Thursday, April 30, 2009

IndieBound


I'm a big supporter of independent bookstores - at least in theory. In practice, I shop a lot at places like Amazon and Barns & Noble and I have Amazon affiliate links all over this webpage. Well, now I'm going to at least try and move a bit more toward actual support of independent bookstores - I have joined up with IndieBound and their affiliate program. So, I'll start throwing up IndieBound links next to the Amazon links - I encourage you all to use this organization to help you buy books from independent sources and please let me know how things work out. If customer service just isn't there, I'll end my involvement, but I hope that the promise is realized.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Review: Starfinder by John Marco

John Marco has been quietly gaining a reputation for writing solid fantasy novels with his two previous trilogies – the Lukien Trilogy and Tyrants and Kings. His newest book, Starfinder (US, UK, Canada, IndieBound), kicks off a new series, Skylords, and should appeal to a younger audience.

In a early-industrial world with a distinct steampunk feel to it, the Governor of Calio builds an aerial armada to defend the lands from what most consider a mythical threat from across the forbidding mist bank known as the Reach. Moth is a 13-year old boy working at the aerodrome who dreams of one day becoming a Skynight and pilot of the flying machine known as a dragonfly. He is an orphan living with an old, half-crazed Eldrin Knight, Leroux, who is full of magical stories from across the Reach. Moth’s life changes forever with the death of Leroux as events set him on a course to cross the Reach and explore a magical world full of mermaids, dragons, and the dangerous skylords.

Starfinder is Moth’s book, but he does have a companion on the journey – the Governor’s estranged 14-year old granddaughter, Fiona. Fiona’s story is equally compelling and cliché as Moth’s and the interaction between the two is both a strength and a weakness. The dialogue of both Moth and Fiona often seems a bit advanced for young teens and the total lack of sexual tension seems off the mark. However, Marco does portray a good coming-of-age story for both Moth and Fiona.

Two aspects of Starfinder prevented me from enjoying as much as I should have – the relative lack of cross-over appeal and its inability to distinguish itself from the fantasy masses. Starfinder fits firmly into the world of YA fiction, and I think it’s a great book for that market. However, unlike many YA books being published these days, Starfinder doesn’t have the same level of cross-over appeal for the adult audience. While Marco tells a fun and engaging tale, it was too formulaic and too focused on themes more often associated with teens than other ages. As a result, Starfinder failed to distinguish itself from other fantasy out there – sure it’s a well told story, but without that something extra, it didn’t rise above.

So, the bottom line is that Marco tells a good story in Starfinder, but it’s a story that I found solidly aimed at the YA audience with little cross-over appeal for adults. It’d be a great book to pass off to a teen and a great introduction to fantasy, but probably won’t appeal much to a more mature audience. 6/10

Monday, April 27, 2009

Amazon Reviews: Fake? But of Course!

I'm not the best at keeping pace with all the new blogs that pop up and do good stuff, but occasionally I stumble upon a few gems. Searching around today, I found this interesting article that examines just how fake Amazon reviews are (via Only the Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy). Of course it's completely self-serving, from my perspective it's preaching to the choir, and one of the examples used is someone who is well-known for abuses of the Amazon reviewing system - but it's still a good article.

Viral Links that Swine Won’t Touch

It’s been a while since I’ve done a link round-up, so here we go. I’m on the down-side of a crazy-busy period and shouldn’t be spending my time on this, but I’m a glutton for punishment. On to the links…

  • The latest thing to get all the bloggers excited is about authors commenting on reviews. I’ve said a bit here and there, but the quote below sums it up good enough.

    It's all about how it gets done - it can be done well and it can be a complete train-wreck. I think that it can be difficult to do it well, which is why authors should be cautious.

    My own experiences are varied - I often get nice emails from authors thanking me for the review - typically there isn't any comment about the content. Sometimes an author will leave that comment at the review itself, which is also fine. It gets tricky when it goes further.

    I'll point to two examples on my blog -
    in this review, Scott Bakker commented a bit and then discussion exploded. It was good, healthy discussion, but at such a high-level that I'm guessing that 99.9% of readers couldn't really follow it (myself included).

    In this 'review', the author started constructive and degraded into petty insults. It was linked a few times as an example of why authors shouldn't comment on reviews. I definitely consider it an example of #reviewcommentfail.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Review: World's End by Mark Chadbourn

It turns out that I’m that sort of American who holds a fascination with the old Pagan religions of Europe where the majority of my ancestors came from, and particularly for the Celtic traditions of Britain and Ireland. This has resulted in an affinity for Celtic music (especially from Scotland and Ireland) and a wonderful trip through England, Wales and Scotland that included stops at places like Stonehenge and Avebury. Over time I’ve come to realize that this goes beyond fascination to some sort of deeper connection that the rational, scientific part of my brain cannot explain. I feel an honest emotional connection the ancient land and lore of Britain.

I’m not the sort of guy to go out of my way to explore such a connection, but I do naturally gravitate toward SFF fiction that utilizes Celtic traditions as inspiration. While I’ve found that Arthurian fiction typically does nothing for me, some books such as Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock (review) bring this connection to life. The Age of Misrule book 1, World’s End, by Mark Chadbourn (US, UK, Canada, IndieBound) almost perfectly resonates – actually it may be the book that has had the strongest impact to my Celtic longings of any that I’ve read to date.

Jack, ‘Church’ Churchill aimlessly tolerates life as he mourns the years earlier loss of a special relationship. On an early morning walk through the streets of London he witnesses something that his mind simply can’t handle, leading him and another witness on a quest to figure out exactly what happened while opening them up to the truth that reality as they know it is ending. The old Celtic legends seem to be coming alive – the magic and wonder as well as horrifying beasts from the Otherworld. Church finds himself the leader of a motley band of survivors tied the ancient magic of the land who inherit a quest to find lost talismans of great power in an attempt to save the world as they know it.

The US is generally rootless. The ground we walk on simply doesn’t have the long-time habitation of places like Europe. If I dig down in my yard, I’ll only find dirt and rock – maybe some sign of Native Americans, but those generally have limited longevity and it isn’t something of ‘my’ people (though I do have a splash Native American ancestry). In places like Britain, the works of ancestors are under every foot and all around to see in every day life. A 13th century abbey next to a modern building, old Roman walls visible in central London, the castle on the hill, standing stones, or even the simple rock wall that has divided a field for countless generations. These things are a novelty to me, yet presumably are largely taken for granted by those who see them every day. In World’s End, Chadbourn uses this largely dormant connection to prehistory and lore and literally brings it to life. Rather than and idealized land of plenty, the world that Chadbourn brings back is one of nightmares acting as a mirror turned on our modern sensibilities while questioning the human condition.

Chadbourn takes the reader on a wild ride through lands where modern Britain connects with the ancient past. While it’s both a tour and nightmare come to life, the quest engaged becomes equally internal. The five modern saviors under Church’s reluctant leadership with a mysterious hippie guide are a far cry from an expected group of champions. Each person is haunted by their past and fundamentally flawed. The quest becomes internalized for each as they face their past and wrestle with the present. This powerful struggle for each adds an extra dimension to Chadbourn’s story, however, this aspect in inconsistently addressed with the six people at the center of the book. Some are well presented while others lack adequate screen time and development.

Originally published in 1999 in the UK, World’s End by Mark Chadbourn begins the Age of Misrule trilogy and a series of books that follow. Simply put: it completely blew me away. I was sucked into the fascinating tale of Celtic magic in conflict the modern world, where evil seeks the end of the world, where ‘good’ may be little better, and those charged with saving us all have their own problems to deal with. Highly recommended. 8.5/10

Related Post: Interview with Mark Chadbourn

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

David Gemmell Legend Award Shortlist – Vote Now!


The David Gemmell Legend Award shortlist (determined by popular vote) was announced earlier this week and the poll is open for voting – so go vote.

I’ve read and reviewed 3 of the 5 books on the sh
ortlist and I’ve read an earlier book by one of the remaining authors.


  • Brent Weeks: The Way of Shadows (review)

  • Joe Abercrombie: Last Argument of Kings (review)

  • Brandon Sanderson: Hero of Ages (review)

  • Juliet Marillier: Heir to the Sevenwaters (I haven’t read her before, but Mrs. Neth Space enjoyed her earlier trilogy)

For me the vote was down to Sanderson and Abercrombie, and going by reviews alone, Sanderson should be my choice. But I voted for Abercrombie anyway. Why? Because I like his the FU quality of First Law Trilogy and its ending and I look forward to reading Joe’s reaction to winning. However, I do expect there is a strong possibility of a Polish revolution giving the win to Sapkowski.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon's Amazing(ly bad) Response

Via the wonder that is Twitter, I was lead to the Seattlepi.com and Amazon's response to Amazon's Amazing(ly bad) Ranking Policy :

This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.

It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles – in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon's main product search.

Many books have now been fixed and we're in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.

As has been discussed over and over again, this doesn't explain many of the facts - like author's being informed by Amazon of a change in policy. And what I don't see is an apology of any sorts. So, I'm still waiting - I'm less likely to cut off all the Amazon links around here, but at the same time I'm a bit more inclined to look elsewhere for the future. I guessed that this would go away, but if Amazon responds in this way, they are just asking for it to fester for some time.

Amazon’s Amazing(ly bad) Ranking Policy

While I was enjoying a relatively quite Easter weekend, the intranets were on fire with hatred over Amazon’s apparent new sales ranking policy. Basically, the policy is to censor ‘adult’ oriented fiction – the kicker is that it appears to be defined in a way to include anything sympathetic to GLBT characters, anything that addressed homophobia, many feminist books, and whole bunch of others. It’s early and people are (rightly) upset. Here are some links to catch you up:


I’m sure I could go on and on with links, but those are a few of the interesting links I’ve found this morning. As for me, I’m waiting for a while to see how things shake out. If this turns out to be true and Amazon doesn’t do a complete about face with heartfelt apologies, then I’ll have to act. I’ll take down all my Amazon links and spend loads of time going through and deleting the hundreds of Amazon Associate links on this blog. I just can’t support an organization that has this sort of policy – it’s wrong in so many ways.

Of course I’m not sure what I’ll replace things with, but
Cheryl Morgan points to Indiebound which may have an answer.

EDIT: Cheryl Morgan points to an update from the Wall Street Journal and a statement from GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). Whether or not you believe Amazon's statements that it was all a mistake, it does appear that they are going to make the situation right. I'm relieved and I suspect that this will be forgotten before too long.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Alex Irvine Answers Questions Five

Alex Irvine is an award winning author of several novels including The Narrows (US, UK, Canada), A Scattering of Jades (US, UK, Canada), and most recently, Buyout (US, UK, Canada), a near-future thriller tackling a variety of rather disturbing issues (my review). Irvine has also published short stories, nonfiction, comics, and tie-in/media-related fiction. After reading Buyout, I’m surprised his books aren’t discussed more in my typical hang-outs.

Anyway, thanks to Alex for submitting himself to
Questions Five.


What type of protection do you recommend for genre promiscuity?

AI: If Congress doesn't take some kind of action (and it looks like there just isn't the political will), then readers are on their own. Educate your children; that's the first thing. Genre purity doesn't just happen. If you think your kids are at risk of genre promiscuity, they probably are. Don't wait until it's too late.

Name one thing a pretentious literature professor will hate about Buyout.

AI: That it was published and read by more people than those who have to review or cite it.

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

AI: Burritos. I mean, I didn't appreciate the value of burritos until I was well into my college years. This was part of my project in Buyout, to raise burrito awareness and rectify this historical wrong. Also I believe that burritos should be made available in our nation's prisons, where they are not already.

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

AI: It is pleasingly formed along rectangular lines, with colorful imagery on its external surfaces. It opens along one side to reveal a large number of sheets on which are arranged numerous words. The unwary reader, after examining all of those words, might find him- or herself in danger of having experienced the most exciting science fiction novel ever written about actuarial predictions.

Why should Buyout be the next book that everyone reads?

AI: Because it's about crime, punishment, love, death, and movies.

I will allow myself one serious answer: Because our prison system is well and truly fucked up and privatization is only going to make it worse. If more people start thinking about that because of Buyout, I'll be happy. (Also, where else are you going to get production details about a musical biopic of Joseph Stalin that features blackface avatars of dead actors?)



Monday, April 06, 2009

Review: The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks


In 2008 Brent Weeks hit the SFF world with a fury as Orbit released the completed Night Angel Trilogy over a two-month period, starting with The Way of Shadows (US, UK, Canada, IndieBound). Message boards were buzzing, reviews generally positive, and Weeks can now call himself a New York Times Best Selling Author. Of course in reality, opinions are mixed, including mine, as I found The Way of Shadows to be equally compelling and uninspiring average, the characters easy to like but inconsistent, and so on and so forth.

The Way of Shadows follows Azoth, a young orphaned street rat struggling to survive in a horrifying underworld as he stands up to an abusive guild boss and apprentices himself to the city’s foremost assassin, Durzo Blint. Under the tutelage of Blint, Azoth must give up his previous identity to become Kylar, a minor noble as he trains relentlessly to release his innate magical ability and become an assassin as dangerous as his master. Haunted by the loss of the few real friends he had and conflicted about the killer his has become, Kylar finds himself at the center of his nation’s struggle for survival.

Weeks shows the true horrors the underworld Azoth as claws his way out and through the horrendous abuses of the guild boss, Rat. While nothing is explicitly described, rape, sodomy, and mutilation are but a few of the abuses favored by Rat. Sure to garner that all-too familiar ‘gritty’ label, the abuse does fit the world Weeks creates and drives his characters future motivations. However one aspect immediately stood out in a very negative light. A male friend of Azoth’s suffers sexual abuse from the boss Rat, and when we meet this friend later in the story, has apparently become homosexual as a result of this sexual abuse. Whether intended or not, the implication is that homosexuality is the result of sexual abuse, that it’s some sort of mental illness – I found this ignorant and offensive and while it’s an rather minor point, it jumped to forefront, ripped me from the story, and damaged the tale Weeks wants to tell.

The characters of The Way of Shadows suffer from Weeks’ fan-fic feeling need to be larger than life – to be the best, most bad-ass people of the bunch. Sure, they have weaknesses and are conflicted, but these guys are still the best of the best – and they are assassins working for the criminal underground that runs the city. This makes them extra cool. While characters of this sort are generally a necessity for epic fantasy, Weeks fails to distinguish them from so many others in the genre. This combines with what feels like uneven, inconsistent, and at times, unbelievable actions – most particularly from Durzo Blint, whose actions and revelations near the end of the novel fail to convince. Where Weeks does manage to succeed with his characters is depth. Most show more than two-dimensions with Azoth and Blint in particular playing out an interesting commentary on humanity, love, sacrifice, justice, retribution, and even mercy.

In spite of the weaknesses mentioned above and a few others (such as the overly long and slow start), The Way of Shadows eventually becomes a very compelling read. In spite of the uneven characterization, I eventually needed to know what was going to happen. The high-octane events of the last third of the book raised my heart-rate as Weeks laced the action with tension. It was readable and it was entertaining reading.

Brent Weeks’ debut, The Way of Shadows, begins the Night Angel Trilogy, followed by Shadow’s Edge (US, UK, Canada, IndieBound), with Beyond the Shadows (US, UK, Canada, IndieBound) completing the trilogy. Weeks’ suffers from being a bit too fan-like with inconsistencies and improbabilities that at times can’t be ignored. Yet his gripping writing shows promise and saves The Way of Shadows from being tossed into the epic fantasy slop bucket. It was good enough to get me to come back for more. 6-6.5/10

Related Posts: Brent Weeks Answers Questions Five

Contest - Name that Robot





The folks over at the new SFF imprint, Angry Robot have come up with a clever bit a viral marketing that I'm happy to pass along. It's a contest to name the robot on their website and the prize for the winning entry are copies of their first 7 books. And the best part is that the referring website also gets a prize, so I want all my readers to enter (hell, enter 4 or 5 times if you can) and win me the prize (and one for yourself of course).

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Alison Goodman Answers Questions Five

Australian author Alison Goodman is steadily gaining notoriety for her latest novel, The Two Pearls of Wisdom (US, UK, Canada). Of course, the novel has a bit of identity issue – The Two Pearls of Wisdom is the Australian title and aimed at an adult audience, in the US the book is titled Eon: Dragoneye Reborn and aimed at the YA audience, and the same is true of the UK where the title is Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye. However it’s packaged, it’s a pretty good book (my review) and has been nominated for and won a number of awards – including the 2008 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel.

Well, on to the
Questions Five. Thanks again to Alison for taking the time to answer.



Do you believe that the publishing world is prejudiced against Australian book titles?

AG: Crikey, mate, that’s a cracker of a question. Let me go wrestle a croc then come back with a few tinnies and we’ll have a barby and chew on that thought (and the croc).

Name one thing a pretentious literature professor will hate about The Two Pearls of Wisdom.

AG: The sad lack of footnotes
[1].

If The Two Pearls of Wisdom were a fortune cookie, what would its fortune be?

AG: To be cracked open and crumbled into dusty pieces as everyone around the table argues over who ordered the extra Shau Mai, and how much they owe.

Ripped from inside the cookie, however, would be a piece of paper with the following portentous fortune written upon it: Made in China.

If this were your own fortune how would you interpret it?

AG: A huge blockbuster film of The Two Pearls of Wisdom will be shot in China and released to great critical acclaim, and staggering box office returns. I’ve always felt that fortunes found in cookies are open to fairly broad interpretation…

Why should The Two Pearls of Wisdom be the next book that everyone reads?

AG: It has won awards, sold into 12 countries, but the clincher is the scene that brings together a young girl masquerading as a boy, a woman dressed as a man, and a eunuch taking a testosterone tea supplement. Those wacky ancients, hey?

www.alisongoodman.com.au
(The Two Pearls of Wisdom is published as Eon: Dragoneye Reborn in the USA).


[1] A pretentious Literature Professor may also reject the novel’s sensuous Oriental setting, vibrant gender-bending characters, and edge-of-your-seat suspense. The fact that stuff actually happens may create consternation too.



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