When I reviewed the first book in the Greatcoats series, this was my conclusion:
Is Traitor’s Blade destined to be a classic? Well, that’s a kind of question I ask myself about books I can get some distance from. I don’t want any distance from this book. What I want, just as soon as I finish writing this review, it to read Traitor’s Blade again, immediately. And maybe once more right after that.
Now that I’ve read the second book in this planned series of four, I’m pretty sure de Castell is carving himself an enduring place in the fantasy canon.
Usually when a new author stumbles after a stellar debut, it’s on the second book. I wondered whether I’d see that play out here… right until I read the first page. Then I forgot I was wondering or worrying or writing a review, because the stalwart, somewhat cracked hero Falcio Val Mond was tugging me back into his story. I’d follow Falcio anywhere. Okay, so he’s an idealist in a world that despaired of those ideals years ago, and he’s slowly dying from a little poisoning incident in the last book, but his berserker episodes are much improved, and he hardly ever froths at the mouth anymore.
And he makes us laugh, raucously, especially in the bleak moments when he and we need it most. Yes, I’d definitely still follow him anywhere. In the spirit of lively and surprising storytelling, though, in this volume, some of Falcio’s friends and allies stop being so sure they can do the same.
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Last week, I was looking for something to read and as I was hunting through my shelves, I came upon Michelle West’s Sun Sword series. I had picked up the first volume (The Broken Crown) when I was about to head to Central America for 6 months of volunteering, and had wanted to have a few fat books with me.
The Broken Crown was a lucky pick back then. Firstly, it was fat, clocking in at an epic 764 pages, but it was also really good. The thrust of the whole series is that a very competent general has staged a coup and killed an incompetent king and all his family. So far, no problems. I like the General.
But there are always problems.
The symbol of kingship in the south is whether the king can take up the Sun Sword, which happens to be really really useful against demons. There was one last son of the old king’s who was serving as a hostage in a northern court, and the agent sent to kill him was not successful. So, we have a lost prince deprived of his thrown, and only he can wield the Sun Sword.
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Grimdark is a new quarterly magazine of dark fantasy. It hasn’t been around around all that long, but I’ve been impressed with what it’s done in a short period of time. Editor Adrian Collins summarized the ‘zine’s aesthetic in the first issue:
Grimdark Magazine started out as the identification of a gap in the niche ezine market coupled with an obsession with grim stories told in a dark world by morally ambiguous protagonists.
In his review of the first three issues, Fletcher Vredenburgh seems to like what he sees:
From a swords & sorcery perspective, the biggest — and potentially most interesting — new publication out there is Grimdark Magazine… grimdark fantasy is nihlistic/realistic storytelling that moves the genre forward/destroys the genre, and features characters with realistic motives/who are utterly vile. Whether you like or hate the fiction coming out under the rubric, Grimdark Magazine, by its very nature, is going to feature S&S…
Each issue is packed with original stories, interviews with some of grimdark’s leading lights, and reviews… There are scads of other short stories (not all of them fantasy), some of which I enjoyed quite a bit. The author interviews provided nice insights into the hows and whys of what they’re doing. The interviews also make obvious that grimdark isn’t any sort of cohesive artistic movement, just a bunch of dark stuff by a bunch of grim people.
At only $2.99 a pop, I’ll be keeping up with Grimdark Magazine…
The latest issue went on sale on June 28, and contains new fiction by Matthew Ward, Tara Calaby, Mike Brooks, and Richard Ford, as well as novel excerpts from Alex Marshall and Mark Lawrence, a book review, interviews with Peter V. Brett and Brandon Sanderson, and an article by BG author John R. Fultz. Here’s the complete Table of Contents.
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It’s a pretty popular time for dinosaur novels, what with Victor Milán’s upcoming The Dinosaur Lords, and the biggest movie of the summer being Jurassic World. What many people don’t realize is that dinosaur stories weren’t created by the makers of Jurassic World. They weren’t even created by Steven Spielberg, director of Jurassic Park, way back in the last century in 1993. Believe it or not, they weren’t even created by Michael Crichton, the author of the original 1990 novel. Dinosaur novels were totally created by the science fiction novelist Keith Laumer, in his 1971 novel Dinosaur Beach.
Okay. After doing some, y’know, actual fact checking, it turns out Keith Laumer didn’t completely create the dinosaur novel. But it’s true enough for our purposes. Which are, to give us an excuse to talk about Dinosaur Beach.
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I’m nostalgic for most things that belong to the age of my childhood and teenage years (i.e. the 70s and 80s), especially for things we now mostly think of as geek-ish (though that label was hardly admirable when I was a kid).
In this spirit, I recently watched a very interesting documentary on Netflix called Atari: Game Over, about one man’s quest to find the (now legendary) dumping ground of Atari’s fabled mass of unsold game cartridges based upon the Steven Spielberg movie E. T. (And by the way, I highly recommend watching that very short documentary.)
Atari: Game Over includes footage of author Ernest Cline, who is about my age and seems to have similar 80s interests. Case in point: the man owns a DeLorean sports car like Marty McFly’s from Back to the Future.
Cline made his 2011 novel debut with Ready Player One. I’d heard nothing but great buzz about this book since it was first released. But since I’m not a gigantic fan of science fiction literature — I tend to read more fantasy and horror — I hadn’t really bothered to pick it up. After seeing the documentary I became more intrigued, and so I bought and read it.
Oh my goodness!
I can definitely say that I am now a huge Ernest Cline fan. What a great book! This was one of those books that I could not put down. I blazed through its nearly 400 pages in just two days — I would’ve done it in one if I hadn’t had real-life responsibilities. It was definitely something of an 80s nostalgia-fest, but that’s merely surface, and not integral to enjoying this book.
What’s Ready Player One about?
It starts in a dystopian near future — though not dystopian because of nukes or zombies. Rather, in Cline’s book our current fears are extrapolated to a world feeling the effects of increasing overpopulation, in terms of climate and economics. Many people are unemployed, and where once cushioned bastions were unaffected by such, like most of the United States, they are now populated with flimsy towers of RVs and trailer-homes (Jim Massey’s paperback cover presents this in awesome detail).
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The first time I encountered Mary E. Pearson was with her short story “The Rotten Beast” at Tor.com. Her first fantasy novel, The Kiss of Deception, was published by Henry Holt last year, and called “a wonderfully full-bodied story: harrowing, romantic, and full of myth and memory… this has the sweep of an epic tale,” (Booklist), and Publishers Weekly said “the novel has a formidable heroine at its core, who is as quick with a knife as she is to laugh or cry… [a] masterfully crafted story.” The Heart of Betrayal, the second volume in The Remnant Chronicles, will be released next week, and it continues the tale of 17-year-old princess Lia.
Held captive in the barbarian kingdom of Venda, Lia and Rafe have little chance of escape… and even less of being together.
Desperate to save her life, Lia’s erstwhile assassin, Kaden, has told the Vendan Komisar that she has a magical gift, and the Komisar’s interest in Lia is greater than either Kaden or Lia foresaw.
Meanwhile, the foundations of Lia’s deeply-held beliefs are crumbling beneath her. Nothing is straightforward: there’s Rafe, who lied to her, but has sacrificed his freedom to protect her; Kaden, who meant to assassinate her but has now saved her life; and the Vendans, whom she always believed to be barbarians but whom she now realizes are people who have been terribly brutalized by the kingdoms of Dalbreck and Morrighan. Wrestling with her upbringing, her gift, and her very sense of self, Lia will have to make powerful choices that affect her country, her people… and her own destiny.
The Heart of Betrayal will be published by Henry Holt and Co. on July 7, 2015. It is 480 pages, priced at $18.99 in hardcover and $9.99 for the digital edition.
Last time I was talking about those real life events and happenings that never seem to occur on TV, or in books. If you have a look, the comments are well worth reading, and not only because most everyone agrees with me (and William Goldman) on the whys and wherefores of this phenomenon. There were also many examples given of fantasy characters pooping, though not necessarily in the woods.
There did seem to be a consensus that we were in agreement with Goldman, that too much reality could slow things down, not only in TV and movies, but in the written narrative as well. If we do include what one commentator called “the earthier things” they’re usually plot or story related. Or, as another put it, “if it doesn’t propel the plot (not the plop!) strike it.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.
The subject also sparked a lengthy comment stream on Facebook, thanks to James Enge sharing a link to my original post. One woman was prompted to point out that female characters in fiction don’t menstruate – in the same sense, that is, that they don’t poop, which is to say, we don’t talk about it. As a woman, it took me a surprisingly long time to become aware of this particular example of the phenomenon (or perhaps not, considering the dearth of female protagonists until fairly recently). It’s particularly odd, when you think about it, since so many of us link the appearance of psychic abilities in our characters with the onset of puberty.
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It is an amazing time to be a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s body of work, and in my case, specifically a fan of The Shining.
Thirty-five years ago in May, The Shining debuted in US theaters and redefined the term “psychological horror.” Kubrick, the film’s director, was already an unparalleled auteur due to his previous work that included 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange.
2015 has seen a wealth of previously unpublished information about Kubrick and his work, including Centipede Press’s massive 752-page compendium, The Shining: Studies in the Horror Film and the currently-touring Stanley Kubrick exhibition.
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In his introduction to this year’s volume, Rich provides a penetrating breakdown of the current state of our genre’s magazines:
Trevor Quacchri… [is] introducing some intriguing new writers, while not abandoning Analog’s core identity. Last year he published Timons Esais’ “Sadness,” clearly one of the very best stories of the year. Even more recently, F&SF has changed editors… the editing reins have been handed to C.C. Finlay, who “auditioned” with a strong guest issue in July-August 2014, from which I’ve chosen Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i” for this book. Asimov’s stays the course with Sheila Williams, and 2014 was a very good year for the magazine….
I choose four stories each from two other top online sources, Clarkesworld (three-time Hugo Winner for Best Semiprozine) and Lightspeed… Clarkesworld publishes almost soley science fiction, and Lightspeed publishes an even mixture of science fiction and fantasy, so it can be argued that another online ‘zine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, is the top fantasy magazine online, and the two outstanding stories I chose from it should support that argument. And it would be folly to forget Tor.com…
The New Yorker regularly features science fiction and fantasy (including a pretty decent story by Tom Hanks this year), and New Yorker stories have appeared in these anthologies. Tin House in particular is very hospitable to fantastika, and this year I saw some outstanding work at Granta.
Since I was on stage to present the Nebula Award for Best Novelette to Alaya Dawn Johnson’s “A Guide to the Fruits of Hawai’i,” I can personally attest that Rich knows how to pick ‘em. The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015 was published by Prime Books on June 11, 2015. It is 576 pages, priced at $19.99 in trade paperback and $6.99 for the digital edition. See the complete Table of Contents here.
Beneath Ceaseless Skies 176 has two new short stories by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam and Karalynn Lee, a podcast, and a podcast reprint by Michael J. DeLuca:
The Girl with Golden Hair by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
“Where are all the people?” she asked. I neighed, unsure. Why would they hide in their caves when two strangers appeared?
Court Bindings by Karalynn Lee
The sparrow had too diminutive a mind to realize it could serve you longer by taking time to eat and sleep.
Audio Fiction Podcast:
The Girl with Golden Hair by Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam
The Nine-Tailed Cat by Michael J. DeLuca
Introduced by the author.
Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s short fiction has also appeared in Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Interzone. Her previous story for BCS was “Everything Beneath You” (issue 164). Karalynn Lee had one previous story in BCS, ”Unsilenced” (Issue 105).
Issue 176 was published on June 25. Read it online completely free here.
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