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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

SevenEves by Neal Stephenson (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)

Official Author Website
Order SevenEves HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason." I guess in order to indulge in a bit of world-building one must destroy the world first.

Neal Stephenson is a genius. A polymath with a wide range of interests, he specializes in the big idea, and the more concrete the better. In this way he carries forward the tradition of hard science fiction, in which the best example is probably Arthur C. Clarke. Stephenson eschews FTL transportation, time travel, invading aliens, or any of the other tropes of sci-fi that cannot find a solid basis in contemporary science. Instead he takes what is known, adds what is possible, and extrapolates to what could be. His one concession to the unknown is his opening, noted at top. Although a theory or two are trotted out, we never really learn what caused the moon to explode. Consider it the MacGuffin of the novel, the plot device that gets the action moving. I guess breaking up isn’t hard to do. No exploding moon? No story. Why does it explode? Doesn’t matter. The story is about what happens after.

"The kernel around which the story nucleated was the space debris problem, which I had been reading about, both as a potential obstacle to the company’s efforts and as a possible opportunity to do something useful in space by looking for ways to remediate it. Some researchers had begun to express concern over the possibility that a collision between two pieces of debris might spawn a large number of fragments, thereby increasing the probability of further collisions and further fragments, producing a chain reaction that might put so much debris into low earth orbit as to create a barrier to future space exploration." – from Stephenson’s site.

And the story is a compelling one, not so much in the sense of classic plot construction, but in terms of how we get from the biggest “OH CRAP” moment in human history, to something not guaranteed to soil pants. Stephenson looks most attentively at the engineering details of what is involved in trying to salvage the human race, once it is clear that the sky will go all to pieces, that the term scorched earth will be applicable to all the land on Earth, that the homeland will become a wasteland. What hardware is necessary? What is available? What can go wrong? How do we get from here to up there? This is his gig. He loves this stuff and it shows. He also does a good job of portraying the ensuing struggles down below. Who will be selected to survive? How will they be picked? How will the politics of the selection be handled? What will the criteria be? Ideas bang into other ideas, which fracture and crash into even more ideas, and so on, until you have an entire layer of nifty concept blanketing your brain.

(Crater lake, Oregon where a certain important plot point unfolds)

I think Stephenson is more optimistic than most and his presumptions about the level of on-the-ground conflict and pure lunacy are out of line with what we know about humans. He gives only a little thought to deniers, but in a country like the USA, for example, in which a quarter of the population does not believe in evolution, in which the Republican base clings to beliefs that would make L. Ron Hubbard scream for mercy, in which Texas lunatics of both the tinfoil-hat and elected variety (I know, no real difference there) persuade themselves that a military exercise is a federal invasion, there would be a lot more going on, denier-wise, than Stephenson projects. All theoretical of course, but do you really think that in the time remaining that birthers and those who believe the Apollo moon landing was a hoax would not make use of their considerable ordnance to make life even more miserable for those with brains?

The book is divided into three parts, although it breaks down into smaller chapter chunks. The first takes us from the initial event to the beginning of the end of Earth as we know it, how humanity comes together, or doesn’t, to preserve the species. Part two takes on the final days of earth and a whole new world of conflict, resolution, or not, setting the stage for Part three, five thousand years on, when, through forces natural and engineer-enhanced, it is again possible to set foot on Mother Earth without singeing your toes. The seven eves of the title refer to the last orbiting survivors, whose reproductive capacity and DNA is used in an attempt to reconstitute the species, and, hopefully, in time, reclaim the original Mother ship.

Stephenson does action-adventure pretty well, and there is plenty of that here. The end of the Earth is a compelling starting point and survival of the species concerns will keep you engaged. Will this work? Will that? Who will live? Who won’t?

Character is not the thing in Neal Stephenson fiction. His greatest talents lie elsewhere. Although it is definitely fun that he puts an avatar of Neal DeGrasse Tyson aboard. The significance of character here is to consider personality differences and their social, and genetic engineering implications. Given people with certain traits, how are they likely to behave, and how will those behaviors help or harm the survivability of homo sap? There is consideration of the concept of the state of nature. What is natural for people? How is that defined? Pretty interesting stuff. And there is plenty more brain candy in this book. (Not for you, zombies, go away) On the hardware side, how about harnessing asteroids and comets for raw materials? Using robots of unexpectedly small dimensions for space-mining?

Making orbiting environments in which humanity could survive, and even expand? How about some notions for terra-forming not only lifeless space rocks, but…um…Terra. How about interesting ways of transporting people and materials between orbiting locations, and between Earth and orbit. How about some advanced notions for individual flight on-planet? Life sciences? How about the challenges of food production in space? Bio-engineering is the biggest item here, not only in selecting who gets to be among those sent into orbit to survive torch-ageddon. But in figuring out how the differences in people can be used to ensure survival of the species, and looking at the results, some of which are quite surprising. Social science? Well, the science is a lot softer here, but the politics of end-times Earth and struggles for power among the spacers offer a look at elements of human nature that will be familiar. Stephenson’s optimism about our ability to think our way to actual survival is balanced by his recognition that we are, as a species, probably certifiable, so will continue having at each other as long as there are others to go after.

(An O'Neill Cylinder from the outside)

I am certain that those more versed in contemporary sci-fi will have more recent comparisons to make, but the work that I was most reminded of here is the Hugo-Award-winner for Best-All-Time Series, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. In both, a core of talented people (a broader range of talent than in Stephenson‘s more engineer-and-hard-science-oriented portrayal) are brought together to preserve human culture in the face of an imminent catastrophe. The specifics are quite different, but they share a grandness of vision. No psychohistory in SevenEves, but the multi-millennial look at humanity offers the opportunity for and realization of a great speculative vision.

There are some commonalities between SevenEves and another recent, and very popular, sci-fi offering of the space variety, The Martian. Not in girth, of course. The Martian, at a mere 384 pps, could dock with and be pulled up on the side the 880 page SevenEves like a tender boat on a cruise ship. Both deal with life-and-death scenarios in an airless void (no, not the US Congress), although one deals with a single life in jeopardy, while the other takes on a larger target. But there is a heavy emphasis on tech in both. Weir’s wonderful story offered an engaging narrator and way too much detail on how he goes about attempting to survive while stranded on the red planet.

Stephenson writes about things that he finds interesting whether or not they clutter up the story with technical minutiae, and at 880 pps, trust me, there is too much detail. Hey, his book, his story. He gets off on the details of mechanics, and it is nowhere as mind-numbing as an endless jeremiad by, say John Galt, but you may find yourself feeling a need to skim from time to time. (Purely an aside – I think Chris Moore should write a novel about the Republican clown car of presidential candidates, called The Galt in our Stars, in which someone gets a life threatening disease and no one cares). I wonder also how the very small number of remnant original eves is supposed to be able to provide the training their progeny will require to master all the skills required to sustain civilization. I am sure there are many other details one could look at in considering the next five thousand or so years, but it might take a few more volumes.

CONCLUSION: SevenEves is a major contribution to contemporary science fiction. It is engaging enough on a visceral level, but it is crack not just for sci-fi fans, but for futurists, scientists, geneticists, engineers, and those concerned with how humanity will survive the challenges that lie ahead. It is a big book, not only in its physical bulk, but in its ambition and range of interests. Like the great works of his predecessors, Asimov, Clarke and other giants of science fiction, the vision Stephenson has built in SevenEves will be read, I expect, as long as there are still people left alive, whether on Earth or not.

NOTE: This review was originally posted on Will's blog. Neal Stephenson picture courtesy of Devin Hahn & Bostonia. O'Neill Cylinder image courtesy of the National Space Society. Crater lake picture courtesy of Will himself.
Monday, June 29, 2015

Guest Post: The Pros and Cons of Literary Collaboration By Gail Z. Martin

I suspect that there are as many forms of literary collaboration as there are marriages, and each one is unique based on the people involved and their relationship. After being a solo author on twelve books and dozens of short stories, Iron and Blood, the new steampunk novel set in an alternative-history Pittsburgh, is co-authored with my husband, Larry N. Martin.

Epic fantasy and urban fantasy will continue to come out as solo work, but it's likely that we'll look at new series in other sub-genres as collaborations, and the short stories based in the Iron and Blood world also get co-written credit. Writing three books a year plus monthly ebook short stories plus stories for a lot of anthologies is a lot of work, and I'm not sure it's a pace one person can keep up, at least not for along.

For what it's worth, I'd say that there are three main positives about collaborating, and at least in our case, three minor negatives. Maybe it works differently for co-authors who aren't married to each other, or people who come to the work with radically different backgrounds. Larry and I have been married for 28 years, share a lot of interests and perspectives, and often finish each other's random references. It's a good beginning for a collaboration. 

So the positives:
 #1: Fresh eyes - After you've read something a dozen or more times, it gets very difficult to see errors in logic, typos or other problems. A second pair of eyes helps a lot, especially in pointing out where there may be consistency or continuity issues.

 #2: Division of labor - I do most of the draft writing, while Larry does a lot of the response to the editor's feedback and copyedits. That enables me to keep working on new stuff while we spiff up the submitted work. Likewise, I do a lot of the convention appearances while Larry handles the graphic design for the ebook short stories and our bookmarks, banners, etc. Collaboration gives us the chance to be in two places at once.

 #3: Good ideas - Every author hits a wall now and again. I don't mean writer's block, I mean knowing that you're at Point A and needing to get to Point C but being a bit hazy on the route through Point B. That's when we go out for lunch and bat ideas around, or incorporate a plotting session into a long car drive. Sometimes just a quick conversation yields a "well, what if you did this..." and the story is off and running again. 

Now, the negatives:
 #1: Burn-out - Whether you're collaborating on a book or working together in a small business, the boundaries between work and private time get blurry, especially during crunch periods. It's hard enough to leave the work on the desk when you work at home, but when both of you are deep in the middle of the same project, it can get all-consuming.

 #2: Differences of opinion - Even the most sympatico people disagree from time to time. Sometimes, we each bring different expectations to a scene, a plot point or a character interaction. That's when it's time to sit down and hash it through.

 #3: Varying levels of patience with editing - I get to a point on projects where I'm just ready to be done and move on. Fortunately, Larry is good at reminding me that the devil is in the details, and getting me back on board to do more polishing. When he's the one who is chafing to get to the next project, it's my turn to keep us focused.

In my opinion, the plusses far outweigh the minuses. Together, we can tell more stories in less time and produce cleaner manuscripts than most people could working alone. By dividing up tasks based on who has the patience or natural knack, we get to do what we're good at and enjoy, minimizing frustration. As far as I'm concerned, collaboration is a win-win!


ABOUT GAIL Z. MARTIN: Gail began writing fiction as a child and she was always a voracious reader since childhood, she frequently chose to read books with a supernatural slant, including folktales, compilations of regional ghost stories and gothic mysteries. She credits the TV show Dark Shadows with her life-long fascination with vampires. She discovery SF and fantasy during middle and high school and that has fueled her writing journey. She graduated from The Pennsylvania State University with an M.B.A. in Marketing and Management Information Systems. 

Gail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books and Orbit Books. In addition to Iron and Blood, she is the author of The Chronicles of The Necromancer series from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle as well as The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga from Orbit Books. She also writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures and her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. For more about Gail’s books and short stories, follow her on Twitter @GailZMartin, and join her for frequent discussions on Goodreads

Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Summoner
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Blood King

ABOUT LARRY N. MARTIN: Larry fell in love with fantasy and science fiction when he was a teenager. After a twenty-five year career in Corporate America, Larry started working full-time with his wife, author Gail Z. Martin and discovered that he had a knack for storytelling, plotting and character development, as well as being a darn fine editor. Iron and Blood is their first official collaboration. On the rare occasions when Larry isn’t working on book-related things, he enjoys pottery, cooking and reading.
 Larry can be found on twitter @LNMartinAuthor.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

News: Skyborn by David Dalglish, One Good Dragon Deserves Another by Rachel Aaron, The David Gemmell Fantasy Awards shortlist, Twelve Kings by Bradley Beaulieu, The Death of Dulgath kickstarter by Michael J. Sullivan

Orbit Books are no slouches when it comes to amazing books and equally amazing artwork for those titles. Previously they have showcased their brilliance with the cover art for David Dalglish, Rachel Bach/Aaron, N.K. Jemisin, Joe Abercrombie, etc..

So I was very pleased to see them continue their trend with the release of cover for Skyborn. Tommy Arnold provides the artwork and the cover design is by Kirk Benshoff. Plus here’s the blurb for David Dalglish's next:

The last remnants of humanity live on six islands floating high above the Endless Ocean, fighting a brutal civil war in the skies. The Seraphim, elite soldiers trained for aerial combat, battle one another while wielding elements of ice, fire and lightening. 

The lives of their parents claimed in combat, twins Kale and Breanna Skyborn enter the Seraphim Academy to follow in their footsteps. They will learn to harness the elements as weapons and fight at break-neck speeds while soaring high above the waters. But they must learn quickly, for a nearby island has set its hungry eyes on their home. When the invasion comes, the twins must don their wings and ready their blades to save those they love from annihilation.

I’ll be of course reviewing it and I can’t wait to read this new trilogy from one of my favorite authors.

Rachel Aaron recently posted some exciting news that the second book in the Heartstrikers series is nearly done except for a round of copy edits. One Good Dragon Deserves Another is up for pre-order on Amazon and looks to be released on August 1st. Checkout the amazing artwork above by Anna Steinbauer. Here’s the blurb for it:

After barely escaping the machinations of his terrifying mother, two all knowing seers, and countless bloodthirsty siblings, the last thing Julius wants to see is another dragon. Unfortunately for him, the only thing more dangerous than being a useless Heartstriker is being useful one, and now that he’s got an in with the Three Sisters, Julius has become a key pawn in Bethesda the Heartstriker’s gamble to put her clan on top. 

Refusal to play along with his mother’s plans means death, but there’s more going on than even Bethesda knows, and with Estella back in the game with a vengeance, Heartstriker futures disappearing, and Algonquin’s dragon hunter closing in, the stakes are higher than even a seer can calculate. 

But when his most powerful family members start dropping like flies, it falls to Julius to defend the clan that never respected him and prove that, sometimes, the world’s worst dragon is the best one to have on your side.

I LOVED Nice Dragons Finish Last and for all those who yet to read it (what have you been waiting for?). The first volume is currently on sale for $0.99 so buy your copy pronto and find out for yourself why I love Rachel Aaron’s books so much.

The David Gemmell Awards For Fantasy are possibly the only awards that truly feature the whole of international fandom. Recently the DGAFF committee released the shortlist for the Legend, Ravenheart and Morningstar awards.

Here are the shortlist nominees in each category:

  - Half a King by Joe Abercrombie (HarperCollins)
 - Valour by John Gwynne (Pan Macmillan/Tor UK)
 - Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence (HarperCollins)
- Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson (Gollancz)
- The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks (Orbit)

 - Laura Brett for The Slow Regard of Silent Things 
 - Mike Bryan for Half a King 
 - Jason Chan for Prince of Fools
 - Sam Green for Words of Radiance
 - Jackie Morris for The Fool’s Assassin

 - Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell (Jo Fletcher Books)
 - The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley (Angry Robot)
 - The Godless by Ben Peek (Pan Macmillan/Tor UK)
 - The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley (Pan Macmillan/Tor UK)
 - Age of Iron by Angus Watson (Orbit)

The voting is open from June 1st and goes all the way till July 17th. Be sure to get your votes in for your favorites. I’ve already voted for my choices and I can't wait to see who wins.

Recently Bradley Beaulieu showcased the UK cover art for his upcoming epic fantasy Twelve Kings. It sports a slightly different title for its US release, namely Twelve Kings in Sharakhai.

While both are visually stunning, I find it’s one of those rare times when the US cover outdoes the UK one. I’ll reviewing this one in August and if the pre-release buzz is any indication then this book might be in the running for all the best fantasy lists at the end of 2015. All interested readers can pre-order Twelve Kings In Sharakhai over here.

After Orbit books released the omnibus editions and prequel books of the Riyria chronicles. Michael J. Sullivan recently went the Kickstarter route for the 3rd prequel The Death Of Dugath. After only 3-plus weeks, the campaign has well blown out its original goal and now been funded at little over 182%.

Here’s the blurb for the story:

Three times they tried to kill her. Then they hired a professional. She hired Riyria. When the last member of the oldest noble family in Avryn is targeted for assassination, Riyria is hired to foil the plot. 

Three years have passed since the war-weary mercenary Hadrian and the cynical ex-assassin Royce joined forces to start their thieves-for-hire enterprise. Things have gone well enough until this odd assignment to prevent a murder. Now they must venture into a forgotten corner of southern Avryn—a place whose history predates the First Empire. 

As usual, challenges abound as they try to anticipate the moves of an unknown assassin before it’s too late. But that's not their only problem. The Countess of Dulgath hides a dark secret she's determined to keep hidden. Then there's the little matter of Riyria's new employer...the Nyphron Church.

Take a peek at the various levels that are available to be a backer and be sure to join in. 
Friday, June 26, 2015

Guest Post: Underground Economy: Political and Financial Machines of Cities and Thrones by Carrie Patel

One of the joys of writing speculative fiction is playing with the what-ifs. As an author, I get to build worlds from ideas and civilizations out of thought experiments. This is especially true for my first two novels, The Buried Life and Cities and Thrones.

The world that these stories are set in has a unique history, and the cities they take place in were founded with special forethought and deliberation. Centuries before the events in the novels, they were designed and excavated as bunkers that would support a population while ruin and calamity raged aboveground. Such is the beginning for Recoletta, Madina, Underlake, the Hollow, and other cities like them. But, over time, their growth takes on a life of its own.

There’s a phenomenon known as “Galápagos syndrome” that examines how comparable products, when developed in isolation, begin to diverge. It’s a reference to the evolutionary peculiarities that Darwin observed in the Galápagos Islands. It’s also similar to what happens between the city-states of the novels.

Over a couple centuries of isolation, minor differences develop into deep cultural rifts, and communities that were founded with similar, survival-based goals evolve into complex political entities with different, and sometimes competing, objectives. Yet time and necessity return these societies (in part, anyway) to the surface, where they have to interact. That’s where the fun begins.

Long after the surface becomes safe and habitable once more, the cities remain primarily underground. After all, that’s where generations’ worth of infrastructure has been built, and subterranean life has taken on the force of habit. But as the populations of the cities grow, it becomes more difficult (and less desirable) to produce all of the necessary food and raw materials underground.

So the cities establish farming communes, which are small, scattered communities that supply livestock, produce, timber, and other commodities to the city-states. And though the farming communes are vital to the urban economies, they’re removed from the cities and from one another. This distance diminishes their status, and their lack of organization hampers their ability to bargain.

They’re mercantile colonies in the wilderness, and as the cities own all of their production, the communes have little opportunity to develop into more independent entities. So the world is run by the city-states, and the city-states are run by oligarchs.

Another tendency that has persisted from the founding days is a reliance on centralized authority. In the early years, when the city-states were most vulnerable, their survival dependent on the prudent guidance of key experts—engineers who knew how to safely dig new tunnels and caverns, agriculturalists who could grow enough food for the underground population, and plumbers who could keep the young cities clean and functional.

These first generations of leaders would have passed many of their skills to their own children, and as their children came to assume these vital responsibilities, a dynasty would begin to form. Over time, the needs of the cities would change, but power would remain organized under the influential families that held the most useful resources and relationships.

In Recoletta, this led to the establishment of the whitenail class and the ruling Council. Madina is another city-state introduced in Cities and Thrones, and while it’s also tightly run, its evolution took a slightly different turn. Thousands of people living and working in close proximity developed a complex etiquette around privacy and hospitality. And rather than relying on technocrats, Madinans chose to elect their decision-makers, leading to the rise of qadis, or arbiters with broad authority over matters of state.

Yet as much fun as it is to build up these settings, it’s even more fun to knock them down. Cities and Thrones brings the cities and their farming communes into conflict with one another. The events of the story give the cities something to compete over and the communes a cause to rally around. The shake-up will change these places—and their people—forever.


Official Author Website
Order The Buried Life HERE
Pre-order Cities And Thrones HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Buried Life
Read "Civilization Beneath The Ashes" by Carrie Patel (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Carrie Patel was born and raised in Houston, Texas. An avid traveller, she also studied abroad in Granada, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She acquired her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Texas A&M University and previously worked at Ernst & Young for two years. She currently works as a narrative designer and resides in Irvine, California.

NOTE: Underground City art by Yuanshandai. Author picture and book covers courtesy of the author.
Wednesday, June 24, 2015

"Uprooted" by Naomi Novik (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman & Joshua Redlich)

 Visit Naomi Novik's Official Website Here

OVERVIEW: “Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as though we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.”

Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life.

Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.

The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her.

But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.

FORMAT: Uprooted is a standalone dark fantasy novel which is heavily influenced by folk tales and Grimm fairy tales. There is magic, wizards, mystery, adventure, and a coming of age tale. It is not considered a YA novel, but older teens would appreciate it. There are some pretty dark scenes.

Uprooted was published by Del Rey on May 19, 2015 and stands at 438 pages.

ANALYSIS: (Cindy): Considering I am an avid fan of all things Beauty and the Beast, it could only be expected that a new fantasy novel that is said to be a retelling of this beloved fairy tale would be right up my alley. Throw in having it written by the highly talented Naomi Novik and I knew I had to read Uprooted. Unfortunately, a slow start almost had me missing out on one of the best novels of 2015.

When I started reading Uprooted, I'll admit I didn't feel a connection with anything in the novel. I didn't really feel anything for the main character, Agnieszka. It wasn't that I disliked her; I just found there was a connection lacking. As the story progressed and more characters were thrown in, I still struggled to find a connection with anyone – The Dragon, Kasia, anyone in the book. It just wasn't happening for me. That is until the halfway point.

Suddenly, at around page 150 or so, something clicked and I found myself invested in the story. I found I was connecting and bonding with Agnieszka. I was into the story and I wanted to find out what happened.

Several factors I believe contributed to my struggle with the beginning of the novel. The first factor was the constant comparisons to Beauty and the Beast. There is a very faint connection between Uprooted and Beauty and the Beast, but really the stories are so different. Uprooted is an entirely new fairy tale. Yes, it has some Grimm-like elements, but it is its own unique story.

I feel the comparisons threw me off. I was expecting one thing and it was really another thing. Sure, there is the young woman torn abruptly from her family and whisked away to a castle with a pouting and unpleasant beast-like character. But the similarities end there. If I hadn't heard about this aspect of the novel, I think things would have been different.

Another aspect that contributed to the slow start is everything about Uprooted is completely reimagined. Readers are started from scratch and have to get accustomed to the world, the characters, and the new magic system. In all good fantasy books, this takes time to develop.  Naomi Novik takes her time and carefully develops everything, especially the magic system. While at the moment it was a bit frustrating to have to relearn everything and get acquainted with a new world, in the end it was well worth it. By the time I completed the novel, I actually appreciated the amount of time and effort Novik took to develop all the intricacies.

Once I got past the slow start, things just feel into place. I was hooked. I wanted to see what happened, wanted to unravel the mystery, and just experience what the characters were feeling. By the end of the book, I barely even remembered that I almost put it down when I first started.

Uprooted, with the exception of my personal slow start with the book, doesn't have a lot of problems. The plot is strong, the characters eventually grow on you, there is adventure, mystery and just the right touch of fantasy/folk lore, the magic system is believable, yet thought out and slightly unique, and it really is a dark, unique novel. There is one thing I absolutely loved about this novel – its 'love' story.

Most fantasy books are focused on creating this ultimate love story and having the main characters fall in love with the evil, bad guy or the hard to get character. Uprooted has a love story, but it isn't what you would think. It ultimately tells the tale of what a best friend from childhood would do to save her friend. I loved the fact that romance wasn't the main focal point of the novel and just made this novel even more special to me.

There is one slight issue I came across while reading – the mind reading. The entire novel is written in first person narrative style from the point of view of Agnieszka. Almost like a story teller were telling you the story. Unfortunately, there would be times when Agnieszka would be narrating something or telling you she was thinking about something, and suddenly a character would answer her or start a conversation about it. This first started when Agnieszka was taken by The Dragon. I thought it was some weird mental magic he was doing on her, but this continued throughout the book with multiple people ranging from her best friend to the prince and even random townspeople.

I realize that there were probably 'off page' conversations going on, which explained this mind reading power, but it did make for some awkward parts of the novel and had me re-reading a paragraph or two to see if I missed something.

Uprooted is a standalone novel. There are no current plans to return to the world that is created, but I would gladly welcome any future books if they should come along.

Uprooted is one of the most talked about (and praised) fantasy novels for the year and it rightfully deserves its praise. It is well written and unique. And it has enough of a plot that by the time you finish you feel as if you read three entire books in the span of 400+ words.  

It is hard to believe that I almost missed out on this because of its slow start. It easily became one of my top novels for 2015.

(Joshua): All I knew about Uprooted going in was that it was an unbelievably well received dark fairytale. I had no idea what it was about, and not a clue of what to expect when I went in. But then I began, and I immediately fell in love.

The book, a masterfully told first person account, begins as a twist on the cliché story of a dragon kidnapping a maiden. In this story, The Dragon is a powerful wizard who, every ten years, takes a 17-year-old girl from one of the villages he looks after and keeps her captive in his tower for reasons unknown.

The story quickly introduces readers to this original take on the maiden-stealing dragon while delving into life in the village of Dvernik, which lies beside an evil, magical forest that The Dragon protects it from. But by chapter two, the story suddenly transforms into a Beauty and the Beast tale following the recently chosen victim and her relationship with the Dragon in his tower. At this point, only 30 or so pages into the 400 plus page novel, I began to worry that the book would be a horribly slow-paced love story and that it would take forever for the story to leave The Dragon’s tower, where no one but he and his maiden live. Boy was I wrong.

The novel moved incredibly quickly. One thing after another pulled me deeper and deeper into the story and the lives of the characters (all of who are incredibly well-realized, with distinctive mannerisms that match their individual personalities perfectly). And by the time the story moved away from The Dragon’s tower, I didn’t even want to leave.

While the classic story of the dragon and the elements of Beauty and the Beast were the ones most prevalent at the beginning, the story is mostly influenced by Slavic fairy tales, particularly those of the witch Baba Yaga, a character who actually appears in the book as the mysterious Old Baba Jaga. In fact, the one thing I felt was lacking from the book was more on the mysterious old witch, and I am now left wanting to pour through Slavic folklore to learn more about her. Readers who love fairytale retellings will find this a refreshing departure from the classic Grimm Brothers and Hans Christian Anderson stories that are most commonly used in such books.

Uprooted is also a tale filled with magic, with wizards, witches, and an enchanted forest that are all constantly casting spells or unleashing nightmarish creatures. Yet the magic performed in Uprooted, particularly the type equated with Baba Jaga, is gorgeously wrought, often described in metaphors comparing it to something earthen, like a forest path lined with hedges or a flowing river. These images, which also add to the forest motif that is central to the story, help convey a sort of magic that is almost tangible, allowing readers to experience it in a way most fantasies fail to.

There are so many scenes I wish to explore in depth, but I don’t want to ruin anything. For me, Uprooted is truly an enchanted forest, whose beautiful, sylvan paths twist and turn in unknown directions, and I have no intention of providing any hints as to where those trails lead. This is one forest you will want to get lost in.
Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Fold by Peter Clines (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic Interview with Peter Clines 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Ex-Heroes 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Ex-Patriots 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Ex-Communication 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Ex-Purgatory
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Junkie Quatrain 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of 14 
Read I See Dead People by Peter Clines (Guest Post) 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Peter Clines was born and brought up in Maine, he moved to California when he grew up and worked in Hollywood for a number of years. He has also been a prop master for several movies and TV shows. He has published several pieces of short fiction and countless articles on the film and television industry, as well as the recent novel 14, named best sci-fi novel of 2012 by and voted one of the best horror novels of 2012 on Goodreads and Bloody Disgusting.

He has previously written reviews for the Cinema Blend website and for the Creative Screenwriting magazine as well interviewed many famous film personas such as Frank Darabont, Paul Haggis, Kevin Smith, George Romero, Akiva Goldsman, David Goyer, Mark Herman, Nora Ephron among many others. He currently lives in Southern California. 

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: The folks in Mike Erikson’s small New England town would say he’s just your average, everyday guy. And that’s exactly how Mike likes it. Sure, the life he’s chosen isn’t much of a challenge to someone with his unique gifts, but he’s content with his quiet and peaceful existence.

That is, until an old friend presents him with an irresistible mystery, one that Mike is uniquely qualified to solve: far out in the California desert, a team of DARPA scientists has invented a device they affectionately call the Albuquerque Door. Using a cryptic computer equation and magnetic fields to “fold” dimensions, it shrinks distances so that a traveler can travel hundreds of feet with a single step.

The invention promises to make mankind’s dreams of teleportation a reality. And, the scientists insist, traveling through the Door is completely safe. Yet evidence is mounting that this miraculous machine isn’t quite what it seems—and that its creators are harboring a dangerous secret. As his investigations draw him deeper into the puzzle, Mike begins to fear there’s only one answer that makes sense. And if he’s right, it may only be a matter of time before the project destroys…everything.

A cunningly inventive mystery featuring a hero worthy of Sherlock Holmes and a terrifying final twist you’ll never see coming, The Fold is that rarest of things: a genuinely page-turning science-fiction thriller. Step inside its pages and learn why author Peter Clines has already won legions of loyal fans.

FORMAT/INFO: The Fold is 384 pages long divided over a seven titled sections and fifty-nine chapters. Narration is in the third-person via Leland “Mike” Erikson. The Fold has a self-contained plot and also set in the same universe as that of 14. Readers can read this book without having read 14.

The Fold was published in Hardback and e-book format on June 2, 2015 via Broadway Paperbacks (Crown Publishing) in the US.

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a mix between Michael Crichton’s The Sphere and Sliders the TV series along with some shades of Sherlock Holmes. The Fold is a terrific SF mystery with good doses of humor mixed in that will appeal to all fans of Peter Clines.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I’m an unabashed fan of Peter Clines, ever since I got hold of his Ex-Heroes series back when it was published by the “zombie specialists” Permuted Press. Since then the series has been picked up by a traditional publisher as well as published a couple of other standalone titles. Another book of his that was very well acclaimed was 14 and The Fold is set in the same world and is sort of a side-quel to 14.

The Fold begins on an interesting premise, Leland “Mike” Erikson is a high school teacher in a quintessential Maine town and is very content with his job. His best friend Reggie who is a vital cog with DARPA however believes he’s been wasting his time and wants his help with a project called “The Albuquerque door”. Not telling Mike what it is exactly, he gives Mike enough hints to intrigue him and asks him to come down to Washington for an official briefing of sorts. Before we know it, Mike meets with Reggie and other DARPA folks and is convinced to head down to the Mojave Desert to check up on the Albuquerque door project.

Once he arrives there, he’s looked upon with high suspicion by all the scientists working on the project as they believe him to be a spy. Mike has to slowly find out what the project is all about and whether it has been derailed by anyone. This is the basic gist of this sci-fi mystery thriller that is a cross between Michael Crichton’s The Sphere and Sliders. The basic plot of the story is finding out what truly is happening in the California desert and the way the author goes about revealing the story is very intriguing.

The main protagonist Mike is the sole narrative voice of the story and he’s an interesting protagonist. Born with an didactic memory and an IQ that borders on sheer genius, Mike was destined for higher things. He however in his teenage years had an epiphany and resolved to live as normal a life as possible. With him as a protagonist, we are constantly treated to facts, factoids and tiny little throwaways that keep the reader hooked. Another aspect of his didactic memory and the way the author explores it is by the use of ants. In his mind, memories constantly threaten to be replayed over and over again. They take the form of either red or black ants and Mike has them strictly under control.

The main plot while being heavily immersed in the sci-fi genre is actually a mystery. What is truly happening? Are any of the participants falsifying information related to the research and what truly happened to cause the mental breakdown of one of the research scientists? Peter Clines writes this story with a light humorous note, mixing in nods to pop culture as well as popular TV shows such as Game of Thrones. His style of writing is such that the readers will never be bored of reading his stories even when the characterization might not be top-notch. What I mean by that is while the protagonist is one of the most intriguing ones, I’ve encountered in recent times. The side character cast often takes a back seat and are easily two-dimensional.

This though doesn’t detract much from the story and there’s a particularly good explanation provided as to why that might be the case. For those readers interested to see what the connection is to 14. They will have to read all the way till the end where they might recognize a couple of cameo appearances. There’s also the green cockroaches to further cement the universe in which it is set in and the true focus is always about the mystery.

What I thoroughly enjoyed about the story was the fast pace and the plot twists that come in rapidly. The author is one of those quintessential storytellers and he proves that in spades with this mix of SF and mystery threads that make this book such a compelling read. Sure it will have its detractors and those looking for a well-rounded character cast, might be disappointed. But for Peter Clines fans, they will certainly enjoy this wonderful sidequel. Be sure to have read 14 to make more sense of this story as the climax and epilogue will make so much more sense then.

CONCLUSION: The Fold is a remarkable experiment and in the hands of such a talented writer such as Peter Clines, it becomes a veritable joy to read. Give this book a try if you want to enjoy a good mystery set within the confines of the SF genre. 
Sunday, June 21, 2015

Guest Post: The Allure Of Shared Worlds by Erin M. Evans

There’s something about shared worlds—settings that any number of different authors participate in—that intrigues writers. Maybe it’s that shared pot of readers you can tap into. Maybe it’s the opportunity to bounce off other creators, like improv for writers—“yes, and!” Maybe it’s not so much intrigue as fascinated horror—how do you let go of control of the setting and still tell a great story?

Shared worlds are certainly popular: Forgotten Realms. Thieves’ World. Star Wars. Halo. Warhammer. Wild Cards. Golarion. Eberron. It’s enough to make an author want to build a universe of their own and invite some colleagues to come play! But I’d argue it’s not as simple as just creating a setting that would be at home in a book and running with it. Here are four factors that can make or break a shared world:

 1) Openness — A shared world needs to be able to share. (Duh.) If there’s not enough space for authors to bring their stories to life, it’s going to be hard to entice participants to your project. When you’re writing a setting just for you, you can make decisions without an eye for what opportunities you create or close off—after all, your story is the only one impacted. But if you’re going to share the stage, the more openings for stories and for other authors to bring their ideas to the table, the better.

 2) Limits — On the other hand, you need to have parameters to help shape your stories. If everyone can write whatever they want, why do it under the umbrella of your world? The best shared world fiction I’ve seen takes its cues from the boundaries of the setting—even if it pushes beyond them. If magic works like this, then what happens when someone makes use of that loophole? If this culture is considered the “big bad” of the setting, what do you get when you try and see things from their perspective? Here’s this big event in the past of the world—what did it look like for someone on the ground? Shared world fiction has a lot in common with historical fiction—there are amazing stories to be found between the elements that can’t be moved.

 3) Continuity of experience — The goal of shared world fiction is to create a variety of stories that have something in common. A reader enjoys my story, they’ll give yours a try. All the pull of a series, but expanded! Every author brings their own voice to the table, but the most successful shared world maintains a particular feel. Star Wars novel to Star Wars novel, you can expect to see a focus on good and evil, how you find that line and what it means.

There’s an eye to the theme of legacy, and of course, lots of acknowledgments to the films that started it all. In Forgotten Realms, you can get fantasy with a lot of modifiers—horror, epic, romance, S&S — but there will always be an element of adventure, an element of the heroic, and a good dose of magic and fighting from its Dungeons & Dragons roots. Readers will always have their favorite authors, but that continuity of experience will keep them coming back to give new stories a try.

 4) Something Special — Most shared world settings are speculative or fantastic in nature, and there are a lot of big invented worlds out there. What makes your special? Eberron's a post-war setting with pulp overtones and lots of magic-tech, while still being heroic fantasy. Golarion provides a massive world with lots of detail and a game system to boot. Just like any other work of fiction, your world needs something that catches the interest of readers.

A shared setting can seem like a daunting project or a fun adventure, but with a little forethought, it can be a great place to tell stories for years to come.

Official Author Website

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Erin M. Evans got a degree in Anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis and promptly stuck it in a box. Nowadays she uses that knowledge of bones, mythology, and social constructions to flesh out fantasy worlds. She is the author of The God Catcher and an ex-editor for Wizards of the Coast. She currently lives in Washington State. Checkout the Kickstarter for Champions of Aetaltis: A Heroic Fantasy Anthology in which Erin has a Forgotten Realms story.

The project will end on Tuesday so make sure to checkout all the tier levels and be sure to back the project.
Friday, June 19, 2015

"The Darkest Part of the Forest" by Holly Black (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Holly Black's Official Website Here

OVERVIEW: Children can have a cruel, absolute sense of justice. Children can kill a monster and feel quite proud of themselves. A girl can look at her brother and believe they’re destined to be a knight and a bard who battle evil. She can believe she’s found the thing she’s been made for.

Hazel lives with her brother, Ben, in the strange town of Fairfold where humans and fae exist side by side. The faeries’ seemingly harmless magic attracts tourists, but Hazel knows how dangerous they can be, and she knows how to stop them. Or she did, once.

At the center of it all, there is a glass coffin in the woods. It rests right on the ground and in it sleeps a boy with horns on his head and ears as pointed as knives. Hazel and Ben were both in love with him as children. The boy has slept there for generations, never waking.

Until one day, he does…

As the world turns upside down, Hazel tries to remember her years pretending to be a knight. But swept up in new love, shifting loyalties, and the fresh sting of betrayal, will it be enough?

FORMAT: The Darkest Part of the Forest is a standalone YA contemporary fantasy/urban fantasy. It has a fairy tale feel with a modern setting and lots of mystery and romance. It stands at 324 pages and was published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers on January 1, 2015.

ANALYSIS: Fairy tales and fairy tale retellings seem to be the current 'in' thing within the children's/YA genre. There is a desperate need to take the familiar, retell the tale, and add a slight twist. But leave it to Holly Black to bring the genre a much needed unique fairy tale that breaks this cycle by bringing readers a new, contemporary fairy tale that is creepy, scary, and filled with a little mystery.

The Darkest Part of the Forest begins with the tale of a glass coffin that lies in the center of the woods. Inside lies a beautiful, almost handsome young boy who has pointed ears and horns on his head. No one really knows why or how the coffin got there, but each generation has its own tales, myths, and stories surrounding it. No matter what stories or myths were told about it one thing remains clear – no one takes the glass coffin or the boy inside serious and no one believes he will awaken. Unfortunately, that is far from the truth.

The boy in the coffin awakens. And his awakening appears to be happening just around the time that the nearby town seems to be experiencing an increase in paranormal problems.

Readers are treated to a tale about Hazel and her brother, Ben, as they try to unravel the mystery of the boy in the coffin. After he unexpectedly awakens – after sleeping for generations – the two work to uncover exactly what is going on in their town and if the glass coffin and newest member of the town has something to do with it. While uncovering this mystery, they will face numerous magical creatures and battle an enemy that isn't your average 'bad guy'.

One of the unique things about Holly Black is she has the ability to write in so many different styles and each one she excels at writing. There is the Spiderwick Chronicles, for younger children looking for fantasy/spook stories, there is the Modern Fairie Tales series that is a little more contemporary fantasy, and Magisterium (with Cassandra Clare). Each series is unique and wonderfully written, but not at all the same exact style of writing.

 Fans of Holly Black's previous work, especially Modern Fairie Tales, will certainly not be disappointed with The Darkest Part of the Forest. It has a very similar style of writing. Unfortunately, those not familiar with this style of writing may find it difficult and even a bit sluggish.

I'll admit, even though I am familiar with her numerous styles of writing, I struggled to get into the book. It wasn't that the story was bad, it was just a style of writing I am not 100% used to reading and it took me some time to get into the flow of the writing/pacing.

Overall, there are parts of Darkest Part of the Forest that I loved and enjoyed, and there were parts that I was not a huge fan of at all. This made for a love/hate relationship. I appreciate that it is a good story and I want to love it, but some of the quirks of the book have me reluctant to love it.

What I did love about this novel is that the characters aren't your average gender specific carbon copy characters. Hazel, our main female character, wants to be the hero of things, run off and be the knight in shining armor. Ben, on the other hand, is the hopeless romantic. He wants to be the one to wake up a prince with a single kiss and ride off into the sunset for his 'happily ever after'.

It was nice and refreshing to see an author not only willing to take the challenge of trying new things with characters, but succeeding with it. Hazel and Ben were fairly detailed and their characterization fit with the story. It didn't feel forced or clunky. It worked.

Another aspect of Darkest Part of the Forest I enjoyed was it was a stand-alone novel. There was no need to read previous books to understand the plot and everything was self-contained inside it. Good stand-alone novels are becoming a rarity lately.

Now for the part of the book that I felt really didn't resonate with me. My biggest complaint is the portrayal of the parents. Hazel and Ben's parents are your typical (and almost required) negligent parents. They barely fed their kids growing up, let them wander around and do whatever, and didn't really care to be parents.

Flash forward to the current story and they have supposedly changed, but they were absent for much of the story and really didn't seem very caring. Of course, we – the readers – are told they changed, but it didn't come across that way at all. No matter how hard I tried, I kept thinking back to just how bad the parents were at parenting and couldn't get over it.

Overall, Darkest Part of the Forest is a solid, modern urban fantasy/fairy tale. Holly Black does a wonderful job with the character development and story line – and even successfully threw in a few twists and turns at the end. I did enjoy reading this story and highly recommend it to anyone looking for something a little out of the ordinary.


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
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 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE


 Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
Order HERE