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Monday, April 30, 2012

A Chat/Interview between Bradley P. Beaulieu & Rob Ziegler


INTRODUCTION: In 2011, Bradley P. Beaulieu made an instant impact with his debut novel, The Winds of Khalakovo. Rob Ziegler did the same with his debut, Seed. Both are very talented writers with promising futures ahead. And when the two of them got together for a little discussion/interview, they had a lot of interesting things to say:

Brad: Ok, how do we start this thing? I suggest we go alphabetically. And since I win whether we take first name or last, I’ll ask the first question. ::grins::

I’d like to start out with a bit of the untold story of your book. In Seed, one of your main characters, Pollo, is autistic. However, I also know that he started out as unrelated to another of the main characters, Brood. How did this change in relationship alter Pollo? How did it alter Brood? And how did it alter the landscape of the book?

Rob: To begin with, Brad, I’d like to point out that your first question is in fact, like, six questions.  Prepare yourself for a thorough grilling after I’ve finished with my answer(s). Fair play...Harrumph!

Yes, Pollo is autistic, a fact on which Seed’s plot turns. I’d forgotten that you’d seen the early draft of the book, before Pollo was Pollo. He was originally a gigantic and lethal savant named Ton Ton, who was sort of a genetically engineered, weaponized version of Lennie Small. Really. That such a draft ever existed is usually highly classified, because talking about it means talking about the general clusterfucky state of the book at that point. There were so many problems in the early drafts, when the story kept wandering off track and each scene struggled to connect to the one before it. One of those problems was that everything was lethal. Brood, Doss, Satori, the world and everyone in it. Everything was either a killer or a victim, and the book lacked real emotional ballast. Brood needed a closer relationship in his life to soften him, and to give him something to fight for above and beyond mere survival. (And I think you were one of those early readers, Brad, who really took me to school on the need for a protagonist to be someone with whom the reader could sympathize.) Ton Ton definitely was not that close relationship. He was another killer in a book full of them. He did, however, embody a point of departure for Pollo. Like Pollo, he was something elemental, with a strange but gifted understanding of his world. As he became Pollo, he became someone Brood loved and needed to protect, and the result was that he deepened Brood. He revealed in Brood a hunger for true connection. Those moments when they do connect—because Pollo is so remote—are emotionally very juicy, for me anyway. Their relationship became the emotional heart of the book, certainly of Brood’s journey, and the thread tying all the story’s various parts together.

Now Brad, in The Winds of Khalakovo you also use an autistic character, Nasim, as both a fulcrum for the plot and as the quiet, emotional anchor at the story’s center (or at least that’s how I read him). In part I return your question: how did you find this character? Without giving too much away, Nasim has certain talents. What drew you to that savant blend of vulnerability and preternatural ability? I know you write steadily, 1,000 words or so a day. With a character like Nasim, did you plan him out? Or did you simply uncover him as you rolled through your words?

And what did you have for breakfast?

There, five questions back at you.

Brad: Ha! Turnabout is fair play, I suppose. I was actually just trying to throw enough questions at you that I could take a breath before your questions showed up.

Hmmm. Yes, on to Nasim. His was an interesting evolution. As much as I try to plot—and I do plot to a certain degree—I find that I can’t get too far ahead of the actual writing. I’ll work up the end of the novel, identify the major turning points, and then plot a handful of chapters before I start writing. In the early brainstorming of The Winds of Khalakovo, Nasim was simply a gifted boy. But anyone who starts writing will soon find that powerful characters are really, really tricky. Just look at Gandalf. Tolkien had to get him off stage to make him at all workable in The Hobbit. And in The Lord of the Rings, he pitted him against Saruman and the Witch-King of Angmar, just to give him something formidable to fight against. I knew right away that Nasim as I had initially envisioned him would be a difficult character to handle.

Essentially, he needed a weakness. So I recast him, and he became more or less autistic. He wouldn’t fit the modern definition of the term, but it’s the closest analog we have. He was a confused child. Because of the way in which he was reborn from his previous incarnation of Khamal, he had trouble discerning what lay in the real world and what lay in the immaterial realm, the world of the spirits. It was this confusion that made it almost impossible to learn and communicate like a normal child.

So the initial version of Nasim was largely determined before I ever started writing. But I knew little about him early on. Much of his personality—an innocent and kind yet easily confused (not to mention extremely powerful) child—came out in the writing. And that, right there, encapsulates a lot of how I work as a writer. I spent a ton of time on the world, the magic, the cultures, the politics. I know those fairly well. I know a bit of the plot, especially the high points and the ending, and I have a kernel, a core, for each of the characters. And then I fill things in as I write. I find that I can’t do it any other way, at least so far in my writing career. I can’t write completely blindly—that is, I need at least some structure—and yet, try as I might, I can’t see too far ahead in terms of plot. I thought I’d be able to given my structured life as a software programmer, but the writing side of my brain is simply not wired that way.

Something you said above really interested me. And that’s this notion, in your words, that the early incarnations of Seed “lacked real emotional ballast.” This is something near and dear to my heart, because I think it’s one of my biggest weaknesses as a writer. I’m rather plot-driven. That’s my natural state, and I’m well aware of it, so I work hard at making sure the characters feel real, that there are touching (or at least emotional) moments in the story so that the reader can sympathize with them.

One of our friends, Deborah Coates, whose book, Wide Open was recently published by Tor Books, calls this “moments of grace.” Tell me about “moments of grace” from your perspective and how it changed not just Seed, but your writing overall. (Did you catch that? I didn’t even use a question mark, so it’s not even a question, really.)

Rob: Well done, Brad. Charlie Rose could learn a thing or two from your interviewing chops. I don’t even feel like I’m being grilled.

So, Deborah Coates. In addition to being a great person, Deb is a fantastic writer, and very smart when it comes to storytelling. It strikes me that many writers approach a novel as separate components—character, plot, theme—and do their best to puzzle those pieces together. Like, “This paragraph develops the protagonist. This paragraph is action that furthers the story,” and so forth. You can see the gears moving behind their scenes. But Deb has an instinctual knack for seamlessly integrating all of a story’s various aspects, so the thematic idea becomes the thing that moves the character’s emotional arc which is what moves the story. It’s fluid, there’s no separation. I think the key to making this work is that she gets her characters emotionally, and she works every aspect of her story through that emotional filter. Or anyway, that’s how it feels. Maybe I’m projecting, but if so, it’s a testament to her skill that she makes it look so easy. Stylistically, I want to wring her writing for all its worth and make it my own.

Deb is hilarious in person, though, because she’ll make these little comments that are at once offhanded and absolutely brilliant. Twice she’s upended the way I write. One being, as you mentioned above, when she told me Seed needed small moments of grace. Again, completely offhanded for her. We were standing in the kitchen at the first Starry Heaven workshop, and she was pouring coffee or something, barely even aware she’d said it, I think. But for me it was a light bulb moment, like she was Jehovah hurling lightning bolts down from the mountaintop. And she’s just standing there, pouring her coffee...

The phrase “small moments of grace” really cracked things open for me. It’s more than simply working through a checklist of things that make characters sympathetic. It’s about providing the reader a channel for real emotional connection to the characters. For me, that means connecting to those characters as I write, which is very much an intuitive process. I like fringe characters, characters who are tough, even sometimes cruel. But I like the idea that everyone, no matter how unsavory, has the tiniest pinch of grace, enough for a moment of compassion, even when it runs against their most obvious self-interest. Deb’s comment articulated for me a desire I barely knew I had about how I wanted to write, and in a way gave me permission to act on it.

Personally, it matters far more to me that characters be emotionally accessible than it does for a story to skillfully hit all the correct beats. The right emotional ballast can make even a flawed story work. You mentioned The Lord of the Rings above, Brad, and it’s actually a very good example of what I’m talking about. Structurally, it’s a clumsy story, with any number of awkward plot swerves and dei ex machina. (To the point that, in more than one writers’ group, I’ve heard people use Tolkienian shorthand during critique; e.g. telling someone “That’s a total Tom Bombadil” means a section is irredeemably boring and superfluous.) But goddamn if I don’t love Frodo’s quiet forbearance. And goddamn if I don’t love Sam for the way he cares for Frodo. Moments of grace fill that story—from Gandalf’s quiet ruminations on Frodo’s surprising strength, to the obvious joy whenever key characters reunite. It gives the story heft, even though its structure is wobbly. So that when, for instance, they lose Gandalf, it’s utterly devastating. And when, at the end of the first book, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli decide to go after Merry and Pippin, we don’t bat an eye, even though their decision makes no obvious strategic sense in terms of the war they face. Of course they decide to rescue Merry and Pippin, because they’re loyal friends. As the High Elves always say, that fucking rocks.

But back to your process, Brad. It’s surprising to me that you describe yourself as a “pantser” more than a “plotter.” The Winds trilogy is so complex that I always figured it involved you freebasing speed in a little woodshed where you’d be feverishly scribbling notes on the walls and connecting all the pieces with thumbtacks and string. In your underwear. It hurts me a little to hear you say you discover this shit as you go. I know you’re very structured in your approach to churning out words (and you churn out a lot of words). But help me here. Tell me you wander down blind alleys, and have to backtrack. Tell me you do major, structural rewrites. Because if it turns out you manage to get it all basically right on a first draft, I’m straight up going to have to kill you.

Brad: I’m, uh, going to choose my words carefully here... (If you’ve seen Rob and know he studies Muay Thai, you’d understand why.)

I don’t actually know that I’d call myself more of a pantser than a plotter. I’m probably somewhere right in the middle. I plot high points, including the ending of the novel early on. I plot the beginning and a few chapters out. And then I start writing. What happens then is kind of interesting. I keep writing until I feel like things are going off the rails, until I feel like if I go any further I’m at serious risk of taking the book in the wrong direction. When this happens, I stop for a day or two. I think about where I’m headed and the interesting paths I could take to get from where I am to the nearest high point. Eventually one path or another will seem more interesting than the rest, and I’ll map out the dramatic steps I need to take to get there.

It’s like an inchworm. Write, plot, write, plot, constantly creeping forward, bit by bit. Sometimes I adjust the major points I envisioned in the beginning to suit the story, sometimes I adjust the characters and their goals to suit the plot, so that hopefully by the end what I have is real characters traveling through a real world doing interesting things.

That doesn’t mean I don’t take a wrong turn now and again and am forced to back up. I do. But I’ve gotten pretty good at performing these mind experiments, taking the possible dramatic paths to their natural conclusions. I can envision what a particular choice will mean to the characters and to the plot much more easily than I could years ago, and it allows me to weed out mistakes without having to spend thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of words on them.

As a small aside, my focus on this stems from a book I wrote where I made major, major mistakes. I made them early and I made them often. And the result was an utter mess of a book. I tried to repair it in subsequent drafts, but it never quite worked, and I had to trunk the novel.

I didn’t want that to happen again, but I didn’t quite know how to fix it until I went to Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp in 2005. He teaches this technique of asking questions of your characters and your plot and your world. The questions are the basic five: Who, What, Where, When, and Why. And also How. Why does Nikandr want to learn more about the wasting disease? What is the nature of the rifts? How do the Matri communicate telepathically? Why is Nasim unable to relate to the world around him?

These are the tools I use over and over, both in the beginning, where I’m asking major questions about the overall plot, and when I get to those stopping points, and they allow me to proceed along a path that’s much more likely to work than if I had just bulled forth and continued to write.

One of the things I wanted to discuss before we say our goodbyes is worldbuilding and the worlds we’ve shown in our two novels. We both have environmental impact in our stories. We both have the concept of permanent change. It’s interesting to note that my world is essentially on the upswing of these changes, whereas yours is on the opposite side. Environmental change in Seed has already happened and there’s really no going back. What was it about that side of the curve that interested you? It’s a fatalistic sort of view. Do you think that’s a more interesting way to look at the question of environmental change than, say, when the changes themselves and their eventual impact are still in question?

Rob: Brad, it’s fun to hear that you have a mutant novel you’ve never let out of the attic. The secret novel, the one of which we’re ashamed. I think this must be a positive indication that someone has the right qualities for a novelist’s career, because not only does it mean they’re pathological enough to write a book in the first place, but they also have the good judgment to be able to acknowledge when it doesn’t turn out well—that yes, this one should be kept in the trunk. Just because you wrote it doesn’t mean it should be seen. Kudos to you. (Then again, you might be able to parlay that book into some serious Ebay cash one of these days.)

You describe an infuriatingly reasonable process. I find myself relating to every word, up until you say you allow yourself to pause for a day or two when you feel the story going off the rails. I should take a lesson from you there. My mindset, when I’m plowing through a first draft, is that progress equals words on the page. Which means a word count, daily, no matter what, even when I sense things going off kilter. For me, backtracking and lots of rewriting are frustratingly inevitable. So...I’m going to give your method a try. Next time I feel the story going wonky, I’m going to pause and ask myself: What Would Bradley Beaulieu Do?

We’ll see what happens.

As for environmental change, I came to the world in Seed from two angles. One was from the standpoint of my characters. I liked the crew of Brood, Hondo and Pollo, and very badly wanted to write their story—a story which could only take place in a badland, because they’re outlaws.

Of course, I also wanted to comment on big problems we face today. Problems like climate change, which, if we fail to address it now, will determine what our future looks like. We’ve talked before, Brad, of how genre allows an author to take a piece of our real world and recontextualize it, distend it until we can see it in a new way—testing ideas to the point of destruction, to use Elizabeth Bear’s wonderful phrase. I wanted to break open our modern and tacit assumption wherein tomorrow’s children get to pay today’s butcher bill; our assumption that we can continue to live and pollute the way we do without there being any consequence, along with an underlying value set that prioritizes profit over the sustainability of our economy, of our society, perhaps even over our sustainability as species. In Seed, we get to see a world where that logic has run its course—yes, to the point of destruction. You describe Seed as fatalistic, but I’d call it merely cautionary. (Though as we veer closer to the precipice of irreversible climate shift, and as half the population of the US continues to disbelieve climate change is anthropomorphic, or is even happening at all, one word I wouldn’t use to describe my outlook is “optimistic.”)

Speaking of genre, in the Winds trilogy, you’ve created a world where environmental consequence and magic are closely tied. We’ve spoken before of how genre fiction inevitably embodies the sentiments of its day, whether or not an author does this intentionally. In Winds, however, I get the feeling that parallels to the real world are very intentional. Since I have you cornered, tell me: to what extent is the Winds trilogy allegory? What ideas are you testing to point of destruction?

On an unrelated note, I’ve been procrastinating my writing today. I’ve just asked myself, WWBBD? The answer? Write a hundred and fifty thousand words, then eat lunch. I’d better get busy. It’s been fun.

Brad: That’s a tall word count. Feel free to stop at 100k. You know, if you get queasy looking at the hill you’re about to climb.

I too like Bear’s notion of testing an idea to the point of destruction. I’ll admit I haven’t fully grokked it yet. I’m not convinced it works for all or even most science fiction. If you look at something like first-contact stories. Science fiction, yes? But I don’t know that any idea is being tested to destruction. It’s more about the effects such an event has on a group or a society or even an entire world. Or take survival-after-the-crash stories. I think those tend to be more man-vs-nature stories than anything else. Still, it’s a useful and interesting notion, and I think a very cool way to create a certain kind of story, particularly those that examine cultural or social change through a slightly dystopic lens.

But back to your question. Is The Lays of Anuskaya a parable? Answering as straightly as the question was asked: no, it isn’t. Or at least, I didn’t intend it to be. It certainly speaks of today’s issues. There are distinct parallels. But I didn’t so much want to teach a lesson as I wanted to examine how environment can affect culture in a world other than our own. I also wanted to grant my characters a bit of agency. Unlike Seed, the world of Winds is one in which the collective fate of the world is not yet known. There’s still time. After all, in Winds, the alternative is not a harder lifestyle, but assured destruction.

A different aspect of Lays I’ve talked about lately that is closer to allegory is the notion that we’d better learn to get along if we have any hope of survival. This is related to the environmental issues in my story, but in a way I’m using that environment peril as a Petri dish in which to examine the political, cultural, and religious morass the peoples of Lays have gotten themselves into over the course of time. I was intensely curious how people violently opposed to one another might bridge their differences, and in fact, this was one of the most interesting things for me to write. I spent pages, chapters, trying to set these conflicts up, and it was terribly gratifying when I finally got to play them out to their natural conclusions.

Well, I think that about wraps things up. Thanks for the chat, Rob!

Heads-down, now. We have these books to finish…

ABOUT BRADLEY P. BEAULIEU:

Bradley P. Beaulieu is a winner of the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Award, while his short story, “In the Eyes of the Empress’s Cat”, was voted a Notable Story in the 2006 Million Writers Award. Other stories have appeared in Realms of Fantasy Magazine, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Writers of the Future 20, and several anthologies from DAW Books. He is the author of The Winds of Khalakovo and The Straits of Galahesh, the first two volumes in The Lays of Anuskaya trilogy. For more information, please visit the following links:

Official Bradley P. Beaulieu Website
Order “The Winds of KhalakovoHERE
Order “The Straits of GalaheshHERE
Read the First Fifteen Chapters HERE (ePub) or HERE (PDF)
Read FBC’s Review of “The Winds of Khalakovo
Watch the Book Trailer HERE

ABOUT ROB ZIEGLER:

Rob Ziegler began writing science fiction in 2008. In November of that same year, his short story “Heirlooms” won the regional short fiction contest, A Dozen on Denver, which served as the point of departure for his debut novel, Seed. He is currently working on his second novel, Angel City. For more information, please visit the following links:

Order “SeedHERE
Read the First Three Chapters HERE
Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Walter Jon Williams Releasing his Backlist as eBooks and a Follow Up on the "Dropped Series" Post of 2010 (by Liviu Suciu)




In 2010 I posted some thoughts on "dropped series" talking about four series that have been pretty big favorites at least at the time and which have remained unfinished so far. In the meantime, one those series, Sea Beggars by Paul Kearney has been completed and the last volume plus a reissue of the first two will be published later in 2012 by Solaris, while there was some action in the Continuing Time series of D.K. Moran with the publication of The AI War, Book One : The Big Boost as an eBook. The third one consists of Metaplanetary and Superluminal by Tony Daniel and here I have no news except that Mr. Daniel has recently published Guardian of Night with Baen.

Recently there has been some movement on the last series from the four - in this case the author Walter Jon Williams has reissued the first volume, Metropolitan, as an eBook on Amazon and Smashwords. I strongly recommend checking out the Smashwords version as there is a sizable 20% sample, the book is multiple format drm-free and on general principles it is good to support independent stores when that makes financial sense. I always buy from Smashwords when the respective eBook is available there and I never had any issue with them.

In addition Mr. Williams provided a very entertaining series of posts about the genesis and travails of the series which is one of the most superb blends of sf and fantasy I've ever read and it is still timely and entertaining as I've reread both books a few times across the years.

Here are some quotes from his website:

"Having written my lovely high fantasy, I sat back to await the world’s reaction.

What I had not anticipated was that readers would refuse to recognize it as a fantasy at all."

 

"I sold Metropolitan to a new publisher for a pleasing increase in my advance.  I was somewhat traumatized by leaving Tor, but not when Ralph relayed their final message: “When Walter finally realizes what he’s worth, he’s welcome to come back.”

To which anyone of spirit can only reply, *****  ***"

Go, read and enjoy the posts which talk about quite a lot of things: how the books got imagined, how they were received and how the publishing world worked at the time, the last being such a mess that I cannot understand how people bemoan Amazon and their dragging the unwilling publishers into the modern era as a bad thing; ideally, yeah maybe but respective to what has been going on for decades and how quite a few authors have been treated (badly to put it mildly), you gotta be kidding to take the big publishers as opposed to Amazon.

Anyway let's hope City on Fire follows as an eBook soon and maybe, just maybe, the reception will be good enough that the author will decide to go ahead and write more about Aiah, Constantine and their superb world and publish it independently. I would leap at the chance and buy such on the spot...

I want to mention that WJW has also released a few other novels from his back-list including the wonderful Aristoi which was the novel that brought him to my attention. New Space Opera with some cyberpunk overtones, Aristoi should still be fun but while I remember its general outline, it left less of a trace in my memory than the superb Metropolitan/City on Fire sequence.

From more recent work of the author, I have reviewed the wonderfully crazy Implied Spaces which you can get from Amazon or as a drm-free ebook from Baen (with 7 free sample chapters too!) as part of their epublishing Night Shade's output, while Robert has reviewed  This is Not a Game and Deep State which sadly have subjects that are of no interest to me.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Other Gemmell (by Mihir Wanchoo)



Ever since
Stella Gemmell partook into the world of Troy as imagined by David Gemmell, readers got to read a conclusion worthy of the saga begun by David. The best part about the third book was that even though it was started by David and finished by Stella, one could hardly ascertain one part from the other. It seemed like a seamless piece and one that delivered a powerful conclusion to Homer’s story.

It’s been nearly five years since
Stella was published and so I was very excited to see her name come up with the announcement of a new title. This was announced first over at the Bookseller:

Transworld editorial director
Simon Taylor bought UK and Commonwealth rights to The City, described as "a fantasy on an epic scale", plus a sequel, from Howard Morhaim of the Howard Morhaim Literary Agency. The City will be published in spring 2013. Taylor said that Morhaim had always answered subsequent queries as to whether Stella Gemmell might be tempted to write another work with a diplomatic "Who knows?" but that when he revealed a novel had been written, and Taylor read the manuscript, "the hairs on the back of my neck started to prickle."

Taylor continued: "
Stella has written a breathtaking epic fantasy that is not only going to get David’s fans reaching for their superlatives but also win her a legion of new readers in her own right. The City – with its epic vision, remarkable, evocative world-building, narrative arc, fabulous writing, dramatic storytelling (and heart-in-mouth battle scenes!) and, importantly, characters who live on the page and in whose lives the reader cannot help but become wholly involved – totally knocked my socks off."

Larry Finlay Managing Director Transworld, added that it was "so exciting to be publishing the Gemmell name once more."

After this wonderful piece of news, I believe all over the world DG fans will be salivating to read
Stella’s debut so to see how much of an effect David has had on her and how different a writer she will be. Count me in among those who cannot wait to know more about the book…


To know more about
Stella, the tragedy that was David’s passing and her sojourn in completing
TROY: Fall Of Kings, go here to read this wonderful Interview.

Note: Picture courtesy of Alison Bone and the Bookseller
Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Tricked by Kevin Hearne (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Kevin Hearne Website
Order “TrickedHERE
Read first 50 pages of “TrickedHERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Hounded
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Hexed
Read
Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Hammered
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Interview with Kevin Hearne

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Kevin Hearne
graduated from Northern Arizona University with a degree in English literature and currently teaches high school English. He is a self-confessed comic book fan and collector. He also collects and paints miniature dwarves in his free time. He currently lives with his family in Arizona and is the author of The Iron Druid Chronicles.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Druid Atticus O’Sullivan hasn’t stayed alive for more than two millennia without a fair bit of Celtic cunning. So when vengeful thunder gods come Norse by Southwest looking for payback, Atticus, with a little help from the Navajo trickster god Coyote, lets them think that they’ve chopped up his body in the Arizona desert.

But the mischievous Coyote is not above a little sleight of paw, and Atticus soon finds that he’s been duped into battling bloodthirsty desert shapeshifters called skinwalkers. Just when the Druid thinks he’s got a handle on all the duplicity, betrayal comes from an unlikely source. If Atticus survives this time, he vows he won’t be fooled again. Famous last words!!!

CLASSIFICATION: Like its predecessors, The Iron Druid Chronicles is an urban fantasy series in the vein of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher and K.A. Stewart’s Jesse James Dawson series, and features an exciting mix of comedy, action and mythology.

FORMAT/INFO: Tricked is 368 pages long divided over thirty-one numbered chapters and an epilogue. Also includes a Pronunciation guide for all the names and phrases mentioned in the book and an excerpt for the next book Trapped. Narration is in the first-person, solely via Atticus O’Sullivan. Tricked is the fourth book in The Iron Druid Chronicles after Hounded, Hexed and Hammered. It would be extremely ill advised to jump into the series with this book as the plot has a lot of references to the many events portrayed in the preceding books.

April 24, 2012 marks the North American Mass Market Paperback publication of Tricked via Del Rey. Cover art is provided by Gene Mollica.

ANALYSIS: When it comes to Kevin Hearne, after his fantastic debut last year and the two sequels released in quick succession, it was hard not to be enthralled by his creations. With the epic climax of Hammered, fans everywhere were waiting to see what direction Kevin would take Atticus and Oberon next. Tricked was written and ready to be released and so when I got the opportunity to get an ARC for it, I was over the moon.

Tricked is a hard book to review because of two reasons namely, it’s the fourth book of the series and secondly because a lot of its plot details are spoilers for the preceding three titles. I must warn readers that I’ll be trying to avoid spoilers as much as possible however there will be some minor spoilers and those readers who haven’t read the first three books can avoid the review ahead.

Tricked begins with a short soliloquy similar to the first book however this one is even more outrageous than its predecessor, it begins with the following lines:

The best trick I ever pulled off was watching myself die. I did a respectable job of it too – the dying, I mean, not the watching!”

With such a terrific line begins the fourth entry of the chronicles of Atticus the lone druid who’s witty, versatile and now hunted by the thunder gods of various pantheons for his actions across Hammered. He however has a couple of tricks up his sleeve and he turns to one of the ultimate tricksters of yore to help him in his task. This of course works on “scratch my back and I scratch yours” principle and while Atticus thinks he has it under control. Coyote of course manages to one up him with his version of a request. Not to add to his troubles is his past catching up in the form of the widow Mrs. MacDonagh as well as the other mythical monsters that Atticus has had dealings with. All in all Tricked is a riptide of trickery and treachery in various degrees. The ending and twists in this book manage to convey quite a many tribulations for our hero ahead and yet also give us a sound ending.

Kevin Hearne shines again with the this volume losing none of his charm and smooth prose. The story opens with Atticus who is yet the charming and rogue-ish narrator even after the events that have caused such an upheaval in the physical and meta-physical world. He is one of the best main characters currently present in the urban fantasy genre simply because of his ability to make the reader empathize with him and make the reader forget that he’s a guy who more than two millennia old. In this story we learn more about his past as well as his present mistakes, both of which will have a tremendous impact on the story as it’s unfolding and the way it will unfold in the future as well. A few of the revelations have been hinted in the previous books however their actual revelation really might stun the reader with the depth of the truth.

Tricked also manages to tie in with the short story “A Test of Mettle” with the actual saga and it also shows the possible repercussions of the event. There’s also the matter of side character cast who are given a larger role and this includes Granuaile, Oberon and a certain other recurring character. The humor content is never under question as with the presence of Oberon who manages to outdo himself with his zingy one-liners and ever-present humorous chatter, in the previous book due to certain events,Oberon wasn't present for much of the storyline. However this situation is suitably rectified over here. Kevin also includes a new mythology in this book hereby exploring native American legends and monsters. This new mythology also is made to fit perfectly in this myriad world wherein all pantheons exist and co-habitat the world. This aspect of Kevin's world is one which has been unique so far and he continues to unveil a new corner of the world with each book. Many readers will be surprised to find quite another mythology make a cameo in this book and this possibly heralds a future appearance so be on the lookout.

The only downside I can think about this book is that it’s a bridge novel that is supposed to set up the events for the next part of the saga. In that respect this book is like A Feast for Crows without the unnecessary cliffhangers and the missing cast. There are some sections about Atticus' past which could have been explored further to show how complicated a character he is, but that would have made the story slacken and therefore was avoided. I however would still like to read more about his past and perhaps from another narrator to avoid the character's own bias. It also has a complete ending that gives us a strong hint of what might come next.

CONCLUSION: Kevin Hearne’s Tricked manages to combine the fun aspects of the previous books and give the saga a darker turn to make this book more akin to a thriller. It marks an exciting return to the world of Atticus and Oberon, give Tricked along with the rest of the Iron Druid Chronicles a chance and you won’t regret it. An excellent entry that only heightens the wait for Trapped that is due in November this year.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Three Shorter Reviews, Dan Vyleta, Lavie Tidhar and Galen Beckett (by Liviu Suciu)



"Vienna, 1939. Professor Speckstein's dog has been brutally killed, the latest victim in a string of unsolved murders. Speckstein wants answers-but these are uncharitable times, and one must be careful where one probes. When an unexpected house call leads Dr. Beer to Speckstein's apartment, he finds himself in the bedroom of Zuzka, the professor's niece. Wide-eyed, flirtatious, and not detectably ill, Zuzka leads the young doctor to her window and opens up a view of their apartment block that Beer has never known. Across the shared courtyard, there is nine-year-old Anneliese, the lonely daughter of an alcoholic. Five windows to the left lives a secretive mime who comes home late at night and keeps something-or someone-precious hidden from view. From the garret drifts the mournful sound of a trumpet player, and a basement door swings closed behind the building's inscrutable janitor..."




Does one of these enigmatic neighbors have blood on their hands?


Dr. Beer, who has his own reasons for keeping his private life hidden from public scrutiny, reluctantly becomes embroiled in an inquiry that forces him to face the dark realities of Nazi rule. By turns chilling and tender, The Quiet Twin explores a dystopian world of social paranoia, mistrust, and fear-and the danger of staying silent.


Praise for The Quiet Twin:


"A compelling rumination on watching and watchfulness, served up with Nabokovian glee." -Guardian (UK )


"A striking, pitch-perfect, wonderfully atmospheric and beautifully written ensemble piece that subtly portrays a society on the brink of moral collapse."-Sunday Telegraph (UK )


The Quiet Twin by Dan Vyleta is a pretty dark novel written in a somewhat whimsical tone that attenuates the horrors within for the most part. Vienna October-November 1939; the war has started, the Jews have been beaten and kicked out, though their murder is still only sporadic, the mentally sick and physically disabled are starting to be killed in hospitals for the good of the race, or at least this is what the characters believe - the actual killings started mostly in 1940, but rumors have been going around earlier - while forced sterilizations have been done for a while now. Integrity is rare, corruption and violence are common.

Set in a Viennese housing complex that in the spirit of the times mixed the better off with working poor and was supervised in the name of the Reich by a chief administrator/informer that worked hand in hand with the Gestapo and the police, The Quiet Twin excels in atmosphere and characters.

While Dr. Beer who still tries to do some good despite all that's going on but whose intimate secret would guarantee a one way to a concentration camp if known - hint, his wife has left him recently - and Annaliese the bright but scarred nine year old girl living downstairs are the main leads, the sinister professor Speckstein takes over the story whenever he appears; currently the police informer of the complex, he was a very respected University professor and physician tried for child rape- and acquitted - some years ago who finds National Socialism the right vehicle for his revenge on the Viennese society that shunned him despite his exoneration in court.

The Quiet Twin is mostly historical fiction and people looking for a mystery will be disappointed as there is no real such despite the talked about murders and the dog from the blurb...

The novel also has some great interludes from the press of the times - mostly about disturbed murders and their strange acts - that read stranger than fiction, but ultimately when a society is sick, the extreme slowly becomes the normal and the book's main story-lines prove that once more. Excellent novel and highly recommended.

*******************************************

"When Mycroft Holmes is murdered in London, it is up to retired shadow executive Smith to track down his killer - and stumble on the greatest conspiracy of his life. Strange forces are stirring into life around the globe, and in the shadow game of spies nothing is certain. Fresh from liberating a strange alien object in Abyssinia - which might just be the mythical Ark of the Covenant - young Lucy Westerna, Holmes' protégé, must follow her own path to the truth while, on the other side of the world, a young Harry Houdini must face his greatest feat of escape - death itself.

As their paths converge the body count mounts up, the entire world is under threat, and in a foreboding castle in the mountains of Transylvania a mysterious old man weaves a spider's web of secrets and lies.

Airship battles, Frankenstein monsters, alien tripods and death-defying acts: The Great Game is a cranked-up steampunk thriller in which nothing is certain - not even death."

After The Bookman and Camera Obscura, I was wondering who else will show up in this wonderful series that just ticked all the right nostalgia boxes for me. And Mr. Tidhar did not disappoint as Karl May - starring as one of the main villains with the harsh German accent of old style thrillers to boot - Harry Houdini of the many escapes - though of course there is a special take on that too - Phileas Fogg, Bram Stoker, Lucy Westerna, Van Helsing and a few others show up in The Great Game in addition to the few regulars like the Holmes brothers, Victor Frankestein or the Comte Rochefort...

The first 3/4 of The Great Game were awesome and I thought this would be a top 25 of mine, but the ending was a bit disappointing and this is one extra reason I am hoping for more books in the series; it will be a major spoiler to say why but essentially The Great Game suffers from the "great tension, great danger, way too easy out" syndrome that sometimes afflicts even the better written sff like itself.

Still a super ride to be enjoyed, lots of moments that had me laughing out loud and of course who can resist the plethora of characters named above. Another highly recommended novel of 2012 for me.

************************************

After the unexpectedly wonderful The Magicians and Mrs. Quent and The House on Durrow Street, The Master of Heathcrest Hall was another fantasy series ending - 3rd in 2012 so far after Percepliquis and Daemon Prism with a few more to come - that was a huge asap and while I enjoyed it and would recommend it, it just did not blow me away as earlier novels in the series.

Here I still loved the language and the setting was generally interesting, but Ivy who was undoubtedly the star of the first two novels, loses a little her distinctiveness and centrality to the story and while I did not mind that much having Rafferdy and Eldyn Garitt as the main characters, the book lost some luster for me due to that. Another issue was the acceleration of action as the earlier novels worked better at a slower pace where dialogue and setting counted for more; once the frantic action starts the fantasy part of the world building starts being exposed as quite shallow.

In addition the "everything explained, all i's dotted and t's crossed" that seems to afflict series ending these days are present here and there were quite a few "yawn" rather than "oh, what" moments too.

Overall I think that if you thought The House on Durrow Street slow, you may enjoy this more than I did as the pace accelerates a lot here, but for me the charm of the series was first in Ivy's character, next in the witty dialog and finally in the implied mysteries and all those become either secondary or solved a bit in a too cookie-cutter way in this series finale.

Monday, April 16, 2012

"Women in Science Fiction & Fantasy Month" at Fantasy Book Cafe


Often across the blogosphere, there is stuff happening that deserves to be highlighted. One of my favorite bloggers is Kristen of Fantasy Book Café. In the month of April she had come up with this incredible idea about Women in Science Fiction and Fantasy and has dedicated this month to all their wonderful contributions. Here’s what she had to say about it to kick this event off on her blog:

After all the discussion recently about review coverage of women writing science fiction and fantasy and the female bloggers writing about these genres, I decided to dedicate the month of April to the women of science fiction and fantasy. Though I’m interested in the discussion overall, instead of talking about it more I’m choosing to make my contribution to addressing the issue by highlighting the women who are writing and reading SF&F. Throughout the month I’ll have authors, book bloggers, and other commentators making guest posts. While some of my guests will be discussing the subject itself, it’s not required to participate; the goal is just to get some interesting people, thoughts, and books all in one place.

A few years ago, I noticed that most of the fantasy and science fiction books being talked about on many blogs and forums were written by men and started questioning whether or not there was a significant number of women writing these genres. Since then, I’ve of course found that there are many female authors of fantasy and science fiction books and it’s become very important to me to make sure their work is recognized and discussed. Usually I just do this quietly by reading and reviewing a lot of books written by women, but after the topic came up again I decided I wanted to do more to showcase the many women who are writing and reviewing all kinds of different types of fantasy and science fiction
.”


Kristen has since then come up a bevy of posts from many authors and bloggers who have conveyed their thoughts quite eloquently. So here’s a list of the female authors that have appeared on her blog to speak about various topics:

1] Nancy Kress
2] Carol Berg
3] Elizabeth Bear
4] Martha Wells
5] Stina Leicht
6] Moira J. Moore


Amidst the female bloggers, here’s the list of people who have contributed to this event:

1] Jessica from Read React Review
2] Kristin from My Bookish Ways
3] Janice from Janicu’s Book Blog
4] Jessica from Sci-Fi Fan Letter
5] Lisa from Starmetal Oak Reviews


For this week there are many more interesting authors and bloggers scheduled to make an appearance:
- Lynn Flewelling
- N. K. Jemisin
- M. J. Locke
- Lisa Shearin
- Sarah from Bookworm Blues
- Shara from Calico Reaction (LiveJournal, WordPress)


I for one, am absolutely thrilled that Kristen has taken this initiative and is doing such a great job with the help of all the wonderful ladies who have contributed and will be contributing in the forthcoming weeks. So please take a few moments and give these posts a read and don’t be shy to drop in a comment or two…

Note: Both pictures are courtesy of Fantasy Book Cafe.
Saturday, April 14, 2012

"Kino" by Jurgen Fauth (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)


Order Kino HERE

INTRODUCTION: With the blurb below and coming from Atticus Books of which I saw and heard quite a lot of good things, I was very interested in Kino and read it pretty much on obtaining an e-arc a few months ago, while the book is scheduled to be published April 17, though Amazon has it already shipping. While mostly a cross between historical fiction and standard contemporary thriller, Kino has a sfnal aspect too, but more about this below.

Here is a quote from Kino's diary:

''I came from nothing, I scaled the Olymp, and I can do it again. Even when the Nazis burned my movies, I clung to hope. You have marked me crazy and yet you ask me to explain myself. Art will prevail! I'll make another movie yet. Cinema cannot be detained! Nothing can stop me, for I am Kino.''

Here is the actual blurb:

"When the long lost, first-ever silent film from visionary director Kino arrives mysteriously on his granddaughter Mina's doorstep, the mission to discover the man she barely knew begins. As Kino's journals plunge the reader into the depraved glamour and infectious panic of 1920s and '30s Germany, Mina turns her life upside down to redeem her grandfather's legend.

With a cast of characters that includes Joseph Goebbels, Fritz Lang and Leni Riefenstahl, Fauth concocts a genre-busting blend of German history, film, and art into a fast, sinister tale of redemption. The tightly woven narrative is filled with thuggish darkness and back alley shadows running neck-and-neck with cinematic light and intrigue."


ANALYSIS: "Kino" is a book which I would rate as an A- but I would still recommend as it has some great stuff mixed with some more common such, while the last part raises it above the "run of the mill" thriller with its "save the world, etc" that it threatened to devolve into.

I believe the author missed writing an unforgettable book by going too much the Hollywood way with chases, men in black, etc - though luckily he backs away in the end from that aspect which ultimately looks even more pointless. I also found the comparisons of the McCarthy era and later of Bush's invasion of Iraq with Nazi Germany beyond the pale and that aspect is even clearer today in the "new era" of drone executions and take no prisoners navy seals assaults ordered by our Nobel Peace Prize winner president to the unembarrassed silence and even cheering of the former Bush critics. As another negative, in the Net Galley e-arc copy I read there were also a few historical mistakes like situating Pearl Harbor in 1943, but those may have been corrected.

However the good parts - the diary of Kino about his life which arrives into the hand of his granddaughter Mina and later the revelations of his still living 92 year old wife, Mina's grandma though she has been estranged from her son for ages, the portrait of the Weimar republic and the sketches of Nazi Germany, together with the examination of the role of art in society - are just great stuff and I'd rather read those 100+ pages and the mostly standard present day thriller that fills in the rest, than many other books.

Where the book misses its greatest potential is in the sff aspect which the author uses to justify the chases and men in black as Kino's movies..., well read the book to find out why they are believed to be important even today. That part is sadly glossed over as if the author wanted to write a "realistic thriller" and was embarrassed to delve too much into the sfnal; too bad, as the potential loss there is significant, but at least the finale of the novel stands back from the men in black and that was a big plus for me.

Overall the pages mostly turn by themselves and with few exceptions when the men in black appear the book is quite the page turner, but I still wish the author would have had the courage to go the sff route and embrace fully that aspect.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Irenicon by Aidan Harte (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)



OFFICIAL AUTHOR WEBSITE
Read “Of Monsters and Miracles” by Aidan Harte

Order the book here
Read Author Interview at Civilian Reader


AUTHOR INFORMATION: Aidan Harte was born in Kilkenny, Ireland. He studied in the Florence Academy of Art. He currently works as a sculptor in Dublin and his sculpture can be seen in Sol Art Gallery in Dublin. He works in the classical tradition informed by the early 20th century expressionists. He has also directed an IFTA winning, BAFTA nominated kids’ TV show, Skunk Fu, which was broadcast on BBC, Kids WB and Cartoon Network. This is his debut.


OFFICIAL BLURB: The river Irenicon was blasted through the middle of Rasenna in 1347 and now it is a permanent reminder to the feuding factions that nothing can stand in the way of the Concordian Empire. The artificial river, created overnight by Concordian engineers using the Wave, runs uphill. But the Wave is both weapon and mystery; not even the Concordians know how the river became conscious - and hostile. But times are changing. Concordian engineer Captain Giovanni is ordered to bridge the Irenicon - not to reunite the sundered city, but to aid Concord's mighty armies, for the engineers have their sights set firmly on world domination and Rasenna is in their way.

Sofia Scaglieri will soon be seventeen, when she will become Contessa of Rasenna, but her inheritance is tainted: she can see no way of stopping the ancient culture of vendetta which divides her city. What she can't understand is why Giovanni is trying so hard to stop the feuding, or why he is prepared to risk his life, not just with her people, but also with the lethal water spirits - the buio - that infest the Irenicon. Times are changing. And only the young Contessa and the enemy engineer Giovanni understand they have to change too, if they are to survive the coming devastation - for Concord is about to unleash the Wave again...

FORMAT/INFO: Irenicon is 583 pages long divided over sixty-eight numbered chapters with an epilogue. Narration is in third-person by Sofia Scaglieri, Giovanni the engineer, Doctor Bardini, Gaetano Morello and a few other minor characters. Irenicon is the first book of the Wave trilogy and has an ending that concludes the novel’s major storylines.

March 29, 2012 marked the e-book and hardback publication of Irenicon by Jo Fletcher books.

ANALYSIS: Irenicon the word sounds mysterious and was unknown to me when I first heard of it. Its meaning, I discovered was a device or proposition for securing peace. Such an intriguing word and the debut from Aidan Harte also dripped intrigue from its blurb to the overall premise. The book is an alternate historical story with the central premise being that Christ never reached adulthood. Herod was successful in killing Mary’s son and thus the prophesied messiah was never able to spread his words. His mother however was venerated as the holy Madonna and she did her best to spread his message. Christianity as we know is forever altered and becomes a different religion altogether.

Fast forward to the 14th century wherein the Italy we know is there in an altered state. Rome is briefly mentioned however is not the power it was in our world. There are two main cities that vied for power, Concord and Rasenna however Concord harnessed a terrible power through a mysterious process invented by Girolamo Bernoulli who managed to astound everyone with his brilliance. He managed to up throw the influence of the church and created a society of scientists and engineers that share some shades with the Dunyain of Earwa. Though not so heartless in their devotion, the engineer guild pioneered by Bernoulli has lead to the rise of the Concordian empire and the crowning movement was when they engineered a wave to disrupt Rasenna’s geography. The offshoot is that the after effects have lead to some sentience being developed by the weapon and now has developed a rather sinister attitude towards humans.

The story begins with the two narrators namely the young to-be-Contessa Sofia Scaglieri and the engineer Giovanni. She’s the to-be-ruler of Rasenna and he’s the enemy sent to build a bridge across the waters of Irenicon so that the Concordian army can march across and show its marital splendor thereby cowing any thoughts of Rasennian rebellion. Thus is a destiny created between these two as they go about their various individual paths not knowing how closely linked they will be to each other. There are other POVs as well however their presence is only from time to time and often gives the reader a perspective beyond the two main characters. The story is quite unpredictable in its scope and the author does his best to dole out much about the world and the enigmatic Bernoulli in the form of footnotes.

Another succulent feature of the book is its Erikson-esque prose that manages to draw the reader in and confound them with the world presented. The magic system is present but more akin to a K.J. Parker world is manifested in small amounts and generally takes a secondary role. The emphasis is strongly on characters and they are what power the story. The character cast is not a large one however the characters presented are a well rounded lot who come in many shades. Their journeys might not be predictable but they are indeed interesting to read about. The author very vividly brings to life a small town riven apart by infighting and its divisive mentality, and this view is thoroughly expanded throughout the book.

The story takes some interesting turns and the readers will be kept guessing till the very end as to what’s happening and how the story ends. The plot also shares some aspects and philosophy with that of the Matrix, though not overtly an SF story, there are some valid edges to it that makes one wonder as to what other surprises the author has in store for the remaining two books in the trilogy. The climatic twist of the story is one that can go either way, either surprise the reader entirely or just be downright off-putting. Readers might have to read it with a certain expectation that the author will clarify more about it in the next book. Lastly on the aspect of character deaths, the author's writing style and presentation reminded me of David Gemmell in some aspects and this was something that I enjoyed.

One of the main drawbacks of the story that I noticed was that while its characterization led to some interesting results, it also robbed the story of its pace and this can be a very concerning factor as the book is a 600 page tome. The tepid pace often causes disconnect with the plot happenings as there are events happening which will want the reader to immediately know what happens next however the sluggish pace might deter readers. Another aspect that is a bit unexplained is the level of technology as well as certain happenings of the story; it is never clearly detailed and hence can cause certain readers to question the premise of the story. I was willing to go along with the story and hence it worked for me. Readers will have to decide for themselves in this regard.

CONCLUSION: Aidan Harte’s debut is an eclectic mix of influences and therefore makes the story a touch more intriguing than the blurb makes it out to be. I went in not knowing what to expect and was pleasantly surprised to find a story that is in parts a love story and in parts a thriller. Irenicon is a hard book to define and so all I can say is that give it a try to see whether it matches your interest, I happened to find it pretty exciting and original amid the current fantasy landscape.

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