Tuesday, June 29, 2010

There have been a lot of libraries in the news lately.  If you haven’t been aware, like all public services, libraries are potentially on the chopping block in communities where tax revenue or even overall population is down, and the government needs to shrink accordingly.  Most libraries are facing budget cuts in a time when demand on its resources is high, and many are being closed.

There’s also been a drastic change since the advent of the internet in how a library operates and what services it offered.  The last time you walked into a library, did you notice something missing?  How about that big case of file drawers, known as the card catalogue and a source of endless frustration?  Nearly all libraries have (or are in the process of) changing over to digital databases which can be searched in a number of ways.  Throw yourself back to elementary school, and you’re attempting to do a short paper on penguins.  So you walk over to the card catalogue, and open up the drawer labeled P, and you hope something with penguins in the title is there.  You then check for Antarctica under A.  And so on.  You then take your meager findings over to the shelf, and examine the books nearby whose titles don’t start with P or A for something useful.   Maybe you only find three books, which if you’re in elementary school, are likely plenty for your needs.  If you’re a college graduate student however…it’s time to get creative.  Under the electronic catalogues, you can search by author, subject, keyword, title, format, and a whole host of other things depending on the creativity of the database designer.  You can also search the catalogue from home, or anywhere in the country or even the world.  But while these catalogues are infinitely more powerful than their predecessors, they’re also more expensive to create and maintain.

Let’s add in the fact that most public libraries now keep public computers with internet access.  As the internet becomes more and more important in our daily lives for everything from gathering information to filling out job applications, the gap between those with internet access and those without will become insurmountable for those on the bottom.  Except, of course, for the areas where you can walk into your public library and take care of all your internet needs with tax dollars you’ve already paid.  Those dollars, I should add, are likely less than the price of a computer and twelve months of internet.  On the flip side, computers and internet access are new costs for libraries to cover.  Many also offer free computer classes, ranging from turning on a computer, to advanced word processing, Excel, and Photoshop.

I could go on, but I think you get my point.  In closing, I’ll leave you with a few links to explore:

On Monday, Diane Rehm of NPR’s WAMU 88.5 did a show entitled ‘The Changing Role of Libraries.’  It is available to listen to online.  Listen here.

The Huffington Post ran an article last week about what a library meant to a town in New Jersey, how they used it, and how they saved it.  Read about it here.

And finally, there’s a wonderful advocacy group called Geek the Library.  They’ve got a lot of information up about what libraries across the country do, their impact on communities, and how they are funded.  Learn more here.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Charles Stross just turned in his latest project “Rule 34” to his agent.  He’s stated that is a near-future science fiction set in a theoretical 2023.  Perhaps well see it in about two years. Read more about the book and it's developement here.

Spectra is celebrating its 25th anniversary by selecting feature books by the year they came out (one for each year).  They’re up to 1997, and have thus far featured books by Lynn Flewelling, George R. R. Martin, Isaac Asimov, Robin Hobb, Margret Weis, Tracy Hickman, Arthur C. Clark, Raymond E. Feist, among others.  There’s a new post every day, so check back in!  See all installments thus far.

Soulless by Gail Carriger is now available in audio format.  She is also contracted for books 4 through 6 of the Parasol Protectorate with Orbit.  Sample chapter available.

There’s a new Conan movie in the works, and the first still was released on Monday.  In the lead role is Jason Momoa, of Stargate: Atlantis not-quite fame.  Eye candy this way.

Casting for the HBO version of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones is progressing.  IMDB puts the first episode airing sometime in 2011.  See the full list here.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

DucKon

So, I was out at DucKon this weekend, and thus there is no new review for you this week.  I met some lovely people, attended some wonderful panels, and a fantastic writing workshop.  I especially enjoyed the panels by Steve Miller, though I was disappointed that his wife Sharon Lee was constantly scheduled opposite him.  Jennifer Stevenson offered a “Find Your Voice” workshop for writers that was incredible.  If you are a writer and ever get a chance to take this workshop, do so without hesitation.

Other than that, my brain has been whirring away on writerly (rather than readerly) things.  This, with the tripling of my musical excursions over these next six weeks, means things will slow down here a bit.  My apologies.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

It’s summer, and at the library that means it’s our busiest time of the year between summer reading programs and people checking out things to read/listen to/watch on their vacations.  In this spirit, I’ve decided to take a look at some midlist books and recommend them for summer reading, regardless of whether you are going anywhere this summer or not.  If you’re confused, a midlist book is one that has not made the New York Times Bestseller list.  They don’t receive a lot of publicity, and their authors eek out small livings rather than the mega fortunes of J. K. Rowling and Danielle Steel.  I assume you’ve filled your wish list with blockbusters like the new Dresden Files installment by Jim Butcher, and Paolo Baciagalupi’s The Wind Up Girl because everyone’s been talking about them.  Well, here’s a list of lesser known books that are just as good to add to your list.

Steampunk has exploded this past year, with the overnight successes of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate Series and Cherie Priest’s Hugo nominated Boneshaker.  However, in keeping with my aim of sticking with midlist books, I’m going to point you in the direction of Dru Pagliasotti’s Clockwork Heart.  It’s a steampunk romance set in an original world, and has a bit of fantasy thrown in.  Set in the city of Ondinium, flying courier Taya witnesses a suspicious cable car accident during a routine errand.  With the help of the Forlore brothers, she sets out to unravel what happens.  What made this book stand out for me was interesting characters with complex reasons for their actions, as well as a highly stratified society and the resultant class tension.  The Clockwork Heart is available in paperback and e-book.


Misty Massey’s Mad Kestrel is a fun debut for those who enjoy epic fantasy.  The main character is Kestrel, a rogue mage working as a privateer.  When her captain is arrested for piracy, she takes control of the ship and sails off to rescue him.  I’m hoping at some point that she writes a sequel, as there’s a lot of space in this world to work with/in.  Mad Kestrel is available in trade and mass market paperbacks.


Paranormal/urban fantasy is huge right now, but a lot of it has been drifting into the realms of romance and outright smut.  Granted, many of the leading authors in this genre make a lot of money and sell a lot of books doing that, but in a long running series such things tend to bore me after a while.  The reasons why are a blog (or two) in and of themselves, so let’s move on to my recommendation for this subgenre: Rob Thurman’s Trick of Light.  Thurman is best known for her (yes, her) original series starring the Leandros brothers.  Trick of Light is set in the same alternate universe, where pucks are used car salesmen and valkyries are museum curators, but instead stars Trixia and takes place in Los Vegas, not New York.  This is also not the Los Vegas you know from CSI and Ocean’s Eleven.  Action takes place off the strip and away from the tourists, which was a twist I enjoyed.  Trixia is playing a long game of revenge for her younger brother’s death, and as part of that is searching for the Light of Life to use as a wedge in angelic/demonic information brokering.  The plot twists delightfully, because Trixia is never upfront and honest about anything, and keeps you guessing as to what is going on in her head throughout the entire book.  Trick of Light is available in paperback and e-book, and its sequel, Grimrose Path will be released September 7. 


Jim C. Hines has wonderful series going starring none other than Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty as you’ve never seen them before.  He draws on the darker, original stories rather than the Disney version, and sets his tales after the original stories end.  He keeps things fairly upbeat and tongue and cheek, however, and has fast paced plots that keep you interested.  His princesses are pro-active, and more likely to save the prince from danger than to be saved themselves.   The Stepsister Scheme and the Mermaid’s Madness are available in paperback and in e-book, and the third book, Red Hood’s Revenge, will be out on July 6 of this year.  If you like Mercedes Lackey’s Five Hundred Kingdoms Series, but maybe don’t really like the romance sub genre, these are a good bet.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The White Road
Nightrunner Series #5
by Lynn Flewelling

The White Road is the fifth installment of Flewelling’s Nightrunner series, which started with Luck in the Shadows.  The series follows the escapades of Alec and Seregil, two elite spies, thieves, con artists, ect., who work for the Skalan Orëska, a school of wizards.

The book opens with Alec and Seregil’s return to Aurënen to deal with the fallout of their enslavement in Plenimar.  With them is the rhekaro Sebrahn, an alchemically created creature made from Alec’s essences.  Sebrahn is child sized, sexless, and capable of extreme feats of healing, as well as killing with his voice.  However, only being a few weeks old and not being human, so his grasp of what is going on and what he should and should not do is non-existent.  This makes it hard for Alec and Seregil to take care of him, as well as convince their hosts that Sebrahn is not a threat.  The rest of the book centers around finding out exactly what Sebrahn is, what his future will be, and preventing the making of more creatures like him.  And of course, it won’t be easy for our two heroes to stay alive.  Included in this is a great deal of Alec’s back story about the circumstances surrounding his birth, and Seregil’s back story is fleshed out as well.

I found this book to be enjoyable, and well written.  The plot was engaging, and I enjoyed it more than The Shadow’s Return, the previous book.  However, I have a small complaint in that I did not have time to re-read the previous four books before reading this one.  This series has a large cast of characters, and complex over-arching plot lines.  Actions taken in previous books can and will have direct consequences in later books.  I spent the first few chapters desperately trying to remember who everyone was, what their ulterior motives were, and what had taken place when and where.  I didn’t remember everything, but things calmed down eventually and I could concentrate on a few characters rather than a revolving door of minor characters that had supporting roles in previous books.  Complicating this is the fact that Luck in the Shadows, Flewelling’s debut, came out in 1996.  If you haven’t read it since then, I recommend you go back and re-read before picking up this book.  It’s doable without that, but you’ll get much more out of the book than I did if you do.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Apologies


Over the past two days I've been playing around adding links in Delicious, which is a 'social bookmarking' website.  It's a nice place for me to store bookmarks to other sites that people who read this blog might find useful/entertaining: author sites and blogs, agent sites and blogs, editor blogs, short fiction magazines, workshops, conventions with a literary tract, other book review blogs, etc.

I have no idea how (and am in the process of figuring it out) but when I opened my RSS reader today I saw that I had posted a new feed item...which was news to me!  I open it up....and there are all my links from Delicious from the past two days...

Before you ask, no, I did not give Delicious permission to post to my feed.  In fact, nowhere on my Delicious account is my blog even listed except as a bookmark!  (Perhaps this saved me from having to delete posts I didn’t make off my blog.)  The only thing I can figure out was doing that is that little innocuous Delicious network bad I had on my layout.  It has now been replaced with a generic 'bookmark this' button.  Hopefully, this will solve the problem.

I profusely apologize for the spam in your RSS reader/in box yesterday and today.  Until I find something better (and I’m open to suggestions!) to use for public bookmarks, they will still be on Delicious using the same username I have on my blog: merssong.  However, there will be no direct link between my blog and them, which kills a lot of its usefulness.  Let me know if you know of a better site!!!!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Review: Dead to Me

Dead to Me
Simon Canderous #1
by Anton Strout

This is the first book in a series which is now three books strong (Dead Matter released in mass market paperback in February).  The series is set in New York City and follows paranormal investigator and psychic Simon Canderous.  Dead to Me is also Anton Stout’s debut novel.

There’s a quote by Charlaine Harris on the covers of the second two books: “Following Simon’s adventures is like being the pinball in an especially antic game, but its well worth the wear and tear.”  That really does sum up the first book right there.  First, Simon is a psychometric; he gets psychic visions from touching things, and he’s not in control of what he sees, or even necessarily what he reads.  The visions he gets are from someone who’s touched that object’s memory, and he follows that person through that memory.  Now this sounds cool, until you get memories of your girlfriend’s past lovers in technicolored detail.  Then it’s not so cool.

Simon works for the Department of Extraordinary Affairs, which is a secret governmental agency linked to the mayor’s office.  They investigate and police all paranormal activity in the city.  Unlike many other urban fantasies, in this one magic and that paranormal are not widely known about, and the DEA likes to keep it that way.  Simon has only been working for the DEA for a few months, and his mentor/partner is Connor, who mainly works with ghosts.  One day at the local coffee shop, they find a ghost who is thoroughly convinced she is still alive.  They take her back to their office to sit down and explain some things.  Meanwhile, the cultist movement has set up the Sectarian Defense League to grab some political power away from their ancient do-good enemies, the DEA and its parent organization.  Of course, the DEA won’t stand for evil cultists getting away with their grisly crimes even if they now have a government sanctioned lobbyist group, so they start spinning their wheels to come up with a way to legally take the League down.
 
There are a lot of very tightly twisted subplots in this book, and Simon certainly does drag the reader through them like an antic pinball.  Just when you think he’s about to make some real headway on one plot line, you’re speeding away to the other one, and then just as fast to the third line, and then back to the first one.  While you move very quickly through the chapters, as a whole the plot seemed slow moving to me because all resolution was pushed to the very end.  There is no slow and steady climb to the finish in this book; you’re stuck on a runaway train hanging on for dear life.

Overall, it’s not a bad book.  I’ve got the other three books here to work through, and I will read through them at some point (other more pressing books that have to be returned the library sooner will break things up a bit).  If you like the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, and possibly the Cal Leandros books by Rob Thurman, you’ll likely like this book.  Simon has some of Harry Dresden’s pure bad luck, and some of Cal’s lack of self esteem (though NOT Cal’s self loathing) along with both characters’ full share of tendencies to run into situations headfirst and ill prepared.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Link Salad

I must apologize for not having another review ready to go.  I spent 16 out of 24 hours yesterday sleeping off an illness, so no reading got done.  Instead, I bring you the ubiquitous link salad.

Gail Carriger talks about the worldbuilding of the Parasol Protectorate at Redlines and Deadlines One of my favorite bits is where she talks about leaving the Victorians to react as Victorians to whatever is going on.  It’s this aspect of that really sold me on the series.  Too often, we project our modern ideas and reactions on people of an earlier era and/or different culture, and for me it just falls flat.

My friends will rejoice to know that Torchwood will return to the small screen with new episodes under a three way co-partnership between BBC Cymru Wales, BCC Worldwide, and Starz Entertainment.  You can read all about it here.

Sara Douglass talks about death and dying in a recent blog, focusing on her experience with terminal cancer.  On that same note, Jay Lake has not been silent about his cancer journey.  I'd also like to note here that Kage Baker died of cancer recently, before her last two books came out.

Hopefully I'll have something to review for you Thursday, in between sickness, returning to work, writing, and all that other stuff I do.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

So, a look at things I’m interested in that are being released this month.  Obviously, I’m not going to make it to all of these.  After the day-job, the writing-not-job-yet, housework (ugh, but it has to be done!) and social time, my reading time is not what it used to be.  I also have seven books on hold from the library, which will then come in an avalanche (because processing hates me and does everything at once) and bury me.  Plus the books I’ve already checked out.  So, this is essentially a look at things I think might be nifty.

Lightborn, by Alison Sinclair, is the second book in her paranormal-regency-romance was just released.  I haven’t read the first one yet (as we just got it in at the library), but I find the concept intriguing, as well as the favorable reviews it’s garnished for having a convoluted plot.

Nomansland is Lesley Hauge’s debut.  This seems to be a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel featuring Amazons.  As it’s been awhile since I read something post-apocalyptic, I’m game.

Bullet, the nineteenth book in Laurel K Hamilton’s Anita Blake series is out this month.  I will confess, I won’t be reading it.  But this is noteworthy as one of the original paranormal fantasy series, and I believe the longest running one.

Mercedes Lackey starts off a string of releases over the next six months with The Sleeping Beauty, installment number five in the Five Hundred Kingdom’s Series.  I don’t expect this to be a great book, but a fun and enjoyable romp.  My friend Hanna calls books like these potato chips: not all that good, not good for you, but enjoyable and a welcome break from heavier material.

Meg Cabot has made a move into the chick-lit vampire market with Insatiable.  First, I’m amused that someone like Cabot would move into that market as she already has a huge fan base in straight chick-lit.  Second, I’m intrigued as this is supposed to be more than a little tongue and cheek.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Dream of Perpetual Motion
by Dexter Palmer

I picked this book up off the new shelf expecting a steampunk novel, given the cover and the synopsis.  Oh, how misleading marketing divisions occasionally are.  This book, Dexter Palmer’s debut, is a hybrid book between literary fiction and science fiction, like The Time Traveler’s Wife is literary fiction mixed with fantasy.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, I was simply taken by surprise.

The protagonist and narrator of the tale is Harry Winslow, a greeting card writer who has been imprisoned on a zeppelin, alone save for the disembodied voice of Miranda Taligent and a host of mechanical men.  At the novel’s opening, Harry has been alone on the ship for an entire year.  In a fit of boredom, and in a bid to not talk to Miranda, he writes his memoirs, starting when he was ten years old.  The memories he shares with us centers around his history with Miranda and her inventor father Prospero, leading up the present and how he came to be imprisoned on the ship.

Underlying the whole work is Shakespeare’s Tempest.  We obviously have Prospero and his daughter Miranda, but instead of being exiled they are exceedingly reclusive.  Harry is an extremely fleshed out version of Ferdinand, and Caliban occasionally pops up in excerpts from his journal that are quoted by Harry.  Instead of having underlying themes of magic, the novel centers on technology.  I should point out that while there are very strong ties between the novel and the play, Palmer is not retelling the Tempest.  The only character which bears a strong resemblance to the original is Prospero himself.

To me, this novel was not really steampunk.  But, then again, steampunk is not a very well defined genre, so perhaps you’ll find it wonderfully steampunk.  To me, steampunk is set in the nineteenth century, not the twentieth.  The novel, while it has a lot of technology going on, does not have specifically steam technology and not anything else.  Alternative steampunk histories usually freeze technology in the industrial revolution before Edison, Bell, and Ford change things drastically with electricity and combustion engines.  This novel has a lot of technology, like radios and electric lights, that don’t work on steam power.  There’s not a lot of exposed gear work, and the machines aren’t the size of a whole room.  In short, the novel is set in the twentieth century with early twentieth century technologies (aka, pre-computer).

Now, on the flip side, I found this book to be more of a dystopian novel like Huxley’s Brave New World or even Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  The main overarching theme of this book is how technology can divide us from each other and de-humanize us until we are little more than machines ourselves.  Prospero and Miranda are surrounded more by machinery than by humans, and Prospero is even obsessed for the early part of the book on making mechanical men and women.  As a result, Prospero raises his daughter in almost complete isolation from other people, to the point where at ten years of age she has only a loose concept of grammar because she never talks to anyone.  Harry is the most intriguing and important character to this theme.  When we first meet him, he’s also completely isolated from human contact aboard the zeppelin.  We see through his memories that as a child he was far more like what we expect children to be: he engaged with other people, got excited about things, and in general had healthy emotions.  As technology progresses throughout his lifetime, Harry and the everyday people around him become more and more emotionally distant from each other.  They become dysfunctional in every aspect of their lives, until they are the people we in our society would give major psychiatric treatment to.  By the time Harry enters the zeppelin, he is so devoid of emotion that he is not, and never has, grieved for the deaths of his sister and father.  Perhaps the only person you could say he cares about is Miranda, yet he spends the next year avoiding communicating with her at all costs.  Don’t worry; in writing his memoirs to us, Harry does deal with the fact that he’s become so detached from everything.

As you can tell from this review, the book is extremely literary.  There’s some light parts (including an incident that reminded me strongly of Charlie in the Chocolate Factory), but the point of the book is more to make you think than to entertain.  It’s extremely well written on all levels, and very readable.  It’s just not at all what I expected.  But again, that’s not a bad thing.

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