A YA Novel that Violates Contemporary Writing Conventions: How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse by K. Eason

Friday, January 17th, 2020 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse CoverYoung Adult fiction is populated with fast-paced novels that sweep readers into adventure from the very first page, only letting up when the final page reads The End. Their prose shows in gorgeous detail, transporting readers into whole new universes, rather than merely telling what’s going on. Novels that feature heroines begin when they are old enough to be the targets of romance; starting when they are younger not only provokes no interest, but also threatens to confuse booksellers, who must decide where to shelve them. According to many writing experts, passive voice must be scoured from the pages. The first chapter should be comprised exclusively of action; exposition kept to a minimum, and sentences clipped short. The author must avoid entire discursive paragraphs like, say, this one.

Eason’s How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse is marketed as a Young Adult Hardcover. But it violates these contemporary writing conventions.

We begin before Princess Rory Thorne is born. Indeed, while she is still in the womb. Our heroine, who will cause many kerfluffles throughout her childhood, creates her first by being born a girl, when everyone had planned for her to be a boy.

Shortly after Rory’s birth, thirteen fairies descend onto the palace for Rory’s Naming Ceremony, even though no one really believes in fairies anymore, and the only reason they were invited was as a nod to tradition, silly as it may be. But still, the thirteen fairies suddenly appear in the ballroom, coming from out of nowhere. The first eleven give Rory various gifts, some of which are obviously quite useless, like playing the harp.

The thirteenth fairy gives Rory the ability not just to tell when people are lying, but also to hear the truths they are covering up.

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The Top Five Books I Read in 2019

Sunday, January 5th, 2020 | Posted by Brandon Crilly

Alice Payne Rides-small The-Kingdom-of-Copper-medium Titanshade-medium

Covers by Cliff Nielsen, Unusual Corporation, and Chris McGrath

Being semi-retired from my biweekly column doesn’t mean I’m off the hook from picking my Top Five reads from 2019! *The crowd goes wild*

Like with previous years — 2016-18; see below for links — I’m focusing specifically on fiction (sorry, non-fiction books) published sometime in 2019 (sorry, amazing older books I read – especially the Broken Earth trilogy). I’m also chickening out from ranking all five and only picking my top choice, with the rest in alphabetical order.

Drumroll, please…

Alice Payne Rides by Kate Heartfield (Tor Books, 176 pages, $14.99 paperback/$3.99 digital, March 5, 2019)

Fine, I’m just one of the multitude going on and on about how amazing this time travel duology has been. Sue me. I was concerned at the end of Alice Payne Arrives that retconning some of the story and resetting its core characters (a la time travel) would turn me off, but Heartfield maintains the core of Alice, Jayne, Zuniga and the others while putting them in even more harrowing scenarios. There’s a ton of genuine peril and some neat twists on what sometimes feels like the bloated genre of time travel stories, tied together somehow with a tidy conclusion.

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A Lasting Exploration of What the Beatles Mean: Across the Universe: Tales of Alternative Beatles edited by Michael A. Ventrella and Randee Dawn

Friday, January 3rd, 2020 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Dave Alvarez

Cover by Dave Alvarez

Although the Beatles, as comprised of John, Paul, George, and Ringo, only existed as a band from August 1962 until April 1970, they left an indelible mark on the music and culture of the world that is constantly being discovered, explored, and reinvented. One of those reinventions occurred in 2019 with the release of the film Yesterday, in which singer Jack Malik discovers he is one of the few people in the world who remembers the Beatles and builds a career out of recreating their songs. Even before that film was released, however, editors Michael A. Ventrella and Randee Dawn were at work creating the anthology Across the Universe: Tales of Alternative Beatles.

At lunch in the executive dining room of Black Gate Tower a couple of weeks ago, our esteemed editor and I were finishing our desserts (wild honey pie for me, Savoy truffle for him), when he asked my opinion of Yesterday. I described what I liked about it, what I felt could have made it better, and explained that I viewed a world without the Beatles or Coke as essentially dystopian. I told him why the alternative ending would have improved the film and, at the same time, opened up other questions that it hadn’t addressed.

Two days later I was summoned into the presence of the giant, floating holographic head that gives Black Gate writers their assignments, and presented with a copy of Across the Universe. Our conversation at lunch had been sounding me out for my knowledge of all things Beatle.

Jody Lynn Nye has cast the Fab Four as powerful elemental wizards and follows the adventures of George, the water mage, as he strikes out on his own and finds himself face-to-face with a powerful enemy. The story explores the difficulties of making it on your own when you’re used to working in a group, but also points out how experiences continue to inform a person’s actions. Nye also looks beyond Harrison’s career with the Beatles and even his solo career for her source material.

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Blogging Marvel’s Master of Kung Fu, Part Ten

Friday, January 3rd, 2020 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

MOKF 44Master of Kung Fu #44 kicks off an eight-part story arc that builds upon the events of the series’ preceding six issues while also serving as the culmination of the ongoing storyline involving Shang-Chi’s father Fu Manchu and sister Fah lo Suee and their decades-long battle for control of the Si-Fan. Marvel approved a six-part story with some reluctance, but the team of writer Doug Moench and artist Paul Gulacy were making the series one of Marvel’s very best of the 1970s and had the clout to push boundaries further so long as sales and critical recognition continued. Of course, the first thing the two men did was plot a prelude and epilogue which extended the story from six chapters to eight. The results are both more and less than what one might reasonably expect, though they certainly succeed in terms of ambition and scope.

The principal difference in quality is Gulacy’s art. While never disappointing, he simply fails to match the standard of the previous five issues he illustrated. The challenge of maintaining such a high standard month after month was wearing and would result in Gulacy’s decision to leave the series that had brought him such acclaim. Likewise, Moench remained one of Marvel’s most overworked writers and despite the care he took in structuring the story, it was inevitable that moments appeared rushed and even underwritten. It was never a question of Moench’s skills, simply that he also could not maintain the same high level of quality writing when juggling so many titles each month.

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All the Leftovers: The Early Asimov by Isaac Asimov

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020 | Posted by Mark R. Kelly

The Early Asimov-small

The Early Asimov (Doubleday, 547 pages, $10 in hardcover, September 1972)
By Isaac Asimov
Cover by Barry Kiperman

This is a book I’d never read before, and debated recently about whether to ever read it. On the one hand, life is too short to read every book one might have accumulated, and this book consists, frankly, of all the stories from Asimov’s early career that had not already been included in 10 earlier collections — all the leftovers. (Those 10 include I, Robot as well as the three Foundation “novels,” since those were largely comprised of earlier magazine stories.)

Thus I had passed over it several times before. On the other hand, I kept noticing early stories by Asimov in various anthologies, and realized that I’d never read those stories, or only a couple of them via those anthologies. So why not catch up on the others and just read through this 1972 book? An attraction is the substantial, autobiographical notes Asimov provides, detailing how each story was written and submitted; the book is subtitled “Or, Eleven Years of Trying.”

Such notes proved so popular here that he provided similar notes in subsequent books (like the anthology Before the Golden Age) and then in two lengthy volumes of autobiography over the next eight years.

So before considering individual stories, here are the broad takeaways from reading this book.

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A Brainy Psychological Fantasy: Fireborne by Rosaria Munda

Sunday, December 29th, 2019 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

Fireborne-smallUpon successfully overthrowing the cruel dragonborn families, the leaders of the Revolution imprison their previous masters to await trial. But the oppressed population is hungry for revenge. Vigilantes overrun the building and start to exact their own bloody justice.

Atreus, the new realm’s First Protector, discovers one group still in the process of murdering the Drakarch of the Far Highlands’ family. Only the dragonlord himself and his youngest son, a boy of about seven or eight, are still alive when Atreus arrives.

The Drakarch begs Atreus to spare his son. Atreus murmurs an order to a guard, who takes the boy away. Then he slits the dragonlord’s throat.

Lee, the Drakarch’s son, becomes the only member of the dragonborn caste to survive the Revolution. He grows up in an orphanage in Cheapside, where he befriends another orphan, Annie. No one knows who he really is. Even the First Protector, his savior, appears to have forgotten him. He knows he must keep his identity secret, but at the same time, he thirsts to regain the exalted position that had once been his birthright. Stripped of his privileges, Lee must fight for his rank like everyone else.

Now a teenager, Lee stands on the brink of attaining his dream: to become Firstrider, the best dragonrider in the land and commander of the dragon fleet. He has aced the entrance exam, been chosen by a dragon, and gained recognition as an elite rider. Now he must compete against the other top riders to prove he’s the best. Perhaps it’s ironic that Lee rides to serve those who killed his family. But if he can become Firstrider, not only will he win back the power that his father lost, but also he will prove himself to have been worthy of his birthright all along.

Prevailing over his classmates is Lee’s greatest concern, that is, until he learns that he isn’t the last remaining member of the dragonborn, after all. His cousin, with whom he played as a child, contacts him in secret. She reveals that members of the other dragonborn families escaped and created a refuge in another land. They have their own dragons and riders. Now the time has come for them to retake their ancestral country, restoring the old order.

Lee must choose. Will he defend the life he’s made for himself under the new regime? Or will he help the dragonlords recapture the possibilities he had thought were dead?

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Epic Science Fiction with a Spectacular Toolbox: Silver by Linda Nagata

Monday, December 23rd, 2019 | Posted by Steve Case

Silver Linda Nagata-small Silver Linda Nagata-back-small

Silver by Linda Nagata (Mythic Island Press, Nov 2019). Cover art by Sarah Anne Langton

Silver is the direct sequel to Edges, which is itself a continuation of Nagata’s Nanotech Succession series. In Edges, some of the heroes from Nagata’s earlier series decide to head back in from the frontier of human expansion in the Milky Way to the galactic region of Earth and its immediate environs. In this science fiction universe, the laws of physics are firm, and no one has figured out a way around the universal speed limit of light itself or the constraints of relativistic travel. This means distances and time spans are immense, and voyages are spread over centuries. It also means that as humanity spread itself into that emptiness, it became diffuse and attenuated and that the sharpest telescopes on the frontier give only clues but no answers about what has taken place in the intervening centuries on the cradle worlds of humanity.

Edges was the story of Urban’s ship and crew and what happened on their way home. As with most trips, things got complicated quickly. The expedition back to Earth ran afoul of an unwelcome passenger: Lezuri, a godlike intelligence that attempted to take over the ship and was only expelled at the apparent cost of Urban himself. Silver follows directly on the heels of this conflict. Urban has fled to a nearby world, to which Lezuri is bound as well. With limited resources, Urban has to find a way to both prepare for Lezuri’s eventual arrival and warn off his ship and crew, who assume he is dead.

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Back to the Books for the Theater of the Mind

Friday, December 20th, 2019 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

Johnny Dollar tradeI came to Old Time Radio late in life. My parents were born in 1940 and 1942, respectively. They remembered radio shows from their childhood, but the advent of television made more of an impact on them. During my teen years, one of our local UHF stations briefly picked up reruns of the jazz noir detective series Peter Gunn (1958-1961) in the mid-1980s and I was instantly hooked. A set of Peter Gunn episodes on VHS followed in 1989 from Rhino Records. Before long, I was hunting for Henry Kane’s well-written paperback tie-in and the goofy Dell Comic (where Pete tracks down villains trafficking in counterfeit collectible postage stamps). 2002 would bring the first DVD sets of Peter Gunn. By the time the entire series was on DVD, so was its companion series, Mr. Lucky (1959-1960); and then I discovered the imitation series, Johnny Staccato (1959-1960) which successfully blended concepts from both series before adding a healthy dose of angst-ridden method acting to the mix.

I couldn’t stop there of course, not with gray market sets of Peter Gunn‘s progenitor, Richard Diamond (1957-1960) and Mr. Lucky‘s successor, Dante (1960-1961) circulating among collectors. Eventually, I discovered a terrific, but nearly forgotten television adventure series, Hong Kong (1960-1961) and reached back to find Dante had actually preceded Mr. Lucky via an earlier series, Dante’s Inferno (1956). Having reached the end of the line for the uniquely sophisticated and stylish Golden Age of Television detective and adventure series that appealed most to me, I decided to venture into the largely unknown waters of Old Time Radio.

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Battle of the Sexes: Sword & Circlet Volume 1 by Carole Nelson Douglas

Thursday, December 12th, 2019 | Posted by Tony Den

Art: Steven Hickman

Art: Steven Hickman

Art: Steve Crisp

Art: Steve Crisp

Art: Luis Royo

Art: Luis Royo

Earlier this year I wrote about two books by Carole Nelson Douglas which became known as the Kendric and Irissa duology. These eighties’ fantasy classics spawned a subsequent trilogy, The Sword and Circlet. Whilst I had this trilogy on hand, I thought a break was in order after completing my review of Six of Swords and Exiles of the Rynth. John had been enticing me to visit some other neglected volumes on my shelf through his ongoing Vintage Treasures posts which saw me breeze through some Wyndham and Vance (which I posted mini-reviews for, in the comments of each article). With this post, I am back to focus on Carole Nelson Douglas.

When one starts to read volume one of the Sword and Circlet Trilogy it becomes immediately clear that this is no afterthought, or clumsy tack on to ride the wave of success the first two books experienced.  Keepers of the Edanvant picks up almost immediately where Exiles of the Rynth left off, pausing only to provide a small prologue and recap of what had gone before.

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A Sci Fi / Fantasy Hybrid with a Middle Eastern Ambiance: Mirage by Somaiya Daud

Monday, December 9th, 2019 | Posted by Elizabeth Galewski

Mirage Somaiya Daud-smallThe nameless young Andalaan boy has yet to reach his majority, so he doesn’t have his face tattoos yet. But that’s what makes him a perfect assassin. The evil Vath invaders won’t be able to trace him back to his family and tribe.

For his whole young life, the boy has known the cruelty of the Vath. If he kills their crown princess, he’ll win a cottage for his family and a husband for his sister. He knows it’s a suicide mission, but he accepts. He readies his weapon and goes to the event where the Vath heir appears.

She looks so much like his own people. Her blood is only half Vathek – her mother was a native of this planet. But she’s rumored to be even more vicious than her iron-fisted father.

He raises his blaster and fires twice.

Amina is an Andalaan girl on the verge of becoming a woman. On the night that she gains her majority, she goes to the festival with her family to have her face tattooed. This is one of the few Andalaan traditions that persist. And since the Vath have burnt the farmers’ fields, leaving no provisions for the upcoming winter, the whole tribe needs an excuse to come together and enjoy an evening of ritual, however brief.

But the ink on Amani’s face hasn’t even dried before a squadron of Vath droids burst into the gathering. They separate Amani and the other teenage girls from the rest of the tribe and make them stand in a line.

One by one, the robots move down the row, scanning the girls’ faces. One by one, the scanners flash a green light, clearing them with a beep.

Amina hasn’t done anything wrong. She hasn’t aided the rebels or raised a hand against the Vath. Still, when a droid scans her face, an alarm erupts and the robots seize her. They drag her away and load her onto a Vath spaceship even while the droids set fire to the building that holds her family and friends.

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