Author Archive

Sean Russell was a fairly prolific Canadian fantasy writer who, over the course of eight years (1991 through 1998) churned out unique fantasies which blended fantasy together with the history of 19th Century science before turning his pen to something in the Tolkien “traditional” Epic fantasy vein with The Swan’s War trilogy. Since then; however, Russell stepped out of the SFF genre and has been crafting historical naval fiction under the name Sean T. Russell. But back to The Swan’s War, the subject of this column which begins with The One Kingdom published in 2001 under EOS, HarperCollins’s then SF imprint. Prior to reading The One Kingdom, I read and enjoyed Russell’s linked duologies Moontide and Magic Rise and River into Darkness so my expectations for an engaging fantasy read were relatively high. Those expectations were met, which I’ll expand upon below in this installment of “The Completist.”

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These three books publishing at the start of 2015 (among others) have piqued my interest. Right, because I don’t own enough books to read already.

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

An inevitability of reading many books (and subsequently reviewing books) is feeling disconnected when reading a book which has been well-received by a great number of people. In other words, you begin to wonder who is missing something: you as the reader for not “getting” what is so great about the book, or the other readers for helping to raise the book to its hallowed status. This idea was inspired, in large part, by the blog post The Reviewer’s Dilemma: Did I Miss Something? by Ria Bridges. That’s the long way of asking this week’s panelists the following question:

Q: Which Books Made You Shake Your Head at Other Readers?

Here’s what they said…

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Nearly twenty years ago a debut novel took the genre world by storm, at least in terms of awards. It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, BSFA, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, and author Mary Doria Russell received the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. It was a novel that walked a fine line in its themes between science and faith. The intersection between the two is not always a comfortable one and if anything can be a one-word apt descriptor of Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and Children of God it is the word uncomfortable. In trying to come up with a “completed” series of books for this column, I pored over my reading logs and it wasn’t long before these two books shouted to me from deep within my memory banks. So again, I’m stretching the definition of completed by including a book and its sequel, but these are excellent books that people should be reading even today — nearly 20 years after The Sparrow first published.

Set in the near future (2019), music from the closest star system to ours, Alpha Centauri, reaches Earth — specifically from the planet which comes to be known as Rakhat. Much of the novel is relayed in flashbacks from Father Emilio Sandoz in the year 2059, the only member of the expedition team sent to Rakhat to survive and return to Earth – decades after he left Earth for Rakhat. Other members of the missionary/crew include a young astronomer, an expert in AI systems, as well as two of Sandoz’s retired colleagues. Sandoz is scarred by his experiences, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The framework of the “present” with the damaged Sandoz and a Church shattered by the failed mission involves the investigation of the mission and why Sandoz is the only survivor.
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[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

Brandon Sanderson famously finished Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time while writers like Roger Zelazny (“Amber”) and George R.R. Martin (“A Song of Ice and Fire”) have said nobody will finish their series or continue their work. Would you want another writer to pick up an unfinished series by an author?

We asked this week’s panelists:

Q: Should unfinished series remain unfinished?

Here’s what they said…

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Most of these columns have focused on trilogies, some on duologies. This installment focuses on the longest book series I’ve coverd so far: five books. However, these books are relatively short compared to some of the previous books I’ve covered here at the Completist. The books I’ll be discussing: Robert Buettner’s five book Military SF series focusing on Jason Wander which begins with Orphanage. This series has a bit of a kink in its publication (which seems to be an undercurrent of this column…). Buettner’s debut (and launch of the series) Orphanage (and the second installment Orphan’s Destiny) were some of the last titles under the WarnerAspect imprint before Orbit took over as the SF imprint of Hachette. Once Orbit replaced WarnerAspect, the series was rebranded a bit with new cover art. But more of that later, on to the books…

This series is set approximately 40 years in the future with Earth being attacked by aliens who come to be known as Slugs. Many of the people chosen for this interstellar war are orphans, people whose families were destroyed in the attacks, which take the form of large stone projectiles, with no nuclear armaments, hurtling through space, which destroy the surrounding area where they land, most often populated cities like Pittsburgh or Indianapolis. It is with this premise Robert Buettner introduces the reader to the world of Orphanage and its protagonist, Jason Wander whose hometown is the destroyed Indianapolis.
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Robin Hobb (penname for Megan Lindholm) is a globally recognized, acclaimed writer. Her tales of Fitzchivalry Farseer are some of the most beloved fantasies on the shelves. She’s written two trilogies about the Royal Bastard and has begun a third trilogy which is being called “Fitz and the Fool.”  Here at the Completist, I’ve tried to feature authors who may have flown under the radar but this time around, I’m featuring a series that doesn’t necessarily feature the author’s best known character. Admittedly, Robin Hobb is far from such an “under the radar” author. (At one point in time, there was talk of her outselling George R.R. Martin in Europe). With that, let me introduce you to Bingtown, a port/trading city south of the Six Duchies (the primary location of the novels featuring FitzChivalry Farseer) and the primary setting for “The Liveship Traders” trilog. Like some previous installments of this column, it has been quite a while since I read these books (I read them as each book was published 1998, 1999, 2000), but much of the emotional impact of the novels remains very strongly with me.

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

This week we asked our participants to tell us about authors & books that they keep intending to read by haven’t yet read…

Q: Elusive Authors: Who are some authors you’ve yet to read, or only read minimally (one book at most) who you keep intending to read or read again. In other words, what author(s) fits the question “I know, I keep meaning to try BOOK X or AUTHOR Y!”

Here’s what they said
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Here at the Completist, I’ve been hemming and hawing about whether I should include certain series because of their availability (or lack thereof) to readers.  After some thought, I realized (rather, hoped) if I covered some series that had limited availability, people would be encouraged to hunt down these books and perhaps renew interest with the publisher to make the books more readily available. With all of that said, I wanted to highlight a trilogy of novels I read a few years ago that stood out to me for many reasons, and I think to others who have read the books. Military Science Fiction is and has been one of the most popular sub-genres in science fiction, but the books here are quite different from the typical first-person Soldier-in-Training-Then-Fighting-a-War story.
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[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

This week we asked our participants about their reading habits:

Q: How long do you have a book before you read it? We, as biblioholics and voracious readers often accumulate books at a greater pace than we can read them. What is the longest you’ve had a book before you’ve read it and/or how long do you typically let a book sit before you read it?

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The PEEPS duology by Scott Westerfeld

Vampires, we all know them and at one point they were supposed to be scary creatures that could take over your soul, drink your blood and destroy you.  Well, over the years to say the vampire has lost some of its scary edge is an understatement. While Dracula did have some sexiness to him, the modern perception of the vampire is less scary and more sexy.  Enter Scott Westerfeld and his two book series which includes Peeps and The Last Days. These books tell the story of a world on the brink of apocalypse, overrun by vampires, but not your average vampires and are rarely referred to as such.  Rather, they are “peeps” as the title indicates, peep being a shortening of the term parasite positive.  You see, in Westerfeld’s tale, parasites cause the stricken person to shun both the light and that which he or she loved in their previous life. Throughout the first novel Peeps, Westerfeld injects a logical scientific explanation for many of the tropes of the vampire legend.  By doing this, Westerfeld allows the novel to be read on many levels: a vampire novel, a young adult novel [which it is marketed as], a horror novel (mashed up with science fiction), or a dark fantasy novel.
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One thing I hope I’ve been able to do through this column is shed some light on titles / series / authors who may have been a bit overlooked when initially published or whose work has been overshadowed by some of the BIG NAME AUTHORS. I don’t exactly know where Stephen Boyett fits into that picture, but his two book series THE CHANGE is indeed unique and worthy of attention. The first book, Ariel, was the author’s debut and published in 1983 when he was 19. Those who read the novel at the time have held its story quite close to their hearts (Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi, to name two). Over twenty years later, Boyett returned to the characters and the worlds with Elegy Beach. I realize I may be stretching the bounds of “series” with these books since it is more or less a book and its sequel, but in my mind, anything more than one book equals “series.”

With that in mind, on to THE CHANGE
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REVIEW SUMMARY: Tad Williams’s third collection includes 17 stories from across his career, ranging in publication dates [1988 through 2014] and across the genre landscape [fantasy, horror, mystery/detective, science fiction] highlighting one of the genre’s most potent storytellers.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Very Best of Tad Williams is just that, a retrospective of a superb writer/storyteller.

MY REVIEW
PROS: A master of the Epic displays his storytelling abilities in the short form with great success.
CONS: A couple of the shortest stories of the bunch connected with me the least.
BOTTOM LINE: An essential addition to the bookshelf for fans of Tad Williams and also a great opportunity for new readers to sample the breadth of his storytelling prowess.

The Very Best of Tad Williams is the third collection of the author’s short fiction and includes stories published as far back as 1988 to a story new to this volume, 2014. To most genre readers, Tad Williams is best known for door-stopper epic sagas like Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, Otherland, and Shadowmarch, in addition to the recent Angel Detective series Bobby Dollar. This latest collection illustrates that it is not the size of the epic, but the teller of the tale.

I’ve read a handful of his shorts in various themed collections and am a very big fan of those aforementioned large-scale Epic sagas, and I consider Memory, Sorrow and Thorn one of my favorite series.  So how did the collection work as a whole?
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Mark Chadbourn’s AGE OF MISRULE trilogy is the first of three connected trilogies and it was the first set of his books to make their way to the US. As I’ve indicated in previous columns, the imprint Pyr made a nice splash in its early years through a combination of brilliant new voices (David Louis Edelman’s Jump 225 trilogy) and bringing books to US readers previously only available in other countries. I recalled reading about Chadbourn’s Celtic-flavored apocalyptic series and was curious about the books so I was very pleased when Lou Anders signed Chadbourn and published these books. What’s more, he had the three books wrapped in stunningly gorgeous artwork from John Picacio.

Enough preamble don’t you think? On to the books themselves …
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With my bagel overlords here at SF Signal doing a some Military SF podcasts over the past few weeks, as well  an interview with Joe Haldeman, I figured now would be a great time to highlight a very recent example of the sub-genre, and a superb example at that. T.C. McCarthy’s SUBTERRENE WAR trilogy is a fascinating trilogy for many reasons.  For starters, T.C. takes a smart step back. That is, much of Military SF is set in space in the far and distant future (Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet, David Weber’s Honor Harrington, even Heinlein’s Starship Troopers for that matter).  While McCarthy’s series is indeed set in the future, the future might be best described as Twenty Minutes into the Future, and is firmly entrenched here on Earth.

While I haven’t read every Military SF novel out on the shelves, I’ve read my fair share and nothing I’ve read in the subgenre feels so filthy, dirty and uncomfortable as do these books by McCarthy.  McCarthy is, after all, telling a story of war and nothing is spared – the death, the blood, the sickness, even the pure discomfort of having what is essentially power armor which includes a system to get rid of personal waste – there’s the rawness, and that is merely one fraction of it.  Some people may consider disjointed a negative comment, but here, the disjointed feeling of the narrative is, I gather, completely intentional on McCarthy’s part.

On to the three books which comprise this brilliant, intense and grimy trilogy…
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The Completist: THE SUNDERING by Jacqueline Carey

Jacqueline Carey burst onto the fantasy scene with her alternate history/fantasy/erotic series of novels which began with Kushiel’s Dart and in recent years, she has turned her pen to modern/urban fantasy. The focus here will be on her deconstruction of Epic Fantasy, The Sundering duology comprised of Banewreaker and Godslayer. Many people are familiar with Lord of the Rings (one can safely assume) and to a lesser extent, people are likely familiar with Wicked (either the musical or the Gregory Maguire novel which inspired it) wherein The Wicked Witch of the West is cast as protagonist. Think the same thing here with The Sundering, wherein the villain is cast as the protagonist (and slightly renamed). Since this is really one novel cut in half (an entirely different discussion*), much like Lord of the Rings is one novel broken into three books, I will be discussing The Sundering primarily as one story.

The tag-line of the first novel, and the theme of the duology is best summed up as: “If all that is good considers you evil…are you?”
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Here at The Completist I like to highlight books that may have been sitting for a while on the bookshelves; to ensure good books from a few years ago (and more) aren’t lost in the shuffle of everybody trying to read the HOT! NEW! RELEASES! all the cool kids are reading. (Not that good books aren’t being published now, mind.) It’s been quite a while since I read these books, but they remain important and are absolutely essential reading for so many reasons.

Most people who have been reading Science Fiction and Fantasy for a significant amount of time know of Octavia E. Butler and what is perhaps her most famous series, which has gone by a couple of different names: Xenogenesis or Lilith’s Brood. Butler is one of the most recognized writers in the genre, and probably the most recognizable black woman to write in the genre. She was championed by Harlan Ellison, she won both the Hugo and Nebula Award and in 1995 she became the first science fiction writer to receive the MacArthur Fellowship. This series is a landmark in the alien first contact story and provides a very plausible biological thrust in the human/alien commingling.

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The Completist: CASSANDRA KRESNOV by Joel Shepherd

Joel Shepherd’s Casandra Kresnov novels were originally published in the Australia, beginning in 2001 with his debut Crossover. When Pyr launched, as I indicated in my column on David Louis Edelman’s Jump 225 trilogy, part of editorial director Lou Anders’ mission was to bring non-US books to a US audience.  With Shepherd’s future-SF action series, he did just that.
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The Completist: SHADOWBRIDGE by Gregory Frost

Stories within stories are one of the greatest tricks in fiction and have been around ever since people have been telling stories. Gregory Frost’s latest novel, Shadowbridge, is a fine example of this storytelling method used to great effect. The protagonist is Leodora a storyteller, a shadow-puppeteer who hunts for the stories she tells. In many ways, Leodora is a traditional heroine – she’s an orphan, is mistreated by her caretakers, and eventually runs away. The running away occurs about halfway through the book, but I don’t think this would be a spoiler by any means. Her reputation has grown to become the greatest shadow-puppeteer since Bardsham, who himself has an air of mythology. While the story has the feel of a traditional fairy tale, Frost makes it clear this is no sanitized kiddy tale as the story progresses.

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The Completist: The NIGHT ANGEL TRILOGY by Brent Weeks

When Brent Weeks’s first novel, The Way of Shadows, was unleashed the publisher and author of course had high hopes for his career as an author and the first book in The Night Angel Trilogy.  In a very smart move (modeling the approach Del Rey books used to amazing success on Naomi Novik’s Temeraire novels), the publisher opted to release the three books in three months, creating immediate shelf presence and eventually landing Brent Weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.  While Orbit had a presence in the US for a since 2007 these books publishing in late 2008 and early 2009 helped to further establish the imprint as one of the premiere English language science fiction and fantasy imprints.

On to the story within the pages of the books…

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