Archive for May, 2013

Catching up with the plethora of great books I’ve been reading. They’re distracting me from writing about them, they’re that good. But it’s not surprising to me when I’m reading authors I already know are awesome in the middle of a series that I never want to end.

Time for Crossed Blades by Kelly McCullough. Jumping right to the back of the book!

For six years, former temple assassin Aral Kingslayer has been living as a jack of the shadow trades, picking up odd jobs on the wrong side of the law. But that past is never dead, and Aral’s has finally caught up to him in the beautiful, dangerous form of Jax Seldansbane – a fellow Blade and Aral’s onetime fiancee.

Jax claims that the forces that destroyed everything Aral once held dear are on the move again, and she needs his help to stop them. But Aral has a different life now with a fresh identity and new responsibilities. And while he isn’t keen on letting the past back in, the former assassin soon finds himself involved in a war that will leave him with no way out and no idea who to trust…

If you go back and look at what I talked about with the first two books in the series, Broken Blade and Bared Blade, you’ll be able to copy and paste a lot of what makes this third book great. I’ve crowed praise for McCullough pretty often on this blog because I feel it’s very well deserved. So I could repeat myself a lot, but I’m going to press on and try to focus on the specifics and evolution this series is taking.

One of the hallmarks of McCullough’s writing is the relationships between his characters. (Spoiler alert from the end of book two) I was super excited when Faran showed up in book two. We’ve seen how the downfall of the Blades affected Aral, not good but his whole getting better thing is the overall arc of the series. Faran and her shade were younger when their temple fell. Surviving the intervening years has left her with two very different sides to her personalities. One side is the cold blooded killer who will shank whoever needs shanking to make it through the day. The other side is a very uncertain teenager who doesn’t know her place in the world.

There’s a chunk of time between the second and third books and Aral takes Faran under his wing. She’s kind of his apprentice, but not really because of the experiences she had surviving on her own. It evolves into a big brother / little sister kind of relationship more than anything else. I think they’ve got one of the more complicated relationships in any of the books McCullough’s written and became one of the best ones to read.

Then there’s Jax. She brings the plot to Aral in this one and they’ve got a lot of history. It shows in every word they say to each other. And there’s a big secret that Jax carries with her for the plot so I’m not going to talk about it. Suffice to say the plot features a lot of secrets, twists, turns and double dealing like the others. And like the others, that makes it very hard to talk about without ruining anything that happens. Rest assured that it is entirely satisfying. There’s a slow play going on with one of the characters that’s so slow, you don’t even realize it’s a play until it happens. Damn that made the ending feel great and I hope it plays in with the next book.

A lot of Crossed Blades moves outside the city of Tien. I missed Tien, it’s like the New York City of that world, the center and coolest place around. I missed some of the supporting cast from the previous books like Captain Fei. (I still want a whole book about Captain Fei) That’s always a problem with a series, reading and writing. There’s so much to like, it’s got to be hard to keep it all in. But I never felt like I was missing out with Crossed Blades. A couple characters don’t show but we get Faran and Jax with her crew. We don’t get the dyads but we get the Hand and their storms.

I think that is one of the hallmarks of an excellent series. Growth and evolution. Layer in the new stuff and let the story go where it needs to without getting hung up on fan service. I know I just said I missed some of the supporting cast from the previous books, but there wasn’t any reason to have them waltz into this one. I’ll love it if they do in book four (and a peek at the sample chapter says a couple do!) but the story is boss. I’d rather see the narrative arc grow than forcing it around for fan service. (Although… Captain Fei book! I will throw all sorts of money at that!) This series is Aral’s story. His travels took him one way and that’s what mattered. He makes a lot of progress in getting his life back underneath him.

The series continues to get better and I’m looking forward to the next book coming out this summer.

Happy Birthday Zelazny

Posted: May 13, 2013 in Shelf of Honor
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Zelazny

Zelazny

Roger Zelazny would be 76 years old today if it wasn’t for cancer. nineprincesinamber

Fuck cancer.

Books live on even though he passed away eighteen years ago. The first Amber book, Nine princes of Amber is my all time favorite book and Roadmarks is not far behind it. Thanks to an awesome used bookstore, I have most everything he ever published. I’m going to read a little bit tonight. Take the time to read a bit of your favorite author today.

Zelazny infodump.

The Lives of Tao

Posted: May 12, 2013 in Reading
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From time to time I’ve mentioned that one of the greatest things I’ve discovered from creating this site is that I really enjoy spreading the word of good books. I like shouting out to other authors and giving that digital high five because I know how great it feels for someone to like your writing, but I seriously like recommending books to other people. It’s why I tend to write a lot of posts on the stuff I’ve been reading rather than posting about my own slog through the wordmines. The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu is already tops for the Most Recommended Book this year. It was before I even finished it.

Lives of Tao has been on my radar since Angry Robot Books announced they picked it up as part of their Open Door period of 2011. (The one I wasn’t ready for and the last one that took sci fi. Lucky me.) So Angry Robot is enough to get something on my radar. Toss in some blurbs by authors I already read like Myke Cole and Lavie Tidhar? Yes please. Now for the kicker, aliens living inside people’s noggins? Aw yeah, sign me up.

Back of the book time!

When out-of-shape IT technician Roen wakes up and starts hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumes he’s losing it.

He isn’t.

As of last night, he has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life for called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Over the millennia his people have trained human heroes to be great leaders, to advance our species at a rate far beyond what it would have achieved on its own. Split into two opposing factions – the peace loving by underrepresented Prophus, and the savage powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet… and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.

So now Roen must train to be a hero worthy of his unwanted companion. Like that’s going to end up well…

Seriously, the two consciousnesses inside one head is something I really enjoy reading about. It’s something I don’t see often enough or well enough. The twist here that makes it so good, is that Tao can’t make Roen do anything. He’s full of the wisdom of a thousand lives but he’s got to coax action out of Roen. It makes the whole story into a sci-fi action Odd Couple.

And that’s one of the biggest strengths of Lives of Tao. Roen and Tao have a relationship that takes a lot of work. Tao shines a light on Roen’s life and unsubtly points out that it’s not where he wants it to be. It doesn’t help that Tao is gearing Roen up to be a secret agent. There are stretches where they don’t even talk, which I imagine would be difficult when sharing a thought pattern. Tao is no parasite though. Roen gets a lot out of the relationship that I don’t really want to mention because the discovery of that is one of the great parts of the book.

This is science fiction that has cross-genre appeal. I think fans of the thriller genre, especially Clive Cussler readers, would enjoy Lives of Tao quite a bit. If you took out Tao and just had Roen being dragged into a spy organization and it would be perfectly readable. Clearly aliens are a lot cooler, so the point is more that all the action of the book stands up on its own. The fight scenes have this quick brutality to them. There’s no minutiae of each exact move. Blur pain deadguy. For me, that adds a layer of believability to the fighting of the book, that its not choreographed like a kung fu movie. Choreography has its place, but I don’t think it would fit the tone of this novel.

Chu has written a lot of intensely emotional moments into his novel too. Roen has to make a lot of tough choices. Tao can only help, but he can’t make Roen do anything he doesn’t choose on his own. Tao’s story is spread out throughout the book too and he had some tough times of his own going back to Genghis Kahn. The climax of the book is very rewarding and I’m going to distract you with shiny objects now by saying how the book has funny bits in it too. I caught references to Monty Python, Killer Klowns from Outer Space and others I got excited about but didn’t write down. One of these days I’m going to remember to take notes. But yeah. Killer Klowns from Outer Space. Seriously. That’s awesome.

Something that makes Lives of Tao extra awesome is the potential for more. The aliens among us for our entire history thing has… well… all of history at its disposal. There’s plenty of story left for Roen and Tao but there’s story everywhere for this one. Anything ever done can be folded into this world and I am excited and impatient to know what’s next.

Undertow

Posted: May 8, 2013 in Reading
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One of the great things about the internet, is that authors can use their awesomeness to make me want to buy their books just by hanging out online and not much more really. This is doubly so at cons where you can see them actually talk. I’ve yammered on about that before, but the first line of a blog post always stymies me and there’s a good chance I’m going to go back and change all this before I post it. Or not. Rambling intro or not, this is one of my finds from the last Boskone, Undertow by Elizabeth Bear. Spend any time in the SF circles and you’re bound to hear her name. She’s a beast when it comes to productivity with a massive laundry list of books out. She’s got award noms all over the place. In fact, she was nominated for three more today, about three hours ago.

Also can I say, Holy shit New England! Woo! Finally, some SF writers that aren’t from the Great Lakes corridor or the Pacific Northwest. It’s almost a rule you’ve got to be from there or at least lived there for a while. I swear it’s most of the authors I follow with the exception of an Arizona enclave and a couple in Brooklyn.

Now if only Rhode Island can become a hotbed of SF….

No more distractions, I’m on a schedule! Back of the book time!

A frontier world on the back end of nowhere is the sort of place people go to get lost. And some of those people have secrets worth hiding, secrets that can change the future – assuming there is one…

Andre Deschenes is a hired assassin, but he wants to be so much more. If only he can find a teacher two will forgive his murderous past – and train him to manipulate odds and control probability. It’s called the art of conjuring, and it’s Andre’s only route to freedom. For the world he lives on is run by the ruthless Charter Trade Company, and his floating city, Novo Haven, is little more than a company town where humans and aliens alike either work for one tyrannical family – or are destroyed by it. But beneath Novo Haven’s murky waters, within its tangled bayous, reedy banks and back alleys, revolution is stirring. And one more death may be all it takes to shift the balance…

So as I said, I picked this book up at Boskone a couple months ago and when I was standing at the huskster’s table I had an oh shit moment. My plague ridden phone wasn’t about to play nice with the internet to reassure me I was picking a Book One or a Standalone. And like I said, Bear has a lot of books out. A large part of my decision to start with Undertow was simply that it was the most standalone sounding of all the books at the table that day. I didn’t want to poke around the internet too much about it and spoil the book so there were times during the book where I wasn’t sure.

All the human characters have pasts that weigh heavy on them. Cricket, who is as much of a protag as Andre, has an especially heavy past. Greene and Closs, the antagonists who do the running of the planet, have interactions together that seem much bigger than just one story. Andre himself has a lot of baggage with his family. Because of all this, I kept flip flopping in my head if Undertow was truly a standalone book or part of a bigger world. In the end, it’s just a good book. The characters have serious depth and that’s really the important part. If it is perfectly standalone, Bear should totally mine those backstories for more books. If it’s or becomes part of a bigger world, it reads like the Clockwork Century books do, connected but not dependent on the other stories.

Ever get tired of Star Trek/Wars type aliens that are humans with makeup? Undertow has one of the best written alien species I’ve ever read. The ranids of Green’s World are amphibians that reminded me a bit of EverQuest frogloks. The ranid POV chapters are some of the most fascinating reading I’ve done recently. Everything about their from their social structure and how their effected by humans down to their communication methods and use of unique pronouns are all seriously well thought out. They think fundamentally different than people and that’s ridiculously difficult technical thing to write and have any sort of readability leftover.

The ranids are easily in the top three aliens I’ve ever read, right there with the cheela from Dragon’s Egg and the drapsk from Julie Czerneda’s Trade Pact Universe.

Mega character depth and kick ass aliens. There’s got to be something cool to tie it all together, right? Hell yes there is. Andre is a professional assassin after all. The planet is on the brink of rebellion to begin with and he pushes it past the point of no return with his latest hit. He falls in with Jean Gris, a conjure man who does all that bending of probability, and Cricket, the archinformist (hacker). The POV moves around, which is good because I liked the other two better than Andre. Fight against the man, stop the bad guys’ heinous plan and try to make a clean getaway. It sounds very basic but when you’re boiling things down to barest plot points to avoid spoilers (and hide the fact that I don’t take notes when I do this and I don’t always type these right when I finish a book), of course it’s going to sound basic. It’s a character driven story anyways. If this crew was doing their laundry, I’m sure it would be interesting. There’s some nifty tech that shows up in the latter half of the book that throws a cool twist in matters. I love it when philosophy and tech combine. Quantum anything makes me happy.

Closing statement? Sure I’ll make one.

Undertow is a great book. Simple right? It’s also perfect if you want a primer on how to write aliens that are actually alien.