Author Archive

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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BOOK REVIEW: The Other Half of the Sky Edited by Athena Andreadis

REVIEW SUMMARY: A very strong anthology with a excellent mission, and some really striking stories with top-notch authors.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: An anthology of genre stories with the purpose and mission of highlighting women as fully rounded characters and protagonists with agency.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong stories that both entertain and illuminate the book’s theme and mission.
CONS: Some stories not as good as others in the book.
BOTTOM LINE: An excellent marriage of theme and mission with a well-cultivated collection of authors and stories.

Science Fiction has gotten a not-undeserved reputation for giving both women writers and women characters short shrift. Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, Gully Foyle, Beowulf Schafer, and many more go to the stars and beyond. Sadly, the Wilma Deerings and Gunnery Sergeant Bobbie Drapers are far rarer, and it’s even rarer is when the female characters are the protagonists, plot-drivers and central characters. If men are going into space and to the stars or dealing with science fictional elements right here on earth, why can’t members of the other gender do so as well? And while we’re at it, what about relationships beyond the straight and narrow, so to speak. Human history and the modern day is full of relationships of all kinds. Why shouldn’t our science fiction future have the same? The Other Half of the Sky, edited by Athena Andreadis, sets out to try and rectify these imbalances.
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BOOK REVIEW: Rotten Row by Chaz Brenchley

REVIEW SUMMARY: An intriguing novella that strongly explores the themes of art, form and identity.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A relatively famous artist named duLane, seeking a new challenge, journeys to the wildest world in the Upshot, only to find his very identity and art challenged and confronted.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong pair of main characters; clever worldbuilding; interesting prose style; very strongly evoked themes.
CONS: The denouement of the story doesn’t quite pay off the promise of the opening; infodumping sometimes stops the action in its tracks.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting novella that explores some thorny issues in an entertaining way.

Imagine a series of worlds interconnected by a network that mandates that to travel from world to world, you must give up your original body, your original flesh, and take on new flesh, a new random looking body at the destination. In such a world, where identity is of the mind and not the body, how would society change? How would relations change? And what taboos would still remain?

Now, imagine a world in this society that is the sink of experimentation, wildness, changeability and decadence. Where the nature of humanity and the flesh are put on display in an endless carnival and parade of augmented and changed bodies. Hawk-men and mimickers of Prometheus. Centaurs and Angels. Where people, rich and poor, strive to continually refine and reinvent themselves in an endless loop of body modification, using a repurposed form of the Upshot system as a way to decant into newer and better forms.

That is Rotten Row, the eponymous world in Chaz Brenchley’s novella.
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BOOK REVIEW: Heart of Briar by Laura Anne Gilman

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS:: A fine urban fantasy, first in a duology, that uses a classic story from Scottish Myth as a template and foundation.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strongly drawn, atypical protagonist; interesting and engaging web of secondary characters; good worldbuilding.
CONS: Protagonist’s relationship with her lost love could have been drawn more strongly; no grounding of place for protagonist.
BOTTOM LINE: A very good urban fantasy very representative of the author’s skills and work.

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Interview with Steven Brust and Skyler White, Co-Authors of THE INCREMENTALISTS

Steven Brust is the author of Dragon, Issola, the New York Times bestsellers Dzur and Tiassa, and many other fantasy novels. He lives in Minneapolis. Skyler White is the author of And Falling, Fly and In Dreams Begin. She lives in Texas.

Together, they are the co-authors of The Incrementalists. Both were kind enough to answer questions about their collaboration.

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MIND MELD: What’s on Your Mount To-Be-Read Book Pile?

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

We asked this week’s panelists about what they are reading.

Q: Mount To-be-read! Every genre reader that collects and reads genre books has a Mount To-be-read. What Fantasy, SF and Horror books on the top of yours that is just begging for you to read?

Here’s what is on the bedside tables of our respondents:

L.E. Modesitt
L. E. Modesitt, Jr., is the New York Times best-selling author of more than 65 novels – primarily science fiction and fantasy, a number of short stories, and numerous technical and economic articles. His novels have sold millions of copies in the U.S. and world-wide, and have been translated into German, Polish, Dutch, Czech, Russian, Bulgarian, French, Spanish, Italian, Hebrew, and Swedish. His first story was published in Analog in 1973, and his next book is The One-Eyed Man: A Fugue, With Winds And Accompaniment, to be released in mid-September, with a starred review from Kirkus.

My Mount To-be-read is actually very short, and that’s because I usually don’t buy books unless I know I’m going to have the time to read them – with one exception. I’m still making my way through Reine De Memoire 1. La Maison D’Oubli, by Elisabeth Vonarburg. It’s an excellent book, so far, but the difficulty is that I’m reading it in French, and I don’t read French nearly as fast as I read English. Because it’s been years since I read much in French, each time I pick it up it takes a few minutes and pages before I get into any sort of flow… and because she writes in a certain depth… well, I do need the dictionary, I confess. The other books currently on my very short mountain, perhaps better named Hill To-be-read, are Kay Kenyon’s A Thousand Perfect Things, Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, and at the bottom… Brandon Sanderson’s The Emperor’s Soul, which I’ve had for almost a year and somehow never picked up.

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Roll Perception Plus Awareness: Geekomancy, Libriomancer and their RPG identities

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’re going to do something a little bit different and look at two recent series of ostensibly series. From a 30,000 foot perspective both Jim C. Hines’ Magic Ex Libris (so far comprised of Libriomancer and Codex Born) and Michael R. Underwood’s Geekomancy series (so fra comprised of Geekomancy and Celebromancy) have strong similarity. Both series tap into a fair amount of wish fulfillment and have geeky protagonists whose geekery turns out to be useful for magic. But as you dig into the series, there are two distinct personalities. They take place in two distinctly different roleplaying game universes, and this can be used as a way to critique and example the series and their elements.

Fair warning: This is a somewhat spoilery discussion of both authors’ series.

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BOOK REVIEW: Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

REVIEW SUMMARY: An intriguing debut that brings characters and relationships all too absent in fiction front and center.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Ship Surgeon Alana wants to escape the rock she is on, but the consequences of her stowing away on the Tangled Axon will influence the destiny of her sister, her world, and far beyond.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Character types, orientations, and relationships rarely seen in genre fiction, believably and engagingly presented; a beautiful cover that proudly proclaims its marker on the field.
CONS: Some aspects of the background, technology, and worldbuilding are either too sketchily described or do not hold up under scrutiny.
BOTTOM LINE: A strongly distinctive and memorable debut novel.

Alana Quick is a ship’s surgeon. That is to say, she is a starship mechanic. The problem is, with anyone and everyone switching over from standard starships to the amazing ships that come from the dimension-traveling Transluminal Solutions, business is not good. In point of fact, she’s not that far from a hardscrabble existence and she still has dreams of being a ship’s surgeon on board a ship, traveling the stars. So when the Tangled Axon comes into her shipyard, the temptation to stowaway is irresistible. Trouble is, the crew is looking for her sister, as are others, who are willing to kill or cause massive destruction in their wake to get her. Oh and did I mention Alana is not your typical Caucasian protagonist, with a kinsey score well above 0, and is dealing with a disability, a debilitating illness slowly eating her alive?
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Book View Café Signs Deal with Audible

Book View Café has signed a deal with Audible.

Press release follows:
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AUDIOBOOK REVIEW: Any Other Name by Emma Newman

REVIEW SUMMARY: A strong second entry into the Split Worlds universe, wonderfully conveyed in audiobook form.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Catherine Rhoeas-Popaver’s desire for emancipation, her new husband ambition, and scheming by all sides complicate their arrival among the London social set.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Excellent character development and growth; intriguing worldbuilding increases the richness of an already rich world; wonderful narration by the author.
CONS: The novel patently cannot be read without reading the first; a concordance would be very welcome.
BOTTOM LINE: A superb second entry into the Split Worlds universe that expands the playground and changes the focus interestingly.

Any Other Name is the second Split Worlds novel from Emma Newman. The Split Worlds series — starting with Between Two Thorns and concluding with All is Fair — occupies a distinctive niche in Urban Fantasy. In a world of Harry Dresdens, Sookie Stackhouses, Toby Dayes, and many others, the characters and world of Any Other Name is definitely different. There are no women with tramp stamps here, no fireballs in back alleyways, no werewolves camping in Rock Creek Park.

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Roll Perception Plus Awareness: 13th Age

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 stay near to Dungeons and Dragons as we did last time with Monsters and Magic, taking a look at one of the two big Dungeons and Dragons influenced games coming out this summer¹.

Let me introduce you to a world surrounding a placid inland sea, an Empire run by a powerful Emperor. Powerful forces work within and without the empire. A powerful Lich amasses forces on an island in the Midland sea. A High Priestess seeks to unite all of the worshippers of the Gods of Good together. A Giant Gold Dragon keeps the endless maw of the dark Abyss from spilling its contents onto the world by bodily blocking the entrance. An Elvish Queen rules the elves and listens to their concerns-all the elves, both light and dark. A Dwarf King counts his gold, and old grudges, too, in his Mountain Hall. And there are others, too.

All are seemingly cognizant that the world is on the cusp of change. Big change that the player characters themselves can have a hand in shaping. Massive change to the world is not an unprecedented thing to the Dragon Empire and the lands around it. It has happened 12 times before, you see.

Let me introduce you to the 13th Age.

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

While it is important to recognize women writers in genre, it is ultimately the characters in the stories and novels that we read that draw our imaginations. With that in mind, in what has been often seemingly a dominated field, strong female protagonists sometimes get short shrift. So let’s hear it for female heroes!

We asked this week’s panelists…

Q: Who are your favorite female protagonists? What makes for a strong female protagonist, anyway?

Here’s what they said…

Jacqueline Koyanagi lives in Colorado where she weaves all manner of things, including stories, chainmaille jewelry, and a life with her partners and dog. Her stories feature queer women of color, folks with disabilities, neuroatypical characters, and diverse relationship styles, because she grew tired of not seeing enough of herself and the people she loves reflected in genre fiction. Her debut science-fantasy queer romance novel, Ascension, is now available in digital formats from Prime/Masque; the trade paperback will release in December 2013. You can connect with Jacqueline on Twitter at @jkoyanagi.

I look for agency in any protagonist—for example, bucking macro- or micro-level subjugation either through subversion or direct rebellion. Many of the female characters I’ve loved over the years developed into strong protagonists by rejecting the dominant culture and finding alternate paths to personal fulfillment. Others have taken more direct routes toward claiming their agency, or have worked on behalf of large marginalized groups.

Onyesonwu is the eponymous protagonist of Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death–a woman born into a violent world, conceived of war rape. It’s no wonder, then, that her personality is less likeable and more powerful; that power is fueled by both anger and magic. Her decisions reflect her position as a biracial women in the midst of a genocidal war, and the effects of her violent conception ripple out through the entire novel. It’s through Onyesonwu’s strength that the book explores oppression and the inherent power of story.
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