Author Archive

BOOK REVIEW: The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

MY RATING:

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.
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MY RATING:

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.

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MIND MELD: Comic Book Characters Who Deserve Reboots

[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?

Here’s what they said…

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Why are aristocratic forms of government so common in fantasy? Is it because so much fantasy is set in faux-medieval countries and polities, and so kings, dukes, countesses and their ilk are the expected and anticipated methods in which a country is going to be ruled? It is true that for much of human history, for a large proportion of the glove, large complex societies have tended toward a hierarchical social pyramid, often with a single figure, or a small group of figures, on top.

From a literary standpoint, though, a limited number of political actors offer enormous advantages for writers and their readers. A democracy or republic would mean a cavalcade of characters for the writer create and depict, not only as political actors, but simply as characters. Even a novel completely and utterly focused on the sausage-making of political decisions would be unreadable if the author had to detail 300 electors in the course of the plot. Attempts at simplification of republican politics in novels and stories usually mean collapsing factions and political alignments to a few key actors that can be explored–which returns us to a de facto aristocratic form of government. In other words, we return to Kingdom Politics and the limited number of characters that ultimately matter.
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Roll Perception Plus Awareness: Mindjammer

Welcome back to Roll Perception Plus Awareness, a column about roleplaying games and their place in a genre reader’s and writer’s world.

It’s the Second Age of Space, 200 years after the invention of a faster-than-light drive has arrested the seemingly inevitable senescence of humanity and brought about the possibilities of a true galactic culture. In the 10,000 years since the first Age of Space and that slow decline, humanity spread to the stars in vast waves of sublight colonization. Now, with planing, a faster than light travel drive, the Commonality has spread out from Old Earth, with a new strength, a new drive and new purpose.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: McCellan’s second Powder Mage novel expands the canvas of the story in a welcome and engaging manner.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: The repercussions of Promise of Blood echo forward, as Tamas strikes into Kez even as political events back in Adopest (and an angry god) threaten to overwhelm the promise of his revolution.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Engaging story of the main protagonist; excellent set pieces; tight writing.
CONS: Some choices in POV characters remain something of a lost opportunity.
BOTTOM LINE: A solid follow-up to The Crimson Campaign that keeps the momentum of the series.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: The Third Craft Sequence novel continues to show the burgeoning skills of one of the newest and freshest voices in fantasy

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Diverse, interesting cast of characters; conceit of the Craftverse transplants nicely to yet another new setting; pacing is improved from previous novels.
CONS: Although not a direct sequel, novel doesn’t stand on its own well.
BOTTOM LINE: The Craft Sequence gets better in this third volume, but it’s not the place to start your engagement with this world and characters.

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MIND MELD: How to Avoid The Suck Fairy of Re-Reads

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

This week we asked our participants to talk about the perils of re-reading. Going back to a book read in one’s golden age of SF reading can be a fraught exercise. Characters we thought we wonderful can turn out to be wooden. Settings we thought diverse and open turn out to be monochromatic. Plots that enthralled us can seem facile. Books we enjoyed can be rife with questionable material. Writers whose work we loved can turn out to be terrible human beings.

Q: Let’s talk about Jo Walton’s “Suck fairy”. How do you find the process of re-reading a book? How does a re-read of a book change your initial bliss and happiness with the book? Do you have any strategies for avoiding disappointment? What books have managed to escape the suck fairy for you?

Here’s what they said…

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Buckell continues to explore the near future world of Arctic Rising with a distinctly excellent focus on the Caribbean.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Interestingly drawn and well-depicted main character; amazingly immersive setting.
CONS: A point or two of motivations and setting need a bit fleshing out; a couple of off-the-shelf elements of the genre jar against inventiveness; lightness of genre may turn off some genre readers.
BOTTOM LINE: A science fiction thriller set in a startlingly plausible and intriguing future.

Prudence “Roo” Jones thought he was out of the game. He is so very wrong.

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The mathematically inclined Joshua Palmatier is an author and co-editor of fantasy anthologies under both his real name and his pseudonym Benjamin Tate. His latest work is Shattering the Ley.

I spoke with Joshua about writing, publsihing, fantasy, his busy schedule, and of course, his recently released novel.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: Returning to the world of The Blackdog, Johansen crafts half of a story continuing the machinations of wizards, devils and Gods.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: At the trading city of Marakand, a Goddess’ move to build an Empire draws the attention of assassins, devils, and stranger folk.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Welcome return to a rich, diverse, secondary world fantasy that looks beyond the usual Western European models; gorgeous writing.
CONS: Pacing needs work; title of the book is misleading; feels like half of a story rather than a self-contained one.
BOTTOM LINE: While not without issues, this is a pleasing step back into a fantasy world and characters that beg for more exposure.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: A portal fantasy that excellently leverages the author’s penchant for strong characters, evocative description and vivid worldbuilding.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: Sophie Hansa inadvertently finds herself transported from modern San Francisco to the parallel world of Stormwrack. The secrets of her own origins in this strange watery world are but a small thread in a tangle of politics and conspiracy.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong characters (especially female characters); interesting and evocative worldbuilding; tasty, complicated politics.
CONS: Portal Fantasy may be passé to some readers; the book could use a map and glossary.
BOTTOM LINE: A bright and clear view to an interesting world with an engaging heroine who is our entry ticket into it.

No good deed goes unpunished. One minute, Sophie is trying to help her birth mother, who, on a weekend where her adoptive parents are away, she’s decided to try to track down and meet. Next minute, a fight at her mother’s doorstep goes weird, and Sophie finds herself treading water in an ocean, but its not the Pacific Ocean outside her San Francisco home. She’s on another world, where the people are hauntingly familiar, even if they speak a foreign language. And they are aware of and dismissive of the more technologically advanced Earth next door. What connection does Sophie have with this world of Stormwrack? Why does it seem that people know who and what Sophie and her family is,here, even if she doesn’t know herself. Can Sophie learn to navigate the dangerous currents of the politics and conspiracy that she has been dropped into? Or even be allowed to stay rather than being bundled back to Earth? A.M. Dellamonica explores Sophie’s story in Child of a Hidden Sea.
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Welcome back to Roll Perception Plus Awareness, a column about roleplaying games and their place in a genre reader’s and writer’s world.

Recently, I got to talking with Role Playing game creator Ryan Macklin. He is the creator of Backstory Cards, a tabletop roleplaying game aid currently being funded on Kickstarter. Ryan was kind enough to answer some questions about him, and Backstory Cards.

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California native author Greg Van Eekhout is the author of the adult fantasy novel Norse Code and the middle grade science fiction and fantasy novels Kid vs. Squid and Boy at the End of the World. His latest novel, the first in a new urban fantasy series, is California Bones. Greg answered some questions about himself, his dog Dozer, and his new novel.

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Atlantic Ocean-hopping Mazarkis Williams is the author of the Silk Road Fantasy Tower and Knife trilogy (The Emperor’s Knife, Knife Sworn, and the new novel, The Tower Broken). Maz was kind enough to answer some of my questions.


Paul Weimer: Hello Maz! I understand that Mazarkis Williams is a pseudonym. Why use a pseudonym?

Mazarkis Williams: Why a pseudonym? Since that was the decision made by my publisher, I can’t really delve into the exact reasons why. There have been a lot of discussions in the last few years about pseudonyms and the effects they may and may not have on sales, and while it’s a fascinating discussion I don’t think any of us authors have the data to make any conclusions. However I do think that for buyers who care about the gender of an author, gender-neutral tricks such as initials (e.g., J. V. Jones) take it out of the equation, at least for that first moment at the bookstore.
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REVIEW SUMMARY: Underwood switches up from Urban Fantasy to New Weird secondary-world fantasy while maintaining excellent action-adventure beats.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS:Well drawn characters; excellent action beats; a real underdog superhero resistance vs. oppressive authority through-line; a wonderful cover from Stephan Martiniere.
CONS: New Weird elements do not always quite come through as strongly as they might.
BOTTOM LINE: A very convincing turn into secondary-world fantasy.

Shield and Crocus is a secondary-world urban fantasy novel from Mike R. Underwood in which Wonlar, an old, seemingly humble storyteller, tells stories to children to pass his days. But old storyteller is only a secret identity. Wonlar is really the superhero called First Sentinel. First Sentinel suppresses the one terrible superpower he has, but he uses intelligence, knowledge, scouting of one’s enemies and a lot of gadgetry and tricks to face off against his evil foes.
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We have an additional entry on our Mind Meld on the connections between Myth, Classics and Genre, from None other than Judith Tarr!

Q: The Iliad and the Odyssey…the Epic of Gilgamesh…the MahabharataJourney to the West… These ancient myths and stories, and many others seem to partake of genre elements. Are they, in fact, on the Road to Science Fiction, to quote James Gunn’s classic series? How do they fit into the world of genre? How can they inform and be used in modern reinterpretations and borrowings of these myths and stories? What writers and stories best rework these myths and legends?

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[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

This week we asked our participants to dive into ancient legends, history and myth:

Q: The Iliad and the Odyssey…the Epic of Gilgamesh…the MahabharataJourney to the West… These ancient myths and stories, and many others seem to partake of genre elements. Are they, in fact, on the Road to Science Fiction, to quote James Gunn’s classic series? How do they fit into the world of genre? How can they inform and be used in modern reinterpretations and borrowings of these myths and stories? What writers and stories best rework these myths and legends?

Here’s what they said…

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Tessa Gratton didn’t grow up to be a necromantic wizard resurrecting dinosaur bones into animated skeletons as she expected, but she has become a fantasy author, and after a childhood spent around the world, settled in the midwest. She’s the author of four novels, including the forthcoming The Strange Maid, second in her United States of Asgard series. Tessa was kind enough to answer some questions about her and her work.


PW: Tell me about Tessa Gratton.

TG: I’m a quadruple Scorpio, Navy brat, prairie girl, feminist (or as my dad used to say before I got a degree in it, a Pinko Liberal). Does that about cover it? My fourth novel comes out this June, and all my books so far have been YA fantasies from Random House Children’s Books. I love tumblr and twitter but am extremely glad they didn’t exist when I was in high school.
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BOOK REVIEW: This Crumbling Pageant by Patricia Burroughs

REVIEW SUMMARY: A fantasy debut that works best when relying on its strengths of characterization, plotting and description.

MY RATING:

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Vibrant, complicated heroine; evocative description and language; well-crafted plot beats.
CONS: Unclear worldbuilding raises too many questions; execution of certain concepts need work.
BOTTOM LINE: A promising main character, good plotting and good ideas marred by a flawed execution.

Persephone Fury has a problem. Several of them, actually. In a world bound to and next door to our own, her Regency-era life is rather complicated. Her magical powers, rather than being a celebrated gift, are of a sort that are dark and threatening, enough that tisanes consumed to dull them are the order of the day. Her twin brother’s tutor is up to something, something threatening enough that Persephone is willing to pose as her brother to find out what her tutor wants. And the Season is opening soon. Persephone’s prospects are not good, and they cannot be allowed to damage the prospects of her very marriageable sister. Things get even darker and more convoluted, though, though, when the tutor’s machinations, a challenge to the ailing crown, and Persephone’s own conflicted desires and her awakening powers threaten to unmoor Persephone Fury’s life completely, and her world with it.
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