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