Saturday, January 30, 2010
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Shepherd first series was the Cassandra Kresnov Trilogy – a science fiction series featuring a feminine android coming to terms with who (and what) she is and kicking ass on the way. Now he is jumping into the fantasy arena with A Trial of Blood & Steel – a planned 4 book series that begins with Sasha (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound), a book that I very much enjoyed. The series continues with Petrodor (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound) which will be released by Pyr in March, 2010 (it’s already available in Australia).
Thanks again to Joel for taking the time to answer Questions Five!
When you create your setting in a secondary world (whether for science fiction or fantasy) does it get cold to the north or to the south? Why?
Well when I started out, it would always get cold in the south, because I’m Australian. And we get kind of parochial about that sort of thing. But then I thought that parochial-ness became a predictable cliché in its own right, with southern hemisphere authors, so in A Trial of Blood and Steel it gets cold in the north. Besides which, it feels like a European-inspired fantasy world, so swapping north and south around just messes with peoples heads unnecessarily.
If Sasha were a fortune cookie, what would its fortune be?
‘Look not for simple solutions, for the road to truth is long and troubled’.
How would you interpret this fortune if it were your own?
Well given that I wrote it, I’d probably say ‘yeah, that makes sense, and is very intelligent and wise also'.
Please describe one reason Sasha would inspire a reader to strip naked and run screaming into the forest?
If the reader in question was insane.
Why should Sasha be the next thing that everyone reads?
Because then I’d be really rich.
Friday, January 22, 2010
Crack’d Pot Trail is the latest novella by Erikson in his Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach novella series that takes place in his Malazan world – though at 180 pages, I’m not sure it can be truly considered a novella anymore. Bauchelain and Korbal Broach are notoriously evil necromancers and now have a group of honorable hunters dedicated to seeing them dead. The action takes place along a pilgrimage trail in an essentially anonymous desert where hunters, artists, groupies, pilgrims and one critic find themselves on the same trail – a trail of the worst kind of desperation.
The horses of the noble hunters are far too valuable, the mules pulling the coach of a rich pilgrim are far too valuable, but the food is gone people have got to eat. Everyone knows it’s improper to eat women, noble knights, and even critics – leaving the artists, whom everyone also know are not of any real value (except perhaps as dinner). The hapless artists find themselves competing each night to not become dinner as everyone becomes a fan or a critic and grows to enjoy the taste of desperate artist.
Malazan fans will be disappointed that this Tale of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach doesn’t really feature Bauchelain and Korbal Broach much at all – instead we get a whole new suite of characters that could lead into their own serial line of stories. This concentrates on the hunters and the artists that feed them.
As I see it, the most effective way to describe what Erikson is doing with Crack’d Pot Trail is to be blunt and a bit foul. Erikson has balls – balls that Steven Colbert would envy. Erikson has a lot to say on story telling, artistic integrity and intent, fandom, and criticism – and at least some of what he is saying is something of a big FU to his fans and critics alike. As the artists (generally poets and other verbal storytellers) tell there tales in defense of literally being eaten for dinner, the audience often interrupts and questions the artist – why are you talking about that, get to the details, more sex, more violence, etc. Additionally, there is one professional critic among the audience (literally a judge at the contest the artists are ultimately traveling to) – a critic who often jumps in and demands more details and explanations – often about completely inane aspects of the story. The picture painted isn’t pretty…and then it gets nasty.
The point becomes very clear and it bites hard. Hell, one of the groupies for an artist becomes a rather sardonic zombie tagging along the periphery of the trail and the object of her admiration meets and unfortunate end along with the other groupies. After all, what artist doesn’t dream of eating their fans and what fan doesn’t dream of eating the heart out of their beloved?
It’s not all so biting – Erikson tells things from the point of view of one of the artists and through this artist he basically bears all. We see the artist’s view on life, the universe and art. We see his justifications for doing what he does. We see the heart of his intent. It’s only fitting that this artist enters into a separate agreement – a promise to provide redemption to one of his fellow travelers or to die if he fails to satisfy. And the end – is there redemption, is there art, or did a whole bunch of people just die?
And lest I forget – the pilgrimage is to visit the shrine of the indifferent god. That’s not appropriate, not appropriate at all.
Erikson has written something I think all authors dream of writing at one point or another but are either too scared or too smart to actually put on paper. Well, as a fan, a critic, and a far from noble knight, I have to say that I loved every juicy bit of Crack'd Pot Trail – I think I’ve developed a taste for it. 9/10
Related Posts: The Lees of Laughter's End review, Interview with Steven Erikson, Dust of Dreams Review, Toll the Hounds review, Reaper's Gale review, The Bonehunters review, Return of the Crimson Guard review
Bryce Canyon, Utah - this happens to be what I use as a desktop wallpaper.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
- World’s collide when two Arizona book bloggers meet (not really, just a fun coincidence that surrounded the Brandon Sanderson signing last November). Plus a giveaway for a signed copy of The Gathering Storm.
- Charlie Huston comes to terms with not having a new book in the next 2 years – now, can the readers?
- Adam at The Wertzone celebrates the 20th Anniversary of The Wheel of Time. The Eye of the World was published in January, 1990. I started reading The Wheel of Time about 15 years ago – reading this series led me to the internet to talk about books. Which lead me to participate more and more on forums. Which let me to my love of the SFF genre. Which led me to start a blog. The Wheel of Time will always be special to me.
- Bloomsbury still insists on white-washing cover art. Shame, shame, shame.
- Some interesting thoughts on racefail in SFF from author N.K. Nesmin. As the above link indicates, there is still a long way to go.
- Toby Maguire as Bilbo Baggins (please, please, NO!)
- In case you haven’t heard – Kage Baker is battling cancer. And the outlook is grim. Wish her well.
Monday, January 18, 2010
Charlie Huston is one of those writers that has experienced a meteoric rise in his career. He’s been a published writer for only 6 years, but in that time has published 11 books – 3 in the Hank Thompson trilogy, 5 in the Joe Pitt case books, 3 standalones, and numerous comics along the way. I’ve only had the chance to read Sleepless (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound, my review), Already Dead (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound, my review), and No Dominion (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound, my review), but certainly plan to read more. Charlie now lives in LA with his family and is trying his hands at TV while taking a (short) break from writing books. The TV projects he’s working on are a potential pilot for HBO based on his book The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound) and a cop show that he can’t talk about yet.
This interview stands apart from others I have done – I did this one in person. Charlie’s first stop for his Sleepless tour was at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale and I was able to combine this even with a work trip to the Phoenix area. When I first approached Charlie for an interview he suggested that we chat for a bit after the event. At this point the event became both more exciting and somewhat terrifying – I have no problem with a bit of chit-chat with an author (though I’m quite introverted and generally uncomfortable talking with people I don’t know well), but this was different, a formal interview. The Questions Five interview format is well suited to the anonymity of the internet, working best when authors take time to think and get creative with their responses. In person the questions sound corny.
So, I scrambled to change a few of the questions, add a few and try not to sound like a complete idiot for the interview (I estimate that I was only about half successful at this, if that). I’m not an experienced live interviewer, I have no skills at dictation, I’m a terrible note taker, I did not record our conversation, and I can barely read my own chicken scratch. The answers to the questions are therefore my interpretation/memory of Charlie’s responses. Quotes are not exact and if something seems off it’s safe to blame me. Heck, the questions probably aren’t even the exact questions I asked him.
Charlie is one of those authors that doesn’t have a huge public life on the internet (he’s present, but not overtly so), so I had only my own preconceptions of what he may be like. Which were mostly proven wrong rather quickly. He’s tall and thin, casually dressed and has several tattoos climbing his arms. His voice which I expected to be dark and brooding is somewhat higher pitched and laced the child-like enthusiasm. He’s funny, friendly and comes across as an optimist. Having read some of his books, I found much of this a bit surprising. Anyway, I suppose I should get on to the interview. So, thanks again to Charlie for humoring me and enjoy!
While living in New York City you were drawn to noir fiction (some of which involves vampires). After living in L.A. for a while your fiction turns apocalyptic. Can you explain?
Well, the Apocalyptic come from more than just the city, but L.A. is an apocalyptic city. It’s hazardous – earthquakes, fires, etc.
Sleepless has been brewing for a while and you just don’t jump into an apocalyptic book without planning. I did most of the writing during 2008 when it really did seem that an apocalypse was coming – this resulted in significant re-writes to include much of what has actually happened. The calendar has as much do with it as anything.
As the parent of a small child, much of Sleepless reads to me as a collection of all the terrible things that can haunt a parent when the imagine things gone horribly wrong. Is this what you were aiming for? (Note, Charlie is the parent of a 2-year old girl)
Well, the idea of Park being the parent of a small child was conceived well before my daughter was. The pregnancy happed a bit before planned, so we were (happily) surprised when we got the news. The result was that I was learning to be a father at the same time I was writing the book, so it got more relevant.
Sleepless was a hard book to write. I was glum and not very fun to be around for much of the writing.
Sleepless has the heart of a noir-style detective novel such as those that you have become famous for (with or without vampires). But it also could be described in varying degrees as being a thriller, horror, near-future sci-fi, Apocalyptic sci-fi, and even cyberpunk. What is Sleepless to you?
A crime story. It’s really a classic crime story with an uncover cop investigating a conspiracy.
Who is Park – hero? Anti-hero?
Park is a close to a classic hero as I can write. Sure, he’s misguided, but defiantly a hero.
Likewise, is Jasper a villain?
[major spoiler redacted]
Anti-hero. I don’t believe in redemption for the things he’s done.
[earlier at the signing event he did use the word evil to describe Jasper]
Does being sleepless bring out the worst in people? Or….
The worst. [at this point we talked about the sleep lost when you’re a new father and discovering rather bad things about yourself.]
Bonus question for inclusion in The SFF Literary Pub Crawl:
Please recommend a favorite pub or similar establishment – it doesn’t have to be local to you, but that is encouraged and if you can’t limit to just one, recommend more, but try to keep it to 3 or less. And don’t forget to say why it’s so great. [Note: Charlie used to support his writing habit by tending bar in New York City]
I hate pubs – they are places people drink cocktails in stem glasses.
My favorite bar at the moment is the Lost & Found in L.A. It’s in a strip mall with a cleaners and across from a grocery store. It has a pool table and popcorn machine – things I value in a bar.
[Note: right after answering this question, Charlie caught a ride to a nearby dive bar – Tallyho Cocktail Lounge]
Sleepless can be described as apocalyptic science fiction, a detective story, a thriller, noir, cyberpunk, near-future sci-fi, or even horror. While all are true to one degree or another, Sleepless is a crime story at its heart – this is simply the story of a dedicated cop working undercover to unearth conspiratorial crime. But let’s not forget that it’s equally apocalyptic – not post-apocalypse, or pre-apocalypse, events in Sleepless occur while civilization is unraveling.
Think about the economic crisis as we’ve known it over the past couple of years – now add to it a plague that is 100% lethal, that infects 10% of the population and is spreading. This plague knows no bounds or economic class – it is everywhere and it is incurable. Once infected a person looses their ability to sleep – they have waking dreams, hallucinations, and are unknowably tired, but they will never sleep again. And they will be sleepless and fully conscious until their inevitable death comes. And they will wreak havoc. The only potential relief comes in the form of Dreamer, a drug that will allow them sleep and if they choose, a peaceful death while sleeping. Dreamer is the drug they need and there isn’t nearly enough.
Park is a unique man who believes in absolute black and white. He truly believes in justice and injustice and absolutely believes that everything will right itself and the world will turn out right. In Park’s world there is no other possible outcome, the world must be right for his wife and infant child. Even if his wife is Sleepless and maybe the infant too. Huston paints Park’s point of view through short absolute bursts of words, approaching telegraphic prose that is perfect for a man of absolute black and white. Huston’s misguided Park denies reality by diving into his work – to infiltrate the Dreamer black-market and find out who’s behind it all. In Park’s mind this will literally save the world.
Balancing Park and his point of view is a more fluid voice, more nuanced, yet in its own way, equally absolute. Jasper is a killer. A man with the experience of a relatively long life, Jasper has embraced the apocalypse as the ideal environment for someone like him to flourish. Through these contrasting voices an interesting truth emerged as I read – the point of view of the killer was much more comforting and less infuriating that the point of view of the hero. And that’s horribly appropriate when the world is ending.
Huston creates an absolutely terrifying world – terrifying because it’s so close to our own. It shows the illusion of civilization that we all live behind for what it is. It shows just what human nature can (and does) do. These are the truths that become evident right from the start and my most optimistic reaction was ‘this can’t end well’.
Oh the end – I wish I could talk about it in detail without spoiling. It is either absolutely brilliant or stunningly wrong. Or perhaps both. I’ve thought on it for days and still haven’t decided, but I think I’ve come to accept that it fits the world that Huston has built. As I said above, ‘this can’t end well’ – the question is just how bad will it be – will any hope be left. Or does everyone die.
So Sleepless is an apocalyptic crime story plus many other pieces that all add up to literary fiction. Yes, this is a book that is both genre and literary (in spite of having a plot). It is very much a discussion on the human condition – it’s just that most of the human conditions viewed are what so many of us would choose to deny exist. This is both a book that I can’t recommend highly enough and a book that I don’t think I ever want to read again. It is excellence, it is depressing as hell, and thankfully, it’s not entirely without hope. 9/10
Friday, January 08, 2010
Thursday, January 07, 2010
So, a conversation with a friend basically ended with ‘well, if you only see one movie every two or three years, Avatar is the one’. This pretty well sums up what I’ve heard and read elsewhere. So, as I was away from home and bit lonely after dinner, I decided on a whim to see it as I walked by a near-by theatre.
Avatar ended up being pretty much everything I’ve heard and read about it. The story is terribly cliché, predictable, heavy-handed, and quite hypocritical coming from Hollywood. And it’s a great movie. The setting is wonderfully imaginative, capturing the heart and mind immediately. The presentation is spectacular – I didn’t see it in 3D (I saw it on impulse and 3D wasn’t available at the time), but it still looked great. The love story was actually done pretty well (even though any deep thought on it quickly leads to it being laughably implausible). The thing is, in spite of all its weaknesses, it still makes for great cinema. So yeah, it was worth it (even not seeing it in 3D).
Tuesday, January 05, 2010
Utah seems to have a disproportionately high number of SFF writers when compared to other places in the world. Is there something in the water?
It's the Jell-O, actually. You eat as much green Jell-O as we Utahans and it's bound to start affecting your dreams.
It does seem there are indeed a lot of SFF writers in Utah. You've got big names like Sanderson, Farland, and Modesitt. In YA there's Mull, Dashner, and Hale. But I question if we really do have more per capita.
I'm looking at the SFWA directory with members listed out by state and Utah doesn't seem to have an inordinate number for its size. For example, if you use the electoral college as a rough population guide, New Mexico and Utah (both with 5 electoral votes) have about the same number of listings. Washington, which has double the number of electoral votes of Utah, has a little more than double the number as Utah. New Jersey isn't represented well. Neither is Georgia. Of course, not all SFF writers are members of SFWA. So this could be just another one of those useless datasets.
Having done that super rigorous investigation, I will say that I have enjoyed the relationships I've made with other Utah writers. I don't know what other states are like, but the group here is so dang nice and helpful. Everyone seems to be all "come on in, the water's fine!" And I can tell you it feels very nice in this pool.
Just how many significant events in your life have been inspired by conversations with livestock?
Besides the one that helped me get the idea for this book, I'd say zero. Livestock are just not the best conversationalists. And I've really tried. I've written about it elsewhere (http://whatever.scalzi.com/2009/10/20/the-big-idea-john-brown/ ), but for your readers I'll summarize the one fine beef chat I did have.
I live up in the hinterlands of Utah in Rich County. It's all ranch land for miles and miles. Now, I'm a city boy, so everything up here was new to me. And one day I was hiking up a canyon and came across a small herd of cattle on their summer range. The bull was bellowing.
Being of supreme intelligence, I bellowed back because, hey, isn't it everyone's dream to talk to animals? We went back and forth a few times. I thought we were having a fine conversation until he began to charge through the willows at me.
I suddenly realized I was telling him I was going to take one of his women. He was telling me he was gonna kill me. And I was saying, "Bring it, I'm taking a woman."
He had a slight size advantage on me, and because I've already got a wife and am not attracted to cows all that much anyway, I high-tailed it out of there. But I began to think: humans, cattle, ranching--what if humans were ranched? So it was a bull that gave me the idea for this novel.
If Servant of a Dark God were a fortune cookie, what would its fortune be?
"You will be soon richer than JK Rowling"
In my dreams. Let's see.
"Human, it's what's for dinner."
Naw. How about this.
"After much tribulation cometh the blessings."
How would you interpret this fortune if it were your own?
It IS my own. You can't know sweet until you've tasted bitter. Most of my greatest joys in life were the result of some tribulation. Or perhaps I should say that many could not be had without going through some struggle.
Why should Servant of a Dark God be the next thing that everyone reads?
Because then I'll have a gazillion readers and will be able to exert mind control to pass legislation guaranteeing bunny cakes to everybody every April first. Bunny cakes make the world so much better. The first is my birthday. And so said legislation would make the first an international holiday called John Bunnycake Day. I'm not joking. Really, I'm not.
But if you don't like that reason, then maybe this will make more sense. However much I'd wish it, I can honestly say that this book should NOT be the next thing EVERYONE reads. The world's a big space. A lot of different needs. It might that the next book that needs to be read by Marge in Sandersville, Georgia is Go Dog, Go! And it needs to be read to her daughter. Or maybe it's her husband that needs it, to remind him of the son they've lost. Juan in Blackwell, Oklahoma might need to read Lone Survivor because he's destined to save someone's life as a SEAL. And this will be the book that commits him. And the list goes on.
Still, I do hope that many people read SERVANT. My goal was to plunge the reader into a new world full of danger, to stress them, fill them with cool wonder, make 'em laugh, and leave them with some things to think about—a bit of tribulation before the blessing. From the reports I've been getting from readers, it appears the tale is doing this for most who give it a go. There is a fairly steep learning curve at the front. I might have done that differently, but I think the patient reader will be rewarded.
Are you lamenting being back at work? Waste some time…
- Pyr is nominated as publisher of the decade – I have to agree, they do great stuff
- Go buy the Sci Fi Songs by John Anealio CD – great original songs inspired by SFF books and movies.
- Realms of Fantasy is doing a “Women in Fantasy” issue – men need not apply. What do you think – lots of discussion going on at Jim C. Hines’ blog.
The world is dominated by clans who are in turn dominated by Divines, magical and long-lived humans who feed off of the lives of their subjects and strictly control access to their magical heritage. Whitecliff is a colony of clans removed from the main civilizations of the world struggling to survive in the face of invasions and divided by the clan wars far abroad. Talen is a boy on the verge of manhood and a member of the oppressed Koramite clan. His family comes under suspicion of ‘slethery’ (soul-eating) – the unauthorized and evil use of magic and Talen finds himself thrust into a world more complicated than he imagined and far more dangerous.
I found Servant of a Dark God to be somewhat uneven – especially in the first two-thirds of the book. The beginning gets overly bogged down by reliance on terminology that’s unfamiliar – it’s always a neat trick to balance clumsy over-description and infodumping with creating an interesting and mysterious world that is slowly revealed to the reader. Brown errs on the side of being overly mysterious and stingy in showing the reader his world. While the slow start isn’t all that surprising since this is a new book in a new world and everything needs to be introduced and set-up, it was slow enough that I considered not continuing with the book.
Compounding the slow start are Brown’s characters. Not only is the central plot yet another obscure young boy-man bound for greatness, but Brown chooses to tell the story through multiple points of view, with Talen getting the lion’s share. This results in the reader to not being invested in any single character and is made worse with Talen being simply unlikable, invoking little sympathy for the majority of the book. The secondary characters proved much more interesting but had their screen time sacrificed for the sake of Talen. The torment developed within these secondary characters as they fight, struggle, make sacrifices, and ultimately yield is at times gut-wrenching.
Balancing these negatives are positives that include the world with its potential and pacing. As I said above, Servant of a Dark God is uneven, but when it’s on, it’s really on. Particularly near the end, the suspense is notched up and the book becomes thoroughly engrossing and near impossible to put down.
The other great positive is the world that Brown creates. The setting feels fresh and the magic of the land is just unique enough. The culture of the people is also quite fascinating – Brown’s take on oppressed peoples feels real enough at times to make me genuinely angry. The significance of the hierarchy of society and the Divines who literally feed on the people they rule grows to a peak at the end. The end result is that I want to keep reading about this land – I want to know what happens. I’ve used the word already, but I’ll use it again – there is great potential.
Servant of a Dark God is the debut novel from John Brown, a new voice in fantasy that I expect I’ll hear more from. As the way of many debuts, Servant of a Dark God is a complete story-arc that can stand on its own, but it screams for the sequels to come. The Dark Gods series is currently planned as a trilogy with Curse of a Dark God expected in late 2010 and Dark God’s Glory in 2011. While uneven, the good dominates in the end I’m left anxiously awaiting what John Brown has for us next. 7/10
Monday, January 04, 2010
Erikson discusses genre and its reputation in the literary world with some interesting bits. He also discusses the joy, pain and anger of privilege of knowing what your fans think. He explains a bit about his goals and desires in his writing – and he dishes out more than a bit of tough love for his fans. Then he answers fan questions directly – some are very specific, plot questions, some are bigger, some are interesting, others not. As I said above, good stuff.
A few juicy tidbits:
When even fans of the genre feel compelled to segregate and denigrate it, should someone be so presumptuous as to compare a genre work with real literature, and to then viciously attack the person in question for their temerity, can only leave a genre writer like me dismayed – and also a little angry. Why am I angry? I will explain.
For those who feel the need to attack the delight and excitement of one of my readers, when they discover something in one of my works that speaks to them on unique or surprising levels, next time send your vitriol my way instead. Take your shots at me if you feel the need to do such things: I can weather the storm easily enough, and if you care to argue literature over genre, fine. Let's.
If there is no challenge, no ambition, no risk of failure, what's the point?
'The first reader who reads this work and complains about loose ends, I will personally hunt down and shoot.'
Good form Mr. Erikson and thanks for the message. Also, don’t despair – some of us fans did indeed like Toll the Hounds.