Review: The God Engines by John Scalzi

I got to hear John read the first chapter of this novella at Worldcon this past August. The first thing I noticed when he read was the complete lack of humor. There are no chapter long fart jokes as experienced in The Android’s Dream. There are no quirky one-liners to break the tension.  John took The God Engines completely seriously and it’s all the better for it.

In fact, the conflict in this story builds like a tidal wave. This along with memorable and vividly drawn characters, a deep story which had me thinking about my own application of faith, and a rather distressing but wholly necessary conclusion, makes for an excellent piece of cross-genre fiction.

It’s science fiction with some dark fantasy mixed in. I would think even a horror fan would walk away from this novella satisfied. I couldn’t help turn each page with a racing heart wondering what would happen next. It’s a quick little read, but one that follows you after you’ve closed the back cover.

I really want to get into the meat and bones of this book to discuss what it meant on a much deeper religious/spiritual level to me and how I applied it to my constant questioning of faith.

Yet, it will break my own rules about spoilerific book reviews. With this post, I’m ultimately trying to get you interested in the book without giving anything away, which is becoming increasingly hard to do with each word because I want to talk about the details.

Perhaps I need some first made iron to keep me in my own bonds.

Go get this book. You won’t regret it. It has firmly displaced my love for “The Sagan Diary” as my favorite John Scalzi work, and I won’t be surprised if it supplants your favorite to date as well.

Available from Subterranean Press. Looks like they are out of the Limited but do have some trade available. The illustrations from Vincent Chong are amazing as usual.

Review: Scenting the Dark

A dash of reality, a pinch of dream, mix it with a bit of the fantastic and drizzle with understandable science.  Best served with a glass of horror or anticipation. Would there be a recipe for Mary Robinette Kowal’s new chap book, “Scenting the Dark and Other Stories”, that is what it would look like.

Your dish would come out perfect every time.

When the gorgeous little hard cover arrived by mail from Subterrean Press, I was in love. This is one of those books that if seen in a Borders or Barnes and Nobles, I would have instantly picked it up. The cover design by Sandro Castelli can be seen in this post, but it is only when you hold it in your hands, does the true beauty emerge.

As for the stories, Mary crafts each one of the eight shorts with rich details and memorable characters. John Scalzi mentions her humor, empathy and intelligence in the introduction. Of all three, the empathy is contagious. Mary’s characters are real. With both strengths and faults, the people that she writes could be your own family, neighbors or co-workers. One of the biggest assets a short story writer can have is a character to whom the reader can relate. There was someone in all the stories that I read with whom I genuinely connected.

It is a rarity that a writer can make me feel and care about individuals in such a short amount of time, and Mary seems to do it in all the shorts featured in this book. All of her offerings are extremely strong and intelligent, however a few stand out as my favorites.  “Portrait of Ari”, “Scenting the Dark” and “Jaiden’s Weaver”, had the most impact as I hungrily turned each page.

Mary Robinette Kowal won the Campbell award for best new writer and was nominated in the Hugo Award category, Best Short Story for her brilliant flash, “Evil Robot Monkey”. She deserves every bit of praise. If you haven’t purchased this little gem that showcases her wonderful talent, you’re truly missing out.

Available from Subterrean Press.

Book Review: Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling

Calamity becomes my ever-growing stack of books.

See, I have this best friend named Pete. Being the prolific reader that he  is, Pete’s always shoving SF/F books in my face. “You gotta read this one…and this one.” On the rare occasions that I’ve been able to peruse the shelves of a book store with him, he runs around the science fiction and fantasy section like a kid who’s forgotten his Ritalin. “This one looks awesome! This author was in my Viable Paradise class. Here, you’ll love this one.”

So now, I have this ginormous stash of dead trees and yet, I keep going out and buying new books. This bad habit is only propagated by the simple fact that when Pete hands me a novel, it’s usually the first in a series.

“Here. Read this Jim Butcher novel. It’s about wizard detective. You’ll love it.” What is Butcher on now? Writing book 12? (Pauses to look it up) Yep. Book 12 – Changes is due out in April. Damn you! Do you see how this impedes the ever-growing stack of literary material? Not to mention, I loved The Dresden Files so much, I went out and bought his fantasy series, Codex Alera.

Pete turned me on to John Scalzi, Taylor Anderson, Patrick “Patience Waning for Book 2” Rothfuss, George R. R. “Get the Torch and Pitchforks” Martin, John “Oh John Ringo, No” Ringo and yes, S.M. Stirling. Just to name a few.

So, to get to the meat and potatoes of this post, I loved Dies the Fire, and now I will need to go out and purchase more S.M. Stirling books. Ahhh! My other books which have been waiting their turn in line are revolting as I type.  Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman just whispered in a titillating English accent the many ways of my impending death. (I may have to taunt this book a little more.) Honor Harrington, completely out of character, is laughing maniacally in the background while the rest of the vampires, Gods and Goddesses, and war heroes sharpen their weapons of retribution. Wait until The God Engines shows up on my door, or Mary Robinette Kowal’s, Scenting the Dark is delivered.  I may have to resort to napalm.

See, how far behind I am? Dies the Fire, was published in August, 2004. This series of books is about the aftermath of a catastrophic event characters in the novel call The Change. This series takes place in the same universe as Stirling’s Nantucket Series. It follows what happens the exact moment Nantucket is thrust into the past and the consequences that the event has on the natural world and everything that was left behind in the time shift.

Combustion no longer packs the punch it did, making everything that depended on catalyst fuel conversion almost worthless. Guns don’t work, neither do cars, nor steam engines. Fires burn enough to boil water and offer some warmth and light, but not to the extent they once did.

The book works on many levels for me in regards to story, characters and the sheer amount of detail. You can tell Stirling did his research in every arena this book explores. It’s truly heartbreaking as humanity loses itself, as only the few strong survive. Stirling’s portrayal of both adaptation and the lack thereof as familiarity and structure break down is both believable and terrifying. It’s absolutely gut-wrenching to see what some people will resort to in order to survive. Cannibals, rapists, militias gone wild, it’s all there and all very stomach-churning.

Yet, as the world comes crashing down, there are a few who ultimately rise from the ashes and become leaders. We follow Mike Havel, an ex-military outdoors man who begrudgingly finds himself the leader of survivors. It’s very intriguing to see how he and his group evolves post-change. Some people are made of the stuff of heroes and Mike is one of them.The other real main character is the Lady Juniper. A Wiccan before the change, she finds her title of High Priestess to her coven elevated even higher as people flock to her guidance and wisdom.

As with any good book, the conflict is not only the cataclysmic event in this book which alters everything, but people who as with anything, use the chaos and conflict for exploitation. There is always some jackhole who doesn’t care who he hurts, as long as he keeps the money rolling in, is allowed to piss all over people and has a few sex slaves to bang. Being well versed in ancient history doesn’t hurt either. Instead of a gun in his new world order, The Protector, a title which is demanded from his followers, arms his goons with armor and swords. A force to be reckoned with, it’s interesting to see how Mike Havel and Juniper address this threat to an already shaky survival.

The first installment in the trio of books is a hefty read, coming in at just under 600 pages. As I mentioned before, Stirling’s attention to detail is incredible.  In some cases and places it reads like a post-apocalyptic survival manual. One that I will definitely be placing in my survival kit buried out in my back…er, um, I mean… There are also incredible moments dedicated to the Wiccan way of life as well.  All the information and explanations makes every decision made by our protagonists believable. From what my friend Pete has given away in the future novels, we come to understand that the change did not only alter what could be seen and you will suddenly realize why the extensive delineations were necessary.

Highly recommended if you haven’t come across this gem.  I can’t wait to crack into The Protector’s War, which I’ve just purchased from my local Barnes and Noble.

Dammit.

For fans of S.M. Stirling — Pete interviewed him about his body of works back in May of 2008. You can find it here in two parts.

Into the Storm by Taylor Anderson

It was the whole “busy life” thing that got in the way of my reading. No, really. It seemed like every time I sat down to read the first installment of the “Destroyermen” series, something always pulled me away.

Determined to finally finish it, I did over the past week.  I am certainly glad I did. Into the Storm was fantastic. I have a soft spot for anything involving United States Military, and Taylor certainly didn’t disappoint.

The book opens in World War II, with the USS Walker, a four-stacker WWI era destroyer, running from the Japanese. The sheer momentum under duress by her crew is anxiety inducing. Exactly what you’d feel if you were on lookout for enemy ships or suicidal fighters above.

Cut to mysterious squall, sickening colors and vertigo.

One surprise after another continues to rock the story as it moves along in the strange new world. Confronted with two new sentient species, we quickly find out, the strange raptor dinosaur looking creatures and a full human size lemurian species are at war with one another.

The crew of the Walker, doing their best to understand their current predicament are thrust into the middle of the conflict and are forced to choose a side in one climatic scene. If not only for their own survival and needed repairs, but ultimately for the sake of doing the right thing.

We meet very interesting characters as we travel along the unfamiliar rolling waves of this strange new Pacific,  which in turn, makes the story believable. Some handle the new pressures well, while others can’t seem to complete their faithful duty. Holding on to the only normalcy they have left, most of the men and women of the USS Walker cling to their roles as Destroyermen, if only for the slim sanity it provides in an unsafe reality.

For Taylor Anderson’s freshman effort, I was pleased by his well rounded and professional writing. I wish my first story had sounded nearly as good. Some writers are gifted out of the box, and I had to keep curbing my jealousy of his prose as I continued on with the story.

Having recently just signed another three book deal with Roc, Taylor is busily banging away at book four, while  I’m onto the second book in the series entitled, Crusade.

Taylor Anderson is definitely an author who is growing in popularity–and ultimately, I would love to read other stories as well from him. His attention to character detail and world building is excellent. Most of all, I had fun.

There is a fine line between wanting more from a story and craving more storytelling and I’m very happy to say that Into the Storm follows the latter category.

Available in paperback now – from Amazon.com

Review: The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

gaiman05_xb

Barring my untimely death from the J.K. Rowling camp, I’m going to come out and say it.The Graveyard Book from Neil Gaiman is better than Harry Potter. Any of the novels actually. I know, I said it. Dumbledore, please forgive me.

From the very opening scene of this young adult novel, I was entranced. Parents be warned, it will knot your stomach from the beginning sentence until the end of chapter one. Gaiman does his best however,to throw you biscuits of humor as not to shell shock early on.

What starts out as a terrifying tale best served with hot chocolate and roasted s’mores over a campfire, turns into one of the most beloved young adult stories. I can see why it won the Newberry and is up for a Hugo come August.

Without giving anything away, The Graveyard Book is a must read, or listen. I was content on reading the book until a friend had mentioned Gaiman’s narrating skills. As this is the field I hope to one day call my full-time career, I will tell you that there are narrators and there are master storytellers. Neil Gaiman is definitely in the latter category.

Character driven, creative and fun, this book deserves all they hype it’s getting. It is a rare story than can conjure true emotion from the reader and personally, I experienced everything from fear, mirth, and finally bittersweet closure.

This is YA fiction to which every adult must surrender. If not only for the ride, but for the deeper meaning of what it truly means to breathe…and live.

Available through Amazon.com

Also signed letered editions from Subterrean Press. (I wish I had known about this book when the limited edition still existed. I may have to save for the lettered.)

Stealing A Book Meme

Books – A Meme

Stolen from various members of the UCF. 

What was the last book you bought?
Backup by Jim Butcher (Haha! I got a LE 1st Print HC – Neeneer)

Name a book you have read MORE than once
I don’t read books more than once. It’s a pet peeve actually. I can usually remember the gist of the story if it’s a book I like and there are just so many out there that I need to read, that I can’t go giving books special treatment!

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?

Changed the way I see life? I wouldn’t go that far. Given me another perspective on the way things are, could be, were? Sure. Forever War by Joe Haldeman and Citizen of the Galaxy by Heinlein are right up there in making me hope for a better future than the one they provide in their stories.

How do you choose a book?
(E.g. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews?)
If I don’t have reader recommendations from friends, and I’m just browsing in the book store, then cover actually plays a rather large part in my selection. I hate to say it, but had I never heard the rave reviews concerning Patrick Rothfuss‘, The Name of the Wind, I would never have picked up the first version of the HC. It looked pretty cheesy. I ended up picking it up though and it’s now a collectable. Go figure. 

Do you prefer Fiction or Non-Fiction?
I think I may own like four non-fiction books. I suck like that. My fiction collection is outrageous. 

What’s more important in a novel, beautiful writing or a gripping plot?

Both. A gripping plot will not forgive crappy craft but beautiful writing doesn’t matter if I don’t give a shit about the characters. (I’m gonna steal Janiece’s answer)

Most loved/memorable character (character/book)
Auri (Name of the Wind), Kvothe (Name of the Wind), Aragorn (The Lord of the Rings), Harry Dresden (The Dresden Files), Lasciel (The Dresden Files), John Perry (Old Man’s War Trilogy), Tobias Cressen (The Alchemist), Ned Stark (A Game of Thrones)… Ahhh. I can’t possibly name them all. 

Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, Agent to the Stars by John “No Comment” Scalzi, Sly Mongoose by Tobias Buckell

What was the last book you’ve read, and when was it?
A Decade of Whatever (Honestly, I skipped all the entries that were done since I started reading the blog back in early 2007), but it was nice to go back and see the stuff I had missed. Good mix of humor, politics and catassery on the part of John Scalzi.

Have you ever given up on a book half way in?
I really try not to, but I had to throw out my first book just about a year ago. The Story of O was just awful. I was hoping for a nice erotic fantasy read, but got rather sick to my stomach.

“The Story of O”…My God!

I have no idea how it got on my bookshelf. I really don’t. I don’t remember buying it. I don’t recollect anyone saying, “Kate, this is a terrific read.” I don’t recall receiving it as a gift. How the badly written, poorly translated, BDSM erotica got in my list to read is beyond me. Perhaps it was a joke. A terrible gag gift from someone who wished to see me suffer.

I can just imagine them sliding the book in between the others I have yet to read, snarking quietly, “This will pay her back for all of the moving we’ve helped her do over the past three years, oh yes!”

Regardless, I pulled it off the shelf after finishing and being terribly disappointed with “Hannibal Rising”. (Frankly Mr. Harris, you let me down. I was expecting greater things from a young Hannibal.) On a totally unrelated note,  I don’t normally cringe after paying $24.95 for a hard cover, but this was one of the times I did.

Seeking to dull the pain, I searched and found “The Story of O.” Let me disseminate the cover text for you, shall I? Oh wait, I can’t, because I threw the damn fool thing out.

For those of you who know me, realize I’ve never had a problem discussing sex in normal discourse. It’s a natural and wonderful behavior if done properly. I don’t even mind reading erotica every now and then if I’m seeking a shiver up my spine or to warm me on a cold day. Hell, I’ve even been published in the field.

You also know that I have a dear fear of throwing out a book. I push myself to the end of books I don’t necessarily like, just to say that I was able to finish them.

Yet 20 pages into this novel, I very politely closed the book, got out of my bed, walked to the garbage and threw it away.

For those of you who are curious as to my actions, I will tell you what I learned in the first few pages.

O (She doesn’t get a real name for some reason), after being stripped of her constraining little bra, her garter belt, stockings and underwear while in a car, is brought to a mansion by a trusted lover and told that she must obey the people inside, no matter what, and she gives no rebuttal.

At first, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to continue.

From there, she is brutally tortured and taken (I would call it raped) by four masked men, including her lover, and then whipped for no good reason. The writer teases the reader into thinking you’re going to get a real justifiable reason later on, but as this behavior continues, nothing is offered except detailed accounts on how to torture an already submissive woman into submission.

Ugh.

The hardcore BDSM movement may cringe at my description, but I’ve always viewed sex as a trusted communion between loving partners. I don’t view a little kink wrong here and there, say if your mate wants to experiment with some handcuffs and some delicious spanking with perhaps a paddle or a riding crop. Just as long as everyone wins.

Beating someone with a whip until welts appear is not my idea of a good time, nor was reading that particular book. Despite the promised payoff that was due to come in time, I was not about to wait around for it.

Pat Rothfuss Will Kick Your Ass If You Don’t Like His Book.

christmas-2007-002.jpg

Just kidding.

But I might.

No, he wasn’t angry that I was taking his picture, he actually requested the ‘bad-ass’ pose as opposed to the smiling and genial picture I took just before snapping this one. He mentioned something about not liking the fact that he falsely looked stoned in every other normal picture.  

The day I found out that Pat was going to be appearing at Pandemonium books in Cambridge, I IM’d my friend Lisa and asked her if she would accompany me to the signing. This is one of those things that you plan for, and while we only talked about it three days ago, it felt like it took forever for the day to arrive and it moved too quickly to an end.

We ate dinner at Blue in Newton, a restaurant I would later find out was half owned by Steven Tyler. Thankfully, there was an absence of Aerosmith music playing in the background. I ended up getting a Hawaiian fish dish that was incredibly filling and tasty. If I’m ever in the area again, this is definitely a restaurant that I’d visit a second time.

Braving the cold, we drove to the small bookstore in Cambridge, Massachusetts only to arrive a bit early in anticipation of a line. All in all with such a short announcement of his appearance, he drew about 30 people (updated to reflect a more accurate account) on a night when the temperature dipped below 10 degrees.

I can’t say enough good things about Pat. I got the feeling that he was a bit nervous when he began talking to the eager fans, but soon calmed down to read the prologue out of his book, “The Name of the Wind.”

After he was finished, he then took questions, of which there were many. After taking a break, he then asked the crowd if they wanted him to read from the satirical college “advice” book or some poetry, and while I personally would have treasured the poems, the others made it clear they were looking for some laughs.

After a few more rounds of queries, we then ended with lining up to sign some books. This is where I turn to mush. While I maintain my utter warmth and friendliness, any articulate train of thought seems to fly out the window when I meet someone that I admire.

I shook his hand, introduced myself, and thanked him for coming out, to which he then replied, “I know you.” He rubbed his beard and tapped his lips, pointing again, “You look familiar.”

I snapped a glance back at Lisa, completely frightened and flattered at the same time, and I shrugged. “I don’t think we’ve met before, but a lot of people say that to me for some reason.” We then both shrugged it off, figuring that I had one of those friendly, girl-next-door, memorable faces.

I think he recognized my name from the letter I wrote him thanking him for the book, and the small fact that we hung out on Scalzi’s Whateveresque, but I was not prepared for the “You look familiar” comment. Convinced there is a billboard in every city with my picture on it that mysteriously flips out of focus whenever I drive by, I stammered more or less through my all too brief time with Pat.

“It really is a wonderful book. I had a wonderful time reading it.” At the redundant adjective, my logical brain immediately fought for control over the ‘deer-in-headlights’ emotional side and started criticizing my lack of proper description. I really need to train myself in not looking like an ass in front of important people.

In all seriousness though, Pat is the genuine article. He is warm, funny, friendly and extremely articulate. Although he lamented that his reading sucked, I found him to be extremely soothing on the ears. There are some people who shouldn’t utter a word of their own works, but Pat got it done with a professional yet loving caress a mother  shows her baby.

He loves his own work and that, ladies and gentlemen, is what makes his story so poignant and magical.

Regardless, enough blathering. After 3 1/2 hours on the road, round trip, I’m tired. I may sound like an idiot right now and won’t realize it until the morning. Oh well. Needless to say, if you ever have an opportunity to meet this wonderful individual, I highly recommend it. You’ll have a wonderful time.

Dammit.

christmas-2007-001.jpg

*Lisa and Pat at Pandemonium.

Patrick Rothfuss – The Name of the Wind

I wrote a thank you note to Mr. Rothfuss this evening after finishing the 662 page fantasy novel. While I may have mentioned to a few authors in passing how much I like their books, I don’t think I’ve ever written a thank you note before.

Coming off my Harry Potter high during the summer, I dreaded going back to fantasy for awhile. In fact, while I picked up the novel back in early September, I didn’t start reading until Christmas Day. I had even sent a note of congratulations to Pat right as he received his first award for the first in the Kingkiller trilogy; telling him earnestly that I hadn’t opened the cover.

I’ve since been banging my head against the nearest piece of wood asking myself the terrible question, “WHY? Why did I wait so long to read this?”

If you’re thinking about picking up this novel for a future read, I would actually encourage you to drop anything you’re doing at the moment and go buy this book. As I mentioned in my note of gratitude, there is a wisdom in this story that you don’t necessarily find in fantasy these days. There are a couple of passages that I wish I had discovered before dropping money on therapy. As I stated to Pat, some of the lessons and anecdotes in the book read better than any factual self-help book out there and we’re talking of a mythical land with fictional characters.

I don’t know from where Mr. Rothfuss pulled the tragedy, love and insight, but all I can tell you is that this book gets my vote for best of the year. While it’s size might be daunting, it will easily suck you in and all you can do is put your hands in the air as the roller coaster starts.

Well done.

To any peeps in the Boston area that are reading this: Patrick will be at a signing at Pandemonium in Boston at 7:00 p.m. on January 3rd. I will be there with bells on.

Orphans of the Sky

The 210 page book was a breeze to read, but I fear it was not one of my favorites. I can imagine the influence it may have over someone younger;  as one of the main themes impresses that there is always something bigger out there. In this case, the ‘out there’ is the all encompassing universe outside of a massive ship. The entire population of the craft is lead to believe that the ship is all there is. It is effectively, their whole world. ‘Jordan’ is their new God and their ‘scriptures’ speak of throwing anyone different into their only power supply; the converter.

Have a big head? Guess what? You’re going into the fires head first. I think the overall distressing part of the book is that despite the technology to travel to other worlds, something happens upon this ship that sends humanity back into the days of Sparta. Back in the times of phalanx fighting and crimson capes, if your infant was not strong enough or presented any physical defect, they were thrown off a cliff to their deaths. While this may propagate the more viable DNA in the long run, that horrid act goes against the moral fibers of our core existence; known more commonly as compassion for our fellow men and women. Some of those “muties” as Heinlein calls them in the book, do escape and form their own disjointed and ostracised community in the ships lower gravitational levels. Yet he writes them as cannibals who steal children, the occasional grazing cow and even butcher themselves to stay alive.

I was also concerned that Heinlein chose to kill off some of the more important muties at the end of the book, and while their deaths could be considered valiant, he never impressed upon the readers that these were a people capable of civilization. They were exactly what the ‘normals’ had described; a grotesque menagerie incapable of organization or civility.

In previous stories, Heinlein has drawn rich women characters as well, and I’m sorry to say that in “Orphans of the Sky”, along with the backward thinking of his “civilized” society, women are deemed less important and even knocked around when they step out of line. It illustrates a point that as complex as humans are; Heinlein’s future vision in the face of adversity is backwards and scary.

All in all, it’s not a bad book, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I did others such as “Starship Troopers” or “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.”

Oh, and whomever drew the cover for the Baen book, needs to be thrown into the converter as well. He obviously didn’t read the book when he was coloring between the lines.