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Friday, March 30, 2007

"Shadowplay" by Tad Williams

Official Tad Williams Website

Shadowplay”, the second volume in the Shadowmarch trilogy, is the latest offering from Tad Williams, probably best known for his Otherland fantasy saga, but also is the author of the Memory, Sorrow & Thorn series as well as various SF/fantasy standalones, short stories, and most recently comic books (Aquaman, The Next). For me, while Tad Williams is a name mentioned prominently in the fantasy world, the Shadowmarch trilogy is my first endeavor into his works, and to be quite honest, I wasn’t all that impressed…at least, not with his new saga’s opening chapter.

On the surface, Volume 1 of Shadowmarch has all the makings of a fully realized epic fantasy: maps, appendix, a rich background history, excerpts (Book of Regret, The Book of the Trigon, Revelations of Nushash) to preface each chapter, a huge cast of characters, races, locales, gods, goddesses and much more to bring the world of Shadowmarch to life. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more involved in making a great fantasy and I felt that “Shadowmarch” was sorely lacking in some areas. First and foremost, the overall story is clichéd, uninspiring and predictable. Sure, some plotlines are interesting to follow like Quinnitan’s arc in the kingdom of Xis or Chert’s fun adventures, not to mention the concept behind the Shadowline/Shadowlands which offers something a bit different, but for the most part “Shadowmarch” is a boring, overly trite affair, particularly the scenes involving the court intrigues set in Southmarch. To make matters worse, the characters are very formulaic – for example you have royal twins, a captain of the guard who longs for something beyond his station, a physician who dabbles in the mystical and a poet among others not counting such fantasy tropes as Funderlings (basically dwarves), Rooftoppers (tiny people), and Qar (fairy folk) just to name a few. Fortunately, some of the narratives are engaging like the aforementioned Quinnitan and Chert Blue Quartz, and to some extent Matthias Tinwright or Captain Vansen, but then you have Princess Briony & Prince Barrick who were two of the most annoying & whiny characters that I’ve read in some time. While I understand that their particular personalities are part of their nature and integral to the overall story, it doesn’t prevent them from being irritating.

Overall, “Shadowmarch” was a difficult read for me. While parts of it were entertaining, I had to force myself to finish the book, and by the time I had, I wasn’t sure that I was going to continue reading the series…but I did.

And thankfully “Shadowplay” was a much more enjoyable read for me. For starters, the second volume in the Shadowmarch trilogy improves in almost every area over its predecessor most noticeably with a story that is much more engaging, complex and vaster in scope. After all where “Shadowmarch” was merely a long-winded set-up piece introducing us to characters & places and establishing history & plotlines, “Shadowplay” is an incessant build-up of action, suspense and drama that picks up immediately from the cliff-hanger events of “Shadowmarch” and continues on until its own exciting unresolved ending. Sure, there are still fantasy clichés and foreseeable plot twists that plague the book, but not nearly to the extent that “Shadowmarch” suffered from. Plus, the characters this time around are much more fun to follow. Prince Barrick, though still whiny at times, has, along with Ferras Vansen, probably the most fascinating storylines in the entire book with their journeys through the Twilight Lands, which is where we really get to see Tad Williams’ imagination soar. Even Princess Briony is entertaining to read, though I felt that her arc was still probably the weakest and most hackneyed. I was disappointed that both Chert and Quinnitan played lesser roles this time around, but new viewpoints of fresh (Pelaya, Daikonas Vo) and familiar faces (Sister Utta, Pinimmon Vash) helped to offset that while developing a couple of interesting supporting characters (the imprisoned King Olin Eddon, Sulepis the Autarch of Xis). Matt Tinwright’s narrative seemed to be the most irrelevant, but every character, no matter how big or small, plays an important part in the overall story, which should come to fruition in the final chapter of Shadowmarch. Of course, no matter the improvements in story or characterization, “Shadowplay” would not work if not for Tad Williams’ skills as a writer, which had not been entirely evident to me in his novel “Shadowmarch”. With “Shadowplay”, I felt that the book does a much better job of showcasing Mr. Williams’ adeptness at world-building, establishing lore, managing numerous plotlines/subplots and creating suspenseful situations for his characters, all of which helped to make “Shadowplay” a much more pleasurable reading experience.

So what started out initially as hesitancy in continuing a series that had failed to impress me, turned out to be a surprisingly fun adventure and I’m happy that I persevered to read “Shadowplay”. While I would never place Tad Williams’ Shadowmarch trilogy alongside the likes of George R. R. Martin or Steven Erikson, it has been a worthwhile read that I look forward to completing…
Wednesday, March 28, 2007

R.A. Salvatore signs book deal with Tor (Edited)

"Tom Doherty Associates, LLC is proud to announce that they have acquired rights to a four-book series by New York Times bestselling author R.A. Salvatore. Published under the Tor Books imprint, Saga of the First King chronicles the early days of Corona, the same world as Salvatore’s bestselling Demon Wars saga. The first new book, “The Ancient”, is scheduled for hardcover publication in early 2008, with a new book in the series to follow once a year after that. Tor Books will also be reissuing "The Highwayman", which sets up the storyline for "The Ancient", in mass market paperback in October 2007. The acquiring editor is Mary Kirchoff."

Interview with Daniel Abraham

Official Daniel Abraham Website
Pre-Order “A Betrayal In WinterHERE

For me, one of the more pleasant surprises and enjoyable reads of 2006 was the debut of Daniel Abraham’sA Shadow In Summer”. While many readers, myself included, were probably turned on to Mr. Abraham by the George R. R. Martin recommendation, by no means was the book A Song Of Ice & Fire clone. On the contrary, Daniel Abraham possesses his own unique style and with volume II of the Long Price Quartet set for release this summer, I thought it prudent to do a little interview to hopefully shed some light on an up-and-coming writer that deserves to be read:

Q: Your first novel “A Shadow In Summer” was published in March 2006, just a little over a year ago. Can you tell us what kind of experiences you went through in finding a publisher?

Daniel: Most of it was actually making my agent reassure me. There wasn’t a lot that I could do apart from wait. We sent the book out to five different publishers, and as the rejections started rolling in, I was feeling pretty sure I was sunk. Shawna didn’t worry about it much, though. I think she had more faith in the book than I did at that point.

Q: How did you feel when the book was finally on the shelves?

Daniel: It was weirdly anti-climactic. I mean here was this thing I’ve been working toward for almost as long as I can remember. But by the time it actually hit the shelves, I was already working n the third book in the series. Seeing the first one felt a little like seeing someone I used to know. It was gratifying and I was very pleased, but I was also thinking about this other, newer, nifty thing. When it hit the shelves, that meant it was over with.

Q: Now that you have a little time to reflect on it, what are your overall thoughts on how “A Shadow In Summer” turned out? Would you change anything if you had the chance?

Daniel: I’m pleased with the book, but there is a point I would have made clearer. It’s a common problem. I know what happened in the story: everyone’s motives, everyone’s schemes and hopes and plans. And sometimes I think I’ve made something clear that’s actually pretty obscure. I did that in “A Shadow In Summer.” When I started reading the reviews on Amazon, people kept coming back to this problem with the plot, and it was incredibly frustrating, because I knew the answer, and I thought I’d made it clear in the book. But I didn’t. And if it’s not on the page, it’s just plain not on the page. I’ll do better next time.

Q: “A Shadow In Summer” got a glowing blurb from George R. R. Martin who claims you as a “good friend and sometime collaborator.” Can you tell us how this friendship came about, what you’ve learned from Mr. Martin, and the projects that you’ve worked on together?

Daniel: I met George before I went to Clarion West. I did some volunteer work with the Nebula award weekend when it was in Santa Fe. Then, when I went to Clarion West, George was one of my instructors. He liked my work. We live about an hour from each other, and when I got back and got into a writer’s workshop, we wound up with a bunch of friends in common. We both played in Walter Jon Williams’s role playing campaign set in ancient Rome…we went to the same parties. And I guess he still liked what I was doing, because he invited me in on some projects.

As far as the craft, George is one of the best writers there is for creating a totally compelling, immersive scene. When I first read “A Game of Thrones”, the thing that blew my mind was that I’d just spent something like 800 pages totally in the moment the whole time. That’s a superpower. Writers can’t do that, but he does. I hope I’ve gotten a little better at it by watching him.

And projects we’ve worked on together. Let me think about that. We collaborated with Gardner Dozois on a novella called “Shadow Twin”, and then expanded that out to a novel called “Hunter’s Run” that’s coming out in January of ’08. I’m part of his (GRRM) Wild Cards project that’s also started back up, and I’ve adapted some of his work into comic book scripts.

Q: “A Shadow In Summer” is a very character-driven world. How much do you draw from your own experiences when creating your characters? Is there a favorite character and why?

Daniel: Well, I pull from my own experiences in creating characters all the time, because that’s really all I have to draw from. I want to make them plausible and recognizable, and the only way I can do that is take what I think people are like – myself included – and go from there.

My favorite character, though, is Seedless. I have a real fondness for my villains, and he has a combination of ruthlessness, hatred, compassion, and sorrow that I spark to.

Q: What about the world itself, the different cultures and magic system that populates the “Long Price Quartet”. Where did the inspiration come from in creating this unique world?

Daniel: Well, there were two things, really. One of them is pretty straightforward. I got tired of fantasy that smelled like Europe. Kings, knights, barons, dukes. So the decision to use different window dressings was pretty easy.

The other thing was the magic system. That actually started with a friend of mine, many years ago, running a role playing game in which people’s names were all ideas. The one I use in the books is Water-Moving-Down. The character wasn’t named with those words, but that idea, so you could identify him by pouring out a cup of water. That sat in the back of my head for maybe a decade, and then cross-pollinated with some research I was doing on Cabbala for another project. I wound up with this idea of elemental beings, but instead of wrapping them around, y’know, elements, I’d put them around abstract ideas. If the elemental isn’t fire, but the idea of fire, you wind up with this incredible diversity of supernatural beasties capable of interesting things. Not just Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, but Three-Bound-as-One (called Trinity or Braided) and Water-Moving-Down (called Rain or Seaward) and on and on like that.

Q: The second volume in the “Long Price Quartet” series is due for release this August. What can readers expect with “A Betrayal In Winter”.

Daniel: Well, hopefully they aren’t expecting to pick up three minutes after the end of “A Shadow In Summer”. There’s a pretty big jump in time between each book in the series, and things have happened in between that we’ll refer to, but never particularly see dramatized. So the characters are going to be slightly different people than the ones we knew in the first book, in a different situation. Winter is another near stand-alone novel that fits into this larger frame. Hopefully you could pick it up without seeing the first book, “A Shadow In Summer”, as a prequel, and have the whole thing work just fine.

A Betrayal in Winter” is, I think, a slightly better book.

Q: Originally the second book was titled “Winter Cities”. Why the name change?

Daniel: Well, it turned out we were only spending time in one of the Winter Cities, and my editor over at Tor thought it might be better to keep the titles of the books a little more self-similar. So marketing. The name change was for marketing.

Q: On your website you have four volumes listed for the “Long Price Quartet” series. How do these books fit together? Will they conclude the story that you started in “A Shadow Of Summer?” Or, will we see the series continue after the fourth volume or do you have plans for something different?

Daniel: The Long Price books are a single story arc, and they end. I think it’s an interesting world, and there are going to be places in it that I haven’t explored, so there may be other books set in other parts of the world and in other historical epochs, but this story ends.

It’s risky ending something, because a lot of people follow the series more than the writer. Look at what happened to Stephen Donaldson. When he went from the Thomas Covenant books, he lost a lot of folks even when he was only shifting over to a different fantasy universe. The really long-lived fantasy writers have found a way to interleave different stories in the same world. Look at Robin Hobb and Terry Pratchett. So I may well follow their lead.

And there are other novels that I have brewing in the back of my head that aren’t really suited all that well to the particular world. So I may try a couple other universes too…

Q: Before your first novel was published you started out writing short fiction, which appeared in the “Vanishing Acts”, “Bones of the World”, and “The Dark” anthologies, among others. How did this experience help you in preparing for the novel? How different is it writing short fiction opposed to a series?

Daniel: The nice thing about short fiction is that you can fail quickly. Short stories are great for working on a lot of points of craft – dialog, descriptions, tone, narrative voice. Stuff like that. It’s not so good for figuring out structure, because a lot of the structural tricks that work well at 7000 words feel ponderous and unsatisfying at 70,000. You have to actually write novels to learn that part.

The biggest difference I’ve found in writing longer work is that I can’t hold the whole thing in my mind at once. In a short story, there are maybe ten or fifteen scenes, and I can usually keep in mind how they all fit together and support one another. The Long Price books are going to wind up at about the same word count as the Lord of the Rings trilogy. My head just isn’t that big. So I wind up looking back at what I’ve done to remind myself where I am and how I got here. And fortunately, the back of my head is really good about leaving clues even in the earliest parts that relate to where the whole thing ends. It’s a lot more about faith in my ability, and a lot less about being a control freak.

Q: Do you have any plans for returning to short fiction and can you share them?

Daniel: As a matter of fact, I have some short fiction coming out. I’ve never really stopped, so much as got distracted. I have a story in the new Wild Cards book coming out in January of 2008, and a novelette I’m particularly fond of in John Klima’s "Logorrhea" anthology coming out in May.

Q: How do you think you’ve improved as a writer from your earliest works? Anything else you want to improve upon?

Daniel: Good God. I think I’m occasionally publishable, for one thing. No, I’m a *lot* better than I used to be, and the stories I’m doing now are, I think, better crafted than the ones I first had published. But you have to remember, there were over fifteen years of genuinely wretched crap that I wrote and never published for good damn reason. If you look at the first things I ever did – and may it please the holder-uppers that no one ever does – it’s awful stuff.

And yes, there are a lot of things I want to get better at. Right now, I’m really fascinated by information control. There are ways to take the reader through a story so that they figure things out just when you want them to. That’s the real strength of the Harry Potter books, for instance. I want to be able to do that. And I also aspire to be hard to put down. I’m learning some of the structural and technical tricks that help with that too, apart from the ubiquitous “write interesting stories.”

Writing is an impossibly large thing. I hope to be learning how to do it better until I die.

Q: In today’s climate there’s a lot of cross-pollination between different mediums: literature and movies, comic books and videogames, TV and animation, etc. Regarding your works, has there been interest or anything optioned for adaptation, and if so, can you give us some details?

Daniel: My works, not so much. The Long Price books would be pretty hard to put into another medium, partly because I’m using a lot of physical language that would look pretty silly on screen or in a comic book. I have had a short story podcast, but that was hardly an adaptation so much as a good dramatic reading.

I have gotten a couple gigs translating work from prose into comic book scripts, though. George’s novel “Fevre Dream” and his novella “Skin Trade” are both in the pipe over at Avatar Press with scripts I’ve done.

Q: Staying on this subject, let’s fantasize for a bit. What would be your dream adaptation?

Daniel: Hard call. There are a few stories I’ve done that might make good movies, but I probably wouldn’t want to sit through them. “Leviathan Wept” and “Flat Diane” were both pretty filmable, but damned unpleasant.

Actually, the one that would, I think, be the most fun is a story from Realms of Fantasy – the one that got Shawna McCarthy interested in being my agent. It was called “As Sweet”, and it was my final comment on Romeo and Juliet. The directors I most admire are Steven Soderberg and Christopher Nolan, and I would write any story necessary to cast David Bowie, Christopher Walken and Kate Winslett. Especially Kate Winslett. I admire quite a few beautiful women for their beauty, but only a few for their sanity and courage.

Q: One last question in this area. Beside the comic book scripts you mentioned, any plans at writing something different like movie scripts, television or videogames?

Daniel: Well, apart from the adaptations I talked about before, I’m signed up right now for a six-issue comic book through the Dabel Brothers and Marvel. It’s an original story set in the Wild Cards universe. My hope is that I’ll get enough credit in that field that I can pitch a story that I have in mind as a graphic novel. It’s one of those ideas that’s powerfully visual, and wouldn’t work as well in just prose. So yes, I have a cunning plan. . .

Q: You've mentioned George R. R. Martin's Wild Cards project a few times. For those that may not know, can you give us some info on what exactly the Wild Cards project is and what kind of story your contributing to the upcoming book & comic adaptation?

Daniel: The Wild Cards book is a series of shared world super hero books that date back to the 80s. George R.R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass edit the series, and it's had stories by a whole host of folks. Howard Waldrop, Walter Jon Williams, Vic Milan, and probably over a dozen other folks. The eighteenth volume of the series is kind of a reset. New writers, new characters, no previous knowledge of the world required, and that's coming out from Tor next January. There's actually a sample up at George's website. You can check out HERE.

The comic book is actually a spin off. It's set in the same shared world, and it uses some of the classic characters, but it's a different,stand-alone story. It's not an adaptation of any of the old stories that have been published. I'm hoping that there will be a line of these from a bunch of the Wild Card writers. Mine's just the first. Kind of like sending the new kid out to see if the prototype airplane will actually fly.

Q: You won the “International Horror Writers Association” award for “Best Short Fiction” for your story "Flat Diane." How did you feel about winning this award? If you had to choose between being an award-winner and a NY Times bestseller, which would it be and why?

Daniel: It was great to be given the IHG award. Really delightful. And I’ve been nominated for the Nebula and the Crawford awards, which was also pretty gratifying. Given the choice, though, I’d take the NY Times bestseller. There’s more money in it. And I wouldn’t want to write something I didn’t have fun with to achieve either.

Q: Are there any preconceived notions that you’d like to dispel about being an author?

Daniel: The one that comes to mind is that it’s a good job. It can be amazingly fun, but every author I know – all of them, including the award-winners and NYT bestsellers – are insecure and afraid that they’ll be shown up as untalented frauds. Short on money and certain that you are at heart a failure is the standard fiscal and psychological state for this profession. Get into it for the dinner conversations, or don’t do it.

Q: When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?

Daniel: Fifth grade was the first evidence of the writing part. But I’d play pretend games with my mother when I was younger than that. So pretty much out of the womb.

Q: What are some of your influences?

Daniel: Dorothy Sayers, Enrique Anderson Imbert, David Eddings, Dorothy Dunnett, Josephine Tey, Jonathan Carroll, Fred Saberhagen. The movies of Steven Soderberg – especially sex, lies, and videotape, but not particularly Ocean’s Twelve. Diva (the film, not the book). My father.

Q: What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

Daniel: Read what you enjoy reading, write what you enjoy writing, and accept that you’re going to screw up a lot on the way to getting good. That, and marry rich.

Q: What are some of your personal favorite authors and books? What are you looking forward to reading in 2007?

Daniel: Another hard question. Off the top of my head, the books that have stuck out the most and demanded to be re-read were Walter Tevis’sThe Queen’s Gambit”, Hofstadter’sGodel, Escher, Bach”, Maureen McHugh’sChina Mountain Zhang”, and Dorothy Sayer’sMurder Must Advertise”. And, if you’re 15 years old, Edding’s Belgariad books. I haven’t read them since then, so I don’t know how they hold up, but I re-read them until the spines all broke when I was in high school.

This coming year, I’m dearly hoping to read “The Devil You Know” by Mike Carey (of Hellblazer fame), the second Orphan’s Tales book, and the last Harry Potter book, same as everyone else.

Q: Are there any up-and-coming writers that we should check out?

Daniel: I don’t know if she counts as up-and-coming, but Catherynne Valente is doing some really interesting work right now with The Orphan’s Tales. Tobias Buckell’s science fiction is new and interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing more. And he isn’t out yet, but in about three or four years, there’s a guy named Ian Tregillis who I predict will be making some noise.

Q: What other activities or hobbies do you enjoy?

Daniel: Between writing and childcare, I don’t have lots of time for other hobbies, but once I do, I’m hoping to get back to taking piano lessons and learning to draw. I also have this recurring itch to go back to college. I’m two classes away from all that I’d need to apply to the physician’s assistant program at the medical school, which would be so much *fun* . . . but even if I can do anything, I can’t do everything. Pity about the life being finite thing.

Q: Any last thoughts or comments for your fans?

Pleasure is by no means an infallible critical guide, but it is the least fallible.” -- W. H. Auden

I just want to personally thank Daniel for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions for me and hope that you, the reader, enjoyed the interview. Thanks again to all, and much love & respect…


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Books released March 27th (UPDATED)

The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss is the start of an epic new fantasy that is already receiving high praise from both the press and peers. To order a copy for yourself, click HERE. To read an excerpt from “The Name of the Wind” click HERE. To hear Patrick talk about "The Name of the Wind" click HERE to listen to his Podcast. The book is next on my To Read pile and I’m looking forward to see what all the hype is about :)

Known more for his horror, award-winning author
Tim Lebbon returns with his dark fantasy follow-up to 2006’s “Dusk” with “Dawn”. Click HERE to order “Dawn” and click HERE to read an extract. Having enjoyed the vivid imagination displayed on previous works, I’m looking forward to this book and will probably read it after “The Name of the Wind”.

The Borderkind”, volume II of the Veil trilogy, continues the supernatural adventures begun in
Christopher Golden’s "The Myth Hunters". Click HERE to order “The Borderkind” and click HERE to read the first chapter. For my thoughts on “The Borderkind” you can check out the review HERE.
Monday, March 26, 2007

Interview with Neal Asher

I’ll be honest…the majority of the material that I read is of the fantasy genre, with the occasional foray into horror, suspense or science fiction. So, unless it’s fantasy, I don’t normally make it an effort to try out too many new authors. However, one name seemed to keep jumping out at me from the sci-fi world and I eventually had to check out his work. And boy was I glad I did. England’s Neal Asher writes pulse-pounding science fiction rife with mind-boggling concepts, larger-than-life characters, operatic plots and cyberpunkian attitude. And the best thing, they’re FUN!!! Naturally, I was eager to know more about Neal Asher, (aside from his biography which you can read HERE), and I hope that the following Q&A will provide you with a deeper look into his world:

Q: In the UK your books are published by Pan Macmillan/Tor UK…in the US by Tor. Could you explain how the publishing works for your books, like why there’s a noticeable lag with the U.S. releases and why one book (“The Line Of Polity”) in particular is not even available in the states?

Neal: There’s a lag between the publication of my books here in Britain and in the US simply because Macmillan/Tor UK and Tor US are run as different companies (despite the name and despite being owned by the same overall group). I sell my books to Macmillan, along with foreign rights, and Macmillan then sells my books on to other publishing companies across the world, so Tor US buying and simultaneously publishing one of my Macmillan books is no more likely than Baste Lubb in Germany or Flueve Noir in France doing the same.

I’m told by Tor US that “The Line of Polity”, being my largest book at 175,000 words, apparently falls outside some upper limit that makes it difficult to sell to the book sellers. It seems madness to me, but what do I know? I only write the things.

Q: What are your thoughts on the sci-fi/fantasy book scene in the UK compared to the U.S?

Neal: Well, first off I can’t really comment on the scene in the US because I don’t really know it. I do keep hearing that UK SF is taking over the world, however, in my ‘would you like to comment on this’ capacity I can say that I’ve read some damned good books from the US.

Q: Let’s talk about your forthcoming novel “Hilldiggers”, which will be released July 2007 in the UK. The book is set in your Polity universe. In what timeline does the book exist and how does it relate to past volumes?

Neal: "Hilldiggers" is set in the Polity some years on from the events in “The Skinner”, which in turn were some years on from the events in the Cormac books. It’s only relation to past books is its setting in that future, that the main protagonist was a native of Spatterjay (the setting for "The Skinner") and that there’s a few other references to Polity history readers of my stuff will be familiar with.

Q: Anything else you want to say about the book?

Neal: It’s got a stonking drone in it called Tigger, and exploding spaceships.

Q: How do you feel “Hilldiggers” compares to your earlier novels? What improvements as a writer have you made?

Neal: Well, when I came to writing this book I’d written over a million words and seen them pass under the editorial pencil at Macmillan (my editor is a guy called Peter Lavery who was editing books when I was still toilet training) so if I haven’t learnt anything throughout that process I have to be an idiot. I think “Hilldiggers” is better written, tighter and more complete, but then I would think that. It also has the advantage of not being part of any series (other than its setting) so I didn’t have to deal with so many complications involved in the backstory.

Q: Currently you’re working on “Line War”, supposedly the concluding chapter in the Ian Cormac series. Can you give us a progress report and what you hope to accomplish with the novel?

Neal: I’m presently past the 100,000 word mark with this book and hope to complete the first draft within the next couple of months. It’s time to bring this sequence to an end simply because of the aforementioned backstory. The longer something like this goes on the more of it there is to fill in, the more info-dumping I have to do and the more complications that arise. What do I hope to achieve? I’m going to complete the sequence, but not in a way that disappoints. So often we see a series of books like this coming to an end either on a low note, a fizzle, or the deus ex machina is rolled in to sort everything out. It is my intention to end this with a twist … but I can’t tell you about that.

Q: Fair enough. So what does the future hold for Neal Asher after you complete “Line War”?

Neal Asher: “Line War” completes my third three-book contract with Macmillan and I’ve only had some tentative thoughts about what books to do next. I’ve considered writing a book about what happens to Captain Orbus, from “The Voyage of the Sable Keech”, after he boards the spaceship Gurnard and sets off, perhaps tying this in with the story of the Prador, Vrell. Over the next couple of years Macmillan will also be publishing a British version of "Prador Moon" and a collection of my short stories – in the latter case this will require some editing. I’ve also agreed with Jason Williams of Night Shade Books to write a short novel set in Cormac’s early years – I’ve already got the first chapter of that written and know where I’m going with it. Other books to take into consideration are my fantasy novels which were written before everything mentioned here and remain unpublished. I’d like to give them a thorough going over and maybe submit them. The first three are called “The Staff of Sorrows”, “Assassin Out Of Twilight” and “The Yellow Tower”. I’ve thought about turning them into a single book titled “The Road to the Yellow Tower”.

Q: Can you give us anything more on this fantasy trilogy you’ve written?

Neal: Writing my fantasy trilogy, along with a fourth book called “Creatures of the Staff” which was the first book in another trilogy having the overall title of The Infinite Willows, was basically where I learned my trade – enough to take me from someone who struggled to write a page to someone who regularly produces 130,000 word books. I started writing that fantasy long-hand with a fountain pen, proceeded to a manual typewriter, electric typewriter, green-screen processor then to where I am now. It is something I worked on over many, many years and it has its faults. I certainly did not set out with any intention of shattering fantasy cliches. Let's be kind and say it is a bit of a homage to Zelazny's Amber with a bit of JRRT thrown in. However, even then it was evident that SF was what I really wanted to write because the magic wasn't there, it was super-science, and despite a famous Arthur C. Clarke quote, there was a distinction to make. Hero sets out across a multiverse to exact vengeance upon someone who has attacked him and his family, and yes, the bad guy lives in a big tower. There's a good story there and some wonderfully weird shit, but it definitely needs work. Maybe I'll work on it when it's possible to make a copy of my mind to run a pair of artificial hands.

Q: Speaking of fantasy in general, how different is it writing fantasy compared to sci-fi? What do you feel are the strengths or weaknesses of each genre?

Neal: The two blend together a lot, so perhaps it would be best to look at the extremes. In SF something has to have a scientific or pseudo-scientific explanation, but it MUST be explained; it must adhere to some underlying logic. Very often fantasy does do this, but sometimes it doesn’t. It’s magic OK, ‘nuff said. As for writing each. Well, with fantasy you can break more rules and let loose your imagination.

Q: Looking at your works, some of the criticisms that I’ve read talked about character development (or lack thereof). What are your thoughts on this?

Neal: It's a tough call. At one extreme you have the all-action book with cardboard cutouts (which my books have been described as) and at the other extreme you have highly developed characters in a book in which nothing much happens (I believe this stuff is called 'literature'). I'm aiming for somewhere in the mid ground with readers coming out the other side of one of my books feeling as they would feel having just watched Terminator.

To this I should also add that over the years I’ve received so many reviews that I can pick up any one of them and refute every point made by referring to others. Some reviewers describe my characters as cardboard, whilst others consider them hugely complicated and wonderful. Of course it is the latter who are right (???).

Q: You tend to write from a multiple point-of-view format that includes the sides of both protagonists/antagonists. Why?

Neal: Hey, I like my heroes but, let’s be honest, villains are more interesting. Part of what has led me into this was the writing of "Gridlinked". Initially that book was only 65,000 words long and … I guess the best word to describe it is ‘skeletal’. Macmillan were interested but wanted it bigger and with more flesh on the bones. I was sent a reader’s report by a guy called Simon Kavanagh (now a literary agent) in which, along with numerous other suggestions he put forward the idea that I might expand the ‘B plotline’ – that of the villain Arian Pelter. I’d also been mulling over this idea because I knew the book was too short and the villain was too simple. I expanded that plotline, also creating in it that favourite Mr Crane of “Brass Man”, found it worked very well, and have been doing the same sort of thing ever since.

Q: One of the trademarks of your books is the unique planets that you’ve created, complete with their own distinctive cultures and fauna. Where do you draw the inspiration for these creations?

Neal: I like monsters – probably something to do with my childhood when all the others in art class were drawing roses and bottles I was drawing dinosaurs and dragons. I like biology, ecology and especially the weird fauna and flora we find here on our world. I’ve read about it a lot and continue to do so. The subject fascinates me so inevitably it ends up in my books. As for the cultures, they are often no more than the civilized (maybe) extension of a made-up ecology. It’s also worth noting that ecologies, life, adheres to rules similar to those used in the writing and plotting process. Um, don’t know why I said that.

Q: LOL. Okay, since 2001 you’ve had eight novels (with the ninth on the way) published as well as various short stories, etc. How have you managed to stay so prolific? Do you ever deal with writer’s block and what helps you to get through it?

Neal: I’ve worked in factories doing engineering, toolmaking, CNC programming, making boat windows, I’ve delivered coal, driven skip lorries, repointed a three-storey building and done other building work, hand-dug foundations, chopped down two-hundred-foot trees, done contract grass cutting and trimmed a total of miles of hedges, and more besides. I’ve actually had to work for a living, so when I sit down in front of my computer in nice clean clothes with a nice cup of coffee beside me, I just get on with it. Writer’s block is for ‘artistes’ who are disappearing up their own backsides. Maybe if an alternative was offered of, say, digging out and repairing a sewer pipe, the writer’s block would go away?

Q: Hehe, nice answer. All right, moving on. In today’s climate there’s a lot of cross-pollination between different mediums: literature and movies, comic books and videogames, TV and animation, etc. Regarding your works, has there been interest or anything optioned for adaptation, and if so, can you give us some details?

Neal: Over the years I’ve received the odd query about turning some of my stuff into a game. I remember quite some while back providing a guy with details of the workings of various weapons etc. from “Africa Zero”, but nothing came of it. Great excitement ensued when Tor US asked about the film rights for “Gridlinked”. Apparently Blue Train Entertainment, who along with Dreamworks produced the Jackie Chan movie The Tuxedo, were showing an interest. Nothing came of that either. I’ve still got my fingers crossed and I’d certainly grab my thirty pieces of silver from Hollywood and run for the hills.

Q: Staying on this subject, let’s fantasize for a bit. What would be your dream adaptation?

Neal: I’ve talked about this a little on my blog. I would love to see “The Skinner” turned into a film simply because I would love to see a CGI sail (the living sails on the sailing ships of Spatterjay). As to who plays the parts: Schwartzenegger as Captain Ambel, Stallone as Captain Drum and Michael Clarke Duncan (the big black guy from The Green Mile) as Captain Ron. And how about Keifer Sutherland as Sable Keech or even Janer. Ach, dreams. As for the Cormac sequence, I think it’s too complicated for film, so personally I’d like to see it made into a TV miniseries of five seasons with about twelve episodes for each book. Not much to ask is it?

Q: You’ve already written TV scripts, fantasy, short stories, etc. Are there any other mediums or genres you would be interested in working with and why?

Neal: Add to that the contemporary novel presently sitting in my files unpublished. Oh I think I might like to work at turning my books into film/TV scripts, but I’d definitely need paying up front for that.

Q: Your book “Cowl” was nominated for a “Philip K. Dick Award”. How did you feel about the nomination? If you had to choose between being an award-winner and a NY Times bestseller, which would it be and why?

Neal: I thought it was interesting that I’d been nominated and thought it might be nice to win if that would mean increased sales. Certainly I would have shouted it from the treetops to that end. But frankly I have a low opinion of awards because so many of them are nepotistic, also because in the SF world they are often controlled by literati plonkers who are so ashamed of their genre they give the awards to non-SF books, and because I’ve often read such boring crap on award shortlists. I think the fact that someone like Terry Pratchett has received so little recognition through ‘awards’ is a testament to their worth. For me it would be the NY Times bestseller every time. An additional simple fact of life here is that though I am earning a living doing what I love, the earning a living bit has to come first.

Q: Of everything that you’ve written so far, what story or book are you most proud of and why?

Neal: Um, difficult question. Which of your children is your favourite? My favourite short story has to be “The Gurnard” (published in the collection The Engineer ReConditioned). Everything fell in place with that one and it included my favourite themes: alien parasites, violence and the opportunity to give religion a kicking. This was also a story that arose from a dream and … it just felt right. Of my books, for me it is a toss-up between "The Skinner" and "Brass Man". Maybe it’s something about the impact of future superscience on primitive regressed worlds. Something of that colour and variety found in Jack Vance’s books? I don’t know. What I do know is that they are the books I most enjoyed writing, and I think that shows.

Q: On the flip side, of your published works is there any thing you wish you could go back to and change?

Neal: Everything. I take the view that I’m constantly improving as a writer therefore, everything I’ve written can be improved. Mostly I’d like to clarify the ending of "Gridlinked" – make it more reader-friendly.

Q: What about a favorite character?

Neal: The war drone Sniper, because he’s the product of super advanced technology, who on the surface has the mouth of a fish-wife and the morals of a streetfighter, but who underneath all that is so much more.

Q: Are there any preconceived notions that you’d like to dispel about being an author?

Neal: That it’s easy. Let’s get this straight, becoming a published author does not involve knowing the right handshake or belonging to the right club. Something else I’d like to add: getting that first book published does not mean you’ve made it, it means that now you’ve got to work harder.

Q: What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

Neal: Read read read, learn learn learn, write write write. Keep a journal, write a blog, keep putting those words down and count the buggers. Do a lot less agonising about what to write and a lot more writing. I cannot emphasise more that A WRITER WRITES. By all means join clubs and get what criticism you can, but bear in mind that while you’re attending your writer’s group you’re just talking, not writing. You know, if you run lots your legs get stronger. Guess what happens if you write lots?

Q: What are some of your personal favorite writers and books?

Neal: Hell, I could do a huge list of favourite writers and books, and it often changes. I’ve got some top tens up on the Internet here and there so Google ‘Neal Asher top ten’. The lists have been subject to change over the years. Here’s a few samples: “Use of Weapons” – Ian M Banks, “Half-Past Human” – T J Bass, “Altered Carbon” – Richard Morgan, Julian May’sSaga of the Exiles”, “The Jesus Incident” – Frank Herbert, and there’s loads more.

Q: Are there any up-and-coming writers that we should check out?

Neal: Yes: Alan Campbell (“Scar Night”) and Peter Watts (“Blindsight”), though I’m not sure if Peter will appreciate being called ‘up-and-coming’.

Q: What other activities or hobbies do you enjoy?

Neal: Cycling and weight-training (mainly to stop myself turning into a slob), drinking too much, sex, blogging and reading foul-mouthed conservative blogs, reading books and science magazines, eating prawns, going to the cinema, gardening, swimming in warm seas, and travel.

Q: From personal experience, you are very vocal and responsive to your readers on the Internet, be it through your own personal blog, message boards, etc. Why is that?

Neal: Well, maybe I’m as prolific a communicator as I am a writer (though really they’re the same thing). I respond to my readers because they want a response and I feel they deserve a response, so if I have the time, that’s what they’ll get. I’m also not afraid of responding and never put myself above all that. Seriously, I’m not hugely bothered about the impression I give: this is who I am, take it or leave it.

Q: Any last thoughts or comments for your fans?


I just want to personally thank Neal for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions for me and hope that you, the reader, enjoyed the interview. Thanks again to all, and much love & respect…

Friday, March 23, 2007

Interview with Jennifer Roberson

Official Jennifer Roberson Website
(Photo Courtesy of Doranna Durgin)

Well, here it is, the first interview to be posted on Fantasy Book Critic. My sincerest thanks goes out to Jennifer Roberson, who was the first writer to agree to an interview with me, and therefore, is the first to be showcased...

One of the more prolific fantasy authors out there today, Jennifer Roberson may be best known for her Sword-Dancer saga featuring Tiger & Del, as well as the 8-volume epic Chronicles of the Cheysuli and “The Golden Key” collaboration with Melanie Rawn & Kate Elliott, but she has also cut her teeth on historicals, a western, romantic suspense, and a novel set in television's Highlander universe, not to mention numerous short stories printed in various anthologies and magazines. Currently, Ms. Roberson is in the midst of writing her newest fantasy epic, with the second volume “Deepwood” due out soon. For more information on “Deepwood”, a return to the Cheysuli universe, and much more, check out her interview below:

Q: “Deepwood”, the second volume in your new fantasy epic is due for release this July. Can you give us a spoiler-free preview of what we can expect from the new novel?

Jennifer: DEEPWOOD picks up exactly where KARAVANS left off, with no "time-lag" between the two novels. It continues the story arc begun in KARAVANS and ties up a few plot threads while also introducing new characters, and offering greater challenges and quests to the established characters.

Q: I believe the series is projected as a trilogy with the third book to be released in 2008. How far along are you with the third book and can you share any details?

Jennifer: Many have assumed KARAVANS is a trilogy, but it was never conceived as a trilogy, was not sold to DAW that way, and isn't being marketed that way. KARAVANS is a universe, not a chronological series…my plan has always been to write stand-alone volumes, duologies, and trilogies within the universe as I move around in place and time, depending on the various stories I wish to tell. In fact, my agent just made a deal for a fourth novel in the universe.

I have not yet begun the third (WILD ROAD), as I'm waiting to read page proofs of DEEPWOOD. That will provide a springboard for my dive into the third.

Q: Looking back at the first book in the new series (“Karavans”), some of the criticisms that I’ve read talked about how it was an introduction piece, focusing more on world-building than plotting, while leaving a lot of loose ends. What are your thoughts on this and how “Karavans” turned out as a whole?

Jennifer: Well, loose ends are required if you're writing several books around the same set of characters and various subplots that jump off the main story arc. If the author can tie up all those loose ends by the end of the first book, there's no need to write anymore. The goal therefore is to make the reader very much want to know all the answers, and to learn them as the story continues.

While I felt there was plenty going on in the first 3/4ths of the novel – though certainly it's not as active as the denouement in the last quarter – readers have not agreed. I don't know if it's because they found the first three quarters tedious reading because it is tedious reading, or because the denouement is so active by comparison. Yes, the world-building is extremely detailed and also very different from anything I've done before in my solo work, but as I intended all along to make Alisanos a character, not just a locale, the detailed world-building is vital. In the past, except for THE GOLDEN KEY with Melanie Rawn and Kate Elliott, my books have always been extremely character-driven with much less emphasis placed on world-building. I wanted to change that with KARAVANS.

However, the comments about feeling KARAVANS was mostly introduction are mitigated by those who've said they're anxious for the next book, so I guess I didn't turn off everyone. At least, I hope not!

Disclaimer: "Deepwood" artwork given permission by & copyrighted © Todd Lockwood

Q: The cover artwork on “Deepwood” is provided by Todd Lockwood who also did “Karavans”. What kind of input do you have in choosing the artist/artwork and how do you feel about the finished product for “Deepwood”?

Jennifer: At a certain stage of a successful career, an author may request specific artists, and sometimes these requests are granted. But publishers are also dealing with many artists, and those artists have schedules of their own. So even if the publisher is happy to grant your request, it doesn't mean it will actually come to be.

As for influencing the actual artwork, that depends on the publisher. Some publishers don't want the author to ever talk to the artist, because quite often the author has an entirely different vision and can really annoy both the artist and the publisher with complaints. Also, many authors don't realize that a book cover is not necessarily meant to be a perfect depiction of characters and story, but is an advertisement intended to interest the casual book browser. DAW did put Todd Lockwood and I together by phone and e-mail to discuss details, but the decision of which concept sketch would be turned into the actual cover is always solely up to my editor.

I very much like what Todd Lockwood has done. My personal preference in the two covers is KARAVANS, but that is not to suggest I feel the DEEPWOOD cover is lacking in any way. I consider it an extremely effective cover, beautifully conveying the brooding, dangerous atmosphere of Alisanos. I just happen to like the KARAVANS cover a little more, possibly because it was the first.

Q: What kind of process do you follow when writing a book or creating a new fantasy world? For instance, do you script out the entire story, or let the story tell itself?

Jennifer: I definitely work up a rough outline for major plot and subplot issues, and I know what the ending will be, but then I turn my imagination loose. I'm a very organic writer, and I'm well aware that my subconscious often has more intriguing ideas than my outline does! I absolutely give myself the freedom to jettison outline elements on the fly, and to let the story go off in a new direction if the momentum carries me that way.

Q: What do you like most about the world that you’ve created for the “Karavans” series?

Jennifer: Completely random magic, and the ability to change time and location with Alisanos as the engine for doing so.

Q: According to your website you’ve signed on for three new volumes in the Cheysuli series. Can you tell us what inspired you to return to this world and what you hope to accomplish with the new books?

Jennifer: When I finished the eighth and final Cheysuli novel, ending the series, I intended to continue on with some sequels about the Firstborn. But by then I was also writing the Sword-Dancer series, and I was ready to do different things. When DAW decided to reissue the Cheysuli series in omnibus editions, I had to make corrections to the page proofs. In rereading the entire 8-book series years after I had moved on, I discovered a desire to visit the worlds again. Also, there were clearly more adventures to be told of the characters in the series, such as a prequel to SHAPECHANGERS, the story of the adventures of Finn and Carillon in exile, and more of Keely's story, since she disappears for a decade or more before showing up again in the eighth volume. As far as what I hope to accomplish? To tell good stories about popular characters already established, and that my original readers will be transported back to that world after nearly 25 years.

Q: You have a very extensive
bibliography. As an author, how do you feel that you’ve improved as a writer now compared to your first published works? What do you feel are your strengths & your weaknesses?

Jennifer: I feel I have grown and matured tremendously as a writer, in the technical sense. Certainly readers have their own preferences as to what my "best" book is, based on their own emotions and preferences. But I work hard to improve at least one element of my writing with every book. I constantly push myself to be better than last time. Whether that growth actually shows depends, I think, on the kind of book it is. I don't think improvement as a writer is evident in the Sword-Dancer books, because everything is told first-person through Tiger's point of view. You can see that he changes throughout the series, but I don't know that any growth in my technique is evident in those books because of the format.

My major weakness for many years, I felt, was world-building. I was always in too much of a hurry to tell the story, to carry the characters forward, not to provide a truly detailed, layered setting.

My main strength, I've always felt – and have been told so by editors, reviewers, and readers – is my ability to bring characters to life, to make readers care about them. Of course, not all readers will care about all characters; I know one critic posted that he had no idea what Ferize was doing in KARAVANS, and he felt she was unnecessary. So obviously for him, she didn't work. But she's there for various reasons, even if those reasons aren't visible to all readers.

Q: What would you say separates your books from other authors in the fantasy genre?

Jennifer: I don't think of my books in that way. It's not a competition. I write what I want, the way I want, to please my own soul. Certainly reviewers and readers tend to assign levels of successful storytelling in discussing various authors, but I can't say truthfully say anything separates my books from other authors. I'm one of many. Readers would have to answer this question, not I.

Q: Good answer. So, what do you feel are the positives and negatives of being a fantasy author?

Jennifer: For many years, the main negative was knowing that when I said I was a fantasy author, those unfamiliar with the genre jumped to the conclusion that I wrote erotica. Then I started saying I wrote science fiction, and if they reacted by saying they read science fiction, I then explained that in truth I'm a fantasy author. But if there was no real reaction, I left the explanation at that. Then the Lord of the Rings films arrived, and now I say "I write fantasy, like the LOTR movies" knowing they have a somewhat better understanding of the genre even if they don't read it.

Another negative is that most hardcore science fiction writers – writers, mind you – think fantasy authors, especially female fantasy authors, are writing drivel, not worthwhile fiction, and are vocal about it.

Positives? The complete freedom in what I write. While there must be some form of internal structure and rules in fantasy, the author is still free to make anything happen. It's the freedom to create a suspension of disbelief for the reader.

Q: You’ve also written (and published) historicals, fantasy, a western, a romantic suspense, and a historical romance. Do you feel that you’ll ever try out another genre?

Jennifer: I love all kinds of genre. So it's certainly possible I may write in yet another genre down the road, but I have so many fantasy and historical books in my head that I have no idea when I'll get to that new genre!

Q: In the past, you’ve collaborated with Melanie Rawn & Kate Elliott on “The Golden Key” and talked about working with Michelle Sagara West. Is there anybody else you would be interested in doing a collaboration with, and if so, why?

Jennifer: Not at this point, because I have so much solo work I want to write. But if the time came, I'd absolutely be open to doing another collaboration.

Q: In today’s climate there’s a lot of cross-pollination between different mediums: literature and movies, comic books and videogames, TV and animation, etc. Regarding your works, has there been interest or anything optioned for adaptation, and if so, can you give us some details?

Jennifer: Various options have been taken on the Sword-Dancer series, LADY OF THE FOREST, and LADY OF THE GLEN. So far nothing has resulted in an actual film, but that's true of many, many books. The number of books or adaptations that make it to the screen, compared to options taken, is a tiny number. Heck, it took twenty years and many multiples of options to get MZB's MISTS OF AVALON to TV as a miniseries, and it was a huge bestseller all over the world. Then again, a one-of-a-kind phenomenon like the Harry Potter books puts film rights, screenplays, and actual filming on the fast track.

Q: Staying on this subject, let’s fantasize for a bit. What would be your dream adaptation?

Jennifer: I think SWORD-DANCER would make for a fun ride; a blend of SWORD-DANCER and SWORD-SINGER was shopped around by a screenwriter, but he was told (at the time) there were already enough fantasy movies with desert settings.

Casting Tiger and Del has been quite a pasttime for readers of my newsgroup. 8-) Now I'd be inclined to go with Hugh Jackman for Tiger. I have not yet found the right Del. For a while there was some interest on behalf of Britney Spears' production company, but her movie career took a backseat to, well, all kinds of things! But Britney Spears, with or without hair, would not be my choice to play Del.

For period drama, adventure, romance, tragedy and poignancy, LADY OF THE GLEN, my Scottish historical. This novel has been optioned by a screenwriter twice. I would adore having Sean Connery play the MacDonald laird in a retelling of the real Massacre of Glencoe, in which the Campbells tried to wipe out the MacDonalds. But for the two leads, male and female, I just don't know.

Q: One last question in this area. Lately, I’ve been noticing a lot of writers branching out to try their hand at different mediums be it comic books, television, movie scripts, videogames and so forth. If you were to branch out, what medium would you like to tackle and why?

Jennifer: I did write a media tie-in book set in the Highlander universe, because I loved the TV show. But I would be most likely to write a movie/miniseries script, I think, to be a complete departure from novels.

Q: What are some of your influences?

Jennifer: I'd pay tribute, in no specific order, to MZB, CJ Cherryh, Andre Norton, Patricia McKillip, Katherine Kurtz, and Nancy Springer. I cite these authors because I started writing my own fantasy series because I was impatient for their next books to come out! In historicals, Samuel Shellabarger, Sharon Kay Penman, Judith Merkle Riley, Anya Seaton, Martha Rofheart, and many others.

Q: What advice would you give an aspiring writer?

Jennifer: Don't quit your day job; don't give up; and to finish and SUBMIT your manuscript. Don't just write for workshops or yourself. Write to become a professional.

Q: What was the best advice that someone gave you as a hopeful author?

Jennifer: Heck, I've had so much great advice given to me over the years, I can't refine it to one specific bit. But I would have to say that from a career standpoint, all advice given to me by my agent, Russ Galen, has been invaluable. I wouldn't be where I am today (wherever that might be!) were it not for him.

Q: Of all the characters that you’ve created, which one is your favorite and why?

Jennifer: Tiger, in the S-D books. He is just so damn much fun to write!

Q: What about your favorite book or story?

Jennifer: I have no single favorite book. LADY OF THE FOREST, my first Robin Hood historical, was extremely challenging because it was a multiple viewpoint book featuring twelve main characters, but I think I came out the other end a better writer. The second Cheysuli novel, THE SONG OF HOMANA, because I felt it showed more confidence and ability in my writing at the time. SWORD-DANCER because it was an "attack" book; I wrote the first sentence, and I was off and running. I completed it in two weeks. (But that was two weeks of 12 to 15-hour days, and it was only 72,000 words long.) And LADY OF THE GLEN, my Scottish historical, because I waited 25 years until I felt ready to write it, wanting to do right by the story, and I believe I did. Besides, I love men in kilts . . .

Q: Do you have a least favorite book? If so, what changes would you make to it if you could?

Jennifer: SHAPECHANGERS, the first Cheysuli novel. I know that many readers to this day tell me they still love that book and reread it now and again, which is very flattering – but it was a first novel and features plenty of first novel mistakes and weaknesses. If I could, I'd just smooth out the rough spots and make the overall tone a bit more mature.

Q: What are you looking forward to reading in 2007?

Jennifer: I don't have any specific book I'm looking forward to reading in 2007. I reread many of my books; in fact, I just went on a Judith Tarr kick and reread something like five of her novels back-to-back, followed by two historicals published in the 50s back-to-back. I never pay attention to pub dates.

Q: Are there any up-and-coming authors that we should check out?

Jennifer: I am behind on reading newer authors, so I can't really recommend any up-and-coming examples. It's sheer ignorance, and it should not to be assumed that I think there are no promising authors.

Q: Aside from the breeding & exhibition of Cardigan Welsh Corgis and mosaic artwork, what other activities or hobbies do you enjoy?

Jennifer: LOL! Isn't that enough?

Seriously, I do indeed read a great deal, though not as much as I did before my own books were published. I read every night before I go to bed, and now and again I'll read most of a weekend if I'm not off at dog shows. I love to travel, but it's very difficult for me to get away because of the animals.

Q: Any last thoughts or comments for your fans?

Jennifer: I thank them VERY much for their encouragement and support, and while I'm aware that not every fan will like every example of my books, I hope I can nonetheless appeal to a wide spectrum of readers and give them a ride worth taking. I was a reader long before I became a writer, and I know what it means to find an author whose work you love. I am grateful when my work can transport readers to another world in the same fashion certain books transported me away from the mundane.

I just want to personally thank Jennifer again for taking the time out of her busy schedule to answer these questions for me and hope that you, the reader, enjoyed the interview. Thanks again to all, and much love & respect…

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"The Borderkind" by Christopher Golden

Official Christopher Golden Website
Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “The Myth Hunters”
Release Date: March 27, 2007 – Buy HERE

In “The Borderkind”, book two of The Veil trilogy, the story picks up immediately where the first volume, “The Myth Hunters” ended. For my thoughts on “The Myth Hunters”, you can check out the review here. Revisiting the first book, “The Myth Hunters” – SPOILERS AHEAD!!! – basically introduces us to Oliver Bascombe, an actor-trapped-as-a-lawyer who, on the eve of his wedding, encounters Jack Frost, and from there, crosses the Veil into the world of the Two Kingdoms where myths & legends actually exist. Accompanied by the fox-lady Kitsune, the trio soon embarks on a series of adventures that mainly involve staying alive as they are hunted by Myth Hunters. Meanwhile, Detective Ted Halliwell is hired to initially investigate Oliver’s disappearance, but then becomes embroiled in the death of Max Bascombe (Oliver’s father), the vanishing of Oliver’s sister Collette, a string of unexplainable murders, and eventually, an unlikely pairing with Julianna Whitney (Oliver’s fiancé) as they search together for answers.

Following the events of “The Myth Hunters”, “The Borderkind” finds Oliver and company continuing their journeys throughout the Two Kingdoms, this time with Oliver & Kitsune splitting off on their own to pursue a pardon for his life – Oliver is an Intruder and has been sentenced to death by the Two Kingdoms – and also to rescue his sister Collette. Jack Frost and fellow Borderkind have decided to fight back against the Myth Hunters and seek the answers behind their true enemy. And unbeknownst to all, Ted Halliwell & Julianna Whitney have stumbled through the Veil, and, as Lost Ones, are now struggling for their lives…

Where “The Myth Hunters” focused mainly on the narratives of Oliver Bascombe and Ted Halliwell, “The Borderkind” is a story told from multiple point-of-views, including already established perspectives (Oliver, Ted, Collette, Julianna, Jack Frost) as well as introducing new viewpoints (Kitsune, Blue Jay, Cheval Bayard, Sara Halliwell, etc.). While this format was necessary due to the varying plotlines that are introduced, and it does help the book to move along at a nice pace as well as flesh out certain characters & relationships (Oliver + Julianna, Ted + daughter Sara), I just felt that this aspect of the novel wasn’t as strong as its predecessor. For instance, there just seemed to be too many moments where characters would act out of turn. I believe this was a result of having so many different viewpoints and a more complex plot, which forced the author to concentrate more on advancing the story, rather than providing an in-depth explanation behind an individual’s actions.

Another complaint I have is the world of the Two Kingdoms itself. If you read my review of “The Myth Hunters” you may recall that I felt the world-building was one of the novel’s greatest strengths, especially due to the wonder that it evoked. Well, in “The Borderkind” that wonder is noticeably lacking. Part of it is due to the fact that Oliver has now become used to the Two Kingdoms, and so doesn’t find it as magical as he once did. Another reason is that many of the viewpoints are told through the eyes of the Borderkind, who see their world, as reason would have it, as ordinary. Additionally, even though Julianna, Ted and Collette are newcomers to the Two Kingdoms, due to their situations, instead of wonder, we are treated to feelings of anger, disbelief and fear.

At this point, you’re probably thinking that I did not like “The Borderkind” at all. On the contrary, I really enjoyed the novel...heck, I finished reading the book within a day, nearly in one sitting :). Sure, there are elements of “The Borderkind” like the characterization and world-building that I thought were weaker than what was found in “The Myth Hunters”, and there are familiar plot devices (protagonist turns out to be much more than initially thought, easy-to-anticipate twists, romantic complications, good vs. evil stereotypes, etc.) utilized throughout the novel, but on the flip side, the action has been ramped up, the stakes are higher, secrets are revealed, and the foundation has been set for what should be an exciting finale. And by that, I mean “The Borderkind”, like its predecessor, ends on a cliffhanger with plenty of plotlines to be explored in the third and concluding volume. So yes, more waiting will be involved, but if you can stomach that, then I highly recommend checking out the Veil series. After all, while Christopher Golden may not be mistaken for ground-breaking, intellectual literature, when it comes to highly entertaining, skillfully-written and imaginative, supernatural-themed fiction, you just can’t go wrong…
Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Kim Harrison's "For A Few Demons More"

"For A Few Demons More", the latest from the New York Times best-selling author Kim Harrison featuring the adventures of bounty hunter Rachel Morgan, is released today via EOS Books. Click HERE to purchase the book and click HERE to read the first three chapters. While I've just started the series, the books have been fun to read so far, and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the novels, with a review of "For A Few Demons More" to follow...
Monday, March 19, 2007

"Lord Of The Silent Kingdom" by Glen Cook

Before I get started, just a warning: there will be SPOILERS AHEAD!!! Due to the complexity of “The Instrumentalities Of The Night” series, I will be summarizing the first book “The Tyranny Of The Night” in conjunction with my review of book two “Lord Of The Silent Kingdom.”

So, let’s recap. Set in a world that is loosely based on 12 th–15th century Europe, “The Tyranny Of The Night” follows three main storylines. First, you have Captain Else Tage, a Sha-lug (special services warrior) of the Pramans who control the Wells Of Ihrain (a source of power for the Instrumentalities) amidst the Holy Lands. Else Tage does the impossible: a human using science/technology to kill a creature of the Night, in essence a minor god. From there, Else Tage is sent on a new mission to the West, to prevent the Patriarchy from starting another crusade into the Holy Lands. Along the way, Else Tage assumes a new identity in Piper Hecht, and becomes embroiled in a variety of increasingly improbable adventures involving politics (Patriarch, anti-Patriarch, Principates, King Peter), religion (Chaldarean, Deves, Pramans), soldiering, romance (Anna Mozilla), pirates, the Brotherhood Of War (dedicated to the destruction of the Night), witches, spies, soultaken assassins, sorcerers, Imperials (Grail Empire), and much more. Meanwhile, a second narrative focuses on two Andoran warriors in Shagot & Svavar, who are resurrected hundreds of years out of the past as soultaken by the Old Ones (ancient gods) to hunt down and kill the Godslayer (Else Tage). And lastly, you have Brother Candle, a Perfect Master of the Maysalean heresy who appears in the End of Connec in an attempt to prevent the Patriarch Sublime V from launching a crusade to rid the country of its heretics.

Just based on the above synopsis, which is really only a taste of what the book has to offer, it’s obvious that there’s a lot going on with “The Tyranny Of The Night.” So, there’s no surprise that there’s been some complaints about the book’s intricacy. After all, there’s a lot of information to process, not just the huge cast of characters involved, but also all of the political, religious, geographical and historical data that is thrown at you. And considering the many variant viewpoints and an obvious lack of a map or glossary, “The Tyranny Of The Night” can be a hard book to follow. Still, if you were one of those readers that persevered through to the end, then you were treated to a very enjoyable convergence of events that satisfactorily concluded the first chapter in the Instrumentality series.

With “Lord Of The Silent Kingdom” the story picks up not long after the end of “The Tyranny Of The Night”, once again following the narratives of Piper Hecht (Else Tage), now the Captain-General of the Patriarchal army, and Brother Candle who continues his vigil in Connec. Providing the third viewpoint this time around is Helspeth Ege, Princess Apparent of the Grail Empire. First, to allay any fears, “Lord Of The Silent Kingdom” is a much less confusing read than its predecessor. After all, the foundation was already established in the first book, and aside from a few new faces and locales, the story focuses mainly on those players and locations we already know. Plus, the viewpoints strictly adhere to Piper, Brother Candle and Princess Helspeth with only the occasional deviating narrative or long-winded exposition.

Now, of the three main storylines I found those of Piper Hecht to be the most engaging, as was the case with “The Tyranny Of The Night”, and, appropriately, Hecht gets the most face time. For avid readers of Glen Cook, particularly his “Black Company” novels which helped establish the author’s trademark for writing gritty, militaristic fantasy grounded in cynical realism and punctuated by acerbic humor, Piper Hecht’s adventures are the most closely related. While the escapades this time around aren’t as ironical or off-the-wall as they were in “The Tyranny Of The Night” you can still expect plenty of assassination attempts, war campaigns, backstabbing, the Ninth Unknown Cloven Februaren, family secrets, politics, Instrumentalities and engaging interactions with the likes of Pinkus Ghort, etc., to occupy Piper throughout “Lord Of The Silent Kingdom”. For Brother Candle, his narrative remains dry in tone, reinforcing his role as mainly an observer of the events that befall Connec. Meanwhile, Princess Helspeth gets the least face time, and I felt that her narrative was more of an introduction, not just to her, but also to the court that she inhabits, which I believe is going to play a much bigger role in future volumes.

Compared to its predecessor, “Lord Of The Silent Kingdom” is an improvement in some areas and a fall off in others. On the plus side, the book itself is much easier to follow, part of it due to the format & writing, but mostly because the reader should already be familiar with the world that Mr. Cook has created. Speaking of which, the characterization of the world and the variety of peoples who populate it continue to be deftly realized and is definitely one of the high points of the book. What I felt was a weakness, was that while a lot happens in “Lord Of The Silent Kingdom”, the reader is not always involved in the thick of the action, and the book lacks the epic, supernatural action of “The Tyranny Of The Night.” In fact, the novel feels more like a setup piece between “The Tyranny Of The Night” and the forthcoming volumes in the Instrumentality series as a lot of threads are left unresolved. So, from a personal standpoint, I did not enjoy “Lord Of The Silent Kingdom” as an individual book as much as I did “The Tyranny Of The Night”, even with all of its faults. That said, I feel that “The Instrumentalities Of The Night” is one of the more ambitious and dynamic fantasy epics out there today. What’s more, Mr. Cook is still establishing his legacy as one of fantasy’s best writers by continuing to take risks and redefining the genre that he’s been influencing since he first began writing. So, whether you’re a die-hard fan of “The Black Company”, “Dread Empire” or “Garrett P.I.”, or if you’re new to Glen Cook, take the plunge, read “The Instrumentalities Of The Night” series and be rewarded…
Friday, March 16, 2007

"Brass Man" by Neal Asher

According to the USA edition’s jacket description, “Brass Man” is a sequel to Neal Asher’s impressive debut “Gridlinked”, which first introduced readers to ECS (Earth Central Security) agent Ian Cormac. What it fails to mention is that “Brass Man” is actually a direct sequel to “The Line Of Polity”, which is mysteriously unavailable here in the United States. For diehard Asher fans, I doubt this is much of a problem since the books have been available for a while now in the UK & Canada – in fact, they’ve already had the luxury of a fourth Ian Cormac novel – but for those of us stateside and those readers new to Mr. Asher it can be a bit confusing. So, after digging around some, I’ve determined that the available Cormac novels should be read in the following order: 1. “Gridlinked” 2. “The Line Of Polity” 3. “Brass Man” and 4. “Polity Agent.”

With that out of the way, let’s move on to the actual review. Having only previously read Mr. Asher’sGridlinked”, what immediately becomes apparent is that the author has really progressed as a writer. This seems only natural as a number of books (“The Skinner, “The Line Of Polity”, “Cowl”) were released prior to “Brass Man”, but it’s not always a given. So, I was quite pleased with how much better a storyteller Mr. Asher has become with “Brass Man” compared to “Gridlinked.”

Breaking it down, the format with which “Brass Man” is told is through multiple point-of-views of a veritable host of characters, both major & minor as well as heroes, villains and those in-between, so be forewarned if you’re not a fan of this kind of set-up. To me it has its ups and downs. On the plus side, with the narrative changing every few pages it really helps the novel move along at a brisk pace and adds numerous layers to its intricate plot, which Mr. Asher handles with obvious grace. On the other hand, the story can get confusing at times if you’re not careful (especially if you hadn’t read the previous volume in the series), and there is an obvious lack of character development, which brings me to my next point.

Though “Brass Man” is considered an ‘Ian Cormac’ novel, the main protagonist doesn’t have nearly as much face time as he did on “Gridlinked” and seems to play second fiddle to a number of other players, including the title character Mr. Crane who I felt was probably the most developed individual in the book, due to his background exploration via ‘retroacts.’ As to the others involved, we’re treated to familiar faces from “Gridlinked” and apparently “The Line Of Polity” as well as a number of new entities. Now, I’ve heard Mr. Asher’s characters described as “shallow” and “one-dimensional”, and I can’t really argue that as some of them are interchangeable archetypes, while others lack personality or fail to mature as the story progresses. In their defense, I can see why this may be, as we’re not just dealing with humans, but also androids, AIs, aliens, and other modified creations that may lack the capacity for growth. I also believe that you’ll see more development of certain characters from book to book rather than within an individual novel as evidenced by the changes that I've seen so far from Mr. Cormac himself. Still, with such fantastic, larger-than-life creations as Dragon, the aforementioned Mr. Crane, the antagonist Skellor and many others, I believe that Mr. Asher has fashioned a cast of characters whose ‘coolness factor’ far outweigh any faults that they may possess.

As to the ‘AI-ruled Polity of Worlds’ that these characters inhabit, this is one area where Mr. Asher’s imagination soars. For sci-fi aficionados, some of the concepts (artificial intelligences, nanotechnology, cyborgs, planetary transportation, etc.) utilized may seem familiar as seen in other books, movies, anime, comics or videogames, but Mr. Asher puts his own spin on them as well as introducing unique ideas, and it is their use as a collective that makes the Polity universe as a whole so fascinating. Of course, rife with an abundance of technological jargon and the fact that the reader is thrust into this massive universe immediately with few explanations aside from the excerpts that preface each chapter, the Polity Universe at first can be quite daunting to grasp. However, as with the characters, this is an area I believe that will be further fleshed out as the series progresses, not to mention the other Polity books. With “Brass Man”, one of the more imaginative and enjoyable aspects of the book is the planet Cull with its distinctive cultures and local fauna (or more accurately monsters), that are so vividly brought to life and apparently has become a staple of Mr. Asher’s world-building.

Overall I have to say that I really enjoyed “Brass Man.” It may not be as mentally stimulating or original or character-driven as some other sci-fi that I’ve read, but it is a fun, action-filled, high-velocity futuristic adventure that I believe will only get better as the series continues. And continue it shall for, as previous predecessors, ‘Brass Man” ends on an unresolved note with many plotlines to be further explored in the currently available “Polity Agent”, and a concluding chapter, the forthcoming “Line War.” I, for one, have been hooked and eagerly look forward to the continuing adventures of Ian Cormac and friends as well as any future works by Mr. Neal Asher

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