joshuapalmatier: VacantThrone (Default)
I read Robin Hobb's first series, The Farseer Trilogy, quite a while ago and loved the first two book enough to propel me through the third while still wanting to read anything else that Robin Hobb wrote. I managed to get The Liveship Traders series at the time in hardcover . . . but then lost the first two books in a flood. It's taken me a while to get back to Robin Hobb now, but I'm glad that I did.





Ship of Magic is the first book in the series and it takes up the threads of numerous lives in and around the port city of Bingtown, focusing mostly on the Vestrit family, one of the Old Trading Families in the town. These traders have magical ships called Liveships because . . . well, the ship itself is alive through the quickening of a special kind of wood. Here, we get to see one of the Liveships quicken on the death of its captain and the resultant chaos that comes from the death. The entire family is shaken to its foundation as the will is read and not everything that everyone had planned came to be. In addition to following members of the family and the ship itself, we also follow the life of a pirate, which becomes entangled with that of the Liveship late in the novel.

What I liked about the book was that the worldbuilding was lush and detailed. Bingtown and the ships, the coastline and the crews, everything was given life, so that you really felt as if you were a part of these people's lives as you read. The world felt real, and it held just enough mystery that I wanted to know more. The characters also felt real, each of them distinct and each of them vying for something that they desperately wanted. Their motivations were clear, and I could easily see how the circumstances of their lives would change due to events mostly outside of their control, as well as due to their own decisions at key moments.

However, sometimes their choices didn't always make sense. A few characters do things for reasons that aren't always clear and that make the situation much worse, not only for one of the other characters, but for themselves as well. This didn't happen that often, but in the few cases where it did, it felt wrong. Not all of the characters are likeable, and I actually liked that, but the characters that aren't likeable still need to act in their own self-interests.

I also felt that in some spots the highly detailed worldbuilding could have been cut and trimmed down. This is an 800 page paperback, and I felt it could probably have been trimmed down to about 600 pages without really loosing the cool world and characterization that much. Characters spend a lot of time explaining to themselves (and thus us) what they're thinking, which wasn't always necessary in that amount of detail. I'm not sure the plotline really needed that much detail get us to where we end up by the end of the first book.

But that said, I'm immediately moving on to the next book. Because the world IS interesting and I DO want to find out what happens to some (perhaps not all) of these characters, how their lives intertwine and eventually affect one another. Definitely a book and an author I'd recommend.
joshuapalmatier: VacantThrone (Default)
Before I begin, I just want to say that this anthology has, so far, been the best DAW anthology I’ve read. The stories were all consistently good and engrossing, drawing me in and holding me in each alternate reality. Kudos to the editors, Nick Gevers & Jay Lake, for putting such a stellar anthology together, and kudos to the writers for coming up with such interesting alternate Earths. I’ve indicated the two stories I thought were the strongest, but of course that’s my personal opinion. It was harder picking out these two this time though.





Table of Contents:

This Peaceable Land, or, the Unbearable Vision of Harriet Beecher Stowe by Robert Charles Wilson: A good story about what might have happened if the Civil War had never occurred. The tone and the potential consequences of this alternate reality are perfect and utterly believable, which makes what happens in the story that much more disturbing. It took a while of reading before you realize why the story is “alternate,” but otherwise a great story.

The Goat Variations by Jeff VanderMeer: In this story, we get to see a variety of alternate Earths, all centered around what the president (of an alternate Earth) was doing and thinking before and during the seven minutes of silence after receiving word about what had happened on September 11th, 2001. We get to see these reactions because of what happened in this alternate Earth, where a machine has been invented that alters the mind of the current president so he can see these other realities. A cool idea, and an interesting take on the theme of the anthology, although I’m not convinced the story resolved itself as well as it could have. However, it was haunting at a gut level.

The Unblinking Eye by Stephen Baxter: In this story, the alternate reality is one in which the Europeans never discover the Americas, thus giving the Incas a chance to rise to supremacy. However the story is told from the perspective not of the high and mighty and powerful, but from a commoner’s level. I liked the way the events unfolded, and the revelation of what the Unblinking Eye truly was, and felt this story (though complete and satisfying here) could be expanded into a much larger story.

Csilla’s Story by Theodora Goss: In this story, the Earth isn’t as altered to as great an extent as some of the other stories. Here, it’s pretty much our own Earth, but with a particular race of possibly magical gypsy-like people living and surviving under great prejudice, even though the truest members of their group have green hair and bleed silver blood. This actually contains many smaller stories, since the main story is about preserving their heritage even though they are hunted down and persecuted wherever they live. A good story though.

Winterborn by Liz Williams: This is probably the most far-fetched of the “alternate” Earths in this anthology, with the premise being that magic in Britain is real and that the faerie realm still interacts heavily with our own world, to the extent that the current queen is from faerie herself. The main story revolves around a young woman who can speak to those who have died in the waters of the rivers in and around London. Through these resources, she learns of an imminent attack through magical means on London and the queen. I loved the descriptions of the magic and the use of how humans take over and control the lands around us, to the extent that we “relocate” rivers to suit our own needs and how this could come back and bite us in the ass. Another good story, although I do think it stretches the general premise of the anthology a little thin. *grin*

Donovan Sent Us by Gene Wolfe: Here, the alternate Earth is one in which the Germans have won the second World War because the Americans never got involved. The story centers around an attempt to rescue Churchill from the prison camps in Britain after the Germans have taken over. The story certainly draws you in, and the ending is shocking. Not what you’re expecting as you work through the story at all.

The Holy City and Em’s Reptile Farm by Greg van Eekhout: This story is the wildest alternate Earth of them all, with everything you can think of turned on its head and introduced without explanation and without qualms either. Las Vegas is basically a religious mecca, with all the glitz and glam it possesses now, but with the religion turned on its head. There are camels alongside cars, religious zealots and thieves in the Holy City. But all of this is sideline world detail. The main story is about a young woman trying to save her family’s reptile farm by going to the Holy City to win a religious artifact in a lottery. It doesn’t turn out as she expected.

The Receivers by Alastair Reynolds: In this alternate Earth, the war goes on longer than expected, which interrupts the lives of some famous musicians. Yet the music these musicians would have created calls to them through one of their new jobs to help with the war effort. It’s a sad story in some respects, and yet uplifting at the end. A much more personal story, more about the characters and their missed opportunities rather than the way the Earth was altered.

A Family History by Paul Park: This story was interesting in that it was speculation from the perspective of the narrator, along the lines of “if this hadn’t happened, and this hadn’t happened, . . .” etc. I didn’t find this worked well for me, however once the narrator settled into a particular story thread for a particular set of speculations, I got involved in the story. It basically presented two alternate possibilities for a certain character. Why the narrator is so interested in this particular character and what could have happened to him doesn’t become clear until the end. It still didn’t feel as fully developed as it could have been.

Dog-eared Paperback of My Life by Lucius Shepard: The main premise behind this story isn’t that a significant event (or insignificant, even) happened differently, but instead that a bunch of alternate Earths have converged. An author discovers a book by himself that he never wrote, which is the beginning of his discovery that these different versions of the Earth sometimes meet, sometimes briefly, sometimes not. This is a 90 page “short” story, and I felt that the beginning could have moved a little faster. Mostly, though, the main character isn’t really someone that you’re supposed to like all that much, which makes it hard to be concerned about him. You’re mostly reading to discover what happens with the idea of the story, not the character.

Nine Alternate Alternate Histories by Benjamin Rosenbaum: This isn’t so much a story as it is a potential list of ways in which we could interpret the idea of an “alternate” history. It was interesting reading, and the different types of alternate histories presented were interesting to think about, but I still wouldn’t call it a “story” per se.
joshuapalmatier: VacantThrone (Default)
I finished this a little while ago actually and haven't had a chance to write up a review until now. So here goes:

I liked this second edition of the LEAGUE universe much better than the first, possibly because it had a much more coherent plotline to follow and it focused alot more on the characters of the LEAGUE. While the first volume was mostly about gathering the group together, followed by a short plot involving the cadamite (or whatever), this one started with the main plot thread and kept that thread throughout, weaving the character development into that.

And the plot was interesting and engaging, starting with the first chapter--a montage to everything Mars from literature. Very nice artwork throughout this entire chapter, even if there were a few questions brought up by said artwork (such as what's the rule about breathing martian air, anyways; sometimes it seems they can, other times they wear masks). Very nice chapter, which leads directly into chapter 2 with the introduction of the League into the plot. Once again, we have numerous different literary figures making appearances, which is one of the cool aspects of the League world. I don't want to spoil any of that, so I won't say any more there.

Instead, I'll focus on what I felt was the best part of the entire novel: the characters. We get much more with the relationship between Mina and Quartermain. Perhaps too much, in some chapters. But the relationship that stands out and that held my attention throughout was that of Hyde and Griffin. We get to see exactly how nasty these two can get, and reading about it was what kept me riveted to the book. To the point where I felt that this was really what the novel was all about. I felt that Chapter 5, where all of this comes to a head, was really the high point of the novel, even though Chapter 6 is the one in which the main plot thread finally gets resolved.

And that's where the book was a little bit of a let down: the final chapter. The confrontation between Hyde and the monsters was great, but it still felt anticlimactic to what happened in Chapter 5 between Hyde and Griffin. And the rest of the resolution (I'm not saying much here because it would spoil the novel) certainly didn't measure up to Chapter 5. The final few pages dealing with Mina and Quartermain's relationship felt rushed as well.

So in the end, I loved the graphic novel overall. There was some really good artwork (and some really bad, to be honest, but mostly good) and the characterization was spectacular, to the detriment of the main plot unfortunately. I've already gone ahead and bought the rest of the LEAGUE universe books (1910 and the Black Dossier) and will definitely read them as well.

Extras: At the end of the book there are a bunch of extras, including a rather dense "atlas" of the world. I started reading this and almost put it down because it was TOO dense and didn't seem to be adding much to the novel except for some satisfaction when a particular literary reference was one that I knew. However I persevered and was rewarded when instead of doing place after place after place (as in the first few chapters), the authors began weaving in accounts of the places from the League characters' journals. In fact, a small story began to develop. That story is really the only reason to read this extra--aside from those few moments of recognition. The additional cover art and such is always interesting as well.
joshuapalmatier: VacantThrone (Default)
The Dwarves of Whiskey Island is the second book in the Cleveland Portal series from S. Andrew Swann. I've read and reviewed the first book as well (The Dragons of the Cuyahoga) but the series is set up so that each book can be read individually. You don't need anything from the first book to follow or understand this second one.





And the second one is better than the first in my opinion. The first has it's interesting points, because the world he created--one in which Cleveland is suddenly inundated by dragons, elves, dwarves, etc because a portal to their world opens up in the middle of the city--was new and unique. Part of the problem with a series like this is that the second book can't rely on that "trick" to keep the readers reading. There has to be something new.

And there is in this. We still have the main character, Kline Maxwell, working for the newspaper and getting involved in the "fuzzy gnome" stories he hates when all he wants to cover is politics. In the first book, he gets assigned a "fuzzy gnome" story and the politics come in afterwards. In this one, he starts with politics and the "fuzzy gnome" gets interwoven into that. This time, it's dwarves. When they first came through the portal, no one knew what to do with them, so they were sent to the salt mines (where the magic was so high that no humans could live) and with the help of Mazurich, a politician, they became essential to the survival of the city after the portal by taking over construction projects and such.

And then Mazurich kills himself . . . and no one knows why. Kline receives a phone call that sends him search of the answers and leads him to the dwarves . . . and something much, much worse that threatens not only Cleveland, but his family as well.

I liked this book better because the writing felt . . . smoother. It was easier to read and the case itself flowed more naturally out of Kline's real job as a reporter on politics. Another reason I liked both this book and the previous one was become S. Andrew Swann is adept at giving you more and more information about the story without actually giving the real point/plot away. He sets all the cards on the table for Kline (and essentially us) and yet they still don't quite make sense until he reveals what's REALLY going on at the end. And then it makes perfect sense and you wonder why you didn't see it earlier. I also liked how this story got more personal for Kline. In the first book, it was just him against everything else. In this one, it gets personal, threatening his family, so in the end he's not doing this to save himself or to get the story for the paper. This personal stake in the outcome makes the book much more tense and dramatic.

I had some issues with the ultimate bad guys in the book, but I think my issues are more personal than anything else. I can't really say anything more about this without ruining part of the plot of the book. Suffice it to say that I wish S. Andrew Swann had chosen something a little new and different for the Big Evil. Don't get me wrong, he does do something different things with this Big Evil, but the Evil itself . . . he had an entire portal full of anything he wanted, so I wished he'd come up with something different.

But as I said, a good story. It has me wondering if he's going to do any more stories in the Cleveland Portal series. I hope he does.

PS--The Dwarves of Whiskey Island can be found now in the omnibus Dragons and Dwarves.



joshuapalmatier: VacantThrone (Default)
The Dragons of the Cuyahoga is the first book by S. Andrew Swann featuring newspaper reporter Kline Maxwell, who usually covers the political beat in Cleveland, OH, never the "fuzzy gnome" stories. What are the "fuzzy gnome" stories? Well, the main premise behind this book and the sequel is that a Portal has opened up in Cleveland and elves, dragons, mages, gnomes, and every other assorted fantasyland creature have tumbled through an inhabited the area around Cleveland. They're limited in how far they can roam by the magical field that surrounds the Portal, but it's still a significant amount of area.





I picked the book up because of the premise, but I went into the book with some doubts. It's very difficult to integrate magic into the real world believable, but I think S. Andrew Swann has done it. There are limits on the magic and the way it is described and how it is used is interesting. There has been a lot of thought put into how something like the Portal would fit into our world, not just the mechanics of it and how it works, but also how it would affect politics and government and such.

The book has two great strengths, and that's one of them. The second is that the elves and dragons and such aren't just humans with funny ears or wings. S. Andrew Swann had gone the extra mile and made them all THINK differently.

The story begins when Kline is assigned to the "fuzzy gnome" story of a dragon that crash lands in the Cuyahoga. Except after a while it becomes obvious that it wasn't an accident, but murder. Most of the outcome of the story revolves around the fact that the fantasyland creatures think differently and that Kline has to adjust his own thinking in order to fit all of the pieces of the puzzle together so that they make sense. He keeps assigning human motivations and motivators to the elves and dragons and such, and he has to kick that habit in order to get the mystery of the dragon's death solved. This idea--that the fantasy creatures don't think the same as we do--is something that should be integrated into fantasy novels more, but it's hard to pull off, mostly because it's hard for us (the human author and human reader) to wrap our head around how someone so completely different will think so completely different. In the end, though, you can follow how S. Andrew Swann's creatures think and who killed the dragon and why--and why those who help Kline, help him, and those who don't, don't.

There are some drawbacks to the novel. I'm not sure what happened, but this book appears to have skipped the last page proof phase. There are alot of typos and sentences gone wrong and such. I don't usually mind some throughout my books, because as a writer I know that it's nearly impossible to find them all, even when three or four people go through the book specifically looking for them. But the number that appear in this book is insane and it got annoying. There was also a few sections of the book where I thought the worldbuilding detail of how the Portal was integrated into Cleveland was a little too much. This happened most often when the author spent a page or two explaining the "history" of a particular section of Cleveland--how such-and-such area went from new-wealth to a slum housing the lesser classes of fantasyland creatures, for example. I don't mind a paragraph on this, but when it went on for a few pages . . .

In the end, though, I thought it was a cool idea and I really liked the way the mystery resolved itself, since it was based on how everyone thought and that not everything had the same goals as, say, humans would have. I'll certainly go on to read the sequel, The Dwarves of Whiskey Island. In fact, I've already started it. *grin*

PS--These two books can now be found in an omnibus volume called Dragons and Dwarves: Novels of the Cleveland Portal.



joshuapalmatier: VacantThrone (Default)
I read The Surrogates because of the movie with Bruce Willis. The graphic novel and the movie were two completely different stories in the end and I enjoyed both. One of my main complaints about the original graphic novel, though, was that the story didn't feel as deep as it could have been. The idea of the world, of people using surrogates to live their lives, to keep them safe and to give them the freedom to live out some of their fantasies, is just too good and too perfect. It opens up a HUGE amount of possibilities, and I thought that the original book could have used this world to explore so much more.

Which meant, of course, that I needed to read the prequel graphic novel The Surrogates: Flesh and Bone to see if they did indeed play around with some of those possibilities.

Flesh and Bone takes us back to something mentioned in the original graphic novel: the attack on a homeless person by three rich teens illegally using their fathers' surrogates. The homeless man dies and suddenly the case becomes international news, bringing up the serious question of whether children should be able to use surrogates, a theme that was also addressed in the original graphic novel and was the main motivating factor behind Steeplejack (the main "bad guy" in the original). And this type of question is what I was hoping that the authors/artists would explore more about this world, what makes the world they've set up so intriguing.

Here, the graphic novel once again centers around Harvey Greer--now a beat cop--and the investigation surrounding the death of the homeless man. There's also a seedy lawyer for the father of the main kid on trial. (The father's no picnic either.) We see the origins of the Prophet, and the state of the surrogate corporation at this time period. The more interesting aspects of this graphic novel are how the corporation handles the situation, and how the law is going to be affected by not just this one situation, but by surrogates and their general use by the population. Those were the parts that intrigued me the most and held my interest. And the authors do explore these facets of the new world to some degree. The investigation gives the story a strong structure that's easy to follow, but isn't as interesting overall, especially since the first graphic novel was centered around an investigation.

So, in the end, I wasn't as satisfied or as thrilled with this prequel as I was with the original. Even though the authors explored some of what I was looking for, I STILL finished the novel wanting more. I wanted more exploration of this world, and I thought there could have been more depth in the storyline itself, especially regarding Greer and his relationship with his wife and how the introduction of surrogates into the home was affecting relationships. But it was still a good read overall. There were some nice touches to the world, and a few strong snippets of humor throughout. One particular panel had me laughing so hard I had to put the book aside to recover. Strong artwork (although not as polished in my opinion as the original) throughout, and a decent storyline. A good book. If there were more graphic novels set in this world, I'd definitely read them, because there's still a TON of things to explore.
joshuapalmatier: VacantThrone (Default)
I decided to buy and read "The Surrogates" because, of course, the movie was coming out soon and it had Bruce Willis in it, and I've lately been drawn into the graphic novel universe. So I said, why not? I've read a few other graphic novels and the concepts presented in this one were interesting.

First off, the graphic novel is significantly different from the movie, so you should probably read it even if you have already seen the movie. It starts off with the same initial setup--some surries get zapped and detectives are there to investigate--but pretty much from that moment on it diverges from the movie. Characters are the same, but they don't do what they did in the movie, tec. So read the novel, it's worth it.

The storyline is definitely interesting and pulls you along, weaving the actual detective work together with the life of the main detective, Greer. You find out about his relationship with his wife and how the introduction of the surrogates--androids that the user controls and that pretty much act out everyone's daily life for safety reasons--has altered society and interpersonal relationships to a huge extent. The main idea of the surrogates is what kept me interested in the novel, although the plotline about who's zapping surrogates and why also drew me in. The ramifications on every aspect of society if we did ever reach a point where the majority of the population lived their lives through surrogates is . . . astounding. And that's why this graphic novel rocks.

It's also why it's slightly disappointing. There are so many aspects of life that would change that what was presented in the novel seemed . . . limited. I loved the story and the novel, but when I was finished I felt that there was SO MUCH MORE to explore with this concept and I was disappointed that there wasn't more, a volume 2 or something. I know there's a prequel, and I will definitely read that, but I seriously hope that there will be more set in this world in the future because there is so much more left to explore.

Since this is a graphic novel, I must also comment on the artwork: spectacular. The artwork was subtle and appropriate and a perfect amalgamation of art and photoshopping, especially regarding some of the SF elements that were incorporated into the artwork, such as realistic digital screens and such. At the same time, the artwork was extremely simple. The level of detail was appropriate and minimalistic, as well as the color palette. Some panels were sketchy and blocky, others were more finely detailed, and the ability of the artist to convey complex emotions through facial expression and such was astounding.

So, overall a very good graphic novel, the only drawback being that the world created had SO MUCH potential that I felt there should have been much more done in this universe and with this plotline, so was disappointed when the novel ended. I'd love to see more from this pair, and even if you've seen the movie, I'd definitely suggest reading the novel.
joshuapalmatier: VacantThrone (Default)
Everything in this book--the length of the scenes, the quick jumps from character to character, the way the scenes are structured--is designed to make the book MOVE! And that's the sense you get from the very first page. The pace is fast, with multiple plot threads to follow through multiple characters, all woven together and meshing by the end. In fact, the entire first two-thirds of the book is really one long scene, with every twist and turn you could think of (and some you didn't) coming into play.





The Burning Skies is the sequel to The Mirrored Heavens and pretty much picks up four days after the events in the first book. I'd suggest you read the first book before diving into this one, or the action won't make a whole lot of sense. The terrorist group Autumn Rain continues to harass the world, this time on the Europa Platform, a neutral territory that contains New Zurich and New London . . . along with a safe house for the U.S. President. And that's the target: the President. And who is loyal and who isn't as the fighting escalates is what drives most of the tension throughout the novel.

And this is also the book's major drawback: the question as to who is doing what for what reason and why makes it nearly impossible to know who's "good" and who's "bad." I didn't know who to root for, and the twists and turns became so convoluted that I ended up simply sitting back and not trying to figure out who was doing what to whom. Part of the problem was that the twists and turns were so numerous, but another part of the problem was how David J. Williams kept the motivations, etc, hidden by having oblique references to what was really going on at the end of a scene before jumping to another POV character. This has the effect of increasing the tension . . . but also the confusion because there is never a straightforward answer to all of the many questions. And when it's used too much, it can get annoying.

So, in the end, it was an enjoyable ride, but it would have been MORE enjoyable if I'd known who to root for and had been able to follow all of the twists and turns. Will I buy the third book (titled The Machinery of Light I believe, coming in May 2010)? Yes. I'm definitely intrigued by the story, the world that David has created, and the outcome of all of the twists and turns. There's some spectacular worldbuilding here, and some interesting characters.
joshuapalmatier: VacantThrone (Default)
DAW’s 30th Anniversary Anthology: Science Fiction

Edited by Elizabeth Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert

Introduction by Betsy Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert: Normally I don’t find much of value in the introduction except perhaps the initial idea behind the anthology (which I then use to judge whether or not the authors stuck to that idea, deviated from it, or did something incredibly cool and unexpected with it). This time, though, the introduction actually gives you some incredibly interesting history on how DAW came to be and how it got to where it is right now, with Betsy and Sheila as editors. Perhaps this is more interesting to me than it would be to others, since I’m a DAW author myself, but I honestly think this introduction is as interesting, or more interesting, than some of the stories in the anthology (no offense to those authors). I’d definitely suggest reading it.

The Home Front by Brian Stableford: This is kind of an economic story actually, set in the future. The world is being terrorized biologically speaking and we fight back using . . . potatoes. That makes the story sound silly and it’s much more serious than that, and in the end the story isn’t really about terrorism but how we as humans behave and react to terrorism (especially the biological kind, which can’t really be seen). An interesting story.

Aboard the Beatitude by Brian W. Aldiss: OK, I have to admit that I . . . didn’t get this story. The Beatitude is a FTL ship and the story seems to be exploring some of the affects that FTL might induce on the crew and such. There are also some ambiguous moral issues brought up, since the crew of the ship needs exorbitant amounts of energy to work and it gets that energy by destroying worlds it passes in its flight, some of which are inhabited. But in the end, I just didn’t get the intent behind this story. It’s probably just that I’m not the reader it was intended for.

Odd Job #213 by Ron Goulart: This story was simply fun! The idea is that two private investigators are hired by an android cat to find out what happened to its maker. Hilarity ensues in a tongue-in-cheek kind of serious way. However, reading this story I got the impression that the story wasn’t really meant for the short form and that it should have been developed more. I would like to have seen this as a novel. (And as an aside, there are books out there now, not by Ron Goulart, that are in the same vein as this story.)

Agamemnon’s Run by Robert Sheckley: This was an interesting story about unnamed aliens that get us humans to act out old battles, myths, etc. We’re supposed to follow the “history” if we’re chosen to be one of the participants, especially the “named” participants, like Agamemnon. But they also like it if we can figure out how to change the outcomes. The idea was interesting, but I’m not sure that the story worked as a whole for me. It felt like it needed a little more development.

Grubber by Neal Barrett, Jr.: This story was incredibly interesting, starting off with an alien creature. We end up experiencing this creatures growth to adulthood, through their rather alien eyes. Because of this, it’s a little hard to get into at first, because we’re seeing things through those alien eyes, but as you read you settle into the new perspective. A great story, in my opinion.

The Sandman, the Tinman, and the Bettyb by C.J. Cherryh: And this was another great story. It begins with a man (the Sandman) alone on a ship watching a part of space that has little to no action in general. Of course, action ensues. It’s not “end of the universe” action—an ancient missile fired eons ago is heading toward a space station—but it doesn’t need to be for a short story. The efforts to stop the missile by the people that most of those on the station have forgotten or could care less about is spectacular.

The Big Picture by Timothy Zahn: This was also a good story, about a man on a space station whose friend went “undercover” on the planet below and subsequently vanished. A reporter shows up to find out what happened. An interesting twist in the end, but it’s more about the man and his interactions with the reporter that are interesting to me.

A Home for the Old Ones by Frederik Pohl: This story is obviously set in the world the Pohl created for his books, and there are some assumptions that the reader has already had a background in that universe. I haven’t read that, but the story was still enjoyable. My only problem with it is that it didn’t feel like it ended. I felt like this was a scene or backstory for something that happened in the previous books that those who’ve read it would be interested in and would see where it “fit” into that universe . . . but for someone like me who hasn’t read the previous stuff . . . it just doesn’t feel whole.

Not With a Whimper, Either by Tad Williams: An interesting story here that will make you look at your computer and your chat sessions and IMs and boards and such in a different light. I generally like Tad Williams’ work and this was no exception. It’s written entirely as a chat session on a board between . . . well, geeks . . . and something else. It takes a little while to get used to the format and such, but definitely an enjoyable read.

The Black Wall of Jerusalem by Ian Watson: This one got off to a rocky start for me. The first few sections were just confusing and I couldn’t get into the story. But then it settled and I found myself wondering about this Black Wall and such. The group and the main character of the story ended up being much more interesting than I’d originally thought, and the idea behind the Black Wall also intriguing. I felt there could be more done with this Wall . . . and what was behind it.

Station Ganymede by Charles L. Harness: This story was instantly engaging, with a father and son conflict being played out on a station investigating and doing research over Jupiter. The science was interesting, if a little “soft” in some aspects. The action was predictable (I could see the shape of the story once the key element was introduced) but it was still highly enjoyable. And the relationship changes in the two main characters were perfect, I thought.

Downtime by C.S. Friedman: An intensely interesting story, with an idea regarding where our near future society could be going with some of our technology that’s both subtly horrifying and instantly controversial. I like the fact that C.S. Friedman presents us with both sides of the controversy and idea and, in the end, doesn’t leave us with a nice solid “answer” to the problem. You can see both sides of the human element to the science—why some would hate and fear the technology and the laws that surround it, and others (those on the receiving end) would . . . well, at least appreciate it. I can see this as something our society may have to contend with shortly. Although I’m not sure that the laws in the story that arise around the technology would actually get passed by us. I guess we’ll see, won’t we?

Burning Bridges by Charles Ingrid: This story takes us to a new world and culture and is really a kind of spy/action story, the main character attempting to clear a blood debt, although he’s being forced into it by some rather nasty individuals. The real question is who’s playing who, and who really has the upper hand. Based on the intro, this is set in a world that readers of Charles Ingrid will recognize. Perhaps they’d recognize the main character as well. I haven’t read any of Charles Ingrid’s novels, so this was a brand new world for me, and I found it intriguing. In fact, when I finished, I announced to the world in general that, “I think I’ll have to get some of Charles Ingrid’s books.” *grin* I’d certainly like to learn more about this world.

Words by Cheryl J. Franklin: I’ve never read anything by Cheryl J. Franklin, although I think I have one of her books on my TBR stack. So this was my first introduction to her writing. This is a story about an unsocial security systems specialist who helps out the police and on one particular case she is forced to be a little more social than normal when she takes in the victim’s cat. It’s a nice story with a rather uneasy commentary on how we view our own pets . . . and perhaps how they view us.

Read Only Memory by eluki bes shahar: I’ve never read anything by this author either and by the intro it seems this story is an introduction to the world she uses in her books. Some of the references I didn’t get, but the story itself was easy to follow. Essentially, the main character is drawn into middle of a dangerous game of power and archeology over an artifact called a Library. But the books in this Library aren’t what they seem . . . and neither is the main character.

Sunseeker by Kate Elliott: This story is set in the Jaran universe, although it’s set on Earth. The base story is about a solar ship called the Sunseeker and the group of spoiled young adults from various wealthy families that travel around in it for promotional purposes for the solar array that powers it. But when the ship lands to see an archeological site, it’s attacked. But the REAL story is about one of the young adults and her relationship with her father.

The Heavens Fall by S. Andrew Swann: This is a rather interesting story about a form of punishment called “empathy treatment” that, in the near future, is used to punish convicted criminals. The idea is to force them to relive their victim’s last moments as if they were the victim themselves. Of course, this punishment has some flaws and in this particular story goes horribly wrong. A nice cautionary tale about a seemingly simple and “harmless” technology and how it could be misused.

Passage to Shola by Lisanne Norman: I’ve never read anything by Lisanne Norman and this story introduces you to her world. The main characters are actually aliens here, with Humans being a minority species, with the ability to psychically bond to other alien species. In this story, a bonded Human and alien at the teen age are being transported to a new city by the main character . . . and things go horribly wrong when their ship is hijacked by a vicious—and hungry—alien.

Prism by Julie E. Czerneda: This is another story in which the main character is an alien so far removed from human that, at times, it can be hard to understand and follow her. Julie E. Czerneda is very good at getting across the alien-ness though, probably because of her biological background. Here, we meet two bizarre alien creatures, although the real story is about one of the creatures growing from childhood to the beginnings of adulthood.

Overall, I thought this anthology was stronger than the companion fantasy anthology I’ve already reviewed. I’ve bolded the two titles that I thought were the strongest in this anthology, but I have to say that nearly all of the stories were interesting and well-written. One of the strongest of the DAW anthologies I’ve read so far.
joshuapalmatier: VacantThrone (Default)
I've heard lots about Sandman from various people and so I finally broke down and decided to get the first volume and read it. I haven't read many graphic novels (Watchmen and V for Vendetta are the other two), so that's what I'm comparing this to in the long run. Overall, I thought the story itself was not as involved as the other two, not as developed, and a little erratic in quality. There were issues in here that I absolutely loved and ones that I read and could easily have passed on. A very erratic start. I realize that there are 10 other volumes of novels after this, and having talked to a few people, I know that the story gets much more involved and fully developed as it progresses, but if I'd read this one volume without having heard about the improvement in those that come . . . I probably would not have continued to read the series. There was some really good storytelling in here in places, and I can see the potential for the rest of the series, but I'm not certain I'd have continued regardless.

One of the things that I found disappointing was the artwork. I wasn't as drawn in by the style of the art, although it got better as the issues progressed again. It feels too . . . cluttered to me, with alot of detail and background elements that I didn't feel needed to be there. I also had some issues with the colorations of panels. But in the end, I'm willing to go with the flow as long as the story draws me along and for the most part that's what happened here.

And the story did draw me along, even if there were a few missteps on occasion. It pulled me along enough (and I've benn reassured enough by others) that I've already bought the second volume. The last few issues, that focused more on Sandman himself and tried less to integrate him into the DC universe, gives me hope that what people are saying about what happens later is true.
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This is a debut novel and I always try to buy (and read of course) first books by authors, because I've been there and done that and I know how frustrating it is for a new author to simply get any kind of attention from readers. I suggest that everyone out there do the same for new authors: give them a chance.

And I'm happy to say that this time the chance was definitely worth it. "Rosemary and Rue" is the first book in an urban fantasy series that I think has spectacular potential. It's set in our world, but unlike nearly all of the other urbans out there, we don't have vampires, or werewolves, or any of those types of creatures. The main focus of this book is the fairy. They never really vanished, they simply went into hiding, keeping there existance a secret. If you know where to look, and how, you can see the pixies that live in your grocery mart for example.

I think the worldbuilding for this series is the best part of the book. The way the fairy world is incorporated into our world is great and obviously well thought out. And because it deals with fairies and not bloodsuckers and such, that world is much richer and more beautiful than the standard for urbans. I like that the book isn't all dark and gritty, with the subsequent atmosphere that usually develops from dark and gritty. Sure there are moments of dark and gritty, but they are well-balanced with moments of beauty. This gives the book and nice tone that isn't typically found in urbans.

I did have a few issues with the novel. There's a chunk in the middle half that seems to lose focus, where the main character, Toby, seems to simply be wandering around from one place to the next with no real motivation for why or with any idea of what she's doing there, and that got a little annoying. And when she finally does take action, it's something that she could have done much earlier (and actually suggests doing much earlier but doesn't follow through until much later), but in the end I still came away from this book with a strong desire to read the next book in the series. I want to learn more about this world and these characters and see where this develops. I'm chalking the uncertainty in the middle up to first book syndrome and I fully expect the author to improve as the series continues.

So, a great start to an intriguing series and I can't wait for the next novel, which I believe is going to be called "A Local Habitation."
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I finished this a few days ago and I have to say that I can see why John Scalzi won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer for it. For a debut novel, the reading of the novel was effortless. The prose was so smooth you barely even knew you were reading at all, throughout the entire book. Incredibly smooth reading.

As for the story itself . . . well, you need to know a few things about me before I get into it too much. First of all, I don't read much SF. I'm almost purely a fantasy fan. So keep that in mind. Also, I have never read Heinlein and one of the main points brought up by anyone who has read Heinlein and then Scalzi is that Scalzi is apparently channeling Heinlein from the afterlife. I can't comment on this, because I've never read Heinlein . . .

But I have read Scalzi and I liked it. As I said, the read was effortless on my part. This is basically the story of a man who enlists at the ripe old age of 75 (the youngest age you can be to enlist), gets trained to fight, and then goes off planet to fight. The first two-thirds of the book are about his enlistment and the surprises he gets once he's off planet and is out discovering what enlistment really means and that the world off planet is MUCH more interesting than what he's known all of his life. And that's pretty much the plot. A sort of more serious plot emerges in the last third of the novel, but it isn't really as significant as what has followed before. This is the man's journey, and that's all it's intended to be.

That being the point of the book, I kind of had a minor issue with the fact that we don't really get emotionally "into" the character in the book. This would be my biggest complaint about the book: the lack of any intense emotional connection between us and the character. It's written in the first person, which means we should get intensely personal with the character . . . and we don't really. Or at least I didn't. One of the most emotional aspects we get from him is the death of his wife before he enlisted. I wanted this death to be felt more, especially since it has significance for the last part of the book. And this IS the most significant emotional response we get from the main character . . . but having that be true for the book as a whole . . . I wanted a little more. I wanted this level of emotion for the friends he meets and subsequently die (it is a war, people die, I don't think I'm giving away anything here), and something bigger, something deeper, for his wife.

But that was my only issue as I read this. There WAS emotional connection, don't get me wrong; I just wanted it to be developed more. And I certainly intend to read more Scalzi, because the writing and the story were GOOD. It was easy to read, with nice touches of humor in appropriate places, and it was a human story set against an alien universe. I've already bought "The Ghost Brigades" in fact. I'd certainly recommend the book.

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

joshuapalmatier: VacantThrone (Default)
I finished this late last night. This is the debut novel of Kari Sperring and so I picked it up because of that. I try to help support new authors as much as possible by buying their books and trying them out. And with this one, I was not disappointed.





The atmosphere is the best part of this book, combined with the characters. The entire novel is set in the city of Merafi which has been free of ghosts and other magical aspects for generations due to a pact made in blood ages past and also by the fact that magic users are essentially illegal in the city. However, something has begun unraveling that ancient pact and now ghosts are appearing on the streets, along with strange mists and other fell creatures within them, and even nature itself seems to be against the city. It rains constantly, there are mists nearly every night, and the river water is rising, bringing with it plague and death. All of this is the atmospheric backdrop of the novel.

What draws you into the story is the style and the characters set against this backdrop. The main character is Gracielis, a courtesan and spy, who becomes unwillingly entwined with the lives of Thierry, the ghost Valdarrien, Iareth, Joyain, and a few others. I like how the individual lives of these characters--all seemingly separate--begin to slowly come together and cross, so that the actions of one affects them all. I also like that the lives of the characters do not necessarily end where a fantasy novel would typically have them end. So if you read the book, don't expect the usual outcomes for all of the characters. You'll be surprised.

I did have one problem with the novel, nothing that detracts from it to the point where I wouldn't recommend it to others though. I did not feel that I had a good idea or handle on how the magic in the world worked, even by the end of the novel, when all of the power comes to a head. I spent a good amount of time on some of the more heavily descriptive scenes involving magic and while I have a sense of what the magic is like and how it behaves, I couldn't explain it. It isn't as concrete or solid and I'd like as a reader. That said, it's certainly intriguing, which is probably why I'd like to understand it better.

In the end though, it was the lives of the characters that I was mainly interested in, not the magic, so I had not problem shrugging the magical system's inner workings aside and focusing on the characters instead. Great setting, great atmosphere, a style of writing that was reminiscent of old England and France, and interesting characters with lives and feelings and desires of their own. The vagueness of the magical system did not detract much from all of this at all. I'd definitely recommend the book to others. It's a strong debut novel and I'll be picking up Kari Sperring's next book when it comes out.
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I really liked this graphic novel, moreso than "Watchmen" anyways. I think that's because this one was much more political in nature, so tapped into something that interest me in general when reading books. It also hit that post-apocalyptic nerve, which runs strong in me. But I think the main reason I liked this one so much is that it was dark without being gruesome or graphically violent or grotesque in any way. There was violence to be sure, but anything violent was drawn artistically, to give you the essence of what had happened without giving you all of the blood and gore involved. I personally don't need that drawn out for me in excruciating detail; I have a vivid enough imagination as it is. So the style of the art with its regard to violence appealed to me much moreso than the graphic nature of, say, "Watchmen".

That said, there were a few places where the style of the art was detrimental. Mostly this was because of the darkness of some of the panels. This meant that fine details sometimes were bled out, making it hard to follow the action or what was happening. This only occured in a few places and didn't happen often enough to make me stop reading or put the book down, obviously, so this is a minor critique overall.

My only other comment is that the final chapter, I felt, could have been organized in a slightly different manner to make it more powerful. But that's the writer in me saying, "Oh, this is how I'd do it," and my sense of "powerful" might not be the same as for everyone else. Obviously it wasn't the same as that of the author and artist here.

Overall though, a very powerful graphic novel in my opinion, with some fantastic interplay between words and art and a great story to tell. Definitely recommended.
joshuapalmatier: VacantThrone (Default)




I finished this earlier today. It's a cool new take on the post-apocalyptic world scenerio, with humans destroying the world. And in true SF form, it's the cool way that we do it that draws you to the book. Essentially, in our attempt to cure cancer using nanotechnology, an "accident" releases a prototype of the nanotech . . . which subsequently destroys living tissue, not just cancer. Everyone would have died, except that the prototype had a built in failsafe, a circuit that self-destructs when it reaches 10,000 feet. Thus, the only survivors were those that could reach an elevation of 10,000 feet or higher.

Needless to say, there's not much land above 10,000 feet above sea level. I haven't spoilered anything in the novel, since the book begins after the outbreak, in fact, nearly a year afterwards. I thought the idea behind the book was spectacular and even if I hadn't run into the author at Norwescon, if I'd heard of the book, I'd have bought it. I have a thing for post-apocalyptic novels.

Overall, the book is good. I'd say great, except that it begins a little rough in the writing department. I kept reading because this was a first novel and I'm a little more forgiving and patient for first novels. And I'm happy to say that the book improved as it progressed. The writing got better and I became involved in the characters and their plight. Not all of the characters are nice. In fact, most of the characters are seriously flawed and are not your typical "good guys" and "bad guys," which is a good thing. The situation has made nearly everyone desperate and that desperation is what drives nearly all of the characters and their actions.

If you get this book, be prepared for some rather serious treatments of what such a world would be like. It isn't pretty. But I like this realism and appreciate that the author didn't back off of the desperation in the slightest. And I love the way the book ended, which is not what you'd expect either, even in a post-apocalyptic novel.

Final verdict? I'd recommend the book as long as the reader can take a little blood and gore. The concept rocks, and the story is good, but if you aren't ready for some realism then you might want to pass.

But I'll definitely be reading book 2.
joshuapalmatier: VacantThrone (Default)
I just finished this book, the third in the Zachary Nixon Johnson series. He's the last private investigator in the year 2060 . . . and he's rather cool.





The first two books were good. Good enough that I kept buying the series. And I have to say that the writing is just gotten better. In this third installment, the plotting is exceptional. I felt the second book in the series was a little rocky and not as clear as it could have been, but this one was easy to follow and yet was still convoluted. There were at least three separate plot threads going on: bodyguard to Sexy Sprocketts, unwilling participant in a reality TV show called Let's Kill Zack, and clueless man in a relationship. And the three wove together seamlessly in this book. The authors have gotten much better with this type of thing.

And it rocks. I will definitely be moving on to the other 3 books already out in this series. The writing was smooth, the characters were fun and great, and the interplay between them--even the ones that aren't human--is spectacular. I laughed at moments, and the authors balance the humor with the serious moments perfectly. I STRONGLY recommend reading this book if you're remotely interested in humorous SF.

Not to say there weren't a few problems, but all of my problems were with cosmetic things. The first book in the series had a ton of typos in it that should have been found and corrected before publication. This one didn't have as many . . . but they were still there. I don't mind a couple in a book, because I've been there and done that and no matter how many people read a book there will always be typos. But there were enough that it became noticeable and reached the "touch annoying" line in my head.

In addition, the tag line on the book is . . . misleading. In a big way. It states: "How do you stop a superhuman villain who knows what you're going to do before you do?" Now, this isn't technically inaccurate . . . but the book isn't really about the superhuman villain. In fact, that superhuman villain only gets found and dealt with in the last few chapters of the book. What grabs you and holds you in this book is all of the other characters and their relationships and plot threads.

Again, notice that those two quibbles have NOTHING to do with the actual writing in the book. One is just cosmetic and the other has to do with marketing. So, if those are the only things I can find to complain about, you see how good the book is. I gave it 5 stars after all. *grin*





So go get this book! Get all of the books in this series. The first four are now offered in two omnibus editions, so they're even cheaper than when I bought them!
joshuapalmatier: VacantThrone (Default)
I read this one in a few days, which is typical for a Stephanie Plum novel. As usual, this is light fair, easy to read, no thought required, but fun. In this one, I thought the plot was much better than in some of the past Plum novels and I really liked the interplay between all of the main characters. There wasn't much time spent on the relationship (which is what bogged down a bunch of these novels for me in the past). Instead, it was more about the actual plot: nine million dollars of missing money.

It started off kind of slow, without the money becoming an issue until much later into the novel, maybe halfway through. The first half was all setup. Overall, I thought it worked well, except for the very end. The wrap-up of the main plot and all of the minor plot threads happened WAY too fast (in, like, the last 20 pages), and I was really expecting something a little bit . . . bigger. Janet Evanovich spent nearly the entire book setting everything up, but the final payoff in the end wasn't as satisfying as I wanted it to be.

However, for light fair, something to read to take your mind off of things, it was definitely good. I would have given it 3 stars, except that in terms of Stephanie Plum books, it was better than most. And aside from the very last chapter, I thought it was well-written and well-plotted. So I gave it 4 (our of 5) stars.

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