Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has found himself living in Minnesota for the last 8 years, Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to his reading and gaming interests, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, the Functional Nerds, the SF Signal Community, Twitter, Livejournal and many other places on the Internet. And one day he will write his own “trunk novel”.
REVIEW SUMMARY: A funny and diverting pair of novellas showing the author’s range beyond epic fantasy
BRIEF SYNOPSIS:John Golden is a Debugger, whose job is to debug computer systems of something even nastier than Trojans or Viruses.
MY REVIEW: PROS: Strong, snarky commentary from Sarah on events; excellent narrative voice; high concept; solid humor and geeky references. CONS: Worldbuilding is a touch light; much more is suggested than shown. BOTTOM LINE: An interesting pair of urban fantasy novellas with a distinct voice.
Cyberpunk is not a flavor of science fiction that is often mixed into fantasy, despite some of the obvious parallels and ideas in the two subgenres. Spells are often as complicated and finicky as computer programs. A.I.s can be as powerful and dangerous as any Djinn. Virtual worlds and fantasy realms seem like two ideas made for each other. However they have not been explicitly put together all that often. Kelly McCullough’s Webmage series mixed mythology with computer programming; Jane Lindskold and Roger Zelazny’s Donnerjack had the Internet transform itself a fantasy otherworld. Shadowrun, of course, is perhaps the best known RPG example. And now Django Wexler’s two novellas about debugger John Golden can be added to that list. Continue reading →
REVIEW SUMMARY:The second half of Marakand (started in The Leopard) that is best read immediately after the first half
BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: The story of Marakand continues, as the grip of the titular Lady upon Marakand is challenged from within and without.
MY REVIEW: PROS: Fascinating world building; real epic storytelling feel to landscapes, characters, backstory and history; beautiful cover art. CONS: The ungainly split makes for a rough singular reading experience in both volumes. BOTTOM LINE: Deep, epic storytelling in a fascinating world that is marred by its split and format.
We crossed the river beds all etched in stone
And up the mighty mountains ever known
Beyond the valleys in the searing heat
Until we reached the caravanserai
–Loreena McKennitt, “Caravanserai”
There is a world in fantasy steeped in its history and myth. A world where the Old Gods have withdrawn, and seven devils, long ago imprisoned and bound, have sought to work their way free to dominate the world of local gods and Men. A world of cultures and societies inspired by Central Asia, the Russian Steppes, and Siberia. From the lost kingdom of Tipyur in the West, through to Nabban and the forest kingdoms over Malagru in the east. Along the trading highway, where the Malagru mountains meet the Pillars of the Sky, there is a great city. A city where three Gods once ruled, but now one, with a dark secret, is ascendant. A Goddess, The Lady, whose rule over the City, and the lands around, is challenged, even as she tightens her grip.
REVIEW SUMMARY: A followup of an urban fantasy novel that builds strongly on its predecessor.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: James Quill and his ‘Shadow Police’ team must deal with the apparent esoteric return of Jack the Ripper in the midst of protests and a possible police strike.
MY REVIEW: PROS: Excellent followup of theme and character beats from London Falling; strong high-concept elevator pitch that pays off in the execution. CONS: Grimness and darkness in the book might be too much for some readers. BOTTOM LINE: A strong, dark drink of dark urban fantasy that successfully builds on the groundwork of the first.
“Jack the Ripper is back, only this time he’s killing rich white men”
Its an irresistible high concept, isn’t it? Amid protests and a possible strike by the London police, men are dying in gory, unexplainable ways. Deaths without a weapon being left on the scene, without physical evidence. Is it the protesters, seeking to turn violent their rage against the system? Is it someone using the protests to settle old grudges? Or is it the spirit of London itself, violently convulsing as its inhabitants do? Continue reading →
REVIEW SUMMARY: A stakes-raising finale to the Lotus War Trilogy.
MY REVIEW: PROS: The theme of the series is rendered in strong lines; a high-octane action draws the reader through the book. CONS: Questions of cultural appropriation reduce the book’s appeal for readers. BOTTOM LINE: A strongly themed finale to Kristoff’s unique steampunk trilogy
The civil war, initiated by the death of the Shogun at the hands of Yukiko, the Stormdancer, has come to full fruition in Endsinger, the third and final book in Jay Kristoff’s Lotus War Trilogy. The Great Houses now openly strive against each other. The plan for Hiro, young lordling of the Tiger clan, to marry the late Shogun’s sister and cement a marriage bond claim to the throne has gone to ruin along with his palace. The gaijin, finally getting a reprieve from the war brought to their shores, have put plans in place to revenge themselves on their oppressors on the home front. And amongst it all, a long-standing secret plan by the Guild continues to roll. For the Lotus must bloom, and for a deep, dark reason that is about to be revealed. Continue reading →
[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
This week we asked our participants to talk about favorite openings of stories and novels…
Q: Starting a book or a novella on the right foot is a time honored technique for hooking a reader into reading a book and being drawn through the narrative. What are your favorite opening scenes in novels and stories? What made them effective?
REVIEW SUMMARY: A slow burn of a Mililtary SF novel whose structure and pacing dilute its impact.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: Skyrine (Sky Marine) Michael Venn is dropped on Mars as part of an operation against an alien force. He uncovers a far greater set of mysteries in the process.
MY REVIEW: PROS:: Intriguing if familiar basic premise differentiated by interesting worldbuilding touches; excellent grounding of reader into the action and universe. CONS: Format of story and pacing dilute story to the point where the ending’s sting loses the emotional impact it should have. BOTTOM LINE: An interesting world and premise weakened by a sadly and frustratingly flawed execution.
The Gurus, a set of apparently benevolent aliens, come to Earth bearing gifts, but there is a price. There are hostile species out there, aliens who would regard Earth and the Gurus as prey and opposition. In exchange for new technology, Earth needs to step up and provide soldiers to deal with the alien threat, which already exists on Mars. It’s time for Marine Michael Venn to become a Skyrine and do aerial drops on Mars to deal with that alien threat, tangle with the few humans who have tried to colonize Mars (including a love interest) and try to survive.
Based on thius premise, you might expect slam-bang action and lots of technobabble — save the girl, save the planet, save the solar system, right? Well, the novel in question is from legendary SF luminary Greg Bear, and what you get instead is something rather different from expectations. What you get is War Dogs.
Tobias S. Buckell is the author most recently of the Arctic Rain sequence of novels (Arctic Rain and Hurricane Fever). Before turning his attention to near-future Climate change wracked Earth, however, Buckell wrote a series of futuristic science fiction novels in what is called the Xenowealth universe. Buckell is kickstarting a collection gathering the short stories he has written in and around the main novels in the sequence.
Buckell kindly answered a few questions about the Xenowealth and the kickstarter.
REVIEW SUMMARY: A strong, character-focused story that serves as an excellent introduction to the Pathfinder universe
BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: Salim Ghadafar, reluctant minion of a Goddess of Death, investigates a set of missing souls, and so becomes caught up in machinations ranging from Heaven to Hell and the mortal plane between.
MY REVIEW: PROS:: Strong, focused characterization; intriguing and diverse settings. CONS: A couple of subplots don’t hold up quite as well as the rest of the book. BOTTOM LINE: Solid, entertaining fiction that works for both those already familiar with the Pathfinder universe and newcomers.
REVIEW SUMMARY: A strong urban fantasy novel that shows the author’s diverse tastes and skills in the subgenre.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: Former cultist Jacob Hicks’ relatively innocuous life in New York City gets a kick in the rear as his sister comes to town to start the Apocalypse.
MY REVIEW: PROS:: A pair of strong characters as family protagonist and antagonist; excellent overall use of New York City as a setting. CONS: Almost too much worldbuilding and things thrown into the Urban Fantasy blender; one tiny mistake regarding a locale in Staten Island. BOTTOM LINE: A strong story that introduces a delightfully tasty and complicated urban fantasy world that consistently keeps the reader turning pages.
It’s a classic story as old as time. Farm boy from North Dakota goes to the big city (in this case New York City), gets into big trouble because he is a hick from the sticks. In Michael R. Underwood’s urban fantasy novel The Younger Gods, he even has the adopted last name to prove it. Jacob Hicks née Greene has bigger problems than just managing his classes and his job, and even dealing with the confusing maelstrom of culture that is New York. Jacob’s big sister is coming to town, and she is not happy with her baby brother at all. How does the farm boy, already somewhat adrift in an alien and confusing world, handle family coming to town on top of it?
REVIEW SUMMARY: A multifacted set of essays that has proven unexpectedly topical.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: The Mad Norwegian Chicks dig… series continues with three dozen essays by women on gaming from video games to Dungeons and Dragons.
MY REVIEW: PROS: High profile contributors on a variety of types and aspects of games; strong personal stories; many “I didn’t know that!” moments to be had reading essays. CONS: Some of the essays feel like filler. BOTTOM LINE: A set of essays made more timely by recent events than when the anthology was first conceived and essays written.
Stereotypes of women and their relation (or lack of relation) to games, particularly videogames and roleplaying games, have abounded since the dawn of both. From the old anti-D&D movie Mazes and Monsters to Felicia Day’s The Guild and The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, depictions of games and videogames as a male-only activity rarely touched by women have been stereotyped, parodied and deconstructed. And on the face of it, the idea that half of the human population neither plays “real” videogames (whatever that means) or roleplaying games is ludicrous. And yet this misperception persists.
Even the idea that the gaming industry is exclusively male and therefore targeted to males is completely at sea with reality. Fantasy authors like Carrie Patel and Erin Hoffman write fantasy novels and work in the videogaming industry. Authors and publishers like Shanna Germain write and publish high-profile roleplaying games.
For answers — and real essays and thoughts by women on their relationship to games — one can come to Chicks Dig Gaming, the latest in the Chicks Dig… series put out by small press publisher Mad Norwegian Press. This latest volume is edited by Jennifer Brozek, Robert Smith and Lars Pearson. Brozek, like the aforementioned Shanna Germain, works both in roleplaying games and as an author and anthologist herself.
6’7” tall Jay Kristoff grew up in the second most isolated capital city on earth and is a tragic nerd. The first installment of his Lotus War trilogy, STORMDANCER, was critically acclaimed and shortlisted for several SF/F awards, and the Lotus War novella THE LAST STORMDANCER won the 2014 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Fiction. The third book, ENDSINGER, is out in November 2014.
Jay kindly answered some questions about the Lotus War trilogy.
Paul Weimer: Congratulations on finishing the third volume of the Lotus War! How does the end of the novel and series differ from your original conceptions, when you started writing Stormdancer?
Jay Kristoff: Thanks so much!
Well, I originally wrote Stormdancer as a one-shot novel—I didn’t have an agent or book deal at the time, and I figured planning a trilogy would be a little presumptuous of me. Yukiko actually died in the end of the original Stormdancer, but then I landed an agent and he was like “This whole brutally murdering your protagonist thing…how wedded to that idea are you?”
I tend to be something of a pantser when it comes to writing. I don’t plan too far in advance, and prefer to let the story find me. So I really had noooo idea where the series would go or how it would end, especially back in 2012. But I did go into writing the third book knowing the body count would be high. Last book in the series. All bets are off. No one = safe. And that conception turns out to be pretty spot-on.
Texas born and raised, Martha Wells is the author of over a dozen science fiction and fantasy novels, including the Nebula-nominated The Death of the Necromancer, as well as a number of short stories and nonfiction articles. Her books have been published in seven languages. Her most recent work has been in the Three Worlds universe, stories of an extended family of a shapeshifting race called the Raksura. The story of Moon, orphaned and found by members of his race starts in The Cloud Roads, continues through its sequels The Serpent Sea and The Siren Depths.
Her latest book, Stories of the Raksura Volume I: The Falling World and the Tale of Indigo and Cloud, presents us with several new stories set in the universe.
Martha was kind enough to answer some questions about the Raksura and her work.
PAUL: The Three Worlds universe is strikingly different than the fantastical European settings of the Ile-Rien novels. What were your inspirations in creating it?
MARTHA WELLS: I wanted to do something that was very different from my other books. I wanted a world where, as the characters traveled through it, the reader would have no idea what was over the next hill. I wanted scope to do things I hadn’t ever done before with magical cities, characters, and environments. Continue reading →
REVIEW SUMMARY: A strong set of stories that joyfully show new and extended aspects of a fascinating fantasy world.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: Explores the present and past of the Indigo Cloud Court with stories that look into the past history of characters.
MY REVIEW: PROS:: Detailed and vivid worldbuilding; intriguing non-human politics and character interactions; welcome return of favorite characters. CONS: Worldbuilding and explanation inserted to allow new readers to catch up sometimes drags a bit on story flow. BOTTOM LINE: A set of novellas that introduce and extend the Three Worlds to new and returning readers.
Martha Wells’ The Cloud Roads introduced a new fantasy universe to her readers. Set in the “Three Worlds”, The Cloud Roads started the story of Moon, an orphaned humanoid with a secret (and terrifying) ability to shapechange into a monstrous flying form. Discovered by a tribe of creatures similar to himself, Moon learned who and what he really is, even as the court of Raksura was under threat by their mortal enemies, the Fell. The subsequent novels (The Serpent Sea and The Siren Depths) continued the story of Moon and Indigo Cloud as they return to their ancestral homeland, only to be immersed into adventure and old rivalries with other Raksura as they seek to reestablish themselves in the Reaches. Continue reading →
[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
This week we asked our participants to talk about reading out of their comfort zone…
The right kind of author, and the right kind of book, can lure readers to try subgenres of fiction and genre fiction that they wouldn’t normally think to try. These authors and books lure unwitting readers into trying and embracing a new subgenre by virtue of being well-written, subverting genre expectations, and sometimes being a case of a favored author trying a new subgenre and following her into it.
Q: What authors and books have gotten you to try new subgenres of fiction and genre fiction?
MY REVIEW: PROS: Excellent stories with highlights by Karin Lowachee, Linda Nagata, and Yoon Ha lee; beautiful Galen Dara Cover art. CONS: As always with an anthology, some stories stronger than others; story order imperfect. BOTTOM LINE: An essential set of stories for readers interested in military science fiction.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In a pair of worlds dominated by the magic of stars and moons, a building conflict threatens.
MY REVIEW: PROS: Fascinating cultures and societies; diverse set of protagonists; interesting ecology and magic systems; wonderful cover art. CONS: Some worldbuilding elements are only skin deep; novel skirts some of the meat of events in its focus on its characters. BOTTOM LINE: A successful transit from SF into Epic Fantasy that retains the author’s signature voice and style.
Moons and Stars rise and fall in the skies, and with it, does the powers and abilities of the practitioners of magic wax and wane. Nations and cultures too, and even effects on a continental, global scale. The last time the dark star arose, the geography of two worlds changed irrevocably. For you see, two worlds are bound by these moons and stars, their ebbs and flows. Two worlds, with the same peoples, the same cultures, but with distinctly different histories. Enough that a broken people on one world is a power on the other, an Empire seeking to bridge the gap, and conquer its neighbor. With invasion, intrigue, and the dark star rising, the fate of these two worlds are inextricably linked, and those living on them swept up in a time of tumult that will change them all, if not sweep them away entirely. Continue reading →
BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: On the frontier of an Empire squabbling with the indigenous elf-like inhabitants and its global rival, a fateful trip shepherding a governor and his family upriver throws two mercenaries into intrigue and danger.
MY REVIEW: PROS: Strong pair of central characters; excellent and original worldbuilding; gritty, sharp and potent action and dialogue; a beautiful book cover. CONS: A few more thousand words to flesh some of the worldbuilding would help clarify some matters. BOTTOM LINE: An absorbing turn into secondary world fantasy that deserves a wide audience.
The Incorruptibles is a turn into secondary world fantasy for John Hornor Jacobs, best known for his horror and dark fantasy. In it, Dveng “Shoe” Ilys and Fisk are a pair of long-time partners in the mercenary business in the territories. Their current job (along with their young recruit, Banty) is to shepherd a bunch of rich Rumans — a Governor’s family, no less — as they steam upriver on their riverboat. It is Banty’s impulsiveness, however, that will bring these mercenaries into close contact with Gnaeus’ family, and it is the mercenaries that will stand between the family and the very dangerous frontier. Not even the feral elf-like vaettir is the most dangerous thing in the Territories, not when a potential failure of the real reason for Govenor’s Gnaeus’ trip upriver could mean a world war.
[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
The recent announcement of the Falcon taking over Captain America, the announcement of a female Thor, Miles Morales’ Spider-Man, the new Ms. Marvel, the various incarnations of Green Lantern…there is opportunity in rebooting comic book characters to reflect our diverse society, or to cast new light and new angles on old characters.
Q: What are the perils and challenges and opportunities of doing such a reboot? Pick a comic book character that you’d like to reboot. How would you do it, and to what end?