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Friday, June 29, 2007

SPOTLIGHT: Books of July

I had a lot of fun with the SPOTLIGHT: Books of June feature that I recently did, and from the response that I received, it seems like a lot of readers enjoyed the article as well. So, I’m back for more, and this time I have to give props to Calibander (Westeros forum) for the invaluable help that he provided on the July Spotlight as well as future spotlights. So, thank you Calibander and thank you to any readers who check out the article. And as before, I apologize for any novels that I may have overlooked. (NOTE: Unless stated otherwise, all release dates are for the US):

Renegade’s Magic” by Robin Hobb. UK Release Date: July 2, 2007. While not quite on the same level as George R. R. Martin or Robert Jordan, Robin Hobb is a prominent name in the fantasy genre and much beloved by readers everywhere, myself included. So, even though the reception has been mixed towards The Soldier Son Trilogy, I’m sure that won’t stop too many readers from picking up the book, which promises to be another emotionally powerful, elegantly written addition to Ms. Hobb’s fabulous collection…
Official Robin Hobb Website
Order “Renegade’s MagicHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Aidan Moher's Interview with Ms. Hobb HERE
Note: According to EOS Book’s publicist, the book is set to go on sale here in the US on January 29, 2008 and will be a February title.

The Judas Strain” by James Rollins. Release Date: July 2, 2007. For some, you may already be familiar with Mr. Rollins who writes fantasy under the pen name James Clemens (The Banned & the Banished, the Godslayer Chronicles). As James Rollins, the author produces contemporary, action-adventure thrillers with a dash of the supernatural. His latest novels have focused on the Sigma Force team and “The Judas Strain” continues that trend with a flesh-eating plague, cryptograms and Marco Polo...
Official James Rollins Website
Order “The Judas StrainHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

Deepwood” by Jennifer Roberson. Release Date: July 3, 2007. Since the mid-Eighties Ms. Roberson has established herself as a popular voice in fantasy fiction, including the 8-volume epic Chronicles of the Cheysuli, the Sword-Dancer saga featuring Tiger & Del and “The Golden Key” collaboration with Melanie Rawn & Kate Elliott. Currently, Ms. Roberson has created a fascinating new fantasy series that started with 2006’s “Karavans” and continues in the impressive follow-up “Deepwood”…
Official Jennifer Roberson Website
Order “DeepwoodHERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Deepwood
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Interview with Ms. Roberson

Shift” by Chris Dolley. Release Date. July 3, 2007. Blending sci-fi, mystery and serial killer thrills, “Shift” revolves around a murderer with multiple personality disorder who seemingly possesses the ability to travel through higher dimensional space. Sounds like an interesting genre-buster from up-and-coming author Chris Dolley, who started out as a computer programmer (founded Randomberry Games), and whose past works include the Sara Ann Freed Memorial Award-shortlisted “An Unsafe Pair of Hands” + “Resonance”.
Official Chris Dolley Website
Chris Dolley’s LiveJournal
Order “ShiftHERE
Read Sample Chapters HERE

Hilldiggers” by Neal Asher. UK Release Date: July 6, 2007. Set in the same universe as Mr. Asher’s Polity books, though after the events in “The Skinner”, which took place many years following the Ian Cormac adventures, “Hilldiggers” is an epic, politically driven space opera that solidifies Neal Asher – author of “Gridlinked”, “The Line of Polity”, “Brass Man”, “Polity Agent”, “Cowl”, “The Skinner”, “Prador Moon”, “The Voyage of Sable Keech”, etc. – as one of science fiction literature’s brightest voices…
Official Neal Asher Website
Neal Asher’s Blog
Order “HilldiggersHERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of "Hilldiggers"
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Interview with Neal Asher

The Dark River” by John Twelve Hawks. Release Date: July 10, 2007. In 2005, the enigmatic author John Twelve Hawks burst onto the scene with his critically-acclaimed, New York Times Bestselling debut “The Traveler”, a gripping “urban fantasy/techno thriller” that struck a chord with its chillingly familiar world inspired by the modern technology that monitors our lives. Two years later, Mr. Hawks returns with the much anticipated sequel to “The Traveler”, “The Dark River” – volume two of the Fourth Realm Trilogy
Official John Twelve Hawks Website
Order “The Dark RiverHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Mr. Hawk’s Interview with Gabe Chouinard via FantasyBookSpot HERE

The Wanderer’s Tale” by David Bilsborough. Release Date: July 10, 2007. “A major new acquisition for the Tor fantasy list”, David Bilsborough’s debut “The Wanderer’s Tale”, is the beginning of an epic fantasy series in the vein of Tolkien with many more 'Annals' planned for the world. Right now, opinions on the book vary greatly from good to not so good. For more information, check out an interview with Mr. Bilsborough HERE courtesy of Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, and read SFF World’s review of “The Wanderer’s TaleHERE.
Official Tor-Forge Website
Order “The Wanderer’s Tale" HERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

The Devil You Know” by Mike Carey. Release Date: July 10, 2007. A celebrated comic book writer known for his work on
Marvel’s Ultimate Fantastic Four and X-Men, “Hellblazer” & the Eisner Award-nominated “Lucifer” from the DC imprint Vertigo, and such Neil Gaiman-related projects as “Sandman Presents” & “Neverwhere”, Mr. Carey jumps into the world of novel fiction with his debut “The Devil You Know”, a new breed of supernatural thriller that promises to be the first of many Felix Castor adventures…
Official Mike Carey Website
Orbit’s Mike Carey Website
Order “The Devil You Know” (US Version) HERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

Mary Modern” by Camille Deangelis. Release Date: July 10, 2007. Combining elements of gothic romance, suspense, fantasy and sci-fi that borrows from Mary Shelley’sFrankenstein”, “Mary Modern” is an ambitious and stimulating work of literary fiction by first-time novelist Camille Deangelis that deals with such provocative issues as genetics and cloning. In short, “Mary Modern” looks to be a captivating debut that has been on my radar for some time now, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy…
Official Camille Deangelis Website
Order “Mary ModernHERE
Read the Prologue HERE

Territory” by Emma Bull. Release Date: July 10, 2007. Reimagining the legendary tale of Tombstone, which made famous such individuals as Wyatt Earp & Doc Holliday, “Territory” is the latest novel by author Emma Bull, winner of the Locus Award for her debut “War for the Oaks”, with subsequent works including “Falcon”, the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award-finalist “Bone Dance”, “Finder”, and “Freedom & Necessity” with Steven Brust. A book that is part Western and part fantasy…count me in!
Emma Bull’s LiveJournal
Order “TerritoryHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

Hurricane Moon” by Alexis Glynn Latner. Release Date: July 18, 2007. After publishing numerous science fiction, fantasy and horror short stories since 1990, Ms. Latner will finally release her first full-length novel “Hurricane Moon”, “a story of planetary colonization, full of danger, romance and interpersonal conflict…” Early word seems to be quite positive – check out reviews by Don D’Ammassa HERE and Publishers Weekly HERE – and it looks like “Hurricane Moon” is another book that I’ll be adding to my reading list…
Official Alexis Glynn Latner Website
Official Pyr Books Website
Order “Hurricane MoonHERE
Read Sample Chapters HERE

Slaves of the Shinar” by Justin Allen. Release Date: July 19, 2007. “Slaves of the Shinar is the story of a land consumed by war, of a people trying to survive, and of two men in the middle of it all, redefining themselves and their futures. Set against the chaotic and bloody backdrop of the Middle East's first great war, this fantasy epic – part Homer, part Tolkien, part R. Scott Bakker – brings us into a gritty, realistic world where destiny is foretold by gods, and death is never more than a sword-stroke away.” I couldn’t have described it any better…
Official Overlook Press Website
Order “Slaves of the ShinarHERE

The Da-Da-De-Da-Da Code” by Robert Rankin. UK Release Date: July 19, 2007. “Robert Rankin, the world's Master of Far Fetched Fiction, takes us on a roller coaster ride in his brand-new bestseller, which focuses on the biggest conspiracy theory in the world, ever…you will find the music of the angels – and the music of the devil. Aliens, flying saucers from hell, the Multiverse, the Illuminati…they're all here, wrapped into a plot that will leave Dan Brown fans breathless…” Supposedly a riff on “The Da Vinci Code”, this looks like a lot of fun.
Official Robert Rankin Fan Club
Official Orion / Gollancz Website
Order “The Da-Da-De-Da-Da CodeHERE

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by J. K. Rowling. Release Date: July 21, 2007. So what’s there left to say about the seventh and concluding volume in the Harry Potter series? Not much really, just a bunch of questions. Is Dumbledore really dead? Whose side is Snape on? How will Harry finally triumph over Voldemort? Will Harry ever find love & happiness? What about Ron and Hermione's relationship: is it real? And finally, will this truly be the last Harry Potter book ever? We’ll just have to wait and see…
Official J. K. Rowling Website
MuggleNet – The Ultimate Harry Potter Website
Order “Harry Potter and the Deathly HallowsHERE (US) + HERE (UK)

Crooked Little Vein” by Warren Ellis. Release Date: July 24, 2007. Following in the footsteps of Neil Gaiman, Mike Carey, etc., Warren Ellis is the latest comic book writer – Planetary, Transmetropolitan, Global Frequency, newuniversal, Ultimate FF, Iron Man, etc. – making the leap to novels and his debut is “packed with action, adventure, and a wild cast of characters that are sure to appease not only hardcore comic fans, but a whole new slew of mystery readers waiting for a surprisingly surreal treat that infuses the madness of the graphic-novel world.”
Official Warren Ellis Website
Warren Ellis’ LiveJournal
Order “Crooked Little VeinHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

Red Seas Under Red Skies” by Scott Lynch. Release Date: July 31, 2007. “In his highly acclaimed debut, “The Lies of Locke Lamora”, Scott Lynch took readers on an adrenaline-fueled adventure with a band of daring thieves led by con artist extraordinaire Locke Lamora. Now Lynch brings back his outrageous hero for a caper so death-defying, nothing short of a miracle will pull it off.” After delivering one of the best fantasy debuts of 2006, Mr. Lynch now aims to deliver one of the best fantasy novels of 2007 period…
Official Scott Lynch Website
Scott Lynch’s LiveJournal
Order “Red Seas Under Red SkiesHERE (US Version)
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Advance Reviews of “Red Seas Under Red Skies” via SFF World, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review, The Neth Space

Merciless” by Richard Montanari. Release Date: July 31, 2007. Already released in the UK (April 2007) under the title “Broken Angels” (also the name of a Richard K. Morgan novel), “Merciless” is the latest offering from the international bestselling Richard Montanari, a novelist and screenwriter whose acclaimed books include the OLMA-winning “Deviant Way”, “The Violent Hour”, “Kiss of Evil”, “The Rosary Girls” and “The Skin Gods”. Expect a spine-tingling suspense thriller about a twisted killer inspired by fairytales…
Official Richard Montanari Website
Order “MercilessHERE
Watch the “MercilessPromo Video HERE

Set the Seas On Fire” by Chris Roberson. Release Date: July 31, 2007. Author of many short stories & novels, Mr. Roberson is also a co-founder of the writers’ collective Clockwork Storybook and owner/operator of the indie publisher MonkeyBrain Books (Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore, Jeff VanderMeer). “Set the Seas On Fire” is an expanded version of the novel originally released in 2001 (Clockwork Storybook) and can be described as “Horatio Hornblower meets Lovecraft, a fabulous and unique melding of historical sea-faring fiction with horror/fantasy elements…”
Official Chris Roberson Website
Official Solaris Books Website
Order “Set the Seas On FireHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

Settling Accounts: In at the Death” by Harry Turtledove. Release Date: July 31, 2007. While Mr. Turtledove’s material spans many genres including sci-fi & fantasy, the highly prolific writer is mainly known for his historical fiction works, which includes the Videssos books, the Worldwar & Colonization series, the Hellenic Traders series, War Between the Provinces, and the Timeline-191 series. With “In at the Death”, Mr. Turtledove closes the epic Southern Victory saga in an exciting & satisfactory manner…
Official Harry Turtledove
Order “Settling Accounts: In at the DeathHERE

Killing the Rabbit” by Alison Goodman. Release Date: July 31, 2007. Alison Goodman, an Aussie author of “Singing the Dogstar Blues”, which won the Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel, was shortlisted for the 1999 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, and listed as an American Library Association Best Young Adult Book of 2004, is currently completing a new YA fantasy duology. In the meantime, “Killing the Rabbit” is a “dark and wickedly comic new thriller that follows a young indie filmmaker on her way to fame, fortune, and a shoot-out to the death…”
Official Alison Goodman Website
Alison Goodman’s LiveJournal
Order “Killing the RabbitHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

The Sea Change” by Patricia Bray. Release Date: July 31, 2007. After starting out writing historical novels, Patricia Bray decided to embrace her love for fantasy and released The Sword of Change trilogy, which included “Devlin’s Luck”, winner of the 2003 Compton Crook Award for Best First Novel in SF/Fantasy. Ms. Bray is currently working on her second fantasy series, The Chronicles of Josan, which tells the story of a scholar who is unwillingly swept into a treacherous world of political intrigue & magic… “The Sea Change” is volume two of The Chronicles of Josan.
Official Patricia Bray Website
Patricia Bray’s LiveJournal
Order “The Sea ChangeHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Thursday, June 28, 2007

Interview with Austin Grossman

Buy “Soon I Will Be InvincibleHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Review of "Soon I Will Be Invincible"

2007 has been a good year for book releases. I’ve had the pleasure of reading fantastic offerings from established authors, personal favorites and talented up-and-comers. One novel though that really took me by surprise was “Soon I Will Be Invincible”, a fun, humorous and intelligent glimpse into the world of superheroes and supervillains. The mastermind behind this excellent debut is Austin Grossman, a videogame designer (Deus Ex, System Shock, Thief, Clive Barker’s Undying) who talks about the inspiration behind “Soon I Will Be Invincible”, the gaming industry, Chip Kidd and much more in the following Q&A. So, much thanks to Mr. Grossman for his time and effort in doing the interview, and especially for writing one of the most enjoyable books of the year…

Q: For starters, I read that you felt ‘stifled’ as a storyteller when working in the videogame industry, so you took a few years off to pursue a Ph.D. in English Literature at the University of California, Berkeley and started writing a novel, the recently released “Soon I Will Be Invincible”. Obviously with your videogame background, which includes Thief: Deadly Shadows, Clive Barker's Undying, Deus Ex, System Shock, Ultima Underworld II: Labyrinth of Worlds, etc. you had plenty of material to draw from, but instead you chose to write about superheroes/villains. Why?

Austin: In retrospect I think “stifled” is surely the wrong word – for what was such a rich experience – but yes, working collaboratively in a medium with so many formal storytelling constraints meant exercising a lot of discipline.

But yes, left to my own devices I still picked superheroes – why? Maybe because I'm constitutionally incapable of writing a “straight” story. Maybe because it's the genre where the marvelous and the everyday live closest together – you can write about impossible things happening to recognizably normal people and it fits, which is a lovely tension to be able to exploit in a novel.

Q: It’s safe to say that artistic ability runs in the family as you have a twin brother, Lev Grossman who is also a novelist/writer, and a sister Bathsheba who is a sculptor. Regarding your novel, how important was it to have your family’s support and experience, specifically your brother’s as a writer?

Austin: I suppose I'll never have the experience of being the only writer in a family – I should mention that my mother is a novel and short story writer, and my father is a poet. In the end I didn't get a huge amount of practical advice from them, but what they mainly gave me is something to write against – voices to hear my own voice in contrast to. I tried to write the things they'd never ever think of writing. A writer once told me, “You know you're really writing your best when you look at the page and think, 'My family can never see this” – no less true when there are writers in the family.

Practically speaking my brother Lev helped see the thing to publication – he saw it in its early stages and told me it was worth finishing in the first place, which helped enormously; and he introduced me to his agent, who encouraged me and helped me find my agent. So I was enormously lucky in having someone to show the book.

Q: Mom and Dad too, impressive. Well, since “Soon I Will Be Invincible” is your first novel, what did you think was the most challenging part of writing the book? The easiest?

Austin: The hardest bit is keeping going, and believing it's possible to finish, much less publish, especially when you're writing something a little bit ridiculous. Easiest was making up more superhero names!

Q: I heard that you spent five years working on the novel? Can you just outline your journey in finishing the book, finding a publisher, promoting the novel and how it feels to finally see “Soon I Will Be Invincible” on the shelves?

Austin: “Five years” is what I usually say, but there are characters and passages in the book that have been around for much longer – the mid-nineties, at least – stuff I kept thinking of and then putting aside. The first more finished-looking work existed as short stories I did for a writing workshop at Berkeley in spring of 2002, standalone things that I enjoyed writing and which seemed like they could belong to something larger.

After a little encouragement from outside voices, I tried to envision what that “something larger,” was, writing more chapters and fitting them together, settling on the two major characters as narrators. I was still doing coursework for my Ph. D. so it was a part-time project, and publication wasn't something I let myself think about.

After I passed Orals at Berkeley in October 2004, I took a year writing more full-time, 2-3 days a week, and settled the plot and structure more fully. Lev's agent (Tina Bennett) read the manuscript in summer 2005, liked it but asked for some changes, which took a few more months. She passed the revised version to Luke Janklow who became its (totally awesome) agent. There was an auction for the book, which ultimately went to Pantheon, partly because I wanted to see what Chip Kidd (Michael Crichton, Dean Koontz, Bret Easton Ellis, Cormac McCarthy, Frank Miller, etc.) would do with the design, an impulse which has turned out amazingly well.

Promoting the novel and seeing it in stores is a more-than-strange experience – for years I wouldn't let anyone see the novel, which was the product of this crazy private inner furnace of feeling, and now it's sitting out in stores for strangers to look at! But really, now the best part of this whole business is talking to people who've read the book.

Q: I thought the cover art was spectacular and the artwork alone should attract a lot of new readers. Did you get to put any input into the design? What are your thoughts on cover art in general and the importance of having packaging that is both attractive and related to the source material?

Austin: The only input I had was the selection of Chip Kidd as the main designer, which is part of why I chose Pantheon to publish with. I talked with him about comics for about half an hour, and he took it from there.

I think packaging is crucial, especially for a crossover novel like this - the cover had to convey a double message - "we're treating superhero material BUT in a style closer to mainstream literary fiction," which Chip accomplished in spectacular fashion. It needed to be something that could be shelved in either regular-fiction or science-fiction, and wouldn't get lost if it were shelved in a comic book store. I totally think it's affected the reception of the book, and makes people think twice. Chip is a genius.

Q: What are your thoughts on the book as a whole? Do you wish there was anything you could go back and change or add?

Austin: I've started a new novel for the sole purpose of blocking any further thoughts about this. But yes, I can't look at a page without making corrections and deletions – whenever I give readings I have the satisfaction of presenting the corrected passages.

Q: The majority of the characters, origins and storylines in the book are basically parodies from comic books and other superhero-related material. Of the more recognizable, I saw Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Lois Lane and even the Chronicles of Narnia fantasy series, although there are countless others. Can you tell us what kind of research was involved in creating these various characters, origins & storylines, and how you were able to choose from what sources you mixed & matched?

Austin: When people hear it's a superhero novel, they tend to assume I'm making up my own wacky new powers for people, but really I wanted to explore the familiar types and give them a more human reality. So I'd quibble with the word “parody” – I never wanted to make fun of these characters, only work with the humor that comes from putting them in everyday situations. I tried not to focus on individual characters as source material, though – what I wanted was to borrow a milieu, the kind of big-universe feel of the major comics publishers, without doing one-to-one likenesses.

And I'm not much for research I'm afraid – I worked from whatever comics I had been a fan of, and what I was reading at the time, but I tried to let that serve – beyond that, I make things up. I did read bios of some of the more obscure Golden Age heroes and villains to get a feel for the boldness and inventiveness of plotting that went into them. Any time I felt too timid in my storytelling I got a little borrowed courage from those early pulp writers!

Q: Of all of the different heroes and villains in the book, who were your favorites and why?

Austin: I have to say I have a soft spot for Baron Ether, who is really the villain's villain – I wanted his scenes to go on forever. And The Pharaoh, who should have gotten more onstage time, damn it. And Lily, who probably should have been the third narrator. And Damsel. But really, I didn't put anyone in the book who wasn't fun to write – I don't have the discipline to put in that kind of work.

Q: There’s a lot of satirical humor in the book directed at American superheroism? What kind of statement were you trying to make?

Austin: I suppose it seems that way, but I hope it doesn't come across as cynical. Most of the humor comes from just imagining superheroes to be real, and the situations and thoughts that come out of that, points of etiquette, little comedy-of-manners moments.

The other half of this is when we see how superheroes look to a supervillain, which of course makes them look quite different from how the rest of the world sees them. To a supervillain, superheroes are smug, bland, conformists who show up only after all the interesting creative work has been done, assured of winning, poised to receive the world's applause.

Q: When I look at “Soon I Will Be Invincible” I see numerous opportunities for branching out – videogames of course because of your background, comic books because of the obvious references, television, animation, action figures and a major motion picture, which I believe is already in the works. When you first started the book, was this the kind of multi-media property that you envisioned?

Austin: Definitely not. My terrible fear (one of them anyway) about this project is that people will see it as something calculated, as an attempt to set up a multimedia franchise. The project started as a fun experiment in putting superheroes into prose instead of comics, and in writing the villain's side of it.

Different media have different strengths – moving heroes into the grittier, interior world of the novel was the driving inspiration of the work – I think it would be interesting to try putting it into film, which I think could bring out some of the same moments of characterization, awkwardness and humor.

Q: Staying on this subject, more and more these days we’re seeing an increase in cross-pollination between different mediums: literature and movies, comic books and videogames, TV and animation, etc. What are your thoughts on this increasing trend?

Austin: Nothing too original to say here – clearly it's a money-driven phenomenon, so creatively the results are very mixed. It’s fun to see characters tried in a different media when there's a genuine feeling for that experiment, but obviously much of the time it's just squeezing more dollars out of a given piece of intellectual property.

One hates to see franchise-potential mixed into the calculation of what books get published; but then, it's nice to see more potential for creators to be rewarded in a dicey artistic market.

Q: Focusing on the movie version of “Soon I Will Be Invincible”, can you share any details?

Austin: I wish I didn't, but I have to excuse myself from the movie questions, everything's locked down on that front.

Q: I totally understand, but I had to try :) So, just for fun, what would be your dream adaptation?

Austin: Ditto, I'm afraid, although I would love to speculate wildly. Privately I've been working on an interactive-fiction adaptation of some sections of the book, just to see how it would work; if I get some more free time to work on it, I may put it out there for free.

Q: That sounds like it’d be cool. Okay, you mentioned earlier that you started a new novel. Will it be related to “Soon I Will Be Invincible” as a sequel…a spin-off?

Austin: I don't have active plans for a spin-off (although I get a lot of questions about some of the minor characters, who the Infinitesimal Seven are, etc.), but it's a possibility. The novel is set in a big, complicated world and there's some possibility that what I'm working on next will turn out to have been set in another corner of that world, with the Champions and Doctor Impossible showing up on the daily news.

Q: Well, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see :) Might you be working on anything non-“Soon I Will Be Invincible” related, like in a different format or genre?

Austin: I'm pathologically closed-mouthed about work in the early stages – nobody heard about Invincible for like two years into it – I'll just say I'm starting to think about playing with another genre the way “Soon I Will Be Invincible” plays with superheroes.

Q: Hmmm, interesting. So what’s the future hold for Austin Grossman the game designer? Are you planning on working with videogames again and if so, in what capacity and what kind of ideas do you have for new videogames?

Austin: I hope I'll get to return to video games full-time at some point – there's so much interesting creative work waiting to be done in that medium. Right now I'm consulting on an unannounced project at Electronic Arts, headed by Doug Church (Ultima, System Shock, Thief) with Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park) involved, but that's only a few months out of the year.

Q: I won’t even ask about this consulting project since I’m sure you can’t reveal anything yet ;)

Austin: Yeah, apart from that it's at EALA with Steven Spielberg and Doug Church, I am sworn to silence – people on the team can't even tell their spouses…

Q: So, as a videogame designer/writer, I was just wondering what your thoughts are on the next-gen consoles (Nintendo’s Wii, Xbox 360, Playstation 3) and where you think the future of videogaming is headed?

Austin: Well, I think I'd make a fool of myself if I tried to prognosticate about the console wars. The aspect of game development I'm concerned about is where creative innovation is going to come from. I'm not saying more artsy games, but games that take creative risks, that feel more human, more original, more emotional – the way the best Hollywood films, or the best comic books do. Thus far, the economics of the industry (long development times, low profit margins) and the formal challenges of telling stories interactively have made creativity and writing the weakest link in a very exciting medium.

I'm actually less interested in faster consoles than I am in working out better creative process, development tools, and business models to let game makers find more interesting places to go.

Q: Do you have any preconceived notions that you'd like to dispel as someone who has worked in the videogame industry?

Austin: Yes – that people working in the game industry think we're doing the best possible job. We all know the creative side of video games is very far from achieving its potential – that we could be doing more original, compelling work.

Q: Any advice for anyone hoping to get involved with videogames?

Austin: Learn computer programming. No matter what area of video game development you're going into, understanding how a computer program functions ("procedural literacy" it's sometimes called) is the fundamental prerequisite for working in the medium. Like any artistic medium, you need to know its fundamentals before you can really make it sing.

Q: Surely you must have a favorite game, one that you've either worked on or just love to play. If so, can you tell us what it is and why? What about a favorite comic book, character, writer or artist? How about a favorite novel or author?

Austin: My favorite computer game is NetHack, which is a computer game so Old School that even hardened video game professionals consider it too hardcore-dorky to mess around with. It's a fantasy adventure that uses primitive ASCII-type graphics (letters, numbers, and characters), but the gameplay is incredibly rich and sophisticated, much more than most contemporary games. And it's a community-built game crammed with references to Tolkien, Douglas Adams and all that good stuff.

When it comes to comics I like to plug anything Gail Simone writes, and also Ed Brubaker's series Sleeper, a dark moody story about a deep-cover agent who gets trapped in his cover identity as a supervillain. As far as novels goes...everyone should read Thackeray'sVanity Fair”! And Ellen Kushner's mannerpunk fantasy! Ideally together.

Q: Nice picks! So, what are you currently reading?

Austin: I just finished Cormac Mccarthy'sThe Road”. I'm setting out on my book tour today, so I'm hoping people at the bookstores can suggest where to go next.

Q: Well, I’m sure you’ll get plenty of recommendations! Any last words that you’d like to share or anyone you’d like to plug?

Austin: The last thing I read that absolutely stunned me was Kelly Link's "Magic for Beginners", so I'll go ahead and plug that.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007

"Hilldiggers" by Neal Asher

Official Neal Asher Website
Neal Asher’s Blog
Order “HilldiggersHERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Interview with Neal Asher
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of "Brass Man"

Since starting Fantasy Book Critic, I’ve had the pleasure of being introduced to a number of talented authors that I might otherwise have never read. One of my most pleasant experiences was discovering the works of Neal Asher, a prolific science fiction writer who is steadily becoming a force in the genre and one of my favorites. So, even though I’ve only read “Gridlinked” and “Brass Man” out of the eight novels, two short story collections and a novella that Mr. Asher has so far produced, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to review his latest book “Hilldiggers.” (UK Only Release Date: July 6, 2007).

First off, according to the interview I did with Mr. Asher, “Hilldiggers” is a self-contained story that is set in the same universe as his other Polity books, but takes place after the events in “The Skinner”, which in turn, occurred many years after the Ian Cormac adventures. So, anyone who has read any of Mr. Asher’s Polity novels, even if it’s only a couple like I have, should be somewhat familiar with certain concepts found in “Hilldiggers” like the Polity structure, artificial intelligences (AI), chainglass, etc., and it wasn’t hard to see such references to the planet Spatterjay and other Polity history either. Of course, if you haven’t read any of Mr. Asher’s books, then “Hilldiggers” is an excellent starting point for readers new to the author, though I still recommend checking out some of his earlier releases first.

Now, much like two other SF novels I recently completed – Richard K. Morgan’sBlack Man/Thirteen” and Joel Shepherd’sBreakaway” – “Hilldiggers” is an epic, politically driven opera that draws upon current events, yet is conformed to the author’s own unique vision. In the case of “Hilldiggers”, the situation revolves around two planets, Sudoria and Brumal, who have enjoyed twenty years of peace following a catastrophic war that was decisively won by the Sudorians. Since the end of the war, three factions were established – Fleet, Sudorian Parliament and Orbital Combine. At this point, Polity enters the picture interested in developing relations with the two planets, but because opinions are divided on this matter between the opposing groups, a Polity Consul Assessor is sent in to gauge the situation and hopefully initiate a possible alliance. From there, the Assessor becomes entangled in a variety of tug-of-war scheming by all of the different factions involved including the Polity, and the thicker the plotting gets, the higher the stakes become. As expected in a Neal Asher novel, there are plenty of other interesting subplots woven into the main story – an alien entity known as the Worm, an ominous ‘Shadowman’ that seems to haunt the Sudorians, a controversial book written by the mysterious Uskaron that supposedly reveals the truth behind the war – and because everything happening in “Hilldiggers” is cunningly connected, by the time readers finish the book, a number of shocking truths will be revealed…

Looking back at my review of “Brass Man”, one area that I noted as weaker than others was the characterization. Obviously I haven’t seen what kind of progress Mr. Asher has made as a writer with his latest novels “Prador Moon”, “Polity Agent” and “The Voyage of Sable Keech”, but characterization is definitely not an issue with “Hilldiggers”. In fact, I can safely say that “Hilldiggers” is a character-driven novel. First, we have the aforementioned Consul Assessor David McCrooger, an Old Captain/hooper from the planet Spatterjay who relates events via a first-person narrative and reminded me some of Ian Cormac, but is actually quite different. McCrooger starts out the book as virtually immortal & invincible due to a virus contracted on Spatterjay, but because of a competing virus, the planets’ harsh environments and other circumstances, David eventually becomes much more vulnerable physically and has to rely on brains rather than brawn. Providing additional third-person point of views are the Sudorian quadruplets – Yishna, Harald, Rhodane and Orduval Strone – who are the novel’s most developed characters because of the Retroacts, and arguably the most important. Then there is Director Gneiss of Corisanthe Main, the most enigmatic of the bunch, and Tigger, a tiger-shaped Polity drone who, like Mr. Crane, Dragon, etc., was a lot of fun to follow, though he didn’t have nearly enough face time. In short, I was quite pleased with the characterization as a whole, and I don’t think “Hilldiggers” would have been nearly as effective if the characters weren’t as strong as they were.

As far as the other elements in the book, Neal Asher performs at a consistently high level. In particular, the pacing is quick even though the book is not as action-packed as “Brass Man” or “Gridlinked”; the plot is complex and intelligently crafted without being confusing or, with some politically-driven SF that I’ve read, preachy; and the science aspects – the vernacular, the unique ecosystems found on Sudoria/Brumal, the Worm, etc. – remain one of the author’s strong points. Overall, I was very impressed with “Hilldiggers”, partly because of how much stronger a writer I think Mr. Asher has become, and partly because of how different the novel was from what I was expecting, yet was just as entertaining as anything I’ve read this year. In truth, I would probably rate “Hilldiggers” right up there alongside Stephen Hunt’sThe Court of the Air” and Richard K. Morgan’sBlack Man/Thirteen” as one of my favorite science fiction novels of 2007, and I strongly urge readers out there to check out a Neal Asher novel if you haven’t already. I can’t guarantee that you’ll love the author’s material as much as I do, but if you give Neal Asher a chance, more likely than not, you’ll come away impressed…
Tuesday, June 26, 2007

"New Tuesday", Red 5 Comics, a signed copy of "Acacia" and much more...

“New Tuesday” is usually a term applied to new CDs and DVDs, which are released every week on a Tuesday. Fridays are normally associated with new theatrical releases and comic books always come out on a Wednesday, barring holidays. Novels, on the other hand, do not have a set release date and are released any day of the week. Today however, is a big day for books, which sees the following releases:

InterWorld” by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves. A YA release, “InterWorld” is a “dazzling tale of magic, science, honor, and the destiny of one very special boy—and all the others like him.” In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with anything that has Neil Gaiman’s touch on it, so this should be a worthwhile pickup. Additionally, the book was recently optioned by DreamWorks Animation (Shrek the Third, Over the Hedge, etc.). Also released today is Mr. Gaiman’sM Is For Magic”, a collection of short stories that will “delight, enchant, and surprise you…

Thirteen” by Richard K. Morgan. I’ve reviewed “ThirteenHERE, interviewed Mr. Morgan HERE, and there are countless other websites out there providing coverage on the novel, so what else do you need? “Thirteen” is one of the top science fiction releases of 2007.

The Bestiary” by Nicholas Christopher. One of my favorite novels of the year, “The Bestiary” is a magical coming-of-age tale that I just couldn’t get enough of. It comes highly recommended and you can check out my thoughts on the book HERE.

Legacy: Volume Two of The Sharing Knife” by Lois McMaster Bujold. Recently reviewed HERE, “Legacy” completes The Sharing Knife duology, which is a touching romance story set in a richly crafted fantasy setting. A memorable reading experience…

The Thief Queen's Daughter” by Elizabeth Haydon. From what I’ve seen, opinions are mixed on Ms. Haydon’s works, but personally I enjoy the Symphony of Ages saga, and The Lost Journals of Ven Polypheme, while aimed towards a younger audience, is a wonderful escape for readers everywhere…

Bitterwood” by James Maxey. Playing around with familiar fantasy tropes, “Bitterwood” is a fast-paced, action-packed adventure novel that offers a new perspective on dragons. You can find out more about “BitterwoodHERE.

Exit Strategy” by Kelly Armstrong. Known mainly for the paranormal suspense series Women of the Otherworld, Ms. Armstrong branches out with the crime novel “Exit Strategy”, which introduces Nadia Stafford, an ex-cop turned hitwoman.

The Cleaner” by Brett Battles. A debut novel that has received praise from the likes of Jeffrey Deaver (The Bone Collector) and James Rollins (Map of Bones), “The Cleaner” looks to make its mark in the world of crime thriller fiction. Check out an excerpt HERE.

In comic book news, there’s a new company out there hoping to take the industry by storm this Fall. For more information on Red 5 Comics and their upcoming releases, check out the press release below:

"Red 5 Comics is the creation of Paul Ens, former director of Lucasfilm’s and Lucas Online, and Scott Chitwood, co-founder of and contributor to and

True to the passions of its founders, Red 5 Comics will produce cinematic-style stories that appeal to the same avid movie and comic fans who already frequent their websites. The Red 5 line-up will be a combination of creator-owned and internally developed titles. Individual comic issues will be sold in both traditional print form at comic shops and in downloadable electronic formats online.

Over the years, we’ve had the great pleasure to cross paths, both online and in-person, with many talented and creative people,” said Ens, “from artists, to writers, to filmmakers and actors, and countless enthusiastic fans. Not only have they been a great inspiration, but we plan to include many of them in Red 5 as well.

Among the titles currently in development are:

Abyss - Kevin Rubio’s short-film, TROOPS, was one of the first true video events on the Internet. His latest creation, Abyss, tells the comedic and dysfunctional tale of the relationship between a son and his powerful supervillain father. Lucas Marangon is drawing the series, re-uniting the popular creative team behind the wildly imaginative Star Wars: Tag and Bink comic series.

Atomic Robo - Brian Clevinger (8-Bit Theater, Nuklear Age) and Scott Wegener (Negative Burn, Wicked West 2) chronicle the Action Science adventures of Nikola Tesla’s robot across the twentieth century and beyond.

Midknight - Tom Hodges (”How to Draw Star Wars”,’s “Artists to Watch” 2006) creates and illustrates the exploits of a husband-and-wife team who fight crime from the office by day and on the streets of Philadelphia at night.

Neozoic - Created by Paul Ens (Star Wars: Evasive Action), Neozoic imagines a gritty sci-fi / fantasy world where dinosaurs did not become extinct, and humanity lives under the constant threat of giant predators. The art of J. Korim (Rotogin: Junkbotz) brings the world to life.

Afterburn - When half the planet is destroyed by a solar flare, out of the ashes emerge the action adventures of Jake and his treasure-hunters for hire. Afterburn is written by Scott Chitwood and Paul Ens, drawn by Wayne Nichols (Lady Supreme: Supreme Sacrifice), with covers by “Rock Star of IllustrationMatt Busch (The Crow, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, etc.)"

In adaptation news, Dreamworks Pictures has acquired the rights to P. B. Kerr’s children fantasy series Children of the Lamp, which will be produced by Nina Jacobson (The Chronicles of Narnia, Pirates of the Caribbean, Princess Diaries). So far, there are three volumes in the series – “The Akhenaten Adventure”, “The Blue Djinn of Babylon” and “The Cobra King of Kathmandu” – with book four, “The Day of the Djinn Warrior” set to be released August 6, 2007 in the UK.

Over at The Fantasy Review there's a giveaway for a signed copy of David Anthony Durham's "Acacia". The giveaway ends July 2, 2007, so be sure to sign up HERE as soon as possible, and while you're there check out the rest of the website, which has some great reading material and is run by a true fan of the genre...

Staying on the subject of "Acacia", there's a wonderful interview with David Anthony Durham HERE, which was conducted by the combined efforts of Pat (Pat's Fantasy Hotlist), Rob (SFF World), Larry (Wotmania) and Ken (The Neth Space).
Monday, June 25, 2007

"The Sharing Knife" by Lois McMaster Bujold

Disclaimer: Image given permission by & copyrighted © Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell

Read An Excerpt from Volume One + Volume Two

Lois McMaster Bujold, a multiple award-winning (five Hugos, three Nebulas, three Locus Awards, etc.), New York Times Bestselling science fiction and fantasy author who has dazzled audiences with her popular Vorkosigan Saga series, the Chalion books, etc., is yet another prolific and highly respected writer that I’ve long known of, but not experienced until recently with Ms. Bujold’s latest release, The Sharing Knife. While portrayed as a duology that is broken up into two volumes, “Beguilement” (Volume One) and “Legacy” (Volume Two), The Sharing Knife is essentially a single story, and thus, I will be reviewing it as such.

Set in a recognizable western-flavored time period, The Sharing Knife takes place in a land divided into seven hinterlands, populated by simple farmers and mysterious Lakewalkers who are supposedly descended from a once great and powerful civilization, possessing remnants of that people’s knowledge & power, and dedicated to defending the land from the never-ending evil of the malices (or blight bogles according to the farmers). Because of the importance of the Lakewalkers’ bloodlines in continuing to defeat the malices, relations with farmers are basically forbidden, and as such, a widening bias has developed between the two peoples. Into this milieu, Ms. Bujold takes a universal story about star-crossed lovers from different worlds, and offers her own unique spin that is The Sharing Knife.

At one end of this unlikely romance is the young and na├»ve Fawn Bluefield, a farmer girl who has run away from home to escape the troubles of her past and hopefully start a new life. Dag Redwing Hickory meanwhile, is a weathered Lakewalker patroller who clings to the past and commits himself fully to the dangerous task of hunting malices. Through a set of dire circumstances the two meet, become inextricably linked through sorcerous means, and inevitably fall in love. From there, readers will get to see the lovers’ relationship develop and become challenged by such obstacles as the acceptance of Fawn’s farmer family and Dag’s Lakewalker one. Additionally, the two will also have to deal with a malice more powerful than any before seen, as well as frightening new magics. And by the end of the book, readers should discover the answer to The Sharing Knife’s greatest mystery – “Will Fawn & Dag’s love survive?

Before starting The Sharing Knife I was warned by some readers that the duology was a ‘romantic fantasy’ aimed more towards the female audience, so I had some reservations I must admit. After completing both volumes of The Sharing Knife, I discovered those worries to be mostly unfounded. True, the central story in The Sharing Knife revolves mainly around the romance between Fawn & Dag, and yes, female readers might appreciate this aspect of the book more than their male counterparts, but personally, I believe the duology can be enjoyed by anyone, no matter their gender or age…to a certain extent. For one, the main characters are brilliantly rendered, coming off as both believable & appealing, and the electricity between the two felt real, while the secondary players were also well-developed. Secondly, all of the romantic parts in the book were tastefully done, neither too oblique nor too explicit, and surprisingly possessed a lot of down-to-earth humor that I really appreciated. What I liked most about Fawn & Dag’s relationship though, were the challenges they had to face because of their different backgrounds, which is something my wife and I have had to endure in ours, and something I really connected with in the book.

For the fantasy lover, The Sharing Knife may not be big on epic worldbuilding – developing history, religion or more specifically explaining the origin of malices or the Lakewalker’s abilities, which are only explored through speculations. Fortunately, what fantasy can be found in The Sharing Knife is intimately detailed and wonderful to envision like the concept of groundsense, the purpose and making of sharing knives, how a Lakewalker’s community or family functions, the horror of malices and so forth. As a whole the fantastical elements in The Sharing Knife were well conceived and executed by Ms. Bujold, and while I wish there had been more of it, plus more action in general, I understand that the focus of the book was on the romance between Fawn & Dag, and that the presence of Lakewalkers, malices, ground, etc., helped to transform a typical love story into something much more interesting.

For my first foray into a Lois McMaster Bujold novel, I was quite impressed with The Sharing Knife from the authentic characterization and richly imagined world of Lakewalkers & malices to Fawn & Dag’s powerful love story and the actual writing, which was beautiful & elegant, and had its own kind of magic. In simpler terms, I really enjoyed reading The Sharing Knife and while I obviously don’t know how it stacks up to Ms. Bujold’s other novels, you can bet that reading those books has now become a priority of mine. Regarding The Sharing Knife, if you’re a dedicated Lois McMaster Bujold fan or think the duology might be something worth checking out, then I recommend reading the two volumes back-to-back, which I believe makes for a much more fulfilling reading experience…
Friday, June 22, 2007

"Deepwood" by Jennifer Roberson

Official Jennifer Roberson Website
Order “DeepwoodHERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Interview with Ms. Roberson

For a while now I’ve been aware of Jennifer Roberson. After all, she’s been writing since the mid-Eighties (mostly fantasy) and has developed a dedicated fanbase with such series as the Chronicles of the Cheysuli and Sword-Dancer featuring Tiger & Del, as well as receiving critical acclaim for her collaboration with Melanie Rawn & Kate Elliott on “The Golden Key”. It wasn’t until last year however, that I finally had the opportunity to sit down with one of Ms. Roberson’s novels, and since “Karavans” was the opening volume in a whole new fantasy world, I thought it was the perfect jumping on point for me. Needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed and have been anticipating the book’s follow-up “Deepwood”, of which thankfully there wasn’t a long wait.

Looking back, “Karavans” was a typical set-up novel. It focused mainly on worldbuilding, laying down the groundwork for the story, and introducing a diverse cast of characters – Audrun, Davyn and their children Gillan, Ellica, Torvic and Megritte; the Shoia guide Rhuan and his partner Darmuth; Rhuan’s cousin and courier Brodhi; fellow courier Bethid; and hand-reader Ilona among various other supporting players. So, plot-wise, there may not have been a lot going on as some readers have criticized, but personally I had no problems with this aspect of the book since Ms. Roberson does such an excellent job with the rest of the novel. For instance, all of the many characters were intimately established and I loved the unique, richly crafted world that was being brought to life, which included a land (Sancorra) war-torn by the conquering Hecari with their fearsome ‘decimations’ (1 in 10 persons are killed to set an example); the magical Shoia who can be killed and resurrected from death up to six times; and the mythical Alisanos, a sentient forest that lives & breathes magic, transforms all that may venture into its grasp and can change location at will.

Of the actual story, – SPOILERS AHEAD!!! – it’s a relatively simple scenario as a family joins up with a karavan in order to travel to a peaceful province in order to safely have their fifth child as foretold by numerous diviners. The only catch is that they must skirt the borders of Alisanos to do so, and only the Shoia guide Rhuan can safely lead them…that is, until Alisanos decides to move. Obviously, if you’ve read “Karavans” then you know all this and what ends up happening, but if you haven’t, suffice it to say that it’s strongly recommended that you do so; otherwise you’ll be left in the dark regarding a lot of important details. Anyways, as one might expect, events drastically pick up toward the end of “Karavans”, and readers are left with a cliffhanger finish that finds a number of characters consumed by Alisanos

…which is where “Deepwood” immediately picks up. Viewpoints are once again many switching from Rhuan, Audrun, Gillan, Ellica and Torvic who are all trapped within Alisanos to those left outside its borders including Brodhi, Ilona, Davyn and Bethid. Within Alisanos, readers will get to follow Rhuan & Audrun as they not only try to survive, but also recover Audrun’s lost children. Along the way, we’ll get to learn more about Alisanos – its magic, how it changes a person, its inhabitants including the one thousand gods, and its strange customs. Of those that survived Alisanos’ relocation, we’ll see Ilona deal with her loss of power; Bethid aid the survivors with their recent tragedy while further developing the rebellion against the Hecari; Brodhi continuing his rite of passage among the humans; and Davyn coping with the fact that all of his family is now ensnared by Alisanos. We’ll also get to learn more about Rhuan & Brodhi who are much more than just Shoia, as well as various other little subplots and surprises that Ms. Roberson has cleverly devised. And while many issues are resolved and questions answered by the end of “Deepwood”, just as many new ones are brought up, promising another sequel in “Wild Road”, which is tentatively set for a 2008 release.

All in all, “Deepwood” is another terrifically written and exciting fantasy adventure by a veteran author who knows how to capture and maintain the readers’ attention. Really, the only issues I had with the novel was that it was shorter than “Karavans” (about 100 pages), we didn’t get to learn much more about such interesting side characters as Darmuth & Ferize, and certain storylines like the Sancorran’s uprising against the Hecari and Audurn’s child born four months ahead of term weren’t developed as much as I wanted, though I think we’ll get to see both of these plots expanded on in the next volume. So, aside from these minor complaints, I don’t really have anything negative to say about “Deepwood”. It’s a fun, action-packed fantasy that builds on the imaginative mythos of its predecessor and will appeal to readers of all ages. In short, I definitely enjoyed both “Karavans” and “Deepwood” immensely, look forward to many more adventures set in this universe, and hope also to experience the numerous other novels that Jennifer Roberson has to offer…

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