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Saturday, July 31, 2010

What Color is Your Magic? Quiz Based on the Upcoming Superb "The Black Prism" by Brent Weeks

I rarely take online quizzes, though I tend to vote in polls on sites I follow. Considering how much I loved the upcoming "The Black Prism" - it was so gripping and involving despite its 600+ pages that I regretted that it ended since I wanted 600 pages more - I decided to check out the quiz and it's real fun, while as a bonus it is based on the setting and events from the novel, so you will get a taste of the book's flavor too. Go check it out!

Here is my result!

I'm a yellow magic drafter!

Take the quiz at Brent

You are a yellow drafter

Yellow luxin is most often a liquid that releases its energy back into light quickly, allowing its use as a torch or a trigger to ignite flammable materials or explosives. Yellow nourishes other luxins, extending the durability of luxin structures or tools. Like water turning to ice, when yellow is drafted perfectly, it loses its liquidity and becomes the hardest luxin of all. Yellows tend to be clear thinkers, intellect and emotion in perfect balance.

The results from your color matching test have also shown that you are one of the elite, a superchromat. The magic you do will almost never fail. Satrapies will compete to recruit you, and you will have a wide latitude in what work you choose to do once you finish your studies. You can expect your patron to lavish praise and honors on you. As a monochrome, you will master your color, and only have to defer to bichromes and polychromes and, of course, the nobility and the satraps who support us all.

Magic in the Black Prism

When a candle burns, a physical substance (wax) is transformed into light. Chromaturgy in The Black Prism is the inverse: A drafter transforms light into a physical substance (luxin). Each different color of luxin has its own strength, weight, and even smell: blue luxin is hard, red is gooey, yellow is liquid, etc. But even as drafters change the world, the luxin changes them too, physically, mentally, and emotionally. The color change of a drafter's eyes is only the beginning…

Friday, July 30, 2010

The 2010 Man Booker Longlist

On July 27, the highly expected Man Booker Long List of 13 novels has been announced. There are only two annual book prizes that really interest me not only for the winner, but for the general selections and shortlist, namely in sff the AC Clarke prize and in literary fiction the Man Booker, both happening to be UK based prizes and the last opened only to Commonwealth authors.

Last year's Man Booker longlist and shortlist have been very fruitful, providing me with 6/13 and 4/6 respectively - including the
eventual winner - interesting reads. Not only that but my overall top 2009 novel The Children's Book by AS Byatt and my #3 overall novel and the Man Booker winner Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel came from that list.

This year the list seems considerably less interesting for me. It has
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet which was my #1 non-sff anticipated novel of 2010 and for which I begged shamelessly for an arc a long time ago and upon getting it, I read it several timers and reviewed it and then it has Parrot and Olivier in America which I bought upon release but kind of lost interest after 150 pages or so, though I plan to finish it and review it at some point.

I also read several times from The Long Song and I covered almost all the book, though I should read it end to end too. Other than that and from the blurb only C seems of interest to me, though I will take a look at the others as they appear in store or library here.

The USSR 1952 book - The Betrayal - seems to be a sequel and I remember vaguely checking out the previous installment The Siege though I will try it again, while several of the books are definitely of very little interest as neither boarding school nor suburbia tempts me in the least...

So a little bit of a disappointment at least compared with 2009, but still a diverse list that gives a taste of the critically acclaimed current fiction from the Commonwealth.

The List:

Peter Carey Parrot and Olivier in America

Emma Donoghue Room

Helen Dunmore The Betrayal

Damon Galgut In a Strange Room

Howard Jacobson The Finkler Question

Andrea Levy The Long Song

Tom McCarthy C

David Mitchell The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

Lisa Moore February

Paul Murray Skippy Dies

Rose Tremain Trespass

Christos Tsiolkas The Slap

Alan Warner The Stars in the Bright Sky

Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Second Sight" by Greg Hamerton (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Greg Hamerton Website
Order "Second Sight" HERE
Read A Sample from "Second Sight" (pdf)
Read FBC Review of "The Riddler's Gift"

INTRODUCTION: "Second Sight" is the second Tale of the Lifesong following the author's debut "The Riddler's Gift". While quite a traditional fantasy tale - the destined girl, the magical artifact, the mentor of the title, the nasty and tricky villains, the pseudo-medieval setting - "The Riddler's Gift" enchanted me from the first pages with its beautiful and lyrical style and I followed the adventures of Tabitha Serannon and the assorted cast of characters to the superb and complete ending of the novel's main thread.

However the big picture remained in the background with only hints and snippets given and indeed
"Second Sight" picks up where "The Riddler's Gift" ends and deals with the monumental - the creation and destruction of worlds, the relationship between Order and Chaos or Dark and Light - all embodied in the eons long conflict between Wizards of Order, Sorcerers of Chaos and Gods and Goddeses of Creation and Destruction.

Very high magic and big-words stuff, but despite my general avoidance of such, the beautiful writing and the great characters, especially Tabitha and The Riddler, compelled me to read and greatly enjoy this tale too.

"Second Sight" stands at about 640 pages divided into four "movements" and 44 named chapters. As in "The Riddler's Gift" each chapter starts with a two line quote from the Riddler himself.

"Second Sight"
has essentially five story lines that converge. We see the Wizards of the Gyre who shielded Eyri the last outpost of order and where across the centuries Zarost - the Riddler and one of the eight - tried to engineer or at least discover the powerful wizard/sorcerer that will give the world a chance against the Sorcerer of Chaos. We also find out how this state of affairs evolved and how the big and bad Ametheus emerged and what are his goals.

But the more "down to earth" and intriguing threads are the ones following Tabitha who is haunted by the dreams of imprisoned Goddess Ethea and *needs" to break out of the Eyri and save her, while in two sort of offshoots, jealous Prince Bevn has stolen the Kingsrim which gives the wearer power over every Eyri native - including Tabitha for example - and plans - well he does not really know what, except that he also flees the ordered realm into the outside chaos, while fledgling "gifter" Ashley gets separated from Tabitha in the Oldenworld and has his own strange adventures.

"Second Sight" is high fantasy that goes into realms of power and supernatural from the more mundane setting of The Riddler's Gift. While it touches on the events of the first installment, the novel is pretty much complete on its own and has a definite ending.

ANALYSIS: "Tabitha Serannon can perform miracles of healing, yet people are dying in her hands. A prophecy points a crooked finger beyond Eyri and Tabitha must abandon her followers to rescue the source of her power. Every step takes her farther into the terrors of Oldenworld, but she must liberate the essence of life before it is corrupted by chaos. This is no game: a traitor lurks among the wizards, a ruthless enemy hunts her with whips of wildfire and she could lose her closest friends with one wrong move. On the journey to mastery, whom can she trust? She has only her faith in love and her fading song to guide her."

Why would you want to read the novel described above? It may be that the description which is of a completely traditional high-magic fantasy in a transformed, unnatural land interests you a lot but since I usually avoid a book with this blurb I will give you some other reasons.

First of all the wonderful prose of Greg Hamerton which you can get a taste of in the excerpt linked above as well as in the one linked in The Riddler's Gift review. "Second Sight" flows beautifully page after page and all the thread transitions are done so well that you do not discern any interruption or hit any narrative wall.

The Oldenworld is vividly described both in its scarred physical nature and in the strange inhabitants, while the "outside" narrations - spatial in the Gyre which is located away "into the stars", time wise in Ametheus story which takes us back to how the Eiry and the Oldenworld got to be - mesh very well with the "here and now" tales.

Tabitha grows a lot in the novel, while The Riddler shown in his natural environment is even more impressive than before, though in many ways the star of the novel is the putative villain, the sorcerer Ametheus whose tale is twistier and stranger than I expected. On the other hand Garyll is mostly a pale reflection of the confident sword master from before, and while that is understandable given what had happened, I still kind of regretted it since Garyll the leader was more interesting than Garyll the follower.

The main plot itself is relatively predictable but the strength of the novel does not lie there. The ending is very satisfactory and quite complete, though of course there is enough space for more Tales of the Lifesong. Overall Second Sight (strong A) is as good a traditional high magic fantasy as it gets and I hope the author will continue to use his superb writing style to enchant us with more stories.

Note: In a very kind gesture the author offered a 10% discount on purchasing his book until the end of August 2010 with the promotional code FBCSS0810 during checkout on, while letting me know that the book will be available directly in the USA from soon and of course it is already available - as of Aug 1st - from and other UK outlets as well as in ebook format regardless of location.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

**EXCLUSIVE** A David Gemmell Short Story: The Birth of a Legend

At Fantasy Book Critic, we love to commemorate our favorite authors. Today is the 4th anniversary of the death of one of Fantasy’s brightest stars. David Gemmell left this world in 2006 and left a huge gap in the world of heroic fantasy. Our team of reviewers are huge fans of Gemmell's books.

Fantasy Book Critic has recently been given the opportunity to post this extremely rare excerpt. Originally this excerpt was first mentioned in this interview here (reference to the excerpt is in the last 2 paragraphs).

The Games Master issue has finally been located and Fantasy Book Critic has received all the required permission to be able to post it here for the enjoyment of everyone.

We would like to pronounce our heartfelt gratitude to Mrs. Stella Gemmell, Mr. Howard Morhaim[David’s Literary Agent] and Gareth Wilson[DG fan] for their help in making this excerpt available to all Gemmell fans.

This excerpt can be read as a preface to chapter 1 in The first Chronicles of Druss the legend. As it the first three pages detail Druss’s wedding day[which has not been seen in any of Druss’s books] pages 4 and 5 deal with the first true fight Druss faces[parts of this are already found in the book. Think of this excerpt as a first draft of that scene].

So go ahead and enjoy this small tale which was almost lost and then hopefully you will go on to read the rest of David’s work as well.

(To be able to read the excepts please click on the photos as they will appear larger when clicked).

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Linger: The Wolves of Mercy Falls #2" by Maggie Stiefvater (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman

Visit Maggie Stiefvater's Website here
Read FBC's review of Shiver here
Order Linger from Amazon Here

Overview: Sam and Grace have fought an amazing battle to be together. Sam has over come changing into a wolf and Grace has faced many changed in her life. Now the fight is on to keep the relationship together. Grace must fight against her parents who believe Sam is a bad influence. Sam must keep up the relationship while trying to help the new wolves learn about transitioning and changing and what to do.

While trying to keep the relationship as normal as possible, Grace starts to experience some health issues that could have serious consequences. Can she keep these symptoms a secret from Sam?

Meanwhile, Isabelle who lost her brother to being a wolf is coming out of her shell and is becoming attracted to the new wolf of the pack Cole.

Format: Linger is the sequel to Shiver. Linger could be read on its own but it is best to read Shiver to fully understand the context of some of the problems. Linger stands at 368 pages. It is told from alternating first person point of views of Sam, Grace, Cole, Isabelle. It was published by Scholastic Press on July 13, 2010.

Analysis: The long awaited sequel to Shiver is finally here. I admit I had some issues with Shiver, mostly regarding the non-existent parents, a few time inconsistencies and some other minor details. However I really enjoyed Maggie Stiefvater's writing and it wasn't so bad that I couldn't finish it. So when Linger showed up on my doorstep I knew I had to give it a go and see where this second installment was going to take readers.

If you read Shiver and didn't enjoy it, this is most certainly is not going to change your opinion on the the writing or plot line. If you enjoyed Shiver this will just make you fall in love with the characters and become more involved with the story then the first novel. If paranormal YA romance novels are not your thing then Linger won't change your mind on reading them.

The problems that I encountered in Shiver are addressed here. Grace's parents seem to be a bit more aware of situations going on in their house. This was a MAJOR problem for me as I couldn't understand why the parents were so out there and not knowing what was going on. I can't give away too much without the bulk of the story being ruined but this is definitely addressed in this novel. The timing issue was also addressed and elements seemed to flow a lot smoother then they did in Shiver.

Linger like Shiver is 80% teenage love/angst and 20% actual plot and story line. Readers should be prepared for a bunch of lovey dovey kissing, cooing and teenage romance. Besides that Linger is very much a middle novel, it contains just enough information to resolve some of the questions from the first book but really sets up for a third book. Be prepared to be left with a massive cliffhanger which won't be addressed until the third book hits shelves.

Putting aside the teenage love, the actual plot element of Linger was a bit predictable. When Grace started to show symptoms I knew instantly where the story was going to go. As I had guessed all of my predictions did come true. I don't know if this is from reading so many books or if it was really that transparent. This problem led me to enjoy the book a little less then I did with Shiver.

All the characters that were present in Shiver are still present in Linger, except there is an introduction of a new character, Cole. This new character was my favorite part of the novel. Cole was new, fresh and added a new plot thread. Everything else in the novel tended to come across to me as if I had read it somewhere or was just like Shiver.

Overall, I enjoyed Linger not as much as I enjoyed Shiver but it was a decent read.I await to see what happens in the 3rd novel. In the end, Maggie Stiefvater's writing is just as beautiful and lyrical as her previous novels and she really knows how to draw a teenage romance that'll make readers wish that they were a part of.
Monday, July 26, 2010

Anthology Story Review: To Seek Her Fortune by Nicole Kornher-Stace (reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Order Clockwork Phoenix 3 HERE
Read Lineage by Kenneth Schneyer from Clockwork Phoenix 3 on FBC
Read FBC Review of Desideria

INTRODUCTION: I am a big fan of original anthologies either themed like say New Space Opera or Swords and Dark Magic or un-themed like the Eclipse or the Clockwork Phoenix series.
Sadly this year I have been terrible at finishing them with only two of them fully read so far, though I have been much better at reading collections with six reviewed so far.

Like last year with Clockwork Phoenix 2, we have posted here a story Lineage from Clockwork Phoenix 3 which I invite everyone to read and get a flavor of the anthology. I enjoyed a lot reading Lineage and even parsing it several times to make sure our FBC post corresponds to the print version, but for me the highlight of the anthology and the one story I *had* to read was "To Seek Her Fortune" by Nicole Kornher-Stace considering how much I loved her debut novel Desideria. And indeed the story has the same beautiful style that makes one lose himself in the story and wishes for it to continue for a long time...

ANALYSIS: "To Seek Her Fortune" is about 25 pages long and is very satisfying as completeness go, while the images that we get to see from its world strongly place it in the fantasy steampunk camp.

"In the land of black salt and white honey, the Lady Explorer bartered a polar bear’s pelt, a hand-cranked dynamo, her second-best derringer and three bolts of peach silk for her death."

The first lines of the story presented above were enough to hook me and of course while we slowly understand what's going on, the pattern continues with the next part of the story starting:

"In the land of silver trees and golden fruit, the Lady Explorer bartered a case of tawny port, the captain’s quarters’ folding screen and rolltop desk, a filigreed sterling tea service and the airship’s only drop glider for her death."

And there are five such parts, each chronologically following an episode from the heroine's life, while the pieces of the puzzle come together into a superb and touching ending.

The snippets from The Lady Explorer's life, her deep love for her son who was born on the airship she "stole" with her comrades to escape a lifetime of drudgery and the panoramas of the wonderful world created here by the author mesh extremely well to create a superb story that will entrance you.
Sunday, July 25, 2010

"Clementine" by Cherie Priest (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Cherie Priest Website
Order Clementine HERE
Read FBC Review of Boneshaker

One of the most entertaining novels I read in 2009 was Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker. Full of exciting cross-genre adventure (zombies, steampunk, post-apocalyptic retro-futurism), memorable characters and a cool twist on American history, Boneshaker was a blast to read and I couldn’t wait to see what else Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century had to offer. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long thanks to Subterranean Press and their publication of Clementine.

Clementine is a 208-page novella that expands on characters and events briefly introduced in Boneshaker, specifically runaway slave Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey and the theft of his airship, the Free Crow. In Clementine, Hainey and his two-man crew (Lamar & Simeon) are in hot pursuit of the stolen airship—renamed the Clementine by the thief Felton Brink—as it travels across the Midwest and towards Kentucky.

The novella also revolves around real life historical figure, Maria Isabella Boyd (Belle Boyd), an ex-Confederate spy newly employed by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency which has tasked her with ensuring the safe arrival of the Clementine and its precious cargo in Louisville, KY.

There’s a bit more going on with the plot like the construction of a powerful new weapon that could finally end the Civil War and some spy intrigue, but for the most part Cherie Priest keeps things simple and to the point. Personally, that’s what I like about novellas. They are usually more concise than novels, without any extraneous fat. In Clementine’s case, the smaller word count resulted in faster pacing and fewer lulls than what was found in Boneshaker, while delivering a nearly nonstop barrage of crowd-pleasing entertainment that rivals anything currently produced by Hollywood.

Of course, there are downsides to a smaller word count. The most glaring problem with Clementine is the shallow characterization of the novella’s supporting characters, in particular Ossian Steen, Doctor Smeeks and a young boy who all play important roles in the book’s conclusion. There were also a couple of unresolved plot threads regarding the mysterious Phinton Kulp and an old acquaintance of Maria’s, as well as themes on racism and loyalty that lacked the punch they could have had if given more room to grow. Apart from these minor issues, Cherie Priest delivers another impressive performance highlighted by her accessible writing style, skillful execution, and invigorating dialogue, especially the verbal exchanges involving Belle Boyd:

“... and since you’ve already so eloquently confessed to your wartime activities, I might assume that once or twice, you’ve been known to hurt a man or two.”

“Once or twice, plus half a dozen more. And if you don’t vacate these premises, perhaps that tally will rise.”

“There are people in this world who steadfastly refuse to understand anything unless it’s couched in terms of violence. In my experience, it is most expedient to simply accomodate them.”


“You may as well communicate in the language they best understand.”

Regarding Boneshaker, while there are connections between the two books with several references (Dr. Minnericht, the Blight, Andan Cly, etc.) made to the novel in Clementine, the novella reads independently of the opening volume in the Clockwork Century.

In fact, the two books are different beasts altogether. Where Boneshaker reminded me of a cross between The Wild Wild West, Fallout and a George Romero zombie movie, Clementine combines Western pulp, steampunk, swashbuckling adventure and a dash of espionage for an experience more akin to The Wild Wild West meets Indiana Jones meets Pirates of the Sky Caribbean. In short, readers don’t need to be familiar with Boneshaker in order to enjoy Clementine, but I would still recommend it :D>

As for the novella overall, as much fun as I had with Boneshaker, I enjoyed reading Clementine even more, and my expectations are sky high for Cherie Priest’s Dreadnought, the third volume in the Clockwork Century, which is scheduled for publication on September 28, 2010 via Tor..

Friday, July 23, 2010

Odds and Ends: Some Interesting Fictional Characters Part 2: Men (by Liviu Suciu)

I want to present some of the most interesting characters I've encountered in my reading across the years, characters that stayed in my memory for a long time. After the first post about female characters, I am continuing here with a post about men and then I will conclude with a post about secondary worlds which make for great fictional "characters" too, as well as some persons who do not fit either the "man" or "woman" label, like say Thorn from Gary Jennings' Raptor or Merlin from David Weber's Safehold.

I decided to have five categories of three characters each here. Most choices will be the expected ones for anyone who follows my quite repeatedly and far-from-shyly stated preferences, but hopefully there will be a few surprises too.
My usual rules of one character per author in each category, English language availability and some time passed since I have first read the respective books apply.


Most Interesting SF Hero

Cheradenine Zakalwe from IM Banks's Use of Weapons. As I do not tire of mentioning, Use of Weapons is my all time favorite sff novel and has been so for 15+ years now and the awesome cast of characters is one of the main reasons.

is a non-Culture agent of Special Circumstances that goes down and does the "dirty" jobs. Diziet Sma is a Culture agent of SC, Zakalwe's "handler" though she does her own field work too. Skaffen-Amtiskaw is a drone - assistant or maybe boss - to Diziet and it handles the covert aspects and non-covert use of force.

Just remembering the scene when the drone who strongly dislikes Zakalwe, brings him a gift when he was recovering after a particular tough mission still makes me laugh. You see, only Zakalwe's head returned and the recovery consisted of waiting for his body to regrow, while of course the gift was a hat (!).

Miles Vorkosigan
- from the eponymous series by Lois Bujold; very little to add except that the long-running series - new novel Cryoburn due in the Fall 2010 - is one of the best adventure sf ever, all due to Miles. Not quite a one man show since there are some other notable characters, but overall Miles carries the series from space opera, to mystery to romantic comedy...

Joshua Calvert
from Night's Dawn by Peter Hamilton. As I do not tire mentioning, Night's Dawn is my all time favorite *finished* sff series and has been so for 10+ years now and the awesome cast of characters is one of the main reasons, in addition to the almost unmatched sense of wonder.

Ione Saldana narrowly lost to Paula Myo in my top sf heroine category, the two male leads of the series, Joshua Calvert and Quinn Dexter are here, with the latter leading the villains category.

Of course Joshua may not be on everyone's taste with his womanizing, antiques and "luck", but he is the perfect character for the tone of the series, exuberant and awesome.


Most Interesting Fantasy Hero

aka Poldarn from The Scavenger series by KJ Parker; in doing the fantasy list I came to a little conundrum - for once there were 4 characters I wanted to mention and for another two of them are extremely ambiguos.

Poldarn is after all one of the "most evil" man in the world as everyone who meets and knows him while he is without memory, does not tire to remind him and of course we slowly find out why; then even in his almost desperate try to stay away from all, rebuild his life and stay memoryless and bad things happen due to his actions...
Still since Poldarn tries hard to be "normal" and he is otherwise such an awesome character, I decided to include him here.

Hari Michaelson aka Caine from the eponymous series by Matthew Stover. Technically sf, the series is fantasy in spirit and considered so by pretty much everyone. No more to add except try Heroes Die and see why Caine is such a powerful character in both his "real world Hari" persona and in the alternate fantasy Earth one...

Tyrion Lannister
from A Song of Ice and Fire by G.R.R. Martin; while the last two novels of the series worked out less well for me (bloat and only half a book respectively), at least compared with the awesome first two - though of course still being A+/A++-level novels - A Song of Ice and Fire has many powerful characters, of which Tyrion is by far the most memorable. Not dissimilar from Miles, as both are very smart and born in privilege "dwarfs" in a martial world, though of course Miles has the huge advantages of technology and a supporting family.


Most Interesting Non-SFF Hero

Gordianus the Finder (my top overall choice) - from Roma sub Rosa by Steven Saylor; the most "humane" hero in pretty much all the series I follow; currently - The Triumph of Caesar - a spry 64 year old with three grown (all adopted) sons, one grown (natural) daughter, some four grandchildren and his memorable Jewish/Egyptian wife Betsheda, I followed Gordianus' life and his involvement in the most dramatic moments of the Late Republic, since his first apparition as a 30 year old somewhat disreputable "finder" in Roman Blood.

While the author is soon releasing
Empire his second volume of his epic magnum opus that started with Roma, he plans to return to Gordianus, this time with adventures from his early wandering life and probably later following the still dramatic events till the Ides of March and maybe beyond...

Noting that while technically mysteries, the
Roma sub Rosa novels are actually historical fiction at its best, I plan to present an overview of the series soon, hopefully before my review of Roma/Empire.

from Aztec by Gary Jennings - one of the masterpieces of historical fiction Aztec is notable by the voice of its narrator Mixtli and the superb world building that compares with the best sff around. Another novel from my top-top all time favorite list that deserves a full review here. For sff lovers who have never tried historical fiction seriously, Aztec is an example why they should, since its world building is as superb and "alien" as most secondary worlds out there...

Minutus Lausus
from The Roman by Mika Waltari - a naive narrator who wants to do good, though he is tricked by many around him and especially by the women in his life, in sometimes doing bad things, but who somehow escapes the twists and turns of destiny at least for a while. This sums most of Mika Waltari's superb picaresque heroes, whether the Egyptian, the Etruscan, the Adventurer or the Roman...

Some of the most superb opening lines ever made me both a fan of the character - I read The Roman 15 times at least since I discovered it some 20 years ago - and of the author, though Minutus still remains my most favorite of Mika Waltari's heroes, especially given the ending of the book. The novel seems to remain quite popular, even up to recently being plagiarized...


SFF Male Villain

Quinn Dexter
from Night's Dawn by Peter Hamilton. Best "pure" villain ever...

Anasûrimbor Kellhus from The Prince of Nothing (and continuations) series by Scott Bakker; while I included Kellhus first in the hero category, I reconsidered since his actions are aimed at getting supreme power and nothing else.

Grand Inquisitor Zhasphar Clyntahn from Safehold by David Weber - smart, overweight and given to extreme sensual pleasures, both corrupt and fanatic, Clyntahn is another ubber-villain that takes over the page whenever he appears.


Non-SFF Male Villain

SS Officer Dr. Maximilien Aue
from The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell; over the top and a relatively small fry as the Nazi murderers go, Max Aue carries the huge epic novel with both his personal dramas and the larger context; a winner of many prestigious literary prizes and my top novel of the 00's The Kindly Ones *is* the narrator's novel, flaws and all. Its first lines rank #5 on my list of memorable such.

Maxim Arturovich Pianitsky aka Colonel Pyat from the eponymous saga by Michael Moorcock. Another narrator villain, this time of a four volume saga that spans the 1900-1940 period. While more of a picaresque anti-hero, Pyat is entertaining and loathsome by turns and the series ending The Vengeance of Rome is another top novel of the 00's.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla
from the Masters of Rome series by Colleen McCullough; the best character of the series by far since the author's worship of the presumable hero Caesar is sometimes nauseating, Lucius Cornelius is as fascinating as without scruples...
Thursday, July 22, 2010

"Empire of Light" by Gary Gibson (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Gary Gibson Website
Read FBC Review of Stealing Light
Read FBC Review of Nova War
Read FBC and Walker of Worlds Interview with Gary Gibson

INTRODUCTION: "Empire of Light" is the third and concluding novel in the Shoal series by Gary Gibson after the awesome Stealing Light (#2 sf and #4 sff overall in 2007) and excellent Nova War (#5 sf and #13 sff overall in 2009).

Empire of Light was a Top 10 2010 Anticipated novel of mine and it lived up to the high expectations as well as insuring that a new Gary Gibson novel - hopefully in 2011 but not sure as of now - will be another Top 10 Anticipated one.

While I have not yet managed to review the author's first two standalone novels Angel Stations and Against Gravity, both denser and packed to the hilt with great stuff, books that made the author a big time favorite of mine and the best new sf writer in a while, I hope to do it at some point since those two merit also the audience of the Shoal trilogy that brought Mr. Gibson the much deserved recognition.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Empire of Light" stands at almost 400 pages divided into 38 numbered chapters, the last one being an epilogue of the series. However there is a special Epilogue chapter set 3000 years in the future that sets up the hook for more stories set in the Shoal universe of the trilogy. The novel starts with a two page "previously in.." that may be helpful if you have read Nova War a while ago, but I strongly recommend to start the series from the beginning since it is essentially one big book divided into three parts.

Starting two years from the end of Nova War to essentially allow Dakota time to find the "Maker" and to let the *actual nova war* develop, "Empire of Light" recreates somewhat the structure of Stealing Light, when after preliminaries, it comes down to Dakota and Julian to save the day again on a starship in enemy territory, while Trader is still around for his usual mischief.

In addition to Dakota and Julian, there is one more POV who connects with the series beginning and the Uchidan engineered atrocity against Freehold.
Empire of Light is modern space opera with a definite ending to the Shoal trilogy, though as mentioned the hook is set for more action millenniums later...

ANALYSIS: "Empire of Light" builds on the two previous novels in the series to solve some of the big mysteries, most notably what are the mysterious Makers, why is is that simple for humans with head-implants to control Magi ships - or is it? and how do you stop a nova war that threatens to engulf the Milky Way, the way it essentially destroyed the Magellanic Galaxy.

In the process we visit quite a few places in our Galaxy, encounter new and old species and characters and we generally see why modern space opera reigns supreme in sf as the one sub-genre where sense of wonder is allowed the possibility to blossom to the fullest.

In addition to sense of wonder and lots of action, "Empire of Light" features the same powerful characters we got used to from the author. A mature and self-confident Julian takes on his dual role as Dakota's stand in for dealing with the Magi ships and as Freehold Senator with relish, while Dakota herself is changed quite dramatically by her experiences in chasing the Maker, though still remaining the larger-than-life heroine from earlier books. And of course the sneaky and nasty Trader is back and still up to no good, but even his extremely developed survival skills may be tested when he confronts the judgment of superior powers.

However I still think that the novel's greatest strength is the author's writing ability that carries the story with amazing energy and pulls you in from the first page. And here comes the one negative for me for the whole series, namely that I feel Gary Gibson undersells himself a bit; Stealing Light was awesome while Nova War and Empire of Light were excellent, but could have been even more ambitious and I truly wish to see a novel/series that packs the density of Angel Stations with the clarity and maturity of the Shoal trilogy.

"Empire of Light" (A+) is the conclusion of a new space opera trilogy that gives you pretty much the whole package within 1000 or so pages rather than the usual 3000+ and establishes Gary Gibson as a leading light of modern sf.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010

GIVEAWAY: Win a Copy of Clockwork Phoenix 3 Edited by Mike Allen

In honor of Fantasy Book Critic's post of Lineage by Kenneth Schneyer we have 2 copies of Clockwork Phoenix to giveaway!

Giveaway Rules:

1. This contest is open to anyone on the planet earth!

2. This contest starts July 21, 2010 at 12:02 PM EST and runs until July 30, 2010 at 12:02 PM EST.

3. To enter send an email with the subject "Clockwork Phoenix 3" with your name, and shipping address to "".

4. Only one entry per person. Duplicate entries will result in all entries being deleted.

5. Have fun and good luck!

Online Story from the Clockwork Phoenix 3 Anthology, edited by Mike Allen: Lineage by Kenneth Schneyer

INTRODUCTION: Clockwork Phoenix 3 (order HERE), edited by Mike Allen, was released from Norilana Books earlier this month.

Subtitled Tales of Beauty and Strangeness, the Clockwork Phoenix anthology series gathers offbeat slipstream, sf, fantasy and cross-genre tales, some of which have been nominated for the Nebula and Shirley Jackson awards and reprinted in several Best of the Year anthologies. Jeff VanderMeer has written that each book in the series comprises "a heady mix of the new and the familiar, and an anthology willing to take chances."

In a starred review, Publishers Weekly says that with Clockwork Phoenix 3, "Allen's third volume of extraordinary short stories reaches new heights of rarity and wonder," concluding, "Without a wrong note, all the stories in this anthology admirably fulfill Allen's promise of 'beauty and strangeness.'"

Kenneth Schneyer's "Lineage" from Clockwork Phoenix 3 mixes elements of science, fantasy and history in a tale that's both epic in scope and intimate in scale.

About the Story Author: Kenneth Schneyer's stories have appeared, or soon will appear, in Analog Science Fiction & Fact, GUD Magazine, Nature Physics, The Drabblecast and The Newport Review. He is a graduate of Wesleyan University, the University of Michigan Law School and the Clarion Writers Workshop at UCSD.

During his strange career, he has worked as an actor, a dishwasher, a corporate lawyer, an IT project manager, a college professor, a file clerk, and the assistant dean of a technology school, though not in that order. Born in Detroit, he now lives in Rhode Island with the ritual artist Janice Okoomian and their children.


Kenneth Schneyer

And yet I know so little. I feel the soil of a hundred lands under my feet, look into ten thousand frightened eyes, grasp uncounted brittle strands of hope between my fingers. But I cannot answer so simple a question as this:

What am I, when I am not one of them?

* * *


I think your excitement is premature. If I understood your report (and it could have been clearer) there is a lot of work to do before you can approach the conclusions you're suggesting.

Let's stick to the facts. I'll accept your statement that you've found identical resonance patterns in seven different artifacts from disparate periods and points of origin, representing four continents and more than three millennia. Having said this, and understanding that I don't doubt your word, please run the resonance tests again.

I will also accept your assertion that each of these artifacts appears to display a similar visual marking or design—although, to my eye, the similarity could be coincidental, and the pattern is so rudimentary (even childish) that one could imagine it arising by chance.

Even if both of these statements are true, it is an heroic leap to infer that somehow the artifacts are associated with the same individual. You admit the extreme improbability that this is true; why bring it up at all?

However, I think that we can settle the matter easily. You did not mention running a DNA echo series on any of these artifacts. Do so now. If there are traces, and they're similar for two or more of the artifacts, then you'll have something meaningful to say. Otherwise we need to look for other (more plausible!) explanations.

Don't worry; everybody leaps to conclusions early in her career. If we didn't get excited about this work, why would we do it at all?


* * *

Raisl had nearly calmed the baby to sleep when Jan slammed open the door. The sudden noise and light frightened Bella, and she started whimpering all over again. After a weary evening—Bella was cutting a tooth and keeping the two older children awake—Raisl's first urge was to snarl at Jan, if Moishe didn't take his head off first.

But Jan's grey, sweaty face told her that he hadn't intruded needlessly into their cramped, musty alcove. The balding little man's agitation was clear even in this bad light. His eyes bulged; he was out of breath. Raisl knew what he was going to say before he spoke.

"They found out; they're coming," said Jan, looking at Moishe, not at Raisl. "I saw them coming down the street, a whole squad of S.S. I ran back, they didn't see me, but they're not far off. It won't take them long to get here."

Moishe, dazed, rose slowly from his chair; Yakov and Dvora sat upright on their cot. "How?" asked Moishe. "How could they find out?"

Jan bent over and took Raisl firmly by the elbows, impelling her and Bella up. "It doesn't matter how," he said. "Go. Go in the next ten minutes or you'll all be in Oœwiêcim by morning. Get out of Krakow, however you can."

"But the plan won't work on a Sunday night," said Moishe, yanking clothes onto Dvora as Raisl wrapped the baby. "The children can't—"

"Forget the plan," Jan said. "Go. I recommend north, then west, but go."

"They'll be right behind us!" said Raisl, her own eyes as wide as Jan's, her legs wobbly.

"No, they won't," said Jan. "I can stall them, talk to them, maybe as long as ten more minutes. If you hurry, if you're lucky, you'll slip by."

"You can't stay and stall them," said Raisl. "They'll kill you!"

"Maybe. It's been done before," said Jan. All of a sudden he grinned—and he didn't look like Jan anymore. The grin was feral, like a madman or a criminal; it transformed him from the timid clerk Raisl knew into something fey and reckless.

Then she saw that he had scratched something onto his forearm, with a pin or a knife. It looked like three circles in a row, and it was very recent: blood welled from the shapes. She was afraid of him.

"Done before? What are you talking about?" demanded Moishe, who hadn't noticed Jan's face or arm, jerking on his thin coat and checking Yakov's buttons.

"Never mind," said Jan with a stranger's cheeriness. "I wish we had some apples, though. I have a taste for yellow apples right now."

"Apples?" said Moishe, his voice now rising in panic. "Apples? Are you out of your mind?"

Jan set his hand on Yakov's small shoulder, his mad eyes on Moishe and his face still in that weird grin. "Moishe, this is my house," he said. "Get the hell out of it and let me do what I want with the trespassers." From his gay tone, he might have been asking to stay a little longer at the card table.

That was the end of the discussion. In the next three minutes, Moishe, Raisl, and the children grabbed the few extra clothes, supplies, and precious things they could carry, embraced Jan in fear and confusion, and stumbled down the back stairs.

So began the first of many dreadful nights, the twisted dream of flight, starvation, and exhaustion that lasted for more than a year. Somewhere in those bitter forests and barren fields, Yakov died holding his father's hand; somewhere else Raisl let in the chronic, painful illness that would never leave her. She was still wincing from it, an irritable old woman in a stupid pink suit, when she watched Bella's youngest daughter stand under the wedding canopy in Ohio.

Jan outdid himself in wit and misdirection, clowning and practically singing to the soldiers for not ten minutes, but twenty. He was still grinning his infuriating grin when Lieutenant Haupmann gave the disgusted order to shoot him.

* * *

Again and again, like a banquet, comes the heady inhalation of destruction. The choice, the leap, the delicious farewell, the sweetness of oblivion. Greater love hath no man than this. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. Hear, O Israel: the Lord thy God, the Lord is One. Come on, nobody lives forever.

But I am still here. If this is somewhere.

* * *


I'd already run the resonance tests three times before I made my report; I understood how unlikely the data seemed. Nevertheless I ran them a fourth time per your instructions. The results were consistent: each of the seven artifacts has the same resonance pattern, the identical sequence over all eight reference points, each point similar to four decimal places (data analysis attached).

I understand what you're saying about the design, and yes, I suppose it could be "in the eye of the beholder." But that peculiar pattern of three circles in a row, each with its own perpendicular "arm" or "stem," just seems too regular to be coincidental. It was the design, after all, that drew me to these artifacts to begin with; I saw two with the same device, then a third, and that persuaded me to run the resonance test and look for similar items. Also there's the fact that each of the designs seems to have been added hurriedly, not using optimum materials or craftsmanship. If I were at home and these objects were contemporary, I'd say this was a gang sign.

As you requested, I ran the DNA echo series. There are distinguishable echoes on all of the artifacts, but none of them match. The people who left genetic residue on these objects had no common ancestors for at least six generations (full report attached). I realize that this datum may seem dispositive.

But looking at the literature, I can't find a single recorded case where two different individuals left the same resonance pattern. Not one. The energy signatures are supposed to be more unique to the individual than fingerprints, retinal patterns or voiceprints. If you can find a confirmed exception, then please show it to me; I know I'm relatively new at this, but I think I know how to read.


* * *

From inside the still, musty storehouse, the noises outside were strangely louder, as if they thought he was hiding and were calling to him. Thomas heard every mournful, futile whisper of the breeze, every restless complaint of the birds. Naturally he couldn't avoid hearing the groans and thuds of the wagon and its two horses as they drove up the hillside from the west.

Squinting with his bad eyes in the painful sunlight, he saw a straight grey blur with spots of cream and a coppery halo atop the wagon. It was Anne, her fiery hair under a cap. Though he couldn't make out the details, something in her posture told Thomas that she was holding the reins with more force than was necessary. The horses shook their heads nervously.

"Not the usual time for you to visit the storehouse," Thomas said, wondering what the horses knew that he didn't.

Without introduction or greeting, Anne's flat, practical voice said, "I'll need you to give me as many of the food stores as you can, Thomas."

"Give?" He shaded his eyes with his hand. "Give, for charity?"

"Aye, it should be for charity, you hard man, but I know you'll not give a crumb unless it's paid for. So here." She threw something at him; he had to stumble forward to catch it in his hands with a heavy chink. It was a bag of coins—a lot of coins. He counted them quickly with his fingers, his eyebrows lifting to his hairline.

"This would buy all that's inside," he said. "It won't fit on the wagon, all that." Anne's farm was no smaller than anyone else's, and she had no family to feed, but these coins must represent nearly all she had in the world. It made no sense.

She answered, "Well, then consider it your best bargain of the season. Lord knows you need all the help you can get."

"There's no need to insult me, is there? Tell me, what'll you do with what you've bought so dearly?"

There was a pause. Then she said, "Drive to London."

Involuntarily Thomas stepped three paces forward; now he could see the expression on her face. But it did him no good; her face told him as little as her voice. "London? You'll drive a cart of food into the middle of a plague city?"

"Aye, if they'll let me in. They're starving."

"They're dying of the Black Death, woman! You'll have no trouble getting in. It's out that'll be the problem."

"The ones who aren't dying of the Black Death are starving. No one will go into the city."

"And for good reason! Those that go in don't come out."

"We'll see."

"Will you throw your life away?"

"I'd not call it 'throwing away,'" she answered. Then a strange, wide grin came over her face, a grin that he'd never seen on her before, reminding Thomas of a wolf on the hunt. It made him draw back, so that she was a comforting blur again. "Besides, it's been done before," she added.

"No doubt," he grimaced, moving into the storehouse.

"Have you any apples in the storehouse?" she called

after him.

"Apples? No, they were gone a month ago."

"Pity, that. I have a real craving for a yellow apple; came on me all of a sudden."

Thomas found that he was reluctant to emerge again from the storehouse. When he came out with the goods, Anne had dismounted and took the first sack from him. So close as that, he could smell her sweat and the rosemary on her breath, and could see that she still wore that weird smile.

As he came close enough to hoist the sack, Thomas saw that there was a sign scratched on the wagon's side, using a bit of chalk or stone, or possibly a metal tool. It was three circles in a row, each with a tiny stem over it. It hadn't been there when Anne drove up, he was sure. A witch's mark?

He did not have long to ponder the question. She gave him an unexpected kiss on the forehead with her dry lips before ascending again and geeing up the horses. Back inside the building he couldn't avoid the odd, foreign melody of her whistling as the cart rumbled back down the hill.

It took a long time before the sounds were gone.

For the rest of his life, Thomas listened half-hopefully for the sounds of Anne's horses. But they never came.

* * *

Instantiation, substantiation, manifestation, possession? I am no one, if more than nothing; years pass, but not for me. Then I feel, like an embrace, the fear and devotion—the lifeboat overflows, the enemy surprises the patrol, the burning wall begins to collapse, the asteroid approaches the shuttle, the dike bursts.

And I walk the earth again.

* * *


You have no call to be offended. You are presenting unusual conclusions to the principal investigator with very little to back them up. You have to expect to be pressed on your hypotheses if you're going to stay in this business.

Yes, I do find the disparate DNA echo evidence "dispositive." If the same individual actually handled all seven objects, then that individual would have left an echo on each of them. Maybe it wouldn't have survived, but somebody's echo survived, since you found it on the artifacts. The fact that it shows seven distinct, unrelated individuals seems to decide the matter.

As you say, I don't know of any recorded cases in which different individuals left the same resonance pattern. Perhaps we've found the first one. Or perhaps we've found evidence that resonance patterns normalize or disorganize under certain conditions. Each of those would be a meaningful discovery, would it not?

Let's not forget that our object is to collect meaningful data and find the explanations that most satisfactorily explain it. We're not after ultimate "truth."


* * *

Nicander could still smell the smoke from the campfires that had been put out. Pacing steadily over the cold, rocky ground, he saw the faintest blue traces over a few remaining spots. He nodded with approval. The enemy almost certainly knew their position and their numbers, and so the men had been allowed a little warmth and a chance to cook some meat, but there was no point in being reckless.

Now they were all at work, whetting swords or repairing armor. Any talk was so low he could barely hear it, which was as it should be. They knew their business. A full night's sleep, and they'd be ready for—well, perhaps not ready for what was coming, but readier than any other army would have been. The twilight would end soon, and the night would be cold.

Nicander stopped at his captain's tent, cleared his throat, and said his own name loudly enough to carry. There was no reply, which he safely interpreted to be an invitation to enter.

A single lamp lit the space, granting Alexandros the look of a shadowy giant. He was oiling the straps of his armor and humming to himself, that same annoying marching tune he'd had on his lips for a month.

"Yes, Nico?" said Alexandros, who hadn't looked up when his enomotarch came in.

"One of the men can do that for you," said Nicander.

"Yes, and they can do their own, can't they?" said the captain. "Have you urgent tasks to take me away from the work of an honest soldier?"

"No, sir."

"Well, then. How are the men?"

"Calm, sir, for the most part. Some are edgy because they don't like the terrain."

"Ah now, the terrain is perfect." Alexandros spoke as if he were a connoisseur tasting a rare wine. He set down the armor, rubbed the excess oil on his arms, and picked up his sword like a father holding his infant son. He took out a whetstone and began to sharpen the blade, beaming at his handiwork.

Nicander said, "Gates of Fire."

"Delightful name for a battlefield," said Alexandros. "Makes you feel like you're already doing something great."

There was a pause. Alexandros seemed to know that Nicander had more to say, but he didn't ask him to continue. He ran his finger along the blade, nodding. Then he blew the iron dust off it; but he did not set down either the sword or the whetstone.

Nicander cleared his throat again. Alexandros looked up, amused.

Nicander said, "Sir, what in name of the Dog we are doing here?"

"Obeying the King."

"And what is he doing here?"

Alexandros seemed to consider whether this was insubordinate talk. Then he answered, "Having a drink with the Persians."


"What is it you want to know, Nico?" The captain paused, glancing over at a bowl of golden apples on a small table. "The tactical situation is obvious. When you have a small force and the enemy has a large one, you choose the narrowest place possible. Can't get any narrower than this." He looked pleased with himself. "We'll hold them off all day. Several days, maybe."

"And then?"

"One of two things happens: either they'll go away, or we'll get to meet Charon face to face. Prissy fellow; he's probably Athenian."

Nicander ignored the blasphemy. The captain delighted in shocking him. "You think they'll go away?"

"Persians? They might. They dislike getting bloody noses."

"And if they don't?"

"I just said."

"But if we know we're going to lose—"

"It's not a loss. Lose a few hundred to save a few hundred thousand? Any trader in the market knows what a bargain that is."

"And we just make the trade?"

For no apparent reason, the captain's whole demeanor changed. He grinned, the wild, hungry grin of battle that Nicander knew so well. Using the whetstone, he slowly scratched three circles on the blade of his sword, near the hilt. Then he finished with a tiny line on each of the circles. Finally he lifted his sword to his face and kissed it.

Alexandros asked, "You were saying, Nico?" His voice had changed too, becoming hoarse; his eyes were dilated and the irises looked darker. Nicander fought an unreasonable urge to flee.

"I was saying, sir—I was saying, will we just make the trade? Give up all our lives without even a victory?"

Alexandros picked up one of the golden apples from the tray, tossed it into the air, caught it, and brought it to his mouth.

"Why not? It's been done before," he said, biting into the crisp, sweet fruit.

* * *

For a moment, I am Anne; for another, I am Krikor. I am Dzuling, Juan, Mbogo, Alexandros. There are a thousand crucial moments, but always the same choice. I do the only thing I know how to do.

Do I change anything? Brave men and women who never met me nonetheless offer their last breaths at the feet of their friends; I have seen them do it. So too Dzuling might have given herself for the shuttle unaided; maybe Jan would have faced the S.S. alone. Perhaps I do not forge their courage.

Perhaps the only gift I bring is joy.


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