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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mihir’s Top Reads of 2009

This is my first time at compiling such a list, so kindly excuse my mistakes. I'm very much a lover of Fantasy and Thriller books & thanks to FantasyBookCritic I got to broaden my reading horizons as well. Presented here are my top 20 picks amongst all the 80-100 odd titles I managed to read this year. Also given are the top 10 debuts for 2009 and as well as the top 5 YA books. Many of the reviews are from the FBC site done by Liviu, Robert or me, however for I have linked reviews from sites which I read myself. Some books were released in 2008[and one even in 1997] as well but I have included them over here as I got to read them this year. And now onto the list.


2009 top 20 titles:

1] The Painted Man/The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

This was my favorite book of 2009 as the author combined elements of heroic, epic & dark fantasy and the tale was riveting and so were the characters in spite of the obvious tropes which were utilized, Peter V. Brett did a fine job of announcing himself on the fantasy scene. His book was my choice for the DGLA award this year (Though sadly it didn't make the shortlist I felt it best encapsulated the feel of David Gemmell's books & themes) I know that it was released as TPW in the UK circa 2008 however TWM was released over here in 2009 & I first read the story as TWM. This series hopefully will be allowed to run its natural storytelling course of 5 books. If Peter V. Brett continues in this fine form this series might become a classic of this genre, sequel book is highly anticipated


Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

The Dresden files authored by Jim Butcher are 11 books strong and still ongoing. This series is considered to be the Gold Standard in the Urban Fantasy by fans & critics alike. This book featured a big event & a simultaneous upheaval in the life of Harry Dresden & was another terrific page-turner by Jim Butcher who seems oblivious to law of averages & is prolific enough to continue putting out a book every year. Next year book features a change in the title pattern and is also called "Changes" another must-read for me.


3] Traitor Gate by Kate Elliott

The ending to the Gate trilogy was in a word "stupendous". Kate Elliot managed to carry across all the characters & story threads begun in the previous 2 volumes and managed to give a rousing climax book in which all expectations were overturned. This book & series has converted me back into the KE camp as her earlier Crown of Stars series was a bit of a letdown for me. The 3rd book ended the Gate trilogy & now with 4 books to go, it will be fun to what Kate has in store for this fantastical world.


4] The Lovers by John Connolly

John Connolly's The Lovers was another terrific title in the Charlie Parker series and one which changed the plot equations. This book managed to overtake my already high expectations after last years' "The Reapers". You have to hand it to the author when the book holds your interest throughout even when a third of book is spent between 2 characters discussing the past of the protagonist. Plus with another slam-bang ending & more ominous pointers to the future The Lovers was definitely a fantastic tale and after The Black Angel is my 2nd favorite in the Charlie Parker series.


5] The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville

Another debut title which heralded talent was The Ghosts of Belfast/The Twelve by Stuart Neville. This book was another tale which while having clich├ęd characters managed to upturn them and surprise the readers. Stuart Neville sets this story in Dublin where an ex-hitman remises about his past and who is also harangued by his mistakes as 12 innocent souls continue to be seen by him. The tale is dark and so is the setting as seen in the review. Stuart Neville is definitely someone to look out for in the future based on the potential showcased here. His second book Collision is also set in the same world and is a sort of sequel with different characters.


6] Kell's Legend by Andy Remic

This book was Andy Remic's take on fantasy, his first foray in the field which had enamored him & probably inspired him to become an author in his own right. In his previous books Andy had shown his madcap characters and brazen plots & sheer breakneck plot twists. Now he's bought all of that & also shown his view of Gemmellian setting in this trilogy opener. This book definitely was 1 of the best rollercoaster rides for me & I'm hooked onto the Clockwork Vampire saga.


7] Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child

Cemetery Dance was a return after nearly 2 years to the world of A.X.L. Pendergast by Messrs Preston & Child & it wasn't a happy return of sorts for the readers as the opening chapters dealt with the death of 1 of PC's beloved characters. As the review details this book was a good one, better than its predecessor "The Wheel of Darkness" and a much applauded return to techno-horror roots by the duo. Next year is the start of the Helen [Pendergast's wife] trilogy which will be a landmark event for all fans as we get to see into his past and learn of many events which made him what he is today.


8]The Shadow Pavilion by Liz Williams

Liz Williams is a multi-faceted individual and this shows even here in her writing as she flits across genres as seen by her novels, short stories and novellas. The Inspector Chen series is a curious amalgamation of Chinese Mythology, Urban fantasy & SF, the previous three books were tremendous reads and in this one Liz Williams decides to broaden her horizons by crossing the Himalayan border This story was another great addition to the saga and has specified a great direction for the remaining books in the series making "The Iron Khan" another Must-read for me next year.


9] The Doomsday Key by James Rollins

With James Rollins readers who love his style are always assured of a smooth & intriguing read. Since the start of the SIGMA series with Sandstorm James has rather heightened the stakes. In the 5th outing of the SIGMA crew Gray has to make a choice between 2 important people in his life and at the same time figure out a solution to the main crisis as given in the review. After the end of this book with a mini cliffhanger James has set the stage for the next book which will have fans salivating for the identity of the character, the clash between SIGMA & Guild & possibly various deaths as well.


10] Angelglass by David Barnett

This book was brought to my attention by Liviu & after I read the excerpt I knew I had to get it. The detailed & beguiling review by Liviu, tells us about the dual time line story which is written smoothly by the author and the conclusion while a surprise is a fitting end to the tale. David Barnett shows a flair for the fantastic and as Liviu says in the review "we have a novel that at about 240 pages in length packs the narrative heft of a 500 page one." Definitely a novel deserving to be read more.


11] The Gods of Amyrantha by Jennifer Fallon

This series was my introduction to wonderful world of Jennifer Fallon After the super first novel Jennifer doesn't disappoint in her build up to her eventual climax in book 4, things go from weird to crazy in this book as new complications arise and totally new plot possibilities are hinted at & oh the book ends with a super revelation. This lady knows her stuff & I have already read the third book so I know it just keeps on getting better (or worse for some characters).


12]Damnable by Hank Schwaeble

This was another worthwhile debut for me as Hank Schwaeble took the Jack Reacher prototype and spun it on its head & while doing so gave another cool character to follow. Jake Hatcher is something of an enigma and I very much look forward to reading more about him & the world created in Damnable. Kudos to Hank for giving us a tale which has straddles effortlessly the fine line between 2 genres (horror & thriller) and still manages to surprise the reader in the end.


13] Fugitive by Phillip Margolin

Phillip Margolin is a hidden gem in the mystery-thriller market, all of his past books have been NYT bestsellers and yet he keeps on plugging his way to give us such wonderfully thrilling books. Fugitive is the 4th book in the Amanda Jaffe series and it has the usual Margolin trademarks of a wide cast of characters, devious plotting and a great story. One of the highlights of this series is that the author only brings out a book if he feels the plot matches the characters & is suitable and thus every book when its released becomes a must read for me. Another delectable read and Phillip proves once again why he can be relied upon for some sumptuous reading.


14] Songspinners by Sarah Ash

Songspinners was published in 1997, however it was my bad luck that I managed to read it so late. That being said it is a book which is my favorite amongst all her titles. It's a book about the right to freedom and the ability to live one's life with dignity & happiness. I wasn't able to review it but this review from Amazon encapsulates a lot as to why I loved this book. For those readers already into Sarah's books this book can be considered to be a sequel of sorts to The Alchymist's Legacy duology as some of the characters in it are featured prominently in this book.


15] Neuropath by Scott Bakker

As far as serial killer stories go, Neuropath was a landmark serial killer novel wherein the Modus Operandi of the antagonist was described sparingly but it did not diminish its chillingness. R. Scott Bakker proves veritably that when it comes to philosophical prose & complex plots he's definitely leagues ahead of his contemporaries.


16] Nights of Villjamur by Mark C. Newton

This book was a major surprise read for me, I didn't know what to expect with this and MCN certainly surprised me a lot with this book primarily its settings and varied characters as seen in the FBC review. This is a book to be savored and its sequel is looked forward gladly.


17] Genghis: Bones of the Hills by Conn Iggulden

I'm a lover of Historical fantasy and Conn Iggulden is a particular favorite of mine his Genghis Khan novels are a treat to read, granted he tells the stories with some modifications but he does acknowledge them in the afterword and also it just is absolutely wonderful on the part of the author when you end up rooting for a character & people whom you know historically to be barbaric plunderers. The story of Genghis Khan ends with this book however the Mongol saga will be extended for another 3 books which entails the stories of his Children and Grandchildren. 2010 will see the release of Ogedai: Empire of Silver which is another title which will be on my Must-read list.


18] The Burning Skies by David Williams

After last year's Mirrored Heavens David J. Williams has established himself as writer with a crazy but scary vision of the future. In the 2nd installment of the Autumn Rain Trilogy he proves that he wasn't a one shot wonder. With another slam-bang ending involving a cliffhanger, the Machinery of Light is rather urgently awaited to see how it all ends. And based on his current 2 books I'm sure it will be something which will surprise the readers.


19] Flight into Darkness by Sarah Ash

Sarah Ash is another favourite of mine and with this book she bring to an end to "The Alchymist's legacy" duology however the icing on the cake is that this book also ties in with her original Artamon trilogy and this book showcases events which take place in that series but from a different perspective and with the addition of several other plot elements. It also gives the fans a nice glimpse into the events which have taken place after the monumental climax in the "Children of the serpent gate" and shows the aftermath which also ties in wonderfully with the events of this duology. A resounding conclusion to a fine story begun in "Tracing the Shadow" and again very much recommended to fans of Terry Brooks, Robin Hobb & James Clemens.


20] Darkborn by Alison Sinclair

Alison Sinclair took a biological route with the light-dark motif and has come up with a remarkable setting. The tale is quite a straight forward one and comes to a logical conclusion. The sequel Lightborn will reveal the intricacies of this world further as it basically shows the readers the viewpoint from the side of the light.


2009 YA top 5:

I haven't read as many YA books as compared to my SFF reads and so I'll be limiting it to only 5, for those interested in YA titles look out for Cindy's[resident YA expert] list on it.

1] Lockdown: Escape from Furnace by A. Gordon Smith

This was perhaps the 1 of the best YA books I have ever read and it was a rollercoaster of a ride all the way. A. Gordon Smith has done his absolute best to make sure that reader expectations will constantly be upturned & even ends the book on a resounding cliffhanger making the next 2 books which are already released on the other side of the pond utterly crave able.


2] Jake Ransom & the Skull King's Shadow by James

This book would have made # 1 if it were not for Gordon's crackerjack of a book. This book has all the Rollins trademarks such as engaging characters, amazing locales and this one was laced with dinosaurs as well. I wasn't able to review it an error which I'll definitely rectify with its sequel Jake Ransom and the Howling Sphinx.


3] The Gates by John Connolly

This book was an experiment and I'm glad John Connolly wrote it. Utterly hilarious in itself and with a simple plotline, this book was 1 of best comedic books for me. Many of the lines show John's trademark humour and with the scientific footnotes in it this book easily entertained and educated. If John ever does write a sequel to it, it will be fun to see what happens afterwards.


4] The Stone Child by Dan Poblocki

The stone child was a book meant for Children and adults who loved scary stories when they were children. This debut effort deals with a classic mystery of a missing author and the clues left behind in a book. Dan Poblocki combines smart prose with an active imagination to give us the mystery of the Stone Child.


5] The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - I had heard about this book since its release last year and after reading it I'm in complete agreement with its popularity and hype across readers.


2009 debuts or debuts which I read in 2009:

1] The Painted man/The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett – This was the debut of this year for me, granted I haven't read that many titles in many genres but this book totally captivated me and made this series and Peter V Brett, something to look out for in the future.


2] The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville – Another debut which will be long remembered and cherished. Stuart Neville is another author whose books are on my buy list.


3] Damnable by Hank Schwaeble – Hank Schwaeble's book is another hidden gem which has gone unheralded. With a tight ending to it, I look eagerly to what Hanks's devious mind comes up with.


4] Armageddon Bound by Tim Marquitz – Armageddon Bound was laced with deadpan, self depreciating humor, tremendous action & a protagonist who while appearing as a nasty bloke will have you rooting for him in no time. Tim Marquitz really surprised me with this book & as far as UF books go, I'm hoping that more readers discover this gem [Jim Butcher fans will absolutely relish this one] after PBV's The Demon world series, it's the Demon squad series which I'm excited about (in terms of new series potential)


5] Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal – HB was a trip worth reading. Shilpa Agarwal managed to make the Bombay I know personally into an exotic & semi-mystical place to which even I'm curious to visit. This book set in the 1960s Bombay was a veritable trip as seen through the various characters. Shilpa Agarwal is definitely deserving of many awards and with her next book I hope she manages to hit several bestseller lists as well.


6] Under the Amoral Bridge by Gary A. Ballard - This book was 1 of my first cyberpunk novels and I'm absolutely loved this one. A bit on the shorter side with 170 pages, the author has coiled quite a strong punch in it for the readers. After finishing this book, I immediately followed on to the 2nd book in the series & that one absolutely rocked, making Gary A. Ballard an author to look out for and definitely someone who should be read more.


7] Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas

Robert's review amped this one on my list and even though I was able to get my hands on it, I wasn't able to read it earlier. Stephen Deas has written quite a fast paced tale which makes you follow the plot anxiously and even though the book ends rather too quickly for the readers liking. It still will make you want you to pick its sequel "The King of Crags"


8] Father of Locks by Andrew Kileen - This book would have escaped me if not for Liviu's excellent review. And as stated this book is an absolute delight for those readers interested in an Arabian Nights-esque world, add to that a rather belligerent & baffling protagonist. This book was tantalizing enough to look forward to the next AK book which features the titular character Abu Nuwas yet again.


9] The Crown Conspiracy by Michael Sullivan – This was another surprise read for me as I, probably with lots of others, wouldn't have even heard of it if it were not for Liviu's review. This book does start of as a typical fantasy caper but the characters make it stand out and while the ending is a rather simple one, it does have ominous pointers for the rest of the books which I plan to catch soon.


10] Nuclear Winter Wonderland by Joshua Corin - This was a weirdly funny ride. I absolutely loved the author's plot and characters which constantly kept on haranguing the protagonist further and further from his goal. The book has a quirky side to it and it just kept me hooked till its very end, which with it lead-up was quirkier and ended on a happy note for the long-suffering central protagonist.


BOOKS WHICH I MISSED OUT ON: These were the books which I wanted to catch but somehow didn't & hence I wasn't able to include them in any of the lists above.

1] Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

2] Avempartha by Michael J. Sullivan

3] Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey

4] The Rats and the Ruling Sea by Robert V. Redick

5] The Cardinal's Blades by Pierre Pevel

6] The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

7] Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Liviu's Top Books of 2009

I did a two parter post with contributions from Cindy, Robert and Fabio for the notable books of the first half of 2009 (Part I + Part II), a continuously updated list of anticipated 2010 books, as well as commented on the 36 books from my 2009 anticipated list, but for this end of the year I decided to keep it simpler.

It is very, very hard for me to rank books as well as whittle down to a manageable number considering that I read over 160 2009 releases out of the roughly 280 total books read in 09, as my Goodreads records show, with an overwhelming majority being sff or mainstream "fantastic". So I will do a top 20 "core sff" list and a top 10 "mainstream" novel list for 2010.

My Top 10 sff novels list of 2009 is:

1. Transition by Iain M Banks
2 The Rats and the Ruling Sea by Robert Redick
3. Wildfire by Sarah Micklem
4. Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey
5. Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
6. In the Courts of the Sun by Brian D'Amato
7. Gears of the City by Felix Gilman
8. Heart of Veridon by Tim Akers
9. Nights of Villjamur by Mark C. Newton
10. The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas

The "runner up" sff novel list is:

11. Mirror Space by Marianne de Pierres
12. Gardens of the Sun by Paul McAuley
13. Nova War by Gary Gibson
14. Land of the Dead by Thomas Harlan
15. Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding
Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts
Consorts of Heaven by Jaine Fenn
The Osiris Ritual by George Mann
Avempartha by Michael Sullivan

My Top 10 "mainstream" novels of 2010 are:

1. The Children's Book by AS Byatt
2. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
3. Stone's Fall by Iain Pears
4. How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall
5. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
6. White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
7. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Twelve by Jasper Kent
9. Father of Locks by Andrew Killeen
Wonderful World by Javier Calvo

Top 2009 Anthologies, Novellas, Collections, SFF Magazines

1.The Babylonian Trilogy by Sebastien Doubinsky
2. Escape From Byzantium by Mark Mellon

3. Purple & Black by KJ Parker

4. Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro
5. The New Space Opera 2 ed Dozois/Strahan
6. Other Earths ed Gevers/Lake

7. Solaris SF 3 ed G. Mann
8. GUD (Greatest Uncommon Denominator) Magazine

As Anathem was the most impressive novel for 2008 in all categories, The Children's Book by AS Byatt has been the most impressive one for me overall this year.


1) There are two 2009 first English language publication novels that I disqualified from my rankings since I wanted to list only novels read by me for the first time in 2009 (and of course 2009 arcs read towards the end of 08). I read
The Angel's Game/CR Zafon in Spanish in 2008 and The Kindly Ones/Littell (my top novel of the 00's) in French in 2006.

2) For people who keep count of this - while I generally could not care less about gender, race, political views or sexual orientation of an author, it's good to reflect on this once in a while - from the 20 sff novels listed above 16 have been written by men and 4 (#3, #5, #11, #18) by women, but from the 10 mainstream novels listed above, 6 including the top 2 have been written by women.

3) My top 10 sff list is skewed towards fantasy 8-2 though #1 is sf, #4 takes place in an alt-history Earth, and #8/#9 are "sf in disguise" to a large extent, but the 11-20 list is heavily sfnal with 7 outright sf titles and one (#16) that is a blend of sf and f so it could be classified as either.

4) My top 10 mainstream list contains 5 novels with no "fantastic elements" and 5 with some or a lot of such, but I think that in each the world of the respective novel is much closer to a biographical snapshot of our Earth at various points in history or even near future, rather than to a true fictional one hence the inclusions here.

5) I read comparatively little short fiction this year mainly because I read lots of novels but also because I tend to favor original anthologies and standalone or interlocked novellas more and more. However the Doubinsky almost perfect trilogy of interlocked novellas and the superb Mellon/Parker/Ishiguro offerings listed above needed to be mentioned; the three anthologies here were also excellent, while GUD has established itself as the only "must read" for me in the sff magazine arena.
Monday, December 28, 2009

Author Michael Sullivan Offers Signed Copies of His Sold Out Debut

Michael Sullivan is the author of the wonderful six book fantasy series The Ryria Revelations of which the first three installments - The Crown Conspiracy (FBC Rv), Avemapartha (FBC Rv), Nyphron Rising (FBC Rv tbp) - are out and the next two installments - The Emerald Storm and Wintertide - are on track for 2010 publication and both feature on my "2010 Anticipated Books" list.

A fast adventure fantasy series with a multi-threaded storyline,
The Crown Conspiracy has been a personal favorite while Avempartha took the series to the next level with Nyphron Rising more of a transition novel though still very entertaining and a page turner.

His debut
The Crown Conspiracy has been published by the small press Aspirations Media and it essentially sold out - which is usually great news - but unfortunately it means it's not available in stores anymore and a second printing while promised by the publisher is uncertain especially as timing goes since Aspirations is a small outfit without the resources of the big houses.

Mr. Sullivan has blogged about this here and since he has some remaining copies got originally with his author discount, he offers them at a reasonable discount on his website and will also sign them for you!. He also extended the offer for the other two books, though they are still widely available but if you want a signed copy it's there to order!

Here is the order page for anyone interested.

Sandman Slim, by Richard Kadrey (Reviewed by Fabio Fernandes)

Dammit. I wish I could write like Richard Kadrey.

The first time I read something by him was in the late eighties, in the now deceased Brazilian edition of Isaac Asimov Magazine. (Can´t remember the story, sorry - my collection is at my parents´s home in Rio, and there´s no record of those stories on the web as far as I can tell.)

But of one thing I´m sure - it was Kadrey, more than Gibson (and I am a HUGE fan of Gibson - I even wrote a book on his work), that made me want to be a cyberpunk writer. Gibson had the style and sensibility; Sterling had the political eye; but Richard Kadrey had the true grit. The balls. And the guns. Damn, Kadrey was the psychokiller of the cyberpunks.

I took my time reading Sandman Slim. It was completely worth it. How couldn´t it be? Imagine an American John Constantine (forget Keanu Reaves in the movie version) - a top-notch magician who really, TRULY fucked up and REALLY ended up (or down) in Hell, ALIVE, for eleven years. And, then, by a miracle, gets out - with the sole purpose to take revenge upon his former group of magicians, who literally sold him to the devil.

All his years struggling to stay alive - first as a slave and then as a warrior in the arena to please the Hellions, denizens of the underworld, among them the generals of Lucifer - made him something more than human, something even he, Stark, can´t quite understand. Even so, he will use whatever powers he have to survive on Earth and kill his sworn enemies. Piece of cake, right?

Not exactly - but we all knew that. Stark must face the real world, meet old friends, like the immortal French inspector/alchemist Vidocq, and new enemies, like a bunch of neo-Nazi guys who may not be exactly who they claim...

With his magic powers, almost inhuman strength, one or two really cool supernatural weapons (among them a key to the Room of Thirteen Doors, which is simply the center of the universe, a point to and from where he can teleport at will, and that he used to escape from Hell) - and a silver tongue that can only be found in the likes of Philip Marlowe, Stark quickly becomes a valued prize in the upcoming war between angels, demons, and another, hidden faction who can upset the already much disturbed balance between chaos and order and ravage Earth, Hell, and Heaven alike.

He couldn´t care less, naturally; all he wants is his vengeance. But the events will lead him in an unexpected way, through dark caves, dealings with strange beings, meetings and alliances (and dates?!!?) with monsters, and insane bloodbaths all over L.A. and other dimensions too.

Sandman Slim is the return to a whole punk lifestyle - to read the exploits of Stark and characters like Candy is to go down Memory Lane, in more than one way: metaphorically and almost as if I was reading Neuromancer for the first time, in 1989 (my first time, that is - approximately the same time when I was first introduced to that now lost Mr. Kadrey story). It´s a bittersweet memory. Maybe it´s not a coincidence that I finished reading this novel in the week that the album London Calling completed its 30th year. Punk is calling, people. Punk, cyberpunk, doesn´t matter: none of them are dead.

(Published originally in Post-Weird Thoughts)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The BLTN Series, 3: {The Hugo Finalists, Part 6 - The Novels: Anathem, by Neal Stephenson}

This should have been the Hugo winner in 2009.

There is no other way to put it.

Nobody is disputing Gaiman´s absolute mastery of the genre. Which genre? Every genre he decides to write, of course. From the great fantasy-cum-mythology mix he first presented to us with the Sandman series to the revamping of Rudyard Kipling´s Mowgli with 2009 Hugo Award-winning novel The Graveyard Book (read my review here). What I´m saying, however, is that Anathem should have won the Hugo.

Why? Because Anathem is a major undertaking at worldbuilding - it´s many novels in one. The story of Fraa Erasmas, an avout of an order of mathematicians and scientists in the world of Arbre, and the dangerous times in which he lives, is a melting pot of genres. What starts at a rather slow pace, like a 21st-version of A Canticle for Leibowitz (without the nuclear holocaust), takes us in a mathematical-astrophysical-philosophical journey, many times by means of dialogues not dissimilar to those written by Plato, and that´s a compliment - for those of you who may by any chance be yawning at that, rest assured that these dialogues are everything but boring: they are intriguing and mind-boggling. They recapture the sense of wonder that not every SF novel manages to transmit to the readers these days.

But not everything in the 900+ pages of Anathem is reduced to dialogue - there´s also plenty of action and destruction. There´s road trips through arctic regions, there´s high-tech, there´s intrigue, space travel, and also lots of jargon specific of the world of Arbre - a world similar to Earth in many things, but not the same.

And there´s surprises all along the story. For Anathem is a page-turner, despite its size. It´s weird to write so small a review in order to describe a novel of this magnitude, but the truth is: there´s only two ways one can write about Anathem properly: via a short review with no spoilers or a big scholarly paper analyzing the complexity of Stephenson´s prose. This novel deserves it. And you, reader, deserves to read it.

(And, come on, how could we have missed the opportunity to listen to Neal Stephenson read the acceptance speech in Orth (one of the major languages of the people of Arbre)?

(Published originally in Post-Weird Thoughts)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The BLTN Series, 2: {The Hugo Finalists, Part 5 - The Novels: Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow}

Cory Doctorow is what we could call a "comfortable cyberpunk" (does that sound an oxymoron to you?): he is pretty much knowledgeable about the major tropes of cyberpunk, and he uses them as easily as someone who was born right in the beginning of the cybernetic revolution and came of age a few years before the advent of the Web. Co-editor of Boing Boing, Doctorow is also a major activist of Open Rights (he´s the former European director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation and co-founded the UK Open Rights Group), and he was the first SF writer (maybe the first writer everywhere in any genre) to give ALL his novels for free in his website.

His novels display a freshness similar of William Gibson´s. Where Gibson is influenced by noir fiction, in its literary and cinematic form, however, Doctorow´s approach happens more via comics and games. The result is also great: from Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, an approximately-near-future look at utopian communities (talk about Disneyfication of society!), through Eastern Standard Tribe and smart mobs, to the recently published Makers, which explores, in Doctorow´s own words, "people who hack hardware, business-models, and living arrangements to discover ways of staying alive and happy even when the economy is falling down the toilet." (Just downloaded it, expect a review early next year.)

(Some scholars can argue that what he does is in fact post-cyber fiction, or post-cyber SF; but it doesn´t really matter, except academically, does it?)

In Little Brother´s case, that experience begins in a far too obvious manner, by an appropriation of George Orwell´s 1984 and his protagonist, Winston Smith - Doctorow´s protagonist, Marcus Yallow, goes by the typically hacker handle "w1n5t0n". Also like in 1984, this Winston becomes an enemy of the State - but this is an entirely different State, surrounded by very different circunstances. This is not Orwell´s socialist Eurasia, but all-capitalist America in the early 21st Century, an America frightened by terrorism, an America that will do everything in its power to fight this threat to society - even terrorizing its own people, among which Marcus and his high-school friends. Marcus is only 17 years old, and after a terrorist attack he will be arrested because of his proficiency with computers and instant messaging systems. He will suffer - and, if he wasn´t a terrorist before, then he may seriously consider the possibility of becoming one. But his holy war won´t be religious - it will be for freedom.

Is all of this justifiable? Doctorow manages a very hard, accurate criticism of how far a state can go in its search for terrorists. The political and military doctrine which justifies this "search and destroy" approach (and maybe it´s why 24 has become a so successful series in and out the US) has also been criticized - by America and the Americans before the 9/11. When it happens in your own backyard, however, the matter is quite different. Or is it?

One of the things I like the most about the recent wave of so-called YA novels (Patrick Ness´s The Knife of Never Letting Go is another brilliant example - see my review here) is that they are everything but infantile - they are really novels for everyone to read, for they are well steeped in the tradition of the German Bildungsroman - the coming-of-age novel. And there is no coming of age without pain.

This novel was a finalist for the Hugo Award 2009 - and, with Neal Stephenson´s Anathem (to be reviewed in the next few days), it was my best bet for winning the award. Unfortunately, none of the two did - more on that later.

UPDATE 12/15

Two months ago, I was in Rio for a series of speeches on games and technology. I was having dinner in a restaurant, and I got an email on my iPhone. it was Editora Record, one of the biggest publishing houses in Brazil. They were asking if I was interested in translating Little Brother to Brazilian Portuguese. How could I say no to such an offer? I´m already on it. Reading for the third time and loving it. It´s a pleasure and an honor to translate Cory Doctorow.

(Published originally in Post-Weird Thoughts)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays!

From the Fantasy Book Critic team. We wish you a very Happy Holidays and hope you have a safe and enjoyable holiday season. We wish everyone the best in 2010! Here's to many great books, and reviews in the up coming year. We hope everyone has a great upcoming year.

All the best in 2010,
Cindy, Robert, Liviu, Mihir, Fabio, David, and Jacques

"Servant of the Underworld" by Aliette de Bodard (Reviewed By Liviu Suciu)

Official Aliettte de Bodard Website
Read Obsidian Shards an award winning story set in the milieu of the novel
Order "Servant of the Underworld" HERE

INTRODUCTION:I have heard of Aliette de Bodard in connection with her short fiction published in various places - most recently I greatly enjoyed her story "City of the Gods" in the debut issue of online zine Alternative Coordinates (FBC Rv #1, FBC Rv #2, FBC Rv #3 tbp soon). My short take on the City of Gods story ran like this:

"this is a fantasy offering with a traveler in search for atonement; great atmosphere and world building in only few pages; I would enjoy a novel based on it. The other highlight of the zine for me."

So when I heard of "Servant of the Underworld" I was immediately interested even though it's set on our Earth (an alt-version with Gods and magic) - the world building, style and atmosphere of the story above could naturally translate here in the Aztec world the blurb implies - and the novel shot to the top of my reading list. On finishing it I am happy to say that it satisfied my already very high expectations and I will give you the reasons why as well as more detail about it below.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Servant of the Underworld" stands at about 400 pages and is narrated by Acatl, a semi-disillusioned "priest of the dead" and servant of the "duality" - which essentially means an investigator that deals in the magic of the underworld, so acts as coroner at deaths, as priest at cremations and investigates occurrences of dark magic.

The novel fits most comfortably under the heading of "dark fantasy" with the tropes of contemporary urban fantasy - magic, sorcerers, powerful supernatural beings - called Gods here - lots of blood and violence, mostly urban setting - but is set in the Aztec Empire at its peak in the late 15th century.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: From the first pages of the novel we are plunged in its strange world, when Acatl is summoned by his immediate superior/mentor, Ceyaxochitl, a high-powered priestess of the duality to investigate a mysterious disappearance and presumed murder of an up-and-coming priestess of great but slightly fading beauty and even greater ambition. While "jaguar" magic seems to be involved and not Acatl's field of expertise in "underworld" magic, Ceyaxochitl and her immediate staff are very busy with palace intrigues since the Emperor is dying, while Acatl finds out that his estranged and seemingly very successful warrior/knight brother Neutemoc is the prime suspect so he has a cleasr incentive to solve the "case".

From here the investigation follows the usual pattern with twists, false trails and unexpected links but the main attraction of the novel is in "discovering" its world more than the whys and who of the crime. A brutal caste world with blood, slavery, human sacrifices, specific roles for women, the Aztec Empire is also a world of social mobility and opportunity at least for the lucky ones who attract attention from the powerful or the Gods.

There are four major ingredients in this book: the world-building, the mystery, the magic and the style/narrator. The world-building is exquisite and we *believe* we are transported to the 15th century Tenotichtlan and together with the superb voice they formed the main reason I enjoyed this book so much; the mystery is ok, nothing special but it powers the story-line and through it we peel layer after layer and get to understand the setting; the magic involving gods meddling in the world is something familiar both in sff and in more mainstream stuff (from The Omen and Bible-apocalyptic stories on) and while I am not that big a fan of such, it did not really distract from my enjoyment of the novel. Servant of the Underworld is a standalone as the narrative goes with a definite theme and ending but part of a series which goes on my
high priority "current series following" list.

Highly recommended; Ms. de Bodard is a writer to watc
Thursday, December 24, 2009

"Where the Mountain Meets the Moon" by Grace Lin (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Grace Lin's official website here
Order Where the Mountain Meets the Moon here

Introduction: I always have a soft spot for novels and stories based on folklore or history no matter what the culture was. When I learned about Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, which is a novel based off of Chinese folklore, I was excited to see how this novel was portrayed. As one of my favorite books when I was little was a book filled with Chinese folktales.

Overview: Minli, is a young girl whose family lives in a town at the bottom of the Fruitless Mountain. The citizens of all the town especially Minli's family spend long days working hard in the fields. Although they work long hours and a lot of backbreaking work the pay is very little and the family have close to nothing.

Minli's father spends the evening telling Minli fantastic stories. These stories range anywhere from the Jade Dragon to the Old Man of the Moon. Minli's mother is less enthusiastic about her daughter listening to these stories, for she believes that Minli is being lead astray about the real world that is out there waiting for her and might get her hopes up.

One day Minli decides to ask her father why the family's fortune is so poor and how she could possibly change it. In response the father tells her she must ask the Old Man of the Moon that question. Minli believing all the stories that she has been told sneaks out of the house and decides to embark on a quest to find the mysterious Old Man and ask him her all important question.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a story that has a lot of little stories woven into it. Although Minli is the main character many of the other characters tell side stories that are almost in the form that is most commonly found in Chinese folktales. All these stories form one bigger story.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon stands at 279 pages and is filled with very beautiful illustrations done by the author, Grace Lin herself.

Analysis: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a combination of wonderful characters and great story telling that stays with the reader even after they are done reading the book. Although this novel is marketed to the middle grade reader audience, adults will fall in love and get a much deeper meaning out of the story then what is set before them.

The characters that are introduced in this story all have a uniqueness to them that attracts a reader. Minli, her dragon friend, and all the other characters that she runs into on her quest all have characteristics that just bring them truly to life. Throughout the story these characters not only start to grow on the reader but these characters all grow up before your eyes. There is truly a transformation from the first pages of the story to the last. There isn't one character that doesn't touch the heart in some way, and this above all is what really makes this novel stand out above all the others that have I read recently.

Another aspect that makes Where the Mountain Meets the Moon such a great novel is the formatting for the story. While Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is one novel it also contains several smaller folk tale like stories told by the various characters. There is a fine line when weaving smaller stories into a larger novel. Sometimes it might appear forced or very stiff. Instead, Grace Lin does a wonderful job of transitioning from the folk tales to the main story. It appears to happen the right amount of times throughout the novel, any more smaller stories might make it over told or grow old and any fewer stories would make the smaller stories seem a random aspect of this novel. This aspect of writing does set this novel apart from the others that I have read.

As I don't know much about Chinese folktales or lore, I am unsure what exact stories these derive from. However, the way that Lin writes these folktales make me want to further research Chinese folktales and see for myself some of these stories. Grace Lin, in the about the author mentioned that reading Chinese folktales when she was little helped in inspiring this story and it clearly shows in not only the writing but the pictures that accompany the story.

I rarely compare books to other stories that I have read. But Where the Mountain Meets the Moon can be closely compared to the Wizard of Oz with an Asian flare. A young girl goes on a journey looking to seek advice from a fabled older wiser man. On that note, I found it almost like Oz but it also had a different flare to it that made it it's own novel and not just a carbon copy of Oz.

In the end, I really enjoyed Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and can imagine that I'll be reading it over and over again for some time to come. It's one of those rare books that can appeal to children, yet also warms the heart of adults that will pick it up. I truly hope that people can overlook the younger reader marketing and give it a try because it really is very inspirational.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

"Dusk a Graphic Novel" by David Doub, illustrated by Maki Naro, Jerry Gonsales and Franc Czuba (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

David Doub at ComicSpace

Order Dusk HERE

ABOUT DUSK — As a battered wife, Eve's only concern was to keep her marriage together. But when she is kidnapped into the sordid supernatural world of vampires and foul magic, Eve finds she doesn't want to leave. Her mysterious benefactor, the Vampire Lord Ash, wishes her to have a normal life but Eve chooses to stay in the service of Ash. Dusk is the stories about Eve and her challenges living in the darkness.

CLASSIFICATION: "Dusk is a supernatural action/drama story done in a dynamic blending of the sequential art styles of American Comics and Japanese Manga. Several artists help tell these stark noir tales of Vampires and Unrequited Love.

FORMAT/INFO: "Dusk " is 100 pages long and is the first book in the saga of Eve & lord Ash the Vampire. The graphic novel is published by Dusk Comics. The second chapter in the Dusk saga, will be hopefully released next year.

ANALYSIS: Dusk was self-published by David Doub and was released on 9th March 2009. The book contains the tale of Eve a mortal female who though is unfettered, chooses to be beholden to the Vampire Ash. The entire graphic novel is broken down into 4 chapters which showcase Eve at various different time periods and places dealing with various situations.

I received the copy of Dusk after we received a review query & I was intrigued enough by it to give it a try. Of the four chapters, the first two are drawn by Maki Naro, the third by Jerry Gonzales & the last one by Franc Czuba. The stories are all written by David himself. There's also an alternate cover drawn by Franc Czuba which is visually stunning!

The story line in the four chapters isn't a linear one, the first one gives us the opening salvo in the life of Eve and her association with Ash. It deals with issues of newly created vampires and the trouble in dealing with one who has gone rogue. The second story gives us a rather short background onto Eve and how she acquired her recent role. It shows us how Eve came onto her recent lodgings, therein the life she has chosen and how much Ash means to her. The third story might be in the future or in the past, it's not specified and shows a rather different side about what Ash and his group are trying to do after all. It gives us a nice view into the world created by Doub and primarily shows us what motivates Lord Ash. The last one I believe is a rather strong tale which shows us shades of "Carrie" however has quite a twist in it which shows the limits to which Eve can go to complete her job & what she believes in! I liked this story the best and the artwork was one which really stood out amongst all of the 4 short stories.

One can easily gauge the enthusiasm and the work put together in these tales by its creator. I for one like this tale of vampires and the single mortal who walks amongst them. The world is created as are the characters now the only thing left is for the dance to begin. I really liked this tale about Eve and the role she plays in the Dusk saga. The world and back story are hardly touched upon in the first book but enough is told to give the reader a taste of things to come. David Doub has done his best and it shows in the variety of the nature of the stories. I would have liked to read a bit more about the nature of the world and the relationship between Ash and Eve however since this is an opening salvo such deficits can be overlooked and with the 2nd volume hopefully more of these issues will be catered to.

CONCLUSION: I liked the story and character of this graphic novel and though it has its faults being a debut book. It has enough juice in the plot to hook the reader and make them anxious to read about Eve and Ash in the next book of the series. The artwork is a definitely plus in 3 of 4 stories. Plus with it being discerningly priced at$10, it really seems like a steal.


David Doub currently lives in Denton, Texas. He has had a long fascination with vampire stories and lore and has been disappointed with how vampires are currently viewed in Pop Culture (as a Hollywood Action Star basically). His main objective is to just tell good solid vampire stories that deal with the traditional vampire concepts of damnation, redemption, temptation, and sensuality. Dusk is his primary labor of love & dedication to the story he believes in!

Maki Naro is the artist of the first two stories in Dusk. He has been illustrating freelance since 2004, working on a wide variety of projects ranging from comic books to tattoo designs. His comic edge was honed on a childhood full of Calvin and Hobbes and the non-restrictive curriculum at Alfred University allowed him to dabble in ceramics, electronic media, animation, and metal sculpture

Jerry Gonsales is currently situated in Austin, Texas. He grew up reading comics and graphic novels and also has worked at a comic shop for nearly two years. His favorite artists are Frank Cho (Liberty Meadows), Alan Davis (Miracleman,), Adam Kurbet (Batman), Alex Ross (Kingdom Come), and Ben Dunn (Ninja High School). His main inspiration have always been Fred Perry, Jim Lee (Batman, X-Men), and George Perez. Read an interview with Jerry Gonsales HERE.

Franc Czuba is a self-taught artist, who frequently loves to adapt and better his drawing skills. He lives in Pennsylvania and has worked upon various other comic projects such as Shamrock: Origins and a web comic titled Jack & Jill. Read an interview with Franc Czuba HERE.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Liviu's 2008 Looking Forward to 2009 List discussed

Last year I did an extended Best of 08 list which ended with a moderate length Looking Ahead to 2009, part including 36 books while this year I plan to do a Top 10 sff of 2009 with some comments about extra books and then a Notable Books from August-December post since I did a very extensive Notable Books Post (I + II) for January-July.

On the other hand I did a very extensive Anticipated list for 2010 with 90+ planned to read books plus some maybes (Collated or I+ II + III) and that one will be continuously updated as I read the novels there.

So I thought it will be fun to look back at the Looking Ahead To 2009 list and comment. Note that sometimes my comments have a different slant from the review since I tend to re-evaluate books as time passes, but overall the slant is more in the degree of how much I liked or disliked a book. All the books I reviewed as A's (highly recommended) remained the same in the comments below but some moved up, some a little down as my overall ranking goes...

"LOOKING AHEAD TO 2009:" from the 2008 Year End Post

Gears of the City by Felix Gilman
Read; an A+/A++ novel - #7 in my top 10 sff of 2009 (Robert reviewed it and liked it much less)

Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts
Read; an A novel and a notable book of 2009; not enough "heft" for top 10 but would be top 20 or so; this is the way an idea sf novel is done (FBC Rv)

The Judging Eye by R. Scott Bakker
Read; partly disappointing and a grade B novel (FBC Rv)

The Sharing Knife: Horizon by Lois McMaster Bujold
Read; very disappointing; a D since it's Bujold otherwise it would have been an F

Dragon In Chains by Daniel Fox
Read; very disappointing since nothing worked for me here; a D but it may just that this novel is not for me (Robert reviewed it and liked it considerably more)

Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Read; an A to A+ novel - would be my #15 or so novel in the top sff and would be in the top 10 fantasy; slightly better narrative transitions a la Blood of the Mantis and it would be a top 10 clearly (dual FBC Rv RT + LS)

Drood by Dan Simmons
Read; an A novel - I was more impressed on first read and thought it would make the top 10 but it did not stand that well the test of time in my memory(FBC Rv)

Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress
Read; a B novel; good idea sf novel, but far too sketchy in execution for more (FBC RV)

Storm from the Shadows by David Weber
Read; an A novel; excellent Weber but could do better

In the Courts of the Sun by Brian D'Amato
Read; an A+/A++ novel and #6 in my top 10; the biggest positive surprise of 09 in sf (FBC Rv)

Seeds of Earth by Michael Cobley
Read; an A- novel; expected much more, but the first half is confused; ramps up in the second half and I have very high expectations for the sequel (FBC Rv)

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch
not published

The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas
Read and an A+ novel especially on re-read and after time passed; initial impression slightly less favorable; number 10 in my top 10 sff list (FBC Rv Robert who liked it less)

Hand of Isis by Jo Graham
Read and a B novel; nothing new about Cleopatra (FBC Capsule Rv)

The Dakota Cipher by William Dietrich
Read and an A- novel; very good Ethan Gage and the first third is brilliant, but the last part is too moody for the series (FBC Rv)

The Rise of the Iron Moon by Stephen Hunt
Read and a huge disappointment; a grade D novel just because it's by Stephen Hunt and I loved the previous two books in the series; I will try to give it another chance but very, very pulpy

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
not published

Corambis by Sarah Monette
Read and an A novel; solid ending to the series but on re-read and after time passed I thought the move away from Melusine was misguided overall; the first 3 novels are better to much better (FBC Rv)

Gladiatrix by Russell Whitfield
Read and an A novel; solid historical (FBC Capsule Rv)

Kings and Assassins by Lane Robins
Started a little so far; not yet dropped from the series but close to, though I may try it

Fall of Thanes by Brian Ruckley
Read and a D for effort but should be an F; another huge disappointment; nuance gives way to cliche and caricature and I thought I was reading Star Wars... (FBC Rv)

The Grand Conjunction by Sean Williams
Read and an A novel; great ending to the series (FBC Rv)

Consorts of Heaven by Jaine Fenn
Read and an A novel; the last part was slightly weaker going too much towards pulp, otherwise it would have ranked in the top 15 at least (FBC Rv)

The Cardinal's Blades by Pierre Pevel
Read and a C novel; disappointing but it's either too much Dumas, Zevaco and the like for me to enjoy an unremarkable pastiche or a so-so translation made it seem flat.. (FBC Rv Robert who liked it more)

Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton
Read and an A+ novel - #9 in my top 10 sff list (FBC Rv)

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie
Read and all that I expected and more and an A++ novel; I ranked it 5 in my top 10 sff list, but it's actually anywhere from #2-5 since the four novels in cause are equal but I chose an order for definiteness sake and I put the well known authors in the back at 4-5 just because... (FBC Rv)

Jasymn by Alex Bell
Read and an A/A+ novel; a personal favorite also; the way I structured my rankings I gave lots of weight to "heft" so this novel which is lighter would go in the late teens but I just loved it (FBC Rv)

The Ace of Skulls by Chris Wooding - it became Retribution Falls
Read and an A/A+ novel; same comment as above (FBC Rv)

Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey
Read and all that I expected and more and an A++ novel; I ranked it 4 in my top 10 sff list, but it's actually anywhere from #2-5 since the four novels in cause are equal but I chose an order for definiteness sake and I put the well known novels in the back at 4-5 just because... (FBC Rv)

Shadow Magic by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
Read and a solid A novel (FBC Rv)

Blood of the Mantis by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Read and a solid A novel; the writing of this one and the heft of Dragonfly Falling would produce a top 10 novel for me; the series is already a top-top one.
(FBC Rv)

Red Claw by Philip Palmer
Read and a solid A novel but lacks the panache and ambition of Debatable Spaces (FBC Rv)

By Heresies Distressed by David Weber
Read and a solid A novel but lacks the "what???" twists and turns of By Schism Rent Asunder and while it has some super emotional scenes, BSRA and Off Armageddon Reef did better there too (FBC Rv)

Avempartha by Michael Sullivan
Read and a solid A novel; almost an A+ and establishing the Ryria series as top-notch after the excellent Crown Conspiracy debut (FBC Rv)

The Juggler by Sebastian Beaumont
not read yet; have it since (delayed) publication but somehow never got to it; hopefully will get to it in 2010

Amyrantha's Gods by Jennifer Fallon
- (actually The Gods of Amyrantha)
Read and an A- novel; the weakest of the series but still excellent(dual FBC Rv MW + LS)

FBC's Must Reads

FBC's Critically Underrated Reads


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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