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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Spotlight on November Books

This month Robert Thompson provided most of the book titles with additions by Cindy Hannikman, Liviu Suciu and Mihir Wanchoo. We are featuring 48 books. This month there were considerably more new sff releases but we tried to limit ourselves to a reasonable number and we chose the books most in tune with what's reviewed here.

The release dates are US unless marked otherwise and the books are first edition unless noted differently. The dates are on a best known basis so they are not guaranteed; same about the edition information. Since information sometimes is out of date even in the Amazon/Book Depository links we use for listings, books get delayed or sometimes even released earlier, we would truly appreciate if you would send us an email about any listing with incorrect information.

Sometimes a cover image is not available at the time of the post and also sometimes covers change unexpectedly so while we generally use the Amazon one when available and cross check with Google Images, the ultimate bookstore cover may be different.

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“The Habitation of the Blessed” by Catherynne M. Valente. Release Date: November 1, 2010.
"Under the Poppy" by Kate Koja. Release Date: November 1, 2010.
“Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded” edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer. November 1, 2010.
“Flaming Zeppelins: The Adventures of Ned the Seal” by Joe R. Lansdale. November 1, 2010.
“Amortals” by Matt Forbeck. UK Release Date: November 1, 2010.
“Holiday” by M. Rickert. Release Date: November 1, 2010.

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“Angelica Lost and Found” by Russell Hoban. Release Date: November 1, 2010.
“Towers of Midnight” by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson. November 2, 2010.
“Echo” by Jack McDevitt. Release Date: November 2, 2010.
“Pegasus” by Robin McKinley. Release Date: November 2, 2010.
“Gilded Latten Bones” by Glen Cook. Release Date: November 2, 2010.
“The Horns of Ruin” by Tim Akers. Release Date: November 2, 2010.

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“The Greyfriar” by Clay & Susan Griffith. Release Date: November 2, 2010.
“Fated” by S.G. Browne. Release Date: November 2, 2010.
“The Ring of Solomon” by Jonathan Stroud. Release Date: November 2, 2010.
“The Broken Kingdoms” by N.K. Jemisin. Release Date: November 3, 2010.
“The Nemesis List” by R.J. Frith. UK Release Date: November 5, 2010.
"The Distant Hours" by Kate Morton. Release Date: November 9, 2010.

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“Full Dark, No Stars” by Stephen King. Release Date: November 9, 2010.
“Empress of Eternity” by L. E. Modesitt Jr.. Release Date: November 9, 2010.
“Seed Seeker” by Pamela Sargent. Release Date: November 9, 2010.
“The Painted Darkness” by Brian James Freeman. Release Date: November 9, 2010.
“Money Shot” by Christopher Rowley. Release Date: November 9, 2010.
“The Flock” by James Robert Smith. Release Date: November 9, 2010.

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“House of the Star”
by Caitlin Brennan. Release Date: November 9, 2010.
“The Sentinels” by R.A. Salvatore & Geno Salvatore. Release Date: November 9, 2010.
“The Boy from Ilysies” by Pearl North. Release Date: November 9, 2010.
“Factotum” by D.M. Cornish. Release Date: November 11, 2010.
“The Painted Boy” by Charles de Lint. Release Date: November 11, 2010.
“Songs of Love and Death” ed. by George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois. November 16, 2010.

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“The House of Discarded Dreams” by Ekaterina Sedia. Release Date: November 16, 2010.
“The Way of the Wizard” edited by John Joseph Adams. Release Date: November 16, 2010.
“Luka and the Fire of Life” by Salman Rushdie. Release Date: November 16, 2010.
“Night Star” by Alyson Noel. Release Date: November 16, 2010.
“The Silent Land” by Graham Joyce. UK Release Date: November 18, 2010.
“Hull Zero Three” by Greg Bear. Release Date: November 22, 2010.

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“Surrender to the Will of the Night” by Glen Cook. Release Date: November 23, 2010.
“Midsummer Night” by Freda Warrington. Release Date: November 23, 2010.
“Disciple of the Dog” by R. Scott Bakker. Release Date: November 23, 2010.
“Above His Proper Station” by Lawrence Watt-Evans. Release Date: November 23, 2010. (*)
“Stonewielder” by Ian C. Esslemont. UK Release Date: November 25, 2010.
“Shadowheart” by Tad Williams. Release Date: November 30, 2010.

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“The Bone Palace”
by Amanda Downum. Release Date: November 30, 2010.
“The Spirit Eater” by Rachel Aaron. Release Date: November 30, 2010.
“King’s Wrath” by Fiona McIntosh. Release Date: November 30, 2010.
“Law of the Broken Earth” by Rachel Neumeier. Release Date: November 30, 2010.
“Guardians of the Phoenix” by Eric Brown. Release Date: November 30, 2010.
“The Wolf’s Hour” by Robert McCammon. Release Date: November 30, 2010.

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(*) cover not available yet; I used the one from the first volume of the series
Friday, October 29, 2010

"Corvus" by Paul Kearney (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Paul Kearney Website
Order Corvus HERE
Read FBC Review of The Ten Thousand HERE

INTRODUCTION: Two years ago in the series debut The Ten Thousand, Paul Kearney created the secondary world of Kuf which has a large landmass populated by numerous people who are currently under the sway of the Assurian Empire. To the north and east, separated by various seas and the remote fastness of the Harukush Mountains, lies the home of the legendary Macht people—warriors of great renown and ferocity who are divided into various city states under the aegis of Machran. So the Greeks vs the Persian Empire with some little touches of the fantastic and a twist or two, but otherwise The Ten Thousand was a pretty faithful retelling of the classic story with the same name.

Speculative fiction allowing both historical time-compression and event simplifications, fast forward 23 years only - rather than the roughly 50-70 from the historical timeline - and several years of events rather than several decades and Corvus an enigmatic young military genius has appeared out of nowhere in the Macht lands and is taking over them with force and sweet words and this book is his first part of the story; in an excellent narrative choice, the story is told through the eyes of others, most notably the former commander of the Ten Thousand, Rictus now the most famous and acclaimed mercenary leader of the Macht.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: Corvus stands at about 460 pages divided into 27 named chapters and an epilogue. The book starts with a map of Kuf. There are several threads with various POV's, most notably Rictus and his sidekick/sub-commander Fornyx, Karnos - the Speaker of the most important Macht city of Machran - Phaestus, a friend of Rictus and leader of another Macht city, the smaller but geographical crucial Hal Goshen, while of the women, Rictus' wife Aise and Karnos' fiance Kassia who is also the sister of Machran's army commander Kassander are the most prominent.

Corvus is military fantasy; it stands well on its own with a clear definite ending, though of course the story continues next spring/summer towards its logical destination in The Kings of Morning.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: “We just keep marching,” Rictus said softly. “That is what we do. We carry the Curse of God on our backs and go into the dark together.”

"Corvus"
starts with Rictus in charge of his now large mercenary company, fighting successful campaign after successful campaign in the spring and summer for whichever Macht city pays best and returning to his wife and daughters in a hidden mountain cottage for the winter.

But now a young charismatic conqueror has appeared in the Macht lands and he is planning to unite them at sword point if need be; and of course Corvus needs Rictus for credibility and for other reasons that are pretty easy to guess once you advance
a little in the book. The Macht love their "freedom", even if it is only the freedom to war among themselves and enslave or kill the weak, so the job is not easy.

"Corvus" is a page turner that will keep you hooked until the end even though you can easily guess its general thrust. It is also a novel of heroism and brutal fighting with explicit descriptions of gore, military camps, logistical considerations and life in a besieged city or in the besieging army.

Paul Kearney's major strength as storyteller of battles, fighting and war is on display here and as in all his previous similar work, whether in the just reprinted Monarchies of God series or in The Ten Thousand, he makes you root for both sides. The freedom loving Macht led by the city of Machran and its unlikely but brave and determined leader Karnos and the destiny man with a dream Corvus clash brutally and there can be only one winner; while we sort of know how it will end, the skill of the author is such that we are kept in suspense to the end and we somehow want both to win...

In addition to the big picture, there are several personal story-threads, some dark and violent, some domestic and of course the back story of Corvus himself - something not hard to guess anyway - but very well done and with great touches, not the least his Kufr Companion Cavalry and his reluctance to try his father's "Curse of God" black armor that is so prized among the Macht.

And in these side stories, we see the war and its human cost through the eyes of the women and children adding an extra dimension to the usual "band of brothers" blood-and-guts subgenre.

"Corvus" (A+) delivered what I expected of it with brio and reinforced the standing of Paul Kearney as a master of military fantasy.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Surface Detail" by Iain M Banks (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Official Iain Banks Website
Iain Banks at Wikipedia
Order "Surface Detail" HERE
Read FBC Review of 'Transition"

INTRODUCTION: Iain M. Banks' early Culture books, "Use of Weapons", "Consider Phlebas" and "The Player of Games" as well as the standalone "Against a Dark Background" are among my top sff books of all time, with "Use of Weapons" (which I hope to review by year-end) still at #1 after 18 years since my first read and many re-reads in the meantime.

Last year's Transition was my number 1 sff novel of the year and this year Surface Detail will be most likely #1 sff of the year. Actually as structure goes, Transition was a pretty complex novel that required at least one reread for full appreciation, while Surface Detail is straightforward, though of course rereading it brings a fuller appreciation.

Surface Detail is also a Culture novel, the best since the early three and the first in which the global vision of the Culture as part of a well developed galactic community that started in Excession and Look to Windward, while being explicitly articulated in Matter, pays off big time.

I have seen before this attempt to proceed from relatively local adventure novels like the first three Culture books, to having a fully developed coherent "big picture" framework as in Matter and Surface Detail and it is not easy, but when it succeeds, it does big-time.

Because beyond being a very entertaining novel, Surface Detail is much more, an articulated vision of an Universe that while purely materialistic as far as its inhabitants know, allows the major goodies associated with traditional religion: souls, afterlife, though of course logically it has some of its drawbacks like Hell(s). All of course was implied from the first Culture novel (Consider Phlebas), but here and in Matter the edifice hinted before is explicitly built.

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: Surface Detail stands at about 630 pages divided into twenty nine chapters, the usual IM Banks "what happened later with the characters" coda and a tongue-in-cheek epilogue that was hinted already in chapter two; I considered the possibility slightly far-fetched at the time, though there was a general "you know, it actually could be" feeling there. About what, well read the book to find out...

Surface Detail has several threads with all kinds of POV's: humans in the extended Culture sense like Ledejde - the "ingenue" decided on justice at all costs, even if it's inconvenient for the great and the good like the mighty Culture itself, Vateuil, "the ultimate warrior", Veppers, "the businessman from hell" - not quite literally, but close and Yime, "the Culture agent", non-human quadrepds "Pavuleans" Prin and Chay who take a literal journey in (the Pavulean) Hell and the "elfin" Legislator-Admiral Bettlescroy-Bisspe-Blispin III and of course the Culture Ships/Minds of which the The Abominator-class picket ship Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints and its bad boy avatar Demeisen take over the novel alongside Veppers.

Surface Detail is readable perfectly well on its own though a familiarity with the rest of the Culture novels only adds to its enjoyment.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The main idea of Surface Detail can be summarized simply: the laws of the Universe allow mind-states aka "materialistic souls" and any sufficiently advanced civilization can build a virtual afterlife since physical immortality in the Real is still undesirable due to issues like finiteness of space and resources. Some of course build Heavens, but some build Hells too...

Of course many of the most advanced (stage 7 and 8) civilizations object to the existence of Hells and the Culture is the most powerful of such, but unfortunately some events recounted in "Look to Windward" made it recuse itself from the debate for a while now. When the Pro-Hell and Anti-Hell forces decide to fight a virtual war - "The War in Heaven for the fate of the Hells" - to decide the issue for ever, the Culture (officially) stands on the sideline which gives an unexpected edge to the Pro-Hell side. And of course like all virtual contests, the result needs to be accepted by both parties since after all there is the Real where the war may otherwise spill with potentially catastrophic consequences.

While not directly involved with the war - except for Vateuil whose career as AntiHell grunt-to-marshal is recounted in his thread - all the characters above will nonetheless play an important role in its context and resolution.

I will let the three characters that dominate the novel speak for themselves:

Ledejde:

“All those years, all those times I tried to run away, the one thing nobody ever asked me was where I might be running to.” She smiled a small, thin smile at the avatar, who looked surprised now. “If they had asked,” Lededje told her, “I might even have told them: I was running away to the Culture, because I’d heard they’d escaped the tyranny of money and individual power, and that all people were equal here, men and women alike, with no riches or poverty to put one person above or beneath another.” “But now you’re here?” Sensia offered, sounding sad. “But now I’m here I find Joiler Veppers is still deferred to because he is a rich and powerful man.”

Veppers (full quote here):

There was nothing worse, Veppers thought, than a loser who’d made it. It was just part of the way things worked – part of the complexity of life, he supposed – that sometimes somebody who absolutely deserved nothing more than to be one of the down-trodden, the oppressed, the dregs of society, lucked out into a position of wealth, power and admiration. ..... Still, at least individual losers were quite obviously statistical freaks. You could allow for that, you could tolerate that, albeit with gritted teeth. What he would not have believed was that you could find an entire society – an entire civilization– of losers who’d made it. And the Culture was exactly that.

Demeisen:

“What, this?” he said, looking down at the ash-dark burn on his skin as Lededje stared at it, openly aghast. “Don’t worry; I don’t feel a thing.” He laughed. “The idiot inside here does though.” He tapped the side of his head, smiled again. “Poor fool won some sort of competition to replace a ship’s avatar for a hundred days or a year or something similar. No control over either body or ship whatsoever, obviously, but the full experience in other respects – sensations, for example. I’m told he practically came in his pants when he learned an up-to-date warship had volunteered to accept his offer of body host.” The smile became broader, more of a grin. “Obviously not the most zealous student of ship psychology, then. So,” Demeisen said, holding up his hand with the splinted finger and studying it, “I torment the poor fool.”

This is not say that the rest of the cast, especially Vateuil, Yime, Prin and Chay do not have important complementary roles but for me those three elevated the novel beyond all recent Culture novels which lacked precisely that: powerful, larger than life characters and here we have Veppers and Demeisen, while Ledejde is the most sympathetic Banksian character in a while for her quiet determination.

I talked about world building and sense of wonder in the introduction, while the coming together of the various threads is handled very well but I would like to add that there are so many great touches that I could fill two pages talking about them and those give Surface Detail a very rich texture. The novel has a lot of humor and I found myself laughing out loud at quite a few scenes, with the quotes above just a small sample.

If there is one negative is that the whole is somewhat less than the sum of the parts in the sense that each thread is very engrossing and with lots of specific goodies - the Pavulean Hell, the virtual War, the Unfallen Bulbitian and the Tsungarial Disk have each their goodies so to speak, in addition to the awesome stuff in the threads following Veppers, Ledejde and Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints/Demeisen - but the main story is quite straightforward. So in a sense you could look at Surface Detail as a core-story with beautiful ornate wrappings which one enjoys more in themselves than as part of a larger tapestry.

But that does not matter since Surface Detail (A++) is as good as speculative fiction on a large scale and about "big issues" gets from all points of view: great writing, powerful characters, coherent and detailed world building and just sheer sense of wonder and inventiveness. If you want to experience the best that sf has to offer these days and understand why written sf is still such a vital part of the "landscape of imagination", Surface Detail is the one 2010 novel for you. And the book has the added bonus that you can start exploring IM Banks' wonderful Culture universe just by reading it, even if you have not read previous Culture novels.
Sunday, October 24, 2010

“Hatter M: The Nature of Wonder” by Frank Beddor, Liz Cavalier & Sami Makkonen (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official The Looking Glass Wars Website
Official Card Soldier Wars Website
Order “Hatter M: The Nature of WonderHERE
Read A Preview HERE (PDF)
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Reviews of “Seeing Redd” + “ArchEnemy

Hatter M: The Nature of Wonder” written by Frank Beddor and Liz Cavalier. Illustrated by Sami Makkonen. Cover art provided by Vance Kovacs. Release Date: October 15, 2010. Published by Automatic Pictures.

The Looking Glass Wars trilogy may have concluded with last year’s novel, ArchEnemy, but Frank Beddor’s extraordinary reimagining of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass live on through a series of graphic novels chronicling Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan and his thirteen-year search for Wonderland’s Princess Alyss who became lost on Earth after escaping through the Pool of Tears during Aunt Redd’s coup d'├ętat. . . events that transpired in the first volume of The Looking Glass Wars trilogy.

In The Nature of Wonder—the third Hatter M geo-graphic novel after the Eisner Award-nominated and 2009 Silver IPPY Award-winning Far From Wonder, and the 2010 Gold IPPY Award-winning Mad With WonderHatter Madigan travels to Washington D.C. in search of answers and ends up crossing paths with agents Horatio Alabaster and Philomena Ark of the Bureau of the Illuminated Forces, the evil Colonel Obsidian Stoker, and Abraham Lincoln on the day of his assassination. From here, the graphic novel follows Hatter as he and Agents Alabaster & Ark go on a quest in search of the White Flower Tribe, which leads to a lengthy flashback involving Hatter as a Millinery cadet, his older brother Dalton, and the sisters, Princess Rose and Princess Genevieve. Concluding the graphic novel is a classic western tale of a small town terrorized by outlaws and the one person who makes a stand against them...

Like the other Hatter M graphic novels, The Nature of Wonder offers an entertaining mix of story and art, highlighted by Sami Makkonen’s psychedelic visuals and writing imbued with Frank Beddor’s trademark humor and wild imagination. Admittedly, the third Hatter M graphic novel feels a bit on the short side—probably because of a prologue and epilogue that fails to add anything significant to the story apart from referencing Mad With Wonder—but The Nature of Wonder features a colorful supporting cast led by Horatio Alabaster and Philomena Ark, and it’s once again fun to see how Hatter Madigan’s adventures on Earth intersect with actual history. Plus, I liked how the flashback sheds some light on Hatter as a person, and it was rewarding to finally see Madigan enter a hat shop that sold more than just hats.

Of course, what I love most about the Hatter M geo-graphic novels is the packaging—specifically the beautiful wraparound covers—and the awesome bonus content. In this case, the extra goodies include a 5-page preview from the upcoming fourth Hatter M geo-graphic novel, The Zen of Wonder; investigative reports on the Bureau of the Illuminated Forces and the White Flower Tribe; a gallery of paintings inspired by Hatter Madigan’s cards; journals and artwork composed by Alyss during her stay in England; and an excerpt from ArchEnemy, the concluding volume in The Looking Glass Wars trilogy.

As a whole, The Nature of Wonder is another lovingly crafted Hatter M geo-graphic novel that is a must-have for any true fan of The Looking Glass Wars...

NOTE: On November 10, 2010, Automatic Pictures will publish a brand new Hardcover edition (See Above) of the first Hatter M geo-graphic novel, which has been out-of-print for a while now. Besides sporting a striking new wraparound cover and the new subtitle, ‘Far From Wonder’, the graphic novel also features, among other new bonus content, two extra chapters illustrated by Sami Makkonen. The first, titled “Dublin”, finds Hatter Madigan squaring off against the creature, Spring Heeled Jack, with the aid of a thirteen-year-old Bram Stoker. The second chapter meanwhile, called “Siberia”, finds Hatter confined in a Siberian prison camp, questioning his duty to the royal family of Wonderland, with reporter Madga Pushkin making a brief appearance. Personally, I enjoyed “Dublin” more than “Siberia”, but both chapters shine in their own special way, while strengthening what is already an outstanding graphic novel. In short, even though Far From Wonder is a reprint, the graphic novel is a reissue that LGW fans will definitely want in their collection...
Saturday, October 23, 2010

"Literary Fiction" for SFF Lovers (by Liviu Suciu)

Once in a while disputes appear online about genre vs literary, the Man Booker prize and genre and similar topics. These days and for almost 20 years now, I have been reading mostly sff , but I like quite a few "literary novels" where I use the quotes since I strongly believe that "literary fiction" is a genre with its subgenres and conventions (suburbia, boarding school, academia, family drama, social drama…) and it intersects with other genres in many places .

I also think that the Booker prize is fine the way it is focusing on this genre as the AC Clarke prize is fine the way it is focusing on sf, however loosely defined. So outside of various current "literary" novels I've reviewed here, I would like to present some more I loved a lot and which I think can appeal to people who tend to read mostly sff.

As usual, I will limit myself to one book or series - yes, literary fiction has series too and even the 2009 Booker winner Wolf Hall is the first part of a planned duology - per author since nothing is more tedious than seeing a general list repeating ten times the same author, but I also strongly suggest checking out more works by the author in cause if the book presented here tempts you.

I will not include books reviewed on FBC so far since I will make a separate list for that though I will include different books by some authors (Hilary Mantel, Kazuo Ishiguro, Roberto Bolano, Margaret Atwood) I've already reviewed. I will include mostly links to Google Books previews or snippets since when available they are quite useful and will give you a direct taste of the book in cause. Wikipedia or Amazon otherwise.

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The Sea of Fertility Tetralogy ( Spring Snow (1966), Runaway Horses (1969), The Temple of Dawn (1970) and The Decay of the Angel (1971)) by Yukio Mishima

exotic, reincarnation, great characters, great worldbuilding and page turners to boot; three times Nobel prize nominated and whom is rumored to have lost by a whisker in 1968; a loose tetralogy following one character's interactions with four young people he believes are successive reincarnations of each other.

The Master of Go by Yasunari Kawabata

page turner that is both allegory and a gripping description of a marathon go match; another novel that was an important part of a Nobel prize winner's work.

The Defense by Vladimir Nabokov

maybe not the best Nabokov, nor the most sf-nal (Ada is alt-history for example) but a big favorite of mine for its great tale of chess and madness; also one famous book for which the movie is pretty good since it respects its spirit whatever liberties it takes with the text.

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The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

family saga, mystery and pulp-sf; Booker prize winner and top five novel of the 00's of mine.

Seven Japanese Tales by Junichiro Tanizaki

the one collection on the list since each story here is superb; a mixture of themes and settings from contemporary to the writing (mostly 1910-30's though one as late as 1959) to historical fiction showcasing Junichiro Tanizaki's "typical" mixture of eroticism, strange and exotic
another Nobel prize nominated author who almost won

2666 by Roberto Bolano

sprawling, subtle, funny and then ultra-dark; one of the few "must" novels of the 00's imho; I hope to review it here by early 2011.

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The Forbidden Forest by Mircea Eliade (aka St John Nativity Night or even Faerie Night in the original Romanian language title)

one of the few novels I read in three languages several times each; sadly the English language edition is rare and expensive but good college libraries have it - I read it that way first and kept it borrowed on and off for almost all my time in graduate school here since it was banned by the communist regime I grew up under; later I bought the French edition and then even later, a Romanian language edition and I wish someone would reprint it in English too since I would buy it on the spot at a decent price...

epic, (slight) paranormal, romance, world building, great characters and a powerful sense of history; the last 100 pages and the ending are still among the most emotional ones I've ever read even today after many readings of the book; the one "marooned on an island novel" for me

When We Were Orphans by Kazuo Ishiguro

another Booker shortlisted novel and while maybe not the author's best, a favorite of mine despite being loosely classified as "detective/crime" fiction; exotic world building at the boundary with the imaginary and a great denouement

The Magus by John Fowles

the one pure mainstream novel that reproduces the sf-nal sense of wonder; it just blew me away many years ago when I read it first in Romanian and then I read it in English several times too; one of those famous novels I think any sff fan should at least look at

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Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

epic tale of glitter, misery and Revolution; world building, great characters, page turner in this Nobel prize winner novel; the author paid dearly for the Nobel though, suffering humiliation in the supposedly "thawed" Kruschev' Soviet Union; the first book I bought and read here in the USA, days within my arriving in 1990. A bunch of movies too with the most recent Russian miniseries the best rendering of the novel I've watched, though of course Omar Sharif and Julie Christie still have their timeless charm...

A Time to Love and a Time to Die by Erich Maria Remarque

nobody does better exile and alienation in a foreign country than EM Remarque and his tales of people blown by the winds of war in the maelstrom of Europe 1930-1940's when a passport stamp made all the difference between life and death still resonate with me very strongly today; this one though is a bit more straightforward; Germany 1943 among bombings, rubble and the specter of the Eastern Front and the title says it all; while Arch of Triumph - another personal favorite that takes place in 1939 Paris - may be more accomplished, this one is just a big, big personal favorite.

The Stranger by Albert Camus

too well known to say more in a paragraph and a landmark of the literary world of the 20th century; also a crucial part of a Nobel prize winner work; try it since you will be surprised how gripping it is

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Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

another well known novel about the Devil in Stalin's Moscow; the posthumous publication was a landmark event; the 10 episode Russian miniseries is the best adaptation of several I watched; and Behemoth the black cat on the cover above is still awesome :)

Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann

the "most difficult" novel on the list but another landmark of 20th century literature which shows that an author can write great stuff decades after receiving the Nobel; the descent into madness both personal and societal and with sff-nal elements too.

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel

way before Wolf Hall, there was this one which I read on US publication some 15-16 years ago and reread a bunch of times since; while less accomplished technically it is still a big time favorite; same great world building and characters but in the French Revolution. And of course a superbly ironical title.
Friday, October 22, 2010

"Wintertide" by Michael Sullivan (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu and Cindy Hannikman)


Official Michael Sullivan Website
Order "Wintertide" HERE (print) or HERE(Kindle)
Read FBC Review of The Crown Conspiracy
Read FBC Review of Avempartha
Read FBC Review of Nypron Rising
Read FBC Review of The Emerald Storm

INTRODUCTION:In the space of two years, Michael Sullivan has moved from a small press debut author that was featured in one of my first "Indie Spotlight Reviews" to a "name" in the fantasy field who sold-out his first novel and is getting both critical acclaim and fan appreciation. In my 2009 end-of-the-year rankings, Avempartha went head to head against the "big names" and made both my Top 2009 Books list and Cindy's Top 2009 Book list, while The Crown Conspiracy made Mihir's Top 2009 Reads too.

"Nyphron Rising"
started the epic part of the series which had
a lot of ground prepared in The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha two mostly standalone adventures, while in "The Emerald Storm" the series ramped up considerably and the world expanded; the twist ending made "Wintertide" one of my top titles of the second part of the year. So very high expectations, but even so I was not prepared for the punches that Wintertide pulls which left me in need of complete reread of all five books to get an inkling where the series might be going in its finale...

FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION:"Wintertide" stands at about 330 pages divided into 21 named chapters that follow several main POV's: Hadrian, Royce, Arista and Amilia, the lady in waiting and "mouthpiece" of Empress Modina as well as a young street kid Mince who is a new character. All the colorful characters from previous novels like Regent Saldur, Sentinel Guy, Archie, Marius reappear and there are several other characters that grow in importance here. The novel starts with two detailed maps of the world and ends with the most emotional and twisty chapter of the series so far.

While "Nyphron Rising" started getting into the heart of the main story of the series and The Emerald Sea thickened the plot and expanded the world, Wintertide returns to the heart of the action in the Imperial capital of Aquesta, where the two regents are preparing to celebrate the marriage of an Empress and the rebirth of an Empire with the burning of a witch as closing entertainment.

As its two predecessors from the heart of the series, "Wintertide" is adventure fantasy in an epic context.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Liviu:"‘Black queen takes king. White rooks retreat. Black queen captures bishop. White rook to bishop’s four, threatening. Check. White’s pawn takes queen and bishop. Jade’s tomb, full face."

While a bit spoilerish at least if you know what the above means, the paragraph quoted is something that makes a book worth reading by itself; of course getting there and understanding it takes a while and Wintertide has much more, from action, to intrigue, to heart-breaking drama and a lot of subplots closure. The big picture becomes even more intriguing since quite a lot of assumptions are challenged by the end of the novel. And there is only one more installment to go...

Since it is book 5 and I strongly recommend reading at least the previous two installments to fully appreciate this one, the only thing I will mention about the story is that as opposed to the world expanding The Emerald Storm, Wintertide returns to a more compact geographic location and urban/castle action including a knight tourney that offers quite a lot of comic relief to the tension buildup as Wintertide (the event) gets closer and closer.

The dramatic ending of the novel made me go back and reread books 1-4 for clues about where the author may take the series in Percepliquis, and I made a big list of "things to watch for/possibilities" but the one thing I am sure of is that the series ending will be one of those "put down everything and read immediately" novels.

Wintertide (A++) is the second top-rated combo (with The Emerald Storm) of 2010 for me and establish the series as one of the best traditional epic fantasies currently being published and a top 10 novel of mine.

Cindy: After completing Emerald Storm I wanted the next book right away. After a few months of waiting the wait is finally over. One thing about authors is that they make you wait and wait for books and then you get the book and there's a feeling of let down. Let me assure you if you've been following this series at all you won't be let down.

At this point in the series we're so far into it that it's hard to do an analysis of the plot and characters because part of the appeal for the series is the growth of the characters and plots as you read.

Wintertide is everything that I've come to love and expect about anything written by Sullivan. It has all the characters that I'm familiar with. After having them fleshed out a bit in the previous book everything just seemed to flow and come together.

There is a sense of more to come, yet Wintertide has a feeling of the end is almost near. While reading I was impressed with everything but at the same time I couldn't shake the feeling that this series that I have come to love is starting to wind down.

Without being all dramatic the ending will keep you hanging and waiting for the next book.

Like Liviu I really feel that this is one of those series that has a place in the fantasy world. I know it's a series that I will gladly be returning to time and time again. Sullivan has earned my respect and admiration with all the work that he's achieved and I can't wait to see what he pulls out of his hat for the final book. If these past few books are any indication I'm sure it'll be a memorable ending. Well worth the read and time to look into the series and the next book is a must read for myself!
Thursday, October 21, 2010

Five Capsule Reviews: Harry Turtledove, Chris Wooding, Hannu Rajaniemi, Tim Akers and Val Gunn (by Liviu Suciu)

As per the recent post about Anticipated 2010 Books revisited, here are some quick thoughts about four such, plus a small press series debut that will appear in 2011 and turned out to be a big mismatch with me.

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FBC Review of 'Hitler's War" and of "The Man with the Iron Heart"

I liked Hitler's War, the series debut a lot, it's among the best Turtledove I've read and as fine a WW2 historical novel with a slight twist (WW2 starts in Sept 1938) that expands to quite different outcomes as it gets, but the rest is pitch perfect period, all told from the point of view of "grunts" - mostly soldiers and non-coms, with a submarine captain and a Stuka pilot Lt the highest ranked pov's - and two special women, a middle age US socialite from Philadelphia that gets stuck in the Reich and a 17 year old Jewish girl from Munster.

West and East continues the same absorbing story, with mostly the same pov's (some die and some new ones appear) and the book has a lot of happenings on the personal level of everyone, but as the big picture goes it is mostly a lull in the big battles kind of action, though things advance and we end as 1940 is approaching; since the series will go 6 minimum there is a lot to come (A)


Recommended by me and for all mil-fiction/alt-history fans who like a "grunt's eye of events".

***********************************************************FBC Review of "Retribution Falls"

Not on par with Retribution Falls but it has its moments - all the crew interactions in solving their personal issues from the last volume are superb, as are Frey's interactions with Trinica.
The plot is ok, less suspenseful than in
Retribution Falls and there is a bit too much repetition and not enough new stuff. The biggest failing though was in pulp moments like the silly beginning and the Amalicia part which made me cringe. All in all I am still in the series and I hope the next installment recaptures the excitement of Retribution Falls. (B)

Check this one out if you liked Retribution Falls

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After all the hype, it turned out the author can write "gadget fiction" but it remains unclear if he can write interesting fiction otherwise since this book despite its moments falls flat as writing style goes. Far away from the vigorous prose of RK Morgan to whose Altered Carbon debut this one has been compared and far away from the ornate prose of JC Wright's debut The Golden Age to which this novel has many similarities in themes, the novel has many "goodies" and a great ending but it suffers from three major flaws:

The writing depends on gadgets and this was not a surprise since the author' short fiction I have read before had the same issues and made me a bit wary about this novel.

Emotional remoteness almost verging on solipsism and the worst flaw of all, plot dependence on "my magic is bigger than yours" typical of run-off-the-mill fantasies - here of course it's tech magic but there is the destined boy and all nonetheless.

If you are new to "sf as magic" - could not call it sense of wonder since there is only some of that - you may try this one, otherwise wait for the next installment to see if the author gets better at writing fiction rather than gadgetry. Though to be honest, the author writes better prose than other hard-sf authors like Charles Stross or Vernor Vinge so there may be hope, but this book' subject and his style do not match well. (B)


Instead of The Quantum Thief, I would also direct you to Liz Williams considerably superior "Banner of Souls" or 'Winterstrike" which have similar themes too though they eschew the mumbo-jumbo from this one.

***********************************************************FBC Review of "Heart of Veridon"

Very disappointing; I had so high hopes for this one after the wonderful Heart of Veridon novel and The Horns of Ruin was so linear, unsubtle, lacking nuance, predictable and with a heroine that is "wonder woman on steroids", untouchable and unbeatable with the often repeated "magical" invocations that became so annoying that I would shudder and skip when I encountered them...

Basically The Horns of Ruin is a comic strip disguised as a novel and set in a steampunk/fantasy world and the inventiveness of the author reads like unnecessary baggage; better do a straight out Superwoman in Gotham than this elaborate world wasted on such thin and totally lacking in depth novel.

The only redeeming quality is the narrative energy which the author clearly possesses and that made the experience of reading The Horns of Ruin partly enjoyable, but again so far from my high expectations....
(D)

If you are a fan of comic-book novelizations or of action-only UF and you do not mind an elaborate setting, this one may be for you.

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Disappointing; the world is supposedly exotic but has no depth, the writing is ok in a thriller-ish mode, fast enough, but very bland characters, very disjointed plot and all depending on supposedly long going (nine centuries or so) conspiracies that are based on everyone being dumb and on coincidences; the extract that I read and made me try this one gives a very misleading impression of what comes after.

The ending redeems a bit the rest with some intriguing developments, but I have no intention of reading more in this series. Somewhat similar to Lamentation by K. Scholes, so if you liked that, you may like this one, but sadly not me... (D)

Also for fans of Richard Patterson and other "no-characters, all-action" thrillers with an exotic background.

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