THE FICTIONAL MAN by Al Ewing was not an easy book to read. The main character Niles Golan is a jerk. He's spent his entire life in denial of his own faults (of which there are many) and now that he's alone and miserable he's finally beginning to understand why.
In Niles' world cloning technology exists, but there's too many legalities involved in making clones from real people. The workaround is "fictionals," which are people created from tubes that are the live embodiment of fictional people, for example Sherlock Holmes. Imagine what it would be like to see James Bond in real life--or at the least playing himself in a movie.
But if fictionals aren't real should they be able to have a relationship with real people? Will their wiring allow it? How would real and fictional people interact? What would life be like for a fictional--never growing old, always being stuck being a certain way?
Niles doesn't consider himself a "realist," or a person who considers fictionals to be second-class citizens. His best friend is a fictional (Bob Benton, the Black Terror!), he hired a fictional life coach since his last therapist was so ineffective, and at the bar he often visits sits a woman he stares at who's a fictional (maybe). But as the story progresses it becomes painfully obvious that Niles does have an issue with fictionals, the question is how long will it take him to realize it for himself?
Because Niles is not a very sympathetic protagonist, and he stumbles around his life without any purpose other than his own self-aggrandizement, I had a hard time caring about where the story went. Sure the premise is interesting, and Ewing presents it in a very close-up, visceral way that makes the reader think about prejudice in general and the stereotypes involved. And sure Ewing can tell a story about a very flawed man in a very flawed world where rose-colored glasses were long ago thrown down and ground under foot. But, ultimately this book wasn't for me, because...well, I happen to like roses and nice people and protagonists I want to root for.
Set in an alternate current-day Los Angeles, THE FICTIONAL MAN revolves around Niles' movement as he attempts to come up with a movie pitch based on a remake. But Niles finds layer after layer of background inspiration, and he's compelled to uncover the mystery. Among the mystery are Niles' memories, self-narration, visits with his ex-wife and friend Bob, and so on--all of it together, it's all just so weird. This is an uncomfortable book to read, and it doesn't help that the steady pace is slow and pedantic. The prose is great, very clean and smooth, and it's obvious Ewing's skill with words. Doesn't make the story less weird, though.
So if you like weird stuff with seriously flawed characters and a subtext asking what being "real" really means...then THE FICTIONAL MAN is for you.
Recommended Age: Adults only
Violence: Some punches thrown but that's about it
Sex: Lots of references and details
Find this book here:
THE FICTIONAL MAN
After the exciting events of KITTY STEALS THE SHOW (EBR review), Kitty returns home to Denver to get down to the serious business of building a strong base of allies in the war against the vampire Roman and his plan to change the status of vampires among humans.
But even the best-laid plans seem to go awry. The local vampire master Rick--her #1 ally--is approached by a secret sect of Catholic vampire crusaders and contemplates leaving Denver. A new pack member is causing trouble in the ranks. Cormac/Amelia seem determined to be a thorn in Kitty's side in the name of "helping." And even Kitty's own dysfunctional family demand her time and attention. How is she supposed to defeat Roman if she can't even keep her own life under control?
The eleventh book in Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Norville series, KITTY ROCKS THE HOUSE is a continuation of the buildup from the revelation of Kitty's plan to bring down Roman in KITTY'S BIG TROUBLE (EBR review). As a result of it being buildup this particular episode feels like filler, and even though its multiple plot threads resolve, the book felt too short. I want to get to the meat of the overarching conflict with Roman and didn't see the point of these seeming side-stories. I guess we'll have to see if they're relevant in book twelve.
At this point in the series I'd also have liked to see Kitty be more assertive in her role as pack alpha. In some ways she does show this, but it's inconsistent and she seems whiny. There also isn't enough fallout from Cormac's brash and destructive actions, and Rick seemed more wishy-washy than usual. All these issues made the plot feel forced, which was too bad because the pacing was great. Fortunately Kitty and Ben's relationship is as good as usual and we got to see more of pack dynamics.
A mediocre addition to the series, KITTY ROCKS THE HOUSE really just paves the way for what's coming. It doesn't ruin my enjoyment of the series, but I'm getting impatient for what's coming.
Recommended Age: 14+
Language: Less than five instances
Violence: Some blood and fighting, but minor
Find this book here:
KITTY ROCKS THE HOUSE
Do you hate movie trailers that essentially tell the whole story of the movie? You get three minutes of whiz-bang cool that makes you want to shell out the cash to go watch it, only to end up finding out that what you saw in the trailer was, in fact, the entire movie condensed down to three minutes? Grumble. This book was exactly like that. Read the back cover of this one, read the book, and then tell me I'm wrong. No wait, I've already done all that. Check it out.
TUNNEL OUT OF DEATH is a standalone book written by Jamil Nasir, an author who is probably more well-known for his short fiction than his novels. This is, however, his fifth novel, and at this point I'm going to assume that most of what he's written is science fiction. The covers of his previous books and his work in this one tend to make me believe that. The setup I got for the novel, provided for by the blurb on the back of the book, sounded fairly decent. It's something along the lines of:
Heath Ransom is a former police-psychic turned machine-enhanced “endovoyant” private investigator that is asked to find the soul of a woman, Beverly, that has been cut loose from reality. As he's searching he comes across what appears to be a rip in reality, a black hole of sorts, that leads him to find the woman, but drops him into the middle of a war between secret, ruthless, government agencies and a non-human entitiy known as “Amphibian”. Their battlefield is a multi-level reality that Heath learns to navigate, finding along the way that everyone around him may not be humans at all but instead super-realistic androids. The result threatens not only Heath's sense of reality, but his sanity as well.
Conspiracies, multi-level reality, playing with the line of one's sanity. Not bad. It was enough to at least get me interested. I didn't get very far though before I had some serious issues with the way things were going.
The first was a serious lack of understanding or introduction. Strike one. The first chapter of TUNNEL is a conversation between Ransom and a doctor who is trying to tell Ransom something, but Ransom isn't interested and leaves the meeting prematurely. The second chapter is the conversation between Ransom and a married couple, relatives of the woman whose soul has gone missing, in which they bribe him to do the job (despite the fact that he has no experience in searching for people's souls) with loads of cash. Why? Because, the story has to start somewhere for crying out loud. Then, in chapter 3, we're immediately thrust into the alternate reality, ethereal universe that Ransom can access via some funky Fringe-like setup: wires, sensory deprivation, drugs. No rules are ever established, so we don't know what to expect, and have to just take it on faith that the author is leading us somewhere that we want to go. Tripping through the author's disjointed imagination.
It quickly became apparent that there would be little to no characterization. Strike number two. We get a couple paragraphs, maybe, about the main character. Nothing of substance though. Thus, Ransom becomes this cardboard character with no obvious motivations, other than finding this lost woman's soul, as he wanders through scene after scene of what is described as the woman's “boundary dream,” which from what I understood was kind of like a conglomeration of the stuff that flashes before your eyes just before you die. The secondary characters are much the same. Movement and decision with no justification or even clear reasoning as to why they're doing what they're doing.
And then we get a Noah's ark event (aka: complete wipe of the story). After finding Beverly, the Ransom story line skips several years in which Ransom is living the life of another person: a pool boy, actually. This was the first time I really realized that the author had no idea what he was doing in relation to the story, and my expectations of the book took a serious slide. Fast-forward a bit more, Ransom has learned to navigate himself between his real life and this alternate pool-boy life, and we see Noah wave to us again as he floats by a second time. Another bundle of years pass and by manipulating the future, Ransom becomes filthy rich. It happens about as quickly as I've just explained it there, too. Ohmigosh. Strike three. It is at this point though that Ransom starts to see that perhaps the reality he's living isn't the one he thinks it is.
Ah ha! Now can we find out what's going on? Is the government manipulating him? Is this non-human Amphibian (whom only really makes an appearance once, despite sending his goons in to mess things up a couple times) in charge? Who cares, says the author. Instead, the story is forgotten and what we get some dubious pontification on the reality and transition of death, random references to God and/or eternity, and we're done.
But he's finally figuring out that reality isn't what he thinks, I say. I finally got to the end of what was in the book teaser. Now what? What about the conspiracy? What about the mutant goons of Amphibian? What about Beverly being connected to it all? Eh. Peanuts. Why worry about all that boring story stuff when you can instead take an about face and listen to the author blather on about what death might be like? That's so much more important! Strike...err. Is that four or five? I've lost count. Anyhow.
It stands to reason that there IS a reason why this book was published. I can't for the life of me figure out what that was though. It seems to me that anything that drops its whole premise this blatantly should be sent back to the drawing board. So much wasted time. Even if you love any and all science fiction, I highly doubt you'd even want to give this one the light of day.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Infrequent but spans the range of possibility
Violence: Some of the violence is fairly graphic, but most of it involves androids/machines
Sex: Several scenes with low to moderate detail
If you're looking to get rid of some cash...
TUNNEL OUT OF DEATH
After 5 books of mayhem, Ann Aguirre's Sirantha Jax series comes to a close with ENDGAME.
Jax finds herself on the La'hong homeworld, fighting for the freedom of the enslaved natives. She's promised her friend Loras that she will do whatever it takes to pay him back for the way she treated him when he depended on her--even if it means sacrificing herself to see the rebellion he's leading to the bitter end.
With her is her friend Vel, the bug-like alien who is akin to a soul mate to Jax; Zeeka, the frog-like alien she has a motherly affection for; March, former enemy turned lover and mind reader; and March's nephew Sasha, a strong telekinetic. It is because of Jax that they're on La'heng fighting a war that's not theirs. But that doesn't mean they won't give it their all. Other friends/enemies show up, as well as remembrances of those who are gone--fans will love the tying up of old and new stories.
Told from Jax's PoV in a present tense, the story itself is narrated quickly with very little downtime. Jax's life is full of excitement, and as the war builds up steam, she finds herself in the thick of things. You are never in question about what she thinks about something or her motivation (it can get repetitious at times). Despite Jax's occasional emo interludes, she can still kick your butt, should the need arise. She's a fun balance of woman and warrior.
At the forefront of her mind are the people she loves, particularly March, who struggles with her platonic but deep relationship with Vel. They spend the book working through their issues, and while at times it's heavy-handed and I was tempted to skip it because it doesn't influence the main plot, it was an interesting exercise watching two very flawed and strong-willed people work through their problems together.
Because of the scope of the novel--it covers years of a war for freedom--there's time and events that are glossed over for the sake of a more tightly plotted novel. While the too-quick pace was necessary, I second guessed the use of this method with the genre of book involved. There were a few plot twists to keep us interested, but they can feel out of place, even when they aren't in the bigger picture of events. Certainly we see plenty of the nitty-gritty of guerrilla warfare and the broken relationships that are its result, but even the ending felt rushed and too tidy.
The entire book takes place on La'heng, where humans took advantage of the slave mentality of the La'heng people, who were chemically altered 200 years ago. Jax brings with her a cure, restoring to the people the ability to fight back. It's a simple enough set up. But for me it was the methods of the freedom fighting and the watching it in action that interested me most--as well as watching the people involved change as the result of the war.
Ultimately, I'm sure that reading the final book of a 6-book series without having read the first 5 ruined the impact of the resolution for me. But what I read here wasn't enough to get me excited about going back to read what came before.
Recommended Age: 16+
Violence: Guerrilla warfare, battle scenes, sometimes bloody
Sex: Several scenes with mild detail
Find this book here:
John Dixon's PHOENIX ISLAND first came to my attention when I heard that a Young Adult novel has inspired a new CBS television series starring Josh Holloway (LOST) and Marg Helgenberger (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation)-- before the book had even released. It seems that with the recent success of THE HUNGER GAMES series, studios have been aggressively pursuing the next big YA property. Of all the YA novels that have been optioned PHOENIX ISLAND is the first I've heard of to get picked up for TV--and before it has had a chance to gain a fanbase no less! It's enough to get a reader excited, that's for sure.
PHOENIX ISLAND is the story of Carl, an orphan with a history of violence. He's a fighter and he only targets bullies, but in a "civilized" society his talents are frowned upon. After the most recent in a long list of assault charges Carl is shipped off to Phoenix Island, a hardcore bootcamp for society's rejects. Bootcamp beats the alternative, an adult penitentiary, and Carl is eager to get a fresh start on life. Shortly Carl realizes that Phoenix Island is far more sinister than he could have ever expected. If the vicious drill sergeants don't do him in, Carl's fellow orphans might. The island holds a fair share of secrets, none of them too pleasant. Carl's only hope is to keep his head down and avoid attention but after a lifetime of fighting injustice this is easier said than done and soon he becomes embroiled in a madman's plot for global domination.
It didn't take long to warm up to PHOENIX ISLAND's protagonist Carl. His life has been transformed and surrounded by violence from a young age. He has found himself in trouble for meeting bullies head on. This overwhelming need of his drives everything he does, but when he gets to bootcamp he tries to turn over a new leaf. Unfortunately Carl finds himself thrust into conflict regardless of his desire to leave violence behind. Dixon's knowledge of boxing separates Carl from a lot of other YA heroes: he has a talent and it makes him special. He's not The Chosen One as you'll frequently find in the genre. His skills can only be gained through practice. Carl undergoes a bit of self discovery behind his own motivations and never once does he devolve into angst despite the odds stacked against him. It's refreshing. He is both competent and likable, making smart decisions throughout.
I was slightly less impressed with the other characters. I liked Carl's joker buddy Ross, but felt he was underdeveloped. David and Campbell could have also benefitted from more depth. Brief segments of the story are told from the perspective of Octavia, a female orphan and Carl's love interest. Because she gets her own POV Octavia doesn't feel as flat at some of the other characters. As for the relationship between Carl and Octavia--I'd suggest that it develops a little too quickly but it never devolves into the irritating hot mess you're likely to find in other YA stories. Drill Sergeant Parker makes for a great antagonist, readers will just love to hate him. The Old Man is also a good villain with his unique philosophy and warrior's code.
PHOENIX ISLAND is YA fiction without the kid gloves. It can be a brutal book. The bootcamp training is every bit as hardcore as you might find in the real world. The instructors are wicked, turning the kids against each other in order to weed out the weakest links. There is fighting--real, actual fighting. There is blood and death and depravity. It's nowhere near as heavy as the material found in Paolo Bacigalupi's THE DROWNED CITIES but it is present. What I truly appreciated is that Dixon was able to depict violence and yet manage to give it the appropriate level of consideration. One of my greatest complaints about THE HUNGER GAMES is how very shallow its representation of death is. PHOENIX ISLAND sidesteps this and manages to tell an impactful story of bullying, institutional violence, and child soldiers. Still, some of the deaths lack the appropriate impact because the characters aren't as three dimensional as they could be.
Those without a stomach for martial fiction may want to think twice before dipping a toe into the waters of PHOENIX ISLAND. The novel doesn't celebrate (or condemn) the military, but a good portion of the novel revolves around training for combat. The purpose of the island is to create an army of super soldiers. I personally enjoy this but I think it's worth making aware to potential readers.
I was most impressed with how the novel ends. I tore through the book in two days and the conclusion of the novel left me feeling fulfilled despite the fact that it opens the door for a sequel or series of sequels. There are still mysteries to reveal and themes to explore. PHOENIX ISLAND is an impressive debut novel. It's up there with VARIANT by Robison Wells and THE DIVINERS by Libba Bray as some of the best YA fiction to come out in recent years. Judging by the trailers I have seen for CBS's Intelligence, I'm not sure how much the two properties will have in common but I am excited to find out. Congratulations to Dixon for such a stunning accomplishment and best of luck to the studio behind the show.
Recommended Age: 14+
Profanity: No foul language that I picked up on
Violence: Definitely - mostly fist fighting
Want it? Get it here.
The nice thing about award anthologies is that--unlike some of the other short fiction anthologies I've read--all of the selections are well-written.
It's quite the variety, so let's get to it (skip straight to the last one if you only want to know the one I liked best). In the order they appear in the NEBULA AWARDS SHOWCASE 2013:
"The Paper Menagerie" by Ken Liu (winner: short story) is about a boy whose mother creates for him origami that comes to life. A touching story of family, magic, and love.
"The Ice Owl" by Carolyn Ives Gilman (novella: nominee) is about a young girl who travels with her itinerant mother. She finds a mentor to help her with her schooling and he entrusts her with a precious gift. Excellent world building for so short a piece, I liked Thorn and her progression through the story as she comes of age.
"Ado" by Connie Willis is a satire with the Bard himself whose works cause trouble in an era where political correctness limits learning. Funny and thoughtful.
"The Migratory Pattern of Dancers" by Katherine Sparrow (novelette: nominee) is a strange story about how birds are extinct, so men have bird DNA injected into them, which compels them to migrate every year as part of a tour of shows. But what happens when a bird-man is too old to fly?
"Peach-Creamed Honey" by Amal El-Mohtar and "The Sea King's Second Bride" by C.S.E. Cooney were both poems and they were ok I guess. I'm not a great judge of poetry.
"The Axiom of Choice" by David W. Goldman (short story: nominee) is a warped choose your own adventure that questions whether you really had a choice after all. It's interesting and I see his point, but it was frustrating to read.
"Club Story" by John Clute is an essay from his The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: Third Edition. Personally I thought it was uninteresting because I couldn't understand what the heck he was talking about.
"What We Found" by Geoff Ryman (novelette: winner) is set in Africa and is about a young scientist who discovers that the more you talk about a particular scientific truth, it becomes less true over time. It's mainly about his growing up in a dysfunctional household and his affection for his wild brother. It wasn't something that appealed to me personally, but it was interesting and well written.
AMONG OTHERS by Jo Walton (novel: winner)--the anthology only contains an excerpt, but I wrote a review a while back so you can check that out here (EBR review).
"Movement" by Nancy Fulda (short story: nominee) is about a young woman who has a kind of autism of time displacement. Her parents think an operation will cure her, but she doesn't want to be cured because she knows that she won't be able to see the world in the same way if she does. Imaginative and thoughtful.
"Sauerkraut Station" by Ferrett Steinmetz (novelette: nominee) is one of the stories I liked best (after "The Man Who Bridged the Mist"). It's about a girl who lives on a space station with her mother and grandmother. It serves as a way station for space ships, but they find themselves caught in the middle of an interplanetary war. Lizzie meets one of the boys used to keep the peace by serving as a hostage and they become instant friends. I really liked Lizzie's PoV, how even though she's a kid she had depth and interest. The story and setting were particularly interesting.
"The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees" by E. Lily Yu (short story: nominee) is told from the PoV of the bugs. The wasps try to take over a beehive because they want slaves, but the bees have other plans. It's amusing, imaginative, and interesting.
"Ray of Light" by Brad R. Torgersen (novelette: nominee) is about the result of aliens (unintentionally?) blocking the sun's rays and leaving the planet cold and lifeless, while humans attempt to live underwater in habitats to survive. The teenage daughter of the main PoV yearns to actually see the sun again, and she and her friends hatch a dangerous plan to do just that. It was a short story that really needed to be more if he wanted to see it reach it's potential, but instead it fell flat.
THE FREEDOM MAZE (excerpt) by Delia Sherman (Andre Norton award for young adult science fiction and fantasy book) is about young girl Sophie who goes back in time to her great-grandparent's Southern plantation only to learn that the 'good old days' are a little hyped up. The premise isn't new, but Sherman's portrayal of life back then is compelling. From what I read I'm curious to find this book and read more.
"The Man Who Bridged the Mist" by Kij Johnson (novella: winner)--Kit is an accomplished architect who is sent to bridge the mist that divides the continent. Told from his PoV we watch as he deals with the locals, plans the building process, and how his actions affect the local ferriers. It's a story with a man who builds bridges as the hero (in itself a nice change of pace) whose work gives him purpose; but when he meets Rasali he finds a woman whose love of what she does truly inspires him. The story was just right--the tone, pace, length, prose. This is my favorite of the selections, so if you read one thing from this anthology this is it.
Recommended Age: 15+
Language: Very little
Violence: Varies, but none of them were graphic
Sex: Referenced, implied
Find this anthology of 2013's Nebula award-winning writing here:
NEBULA AWARDS SHOWCASE 2013
I met Max Gladstone at WorldCon in San Antonio. We were both waiting to be taken through or rehearsal of the Hugo Awards Ceremony, and I struck up a conversation when I realized who he was (that's why we wear name badges, folks!). We'd given a positive review of his first novel, THREE PARTS DEAD, here at EBR which made things much better, of course. As it turned out, we got along extraordinarily well. Max is, without a doubt, one of the most genuine authors I've ever met. And (thank goodness) he is a terrific author, too. Max was nominated for the Campbell Award for Best New Author this last year, and I'm pretty sure he'll be nominated again this coming year for WorldCon in London.
So, without further ado, here is our interview with Max Gladstone; author, Eldredge Knot wearer, and all-around awesome guy.
Elitist Book Reviews: It's the Max Gladstone show! Introduce yourself to the readers and talk yourself up a bit. Why should everyone be reading your novels?
Max Gladstone: Hi! I write books and fence and occasionally get myself in trouble. I grew up reading Zelazny and Michael Crichton and Robin McKinley and and Terry Pratchett and Dorothy Dunnett and Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes, which left me with a very weird sense of humor, as well as a taste for brisk, tight plots and sharp characters.
Do you like books with zombie gods, boardroom necromancy, shapeshifting gargoyles, hive-mind police forces, human sacrifice, love, soul poker, giant lava serpents, and tense filial relationships? Of course you do! And that's why you should be reading mine.
EBR: Your novels are an inspiring mix of genres, but I have to ask what is your favorite genre to read and why? OR which genre inspires you most?
MG: Hard question! I read widely, and I love surprises. Recently I've been on a science fiction / space opera kick, as a break from writing so much fantasy. But I just finished the new Scott Lynch book, which is awesome of course. I started Pynchon's latest last night and that's great so far. In terms of inspiration, New Wave SF has had the biggest influence on me, especially Zelazny, but that's all amalgamated with historical adventure fiction and techno-thrillers and Sherlock Holmes to the point where I'm not sure you can say where anything starts with a certainty.
EBR: In your novels the cities--Alt Coulumb in THREE PARTS DEAD and Dresediel Lex in TWO SERPENTS RISE--play a large part of the story and you bring them alive to readers. Are either based on any city in particular?
MG: Alt Coulumb isn't based on anywhere in particular, though I think it inhaled a lot of Northeastern Metropolis—Boston and New York especially—in its childhood. I wanted Dresediel Lex to feel different, so I reached out for cities that didn't feel as if they belonged in New England. Los Angeles was the logical extreme, so I drew heavily off LA for TWO SERPENTS RISE.
EBR: Before your novels we haven't seen many fantasy novels use the legal thriller genre's elements as such an integral part of its storytelling. How did the idea for Craft and its legal aspects evolve?
MG: Magic and law are natural twins. Rules, principles, and precedent govern both, but will's involved too, and raw force of personality. Much detailed magic in fantasy novels ultimately comes down to a question of who can phrase the most compelling argument as to why they should win. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the final confrontation is basically an argument about a fine point of property law. Modern U.S. law features legally immortal immaterial persons, and if that's not magic I have no idea what is.
EBR: Themes of sacrifice and religious belief are explored in detail in TWO SERPENTS RISE. Why were these themes important for you to write about?
MG: The modern world's obviously out of balance, right? We have an enormous plastic island growing in the Pacific, the Aral Sea's dried up, trans-Arctic ocean shipping has gone from science fiction to big business in about ten years. One natural reaction to that lack of balance is to embrace roots—turn back to the Good Old Days, the way things used to be. Problem is, whatever their advantages, the Good Old Days weren't really that good. My nephew was born premature—he probably wouldn't have survived a century ago, which is horrible to think. And that's just talking medicine. The Good Old Days had shorter lifespans, rampant misogyny and anti-Semitism (and other forms of racism depending on which Days you choose), crippling global poverty, etc. etc. etc. I met a lot of small farmers when I lived in China, and not one that I spoke with wanted their children to follow in their footsteps. But rejecting the Good Old Days alternative, well, you're back with the evaporated oceans and the dying forests and the diminishing fresh water supply, the world where they haven't been able to make Inniskillin ice wine in five years because vinyard temperatures aren't low enough. I wanted to tell a story about this conflict without giving anyone an easy answer.
Sacrifice was a good focal point for the conflict between these world systems, since it refuses easy answers. Human sacrifice seems repulsive to most folk with modern sensibilities, but within its traditional context human sacrifice was often the highest sacrament, and an honor to the one sacrificed, a way of elevating them to godhood. Then again, I doubt every prospective sacrifice appreciated the theological significance of their role as the knife was chestward-bound. (And of course, human sacrifice—or divine sacrifice, I suppose—is still celebrated and commemorated in the Christian tradition, especially if you're into the ransom theory of atonement!)
EBR: We're fairly confident you'll win next year's Campbell Award for best new author (alas not this year, despite a well-deserved nomination). Are you concerned about any specific competition?
MG: Thank you! It was an honor to be nominated last year, and I'd be honored for the same to happen again. Of course, it'd also be nice to win.
At this year's Hugo Losers' Party, Wes Chu said he was coming for me, so if I disappear in a bizarre ninja-related accident sometime around August 2014, drop him a line maybe.
EBR: You're in a book store, and you notice some poor, lost soul trying to find something to read. What do you recommend? Obviously they've already read your own novels, so you can't recommend those.
MG: Do they like science fiction? Lord of Light.
Do they like fantasy? Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown. Or Good Omens.
Do they like litfic? East of Eden.
Do they like science fiction or litfic, and do they have a LOT of time on their hands? Infinite Jest.
EBR: What do we have to do to get our likeness's killed off in your next novel? Bribes? Promises? Threats...not that we would ever do that...probably.
MG: Ask nicely. Also, I'm partial to whiskey. And cookies. Not at the same time. And no cookie-flavored whiskey, please. Gods. The very idea.
Sadly for this purpose, my next two books in the Craft Sequence are basically done. Though there is some proper mass murder in Book 4, so there's room…
EBR: Any last words for the readers? And what can we expect next from you?
MG: The very next thing you'll see from me: Choice of the Deathless, a choose-your-own-path type adventure game set in the world of the Craft Sequence. Be the necromantic lawyer you've always wanted to be! Alternate subtitle: business can be murder. More sorcery, more boardroom politics, more pinstriped suits, more demons, and more billable hours. Coming in December!
Beyond that, we have Full Fathom Five, the next book in the Craft Sequence, due out in July 2014. Offshore banking, artificial "gods", slam poetry, golems, and the return of some familiar faces from Three Parts Dead and Two Serpents Rise. It'll be fun. Also a bit heartwrenching.
Later in 2014 (at least that's the plan!), I have a non-Craft Sequence sort of crazy space opera-like thing, and after that, well, let me hold some surprises for the future!
Here are your links to Max's novels:
THREE PARTS DEAD
TWO SERPENTS RISE
Dresediel Lex--desert city of 16 million--is dependent on reservoirs to provide its citizens with water, so when a demon infests a crucial supply it's Caleb who's sent to solve the problem. While there Caleb stumbles across the wild Mal, a cliff runner in the wrong place at the wrong time who escapes before he can question her. Could she have witnessed the arrival of the demon or was her presence more nefarious?
When Caleb reports his findings to his boss, the King in Red (skeletal Craftsman, owner of Red King Consolidated, de facto ruler of the city Dresediel Lex), he's also tasked with figuring out the cause of the infestation. Was it a mistake or was it intentional? Fingers point to none other than Caleb's father, the last priest of the city's old gods and leader of the True Quechal terrorists. Despite his estrangement from his father, Caleb isn't convinced it was him and decides to go looking for the missing cliff runner to find out what she saw--a task easier said than done.
What follows those dense beginning chapters of set-up reminds me of the big black pyramid that's the heart of the city of Dresediel Lex: brick by brick Gladstone's story builds in intensity until you're left gasping for air by the time you reach the top.
Gladstone's first novel, THREE PARTS DEAD (EBR review), introduced us to this fascinating world of gods, Craftsmen, and even the cities themselves--these books are urban fantasy, legal thrillers, steampunk, and epic fantasy all rolled into one novel. TWO SERPENTS RISE isn't a sequel to the first novel, but since it is set in the same world there is a sense of continuity. You don't have to have read TPD to understand TSR, but it wouldn't hurt and TPD is a novel worth reading.
TPD was a debut novel, and had hardly anything for me to complain about it was so well written. Gladstone's second novel is even better. My main complaint in TPD was the PoV issues arising from the omniscient-style narrative, but since TPR is told almost exclusively from Caleb's viewpoint it's a non-issue here. Also, the main character of TPD didn't have much of a character arc, but here Caleb is a very fascinating character who struggles with the choices he's made. He may not be a Craftsman, but his father hasn't left him powerless; he's full of contradictions and yet his actions make sense. I particularly enjoyed reading his conversations with his friend Teo--they're snappy and she really makes Caleb look at himself more objectively.
Like in TPD, here the city is an important element of the story and the King in Red holds Dresediel Lex together by the skin of his teeth (if he had skin). It has its slums, its former gods and their believers who won't give up, industries--and of course the great pyramid at the center where the King in Red does business, but where sixty years ago the priests of the city sacrificed people to satisfy their hungry gods. We follow Caleb as he goes to work, tracks Mal, and tries to do his job in a city that's wild, dangerous, and beautiful.
The story is a complicated one with twists and turns, the novel moving forward almost effortlessly despite the mountain of information Gladstone throws at you. There were a few things that still confused me, however, because they were left unexplained, and sometimes I had a hard time following his description of important events because they were less literal and more impressionistic. Fortunately, despite these glitches, TSR was very fun to read because of its creativity and imagery. By the end Gladstone doesn't disappoint, having spent the entire book building up to the moment when everything collides. I'm very interested in seeing Caleb's next story.
Recommended Age: 15+
Language: Not many, maybe 5 instances
Violence: Some blood and gore, but infrequent
Sex: One scene without detail
Find this book here:
TWO SERPENTS RISE
And the one that came before it (in case you missed it):
THREE PARTS DEAD
When I first read Robert McCammon's THE WOLF'S HOUR, I was blown away. It was a Horror novel mixed with a Spy Thriller, and all I wanted was to read more about McCammon's signature character, Michael Gallatin. In THE WOLF'S HOUR, we learned about his mission into Germany during the height of WWII, while at the same time learning how Gallatin became a werewolf. It was all fascinating stuff, but I knew there had to be more. It wasn't unlike reading THE BOURNE IDENTITY and knowing that there were countless stories untold.
Imagine my delight when Subterranean Press announced that they would be releasing a collection of short fiction from Robert McCammon featuring Michael Gallatin. Titled THE HUNTER FROM THE WOODS, the collection contained six short stories and novellas covering Gallatin's time before and after the events of THE WOLF'S HOUR.
The first story, "The Great White Way", is extremely short and probably the weakest of all the stories. It feels a bit like a deleted scene from THE WOLF'S HOUR. It involves a young, pre-spy Gallatin who has taken refuge with a gypsy circus. It's not that the story is bad in any way, it just doesn't hold up to the other stories at all. What it does having going for it is the reintroduction of the character, and filling in a bit of his history.
"The Man from London" is very similar to the first story in feeling like a piece of THE WOLF'S HOUR that was cut. It has to do with how Gallatin was recruited while he was living outside of a small Russian village while providing them with the food they needed in return for anonymity. It is very cool to see how he was recruited, but I was left feeling the whole bit could have been expanded a bit more. That said, I enjoyed it a lot. Again, filling in Gallatin's history is the main point of the story, and it succeeds in that sense.
Things really start picking up with "Sea Chase". For Gallatin, this is a character builder story with Gallatin watching over a Nazi weapons designer who is seeking to defect. The writing here is true McCammon. A lot of internalization from Gallatin as we get to know the various personalities on a fishing boat and the ensuing chase at sea. We see how good a person Gallatin is, and why he becomes the man we see in THE WOLF'S HOUR. Love it.
"The Wolf and the Eagle" was easily my favorite story of the collection. It involves Gallatin and a Nazi fighter pilot in the desert. I've often told people how much I love McCammon's characterization. This story is a showcase of McCammon's ability to take a character that other authors would automatically make a cliched villain, and turn him into a fascinating study. I would have loved for this to have been expanded even more, but it works extremely well as it is right now. New authors take note: this is how you write a sympathetic antagonist.
"The Room at the Bottom of the Stairs" feels like a natural extension of THE WOLF'S HOUR. Honestly, it feels like the seed of a follow-up idea for a full-on sequel to THE WOLF'S HOUR. Gallatin is to go to Germany as kill a female spy. This was such a great story that would have served as an amazing beginning to an actual sequel novel. What struck me about this novel in the same way certain scenes in McCammon's classic SWAN SONG did was how vivid certain scenes are. You can just imagine them painted on canvas.
"Death of a Hunter"...this story answered the one question I had after finishing THE WOLF'S HOUR. I won't spoil it in any way, because it's great. This story serves as a wrap up to Michael Gallatin. He's older. More tired. He spends his time warming himself at the hearth of his home. Which is when his past catches up with him. The interesting part about the story (apart from the twist at the end) is where Gallatin reflects on all of his missions from his younger days. A majority of them are things that weren't in any novel, and it made me want to read about them soooooo bad. This story serves as a good send-off for the character, and ends the collection well.
THE WOLF'S HOUR is one of my favorite werewolf novels of all time, and THE HUNTER FROM THE WOODS is a terrific companion collection to the classic. While I would love to see another collection of short stories chronicling Gallatin's adventures, THE HUNTER FROM THE WOODS has given me the closure I needed on the character.
As a parting observation, I "read" this collection like it THE WOLF'S HOUR, via GraphicAudio. They do an incredible job with the novels they adapt.
Recommended Age: 17+
Profanity: On par with THE WOLF'S HOUR. Strong in some places, absent in others
Violence: Oh yeah. It is a werewolf novel after all.
Sex: Quite a bit. If you get the GraphicAudio version, be aware the scenes are fully acted out.
The physical novel is sadly out of print. But you can still pick up the Kindle edition:
THE WOLF'S HOUR
THE HUNTER FROM THE WOODS
Been a long time! Miss me? Of course you did, what a stupid question. Well a new Larry Correia book is out and you couldn't expect me to pass up an opportunity to read/review it now could you? Another stupid question - I'm Correia's biggest fan. But, of all Larry's books DEAD SIX has probably been the one I've liked the least. That's not to say that DEAD SIX is a bad book, but I didn't consider it up to Larry's standards. It was fun and action-packed but the writing was a little rough around the edges, the collaboration between Correia and Kupari wasn't seamless, I wasn't sold on the characters, and I couldn't find any merit in either of the romantic relationships. That said, I wasn't discounting the series as the second half of the novel runs a whole lot smoother than the first. I'm quite pleased to say that SWORDS OF EXODUS by Larry Correia and Mike Kupari is infinitely better.
If you haven't read DEAD SIX the following description could be considered spoilerish. Please skip the italicized portion if this is the case.
As DEAD SIX closes Michael Valentine has been captured by the US black ops group only known as Majestic. The paramilitary force known as the Swords of Exodus want Valentine - they know the location of the secret base where he is being held but they need an expert thief to help them break in.
Lorenzo is enjoying a hard-earned retirement on a personally owned island with his girlfriend. He has left behind a life of crime and violence for love. But then Exodus comes knocking at his door with bad news. Lorenzo's brother has been kidnapped. Exodus is willing to help find him, but in return Lorenzo must free Valentine from the clutches of Majestic.
Meanwhile, deep in former Soviet Central Asia, a warlord has risen in the power vacuum left by Big Eddie's death. In a lawless international town known as the Crossroads weapons, drugs, and slaves are trafficked under the warlord's watchful gaze. Exodus has marked the tyrant for death but assaulting such a stronghold will not be easy and soon Valentine and Lorenzo will find themselves in far deeper than ever before.
I wasn't sold on Valentine or Lorenzo after finishing DEAD SIX. I didn't like the relationships that either character entered into or how those relationships progressed. I'm a stickler for romance as you may have noticed by now. If it's going to be done then it needs to be done well - and I just did not see that happening in the first book. I also couldn't help but grimace at the number of coincidences that had Valentine and Lorenzo bumping into each other early on in the novel. I understood the purpose and I was a fan of the concept - two diametrically opposed anti-heroes continually antagonizing each other - but after a while I found that the excuse of "coincidence wore thin."
SWORDS OF EXODUS manages to improve on both of these aspects. If you read the first book then you know what happens with Valentine's love interest. I find that this coupled with the torture he suffers at the hands of Majestic interrogation make Valentine a much more interesting character. He is a much harder man this time around and it lends credence to the mercenary personality. Another love interest pops up (to my dismay) but this one is played more subtle and slowly. It's far more complicated and that is much easier to swallow. I'm still not sold on Lorenzo's relationship but I do appreciate that it grounds him and gives him a vulnerability that he would otherwise be lacking. It's also worth nothing that the duo work better when they're on the same side, attacking a problem from different directions and with different modus operandi. The antagonism is still there (it takes no effort to believe that these two dudes dislike each other) but the plot doesn't rely on coincidence to connect their individual threads.
"If there were pots of gold at the end of rainbows, I can only assume that you'd have a lot of gold and there'd be a lot of murdered leprechauns buried in Ireland."
One of the cool things about SWORDS OF EXODUS is that our two reluctant heroes are forced to work alongside some less than scrupulous characters in order to further their goals. Anders makes an appearance and I was almost able to forget all the horrible things he did in DEAD SIX. Almost. Then there's Katarina, a truly terrifying she-devil that makes Lorenzo look like a box of kittens. Reaper is back of course, and we meet some fanatics from Exodus. As far as Correia villains go Sala Jihan, the Pale Man, leaves a little to be desired. He remains a mysterious character throughout all of SWORDS OF EXODUS and so his motivation is never really touched upon. In a way this shroud of secrecy makes Jihan even more sinister, but it's unlikely he'll (yet) be remembered as one of the top picks from Larry's rogues gallery.
The Crossroads is an extremely cool setting. It's like the Wild West - if the Wild West were set in the unforgiving mountains on the border of Russia and China. It's the sort of place where someone can be gunned down on the street and no one would bother to look twice. It's dangerous and exotic and it fits Valentine and Lorenzo like a glove. Much of the novel takes place here, though there are brief stints in the United States and a short tour of Exodus's base of operations.
Exodus is fleshed out much more this time around (as befits the title) though there are a number of mysteries surrounding the organization for the next book to explore. The same goes for Valentine, Majestic, Project Blue, and even Sala Jihan. I will say that my biggest problem of the novel might be how little is revealed in the end. There are a lot of secrets floating around and it feels as though very few of them are exposed during SWORDS OF EXODUS. It's the secrets tied to Sala Jihan that left me pondering the novel long after I finished reading it. Without saying too much it seems as though there might be some supernatural elements surrounding the Pale Man, and though this could easily be contributed to PSYOPS it still has me wondering what direction the third novel in the series will take.
SWORDS OF EXODUS is a bit of a slow burner compared to DEAD SIX but I'd hesitate to call this a bad thing. Correia and Kupari set up an epic final assault that is well worth the price of admission alone. Once again it is clear that these two authors write what they know and the action is as crisp and clear as has come to be expected. In a recent article it was suggested that Larry Correia is eligible to be one of several possible successors to the late great Tom Clancy. It's not just the action that proves this, but also the eye for technical detail, politics, and conspiracy. I'd like to add that if Correia is a potential successor than Mike Kupari certainly deserves to be credited as well. That problem I had with the collaboration in the first book? It's non-existent in SWORDS OF EXODUS. It would be difficult to find where Larry's writing stops and where Mike's starts. It is a seamless product and I commend the two for making it so. And you know what? If we're lucky the third book in the series might be Correia and Kupari's equivalent of Clancy's RED STORM RISING, what I consider to be the single best techno-thriller, military fiction book ever written.
Recommended Age: 16+
Violence: If Larry ever writes a non-violent book I'll be sure to warn you.
Profanity: A good amount.
Sex: One particularly suggestive scene but nothing explicit.
Get SWORDS OF EXODUS here.
Get the first book, DEAD SIX here.
I love Kickstarter so much. There has been such a surge in good boardgames, RPGs, and Anthologies thanks to the crowdfunding website. I thought I'd share a link to one of the newest Anthologies on Kickstarter, NEVERLAND'S LIBRARY.
From their Kickstarter page, here is the goal of NEVERLAND'S LIBRARY:
The goal of this project was to create a fantasy anthology based around the theme of Rediscovery. Blending established, and lesser known authors, we hoped to capture the reader’s imagination and bring them back to a time when they first discovered their love of fantasy fiction. For readers who haven't already fallen in love with the genre, we hope to offer immensely entertaining bite-size stories that will pull people in and inspire their imagination!
I love it. I love the idea, and I fully support it. This project has some extremely talented authors involved in it, including Mark Lawrence, Marie Brennan, Miles Cameron & Jeff Salyards (plus a ton of others).
There are five days left on the project, so hurry and get in on it. It's already funded, so you are guaranteed to get some fantastic pieces of short fiction in this anthology. Here's your link to the Kickstarter:
NEVERLAND'S LIBRARY - A FANTASY ANTHOLOGY
As a bonus, I have an excerpt from Jeff Salyards' story. It's a prequel piece about the lead character, Braylar Killcoin, from his Bloodsounder's Arc series.
My sister had long dark lashes that would often hook together to form a net in front of her eyes, and she would blink furiously to free them, eyes rolling white like a frightened horse. And this seemed to happen more frequently when she was excited, as she was when we stood before the tomb. I was looking around the mound, into the woods, trying to see if anything was coming upon us. This wasn’t the first time we’d broken into graves, but it would be our last. Together at least.
The Vorlu believe that each of us goes on a journey in the afterlife, that everyone should be outfitted according to our deeds and station. A babe is buried with a wooden toy in the hollow of a young tree, tarred in, so the two might grow strong and old together. A priest is laid in the earth with his bones and runes, staff and oils. A warrior, his war gear: spear, axe, shield, what have you. But a warlord—a leader of men, a pillager, a great man—he’s either burned in a pyre or buried in an underground vault in his helm and mail, armed with his finest sword, often accompanied by his horse, and his crypt is filled with fruit and meat, milk and mead, furs, coin, hunting horn, drinking horn, bow, glass, musical instruments, perhaps even a slave or two. Everything he would need in the afterlife to pass the time in comfort. A rich grave, indeed. And just the kind we stood in front of.
My sister, Soffjan, looked at me, eyes dark and alert, the cromlech of our ancestors leaning this way and that in the dying light, our breath beginning to show in the air. She looked at me, at the tomb, and then laughed. “Grandfather never did much like company.” I had misgivings, but I deferred to her that night, as I did regularly when we were growing up. She suggested our first robbery two summers before. It had always been graves from villages far off, but we couldn’t go much farther without our absence being noticed, and if someone from another tribe caught us at our business, the punishment would be death. If someone from our own tribe caught us, we figured we’d be publicly flogged or made to clean smegma for a year. And while scraping the prick of an unwilling stallion was deterrent enough for most, it wasn’t quite enough to put us off.
We stood in front of the mound, a pebble cairn as tall as a man with a layer of white quartz around the entrance shining bright as snow, and seeing nothing in the darkening woods, we moved the carved slab blocking the entrance. It wasn’t overly heavy—presumably fear of hobgoblins or spirits kept intruders at bay—and after looking at each other briefly, my sister and I entered the grave and waited for our eyes to adjust. The outlines of things would be enough—most of the tombs are constructed the same way, so we knew what to expect. We passed through the antechamber, crept into a corbelled passageway that led down to the burial chamber and all the goods contained therein.
There, we were completely blind. Most cats would have thought better and retreated at this point. I moved slowly, but I couldn’t help bumping into some jars and a bowl. Soffjan hissed, but it was hard to tell from where. And then I heard her stop moving and draw in breath. I asked what happened. She didn’t answer. I tried again. “What, what is it? Tell me!”
She said, “He’s here.”
There was a canyon where I lived in Utah with a species of flowers that grew on both sides of the canyon, and over time the ones on the south vs. the north sides diverged in their taxonomy. This happened over a matter of decades, the main culprit being how much light they got. PANDEMONIUM by Warren Fehy takes that concept to the depths of the Earth: completely separated from the surface and its influence for millions of years, how would subterranean species evolve?
In terrifying ways, apparently.
Biologists Nell and Geoffrey are specialists in new and dangerous species--having recently survived an encounter on the lost and isolated Hender's Island. Their expertise catches the attention of a Russian tycoon who has purchased a Soviet-era underground city and wants to turn it into a paradise, so he gives them an offer they can't refuse. He neglects to tell them, however, the real reason why they're there: species from Hender's island have escaped and he needs Nell and Geoffrey to tell him how to stop them.
Fehy includes photos at the back of the book for the creatures from Pandemonium and Hender's Island, which are based on mollusk physiology, and behave aggressively--survival of the species is their mantra. If they escape the underground city, it would only be a matter of months, maybe years, before they wipe out the human population.
It's pretty easy after knowing the above what's going to happen with the story. Nell and Geoffrey prove their moxie, the tycoon gets his comeuppance, military personnel are brought in and have a limited time frame to save the survivors before the place is nuked in order to save humanity. Yadda yadda.
The predictable story is framed with lame dialogue, an omniscient PoV that's all over the place even within a scene, and stock characters without clear motivations. Fortunately the pace moved quickly--enough to keep me going, at any rate--and the descriptions of the deadly species are interesting enough.
It was exciting but also forgettable at the same time.
Recommended Age: 15+
Language: A handful of instances
Violence: It's a horror story along the lines of Jurassic Park, so yes there's blood and death, sometimes grisly
Sex: Vaguely implied
Find this book here: