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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Throne of The Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “Throne of the Crescent MoonHERE
Read chapter one HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Saladin Ahmed was born and brought up in Detroit, Michigan. He has a MFA in Creative Writing from Brooklyn College and an MA in English from Rutgers University. Previously he has taught University level creative writing courses for over ten years. He has been a finalist for the Nebula Award for Best Short Story, the Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction or Fantasy Writer, and the Harper’s Pen Award for best Sword and Sorcery/Heroic Fantasy Short Story. His short fiction has also appeared in magazines and podcasts including Strange Horizons, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex Magazine, StarShipSofa and PodCastle. He currently lives with his wife & twin children in a suburb of Detroit, this is his debut.
OFFICIAL BLURB: The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, Khalifs and killers, is at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince. In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings:

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, "The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat," just wants a quiet cup of tea. Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame's family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter's path.

Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla's young assistant, a hidebound holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety, is eager to deliver God's justice. But even as Raseed's sword is tested by ghuls and manjackals, his soul is tested when he and Adoulla cross paths with the tribeswoman Zamia.

Zamia Badawi, Protector of the Band, has been gifted with the near-mythical angelic power, but shunned by her people for daring to take up a man's title. She lives only to avenge her tribe's death. Until she learns that Adoulla and his allies also hunt the same killer. Until she meets Raseed.

When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince's brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time--and struggle against their own misgivings--to save the life of a vicious despot. In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.

CLASSIFICATION: The Crescent Moon Kingdom series is a Arabian themed Sword & Sorcery series which combines the swashbuckling adventure aspect of the One Thousand and One Nights with rich prose and efficient characterization to give the reader a new series to be enamored of.

FORMAT/INFO: Throne of the Crescent Moon is 274 pages long divided over twenty numbered chapters and three numbered but untitled interludes. Narration is in the third person via Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, Raseed bas Raseed, Zamia Banu Laith Badawi as the major POV characters while Lady Litaz Daughter-of-Likami and Dawoud Son-of-Wajeed are the minor POV characters. There is a map of the crescent Kingdoms present along with an author acknowledgements page. Throne of the Crescent Moon is the first book in the Crescent Moon Kingdoms series.

February 7, 2012 marks the North American Hardback and e-book publication of Throne of the Crescent Moon via DAW. Cover art is provided by Jason Chan.

ANALYSIS: I was first introduced to Saladin Ahmed’s writing when his short story “HOOVES AND THE HOVEL OF ABDEL JAMEELA” from the anthology Clockwork Phoenix 2, was featured on our blog. It was a story which particularly mined the rare Arabic mythological landscape and with Saladin’s background, it was easy to notice why it was so strong a story. That was nearly three years ago. Last year it came to my notice that his Sword and Sorcery novel was debuting early in 2012 and I wanted to see what his imagination had created.

The world of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms while drawing upon certain middle Eastern kingdoms of yore is also unique enough to draw the reader in. While the map definitely shows off a nice landscape, not much of it is revealed in the first volume & so it is left as a tantalizing presence of future wonders to be read (a B/W version can be viewed here). It should be interesting to see how the author populates and displays the lands drawn within. The story of this book focuses upon Dhamsawaat, the great city of Abassen which is considered to be the crown jewel amongst all the cities. It is this very city which doctor Adoulla Makhslood calls home; he is one of the last few of a revered clan. The clan of Ghul Hunters which is already lost most of its members to those very nemeses with whom they spar with. The prime thing about a true Ghul hunter is his shining white kaftan that refuses to catch any dirt until the particular Ghul hunter loses his standards or absolves himself of the vows. In the current day Adoulla is particularly fascinated by his past as he contemplates it over a cup of cardamom tea. His reminiscing is disturbed by a uniquely disturbing vision wherein he sees his beloved city overrun by Ghuls. Things soon take a further downward turn when his assistant/partner the young Dervish Raseed bas Raseed brings him a child survivor of a Ghul attack and one whose familial connections make it particularly difficult for Adoulla to avoid not getting involved.

On learning the details of the ghul attack and as per their duty, they ride towards the attack spot only to learn that what awaits them, is something unheard of. They also come upon a tribal girl with special powers of her own, Zamia is the girl on the hunt herself to avenge her tribe. Fortunately they return to the city and find it in more of a upheaval due to the actions of Pharaad Az Hammaz, the Falcon Prince who is a Robin Hood like figure fighting against the oppressive rule of the Khalif. Set in the powder keg of the city wherein political fighting masks the danger presented by the unknown Ghul master who is looking to topple the natural order of things. It will be up to Adoulla and his allies to choose a side within the political battle and find out the mystery of the Ghul Hunter as well the source of the power that the hunter covets.

This debut was something special to read about as instead of the usual medieval fantasy fare, the author has created a slightly unique scenario which really stands out amidst the debut fantasy field. The prose is praiseworthy as the author brings life to this remarkable world and the reader is easily transported to the dusty haven of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms. The characterization is also above the ordinary as the author does his best to fully showcase the characters and the dilemmas they face. The character cast features a wide array of characters who range from the various fantasy stereotypes of the young valiant warrior, old world-weary wizard, wild tribal girl, Old allies, etc. but the author superbly subverts these by bringing these characters to life via their POV chapters. You feel Adoulla’s resignation to his fate, Raseed’s devotion to his craft, Zamia’s single minded vengeance and the Falcon Prince’s enigmatic omniscient ways. All of this and much more is to be found in this slim volume which while being a series opener, gives a well rounded tale with a complete ending of sorts (of course with the promise of more to follow). The cover art by Jason Chan is also stunning and follows the pattern of that of The Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher by being a part of the actual story within.

The book's infectious energy & pace also help in making the pages fly faster and hence the reader will want to read it in as few breaks as possible. The author’s passion in presenting this tale is very much felt through out these pages as while this book shares certain milieu characteristics with The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones and Rose of The Prophet trilogy by Margaret Weis & T. Hickman. It far outstrips these two and other books in this niche by bringing a certain je ne sais quoi to its subject matter which could be due to the author’s own genealogy or simply because the author wanted to write a different type of medieval fantasy set in a geographical location which is usually caricatured. Whatever be the reason, the end result is that this book is definitely a special debut because of the excellence shown in the departments of prose, characterization & plot matter.

Thoughts of the dissenting kind aren't to be found as I thoroughly enjoyed this read. Maybe I could fault the book for being a bit too compact or not really expanding on the magic & world scenario beyond what is told in the story. However these couple of drawbacks aren't really that big a deal and I think it shouldn't be a deterrent for enjoying the book. The book’s size is definitely on the thinner side and this might be going against the norm seen in current fantasy scenario wherein the breadth of the spine is thought to be a plus point. This however doesn’t make it any less excellent as the book in its compact avatar, packs a very strong punch. The magic system as well the world history is given out rather sparsely and perhaps could have been explained a bit more. This however is a dicey matter and one which almost always causes consternation among readers as there's no perfect ratio to be found.

CONCLUSION: Saladin Ahmed debuts his take on Sword & Sorcery tales and it is a particular fascinating one. Throne of the Crescent Moon is definitely going to be in my year end list and will be remembered by many as a smashing, exciting debut. I would encourage all readers to give it a try as Saladin is definitely an author to watch for. Grab the Throne of the Crescent Moon and lose yourself in this alluring tale.
Monday, January 30, 2012

Thoughts on Alain Robbe-Grillet's "Recollections of the Golden Triangle" and "Repetition" (by Liviu Suciu)

INTRODUCTION: Alain Robbe-Grillet (1922-2008) was one of the masters of post-war French literature and a theoretician of the "new novel" which eschewed psychological investigations and character introspection in favor of clear descriptive prose full of imagery. In his novels we "visualize" the events but we have no particular insight into why they happen and there is a lot of ambiguity, so even today and many critical studies later and there is no consensus on what actually "happened" in some of the author's books...

For this reason his novels while tending to assume the structure of thrillers and mysteries, are in effect quite close to speculative fiction and in a few cases I would argue that they are sff-nal by any reasonable definition.

While I have almost all of his novels that have been translated into English and a few like Regicide that are French only and I fully read some four as of now, I also read quite a lot from a few others and I plan to read carefully all his oeuvre as time goes. Here I will present the two most impressive (imho) of Alain Robbe-Grillet's novels I've finished so far.


"A provocative novel by the most influential living French writer, Recollections of the Golden Triangle is a tour de force: a literary thriller constructed of wildly diverse elements--fantasy and dream, erotic invention, and the stuff of popular fiction and movies taken to its farthest limits.

A secret door that is opened slightly by an electronic device, a beautiful hanged factory girl, a pale young aristocrat whose blood apparently nourishes his vampiric lover, the evil Dr. Morgan who conducts his experiments in "tertiary dream behavior," the beautiful and sinister women from the world of horror films, and the investigating police, who are not all what they seem to be, are just some of the ingredients of this intriguing new novel by the French master of the intellectual thriller, whose novels and films have effectively changed the way we can look at the "real" world today.

Recollections of the Golden Triangle challenges the reader to find his own meaning in its descriptions, clues, and contradictions, and to play detective by assembling the pieces of the fictional puzzle"

As the blurb above indicates pretty clearly, Recollections of the Golden Triangle is so crazy that it definitely belongs to the speculative field. While I read the book twice and I got at least a tentative idea about what it is all about, I would say that this is a novel to experience "raw" without trying too hard to make logical sense of the order of events, of their "reality" - it simply may be there may not be such, with the time/space shifts and the moving around of characters, pov's, narrative style...

Recollections of the Golden Triangle is a haunting and visual book that just throws at you unforgettable imagery and quite a lot of scenes from the novel stuck with me for a long time. If you want a mind bender which is short but offers more than novels three times its size, this one is highly recommended. Try opening it and see if it mesmerizes you - the Amazon listing linked above too has a few pages excerpt and I grabbed a picture of the first two paragraphs of the book from there.


"Reminiscent of Orson Welles's The Third Man, Repetition is an atmospheric spy novel of violence, mystery, and tricks of the eye, set in a bombed-out 1949 Berlin. Henri Robin, a special agent of the French secret service, arrives in the ruined city and feels linked to it by a vague and recurrent memory. There is a shooting, a kidnapping, druggings, encounters with pimps and teenage whores, police interrogations, even torture. Bits and pieces of the Oedipus story resonate through the book's elegant labyrinth as Robin slowly senses that he was in Berlin before — as a child, with his mother, perhaps looking for his father. A brilliantly executed novel in prose of an almost hallucinatory richness, Repetition is proof that Robbe-Grillet's vision is, in a time of identity theft and porous nationhood, more relevant than ever."

Repetition is on its face a classical Cold War thriller as the blurb above indicates, but in reality the action is so over the top and the imagery so haunting and outlandish that the book is as close to sff as it gets, while standing withing accepted historical facts. This is a superb novel but one that is not for everyone with its hallucinatory prose, uncertain and shifting identities and themes of incest, forbidden love, s&m, Lolita... all taking places in the ruins of Germany in 1949.

Everyone encountered is not quite whom he or she seems but the main characters - our "hero" HR aka Henri Robin aka many other names - his seeming double (identity and role to be revealed later), his "handler", the older German officer that is a target of assassination and the mysterious mother and daughter pair of the American zone in Berlin whose past and relationships with the main characters above is also slowly revealed give this novel its power in addition to the superb prose.

Highly recommended and another novel that needs to be read at least twice since early happenings change or deepen their sense after later revelations so the second reading will be quite different than the first. Also in a contrast with Recollections of the Golden Triangle and showing the author's literary range, this novel starts slower and then accelerates in the second part to end in a pretty decisive, no controversy about what's what, finale.

Friday, January 27, 2012

"Blue Remembered Earth" by Alastair Reynolds (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Alastair Reynolds Website
Order "Blue Remembered Earth" HERE
Read Three Chapters from Blue Remembered Earth HERE
Read FBC Review of "House of Suns" HERE
Read FBC Review of "Terminal World" HERE

INTRODUCTION: As my number one sf writer of the 00's, any novel or story by Alastair Reynolds is a must and based on the exciting blurb below, "Blue Remembered Earth" has been one of my highly anticipated novels of 2012. As I commented in this review of the recent Solaris SF anthology that featured a superb story by Mr. Reynolds, I really missed reading the usually "annual" novel from the author in 2011 as Terminal World has been published in early 2010 and Blue Remembered Earth showed me once again why...

"One hundred and fifty years from now, in a world where Africa is the dominant technological and economic power, and where crime, war, disease and poverty have been banished to history, Geoffrey Akinya wants only one thing: to be left in peace, so that he can continue his studies into the elephants of the Amboseli basin. But Geoffrey's family, the vast Akinya business empire, has other plans. After the death of Eunice, Geoffrey's grandmother, erstwhile space explorer and entrepreneur, something awkward has come to light on the Moon, and Geoffrey is tasked - well, blackmailed, really - to go up there and make sure the family's name stays suitably unblemished. But little does Geoffrey realise - or anyone else in the family, for that matter - what he's about to unravel. Eunice's ashes have already have been scattered in sight of Kilimanjaro. But the secrets she died with are about to come back out into the open, and they could change everything. Or shatter this near-utopia into shards .."

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "Blue Remembered Earth" is arguably the author's least "technical" novel insofar as its world's society and technology are extrapolated from today's cutting edge stuff without anything really "exotic" and Mr. Reynolds talks a little about this in the Acknowledgements page of the novel.

However I found the book an excellent showcase for the author's major strengths, sprinkled with what I consider to be his occasional weaknesses and proving again why he is still the number one writer of "hard" sf today.

The world building is top notch, Africa as a major power comes off naturally and pitch perfect, the Aquatics, the Moon colonies, the Martians, the Mech, the AI phobia of the society and the dispute between the bio-first and the tech-first powers/corporations read also naturally and the novel's universe is both "alive" and a place where I can easily imagine myself living. As speculation about a mid 2100's Earth and nearby solar system, "Blue Remembered Earth" is simply unrivaled in recent sf and if only for that and the novel is a top 25 of mine.

There are some underwater scenes that are just unbelievable even if a little too short, but those few pages are also almost worth the novel by themselves, not to speak of the Moon stuff and the Martian one; lots of humor and the Pyhthagorean adventure - read the book to find out about it - just cracked me up laughing. Just read this paragraph where Geoffrey Akinya visits the Earth Aquatic states:

"He had no sooner formulated that idea than they were, startlingly, outside – crossing between one part of Tiamaat and another, with only the tube’s glass between them and the crush of the surrounding water. They were crossing through a forest of night-lit towers, turreted and flanged and cupolaed, submarine skyscrapers pushing up from black depths, garlanded with myriad coloured lights. The buildings were cross-linked and buttressed by huge windowed arches, many stories high, and the whole city-district, as far as he could see, lay entwined in a bird’s-nest tangle of water-filled tubes. He could, in fact, make out one or two tiny moving forms, far above and far below – swimmers carrying their own illumination, so that they became glowing corpuscles in some godlike arterial system."

"Blue Remembered Earth" is also a compulsive read that you do not want to put down and here is one place where Alastair Reynolds of 2012 shows his maturity as a writer, comparing with the amazing but fractured in style Revelation Space of 2000. The novel follows the two rebellious siblings, Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya, one who starts as an Elephant scientist on Earth and the other as an artist in the Moon "free zone" - where the complete Mech surveillance is banned by law - and when the narrative splits into two threads, the transitions are smooth and each storyline is compelling on its own.

The weaknesses noted in earlier novels - most notably the lack of major differentiation between Geoffrey and Sunday despite their different genders, the use of important secondary characters like Sunday's boyfriend Jitendra and Geoffrey's ex Jumai as props rather than real "live persons" and the mostly cartoonish villains Lucas and Hector Akinya, our heroes' cousins - appear too, but a few powerful secondary characters like old family retainer Memphis, "opposition" leader Arethusa, the (sfnal) "spirit" of deceased matriarch Eunice and others I leave you to discover, mitigate this and show again the growth of the author in literary skills.

The other niggle I had about "Blue Remembered Earth" was its thriller/quest structure that developed after maybe a third of the novel and which gave a feeling of "too long in parts" with some action sequences that could have been shortened for a stronger impact, while the "content" part - eg more about the Mech and the Gearheads or the Moon free zone for example, more backstory, more path evolution of the world - could have been lengthened for a higher ratio of content/action as befits a core-sf "sense of wonder" novel versus a "run of the mill" action thriller.

The book has a great ending which makes it a quasi-standalone, though of course I want to know what happens next in the Poseidon's Children series which "Blue Remembered Earth" (top 25 novel of mine) debuts so magnificently. If you want to understand why sf at its best is still the most interesting form of literature today, "Blue Remembered Earth" and the recently reviewed In the Mouth of the Whale are the places to go.

Dominion by C.S. Friedman (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Read an Excerpt HERE
Order Dominion HERE (Amazon) and HERE (Barnes & Noble)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Celia S. Friedman was born in 1957 in New York city and was enamored by reading since a young age. She developed a strong affinity towards science fiction in her teens thanks to Isaac Asimov & since then has gone on to read much of it. She got her MFA from the University of Georgia, where she studied Costume Design. She currently lives in Northern Virginia and has two cats that are integral to her writing process.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Four hundred years after mankind's arrival on Erna, the undead sorcerer Gerald Tarrant travels north in search of a legend. For it is rumored there is a forest where the fae has become so powerful that it devours all who enter it, and he means to test its power.

This prequel to C. S. Friedman's bestselling Coldfire Trilogy (Black Sun Rising, When True Night Falls, Crown of Shadows) offers fans of the series a hint of Tarrant's secret history, while new readers will enjoy a chilling introduction to one of High Fantasy's most fascinating -- and deadly --worlds.

FORMAT/INFO: Dominion is 3o-odd pages. Narration is in the third person via Gerald Tarrant and Faith the Church Knight. There is an “about the author” section as well. Dominion is a standalone novella and is also a prequel. January 9, 2012 marked the e-book publication of Dominion by the author herself. Cover art is provided by Linda Gilbert and Casey Gordon.

ANALYSIS: Dominion is a novella by celebrated SFF writer Celia S. Friedman, it is a prequel to her seminal work that is “The Coldfire trilogy”. The first book “Black Sun Rising” was released in 1991 and captured the interest and fascination of readers worldwide with its curious mix of science fiction and fantasy. Two sequels followed at a biennial rate and the author closed of the trilogy and the story of eclectic bunch of characters found within. Liviu is also a fan of this series as is Pat of Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist and it's through both their efforts that I go to know about Dominion.

Before we start I would extoll readers to read this wonderful essay about the series and its motifs by a polish fan. It has a few mild spoilers but it remarkably demonstrates why it had such an impact amongst SFF readers nearly two decades ago and why it still holds a special position in their minds/hearts. I haven’t read the trilogy but that is more due to laziness on my part rather than anything else. Also since this novella was a prequel, I thought of it as a perfect opportunity to begin my exploration of this evocative work.

The story has two protagonists namely Gerald Tarrant and Faith, the former is the first of a kind among mages, the latter the ultimate survivor of a hunting Knight force. They are polar opposites and are both drawn to a certain special forest that will test their fortitude. Gerald is drawn to it for the sole reason that it raises his curiosity by being a font of fae energy, which might have sentience. Faith on the other hand, doesn’t have an exact clue about how she has landed there. Death however stalks both of them and one misstep will be all that it takes for the forest to claim dominion over both of them.

What is so good about this novella is that even though it is on the shorter side in matters of length, it does not waste any extra space in immersing the reader in the dark world of Erna. The setting and background information is quickly given to the reader without making it all to obvious and at the same time is the introduction of the dual POV threads which fuel the story. The pace of the plot is of the express kind but it does not hamper the characterization in any way, which just shows the proficient prose utilized. Another point about the characterization is that readers will be thoroughly invested in both characters and of course it’s almost impossible not to be enamored by the Neocount whose actions, intellect & power are visible only as the tip of the iceberg. I know who the readers will most likely be rooting to achieve dominion (as was I) and that is another highlight for the novella to entrance the reader in such a small timeframe.

The novella is structured in such a way that its not hard to guess where it will end up but here’s the beauty you can’t exactly predict how it will end for both the protagonists (Obviously veteran fans of the Coldfire trilogy will know more about the fate of one of the POV characters). The twist in the end as well as the origin story of another character in the middle will be very much appreciated by pervious fans as I’m lead to believe that both plot twists are pivotal for certain events in the future trilogy. Overall this novella stands out for making it easy for fans & non-fans to get acquainted with it easily, with out losing out on the surprise factor that is often the downfall seen in most prequels due to the nature of the stories.

I don’t think I have any feedback of the dissenting kind for this story as it simply caught me off guard with its sheer excellence and it shames me to say that I haven’t yet read the Coldfire trilogy in spite of owning all the three books.

CONCLUSION: C.S Friedman’s Dominion is nothing short of a brilliant way to get new readers exposed to her seminal trilogy and other works. Do yourself a favor and read this novella if you are looking for dark fantasy and a protagonist who is quite simply the perfect embodiment of an antihero. Dominion is a must read for all fans of the darker turn of the fictional worlds, so go meet the Neocount and be prepared to amazed.
Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Stories from The Quiet War" by Paul McAuley (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Paul J. McAuley Website
Official Paul J. McAuley Blog
Order Stories from the Quiet War HERE
Read FBC Review of "The Quiet War"
Read FBC Review of "Gardens of the Sun"
Read FBC Review of "In the Mouth of the Whale"

INTRODUCTION: I read this collection after the wonderful In the Mouth of the Whale - my top 2012 book so far and while it's very early, I am quite sure the novel will remain a top 10 as the year goes by - as I did not want to leave the superb universe of the author.

For some of the stories here, it was the 4th or 5th time I read them, some third, some second time and only Karyl's War which is newly published (hint: contains an Arab Spring reference) was for the first time; notable Quiet War milieu stories missing are Dead Men Walking and The Gardens of Saturn which are also awesome and there are 2 or 3 others excellent ones missing also (The Passenger, Assassination of Faustino Malarte...). Still for a very low price, these 5 stories offer a very good reading experience and I highly recommend them.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Stories from the Quiet War opens with a new introduction by the author explaining a bit the genesis of the milieu and of the novels, while also making the transition from the Solar System of their action, to the future and away of In the Mouth of the Whale.

Making History is the first QW story I have read in the awesome PS anthology "Futures" of 2000 and it hooked me on the milieu; this was my 4th or 5th read of this story and the first person narration of an aging history professor who is commissioned by the winning powers to write a biography of the most hated (or most heroic) leader of the Outers, the immediate post war desolation where the winners make the rules and the vanquished endure and a beautiful girl and a love stricken police commander/chief torturer were as fresh as on the first read.

Incomers is a more recent story and is set after the war in a habitat less touched by it, though its reverberations and suspicions still go on; good stuff too but less memorable than most of the rest.

Second Skin - one of several stories about the spies and saboteurs, the Earth Powers had sent in the first wave of the war before the conquest and while Dead Men Walking is the best such, this one is excellent too.

Reef - Outers science and tech on display and sense of wonder and speculations about the future; this story fits best with In the Mouth of the Whale and is another excellent one

Karyl's War - the odyssey of an Outer outsider who wants only to be left in peace to live his nomadic life, but as those memorable words say: "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you". More great world building and action as well as a cautionary tale for all seasons so to speak. When history is in the making, the individual becomes a statistic...

Overall - if you have not read the author's wonderful series that starts with The Quiet War, try these stories and see if they hook you as Making History did it 11 or so years ago for me...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

James Rollins News and Author Interview (By Mihir Wanchoo)

Read FBC’s Review of “The Judas Strain
Read FBC’s Review of “The Last Oracle
Read FBC’s Review of “The Doomsday Key
Read FBC’s Review of “The Devil Colony

James Rollins is an author who is admired by both Robert and me over here at Fantasy Book Critic. I was first introduced to his writing via his debut “Subterranean” which was released more than thirteen years ago. We have been covering his SIGMA series over the past few years and so we are always excited to hear news about his upcoming projects and what’s new with our favorite literary veterinarian.

Recently James revealed the cover of the next SIGMA book which is titled BLOODLINE. Here are the blurb details that promise another exciting adventure for the SIGMA crew:

Fleeing from Somali Pirates, a yacht bearing a young American Family crashes into a jungle atoll off the coast of Madagascar, only to face a horror far more terrifying: an experiment run amok has turned the island into the bloody hunting grounds for a new form of life. The single female survivor, rescued by Captain Tucker Wayne and his advanced military team, bears a terrifying secret. She is pregnant and something is already changing inside her.

Halfway around the world, firebombing at a fertility clinic in South Carolina reveals a group of women kidnapped from around the globe and enslaved to bear children by artificial means. One woman lives long enough to give birth to a stillborn child at a local hospital. A genetic study reveals the child bears a strange abnormality-a triple helix of DNA.

Commander Gray Pierce of SIGMA Force and Captain Tucker Wayne must team up with a deadly assassin on a journey from the sparkling towers of Dubai to the crumbling ruins of an ancient French fortress, from the halls of power on Capitol Hill to the dark secrets buried at the heart of a centuries-old southern plantation, all in the quest for the truth-and to save an unborn child that may be the key to the future of mankind.

The blurb promises another thrill ride across the world in various exotic locales similar to the earlier books. For those readers who want to get a sneak peek, hop over to James’s Facebook page and start reading an exclusive chunk!
And yesterday there was something absolutely new on his blog, here’s a bit about the new venture in James’s own words:

While I have done many interviews over the years, this is the first interview of an author I'll do on my blog. I'm pleased that the person I'm interviewing is someone I've known a long time that I personally find interesting as well as admirable. That individual is author Jon Land. In observing Jon over an extended period of time, I know that he is first in line to help others. First in line to share his experience and advice to the up and coming, and first to admit mistakes and do all he can to fix them. Don't we all know many others who could benefit from those qualities? It's my pleasure to invite you to visit Jon's website to learn more about him and his books, and my privilege to share with you this, my first author interview.

(Pic Credit: Erika Ekdahl)

So in this wonderful interview the reader will get to know more about Jon, his concept of heroism, his thoughts and the various minutiae that Jon admires. Also to get to you interested, here’s what he thinks about storytellers:

The imagination binds us together in worlds that only exist as we share them. That is the complex and personal nature of the relationship between reader and writer. And though it may seem like casual entertainment it is much more than that. We share the great “what if?” as a story teaches us about the world we know, the one we don’t and more importantly, about ourselves as we walk within the skin of a character we’ve grown to love.

Authors are storytellers. It’s an age-old profession that has captured the hearts and minds of millions of people throughout time. Often, people wonder about storytellers. Where do the stories come from? Why is someone compelled to put a character through hardships, in danger, in love? I invite you to join me as we get to find out the story of the storyteller.

And now to read the entire interview, head over to James’s blog and enjoy!
Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “Shadow Ops: Control PointHERE
Read an excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: As a security contractor, government civilian and military officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from Counter-terrorism to Cyber Warfare to Federal Law Enforcement. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. He’s also a graduate of the Viable Paradise writer’s workshop and is a close friend of Peter V. Brett. He also won the 2003 Writers of the future award for his story “Blood and Horses”. His passions include comics, fantasy novels and late night D&D games which eventually set him on a path of being a wordsmith.

OFFICIAL BLURB: Across the country and in every nation, people are waking up with magical talents. Untrained and panicked, they summon storms, raise the dead, and set everything they touch ablaze.

Army officer Oscar Britton sees the worst of it. A lieutenant attached to the military's Supernatural Operations Corps, his mission is to bring order to a world gone mad. Then he abruptly manifests a rare and prohibited magical power, transforming him overnight from government agent to public enemy number one.

The SOC knows how to handle this kind of situation: hunt him down--and take him out. Driven into an underground shadow world, Britton is about to learn that magic has changed all the rules he's ever known, and that his life isn't the only thing he's fighting for.

CLASSIFICATION: The Shadow Ops series is a multi volume urban fantasy series which combines the superhero aspect showcased in X-men comics along with the military themes espoused in stories by Glen Cook. Stirring the pot with his own style, the author unleashes a potent tale upon the readers.

FORMAT/INFO: Shadow Ops: Control Point is 389 pages long divided over thirty-four numbered and titled chapters. Narration is in the third person solely via Oscar Britton. There is also a glossary about the terms, acronyms and slang utilized in the story. Shadow Ops: Control Point is the first novel of the Shadow Ops series.

January 31, 2012 marks the North American Paperback and e-book publication of Shadow Ops: Control Point via ACE books. Cover art is provided by Michael Komarck.

ANALYSIS: I first heard about Myke Cole via Peter V. Brett’s blog, he had mentioned his friendship with Myke a few times and this particular section about his then book titled “Latent” caught my attention nicely:
It is great Military Fantasy – the X-Men meets Black Hawk Down. Myke has been one of my inner-circle test readers for many years, and vice-versa. There is a lot of him in The Warded Man, and a lot of me in Latent. Keep your eyes peeled for it.”
The military fantasy line along with that awesome elevator pitch made me aware of Cole and I was particularly awaiting more news about it. a few months ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Anne Sowards. Anne had pointed out his book as one to watch out for and had some effusive praise for it as well. Thereafter Myke was awesome enough to send me the book’s ARC and I dug in wanting to see how justified the hype was all about in regards to Control Point.

Firstly the story opens with a nice action packed sequence which not only introduces the main protagonist Oscar Britton but the world which is vastly similar to our own except for having one crucial anomaly, that is MAGIC! A world wherein people are waking up with various elemental powers that have to be classified and kept under study. Thus the nations around the world are trying to adapt themselves around this change and started their own official magic-infused soldiers and battalions. Oscar is a simple soldier however once he’s involved in the take down of two teenage “Probes” [Rogue Magicians or Selfers], he witnesses casual brutality which shakes his conscience and he’s forced to help the US Supernatural Corps take down the two at the expense of the safety of his own team members. Once the task is accomplished, while recuperating Oscar suddenly goes Latent and manifests a rare type of magic called Portamancy which not only places him squarely at the top on the wanted list but also makes him special in the eyes of those who are on the search for greater power.

Thus begins the tale of Oscar Britton, who discovers that not all conspiracy theories are false and things are never what they seem to be. The story then moves on to the next phase of his rehabilitation at the hands of the US government which is the true meat of the story and makes this debut such a fantastic one. Author Myke Cole has indeed worked on this story for a long time and it shows vibrantly as the themes which are nuanced within the plot are felt strongly by the reader. The characterization of the main protagonist as well as the fellow character cast is a rich one, perhaps a bit impeded with the third person view chosen. Yet the author resolutely gives the reader a terrific view of the protagonist’s thoughts, feelings and the profound metamorphosis through a narrative prose style which nails the reader’s attention through and through.

Perhaps the best part of the book (for me at least) is the vividly imagined worldscape, to come up with the explosive mix of Magic in today’s world is not hard at all. However to postulate the world scenario created and then convincingly entrance the readers with it, is something of a rave-worthy talent. To find it in a debutante makes it special, and this is the best thing about this book. The world and magic system showcased seems to be so thoroughly constructed that its hard to point out flaws in it (not that they are absent, but on a very close examination are the few ones visible). These minute aberrations can perhaps be better explained with the reason that since this is the first book, the author went in for a more action packed plot eschewing the detailed expositions so as to not sacrifice the narrative energy.

I also want to see how the author expands this world/magic system as there are some glimpses shown that are tantalizingly cool. Lastly the author being a military personnel brings to life a veritable slice of the military life and all the good & bad aspects of it. This exploration creates a rather catch-22 situation for the protagonist and which is wonderfully exploited by the author with some terrific shades of the 1990s X-Men Saga seen. Also within it we are also introduced to perhaps one of the best counter-foil characters ever created, this character is one of those which the readers will just love to hate giving almost no reason to ever change those thoughts.

Lastly there are a couple of hiccups in this book, namely that in between Oscar’s transition from a runaway latent to a self-measured warrior of the Shadow coven, the pace of the book slackens as the book energy perhaps mirrors the protagonist’s plot-induced confusion. This aspect lasts for about 80-odd pages and once its over, the pace picks up again, and for the second drawback is that the author hasn’t quite thoroughly explained some of the crucial happenings in the book. These aspects if focused upon cause the book to feel a bit weak for example it is never quite thoroughly explained as to why/how Oscar got his powers and what marks him out as a “special water baby”. This is just me but when you enjoy certain stories a lot you want them to have almost next to nothing in the negative departments. This might not be the case for every reader and so will depend on each person’s taste.

CONCLUSION: Myke Cole’s debut is another ace from the ACE book stable and possibly heralds a series which if handled competently, can be an absolute break out saga. Myke delivers a standout book which not only gives the readers a different type of a story but also carves a further niche in the sub-genre that is urban fantasy. If you aren’t excited yet for this book, you should be, this is a superb release to start off the new year and one which can be read across genre lines. I can’t wait to get my hands on Shadow Ops series: Fortress Frontier and see where he plans to take the reader next.
Monday, January 23, 2012

2011 BSFA Shortlist with Comments (by Liviu Suciu)

Via SFSignal from which I grabbed the image above and then from Torque Control here are the 2011 shortlist nominees for the British SF Association best novel award. After a few comments, I will include the nominees in the other three categories below.

Best Novel


COMMENTS: While smaller that its US analog Nebula, and not on the scale of the best sff award today - the British Arthur Clarke one - the BSFA awards are (imho) much more interesting and "respectable" than the often butt of jokes Nebula ones and I always take a look at them. This year the shortlist contains three major sf novels that have all made my top 25 list of 2011.

You can find more information and comments in the reviews linked above.

In addition, there is the provocative "Osama" from Lavie Tidhar (the author of the superb "Bookman Files" series from which the third installment The Great Game will be published soon and I plan to review it in early February, while the first two books have been reviewed HERE and HERE). I have a review copy of Osama and I will definitely take a look in the near future too.

Then for the last nominee, Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith, a book and author I have not heard of before - one of the beauties of these lists is bringing such to attention - but as it is available inexpensively as an ebook at the link above, I have just bought it and will take a look as the blurb is intriguing and the sample reads well.

Of the three major novels above, I would go with By Light Alone as my clear top choice and I give it 33% odds to win, though I would say the big favorite remains Embassytown. The Islanders is an extraordinary book in its way, but I would say it is the "most acquired taste" of the three.


As promised here are the rest of the nominees in the other 3 categories.

Best Short Fiction
The Silver Wind by Nina Allan (Interzone 233, TTA Press)
The Copenhagen Interpretation by Paul Cornell (Asimov’s, July)
Afterbirth by Kameron Hurley (Kameron Hurley’s own website)
Covehithe by China Mieville (The Guardian)
Of Dawn by Al Robertson (Interzone 235, TTA Press)

Best Non-Fiction
Out of This World: Science Fiction but not as we Know it by Mike Ashley (British Library)
The SF Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition ed. John Clute, Peter Nicholls and David Langford (website)
Review of Arslan by M J Engh, Abigail Nussbaum (Asking the Wrong Questions blog)
SF Mistressworks, ed. Ian Sales (website)
Pornokitsch, ed. Jared Shurin and Anne Perry (website)
The Unsilent Library: Essays on the Russell T. Davies Era of the New Doctor Who (Foundation Studies in Science Fiction), ed. Graham Sleight, Tony Keen and Simon Bradshaw (Science Fiction Foundation)

Best Art
Cover of Ian Whates’s The Noise Revealed by Dominic Harman (Solaris)
Cover and illustrations of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls by Jim Kay (Walker)
Cover of Lavie Tidhar’s Osama by Pedro Marques (PS Publishing)
Cover of Liz Williams’s A Glass of Shadow by Anne Sudworth (Newcon Press)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

"In the Mouth of the Whale" by Paul McAuley (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Official Paul J. McAuley Website
Official Paul J. McAuley Blog
Order “In the Mouth of the WhaleHERE
Read 12 Chapters from In the Mouth of the Whale
Read FBC Review of "The Quiet War"
Read FBC Review of "Gardens of the Sun"
Order Stories from the Quiet War HERE

INTRODUCTION: As I have read and hugely enjoyed almost all sff Paul McAuley has written to date as well as a few of his near future thrillers, In the Mouth of the Whale has been one of my most awaited novels of 2012. While events in the duology The Quiet War/Gardens Sun impinge a little, this novel takes place far away in time and space and it's a standalone which can be read independently.

One thing of caution: as the main points of the two above novels are retold here, In the Mouth of the Whale contains huge spoilers for the preceding duology, though to be honest the characters and world building are such a big part of the enjoyment of the author's novels, that storyline spoilers are ultimately not that important.

And of course I highly recommend you to try The Quiet War and the stories from its universe, part of which the author has recently released inexpensively HERE.

The author describes the novel much better than I can on his website and I will reproduce his "overview" below, while the first 12 chapters can be read at the link above. As Paul McAuley says (and on reading the book I feel this overview presents the book pitch perfect):

"After you die, what do you do for the rest of your life?

The posthuman Quick settled the system of the star Fomalhaut long ago, and created garden worldlets and thistledown cities in its vast dust ring. An empire that after centuries of peace fell to a second wave of settlers, the fierce and largely unmodified True People. And now the True are at war with interlopers from another interstellar colony, the Ghosts, for possession of Fomalhaut's gas giant planet, Cthuga.

In the damaged and perilous Amazonian rainforest, the precocious Child is being groomed for her predestined role. But control of her story is fraying, and although she is determined to find her own path into the future, others have different plans.

In the war-torn worldlets of Fomalhaut, a librarian, Isak and his assistant, the Horse, are harrowing hells, punishment for a failure they can never live down, when they are given a new mission. The Library of Worlds has been compromised by a deep, mysterious conspiracy; as Isak and the Horse attempt to unravel it, they're drawn into the final battle for Cthuga.

And aboard a vast scientific project floating in Cthuga's atmosphere, a Quick slave, Ori, is snared in the plans of an eccentric genius. As the Ghosts mount their final assault on Cthuga, she discovers that she hold the key that determines the outcome of the war.

Three lives. Three stories that slowly draw together. And at their intersection is the mystery at the heart of Cthuga. Something dangerous and powerful. Something that may not only shape the future of humanity, but may also give control over the shape of its past."

ANALYSIS: Structurally, In the Mouth of a Whale is pleasantly symmetric with four main parts in which each of the three threads alternate modulo 3 starting with the unknown god-like narrator of the Child's journey, followed by Isak's first person narrative and ending with Ori's thread told in third person pov style. These parts have 12,12,9,12 chapters respectively, while the last part that concludes the stories of our main characters in three final chapters reverses the order, so now Ori's story is first.

The transitions are handled very well as they make you want to read what comes next in that particular thread, but also what comes next in the upcoming thread and the book maintains this balance to the end. The style transitions well too, from the more serene and slower moving chapters where the unknown entity narrates, to the immediate saga of Isak, the Horse and later Prem, where Isak comes as the typical "naive do gooder but very likable" hero of sf, so you cheer for him, to the action packed, darker story of Ori and the Quicks.

Overall the first three quarters of the novel were the kind I really wanted to just go on and never finish, while also reminding me why sf is still the most interesting literature when done superbly like here; sense of wonder, great characters, and for once the (as genre sff goes of course) stylistic daring I mentioned above. The last quarter was all action and things converged well with a great ending.

A combination of real - space shoot outs, strange habitats with everything from primitive life forms, dangerous animals to post modern grifters - and virtual action - harrowing hells, immersive drone combat -memorable characters and world building involving human/posthuman clades, slavery and superb references ("wreckers", "the True"...) weave into a rich tapestry that contains hard sf - biology and physics with a sprinkle of math - sociology and politics as well as a deep sense of history and what evolution means, while the speculations about future technologies and future possibilities for humanity are very convincing.

I also want to emphasize the "realistic feeling" that the author's exquisite world building induced, without info-dumps or too much jargon. I will direct you to chapter eight, so #3 in Isak's narration for a great example of this, while I will quote a few paragraphs here:

"A steady spout of water poured from a notch in the fountain's bowl, feeding a stream that ran off along a channel cut in the lawn, rippling clear as glass over a bed of white and gold quartz pebbles. We followed it through a rank of cypresses and emerged at the edge of a short steep slope of loose rock and clumps of dry grass. The parkland I had glimpsed from the flitter stretched away beyond, a mosaic of dusty browns and reds enlivened here and there by vivid green stands of trees. The sky had taken on the dusky rose of sunset, and clumps of stones glowed like heated iron in the low and level light. Rounded hills rising on either side hid the margins of the platform: the parkland seemed to stretch away for ever, like the landscapes of sagas set on old Earth.

Lathi Singleton dismissed my praise of the illusion, saying that it was simple stagecraft. 'My interest is in the biome itself. The plants and animals, and the patterns and balances they make. This one is modelled on Africa. You have heard of Africa?'

'It's where we first became what we are, Majistra.'

'I once kept a species of early hominin in this biome. Australopithecus afarensis. The reconstructed genome is contained in the seedship library; it was easy to merge it with Quick templates. And of course we hunted the usual Quick variants as well. But those happy days are long gone,' Lathi Singleton said, and walked off down the slope, stepping quickly and lightly beside the stream, which dropped down the slope in a ladder of little rills and waterfalls and pools, its course lined with red and black mosses and delicate ferns as perfect as jewels.

It grew warmer as we descended, and by the time I caught up with Lathi Singleton, at the bottom of the slope, I was out of breath and sweating. The stream emptied into a wide pool of muddy water whose margins had been trampled by many kinds of feet. Scaly logs lay half in and half out of the water on the far side. When one yawned, its mouth two hinged spars longer than a man's arm and fringed with sharp teeth, I realised that they were a species of animal.

'They won't hurt you because they can't see you,' Lathi Singleton said. It was the first time I had seen her smile. 'None of the fauna can see or smell anyone unless I want them too. Come along. I've arranged a little picnic. We'll eat, and I'll tell you what I need you to do, and why.'"

Overall In the Mouth of the Whale (top 25 novel of mine in 2012 and very likely a top 10, possibly a top 5) delivered what I expected and more and shows Paul McAuley at the top of his game. I would love more in this superbly rendered universe as I think there is a lot of scope for stories of humanity's clades and destiny as imagined by a modern master of science fiction.

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