Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Let's Talk about ME!

The Fantastical Librarian, Mieneke, has a nice little interview series where she interviews bloggers. Today, she features and interview with me. So, if you have any desire to learn more about me and Neth Space, enjoy. Otherwise, move along, this is not the post you are looking for.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Disney Buys Star Wars – New Movies in the Works

 
A big bombshell exploded today in the SFF world – Disney purchased LucasFilm and allthe rights to Star Wars. The press release includes a reference to Episode 7, which is already in the early stages of development and is slated for a 2015 release. It sounds like it’ll be a trilogy format with Episodes 8 and 9 to follow. They say they expect new movies after that to come out every 2 – 3 years.
 
Fandom has gone ape-shit. Most of the people I follow are presenting this a bad thing. Presumably they want to preserve the magic of the original trilogy they experienced as kids (or younger people) while forgetting about the prequels. They don’t want any further missteps with the franchise and don’t want to see the Expanded Universe of the books and comics thrown out the window. I can see that, part of me agrees. But it’s a small part.
 
First, I’m excited about new movies. Truly, honestly, and happily excited. I was raised on Star Wars and I want to see more. I’ve read much of the Expanded Universe and I think that will be a great place to mine for ideas. What if the new trilogy is Thrawn? Throw in the development of the Jedi Academy. Or perhaps the X-Wing adventures. Those could be awesome! And we could get a whole new set of heroes to love.
 
But, as excited as the geek in me is, I’m more excited as a father. I have a 5-year old son. He’s only seen small bits of Star Wars so far (we feel the movies are still a bit to violent for him to watch – though, admittedly, I was only 3 the first time I saw Episode IV), but he’s already a fan. He plays lightsabers at school. He obsesses over his star wars legos. He can’t wait until we let him watch the movies. And he knows that I’m saving boxes full of EU books for him to read. What I’m most excited about is watching that new Star Wars movie with him. Disney says that they are doing Star Wars for the next generation – my son is that generation. And I can’t wait share it with him.
 
 
Note: I speak of my son because of that special father-son bond that is so important. But, I also have a 2-year old daughter. I certainly hope she’ll be a part of all this too - after all, there is a wonderfully special father-daughter bond to consider as well.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mini-Review: Trapped by Kevin Hearne

Trapped is the fifth book in the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) and it pretty well follows in the footsteps of the four that have come before. Atticus is still kicking after 2000+ years of life, his faithful companion Oberon (an Irish Wolfhound) is equally long lived (well close-enough in dog years) and he is still managing to dance a jig between pissing off gods and creatures of various pantheons, running for his life, kicking a bit of ass and generally getting in way over his head. The only real difference in Trapped is that it takes place 12 years after the previous book, Tricked*. In those twelve years Atticus’ apprentice, Granuaile, has continued her training is ready to undergo the ritual that have become a full-blooded druid.
 
Trapped is pretty well a constant stream of action as Atticus, Oberon and Granuaile attempt to complete her training as a druid, dodge death and dismemberment from various creatures, eventually decide to kick some ass, with things leaving off with a cliff hanger of an ending where the situation is rather dire.
 
In Trapped, Granuaile becomes much more of a character than in previous books – her training is complete. Her magical abilities are coming on-line. She’s hot, witty and she kicks ass (remember this is major wish-fulfillment writing). And Granuaile and Atticus are finally forced to confront the feelings they have for each other. The other fun little improvement is with Oberon – the banter between Atticus and Oberon only gets better, and then Granuaile is thrown into the mix.
 
Trapped continues with the fun, wish-fulfillment fantasy that I’ve come to expect from Hearne. These books are a comfort read for me and I’m always anxious to read the next one – it’s like candy corn – I know it’s terrible for me, but I still can’t help but eat more and more of it.
 
 
*Hearne wrote a novella called Two Ravens and One Crow (Amazon) that is set in between the events of Tricked (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)  and Trapped – I’ve seen him refer to it Iron Druid 4.5. I read it before reading Trapped. It’s more of the wonderful fun and wish fulfillment that all the others are. The Norse come looking for Atticus and he and the Morrigan oblige.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Books Received and an Update

So, life is particularly busy and I'm not sure how much I'll post in the next month or so. Probably the same amount as I have been lately. I did manage to get out two reviews last week which was nice. I still need a review for Trapped by Kevin Hearne (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon). I'm currently reading and really enjoying Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon). The stuff that Night Shade Books is publishing these days is very impressive - or at least it aligns well with what I want to read now. More news to come later. Anyway, on to the books I've received in the last month or so...
 
Books Received: September 8 - October 16, 2012
 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Review: Stormdancer by Jay Kristoff


 “What’s that? You say you’ve got a Japanese Steampunk novel with mythic creatures, civil unrest, and a strong female protagonist? I’m afraid I missed everything you said after “Japanese Steampunk.” That’s all I really needed to hear.”
 
-PATRICK ROTHFUSS,       
#1 New York Times best Selling author

 
 
 
The quote above adorns the cover for Stormdancer, the debut from Jay Kristoff and book one of The Lotus War trilogy (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon). Rothfuss’ blub above is what initially grabbed my attention for this book, months before its publication and months prior to my receiving an early copy. I’ll be honest – it got me excited. It sounded cool and while I know people have mixed opinions on Rothfuss’ books, I can say that I really enjoy his story telling ability and find him to be a genuinely entertaining person – just the sort of person who could get me excited about a book through a short blurb.
 
And so I fell into the trap. You see, if you asked me I’d tell you that blurbs don’t mean much to me. That they often can’t be trusted and you really need to carefully parse the words to make sure you’re not being bamboozled. So, let’s do that with Rothfuss’ blurb. To me, it looks like he’s commenting on a summary of the book, and not really the book itself – in fact, a careful read of the blurb makes me think that he had not read the book prior to giving it. And this is the best part – he flat out admits it all – saying that the term Japanese Steampunk is the only thing he was really interested in hearing.
 
So, I’m lead to the conclusion that this big and enticing blurb by Rothfuss is actually quite meaningless and not representative of the book itself since he hadn’t even read it. And since I’ve already admitted that it was this blurb that piqued my interest in Stormdancer, I must admit to blurb bamboozlement – and that is an embarrassing admission for me, a ‘respected’ review blogger of 6+ years. But, let’s not dwell on that and get to some discussion of the book – because I did actually read it and what I have to say about it is a bit more than a blurb.
 
In brief, the Japanese Steampunk angle has already been covered by Rothfuss. And yes there is civil unrest, at least one mythical beast (a griffin), and a strong female protagonist (at least surficially). I’ll go ahead and add that the society is completely dependent on the refined product of lotus flowers, which has lead to a sort of industrial wasteland full of pollution and drug addicts with an endless war distantly persecuted and dwindling natural places and creatures all under tyrannical rule.
 
The plot of Stormdancer follows a standardized checklist for epic fantasy – it’s an autocratic political system with overly cruel leadership, there is a mysterious resistance movement, a young teenager is the hero (Yukiko), one parent is dead, there are issues with her father to be overcome, Yukiko has magical abilities, impossibly a mythical creature appears, Yukiko promptly develops a magical bond to said creature, and then Yukiko sets out to topple the government. Anyone who is well read in epic fantasy will easily know the outcome of this book – right down to who dies and who lives. Now, this isn’t necessarily a big flaw – someone who has not read a lot of epic fantasy may think that this is a wonderfully unique book, though to me, the plotting was tiresome at best.
 
On to the writing – as we all know a really well told story from a great storyteller can make it easy to overlook a lot of flaws. Kristoff comes off rather mixed here – at times his writing is really good, surprising good for a debut author and showing lots of potential. However, there are some pretty bad pacing issues – particularly with the beginning third of the novel which essentially serves as poorly presented infodump that lays out all the details of the rather cool world he’s created. However, there is no subtlety and no nuance. And while I really enjoy the world that Kristoff has created, he lost a fair be of credibility by bludgeoning the reader continually with the horror and injustice of the environmental and human tragedy at hand.
 
And all this adds up to an overall criticism of the book that I hate to make – it’s too YA – in all the bad ways it can be. To further explain, YA books can be very powerful and rather more complex than many people give them credit for. And the best of them often cross over with great success beyond the traditional YA market. Stormdancer doesn’t do this – the lack of subtlety, the lack of nuance, the strait-forward plotting – it has been done over and over again and only reinforces the common criticisms YA books get from more mature audiences. This isn’t to say that Stormdancer won’t work out well for the traditional YA audience, only that I don’t see it moving far past it.
 
The Japanese-inspired setting is probably thing that got me most excited initially. I am really enjoying the trend of late for (epic) fantasies to be set in worlds that are not inspired by medieval Britain (or Europe at all). And though curious, I’m rather under-read in when comes to Japan-inspired settings. So, I rather enjoyed this aspect of Stormdancer. However, I have seen some pretty harsh criticism of the Japanese-like culture and language that Kristoff creates. And having read those criticisms, I’m much less excited about the Japan-like world than I initially was. So, read them if you’d like to see some analysis of where Kristoff (mostly) gets it all wrong.
 
Likewise I have some issues with Yukiko, the strong female protagonist. The truth is that I generally find her annoying – perhaps it’s due to an (accurate?) portrayal of teen angst (I mean what teenager isn’t annoying when it comes down to it). And it certainly doesn’t help that the bonding/taming of the griffin was done so unconvincingly. But mostly, I think it’s because Yukiko as a character is completely framed from a male point of view (even though it’s supposed to be her story). It’s all about her falling in love with this guy, her relationship to her father, her hatred of the (male) Shogun, her bonding with the (male) griffin, etc. After thinking on the book for a while, I think this maybe one of the biggest flaws and could be the underlying explanation for why it just never comes together as it should, in spite of some rather fun storytelling that occurs along the way. Even though I’m not a huge fan how she frames her arguments, I’d be pretty curious to see what Requires Only Hate would say about this book – evisceration comes to mind.
 
So, this has turned out to be a pretty negative review, beginning with the admission of being hoodwinked by a well-written (from a certain point of view) blurb. But, that’s not the full story. A truth is that baring some of the big pacing issues that occur mostly in the first third of the book, the storytelling was strong enough to keep me interested. It’s not a book that I ever considered not finishing. However, I doubt I’ll be reading the sequels either. It was after reflecting on my thoughts of the book for a while (which I do with pretty much every book I read) that I realized that I had some real issues with it. I think that most fans of epic fantasy probably will too – and that means most of the people who read this blog regularly. But, for someone who is new to epic fantasy, particularly someone who is a teenager, this book will probably work very well and I expect that they would enjoy it a lot. So, while in the end I would say this isn’t the book for me or most of the blogger tribe I run with, it probably is a book for a lot of people browsing the YA section at a bookstore (or equivalent).

Monday, October 08, 2012

Review: Dancing With Bears by Michael Swanwick

Prior to reading Dancing With Bears (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) I had only read one novel by MichaelSwanwickThe Dragons of Babel (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon, my review). At that time I raved about how much fun the book was, how subversive it was and simply how well it was written. Dancing With Bears is no different in that respect, though the subject matter is, which serves to highlight the versatility of Swanwick and as a rebuke of my neglecting to read more Swanwick until now.
 
Dancing With Bears is set in a future that is described as ‘post-utopian’ where a pair of classic highwaymen, Darger and Surplus, journey to Moscow. The world is a striking mix of future technology and genetic engineering and the regression to pre-industrial times in the aftermath of a great war with artificial intelligence (ala Terminator). A few remaining machines of the internet hive-mind have designs on a new war with Moscow as their first target while Darger and Surplus simply set out to make a lot of money. Of course chaos ensues (as it always seems to in the wake of Darger and Surplus) in the wonderfully competent and satiric style that Swanwick pulls off so well.
 
The first and most obvious subversion that Swanwick employs is the concept of a post-utopian world. Science fiction is awash in post-apocalyptic ideas, so the slight tweak to make it post-utopian is clever, though it could easily fall flat in the hands of a lesser writer. The difference between post-apocalyptic and post-utopian is one of perspective more than anything – the focus is not on the apocalyptic, but on the near-utopia that precedes it. That in itself is not enough, for Swanwick completes the subversion by setting this story in Russia, where the culture and history combine to a prevailing attitude that questions whether or not Russia ever actually experienced the utopia of their post-utopian world.
 
The post-utopian Moscow that Swanwick creates is a curious mixture of regency style class structure, crazy genetic engineering, and heavy-handed secret police with a lot of sex, a drug that makes everyone have even more sex, an underground world of outcasts, and the plotting of a resurgent technological enemy. Throw in a few genetically engineered virginal concubines gifted to the Duke of Muscovy, a Byzantium spy and the designs of Darger and Surplus and the term boiling point becomes outright explosive.
 
While I’ve continually thrown around the term post-utopian in a way that would suggest that is the main point of the book, its focus. Which is not really correct – the book really does rally around the classic highwaymen, Darger and Surplus (one is an English gentleman and the other a genetically engineered dog-man from the Vermont). The rogue-ish adventures as these accomplished con-men confidently undermine the entire Russian aristocracy in attempt to profit could almost be considered a fun take on sword and sorcery if Dancing With Bears wasn’t so obviously pointed at post-apocalyptic science fiction. It’s simply a whole lot of fun as Swanwick continuously fuels the satirical funeral byre with an underlying wry humor.
 
Everything I’ve written above only hints at this uproariously weird novel of the future with designs on the past and present. Nothing is immune to satiric wit of Swanwick and his enigmatic duo of confidence men, one whom is literally a dog. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll cybernetic wolves in human clothing combine in a drug-fueled rave of political revolution under the iconic sway of a resurrected Lenin and religious fervor as a couple of con-men make off with the gold – that’s one hell of a description for a book. This is not a novel for everyone, but it certainly was a novel for me. And once again I’m left feeling that I really must read more Swanwick.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Unfettered Anthology with New Wheel of Time Story (and others)

Unfettered edited by Shawn Speakman came about as a project to help Speakman pay off debts from a serious medical condition he has struggled with. Speakman is a bit of industry insider since he runs The Signed Page and many authors volunteered stories to help. Early inidcations had me excited so it was an anthology that I had my eye - good cause or not, it has a great lineup.
 
Now a full table of contents has been revealed that includes a few suprises. The biggest one that caught my mind is "River of Souls" by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson. Clearly it's a Wheel of Time short story/novella or similar and Jason from Dragonmount tweeted it was related to A Memory of Light (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) in some way. But right now any details are still haven't gone public. My guess is it's a short story set after events in A Memory of Light and the Wheel of Time series, but that's only a guess - I sure hope its not simply an excerpt (unlikely since the description of Unfettered calls them all original stories).
 
Anyway, I'm not more excited and have just pre-ordered my copy of Unfettered. You should do the same. And check out that table of contents - it's full of goodies that go well beyond Wheel of Time (there's Terry Brooks and Shannara, Patrick Rothfuss, Tad Williams, Daniel Abraham, Jacqueline Carey, and many more).

EDIT: The point of view for the Wheel of Time story is Demandred and it is a deleted scene(s) from A Memory of Light. Below is a quote from a Torchat event:

“River of Souls,” the forthcoming Wheel of Time short story featured in Unfettered is a collection of scenes that illustrate Demandred/Bao the Wyld’s story leading up to A Memory of Light.

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