Sunday, January 31, 2010

Books in the Mail (W/E 01/31/2010)

An interesting mix this week, including one Science Fiction novel I’ve been really looking forward to reading.

Shadowline Volume One of The Starfishers Trilogy by Glen Cook (Night Shade Books, Trade Paperback 01/19/2010) – Night Shade continues to re-issue program Glen Cook’s backlist in these attractive trade paperbacks. I’ve a feeling I’ll be reading quite a bit of Glen Cook this year and since I’ve hankering for SF with a Space Opera feel.

The vendetta in space had started centuries before "Mouse" Storm was born with his grandfather's raid on the planet Prefactlas, the blood bath that freed the human slaves from their Sangaree masters. But one Sangaree survived - the young Norborn heir, the man who swore vengeance on the Storm family and their soldiers, in a carefully mapped plot that would take generations to fulfill. Now Mouse's father Gneaus must fight for an El Dorado of wealth on the burning half of the planet Blackworld. As the great private armies of all space clash on the narrow Shadowline that divides inferno from life-sheltering shade, Gneaus' half- brother Michael plays his traitorous games, and a man called Death pulls the deadly strings that threaten to entrap them all - as the Starfishers Trilogy begins.

Tails of Wonder and Imagination by Ellen Datlow (Night Shade Books Trade Paperback 2/16/2010) – Ellen Datlow is a legendary editor and this volume contains 40 stories about cats from an impressive .

What is it about the cat that captivates the creative imagination? No other creature has inspired so many authors to take pen to page. Mystery, horror, science fiction, and fantasy stories have all been written about cats.

From legendary editor Ellen Datlow comes Tails of Wonder and Imagination, showcasing forty cat tales by some of today's most popular authors. With uncollected stories by Stephen King, Carol Emshwiller, Tanith Lee, Peter S. Beagle, Elizabeth Hand, Dennis Danvers, and Theodora Goss and a previously unpublished story by Susanna Clarke, plus feline-centric fiction by Neil Gaiman, Kelly Link, George R. R. Martin, Lucius Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates, Graham Joyce, Catherynne M. Valente, Michael Marshall Smith, and many others.

Tails of Wonder and Imagination features more than 200,000 words of stories in which cats are heroes and stories in which they're villains; tales of domestic cats, tigers, lions, mythical part-cat beings, people transformed into cats, cats transformed into people. And yes, even a few cute cats.

Dust of Dreams (A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen) by Steven Erikson (Tor Hardcover 01/26/2010) – I received a copy of this from the UK publisher mid-September, this is the Tor version. As I said then, Owen (aka kater) reviewed Dust of Dreams for SFFWorld.

In war everyone loses. This brutal truth can be seen in the eyes of every soldier in every world…

In Letherii, the exiled Malazan army commanded by Adjunct Tavore begins its march into the eastern Wastelands, to fight for an unknown cause against an enemy it has never seen.

And in these same Wastelands, others gather to confront their destinies. The warlike Barghast, thwarted in their vengeance against the Tiste Edur, seek new enemies beyond the border and Onos Toolan, once immortal T’lan Imass now mortal commander of the White Face clan, faces insurrection. To the south, the Perish Grey Helms parlay passage through the treacherous kingdom of Bolkando. Their intention is to rendezvous with the Bonehunters but their vow of allegiance to the Malazans will be sorely tested. And ancient enclaves of an Elder Race are in search of salvation—not among their own kind, but among humans—as an old enemy draws ever closer to the last surviving bastion of the K’Chain Che’Malle.

So this last great army of the Malazan Empire is resolved to make one final defiant, heroic stand in the name of redemption. But can deeds be heroic when there is no one to witness them? And can that which is not witnessed forever change the world? Destines are rarely simple, truths never clear but one certainty is that time is on no one’s side. For the Deck of Dragons has been read, unleashing a dread power that none can comprehend…

In a faraway land and beneath indifferent skies, the final chapter of ‘The Malazan Book of the Fallen’ hasbegun…

Geosynchron (Book Three of The Jump 225 Trilogy #1) by David Louis Edelman (Pyr Trade Paperback 02/02/2009) – I really enjoyed the first two novels in Edelman’s debut trilogy (Infoquake and Multireal) so I was really looking forward t reading this book in the hopes that Mr. Edelman does deliver on the promises of the first two books.

The Defense and Wellness Council is enmeshed in full-scale civil war between Len Borda and the mysterious Magan Kai Lee. Quell has escaped from prison and is stirring up rebellion in the Islands with the aid of a brash young leader named Josiah. Jara and the apprentices of the Surina/Natch MultiReal Fiefcorp still find themselves fighting off legal attacks from their competitors and from Margaret Surina's unscrupulous heirs — even though MultiReal has completely vanished.

The quest for the truth will lead to the edges of civilization, from the tumultuous society of the Pacific Islands to the lawless orbital colony of 49th Heaven; and through the deeps of time, from the hidden agenda of the Surina family to the real truth behind the Autonomous Revolt that devastated humanity hundreds of years ago.

Meanwhile, Natch has awakened in a windowless prison with nothing but a haze of memory to clue him in as to how he got there. He's still receiving strange hallucinatory messages from Margaret Surina and the nature of reality is buckling all around him. When the smoke clears, Natch must make the ultimate decision — whether to save a world that has scorned and discarded him, or to save the only person he has ever loved: himself.

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (Roc, Hardcover 04/27/2010) – Kay is a magnificent writer, I’ve read about 1/3 to ½ of what he’s written and I wasn’t disappointed by any of it. This will be his first novel since the World Fantasy Award winning Ysabel

Shen Tai is the son of a general who led the forces of imperial Kitai in the empire’s last great war against its western enemies, twenty years before. Forty thousand men, on both sides, were slain by a remote mountain lake. General Shen Gao himself has died recently, having spoken to his son in later years about his sadness in the matter of this terrible battle.

To honour his father’s memory, Tai spends two years in official mourning alone at the battle site by the blue waters of Kuala Nor. Each day he digs graves in hard ground to bury the bones of the dead. At night he can hear the ghosts moan and stir, terrifying voices of anger and lament. Sometimes he realizes that a given voice has ceased its crying, and he knows that is one he has laid to rest.

The dead by the lake are equally Kitan and their Taguran foes; there is no way to tell the bones apart, and he buries them all with honour.

It is during a routine supply visit led by a Taguran officer who has reluctantly come to befriend him that Tai learns that others, much more powerful, have taken note of his vigil. The White Jade Princess Cheng-wan, 17th daughter of the Emperor of Kitai, presents him with two hundred and fifty Sardian horses. They are being given in royal recognition of his courage and piety, and the honour he has done the dead.

You gave a man one of the famed Sardian horses to reward him greatly. You gave him four or five to exalt him above his fellows, propel him towards rank, and earn him jealousy, possibly mortal jealousy. Two hundred and fifty is an unthinkable gift, a gift to overwhelm an emperor.

Tai is in deep waters. He needs to get himself back to court and his own emperor, alive. Riding the first of the Sardian horses, and bringing news of the rest, he starts east towards the glittering, dangerous capital of Kitai, and the Ta-Ming Palace – and gathers his wits for a return from solitude by a mountain lake to his own forever-altered life.

The Extra by Michael Shea (Tor, Hardcover 02/02/2010) – Shea won the World Fantasy Award in 1983 and this is quite a different book.

Books and films have skewered Hollywood's excesses, but none has ever portrayed one man's crazy vision of the future of big action/adventure films asThe Extra does. As over-the-top as Mel Brooks's Blazing Saddles, as savagely dark as Robert Altman's The Player, and more violent than Rollerball, this is the story of the ultimate, so-insane-it-could-only-happen-in-Hollywood formula for success, a brave new way to bring the ultimate in excitement to the silver screen. Producer Val Margolian has found the motherlode of box-office gold with his new "live-death" films whose villains are extremely sophisticated, electronically controlled mechanical monsters. To give these live-action disaster films greater realism, he employs huge casts of extras, in addition to the stars. The large number of extras is important, because very few of them will survive the shoot.

It's all perfectly legal, with training for the extras and long, detailed contracts indemnifying the film company against liability for the extras' injury or death. But why would anyone be crazy enough to risk his or her life to be an extra in such a potentially deadly situation?

The extras do it because if they survive they'll be paid handsomely, and they can make even more if they destroy any of the animatronic monsters trying to stomp, chew, fry, or otherwise kill them. If they earn enough, they can move out of the Zoo--the vast slum that most of L.A. has become. They're fighting for a chance at a reasonable life. But first, they have to survive . . .

Friday, January 29, 2010

Getting Horny with the Wheel

While tEotW served as an introduction to the primary characters smaller scale people of The Wheel of Time, The Great Hunt might be considered an introduction to the politics, nations, and geopolitical powers of Randland.

Jordan starts the book off with a prologue, setting the reader smack dab in the middle of a Darkfriends meeting. The story proper then picks up right with the anticipated arrival of the Amyrilin Seat. Rand does everything to alienate his friends so they will leave him alone – he wants to keep them away from the dangerous person he sees himself becoming. It becomes a bit grating after a bit.

The Horn of Valere is stolen by Padan Fain and we are given the main quest of the novel – the heroes must retrieve the Horn so it’s powers of calling the Great Hunt.

The best chapter of the book, and maybe the entire series, is aptly titles The Dragon Reborn where Rand is tapped on the shoulder and told he’s humanity’s savior. The entire scene, from what Moiraine reveals about his birth and infantile journey to the Two Rivers, to the Amyrlin Seat flatly, and matter-of-factly, tells Rand al’Thor he is The Dragon Reborn. It was a perfectly played scene.

When Rand, Hurin, and Loial make camp near a strange stone they wake up the next day in a washed out world. They have traveled to a apocalyptically flavored world where they encounter giant bear-toads with three eyes and a mysterious woman named Selene.

Jordan’s ability to give scenes power and gravitas are on full display in The Great Hunt. The mythic air of what is happening to these characters is really taking shape. The portal stones are interesting conceits of what-if worlds. It also starts to become clear how much of a scope Jordan has informing the world and the series.

I may take a break every two or three books in the series to catch up with review books. That remains to be seen.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Left Hand of God and Orphan's Triumph @ SFFWorld

Over the past week, we’ve posted two new reviews at SFFWorld. One of which is a much-discussed Epic Fantasy debut while the other is the concluding volume of a popular and enjoyable Military Science Fiction saga.

Hobbit reviewed a highly touted 2010 novel, The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman
I think part of the problem, for me, is that the book tended to fall between the two potentially interested parties. Some books, like, say Raymond Feist’s Magician or Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shannara can be happily read by teens and adults alike. However, in places, the book felt as if it might be rather perplexing for younger readers. Hoffman drops readers into the narrative rather like Steven Erikson’s Malazan series, without explanation and yet for adults, especially those who’ve read a bit of the genre, the books may not be complex enough. For them the tale may be too obvious, the evolution of the characters too clumsy and uneven, the dénouement predictable. It is undemanding, though entertaining.

The first part of the book takes a little while to get going but settles the reader in. It tells of Thomas Cale, a mistreated teen incarcerated in a world where children are sent off as slaves to be trained by the religious Redeemers. As a young adult tale, the significance of this is laid out clearly from the outset. Like many a morality tale the idea of ‘bad religion’ is signaled loud and clear, with a great dollop of Catholic guilt. The first section tells us over and over that Religion is dreadful, punishments are harsh, misery seemingly unending, litanies recited without understanding or merit.

The book I reviewed was Orphan’s Triumph by Robert Buettner, the final book in his highly engrossing and entertaining Jason Wander series. I’ve had the book for quite a while (after sort of asking for a copy from the publisher, sorry guys!) and finally popped it open about a week and a half ago.

Buettner picks up the action straight away. Jason is not only contending with the Slugs and a way to stop them, but the various political borders between the inhabited worlds of the Human Alliance. One of Wander’s closest friends, and one might even say his sidekick throughout the entire series, may have come up with a solution to the Slug problem. One of the moon’s surrounding a human-inhabited planet is basically kryptonite to the Slugs and Hibble plans a gambit that will launch pieces of it to the recently discovered Slug homeworld.

As I’ve said in previous reviews, very often, the overall quality of a series rests on the shoulders of its concluding volume. The same can be said of Buettner’s Jason Wander saga, but with the caveat that he’d been doing pretty well since the previous volumes were balanced, entertaining and good examples of Science Fiction. The journey Jason is put on by Buettner is enjoyable, emotional and genuine.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Eye Closes and Loial Friends Meet

One down, eleven to go. I finished up The Eye of the World over the weekend and came across two chapters that really stand out as cruxes of the series. The first is when Rand falls over the wall and is taken in by Elayne. The viewing Elaida gives Rand really drives away any doubt that he, of the three young men from the Two Rivers, Rand is the one at the center of the story. The hints before, especially from Loial, of his true heritage and even in the chapter with Elaida of his look and how the heron marked sword ‘fit him’ were only the tip of the iceberg.

Loial is one of my favorite supporting characters in the series and revisiting his first meeting with Rand was one point I was looking forward to re-reading. In a sense, Loial might be our eyes and ears in the saga. The sense of wonder and reverence he evokes when talking of the events adds an extra layer of resonance. Loial is a good contrast to Moiraine world in a different way than Moirane.

Loial is also a good example of a twist on genre conventions in the series. His species, Ogier, is awfully similar to Ogre. More often than not, ogres are big, dumb and tend toward the evil side of things. Sure Loial, and all Ogiers for that matter, are large and not easy on the eyes – a fact made clear by Rand’s reaction, and later his companions’s, blurting out Trolloc. If anything, Loial is gentle, quite proper and gentlemanly, extremely bright, curious and a perfect traveling companion.

In the last portion of the book, Jordan introduces the Way gates and an even darker sense of horror than he did with Shadar Logoth. Some really good scenes of dread.

One thing I realized about Jordan’s writing, at least here in The Eye of the World, is that he’s more subtle than he becomes later in the books. At the least, more subtle than he gets credit for being. The scenes when Rand channels, for example, can be interpreted in different ways – when he heals Bela and when Rand and Mat escape from Gode at The Dancing Cartman (Hella Sweet!). It isn't blatantly clear that Rand healed Bela, it could otherwise be read that she gave one last burst of energy. Horses do that in horse races all the time. When Rand and Mat escape, a storm was going on outside. At least they were traveling in a storm before entering The Dancing Cartman. In hindsight, the events are very clear, but reading along not knowing anything, Jordan nicely made the scenes duplicitous.

Though my memory of Nynaeave in the later books is not too fond, here in the first book she is at least somewhat sympathetic. Her first concern is for the “boys” and she doesn’t want Moiraine to harm them. Like all the Two Rivers folk, Nynaeave suffers from that short-sighted small town mentality. It serves them well in daily life, but has a tendency to make them seem foolish when confronted with the facts that contradict their preconceived notions.

All told, The Eye of the World one of the best opening volumes to a multi-volume fantasy sagas written. While there is closure, in a sense, Jordan gives us a lot to look forward to with The Eye of the World. My re-reading of the novel only helped me to appreciate it more.

On to The Great Hunt!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Books in the Mail (W/E 01/23/2010)

This week’s haul includes books in two series I’ve yet to start but which continue to intrigue me. One of those books is part of the haul from Del Rey.

El Borak and Other Desert Adventures by Robert E. Howard (Del Rey, Mass Market Paperback 02/09/2010) – Del Rey is admirably continuing its Robert E. Howard re-issue program. These are all really nice looking books

Robert E. Howard is famous for creating such immortal heroes as Conan the Cimmerian, Solomon Kane, and Bran Mak Morn. Less well-known but equally extraordinary are his non-fantasy adventure stories set in the Middle East and featuring such two-fisted heroes as Francis Xavier Gordon—known as “El Borak”—Kirby O’Donnell, and Steve Clarney. This trio of hard-fighting Americans, civilized men with more than a touch of the primordial in their veins, marked a new direction for Howard’s writing, and new territory for his genius to conquer.

The wily Texan El Borak, a hardened fighter who stalks the sandscapes of Afghanistan like a vengeful wolf, is rivaled among Howard’s creations only by Conan himself. In such classic tales as “The Daughter of Erlik Khan,” “Three-Bladed Doom,” and “Sons of the Hawk,” Howard proves himself once again a master of action, and with plenty of eerie atmosphere his plotting becomes tighter and twistier than ever, resulting in stories worthy of comparison to Jack London and Rudyard Kipling. Every fan of Robert E. Howard and aficionados of great adventure writing will want to own this collection of the best of Howard’s desert tales, lavishly illustrated by award-winning artists Tim Bradstreet and Jim & Ruth Keegan.

Iron Man: Virus by Alex Irvine (Del Rey, Mass Market Paperback 1/26/2010) – I’ve read some of Irvine’s novels and enjoyed them and he seems to be churning out superhero novels on a pretty regular basis.


In the clear blue skies above Long Island, two airplanes collide. Tony Stark watches the scene in horror and wishes he had the technology that is almost within his reach—a new hyperintelligent instant control system that could have given the aircraft advance warning. But Stark, an obsessive, increasingly troubled recluse, doesn’t know that his invention has been compromised.

In fact, the collision was a carefully crafted hit on Madame Hydra, the final stage in Arnim Zola’s plan to seize control of HYDRA and get rid of Iron Man once and for all. The cunning adversary has already infiltrated Stark Industries security to develop a version of the instant control mechanism that will take over the armored suit and turn it against Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D. While Tony races to track down the source of the intrusion, Zola unleashes direly ingenious computer viruses and the ultimate secret weapon: a murderous clone army based on Stark’s most trusted friend. A puppet master of self-replicating terror, Zola is plunging a city into a war that threatens to consume all in its wake.

The Ruling Sea (The Chathrand Voyage Trilogy Book 2) by Robert V.S. Redick (Del Rey Hardcover 2/16/2010) – A year later and I still haven’t managed to read the first book in this series, but it hasn’t really left the to read pile.

In his acclaimed first novel, The Red Wolf Conspiracy, Robert V. S. Redick launched the gargantuan ship Chathrand and its motley crew of misfits, murderers, and monsters toward a landfall that may exist only in legend. Now Redick masterfully ratchets up the suspense with deep intrigue, ancient powers, and shocking new revelations.

Though the immediate plans of the dark sorcerer Arunis have been thwarted, the battle for control of the Chathrand, on which the fate of empires hinges, is far from over. On board, a small band of allies bound together less by trust than by desperate need scrambles for a means to defeat the conspiracy, while the nobleborn Thasha Isiq and the lowly deckhand Pazel Pathkendle find themselves unwillingly drawn inward to the plot’s core—and into a deadly game that will force them to make hard sacrifices.

The wizard Ramachni has left the travelers and retreated to his own world to nurse his battle wounds, but Arunis remains at large—weakened, yet still a terrifying foe. More pressing is the conspiracy of the Arquali Emperor, his chief assassin, Sandor Ott, and the Chathrand’s notorious captain, Nilus Rose, to use the dawn wedding of Thasha and a Mzithrin prince as a signal to launch a war.

With every move they make, Thasha and her compatriots find that they have more to lose—especially the deposed ixchel queen, Diadrelu, and the woken rat, Felthrup, who each harbor terrible secrets they dare not reveal.

Worst of all is a hidden, festering horror lurking in the hold of the Chathrand. A danger that not even Ramachni could have foreseen, it is the twisted product of a malevolent powerdetermined to pull down the pillars of the world.

Now, as the Chathrand sets course through the uncharted waters of the vast and mysterious Ruling Sea, the fragile bonds of trust and love beginning to form between the unlikely allies will be tested to the breaking point—by unspeakable terrors, magical wonders, and shattering betrayals that dwarf anything that has come before.

Lightbreaker (The Codex of Souls #1) by Mark Teppo (NightShade Books Mass Market Paperback 05/18/2009) – First time author Mark Teppo launches an intriguing Urban Fantasy that has already garnered some positive reviews. Teppo is the second or third of NightShade’s mass-market original authors.

Markham has returned to Seattle, searching for Katarina, the girl who, a decade ago, touched his soul, literally tearing it from his body. But what he discovers upon arriving is dark magick - of a most ancient and destructive kind!

An encounter with a desperate spirit, leaping destructively from host to host, sets Markham on the trail of secretive cabal of magicians seeking to punch a hole through heaven, extinguishing forever the divine spark. Armed with the Chorus, a phantasmal chain of human souls he wields as a weapon of will, Markham must engage in a magickal battle with earth-shattering stakes!

Markum must delve deep into his past, calling on every aspect of his occult training for there to be any hope of a future. But delve he must, for Markham is a veneficus, a spirit thief, the Lightbreaker...

Heartland (The Codex of Souls #2) by Mark Teppo (NightShade Books Mass Market Paperback 01/18/2010) – This is the second book in Teppo’s urban fantasy series, which I’ve been wanting to start since about a year ago. With two books looming at me now, I do feel more compelled.

Markham returns to Paris where he lost his love - and nearly his life! The ancient order of manipulative magicians that once cast him out is now in turmoil... a turmoil made all the greater by the swaths of destruction that Markham tried to avert in the Pacific Northwest. Teamed with an unlikely partner, Markham seeks to overturn the corrupt remains of an order no longer able to police its own practitioners. Yet, he can't escape the feeling that he's still just a pawn in a larger game.

The second novel of the Codex of Souls further explores the strange occult world first introduced in Lightbreaker. Mark Teppo's vision of a magical underworld is a non-stop adventure that continues to bring new light to the occult origins of our history.

Secret of the Dragon (Dragonships of Vindras #2) by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (Tor, Hardcover 03/16/2010) – Like a lot of fantasy fans who found the genre in the 1980s, the duo of Weis/Hickman helped to introduce me to the genre, through their DragonLance and Darksword sagas. This is the second book of their latest collaborative effort – a six book series.

New gods are challenging the old high god, Torval, for rulership of the world. The only way to stop these brash interlopers lies with the five Bones of the Vektia Dragons—the five primal dragons hidden away by the dragon goddess, Vindrash, during the creation of the world. Without these dragons, one of the new gods, Aelon, cannot seize power. The only hope of the Vindrasi lies in finding the dragon bones before the followers of Aelon can use them to destroy the old gods. But the Vindrasi gods have a traitor in their midst…

In the land of mortals, Raegar, a Vindraisi turned Aelon warrior-priest, searches for the spirit bones. The gods have a champion of their own—Skylan Ivorson, sea-raider and high chief of the Vindrasi clans, and sworn enemy to Raegar. But Skylan is a prisoner on his own ship. The ship’s dragon, Kahg, has vanished and some believe he is dead. Skylan and his people are taken as captives to Sinaria, where they must fight in a game known as the Para Dix. The fates of men and gods and are dragons are rushing headlong to destruction. Skylan can stop the calamity, but only if he discovers the secret of the dragon.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Elegy Beach by Steven R. Boyett - Review @ SFFWorld

As promised last week, I posted the review to Steven R. Boyett’s Elegy Beach, which I thought was a fitting sequel

Boyett’s voice in Ariel was crisp and honest, and much the same can be found here. The framework of the two novels is similar as both are essentially quest fantasies wherein the heroes must travel to the enemy’s stronghold and bring him down to save the world. One thing about Elegy Beach is that despite a similar voice and structure, Boyett gets experimental with the style and employs a different tone. In the style, he decides many sentences, regardless of whether they are declarative or inquisitive, end in periods. It is off-putting for most of the novel, but it does eventually feel a natural fit for the story. Tonally, Elegy Beach is a more somber story. The interaction in Elegy Beach between Pete and his son Fred are minimalist at best, but that sparseness speaks more volumes than words. Interestingly, Fred learns more about his father’s past through hearsay and being a fly on the proverbial wall than through Pete’s own words.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Carai an Caldazar and Blackout Reviewed

Thanks to Adam for bringing something to my attentionn that my obvious lack of math skills didn’t – this year is the 20th Anniversary of the publication of The Wheel of Time. I hadn’t made that connection when I began my re-read of the series on Friday with The Eye of the World, but it is a neat case of serendipity. One might even say a case of the Wheel weaving a thread of the Great Pattern.

I finished up to Chapter 19 last night, Shadow’s Waiting where the Three Stooges of the Two Rivers meet up with Mordeth. They seemed awfully quick to spill the beans to him, after being tightlipped in Baerlon, which was a bit on the unplausible side. I do like the background narrative we learn about the destruction and ruined city of Shadar Logoth.

Nynaeave first comes into play as a prominent character a couple of chapters before the above with her first braid pull. Knowing now that she and Lan come together, it is interesting to note that he does show her respect initially, at least in a different way than the Two Rivers people and even Moiraine.

In Baerlon, we also meet with the god-awful Children of the Light for the first time. They just get in the way of everything, and it shows that there is more to the world than just the Dark One and those fighting against him on Rand/Moiraine’s side.

I also like how Jordan titles each chapter, too.

I posted Dan’s review of Connie Willis’s Blackout, today which he seemed to enjoy quite a bit:

So, what do we get in this tale? We get a rich look at 1940s England, in the city and the countryside. We get an up close and personal view of Dunkirk. We get a good review of medical facilities and practices in the 1940s, e.g., how does one break the fever associated with measles without antibiotics? We get a marvelous description of life in the tubes and shelters during air raids and the behavior and character of the Londoner. We are also introduced to four singular time travelers with all their accomplishments and failings. Sometimes, we think that folk from 2060 ought to be more aware of the world around them and how to deal with it but, then, we ourselves are forgetting they are operating in a world of 120 years ago. 120 years ago today, we’d be hard pressed to recognize all the ins and outs of 1890s daily life.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Books in the Mail (W/E 01/16/2010)

Another week another batch of arrivals. One of which I'm already reading:

Warriors edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois (Tor, Hardcover 03/16/2010) – With a new Dunk and Egg story in the A Song of Ice and Fire milieu, this anthology is a must read. A glance below at the contributors in this volume only support that.

From George R. R. Martin’s Introduction to Warriors:

“People have been telling stories about warriors for as long as they have been telling stories. Since Homer first sang the wrath of Achilles and the ancient Sumerians set down their tales of Gilgamesh, warriors, soldiers, and fighters have fascinated us; they are a part of every culture, every literary tradition, every genre. All Quiet on the Western Front, From Here to Eternity, and The Red Badge of Courage have become part of our literary canon, taught in classrooms all around the country and the world. Our contributors make up an all-star lineup of award-winning and bestselling writers, representing a dozen different publishers and as many genres. We asked each of them for the same thing—a story about a warrior. Some chose to write in the genre they’re best known for. Some decided to try something different. You will find warriors of every shape, size, and color in these pages, warriors from every epoch of human history, from yesterday and today and tomorrow, and from worlds that never were. Some of the stories will make you sad, some will make you laugh, and many will keep you on the edge of your seat.”

Included are a long novella from the world of Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin, a new tale of Lord John by Diana Gabaldon, and an epic of humanity at bay by David Weber. Also present are original tales by David Ball, Peter S. Beagle, Lawrence Block, Gardner Dozois, Joe Haldeman, Robin Hobb, Cecelia Holland, Joe R. Lansdale, David Morrell, Naomi Novik, James Rollins, Steven Saylor, Robert Silverberg, S.M. Stirling, Carrie Vaughn, Howard Waldrop, and Tad Williams.

Many of these writers are bestsellers. All of them are storytellers of the highest quality. Together they make a volume of unforgettable reading.

Death & Dishonour edited by Nick Kyme, Alex Davis, and Lindsey Priestley (Black Library Mass Market Paperback 01/26/2010) – This seems like a pretty good sampler for Warhammer Fantasy – an anthology of nine stories.

The Warhammer world is filled with great heroes, and defined by honour and survival against the odds. But sometimes these values are overridden, and death and dishonour prevail. This collection contains nine new stories featuring some of Warhammer's most legendary heroes including Gotrek and Felix, Florin and Lorenzo and Brunner the Bounty Hunter.

Black Tide (Blood Angels Series Book 1) by James Swallow (Black Library Mass Market Paperback 01/26/2010) – An installment in a popular subseries of WH40K by a very experience tie-in/gaming novelist/writer.

Having prevented the ferocious Bloodfiends from bringing disaster to their homeworld of Baal, the Blood Angles go in search of the renegade who almost destroyed them-Fabius Bile. Tracking the Chaos traitor down to his secret base on Dynikas V, a world beset by alien tyranids, the Blood Angels find horrors more terrible than even they can imagine. And with a sample of primarch's blood in his possession, the Blood Angels must discover what nefarious plot Fabius Bile is bent on.

Rynn's World (Space Marine Battles) by Steve Parker (Black Library Paperback 01/26/2010)– Here’s a nice big fat paperback about the vaunted Space Marines of the Warhammer 40K universe.

When the ork hordes of Warlord Snagrod lay waste to the planet of Badlanding and wipe out the Crimson Fists sent to stop them, Chapter Master Kantor prepare a hasty line of defence on the Fists homr planet of Rynn's World. Tragedy strikes when an errant missile destroys the Space Marine's Chapter monastery, killing most of their warriors. With a handful of Crimson Fists left, Kantor must fight the campaign of his life, to defeat Snagrod's orks and prevent his Chapter's annihilation.

Blackout by (Connie Willis (Bantam Spectra Hardcover 02/10/2010) – Willis is one of the most awarded writers in the Science Fiction genre. Her most famous novel Doomsday Book also centers on Time Travel. Dan B at SFFWorld read and liked it quite a bit, that review will go up today or tomorrow.

Blackout is the opening movement of a vast, absorbing two-volume novel that may well prove to be Connie Willis’s masterpiece. Like her multi-award winning The Doomsday Book, this marvelous new work marries the intricate mechanics of time travel to the gritty – and dangerous – realities of actual human history.

The narrative opens in Oxford, England in 2060, where a trio of time traveling scholars prepares to depart for various corners of the Second World War. Their mission: to observe, from a “safe” vantage point, the day-to-day nature of life during a critical historical moment, As the action ranges from the evacuation of Dunkirk to the manor houses of rural England to the quotidian horrors of London during the Blitz, the objective nature of their roles gradually changes. Cut off from the safety net of the future and caught up in the “chaotic system” that is history, they are forced to participate, in unexpected ways, in the defining events of the era.

Blackout is an ingeniously constructed time travel novel and a grand entertainment. More than that, it is a moving, exquisitely detailed portrait of a world under siege, a world dominated by chaos, uncertainty, and the threat of imminent extinction. It is the rare sort of book that transcends the limits of genre, offering pleasure, insight, and illumination on virtually every page.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Wind Rose in the Mountains of Mist

I started my anticipated Wheel of Time re-read tonight, a bit behind the one going on and some other blog/fan sites (or Brandon Sanderson himself). I don’t know exactly what I’ll be writing in these posts or how often they’ll go up here at the o’ Stuff.

This will be the first time in about a decade that I’ve read a Wheel of Time novel, and more than that for The Eye of the World in particular. With any such re-reading, of course, characters actions later in the series will be viewed in a different light when we first meet them.

So … on rides the dragon.

I’ve re-read Dragonmount, the prologue a few times and it still works pretty well. Jordan conveys a guy going ape-shit nuts at the end of all things nicely. In the first chapter, we see the first hints of the gender divide between the Village Council.

I also get the early sense of Mat as a Trickster and the air of frustration surrounding Nynaeve and I haven’t even ‘met’ her in the book yet. She has a presence in her absence. There’s a very down home feel to the first few pages, which happens while the village of Hobbitom er excuse me ….Two Rivers prepares for the Elventy-First…Bel Tine fest. Yes, I know Jordan deliberately evoked Tolkien in the early portion of the novel, I kid because I care.

I think I’m going to have fun re-reading this series.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Ariel and The Bookman reviewed at SFFWorld

Ace Books re-released a cult-classic genre novel in August of last year, Ariel by Steven R. Boyett. The novel has some genre famous fans like John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow and I now consider myself a fan of the book. It is the first book review I posted to SFFWorld this year.

Boyett quickly avoids some of the fluffy cutesy cliché associated with unicorns when Ariel begins to speak and mouth-off back to Pete. The bond between the two is more than that of a mage and a familiar, it is an intimate bond that might even border on that of star-crossed lovers. This description sounds trite, I admit and even writing it does as well. However, Boyett’s skill in evoking the feelings between Ariel and Pete is wonderfully rendered.
Little, rather no explanation is given to the reason behind the Change. It just happened and though it may have been interesting to find out the why, Ariel is a stronger novel because no explanation is given. Perhaps because I recently finished it, I couldn’t help but draw mental comparisons between Ariel and Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece The Road. Stylistically both novels couldn’t be more different, but the sense of ruin and the dangers of a decay of civilization they both illicit in the feel of the world as seen through their characters is similar.

Another recent review is Bridie Roman's review of The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar. Tidhar is doing a Q & A at SFFWorld for the next week or so. Here’s a blurb from Bridie’s review

This is a steampunk gem. The settings are marvellously detailed, giving you the feeling that there is a London in which Lizards reign and whales swim up the Thames to sing lullabies to the city dwellers. The technology is mystical yet mechanical, blending souls and machines into a fascinating mix that would spark one hell of a debate between philosophers. The society itself, in which poets and writers are revered, is pretty cool too, as you keep reading certain names often pop up that make you go “Hey! I’ve heard that somewhere!” Names dropped include Prime Minister Moriarty, Byron the Automaton and Captain Nemo. This particular feature of the book was fun and made much of it seem like an “in” joke. The plot itself was interesting, fast paced and diverse. One minute Orphan is being abducted, the next he is a pirate on a ship. I felt the pace was a bit too rushed, as though Lavie was trying to cram a big book into fewer pages. A lot of explanation was left out in favour of intrigue and descriptions of how Orphan is feeling. I often had a feeling that everyone in the book knew more and that nothing was being fully explained to me, however I let my imagination run wild and that filled the gaps for me, if a little insufficiently.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart at SBR/SFBR

My second review for the Sacramento Book Review /San Francisco Book Review The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart is now live and published. In the printed version, it is the feature review for the Science Fiction and Fantasy Section, which is really cool considering it is only the 2nd review I’ve published with them.

So, click through and find out my thoughts on Jesse Bullington’s superb debut novel.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Books in the Mail (W/E 01/09/2010)

Since this is the first big batch of arrivals for 2010 (thanks to the Penguin imprints), I figured I'd include one of the regular explanations for these posts.

As a reviewer for SFFWorld and maybe because of this blog, I receive a lot of books for review from various publishers. Since I can't possibly read everything that arrives, soI figure the least I can do (like some of my fellow bloggers) is mention those what arrives for review on the blog to at least acknowledge the books even if I don't read them.

Sometimes I get one or two books, other weeks I'll get nearly a dozen books. Sometimes I'll want to read everything that arrives, other weeks, the books immediately go into the "I'll never read this book" pile, while still others go into the nebulous "maybe-I'll-read-it-category." More often than not, it is a mix of books that appeal to me at different levels. This is one such week as some books I will unhesitatingly read while others go to the discard/never read pile without a second thought.

So, without further ado, here are the books that reached my doorstep/mailbox/landed-in-front-of-the-garage this past week:

Flight into Darkness (Alchymist's Legacy #2) by Sarah Ash (Ace, Mass Market Paperback 1/26/2010) – I read Ash’s Lord of Snow and Shadows a few years ago and thought it OK. This book is the second in a trilogy

As an impulsive young man, Rieuk Mordiern accidentally freed Azilis, a guardian spirit charged with keeping the balance between the kingdoms of the living and the dead. Now Rieuk’s sole purpose is to bring Azilis back—only she doesn’t want to return. Instead she has attached herself to a very talented mortal, the renowned singer Celestine—becoming, as Celestine believes, her personal guardian.

Celestine has never needed a guardian more. Her desire for revenge against the people who consigned her magician father to the flames is leading her down a dangerous path. And chaos is growing. Seven daemons from another realm are now threatening to lay siege to the mortal world. Now both Rieuk and Celestine must discover what it means to truly be a hero.

The Adamantine Palace (Memory of Flames #1) by Stephen Deas (Roc, Hardcover 02/02/2010) – Mark/Hobbit read this and really enjoyed in 2008, a few months before the book was released in the UK. In fact, part of his review is blurbed on the back cover! “There are a lot of pleasing qualities with this debut novel. Though the tropes are not particularly new, it’s very well done. The life cycle of a dragon is quite different and suggests some interesting concepts. Above all, the book is engaging from the start, with the reader is drawn into the High Fantasy trappings very quickly – unrest and power struggles in the monarchy, life amongst the lowlife servant culture is soon to be altered forever and so on – and the pages kept turning very quickly after that.

The power of the Realms depends on its dragons. With their terrifying natures, they are ridden by the aristocracy and bred for hunting and war. But as dangerous political maneuverings threaten the complacency of the empire, a single dragon has gone missing. And even that one dragon-returned to its full intelligence and fury-could spell disaster for the Realms...

Unknown (Outcast Season Book 1) by Rachel Caine (Roc Mass Market Paperback 02/02/2010) – The second novel in prolific writer Rachel Caine’s series of novels begun withUndone

Second in the new series from the New York Times bestselling author

Living among mortals, the djinn Cassiel has developed a reluctant affection for them-especially for Warden Luis Rocha. As the mystery deepens around the kidnapping of innocent Warden children, Cassiel and Luis are the only ones who can investigate both the human and djinn realms. But the trail will lead them to a traitor who may be more powerful than they can handle...

Unperfect Souls (Convergent World Book 4) by Mark Del Franco (Ace Mass Market Paperback 02/02/2010) – Fourth book in Gaelic-flavored series reminiscent of The Dresden Files. - In the Boston neighborhood known as the Weird, a decapitated body floats out of the sewer, and former Guild investigator Connor Grey uncovers a conspiracy that may bring down the city's most powerful elite. As the violence escalates, Connor is determined to stop it-with help from one of the most dangerous beings of Faerie. Even if it means unleashing the darkness that burns within him.

Shadows Past (A Borderlands novel) by Lorna Freeman (Roc, Mass Market Paperback 02/02/2010) – This is the third book in a series, of which I haven’t read the first two. Rabbit is struggling to make sense of his new powers and his new position as King Jusson's heir when a man once scorned by his mother comes seeking retribution-and demands that Rabbit marry his daughter...

Wings of Wrath (Magister Trilogy Book 2) by C. S. Friedman (DAW Mass Market 02/02/2010)– This is the mass market paperback of the Hardcover I read and reviewed last year, and this version of the book includes a blurb of the review. I liked the book a lot and I’m looking forward to book 3. Here’s a brief from my review: An element I’ve enjoyed in all of Ms. Friedman’s novels is her ability to give weight to both sides of a conflict. In Feast of Soul, the Souleaters were monsters out of legend associated with only death and destruction. Here in Wings of Wrath, more background is given to these creatures and their history, which gives the beginning hints of a rational perspective to their existence. A Great Secret may lie at the heart of what they are (perhaps not unlike the world of Erna in her Coldfire Trilogy) but the hints of such a secret may just be teases of What Could Be rather than What Is.

Another strong aspect of the novel is how much of accepted faith is challenged throughout. Kamala as a female Magister (something historically forbidden) is perhaps the best example of this, but faith in the Gods of the world is also challenged. As a Guardian of the Wrath, Rhys has always accepted the role Gods play in setting the world as it is. Events occur which utterly shake his foundation in this faith. At times, he questions himself, but also struggles with whether or not he should share the knowledge which led to this crumble in his foundation of faith with others.

While this second volume isn’t plotted quite as tightly as Feast of Souls, Friedman still manages to keep the dramatic tension quite high throughout. The best scenes involve Kamala, for she is an enigma and something that really shouldn’t exist according to the history of the world in the novels. Characters who were hinted at or seemed only placeholders, in a very welcome move, come more into play in this volume and the society of the Magisters shifts a bit into the background.

A Girl's Guide to Guns and Monsters edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Kerrie Hughes and (DAW, Mass Market Paperback 02/02/2010) – The February 2010 monthly DAW anthology is exactly what it says on the tin. At least this cover is a bit more tame than the last one this duo edited although it looks like every other cover urban fantasy/tough chick book.

Brilliant, original sci-fi and fantasy stories featuring brave and bold heroines

Thirteen urban and paranormal tales of strong women, armed with weapons they are not afraid to use, as well as fists and feet of fury, who face monsters and bad guys-and are not above rescuing men in the process.

Brooklyn Knightby C.J. Henderson (Tor , Trade Paperback 01/18/2010) – This looks to be the first in a Dresden-y urban fantasy series involving arcane objects and museums

Professor Piers Knight is an esteemed curator at the Brooklyn Museum and is regarded by many on the staff as a revered institution of his own if not an outright curiosity. Knight’s portfolio includes lost civilizations; arcane cultures, languages, and belief; and more than a little bit of the history of magic and mysticism.What his contemporaries don't know is that in addition to being a scholar of all things ancient he is schooled in the uses of magical artifacts, the teachings of forgotten deities, and the threats of unseen dangers.

If a mysterious object surfaces, Professor Knight makes it his job to figure it out--and make sure it stays out of dangerous hands.

A contemporary on an expedition in the Middle East calls Knight's attention to a mysterious object in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum … just before it becomes the target of a sorcerous attack that leads to a siege on a local precinct house by a fire elemental.

What looks like an ordinary inscribed stone may unlock an otherworldly Armageddon that certain dark powers are all too eager to bring about--and only Piers Knight stands in their way.

State of Decay (Revivors) by James Knapp (Ace Mass Market Paperback 02/02/2010) – This is the ‘final’ book of an ARC I received back in October.

Just because you're dead doesn't mean you're useless...

A thrilling debut novel of a dystopian future populated by a new breed of zombie

They call them revivors-technologically reanimated corpses-and away from the public eye they do humanity's dirtiest work. But FBI agent Nico Wachalowski has stumbled upon a conspiracy involving revivors being custom made to kill-and a startling truth about the existence of these undead slaves.

Hespira (A Tale of Hengis Hapthorn) by Matthew Hughes (Nightshade Books, Hardcover 01/12/2010) – Hughes has been publishing stories in the age set just before Vance’s Dying Earth. The Hengis Hapthorn series blends mystery with Science Fantasy and has received some nice praise. I’ve been wanting to read him for a while and now I’ve got the opportunity, this is the third book in the series.

Sherlock Holmes meets Jack Vance's Dying Earth in Hespira, the new novel from Matthew Hughes, acclaimed author of Majestrum, The Spiral Labyrinth, and The Gist Hunter and Other Stories.

As magic continues to reassert its ancient dominion, replacing rationalism as the fundamental underpinning of the universe, Old Earth's foremost freelance discriminator, Henghis Hapthorn, and his intuition (now a separate person named Osk Rievor) are living apart, though they remain on good terms.

But now into Hapthorn's life comes a woman of mystery. Who is Hespira? Who has sent her to lure Hapthorn on a quest across the Ten Thousand Worlds? And to what final, fateful choice will she bring him?

Spiral Labyrinth (A Tale of Hengis Hapthorn)by Matthew Hughes (Nightshade Books, Trade Paperback October 2008) – What I said about Hughes and these Hengis Hapthorn books equally applies to this title, the second in the series.

It was bad enough when Henghis Hapthorn, Old Earth's foremost discriminator and die-hard empiricist, had to accept that the cosmos was shortly to rewrite its basic operating system, replacing rational cause-and-effect with detestable magic. Now he finds himself cast forward several centuries, stranded in a primitive world of contending wizards and hungry dragons, and without his magic-savvy alter ego. Worse, some entity with a will powerful enough to bend space and time is searching for him through the Nine Planes, bellowing "Bring me Apthorn!" in a voice loud enough to frighten demons.

Star Wars: Crosscurrent by Paul S. Kemp (Del Rey, Mass Market Paperback 1/26/2010) – Kemp is a very good storyteller who wrote some very novels set in the Forgotten Realms. It will be interesting to see how well this translates to the Star Was universe and I have pretty high hopes.

An ancient Sith ship hurtles into the future carrying a lethal cargo that could forever destroy Luke Skywalker’s hopes for peace.

The Civil War is almost over when Jedi Knight Jaden Korr experiences a Force vision so intense he must act. Enlisting two salvage jocks and their ship, Jaden sets out into space. Someone—or something—appears to be in distress.

But what Jaden and his crew find confounds them. A five-thousand-year-old dreadnaught—bringing with it a full force of Sith and one lone Jedi—has inadvertently catapulted eons from the past into the present. The ship’s weapons may not be cutting-edge, but its cargo, a special ore that makes those who use the dark side nearly invincible, is unsurpassed. The ancient Jedi on board is determined to destroy the Sith. But for Jaden, even more is at stake: for his vision has led him to uncover a potentially indestructible threat to everything the Jedi Order stands for.

Heretics (Apotheosis Book Two) by S. Andrew Swann (DAW Mass Market Paperback 02/02/2010) – Swann has been writing for quite some time with about 15 novels to his credit. His Prophets (I’m even blurbed on the back!) and listed Mr. Swann as one of my Favorite ‘New To Me’ Author(s) of 2009 so I’ve been looking forward to this book.

The second volume in the long awaited sequel of the Hostile Takeover Trilogy.

After the events of Prophets, the human universe is on the brink of war while, eighty light years away, a being called Adam has arisen to set into motion an attack that has been centuries in the making. Should he succeed, he will rule all of humanity, and all sentient life, as a God.

Only a few know the truth of what is coming. But even with the aid of some unexpected allies, does the human race have any hope of resisting this seemingly omnipresent and omniscient entity?

City of Night (The House Wars Book 2) by Michelle West (DAW Hardcover 02/02/2010) – Sequel in a series, which is itself part of a larger series.

Demonic activity has escalated in both the Undercity and the mortal surface level city as the worshipers and servants of the Lord of the Hells strive to complete the rituals that will return their god to the mortal realm. As Rath joins with mages and the Twin Kings' agents to wage a secret battle against this nearly unstoppable foe, he gives Jewel Markess and her den of orphans the opportunity to escape the chaos by providing them with a note of introduction to the head of House Terafin, where Jewel will discover her destiny.

Except the Queen (Esther Diamond #2) by Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder (Roc, Hardcover 02/02/2010) –Yolen is a living legend and Snyder is an accomplished writer in her own right. Here, they’ve teamed up to craft an urban fantasy.

From award winning authors Jane Yolen and Midori Snyder comes a tale of two worlds-and one destiny...

Sisters Serena and Meteora were once proud members of the high court of the Fairy Queen- until they played a prank that angered her highness. Separated and banished to the mortal realm of Earth, they must find a way to survive in a strange world in which they have no power. But there is more to their new home than they first suspect...

A sympathetic Meteora bonds with a troubled young girl with an ornate tattoo on her neck. Meteora recognizes it as a magic symbol that will surely bring danger down on them all. Serena, meanwhile, takes in a tortured homeless boy whose mind is plagued by dark visions. The signs point to a rising power that threatens to tear asunder both fairy and human worlds.

And the sisters realize that perhaps the queen cast them from their homes not out of anger or spite- but because they were the only ones who could do what must be done...

Monday, January 04, 2010

2009 Reading Year in Review

I read a lot of books in 2009. I read 82 books, which includes graphic novels (10) but not the many single-issue comics I’ve read. This is down only 2 books from 2008, which is a blip, I should say.

In 2009, I posted 56 reviews to SFFWorld and one new one to the Sacramento Book Review /San Francisco Book Review.

I’d say that’s a pretty decent number of reviews. Having said that, in the coming year, I’ll be cutting back on the number of reviews I post. Since I started getting review books from publishers, a lot of books have been piling up. Not only those I’ve received for review, but the books that I’ve purchased and others that have been put aside in favor of the review books. I also want to do a Wheel of Time re-read/catch up and the same for Glen Cook’s Black Company. One or both of those may be an ongoing feature here on the blog. Or, since SFFWorld doesn’t have any *official* reviews for any of the Wheel of Time books, I may just post reviews of the books there. Plus I want to catch up with other series (for example David Weber’s Safehold, Ian M. Banks’s Culture, Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and Codex Alera) and now that some series are complete (Daniel Abraham’s Long Price and Sean Williams’s Astrolopolis to name only two), I want to get through them too.

One of my personal ‘reading goals’ for 2009 was to read more books by women, which I did more than doubling the number of women-authored books I read 2008. That’s 12.5 in 2009 (one of the books was The Dragons of Ordinary Farm co-authored by Deborah Beale) vs 5 in 2008.

54 of the 82 books I read were published in 2009, roughly 2/3. Breaking down the genres, 26 could be considered SF, 32 Fantasy, 6 Horror (and a few of the books could fit in two (The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbartcould be considered both fantasy and horror or all three like Gregory’s The Devil’s Alphabet) and 5 short story collections/anthologies.

All that said, on to the categories for the 2009 … Robloggies? ManBearPiggies? Stuffies? I don’t know! This isn’t a typical top 10 or 12 or anything, but whatever you want to call them, here are some categories for what I read in 2009 and what I put at the top of those categories.

Rob Favorite Science Fiction Novel(s) Read in 2009

This year I rediscovered Alastair Reynolds, first with Pushing Ice then with what amounted to one of my favorite SF novels of 2009 House of Suns.
Since this is an Alastair Reynolds novel, one would expect some big-ideas and one would not be let down. Set millions of years in the future, ample time has passed in the galaxy for humanity to evolve and join the greater universal civilization. And what a civilization it is. Some scenes worked really well to show off a grittiness of the future, that there are still scrupulous creatures willing to make a hazy deal. Conversely, the ideals of love haven’t changed too much – certain love is embraced and other love is shunned and looked down upon. On the other, the great leaps of time that take place in Reynolds human history as well as the characters lives showcases how far humanity has evolved in this novel.

The sheer scale of intelligent civilization in this universe is mind-boggling. Perhaps most fascinating are the Machine People and the Machines who preceded them thousands of years before the events in even Abigail Gentian’s time. On the other hand, that sense of time, that tens of thousands of years can pass so effortlessly in these characters lives really adds to the sense of wonder for which Reynolds is so well known. These themes are handled with an expert’s care in Reynolds’s assured storytelling ability.

Another book at the top of my SF list for 2009 has a very strong alternate history vibe, with a bits of post-apocalyptic fiction and steampunk thrown into the mix, even though it is set about a hundred years in the future, Robert Charles Wilson’s Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America:
The tone is very comfortable and Wilson’s prose is just wonderful to read and digest. The comfortable to which I’m referring is the tone is inasmuch as we the reader, through Adam’s positioning of words, know who Julian Comstock really is. Essentially, the feel of the novel is that we are taking a peek behind the curtain at how the real events transpired around a legendary and historical figure.

It isn’t through info dumps or anything obtrusive that the reader learns about the world at large, technology like cars and travel to the moon are viewed as nearly magical things of the past or fallacies of fantasy outright banished from collective thought. Wilson also manages to conjure the reality of the future world and layer the details very well through the characters thoughts, actions, and words. Furthermore, by just touching on some of the details rather than flat out explaining them, Wilson lends a credibility to 22nd Century America which gives a deeper sense of resonance. Credibility and believability in this world is also conjured through Adam Hazzard’s footnotes sprinkled throughout the novel.

I couldn’t get through a top 2009 list without mentioning Peter F. Hamilton’s The Temporal Void, the middle book of a rollicking, over-the-top-in-the-best-way Space Opera trilogy.

The Temporal Void really is two intertwined novels under one cover – the Waterwalker storyline which takes place in the Void and the effect of the expanding Void and Living Dream movement outside of the Void could conceivably stand on their own as two separate books. Both ‘novels’ are compelling, with the Edeard story being slightly more so. However, considering the book (at least in US ARC form) is large enough to stop a rhino in its tracks, the read was quick and engaging thanks to the best pacing I’ve read from Hamilton. (Admittedly, I’ve yet to complete what many consider his landmark work – The Night's Dawn Trilogy). The link between the Waterwalker’s world and the Commonwealth seem tangential at first, but Hamilton hints at connections between the two throughout with further hints of a more concrete connection perhaps to be revealed in the concluding volume, The Evolutionary Void.

In a book packed with great storytelling, flaws are minor but existent. Perhaps the greatest flaw is in Edeard the Waterwalker himself. Throughout his storyline, he manages to triumph over every defeat. Reading those scenes proved exciting, but as the final chapters of the Waterwalker storyline came and went, some of the dramatic tension was lost. Despite his youth and initial lack of experience with his telekinetic powers, he still defeated all of his enemies. Theconclusion to Edeard’s story was both revelatory and powerful. I’m also hopeful that Hamilton will reveal more of Edeard and the Void’s true nature so as to better explain why Edeard overcame every obstacle. I also trust enough in Hamilton’s storytelling abilities to anticipate a solid (if at times protracted) conclusion and revelation of the connection between the Void and the outer galaxy.

Rob’s Favorite Fantasy Novel(s) Read in 2009

Again I’m torn between two books and each time I think to myself, ‘yeah, that’s the best fantasy novel I read this year’ I then think about the other one. The first of those two is Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.

Grossman’s writing is subtle and relaxed on the whole, but like the sex scene between the two male students I mentioned earlier, he will throw a sucker punch in the midst of otherwise well-flowing narrative. In two cases, this comes in the form of Penny, one scene of which is literally a sucker punch from Penny to Quentin. Another scene (not with Penny) involves a standard lecture, with Quentin being bored (as most students tend to get during college lectures) when suddenly the Beast appears shocking everyone including the instructor and killing a student. These “sucker-punch” scenes occur even more explicitly once the Physical Kids finally arrive in Fillory. Grossman shows how magic might work in the real world in an effective manner, with possibly terrifying implications. Perhaps the strongest parallel I can draw here is how well Alan Moore / Dave Gibbons showed the effects of superheroes in the real world in their landmark graphic novel Watchmen. In this sense, Grossman illustrates just how unsafe magic could be, especially in the unpracticed hands of young college students, and even older students and thos who graduated – perhaps the axiom a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing applies. Gone is the safe illusion of magic as Quentin and his friends soon realize. Just like Watchmen, The Magicians is a work I can see myself returning to multiple times in the future

That other book, is R. Scott Bakker’s return to Eärwa, The Judging Eye, which is the latest entry in his über-saga, The Second Apocalypse:

There are no absolutes in Bakker’s fictional world, or rather once something is thought of as an absolute, something or someone thrusts that absolute into the fire both illuminating and destroying what could be considered absolute. Take Sorweel again - his hatred for Kellhus is thrown asunder once Kellhus appears. The dichotomy of conflicting absolutes drives much of the fiction and can be seen in the mirrored journeys of Achamanian and the Skin Eaters and the march of the Great Ordeal. Both are striving towards what they see as the greater good, although part of what fuels Achamanian is his hatred of Kellhus. Whereas the Great Ordeal is marching in the name of good against an accepted evil, Akka’s march in the depths of darkness may eventually illuminate the true nature of Kellhus. The Great Ordeal is an army of knights and order, Akka’s march is basically a mish-mash of chaos and those on the fringes of society.

While The Judging Eye is “just the opening” of a greater story, Bakker does bring the storyline to a satisfactory stopping point. As a relatively slim volume of just over 400 pages of story, the book is somewhat small compared to other Epic Fantasies. What Bakker’s done in those 400 pages is crafted the best novel of the year, and one that hints at greater things to come. As the characters who seemingly know Kellhus the most intimately come to question much about the God who was once a man, the reader can only do the same. Is he a savior of the world, preventer of the Second Apocalypse or is he the destroyer and igniter of the Second Apocalypse. Bakker is not one to give absolute answers, but the novel gives many things to consider about unconditional perceptions.

Rob's Favorite Debut(s) of 2009

Two of the three strongest debuts for me were both published by Orbit Books. The first was a book that kind took me by surprise, Kate Griffin’s Madness of Angels which I thought “epitomizes more of an earlier (think 80s & early 90s) definition of Urban Fantasy - street magician/sorcerer, magical monsters made of trash, the Bag Lady as a prophetess/seer. No vampire fighting chicks in leather to be seen here (and that isn't a slight), just the magic of life.”
The other debut from Orbit that really impressed me was The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart, which I thought that if “readers can handle Hegel and Manfried as protagonists , they will be rewarded with an ultimately rich and entertaining reading experience, that is especially more impressive since it is the author’s first novel.”
My favorite debut of the year; however, was Peter V. Brett’s The Warded Man, the first in a series. Not only was this book one of my top debut novels, it was one of my top reads for the entire year. This is a very promising start to a series and a writer’s career:

The small isolated villages comprise the majority of human society in this novel and while I wouldn’t say it isn’t exactly a medieval setting it is a degradation to a level of technology equal to medieval. In some ways, a minor parallel can be drawn to Terry Brooks’s Shannara series in that the world of 3,000 years prior to the novel could possibly be our own world. A stronger parallel that resonated with me is the world of Stephen King’s Dark Tower – in many ways, the aura of a technological breakdown and even the Old West feel permeates Brett’s world. The harshness and unconnected pools of humanity that flavor Brett’s world also remind me of King’s opus. Other things like the name Rojer, a phonetic cousin to Roger, and much of the language bears potential fruit for a phonetically similar past as “our” world. Brett does well to only hint at such things, giving readers questions to ponder as we wait for The Desert Spear, the second volume of the as-yet untitled series.

Some readers may be put-off by the youthful protagonists and straightforward writing at the beginning would do well to soldier on towards the end. Brett’s evolution of style subtly matches the evolution of the story itself.

Favorite Multi-Genre/Non-Genre Books of 2009

These two books fit more than one genre, but both really stood out to me as engrossing, solid reads that really deserve to be called out in some fashion.

Dan Simmons’s Drood, easily falls into this category with elements of horror, Victorian literature, possible fantasy, and an unreliable narrator. I’ve read quite a few of his books and regard them all very highly. As for Drood, I read it early in the year and loved it, considering it a masterpiece:

The feel of the novel is rich and exquisitely evokes Victorian London. Since I can’t really travel back in time to check on Simmon’s veracity in his ability to evoke the time and place, I can only go with my gut and it tells me Simmons hit the mark in this respect. In that sense, the novel’s haunted feel is only strengthened by the time and place – an era of gaslights, trains and a world at the cusp of vast technological change. The London of Drood, especially the London nights, is very much hidden in shadows with smoke ‘round the corner and hints of danger and otherworldy Underworlds.

Both Collins and Dickens take mythic journeys in this novel, most notably to the Underworld of London. A vast cavern of tunnels underneath the great city where day laborers live in abject poverty and opium dens are visited by men of society, including Collins. It is a dangerous place, a place where vagrants live, where "lost boys" roam the catacombs, and where the dark figure of Drood and his two steersmen usher Dickens on a gondola to the deepest recesses of Underworld. The mythic parallels to Charon, and more explicitly, the Egyptian god of the dead, Anubis are evocative and resonant in their power. Here again, Collins’s role as Unreliable Narrator comes into play, if not during these scenes as much as they do later upon reflection of the events.

I finished The Devil’s Alphabet by Daryl Gregory late in the year and I was almost equally wowed. In it Gregory mixes up a lot of things – horror, science fiction, fantasy, to name just three:

Pax also has a difficult time reconciling with his father, whose small flashes of sanity in his dark and horrific life almost string Pax along for what could be an unrewarding ride. Gregory set up the three offshoots, charlies, argos, and betas, as distinct societal groups within Switchcreek. Lording over everything is the outwardly charming and matronly Aunt Rhoda who, in the intervening 15 years since Pax left Switchcreek, has become mayor. At times she is very supportive of Pax in welcoming him back to Switchcreek. Other times, when Pax wishes to get his father back home and out of the halfway/healing home, she vehemently, but very politely, tells him he should let things be as they are. In many ways, Aunt Rhoda reminded me of the character Frau Totenkinder from Bill Willingham’s superb comic book series Fables – on the surface warm and welcoming, but beneath the surface lies a depth and cunning.

One element of the book that slowly comes to light is how the majority of the characters who hold power are women. Aunt Rhoda, arguably the most powerful character in the novel, is of course a woman. The top doctor in town is a woman. The specter of Jo Lynn, who to me seemed the smartest character in the novel even in death, is a woman. There’s another play with gender since Pax becomes as dependent on his father’s vintage as a child is on his/her mother’s milk.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy could easily fall into this category. Granted it was published a few years ago, but I didn't get to it until this year. Although it published as a literature and fiction novel, the post-apocalyptic setting thrusts it right into Science Fiction. This was one of the best books I have ever read. Moving, powerful, and remarkable.

MVP Author of 2009

Quite a few authors managed to have multiple books on the shelves in 2009, but few had the impact and reach of who I’ve dubbed the MVP author of 2009:

He only published three novels and helped to revive The Wheel of Time, the defining Fantasy Saga of this generation. His solo fantasy novel, Warbreaker was a solid follow-up to his superb Mistborn trilogy and a top 10 book for me in 2009

So, after a successful trilogy, Brandon Sanderson has given readers a done-in-one (for now, at least) Epic Fantasy novel that is engaging, entertaining, and like his Mistborn trilogy, gives a new lens with which to view familiar elements of a pleasing story. If I can level any negative criticism at the novel it is that once Vivenna leaves her homeland of Idris, it is only spoken of as a place to keep out of war. Considering Vivenna is the only remaining princess after Siri is sent off to be married, I was expecting her father or a group of men from Idris to come into Hallendren in search for Vivenna. This never happened and seemed odd that a King wouldn’t search out for a runaway princess especially when that princess is his daughter. On the whole, this aspect wasn’t a detriment to my enjoyment of the novel, but it itched at my brain a bit. In many ways, the story initially has a faery-tale feel to it, with a royal daughter’s marriage binding two kingdoms. What unfolds from that simple premise is well-wrought, intelligent, and at times, surprising – one might say a conspiracy novel with hints of slight hints 1984 wrapped in a wonderful fantasy package.

He published the third book in his popular Alcatraz series.

Didn’t he publish something else though? Oh yeah, the little book that toppled the Mighty Dan Brown from the #1 spot on the NY Times Bestseller list. To say that The Gathering Storm sparked some life in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time saga is like saying The Flash can run somewhat fast and the New York Yankees are a relatively successful sports franchise. Though I’ve yet to read it (see above for my Wheel of Time re-read/catch-up nod), the book has been nearly universally praised by many, many, people.

Favorite ‘New To Me’ Author(s) of 2009

These are books or authors that have been publishing/published for quite some time, but for whatever reason, I only managed to get to them this past year.

In no particular order:

S. Andrew Swann – I read two books by him in 2009 and though very highly of both of them. One of those books was the Space Opera Prophets and the other was the Werewolf/Historical Fantasy/Romance Wolfbreed. I’ll be following those two series and I plan to read the books that precede Prophets, plus I have the omnibus/duology Dragons and Dwarves awaiting a read.

Based on the two books I did read by Swann, he flows very well between the related subsets of Speculative Fiction. Taking a look at his bibliography would bear this out - Space Opera, Mystery, Thriller, Historical Fantasy, Urban Fantasy.

David Weber - I read his retrospective anthology Worlds of Weber in 2008 and in the Fall of this past year, I picked up Off Armageddon’s Reef the highly enjoyable opening novel of his Safehold series. Since Santa brought the second and third books in the series, with a fourth one publishing in 2010, I’ve got a nice chunk of reading ahead of me in this promising series. I also may go back to his Honorverse novels.

Warhammer/ Warhammer 40,000 - I know this franchise has been around for a while, but I read a couple of the books this past year and have a slew on the plate to review. So far, I’ve enjoyed what I read quite a bit and can really see why the universe appeals to so many people

Most Disappointing Reads of 2009

Three books for which I had high hopes didn’t work for me that I had high hopes for when I began reading them last in 2009. Each book disappointed me for different reasons, though.

The Quiet War by Paul J. McAuley is a book I looked forward to a great deal since Mark enjoyed it and I was in the mood for a good solid space opera. I didn’t get that with this book. What I got was more of a mystery with not nearly as much space opera goodies as I hoped to read.

How to Make Friends with Demons by Graham Joyce was another major reading disappointment of 2009 for me. I just couldn’t attach myself to the story enough to care. This is really a shame because everything up to this point I read by Joyce I enjoyed a great deal. I’ll chalk this up to a case of the wrong book at the wrong time.

Soulless by Gail Carriger was quite disappointing, too. The premise sounded fairly interesting – Steampunk meets Vampires, but the protagonist really wore on me after a while: By this point, it would seem that I enjoyed the novel. I did – up to the first 80-100 pages, which worked well for me. I was enjoying the way Carriger revealed her supernatural world and I liked the characters of Lord Maccoon, Alexia, and Lord Akeldama. Unfortunately, the immediacy of the opening of the novel and the charm of the characters began to wear off as the novel progressed, especially the prattling between Alexia and her friend Miss Ivy Hisselpenny, a constant wearer of ugly hats. I also found Alexia’s and Maccon’s back and forth to lack the pull when they first began their romance in the novel. Lastly, I felt browbeat by a lot of the repetitive aspects of the novel, the continual reference to Hisselpenny’s ugly hats, and the even more derogatory slant of Alexia’s Italian heritage which seemed to be pointed out every five pages, to the point where I started to say to myself, "OK, I get it, she’s half Italian and that’s not a good thing."

Favorite Author Whose Work I Revisited in 2009

Robert J. Sawyer, with WWW: Wake is what puts him in this category.

I read a handful of his novels years ago but never managed to return to them and in that time he’s published over a half-dozen books and won some awards. This WWW trilogy is quite promising.