Author Archive

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From Bilbo traveling to the lonely Mountain and Frodo’s journey to Mordor, to Steven Erikson’s Malazan novels having armies crossing fantasy continent after continent…the road trip, as it were, is a staple of science fiction and fantasy, particularly epic fantasy. See the scenery, meet interesting characters and explore the world! What could go wrong?

Q: What are your favorite “road trips” in science fiction and fantasy? What makes a good road trip in a genre story?

Here’s what they said.

Gail Z Martin
Gail Z Martin‘s latest novel is Ice Forged.

My favorite fictional road trips include Canterbury Tales, David Edding’s Belgariad books, and David Drake’s Lord of the Isles series.

A good road trip reveals hidden truths about the people who are traveling. If you’ve ever gone on a long car trip with friends or family, you know what I mean! You don’t really know someone until you’ve been stuck in a vehicle with them for 12 straight hours—or on a sailing ship on the high seas during a storm. Since things go wrong on long trips, they provide insight into resourcefulness and character. A really good “journey” story reveals the world and the characters simultaneously, while moving the story forward—no small feat!
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BOOK REVIEW: Thunder Road by Chadwick Ginther

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Following an oilfield fire sparked by a Giant out of Norse Mythology, Ted Callan finds himself forged into a weapon and pawn caught between the scheming Norse mythos survivors of Ragnarok.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Zelazny-esque dive into post-Ragnarok mythology from a blue collar perspective.
CONS: Typical first novel writing weaknesses.
BOTTOM LINE: A solid entry into the Modern Mythology subgenre of contemporary fantasy.

Druids living in Arizona? Egyptian Gods hanging out in funeral parlors in a town on the Mississippi River? A summer camp on Long Island for children of deities? Post-Singularity beings putting on a live action version of the Iliad? Authors seem to enjoy bringing mythology into our present or even into our future. It’s practically a sub-genre of Urban Fantasy. (A recent Mind Meld on SF Signal explored the phenomenon.)

Ted Callan, protagonist of Chadwick Ginther’s debut novel Thunder Road, wishes he wasn’t dropped into a modern myth story, though. Seeing a Fire Giant in its pyrotechnic fury, and the trauma of subsequently seeing it destroy his oilfield, his job, and his marriage, is bad enough. Getting turned into a mythological weapon and caught between mythological Ragnarok survivor factions is even worse. Between Fates, Loki, and Dwarves, it’s not at all clear who Callan can trust, if anyone. Or even just how to get back his normal life.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In the colonial possession of Khandar, the beleaguered and marginalized Vordanai garrison finds itself unexpectedly turned into an offensive fighting force by a new commanding officer with a hidden agenda. However, he is far from alone in having one…

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent battle sequences and military slice of life; appealing and interesting take on magic.
CONS: Some significant point-of-view and characterization problems; a central mystery is somewhat imperfectly drawn up.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting addition to the burgeoning subgenre of Flintlock Fantasy.

The Thousand Names by Django Wexler fits into a subgenre of fantasy that has been called in several quarters “Flintlock Fantasy”. It’s Muskets and Magic! Recently, The Lays of Anuskaya by Bradley Beaulieu, Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan and the Spiritwalker Trilogy by Kate Elliott have mixed gunpowder weapons with magic systems, to various effects and degrees. And now, The Thousand Names.
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AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In an alternate World War II, the supermen (and women) of the Third Reich are opposed by the hastily discovered and drafted warlocks of the British Empire.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent concept; consistently action packed and entertaining; excellent set of characters; good narration.
CONS: The alternate history is a bit inconsistent in its credulity; problems with the ending make it feel incomplete.
BOTTOM LINE: A striking and sharp beginning to the Milkweed triptych.

Bitter Seeds is the debut novel from Ian Tregillis where, in the wake of and alternate World War I, a German doctor devises a plan to to change the course of history by experimenting on war orphans. Two decades later, in the Spanish Civil War, on the doorstep of World War II, his superhuman experiments are unleashed. Raybould Marsh, agent for the British secret service, discovers the glimmerings of the threat, and is instrumental in helping recruit England’s response to the German Gotterelektrongruppe. It’s Warlocks versus Battery powered Supermen, in a World War II that goes very differently.

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AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Glory Road by Robert Heinlein

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: During the Vietnam War, Oscar Gordon finds himself recruited to an epic quest to another world to obtain a MacGuffin and win The Girl, and discovers that is only half the story.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent audiobook adaptation; high concept of satire of fantasy hero tropes more relevant now than when written; a waterfall of neat ideas.
CONS: Problems with the major female character; plotting issues in the second half; overbearing politics.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting if badly imperfect audiobook adaptation of a classic Heinlein work.

Glory Road is one of the relatively few forays Robert A. Heinlein made into fantasy and it’s the only novel-length one he wrote. Having read the book years ago, I decided to listen to the audiobook on a recently long driving trip.
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BOOK REVIEW: Cold Steel by Kate Elliott

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Cat seeks to rescue her lost husband and her cousin Bee seeks to bring revolution to Europa.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Very satisfying denouements of character and theme; gorgeous cover.
CONS: Slightly too many coincidences; some plotting/pacing issues and some resolutions aren’t quite set up as well as they could be.
BOTTOM LINE: A satisfying and strong conclusion to the Spiritwalker trilogy
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MIND MELD: The Successors of Orwell’s 1984

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

This week, we decided to transcend Orwell by asking panelists to go beyond 1984.

Q: Recent events have caused the resurgence of George Orwell’s classic 1984. Ever since its original publication, however, genre has tackled and wrestled with the themes of dictatorship, totalitarianism, total war, and more. What works of genre since are worthy of exploring these themes?

Here’s what they said.

Nick Namatas
Nick Mamatas is an American horror, science fiction and fantasy author and editor for the Haikasoru line of translated Japanese science fiction novels for Viz Media.

Nineteen Eighty-Four‘s recent surge of popularity — Bookscan tells me that sales of the mass market paperback edition increased by 35 percent during the week ending June 9th, and a further 60 percent the week after, and other editions saw spikes as well — is a great sign. Both tyranny and collapse are as likely to sneak up on a populace as anything else, so I am pleased to see that people are wary of these horrific intrusions into their privacy by the state. The vision of waking up one morning to swastikas flying from every flagpole is a fanciful one. First we’ll be told, “Now now, Nazism is just a political view some intelligent, college-educated people have…”
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BOOK REVIEW: Wolf in Shadow by John Lambshead

REVIEW SUMMARY: An engaging addition to the canon of urban fantasy novels set in London.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In Modern London, a Shapeshifter discovers that Modern London is just a veneer for a complex and complicated otherworld threatening to erupt.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Interesting take on the otherworld; excellent evocation of London as a place; memorable protagonists; often extremely funny, dry humor.
CONS: Some aspects of the stories of the protagonists seem under-written.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting addition to the growing set of Urban Fantasy novels that deal with the Matter of London
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MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Two worlds collide as the head of a Mars research and mining base investigates a mystery connected to a world where 18th century British sailing ships sail the solar system.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Interesting high concept; excellent action sequences.
CONS: The Mars base universe and characters don’t shine or sing as well as the universe of the Daedalus.
BOTTOM LINE: An ambitious and fun romp whose enthusiasm outweighs its flaws.
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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.

In the endless new iterations of Dungeons and Dragons, version changes have often been an inescapable, fresh start from scratch. These radical reboots have not always been welcome, especially if beloved or appreciated aspects of previous editions get lost in the struggle, or new aspects are not welcome. Wizards get endless uses of spells now? Everyone roughly does the same amount of damage? I can just buy magic items from a list on the Players Handbook? Why do I have powers that refresh after every ‘encounter’? These changes were not always welcome.

In 2007, the OSRIC (Old School Index and Resource Compilation) was created. The stated goal of the OSRIC was to compile and bring together rules for old-school style fantasy gaming and to reproduce Dungeons and Dragons style rules from the 1970’s and early 1980’s, without the baggage, or the copyrightable elements of those old rules. Thus the Old School Renaissance, the OSR was born. As such, the Old School Renaissance has produced a sheaf of OSR games of various stripes and types. Too, if one takes 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons as your baseline, rather than 1st Edition, one might consider the successful and burgeoning Pathfinder Roleplaying Game to be an example of the OSR phenomenon as well.

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BOOK REVIEW: Quintessence by David Walton

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: On a Flat Earth, an alchemist’s desire for a magical substance draws an expedition to the edge of the world into conflict with dangers mundane and magical alike.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: An interesting high concept and some interesting worldbuilding ideas; fast paced; good use of proto-scientific method for magical researched. Beautiful cover art.
CONS: Stock, often uninteresting and unsympathetic characters; contrivances of plot are precisely that, contrivances.
BOTTOM LINE: A novel whose high concept and ideas do not quite live up to their execution.
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MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: In a cold, cold winter, the fate of Venice hangs in the balance as Emperors and Princes scheme.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Wonderful worldbuilding and character development; excellent action set pieces; engrossing universe.
CONS: A Chekov’s Gun of a plot line is seemingly dropped without a whimper; one new plotline regarding Tycho seems a bit grafted on and not inorganic.
BOTTOM LINE: A conclusion to the Assassini series that leaves the reader and the world with room for more.
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MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Nikandr and his fellow Anuskayans struggle to keep both war and cataclysm from destroying their world.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent ending; conflict and stakes clearly laid out and followed through; strong worldbuilding and character development.
CONS: Some characters are cheated out of a more definite denouement; takes a long time to gain momentum.
BOTTOM LINE: A fine and fitting conclusion to the Lays of Anuskaya Trilogy.

The war between the superpower Yrstanla and The Duchy seems destined to go Yrstanla’s way unless their superior strength of arms can be blunted, turned aside, or tied up somewhere else. The wasting disease continues to ravage populations old and new alike. And, of course, The Rifts threatening the Duchy, Yrstanla and the rest of the world continue to open. And the power that opened them seeks to finish the job. Nikandr, Atiana and the rest of the Grand Duchy, and beyond, have a War to stop, the possible solution to the Rift problem to find and rescue, and a world to save before it tears itself apart on both the social and the literal level. But what sacrifices are going to be necessary, and will they be enough?

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Sigrid Ellis and Michael Damian Thomas are the editors of Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It , the latest in a series of books of essays on genre from Mad Norwegian Press.

I sat down to ask Sigrid and Michael about themselves, and the book.


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REVIEW SUMMARY: An interesting and illuminating look at Doctor Who through a queer lens.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A collection of essays and personal reminisces about LGBTQ fans’ reactions and thoughts about the show.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Intriguing, interesting essays and perspectives that invite the reader to reconsider Doctor Who and by extension their relationship to it.
CONS: A stronger focus on analysis would make it a stronger work, academic-wise; more connections to the audios and other media would have been welcome.
BOTTOM LINE: Anyone with an interest in Doctor Who will enjoy this set of perspectives.

A media property approaching fifty years old has, just by the sheer fact of its longevity, invites interpretations, reflections and connections from its fans. In five decades, there is something for every stripe if you look hard enough and sometimes you find it without even looking that hard. You just need a slight change in perspective.

Thus, enter Queers Dig Time Lords, A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It…the latest collection of essays on genre from Mad Norwegian Press.
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[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

This week on The SF Signal Mind Meld, the Melders got mythical:

Q: Gods, Goddesses and Myths: From Rick Riordan to Dan Simmons, the popularity of Gods, Goddesses and Mythology, especially but not limited to Classical Greco-Roman and Norse mythology seems as fresh as ever. What is the appeal and power of mythological figures, in and out of their normal time? What do they bring to genre fiction?

Here’s what they said:

Chuck Wendig
Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He is the author of such novels as Blackbirds, Mockingbird, The Blue Blazes, and Under The Empyrean Sky. He is an alumni of the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab. He is the co-author of the Emmy-nominated digital narrative Collapsus and developer of the game Hunter: The Vigil. He lives in Pennsyltucky with wife, son, and two dopey dogs. You can find him on Twitter @ChuckWendig and at his website, terribleminds.com, where he frequently dispenses dubious and very-NSFW advice on writing, publishing, and life in general.

Here’s why gods and goddesses and spirits and elves and all the creatures of all the mythologies matter:

Because they’re the original stories.

Right? We’re going to take as accepted the idea that stories have the power to change the world. That stories are how we communicate and share ideas – in that sense, storytelling is a powerful memetics delivery system by which we push enlightenment (and increasingly, entertainment) onto one another.

The original stories were the stories of us trying to explain our world. It’s mythology to us, now, but to the people telling those stories, the tales delivered a kind of enlightenment (and I’m sure given some of the hilariously sordid melodrama of mythology, they were also entertainment). Mythology explained everything from why the sun rose and fell to why mankind did all the curious and seemingly inexplicable things that it did.

All we’re really trying to do as storytellers is explain ourselves and say things about the world. (This is, of course, an expression of the literary theme – the theme being the argument we’re trying to make with our narrative.) That’s what connects us to the myths of the past and more importantly, the myth-tellers. It’s no surprise then that sometimes our fiction – say, Gaiman’s American Gods – re-explores those ideas and those characters in fresh, fascinating ways.

Though it’s also no surprise that we seek to make our own mythologies, either — mythologies either cobbled together from what has already come (repurposing the myths and divinities of the past is by no means unique to this age!) or pulled fresh out of the ether. Though there you’ll find a troubling idea – future humans digging up a copy of our fantasy fiction (the best or the worst of it) and thinking, This must be the mythology of the 21st century barbarians. A religion based on Tolkien or Rowling? Or a religion based on Twilight? Hmm…

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BOOK REVIEW: Shield of Sea and Space by Erin Hoffman

REVIEW SUMMARY: A satisfying conclusion to the Chaos Knight Trilogy.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Vidarian rallies his allies to oppose the monstrous plans of the Alorean Import Company, with the world’s fate in the balance.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Worldbuilding; well-conceived ending to the series; well done reveals of major aspects of the world.
CONS: Pacing issues, although less problematic than previous books, persist; some character motivations remain murky; some elements from earlier in the trilogy seem lost.
BOTTOM LINE: A conclusion to the Chaos Knight Trilogy that pays the promise of the first volume.

In Lance of Earth and Sky , Vidarian Rulorat, the Tesseract, found himself with new challenges and a burgeoning adversary — the Alorean Import Company. A corporation powerful enough to shape a world, the Company set in motion some truly horrible plans, even as Vidarian struggled with his own nature, his relationship with Ariadel, and more. Now, things have gotten only more complicated. Two kingdoms still stand perilously close to the brink of war. The return of magic to the world is still disrupting everything and everyone, unmaking old social structures and upending long held traditions and beliefs. It’s not easy for Vidarian to be the Chaos Knight, the Tesseract. And even greater sacrifices might be needed on the part of him and those who would follow him, to stop the truly monstrous plans of the Alorean Import Company from coming to pass.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear

REVIEW SUMMARY: A strong continuation if the Eternal Sky series, building on the already considerable strengths of Range of Ghosts.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Prince Temur and allies seek to rescue the woman he would make Queen, who may not even need rescuing, even as the plans of a death cult threaten the fate of all of the Kingdoms on the Celadon Highway,

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Amazing worldbuilding; character growth and development from the main characters; excellent through line.
CONS: Some secondary characters get a bit of short shrift; book does not conclude so much as end.
BOTTOM LINE: Bear’s foray into Epic Fantasy continues to be a highlight of the subgenre.
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BOOK REVIEW: London Falling by Paul Cornell

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Four police officers investigating a mobster’s death are sucked into the arcane and hidden world of London.

MY REVIEW
PROS: Excellent police procedural elements; believable and realistic portrayal of what such individuals would do with such a gift.
CONS: A couple of the breaks in POV away from the officers, especially a flashback sequence, don’t feel as strong as the remainder of the book; subject matter may not suit certain readers.
BOTTOM LINE: An extremely strong, page-turning novel.

Being a undercover police detective (UC) or an analyst in the London police force is not easy. If it’s not dealing with mobsters and the lowlifes in the department, there’s corruption, bureaucratic incompetence and rigidity, and the general daily grind of what it means to be a police officer. So when an unlikely encounter gives you the ability to see ghosts and other otherworldly things, it’s just one more problem for you to have to deal with. It’s disconcerting, if not bloody terrifying, and it reveals that there are things that do go bump in the night. So, as an officer in the London police force, what do you do?

You keep calm, carry on, and do your bloody job. Even if your remit is now wider, and stranger, than you could possibly have ever imagined.

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MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Emilie, running away from a bad home situation, accidentally winds up on a research vessel headed into the depths of the Hollow Earth.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong female characters; interesting Hollow Earth world; imaginative worldbuilding.
CONS: Book feels much more middle grade than YA in tone and complexity
BOTTOM LINE: A good introduction to Martha Wells, especially for younger readers.

With a repressive home life with her aunt and uncle, is it any wonder that Emilie would decide to run away, seeking to reach her cousin and a berth in the school she runs? However, her attempt at running away goes wrong. No, her aunt and uncle do not hire a hedgewitch to track her down. Instead, she stows aboard the wrong ship — a research ship destined to head into the depths of the earth, to the strange and foreign Hollow World, to seek a missing scientist. An unwitting passenger she might be at first, but Emilie quickly learns that her talents will be needed if they are to ever return to the world above.

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