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Friday, November 30, 2012

The Curse Of Troius by Alan Edwards (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read an excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Alan Edwards majored in English at the University of Florida before switching to an accounting degree, which he completed while working full-time and attending night classes. Since then he has worked as an accountant and keeps himself sane by reading, playing computer and console games as well as tabletop role-playing games, watching TV, and playing with his dogs. This is his debut.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A mad necromancer has plans to build an ever-growing army of the undead in order to revenge himself on the wizards and commoners who dared judge him. Unfortunately, the hungry dead are difficult to keep reined in, and the long-crafted plan quickly goes awry. When the tower of Troius is breached by curious treasure-seekers, the undead move into the countryside of the quiet backwater of Northreach, an ignored land north of the city-state of Anticus.

The village of Daneswall is a remote, self-sufficient community of farmers and craftsmen, content with their lives and the order their days fall into. When a stranger arrives, the town struggles to accept him, with most keeping him an outsider and at arm’s length. When the horde of abominations comes to the town, however, the Stranger’s past life may be the only thing that can help them survive.

CLASSIFICATION: Dawn Of The Dead meets Relic in this eclectic genre debut. 

FORMAT/INFO: The Curse Of Troius is 274 pages long divided over ten numbered chapters and a prologue. There’s also a Pronunciation guide for all the names and phrases mentioned in the book, an excerpt for the sequel and a Glossary. Narration is in the third-person omniscient via many characters. The Curse Of Troius is the first volume of the Northreach saga.

April 14, 2010 marked the Trade Paperback and e-book publication of The Curse Of Troius and was self-published by the author.

ANALYSIS: Alan Edwards’ debut attracted my attention for a couple of reasons; primarily because Alan’s debut featured zombies and a small village that was unprepared to face the zombie threat, I was excited to see how this debutante would utilize zombies in a fantasy setting. Secondly it came with Steven Montano’s glowing recommendation, I always keep an eye out for his recommendations as I've found that his views match mine to a certain extent.

The story has multiple plot threads and begins with various characters; the first one is about the banishment of the wizard Troius for his heinous and malevolent acts against simple folk. Then we get a POV from a wizard who is in training and then further events occur that form the back story of this book. The story has a lengthy prologue and we get to meet one of the main protagonists in the first chapter, who remains nameless for quite a while in the book. We are then slowly and surely introduced to all major characters of the village and thus the author further diversifies the POV structure. The story then is propelled forward by having certain events to take place that cause the zombie outbreak to occur and then the author gives us a very visceral and close eye view of the events that unfurl.

The author then completely unleashes the myriad action and gore-filled sequences as various parties are stricken by the undead horde while a few others manage to make a stand and try to save their skin. The book has some constant plot switches as well changes in POV narratives thereby keeping the readers on their toes but also at the same having the effect of a bit of narrative vertigo. I don’t know whether the author did this purposefully but often the narrative switches to a completely new character that might not make it till the end of the plot thread. There’s this unpredictability factor that makes the read that much more of a page-turning kind.

The story also has a large character cast however not all of them get to be on stage for long and several of them meet quite some gruesome ends. The story however has quite a lot of pace to it, the events are quickly set up and the author wastes no time to get into the main happenings. This will be helpful to the reader, as they will be racing along with the story to see what happens next. The biggest drawback of the story is also one of its unique features namely the multivariate POV cast and the constant switches. It makes the story appeared more hurried than it is, it also it doesn't give the reader much time to form connections with any of the characters as they are unsure whether they might make it through along with with changes as well.

This overall story felt like the Dawn of the Dead crossed with the Relic, featuring zombies that are chasing their prey in a closeted environment of sorts, has been done to death but surprisingly not in the fantasy field. Alan Edwards exploits this wonderful idea and give us a harrowing read wherein the reader gets an omniscient view into some horrific events. One of the main characters bears a close resemblance to agent Pendergast of the Relic-Reliquary duology and his entry into the story is very similar to that of Pendergast’s, mysterious and alluring. Another drawback to this tale is the fact that it often feels like a lengthy prologue to the story that is yet to come. The story also ends on an abrupt note of sorts and of course this means that the reader will be very curious to read the next book. (or atleast that’s what I think the authorial intent was)

I as a reader couldn't shake that feeling and I think a few others might share the same thoughts. The author however does his best to however keep the reader entertained while shining a light on various nooks and corners of his world and its backstory. I think this move was done so that those very things will come into play in the future volumes. The prose standard is good however it is not something that will have critics dancing with glee. Lastly the author lays the seeds for the future stories and it will be up to the reader to catch them and think upon what the future holds for our survivors.

CONCLUSION: Mixing zombies and fantasy, Alan Edwards decides to turn a few tropes on their heads while giving his readers an interesting story and the first volume of the Northreach saga. The Curse Of Troius is an entertaining read and it veritably heralds an author who’s not afraid to meld genres and tropes and force the readers to let go of their pre-conceived notions. Alan Edwards has given us a very good story, read this debut if you are tired of the usual zombie or fantasy fare.
Thursday, November 29, 2012

GUEST POST: Cross-Genre Writing (Or, Attack of the 50-Foot Machine-Gun Toting Vampire) by Steven Montano

When I went to college for my Creative Writing degree, it was made very clear that there was fiction writing (which is a term English teachers use to refer to literature luminaries like Melville, Hemingway and Kafka), and there was genre writing (fantasy, sci-fi, horror, crime, western, etc, which was all written by hacks). Genre writing was highly discouraged in my Creative Writing classes, as it was the general belief held by my professors that constraining one’s self to genre stunted potential growth as an author. Or something like that.

Personally, I thought that was a bunch of crap, and I still do. A couple of my professors, however, who were apparently impressed with my writing skills but saddened by my insistence on writing horror and fantasy, suggested I explore the boundaries of my chosen genres to learn the full range of conventions, stereotypes and cliches. The idea was to understand the so-called “constraints” of genre well enough to stretch them when possible, obey them when necessary, and disregard them without making a fool out of myself.

Well, give my professors a prize, because learning the boundaries of genre convention actually wound up helping me quite a bit. (See Mom, I DID learn something in college!)

I have fairly broad tastes, but most of what I read, regardless of genre, has a very particular feel and mood: I like stuff that’s dark, gritty, dramatic, poetic, and moving. I've never once read an author whose work I completely wanted to emulate, but I've had plenty whose work I wanted to borrow from:China Mieville, J.V. Jones, John Marco, Cormac McCarthy, C.S. Friedman, Clive Barker, Tanith Lee. Clearly, when writing, an author should probably create something they’d also enjoy reading (or maybe that’s just me), and that’s something I always try to keep in mind when I sit down to create a rough draft.

I've tried my hand at epic fantasy a few times, but I could never get those works to feel like…well, like “me”. They felt more like “me trying to write like someone else”. My voice – my real, honest, personal writer’s voice – isn't like one writer, but many writers, and similarly my tastes in genre aren't bound to one, but to several. I love epic fantasy, but I also love dark fantasy, and science fiction (especially military sci-fi), horror, action, suspense, and even poetry.

When I sat down to write Blood Skies (originally titled Red) as a Nanowrimo project back in 2009, I decided to literally let my mind go wherever it wanted, so long as I enjoyed reading what I’d been writing. Very little planning went into the rough draft: I literally just went with the flow. The first pass was much more steampunk than the final version might indicate, with flintlocks and blunderbusses instead of auto-mags and sniper rifles, rapiers and cutlasses instead of machetes and katanas, and I edited all of that out because, once again, it didn’t feel like “me”. I made a conscious decision to upgrade things to a more modern time frame, and that was when I came up with the notion of a world literally forged around the concept of “anything goes” – a world very similar to Earth, but one that had also been transformed and resembled other, more fantastical places as well. And so the World After the Black was formed.

Now I had a world to work with that was populated by magic, monsters, vampires, some elements of steampunk technology (dirigibles, thaumaturgic implements), modern weapons (machine guns, modern knives, etc) and a bunch of other crap that had absolutely no basis in reality whatsoever (turbine-powered airships, undead cargo vessels, necrotic generators fueled by dead angels, etc.). The best part was it all made sense. It was a world where bits and pieces from other realities had been mashed together to form an entirely new place, where a wide array of traditionally disparate elements could be found operating in relative harmony.

So in a way my world became a metaphor for cross-genre writing: a very direct and entirely unsubtle way for me to throw bits and pieces of all the various fantasy/sci-fi/horror elements I loved without having the finished product feel unrealistic. You see, the trick to cross-genre writing is this: you can do whatever you want, so long as you follow the rules you lay down. If you want to use a telepathic Cyclops with a howitzer, damn it, use a telepathic Cyclops with a howitzer…but your world had better be set up for a telepathic Cyclops with a howitzer to exist in terms of the rules of that world, the tone of your novel and setting, and the general mood and feel of the story.

Any given genre already has a set of rules attached: these are the conventions of the genre, the things we take for granted. If we’re reading high fantasy, we expect magic and elves and trolls and swords; if we’re reading military sci-fi, we expect power armor and big guns and world-wrecking weaponry. There’s no rule that states you can’t have elves with guns fighting trolls in power armor, but it’s the author’s job to sell the reader on the fact that this is possible within the context of the story.

The world of Blood Skies, for example, certainly has its limits. Magic works in a particular way; vampires follow a certain model (albeit not one that involves sparkles or romance); and even though there are M16s and eyeless seers and bio-engineered troll mercenaries, everything makes sense within the context of the book, and I do my best to present these elements in a believable and realistic fashion, even in the scope of an entirely preposterous setting.

Genre writing is about working with conventions and filling certain expectations. Writing with more than one genre is simply broadening the playing field. No matter how big the field, you still have to follow the rules. The nice thing is the author makes those rules, and so long as the reader is willing to go along for the ride, anything is possible.

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Steven Montano is the author of the Blood Skies series. Steven attended college at University of Colorado wherein he graduated with a degree in creative writing. He currently works as a certified public accountant. He’s also addicted to caffeine, movies, and NBA basketball. He lives with his wife, two kids, and a dog of dubious intellect in south of Seattle, Washington. Blood Skies was his debut.

Official Author Website
Read FBC's review of Blood Skies
Read FBC's review of Black Scars
Wednesday, November 28, 2012

"The Hydrogen Sonata" by Iain M. Banks (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

INTRODUCTION:  "The Scavenger species are circling. It is, truly, provably, the End Days for the Gzilt civilization.

An ancient people, organized on military principles and yet almost perversely peaceful, the Gzilt helped set up the Culture ten thousand years earlier and were very nearly one of its founding societies, deciding not to join only at the last moment. Now they've made the collective decision to follow the well-trodden path of millions of other civilizations; they are going to Sublime, elevating themselves to a new and almost infinitely more rich and complex existence.

Amid preparations though, the Regimental High Command is destroyed. Lieutenant Commander (reserve) Vyr Cossont appears to have been involved, and she is now wanted - dead, not alive. Aided only by an ancient, reconditioned android and a suspicious Culture avatar, Cossont must complete her last mission given to her by the High Command. She must find the oldest person in the Culture, a man over nine thousand years old, who might have some idea what really happened all that time ago.

It seems that the final days of the Gzilt civilization are likely to prove its most perilous."

The Culture. For any sf fan, there is no question what the previous words refer to, as IM Banks' extremely popular universe - about which you can read in more detail in the link above - and its amalgam civilization led - ok, forming a consensus generated civilizational direction - by the powerful and quirky AI ships with funny and/or weird names are the ultimate in wish fulfillment.

Benevolent godlike beings and heaven/utopia in our Galaxy, though of course there are external factors, occasionally morphing in threats like the nasty Idirans or the mysterious Excession, make The Culture the automatic answer one has when asked in which fictional civilization one would wish to live assuming the law of mediocrity - ie one would be born randomly in said society so would be likely to have the status of its majority.

The first three Culture books, Consider Phlebas, Use of Weapons and The Player of Games are the three best sf novels ever, with Use of Weapons being first sff on my all time favorite list at number 7. I have read each of them ten+ times across the years and they are as fresh as ever even today. 

The following 5 Culture novels, Excession, Inversions, Look to Windward, Matter and Surface Detail did not quite manage to get at that level, though each has its powerful and memorable moments and in the last several ones, IM Banks started building the universe in a systematic and consistent way with levels of civilizations, spheres of interest, client species etc.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "At sunset above the plains of Kwaalon, on a dark high terrace balanced on a glittering black swirl of architecture forming a relatively microscopic part of the equatorial Girdlecity of Xown, Vyr Cossont - Lieutenant Commander (reserve) Vyr Cossont to give her full title - sat, performing part of T.C. Vilabier's 26th String-Specific Sonata For An Instrument Yet To Be Invented, catalog number MW1211, on one of the few surviving examples of the instrument developed specifically to play the piece, the notorious difficult, temperamental and tonally challenged Antagonistic Undecagonstring - or elevenstring, as it was commonly known.
T.C. Vilabier's 26th String-Specific Sonata For An Instrument Yet To Be Invented, MW1211, was more usually known as "The Hydrogen Sonata".

The Hydrogen Sonata is the 9th Culture novel and it was excellent, though maybe not the best Banks or the best of 2012, but still the top sf of the year for me for inventiveness, literate writing and all around joy of reading. 

The storyline is relatively predictable and the plot in so far there is such, is not particularly exciting, but that does not matter as the simple fact of taking another Culture universe tour and dealing even just at a distance and through a looking glass so to speak with the Sublimation - the equivalent of "true godhood" in the universe, rightly kept ineffable and unknowable not only for us puny minds, but also for the AI's too however powerful they are. 

Don't plan on subliming yourself however as a puny human you need a full civilization to do it and not be washed by the transcendental.

"Eighteen kinds of weather. Of all the things she’d heard about the Sublime, throughout all the attempts people had made to explain what it was like in any meaningful way, that was the one detail she could remember. It had eighteen different types of weather, not one. She wasn’t even sure what this really meant, let alone whether it was genuinely an improvement on reality."

In content the novel is very Excession like - with Excession itself mentioned a few times and its ITG - interesting times gang - a sort of model for the current group of "concerned" Minds, a sort of upgrade of that with the world building of Surface Detail, so it lacks somewhat the strong human(oid) characters from Transition or Surface Detail.

The best characters are Minds - their names are as good if not beat anything in the Banksian ouevre to date, eg Mistake Not... (full name to be found reading the novel) or Just The Washing Instruction Chip In Life’s Rich Tapestry, avatars and maybe the uber bad guy of the Gzilt, while Vyr Cossont herself is more of a witness to which things happen than a prime mover.

Hydrogen Sonata has so many cool little things that is hard to even enumerate them - some highlights are a guy with 4 hearts and 52 penises living in a continual orgy, someone else who retreats into sound so he takes out his eyes and replaces them with ears inside the eye-globe, the special instrument to play the title sonata on and so on, so on...

As noted above there is a rich tapestry of civilizations, most notably the Gzilt and a few Scavenger lower level species that want to upgrade themselves once the Gzilt are gone, lots of local action - ship fights, personal fights, avatar mano a mano with a high powered special operation soldier with weapons that can do real damage - intrigue, manipulations, murders, though ultimately the local dominates the global with no particular overreaching conclusion, "good beats evil and everyone lives happily ever after" or "to be continued" more typical of sff.

In this way, The Hydrogen Sonata goes structurally against genre conventions and towards literary "life goes on" conclusions, though with pyrotechnics and sense of wonder galore. Overall, The Hydrogen Sonata is my top sf of 2012 and a worthy addition to the Culture canon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Spotlight on Three Independent Titles: Elizabeth Hill, Doug Dandrige and Andy Monk (with comments by Liviu Suciu)

"Doesn't she know you can't do real magic alone?"

Freshly graduated from the Voleno Academy, Faylanna Derrion is trying to find her solitary place in a world where she and her fellow Magicia are expected to find their magical partner as soon as possible. When her mentor and his partner are taken by a terrible darkness before her eyes, her flight to find help brings Tavis into her life.

Can she learn to see him as more than a simple farmer or will she accede to her father's demands to return to her family's home, following a path others have laid out for her? Can she choose her own course, after a lifetime of refusing to bind herself to anyone.

The debut of the series titled The Mirrors of Bershan, Bound by J. Elizabeth Hill attracted my attention with a blurb that is more personal than the usual "evil is rising and only the super dee duper hero/heroine/combination thereof who do/do not/maybe know they are so destined can save the world as everyone knows it" and also by lacking any mention of dragons, elves, goblins, vampires, ghosts etc.

There is the "terrible darkness" true but the sample I checked was intriguing, while the narrative flowed well so I decided to give it a serious try. Expect a report and/or a review here in a few weeks! In the meantime you can check 20% of the novel at the following  Smashwords link.

Edit 11/27/12 I actually finished Bound last night in one continuous reading session as it is a fast paced novel that makes one keep turning the pages; highly recommended and a full review in a week or two.

For now I will note that the novel ends at a good stopping point with promise of a lot to come - the big picture in other words just starts coming into focus, while the novel's main storyline is solved more or less, though of course this leads to deeper questions.

As content I would say that the Collegia Magica series by Carol Berg is a good reference, while as style Paula Brandon's (Volsky) recent trilogy is a good comparison. The next book in the series is of high interest as I want to see where things go!


Humanity's worst nightmare has again come out of the Dark. Can a human race in turmoil survive?

When the human race faces extermination at the hands of an expanding species the last survivors travel a thousand years to reestablish the race ten thousands light years away. It is now a thousand years after the birth of the New Terran Empire. The race has aggressively expanded during that time, with a fleet that has never lost a war against an alien species. But the signs are there, the old enemy is back, and the Fleet will face its greatest challenge in a foe fifty times their size.

Science fiction in the tradition of Anderson and Weber, where the physics of normal and hyperspace dictate the strategy and tactics. Enormous fleets battle across the immensity of space with advanced technologies. Can the proud human Fleet hold off the tide of an advancing enemy, rallying allies and deploying new tech? Or will the conquerors achieve what they could not two thousand years before, and end the existence of the upstarts

Exodus: Empires at war 1 by Doug Dandridge is advertised as the start of an epic military space opera in the Weberian style and since I liked the sample I bought the ebook a few days ago and I plan to read it soon. The novel - even beyond the Amazon sample - reads well and while this is no guarantee it will keep my interest till the end, I hope it will go more like Hegemony which I really enjoyed than like Alarm of War which turned pulpy quite fast...


"The road has brought him home.

Running from a broken heart and the hangman’s noose he followed the road across Europe; searching for happiness in a pretty girl’s smile, the turn of a card and the depths of a brandy glass. Instead he became a womanizer, and then a thief living behind a charmer’s mask until, finally, the road ensnared him in insanity and murder.

It is 1708, the Age of The Enlightenment, and, in the shadow of the nearly completed St Paul’s Cathedral, Caleb Cade has returned to London a broken man; incapable of love and terrified of the grave, his only friend the half imagined ghost of his dead brother.

The road has now brought him home for there is nowhere left to run and his only hope of redemption is to find the man he might have been.

Haunted by his own ghosts and demons, he relives the events that led to him fleeing England twenty years before whilst trying to make sense of the selfish wasted life he has lived.

He is befriended by a fellow libertine who shows him that not only is it still possible for him to feel love, but that he could also free him from the grave and the clutches of The King of the Winter who has been waiting patiently for him for so many years.

When love and immortality are snatched from his grasp his friend is revealed to be a monster even more broken by love than Caleb. Although he knows what he felt was just a vampire’s trick, what price would he pay to feel such love again…"

The King of the Winter by Andy Monk, first book in the Absence of Light series, with second book, Ghosts in the Blood out also, is a novel that starts very well. The first pages are evocative and literate and I am really tempted to get the book but the vampire part makes me doubt I would really read it as I cannot stand the buggers and my attempts to read about them tend to end in abysmal failures. 

Still, if vampires in a dark historical fantasy setting as described above tempt you, try the sample of this one as you may be surprised how well written and better than what passes for popular and literate in this subgenre - thinking of say Deborah Harkness - The King of the Winter seems to be!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mini-Interview with Kevin Hearne (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website 
Order “TrappedHERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “Hounded” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “Hexed” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “Hammered” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “Tricked” 
Read my review of “Two Ravens and One Crow
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Trapped
Read previous Fantasy Book Critic Interview with Kevin Hearne 

With Kevin Hearne's fifth book TRAPPED coming out tomorrow, I thought it would be great to have him drop by and tell us about TRAPPED, the current status quo of the series and Atticus' humanity inspite of his near immortality. I hope you enjoy this small Q&A and be sure to grab a copy of TRAPPED when it releases tomorrow.

Q] Welcome back, since your last interview with us, you have had 2 new book releases and have gained further multitudes of fans. How do you feel about your journey so far? 

KH: Kind of stunned and profoundly grateful. Lucky too.

Q] In my review of Tricked, I had mentioned the following: “It’s a bridge novel that is supposed to set up the events for the next part of the saga. In that respect this book is like A Feast for Crows without the unnecessary cliffhangers and the missing cast.” Was that true, isn’t Tricked more alike to the midpoint of the series? 

KH: Well, I’d look at TRICKED and TRAPPED as opposite ends of a very long bridge. Books 1-4 take place over the span of a few months, and subsequent books will take place over the span of about a year. In between you have twelve years of relatively peaceful training—except for what happens in the novella TWO RAVENS AND ONE CROW and the short story in forthcoming CARNIEPUNK anthology. So you can look at TRAPPED as somewhat transitional too, but you’ll have a much clearer view of the road ahead once you finish it.

Q] In Tricked as well as Two Ravens and One Crow, you showed Atticus’ past wherein we got to see a very different side of him. In that regard what are your thoughts as to how Atticus manages to retain his humanity in spite of all his travails and his near-immortal status? 

KH: I would think that if we ever achieved long life we’d need to take a page from Atticus’ book—that is, ground ourselves in the present and don’t dwell in the past. Absorb contemporary language and culture and get a dog, because dogs can’t do anything but live in the present. But we’d also need to develop genuine lasting relationships with people, as Atticus repeatedly did throughout his life. He got married often. Had kids. Vampires and gods and such don’t do that, and that’s what makes them either more than human or even inhuman.

Q] You were recently mentioned in the inception of an anthology called “Carniepunk” which will be released next year. Can you expound on how this collection came together and what sparked its creation? 

KH: That was spawned on Twitter one night in a conversation with Hillary Jacques, a contributor to the anthology. We were riffing on the ubiquity of subgenres ending with the “punk” suffix—steampunk, cyberpunk, bustlepunk, and so on—and taking it to ridiculous extremes. Hillary threw out “Carniepunk!” and suddenly it wasn’t mere goofing around—I wanted to write some! We discussed it some more, invited a bunch of UF authors to write creepy paranormal stories set at a carnival, and Pocket books said yep, that sounds fun, let’s do this. The lineup of authors is outstanding and I can’t wait to see the finished product. And I love that this came about because of Twitter.

Q] You are also versatile in writing several shorts about the Iron Druid Chronicles. Could you tell us about the forthcoming shorts in Unfettered, Carniepunk & any others that you are at liberty to talk about? 

KH: The short story in UNFETTERED is called “The Chapel Perilous,” and takes you way back into the past when Atticus went by the name of Gawain in sixth century Wales—a time before it was really known as Wales. I had a blast playing around with the old Grail legends and providing him with an impetus for becoming the Iron Druid.

The story in CARNIEPUNK is called “The Demon Barker of Wheat Street” and is set a couple of weeks after TWO RAVENS AND ONE CROW.

Also! I have another novella coming out next year called THE GRIMOIRE OF THE LAMB, which will be published here in the States by Del Rey and by Orbit UK across the pond. Atticus and Oberon go to Egypt in that one. Good times.

Q] In your previous interview you had mentioned that the series could be either seven or nine books. Has this situation been resolved, will we get the whole nine book saga? 

KH: The situation is in negotiation right now so I can’t answer one way or another, but hopefully I’ll get to announce what’s happening before the year’s out.

Q] In the past couple of years there have been certain tumultuous events occurring in the world of publishing. There has been the advent of Indie/self-published authors and also the rise of Amazon as a publisher. What are your thoughts on these events and what do you feel about traditional publishing and its future? 

KH: I think it’s all out of my control so I don’t worry about it. The only thing I can control is the content of my books. But I think there will always be a role for traditional publishing. It’s awfully tough to find gold in a river if you don’t have a pan, know what I mean?

Q] With respect to cover art, the first four books featured Atticus only. But with Trapped, Granuaile gets to make an appearance as well. Does this herald an increased role for her in the future books? 

KH: Yes, indeed, it does. She can be an Iron Druid too.

Q] Even though your series embraces a number of urban fantasy tropes (first person POV, tumultuous supernatural world & races), you also have made a rather strong effort to twist them and add in your own slant with a multi-cultural and multivariate mythological approach. What are your thoughts on tropes in general and how did you decide what tropes you wanted to utilize, to entice the reader? 

KH: Funny thing is I didn’t even hear about tropes until after I finished writing HOUNDED. It’s not something you teach in school and I was insulated from writing communities and book reviews while writing it. I thought in terms of archetypes, which are cousins to tropes, I suppose. The only two I consciously developed were the hero’s sidekick and the magician’s apprentice—oh, and the magical weapon, of course. Other than that I simply tried to have fun with mythology in the modern world. There was never a conscious decision to twist a trope, but I did want to update the old myths a bit.

Regarding tropes in general, I’m a bit leery of learning any more about them. The temptation would be to think of all stories in terms of formulas instead of in terms of character development. I think it could turn a writer a bit cynical and perhaps reduce you to constant second-guessing, as in “No, I can’t have an apprentice because it’s been done a million times before,” and of course, it has…but that’s because people have a deep-seated need to pass on their knowledge before they die. It’s real. Some (not all) tropes—archetypes, whatever—are necessary and exist because they reflect reality, and when we see them we shouldn’t accuse writers of being too cowardly or lazy to have their master magician impart all his lore to a random newt.

The danger of cynicism exists for readers too. If they’re looking for tropes instead of looking for a story well told, they can potentially ruin their own experience—as in, “I was hoping to read a great epic and all I got was this lousy collection of tropes.”

Q] With the recent flurry of releases in the urban fantasy genre, readers are always on the lookout for new books and authors. What would be your suggestions amongst your contemporaries and the new authors that you have taken a shine to? 

KH: At this point I don’t actually read much urban fantasy. I tend to read more sci-fi these days, and in that regard, I have a heads-up: Jason M. Hough is the next big thing. I read his debut, THE DARWIN ELEVATOR, which is due out next July, and was completely swept away. I gave him a blurb—and I don’t put my name to just anything—but it goes beyond that. I think I might be a fanboy already. I also love James S.A. Corey and Diana Rowland’s White Trash Zombie books.

Q] Just for fun though, If your books do get adapted for the visual medium, whom would you want to portray Atticus, could you also give us some choices for the other characters as well and who would you want involved with the adaptation? 

KH: My answer might be unsatisfying: If the series ever makes it to TV/Film (a big if, by the way, for any series), I’d like unknowns to play the major characters. They’d get to be known pretty quickly, I imagine. But it would be cool to see some known actors/actresses in the supporting roles. I’ve been thinking Karl Urban would make a great Hal Hauk, and Parminder Nagra would probably rock as Laksha Kulasekaran.

Q] What’s next for you in terms of the world of Iron Druid Chronicles & other new projects? Can you tell us anything about the book, which you are currently writing? 

KH: Right now I’m finishing up edits on HUNTED, book six, and then I have to dive into a Star Wars novel featuring Luke Skywalker. I have other projects coming after that, but I can’t really announce them yet. Suffice to say I’m a busy dude!
Saturday, November 24, 2012

Spotlight on an Unexpectedly Superb 2013 Title: The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord (with comments by Liviu Suciu)

"A proud and reserved alien society finds its homeland destroyed in an unprovoked act of aggression, and the survivors have no choice but to reach out to the indigenous humanoids of their adopted world, to whom they are distantly related. They wish to preserve their cherished way of life but come to discover that in order to preserve their culture, they may have to change it forever.

Now a man and a woman from these two clashing societies must work together to save this vanishing race—and end up uncovering ancient mysteries with far-reaching ramifications. As their mission hangs in the balance, this unlikely team—one cool and cerebral, the other fiery and impulsive—just may find in each other their own destinies . . . and a force that transcends all."

In February of 2013, The Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord will be published by Del Rey in the US and by Jo Fletcher Books in the UK. As I have finished the novel a few days ago (an e-arc courtesy of Net Galley and Random House) and I was very impressed, while February is still a long way to go, I decided to offer a spotlight mini-discussion now, while I will have a full coherent review closer to publication date as this novel deserves as high an audience as possible.

The novel was unusual in some ways, Vancian in some other ways with strange cultures on a planet.

The setup is very interesting - humanity exists throughout the Galaxy but in a few different flavors all having different levels/kinds of psionic powers and of which the cool intellectual telepaths Sadiri are at the peak in many ways as pilots of semi-sentient ftl ships, judges, Councillors etc; Terra is mostly in quarantine but on Cygnus-Beta, described as a galactic hinterland for pioneers and refugees there is a mixture of human races, cultures etc with the planet having a special lore of higher beings called Caretakers as founders who brought human refugees from all over there even before ftl united it

An unexpected genocidal attack on the Sadiri home planet left the mostly male pilots (and everyone who was outplanet) desperately scrambling to reconstitute the Sadiri culture but the sex imbalance means that on the planet New Sadira where the refugees settled, the cool detachment of the species breaks down in fights over mates (usually the bonding being life-long due to telepathy, plus the Sadiri themselves being very long lived also as opposed to regular humans)

So missions are sent to all planets to find Sadiri blood humans and Cygnus Beta due to its very unusual founding/mixture is a prime target

The book is a mostly first person narration from Second Assistant Grace Delarua, a mid 30's woman of quite mixed race on Cygnus Beta (and with a personal history that is slowly teased out) who finds herself working well with the Sadiri expedition and especially their leader, Councillor Dllenakh, a high powered telepath almost at pilot-level but with a troubled (as Sadiri go) personal history of his own...

So Delarua (as even she refers to herself) gets seconded to the expedition and a trek on Cygnus Beta and its myriad strange cultures follow with a lot of adventures, strangeness (including the equivalent of the Seelie and Unseelie court, aristocratic slavers, not to speak of both Grace's and Dllenakh's history coming to life in various ways...) The expedition with its mixture of Sadiri and more regular humans is quite fascinating as characters go, even beyond the main two leads.

Things happen and while the main storyline goes where we kind of see clearly it will go the book is a real delight to read.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Interview with Rachel Aaron (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Read FBC's review of "The Spirit Thief
Read FBC's review of “The Spirit Rebellion” 
Read FBC's review of “The Spirit Eater” & “Spirit’s Oath” 
Read FBC’s review of “The Spirit War” 
Read FBC’s review of “Spirit’s End” 
Read previous FBC Interview with Rachel Aaron
(Photo Credit: Marshal Zeringue)

Rachel Aaron was a debutante author nearly two years ago however with the release of Spirit’s End three days ago, she brings to an end to her wonderful series that has enthralled and gained many readers with each book. The following interview can be considered as a follow-up to the previous interview and has a lot of spoilers in regards to the series’ main plot, world history, her new series and much much more. Please be WARNED that reading the interview before finishing Spirit’s End will most likely ruin the read. For those who have read the entire series, this is the inside-info jackpot, get ready to have your mind blown with all the revelations and tidbits about the world

Q] With the release of Spirit’s End next week, this release heralds the end of your debut series. Nowadays with so many debut authors struggling to cap off their series, What do you think was your secret to finishing yours?

RA: Orbit's commitment to their authors! I actually sold the final two books to the Eli series shortly after turning in the third book, The Spirit Eater. The series hadn't even come out yet, but Orbit is the sort of publisher that's still committed to growing their authors and supporting their list even if the first books aren't best sellers. That's a rare thing and something to be celebrated, I think. I am very very happy they believed in Eli so strongly and extremely thankful that I got to finish his story.

Now, if you're talking about the actual writing part of finishing a series, that actually wasn't so hard. I knew from the very beginning how the series ended, so Spirit's End was mostly a roll down hill for me. I might not have known exactly how I would get there, but I always knew where I was going with Eli, and that let me weave the story much tighter than I could have if I'd played it by ear. It's much easier to look like you know what you're doing when you actually do know what you're doing, more or less.

Q] Many readers feel that your series began on a lighter manner/tone and ended on a much different one. What’s your say on such thoughts?

RA: I can understand their complaints, and I do believe they are legitimate concerns, but if I had it to do again, I'd probably make the first books a little darker rather than make the later books lighter. Since I always knew where the story was going, the darker trend wasn't a surprise for me. Eli's history was in place from book 1, draft 1, and it's a pretty dark story. He's got a lot going on under that charming exterior, and when you start getting into that, naturally, the books are going to get darker.

That said, I think the thing I'm most proud of in the Eli books is how the characters stayed true to themselves even while things were going crazy. As one of my Goodreads reviews said, “the world might be ending, but Eli's still Eli.” In the end, I think this is the core of the series, the fact that even though the world is getting pretty scary, Eli, Josef, Nico, and Miranda are still the same people we fell in love with in The Spirit Thief. In that aspect at least, I don't think the books changed at all. It's the same folks, they just had to put on their serious pants for the grand finale.

Q] In my review of Spirit’s End, I had noted that Benehime’s character felt a bit shortchanged. Obviously you needed an all-powerful villain but from a character’s standpoint do you think her actions were justified?

RA: Oh, Benehime. I felt very, very sorry for her. One of the things I try to do all of my villains is make them understandable. I wanted people to empathize with her, because in a lot of ways, she is a victim. At the same time, a great deal of her suffering is self inflicted. Everything that made her a villain was her own choice, and there are several places in the novel where she's offered a way out... and (not to spoil anything) she doesn't take it.

In a way, her story is very common. She wanted the one thing she couldn't have, and she destroyed herself trying to possess it. Her story was one of obsession and loneliness, and as I said, I pity her very much. But I still think she made the wrong decision at pretty much every turn, and she paid for it. That was what I tried to show, that her decision to be cruel and selfish, to not consider the feelings or wants or well being of others, it was these things that made her a villain. Redemption was always there, but she couldn't bring herself to take it, and that's the true tragedy of Benehime.

So, to answer your question, I don't think she was short changed (because she could have stopped being the villain at any point), but I do feel very sorry for her. She really did love Eli, and she was a very loving and good person at one point. But then, this is why all powerful beings probably shouldn't have feelings: personal problems become worldwide disasters!

Q] I noticed that your next series is under a partial pseudonym, what prompted this change?

RA: Orbit requested it for a few reasons. My new series is a Science Fiction action adventure romance staring an extremely badass female powered armor mercenary. Devi, my main character, is a very in your face kind of lady, and while she is charming in her own rough way, she's definitely not Eli. (Funny story, the Devi and Eli in my head actually dislike each other a lot. I think it's because they both want to be the main character.) Also, the series features a strong romance, sex, lots of firefights, and cursing, which is a decided shift from the much more PG Eli books. It's still not as adult as, say, Joe Abercrombie, but the Devi books are definitely not appropriate for my younger readers.

With so many differences in tone and style plus the switch in genres, Orbit wanted to start me over. The Rachel Bach name was my suggestion since Bach is my husband's last name and he helped me enormously in the creation of Devi's world. That said, if you enjoyed the Eli series (especially the fights) and aren't offended by some cursing and chopping aliens in half, you'd probably like Devi. She and Josef would have a great time together! Also, powered armor is just cool. Not enough books have badass powered armor.

Q] Continuing from the previous question, the blurb for Fortune’s Pawn, the first book of the Deviana Morris series is intriguing to say the least. Can you tell us about the story and more about the world its set in?

RA: Absolutely! Actually, I think the new blurb sums it up nicely:

"All her life, powered armor mercenary Deviana Morris has wanted one thing: to join the Devastators, the most elite armor unit on her home planet of Paradox. But it’s hard to get noticed on a planet of billions. To speed things up, Devi takes a job aboard the Glorious Fool, a trade ship so dangerous that one year of service on its security team counts as five anywhere else."

"The ship’s terrible record doesn't worry Devi at first, but when the captain starts sending her into impossibly dangerous situations no trader should ever get into, she beings to suspect that the Glorious Fool’s problems are more than bad luck. But with her career on the line, Devi’s determined to keep her nose down, despite her growing concern about the captain's strange missions, his creepy silent daughter, and the ship’s insufferably sexy cook, Rupert Charkov, who is definitely more than what he seems. Maybe even more than human."

"With the mysteries piling up and life on the Fool getting more dangerous by the second, Devi’s knows she’s going to have to get some answers fast, before all the secrets send her home in a body bag."

Basically, Devi, our fearless heroine, is determined to jump to the front of the line on her career. To this end, she takes a very dangerous job aboard a trade ship that is, of course, more than what it seems. That said, the Devi books read much more like urban fantasy than hardcore military SciFi. They're still very much science fiction, but more in the Anne McCaffrey / Joss Whedon vein than Heinlein or Herbert. So if you like your space adventures with lots of action, character drama, mystery, and romance, Devi just might be for you. Fortune's Pawn, comes out next May, and I can't wait. It's going to be AWESOME. 

Q] Another funny thing I noticed was that the question regarding Eli’s bounty neatly got sidetracked in the climatic events of the last two books. Do you believe Eli can ever reach that milestone?

RA: He's going to hit a million gold or die trying. He just had to go deal with all that pesky end of the world nonsense, but now he's back on track for what's REALLY important: making his numbers bigger. Eli is a very goal driven individual!

And if he ever does hit a million gold, he'll start going for two million. It's the journey, not the destination.

Q] Let’s talk about some spoilery stuff, what do you think has actually happened in the outside? How did the world come about to be as it is? Who created the powers? 

RA: *SPOILERS* This was the first thing I worked out. Humans are actually a very new addition to this world, it used to be the spirits and the demons who balanced each other in a predator/prey relationship. There was also a Creator who created new spirits as they were eaten, so though the world was constantly being destroyed, it never got any smaller. However, one day, the balance shifted. Demons started eating more, and the Creator couldn't keep up.

I don't actually know what changed, but once it got rolling, the problem grew exponentially. In the end, the Creator realized his entire creation was going to be gobbled up, so he made a life boat, the world as we know it. But it was too small for him to actually fit into. So he made three children out of his own body, the Powers, and put them inside to keep an eye on things while he stayed out to try and put the world back to equilibrium. It's like a father putting his three kids in a life boat and pushing them away from the sinking ship, saying “I'll see you soon,” but then he never comes back. This is the saddest part of the Eli world for me, because it was only supposed to be temporary. It was a life boat, not a home. The idea was that the demons would starve with nothing to eat, which would solve the imbalance and the spirits could come back out. But that never happened, and so the temporary fix became permanent. Benehime and her brothers got stuck doing their jobs forever with no rest, and it made them a little crazy.

The Eli world is only about ten thousand years old, and it really is a bubble floating in the blackness while monsters gnaw on it, trying to get the food inside. Honestly, it's a very scary place, and even now that the power has been divided and spirits are no longer doomed to fall into entropy, the underlying problem hasn't really been solved.

Q] What about sequels, would you ever want to return to this fascinating world, now that no human is spirit-deaf anymore?

RA: Right now I don't have any plans to do more books in the Eli world, but I'm not going to rule them out completely. As I just said above, the real problem of the world hasn't actually been fixed. The Lord of Storms is the Hunter now, and spirits and humans are actually able to work together for the first time, but the demons are still out there and the creator is still lost. So if I ever did do another book, I'd probably deal with this problem. Trouble is, it wouldn't be an Eli book. He's done with all this heroic nonsense. So that kind of dampens my enthusiasm.

Q] In your previous interview, you mentioned that Eli’s world has a Sun and Moon but does not orbit a star. I found that to be a very neat thing, what more can you tell us about this strange world vis-a-vis such quirky facts?

RA: I envision their world more like a diorama than a real universe. There used to be a sun and a moon and all that normal stuff, but it all got eaten ages ago, so there is literally NOTHING outside. Everything the people see inside the sphere is just a projection to keep up the appearance of normalcy. It really is just a painted sky, which was something I played on during the climactic final battle to drive home just how screwed we were. Lots of fun!

Q] As a writer, you debuted with fantasy. What other genres do you want to write in? Conversely what are the genres that you don’t want to venture in?

RA: Well, Science Fiction, obviously, though I've been told I write SciFi like fantasy, so take that as you will. I'm very interested in YA and middle grade urban fantasy and fantasy, as well as some near future Science Fiction (the Devi books are written a thousand years out, so they might as well be another universe).

I've had some great ideas for non-genre books, but every time I try to write one, I get bored half way through and quit. Genre is what I love and I really don't think I'll ever leave it. I need my magic an my space ships!

Q] I liked reading Spirit’s Oath, which was about how Miranda and Gin’s first met each other. Any chance you will be exploring the other characters via such prequel shorts?

RA: I originally had three planned. Miranda's was the first, then a short for how Eli and Josef met, then a really funny little bit about Giuseppe Monpress and Alber Whitefall having this catty, protracted fight over an opera box when Eli was a teenage apprentice thief (which, admittedly, might have been only funny to me because the older Monpress and Whitefall are two of my favorite characters who didn't get nearly enough page time).

Unfortunately, I'm really really bad at writing short fiction. I've always been a novelist, and whenever I try to go shorter, I'm never happy with it. It always comes out somehow too long but still feeling rushed. I still want to tell these stories, so I'm not going to say these won't get written, just that novels are my first love and priority.

Q] You also recently released a non-fiction book, could you expound how it came together?

RA: Yes! I have an ebook called 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love based off my “How I Went From Writing 2,000 Words a Day to 10,000 Words a Day” blog post that went crazy viral last year and other successful posts. All the posts were cleaned up and expanded for publication, plus I added a few new additions on things like character development and story structure just for the ebook.

I mostly wrote this book because I had a lot people asking me writing questions, and my blog just wasn't doing the job. It was too hard to read posts in order, and organization was just a pain. I really wanted to have something I could just give someone and say “you want to know how I write fast? Here!”, and since books were what I knew, a book was what I wrote.

It was also a great way for me to experiment with self publishing, something I've always been kind of interested in but never had a chance to really try. And I've got to say, Amazon has made it stupidly easy to put out a book. Also, I love being able to track my own sales in real time, something you just can't do in traditional publishing.

The book is $0.99, which I think is a perfect price seeing as it's only 30,000 words long. Also, I feel it's vital to have a low barrier to entry for new writers since so many of us have very little disposable income and writing books can be such a gamble. So far, the response has been absolutely wonderful. I've had tons of writers tell me that my book helped them double their word count, which never fails to make my day. I'm really, really happy I wrote the book and I hope it continues to help writers meet their goals. After all, I'm a huge reader as well as a writer, and more writers writing faster means more books for me!

Q] With the recent flurry of releases in the fantasy genre, readers are always on the lookout for new books and authors. Who would be your favorites amongst your contemporaries and any new authors that you have taken a shine to?

RA: Oh gosh, let's see. Well, I've been nursing a serious girl crush on N.K. Jemisin, who's been cementing her reputation as a non-stop awesome factory lately. Seriously, is this woman capable of writing a story that doesn't make it into my all time favorites folder? Also, I just finished and adored Jim Hines new book, Libriomancer, and while it's not really a new release, I really enjoyed J.M. McDermott's Dogsland books. Especially Never Knew Another, which gets my vote for having one of the best titles in modern fantasy and is a spectacularly creepy read.

Those are just a few, but it's really hard to decide. There's just so so so much good fantasy out right now and so little time to read. Oh, such problems to have!

Q] What’s next for you in terms of new projects? Can you tell us anything about the book, which you are currently writing?

RA: Right now I'm finishing up the third Devi Morris book, Heaven's Queen, which is due in January and, being the end of the series, is one hell of a wild ride. Once that's over, though, I'm actually out of contracted work, so it'll be time to think up something new. I'm toying around with a few YA fantasy ideas, but I don't have anything definitive yet.

Even though I'm using Rachel Bach for my SciFi books, though, I'm keeping my blog as Pretentious Title and my Twitter handle as @Rachel_Aaron because I'm just too dug in to switch. That said, I'll be doing all sorts of new writing stuff, Eli updates, and give aways there for the foreseeable future. So come follow me, you'll be in good company!

Thank you so much for the interview. As always, it was a total blast!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The 2012 Goodreads Choice Awards Final Round November 19-27 (with comments by Liviu Suciu)

On Monday November 19th the top ten in each category were announced and the final round in each of the 20 categories has become available for us to vote. As the voting ends on November 27, get your vote in quickly!

I noted in my earlier post my choices and the predictions for the final round. Now I will present again the books in the three main fields of interest, fantasy, sf and historical fiction and discuss my earlier predictions, what actually got in the top 10 and how I see the final vote shaping. 

Once the results are published with the final statistics, a final round-up in December. For the predictions below I used the Goodreads metric: # reviews times average rating.



How did I do? 

I correctly predicted 7/10 including my choice The Blinding Knife; the wrong predictions erred towards epic, namely Red Country and Forge of Darkness, while I should have included the Fforde novel but realized it too late. 

The surprises for me, Some Kind of Fairy Tale (ok but not great imho) and Alif the Unseen which I opened but then it went on my huge "to read" pile.

My Vote: The Blinding Knife again

Prediction: The favorite by far is Stephen King (always popular - which is a bit of a mystery for me as I find his work very boring at best) who leads by a lot in the Goodreads metric so it's the overwhelmingly likely winner.

A slim outside chance:  Brent Weeks or Robin Hobb

For The Blinding Knife I expect a very good 2nd or 3rd place.



How did I do?

I correctly predicted 6/10 including that my choice The Hydrogen Sonata will not make it. The Goodreads sf tastes do not really match mine as of the 10 finalists, the only one I finished is Caliban's War which I liked but thought a step below the superb Leviathan Wakes.
Of the rest, the Pratchett/Baxter is juvenile, tie-ins are rightly known as the "mine pits of genre", Orson Scott Card's fiction never appealed, steampunk is banal today, Angelmaker lost my attention fast, while Wool is written well and I may read it when in the mood for post-apocalyptic, but I feel I exhausted its sub-genre so it may take a good while for that...

My Vote: Caliban's War

Prediction: Based on the Goodreads metric, Wool and Redshirts battle and I see Wool winning on quality versus a sub-mediocre spoof.

A reasonable outside chance: The Long Earth

For my less than enthusiastic choice Caliban's War I expect a 6-7th place finish.


Historical Fiction:

How did I do?  

I correctly predicted 6/10 including that my choice The Secret Keeper will make it. Here I did no research and the genre is only partly familiar, so I missed the two huge favorites based on the Goodreads metric, The Light Between Oceans (ok but nothing special imho) and The Snow Child (better prose but a bit limited).

My Vote: Obviously my #1 book of the year, The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton.

Prediction: The Snow Child battling The Light Between Oceans with The Snow Child winning on numbers outweighing higher rating.

An outside chance: Bring up the Bodies

For The Secret Keeper I expect a respectable 5-6th place.

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