a bit hard without ruining it.

1999. On the threshold of a new millennium, the novelist Daniel Langham lives a reclusive life on an idyllic Greek island, hiding away from humanity and the events of the past. All that changes, however, when he meets artist Caroline Platt and finds himself falling in love. But what is his secret, and what are the horrors that haunt him?

1935. Writers Jonathon Langham and Edward Vaughan are summoned from London by their editor friend Jasper Carnegie to help investigate strange goings-on in Hopton Wood. What they discover there – no less than a strange creature from another world – will change their lives forever.

What they become and their link to the novelist of the future, is the subject of Eric Brown’s most ambitious novel to date. Almost ten years in the writing,The Kings of Eternity is a novel of vast scope and depth, yet imbued with humanity and characters you’ll come to love.

So the Back Of The Book here says a bit less than usual and I didn’t realize that until typing it out. I suspect the person over at Solaris Books writing that summary had the same trouble dancing around the same Big Question I’m going to have. I was drawn toKings in part because of the cover, frankly. If you click that Goodreads link above and check out the cover, it gives you a pretty good hint about the “goings-on in Hopton Wood.” It shows a man dressed in 30’s suit and fedora dwarfed by a gaping blue portal to another world. This is the kind of novel where you really can judge a book by its cover as it shares almost as much information as the back cover.

Kings is a little bit of a departure from the usual stuff I read. It’s really a character study on the two Langhams, the one in the 30s and the one in the 90s. For the first 150 pages or so, almost half the book, there is very little overtly science fiction about Kings. The first page and a half, then almost nothing until the 150 mark. I never found myself struggling to get through the book though. The writing and the characters are compelling enough to pull me along the pages.

Speaking of the hard to speak about Big Question… It’s what ties the two tangents and the two Langhams, grandfather and grandson, together. I figured it out around page 100, well before the book actually tells it to me. There’s still enough going on to keep me reading as it’s not the only Big Question, just the one that makes it really, really hard to talk about the book without ruining it.

I enjoyed this book, but I can’t be completely fluffy rainbows about this little review. There’s a very important side character who gets killed in one of the more actiony scenes and the book never really takes any time to dwell on it. He’s not the protagonist, but has strong ties with the Langham of that tangent so a little bit of dwelling should have been in order once the characters had time to pause. The guy’s death was “Eh, he was at peace with himself” and onto the next paragraph.

In all reality, it was probably longer than that one short line, but it felt that short and left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, even five days after finished. The short little sentence is truthful, that particular character was at peace with himself, but still. Dwell a little bit. Some sort of closure before moving on would have been appreciated.

But don’t let that make you think I didn’t enjoy Kings. It’s got some very intriguing Big Questions and satisfying answers to them. I wouldn’t pick this one up if you’re looking for an action heavy sort of thing, but as an in depth character piece, Kings is well worth the read.

Busy

Posted: May 12, 2012 in Stuff

Finished Kings of Eternity and I’m starting Age of Aztec by James Lovegrove.

I’ll have to owe the blog posts later as I’m a bit busy with this little guy now.

Fuzzy Nation

Posted: May 5, 2012 in Reading
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John Scalzi has been one of my favorite authors since I read Old Man’s War a few years back. I’m sure he’s been on most people’s favorite list after reading that. It’s one all sorts of awards and I’ve devoured up the rest of the books in that series, including getting my hands on one of the Subterranean Press copies of The Sagan Diary. I am planning on jumping all over the hardcover Redshirts when that comes out next month, but my penchant for mass market sized books compelled me to wait for the paperback with Fuzzy Nation.

Jack Holloway works alone, for reasons he doesn’t care to talk about. One hundred seventy-eight light-years from ZaraCorp’s head office on Earth, Jack is content as an independent contractor on the planet Zarathustra, prospecting and surveying at his own pace.

Then, in the wake of a cliff collapse he accidentally caused, Jack discovers a seam of unimaginable valuable jewels, to which he manages to lay legal claim just as ZaraCorp cancels their contract with him. Briefly in the catbird seat, Jack pressures ZaraCorp into recognizing his claim, and cuts them in as partners to help extract the wealth.

But there’s another wrinkle. ZaraCorp’s entire legal right to exploit Zarathustra is based on being able to certify that the planet is home to no sentient species.

Then a small furry biped — trusting, appealing and ridiculously cute — shows up at Jack’s outback home. Followed by it’s family. As it dawns on Jack that these aren’t winsome petlike creatures but ratherpeople, he beings to suspect that ZaraCorp’s claim to the planet’s wealth is flimsy indeed … and that ZaraCorp may stop at nothing to eliminate the “fuzzys” before their existence becomes more widely known.

So I got a bit lazy again there and typed out the back of the book blerb. Keeps me from blabbing too much, those are written by professionals and all. So anyways, for all that I waited for my preferred size publication, the genesis of this book fascinated the b’jebus out of me. With Fuzzy Nation, Scalzi took a book from the 60s he really loved and gave it a reboot with permission from the author’s family. I enjoy reading stories written from different points of view so this instantly intrigued me. Now, I haven’t read the original, in fact, H. Beam Piper wasn’t an author I was familiar with either so I was coming into this cold. Piper’s original, is in the public domain now and available over here via Project Gutenberg. I prefer my books on paper so haven’t had at it yet, but the summary shows that some of the characters have been mixed around but the principals and the general story arc are the same.

There are a couple things that the back of the book blerb is lacking. First off, Jack Holloway is an ex-lawyer. I don’t want to get into the whys and hows he went from lawyer to ex-lawyer, it plays some important parts of the plot. Being an ex-lawyer says something about a character to me more than just ‘surveyor.’ It paints a very different picture of Jack rather than just being a roughneck miner.

Since it’s been so long since the last Scalzi book I’ve read, the other thing not on the back of the book slipped my mind even though it never should have since I read his blog, Whatever. Fuzzy Nation is laugh out loud funny.Frequently. Seriously, if the people I work with hadn’t stopped paying attention to my weirdness long ago, I would have gotten a lot of strange looks. Jack is a delightful smart ass who enjoys pwning face with logic. He gives people their comeuppance but uses misdirection and some surprises to make that happen.

So much of the book follows a group of the Fuzzys moving in with Jack’s jungle compound and his growing fascination with the smart little buggers. He shows them to his ex-girlfriend Isabel who he named a mountain after and just happens to be ZaraCorp’s resident biologist. She starts things down the path to getting the fuzzys declared sentient which poses problems for ZaraCorp and Jack. Problems in the billions of dollars range because of the rare gemstones Jack finds.

Fuzzy Nation is definitely a throwback kind of book, which is fully intended I imagine, being a reboot of an older book. This doesn’t bother me at all and it successfully walks the line between being that old school book and having the styles that modern readers want. This is the kind of trend I can get behind having read almost as much old sci fi as I have current stuff. It’s taking the best of both worlds.

So as expected, I enjoyed the hell out of this book and laughed a long time with Fuzzy Nation.

Next up, The Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown

Well of Sorrows

Posted: May 2, 2012 in Reading, Shelf of Honor

I first became aware of Benjamin Tate from a guest blog post over on Jim Hines’ website. A couple weeks later, I saw him at one of the Boskone panels I was at. I made it a point to pick up books by the panelists when I was there but my copy of Well of Sorrows sat on my shelf for a little while. I never should have let it sit that long.

Let’s go with a back of the book kind of summary… In fact, I think I’m going to actually quote it today.

Colin Harten and his parents had fled across the ocean to escape the Family wars in Andover and find a better life. But the New World proved no haven for the Hartens and their fellow refugees. Forced to undertake an expedition to the unexplored plains east of the newly settled coastal cities, the Hartens and their companions were not prepared for the dangers they would face.

Pursued by plains dwellers known as the dwarren, the Hartens’ wagon train fled to the very edge of a dark forest — a place they had been warned to avoid at all costs by a small band of Alvritshai warriors, the first race they had encountered on the plains.

Colin survived the perils of the forest, rescued by spirits of Light and transformed by the power of the Well of Sorrows, but he paid a very high price. For drinking the Lifeblood — the waters of the Well — changed Colin into something not entirely human… into someone who might prove the only defense against the dark spirits of the forest and the Wraiths they had created to destroy the humans, dwarren and Alvritshai alike.

I’ll admit, I’ve been … less than motivated with traditional fantasy for the last few years. I was saturated it when I was a kid reading all sorts of this stuff I ganked from my parents written in the 80s and 90s. It kinda became done for me a few years ago. I still poke at it now and again but other than GRRM, I actually had to go back and look at my list of Sixty-Four from last year to see what my last actual fantasy book was. (Sam Sykes, Scott Lynch and GRRM were the only ones last year) But the back of the book blerb here doesn’t make it sound too traditional right? Not overly, it came off as a paranormal-ish to me and there certainly was an important element of that in the book but holy crap I should have paid more attention to the Midwest Book Review quote underneath it where it says the words “strong thriller.”

Well of Sorrows is a fantasy thriller.

All the things that you normally associate with fantasy books are there but there’s this intense world building that makes the focus of the story turn into something more like a … well.. a thriller. If you took Well of Sorrows and stripped the fantasy tropes out of it, the book would still stand up on its own. Dress it up differently and you could make the same story historical fiction or sci fi, hell you could dress it up as modern political thing. The meat and potatoes of Well has this universal story sort of feel going for it that I love. It’s the sort of thing that says to me “This character and plot are strong enough to carry this without any gimmicks, they’re not dependent on their setting.”

That’s not to say the setting is lacking at all. The world building in this is top tier stuff. I see so much potential is off hand mentions. The town Colin settles in on page one is Portstown. There’s very much an American Colonies kind of vibe to the Provinces but the homeland has a very Italian feel. Colin’s family is fleeing feuding among the Families who are fighting over something called the Rose which has religious-magical implications. Right off the bat, I liked that touch of familiarity mixed up with something else. The whole thing with the Rose and what’s going on with the mainland causes what goes on with the Provinces but never fully explained. This isn’t a negative since the Why’s aren’t the story of Wells. The Rose and the mainland are just the catalyst and would get too tangential, although it is a story I would like to know. There’s a whole history to this world going on here we’re not seeing and even though we’re not seeing it, it’s difference is felt and highly positive.

The dwarren and Alvritshai get similar treatment, although we see more of the Alvritshai. When these races first showed up on Colin’s trek into the plains it’s easy to go “yup, dwarves and elves.” They’re really not though. Tate took the same kind of “start off with something familiar and mix it up” tone with the races. You can’t call the Alvritshai elves even though they are tall, live long lives and don’t reproduce fast. The stock Tolkienesque races were modded up into their own fully formed creations and having read so much of those stock cultures, this was eminently satisfying.

The combat, when it does show up, is not the point of this book so don’t expect GRRM style brutality here. It gets the job done. Like I said, this is almost a political thriller racing to form alliances and create peace rather than grind their enemies into dirt. There are two Book Throwing Moments. It’s a term coined by my mom because she found a moment so intense in a book, she actually threw it across the room. I’d say about one in six, if that, has a Book Throwing Moment in it. I can count on one hand how many I’ve found this year so far. Well of Sorrows has two. Pages 212 and 471. If I’ve ever come across anything with two Book Throwing Moments in them, I can’t think of it, which means I probably haven’t because I would remember the hell out of that. My Shelf of Honor books, the small pile of my most favorite and revered books, don’t even all contain Book Throwing Moments.

Well of Sorrows has exceeded my expectations to the point where I officially dub this book Shelf of Honor worthy to sit next to the likes of Zelazny, China Mieville and Scott Lynch.