Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Pair of Delicious Duos

 I can still remember picking up a copy of The Sword of Shannara in my high school library like it was yesterday.So it is very exciting to read Bearers of the Black Staff and The Measure of The Magic and gain the opportunity see more clearly into that period of time in Shannara's history. Needless to say, I will enjoy Brooks lovely prose as well.

One of the most memorable moments from reading that book is when the sudden realization that Shannara was my world, well a mythical version of my world, after a nuclear holocaust. That stuck with me and made me look at things a bit differently. This is the reason I went ahead and purchased The Bearers of the Black Staff.

Kate Elliot is an author I have been meaning to sample for a very long time. A lot of roads seem to lead to her in the fantasy world. Her name pops up on Twitter and various Blogs on a regular basis. The fact that she co-authored The Golden Key with Melaine Rawn (and Jennifer Roberson), one of my all-time favorite authors, only raises my opinion of her. I am excited enough that I bought the first two books in her Crossroads series, Spirit Gate and Shadow Gate as I found copies on sale at a local bookstore.That aside, I am always eager to read a female fantasy writer. They always provide such a unique perspective on fantasy, especially for a reader who has grown up reading male written fantasy.

Other than that, the marketing blurb for the book has me hooked as well. Some blogger might yawn in the face of another "destined for greatness" style book, but that story never gets old to me. As long as it is written well, I love it. So I am looking forward to the book.

On a closing note, the cover art for both books is fantastic. It has such a unique looks and really stands out on the shelf. I think it has a very Art Nouveau flavor to it and that just happens to be one of my favorites!

Image Sources: Scanned Covers

Monday, August 1, 2011

GamesDay Chicago 2011 Recap

I thought I would open up my Gamesday posts with a quick montage video I put together. I really had a good time at Gamesday 2011. It was my first convention, so I really didn't know what to expect. I have never played any of Games Workshop's games prior. But, I love the Warhammer and Warhammer 40K books and wanted to see the full Games Workshop experience. So, it was a crash course. Enjoy!
Video Source: WordTipping

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Book Industry Part I: The Divorce of Big Publishers and Big Name Author

The Internet has consistently upended existing business models. The Internet is a disruptive technology in the truest sense. In most cases the Internet by itself is not sufficient to disrupt an existing business model, but often the pairing of the Internet with another technology. The Internet is a great tool for creating connections, but by itself generates nothing. The Internet is most disruptive when new tools are made and connected to the it. It is at this point that business begin to sweat.

Currently, it is book publishers that are sweating. For so long, the dead tree, paper, book has been safe. Publishers, the great gatekeepers of content, have long ignored the Internet as little more than a tool for marketing. Now, the book industry is in a state of flux. In a period of less than two years, e-books have become the dominant format for books.

This rapid change was enabled by four things: the Internet, social networking, unified online E-book marketplaces and online self-publishing. These four things are critical because they in effect replace the need for a publisher. Social networking replaces the marketing department. A unified online e-book marketplace replaces not only brick and mortar stores, but multiple smaller marketplaces from the competing publishers. Lastly and critically, the ability to publish online independently. With these three tools, enabled and linked together via the Internet, every author can publish themselves. They can tap into a massive existing market, e.g. the Kindle Eco-system and market themselves via Twitter, Face-book, blogs, etc.

So, what does this have to do with Big Name Authors and Big Name Publishers getting a divorce? Well, the book industry has long modeled itself on the movie industry model, e.g. it depends on blockbuster movies to drive revenue and profits. The Stephen Kings, Tom Clancys and J.K. Rowlings of the book world drive its profits. Mid-list writers, the bulks of all authors, are lucky to pay back their advances...luckier still to earn enough writing to write full time.

The difference between the movie industry and the book industry, is that it takes lots of money to make a movie. It just takes some free time to write a book. This means an author with all these new Internet tools can bypass book publishers. This is very advantageous in the most important Self publishing directly means an author keeps 100% of the sale. Publishing via the Nook or Kindle eco-system means the author keeps 70%. Publishing the traditional way? Try less than 10%.

This sets up a very volatile relationship between Big Name Publishers and Big Name Authors. The publisher’s lifeblood are the sales of these authors. These authors are instantly recognizable and have rabid fan-bases that buy any book that hits the shelf. Conversely, these authors are loosing almost all of their money to a publisher who at this point provides very little added value.

At this point, I find it shocking that any Big Name Author would let a publisher control the rights to their e-book sales. I also think these authors are starting to figure this out. You honestly have to look no further than J.K. Rowling’s Pottermore creation. The fact that J.K. Rowling is going to self publish her books is a staggering idea. You are talking about one of the most successful authors ever and one of the most popular properties ever. She took her content, gave the middle finger to the publishers and did her own thing. She is going directly to her fans and keeping all of the money.

This is why I believe Big Name Authors and Big Name Publishers are headed for a divorce, or at least a separation. Big Name Authors have a built in audience. They barely even need to market themselves beyond announcing a new book. They have millions of fans who follow them online via Twitter, Fan Blogs, etc. These authors can easily distribute their books via the Kindle or Nook services. If they feel up to it, they can set up web portal to sell direct as J.K. Rowling did via Pottermore. More so, these authors have enough capital reserve to cover the relatively minor cost of editing and cover creation to ensure they still provide a high quality product.

Ultimately, this is a direct threat to Big Name Publishers. Their business model is unravelling on them at an alarming rate. I seriously doubt publishers will go away as they have weathered many storms already and come out the stronger for it. But, they will need to adapt as it is becoming an inescapable fact that their most valuable asset no longer needs their services.

In my next post I will give my ideas on where I think the industry is headed and what I believe will be the rebirth of the mid-list author.

Video Source: Official J.K. Rowling YouTube Channel

Monday, July 11, 2011

Defining Speculative Fiction and its Sub-Genres

Critical to any debate is mutual understanding of terms. One thing I have found very confusing in the Speculative Fiction world is defining sub-genres. Granted, this is sort of pointless considering very few, if any, novels neatly fit into a specific sub-genre. But, it does provide a starting point to my readers to understand why I use these specific terms and assist in avoiding confusion.

So, in this post I will define all of the Speculative sub-genres I use both in novel descriptions and blog post tags. This will be a living document that I will update as needed. It is also to be understood that these definitions are intended to describe written media and not other forms of creative media even though it is possible to do so. Since this blog is focused on books, I will narrow my term definitions correspondingly.

Speculative Fiction - literature based on conjecture and not fact. An umbrella term for many fiction genres such as alternative history, science fiction, horror and fantasy. I do not include literary fiction under this umbrella. While literary fiction is not based solely on fact, its central focus is a literary portrayal of fact-based or fact-derived events. Literary fiction is not based on conjecture or re-imagining of events.

Fantasy - literature including elements not explainable via science or religion. Often this can be described supernatural but I think that is a sloppy definition due to conflicts with religious understanding. Science and religion are the two primary means of knowledge. Both are considered “truth.”

High Fantasy - Fantasy set in a unique world(s) separated from the current world as we understand it. These worlds often have unique natural laws and origins. Parallel worlds and pocket dimensions constitute high fantasy. Also included are stories set on our current world but in the far past or far future with unique natural laws and radically altered geography.

Low Fantasy - Fantasy set in our current world with fantasic elements. The current world can be in the near future or past. The critical element is that it is recognizable to the reader.

Contemporary Fantasy - A sub-genre of Low Fantasy. Fantasy set in the modern world.

Dark Fantasy - Fantasy incorporating horror elements.

Epic Fantasy - Fantasy focused on world altering events, e.g. the end of known existence. Story scope covers multiple locations and character points of view. The narrative is often polarized into an ‘us versus them’ structure. Traditionally a series of books, e.g. a trilogy.

Heroic Fantasy - Fantasy focused on a single character with events and scope tied to a specific region. Primary chraracter(s) are often reluctant with binding ties to a specific region and motivated by something other than self interest.

Historical Fantasy - Fantasy based on the re-imagining of the past with fantastic elements.

Paranormal Fantasy - Fantasy with ghosts, cryptids and extraterrestrials. Cryptids are beings not explainable via science, e.g. vampires, werewolves, etc. Typically in a low/contemporary fantasy setting.

Paranormal Romance - a sub-genre of paranormal fantasy but with romantic narrative focus.

Sci-Fantasy - Fantasy with both science fiction and fantasy elements. Typically set in the future. Since fantasy tends to be mutually exclusive with science fiction, this is a fantasy sub-genre.

Sword & Sorcery - A sub-genre to heroic fantasy. Key distinction is that the primary characters are outsiders generally motivated by self interest.

Urban Fantasy - A sub-genre of contemporary fantasy. Fantasy set in the city.

Young Adult - Fantasy in which the subject matter and composition is structured to be suitable for a young adult target market.

Science Fiction - literature with speculative but scientifically plausible elements.

UPDATE: 28 Feb 2012 - I no longer link this document on my Goals page as honestly, I am giving up trying to tag things.  Its a major hassle and I am splitting hairs causing things to be inconsistent.  I would rather rely on the "search blog" feature at this point.

Image Source: Scanned Cover

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick

Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick is an engaging and exhilarating read. It is exactly the type of book I like to read. This is a stand alone novel that has a satisfying ending but is the first book in a unique setting called A Tale of the Kin. Whether this means we will continue to read about the exploits of the brash and sarcastic Drothe or be introduced to different characters remains to be seen.

Among Thieves has many sterling qualities. It is fast paced, witty and has a great sense of timing. Its best qualities however are found in its dialogue and its extremely limited scope-- and by scope I mean viewpoint, setting and time. By these criteria, this narrative is positively claustrophobic. Dialgoue serves as a narrative lubricant for for the stories dense precision movments.

Almost the entire narrative is told from a single viewpoint, that of the main character Drothe. The story takes place not just in a single city, that would be an overkill, but in one of only eight or nine locations and that is probably a generous estimate. If that wasn’t enough, Douglas Hulick squeezes his creation’s existence into a handful of days.

I am wont to believe that Douglas Hulick is an adherent of the old tenet “Limitation Breeds Creativity.” Whereas an epic fantasist has no limits and instead can wander to and fro over the land like an errant breeze, Douglas Hulick takes a sliver of the land and fashions a cameo. Slowly revealing each layer and each color, its ultimate pattern only he knows until it is complete.

Among Thieves is that tiny sliver. Drothe is a member of a criminal organization, loosely analogous to the Mafia. He gathers intelligence for his boss and dabbles in holy relics on the side. That is where the story starts, on a small side job of little importance. From such small beginnings, the story begins to colorful layer at a time.

The narrative stays cramped and narrow like the streets of Ildrecca, the book’s setting. Each turn is a blind turn and when you take it, you are ambushed by the narrative. In such a way the narrative continually unfolds, one chip at a time, adding layer upon layer in rich colorful complexity. The finished story is a marvel and when you finish the book, it takes a while for it all to sink in and register.

Keeping the confining story from grinding itself to a halt, is the dialogue. Dialogue is what ultimately keeps this story moving and allows for such a limited scope. The dialogue is why I love this book. It is why the book is never boring. Where the epic fantasist is given credit for the difficulty of weaving multiple viewpoints, I also view it as a luxury. When the action in one view points begins to slow, you can swap to a second and keep the action going. When you are limited to a single viewpoint, you are never allowed a break. When there is a slow point in the action, you have to cover it with dialogue. In these in-between moments, Douglas Hulick shines. In these interstitial segments, Drothe’s character is explored. As Drothe moves from one action sequence to the next, he continually interacts with people.

It is through this interaction and dialogue that Drothe’s complex character is revealed. Just as the plot slowly unfolds, so is Drothe slowly revealed. Douglas undeniably loves his creation. It is obvious that he has spent much time in crafting the Drothe as the centerpiece to his narrative. So in cabaret burlesque fashion, he teases you, revealing his creation bit by bit. Even by the end of the have not seen everything.

I loved Among Thieves. I will re-read this book. In all likelihood it will end up being one of my all time favorites. I have only covered part of what makes Among Thieves great. It is packed with action. The plot will make your head spin. The dialogue will make you laugh out loud. The characters are unforgettable. When you put the book down, you want to pick it right back up. Just read the book. Because once you have, it will sit in your mind like a cameo. Your mind will run its fingers over the books artistry and marvel at the creativity involved in teasing such beauty from such a limited canvas.

Penguin: Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick
Image Source: Scanned Cover
Review Copy: Self Purchased Paperback
ISBN-13: 978-0451463906

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Uncommon Magic by Michelle Scott

Uncommon Magic by Michelle Scott was an unexpected treat to read and why I do not might reviewing independent authors. Michelle Scott has crafted a narrative of remarkable clarity with some interesting plotting, clever story construction and fun setting.

Uncommon Magic is what I would consider Young Adult Fantasy. The story is centered around the main character and protagonist,Mira, and her relationships with her brother Liam and boyfriend Jess. The story takes place in an original fantasy world where magicians are a ruling class and mechanical technology is strictly controlled. The friction between these two competing ideologies serves as the antagonist and drives the plot forward.

I particularly enjoyed the interplay between magic and technology. I thought Michelle had some insightful and realistic ideas of how the lack of simple mechanical devices like pulley’s and door latches would alter people’s daily lives. This helps develop the atmosphere of tension that exists between the ‘normals’, non magic people, and the magicians. It also drives home the repressive qualities of the magicians regime every time a ‘normal’s’ life is made more difficult due to the restrictions of mechanical technology.

The story construction I felt was particularly clever. In order to tie this interesting world and the conflict between technology and magic, Michelle made each of the main characters representative of the various ideologies. Mira is a neutral character. She cares not for the politics. Jess, the boyfriend, is discovered to be a magician. Liam, Mira’s brother, is a gifted inventor. As you can see, the story characters neatly represent the larger plot and world. Ultimately, it is this friction that drives the plot forward. Mira must make decide between family and love.

The plotting was also very fun. Every character tends to have two sides. Just as Mira gets to know a character, suddenly their other side is revealed and the plot shifts in a new direction. I thought this was an enjoyable way to consistently reinforce the magic versus technology friction. This leaves Mira in a state of constant change and confusion. She is not sure who/what is good and who/what is bad. This also leaves you as a reader constantly guessing.

If this was not enough, Michelle also introduces two characters to act as foils to Liam and Jess. To contrast Liam’s benevolent inventor persona...a violent inventory character is introduced. To contrast Jess’s haughty magician persona and recently a dirty peasant...a humble and royal magician is introduced. This helps balance the story, providing Mira evidence that both magic and technology have both good and bad aspects.

Driving all of this story is the very clear prose. I thought Michelle was very good at developing a rhythm to her work; alternating between long sentences and short sentences. The diction choice tended to be simple but with the occasional uncommon word thrown in to spice things up. The pacing and tempo of the book also stays very brisk. There are no slow points. No lingering descriptions. The story stays on track and keeps its destination in mind. If Young Adult was her target audience, I think she did a great job bringing clear but still very fun writing to this book.

I think Uncommon Magic by Michelle Scott is a very successful book. It is not something I would normally read, nor would I consider it one of my favorite reads. But, I can appreciate the craftsmanship that went into the book and that is what I enjoyed the most. Uncommon Magic is a clever and fun read.

Amazon: Uncommon Magic by Michelle Scott
Image Source: Amazon
Review Copy: Self Purchased ebook

Monday, June 6, 2011

Dreams Unleashed by Linda Hawley

Recently, WordTipping began receiving some review requests from authors who publish independently. He doesn't have the time to review all of them, and sometimes, they don’t really fall into his range of interests. However, if he comes across something I might like, WordTipping is kind enough to pass it along to me instead. This is the case with Dreams Unleashed by Linda Hawley.

Dreams Unleashed is the first book in The Prophecies Trilogy, which is probably best described as a paranormal thriller. Ann Torgeson is a technical writer in her forties with an adventurous past. She has worked as both a CIA agent and as a journalist, and she must call on all of her skills to figure what is happening in the bizarre dreams that she is having. Her dreams begin to blur into reality, and the events resulting from them land her in hot water with the increasingly suppressive government. It becomes a race against time to discover the truth and gain control of her powers.

It is clear that Hawley is very passionate about the characters in the series and her writing. She spends considerable time and effort setting up the background for the rest of the trilogy in Dreams Unleashed. The characters were quite colorful and extremely well fleshed-out; however, this incredible attention to detail meant that the book could go a bit slow at times. There were some chapters that felt a little extraneous-- they didn’t seem to move the plot along at all. But, with the potential for time travel being introduced, the reader is left to wonder if some of these scenes might be relevant later on in the series.

Based on the first book, I do not think that the books in this series will be able to stand independently. Hawley was woven an extremely intricate plot and the pacing is non- linear. The first chapter of the book is a thrilling action sequence that happens in the future (a flash forward, if you will). Yet the events immediately preceding this sequence are never addressed by the end of the first novel. Hopefully it will be clarified in the second or third book, keeping readers hooked into the rest of the series.

One caveat to folks who read this book: pay close attention to chapter headings. As I said, the story bounces around between times and locations (despite being told from Ann’s first-person POV). The chapter headings make the transitions a lot clearer and help the reader to see the web of connections within the book.

Overall, I thought the book could use some polishing. Hawley has some fascinating ideas about the power of dreams, but these gems can be somewhat obscured by the meandering narrative. I do very much want to see where the story is going (especially since the ending is a major cliffhanger!), and I plan to read the remainder of the series. The plot really picked up in the last 25% of the book-- I want the rest of the series to build on that momentum!

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy puzzling over a narrative and making many connections between threads in the story. I also think this is a great opportunity to look at some new talent and good potential. Dreams Unleashed has so many kernels of possibility. Hopefully, they come to fruition in the remaining books of The Prophecies Trilogy.

Amazon: Dreams Unleashed by Linda Hawley
Image Source: Amazon
Review Copy: Review Copy provided by the Author

This review was originally published at Kawaii Writing and republished with permission.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Unremembered by Peter Orullian

The Unremembered, Book One in The Vault of Heaven series, by Peter Orrullian is a book with one foot in the past and one foot moving towards the future. The book is steeped in nostalgia while it pays homage to the great fantasists of the past. Peter Orullian’s voice is almost lost among this paen to his heroes but by the end of the novel, finds his voice.

The Unremembered starts off in almost suffocating familiarity. Anyone who has read the major fantasists of the 80’s and 90’s will experience a distinct feeling of deja vu. A different, and harsher perspective, would consider this fantasy by the numbers. The only thing preventing the story from feeling like fanfic was a lack of elves and dwarves. While I can appreciate what I think Peter Orullian was attempting to do, I think The Unremembered is a weaker novel for it. What I think Peter Orullian was attempting to do was to utilize the established tropes as a springboard for his own distinct ideas.

I feel that the problem occurs because The Unremembered is obviously the first novel in a lengthy series. I sense five plus books. As a result there is a lot that has to be introduced to the reader. Right off the bat The Unremembered throws six characters into the mix each with their own view points. Adding to the confusion is the rapid pace by which new information is thrown at the reader whether this be new locations, mysterious bits of information or the many enemy races.

Without any knowledge of The Unremembered’s world, Aeshau Vaal, and how it ticks, it is easy to fall back onto the many obvious tropes being thrown at the reader. This is where the novel is weakened. Because Peter Orullian is not writing a derivative piece of epic fantasy, there is a lot of lovely distinct creativity going on if you’re paying attention. But, this creativity ends up competing with established tropes so blatantly introduced into the narrative.

The good news is that by the last third of the novel, The Unremembered’s creativity begins to drown out and extinguish the bothersome static of old tropes. The thematic elements of the book really begin to take root. The character relationships begins to thicken. The overall plot begins to reveal itself. Most, importantly, the characters start to gain some depth and texture. The book comes alive as each of these elements start to sync up and harmonize.

Thematically, the book keeps a tight focus on the idea of choice and consequence. This theme creeps into many aspects of the book from the path to adulthood to the magic system. In particular I love how Peter Orullian works it into the coming of age rites for children. In Aeshau Vaal, gaining majority means more than simply being able to buy has a deeper significance both to character and plot. I thought this was a very nice touch, especially how it later works into one of Aeshau Vaal’s cultural groups, the Far.

Another very successful component of The Unremembered is the character relationships. Again, this is an aspect of the book that comes alive only in the last third of the novel but it becomes one of The Unremembered’s strong points. Every character is bound by some relationship, often times by blood. Everyone has a secret past they guard. A secret that complicates and endangers their bonds. Peter Orullian’s navigation of these bonds is perhaps the most successful work on The Unremembered.

While The Unremembered started out slow and perhaps a bit boring, the book finishes very strong. If you had asked me if I wanted to read Book Two after the first third of the book, I might have hedged a bit. After having completed the book, I look forward to next. There is a lot to be excited about in this novel and by extension The Vault of Heaven series. If nothing else, the sense of momentum the generated by the closing pages, especially the climatic ending, only fuels my excitement. But, more than anything, I want to see what happens to the characters. Will their paths follow each other? Will they diverge or even worse will they come into conflict? I am hooked by Peter Orullian’s melody and I want to listen to more.

McMillan: The Unremembered by Peter Orullian
Image Source: Scanned Cover
Review Copy: Amazon Vine ARC
ISBN-13: 978-0765325716

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Gamesday & Golden Demon 2011 - Chicago

I will be attending Gamesday America in Chicago this year.  This will be the first time I have attended Gamesday and the first time I have ever been to a "Con".  Normally the cost and time involved has prevented me from attending conventions.  But, Gamesday is cheap, lasts one day and Chicago is close enough to drive.  So, I have purchased my tickets, reserved a hotel room and I am counting down the days.  I am even RSVP'ed via the Facebook event listing.

The primary reason I am going will be to see the Black Library team that will be attending.  I am a huge fan of the Warhammer 40K universe.  I have been enjoying the Horus Heresy series immensely.  I plan on taking a lot of photos and a couple videos that I will share with my readers.  I am hoping to snag a copy of Promethean Sun by Nick Kyme.  I wanted to purchase a copy of the book but the cost of shipping from the UK put it out of reach for me.

I don't play Warhammer Fantasy or Warhammer 40K but not for a lack of desire.  I just simply don't have the time or space.  But, I am still excited to see all of the miniatures and the Golden Demon painting competition.

So, I look forward to going and meeting some interesting people.

Image Source: WordTipping

Friday, May 20, 2011

Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

My life has been a little crazy lately, both career- and family-wise. You may have picked up on this by my serious lack of posting. Last week, when I was having a particularly rough day, I happened to see this book in Target. I had to buy it-- that escape from reality called to me. I have read all of the novels in the Sookie Stackhouse series, and this one does not disappoint. I don't want to post much in the way of plot here in case any of my readers are new to the series. But I do want to talk about why I keep returning to this series of books again and again.

As you may recall from my review of Dead Until Dark, I love how Charlaine Harris writes her books with such a captivating mix of sugar and spice. Sookie's character has grown throughout the series and in some not-so-predictable ways. Yet she continues to face the same moral conundrum-- is it wrong to choose survival over proper Christian values?

Ultimately, Sookie always chooses survival, even if she finds the circumstances reprehensible. She can be somewhat hypocritical in this way, but I think we are all guilty of hypocrisy at one time or another. What I love about this series so much is that Sookie really comes to life in the story, and she feels like a real person who might be pretty interesting to chat with sometime.

At the risk of repeating myself, Sookie's character has a finely-crafted balance-- she is a lady who can fight and love without falling into stereotypical, nonsensical behavior. She doesn't lose her mind over boys. She doesn't act petty toward other women (even as much as she may not approve of their behavior). She manages to genuinely care about people and still kick butt at the same time. I am not really sure why I should find this balance so astonishing. So many women in the real world are able to accomplish these things, albeit without the vampires, two-natured, and fae all about. Why should it be so impressive to see that complexity in a fictional character?

Maybe this is why I prefer female authors...

So, hats off to Charlaine Harris for another wonderful book! The whole series has been a lot of fun to read, and I love the fast-paced narrative. While the books are pretty easy to read, they stick with you and give you something to think about long after they are finished. If you have never read the series, please start! The books are about a million times better than the tv show!

Penguin: Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris
Image: Scanned Cover
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-0441020317

This review was originally published at Kawaii Writing and republished with permission.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

New Books

I have been on a rampage lately with book purchases so I have been trying to slow down a bit with new books and concentrate on reading my excellent backlog of books. But, I couldn't help myself and picked up three new books recently.

I am most excited about the ARC I received for Embassytown by China Mieville (Del Rey). I have a loose idea of what the book is about from various reviews from across the tubes. What excites me is the universal praise China's use of language. If you have read my The Name of the Wind review, you know that this is a huge selling point for me. Another plus is that I have not read any science fiction recently and I need to scratch that itch. So, I am looking forward to a masterwork of writing in an incredibly interesting setting.

My second purchase is The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham (Orbit), book one of The Dagger and the Coin series. My guess is that on any other month this would be my most anticipated book. This is yet another highly regarded novel among reviewers. I have enjoyed listening to interviews of Daniel Abraham describe his book, such as the recent Orbit podcast. In particular, I love his sentiment on bad guys. In his opinion they shouldn't be so clear cut, that the reader should have some degree of sympathy and understanding for the villain. Perhaps most intriguing is the promise found in his lead female character Cithrin. Her weapon is neither dagger nor magic but simply a coin...the power of money. What an interesting idea for an epic fantasy novel...a genre long defined by its relationship to war. To often war is explain via its martial aspect and not the logistic and financial side.

Lastly, I purchased a copy of The Unremembered by Peter Orullian (Tor). I recently finished reading the ARC and wanted to buy a finished copy in hardback. My review should be going up soon for this book. Overall, I liked it but it had some weaknesses. It is spot on traditional quest based epic fantasy. I am a sucker for this genre having grown up reading David Eddings and Terry Brooks. One of my biggest complaints about this book continues to be the low quality of the hardback which I covered in a previous post.

All Image Sources: Scanned Covers

Sunday, May 8, 2011

eBook Pricing: Intrinsic Value versus Market Realities

I have engaged in a number of debates on ebook pricing both online and offline as of late. Through this process I have started to formalize my opinions on ebook pricing. Also, I have continued to encounter two arguments that I dislike: intrinsic value and pricing tiers.

The intrinsic value argument I feel is especially specious. All artists want to believe their work has value. That somehow their creative efforts transmutes raw materials into something of value. But, much like the alchemists of old, it is a fool’s pursuit.

Logically, nothing has an intrinsic value. If an ebook had intrinsic value then that would be tantamount to printing money. A publisher could simply print out wealth. Granted, the hyperbole in that example is extreme but the point is valid.

Art in general is worthless and in a scale of worthlessness the most worthless of cultural artifacts. Why is that? Simple, art is the most rarefied product a culture can produce. In order for an artifact to have value it must be understood. This understanding is limited by education, perspective and wealth.

At a base level, some artifacts are easily understood across many cultural groups; some approaching universal recognition. An example would be a car. A car is understood by a wide range of people. The skills to drive a car are common. Many people have the proper perspective as well for cars, a perspective that understands the value of quick transportation. The limiting factor for most is wealth, can you afford a car.
Now, lets leap to the far end of the spectrum to art. Art is the rare earth element of a culture’s period table. Each culture generates unique art. That art is defined by the internal experience of that culture’s members. These cultural expressions are exclusive to other cultures.

They are exclusive in the sense that other cultures lack the education, perspective and need to even understand the art. Education as a limitation is easily found in language barriers. It is difficult to appreciate another culture’s art if you speak different languages.

Perspective is found in the unique point of view found in each piece of art. The consumer of art needs to find this perspective for the art to have value. Some people understand Picaso’s Guernica; others merely see ugliness.

Finally, wealth. Art more than any other artifact has no use beyond pleasing the consumer of art. It produces no return. Wealth expended on art does not feed you or produce more wealth. You must simply have enough wealth to purchase the art.
So, ebooks have no intrinsic value. Worse, as a piece of art, they are more worthless than most cultural artifacts. Instead, ebooks must hope to find enough people with the right education, perspective and free wealth to purchase a copy.

The second argument I dislike is the tiered pricing approach. A tiered pricing approach closely resembles the pricing structure used for music and that is often the analogy made. In effect, a novel would cost one price, a novella a healthy fraction of a novel’s cost and finally a short story would cost a small fraction of a novel. The idea is that a novel is equivalent to an album, a novella to an EP and a short story a single. While this approach is pragmatic and what may be the best fit for the publishing industry, I am philosophically opposed.

The reasoning is fairly simple. I am repulsed by the idea of literature being priced by the word or length of the work. The idea that the longer something is the greater its value is absurd. Especially in an industry that constantly harps about tightening up prose and trimming the fat.

This idea would make paupers of the greatest of literary achievement...poets. A poet’s work is never voluminous, often taking nearly a lifetime to fill a book with poetry. What would be charge per poem, 25 cents? What of Shakespeare’s sonnets, maybe 50 cents each? The Bard’s lifetime of work is a mere book. Lastly, and my favorite of short form literature, what of epigrams? Maybe they would be the penny candy of the literary world. Martial would be the King of the Paupers.

What my disgruntlement is leading to is the fact that ebooks must price themselves to reflect market realities. eBooks as an entertainment medium do not exist in a vaccum. In fact, books in general have never faced such stiff or varied competition as they do not for your time: videogames, music, TV, movies and the Internet...oh my.

Books and ebooks must compete with these options for a buyer’s time, a pool of time that is ever shrinking in today’s digital lifestyle. Books must make a value argument to prospective reader; a book must be the best option in some way. That alone makes books and ebooks a difficult sell.

But, publishing finally has an advantage: the ebook. Books are expensive to publish and expensive to sell. Look no further than the profit margins of the Big Six to see this fact. eBooks have the potential to turn this fact on its head and give authors and publishers means to not only to make more money but to aggressively compete with other entertainment options.
I believe that publishers and authors need to attack the market with a wide variety of pricing tiers and products. Selling short stories in an ebook format is a bold new option. No longer will potential readers have to buy whole anthologies. Now they can purchase a single short story.

Publishers can get creative in other ways as well. Why not sell just the first three chapters of each book? In the digital world this is easy to do. What is even more exciting is that in this new retail experience, there is no limit to shelf space. Out of print backlog can/will become a thing of the past.

How do I think ebooks should be priced? In a purely digital format, I think ebooks should start off at a fairly high price. Once the fixed cost of the book is paid off, I think the price should slowly start to go down with no lower limit to where it can go. However, if there is a spike in sales due to unexpected interest, I think the cost of the book should rise to meet demand. The basic idea is to use pricing to grow your market, rely on long-tail sales and let your pricing ride the surges in demand.

To wrap up this huge post and summarize my point, ebooks have tremendous flexibility in pricing and format. To ignore this tremendous asset in the face of fierce competition is foolish. To stubbornly cling to artistic pride and argue that your book has an intrinsic value and simply cannot be price below a certain point risks obsolescence. eBooks have given publishing a weapon that lets them attack the market. Utilize it.

Image Source: Amazon

Conan the Barbarian - Theatrical Trailer

I am a huge Robert E. Howard fan.  Conan was one of my first forays into fantasy and the first comic books I read consistently.  I am enough of a fan that one of the books I collect are first edition Conan paperbacks, especially any with the faux woodcut art.

I have been very skeptical of the new Conan movie simply because I didn't think Hollywood understood what made the character tick.  The newest trailer has dramatically changed my mind.

I am a fan of the Arnold Conan movies, including Red Sonja.  I enjoyed them not because they were great adaptation of Robert E. Howard's source material but rather fun movies to watch.  I never thought Arnold made a particularly good Conan.

The first trailer for the new Conan adaptation was little more than a teaser showcasing Jason Momoa.  I was a little nervous when I saw the trailer simply because Jason Momoa is obviously Polynesian.  This didn't fit my mental image of Conan, so long honed by comics and novels.

The theatrical trailer has changed my mind completely.  While Jason Momoa face my not fit my mental image of Conan; Mr. Momoa body and his, most importantly, body movement are spot on.  I make this distinction because one of the consistent means of describing Conan is as a powerful feline beast.  Jason Momoa captures this sense of feline grace and power.

Conan was not simply a muscle-head as portrayed by Arnold.  Conan was both strong and agile.  Before Conan was King, before Conan was a mercenary, Conan was a thief and the greatest thief of Hyboria.  While Conan had allied and enemies who may have been stronger or more agile, none were both stronger and more agile than Conan.

What I am curious to see in the movie is if they successfully covey Conan's mental qualities.  Robert E. Howard gifted Conan not only with unparalleled physical qualities but also many mental gifts.  While Conan was no wizard he was cunning and instinctual.  The final touch to Conan's character was his magnetic personality.  Conan was always a leader among men.

Outside of Conan himself, the trailer really conveys a sense of grandeur.  Conan if nothing else was all about the adventure and seeing distant lands.  The trailer seems to be hitting on all cylinder on this front.

Lastly, the trailer really seems to convey a sense of action.  The Arnold movies really failed on this front with their deliberate pacing and camera work.  I really like how the new trailer seems to be filled with movement.

So in total, this trailer has done its job.  I am pumped to see this movie.

Video Source: Lionsgate

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Aeshau Vaal in the Age of Rumor

The Unremembered by Peter Orullian does have a visually interesting map. Design wise it is fairly tame but I will give it points for not simply being a re-imaging of Europe.

There is a lot of extraneous fluff for your eyes to take in and enjoy.  The profusion of navigational lines does border on the excessive.

Per usual for fantasy settings the location of mountains do not follow any sense of plate tectonics.  But, based on map descriptions the world is potentially who needs plate tectonics!

The use of textures and coloring is fairly sedate but effective.  I wish the map in the hardcover edition was in color as the lack of green really lessens the impact of the map.  I am glad to see the full color map online at least.

An interactive map can be found on Orullian's website, here.  The small map was sourced from the media gallery here.

Image Source: - Interactive Aeshau Vaal map

Monday, May 2, 2011

New Books

So, I have more new books that usual this time. My local Borders held their final two day clearance and there were still a few books worth buying on the shelves at a 90% discount. I also purchased a few books from Amazon recently that I have been looking forward to reading.

First up is The Unremembered by Peter Orullian, published by Tor. I have already received an ARC edition of the book via the Amazon Vine program but I wanted a final copy to call my own. I have read through about 15% of The Unremembered so far and I can safely say that this book is firmly in the vein of David Eddings, Robert Jordan and Terry Brooks. The book reeks of nostalgia for anyone who grew up reading those books. I have had some issues with the book so far but in general I am into it...enough to buy the hardcover.

Speaking of the hardcover, I am very disappointed with the quality of the book. It is a down right cheaply made book. The dust jacket isn't even embossed. The paper quality of the book is just bad. It honestly looks like mass market paperback paper stock. As a result the page contrast is poor. Considering this book is published by is very odd, especially when comparing it against The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. Perhaps most disappointing is that The Unremembered had such an awesome piece of cover art. I think this is one of the better looking Tor books that has been published. To waste such a nice piece of art of a budget made book is a shame. I am just glad I didn't pay full list for the book.
Next up is Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick, published by ROC. I was killing some time in a local Barnes and Nobles, since the local Borders is closed, and picked this one off the new releases shelf. I blew through the first chapter and immediately purchased the book. One of my favorite fantasy character archetypes is the rogue. This love has fueled my enjoyment of Steve Brust's Vlad Taltos character, Brent Week's Kylar Stern and Robert Jordan's Mat Cauthon. What I found in the first chapter was a new character to love...Drothe. Drothe as a character, to use movie parlance, strikes me as a reboot of Vlad Taltos. After I finish The Unremembered, I will be reading Among Thieves next and I am excited about it. The only thing I am not excited about is the cover of this book. It just seems so generic and cheesy.

The first book from my Border's haul is The Bone Palace from Amanda Downum, published by Orbit. This is the second book in The Necromancer chronicles. I have read the first book, The Drowning City, already and of mixed opinions about the book. I am hoping The Bone Palace moves in a more favorable direction. While the characters were interesting, I was not a huge fan of the plot. For a book involving necromancers, there seemed to be an awful lot of focus on political intrigue and spying and not much on raising the dead. But that is an issue with my expectations not being congruent with reality. I enjoyed book one enough to give book two, The Bone Palace, a shot. Also, Orbit once again published a book with a beautiful cover. The cover is moody and mysterious and doesn't have a woman in revealing clothing. 
The God Engines by John Scalzi, published by Subterranean Press, is up next. I have absolutely no idea what to expect. I only know that John Scalzi's name is mentioned often on the web and most often in a positive manner...usually along with his Hugo nominated novels. I am not a big fan of "pure" sci-fi. I tend to like what I call Sci-Fantasy...guns & magic in space. That is why I love Warhammer 40K. As such, the marketing blurb on the dust jacket for The God Engines piqued my interest as it is full of mention of "Gods". The cover is an excellent piece of art and very dramatic. It has a distinct impression of power and presence.
Keeping with the sci-fi theme we move onto The Chapter's Due by Graham McNeil, published by The Black Library. I love the Warhammer 40K universe. I don't own this book yet. I have read all the preceding books in the Ultramarines novel series and look forward to continuing the series. Graham McNeill is on of my favorite Black Library authors. As you can see via the previous points, this was an obvious buy for me. Better, yet I found the book in hardcover. Most Black Library books tend to show up as a mass market paperback. The cover is fairly nondescript: simply displaying a lone Ultramarine with a faraway look and striking a heroic pose.

The Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie, published by Pyr, was an impulse purchase. This is the third book in The First Law series and I neither own nor have read the preceding two books. I purchased this book because I read good things about Joe Abercrombie and Pyr tends to publish excellent books. The marketing blurb on the back of the book is fairly generic so I don't have any real clue as what to expect. The cover is sort of disappointing. Pyr normally can be counted on for dynamite covers. The Last Argument of Kings cover merely depicts a burning piece of bloody parchment and some hard to read typography. Perhaps there is some visual reference that will reveal itself once I have read more of the series, but as of present it eludes me. On a more positive note...the cover material is a luxurious and highly textured card stock that has a great feel. I love it.

Finally, The Reluctant Mage by Karen Miller, published by Orbit. This is the second book in the Fisherman's Children series which itself is a follow up to the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology. I have read all of Karen Miller's work up to the Fisherman's Children series and so far I am a fan. She is a very inventive writer and seems eager to explore her boundaries stylistically. Considering there was a huge difference between her Godspeaker series and Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series, I am curious as to what The Fisherman's Children series will be like. Will be a true follow-up or will it have its own individual style. The cover is also really good. I loved the simple two tone water color look. It is evocative. It brims with passion. I like it.

All Image Sources: Scanned Covers

Monday, April 18, 2011

Horus Rising by Dan Abnett

Horus Rising by Dan Abnett is the opening fusillade of The Horus Heresy series by publisher Black Library. It is deafening. The Horus Heresy is a new series of books designed to document the events leading up to and immediately after The Horus Heresy. This is a pivotal moment in the Warhammer 40K canon. As such, The Horus Heresy series is a “premium” product; replete with lavish cover art and edition specific foil accents. More importantly, the Black Library has deployed its elite writers to man the literary canons in a campaign designed for nothing less than shock and awe.

As an opening gambit, Horus Rising is a resounding success. Dan Abnett has crafted a surprisingly deft narrative that allows him to explore the motivations of the characters central to The Horus Heresy series and critically, to allow subsequent writers to hook into this narrative and continue the story. Thematically, Horus Rising captures the joy and grandeur of the Great Crusade while revealing the subtle seeds of subversive Chaos taking root in the hearts of the Emperor’s beloved Sons, the Primarchs.

The narrative structure of this book is Dan Abnett’s true success. While Dan has a reputation for writing amazing combat scenes, I think his other skills are often under appreciated. Designing the narrative for Horus Rising had to be an immensely difficult task. Foremost, it is the first in a planned inter-series trilogy with each book written by a different author. So, Mr. Abnett had to design a book with a plot and characters open ended enough to allow his fellow Black Library writers room to be creative while also maintaining the narrative force of Horus Rising. The force of his story was especially critical since this is the first book of The Horus Heresy series. A weak story would jeopardize the future of a critical piece of intellectual property.

The next hurdle was humanizing figures who are decidedly super-human. Why is this important? Because the central story of the Heresy is a very human one. It is a tragedy, one caused by such everyday emotions as jealousy and pride. But, these emotions are the very antithesis of the Astartes. The Astartes were engineered to be more than human, to not have such human flaws. They are a brotherhood. They are the Emperor’s Angels of Death. They know no fear.

The means to this end, the humanizing of the machine, was quite brilliant. Rather than focus solely on Horus and the Primarchs, Dan Abnett uses a foil. The foil being a experienced but still raw Space Marine by the name of Garviel Loken. Garviel’s character is raw in the sense that he has not yet formed an identify beyond that which is stamped onto each Marine during their training. His ideals are abstracted without a grounding in reality.

Abnett carries this technique even further, creating yet another layer in the narrative. While a Space Marine is more human than a Primarch, for a Marine was once human and a Primarch was never human, a Marine is still something more than human. As such, Garviel himself has a foil, or rather an assortment of foils; the human Remembrancers serving to document the Great Crusade’s glory for future generations. Each of these humans’ interactions with Garviel provide a glimpse into his pysche. Each of these humans provide Garviel the anchor he needs to ground himself to the true purpose of the Great Crusade; to serve.

As the novel progresses, you bear witness to Garviel’s personal growth. This growth is idealized for Garviel represents not just the purity of the Emperor’s purpose but the purity of his Chapter. Garviel is a paragon, the archetype. The plot is the antagonist, throwing up hurdles that are not just physical battles but mental. Garviel’s ideals are challenged and with each challenge overcome, his ideals are strengthened.
It is with this technique that you see the brilliance in Abnett’s narrative. Garviel’s idealized growth serves to perfectly illuminate the slow perversion of Horus. Where as Garviel walks a straight path in the Light of the Emperor, Horus strays from the path into Darkness. For every test that Garviel faces and is triumphant, Horus fails.

It is by this narrative tension that the full impact of the Heresy and its very human repercussions are laid upon the reader. As you watch Garviel grow, experience his love of his Primarch and his Chapter, you witness these things being slowly ripped away from him by forces unknown. You sympathize with Garviel’s character and feel his pain and frustration. As Garviel’s character is betrayed, you experience not only his pain, but the metaphorical pain of the Emperor and all that it represents; the betrayal of humanity.

In conclusion, Horus Rising is a resounding success. The Black Library could not have asked for a better start to The Horus Heresy series. Dan Abnett delivers not only his awesome trademark action sequences but weaves a complex narrative that operates flawlessly on many levels. The thematic tone is pitch perfect. The only negative to this review is that there will be no happy ending to this book nor any that follow. At best they are bitter sweet.

To read Horus Rising is to watch humanity’s hopes, nobility and its heroes be slowly snuffed out by the blackest betrayal. I found myself rooting for Garviel even though I knew the results already. Foolish I know, “...for in the grim dark future there is only war.”

The Black Library: Horus Rising by Dan Abnett
Image Source: Scanned Cover
Review Copy: Self-Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-1849701129

Sunday, April 17, 2011

New Domain - UPDATED

To aid in growing my blog, I have recently purchased a domain name,  So far I am still stuck in the "transition period" according to Google.  As a result, my blog is not operating optimally and numerous links appear to be broken.  I am hoping this is resolved soon but I do not have any firm information.

One of the primary improvements of this change is that I will now also have a Google Apps account to help manage the website.  This includes email addresses, Calendar and Docs.  I plan to utilize these features in the near future contests and other such things.

As always, I appreciate your patronage and have a great day.

Image Source: WordTipping

UPDATED: Blog finally finished transitioning.  Yay to:

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Peter Edition

I recently received an invite from Amazon to join the Amazon Vine program. I was very excited about this fact simply because it meant I had a chance at early copies of books of my choosing.

So, this month, I finally found a book that I would wanted to read, The Unremembered by Peter Orullian. Tor, the publisher, has been on a full court press style marketing campaign. This book is "the next big thing" in epic fantasy. The rear cover of the ARC even details out the campaign with a bullet pointed Marketing Plan.

I can see why Tor in particular would want to find the next big thing. Fantasy as a genre to me is at a bit of a crossroads. Many of the big epic series have wrapped up or are wrapping up in the near future. The Wheel of Time, A Tale of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, The Sword of Truth, A Song of Fire and Ice, etc are all big series that need replacements.

The Unremembered seems to be custom made to fill the void left by The Wheel of Time. So, now we are presented with a book that is about a young man from bumpkin-ville who has always been slightly different. Two strangers stroll into town...and older man and a beautiful woman...and his whole life changes. Before you know it, the whole world is teetering on the brink and only our bumpkin can save it. I love it already.

The second book is The Great Bazaar and Other Stories by Peter V. Brett. I really enjoyed reading The Warded Man recently and so I am enthusiastic about exploring this new fictional universe. The Great Bazaar and Other Stories is basically the cutting room floor material from The Warded Man. Within The Warded Man's narrative there are a few temporal gaps and these series of stories, gaps created to help keep up the narrative pace. The Great Bazaar fills in those gaps as a stand alone product with both material edited out of The Warded Man and new material to flesh out these scraps. So, I am looking forward to this one and it will give me an excuse to try out my new Kindle as the only affordable option for The Great Bazaar was the ebook format. The physical copy was a limited edition copy from Subterranean Press.

Image Source for The Unremembered: Scanned Cover
Image Source for The Great Bazaar: Peter V. Brett

The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed by Patrick Rothfuss and illustrated by Nate Tyalor

The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed by Patrick Rothfuss and illustrated by Nate Taylor is a delightful and subversive graphic novel. The Princess and Mr. Whiffle is in essence a dark fantasy graphic novel masquerading as a children’s book.

The themes and setting of The Princess and Mr. Whiffle are exceedingly familiar. This is a realm of make believe complete with a candy castle, tea sets and make-believe adventures. Even the American-Anime drawing style emphasizes the cuteness and frivolity of the world.

The book sets out as you follow the Princess on her daily routine with her stalwart companion, Mr. Whiffle...a slightly over used teddy bear. It is cute and endearing. The art is a bit inconsistent in its visual style but does not detract from the story. The story is well crafted and extremely succinct to fit the faux children’s story format; often with only three or four words per page.

As you read, you begin to notice that something isn’t quite “right”. Namely, there is an excessive amount of violence. It is make-believe violence against stuffed animals...but a strangely out of place violence. Not the cartoony violence of Looney Toons...I am talking, putting the stuffed heads of the rebel army on a stick sort of violence. But, it is done so innocently.

Unexpectedly the story ends. However, you find out this is simply the first ending. If you continue to read, you find that the story continues and ultimately reveals two additional endings. It is within these endings that the true genius of the book is revealed. While the first ending is a feel good ending, like a children’s book, the following two take a turn for the surreal and the horrific. A twisting path that inverts your assumptions and proves them wrong.

If I wanted to reach, you could say that the ending of The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed is a great cultural teaching tool. Because it the books lulls you into complacency with culturally familiar words, sights and make assumptions. Cultural constructs leap to the fore of your mind and blind you to the reality unfolding in the story. The three endings slowly show you how blind you really are and how much culture blinds you to objective facts.

When you re-read the is all so suddenly clear and you will feel those cultural blinders lifted. You will see all the tiny clues laced into the story and so invisible to your mind...your eyes covered by cultural filters. If you don’t want to turn the book into a cultural learning tool...then it is simply subversive fun. The unexpected twists are delightful and entertaining.

I can only caution that you do not let your children read this book; it is not fit for children. Honestly, it might not fit for anyone who is slightly squeamish. I take great enjoyment on springing it unsuspectingly upon my friends, as their expressions while reading the book are priceless. So, I cannot recommend this book enough. Patrick Rothfuss has catapulted himself to the forefront of my favorite authors list, showing how dynamic his artistic gift is in both long and short form.

Subterranean Press: The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed by Patrick Rothfuss and illustrated by Nate Taylor
Image Source: Scanned Cover
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-1596063136

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

New Books

This week I bought a smaller selection of new books. 

I am most excited about The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett. I found a hardbound copy on the Amazon Marketplace that ended up being an British edition. Oddly enough it is one of the smaller sized hardcovers that seem to be gaining in popularity. I really enjoyed The Warded Man which I recently finished reading and should be reviewing soon. So, I am looking forward to reading The Desert Spear in the near future.

I am also eager to read The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan. I have really enjoyed the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, especially because of my academic past. Though the books may be fairly simple they are Young Adult but more importantly make Ancient Myth exciting to young readers.

In the Earth Abides the Flame and The Right Hand of God by Russell Kirkpatrick I am a bit more ambivalent about. I liked what Across the Face of the Earth was trying to do, but the book almost suffocates under the weight of its slow pace and incessant exposition. But, the last hundred or so pages of Across the Face of the World really picked up the narrative pace and made me want to give the final two books in the trilogy a go.

Image Source for The Desert Spear: Harper Collins
Image Source for The Last Olympian: Wikipedia
Image Source for The Right Hand of God: Hatchette
Image Source for In the Earth Abides the Flame: Hatchette

Sunday, April 3, 2011

World-Building: The Narrative Risks Posed by Immortals and their Culture

I recently watched Daybreakers, a rather disappointing vampire flick. But, Daybreakers did present the proposition of a culture of immortals, in this case the aforementioned vampires. Over the next several days I thought more and more on this topic: a culture of immortals.

A culture of immortals is a very tricky world-building proposition. Authors and screenwriters have approached this topic from a number of different angles but all attempt to answer the central problem a culture of immortals creates: a depletion of resources. This was the central motivating force in Daybreakers...a lack of humans and by extension a lack of blood and thus starvation.

Assuming you answer this issue of resources, you then encounter the second issue: a reason for existence. Most members of mortal cultures compete for resources for a variety of reasons. The great equalizer in this competition for resources is time...the mortality of the culture’s group members. A culture of immortals would be free of this constraint. Given unlimited time to collect and save any resources in excess of a subsistence level, everyone could be wealthy in time, especially in a culture with banking and compound interest rates. So, what would immortals live for? Competition? Scholastic pursuits? Love? War?

Any world-building of a culture of immortals needs to account for these two critical issues. I disliked Daybreakers because it posited these two problems and instead of providing an answer devolved into Hollywood action sequences and a happy ending. Honestly, not many authors or screenwriters do much better.

The inability to create a dynamic culture of immortals is why I think such cultures tend to be parasitical in nature, they cannot exist on their own. Whether this be via the tropes of a lonely wanderer who drifts in and out of the mortal world or static secret societies waging an eternal conflict.

In my experience these parasitical cultures of immortals are controlled by two factors: psychology and conflict. Psychology is utilized in a few ways but tends to manifest as either crushing boredom or depression/madness. After centuries of existence it seems in the minds of most writers an immortal would simply go numb...drowned in the ennui of existence. The alternative is that centuries of mental trauma would simply cause the consciousness of an immortal to fracture.

Conflict is the other popular choice and can materialize in two primary ways: internecine conflict and persecution. Immortals are often depicted as warring with one another in a endless battle. The immortals involved are defined as much by the war as anything else, it is the reason for existence. Persecution is the other popular option and can co-exist with internecine conflict. Persecution is fairly straightforward; the immortals are the target of non-immortals who feel threatened. This often, as with internecine conflict, is the driving purpose of the culture.

The end result is that most cultures of immortals lack depth. They are defined by self-perpetuating cycles that allows no cultural growth. They are never dynamic. Their parasitical existence forces them to be passive while the mainstream mortal culture assumes the active role.

So how do you build a culture of immortals? I don’t know. In my opinion, immortality isn’t rational. I only know that they present enormous pitfalls for writers and immortals need to be incorporated into a story very carefully. Immortals can easily become a narrative anchor, slowing down the active and dynamic quality that is crucial to any story. Why are they needed? What do they add? These and many more questions need to be answered and these answers carefully considered.

So, I ask a question of my readers? How would you build a culture of immortals?

Image Source: Daybreaker's Official Website Media Downloads

Sunday, March 27, 2011

New Books

This week I went a bit overboard perhaps in my book procurement but, I was provoked.  I picked up The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed by Patrick Rothfuss and illustrated by Nate Taylor and Fall of Damnos by Nick Kyme from Amazon as part of my normally monthly habit.  However...I bought more than I probably should have when stopping by the local Border's in Erie, PA.

The local Borders, unfortunately, was one of the locates to axed despite being the leading store in the district.  Listening to the employees gossip revealed that the Erie location was one of the infamous locations with an extremely unfavorable lease agreement as detailed in various publications.
But, that doesn't stop me from circling the store like a buzzard trying to find a good deal.  This weekend, the store finally went to a 50-70% off sale.  While that may sound means that Borders is finally managing to beat Amazon's list prices...and you wonder why Borders is in such terrible financial shape.

So, with that in mind I ceased my circling and went in to steal a few morsels off the rotting carcass.  I picked up The Ragged Man by Tom Lloyd, Empire in Black and Gold and  Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Tome of the Undergates by Same Sykes and finally New Spring: The Graphic Novel by Chuck Dixon, Mike Miller and Harvey Tolibao.
As you will notice, Pyr publishes some beautiful trade paperbacks.  I love trade paperbacks; they are perfect for reading.  Between the better paper quality (contrast), larger fonts, bigger pages, better covers and other smaller paperbacks are just simply my favorite format for reading.
The Adventures of Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed by Patrick Rothfuss and illustrated by Nate Taylor was an impulse buy.  I have already read it, since it only a hundred odd words long, and loved it.  I will be posting a review shortly but suffice to say it is excellent and it will catch you by surprise.  The artwork is really fun and fits the story.  I love Patrick all the more for this one.

The Fall of Damnos by Nick Kyme is a Warhammer 40,000 novel in the A Space Marine Battles Novel series.  I am very excited about this book because the Necrons are my second favorite race, after the Space Marines of course, and there is so very little attention given to them.  So, I am really looking forward to this book as I get to read about my two favorite races making war on each other...awesome.  I have never read any of Nick Kyme's work so it will be nice to read a new Black Library author.

New Spring: The Graphic Novel by Chuck Dixon, Mike Miller and Harvey Tolibao was an fanboy buy.  I normally do not get into graphic novels..they are just not my thing.  Some are very good but the difficulty in marrying good dialog with good art often means you end up with sub-par results.  So, I am not sure what to expect from this other than I am happy I can quit trying to track down the issues of New Spring that I am still missing.

The Ragged Man by Tom Lloyd is a mystery to me but it had a few things going for it.  I love Pyr as they are generally a high quality imprint.  The cover art is striking.  The marketing print on the rear was convincing.  Also there are dragons.  The plot seems fairly straightfoward, the world is teetering on the edge of oblivion and only one person can save it.  Since Pyr has a reputation of selecting high quality titles I am assuming there is more to the book than the marketing blurb lets on.  So, this was my random buy of the month.  I have no idea what to expect but I expect it will be good!
Tome of the Undergates by Same Sykes I bought off the strength of reviews I have found on the blogosphere.  This book has nigh universal praise.  This is also another book published by Pyr.  I am excited about this one as books focuses on thieves, cutthroats, murders and worse...binding it all together with cutting dialog.  This is right up my alley and I hope it doesn't disappoint.

Empire in Black and Gold and Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky are again published by Pyr and again are beautiful books.  Both of these books as well had high praise in Speculative Fiction circles so I am excited to read them.  The basic plot again seems fairly commonplace with the world in disarray and the burden of the future resting on the shoulders of a reluctant hero.  Due to the good reviews given to this series...I know there is more to be found and I look forward to it as well.

Image Source: Scanned Covers

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Robert Jordan and My Opinion of Him

Since my post on gender issues in The Wheel of Time has generated so much traffic, I thought it would be prudent to post my opinions on Robert Jordan in general.

First and foremost he is one of my favorite authors if not my favorite.  I love the Wheel of Time story faults and all.  But my first love was Jordan's Conan books.

Beyond that, by all accounts, Robert Jordan was a great individual and would not be a bad example for anyone to follow. He was educated.  He had a love for history which I find very important.  He was a man of many skills an interests; a Renaissance Man.  He was a patriot and served his country.  He was a man of faith.  He was a good and faithful husband.  He was a good man.  I was genuinely sad to hear of Robert Jordan's passing as his creative works had been a part of my life for a long time.

But, I don't feel that this means we cannot evaluate his work critically.  I honestly don't mind if his work was sexist.  In fact, with the Conan books it is an integral part of the story.  What bothers me is the lack of intellectual honestly.  Jordan's work was sexist.  Identifying Jordan's Wheel of Time or Conan as sexist in no way impugns Jordan's character in my opinion.  But I think it is critical to acknowledge that fact, else you risk back sliding.

Image Source: Jeanne Collins - Attribution

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Hopefully I made it clear enough how much I loved the first book in the Inheritance Trilogy (The Hundred Thousand Kindgoms by N.K. Jemisinin) in my earlier review. This book, The Broken Kingdoms, is the next book in the Inheritance Trilogy, and it is just as splendid as the first book. In fact, I pretty much ignored everything except the most basic needs while reading it because I was so loath to put it down. I will be re-reading books again soon because I love the visceral reaction I have to them. After reading Jemisin, my head feels floaty and my heart feels glowy. This is amazing because they deal with some pretty dark stuff (literally and figuratively).

Each of the books in the trilogy could stand on its own, really, as the story is very serialized. But knowing the first story adds so much more depth to the second book that I would highly recommend reading them in order. The Broken Kingdoms picks up 10 years after the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. In the story, Oree Shoth, a blind artist, gives shelter to a mute homeless man with some unusual abilities. Her random act of kindness ends up drawing her into a complicated plot involving gods, godlings, and demons.

I don’t want to go into too much depth on the plot of this book for fear of spoilers. Instead, I would like to present a list of my favorite things about the Inheritance Trilogy, in general, and The Broken Kingdoms, in particular.

1. The gods: I already mentioned in my review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms how much I love Jemisin’s revamped version of classical mythological elements. This incredible system extends even further in The Broken Kingdoms, and the reader is able to experience some new perspective on the events leading up to the Gods’ War.

2. The lead characters: In The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Yeine Darr starts out with a fairly familiar backstory (young woman, destined for greater things, called to be heir of a kingdom). Yet Jemisin’s character development brings out so much more strength and complexity than you would expect from such a typical fantasy trope. The Broken Kingdoms follows with another incredible heroine-- Oree Shoth, who embraces her blindness with grace and intelligence. She too shows great strength and a welcome ability to question the world around her. Both women feel very whole to me as a reader and very real. It’s not something I have seen very often with female characters, especially in the fantasy genre. Jemisin is not afraid of bucking trends though, considering that Yeine is biracial and Oree is black.

3. The endings: Both books end well (relatively speaking), but I can’t say much more than that. I find the parallels between motherhood and goddess-hood fascinating and worthy of a lengthier discussion than what I will devote here.

4. The formatting: A lot of people will probably disagree with me on this one, but I really enjoy how both books were interspersed with narrative asides as the characters current state of being interrupts to flow of retelling the story. It provides some interesting foreshadowing and a thoughtful narrative break. I like having to juggle the little pieces and fit them back together as I read. It reminds me a little of quilting when you piece together small parts to create a greater whole.

There are probably more things that I cannot call to mind at the moment, and even more that I will not discover until a second, closer read. The complexity of the stories keeps pulling me in again. It is possible that I am reading too much into it, but that is what truly great books do. Like The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Broken Kingdoms is truly a great book.

Hachette: The Broken Kingdom by N.K. Jemisin
Image Source: Scanned Cover
Review Copy: Self Purchased
ISBN-13: 978-0316043960

This review was originally published at Kawaii Writing and republished with permission.