Man, it’s been a while since I wrote a review. This blog is becoming more like “Staffer’s Crazy Rants about Publishing Stuff” than a review site. I can’t say I lament the change, but it’s nice to just write a review sometimes. Know what I’m saying? And why not jump back into the pool with what is already appearing to be hypiest title of early 2014, Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades. The title is one word from being fantasy buzz word saturated. Why couldn’t it be The Emperor’s Blades of Shadows or The Emperor’s Cloak of Blades? Come on folks, if you’re going to shoot the moon don’t get left holding the King of Hearts.
Yes, that was a reference to the classic card game, Hearts, which no one under the age of 40 has probably ever played, but I played prolifically in my teenage years due to being an only child.… Read the rest
Masks is the functional equivalent of the YA dystopia in a traditional epic fantasy setting. At the age of fifteen, citizens are recognized as adults and must don magic Masks on orders from the all powerful Autarch. To maintain his grip on the kingdom, the Masks reveal any treasonous thoughts or actions to the Autarch’s ever vigilant Watchers. At her coming of age ceremony, Mara, daughter of the Master Maskmaker, is rejected by her Mask. Banished into slavery, she’s forced to confront the rotten core that supports the Autarch’s reign.
Scott Lynch tackles something in Republic of Thieves that falls flat on its face. Politics. This doesn’t mean the novel fails. It’s actually a wonderful addition to a series that continues to excel with Lynch’s unique voice and kinetic narratives. Where Republic of Thieves falls short, MJ Locke’s Up Against It knocks it out of the park with the best portrayal of authentic politics I’ve found in the speculative genres.
At its roots, Up Against It is an asteroid colony disaster movie. When an accident occurs, destroying precious ice reserves, the entire colony is at risk if they can’t replenish it. Phocaea’s resource manager, Jane, is tasked with making that happen, while keeping the colony’s residents from tearing each other, and the government, apart. Add to that Mars’ mafia trying to move in, a group of teenage kids caught in the middle, a rogue AI coming to life, social structures based on internet popularity, and ubiquitous cameras beaming reality TV back to Earth.… Read the rest
It’s been a long time since I used this particular trick. Cheryl is back.
Why do I use Cheryl? Because I tend to finish everything I start. If I only read things that I enjoy, how will I ever stretch myself? I’m also loathe to spend 800 words eviscerating someone’s baby. Thus, Cheryl was born. Cheryl is my imaginary personal assistant who helps me “review” novels I really did not like. Instead of just doggedly attacking a novel’s failures, I try to have some fun with it.
What follows is a conversation I had with Cheryl about Mira Grant’s new novel, Parasite.
… Read the rest
One of my favorite books is Roger Zelazny’s Creatures of Light and Darkness (1969). It’s a whirlwind of disparate elements, mixing super pulpy science fantasy concepts and serious literary techniques into a ridiculously fun — and confounding — product. It doesn’t work, really; it makes no sense and it has weak characterization, no beating emotional heart; but damn if it isn’t a colorful splash on the big screen in your mind.
I’ve always liked works that take big chances. Even if they’re disasters, at least they’re interesting disasters. It used to be that big publishers routinely published works that made mincemeat of your brain, that defied reason and forced you to say to yourself, “Does this make any sense? Hell, do I even care if it makes sense?”
This isn’t to say, of course, that such narratives don’t ever get published by big publishing companies anymore — 2010 and 2012 saw rather high-profile confounding works (a positive term, in this case) published by Hannu Rajaniemi, for instance — but it’s hard to see something as weird and undigestible as Phyllis Gotlieb’s Lyhhrt Trilogy (1998-2002) or David Herter’s Ceres Storm (2000) being received with any enthusiasm in New York right now.… Read the rest
As I’ve been moving lately, I find my writing time has declined somewhat. I’m sure things will settle down soon. Until then, here’s three quick reviews of some recently read stuff.
Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach
Rachel Bach is also Rachel Aaron, author of the more young adult oriented Eli Monpress Trilogy. She’s taken the name Bach to brand her science fiction as separate, at least in part because it’s quite a bit more mature. That is to say there’s sex and swearing.
Devi Morris is a power armor mercenary with plans to become one of the elite warriors in the galaxy, but it’s tough getting noticed. To speed up the process, she takes a job on the aptly named Glorious Fool. Known for attracting trouble like bees to honey, one year of security work under its captain is equal to five years anywhere else. And so begins Fortune’s Pawn.… Read the rest
Lavie Tidhar’s The Violent Century has done for World War II what The Watchmen did for the Cold War (and should have done for the Vietnam War). I make that comparison not because both feature humans with superpowers, but because they offer an opportunity to look at real events through a hyperbolic layer. Tidhar, like Alan Moore, is interrogating real events with the speculative fiction toolkit, looking not at how it happened historically, but at what about the human condition allowed it. The result, in Violent Century’s case isn’t just a great piece of superhero fiction, but a beautiful novel of cultural and literary merit.
The jacket copy of the novel reads, “…Fogg and Oblivion must face up a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism to answer one last, impossible question: what makes a hero?” I’m loathe to sum it up so simply. While there are some notions of heroism throughout the novel, the quote describes what a fan reckons a superhero novel ought to be without a sense of the novel’s real themes. … Read the rest
Whenever I see the name Wesley, I think of Carey Elwes (Dread Pirate Roberts!), which inevitably leads me to Robin Hood Men in Tights. RHMT, as I call it, is quite possibly the finest spoof film of our time. In it, Robin Hood is captured during the Crusades and is imprisoned at Khalil Prison in Jerusalem. With the help of fellow inmate Asneeze, who is in for jaywalking, Robin escapes and frees the other inmates. Robin is asked by Asneeze to find his son, Ahchoo (Dave Chappelle, in his first major professional role). Upon returning to England, he discovers that Prince John has assumed control and doing a terrible job. Shenanigans ensue.
Now, what do this have to do with The Deaths of Tao? Almost nothing. except the author’s name is Wesley. Wesley Chu. Also, I had a bet with Jared Shurin that I couldn’t mention Dave Chappelle in a review.… Read the rest
Razor’s Edge by Martha Wells
I last read a Star Wars novel in 1998. I was seventeen and still very much enamored with notions of the Force. I lost interest, at the time, because the ‘expanded universe’ began moving further and further away from the core of what made Star Wars special–its characters.
The problem with an ‘expanded universe’ is that at some point authors run out of time and space to tell stories about beloved characters. It becomes impossible to find a new story to tell without continuing to age them to the point they’re no longer capable of performing the feats required by an interesting adventure tale. Of course, Harrison Ford pulled it off in The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Right?… Read the rest
Books like Zachary Jernigan’s No Return are the primary reason why the Night Shade Books collapse was a crying shame. It is bold, edgy, daring, and uneven in spots, making it both exactly the kind of book that demands to be published and one that is likely to be passed over by larger houses. In all, No Return is a quirky mash-up of speculative genres drawn into a thoroughly compelling package before petering out in the last twenty pages. While that might sound damning with faint praise, I insist that it’s a book that should be read.
The reality is Jernigan had no shortage of capable hands guiding him as he wrote No Return. Written mostly, if not in full, during his time in the Stonecoast MFA program, his advisers were Elizabeth Hand and David Anthony Durham. But, despite exceptional writing and a mind blowingly original concept, the novel ends abruptly with little resolution (if any) of the two disparate plot lines.… Read the rest