Monday, March 31, 2014

Mailboxes, Shelves, and What I'm Reading

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

Nothing new in the review pile this week (which is actually a bit of a relief), but I did pick up some deals online and at the used bookstore:

Violet Eyes by John Everson

Their bites are more than deadly...

The small town near the Everglades was supposed to offer Rachel and her son a fresh start. Instead it offered the start of a nightmare, when an unknown breed of flies migrated through the area, leaving painful bites in their wake. The media warned people to stay inside until the swarm passed. But the flies didn't leave. And then the radios and TVs went silent.

That's when the spiders came. Spiders that could spin a deadly web large enough to engulf an entire house overnight. Spiders that left stripped bones behind as they multiplied. Spiders that, like the flies, sought hungrily for tender flesh... through Violet Eyes.

Crack'd Pot Trail by Steven Erikson

It is an undeniable truth: give evil a name and everyone’s happy.  Give it two names and…why, they’re even happier.

Intrepid necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, scourges of civilization, raisers of the dead, reapers of the souls of the living, devourers of hope, betrayers of faith, slayers of the innocent, and modest personifications of evil, have a lot to answer for and answer they will. Known as the Nehemoth, they are pursued by countless self-professed defenders of decency, sanity, and civilization. After all, since when does evil thrive unchallenged? Well, often—but not this time.

Hot on their heels are the Nehemothanai, avowed hunters of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach. In the company of a gaggle of artists and pilgrims, stalwart Mortal Sword Tulgord Vise, pious Well Knight Arpo Relent, stern Huntsman Steck Marynd, and three of the redoubtable Chanter brothers (and their lone sister) find themselves faced with the cruelest of choices. The legendary Crack’d Pot Trail, a stretch of harsh wasteland between the Gates of Nowhere and the Shrine of the Indifferent God, has become a tortured path of deprivation.

Will honor, moral probity, and virtue prove champions in the face of brutal necessity? No, of course not. Don’t be silly.

Fantastic Orgy by Carlton Mellick III

Over the past few decades, sexually transmitted diseases have evolved in unusual ways. Herpes, AIDS, Gonorrhea; these are all STDs of the past. These days, sexually transmitted diseases are more extreme and bizarre. Not exactly diseases anymore, they are more like sexually transmitted body modifications. There's an STD that changes your hair color, an STD that causes your toes to grow larger, one causes you to grow extra breasts on your body, another causes your skin to grow long metal spikes, and there's an especially annoying STD that causes you to ejaculate miniature eyeballs.

Tonight is Share Your STD Night at the Demon Seed Swingers Club. Although most members of society fear the idea of contracting these diseases, there are some underground deviants who embrace them. They believe the diseases make them strange, unique, and beautiful. So they come together once a month to trade their wonderful STDs with each other in a surreal, fantastical orgy. However, tonight will not be like other nights. There's a new disease spreading through the sex club, a disease that causes people to become rabid bloodthirsty killing machines. As the infected rampage through the Demon Seed, the survivors realize there's only one thing they can do to survive the night: turn their grotesque STDs into deadly super weapons.

The World Beneath by Rebecca Cantrell

Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Rebecca Cantrell drops you into a vast, dark world: 100 miles of living, breathing, tunnels that is the New York City underground. This subterranean labyrinth inhales three million bustling commuters every day. And every day, it breathes them all out again... except for one. Software millionaire Joe Tesla is set to ring the bell on Wall Street the morning his company goes public. On what should be the brightest day in his life, he is instead struck with severe agoraphobia. The sudden dread of the outside is so debilitating, he can't leave his hotel at Grand Central Terminal, except to go underground.

Bad luck for Joe, because in the tunnels lurk corpses and murderers, an underground Victorian mansion and a mysterious bricked-up 1940s presidential train car. Joe and his service dog, Edison, find themselves pursued by villains and police alike, their only salvation now is to unearth the mystery that started it all, a deadly, contagious madness on the brink of escaping The World Beneath.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

With an eye towards my scheduled reviews for the next few weeks, I'm currently turning pages with:

• The Summoning: A Supernatural Dark Fantasy by F.G. Cottam
The cover blurb promises danger, adventure and horrifying black magic in this epic dark fantasy. 

• Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence
It doesn't hit the shelves until June, but I just can't wait to visit the Broken Empire from a fresh perspective.

• Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
A good, solid fantasy, pretty much what I was hoping for, but not exactly a frantic page-turner.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Horror Review: Island by Richard Laymon

As Richard Laymon novels go, Island is definitely one of his lesser works. It's a shame, because it seemed to have so much potential for the patented Laymon brand of bloody carnage and lustful insanity. I mean, here we have one sexually frustrated young man and four scantily-clad women, all of whom are stranded together on a tropical island, with a sadistic murderer on the loose, and a possible traitor within their ranks.

While we do finally get a glimpse of the twisted potential in the last 160 pages, it's largely fleeting (just a couple of chapters of true depravity), and the final twist seems like something Laymon only dropped it in there because he knew the reader would expect it. If only somebody - particularly Rupert or Kimberly - had decided to take a walk along the beach, we could have skipped a lot of filler and gotten right to the good stuff.

The whole journal approach was entirely wrong for the story, and Rupert was a weak choice for a narrator. We get page after page after page of Rupert writing in his journal and obsessing over which of the women he'd like to fantasize about most, what little they're wearing, and just how many different ways he can try to sneak a peek of just a little bit more flesh. Okay, so that's not entirely fair, since he does tell us about the killings, but his habit of blurting out the fact that something horrible happened or somebody else has died, then backtracking to tell the story, quickly grows tiresome and robs the book of any real suspense.

There were several points where the book had the chance to go sideways, to take one of those patented WTF turns that Laymon does so well, but he never takes the bait. There is a very nice bit of play with one of the sisters, leaving us to keep changing our mind as to whether she really is on the killer's side, and some dark suspicions laid out regarding the dead father, but that's really it until we get to those final pages. By then, the whole story has become so drawn out that what should come as a brilliant shock instead falls flat. It almost feels as if Laymon wrote himself into a corner, needed to find a clever way out of it, and ultimately settled for something less.

I really wanted to like Island, and I think the core of a classic Laymon story is hidden in there, but it's far too long and very poorly executed. At his best, Laymon can get your pulse racing and your imagination running wild, leaving you feeling giddy (and guilty) with the need to reread that last crazy scene. Here, though, he just leaves you looking at the clock and counting the pages left, futilely hoping that all will be redeemed.

Paperback, 512 pages
Published February 22nd 1996 by Headline Feature

Friday, March 28, 2014

Avengers Confidential!

Avengers? Cool.

Black Widow? Definitely cool.

The Punisher? Awesome.

Avengers Confidential: Black Widow & Punisher is out now, and it looks pretty sweet (based on the trailer). I've got a copy coming my way, so I'll let you know how it is.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Thriller Review: The Blood of Alexander by Tom Wilde

A modern Indiana Jones steals a relic of Alexander the Great in Blood of Alexander, the thrilling debut from Tom Wilde.

Despite a hero who is more James Bond / Remo Williams than Indiana Jones, and an adventure that owes more to the Dan Brown sub-genre than the pulp serials that inspired Lucas & Spielberg, The Blood of Alexander is still a fun, action-packed adventure that will have you frantically turning pages late into the night. Even if Tom Wilde's debut is a little absurd in parts, especially with its suitably maniacal super-villain, it's more than redeemed by the action, adventure, and imagination that drive it.

Jonathan Blake is an interesting hero. He's a trained archaeologist, betrayed by one relic smuggler, only to be rescued from his filthy, festering prison cell by another. In exchange for his assistance in rescuing historical treasures from dishonest smugglers around the world, the Argo Foundation has seen to it that he's extraordinarily well-trained in how to steal, how to fight, and how to survive. Physically, he is very much on par with a James Bond type hero, but intellectually and emotionally he remains something like a young Indiana Jones. Far too trusting of beautiful women, and incredibly naive when it comes to global intrigues, he remains passionate about history - so much so that he feels genuine sorrow for the historical treasures lost, and horror for those destroyed. The fact that he doesn't just shrug off those losses is one of the things that I appreciated most about the novel.

While James Phillip Vanya shares that passion for history, his criminal passions are far more selfish. With his mega-yacht, island fortress, and sycophantic followers, he could have crawled out of just about any James Bond adventure. He's a homicidal, genocidal, charismatic megalomaniac who has used his religious influence to build a cult that rivals that of Scientology. His goal is nothing less than world domination, a goal that requires much of the world's population to die in a globally-orchestrated act of biological terrorism, before he rebuilds it with genetically engineered descendants of Alexander the Great. All his plan needs to set itself in motion is a tiny sample of DNA from Alexander's mummified body - and locating that lost, legendary tomb, of course, where Vanya and Blake cross paths.

This was a novel that remained entertaining from start to finish, with only the occasional pause to breathe and reveal the plots and betrayals interrupting the adventure. It races along from one destination to another, carried largely by the likability of Blake, and the intellectual fascinating for his hunt. Wilde has fun with history here, drawing on both fact and fiction to lead the chase to Alexander's final resting place. Napoleon Bonaparte, Joseph Fouché, and Robert Fulton all play heavily into the story, as might be expected, but so do Jules Verne, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron. Without giving anything away, the final set-piece, where they all come together, is worth of the climax to any Indiana Jones adventure. Wilde plays with the reader in other ways as well, teasing us with plots, counter-plots, betrayals, and double-crosses. He does it so well, in fact, that I felt duped and chagrined multiple times over the same character!

The novel ends with the seeming promise of more Jonathan Blake adventures, so here's hoping there's an entire literary franchise waiting in the wings. I'd really like to see what Wilde will do with Blake, given the way he matures and grows throughout the story, and I'd curious as to how his relationship with the Argo Foundation might evolve. Regardless of where he takes the story next, however, I hope Blake never loses his fiercely protective nature when it comes to lost artifacts. Indiana Jones and Robert Langdon are both a little too nonchalant at times when it comes to the catastrophic destruction of ancient ruins, so that passion for preservation is as welcome here as it is refreshing. Both action-packed and intellectually-intriguing, The Blood of Alexander is one heck of a fun read, and a great way to kill a late Spring afternoon on the deck or at the cottage.

Hardcover, 320 pages
Expected publication: April 29th 2014 by Forge Books

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Waiting On Wednesday - Artemis Awakening by Jane Lindskold

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Artemis Awakening by Jane Lindskold
Hardcover, 304 pages
Expected publication: May 27th 2014 by Tor Books

Artemis Awakening is the start of a new series by New York Times bestseller Jane Lindskold. The distant world Artemis is a pleasure planet created out of bare rock by a technologically advanced human empire that provided its richest citizens with a veritable Eden to play in. All tech was concealed and the animals (and the humans brought to live there) were bioengineered to help the guests enjoy their stay…but there was always the possibility of danger so that visitors could brag that they had “bested” the environment.

The Empire was shattered in a horrific war; centuries later humanity has lost much of the advanced technology and Artemis is a fable told to children. Until young archeologist Griffin Dane finds intriguing hints that send him on a quest to find the lost world. Stranded on Artemis after crashing his ship, he encounters the Huntress Adara and her psych-linked companion, the puma Sand Shadow. Their journey with her will lead Dane to discover the planet’s secrets…and perhaps provide a key to give unimagined power back to mankind.

I have a few of Lindskold's titles waiting on the shelf, The Buried Pyramid and Firekeeper Saga among them, but like so many others she's been lingering in the land of 'to-be-read.' Something about this new science fiction series really grabs me, though, and if I can get a hold of an ARC, then I intend to dive right in and get her shifted to the 'read' shelf as soon as possible.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Horror Review: Tuesday Apocalypse by Vicy Cross

Tuesday Apocalypse by Vicy Cross
ebook, 127 pages
Published July 26th 2013 by Storm Moon Press


In the war-weary year of 1940, just one rundown hospital survives London's collapse. Sister Barbara, a nun and volunteer nurse, inspires hope in her patients, but that faith is shaken when an unidentified aircraft explodes near the hospital. The half-eaten corpse beneath the mangled wreckage appears to corroborate the pilot's story that some sort of "tentacle-monster" attacked his plane. However, Sister Barbara pushes these dangers aside and plunges beyond the rubble when the man she loves disappears in the wastelands.

She discovers a bloodstained beauty in his place—but the girl's outward innocence hides a voracious sexual appetite, and an even more disturbing secret. One by one, the terrified patients vanish from their beds. Titillating tentacles lick the hospital walls at night. And the dreams, always the dreams, drawing Sister Barbara deeper into a well of madness. She suspects she and the other women at the hospital are transforming into something... unholy. Sister Barbara knows she must figure out what before the evil in their midst consumes them all.


Vicy Cross can tell a story. Her words collide together and string out pure prose writing that makes you want to read again.

"In my dream, Mrs. Tuttle played the pipe organ in the cathedral. Her fingers assaulted the keys until the ivory was stained with blood . . . I remember Mrs. Tuttle's crazed smile even as her fingers turned to pulp on the keys."

Tuesday Apocalypse is a romance erotica and a historical masterpiece with a Lovecraft-ian touch of a parasite tentacle monster.

"The haze billowed toward me, laughing somehow. It was a woman's laughter, and her voice sounded cruel and sharp like shattered glass."

I'm not going to give a huge description of the book. Read the synopsis and trust me this will be a book you will give you a memorable read. With Cross's likable characters and amazing writing.

"I saw the tongues of hell in Tuesday's smile. Black smoke licked the street, and yet her eyes sliced through the darkness like two neon torches. The expression she gave me will scar my memory forever."

Also check out my status updates for more quotes from the book!

(as posted by Donald on Goodreads)

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mailboxes, Shelves, and What I'm Reading

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

New additions coming in the door this week included:

Veil of the Deserters by Jeff Salyards
Hardcover, 448 pages
Expected publication: June 3rd 2014 by Night Shade Books 

History, Family and Memory… these are the seeds of destruction.

Bloodsounder's Arc continues as Captain Braylar Killcoin and his retinue continue to sow chaos amongst the political elite of Alespell. Braylar is still poisoned by the memories of those slain by his unholy flail Bloodsounder, and attempts to counter this sickness have proven ineffectual.

The Syldoonian Emperor Cynead has solidified his power base in unprecedented ways, and demands loyalty from all operatives. Braylar and company are recalled to the capital to swear fealty. Braylar must decide if he can trust his sister, Soffjian, with the secret that is killing him. She has powerful memory magics that might be able to save him from Bloodsounder’s effects, but she has political allegiances that are not his own. Arki and others in the company try to get Soffjian and Braylar to trust one another, but politics in the capital prove to be far more complicated and dangerous than even Killcoin could predict.

Deposed emperor Thumarr plots to remove the repressive Cynead, and Braylar and his sister Soffjian lie at the heart of his plans. The distance between "favored shadow agent of the emperor" and "exiled traitor" is an unsurprisingly short road. But it is a road filled with blind twists and unexpected turns. Before the journey is over, Arki will chronicle the true intentions of Emperor Cynead and Soffjian. And old enemies in Alespell may prove to be surprising allies in a conflict no one could have foreseen.

The Leopard by K. V. Johansen
Hardcover, 460 pages
Expected publication: June 10th 2014 by Pyr

Part one of a two-book epic fantasy, set in a world as richly drawn as J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth, but with Mideastern and Eastern flavors

In the days of the first kings in the North, there were seven devils…

Ahjvar, the assassin known as the Leopard, wants only to die, to end the curse that binds him to a life of horror. Although he has no reason to trust the goddess Catairanach or her messenger Deyandara, fugitive heir to a murdered tribal queen, desperation leads him to accept her bargain: if he kills the mad prophet known as the Voice of Marakand, Catairanach will free him of his curse. Accompanying him on his mission is the one person he has let close to him in a lifetime of death, a runaway slave named Ghu. Ahj knows Ghu is far from the half-wit others think him, but in Marakand, the great city where the caravan roads of east and west meet, both will need to face the deepest secrets of their souls, if either is to survive the undying enemies who hunt them and find a way through the darkness that damns the Leopard.

To Marakand, too, come a Northron wanderer and her demon verrbjarn lover, carrying the obsidian sword Lakkariss, a weapon forged by the Old Great Gods to bring their justice to the seven devils who escaped the cold hells so long before.

Haunted Ontario 3: Ghostly Historic Sites, Inns, and Miracles by Terry Boyle
Paperback, 288 pages
Expected publication: April 14th 2014 by Dundurn Group

Interested in discovering more about haunted Ontario? Join Terry Boyle as he explores the shadowlands beyond the grave. Revel in the outstanding evidence of spirit habitation in museums, historic homes, inns, jails, and graveyards. Witness the full apparition of the innkeeper's wife at Greystones Inn in Orangeville. Encounter the misty form of a civil war veteran in the graveyard of the old St. Thomas church. Experience the incredible slamming-of-doors at the Keefer Mansion in Thorold. Visit a whole village of spirits who share the buildings at Black Creek Pioneer Village. You can even spend the entire night in the Orillia Opera House with Terry and his friends.

Prepare to be scared out of your wits with the stories behind these and other hauntings. After providing you with a list of addresses, phone numbers, and websites for each location, Terry invites you and all other ghost enthusiasts along for the adventure. Feeling brave?

Best British Horror 2014 edited by Johnny Mains
Paperback, 432 pages
Expected publication: May 5th 2014 by Salt Publishing Ltd.

Edited by the British Fantasy Award winning editor Johnny Mains, Salt’s ‘Best’ series takes a journey into the bottomless depths of horror. You will find no ‘pleasing terrors’ here.

‘Mercy stands before her, wielding a mud-caked pickaxe in both hands…’ —When Charlie Sleeps, Laura Mauro

‘Too much Semtex was an obvious, beginners mistake, and I noted I needed to remove more brain in future…’ —Exploding Raphaelesque Heads, Ian Hunter

‘There isn’t much time. Blood is already spattering the paper on which I am writing…’ —The Secondary Host, John Probert

‘It appeared to be an insect of some kind, perhaps a beetle or a spider with a bloated body…’ —Come Into My Parlour, Reggie Oliver

Best British Horror is a new anthology series dedicated to showcasing and proving without doubt, that when it comes to horror and supernatural fiction, Britain is its obvious and natural home.

Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z. Martin
Paperback, 432 pages
Expected publication: June 25th 2014 by Solaris

Cassidy Kincaide owns Trifles & Folly, an antique/curio store and high-end pawn shop in Charleston, South Carolina that is more than what it seems. Dangerous magical and supernatural items sometimes find their way into mortal hands or onto the market, and Cassidy is part of a shadowy Alliance of mortals and mages whose job it is to take those deadly curiosities out of circulation.

Welcome to Trifles & Folly, an antique and curio shop with a dark secret. Proprietor Cassidy Kincaide continues a family tradition begun in 1670—acquiring and neutralizing dangerous supernatural items. It’s the perfect job for Cassidy, whose psychic gift lets her touch an object and know its history. Together with her business partner Sorren, a 500 year-old vampire and former jewel thief, Cassidy makes it her business to get infernal objects off the market. When mundane antiques suddenly become magically malicious, it’s time for Cassidy and Sorren to get rid of these Deadly Curiosities before the bodies start piling up.

The Ghoul Archipelago by Stephen Kozeniewski
Paperback, 360 pages
Published October 16th 2013 by Severed Pres

After ravenous corpses topple society and consume most of the world’s population, freighter captain Henk Martigan is shocked to receive a distress call. Eighty survivors beg him to whisk them away to the relative safety of the South Pacific. Martigan wants to help, but to rescue anyone he must first pass through the nightmare backwater of the Curien island chain.

A power struggle is brewing in the Curiens. On one side, the billionaire inventor of the mind-control collar seeks to squeeze all the profit he can out of the apocalypse. Opposing him is the charismatic leader of a ghoul-worshipping cargo cult. When a lunatic warlord berths an aircraft carrier off the coast and stakes his own claim on the islands, the stage is set for a bloody showdown.

To save the remnants of humanity (and himself), Captain Martigan must defeat all three of his ruthless new foes and brave the gruesome horrors of...THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

With an eye towards my scheduled reviews for the next few weeks, I'm currently turning pages with:

• Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
A good, solid fantasy, pretty much what I was hoping for, but not exactly a frantic page-turner.

• Tales from High Hallack, Volume 1 by Andre Norton
High fantasy, fables, science fiction, and more - catching up with the Grand Dame of science fiction.

• Deathstalker Rebellion by Simon R. Green
I always keep a few 'fun' paperbacks on hand for vacations or roadtrips, and this week it's Deathstalker making the journey.

• The Blood of Alexander by Tom Wilde
A modern Indiana Jones steals a relic of Alexander the Great. 'Nuff said. That's precisely what I'm in the mood for right now.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sci-Fi Review: Morningside Fall by Jay Posey

With Morningside Fall, Jay Posey's Legends of the Dustwalker saga is beginning to remind me of Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn Saga. Both series started off strong, with first novels that really impressed me with their imagination and their storytelling, and which guaranteed I would keep on reading. Unfortunately [minor spolier here], the second volume in both series suffers from the absence of the protagonist who made the first book so compelling.

That absence made this a frustrating reading experience for me. The world building was taken to the next level, the threat of the Weir was far better explored, and we finally get something of a primary antagonist in the final portions of the book. In addition, the writing was just as solid as it was in the first book, contributing to an enhancement of the overall atmosphere. There really was a lot to enjoy and appreciate here, but Wren is no Three, and that's a very big 'but' indeed.

I didn't like Wren much in the first book, and I didn't come to like him any better here. He's too innocent, too precocious, and too vulnerable. I wasn't necessarily looking for him to stand up and become a hero, but I was hoping he would serve some purpose other than to be the typical kid who needs to be rescued. He just rubs me the wrong way, leaving me exasperated and anxious to move on to the next scene that doesn't center on him. As for his mother, I really liked the darkness and the edge of Cass in the first book, but at lot of that seems blunted here. Sadly, it seems as if she's just not as interesting without Three there to challenge her on a personal and intellectual level.

It's not a bad read, and the last 100 or so pages are worth sticking it out for, but it was a long, slow, difficult read getting to that point. I found myself skimming in places, and getting tired of all the walk-on auditions to replace Three as Wren's guardian. Morningside Fall definitely suffers from middle-book syndrome, adding to the issue of trying to replace a protagonist, but it ends with enough promise to make a third book a likely-to-read, if not quite a must-read.

Paperback, 432 pages
Expected publication: April 29th 2014 by Angry Robot

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Waiting On Wednesday - Suffer the Children by Craig DiLouie

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Suffer the Children by Craig DiLouie
Paperback, 352 pages
Expected publication: May 20th 2014 by Permuted Press

From an acclaimed horror writer, a chilling tale of blood-hungry children who rise from the dead in this innovative spin on apocalyptic vampire fiction.

Suffer the Children presents a terrifying tale of apocalyptic fiction, as readers are introduced to Herod's Syndrome, a devastating illness that suddenly and swiftly kills all young children across the globe. Soon, they return from the grave…and ask for blood. And with blood, they stop being dead. They continue to remain the children they once were...but only for a short time, as they need more blood to live. The average human body holds ten pints of blood, so the inevitable question for parents everywhere becomes: How far would you go to bring your child back?

Okay, so apocalyptic vampire fiction holds immediate appeal for the reader and the horror fan within me, but I think the real appeal here is as a father - how far, indeed, would I go to bring my children back? I suspect I'd cross more than a few lines to make it happen, which just adds to the creepy appeal of this one. Technically, I'm not waiting, since I got the e-ARC a couple of weeks ago, but this still has me excited.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Sci-Fi Review - The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

There's at least one book each year that strives to be the next big mainstream/genre crossover . . . one book that tries to achieve a sort of mainstream literary respectability, while still managing to resonate with genre fans. More often than not, those crossovers don't work, and just end up disappointing one group, while alienating the other. As such, I'm always a bit reluctant to give those books a read, but read them I do, hoping that, this time, there really is a crossover success in the making.

With that said, I am pleased to declare that The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is indeed the first crossover success of the year. Whoever Claire North really is, she (or he) demonstrates a flair for literary magic here, coupled with an honest love for the genre.

At its roots, this is a hard science fiction novel, one that deals with the complexities and paradoxes of time travel, as well as the intellectual and political drivers of scientific progress. In different hands it could have been dense and dry, boring to some, and bewildering to others. Fortunately, Claire North is able to easily convey such lofty concepts and explore them in a conversational manner. There is a definite 'geek' factor to the conversations between Harry and Vincent, which are often as amusing as they are fascinating, but the discussion never goes over the head of mainstream readers. It's a smart book, but one that tries very hard not to boast about its own intelligence.

On the surface, this is a mainstream novel about one man's journey (okay, journeys) through life. It's a story of love, loss, triumph, sorrow. In fact, there's an almost Dickensian feel to the story of Harry's birth, his complicated parentage, and his ever-changing idea of family. For, you see, no matter how long or short his life, Harry is reborn to the same parents, in the exact same situation, every time . . . but with the memories of all his past lives. Everything else about him changes - who he loves, what he does, how he dies - but he always begins the same way. There's a sad inevitability to his life, in that no matter what he does he will always die to begin again, but there's also a wondrous sort of potential in how he chooses to live each new life.

Just beneath that literary surface, nurtured by those genre roots, is the heart of the story. As we quickly learn, Harry is not alone in his cycle of rebirth and remembrance. In fact, there's a legendary/mythical Chronus Club that has arisen over the centuries to bring them all together, an informal group that's as much about playing elaborate games as it is about maintaining the temporal status quo. While members are free to dabble with possibilities and experiment with new experiences, there are key events that must be allowed to proceed as they always have before. That means no assassinating Hitler before he comes to power, no preventing JFK's assassination, and no interference in the fate of the Twin Towers. Of course, when you're talking about immortals, reborn with lifetimes of memories, it's no surprise that one or two should be tempted to break the rules . . . which brings us to Vincent.

Without spoiling too much, Vincent is a man much like Harry, except he's not content with merely living one life after another. He's begun advancing technological progress across the globe, picking up where he left off with each new life, bringing progress to mankind faster and faster, with an eye towards becoming something more than just physically immortal. Burdened with the knowledge that Vincent's efforts are hastening the end of the world, bringing it closer each and every time, Harry takes it upon himself to interfere. It is their complex relationship that ultimately drives the narrative, keeping the reader engaged, and providing the true emotional and intellectual heart of the story. Here are two men who understand each other better than anybody alive, who share so many of the same hopes and dreams, and who have been friends, allies, adversaries, and mortal enemies, depending upon the life lived.

It's the strength of Harry as character that keeps us engaged, and his strength as a narrator that keeps us from getting lost in the sometimes scattered recollections of his lives. Just as importantly for a book involving time travel and resurrection, there's genuine tension to the story, and honest surprises along the way. Even the final confrontation is perfect, tying up all fifteen lives in a manner that not only makes sense, but which is as ingenious as the story demands. All said, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August is an exceptionally well-written novel, one that flows quickly and easily in spite of the lofty ideals sometimes being explored, and which offers something of substance for all readers, no matter how their shelves may lean.

Hardcover, 416 pages
Expected publication: April 8th 2014 by Orbit books

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Mailboxes, Shelves, and What I'm Reading

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

New additions coming in the door this week included:

Starfire by Dale Brown
Hardcover, 432 pages
Expected publication: May 6th 2014 by William Morrow & Company 

With the death of his heroic father, bomber and space warfare veteran Patrick McLanahan, Bradley McLanahan must now fly solo, leading a team of young engineers designing Starfire, the world's first orbiting solar power plant.

Starfire will not only deliver unlimited and inexpensive electricity anywhere on planet Earth, it can also transmit power to the moon, and even to spacecraft and asteroids. It's a crucial first step in the exploration of the solar system, and Bradley and his team are on the cutting edge.

But U.S. president Kenneth Phoenix's plans to militarize and industrialize Earth's orbit sparks an arms race in space that eclipses the darkest and most terrifying days of the Cold War. Before he can prevent it, Bradley and his team are caught at the center of a battle that threatens to become an all-out global conflict for control of space.

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume Eight edited by Jonathan Strahan
Paperback, 624 pages
Expected publication: May 13th 2014 by Solaris

The best of the year's Science Fiction and Fantasy stories as selected by the multiple award-winning editor Jonathan Strahan. The series moves to its new publishing home, Solaris, with this eighth annual volume of the celebrated and popular series.


The best, most original and brightest science fiction and fantasy stories from around the globe from the past twelve months are brought together in one collection by multiple award winning editor Jonathan Strahan. This highly popular series now reaches volume eight and will include stories from both the biggest names in the field and the most exciting new talents.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

With an eye towards my scheduled reviews for the next few weeks, I'm currently turning pages with:

• Morningside Fall by Jay Posey
Wren is on his own this time, but it sounds like there's no wanting of terror and adventure.

• Tales from High Hallack, Volume 1 by Andre Norton
High fantasy, fables, science fiction, and more - catching up with the Grand Dame of science fiction.

• The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
The story of a man who repeatedly escapes death by travelling back to his youth.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, March 14, 2014

In Defense of (Bad) Fantasy - Part Two

Last week, in Part One of our discussion on 'bad' fantasy, I took my cue from a number of 'worst of' lists around the net (Best Fantasy Books has a great list, as does Goodreads here and here) and talked a bit about how many 'worst' reads I enjoyed. There were a few series I don't remember in any great detail, but which I enjoyed enough to read multiple volumes, and others that I'm quite fond of, despite the disdain and hatred they've earned from others.

This week I wanted to turn things on their head a bit and look at some of the 'worst' titles I've deliberately sought out and, in many cases, enjoyed. Sometimes it's just a matter of wanting to read something completely different; other times it's just a contrary desire to prove people wrong; and sometimes it's a matter of finding some sort of dark appeal in whatever element it was that sparked their hatred.

  • The Last Herald-Mage by Mercedes Lackey is the first series I can remember deliberately reading out of spite. It was back in my highschool days, and I was just getting into the genre. I thought her books looked interesting, but I was quickly cautioned against her. Aside from the fact I was assured female fantasy authors just weren't very good, it was also whispered that her hero was (gasp!) gay. Well, I went ahead and read the series anyway, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought it was well told, and I thought Vanyel was a fascinating hero. I've since seen Lackey dismissed on those 'worst of' lists for muddled plots, flat characters, and poor writing, but she's an author I keep returning to when I want a taste of traditional high fantasy.
  • Dragon Prince Trilogy by Melanie Rawn is series I read not long after Herald-Mage, as part of my quest to prove that an author's gender had nothing to do with whether a book was any good. Rawn, of course, came with the added baggage of being accused of being nothing more than a romance author in disguise. Well, the series proved to be one of my favorites, prompting me to go on to devour the Dragon Star Trilogy, The Golden Key, and Exiles. Extremely well-written, with solid world-building, and fantastic characters, she's an author I'm eager to catch up with in the Glass Thorns saga (even though I wish, like so many others, she'd finish the next Exiles book).
  • His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman is a book I decided to pick up, despite my general disinterest in the YA genre, specifically because of the horrendous accusations that it promoted atheism and attacked Christianity. It was an okay read, and one I likely would have enjoyed much more in my youth, but it lacked the substance for me to keep reading beyond the first book. Having said that, I quite liked how Pullman tackled the issues of faith and religion, but I also despise Narnia for the same reason, so take that as you will.
  • Chronicles of the Shadow War by Chris Claremont is a series I was initially prepared to dismiss along with everybody else, but curiosity got the better of me. Yes, it's a very dark tale that makes no attempt to recapture the humor and magic of Willow, and which kills off most of the main characters in the prologue, but that doesn't make it a bad tale. In fact, as a fantasy saga on its own, it's quite remarkable. The world-building is extraordinary, really fleshing out what was glimpsed on the screen, and the mythology was just as fantastic. It took me a long while to warm up to Elora, and even longer to adjust to an older, more mature Willow, but I appreciated the fact that we'd all grown up and matured together.
  • The Enterprise of Death by Jesse Bullington is a book that I couldn't possibly not read once I'd been told what a vulgar, violent, obscene, and disgusting book it was. It is definitely all those things, but it's also darkly/morbidly humorous, incredibly imaginative, and well-written. I had a ton of guilty fun with that book. I was honestly a bit shocked that some of it made it past an editor or publisher, but I was also ridiculously pleased that they did let it go. It's definitely one the most unique fantasy novels I've ever read, and while it's not for everyone, it fit my tastes perfectly. His follow-up didn't work quite as well for me, but I still have to go back and read his first.
  • The Broken Empire by Mark Lawrence is one of those series I decided to read because I found a dark appeal in the element that sparked so much hatred. Jorg Ancrath, I kept reading, was an amoral, psychopathic killer, and one without a shred of humanity. As heroes go, he was as anti as they get, and as grimdark goes, the series was as grim as it gets. How could I not give it a read when it had all that going for it? While I think Jorg got shortchanged by a lot of readers who didn't bother to look beneath the surface, there's no doubt he's a very dark protagonist in a dark sort of fantasy, and I really enjoyed that. Lawrence dared to do something different, and even if it didn't work for everybody, it did for me.

That, for what it's worth, is my take on defending the 'worst' of the genre. There are, of course, a lot of 'bad' fantasy novels I was warned away from that were indeed 'bad' fantasy, but I'm not here to pile on the hate. Feel free to share your thoughts on 'best' and 'worst' below.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

'You’re never too old to have one more adventure' by Dan O’Brien

You’re never too old to have one more adventure 

Brought to life by Steve Ferchaud’s vibrant drawings, this story for all ages by Dan O’Brien lets us know that it is never too late to have one more adventure. 

An Excerpt:

Robert Pendleton opened one eye as the light of a passing car flashed over the window, shattering the darkness into prisms. He rolled onto his back on the beat-up couch and yawned as he reached his hands up and rubbed his eyes unceremoniously. 

He looked out over the darkness at the digital clock. The red digits spelled out a quarter ‘til midnight––nearly fourteen hours of sleep. He smiled and grabbed one of the cushions of the couch, burying his head in it. Just enough sleep, he reminded himself. Robert felt that anything less than twelve hours of sleep was very nearly too little. 

He grasped blindly for the TV remote. 

Groaning as he lifted his head, he looked at the empty table––his eyes drawn by another flash of a passing car. He couldn’t see clearly, but he knew that the remote had been there before he had fallen asleep nearly half a day ago. 

“Could have sworn….” he mumbled as he pushed himself up and brushed his hand around the top of the table, finding nothing. “Where did….”

Another groan escaped his lips as he lifted his body to a sitting position and threw aside the cluster of pillows that he had gathered around himself. He reached out for the lamp, but instead knocked it to the floor with a resounding thud. 

Robert muttered as he stood up from the couch, and then sank to his knees to search around in the darkness for the fallen lamp. Reaching around on the shadowed floor, shards of the broken lamp scattered like pieces of light. 

He turned his head, peering beneath the large space underneath the couch and saw the reflection of the buttons on the remote. The off-gray piece of machinery was underneath the couch––only darkness lingered beyond it. He reached out as he spoke again. 

“How did it get all the way down there?” 

Robert flexed his hand and strained as he twisted his back to reach farther; yet, the remote remained just out of reach. He pulled his arm away with a huff and craned his neck to the side, staring underneath into the darkness below the couch. 

His eyes widened as he saw the impossible: there was something beyond the remote. He shook his head and closed his eyes, whispering to himself that he didn’t see what he thought he had.

“I saw a little man,” he whispered to himself as he opened his eyes once more and nearly gasped as he did so. 

The figure was closer now and he could make out the outline clearly. A tiny man rested just beyond the remote. 

“What in the name of…?”

“Not here in the name of nobody, laddie. I be a friend though,” crooned the miniscule figure as he interrupted Robert and stepped forward, placing a hand on the darkened and slick surface of the remote. 

A tam-o’-shanter crested his bright red hair, the shaggy mane blending perfectly into his equally crimson, neatly trimmed, beard. 

A billow of whitish smoke drifted from the long-stemmed pipe that he held clenched between his lips. 

Robert fell back and knocked aside the adjacent table. Rubbing his eyes, he spoke a single word: “Leprechaun.”

About the Author:

Dan O’Brien, founder and editor-in-chief of The Northern California Perspective, has written over 20 books––including the bestselling Bitten, which was featured on Conversations Book Club’s Top 100 novels of 2012. Before starting Amalgam, he was the senior editor and marketing director for an international magazine. In addition, he has spent over a decade in the publishing industry as a freelance editor. You can learn more about his literary and publishing consulting business by visiting his website at: www.amalgamconsulting.com. Contact him today to order copies of the book or have them stocked at your local bookstore. He can he reached by email at amalgamconsulting@gmail.com

Would you like to win a remarked copy of Conspirators of the Lost Sock Army and Loose Change Collection Agency signed by the author and illustrator?

Simply follow the author here and here and a few winners will be randomly selected on March 20th!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Waiting On Wednesday - The Pillars of Sand by Mark T. Barnes

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

The Pillars of Sand by Mark T. Barnes
Expected publication: May 20th 2014 by 47north

Prophecy declared that corrupt politician Corajidin would rule the Shrīanese Federation, even become its new Emperor—and sinister magic has helped him defy death in order to do it. But his victory is not assured, thanks to clashing rival factions that hinder any attempts to unify the nation. Though he has taken increasingly brutal measures to eliminate all obstacles in his path, the dark forces supporting him grow dangerously impatient. And the harder they press, the more drastic Corajidin’s actions become.

Soon, only his most powerful adversaries will stand in his way: Indris, the peerless swordsman and sorcerer who has long fought to end the Federation’s bloody turmoil; and the warrior-poet Mari, Corajidin’s own daughter and the woman Indris loves. Fate has torn them apart, forcing them into terrifying personal trials. But if Indris can bring to bear the devastating knowledge of the Pillars of Sand, and Mari can rise up as a rebel leader, Corajidin’s enemies will rally—and the decisive battle for the soul and future of the Shrīanese will begin.

This epic tale of intrigue, love, and betrayal, painted in the blood of allies and enemies by Mark T. Barnes, concludes the Echo of Empire trilogy that began with The Garden of Stones and The Obsidian Heart.

This may just be my first back-to-back series read of the year. While Echoes of Empire was always on my radar, I never quite managed to make time for The Garden of Stones, much less The Obsidian Heart. I'm intrigued, however, and am looking forward to giving the series a read. Back-to-back-to-back worked for the likes of Mark Lawrence and Peter V Brett last year, so let's see if Barnes can recapture the magic.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Sci-Fi Review - Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters by Tim Marquitz & Nickolas Sharps

Clocking in at over 500 pages, with 25 stories, Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters is a somewhat daunting read. Assembling that many authors to write about giant monsters is an awesome feat all on its own, but to do it as a Kickstarter project is just mind-boggling. Tim Marquitz & Nickolas Sharps are absolutely to be commended on pulling off something I honestly wasn't sure would work.

For me, some of the stories that worked the best were those that were already solid little tales on their own, and where the addition of giant monsters enhanced the story, rather than just being awkwardly shoehorned in - largely because of the contrast they created in themes and subjects. Big Ben and the End of the Pier Show by James Lovegrove was a perfect example, as was Monstruo by Mike MacLean, and Of the Earth, of the Sky, of the Sea by Patrick M. Tracy and Paul Genesse.

Another batch of stories that really impressed me were the ones that managed to establish a complete mythology, to tell a multi-layered tale within the very narrow confines of a short story. That's hard enough for some authors to manage in a novel, much less a short story. The Lighthouse Keeper of Kurohaka Island by Kane Gilmour illustrates this beautifully, as do The Conversion by David Annandale, Heartland by Shane Berryhill, The Banner of the Bent Cross by Peter Clines, and The Great Sea Beast by Larry Correia, albeit all in very different ways.

The final batch that I thoroughly enjoyed were the ones that embraced the concept, claimed it, owned it, blew it up, and then stomped around on its ashes. I'm talking about the over-the-top, let's just have fun with monster stories, the ones where you can feel the author's excitement. Devil’s Cap Brawl by Edward M. Erdelac was one of those, as was Dead Man’s Bones by Josh Reynolds, and the cheesy-but-awesome Big Dog by Timothy W. Long.

There were a few stories that just tried too hard, and a few that may have been entertaining enough on their own, but which suffered from being packed in such a dense collection of similar stories. With that in mind, Kaiju Rising is definitely a collection best enjoyed in small doses, a few stories at a time, lest the repetition begin to dull the overall effect. That said, those small doses are great fun, with some genuine surprises for fans new and old.

Kindle Edition, Retail Edition, 550 pages
Published February 10th 2014 by Ragnarok Publications

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mailboxes, Shelves, and What I'm Reading

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

New additions coming in the door this week included:

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
Hardcover, 1088 pages
Published March 4th 2014 by Tor Books

Six years ago, the Assassin in White, a hireling of the inscrutable Parshendi, assassinated the Alethi king on the very night a treaty between men and Parshendi was being celebrated. So began the Vengeance Pact among the highprinces of Alethkar and the War of Reckoning against the Parshendi.

Now the Assassin is active again, murdering rulers all over the world of Roshar, using his baffling powers to thwart every bodyguard and elude all pursuers. Among his prime targets is Highprince Dalinar, widely considered the power behind the Alethi throne. His leading role in the war would seem reason enough, but the Assassin’s master has much deeper motives.

Expected by his enemies to die the miserable death of a military slave, Kaladin survived to be given command of the royal bodyguards, a controversial first for a low-status "darkeyes." Now he must protect the king and Dalinar from every common peril as well as the distinctly uncommon threat of the Assassin, all while secretly struggling to master remarkable new powers that are somehow linked to his honorspren, Syl.

Brilliant but troubled Shallan strives along a parallel path. Despite being broken in ways she refuses to acknowledge, she bears a terrible burden: to somehow prevent the return of the legendary Voidbringers and the civilization-ending Desolation that will follow. The secrets she needs can be found at the Shattered Plains, but just arriving there proves more difficult than she could have imagined.

Meanwhile, at the heart of the Shattered Plains, the Parshendi are making an epochal decision. Hard pressed by years of Alethi attacks, their numbers ever shrinking, they are convinced by their war leader, Eshonai, to risk everything on a desperate gamble with the very supernatural forces they once fled. The possible consequences for Parshendi and humans alike, indeed, for Roshar itself, are as dangerous as they are incalculable.

The doors of the Stormlight Archive first opened to us with The Way of Kings. Read that book – now available in all formats – and then Words of Radiance, and you can be part of the adventure every dazzling step of the way.

Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence
Hardcover, 368 pages
Expected publication: June 3rd 2014 by Ace Hardcover

The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all.

The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it’s all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong.

After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war—and the Red Queen controls the board.

Deadlock by Tim Curran
Expected publication: May 2014 by DarkFuse

Charlie Petty is a man known for having ice water in this veins. He never backs down and is never shaken but unfortunately stirred up into the wrong crowd. As a degenerate gambler, his luck has run out and his debt has now come due.

Charlie is offered a chance to clear his tab: simply stay alone on a ship overnight to prove to its owner and potential crew that it's not cursed nor haunted. Never mind the ship's history of suicide, violence, mutiny and murder. Or how the ship's past crews have gone missing or insane. The fact that no one has set foot on deck in darkness for years doesn't phase Charlie one bit. It sounds like easy money to bust up a superstition or two.

Charlie thinks his luck is returning. Little does he know it's about to run out completely.

The Very Best of Tad Williams by Tad Williams
Paperback, 432 pages
Expected publication: May 13th 2014 by Tachyon Publications

This career retrospective from one of the most-beloved authors in the fantasy genre is essential for fans of his internationally best-selling series novels (Otherland; Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn).

Tad Williams has achieved success in multiple genres and forms, whether in epic fantasy, urban fantasy, science fiction, or young adult fiction. Readers only familiar with such masterpieces as The Dragonbone Chair and Talchaser’s Song will be delighted to discover that in his short fiction, Williams has been able to explore myriad new possibilities and adventures.

Previously collected in multiauthor anthologies and limited hardcover editions, these superlative talks of dragons, super-soldiers, wizards, cyberpunks, heroes, and fools are now available together for the first time in an affordable trade paperback edition. These stories showcase the exhilarating breadth of Williams’ imagination, in stories hearkening to the tales of such classic fantasists as J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert Jordan, Ray Bradbury, and Peter S. Beagle. Included is an original tale written specifically for this volume.

The Very Best of Tad Williams is a true delight to those who have imagined themselves in fantastic worlds beyond the everyday and mundane.

Justice 4.1 by Jim Webster 
Paperback, 154 pages
Published March 1st 2014 by Safkhet Fantasy

When a journalist is shot down in a backward area of Tsarina, Haldar Drom of the Governor's Investigation Office is sent to investigate. He uncovers a hidden medical facility dedicated to the production of Abate, a drug used for population control, as well as evidence of the implantation of pre-created embryos in women brought to Tsarina for the purpose. He also discovers a deeper plot with far reaching political ramifications. A senior member of the Governors family, Doran Stilan is running a personal feud with the major pirate/Starmancer Wayland Strang. Indeed he begins to suspect that Stilan may even be angling to take Strang's place.

The medical facility is destroyed after it is attacked by mercenaries hired by a Strang, and Drom has to travel off world to untangle the treads of the conspiracy.

Arriving back on Tsarina, he has to deal with a failed Starmancer attack, punish the guilty and arrange for Doran Stilan to get what's coming without undermining the position of the Governor. To do this, he'll need skill, know-how and a whole lot of luck to ensure that the guilty face justice.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice and men -  I'm currently reading the following, with an eye towards my scheduled reviews for the next few weeks, but the 1100 page behemoth that is Words of Radiance may nudge a few of those dates out:

• Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters edited by Tim Marquitz & Nickolas Sharps
Giant monsters and tremendous havoc. Like I need another reason to devour this?

• Morningside Fall by Jay Posey
Wren is on his own this time, but it sounds like there's no wanting of terror and adventure.

• Tales from High Hallack, Volume 1 by Andre Norton
High fantasy, fables, science fiction, and more - catching up with the Grand Dame of science fiction.

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, March 7, 2014

In Defense of (Bad) Fantasy - Part One

The only thing more polarizing than asking a bunch of fans to name the 'best' of their chosen fandom is asking those same fans to name the 'worst' instead. The love of a 'best' book will either spawn a whole lot of emotional gushing, or a painstakingly constructed argument in its defense. Either way, it's generally a positive experience, and one that can do a great deal to draw new fans to those books. I'll admit, there was a time, early on in my exploration of the fantasy genre, that I lived and died by those 'best of' lists. At some point, however, the appeal wore off as I began to tire of just reading more of the same.

When it comes to the hatred of a 'worst' book, the reaction isn't really that much different. You either get a whole lot of venomous spite, or a painstakingly constructed critical dismissal. Of course, being a rebellious sort of reader, I find myself dabbling in those 'worst of' lists on a semi-regular basis. Sometimes it's just a matter of wanting to read something completely different; other times it's just a contrary desire to prove people wrong; and sometimes it's a matter of finding some sort of dark appeal in whatever element it was that sparked their hatred.

Anyway, with that said, I wanted to look at the issue from two different sides.

To start with, I scoured a number of 'worst of' lists around the net (Best Fantasy Books has a great list, as does Goodreads here and here) and restricted myself to the 'worst' 20 titles on each list. These are books variously described as insipid, 2-dimensional, utterly predictable, uninspiring, terribly written, bland, and unrealistic. While there are a few I've never read and never plan to read (Twilight, I'm looking at you), and a few I agree with wholeheartedly (sorry, Narnia lovers), I was surprised by how many 'worst' reads I enjoyed.

  • The Fifth Sorceress by Robert Newcomb seems to get a lot of universal hatred, no matter what list you're looking at, but I don't get it. It's not the greatest fantasy epic I've ever read, not by any means, but I thoroughly enjoyed the first book - enough so that I picked up books 2 and 3, even if I haven't read them yet. Interesting world building, a creative system of magic, some nicely flawed heroes, and a dangerous sort of sexuality that, I will admit, has a Mord'Sith sort of flavor to it.
  • Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind is a series where I'll agree to meet the haters halfway. The first book absolutely blew me away when I read it, and I couldn't snatch up the second fast enough. As for the rest of the series . . . well, the third book was okay, but after that the series got progressively worse. It felt as if Goodkind lost interest in framing his political philosophy with an actual story, and then fell into the trap of writing more, not because the story needed it, but because it continued to sell.
  • Dragonlance & Forgotten Realms get dumped on a lot, but you have to take them in context. They're a sort of genre gateway drug, a bridge between role-playing and reading, and are responsible for bringing a lot of people to the genre - authors and readers both. Yes, it's been 20 years, and I honestly don't care to find out whether Raistlin and Drizzt stand up to an adult reread, but I have extremely fond memories of what Weis, Hickman, and Salvatore crafted back in the TSR days.
  • Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks is another series where I'll agree to meet the haters somewhere in the middle. The first trilogy is a classic for all the right reasons, and as much as it owes to Tolkien, I'd argue it's a far more accessible read. Yes, the series did get ridiculously repetitive, and it seemed as if Brooks retold the exact same story several times with different characters, but moving on to explore the origins of Shannara seems to have rekindled something. The last few books have been markedly different, not to mention better, and I'm back on the fan side of the fence again.
  • Gor by John Norman is a series that's almost too easy to hate. What I find odd, though, is that it likely wouldn't be subject to a fraction of that hatred if it were marketed as erotica instead of fantasy - what's taboo and sexist for one genre is perfectly acceptable for another. Skim the bondage fantasies (if they're an issue), and skip the novels outside the Tarl Cabot storyline, and there's a lot of old-school, pulp sci-fi, sword-and-sorcery adventure to be enjoyed. Think Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, but sexed up.
  • The Wayfarer Redemption by Sara Douglass is a series that I admittedly don't remember well enough to really say much about, except to say that I enjoyed it enough to read all 6 books. From what I do remember, it had an interesting story, some edgy characters, and a really solid mythology behind it all. It may very well be cheesy and clumsy, as the critics complain, but it couldn't have been that horrible if I persevered through a half dozen books.
  • Lord of the Isles by David Drake is one of those series I've enjoyed for precisely the same reasons so many people seem to hate it. It's a traditional fantasy that really takes no chances, and does nothing particularly original with the material, but which is a fun diversion. It borders on camp at times, and is formulaic in structure, but the writing flows well and the characters are immensely likable. I pick up a new book every once in a while when I want a popcorn fantasy read to enjoy, and it's like revisiting old friends.
  • The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson is admittedly a difficult read, with a main character who is a total ass, and I get that a lot of readers can't get past the rape scene, but it all comes down to context. You have an angry, bitter man, dying of leprosy, necessarily cut off from all physical contact. He believes the fantasy world in which he finds himself is all a dream, with no real-world consequences to his actions, so he lashes out and indulges his frustrations. It's his personal growth and ultimate understanding of those consequences that makes the series so compelling, along with the lingering, carefully juggled question as to whether or not the richly imagined fantasy world is a dream or reality. Dark and difficult, yes, but brilliant as well.
  • The Sum of All Men by David Farland is a series that I felt started off strong, so I have a hard time hating it, but which did exhaust any appeal for me after a few books. The writing was decent, the characters strong, and the novelty of the magic system was exciting at first, but it began to feel like a late night role playing session that stupidly refused to end. It's hard to maintain any semblance of dramatic tension when characters just keep endowing themselves with more powers in a never-ending game of one-upmanship. That being said, the first 2 books are worth a read.
  • The Belgariad by David Eddings is another series I don't remember well enough to defend, but which I enjoyed enough to read all 5 books. It was nothing special or remarkable, and didn't leave any sort of lasting impression on me, but it fed my fantasy habit well enough back in high school. I think I may have actually started on The Malloreon but, if I did, I don't remember anything about it. Take that for what it's worth.
  • Wit'ch Fire by James Clemens gets almost as much universal hatred as Robert Newcomb's saga, but I don't get it either. It was a largely generic fantasy novel, formulaic and predictable, but sometimes that's exactly what you're looking for - a comfortable read that entertains, but which doesn't challenge. The characters could have been imbued with a little more personality, but it's brisk pacing stands out in my memory as something unique. As for the apostrophe issue, unless you're reading the story aloud, I don't see them as an issue.

That, for what it's worth, is my take on defending the 'worst' of the genre. Come back next week and we'll take a look at some of those titles I bought out of spite, just to prove the haters wrong . . . and which I thoroughly enjoyed.

In the meantime, share your thoughts on 'best' and 'worst' below.