Friday, June 25, 2010

Something Completely Different

Well, if the vacation is going as it should, I'm on a beach right now - or at least doing something fun out doors. Anyway, since the solstice was just a few days ago, I give you Avebury - because Stonehenge is overdone (but still really, really cool).

Monday, June 21, 2010

Burn, Burn, Burn, and a Vacation

I love living in the mountains, but it does have drawbacks (and not just stuff like 12 feet of snow in the winter). It’s fire season around here – with all the snow last winter, it was supposed to be a mild one. But a dry spring took care of that and fires are arriving in full force. It all started to hit home when on Saturday night a friend who lives a few miles away called asking if they could stay with us if they got evacuated – they were next on this list for a fire that started in town. Thankfully, they didn’t evacuate and that fire is under control. Of course yesterday afternoon another fire started around 11 am in the mountains north of town. The pictures below were taken about 3 hours after the fire started. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera when it looked like a classic mushroom cloud. Hopefully it’ll get under control soon (so far there is 0% containment), but at least it’s not threatening us and the smoke is blowing away.


Anyway, forgetting the fire, I do want to mention that the blog will be extra quite for the next week or so. I’ll be on vacation to the beaches of Western Michigan (a long haul from home) for the next week and I’m not taking a computer, work phone, etc. If I have time today I may set up a post or two for while I’m gone, but I doubt it. Expect something when I get back, but that may be further delayed by some potential work travel. We’ll see.

And on a parting and random note, R. Scott Bakker is blogging.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

World Cup at Work

On Twitter and elsewhere I make the occasional complaint about how corporate security sometimes blocks the strangest websites - such as a professional society that I'm a member of for work or NPR.org. But today I found the widget below on the webpage for employees. Yes folks, they are encouraging me to keep track of the World Cup. Sometimes working for a British-owned company has perks (unfortunately, one is not European levels of leave time).

The Terry Pratchett Anywhere but Here, Anywhen but Now First Novel Prize

Well, in my last post I mentioned that I don't usually post press releases around here - and that is still true, in spite of this being yet another press release post. The reason - I think many of my readers will be interested. And a secondary reason is that that based on the previous post and my not seeing it repeated on blogs that I frequent, I don't think many bloggers in my circle get these press releases. On to the info...
Sir Terry Pratchett and Transworld Publishers are proud to launch a new award for aspiring debut novelists, The Terry Pratchett Anywhere But Here, Anywhen But Now Prize. Transworld will offer the winning author a publishing contract with a £20,000 advance.

The award will be judged by the esteemed Sir Terry Pratchett, the wise Tony Robinson, the savvy Mike Rowley from Waterstone's and two members of the editorial team at Transworld Publishers.

Sir Terry Pratchett had this to say:

"Anywhere but here, anywhen but now. Which means we are after stories set on Earth, although it may be an Earth that might have been, or might yet be, one that has gone down a different leg of the famous trousers of time (see the illustration in almost every book about quantum theory).

We will be looking for books set at any time, perhaps today, perhaps in the Rome of today but in a world where 2000 years ago the crowd shouted for Jesus Christ to be spared, or where in 1962, John F Kennedy's game of chicken with the Russians went horribly wrong. It might be one day in the life of an ordinary person. It could be a love story, an old story, a war story, a story set in a world where Leonardo da Vinci turned out to be a lot better at Aeronautics. But it won't be a story about being in an alternate Earth because the people in an alternate Earth don't know that they are; after all, you don't.

But this might just be the start. The wonderful Peter Dickinson once wrote a book that could convince you that flying dragons might have existed on Earth. Perhaps in the seething mass of alternate worlds humanity didn't survive, or never evolved -- but other things did, and they would have seen the world in a different way. The possibilities are literally endless, but remember, it's all on Earth. Maybe the continents will be different and the climate unfamiliar, but the physics will be the same as ours. What goes up must come down, ants are ant-sized because if they were any bigger their legs wouldn't carry them. In short, the story must be theoretically possible on some version of the past, present or future of a planet Earth."


The deadline for submissions will be 31 December 2010 and a shortlist of six entries will be announced on the 31 March 2011. The winner will be announced by the end May 2011.

Entrants must be over 18, have no previous published full-length works of fiction and live in the UK, Ireland or the Commonwealth. Submissions should be emailed to:
pratchettprize@transworld-publishers.co.uk

For full terms and conditions visit
www.terrypratchett.co.uk

Dust off your quills and begin!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter Collaborate for Two Books

I usually don't post strait up promotional materials or press announcemements - especially since a lot of blogs do a lot of it. But I got this interesting (and exciting) press release from Transworld earlier today that I want to post anyway.

Transworld Publishers are delighted to announce an exciting new collaboration between Sir Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter.

Sir Terry Pratchett first developed his vision of a chain of parallel worlds,
The Long Earth, in an unfinished novel and two short stories in 1986, after writing Equal Rites, the third novel in what would turn into the hugely successful Discworld series. Now, at last, this long-gestating concept is to see the light of day in two as-yet-untitled books written in collaboration with Stephen Baxter, author of Flood, Ark and the Time’s Tapestry and Destiny’s Children series.

‘Our Earth is but one of a chain of parallel worlds, each differing from its neighbours by a little (or a lot) in an infinite landscape of infinite possibilities. And you can just step from one world to the next…’

The deal was brokered through Colin Smythe and Ralph Vicinanza and the first Long Earth novel is due to be published by Doubleday in spring 2012.

Additionally, Sir Terry Pratchett has recently completed
I Shall Wear Midnight, the fourth in the Tiffany Aching books, to be published in September, and is already at work on his next Discworld novel for publication in autumn 2011. Number 37 in the series, Unseen Academicals, has just come out in Corgi paperback.


Friday, June 11, 2010

Something Completely Different

I took this a few years ago while doing field work in the desert west of Phoenix, Arizona. It's a giant harry scorpion - surprisingly enough, it's actually not that dangerous/poisonous. The real nasty scorpions are the bark scorpions and they are tiny. And yes, the bottom of the scale bar is in inches - this guy was about 6 inches long from claw to the tip of its tale.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

The Book Blogger Appreciation Week goes back a few years, and I haven’t really paid it much mind in the past. Really, I was going to let it pass by again – especially with a registration process that includes a dedicated post for judges to look at – but, it turns out I was a bit bored. And all bloggers know that boredom can be a great inspiration, and that on occasion the result isn’t that terrible. So, information about Book Blogger Appreciation Week (September 13-17, 2010) can be found here. If you want to register your blog, go here. And for the judges, the five posts that I think best represent the quality of my blog are below – enjoy!

First, for the niche category of Best Speculative Fiction Blog, my three best reviews posted between August 2009 and June 2010 (gee, I don’t know if I’m qualified to judge this – but I found a few that I’m particularly proud of):

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Sleepless by Charlie Huston

King Maker by Maurice Broaddus

And two random choices (another tough choice, one of these is one of the most popular posts ever on this blog, the other, one that speaks a bit more to my own thirsts):

My Evening with Brandon Sanderson

The SFF Literary Pub Crawl

And for the Featured Category Awards

Best Written Book Blog
Best Author Interviews

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

If you haven’t heard it yet, be prepared – The Passage by Justin Cronin (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) is poised to become the next big thing in books. It all began with a bidding war, eventually won by Random House, and a nearly $4 million advance for a trilogy, followed quickly by a nearly $2 million movie deal. With such big dollars already invested, of course the marketing push is going to be equally impressive – to begin, something like 10,000 ARCs of one form or another were distributed. The Passage will be covered in the New York Times and every other major paper press still operating in books, it will be celebrity __’s pick of the year, book club, etc, and Cronin will make the talk show rounds. When you walk into an independent bookstore, the well-read, literary bookseller will tell you that you must read this book. The Passage will re-start the tired old debates about literary writers jumping into genre and not acknowledging it and I’m sure it’ll be at the center of discussions of genre books and awards at some point down the line. This is that book that all your friends who don’t read SFF will be reading and talking about.

But for the moment let’s forget about all of that. After all, this is a decidedly genre blog and the readers around here are fans of SFF. So, what is The Passage to us? Well, first off, it’s a damn good book. It takes the loveable, dark brooding and sexy vampires that pop culture has given us and morphs them into near-immortal, militarized weapons emerging from the labs of the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID). The Passage is Apocalyptic fiction giving time to events leading up to the apocalypse and even more exploring what the world is like 100 years later, a world barely alive and still battling for survival against the Virals. Overlooking all of the expected comparisons of ‘The Stand meets The Road’, The Passage takes ownership its adopted genre and deserves to be discussed in its own right – however unique it is or isn’t. The Passage really is one of those special books.

The Passage is told in two very separate parts. In the beginning we learn of a girl named Amy and how she finds herself an orphan with no last name. Then we learn about researchers with relatively crazy theories on the how a virus may have influenced the evolution of humanity and a failed expedition into the Amazon. Next we see how Amy ends up at a secret research facility for the USAMRIID and other unnamed agencies, along the way getting a feel for the world and what is about to happen. The army is looking for super-weapons created from a virus that can wipe out terrorist threats and just maybe a by-product will be the means to live forever. Of course things go horribly wrong and the twelve subjects escape, beginning the apocalypse. Amy is something else – a survivor of the virus, potentially immortal, at least very long-lived, but a child – a child with an adoptive father on the run.

The second section is told with a very different style and tone, beginning with survivors at a fortified enclave about 100 years in the future. We see how they live and die in a harsh world under the constant threat of Virals when everything changes on the day Amy arrives at their gates. A journey ensues – a journey to save the world.

Apocalyptic fiction delves into our fears of the direction the world has taken, and The Passage is no different. The near-future envisioned just prior to the apocalypse is the pessimistic extension of our own. The specter of global warming is making itself known. The United States’ struggles in the Middle East have grown into war with Iran. India and Pakistan have used their nuclear weapons. Terrorists strike the US heartland with regularity, driving it towards something close to a police state. Then the government does something really stupid and ends the world.

In the beginning, Cronin shows of his literary roots, telling the story in heart-wrenching chunks sure to bring tears to the eyes of those so inclined. Some of this section is very hard to read – both as a father and as a human concerned for the direction of our world. Cronin builds both sections of the book in the very literary tradition of dealing with themes of human relationships. The father-daughter relationship is perhaps the most prevalent, but a good bit of time is spent exploring those of father-son, husband-wife, lovers and adoptive families/communities.

Cronin succeeds not only by spinning a vampire apocalypse into a compelling story that needs to be read, but by creating characters that truly live. In the space of only a few lines he shows fully rendered characters. These characters as often unlikeable as they are likeable, but the reader quickly develops a bond with the core group of characters – a bond that carries through the hurts and joys.

The Passage weighs in at a hefty 766 pages in hardback, and this is perhaps its greatest weakness. Some scenes may not be all that necessary, but in the least, a few don’t feel as polished as they should be – The Haven comes to mind as one, though details would be a bit too spoilerish to share. The geologist in me was a bit bothered by the presentation of some of the towns in the future – some fates seem unlikely and make me wonder if Cronin has ever visited these dots on the map. Also a few of the character revelations near the end of the novel – particularly with Alicia – felt rushed or not quite right. The result is a bit uneven, but not so much that it impacts the overall quality of the book.

As mentioned above, The Passage is the first book of a planned trilogy, with the next installment expected in 2011. As such, it doesn’t stand on its own – The Passage is a story-arc with closure, though not real resolution. More is certainly to come – more that the reader is probably going to really want to read. And the last lines are a pretty juicy cliffhanger – not mind-blowing and not enough to generate out-right anger, but just right enough to dwell on.

So, the buzz surrounding The Passage is already huge and I see it only growing. It’s a genre book from a literary writer with potential appeal to a much wider audience than either alone. For us genre readers, a vampire apocalypse novel may not seem like it should be the next great book, but as always, it’s all about the execution – and Cronin executes The Passage with near-perfection. This book earns the buzz, this book should be read and discussed widely, this book is both literary and genre, this is a book I highly recommend. 8.5-9/10

Friday, June 04, 2010

2010 Stats So Far (The Meme)

Well, I’ve resisted joining in on the latest SFF blogger meme going around about books read to date because I think it’s a bit pointless and defensive. But I really don’t have anything better to do, so I suppose I’ll jump into the mix. Since I actually track these things, it’s easy enough for me to do and easy enough for me to provide a bit more.

My life is busy and reading time limited, so I’ve only read 15 books this year. Here’s how the break down by publisher:

Angry Robot: 1
Ballantine: 1
Daw: 1
Del Rey: 1
Harper: 1
Orbit: 3
PS Publishing: 1
Pyr: 2
Roc: 1
Spectra: 1
Tor: 2

I suppose it’s worth mentioning that very little separates Ballantine, Del Rey and Spectra, so that is probably better reported as 3 for Random House. Likewise, Daw and Roc aren’t that far apart either and could easily be reported as 2 for Penguin Group.

Of those, 13 were provided by the publisher for review, 1 came from a contest and 1 was purchased by me. 6 were first published in 2009 and 9 are 2010 publications.

The demographic breakdown: 6 were written by women and 9 were written by men. At least 3 were written by persons of color (yes, the stats I keep track of include this as best as easily knowable).

13 fit the broad definition of fantasy and only 2 fit the broad definition of science fiction. 3 fit into the more classic category of epic fantasy. 5 meet a broad definition of urban fantasy, 1 fits into steampunk, and one is alternative history. Some books may meet more than one category and a few really don’t fit any of them. 11 are at least loosely part of a series, the remaining 4 stand completely alone, but may yet have sequels. 8 were novel debuts. 4 were written by authors I’ve read before and 11 were new to me. I’ve interviewed 5 of the authors at some point or another. The average rating for these books is 7.8, with a low of 6.5-7 (3 books) and high of 9 (three books). One was a novella and so far I haven’t read any anthologies/collections.

Thoughts?

Others that have participated:
Adam, Pat, John, Larry, and Rob (aren’t I cool since I use the blogger’s first names :)

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Links for a Slow Day

Work at the moment is boring me to death, so I’ve decided to distract myself and share with you some those disractions. So, what’s up around the blog – well, I’m about halfway through The Passage by Justin Cronin (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound). This is one of the huge $$ acquisitions that created quite the bidding war in the publishing industry a few years ago. One result is that it’s being pushed hard and is a book that you’ll probably hearing quite a bit about. So far I have to say that it is very good and I can see why it’s getting this level of attention (not sure about the million dollar+ advance though). Stephen King’s The Stand (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) with better writing and vampires (well, kinda-sorta vampires anyway) – but it’s even better than that. Anyway, on to a few links…

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