Thursday, May 27, 2010

Well, it’s time to wrap things up for the month.  I have happily set up a nice little rhythm here; hopefully I’ll be able to keep it up.  For those of you who (very likely) haven’t noticed, I’m now blogging twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I’m trying to do a review a week, which gives me four reviews a month and four other posts to do whatever comes to mind.  Out of those four reviews, I’m trying to do one a month that’s not SFF, as something of a palette cleanser, if you will.  I’ve been trying to keep the word count down, with mixed results.

If you hadn’t picked up on it yet, I work at a public library.  No, I’m not a librarian.  I’m just a lowly checker-in and shelver of books.  How’s that for getting an expensive college education?  However, the bright side of things is that I get to work with books, and if you couldn’t tell, I love books.  I’ve been known to tell my friends that while they may be addicted to things like cigarettes and caffeine, I’m addicted to books.  It’s likely a healthier habit to have.

I’ve talked on here a bit about how a lot of the complaining on the web about the price of books is really silly, in my opinion.  Yes, I too have a huge personal library of books that I physically cannot fit onto the shelves I currently own.  I love them to pieces, but I really can’t bring a book a week (or more) home with me anymore without having to unload A LOT of books to make space for the new ones.  And who likes getting rid of books?  E-book readers, with their ability to store thousands of books in something that can fit in your purse, sound awesome until you realize that for the price of that e-book reader, I could buy more bookshelves than I could fit in my abode and thereby solving my shelf space problem.   But wait!  There is a solution to all this!  Your public library!  (Like you didn’t see that one coming.)

But how much money does a library really save you?  Well, a library in my home state has an answer for you.  Take a look at the Capital Area District Library’s Use Value Calculator.  Plug in some numbers, and while the numbers are estimated at the high end, I’m sure you’ll be astonished.  You might also be surprised at the sheer amount of items on the Calculator.  Many of these services are not unique, or even uncommon.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Inheritance Trilogy #1
by N. K. Jemisin

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is N.K. Jemisin’s debut novel, and has received a lot of attention on the blogsphere.  So, like Spellwright, I decided to grab it when it made an appearance on the library shelf.

This is a stunning debut.  Other people have said it, but I must concur.  The plot centers around Yeine, a nineteen year old ruler of a very minor country.  Her mother, however, was the only child of the de fact ruler of the world.  Near his deathbed, Yeine’s grandfather summons her to his court and names her a possible heir, along with two vicious cousins.  One more twist, the game of becoming sole heir is deadly not only for those involved, but for anyone or thing the heirs hold dear to their hearts.  Yeine is forced to struggle for a throne she does not want, that she never asked for, in order to save her life and protect her native country.  Her only allies are the castle steward, and four enslaved gods who want to use her to gain their freedom.

What makes this book so interesting is twofold.  First, it doesn’t follow any standard trope that I’ve run into before.  Yes, we’ve heard of the unwilling heir before, but this tale goes someplace completely new with it.  So much so that I can’t think of a comparable title in terms of plot line.  Second is the way the story is told: Yeine is telling the story while she’s recounting it for someone else, and she occasionally breaks the narrative to talk to that someone else, who we don’t see.  This has the effect, in some places, of seeming to break the fourth wall without quite doing so.  This technique could have been uncomfortably awkward, but somehow Jemisin pulls it off beautifully.

The sequel to this book, the Broken Kingdoms, will be released in hardcover on November 3 of this year.  A small sample is included in the back of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and I am eagerly looking forward to it.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Nebula Awards

The Science Fiction Writers of America presented this year’s round of Nebula Awards and a few unrelated awards over the weekend in Cape Canaveral.  The winners were:

·         Novel:  Paolo Bacigalupi for The Windup Girl
·         Novella:  Kage Baker for The Women of Nell Gwynne’s (posthumously)
·         Novelette:  Eugie Foster for “Sinner, Baker, Fabulist, Priest: Red Mask, Black Mask, Gentleman, Beast”
·         Short Story: Kij Johnson for “Spar”
·         Ray Bradbury Award: Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell for District 9
·         Andre Norton Award: Catherynne M. Valente for The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
·         Damon Knight Grand Master Award: Joe Haldeman
·         Author Emeritus: Neal Barrett Jr.
·         SFWA Service Award: Vonda N. McIntyre, Keith Stokes
·         SFWA Solstice Award: Tom Doherty, Terri Windling, Donald A. Wollheim (posthumously)

All of these awards deserve some talk, but I’m going to narrow my focus now to the Andre Norton Award because this year’s winner was such a game changer.  A few years ago Valente had just started making a living as a full time writer when her husband lost his job unexpectedly due to the recession.  A few months later, she decided to be innovative and daring.  She announced that she was writing a book that would only appear online, for free, with a donation button so that her readers could pay what they felt like for it, hoping to add at least a little extra cash to help pay the bills.  There was no editor involved, no agent, no publishing house.  Just Valente and her audience.  These sorts of projects are known as crowd funding, and until now they’ve received very little attention or recognition.  Not only did Valente find a significant audience for her work online, but she just won the premiere award for teen/young adult science fiction and fantasy in the country with it.  It is believed that hers is the first such work to win any major literary award.

Not only is it interesting to see a crow funded project like this rewarded, but it’s also one of the rare times a self published work in any medium has been so successful and rewarded.  Valente, whether she set out to or not, has proved that the publishing world is changing.  Now, she herself has said that she does not think that agents, editors, and publishing houses are going to go away because the fill very needed roles.  But Fairyland has illustrated just how powerful the web is.  I should also point out that Valente had much better odds of pulling this off than the average joe doing crowd funding.  Valente was already a traditionally published author with several books under her belt when she started this project.  She had an established blog and a community of fellow bloggers to rely on to spread the word of her new book.  Most people don’t have that.

And while I’m going on about how publishing is changing, I’d also like to look at two of the Solstice Award Winners, which honors those who have had a significant impact on science fiction and fantasy.  Tom Doherty is the founder, President and Publisher of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC, which publishes books under the imprints Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape and Tor Teens.  Now a subsidiary of Holtzbrinck Publishers, Tor is one of the largest publishers of SF/F, and has published more award winners in this category than any other house.  Mr. Doherty previously worked at the publisher at Ace, another premiere science fiction/fantasy publishing house.  Donald A. Wollheim helped develop Ace as a paperback science fiction house until starting his own house, DAW.  Both Ace and DAW are now owned by the Penguin Group.  As an editor, Wollheim worked with such giants as Marion Zimmer Bradley, Andre Norton, Ursula K. Le Guin, Phillip K. Dick, Robert Silverburg, and Jack Vance to name a few.  As a publisher, he started the careers of C. J. Cherryh, Tanith Lee, Jennifer Roberson, and Tadd Williams, again, to name a few.  Most infamously, he published an unauthorized edition of Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings while at Ace.  While later found to be illegal, this edition popularized Tolkein in the United States and helped to create a huge fantasy audience.  Mr. Wollheim passed away in 1990.  His daughter Elizabeth Wollheim is a current publisher with DAW.

Valente is also up for a Hugo award this year for her traditionally published novel Palimpset.  Bacigalupi’s Windup Girl and Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker (which I’ve reviewed here) are also nominated.  Those awards are currently in the voting process, and will be announced at Aussiecon 4 in Melbourne, Australia in September.  The Hugo is award by the World Science Fiction Society.

The Girl Who Navigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making will be published by Feiwel and Friends in May 2011, and upon the request of the publisher, the final act is no longer available online.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

by Blake Charlton

Spellwright is Blake Charlton’s debut novel.  I first heard about this book on the blogsphere, and decided to see what all the fuss was about.  The plot is a fairly straightforward coming-of-age story, wizard style.  There are even prophecies of impending doom, including a savior who will stave off said doom.   Of course, the problem with having prophesized saviors is recognizing them when they appear, and how do you deal with them when they aren’t quiet what you expect?

The protagonist is Nicodemus, an apprentice wizard at a small and very out of the way school.  Nicodemus, however, has a major flaw for not only his world, but for his ability to be a wizard, and its here that Charlton really shines.  In his world, words are magic.  There are normal, non-magical languages that non-wizards work with, and a multitude of magical languages that magic users work in.  Now, you’re probably thinking that this isn’t so original, remembering your average DnD type wizard who carts around a book of magic spells that he spouts off whenever he needs something.  In that case, the wizard is supplying the magic and the words he speaks are providing guidelines for the magic to follow.  In Spellwright, the words provide the magic and the wizard shapes the words in such a way as to create the blueprint for the magic to follow by writing the words down and then casting the words themselves.  So being able to spell correctly, understand how the language you’re working in gets put together and avoiding such faux pas as misplaced metaphors dictates your ability to cast successful spells.  Now imagine, that even though you have the affinity for magic languages, even though you can break down language and know where different words come from and all their different meanings, you’re dyslexic.  You’re constantly misspelling everything, which causes your spells to either fail entirely, or worse, backfire in dangerous ways.  Worse, by your very touch you can cause existing spells, like friendly constructs, to become misspelled.  This is Nicodemus’ problem.

Aside from the magic system, the plot itself is fairly humdrum and mostly predictable.  Charlton’s characterizations could use some work, but they are by no means bad.  The real joy to this book is the magic system, because it’s so fundamentally different from anything else currently published.  This book is obviously the start of a larger end-of-the-world tale, and I’m looking forward to seeing Charlton grow a writer and to see how he fleshes out his world building.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Great Fables Crossover
Fables collection #13
By Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, Mark Buckingham

This was released way back in February, but since most of my reading material comes from the library at which I work I got to wait a long time for it to come in.  Our processing department tends to be a bit slow at things that aren’t blockbuster releases.

Fables debuted from Vertigo Comics back in 2002.  The premise of the series is that fairy tale characters (such as leading lady Snow White) do exist, and live among us.  They didn’t start out in our world (referred to as the Mundy), but are refuges from an inter-world war where the Evil Emperor went on a conquering binge a la Alexander the Great but with goblins.  The exiles, known as Fables, set up two settlements in our world: Fabletown, in New York City, and the Farm, in Upstate New York.  Human looking Fables (or those who can afford to buy a glamour) live and work in Fabletown, while the Three Little Pigs and their ilk live on the Farm.  One of Fabletown’s highest priorities is to not alert the Mundies (average humans) to their existence.

Once Upon a Time there was a Fable living in Fabletown that went by the name of Jack Horner.  He was also Jack the Giant Killer, Jack Frost, and every Jack there ever was.  Being an obnoxious fellow with no respect for authority, he left Fabletown and started his own comic book series, Jack of Fables.  Crazy and utterly ridiculous things happened, and I stopped reading around the second collection.  Not because it was bad, mind you, just not to my taste and not really at all like the original Fables.

The Great Fables Crossover collects Fables #83-85, Jack of Fables #33-35 and The Literals (a new spin off?) #1-3.  This collection has far more to do with the ongoing Jack of Fables storyline than it does the Fables story arc.  Like I said above, I stopped reading in collection #2, so I was slightly lost.  However, keeping all of that in mind, the writers managed to bring me up to speed in good order.  I was able to figure out what was going on, who the villain was, and what the goal was without needing to know any of the back-story.

So, the gist of this collection is that a guy by the name of Kevin Thorne is the creator of the universe, via his magic pen.  But his family (the Pathetic Fallacy, Mr. Revise, the Page Sisters (who are kick ass!)) have nudged him aside for the past few centuries and started rewriting things to their own liking.  Thorne, upon coming back into his own, is now out to destroy the world and start anew, not liking the edits his family has done.  Jack (bizarrely, a long lost relative of Throne’s) calls up the Farm to warn them and get some help.  Snow White and her husband Bigby Wolf set off to see what Jack’s up to this time.  But Jack can’t stand to share the spotlight, most especially with Bigby, so he trots off back to Farm (and comics bearing the name Fables) leaving Bigby to star in Jack of Fables for a few issues.  Sheer, utter, unapologetic and self aware shenanigans ensue.  There really is no other way to describe it.

In short, this was entertaining, but not in the way Fables usually is.  Again, this is a much more Jack-type story, except even more over the top than I remember them being.  Perhaps they’ve gotten more ridiculous with time.  It doesn’t make me want to read more of Jack of Fables, and now I have to wait till November (or later), when the next Fables collection comes out to see what’s really happening in that story arc.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I don’t have much to say today, as I’ve had a leisurely weekend filled with spending time with one of my best friends, who is briefly back from south Florida.  We’ve been crafty, making me a mask for the World Steam Expo in Dearborn, MI in a few weeks.

So, on that note, I decided to take a look at what books are new or coming out soon, and which I’d like to read.  On Thursday I hope to have another review for you.

Available now, in hardback, is Watcher of the Dead by J.V. Jones.  This is the fourth in the Sword of Shadow series, and as I’ve liked the first three, I’ll be nabbing this when I see at the library.

On May 25th Lynn Flewelling’s White Road is released in mass market paperback and e-book (including the Kindle version).  This is the fifth book in the Nightrunner series, and there is a companion trilogy/prequel to the series.  I’ve enjoyed them all so far, so expect to see a review of this book in the future.

On July 6, Carrie Vaughn’s Discord’s Apple will be released from Tor in hardcover.  Vaughn’s published work has until recently been limited to her Kitty books (the first title of which is Kitty and the Midnight Hour).  Even though her initial series, an urban fantasy, has been a national bestseller, her original publisher refused to release her adult fantasy under her name.  In a bold move that’s got all of SF/F talking, she refused to take a pen name, and signed a new contract with Tor at the end of her previous contract.  Not only will Tor be releasing her more traditional fantasy writing, but they’ve also picked up the rights to the future Kitty books.  The eighth book, Kitty Goes to War, will be released in mass market paperback from Tor on June 29.  Neither book is yet available for pre-order in the Kindle store.  Again, I’ve greatly enjoyed the first seven Kitty books, so I will likely be reading this sometime this summer as well.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Overnight Socialite
by Bridie Clark

Every once in a while I will pick up something that’s not fantasy as something of a palate cleanser.  When I picked up this book, I was looking for a light, quick read that I could do in the day and a half I had before Penguicon during which I had a ton of other stuff to do.  Mission accomplished.

The first lines of the inside dust cover on this book tell you exactly what it is: a retelling of George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, the better known version of which is the musical show/movie My Fair Lady.  The plot is very straight forward: take Lucy Jo Ellis, a prospective fashion designer from Minnesota, and plunk her down in NYC where she doesn’t meet with much initial success.  Have her run into, on a rainy night, one Wyatt Hayes IV and his friend Tripp Peters, both of whom are rather drunk Upper East Side blue bloods.  Wyatt makes a bet with Tripp that he could take just about anyone off the street (i.e., Miss Ellis) and convince everyone in high society that she’s a card carrying old money socialite in three months.  Wyatt and Lucy push and pull at each other until Lucy succeeds at becoming a popular socialite and launches her design business.

This book does not deliver any real surprises.  The ending line up of couples is slightly different than in the other two versions, but that’s to be expected since while the roles these characters are filling are the same in each telling, their individual characteristics are not.  Not a lot of time is paid to the theme that no matter where we’re born, poor or rich, there isn’t anything inherent in our social position that makes one person better than the other.  It’s there, but it could have been developed a bit more deeply for my taste.  I think it would have added a bit more heft to this very light book.  I also think that it would have been interesting to pay more attention to the American idea of New Money vs. Old Money.  The first two settings of this story are in Victorian London, where there is old, aristocratic money, and then there are the merchant and trade classes who have their own secondary society.  Eliza Doolittle and Professor Higgins are concerned only with the aristocratic society.  American society has always been more fluid than that, with new families climbing up the social ladder all the time.  This is mentioned in the book, but the contrast between the New Money characters and the Old Money characters is not as strong as it could be.  For me, this would have completed the American flavor of this book, and helped explain why the things Wyatt was teaching Lucy marked her has old money and not new money.

Overall, I did enjoy the book, and I enjoyed the characters.  It’s a very fast paced book, which in turn made it a quick read.  It brings to mind whipped cream: light and frothy, but not substantial or terribly filling.  But then, I picked it up looking for whipped cream and not a full course meal.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

This weekend I attended Penguicon, which is an interesting convention held in the Detroit area of MI.  It started with a group of Linux users who made an open source convention.  Since Linux users (at least the ones who started this con) tend to also like Science Fiction and Fantasy and Anime, and a whole host of other things, people started volunteering to run panels on those topics.  Following the open source model, the con has grown into something rather hard to explain, but typified by the fact that the con mascot is a penguin wearing a Star Fleet uniform.

There’s a large Literary/Writer’s track at Penguicon, which is the reason it first popped up on my radar as something I’d like to go to.  Saturday I spent a good eight hours in panels, and learned some things that I can apply to my writing ambitions.  So expect to see a much more regular schedule for this blog (I haven’t decided exactly what schedule, just that I need one), and some more streamlined content.  I will also be double posting in both Blogger and in Live Journal.  They have the same title and username, so they’ll be easy to find.

On another note:

Cathrynne M. Valente is publishing an initially crowfunded collection of short stories on Lulu from her Omikuji Project.  This collection was before available only in installments to subscribers.  While I’m not a great fan of short fiction, I find some of the things Valente is doing to make money as a writer interesting.  She does, in fact, have traditionally published work that has been critically successful and has contracts for more such work.  However, unless you are a bestselling author, it’s very hard to make a living as an author in the traditional industry.  So, Valente has branched out into crowfunded projects and done some experimenting.  Recently, her YA novel, available online in its entirety for free, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland for short), has received a Nebula/Andre Norton nomination and will be traditionally published by Feiwel and Friends in 2011.  Fairyland is, to date, the most successful crowfunded project in SF/F.  The Omikuji Project predates Fairyland, but is a subscription only service, and only the handful of people who got in on it at the beginning have the whole collection (other than Valente herself).  Cycle One, or the first two years of the collection, is available in an anthology called This Is My Letter To The World on Lulu and will soon appear on Amazon.  For more information on Cathrynne M. Valente and her work (both traditional and crowfunded) take a peek at her website  If your interested in the book itself, the cover art above is linked to the Lulu page.