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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Hugo Nominees for Best Novel: "The Windup Girl", by Paolo Bacigalupi (Reviewed by Fabio Fernandes)

This book already got the
2010 Locus Award for Best First Novel and the Nebula Award for Best Novel, so The Windup Girl may as well be the absolute favorite for this year's Hugo Award for Best Novel.

As I said in an earlier post, this is a good year for the Best Novel Hugos. All the competitors are excellent novels, and this book is no exception, on the contrary. Additionally, Paolo Bacigalupi had already showed us some glimpses of this universe in his collection Pump Six, with the stories The Calorie Man and Yellow Card Man.

The Windup Girl is a post-apocalytical story with lots of biopunk and cyberpunk references. We are taken to the end of the twenty-second century, when, after devastating "calorie plagues" such as blister rust, cibiscosis, and genehack weevil have pretty much exterminated most of vegetable life on Earth, America and other former superpowers are relegated to the background of political and economical power play. In fact, only the US are mentioned in the novel; we can only imagined what is going on with the rest of the so-called First World in a moment when there is no energy left even to power airplanes to cross the world - globalization as we know is over, and with it all global traffic of people and goods.

In this bleak scenario, there are many factions: the Grahamites, an America-based religious group which follows the Holy Scripture focusing mainly on Noah and the Flood, and are against the slow but steadily incoming return of global communication and traffic (this time via dirigibles).

Other group are the generippers, a caste of scientists that are the only ones, in truth, that may be really able to bring about a resurrection of the green. In the past few generations, they have been able to create new animals (as the megodonts, huge elephant-like beasts reminiscent of prehistorical mammoths and very useful as beasts of burden but also very difficult to tame and, therefore, very deadly) and new species of vegetables and fruits, plague-free.

And there is another groups yet, anathema to the entire world except for Japan - the New People, or, as they are usually called, the windups. Artificial human life. Used as soldiers in Vietnam and pleasure dolls in Japan, the windups are Bacigalupi's replicants - more sophisticated on the one hand, even more enslaved on the other (by their programming, which compels them to do their master's bidding and also by their physical needs: they don't sweat, so when in a tropical country they must consume awesome quantities of ice water to survive.)

That is the case of Emiko, who had a relatively good life in Japan working as secretary for her master and is suddenly left to fend for herself in Thailand, where she ends up in prostitution. She must endure the humiliation because she can't even go outside the whorehouse where she lives, because if she does it, she will be destroyed by the white shirts, the petty and corrupty bureaucrats who rule Thailand with an iron hand.

Thailand, by the way, is the country where the action happens in this novel. Everything hangs in the balance there, from generipping to the future of the windups. For instance, Emiko learns from American entrepreneur Anderson Lake that there is a refuge up in the hills for a whole community of rogue windups, and that gives her a reason to live.

Meanwhile, other players in this Great Game of sorts are trying to survive as best as they can. The former Chinese-millionaire-turned-refugee Hock Seng, now employee of Lake, turns against his employer and seeks the dubious help of the Dung Lord, a master of the underworld, in order to sell a much improved kind of kink-springs, a mechanical device invented to replace electrical sources of energy with kinetic power when the Contraction happened generations ago. Seng wants pretty much what Lake, Emiko, and many of the other characters in the novel want: a way out. A way out of Thailand, or a way out of their miseries in a hard world.

Nobody is innocent, no character is a good guy, but at the same time almost nobody of them is necessarily an evil one. The Windup Girl feels like a future Casablanca without the Nazis and with the omnipresent White Shirts, and the menace of the radical Green Headbands, who are always referred to but never really appear, and who destroy mercilessly not only windups, but also "calorie men", that is, scientists, generippers, or pretty much anyone who works for a genetic enhancement company. Paolo Bacigalupi has no mercy whatsoever with his characters: he pushes them to the edge - and that's the way it should be if you want good literature.

Liz William’s Detective Chen Novels find New Publishing home (by Mihir Wanchoo)

There is good news for all Inspector Chen fans, Liz Williams had said that she was trying to procure a new home for her wonderful books after the Night Shade debacle. She had also said that there were some prospective options and now finally she has confirmed that Morrigan Books is set to publish the remaining two books in the series, namely "Iron Khan" & "Morningstar".

For more information about this, head over to Liz William' blog to read her announcements [here + here]. Also here's the official announcement from the new publishers themselves. The books will be having new covers done by Stephanie Pui-Mun Law and it should be interesting to see how they match up with the previous fantastic ones done by Jon Foster.

Iron Khan is tentatively scheduled for December 2010 & I for one can't wait to read the penultimate entry in this beloved series of mine. And for those who can't have more of Chen and the rest, Liz Williams is also having a short story sale, the details of which are over here. These short stories are all new and since I have read the first one, I can't wait to read the rest.


In an unrelated note, Mihir has rescanned the David Gemmell' short story presented by us HERE, including the cover of the magazine and a better view of the story pages themselves.

Monday, August 30, 2010

"The Technician" by Neal Asher (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Neal Asher Website
Order The Technician HERE or Ebook HERE
Read FBC Review of Brass Man
Read FBC Review of Hilldiggers
Read FBC Review of Line War with Bonus Q/A
Read FBC Interview of Neal Asher

INTRODUCTION: I have not reviewed any Polity novels so far so I will present a little guide to the complex series since it is one of the cornerstones of modern space opera. With twelve novels and lots of short stories divided into two main arcs and several standalones and taking place in a span of some 600+ years from the 2400's to the 3000's+, the Polity is an organic work that essentially grew with its success with the public.

The main series arc dealing with Polity Agent Ian Cormac consists of five novels and I would say Gridlinked is the perfect point to start since it is both the series debut, a standalone and offers an excellent overview of what the Polity is about. Then I would follow with the two Cormac duologies - the Jain technology one comprised by The Line of Polity and Brass Man - and the rogue AI one comprised by Polity Agent and Line War; the pair of novels in each duology comprise more or less the first/second half of a huge novel so they should be read together and both duologies have complete endings of their main threads, while Line War ends the whole Cormac sequence very well.

After that I would read Prador Moon and the Cormac prequel Shadow of the Scorpion of which the title character Amistad reappears in a lead role in the The Technician; these two are linked but less tightly and segue into the Cormac main series; they are better read after you become a fan rather than as an introduction since only little about the Polity universe is explained.

Then I would read The Skinner and its immediate sequel The Voyage of the Sable Keech that take place some hundreds of years later and to a large extent on a single planet, followed by their sort of sequel and concluding story arc Orbus.

Hilddigers is a Polity standalone centuries ahead in time and far away in space, so it can be read at any time, but again I would not suggest it as an introduction.

As for the stories, they are a nice addition and some of the early ones illuminate a little the novels - Cormac's first meeting with Dragon for example - while some of the later stories contained in the Gabbleducks collection are quite important for The Technician though they are summarized in the novel.

While I still think Cormac's 5-novel main arc is the best part of the Polity series to date and the last duology Polity Agent/Line War forms the best one huge volume of the author's work, I was very pleasantly surprised by The Technician which is as good as anything the author has written so far. While a partial standalone and with mostly different characters than the rest of the series, The Technician is based on the events of The Line of Polity and of several short stories as above.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "The Technician" stands at about 500 pages divided into 20 chapters, a Prologue and an Epilogue. As usual in the author's work, each chapter starts with quotes from various Polity sources that add a lot of depth to its universe. The Technician's main action takes place on Masada in 2457, so about 20 years after the events of The Line of Polity, though there are flashbacks to crucial events in the past including some during the tumultuous events that led to the fall of the Theocracy.

The Technician is adventure sf in a space opera context at its best.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: There are several main characters and POV's. Jeremiah Tombs is a former Proctor and the only known human to survive an encounter with a hooder, namely with the albino, sculpture making one of the title. Still more or less insane after 20 years since the Polity did not want to damage whatever the Technician is believed to have inserted in his head, Jem is the only patient of the high security Heretic's Isle asylum under the care of Dr. Sanders, a former Masadan worker who was smuggled to the Polity by the underground and returned as a trained physician after the liberation.

Dr. Sanders is also a former lover of rebel commander Grant who had saved Tombs after the Technician ate most of him but kept him alive for unknown purposes. Grant is working today for the Polity and undertakes to protect Tombs, once the AI's in charge prepare an aggressive program for Tombs to recover his memory and accept the Theocracy's downfall, program that involve staging an escape, visiting important places and directly confronting reality.

Despite the post-liberation amnesty offered by the Polity, local Tidy Squads operate with impunity under the unofficial cleansing policy of the AI's and they have been eliminating most surviving former officials of the Theocracy, so despite his relative junior status Tombs is one of the few known remaining hit targets. Of course he is untouchable on Heretic's Isle but once in the open, Tidy Squads fanatics are determined to kill him at any cost and their secret commander Shree Enkara, another former lover of Grant and currently posing as an Earth accredited reporter is the most dangerous of all.

On the Polity side, the main operator is our old acquaintance the Iron Scorpion drone Amistad who somewhat by chance has become the main specialist on the Atheter and is ready to transcend from veteran drone to first level AI a la Jerusalem the Jain specialist. Amistad leads a diverse group including another old acquaintance, "black AI" Penny Royal, seemingly purged of its eighth murderous conscious state, somewhat loony researcher Chanter who has been studying the Technician for decades and famous scientists Jonas Clyde and Shardelle Garadon who have discovered the link between the Atheter - extinct sentients, Gabbleducks - their mindless descendants, Hooders - their biomechanical war machines that are tasked to consume the remains of dead gabbleducks and Tricones - engineered bio-organisms that consumed all remnants of Atheter technology on Masada.

As a series book "The Technician" is a bit of an oddity since it is the concluding chapter of a Polity sub-arc that was introduced in The Line of Polity as part of the author's fascination with weird monsters and strange ecologies, though it played only a marginal role to the main story dealing with Dragon, Jain technology and the Theocracy of Masada. The popularity of the creatures introduced there - especially Gabbleducks and Hooders - led to a bunch of stories dealing with their origins and relationship, all forming what one could call the Atheter sub-arc of the series that The Technician ends with brio.

As in all Neal Asher novels the main attractions of The Technician are great world building with both technological marvels and weird creatures, fast paced, no-nonsense action and here as in the superb Cormac sequence we also have the outstanding cast of characters described above.

While the scathing attacks on fanaticism and the "I know what's best for you" mindset for which the author is well known for are an integral part of the novel, here the villains are not the theocrats, but the subset of the former freedom fighters that cannot let go of their hatreds or of their desire to impose their will on the rest of the Masadans.

Separatists, fanatics, super drones - most notably the Iron Scorpion Amistad and the Black AI Penny Royal, dracomans, one sort of madman with a deeply buried secret, Jain tech, powerful alien war machines on a mission that puts the Polity in their way, high tech and a look at both insanity and fanaticism that occasionally is quite chilling combine to offer a Polity novel that reads fresh despite being the twelfth one in the series.

After last year's Orbus which was the first Neal Asher novel that did not connect that well with me, I thought that the Polity series was starting to lose some luster by too much familiarity and I was looking forward to the author's first Owner novel. The Technician (A++) showed that with a great cast of characters - what Orbus missed imho - a new Polity novel can be as enjoyable as ever and now I want more of this series too!!
Sunday, August 29, 2010

Small Press and Independent Books on FBC in 2010 - Part 1 (Liviu)

Since there has been some recent discussion about this topic, I would like to highlight some titles I have read and reviewed as well as some titles I am currently reading or looking forward to. I also have a list of Top Small Press Reads in 2009.

Mihir and Cindy have reviewed quite a few titles that qualify, so hopefully we will follow with a Part 2 post with the small press/independent books they have reviewed or are planning to do so.

The main rule for consideration here is that the author's book-length work is essentially all small press/independent since of course there are many established authors that
occasionally publish with smaller presses or more recently that even offer their work independently and the main focus for me here is to highlight newer, less well known authors.

A notable example of the above is
Beth Bernobich's superb collection A Handful of Pearls from smaller specialized Lethe Press which does not really qualify for this post since her wonderful debut novel (review closer to publication date) Passion Play will soon come out from as-major-publisher-as-it-gets-in-sff Tor.

Currently I am reading four small press/independent books:

Ironroot by SJA Turney - standalone set in the Interregnum universe and one of those "drop everything I read" on arrival books; will be one of my next 3 reviews.

The Kinshield Legacy by KC May - originally published in 2005 by a small press and republished in 2010 by the author on rights reversion; standalone (I think) in a more traditional fantasy universe, but quite engaging so far - will finish and review soon, by mid-September most likely.

Roman Hell by Mark Mellon - a standalone short novel with a horror theme set in Roman times and involving the poet Martial; in this one I got stuck a bit when some werewolves (re)appeared since I kind of dislike that trope, but will resume, finish and review in September too since I like the author's writing style a lot and Escape from Byzantium is still one of my top short novels of last year.

Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale - a standalone fantasy published by small specialized press Blind Eye Books; I got interested in this one a while ago but sort of forgot about it until I saw some reviews of the author's new series - a duology published in consecutive months - Lord of the White Hell and I remembered I had Wicked Gentlemen waiting... Quite interesting so far and another September read most likely.

Highly expected (and hopefully arriving soon) are the sequel to
Field of Fire by Jon Connington and Wintertide by Michael Sullivan, both "drop everything I read" on arrival too...

And now for the 2010 reviews in chronological order:

Mellon, Mark
, Napoleon Concerto - alt-history standalone
from the author of Escape from Byzantium and Roman Hell
Smith, Douglas, Chimerascope - ChiZine Publications collection from the author of another superb collection Impossibilia from PS Publishing
Lalumiere, Claude
, Objects of Worship
- ChiZine Publications collection
Wisoker, Leona
, The Secrets of the Sands
(reviewed together with Cindy) - debut of an epic fantasy series from Mercury Retrograde Press

Sullivan, Michael, Nyphron Rising (reviewed together with Cindy) - adventure/epic fantasy #3/6
Sullivan, Michael
, The Emerald Storm
(same as above) - #4/6
Connington, Jon
, Field of Fire - debut steampunk fantasy series; book 2 imminent
Davidson, Rjurik, The Library of Forgotten Books - PS collection of stories
Zarioiu, Dorin Cristian
, The Labyrinth - standalone contemporary fantasy

Kornher-Stace, Nicole
, To Seek Her Fortune (story from the Clockwork Phoenix 3 anthology)
- story by the author of the superb Desideria which was one of my two top small press novels of 2009; we also have an online story from the anthology: Lineage by Kenneth Schneyer which you can judge yourself by reading it for free on FBC.

Hamerton, Greg
, Second Sight: Second Tale of the Lifesong
- traditional epic fantasy and sequel to The Riddler's Gift; both novels wrap up their main threads, while this one offers a very satisfying ending so while further Tales of the Lifesong may be published these two have enough completion to satisfy people wanting that. Check the author's post on FBC too.

Northern, Chris
, The Last King's Amulet
- series debut adventure/epic fantasy; together with immediate sequel The Key to the Grave the book forms a duology with complete resolution of all main threads; while further books featuring the main hero Sumto are planned, these two have enough completion to satisfy people wanting that.
Saturday, August 28, 2010

"Spider's Bite" by Jennifer Estep (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Jennifer Estep Website
Order Spider's Bite HERE
Read an Excerpt from the Novel
Read Prequel Short Story Spider's Bargain

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jennifer Estep has a bachelor's degree in English and journalism, and a master's degree in professional communications. She works as a features page designer for a daily newspaper when she is not cooking up plots for her books. She has previously published three books in the Bigtime paranormal romance series. She is also is a member of various groups such as of Romance Writers of America, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, etc. Amongst her many hobbies is cooking which she shares with the protagonist of this series.

BOOK BLURB: My name is Gin Blanco. They call me the Spider — the most feared assassin in the South (and a part-time cook at the Pork Pit BBQ joint.) As a Stone elemental, I can hear the whispers of the gravel beneath my feet and feel the vibrations of the soaring mountains above me, though I don't use my powers on the job unless I absolutely have to. Call it professional pride.

After a ruthless Air elemental double-crossed me and killed my handler, I'm out for revenge. And I'll exterminate anyone who gets in my way. I may look hot in a miniskirt, but I'm still one of the bad guys. Which is why I'm in trouble when irresistibly rugged Detective Donovan Caine agrees to help. The last thing a coldhearted killer needs when she's battling a magic more powerful than her own is a sexy distraction … especially when he wants her dead just as much as the enemy.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 395 pages divided over thirty three chapters. Narration is in the first-person exclusively via the protagonist Gin Blanco. "Spider's Bite" is the first book in the Elemental Assassin series and has a self-contained plot line. Spider's Bite has got a very nice cover courtesy of Tony Mauro which is very much in line with the character description in the books.

ANALYSIS: Spider's Bite is Jennifer's Estep first Urban Fantasy book as she has previously written three paranormal romance novels; it flew under our radar at FBC, so I came across "Spider's Bite" and "Web of Lies" on Amazon. The setting and book blurb featured an assassin and a magic setting which seemed a bit akin to Jim Butcher's Codex Alera series, but it had its own twist to it. Spider's bite begins in a very calm and captivating manner as you can see from the chapter excerpt above.

We see a confession from Gin Blanco, the Spider as to who she is & why she kills, however it's in an asylum and her audience is most likely her next victim. From this swift start, the reader is given a through picture of whom Gin is and what she's capable of. She then meets up with her handler Fletcher Lane who is also her mentor & an ex-assassin who went under the name of "Tin-man".

He tells her about a new urgent case which she might have to take as it would be very good for her financially as well in terms of her impending retirement. Gin is a bit hesitant but agrees to the task as she does not see it as particularly hard and also because of Fletcher's insistence. The murder being planned is of a corporate employee who seems to be embezzling the company's funds. As Gin sets up the kill, she realizes that there might be more to the set up & this is from where the story explodes into thriller mode & Jennifer Estep shows the reader her writing chops.

I for one liked this assassin tale set in UF mode and the main character of Gin Blanco is the highlight of the story. She's a likable character and a ruthless one at the same time. A lot of times female assassins are portrayed as super powerful without any other background, while this isn't the case over here. There's a back story to Gin which will be explored as the story goes along - Jennifer has been contracted for a total of 5 books in this series.

The story is set in the city of Ashland which is at the junction of Tennessee, Virginia & North Carolina. The elemental power set up is pretty neat with the four elements in question being Fire, Ice, Stone & Air. Most of the people are proficient in a single element, two is rare & 3 or 4 are unheard of.

Gin is an elemental with dual powers of stone and ice. There are also Dwarves, Giants & Vampires who live amongst the humans & their presence is very much commonplace in this world. The city is controlled by a fire elemental by the name of Mab Monroe & Gin has surreptitiously avoided her notice up till now. The secondary cast includes her foster brother Finnegan Lane & the Dwarf sisters Jo-jo & Sophie Deveraux.

Not much is given about them however Finnegan is the one who gets the most time on the pages as he's intimately connected with Gin and the events of the tale. Also rounding up the character cast is detective Donovan Caine who is searching for the Spider due to the events detailed in the prequel short story Spider's Bargain linked above.

There a few negatives as well to this book, namely Gin keeps acting a bit out of character whenever she comes around detective Donovan Caine. While Caine's presence in the book is justified both from a plot point and from a romantic angle. There's one scene in the book which felt totally out of place - I can't reveal much but it occurs in the latter third and felt that it was put there solely just to show off the tension between the two characters. Another quirk which I noticed was that there was a bit of repetition of certain words like the sound "mmm" and the words "Gray on gold" ironically occurring routinely around the presence of Donovan Caine.

It just seemed that the author really tried to showcase Gin's interest in him however it kind of jarred my reading experience as it went against Gin's ruthless streak which had been established earlier and the fact that the repetition just seemed a bit out of place amidst the plot events taking place at that time. Besides these minor issues, I still enjoyed the tale completely as the book ended on a nice action-packed climax and had a perfectly slotted hook for the next book.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Interview with David J. Williams (by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official David J. Williams Website
Read FBC Review of Mirrored Heavens
Read FBC Review of Burning Skies
Read FBC Review of The Machinery of Light

1] According to your bio, you graduated as a history major then worked a corporate job & also moonlighted in video game design & production. Then along the way you wrote the Autumn Rain trilogy & it got picked up in 2007, could you flesh out these series of events for your readers as it seems that there's more to it than just those lines?

DJW] No, that's pretty much it. I clawed my way up the corporate ladder from 1996 onward, and moonlighted on the Homeworld video game in the late 1990s. Which made me realize what I really wanted to do for a living! So I started writing the Autumn Rain trilogy in 2000 with what little spare time I had. Finished and sold it in 2007, quit my "executive" job two weeks later, and haven't looked back since.

2] Now that you are done with the trilogy, could you tell us about how the idea for this series germinated & how did you go along sketching it out?

DJW] Science fiction was off chasing fantasy with stories of singularity rapture and far-future space opera, while the cyberpunk dream of the state fading away never made much sense to me. I sensed an untapped area in near-future narrative, and laid my plans accordingly.

3] When you majored in history, what period did you focus on? What made you choose history as your major & lastly which period in the vast history of mankind attracts your attention the most [from purely a history buff point of view?]

DJW] I didn't focus. That's my problem. I'm a total dilettante when it comes to my history obsession, which is one reason among many why academia would be a real nightmare for me. For me it's Carthage vs. Rome one day, and Ming China's treasure fleets the next.

4] When you began writing this trilogy, did you have set any goals in regards to the books & plot? What do you feel now that you have completed the trilogy, how much of your set goals did you achieve?

DJW] To be way-too-candid with you, my goal was to turn science fiction on its @#$#*&* head. I can't exactly claim to have accomplished that yet, but I believe there's no shame in swinging for the fence. In fact, merely getting published is in itself so difficult that the only ambition that gets you there is one that burns so hot it hurts.

5] Many reviewers have noticed this aspect of your writing; you often switched POVs in between pages and kept the readers on their toes. Do you think this hampered the read for some readers who aren't used to this style? What was your reasoning behind writing the books in this way?

DJW] It might have hampered the read for some, but I like to challenge my readers. Be warned, though, these are NOT books to be skimmed. You will be miserable if you try that.

6] Now as a history buff myself; it was particularly fun to read your imagined future history & events timeline how did you come up with this stuff, what was your basis for these geo-political extrapolations?

DJW] My basis was to envision the realization of the worst nightmare for U.S. foreign policy: a peer competitor/rival superpower that gains control of the Eurasian landmass. The Nazis and the Soviets came close, but failed. But what would happen if somebody succeeded?

7] When did you first start out as a reader, what where the types of books that you loved & who are your literary idols? Lastly any colleagues of yours, whom you would like to, give a shout out to?

DJW] I grew up reading the usual suspects (Heinlein, Herbert, Asimov, Harrison, Gibson), but my real literary idol is Thucydides. As to colleagues, I'll simply note that without Peter Watts, the Autumn Rain trilogy would never have been published. And if his brilliant short story "The Island" doesn't win the Hugo next month, there's no justice in the world.

8] Your website also lists some of the cool weapons/arsenal which has been mentioned in the books, how did you think up these concepts? Did you base them on any current weaponry models? How far away do you think we are from realizing these models or similar stuff like it?

DJW] The U.S. military (and the Chinese and Russian) have given this some serious thought, as they know the evolution of warfare ultimately leads into space. Space is already militarized; every time a GI in Iraq uses GPS, that's using space-based hardware. The question is what happens when people start putting weapons up there.

9] Last year I read about how Jerry Pournelle got a tad peeved with you in regards to the scientific facts being used in your books, roughly a year has passed, what are your recollections about that particular event?

DJW] You can read my detailed account of the incident here, though your eyes might start to glaze over at the parts where Pournell's supporters pile onto the comments to accuse me of being a KGB dupe.

10] On the topic of the trilogy ending, what are your thoughts about any further stories set in same world or are you done with it completely?

DJW] I don't rule out returning to the world of the Second Cold War, but there will no sequels. There's way too many authors in science fiction who have zero intention of finishing their series for me to want to join that club.

11] In regards to cover art, what are your thoughts on the covers for all three of your books? Do you feel that they were appropriate for the content inside?

DJW] Bantam #$# rocked the covers. I can't say enough good things about them. They really captured that cyberpunk-meets-espionage-and-guns-in-space vibe.

12] This is just me, but amongst the names of all your books, I particularly loved "The Machinery of Light" and thought it to be very apropos with the plot as well. How did you conjure it?

DJW] No idea. I remember it was a fall day in 2002, I'd just gotten home from work. I googled it and felt I had it made. Of course, I still hadn't learnt to write back then…

13] Now that you are done with these military SF thrillers, what will you be tackling next in terms of genre, could you tell us about what new book idea you're working on or are planning on working on soon?

DJW] I'm working on an unrelated science fiction screenplay, and also some alternative-history/ fantasy novels that are gonna rock 'n shock ya!

14] I thought the space warfare concept which was perpetrated in your book to be scary as well as prophetic at the same time, could you gives us your thoughts on this futuristic aspect of warfare?

DJW] The key is that you can't view space warfare in isolation. It will occur in tandem with the maturity of directed energy weaponry, and also has to be seen as integrated with cyberwarfare. Put another way, if I control your phone lines and your satellites, I control your internet, no matter how many manifestos on the freedom of information you've written.

15] Lastly this is just a pet peeve of mine, but I truly felt that all three books would translate nicely onto the silver screen, so if granted an infinite budget how would you like to see it adapted & who would you like to see enact the characters?

DJW] No idea about the actors, but I'd do this as a 12 part TV miniseries, only you'd hear the F-word instead of all those fracking "fracks.

16] Lastly any other thoughts or comments you would like the readers with?

DJW] Buy my books, people. My cats will thank you even if I don't.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Some More Upcoming Books that are Awesome: "The House on Durrow Street", "The Half Made World" and "Midsummer Night"

Since I have been away for a while and will resume regular reviews of new books on Friday at the earliest, I have decided to do a short post about three upcoming fantasy books I've recently read that blew me away. Full reviews will come in due course and I wrote some mini-reviews on Goodreads for now, but just to let you know and in two cases check the first installment, while in the third check the author's previous unrelated but similar in style duology.

September 28, 2010 sees the publication of The House on Durrow Street by Galen Beckett sequel to the superb The Magicians and Mrs. Quent.

"Her courage saved the country of Altania and earned the love of a hero of the realm. Now sensible Ivy Quent wants only to turn her father’s sprawling, mysterious house into a proper home. But soon she is swept into fashionable society’s highest circles of power—a world that is vital to her family’s future but replete with perilous temptations.

Yet far greater danger lies beyond the city’s glittering ballrooms—and Ivy must race to unlock the secrets that lie within the old house on Durrow Street before outlaw magicians and an ancient ravening force plunge Altania into darkness forever.

Another 700 page tome I hated that it ended and I wished the sequel was available now and not in 2011 or later... While the first installment had elements of both Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, this one is very original, moving away completely from the classics and into pure fantasy with magic, illusions and "witchcraft" and quite a lot of it. The House on Durrow Street is a contender for both my personal favorite book of 2010 and for a top five fantasy novel.


October 12, 2010
sees the publication of The Half Made World by Felix Gilman, the first installment of a duology. Read Mr Gilman's Thunderer and Gears of the City for superb examples of new weird meeting more traditional fantasy; those two were top books of mine in 2008 and 2009 and this one should have been a Top 10 Anticipated one but at the time of the post I had no clue what it was about and even if it was truly scheduled for 2010...

"A fantastical reimagining of the American West which draws its influence from steampunk, the American western tradition, and magical realism

The world is only half made. What exists has been carved out amidst a war between two rival factions: the Line, paving the world with industry and claiming its residents as slaves; and the Gun, a cult of terror and violence that cripples the population with fear. The only hope at stopping them has seemingly disappeared—the Red Republic that once battled the Gun and the Line, and almost won. Now they’re just a myth, a bedtime story parents tell their children, of hope.

To the west lies a vast, uncharted world, inhabited only by the legends of the immortal and powerful Hill People, who live at one with the earth and its elements. Liv Alverhyusen, a doctor of the new science of psychology, travels to the edge of the

made world to a spiritually protected mental institution in order to study the minds of those broken by the Gun and the Line. In its rooms lies an old general of the Red Republic, a man whose shattered mind just may hold the secret to stopping the Gun and the Line. And either side will do anything to understand how."

The Half-Made World is quite a strange book. It is dark, dense and awesome, part steampunk, part magic, all within a wild-west kind of mythology. The world is divided between the settled East and the expanding into uncreation West. Some centuries ago the seemingly impassable mountains that formed the border of the settled world, opened and people started settling the lands beyond and in the process fixing them into reality. However un-natural or supernatural things sprung out here and there, most notably spirits, demons and "magical" engines, while the local people of the "uncreation" who may be immortal and have magic are pushed farther and farther away, with the remnants enslaved.... Read The Half-Made World if you want fantasy at the boundary between the traditional and the mind-bending.


November 23, 2010 sees the publication of Midsummer Night by Freda Warrington which is sort of sequel to Elfland.

"sensuous, suspenseful modern fantasy of love, betrayal, and redemption

Decades ago, in a place where the veil between our world and the world of the Aetherials—the fair folk—is too easily breached, three young people tricked their uncle by dressing as the fey. But their joke took a deadly turn when true Aetherials crossed into our world, took one of the pranksters, and literally scared their uncle to death. Many years later, at the place of this capture lies a vast country estate that holds a renowned art facility owned by a visionary sculptor.

One day, during a violent storm, a young woman studying art at the estate stumbles upon a portal to the Otherworld. A handsome young man comes through the portal and seeks shelter with her. Though he can tell her nothing of his past, his innocence and charm capture her heart. But he becomes the focus of increasingly violent arguments among the residents of the estate. Is he as innocent as he seems?

Or is he hiding his true identity so that he can seek some terrible vengeance, bringing death and heartbreak to this place that stands between two worlds? Who is this young man?
The forces of magic and the power of love contend for the soul of this man, in this magical romantic story of loss and redemption."

I have just finished Midsummer Night and I need one reread for full appreciation but it blew me away quite unexpectedly. It is set in the author's Elfland universe and while not a sequel, it has some references to the first book; it takes place 16 years later and some minor characters reappear. I loved Elfland but had some issues with the soap aspect (brothers, sisters, marriages, love stories...) and the world building which was a bit sketchy and unconvincing.

Here no such issues - there is family drama, hidden identities and the like galore but they are not "soapy", while the familiarity with the Elfland world building made the additions here give more depth. And of course the superb writing style of the author makes me highly, highly recommend this one.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Magic Strikes" and "Magic Mourns" by Ilona Andrews (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Ilona Andrews Website
Order Magic Strikes HERE
Order Must Love Hellhounds (anthology containing Magic Mourns) HERE
Read an Excerpt from the Novel
Read an Excerpt from the Novella
Read FBC Review of Magic Bites and Magic Burns

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Ilona Andrews is the Pseudonym for the Husband-wife writing pair of Ilona Gordon & Andrew Gordon. They currently live in Oregon & have 2 series ongoing namely the dark urban Fantasy "Kate Daniels" series and the Paranormal romance "Edge" series.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 310 pages divided over twenty-nine chapters with an epilogue. For all the books narration is in the first person and features Kate Daniels as the sole voice. For the most part, "Magic Strikes" is self-contained with the majority of subplots resolved by the end of the novel, but the book is the third volume in a planned series with the authors being contracted for seven books, which according to the authors will be enough to tell Kate's story.

May 31, 2009 marked the North American paperback publication of "Magic Strikes" via Ace Books.

ANALYSIS: Ilona Andrews has proven that they have gotten a sure thing with the Kate Daniels "Magic" series after the release of the 2nd book "Magic Bites". In Magic Strikes, we are reintroduced to Kate's world as her life is now much more comfortable financially due to her affiliation with the Order, her status with the Pack and the Beast Lord Curran seem to be on reasonably good terms as well.

With such smooth sailing Kate figures its only time before her past starts intruding on her present. She gets a call from Saiman who tells her that he has something important to her in his custody and it will be crucial that she recover it before he has to take precautionary measures. When she meets Saiman she realizes that he has Derek in his possession who was trying to get passes to the "Midnight Games" a series of supernatural gladiatorial games.

Once she absolves Derek of his intrusive mistake with Saiman, she has to partake to Saiman's request and also Derek's which puts her in a very awkward position. However she does manage to fulfill both and that leads to a pivotal encounter which leaves Derek savaged & thereby begins the dark journey for Kate into the Midnight games. This book utilizes many of the side characters who have had smaller roles so far such as Jim, Andrea, Dolittle, Ralph, etc & going with the trend of past books utilizes a mythology from a different country.

The villains so as to speak in this book are truly frightening and may be connected with Kate's past. The climactic battle and its ruminations trigger off many new things for Kate in her personal & professional life. Primarily being her relationship with the beast lord as Curran since his ascent to the title of Beast Lord, has forbade any pack member from ever participating in the games.

Thus with such an explosive set up Ilona Andrews begin the third magic book, the pace in this book is tremendous as the story zooms along and the reader is pulled into the plot. The mythological aspect used in this tale is a very clever one and hats off to the writers for utilizing this one. The writing and characterization is spot on in this book & the reader can see how the authors are getting comfortable with this set up & it just goes to show in their writing which is improving tremendously.

The interaction and banter with Kate and Curran is an ever present highlight however in this book the rest of the cast is also used prominently and we get a very action packed and character heavy book. Much of Kate's past is revealed in this book and it spurs on to a nice resolution and has a tantalizing hook set up for the 4th book. "Magic Bleeds".

What differentiates this series for me amidst the many urban fantasies is that the authors have taken care to substantiate their world in small but significant ways. Yes there are vampires and werewolves however the vampires aren't the Twilight kind, they are more akin to the actual legends and to add a twist in these stories are frequently controlled by necromancers[The People] who telepathically guide/control them. As for the werewolves they are a small set of Shapeshifters who form a massive Pack and who have seven animal clans [namely Wolf, Nimble, Rat, Hyena, Heavy, Cat & Jackal] to get a further idea about the pack and its internal workings check out the official author page.

With these minor but crucial differences and along with the Crumbling world setting, this series has become one of my favorites and to add to that the main protagonist Kate Daniels is shown to be smart, snarky & a whole lot of fun to read about. Since I discovered these books a few months ago, I had the pleasure of reading the first 4 back to back and now to lessen the wait for the fifth book, I'll also be reviewing the novellas associated with this series and here is the first one from an anthology released last year.


In "Magic Mourns", which is a 90-page novella in the anthology Hell Hounds, we get a POV from Andrea, Kate's friend as Kate is in the background due to the climax of Magic Strikes and Andrea gets to deal with the Order's problems as Kate's replacement. Andrea has not been able to get much outdoors action due to certain issues which were focused upon in Magic Burns [2nd Kate Daniels book]. She gets a call from out of town to investigate a three headed dog that seemed to be chasing a Pack animal.

She jumps onto this chance and on further investigation it turns out that the creature in question is none other than Ralph [the were-hyena who is smitten by Andrea]. The reason for him being chased has something to do with his mother Aunt B. the current Alpha for the Hyena clan & her mate. The tale then expounds as to what might be happening and why a certain three headed dog [whose mythological background you can easily guess] is hell bent upon his stay at a certain place.

This novella is set in the timeframe after the events of the third book and is a nice departure from Kate and we get to see more of Ralph & Andrea who seem to be another crazy couple in-the-making. The mythological aspect discussed in this tale is again a new one. The authors are doing a swell job of concocting their tales and utilizing different mythos to power their stories and yet developing links to enmesh them cohesively as a part of this series. This novella serves as a nice sidebar to the Magic series and preferably will have to be read before the 4th book "Magic Bleeds" as some characters and the tale's ending bears minor ramifications in the next Book. Overall an "A" effort and a story not to be missed by fans of Ilona Andrews.

Monday, August 23, 2010

An Interview with Susannah Appelbaum: A Blog Tour Stop for The Poisons of Caux

Visit Susannah Appelbaum's Official Website Here

Fantasy Book Critic is excited to be a part of the blog tour for The Poisons of Caux: The Tasters Guild. Today we have an interview with Susannah Appelbaum, the author of this dark YA trilogy.

There are other blog tour stop throughout the week:
Tuesday, September 24th –
Wednesday, September 25th –
Thursday, September 26th –
Friday, September 27th -

A big thank you to Susannah Appelbaum and all the folks at Knopf.


Can you introduce yourself to the readers of Fantasy Book Critic and give us a little background on you, your novels and other things you'd like us to know about you?

My name is Susannah Appelbaum, and I am the author of The Poisons of Caux trilogy from Knopf. The first in the series is The Hollow Bettle, and the second, The Tasters Guild, was just released. The books are a dark adventure in botany—the story of poisons and tasters, and ultimately, the battle over ancient knowledge of nature. They feature a girl named Poison Ivy, and her taster-friend Rowan.

What made you choose to write in the YA/children's genre or was it something that just sorta happened?

I am one of those writers that have always wanted to write. There was a lot of unstructured time in my childhood, which I spent either reading or writing little stories. (In fact, the genesis of one of my characters in Caux—the trestleman—is from a story I wrote when I was seven!) As an adult, I write what I prefer to read: YA fantasy… but, I really believe that good YA is really for readers of all ages.

Did you always envision yourself as a writer or did you think you'd be something else?

Well, I think I jumped the gun and answered that, above. But I should add that while I always wanted to write, I also went out and did many other types of work—my first job was as a bookie at Off Track Betting when I was sixteen, and I worked in several bookstores, in the fashion industry, and then finally as an editor.

What made you fascinated with potions that it became such a huge part of the novels that you write?

What’s not to love about a good potion? I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’ve long held poisons, and their respective antidotes, as an infinite source of entertainment—if kept to the confines of the page. That said, a family legend says that when I was very young, I picked and ate a mysterious flower from my aunt’s garden, and spent the rest of the stay in the hospital. So... perhaps the roots of my obsession grew from this?

You have this cool “Ivy’s Guide” on your website. Can you tell us more about it and how it fits in with your novel?

Ivy’s Journal is one of my favorite things about the website. It’s such a great window into her person. And it’s also only backstory, since Ivy’s own writings don’t make an appearance in the trilogy—it’s almost our little secret. It’s a great teaching tool; when I visit schools to discuss the books, I often hold writers workshops. I like to bring up her journal on the display to show the kids about character development. Soon, Ivy will be blogging from this page as well—detailing her adventures and dispensing potion advise.

There’s another book on my website, and this one does feature greatly in the Caux trilogy. This is Axle’s Field Guide to the Poisons of Caux—the preeminent reference guide to those alive in Caux, who wish to remain that way. In fact, Poison Ivy, the heroine of the series, consults it many times throughout her adventure—always with surprising results.

On your webpage, your editor has written about how the first sentence in your book had her hooked. “It’s an astonishing feat that young Ivy Manx was not poisoned during Mr. Flux’s tenure as her taster.” Was it a sentence that you wrote over and over or did it just come naturally? Did you think it would have such an impact on readers?

I think everyone strives to write the perfect opener. I have to say that that one came quite easily, and intact—not always the case for my many other days at the desk.

If you could make any potion to do whatever you wanted in the world. What would you make and why.

Oh, I suppose I’d love to fly. Wouldn’t anyone? Birds feature heavily in my series—Ivy’s main companion is a crow named Shoo. But Ivy’s elixir—that would be a second choice. She makes a tonic that can cure seemingly anything.

It’s a great question—and the next time I have a reading or signing I’ll be sure and ask it of my fans.

Some of the character names within your book are pretty creative. Is there any meaning behind any of the character names and could you give us a few examples of why you named a specific character something?
I try to draw my character names from the plant kingdom. Some examples: the fiendish Sorrel Flux is named for both the herb sorrel and the slightly toxic fluxweed. And of course, Poison Ivy. Her friend Rowan is named for the rowan tree. The Deadly Nightshades—the evil rulers of Caux—well, they are obvious. Vidal Verjouce—the wicked Director of the Tasters’ Guild—comes from the word verjuice, which means a bitter, undrinkable potion.

But not all the herbs and flora in Caux are real. I’ve had fun making a lot up—although it might be hard to tell which are which (some of the funnier weeds are actually quite real, like butter-and-eggs and toadflax). Also, I get a kick out of typos—sometimes just writing something wrong makes a really funny word…and I keep a list of these, and use them often as names…Streets need names, towns need names, and the better they are, the less explaining a writer needs to do.

This is your second novel in a trilogy. Most writers grow with each book that they write. Did you experience that with this second book, and did you take any readers feedback into consideration while writing this second novel?

I found that I enjoyed writing the second book, The Tasters Guild, more than the first—for a strange reason. I was suddenly freer to move about Caux, to take the characters into darker places, and throw more obstacles at them, since a lot of what went in to writing the first, The Hollow Bettle, was establishing the setting and story, and introducing the characters of the book, and the books to come.

I adore my readers—and their feedback consists mainly of who not to poison in the next installment. I can’t say I always honor their wishes J.

Are you a writer who plans everything out or do you let the novel take over and go where the characters take you?

A bit of both. I have extensive outlines—the first book’s was 60 pages by the end. But I’m free to deviate from the plot if something better comes along, and it’s always quite enjoyable when it does.

What one character would you be hanging out with in real life and why?

Oh, I like Rowan, the young taster, quite a bit. He’s a fiercely loyal friend, and also—once he gets out of his own way—has a lot to teach.

Thank you so much for taking the time to join us! May you have great success with your novels!

Thanks—this was fun!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Hugo Nominees for Best Novel: "Palimpsest", by Catherynne M. Valente (Reviewed by Fabio Fernandes)

I'm in love with this book. Seriously.

Palimpsest is my personal favorite for the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Novel. There. I've said it.

I had read the short story version (an excerpt, in fact) in Ekaterina Sedia's Paper Cities a while ago and the force of the words had already amazed me.

Four complete strangers meet in a fortune-teller's shop, an amphibian called Orlande (echoes of Virginia Woolf?). Inside - I quote - are four red chairs with four lustral basins before them, filled with ink, swirling and black. These four strangers will sit in the chairs, strip off their socks and plunge their feet into the basins, holding hands - always under the eyes of the amphibian. She will draw a card for each of them, and - this is for me the most interesting part in the ritual - tie their hands together with red yarn.

This image reminded me, even though very slightly, of certain rituals in Afro-Brazilian religions like Candomblé, in which sometimes you must tie people with yarns in order to "amarrar o mal" ["have evil tied", in a loose translation], but in this case it was just the imagery that attracted my attention. And not only the imagery, but the consequence:

Wherever you go in Palimpsest, you are bound to these strangers who happened onto Orlande's salon just when you did, and you will go nowhere, eat no capon or dormouse, drink no oversweet port that they do not also taste, and they will visit no whore that you do not also feel beneath you, and until that ink washes from your feet - which, given that Orlande is a creature of the marsh and no stranger to mud, will be some time - you cannot breathe but that they also breathe also.

This will be pleasure and pain for the four strangers, whose lives alternate between dream and the "real" world. For Palimpsest is all too real, but it can only be accessed through dreams, and through sex with someone who had already been there before. The ink, that in Orlande's room was only in the strangers' feet, suffers a weird migration to other parts of the visitors' bodies, where they can be easily mistaken for birthmarks or ink smudges. But these marks are their passports to enter this elusive dreamcity, and at the same time the only bona fide way of recognizing each other outside the dream.

So the plot begins to unravel in front of us, showing the sad lives of blue-haired Amaya Sei, who is so in love of trains that she virtually live in them in Japan, Californian beekeeper November, falls in love with Xiaohui, a woman who already bears the mark and transmits it to her during their lovemaking, Russian locksmith Oleg, who knows every single thing about keys and locks but very little about his own heart, for he has a strange relationship of love and hate with the ghost of his dead sister, Italian bookbinder Ludovico and his quest for his missing wife Lucia, who has already emigrated to Palimpsest and maybe is forever out of his reach, but only if he doesn't know the secret ways and marks by which one can pass through the worlds.

Catherynne M. Valente reminds me of Gene Wolfe in her utter care for the words without at any moment letting go of the story - and what a good story it is! Some of Wolfe's stories as There Are Doors came to my mind while I was reading it, but also short stories like A Cabin on the Coast - sad, moving stories about to have and have not. All is love and loss in Palimpsest; this is a novel that crosses over genres as easily as their characteres do between worlds.

Maybe Palimpsest won't be a winner - who knows? It's all in your hands, Hugo voters - but it surely deserves to win the Hugo Award for Best Novel. Even though all the finalists are great novels (this year will be one of the hardest for the voters in the recent past), Palimpsest promises, since page one, a wild ride through a city of horrors and wonders - and it delivers, both through imagery and also via elaborate words, words that are a pleasure to read and no doubt were as pleasurable for Catherynne M. Valente to write. She's a writer in love with the written word, and you don't have much of it these days. She's a writer to cherish and treasure.

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