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Thursday, July 31, 2008

"Pirate Sun" by Karl Schroeder

Read An Excerpt HERE

Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu:

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Karl Schroeder is a Canadian science fiction author. His bibliography includes “Ventus”, the 2003 Aurora Award-winning “Permanence”, “Lady of Mazes” and the Virga novels, “Sun of Suns” and “Queen of Candesce”. He also co-wrote “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Science Fiction" with
Cory Doctorow.

INTRODUCTION:Pirate Sun” is the third book in Karl Schroeder’s hard SF Virga series, following “Sun of Suns” and “Queen of Candesce”. This book focuses on the character of Chaison Manning, former admiral of Slipstream which is one of the more powerful Virga nations. The series will continue with “The Sunless Countries.”

SETTING: Virga is a 5,000-mile wide balloon of air warmed by artificial suns, mostly built by the small nations inhabiting it, but with one huge central “sun” called Candesce. This huge enclosed realm contains a miniature cosmos of floating worlds and wheel-like townships, and since they tend to move around, their political relationships evolve in time based on the relative degree of closeness. In book one, we followed Hayden Griffin on a mission of revenge against Chaison Manning, the admiral in charge of the task force that suppressed the Aerie resistance and killed Hayden’s family and friends. In book two, we followed the ambitious, foreign born wife of Chaison, Venera, who believing her husband dead tries to build her own power base on the nation of Spyre. In “Pirate Sun”, we follow the admiral himself, Chaison Manning, who has been imprisoned for his daring raid that foiled the attack on Slipstream in the first book. After his rescue, he teams with a mysterious woman named Antaea from the outskirts of Virga—“the sunless countries” as those are called—and tries to get home and clear his name. But few things are as they seem, and some new facts about the Virga are revealed with more to come in the next installment.

FORMAT/INFO: The ARC edition of “Pirate Sun” that I own stands at 319 pages divided into three named parts and twenty numbered chapters. There is a prologue connecting with what happened in book two, and an epilogue that is a clear connection with the next book considering its title. There is also a map of Virga on the first page. The narration happens in the novel's present and is third person, following mostly the adventures of Chaison and Antaea, with appearances by several important secondary characters. Venera Manning also has some intriguing moments, but this is definitely Chaison and Antaea's book. While you can read “Pirate Sun” as a standalone novel, you will get more enjoyment out of the book after reading the first two volumes in the Virga series.

August 5, 2008 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “Pirate Sun” via
Tor Books. Cover art is provided by Stephan Martiniere.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: After the connecting prologue, “Pirate Sun” starts off with a bang when Chaison Manning, on his way to the customary rough prison interrogation, manages to escape with several companions. Wondering about their mysterious helper when hiding from the ensuing pursuit, Chaison and his companions, Darius and Richard, finally meet their benefactor in the form of Antaea, who is disguised as a Virga home guard scout. From here, the novel keeps up its fast pace following the adventures of our heroes as Chaison wants to get back to Slipstream, clear his unjustly blackened in absentia name, and find out what happened with his wife. However, he is also strongly attracted to the warrior-like Antaea who makes a sharp contrast with the sophisticated and intrigue-prone, Venera.

On his way home, Chaison gets involved in local politics and war between various nations of Virga and shows a lot of courage in helping Stonecloud—one of those “city states”—use innovative tactics to defend itself against an attack by powerful neighbors that would have destroyed it otherwise. The final part of the novel mostly takes place in Slipstream itself and contains quite a few unexpected surprises.

One of the main pleasures of reading the Virga series is figuring out the strange environment of the setting and this book makes no exception. Both the technological and physical wonders of Virga are on display here, sometimes overshadowing the characters and story, but for me the interactions of the people of Virga are of special interest and here we get to see more of the worlds/nations there and their specific, and sometimes, unique socio-political setup. So we get to see “states” like Falcon Formation; Gretels; political movements like the hardline Aerie resistance fighters who, as it may be surmised, do not have a great fondness for Chaison; and also more of the internal workings of Slipstream itself. Topping this, there are hints about what's beyond Virga in the larger Universe out there.

The book wraps up quite a few threads from the previous novels and the ending is well done, but it is clear that the larger issues that hover in the background require more books in the series. The change of POVs between the novels work well in this case since Chaison—the epitome of “honor, courage, military and integrity”—while glimpsed first through the biased eyes of Hayden, is a very interesting character. The mysterious Antaea is also developed pretty well though some of her motivations remain murky and probably will be explored later. And if you like strong female characters, you cannot go wrong with Venera Manning, whose limited appearances here—after she was the star of “Queen of Candesce”—are some of the novel’s highlights.

Overall, “Pirate Sun” is a fast-paced and interesting hard SF adventure…
Wednesday, July 30, 2008

"Stalking the Vampire" by Mike Resnick

Order “Stalking the VampireHERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Mike Resnick has won an impressive five Hugo Awards, been nominated for twenty-six more, and is the all-time award winner—living or dead—for short fiction. He has sold fifty-four novels, more than two hundred short stories, and has also edited fifty anthologies. His work ranges from satirical fare, such as his Lucifer Jones adventures, to weighty examinations of morality and culture, as evidenced by his brilliant tales of Kirinyaga. The series, with sixty-six major and minor awards and nominations to date, is the most honored series of stories in the history of science fiction. Mike’s upcoming releases include “Starship: Rebel” (Pyr Books-December 2008) and “Kilimanjaro: A Fable of Utopia” (Subterranean Press-December 2008).

PLOT SUMMARY: It’s Halloween, and John Justin Mallory’s partner, Winnifred Carruthers, has been so busy preparing for the biggest holiday of the year—in the other Manhattan anyway—that she seems short of energy and pale. Mallory is worried that she’s been working too hard. Then he notices the two puncture marks on her neck…

On this night when ghosts, goblins and other creatures of the night are out celebrating, detective Mallory must stalk the vampire who has threatened his assistant, Winnifred Carruthers, and killed her nephew. With the aid of Felina the catgirl, a vampire who doesn’t act like a vampire, and a dragon that writes hard-boiled private eye stories, Mallory’s hunt takes him all over the place, including Creepy Conrad's Cut-Rate All-Night Mortuary, the Annual Zombies' Ball, the Hills of Home Cemetery, and Battery Park. Along the way he meets a few old friends and enemies, and a host of strange new inhabitants in this otherworldly Manhattan. But as dawn approaches, time is running out on Mallory to find and stop a millennia-old vampire before he can kill again…

CLASSIFICATION: Employing the same formula found in “Stalking the Unicorn” and the John Justin Mallory short stories, “Stalking the Vampire” cleverly and humorously mixes together elements of a hard-boiled detective mystery with contemporary fantasy, campy satire, and dialogue-driven irony. For fans of
Simon R. Green’s Nightside series, Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files and Mike Resnick :)

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 268 pages divided over thirty chapters which are denoted by time—Chapter 1: 6:30 PM—6:55 PM. Brilliant extras include a speech on “Stalking the Vampire” by Col. Winnifred Carruthers before the Blood Sports Enthusiasts of the Lower South Manhattan; a monograph by Professor Seldon Hari, Chief Curator of the Museum of Unnatural History, on “Debunking the Vampire”; and an excerpt from Scaly Jim Chandler’sStalking the Vampire” :) Narration is in the third person, objective, but mainly follows in the footsteps of private eye, John Justin Mallory. “Stalking the Vampire” takes place after “Stalking the Unicorn” and the subsequent John Justin Mallory short stories, and is self-contained. August 2008 marks the US Hardcover publication date for “Stalking the Vampire”, while the book will be released in Canada, September 16, 2008. The cover artwork is provided by
Dan Dos Santos.

ANALYSIS: Since “Stalking the Vampire” is a sequel to Mike Resnick’s 1987 classic, “Stalking the Unicorn”, I decided to read the two books back-to-back, which had mixed results…

On the one hand, I had a complete blast reading “Stalking the Unicorn”. It was smart, highly inventive, and outrageously funny—led by hilariously wry dialogue—and fun. It was also immensely rewarding, especially getting to see how John Justin Mallory ended up in the other Manhattan, how he became partners with Winnifred Carruthers, his first meeting with the cat-girl Felina and Grundy—“the most powerful demon in New York”—and the clever manner in which he solves the case. In short, “Stalking the Unicorn” is a true classic, the kind that will stand the test of time and be just as much fun to read now or twenty years in the future, as it was when the book was first published in 1987.

Unfortunately, “Stalking the Unicorn” set the bar so high it was almost inevitable that “Stalking the Vampire” would fall short. So even though Mike Resnick hadn’t done anything to change the formula—besides updating the time period with cell phones and DVDs—the humor in “Stalking the Vampire” was a little less funny, the dialogue not as crisp, and the author’s imagination didn’t seem as creative. Plus, a couple of the book’s jokes like Felina’s insatiable appetite and the tenacious merchant goblins felt a little stale, while the plot itself was lacking in wit and payoff, particularly an unsatisfying resolution to the vampire dilemma.

On the bright side, the novel sports some really great ongoing inside jokes including Mallory always betting on the horse Flyaway who has now lost 64 times in a row; the references to oversexed secretaries named Thelma or Velma; odd named streets like Lust, Sloth, Death, Despair, Destruction, or Agony; and the relationship that Mallory has with his enemy, Grundy. Even the jokes regarding Felina’s hunger & inconsistent temperate and the goblins trying to sell Mallory such items as underage goblin girls, encyclopedias, children’s aspirin, iced lemonade, or snakes can be amusing at times. Besides that, the characters are still quirky—Bats McGuire, Scaly Jim Chandler, Aristotle Draconis, Captain Blight, Albert Feinstein—some of the ideas in the book are really comical like drive-by funerals, references to previous Mallory stories are fun, and getting to visit the other Manhattan’s recognizable attractions like the Vampire State Building, Madison Round Garden, Battery Park, Greenwhich Village—and the way they differ from our Manhattan—is always a hoot :)

Last, but certainly not least, the satirical elements are as sharp as ever with “Stalking the Vampire” poking fun at vampires—Vlad and the Impalers, sonar lessons from Vladimir Plotkin, vampire racism, etc—the billion-dollar romance novel industry, hard-boiled detective fiction, popular culture, and even the book itself:

“My name isn’t Wings O’Bannon, and I never shoot anything that’s more than six feet away,” answered Mallory.
“No problem, I can fix that,” said Nathan. “After all, I am a fiction writer.”
“And you’re really going to write up this case?” asked McGuire.
“More or less”
“Will I be in it?” continued the vampire.
“You’re here, aren’t you?” replied Nathan.
“Could you make me four inches taller and more attractive to women?
“Sure,” Said the dragon. “They call it poetic license.”
“They call it unrealistic exaggeration,” said Mallory.
“Same thing,” said Nathan with a shrug.
“And what do you plan to call this epic?” asked Mallory.
“Stalking the Vampire,” answered Nathan. “Great title, don’t you agree? Surefire bestseller.
“I think it’s been done.”
“Not in this Manhattan,” replied the dragon.

Regarding pop culture, the following is one of my favorite passages in the novel:

“Devolution?” said Mallory. “What is that?”

“Why, the antithesis of evolution, of course,” replied Professor Hari. “Take our children, for example. Seventy-five years ago they listened to the sophisticated jazz stylings of Benny Goodman, and when they spoke of a band they meant Tommy or Jimmy Dorsey’s. Fifty years ago their notion of music was Little Richard and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Another devolution and they worshipped at the altar of Kiss. And today all trace of music is gone, replaced by something called rap.” He shook his head. “From Beethoven to this in less than two centuries. If that isn’t devolution, I don’t know what is.”

“You’re just choosing one area: music,” said Nathan. “Isn’t that a little too limiting for you to draw such a conclusion?”

“Take any popular entertainment,” answered Professor Hari. “Our taste in humor has devolved from Cary Grant and the Marx Brothers to Adam Sandler and Borat. Our heroes have devolved from John Wayne to Sean Penn. As our actresses’ brains have gotten smaller, their bosoms have gotten bigger. Devolution.”


CONCLUSION: Out of all of the John Justin Mallory stories that I’ve had a chance to read, including “Shell Game” from The Solaris Book of New Fantasy (Reviewed HERE), and the five other short stories—Posttime in Pink, The Blue-Nosed Reindeer, Card Shark, The Chinese Sandman, The Amorous Broom—that Mike was kind enough to send me, “Stalk the Unicorn” is easily my favorite. It’s also, in my opinion, the best of the John Justin Mallory stories, and compared to that book, “Stalking the Vampire” comes up wanting in a few key areas such as dialogue, wit and humor. Even so, “Stalking the Vampire” is still a hell of a lot better than most of the stuff that’s passing for urban fantasy these days, and if I had to choose between the two, nine times out of ten, I’m sticking with Mallory. So here’s hoping that Mike Resnick has many more John Justin Mallory stories to tell…
Tuesday, July 29, 2008

“Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy” edited by William Schafer

Order “Subterranean: Tales of Dark FantasyHERE

EDITOR INFORMATION: William K. Schafer is the head editor at Subterranean Press which was founded by Bill and Tim Holt in 1995.

PLOT SUMMARY: Fantasy comes in all shades, from gentle tales of elves and fairies, to the blackest of horrors. “Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy” tends toward the darker edges, where the fantastic mixes with the horrific. With all original tales by a number of
Subterranean Press favorites, and writers new to our stable, we’ve aimed to illuminate these shadowed corners, to bring into the light the creatures that venture forth from the sea, those that alter our reality to suit their sinister needs, and others who head into territory so bleak it’s best left undescribed:

01)The Gulf” by
Poppy Z. Brite. Clocking in at eleven pages, “The Gulf”, narrated in the first-person, is a post-Katrina tale about what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger…

02)Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” by
Mike Resnick. Also narrated in the first-person, Mike Resnick’s twenty-seven page contribution follows Maury Gold and Nate Silver—Gold and Silver—who have been friends for 78 years since they first met in Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders. Now, over ninety years old with little to live for, the two longtime friends venture back out into the contemporary world searching for the magic store that first brought them together…and find it—the same as ever—along with new hopes, forgotten dreams and unknown regrets…

03)It Washed Up” by
Joe R. Lansdale. A mere three pages long, “It Washed Up” is like the tale of The Pied Piper of Hamelin if told by H.P. Lovecraft...

04)The Hour of Babel” by
Tim Powers. Twenty pages. On June 21, 1975, the Firehouse Pizza experienced a phenomenon that resulted in five people dead, and nine survivors, although only four survived sane. One of those survivors is Kurt Hollis, and thirty-one years later he meets a group of time travelers intent on solving the mysterious event. They believe the phenomenon was caused by an alien manifestation, but as the title of the story alludes, the answer may be more biblical in nature…

05)Monstrous Embrace” by
Rachel Swirsky. Told through the first-person perspective of Ugliness, “Monstrous Embrace” is a fifteen-page petition to Prince Raius to either marry Ugliness and save his life and crown, or be betrayed by the Lady Alna who is really a witch seeking revenge against the fairies that brought destruction to Elithi. Either way, the prince will lose…

06)The Lunatic Miss Teak” by
Darren Speegle. Fifteen pages. In Cochem, Germany, a commercially successful painter purchases a grotesque doll covered in numerous inch-long horizontal slots called Miss Teak for one thousand cents. Upon his return home in Hartford, Connecticut, he discovers that Miss Teak has gifted him with magical powers—abilities that he uses to garner himself fame & fortune. Remembering the shopkeeper’s message that you can be hers or she can be yours, the painter starts feeding a thousand ‘found’ cents into Miss Teak, but the closer the painter reaches his goal, the more he begins to regret his decision…

07)The Steam Dancer (1896)” by
Caitlin R. Kiernan. Twelve pages. At the age of nineteen, Missouri Banks lost a leg, eye and arm to bloatflies and was nursed back to health by the mechanic who eventually became her lover, and then husband. Fitted with a mechanical arm and leg that was fashioned by the mechanic, and an eye procured from a Chinaman in San Francisco, Missouri was made whole again and currently is the star dancer at Madame Ling’s Nine Dragons. Missouri’s proverb—What’s past is prologue

08)Penguins of the Apocalypse” by
William Browning Spencer. Thirty-one pages. Narrated in the first-person, Sam Silvers is unemployed, divorced, and an alcoholic living above a bar. The one good thing in his life is his five-year-old son, Danny, but that is threatened when Derrick Thorn—either a weird stranger, a figment of Sam’s imagination, or a mischievous spirit called a pooka—enters his life…

09)Caverns of Mystery” by
Kage Baker. Featuring a young heroine who can see phantoms through her right eye, Kage Baker’s twenty-page short story deals with the Caverns of Mystery—a tourist attraction—and the sorrowful history that haunts it…

10)Face” by
Mike Carey. Presented as a letter between the Governor Plenipontentiary of the city Sestival and the Suzerain of the Eastern Empire, the nineteen-page “Face” finds Melchior Tavel explaining the Blood Neshim uprising, which was caused by a court hearing where tradition was overruled by personal feelings…

11)The Road To Levinshir” by
Patrick Rothfuss. Starring Kvothe from “The Name of the Wind” in a dark tale about Edema Ruh and revenge, “The Road To Levinshir” is basically a thirty-seven page long excerpt from the second book in Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicles, “The Wise Man’s Fear”…

Additionally, “Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy” is accompanied by a chapbook for
Joe Hill’s story, “Thumbprint”. Unfortunately, that story wasn’t included in the ARC version of the anthology…

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 232 pages divided over eleven short stories. Publication date is July 2008 via
Subterranean Press with the anthology presented in three unique editions:

1) Lettered: Fully leatherbound, housed in a custom traycase, with three full color plates, signed by all contributors.
2) Limited: Bound in leather and cloth, housed in a custom slipcase, with three full color plates, signed by most contributors (SOLD OUT).
3) Trade: Fully cloth bound edition.

Accompanying “Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy” is an exclusive chapbook of
Joe Hill’s 10,000-word story, “Thumbprint,” thus far only available in the UK magazine, Postscripts. Providing the cover for “Thumbprint” is Vincent Chong who also provides interior color plates for both the Limited and Lettered editions. Cover art is courtesy of Dave McKean.

ANALYSIS: One reason I like reading short story anthologies is being able to sample the work of writers that I’ve always wanted to try or had not heard of before. Of the former, I was eagerly looking forward to reading the contributions by Poppy Z. Brite, Joe R. Landsdale, Tim Powers and Kage Baker. While the first two were slightly disappointing—The Gulf because it wasn’t the ‘dark fantasy’ tale that I was expecting, and It Washed Up because of its brevity—Tim’s intriguing sci-fi short and Kage Baker’s haunting ghost story were excellent pieces that made me want to read more of the authors’ work.

Of the latter, “Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy” was my introduction to Rachel Swirsky and Darren Speegle—two exciting up-and-comers—and the award-winning William Browning Spencer, all of whom were worthy additions to the anthology. Of the rest, I was quite familiar with Mike Resnick, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Mike Carey and Patrick Rothfuss, and much of my excitement for the anthology stemmed from their inclusion.

As far as favorites, it’s hard to pick just one, because apart from The Gulf and It Washed Up, every short story in the anthology left a lasting impression on me. For instance, I enjoyed “The Road To Levinshir” because it was rewarding to hear Kvothe’s voice again and getting a taste of Patrick’s next book. I loved “Monstrous Embrace” for its beautiful, poetic prose and evocative imagery:

I am ugliness in body and bone, breath and heartbeat. I am muddy rocks and jagged scars snaking across salt-sown fields. I am insect larvae wriggling inside the great dead beasts into which they were born. Too, I am the hanks of dead flesh rotting. I am the ungrateful child’s sneer, the plague sore bursting, the swing of shadow beneath the gallows rope. Ugliness is my hands, my feet, my fingernails. Ugliness is my gaze, boring into you like a worm into rotting fruit.”

I thought “Face” was the most original story in the anthology, particularly the concept of the Neshim who believed that “a woman’s beauty is the property of her husband, and must give pleasure to no man else”, so their faces were removed from their heads and only given back to them after they were properly married. And I liked “Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders” because it was poignant, “Penguins of the Apocalypse” because it was powerful, “The Lunatic Miss Teak” for being provocative, and “The Steam Dancer (1896)” for its steampunk elements. And so on…

CONCLUSION: I love reading horror about as much as I love reading fantasy, so when I first heard about “Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy” and its theme of “where the fantastic mixes with the horrific”, I couldn’t have been more excited—especially once I saw who all was contributing. But the anthology is not perfect. I thought two of the short stories could have been omitted without any great loss; a couple of others seemed incomplete including “The Steam Dancer (1896)”; and I thought the anthology could have benefited from 3-4 additional contributions, although the Joe Hill chapbook helps. Furthermore, “Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy” is a bit lacking in both the fantasy and horror departments. Of the former, most of the stories take place in a contemporary milieu with the fantastic elements of a more ambiguous nature. Horror meanwhile is of the subtler, more psychological variety. Despite these issues however, “Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy” left me quite impressed, particularly the high-quality writing throughout the entire book; the creativeness displayed by the authors; and the anthology’s diversity which I appreciated. In short, I hope
Subterranean Press will produce many more of these Tales of Dark Fantasy anthologies…
Monday, July 28, 2008

Winners of the Mike Carey Giveaway and Misc. News...

Congratulations to Rhonda Bauske (Oregon), Lisa Foland (Illinois) and Kathy Hornick (Virginia) who were all randomly selected to win a SET of Mike Carey’s Felix Castor (US Version) novels including copies of "The Devil You Know” and “Vicious Circle”, courtesy of Hachette Book Group USA!!! “Vicious Circle” is officially out today and if you haven’t read “The Devil You Know” yet, then what are you waiting for! Both novels are highly recommended and have been reviewed by Fantasy Book Critic HERE (The Devil You Know) + HERE (Vicious Circle), and you can learn more about the author Mike Carey in an interview HERE.

Moving on, I’m on a semi-vacation this week, so I just have a few scraps of news:

~For mystery/thriller lovers, on August 12, 2008,
William Morrow is publishing “Takeover”, a hot new novel from talented debut author Lisa Black. “Takeover” is described as a gripping thrill ride that combines forensics details with the tautness of a hostage situation and heralds a major voice in crime fiction, and a sharp & gutsy forensic investigator:

Black, a former latent fingerprint examiner and forensic scientist for the Cleveland coroner's office, delivers a tautly plotted, relentlessly suspenseful debut. Let's hope she writes another scorcher-and soon.” —
Booklist, Starred Review

Fans of Tess Gerritsen’s Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles novels will enjoy this debut thriller by a forensic specialist for its steady suspense, female intuition, and distinctive venue. A terrific vacation read...” —
Library Journal

In promotion of the book’s pending release,
Lisa Black talks about “TakeoverHERE, her work as a CSI HERE, about Cleveland HERE, and about forensic mysteries HERE

~In other news,
Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist recently posted an interview HERE with Adrian Tchaikovsky, author of the excellent fantasy debut, “Empire in Black & Gold”. One of my favorite novels of the year—read Fantasy Book Critic’s review HERE—I can’t recommend “Empire in Black & Gold” enough, so be sure to check out that interview. Also, Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review seemed to like the novel as well :)

~This next piece of news I came across via
Matt Staggs’ Enter the Octopus, which features Felix Gilman talking about his next novel, “Gears of the City”:

I’ve just finally emerged from editorial revisions on my second book, and what do I see when I check my email but a very kind offer from Matt Staggs to post something on his blog. But what? I’ve been off the internet for a month and I don’t know what’s happening in the world. Has Obama won yet? Oh God, please, has Obama won yet?

Here is
a picture of the cover of the book. It’s called Gears of the City, it comes out in December, and it’s a sequel to my first novel, Thunderer, which Matt reviewed here. It has madmen, pilgrims, ghosts, a remote and haunted Mountain, an evil Hotel, zeppelins, something that is almost but not exactly a dragon, a supporting character who is almost but not exactly the Marquis de Sade, and a certain amount of time travel. Also, other things.

In my opinion, “Thunderer” (Reviewed
HERE) was one of the best fantasy debuts in 2007 and I’ve been looking forward to the sequel. Now with Felix’s comments and the superb cover art, I can barely contain my excitement :)

~Lastly,
SFcrowsnest has recently opened the doors on their new social networking site for science fiction and fantasy fans, called Hivemind. Cut from the same cloth as FaceBook, MySpace, Bebo and the like, but specifically designed with SFF fans in mind, users can use Hivemind to chat, blog, post polls, upload photos, create fan groups for your favorite conventions, SFF books and films, and make virtual friends with other Nestizens. Hivemind is currently in its early Beta, so all comments and feedback on how to improve the site are much welcome…

“The Magicians & Mrs. Quent” by Galen Beckett

Official Galen Beckett Website
Order “The Magicians & Mrs. Quent
HERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION:The Magicians & Mrs. Quent” is Galen Beckett’s first novel. Currently, the author lives in Colorado and is working on the sequel, “The House on Durrow Street”.

PLOT SUMMARY: Of the three Lockwell sisters—romantic Lily, prophetic Rose, and studious Ivy—all agree that it’s the eldest, the book-loving Ivy, who has held the family together ever since their father’s retreat into his silent vigil in the library upstairs. Everyone blames Mr. Lockwell’s malady on his magickal studies, but Ivy alone still believes—both in magick and in its power to bring her father back.

But there are others in the world who believe in magick as well. Over the years, Ivy has glimpsed them—the strangers in black topcoats and hats who appear at the door, strangers of whom their mother will never speak. Ivy once thought them secret benefactors, but now she’s not so certain.

After tragedy strikes, Ivy takes a job with the reclusive Mr. Quent in a desperate effort to preserve her family. It’s only then that she discovers the fate she shares with a jaded young nobleman named Dashton Rafferdy, his ambitious friend Eldyn Garritt, and a secret society of highwaymen, revolutionaries, illusionists, and spies who populate the island nation of Altania.

For there is far more to Altania than meets the eye and more to magick than mere fashion. And in the act of saving her father, Ivy will determine whether the world faces a new dawn—or an everlasting night…

CLASSIFICATION: According to Galen Beckett’s bio, “The Magicians & Mrs. Quent” was written in response to the following question: “What if there was a fantastical cause underlying the social constraints and limited choices confronting a heroine in a novel by Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë?” Not surprisingly, “The Magicians & Mrs. Quent” strongly channels Jane Austen’s books and Charlotte’s classic novel Jane Eyre—including writing style, characters, the setting, tone, subplots both romantic and social, etc—and is probably most suited to readers of those authors. But because of the novel’s fantastical elements, playfulness, and gothic flourishes, there’s also a hint of Harry Potter and Susanna Clarke’sJonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” in the book, and I believe fans of either could also be charmed by “The Magicians & Mrs. Quent”.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 498 pages divided over three Books and twenty-eight chapters. For Books One and Three, narration is in the third person and alternates between Ivy Lockwell, Dashton Rafferdy, and Eldyn Garritt, while Book Two is written in the first person in the form of letters from Ivy to her father. For the most part, “The Magicians & Mrs. Quent” is self-contained with the majority of subplots resolved by the end of the novel, but the book is the first volume in a planned trilogy with the author currently working on the sequel, “The House on Durrow Street”.

July 29, 2008 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “The Magicians & Mrs. Quent” via
Bantam Spectra. Cover is designed by Jamie S. Warren with the artwork provided by Phillip Heffernan.

ANALYSIS: From the very first moment that I cracked open “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” till its final, gripping page, I was thoroughly enchanted by Galen Beckett’s debut, and much of the reason stems from the writing. Simply put, “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” is the most proficiently written first novel that I’ve read since Susanna Clarke’sJonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell”. But where the latter was written in an archaic manner and suffered at times from verbosity, the former oozes with a keen wit and endearing charm. I was particularly impressed with Galen’s ability to skillfully write in both the first and third-person, as well as the author’s humorous observations and clever banter:

Her white wig was frizzy as a dandelion gone to seed, and her cheeks were painted like a Murghese teapot, which was not inappropriate, as her shape recalled a teapot as well.

Beer might make a smart man dull, but coffee is worse because it can delude a dull man into thinking he’s sharp.

Mr. Baydon, could you put down your paper? I’m trying to choose a puzzle to fit together, and I need your help.
I have you, Mrs. Baydon, and that is all I require to puzzle me.

Also impressive was the characters and the accurate manner in which Galen depicts a Regency/Victorian-influenced world where women are inhibited by their gender and social classes by their wallets. Of the former, Galen’s characters are superbly crafted, highlighted by sparkling dialogue and distinctive personalities which even extends to the minor characters like Mrs. Lockwell who “seldom said anything she didn’t feel was worth exclaiming”, Lily who adopts the mannerisms of whatever romance she’s reading, Mrs. Murch who always mixes things up when cooking such as substituting salt for sugar or soap for butter, and Lady Marsdel who is constantly dying of boredom. Character development is subtle with Dashton Rafferdy evolving the most over the course of the novel, but all three protagonists—including Ivy Lockwell, Rafferdy, and Eldyn Garrit—possess substance, and are extremely likeable to boot. Villains are a bit generic, but not everyone is who they appear to be…

Of the latter, the island of Altania with its rules, social classes and affectations may seem familiar, but I appreciated the effort Galen put into rendering the world as his own. Specifically conjuring up original mythology; history—Queen Elsadore, Altania’s first great magician in Gauldren, Myrrgon, Xandrus, Slade Vordigan, St. Andelthy, Queen Béanore, etc—texts like the history Lex Altania, The Sundering of Vaelus and Cyrenth romance, and the news publications The Comet, The Messenger, The Fox and The Swift Arrow; politics in the New Act for Rationality in the Commission of Naval Vessels, the Rules of Citizenship, and enclosure; currency (regals); and even going so far as devising a system where day and night is measured by long & short umbrals and lumenals. As fascinating as the world-building can be though, it does play second fiddle to the characters and the drama that constantly surrounds them.

Magick meanwhile, is understated and not anything that readers of fantasy haven’t seen before, but you can expect magicians, witches, illusionists, the Vigilant Order of the Silver Eye, the Wyrdwood—a primeval forest full of a dark power—binding spells, Greatwolves, magical gateways, Ashen, and Harry Potter-like riddles:

When twelve who wander stand as one
Through the door the dark will come.
The key will be revealed in turn—
Unlock the way and you shall learn.


Plot-wise, “The Magicians and Mrs. Quentis slow-moving, with the first ‘Book’, Invarel, mainly concentrating on set-up and exploring the social situation of each character including a romance that develops between Ivy & Rafferdy which can never happen because of their unequal status—Rafferdy is the son of a lord and rich, the Lockwells are not—and Eldynn’s quest to get his family out of debt and earn back the Garritt family fortune. The second ‘Book’, Heathcrest, focuses solely on Ivy and is when Mrs. Quent finally shows up in the picture along with a subplot involving witches, revolution and the Wyrdwood, while Book Three, Durrow Street, deals more with the revolution against Altania and magick, including the Vigilant Order of the Silver Eye and the Ashen—creatures “as old as the darkness between the stars, and as hungry.” While the plotting in “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” is not overly complex and is at times predictable—not to mention plagued by the occasional coincidence or deus ex machina—I thought the story offered a riveting blend of drama, romance, mystery, thrills, misdirection and fantasy.

One element that could go against “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” is Galen Beckett’s tendency to closely wear his influences on his sleeve. In other words, the comparisons to Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë aren’t just reasonable; they are unavoidable, especially in Books One and Two, the latter of which reads very similar to Jane Eyre. Now there’s nothing wrong with wearing your influences, but for future efforts Galen might want to think about establishing his own style and being a little more original. Another drawback the book might have to deal with is being stereotyped as a novel that can only be enjoyed by women. For instance, if you look on the back cover of “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent”, you’ll notice that only female authors provided blurbs including Robin Hobb, Jacqueline Carey, Sarah Ash, Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner. True, “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” does possess a strong female sensibility and is noticeably lacking in machismo, but that doesn’t mean the book can’t be enjoyed by readers of either gender. I know I did, and immensely…

CONCLUSION: I’m not the biggest fan of Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë, but I can appreciate a well-written novel. So even though Galen Beckett’s debut possesses more than a passing resemblance to Austen & Brontë’s classics, the wonderful characterization, rich worldbuilding, a satisfying story and elements of the extraordinary combined with the obvious talent of the author were more than enough for me to overlook the novel’s minor shortcomings and just appreciate “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” for its superior craftsmanship. More than that though, “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” is remarkably charming, witty, and entertaining, and I fondly look forward to the moment when I can sit down and savor Galen Beckett’s next novel…
Friday, July 25, 2008

"Lord Tophet" by Gregory Frost

Official Gregory Frost Website
Order “Lord Tophet
HERE
Read An Excerpt
HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s
REVIEW of “Shadowbridge
Read FantasyBookSpot’s INTERVIEW with Gregory Frost

AUTHOR INFORMATION: A graduate of the writing program at the University of Iowa and of the Clarion Writers Workshop, Gregory Frost is a fantasy/science fiction author of six novels (Shadowbridge, The Pure Cold Light, Tain, Remscela, etc), various articles, and numerous short stories including the collection, “Attack of the Jazz Giants & Other Stories”, and has been nominated for nearly every major award in the speculative fiction field—namely the Hugo, Nebula, James Tiptree, Theodore Sturgeon Memorial, International Horror Guild and World Fantasy awards. Greg is also one of the Fiction Writing Workshop directors at Swarthmore College.

PLOT SUMMARY: Daughter of the legendary shadow-puppeteer Bardsham, Leodora has inherited her father’s skills . . . and his enemies. Together with her manager Soter—keeper of her father’s darkest secrets—and a gifted young musician named Diverus, Leodora has traveled from span to span, her masked performances given under the stage name Jax, winning fame and fortune.

But Jax’s success may be Leodora’s undoing. Years ago, following a performance by Bardsham, the vengeful god known as Lord Tophet visited a horrific punishment upon the span of Colemaigne and its citizens, a reprisal inflicted without warning or explanation. And as the genius of Jax gives rise to rumors that Bardsham has returned, Lord Tophet takes notice and dispatches a quintet of deadly killers to learn the truth behind the mask.

Now, upon the cursed span of Colemaigne, where her father achieved his greatest triumph and suffered his bitterest tragedy, Leodora is about to perform the most shocking story of all…

CLASSIFICATION: Set in a completely fictional fantasy world where humans can rub shoulders with gods, demigods, elves, kitsunes, mer-folk, afrits, ghosts and sea-dragons, “Lord Tophet”, like its predecessor “Shadowbridge”, is a novel of myth, legend and fables that should appeal to fans of “Grimms’ Fairy Tales”, Hans Christian Andersen, the Arabian Nights, Homer’sIliad/Odyssey”, the Panchatantra, Neil Gaiman,
Catherynne M. Valente’s The Orphan’s Tales, and Pan’s Labyrinth.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 222 pages divided over three parts and an epilogue. Narration is in the third-person and alternates between the shadow-puppeteer Leodora, her friend and musician Diverus, and her mentor/manager Soter. “Lord Tophet” is a direct sequel to “Shadowbridge” which ended on a cliffhanger, and concludes the duology. Gregory has sketched out a third Shadowbridge novel, but it will feature different characters and a different setting. July 29, 2008 marks the North American Trade Paperback publication of “Lord Tophet” via
Del Rey. The cover is designed by David Stevenson with Thomas Thiemeyer providing the illustration.

ANALYSIS: Creatively “Shadowbridge” is a marvelous work of invention, embodied by the imaginative Shadowbridge setting—a world of linked spiraling spans of bridges on which all impossibilities can happen—the intriguing art of shadow play, and the many enchanting tales & fables that are interwoven into the main narrative. Yet because of issues that I had with not being able to emotionally connect with the characters, worldbuilding that I felt could have been more penetrating, uneven pacing/narrative structure, and an unsatisfying cliffhanger, my feelings for the novel were mixed. Nevertheless, I had a similar experience with
Catherynne M. Valente’sIn the Night Garden” and came to appreciate the book much more after completing the duology—an experience I hoped to have after finishing “Lord Tophet”. Alas, reading “Lord Tophet” did not make me appreciate “Shadowbridge” any more than I already did, but the duology’s conclusion is a far better novel than its predecessor…

Upon finishing “Shadowbridge” I speculated that it would have been wiser if the story had been released as a single novel instead of a duology. How wrong I was. By limiting the story’s setup—which includes introducing the world and characters, developing backstory, and establishing themes, etc—to “Shadowbridge”, “Lord Tophet” was better able to focus on telling an engaging narrative and rewarding the reader…and the difference between the two books is just astounding. Where “Shadowbridge” felt like a disjointed collection of short stories that overshadowed the main narrative and seemed to go nowhere, “Lord Tophet” is able to immediately dive into the meat of the story which involves the title character, Tophet—the god of Chaos—and his role in both Leodora’s past and her future, while resolving conflicts and providing answers. And as a direct result of “Lord Tophet” not having to deal with any setup and concentrating instead on completing the duology, plotting, pacing, structure, and even prose is significantly tighter and more cohesive than it was in “Shadowbridge”.

Creatively “Lord Tophet” is just as, if not more, imaginative than its predecessor with Edgeworld, the Brazen Head—a talking pendant that speaks in riddles “or at least in ways that are most obscure”—and the inverted world of Pons Asinorum, a world that threads all worlds, some of the novel’s most memorable creations. Stories meanwhile, remain just as important and fascinating as they were in “Shadowbridge”, and my favorite part of the duology. The key difference this time is that the stories actually complement, instead of overshadow, the main narrative, which by itself reads like a fable including a poetic quality to the writing, insightful moral lessons, and a satisfying fairy tale-like ending that both resolves issues and tantalizes with unspecified resolutions :) As far as the actual stories—“The Tale of the Two Brothers”, “The Tale of Meersh and the Sun God”, “The Dream of a Fortune”, “Soter’s Tale”, and “Tophet’s Tale”—there’s not as many of them in “Lord Tophet” as there were in “Shadowbridge”, but the highly amusing “Tale of Meersh and the Sun God” featuring Penis is a personal favorite, while the tales of Soter and Tophet are two of the most powerful stories in the duology because of the shocking answers they provide.

To nitpick, characterization and worldbuilding is still not as deep as it could have been, there’s a romance in the novel that could have used a little more development, and parts of the story are predictable because of the mythological nature of the book. But because “Lord Tophet” is so much more well-rounded than its predecessor, it was a lot easier to ignore such issues this time around and just enjoy the ride :)

CONCLUSION:Shadowbridge” has been lauded for its imagination & storytelling, described as award-worthy, and praised as a classic-in-the-making, and such acclaim is not wholly without merit. But comparatively, “Lord Tophet” is a much better novel. It is also a different novel, so while “Shadowbridge” may provide the groundwork and is necessary to the duology, and “Lord Tophet” is a direct continuation of “Shadowbridge", the two novels should be treated individually. After all, it is “Lord Tophet” that actually delivers the payoff—including answering such questions as the fate of Leodora’s mother and father, the secrets that Soter has been hiding, The Coral Man, the Agents, and a demigod’s warning—and does so spectacularly. So if you haven’t read “Shadowbridge” yet or had difficulties with the novel, you may want to reconsider. For not only is “Lord Tophet” far superior to its predecessor and a richly rewarding experience, it is also one of the few must-read fantasies of the year…
Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dabel Brothers Publishing to Adapt the Cult Classic Film, The Warriors! Plus, Read the First Chapter from Matthew Hughes’ upcoming book, “Hespira”…

All right now, for all you boppers out there in the big city, all you street people with an ear for the action, I've been asked to relay a request from the Gramercy Riffs. It's a special for the Warriors, that real live bunch from Coney, and I do mean the Warriors. Here's a hit with them in mind.”

ATLANTA, GA – July 21, 2008:
Dabel Brothers Publishing is pleased to announce the comic book adaptation of the cult movie classic, The Warriors. The Dabels will start with an adaptation of the movie and move onto doing spin-off stories based on the movie. This will be the Dabel Brothers first movie-to-comic book adaptation.

“Even though I love everything we've done up until now, I never been this excited about us picking up a license. The Warriors is simply my favorite movie from the 70's,” says
Dabel Brothers Special Projects Manager, Derek Ruiz. “Seriously, who can forget the death of Cyrus or Sully banging those bottles together and asking The Warriors to come out and play. That stuff is just classic.”

For those unfamiliar with the movie, it's about a gang called The Warriors, who are framed for killing a rival gang leader who had been trying to unite all the gangs in the area. With other gangs gunning for them they must get back to their home turf of Coney Island…alive.

The movie came out in 1979 from Paramount Pictures. The 30th Anniversary is coming up in January 2009 and is timed perfectly with the release date for issue #1 of the comic book adaptation.

Dabel Brother's Business Director Rich Young added, “The Warriors is such a great movie...it's amazing how well it has held up over time. We're excited to be working with Paramount on this and we're excited about the fact that this is our first movie-based license. This property has its origins in Sol Yurick's novel, which is what we're known for (working with literary authors), so we think it's really a perfect fit for Dabel Brothers. I know we're going to do some things that people are really doing to dig with this.”

Commenting on the deal, Michael Corcoran, president, Paramount Consumer Products & Recreation Group, said, “Paramount Licensing has an incredibly rich and diverse library of properties dating back almost a century, and we are delighted to be working with companies such as Dabel Brothers Publishing, who find fresh new ways to develop products based on these classic films that will appeal to both existing fans and a whole new audience.”

ABOUT DABEL BROTHERS PUBLISHING, LLC:

Dabel Brothers Publishing, LLC, is a comic book studio dedicated to bringing many of the best and most popular novels in the world of fantasy to the comic book medium. Since its inception in 2001 they have produced adaptations of novels by bestselling authors including George R.R. Martin, Orson Scott Card, Laurell K. Hamilton, Raymond E. Feist, Tad Williams, Richard A. Knaak, and Robert Silverberg. Currently on the schedule is a remarkable list of high-profile projects including adaptations of major novels by bestselling authors: Dean Koontz's Frankenstein: Prodigal Son, an original story set in the world of Jim Butcher's bestselling series The Dresden Files, a Wild Cards series edited and overseen by George R. R. Martin, and a brand-new Mercy Thompson adventure by Patricia Briggs titled Mercy Thompson: Homecoming.

Recently announced
Dabel Brothers projects include Malcom Wong’s Dog Eaters, Jim Dresden’s Dresden Files: Storm Front, and Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time.

In other news,
Matthew Hughes’ Hespira—the third Henghis Hapthorn novel after Majestrum (Reviewed HERE) and The Spiral Labyrinth—is tentatively scheduled for publication this August 2008 via Night Shade Books (Order HERE). In anticipation of the book’s pending release, Matthew has made the first chapter available HERE.

Personally, this is one of my most anticipated releases of the year!
Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"Vicious Circle" by Mike Carey w/Bonus Q&A

Official Mike Carey Website
Order “Vicious Circle
HERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt
HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s
REVIEW of “The Devil You Know
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s 2007 INTERVIEW with Mike Carey

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Mike Carey got into writing through comic books where he is best known for the Eisner-nominated horror/fantasy series Lucifer, Hellblazer and The Sandman Presents. Current comic book projects include Ultimate Fantastic Four, Crossing Midnight, X-Men: Legacy, Secret Invasion, Coalition Comix, The Stranded, etc. Mike is also the author of the Felix Castor novels, has penned two screenplays for Hadaly Pictures in “Frost Flowers” and “Red King”, is working on The Stranded TV series for Virgin Comics/SciFi Channel, and has a short story collected in the “Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy” anthology.

PLOT SUMMARY: At a time when the supernatural world is in upheaval and spilling over into the mundane realm of the living, you would think that life would be good for freelance exorcist, Felix Castor. Unfortunately the reality is a very different story. His friend Rafi is still possessed by a demon, one of his associates is a succubus that was summoned to kill him, and business is not exactly booming. Doing some consulting for the local police helps pays the bills, but Felix needs all the work he can get, so when a distraught couple comes to him requesting his services to find the kidnapped ghost of their daughter, how can he refuse? But what starts out as a strange, yet seemingly insignificant case soon becomes something much more perilous as Felix finds himself and his loved ones drawn into the middle of a horrific plot to raise one of Hell's most powerful demons…

CLASSIFICATION: Like its predecessor, “Vicious Circle” is an R-rated urban fantasy infused with a healthy dose of detective noir. So expect a contemporary setting—in this case London—a sardonic first-person narrative, and supernatural elements like ghosts, zombies, werewolves and demons mixing it up with police procedural and murder mysteries. Romance however, is not part of the equation. Still, the Felix Castor novels are highly recommended to anyone who reads urban fantasy, but especially fans of
Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt Casebooks, The Dresden Files, Simon R. Green’s Nightside series, and Hellblazer :)

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 448 pages divided over twenty-seven chapters. Narration is in the first-person exclusively via exorcist Felix Castor. “Vicious Circle” is the second book in the Felix Castor series and takes place around a year or so after “The Devil You Know”, and like that novel is self-contained. In fact, readers can easily pick up “Vicious Circle” without reading “The Devil You Know” since the author does a terrific job of revisiting Felix’s backstory including his sister Katie; his first exorcism; the complicated love/friendship triangle between him, Pen and Rafi; the demon Asmodeus; and the succubus Juliet. The third book in the series, “Dead Men’s Boots”, is already out in the UK since September 2007 and I imagine will be released stateside sometime in 2009. The fourth book, “Thicker Than Water”, is already scheduled for UK publication March 2009.

July 28, 2008 marks the US Hardcover Publication of “Vicious Circle” via
Grand Central Publishing. The UK version has been available since October 2006 via Orbit Books.

ANALYSIS: Out of all of the urban fantasy novels that I read in 2007, Mike Carey’s prose debut (The Devil You Know) was one of my favorites. Basically, Mike took everything that I love about the genre—including the supernatural tangoing with the ordinary, mixing humor with horror, and creating a protagonist that is impossible not to root for—and gave the formula a refreshing makeover. Even so, there was room for improvement and in “Vicious CircleMike Carey has delivered a sequel that is in every way bigger and better than its predecessor.

For one, the writing is sharper. By that, I mean the story is better plotted, the pacing is more consistent, and the voice of Felix Castor is more vibrant, particularly his ability to describe London with such unique flair, and a talent for clever barbs, descriptive metaphors and humorous commentary:

Harlesden is like Kilburn without the scenic beauty—the stamping ground of Jamaican gangsters with itchy trigger fingers, predatory minicab drivers whose cars are their offices, and a great nation of feral cats.”

So. You’re dead, then. How’s that working out?

I prowled about the house all day like a hermit with hemorrhoids.

Another reason is that I’m an unsociable bastard who hates shoptalk worse than dental surgery.

Secondly, the supporting cast is wilder and more creative. So not only do we have such memorable returning characters as conspiracy-theorist zombie Nicky, succubus Juliet, and the demon-possessed Rafi, but we also get to meet such colorful new characters as the Ice-Maker—a faith-healer who deals exclusively with zombies—a five-hundred year old ghost named Rosie Crucis, and a pair of nasty Catholic loup-garous (were-kin) in Zucker & Po.

Speaking of creative, the plot in “Vicious Circle” is excellent, mixing together noir-esque mystery and misdirection with such paranormal fun as a kidnapped ghost, necromancy, human sacrifices, satanists, and a haunted church/congregation. Also included in the cocktail is the Anathemata Curialis—an old sect of the Catholic Church that opposes the forces of hell—the Collective which is a floater community for exorcists, the Post Mortem Rights Bill, and a new branch of science called metamorphic ontology which I believe will feature more prominently in future Felix Castor novels, along with such yet-to-be explored subplots as giving the dead legal protection, what happens to ghosts when exorcists dispel them, why there is such an influx of the returning dead in recent years, and where demons fit in the picture…

As far as complaints, I thought “Vicious Circle” followed the pattern of its predecessor a little too closely, some of the noir-influenced elements were a bit predictable, and characters like Pen and his brother Matt are still underutilized, but otherwise the sequel is a huge step up from “The Devil You Know”.

CONCLUSION: As good as “The Devil You Know” was, the book was still a debut effort and it shows when compared to Mike Carey’s sequel which is just an all-around much stronger novel, be it content, execution or imagination. Not only that, but “Vicious Circle” is a lot more fun to read too and makes a strong case for being one of the top urban fantasy novels released this year. Simply put, I think Mike Carey is one of the most exciting new authors in supernatural fiction today and I can’t recommend the Felix Castor series enough…

BONUS FEATURE — Mike Carey Author Q&A:

Q: “Vicious Circle”, the second book in your Felix Castor series, is making its US debut July 28, 2008, after it was originally released in the UK in 2006. First off, what kind of response has your debut novel, “The Devil You Know”, had in the US so far and are you satisfied with the reception? Secondly, some authors that see a notable gap between their UK + US releases are afforded the opportunity to make additional edits. Did you get to do this with “Vicious Circle”, and if so, could you talk about these changes? Lastly, what do you feel are the differences between the UK/US book scenes?

Mike: I was very happy with the critical response to “The Devil You Know”. The reviews were all very positive, and I got great word-of-mouth feedback while I was doing my book tour last summer. Everyone seemed pretty excited about the book and interested in where the series might go. I don’t have any info on actual sales, though, so I have no idea at this point whether I’m a niche market, a runaway success or yesterday’s news. I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Like, you know, the next time I come over I’ll step off the plane and it will be the same sort of reception the Beatles got. I’m from Liverpool too, so it could happen. Scouse alchemy: it’s potent stuff.

We did make some changes to the US edition—removing some cultural references which just don’t travel beyond these shores, and changing the terminology in places where it would have been confusing or unfathomable. We were pretty sparing, though: the British—and specifically London—vibe of the series is important to how it works and how it feels. We wanted very much to leave that intact.

The book scene…I’m really not best placed to answer that question, because I’m a newcomer in that respect. I’ve spent fifteen years working in comic books (overwhelmingly for American publishers) and TV (mostly European). The book scene is something I visit as a tourist. I think the different scale of the American market makes some things possible that aren’t possible in the UK, but in many ways I think British and US publishers are facing the same pressures right now—caught between the rock of online retailers and the hard place of celebrity book deals.

Q: Your fourth Felix Castor novel, “Thicker Than Water”, is coming out in March 2009. What can you tell us about the new book and when might US readers see the release? For that matter, when can US readers see the third Felix Castor novel, “Dead Men’s Boots”?

Mike: We’re actually working those details out right now—the publishing schedule for the next book and the plan for the ones that follow it—so it’s difficult for me to say anything specific about scheduling, beyond saying that the gap between British and US publication should be getting shorter.

Thicker Than Water” is the most intensely personal novel in the series so far. A lot of it is to do with Castor’s relationship with his older brother, Matt, and the reasons why they’ve grown apart over the years. It sees Castor going back to Liverpool and facing down some of his old ghosts in a number of different senses. And it has a major revelation about what demons are and how they function.

In a way we’re getting bigger with each book. There’s always still the murder mystery element, but increasingly Castor is chasing another mystery which is more intractable: why are the dead rising now, after so many millennia of human history? What’s changed, and where is this heading? We’re building up to answer all those questions in book six, but we’re hinting at some of the factors from “Dead Men’s Boots” onwards.

Q: Staying on the subject of Felix Castor, how far along are you on the fifth novel in the series and has anything developed regarding TV, film or other media spin-offs?

Mike: I’m approaching the halfway point on book five. I’m amazed at how easily it’s coming. “Thicker Than Water” was tough going at times, perhaps because parts of it are so confessional, but this one is just pouring out of me. I’m sure it won’t last, but right now I’ve got the sense that all the beats are sitting in my head in a three-dimensioanl array. I know exactly where I want to be at each stage. It’s a new experience, and a very pleasant one.

The discussion of where we go with a Castor movie (which is looking more likely than a TV series) is still ongoing, but I’m hoping that something solid will be mapped out this summer.

Q: Your Felix Castor novels fall under the ‘urban fantasy’ umbrella which is extremely hot right now. How do you feel about the subgenre’s popularity and the fact that publishers are signing and releasing so many new urban fantasy titles?

Mike: I’m cool with it. Generally I’m not very interested in labels. I think they can be like flags of convenience for pirate ships: disguise an author’s true intentions and make you fatally misinterpret what’s really going on.

But I’m conscious that I’m part of a wave, and that it’s not a wave I originated. The Castor novels look at the life/death interface differently from a lot of the books that are out there, and ultimately they’ve got a different core metaphor, but they draw inspiration from a lot of places—a lot of media, too. Hellblazer is there in Castor’s pre-history. So are TV shows like Buffy and American Gothic. So are the novels of Raymond Chandler, because we’re very much working with noir tropes.

I think the point is that any text is like part of the cloth on a loom: you’ve got threads weaving through it in a lot of different directions, linking it to things that came before and other things that are happening now. There are reasons why genres give birth to other genres in a jerky, disontinuous rhythm. Reasons beyond the commercial reasons, I mean. We’re all on the same loom. We’ve all got the same stuff weaving through us, more or less.

Q: In July/August 2008,
Subterranean Press is releasing “Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy”, an anthology edited by William Schafer that includes original stories by Poppy Z. Brite, Joe R. Lansdale, Tim Powers, Mike Resnick, Kage Baker, Patrick Rothfuss, Caitlin R. Kiernan and yourself. Can you tell us how you got involved with this project, what you think of the anthology, and what your short story, “Face”, is about?

Mike: Bill approached me after reading the first Castor novel and asked me if I’d be interested in doing something for
Subterranean. We’ve actually got some more ambitious plans bubbling away in the background, but “Face” was the first thing I wrote for him. It was just really good timing. He told me about the anthology he was preparing, and I had a story in my head which I’d just done in comics form and still hadn’t got out of my system. I wanted to take another crack at the main character and maybe tell the story in a slightly different way, so I pitched it to Bill and he thought it would be a good fit for the “Tales of Dark Fantasy” book. It’s an exploration of a couple of issues that are very loaded and very topical in Britain right now: the question of how minority groups engage with a mistrustful political establishment, and the wearing of the Muslim veil. The setting is a city in a fictional empire, very much modeled on the British Empire of the nineteenth century. A new colonial governor in this far-off outpost is trying to be a defender of civilized values: but his conception of what that means is kind of flawed, and we get to see the tensions between his private and public stances. It’s told in the first person, and he’s something of an unreliable narrator—not because he lies but because he understands so little about his own motivations.

Q: In the last interview we did
HERE, you talked about some other short stories that you were writing and a YA novel. What’s the latest word on these, or any other books/short fiction that you might be working on?

Mike: The short stories haven’t really materialized, but the YA novel is at an advanced stage of planning. It’s actually turning into something very exciting and different from anything I’ve done before, but it would feel like tempting fate to describe what it’s about before I’ve written any of it. I’m pretty confident it will happen, though: the only question is at what point I try to slip it in between Castor novels. Maybe after book six, because book seven—I should live so long—is going to be something of a new departure.

Q: We also talked about Frost Flowers, a film that you wrote the screenplay for and is in development through
Hadaly Pictures with a cast that includes Holly Hunter, Andy Serkis of Lord of the Rings fame, and the singer Gavin Rossdale. How are things progressing with the film and what do you think of the cast? I also noticed that Hadaly Pictures is developing another screenplay you wrote called “Red King”. Can you tell us what that is about?

Mike: I have to admit that I haven’t had any updates on the
Hadaly situation in a while. The last I heard, they were looking into a US funding stream that would allow for a bigger initial release. Andrea, the director, said he’d have big news for me soon. I’m waiting to find out what that is.

Red King is a sci-fi movie about angels and drug addiction and the interface between the human and the divine. It’s at the outline stage right now.

Q: Regarding comic books, you’re involved in a lot of cool projects right now including Ultimate Fantastic Four, Crossing Midnight, X-Men: Legacy, Secret Invasion,
Coalition Comix, The Stranded, etc. Of these, I’m most impressed with your collaborations with Virgin Comics. How did you first get involved with Virgin, what sets them apart from other comic book publishers, what was it like working with Nicholas Cage and his son on Voodoo Child, what are your thoughts on Coalition Comix and the reaction it has received so far, and can you talk some about The Stranded—it’s genesis, your thoughts on the concept and how the SciFi Channel pilot is progressing which you wrote?

Mike:
Virgin is doing some truly innovative and exciting things at the moment, and I’ve felt very lucky to be a part of that. They’re a very new company in the comics world, as you know, and they hit the ground running. With the Voices line they’ve set up astonishingly successful collaborations between Hollywood and comics talent: they’ve got the Sci-Fi imprint going now, which allows them to tap the experience and creative smarts of the Sci-Fi Channel’s top producers. They’ve done Coalition, which is a joint project with MySpace, and so on. They seem to be moving forward on so many fronts, it’s hard to keep track of them all.

What’s happening with
The Stranded is very exciting for me, because I’m being allowed to take the concepts forward into an entirely different medium and expand on it in ways that really enrich the story. Like a lot of science fiction stories, it really has its origins in a situation that’s very mundane and instantly recognizable. A lot of us have had the experience of learning something previously unsuspected about our childhood that makes us see ourselves or someone close to us in a different light. And almost all of us have at least played with the idea, in an idle moment, that we might not be who we think we are: that there might be some secret buried in our past. It’s a thought experiment. What if my parents aren’t my parents? What if gypsies or fairies or extra-terrestrials worked a switch when I was in the cradle? What if this me isn’t the real me?

I wanted to play some riffs on that idea and then pull it off in an unexpected direction and build it up into a wider science fiction concept. That’s what we got to do in the
Virgin miniseries, and that’s very much what we’re doing with the TV pilot, but with a different pacing and slightly different emphasis. Creatively, it’s a really exciting process.

Q: Are there any other comic book/graphic novel projects that you’re currently working on or plan on starting that you could talk about?

Mike: Well you’ve mentioned most of my
Marvel projects. I’m still very active in the X-Men line right now, which is a labour of love in a lot of ways. Chris Claremont’s X-Men got me back into comics at a time when I thought I’d outgrown them, and I’ve loved these characters ever since. There’s something really thrilling about getting my hands on them and adding some beats to their stories. Secret Invasion X-Men, with its colossal cast, was particularly enjoyable.

I’ve also got a project on the launch pad at
Vertigo—an ongoing book that’s very hard to categorize in terms of genre. It has fantasy elements, but really it’s a story about stories: an exploration of what stories mean to us, seen from the point of view of someone whose life is more or less defined by a story written by someone else. It’s going to be on the schedule for some time in 2009, but I’m writing it now and the artist—a very good friend of mine, a spectacular talent and one of my favourite people in the world to work with—is already working on issue one. I can’t say any more about it right now, but it’s something that’s really exercising my mind in a lot of good ways.

Q: Lastly, with entertainment becoming more technology-based, which in turn is becoming more advanced, is the print format (novels, comic books) in any danger of becoming obsolete, and what can publishers & authors do to adjust to the changing times? Additionally, what are your thoughts on ePublishing?

Mike: I’m all in favour of ePublishing, but I really can’t ever see it replacing the printed format. Maybe I’ve got my head in the sand here, and maybe it’s a generational thing, but I’m fetishistic about the physical object that is a book. I like its smell and its feel. Reading words on a computer monitor is a fundamentally different experience, even when—as with this new generation of reading devices—an effort has been made to simulate the exact look of a printed page. I can see the advantages in terms of portability, sharing, use of scarce resources—I just don’t think it will ever replace the real thing.

Having said that, ePublishing is a great way to get people turned onto new books and new authors. It’s part of a revolution in how we access the cultural tapestry I was talking about earlier, and only a complete Luddite would balk at that. I bought the first series of Dexter on DVD recently, and one of the extras was a complete chapter from the latest Dexter novel. It seemed like a very obvious and very natural thing to do. And obviously the internet is now a hugely important tool both for marketing people and for readers of books and comics: you’re never going to get a totally frictionless flow of information, but my God, we’re converging on it. Strange days indeed, you could say. But I’m honestly not complaining.

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