Monday, November 24, 2008

Review: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson has fast gained a reputation for being one of the better epic fantasy trilogies out there – especially since the publication of the all important conclusion, The Hero of Ages (US, UK, Canada). The Well of Ascension (US, UK, Canada) is the middle book – it’s The Empire Strikes Back of this trilogy, though only time will tell if like Empire, it becomes recognized as the best of the trilogy, but I can say that it is a noticeable improvement over the first book, The Final Empire (US, UK, Canada).

Plot summaries are hard, and in the case of a middle book, rather pointless in a review. It would be very hard for me to even attempt a real summary without completely spoiling events of the first book. It’s not giving too much away to say that the first book basically ends with a victory for our good guys and this book deals with aftermath – which proves to arguably be much more of an issue.

The feel of this book is both the same and different from many middle books. Generally, the first book of a trilogy ends with a great triumph and the second follows up with a set-back for the good guys. While The Well of Ascension does follow general this trend in many ways, it does so in a way that feels different. Throughout the book the struggle is to look forward without looking back – and the characters can’t help but look back. It feels like giant hangover – the hopeful levity inspired by Kelsior even in the darkest times is absent. No one can stand up and be who they need to be. Confidence is shattered, doubts ensue and even the strongest question if they have only made things worse. This struggle feels real – and it’s something that’s easy to relate to.

In my review of The Final Empire I praised Sanderson’s characterization. In The Well of Ascension, Sanderson both improves and regresses in this area. We see many more points of view to get a bigger picture and Sanderson generally handles this very well. However, I wasn’t as impressed with some of the secondary characters this time around while the main characters really come alive with their struggles, their weaknesses and their doubts. We don’t have the domination of Kelsior in this book and the characters often seem to be lying in this shadow, lacking that extra inspiration. This is exactly as it should be – this book is a shadow to the first and the struggle to escape this shadow rightly dominates the characters.

As in The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension has an interesting take on religion. Sazad is a Keeper who was charged with collecting all the information he can about religions that become extinct under the Lord Ruler’s tyrannic rule. Now that the Lord Ruler has been defeated, he is charged to spread his knowledge. When combined with creation of a new religion, this leads to some interesting introspection and questioning. As with The Final Empire, I wish this was further explored – I feel that it could be a real knock-out punch rather than an interesting side-bar.

Now, it’s time for me to admit to doing a bit of cheating. While all of that writing above is still true and does reflect my own thought about the book, I had to do a bit of research (techno talk for reading to other people’s reviews) to bring those thoughts to the surface – more than I usually need for writing a review. The simple truth is that from pretty much the first page, I was completely engulfed in this book. It sucked me in and I easily became lost in the story at hand. More than once I would look up dazed to find that I had been reading for much longer than thought – that I should have gone to bed hours ago. It’s this that makes Sanderson’s Mistborn series so great – the ability to completely remove the real world from my mind. Very few books achieve this with me and it was refreshing to find one that did – especially since it’s been a while.

The Well of Ascension admirably fulfills the role of a middle book in a trilogy. The more depressed tone represents a curious (and well-done) juxtaposition to the victory of the first book. While there is a bit of cliff-hanger for an end, the book is a complete story-arc and the conclusion to the trilogy is available for the anxious to jump strait into. This book grabbed me at the beginning and didn’t let go until the end, and that alone is enough to get a strong recommendation from me, but thankfully it’s not the only reason either. Sanderson is fast becoming a new powerhouse in the world of epic fantasy and I highly recommend the Mistborn Trilogy. 8-8.5/10

Related Posts: Review of Mistborn: The Final Empire, Review of The Hero of Ages, Review of The Mistborn Trilogy

Friday, November 21, 2008

Brandon Sanderson Satires Self

So the good folks at Tor apparently were creatively bored while Brandon Sanderson was visiting, and the result is is the video below where Brandon must deal with touring without David Farland.

Funny stuff

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Few Links

I’m a bit bored, so here are a few links – a couple are a bit narcissistic, but it’s my blog.

  • Margo Lanagan has an observation about my review of Tender Morsels. I didn’t feel like I was being ‘admirably honest’ or anything, but it’s always interesting to get a glimpse of how others react to what I say.

  • Check out the Book View Café – a bunch of (female) authors have gotten together to share out of print fiction, poetry, other fiction, etc.
That’s all for now.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Science and Science Fiction

I wouldn’t call it a meme, but more of quest for information. ScienceOnline09 is an annual science communication conference that brings together scientists, bloggers, educators, and students to discuss promoting public understanding of science and some of the moderators are looking for input. I’m in a curious place for this one – I’m both a scientist (an engineering geologist) and blogger in the the greater SFF community. So, this appeals to me from both directions. There are two sets of questions proposed at this blog – one for scientists and one for sci-fi authors. I’ll answer the science questions (since I’m not a writer), but I encourage the authors out there reading this to consider answering and sharing their answers.


What is your relationship to science fiction? Do you read it? Watch it? What/who do you like and why?

I’m a huge fan of reading books that I’d describe as speculative fiction – this includes science fiction, fantasy, horror, alternative history and a number of other genres. As for watching, I have limited time for TV and movies these days, so I don’t watch and sci-fi series but I do find time for the occasional sci-fi movie thanks to net flix.

I read primarily for entertainment and escape, though I certainly enjoy some ‘meat’ to the books I read. It’s hard for me to pin down exactly why I enjoy SFF specifically – I imagine that a large reason why that I deal with the ‘real world’ all the time, so I want something different, something more, when I read. I also think that SFF allows a lot more flexibility in an author than ‘normal’ fiction and seeing what authors do with that flexibility is quite rewarding.

What do you see as science fiction's role in promoting science, if any? Can it do more than make people excited about science? Can it harm the cause of science?

This depends a lot on how science fiction is defined – and that is a long debate that I don’t care to go into and that I don’t feel overly qualified to if I did (you can start here if you want). However, the answer to the first question is that science fiction has both no role in promoting science and that it often serves as a de facto introduction to science for the general public. For writers, I think it’s very rare for promoting science to even be considered when writing sci-fi. They have their own reasons. But for much of the public the focus is often on the science part of the description rather than the fiction part – and the fiction really dominates in science fiction.

In the case of science fiction movies and TV, I think that harm often results. Most of the general public wouldn’t consider the various CSI shows as science fiction, but that’s exactly what they are. One consequence is that people serving on juries often expect more than is actually possible from prosecutors and have little understanding of important details and caveats of scientific evidence – so, our legal system is suffering due to misunderstandings that often originate from TV shows.

Have you used science fiction as a starting point to talk about science? Is it easier to talk about people doing it right or getting it wrong?

Simply put – no. I think that there are much easier and more applicable ways to introduce science than from science fiction. In an ideal world I think that it should be the other way around – science should be the introduction for science fiction.

Are there any specific science or science fiction blogs you would recommend to interested readers or writers?

I follow dozens of blogs and most can be found in the links on the sidebar here, however, I will point to a discussion on science and science fiction that was done as part of SF Signal’s Mind Meld a few months ago – it’s a very good read and much of the discussion is applicable to this one (actually these other mind melds apply as well).

Friday, November 14, 2008

Review: Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Margo Lanagan has made a name for herself by writing wonderfully evocative and occasionally controversial short fiction. Tender Morsels (US, UK, Canada) is her first full-length novel, and like much of her previous work is marketed toward a YA audience. Lanagan skillfully tells a very powerful story that is accessible to teens, who in spite of the mature content and themes, know the reality presented better than most of us adults give them credit for.

Tender Morsels starts in an interesting way – it’s all about the sex. Now, this is a bit misleading, we begin with the scene of two adolescent outcastes in post-coital chit-chat. Then we move on to the central character, young Liga Longfield, and witness a premature stillbirth, the unrealized result of abortive herbs. Soon, we see the greater story of how Liga lives alone and in isolation with her father, a hard man who regularly sexually abuses her. Liga is young, sheltered, ignorant and innocent to the true horrors of her situation. We see her gain some understanding, we see something of a resolution, the birth of a child, and then a gang rape that breaks Liga’s remaining spirit. None of these is truly explicit in its portrayal, and the view from Liga’s point of view deadens the horror, but this isn’t the expected start to a book billed as YA.

The set-up is the key and what follows is the discussion. In the moment of her greatest despair, Liga magically comes to her own personal heaven where she raises her two daughters in a sheltered safety. As the walls of her heaven gradually thin we see things more and more often from the point of view of her two daughters – one who unknowingly craves the read world and another contented with comforts she knows. Barriers break down and the entire family must confront reality in their own ways.

The underlying reality of humanity lies at the heart of this story. It’s a world of overwhelming cruelty interspersed with acts of incredible kindness and everything in between. Liga escapes a horrific reality, yet unwittingly restricts the lives of her daughters. This timeless story of the evil and generosity of humanity is the hard and true story of making happiness in a place of darkness while learning the true definition of what it means to live.

As wonderfully told the story is, I have to admit that Tender Morsels is a story that really didn’t appeal to me. It’s not a book that I enjoyed reading, though to approach this book as a story to ‘enjoy’, may not be the best approach. And the honest kicker is that I’m not exactly sure why it didn’t appeal to me. Is it because I was never a too much of an outsider, is it because I’ve never suffered any real abuse, or is it simply because as a male I had a more difficult time relating to the mostly female cast. Whatever the reason, I can say that it’s not he fault of the book or its writing, but of my relation to it (hey, sometime it happens this way). 7/10

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Red Eagle Dances on Robert Jordan's Grave

Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time is one of my favorite series of all time – basically, when I started reading these books nearly 15 years ago I started on the path that brought me here. Or, I wouldn’t be blogging about this and that right now if it weren’t for The Wheel of Time. I’ve gone into more detail here.

So, I’m am quite upset about the way things are developing with the potential for these books to be made into a movie –
see this announcement. Now, I’m not a big fan of books to movies (as I’ve said before), but in this case it goes much deeper. Below is an excerpt from one of Jordan’s final blog entries.
I hear things now and then floating out in the air. For instance, I hear that word was floating about ComicsCon in San Diego that I am displeased with Red Eagle. Too true. Too very true. In a few more months that last contract they have with anyone on God’s green earth that so much as mentions my name will come to an end and we can see what happens after that. You see, among other things they forgot an old dictum of LBJ back when he was just a Congressman from Texas, when he famously, or infamously, said “Don’t spit in the soup. boys. We all have to eat.” Worse, Red Eagle though they could tell me they spit in the soup, or pee in it, if they wanted to and there wasn’t anything I could do to stop them. You can’t apologize your way out of that with me, not that they tried. There isn’t enough money in the world to buy your way out of it with me. Not that they tried that either. So they get no further help from me. Once they are completely out of the picture, we’ll see what happens.

It’s easy to tell that Jordan felt that Red Eagle Entertainment had done him wrong and after they completely screwed up the New Spring comic effort, I have to admit that I have no love for them. The problem is that the development deal I linked above involves Red Eagle Entertainment – and as you can see from the above quote, this is not what Jordan wanted. In fact, I’ll go as far to say that this deal is in objection to a dying man’s wishes. It’s not surprising that the many dedicated fans of Jordan’s didn’t react too favorably to the announcement of Red Eagle’s involvement.

Earlier this week,
Dragonmount did an interview with Red Eagle Entertainment about the project. Below is an excerpt.

DM: In one of his last blog posts, Jim made a negative comment about Red Eagle Entertainment that fueled a lot of speculation about Red Eagle Entertainment and your intentions with respect to THE WHEEL OF TIME. How will you convince Jim’s fans to trust you and give their full support to Red Eagle Entertainment’s WHEEL OF TIME projects?

REE: Let us first say that nothing Jim ever said did anything to diminish our great respect for him, his creative energy, and his vision for THE WHEEL OF TIME. He has set the bar very high, and we intend to honor his memory by carefully undertaking our film and other projects so as to meet the same standards of quality that he brought to his authorship of THE WHEEL OF TIME epic.

So, when confronted with the issue, Red Eagle basically turned around and said that Jordan (Jim refers to Jordan’s given name rather than the pen name he took) didn’t offend them – they got the question completely ass backward and managed to insult Jordan yet again. And they seem to miss the fact that their very involvement is a dishonor to Jordan’s memory as expressed by Jordan himself.

I’m not going to bother to quote the comments at that interview, but people associated with Red Eagle take things even farther, further insulting Jordan and questioning the state of his mind.

So, what’s the point of this rant? First, I want to inform people and fans alike of the situation. From the tone of the rest of this post, it should be no surprise that I’ll not be seeing any movie that Red Eagle has anything to do with. Furthermore, I’ll not be touching anything that Red Eagle touches – call it a boycott of Red Eagle. I won’t go as far to call for everyone to boycott Red Eagle, but I certainly think it should be considered. And let’s all pray that that this movie deal falls apart and dies the death it deserves.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Pandemonium on December 15th


I recently did a Questions Five interview with author Daryl Gregory. Below in an excerpt from the interview:


Why should Pandemonium be the next book that everyone reads?

DJG: Do it for my mother. When I started my writing career, she said, You know what you ought to do, DJ? (My family calls me DJ.) You should write a best-seller.This seemed like excellent advice. But how to execute it?

Your question, Ken, points the way. If everyone—and I mean everyone, each man, woman, and child on this planet, plus any Russians and billionaires currently in orbit—makes Pandemonium the next book they read, then my mother’s dream can become a reality. You don’t even have to read the book, you just have to buy it. Let’s pick a day in December. December 15th. On that day, go out or get online and buy a copy for yourself and one for any relative that is bed-ridden and/or computer illiterate.

Come on, people, we can do this. If we can just put aside our petty excuses—for example, that you don’t like science fiction, or that you don’t read English, or that your refugee camp doesn’t have a decent internet connection—if we can just stop all that whining for a minute and buy my book, then, finally, my mother, Thelma Gregory, will know I’m a success. For more information on Do It For Thelma Day, see my website.

Now, this exchange has gotten a bit of attention. A very nice young lady has taken up a crusade to get people to buy Pandemonium on December 15th (US, UK, Canada, my review). There are even two groups you can join to promote this.
So, make the world a better place and make a writer's mom happy - buy Pandemonium on December 15th!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

What Will Hope do for Science Fiction

In my 32 years I’ve not seen anything like the current atmosphere here in the US and even the rest of the world. The best single word for it seems to be HOPE. Late Tuesday night after the election results confirmed Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States of America the scene was simply amazing. Spontaneous celebrations erupted around the country. People celebrated from the White House to Times Square and even here in the relatively small city of Flagstaff, Arizona, people drove around honking car horns, screaming for joy and celebrations erupted in downtown. The next day came as a daze of ‘I can’t believe it really happened’ and millions felt a true hope for the future of our country that has been missing.

Now, I’m much more of a realist than an idealist and I fully realize that the US is still a very divided country. However, this is nothing like any election I’ve experienced in my lifetime and the hope that those I know and that I feel myself cannot be denied. It seems much of the world feels the same way.

In this post-9-11 world things have changed. This change is reflected in all walks of life and science fiction has certainly embraced the reality. Look at everything from Ken Macleod’s The Execution Channel to Cowboy Angels by Paul McAuley and from Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother to David J. Williams’ Mirrored Heavens. Science Fiction writers have taken stock of the world and look toward an ominous future.

So, I ask does the election of Barack Obama change the game. Will Obama really change things or will he be more of the same for the US and the world? How will science fiction writers address the hope that permeates much of the world – at least temporarily?

I really am curious to hear from readers, writers, editors, and others. I suspect that any change will be some time in coming, less than hoped for, and that it’s too premature to see how science fiction will react, if it reacts at all. But, I still feel that hope and it cannot be denied.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Interesting...

I spend a lot of time on various message boards around the net that discuss SFF books. One rather common discussion/rant is that of authors who are late with their manuscripts. Whether this is the notorious GRRM or relative newcomers like Lynch and Rothfuss, these discussions can get really heated due to justifiably upset fans and equally justifiably steadfast supporters.

I learned years ago to not let these sorts of things bother me – I’ve simply got too many good books on The Stack to worry about it. However, this blog post came up today over at Suvudu, which is the ‘official’ SFF blog of Random House and their SFF imprints (like Del Rey). The blog post itself is rather unremarkable and I think very in complete as a post with the aim of point to series to read while waiting. But I did find it very interesting to see a post like at a publisher’s blog (especially since two out of the three late authors they feature are published by Random House).

That’s it really – am I the only one that finds this an interesting juxtaposition?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Review:
Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (Audiobook)

One area of my reading that I often feel is underrepresented is classics – genre or not, I need to be better read in them (and I don’t think I can rightly count any that I was forced to read back in high school). In the realm of science fiction classics, I’ve had Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne languishing on The Stack for years now. So, with my relatively new-found time for audio books in my schedule, I was happy to pick up Journey to the Center of the Earth, read by David Colacci (I’m not sure what the translation is – it was originally published in French).

This is a timeless tale of adventure that’s been told and retold many times since it was originally published in 1864. An esteemed German Professor and his scholarly nephew discover a mysterious message from a 15th Century academic. Once solved, the coded message alludes to an entrance to a passage to the center of the Earth through an Icelandic volcano. They set forth to achieve the goal of the center of the earth with many a surprise along the way.

First, for those readers who are unaware, by day I’m a geologist. The two main characters in The Journey to the Center of the Earth are geologists. With geologists as protagonists being so rare, this fact alone will endear Journey to the Center of the Earth to me for a long time to come. Conversely, with that comes the knowledge of geology that I have. Now, I fully realize that the book is over 100 years old, so the geology is going to be out-of-date. But, with my knowledge so close, the degree to which the book is impossible and the way in which some geologic terms are misused, I was often ripped from narrative as I put on my geo-cap and cried fowl.

As for the story – I have to say that it feels different from much of what’s written today. This is all about adventure and discovery – there are no real thematic elements – this is from a time when, apparently, the adventure was enough. Reflecting on this, I can now see why it has made the jump to TV and movies so often – it really does lend itself to this type of portrayal. However, for it work as a TV/movie, changes need to be made due to the tendency of the adventure to stop short just when it should hit the accelerator – great prehistoric beasts and even prehistoric man are eventually encountered, yet these are kept at a distance and to my disappointment, not explored in any way.

Perhaps it’s due to bias inserted by the reader or even a translation issue, but the main character – Harry, Henry, or Axel, depending on the translation and conversational use – really comes across as annoying and self-absorbed. It could also be something lost to the ages of the 19th Century. Whatever the reason, Henry (as my version used), really gets annoying, and the entire novel is told from his 1st person perspective. The other characters have none of nuance that modern characterization often shows – the venerable professor becomes an excitable and grumpy old man and the steadfast guide, Hans, does all the work and receives little attention. In retrospect, I’d love to see a satirical interpretation of Journey to the Center of the Earth from Hans’ perspective ala Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

It seems that Journey to the Center of the Earth doesn’t really hold up all that well to our modern times. The science fiction novel has evolved greatly since this early form, leaving the feeling of an extended outline lacking the flesh of a novel. However, the audio version was a fine way to spend my long drives and I’m very happy that I did listen to this – I’m not sure I’d have been all that pleased at reading the book though. In short, this classic is something I’m happy to have experienced, but it doesn’t translate well into the 21st Century. 5.5/10

Daryl Gregory Answers Questions Five


Daryl Gregory is known for more in the SFF world for his short fiction. Daryl has recently released his first novel, Pandemonium (US, UK, Canada, my review), which I enjoyed quite a bit and encourage all to read. His day job is in computer stuff and he lives in State College, PA with his family (one of whom is a counseling psychologist).

Thanks again to Daryl for taking the time to answer Questions Five.


How do you win an argument with a counseling psychologist?

DJG: You can’t—not as long as it’s an argument. You have to convince her that you’re not arguing, but that you’re processing your feelings. Feelings such as, I feel we need to buy a big screen TV. Or, I feel that washing your white top with a red hoodie is a mistake anyone would make.



If JoePa were a demonic archetype, what role would he play in your fiction?

DJG: Joe Paterno is an archetype. First, he’s clearly unkillable. The man’s 81 but he’s still screaming at refs. And like all archetypes, his image is everywhere. The faithful purchase cardboard cutouts of him called StandUp Joes that are erected like shrines in homes across the nation. He says nothing that he hasn’t said in every post-game interview for the past 60 years— “I think we gotta work on the fundamentals, they’re pretty good kids, but we can’t get lazy”—but those gnomic utterances are parsed for nuance as if they were scripture. People believe in Joe. Wherever two Penn State alumni are gathered in his name, He is there.

JoePa’s archetypal status presents a problem for me. Because he really is Head Coach of the Collective Unconscious, I can’t use him in my fiction. I’ve got to make up stuff, or they won’t pay me.



Fill in the blank: Kids today just don’t appreciate the value of ______. How does Pandemonium reflect this?

DJG: Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots.

A few Christmases ago I bought the set for my son. He said, “What does it do?”
“They punch each other.”
“That’s it?”
“Put your hands on the controllers. I’ll be the Blue Bomber.”
“Can they kick?”
“No. Look, I’m punching you. Now you try to punch me.”
“I want to open another present.”
“Ha! I knocked your block off!”

Pandemonium is the entire toy box. I put in all my favorite pop-cultural things, from Marvel comics to golden age SF to Sinead O’Connor. The book is yet another attempt to foist my personal obsessions on others. The Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots appear in chapter one.



What other peculiar qualities of Pandemonium should readers be aware of?

DJG: There’s a pretty good sex scene in chapter 14.



Why should Pandemonium be the next book that everyone reads?

DJG: Do it for my mother. When I started my writing career, she said, You know what you ought to do, DJ? (My family calls me DJ.) You should write a best-seller.

This seemed like excellent advice. But how to execute it?

Your question, Ken, points the way. If everyone—and I mean everyone, each man, woman, and child on this planet, plus any Russians and billionaires currently in orbit—makes Pandemonium the next book they read, then my mother’s dream can become a reality. You don’t even have to read the book, you just have to buy it. Let’s pick a day in December. December 15th. On that day, go out or get online and buy a copy for yourself and one for any relative that is bed-ridden and/or computer illiterate.

Come on, people, we can do this. If we can just put aside our petty excuses—for example, that you don’t like science fiction, or that you don’t read English, or that your refugee camp doesn’t have a decent internet connection—if we can just stop all that whining for a minute and buy my book, then, finally, my mother, Thelma Gregory, will know I’m a success. For more information on Do It For Thelma Day, see my website.

Winner of the Brent Weeks Contest

With the help of random.org, I have the winner of a copy of the first two books in Brent Weeks’ new epic fantasy The Night Angel TrilogyThe Way of Shadows (US, UK, Canada) and Shadow’s Edge (US, UK, Canada). In the world of randomness, the winner happened to be the last entry - Luke from Fisher, Australia.

I suspect that he may have entered on November 2nd when the contest ended on the first, but it was still November 1st here in Arizona when the entry was received. I am amused by the subtle strangeness of that. Thanks again to the slight error over at Orbit that made this contest happen.

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