Archive for January, 2013

Book Hunt

Posted: January 28, 2013 in Reading, Stuff

It should come as no surprise that there are whole walls in my house dedicated to bookshelves. But the books in my house that me and my better half have collected have absolutely nothing on the tonnage of books at my parents house. I grew up surrounded by books. I read genre fiction because that’s what I was raised on. I had The Hobbit read to me when I was eleven… ish? And after that I went right for my parents books. (Remember, YA wasn’t a thing in the early 90s) So I spent years upon years just reading their books. It wasn’t until I was 20, junior year of college, that I really started piling up my own tonnage of books.

So the catalyst of this anecdote, I often ask my mom and dad to see about digging up books for me to borrow for rereads. (Some of which just end up living at my house, like Gamearth)

Me: Hey mom, I read this book… oh a dozen years ago I think… It’s about people uploading their brains into an online utopia kind of place. I remember reading it in the front half of college but I never finished it. Got pwn’d by finals or something. Do you still have it? I think the cover was silver.

Mom: Absolutely.

Circuit of Heaven appeared on the table fifteen minutes later.

Also… The cover is actually kind of greenish. She found it anyways.

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January Updates

Posted: January 26, 2013 in Reading, Stuff, Writing
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Neglecting the blog? Never! This is a big ol’ pile of miscellanea; things I want to get out there but I’d rather not do a mess of super short blog posts. My kiddo is bouncing happily so let’s see how much I can get done while jumping up and down keep entertained.

Amity v1.5

It’s coming along. Finding what chunks of time I can to type the b’jebus out of it. I think about 40% of it is in digital form and not just sitting in my notebooks. I’ve got a dozen-ish beta readers who are chomping at the bit to read it so I am trying to ramp it up. That’s part of why the blog posts aren’t flowing fast and furious. Downside of all this is that I’ve had a horrible thought that keeps nagging me… wondering about changing from third person for all three protags to third for only two of them and first person for the primary protag. I need my beta reader feedback before I do anything drastic. It would require a rewrite of a third of the book. It’s a possibility. Gotta get that feedback though.

New Writing

It’s happening, which is part of why Amity v1.5 is slower than I’d like. I was getting antsy that I wasn’t writing anything new. I have a couple shorts I’m working on. One is a prequel/backstory to the next novel I plan on writing, the Connecticut godpunk. I’m also in the middle of another one that’s a bit more specialized. I was looking for a good idea for a couple of characters that have showed up in a previous story and I found a market taking some themed submissions and those characters just fit. I’ve also got pen on paper with a meta story that’s been rolling around in my head for a long time. I’ve actually changed from third to first person and lopped off the front half of that one already.

Tangent on the Connecticut godpunk… Going to have to add a pronunciation guide in the front. The Thames River in New London Connecticut is pronounced very differently than the Thames River in London England. It will drive me crazy thinking of all the people saying it wrong.

To Read Pile

It’s gorram huge. I’m currently in the middle of book two of Kylie Chan‘s Journey to Wudang Trilogy… which is really the second trilogy in a set of three. I guess trilogies sell better than nonologies. As there is no pause from one to the next, I’m going to do the blog post about it when I’m all done. I’ve got a few shorts stacked up on my Nook. Been following John Scalzi’s The Human Division which is his and Tor’s experiment with bringing back serials. I have also been picking at the Mitigated Futures compilation from Tobias Buckell.

My dead trees To Read Pile has gotten big enough where I had to send a few books off to a new home to make room for the ones I have. It’s got the first of Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles, the next of Naomi Novak’s Temeraire series, the classic Ringworld books, a CJ Cherryh from ’82 picked up on a recommendation from twitter, more from Jim C Hines, and Peter V Brett, The Hammer and the Blade put out by Angry Robot Books and a new steampunk series starting with The Doomsday Vault. Oh and I just remembered I borrowed a whole Jim Butcher series from my dad and have a couple stand alone David Weber books kicking around. This is just what I had handy and doesn’t count any rereads in there like my annual Zelazny reread. It takes me longer to get through the To Read Pile now that I don’t work nights and have the kiddo, so the pile as listed will probably keep me occupied through April. This in no way factors in the To Buy List.

Anticipated Books

This list is largely sequels for stuff I’ve read and enjoyed the crap out of. The new Myke Cole comes out this week. Peter Brett has his newest coming out soon, once I catch up with it. Madeline Ashby’s sequel to vN comes out this summer. Joshua Palmatier / Ben Tate is slated to finish the Well of Sorrows series sometime this year. Angry Robot Books has some particularly cool looking stuff coming up (as always). I’m waiting for Libriomancer to drop in paperback soon too.

Impending Blog Posts

Yeah I have a bunch of those. The Journey to Wudang post will be a biggie. So many characters, I need a flowchart with that. I’ve got some other non-book posts on the burner including one I want to see if I can get some outside opinions on. Means reaching out in a less craptastic way than I did last time. I was new at this then, it happens. I’m going to hit Boskone again next month so there will be a nice big pile of pontifications on that.

By the way, the answer to how much I could get done while my kiddo was bouncing away in his jumpy thing… Two paragraphs. You didn’t think I’d have him up jumping at ten til midnight did you?

Engraved on the Eye

Posted: January 20, 2013 in Reading
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I’ve mentioned before that I’m a dabbler when it comes to short stories. That counts for both reading and writing. It’s an ongoing thing for me to find more short fiction that works for me. It can get very hit or miss for me which can be frustrating. But a good logical starting point is with authors authors I already know I like.

Enter Engraved on the Eye by Saladin Ahmed.

This ebook compilation is one of the publications that got me thinking about getting an ereader. Ahmed’s debut novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, dropped last year and it is an excellent book with sequels on the way. He’s also one of the better people to follow in my twitter feed and part of the cadre of writer dads out there in SF. So his compilation was part of the first batch of books I stocked my new nook with. I had solid expectations and wasn’t disappointed a bit.

The compilation has eight stories in it and every one of them was enjoyable. I didn’t realize ahead of time, but the opening story, “Where Virtue Lives” actually provides some backstory to Throne. It stands alone perfectly, but if you’ve read the novel, “Where Virtue Lives” is worth the price of admission alone. Interconnected stories and novels like that make me super happy. There’s a second story from the Throne universe, “Judgement of Souls and Swords” and you better believe I’m going to be looking for the connections. As a fan, any way of continuing the story in a larger scope is always good.

There’s a Nebula nominee, “Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela.” That went to some unexpected places in the best way possible. Actually a lot of the stories do that. I think one of the hallmarks of Ahmed’s writing is that he’s bringing in a different perspective to SF. The non-European basis for his worldbuilding is not only something that the genre as a whole should be talking about, but it’s also simply refreshing to have something different. Being refreshingly different is all that more important to me with short stories, I think. There’s less time to hook me, less time to wow me so take every edge you can get.

I’ve got an affinity for “Doctor Diablo Goes Through the Motions.” Perspective shift. The supervillain is the POV character. It’s been done before, but not nearly enough. A reversal of tropes is always a happy thing. “Doctor Diablo” is also a story I would love to read more of. Another one of those hallmarks of great stories for me. “Doctor Diablo,” “Mister Hadj’s Sunset Ride,” “The Faithful Soldier, Prompted” and “Iron Eyes and the Watered Down World” are all stories I thought were particularly ripe for more. I never felt any of the fiction was lacking. Each one nabbed my imagination and I would jump at the chance to read more about those worlds and characters.

So a lot of these stories have shown up elsewhere on the SF magazine scene. Most of them were from 2010 which got Ahmed the Campbell Award nomination. (That’s for the best new SF writer for those who don’t know) I encourage you to check this out as a proper compilation. They’re arranged perfectly with a great progression from one to the next which isn’t something you can get by scrounging up each story individually.

Ereaders: Not a Zero Sum Game

Posted: January 18, 2013 in Reading, Stuff
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I’ve said a few times here and there that my preferred format for reading (and also writing) just happens to be dead trees and ink. Even more specifically, mass market paperback is what I like to read the most. 90% of my shelves are stocked with mass market books. Books have to be pretty exciting for me to jump at them in hardcover or oversized size. Even with some of my favorite authors, I’ll wait around for the mass market size. In fact, I waited out Ananthem, one of my shelf of honor books. Took a solid year to come out in its hefty softcover.

So why would I get an ereader?

Well, because my wife is awesome. Sums it up.

Beyond that, occasionally in the last year I’ve been lacking without one. It sounds a bit more harsh than it really was. There were pangs of longing. More stories are being exclusive to the ereader. I’m not calling out the death of traditional yadda yadda. There’s just more. And just as writing and film are two kinds of storytelling with different strengths and weaknesses, I’m finding digital and print are having their own strengths.

The “Aw, I’m missing out” feelings first came when Tobias Buckell ran his kickstarter for The Apocalypse Ocean. It’s an excellent book in an excellent series and actually the first thing I put on my nook. The ebook was a five dollar kick. The hardcover was fifty. By all accounts I’ve seen, it’s a crazy nice special edition, but more walking around bucks than I had handy. (Remember it was right before my kiddo was born) The second came from Saladin Ahmed’s Engraved on the Eye short story collection. It’s amazing and in the queue to do a full post on. Short version, I was blown away by some of these stories and there’s even a prequel short to his novel. Another ebook only thing. The third thing is John Scalzi’s The Human Division, which is the grand experiment from him and Tor to bring back serialization to SF. Short version, yes please.

My nook has become packed with short stories novellas and comics. Oh yeah, the HD screen is awesome for comics.

I’m letting my ereader specialize in the things that it’s good at and sticking with my dead trees and ink for the things that format is good at. I am embracing the ereader but I am never going to get read of my paper books. The only conundrum this has led to is having an even larger to-read pile. I’m ok with that.

The Skewed Throne

Posted: January 9, 2013 in Reading
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Time to start off another post with my near constant disclaimer of “I’ve let this one sit around too long.” Between having a kiddo, getting off the night shift and spending more time with my own writing, I’m not cranking though books at a rate of two or three a week anymore. My to-read pile has probably averaged a dozen for the last year and gone up as high as twenty. Between new books, used books and the stuff on my new nook, I think there’s eighteen in the pile right now and that doesn’t count the to-buy list either. Today’s book isn’t brandy new like a lot of the stuff I’ve been reading lately, but it was recommended to me by the author.

I think it was after reading Leaves of Flame that Ben Tate suggested I check out his earlier trilogy starting with The Skewed Throne published under his actual name, Joshua Palmatier. Throne is his first novel, as opposed to the fourth and fifth that I’ve enjoyed so much already. It’s the same world but different area and era.

I’ve always thought (and said a few times), that a lot of the reason for me to do these reviews is to help process my own thoughts and ideas about why I like what I do so I can more consciously filter those themes, lessons, topics and whathaveyou into my own work. I’ve also gotten a lot of enjoyment about telling others about great books and I’m sure that’s gonna be awesome for the karma bank, but writerly growth is what fueled these. So I walked into Throne aware that seven years and five novels can create a lot of growth. My fan eyes and critical eyes both got a work out.

I’ve rambled enough! Back of the book time!

Amenkor, City of Legend – At its height, Amenkor was a center of weath and culture. But a millennium ago, the city was caught in the White Fire, a force that swept across the land spreading madness, drought, famine and disease in its wake.

Now the Dredge – the bustling market street that snakes between the slums and the prosperous center of the city – marked the dividing line between plenty and poverty, safety and peril.

Left a homeless orphan as a very young child, Varis learned to survive in the Dredge. And when the White Fire blasted through Amenkor for the second time, Varis – along with the entire city – was trapped in the overwhelming blaze of power.

Though the current Mistress continued to reign from the Skewed Throne, Amenkor’s decline escalated after the second Fire. For Varis, though, the chance to escape her homeless existence unexpected presented itself when a guardsman of the Skewed Throne named Erick – one of the elite assassins known as Seekers – enlisted her to work for him.

Because she had a gift for “Seeing” the true nature of people, Varis soon realized something was wrong, that some of those marked for death were not guilty. But how could the Mistress be mistake? Trust in the all knowing, all seeing justice and wisdom of their ruler was the foundation of Amenkor’s society. Then one fateful day, Varis claimed a life that took her beyond the law. Suddenly there was nowhere safe for her in the Dredge. There was only one place left to flee to – into the heart of Amenkor itself…

Let’s start with the things from the back of the book. Always a great place to start and the more I write book posts, the more I think it must be a really be a hard job to write those back of the book pieces. No sarcasm there. Seriously. This one’s not Magebane misleading, but there’s a lot of… misdirection here. Aside from mostly talking about the setting rather than plot, the back cover sounds like it’s just telling us the set up. The first couple chapters only before propelling us into the rest of the book with the dot dot dot at the end. Forty percent of the book comes before the dot dot dot and we’re not given a clue what Varis is up to once she hits up the city proper. This isn’t like when I get mad at the people working at Subway for making me a crappy grinder when I could do it better myself. There’s a reason I type out the back of the book and stopped trying to sum it up myself. It’s hard to know how much to spell out and how much to keep to the pages. I just think this is an instance where the back cover is underselling the book. There’s a lot more going on than we’re hinted at.

And it’s centered around Varis. Good thing too since she’s the only protag and it’s a first person narrative. Above all else, Varis is what makes this book so enjoyable. The life of a street urchin, gutterscum in the local Dredge parlance, is a very specific point of view. Varis has only the haziest of memories of any family or proper home. The only education she got was from a street gang of thieves. She knows next to nothing of the world outside the slums. Until Erick comes along, Varis’ world is nothing but a very specialized set of survival skills. When given the opportunity to do something more than just survive, she becomes disgusted with herself in a way for just getting by on the bare minimum.

Palmatier seriously gets into Varis’ head as she thinks all this out step by step and her experiences mold her into the person she is by the end of the book. The extent he gets in her head shows up in the coolest little details. What would a street urchin one step above feral need with a civilized existence? Nothing that’s what. Seeing some of these things through her eyes is fascinating. I’m not going to ruin it, but there’s a passage with a fork that I enjoyed the hell out of. It’s a line and a half but one of those awesome little details like the scrambled eggs thing in Leaves of Flame that really give a novel character to me.

So onto the details. World building to be specific. There’s a lot of it in Well of Sorrows and Leaves so it was something I was looking for here in Throne. There’s plenty of it here too, but I felt it operated in the background a lot more this time. At first I felt a touch disappointed in that. Especially when it comes to fantasy books, I like it when I come away from a book feeling like it could double as a Dungeons and Dragons campaign sourcebook. Looking at it now thought, I think I was unfair to compare the two trilogies that way. It’s an apples to oranges kind of deal. Both books deal with some of the same political intrigue and thriller tropes mixed in with the traditional fantasy tropes, Well more so than Throne. Varis’ story is personal though, filtered through one set of eyes that are only seventeenish. Colin Harten in Well has lived for decades in a world sprawling story. Less sprawl and more focus leaves a lot of that world building minutiae out. I can feel its effects in Throne, I just can’t see it because Varis can’t see it.

It does leave some questions unanswered, like why is it called The Skewed Throne and some more info about the Mistress would be awesome. Those seem firmly set up as Book Two problems. I’m ok with that, but in a more sprawling story, we’d probably find those answers sooner. How soon would you like your answers is a personal preference issue, not a quality of work issue. Especially when I know the next book is already written, I’m perfectly ok with delaying some answers until later.

So I’ve rambled on extensively about Throne already. The better I get at the book posts, the longer they seem to get. Bringing it full circle, where did I spot the growth in Palmatier’s writing between Throne and Leaves? I think I spotted a lot in the secondary characters. Here in Throne, they were likable when they needed to be and dastardly when required. Don’t over read that and think they were flat. Because everything is filtered through Varis’ eyes, the amount of life required in them would vary according to how our protag deals with them. A third person narrative would have a whole different set of requirements for supporting cast. But this is a comparison between two different trilogies and with Well, I could easily see whole additional novels coming out of the side characters. Here in Throne, I can with Erick, but necessities of plot shuffle him off stage for a good chunk of the book.

Structurally, there are flash forward chapters. The main plot and the flash forward bits converge around the 90% ish mark for the climax. I’m neutral about the flash forward structure in itself, but I think the balance was slightly off. There were stretches without the flash forward bits that made me wonder if they were coming back or if we were done with it. While it was something I thought about during the read, it never killed the readablity of the book for me. There was a little bit near the end that was confusing as hell at first, but it eventually made sense and couldn’t have been written any other way.

Sidenote, the German edition won a way cooler cover but I always like a book where the cover is actually a scene from the book. The regular cover actually happens in the narrative.

Ok I’ve got to wrap this up because this is getting wicked long. Did I like this book? Absolutely. Will I recommend it to other people? Damn straight. Varis is awesome. Taking the traditionally “bad guy” role of assassin and making it the protag’s job makes for fascinating reading. Palmatier’s writing has progressed for the positive in the years since but The Skewed Throne made for a solid debut and is absolutely no slouch. I highly recommend this.

 

Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier

Posted: January 5, 2013 in Reading
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Want to know what one of the coolest books you could ever get is? An ARC! I won myself an advanced copy of Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole from a contest he ran a couple months ago. It’s actually funny how the contest went because I didn’t think I had a chance in hell to win. Throughout the month, Cole posted different entries on twitter coven13so I got to see how cool everyone else was. “Aw man… I don’t even have Photoshop, I did a literal cut and paste. Oh well, it was a fun way to spend part of an afternoon.” So I was slightly floored when I won. I shook my fist at that hurricane that slowed down the mail when I was waiting for the book to show up on my doorstep and I devoured the hell out of it when I got it in my hands. Even though I was in the middle of the final push to finish my own novel. And I get to talk about it now.

Coven 13 Tredici – Who’s Unlucky Now? Got me a shiny green ARC. Now, this is cool well beyond being fancy and getting to read the book early. The first Shadow Ops book was one of the first books I talked about on this blog and I dubbed it the most recommended book of last year. Control Point has been talked up all over ye olde internets. Likewisein the past few weeks, Fortress Frontier has been all over the “Anticipated for 2013” lists. Go ahead, open a new tab and search it. It’s there.

So what does an author do when he sets the bar really high with the first book? Open up an industrial can of awesome.

Back of the book time!

The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people begin to develop terrifying powers –  summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Overnight the rules changed… but not for everyone.

Colonel Alan Bookbinder is an army bureaucrat whose worst war wound is a paper cut. But after he develops magical powers, he is torn from everything he knows and thrown onto the front lines.

Drafted into the Supernatural Operations Corps in a new and dangerous world, Bookbinder finds himself in command of Forward Operating Base Frontier – cut off, surrounded by monsters, and on the brink of being overrun.

Now he must find the will to lead the people of FOB Frontier out of hell, even if the one hope of salvation lies in teaming up with the man whose own magical powers put the base in such grave danger in the first place: Oscar Britton, public enemy number one.

First, huge, nine hundred pound gorilla in the room… we have a new protag. This brings up mixed feelings if you liked Oscar Britton, I’m sure. He had a great character arc in book one, so it’s risky to move him to a secondary role in Fortress Frontier. Put any worry out of your head right now. Alan Bookbinder is an even better main character. Don’t take this as a knock against Britton and the first book, read that sentence as it’s intended, Cole’s risk paid off and he raised the bar again. Britton is a soldier who became magical and went to do different soldier things with his magic. Bookbinder is a professional paper pusher who is told “You’re going to the front likes. Now. There’s paper to push there.”

Bookbinder is an almost-outsider. He is good at what he does and had a long military career prior to page one of the book. His role as support is crucial, but he is aware of how the combat elements of the military view him. So when he comes up latent (i.e. discovers he has magic), he isn’t exactly happy about being thrown to the front lines of another dimension. This is a point of view of support staff thrown into combat roll. It isn’t something I think I’ve ever run across in SF and if I have, definitely not someone with the rank Bookbinder’s got. He has this mindset of self doubt and inadequacy but is determined to make it through the meat and potatoes of the plot swirling around him.

Speaking of the plot, there’s a shift here too from the first book to Fortress. Britton is fighting the system. Bookbinder is surviving. Shit has hit the fan, lots of it. Bookbinder doesn’t stay a passive character, only reacting to the disasters facing FOB Frontier. He makes things happen. I’m not going to tell you what he makes happen because I don’t want to ruin all sorts of things I enjoyed. It’s another case of there being a very fine line between giving examples to prove I’m not blowing smoke, and spoiling things for anyone who reads this. Bookbinder’s quest is thoroughly fantastic, you’ll just have to read it yourself and be amazed.

I did get confused early on in Fortress however. The timeline as it compares with Control Point is a bit blurry in the first couple chapters. It’s set up the way it has to be in order to tell a coherent story here in book two, but I missed the clues that told me how they related. It’s really not something that’s dwell worthy though. Even money most people caught on to the clues I missed and didn’t get phased one bit.

Fortress gets upgrades across the rest of the board too. I’m not spoiling anything by saying there are non-American military personnel involved with this. It’s just as fascinating to see how the other nations of the world deal with magic. Throughout both books there are so many tantalizing snippets about the rest of the world. Every chapter starts with a little blurb about the world at large. Holy crap yes I want to know all about how the Danish military controls the weather. Even these blurbs and off hand comments show how smart and well thought out this series is. I was constantly beset by a feeling of logic, similar to when I read World War Z. You come away feeling that you just read how the world really would end up if magic just showed up one day.

I’m starting to seriously ramble on here, by I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on a couple more points, at least briefly, before I goad you one last time to read this book. First off, the magic system itself gets an upgrade. This is in both application of existing magic and the magic available to the world. We’re starting to dance that fine line between knowledge and spoiler again. The important part to take from it though is that there are new mechanics here in this book, and it shows us that Cole isn’t about to stop moving his world forward. If there’s an exact timeframe between the Great Reawakening and the books’ current date, I can’t think of it, but it surprised me that there was still discovery in Cole’s world. The magic always had an entrenched feel in the world, but it makes sense for discovery to be ongoing. There’s that whole well thought out world thing coming up again. I have no doubt that all the ripples being cast in this book are going to be felt farther out in the series.

Seriously, this post is mushroom clouding. Last point though. Maps. Maps are lacking from books too often nowadays, especially for urban fantasy or other books that involve the modern world. Fortress has a beautifully crafted set of maps up front that mark out all the major locations of both books so far. It greets you up front and makes me happy. It should make you happy. Check out his own blog post about the map.

So that’s it. It’s not a stretch of the mind to think I’ll be talking about this book again at the year end for 2013. This whole series is worth all the buzz. I just wish I didn’t have to wait around until next year for another.