Author Archive

BOOK REVIEW: Moon’s Artifice by Tom Lloyd

REVIEW SUMMARY: Lloyd convincingly begins a new fantasy universe of Gods, noble houses and an attempted apotheosis.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In the Imperial City, the heart of the Empire, a lowly investigator gets entangled in a conflict between Noble Houses and the Gods themselves.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Rich, deep world building (almost to excess); dverse set of protagonists; excellent action scenes.
CONS: A concordance would have helped illuminate the wave of information thrown at the reader; some character elements out of central casting.
BOTTOM LINE: An entertaining and strong entry into a new fantasy universe that reads like the fantasy equivalent of a technothriller.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: The third in Ian Sales Apollo Quartet sees a more alternate historical mode to his story of astonauts and spy satellites.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In an alternate world where the Korean War dragged into an endless meatgrinder, a female-led space program ties in with a black ops spy satellite program

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Solid research into dark and strange corners of the space program, both in terms of people and technology; three-dimensional characters whose depth belie the shortness of the work.
CONS: Not all aspects of the alternate history are as plausible as others; divergent time points in the alternate history could have been bound more tightly together.
BOTTOM LINE: An impressive depth of research combined with a love of space programs is aptly married to excellent writing.

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BOOK REVIEW: Wrath-Bearing Tree by James Enge

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second volume of Wrath-Bearing Tree continues to expand the scope of Morlock’s life and world.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Following the events of the Dragon-Dwarf War, the religious nation of Kaen is the battleground in the continued conflict between the Ambrosii and the Gods of Fate and Chaos.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong fusion of sword & sorcery and epic fantasy.
CONS: Some parts do not mesh well together, leading to a less smooth reading experience
BOTTOM LINE: New characters and new conflicts deepen and to flesh out the origin story of Morlock.

Wrath-Bearing Tree is second in James Enge’s series A Tournament of Shadows, following A Guile of Dragons. The series serves as an origin story for his character Morlock Ambrosius (previously seen in A Blood of Ambrose, This Crooked Way and The Wolf Age)

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BOOK REVIEW: Lost Covenant by Ari Marmell

REVIEW SUMMARY: Marmell continues to explore the growing up of a teenage thief with a God in her head as she is on the run outside her home city.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: On the run from her deeds in her hometown, a young thief finds that aiding a branch of her old patron’s family is far trickier than she thinks.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent voice and interaction between Widdershins and Olgun; fun, relatively light action not afraid to go darker at key moments; good development of the character’s long term arc; Offers expanded look at the world; excellent cover art.
CONS: Plotline taking place back in Davillion does not feel as well integrated as it might be.
BOTTOM LINE: Another solid entry in the continuing story of Widdershins from Marmell

Ari Marmell’s Lost Covenant, the book that follows Thief’s Covenant and False Covenant, picks up with Widdershins on the road. Not content to lie completely low, her information gathering and fortune lead her to the distant city of Lourveaux, where she discovers that the last branch of the Delacroix family is under threat from a rival House. Widdershins’ sense of obligation to her old mentor and adoptive parent leads her on to seek to help of the last of that House, to deal with the threat against them. Since the aristocratic Delacroix knows nothing of who or what Widdershins is besides an obviously common-born girl of no merit whatsoever, this is not going to be easy at all for Widdershins to manage.

(Note: From this point on, spoilers for Thief’s Covenant and False Covenant are inevitable.)
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BOOK REVIEW: Beyond the Rift by Peter Watts

REVIEW SUMMARY: A strong collection of short fiction that shows the author’s versatility and range at shorter lengths. (”The Things“ opens a strong selection of the best of an underrated writer.)

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of fourteen stories written by Peter Watts.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent stories that highlight the author’s versatility and strengths in writing science fiction.
CONS: Story order might have been rejiggered to better impact.
BOTTOM LINE: A chance to delve into Watts’ work and find out what the fuss is all about.

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

We asked this week’s panelists about series fiction in genre.

Q: Everywhere you go in genre, series seem to predominate over single novels. How do you read a series differently as compared to singletons? Have you ever given up on a series, or returned to one after a long absence?

Here’s what they said…

Sally Qwill Janin
Sally ‘Qwill’ Janin is the founder and EIC of The Qwillery, a speculative fiction blog. She is a recovering attorney having practiced IP and telecommunications law for too long. She’s been reading genre fiction since her older brother hooked her on The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and H.P. Lovecraft when she was a pre-teen.

Ah series. As you point out, they are everywhere in genre. I do read the first book of a series differently than I read a standalone novel. I certainly have different expectations. For a standalone, the story must resolve major (and most minor) plot points and come to a satisfying conclusion. When I read the first novel of series, I don’t usually expect more than some minor issues to be resolved, maybe an occasional major issue. I expect the main characters (at least for that part of the series) to be introduced. I also expect all sorts of threads will be left dangling to spur me on to continue reading the series. I don’t even mind cliffhangers. I also expect world building and events that will move the series along. I even read Paranormal Romance series differently than other series in that there should be an HEA (Happily Ever After) or HEA for now along with world building. However, if the story is not interesting and I don’t care about the characters in a series, why should I continue to invest time into what may ultimately be horribly disappointing?
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An Interview with HEARTWOOD Author Freya Robertson

New Zealand author Freya Robertson is the author of Heartstone, the first in the Elemental Wars series out from Angry Robot Books. You can find her online at her website, FreyaRobertson.com, on Facebook, and on Twitter as @EpicFreya.

Freya was kind enough to answer a few questions about her and her work.

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AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: A Discourse in Steel by Paul S. Kemp

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second novel in the tales of Egil and Nix significantly ups the stakes and showcases Kemp’s skills in writing Sword and Sorcery.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Adventurers Egil and Nix novel face off against a mobilized Thieves Guild with a deadly agenda.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: High quality action scenes; excellent chemistry between the main characters; real choices with real consequences; immensely entertaining; excellent audiobook narration.
CONS: Some more specifics on one of the main characters would help drive the themes of the novel even more strongly.
BOTTOM LINE: This second Egil and Nix novel improves upon the first.

Thieves Guilds are nothing but trouble. Even when they aren’t sucking the lifeblood of a city like Dur Follin, they are scheming amongst themselves for status. When a coup against the head of the Thieves Guild leaves their friend a eyewitness to be eliminated, adventurers Egil and Nix find themselves wrapped up yet again in matters way above their heads. Taking on an entire Thieves Guild? That’s going to be the easy part. The soul-sucking magical alleyway in Dur Follin and the deadly swamp down river? Now those are going to be the real problems for the duo.
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BOOK REVIEW: The Diamond Deep by Brenda Cooper

REVIEW SUMMARY: The second half of the Ruby’s Song duology continues the weighty themes of the first novel and continues the focus on character drama.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Creative Fire, generation ship and home to Ruby and her fellow crew, returns back to its home solar system and finds itself embroiled in power struggles on the eponymous space station.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Continues the strong character-based fiction and evocation of themes of the previous novel; stands well on its own despite being the second part of a duology.
CONS: Some world building elements feel underdone.
BOTTOM LINE: A fitting end to Ruby’s Song.
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Roll Perception Plus Awareness: Numenera by Monte Cook

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

This time out, we look at the other large-scale Dungeons and Dragons-influenced game, but one that offers a particularly different environment. That ‘sorcerer’ that fires lightning at you is doing so because she controls ancient nanotechnology to harness the power of electricity. That “+1 sword” Saladin’s character Amil found is really an ancient monofilament sword from thousands of years ago. Howard’s character Morias breaks into places and steals stuff without a sound because he carries an ancient device to draw all sound around him into it and dampen it. And just why is that gigantic amber monolith floating in the sky, thirty miles from town? Technology? Magic? Does the difference even matter?

Welcome to the Ninth World. Welcome to Numenera.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Prince of Lies by Anne Lyle

REVIEW SUMMARY: The ending to the Alchemist of Souls trilogy decisively builds on the foundation of its predecessors.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The story of Mal, Coby, Ned and Gabriel leads to final confrontations over the future of England, and themselves.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Evolving and complicated relationships between the protagonists; convincingly complicated landscape of characters; memorable action scenes.
CONS: Focus and subject matter slightly unexpected; long time frame of novel, while realistic, dilutes story impact.
BOTTOM LINE: A good ending to what will hopefully be the first of many trilogies from the author.

Guisers, why did it have to be guisers?

The Alchemist of Souls, the debut novel from Anne Lyle, reads like an urban fantasy set in a alternate historical London. The Merchant of Dreams, its sequel, reads like an epic fantasy set in a range of locations from London to Venice, expanding the story and world of The Alchemist of Souls. Now, The Prince of Lies finishes Lyle’s trilogy.

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MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: A collection of fantasy stories from voices familiar and unfamiliar that explores the titular theme in diverse ways.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Some relatively strong stories; an anthology theme that despite previous volume still has a lot of story potential; extremely character-focused fiction; a good collection of authors both familiar and unfamiliar.
CONS: A fair proportion of the stories did not work for me; the collection might be overlong.
BOTTOM LINE: A an overall good collection of fantasy short stories.

The epic battle to save the world has been won. The ancient evil has been defeated. The cursed artifact has been thrown into the elemental pole of fire. The enemy army has been vanquished. The opposing horde has been fought to a stalemate, and an status quo ante bellum has been reached. Or perhaps, for all of their heroism, the hero has failed and has to live with the personal and public consequences of that failure.

What happens now? Can a hero really go home again? With the transformative experience of their adventure, their heroism, their act of bravery or sacrifice, their success, draw or defeat, do they even fit at home anymore? And what happens when those worlds collide?
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BOOK REVIEW: The Scroll of Years by Chris Willrich

REVIEW SUMMARY: An entertaining and inventive sword and sorcery novel with memorable settings and characters.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Bone and Gaunt, a thief and a poet, journeying to a mysterious land to elude the implacable assassins behind them, find themselves in the coils of the politics and mythology tying into Bone’s unborn child.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Innovative structure; beautiful flowing writing; interesting premise.
CONS: Pregnant status of Bone sometimes sidelines her from the action as a character with agency too much; ending is problematic.
BOTTOM LINE: An entertaining entry into a sword and sorcery world and its characters.

Picaresque stories rise and fall on the strength of their protagonists and the settings in which they find themselves. If the roguish characters are not appealing or distinctive, the story loses its power to charm and the reader loses interest. Fortunately that is not the case in Chris Willrich’s first novel The Scroll of Years, which features Imago Bone (a thief who has not aged for 70 years) and Persimmon Gaunt (a magic-device-using poet) who go to interesting places like Qiangguo, a realm based on mythic, wuxia flavored China. Oh, and did I mention that they are a romantic couple, and most unusually for fantasy fiction, Gaunt is pregnant with their child? Furthermore, that child’s destiny has connections to the realm from which they have fled? They are being chased by the Night’s Auditors, implacable and possibly invulnerable mage-assassins. How’s that for distinctive?

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REVIEW SUMMARY:The Hugo Award winner from 2012 comes across as a fun and light listen when combined with the audio talents of Wil Wheaton.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Ensign Andrew Dahl, new crewmember on a ship of the Universal Union of Planets, slowly learns that the nature of his reality is stranger than he imagined.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Humorous writing, breezy dialogue and action married to the perfect narrator for the source material.
CONS: The three codas of the novel really feel like padding; non-Star Trek fans are going to find no purchase here.
BOTTOM LINE: An entertaining novel that really comes across well in audio form.

Andrew Dahl is a new officer on the Universal Union ship Intrepid, the flagship of this far future interstellar polity. He quickly learns that there are strange things going on the ship. Co-workers avoid away missions, and the senior staff of the ship in general, like the plague. A mysterious figure in the bowels of the ship provides cryptic warnings and advice. Dahl, and his new shipmates seem to have a target painted on their back. And just what is that mysterious gadget in Xenobiology, really? The answer to Dahl’s investigations, in the novel Redshirts by John Scalzi, is a metafictional trip down the rabbit hole.

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MIND MELD: How Science Fiction Changed Our Lives

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

This week, we asked our panelists the following:

Q: How has reading science fiction and fantasy changed you as a person or changed your life?

Here’s what they said…

Linda Nagata
Linda Nagata is the author of multiple novels and short stories including The Bohr Maker, winner of the Locus Award for best first novel, and the novella “Goddesses,” the first online publication to receive a Nebula award. Her story “Nahiku West” was a finalist for the 2013 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award. Her newest science fiction novel is the near-future military thriller The Red: First Light. Linda has spent most of her life in Hawaii, where she’s been a writer, a mom, a programmer of database-driven websites, and lately an independent publisher. She lives with her husband in their long-time home on the island of Maui. Find her online at: MythicIsland.com

I’ve been reading science fiction and to a lesser extent fantasy for so long that it’s hard to say how it’s changed my life. I don’t recall a moment of waking up to a sense of wonder or to radical possibilities, because I’ve been reading this stuff since I was a kid. I think it’s more that SFF has shaped my life and my outlook.

Good science fiction tells a gripping story but it’s also a thought experiment that lets us imagine other worlds, or this world, changed. So it offers answers to the question of “How would things be if…?” Ideally, that’s an exercise that should lead to a more flexible, less dogmatic outlook. I don’t know who I would have been otherwise, but I do think I’ve benefitted from being immersed in fictional worlds that are so very different from the real world. I think it’s made me more open minded, more adaptable, and less averse to change—and that’s what I’ve come to think of as the science fictional mindset.

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AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: The Merchant of Dreams by Anne Lyle

REVIEW SUMMARY: A solid sequel to Alchemist of Souls that expands on the first novel in terms of both location and character.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The enemies of Mal, Coby, Ned and Gabriel lead all four to adventures abroad and confrontations in La Serenissima, Venice.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Venice as a character; successful expansion of the scope of the first novel; excellent and engaging narration.
CONS: A few plot contrivances weaken the through line somewhat; a character beat seems odd in retrospect.
BOTTOM LINE: A worthy middle volume to an exciting trilogy.

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Interview with Susan Jane Bigelow

Susan Jane Bigelow is the author of the space opera novel The Daughter Star. She is also the author of the genre-bending Extrahumans series of novels and short stories. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her work.


PW: Who is Susan Jane Bigelow?

SB: I’m currently a lot of things! I’m a writer of fiction and genre essays, but I’m also a reference librarian at a small college in Massachusetts and a political columnist for a Connecticut news website (CTNewsJunkie.com). Outside of that, I’m a fan of biking, hiking, hanging with cats, gaming, and reading. I live with my wife and cats in northern Connecticut.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: A dialogue-driven novel that harnesses the powers of both authors to make an entertaining read.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Phil, the oldest member of a secret society of immortal personalities determined to improve the world, finds the recruiting of its latest member to be a fraught experience.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong dialogue; excellent use of theme and form; interesting ideas and execution of same.
CONS: Talky nature may turn off some readers; ironbound reliance on first person POV leads to some structural weaknesses.
BOTTOM LINE: An entertaining novel where the writers’ enthusiasm comes across on the page.

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REVIEW SUMMARY: An entertaining anthology of Urban Fantasy stories that sometimes suffers from treading over the same ground repeatedly.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: : Featuring a tight-knit set of authors, an anthology of Urban Fantasy that attempts to set
an agenda and a framework for what the subgenre should be.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent set of authors, some real standout stories.
CONS: Some unfortunate repetition in UF elements between stories weaken some of the works.
BOTTOM LINE: A sound anthology of fantasy bringing a set of bite sized works to the Urban Fantasy subgenre.

Manifesto: UF, edited by Tim Marquitz and Tyson Mauermann, in addition to entertaining the reader has a stated mission of being a statement of what Urban Fantasy can and should be. In the nearly two dozen stories on tap, here, the reader encounters the dead, angels, devils and much more.

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An Interview with L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Author of THE ONE-EYED MAN

The prolific L.E. Modesitt is the NY Times bestselling author of numerous SF and Fantasy books and series. Perhaps best known for his Recluce novels, Modesitt’s novels range from epic fantasy to far future science fiction adventure. He was kind enough to answer some questions about him and his work, especially his latest novel, The One-Eyed Man: A Fugue, With Winds and Accompaniment.


Paul Weimer: Who is L.E. Modesitt?

L.E. Modesitt: The “technical” answer is that I’m a white male who is past middle age who always wanted to write but had to handle various obligations in life by undertaking a wide range of occupations, as well as an array of competitive sports. The occupations have been, in chronological order, delivery-boy, lifeguard, disc jockey, U.S. Naval aviator, industrial economist, unsuccessful real estate salesman, political campaign researcher, legislative director for a U.S. Congressman, staff director for his successor, Director of Congressional Affairs for the U.S. EPA, senior manager for a Washington D.C. consulting firm, adjunct professor of English, and finally, a full-time writer. Married three times, not totally successfully the first two, but very successfully the third time to a lyric soprano and university opera director. As a writer, I began as a poet, and for almost fifteen years only managed to get published in small literary magazines, before, in my late twenties, beginning to write SF stories, which were published sporadically in the 1970s, until Ben Bova persuaded me [more like figuratively wrenched both arms] to write a novel. That was more successful, but I still had to keep the day jobs for ten years after my first novel was published.

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