Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Thinking About Reading...

In Greek mythology there's a story of King Lykaonas of Arcadia and his fifty sons who were cursed by the father of the gods, Zeus, to become wolves. The very first Lycanthropes.

Forensic pathologist, Sophia Katsaros, receives a cryptic phone call from Greece telling her that her brothers are missing and leaves to search for them. With the help of Illyanna, her brother's girlfriend, Sophia examines the evidence but cannot accept a bizarre possibility: Has one or both of her brothers been transformed during the Lykaia, the ceremony where Man is said to become Wolf?

Who is Marcus, a dark stranger that both repels and excites her? And what is the real story behind the 5000 year old curse of King Lykaonas?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Review: two mini-reviews

Neil Clarke, editor of Clarkesworld magazine, edited this Kickstarter anthology about the positive and negative impacts of cyborgs in science fiction.  As a cyborg myself, I was curious enough to contribute to the project.  There quite a few big-name authors involved, and the anthology is quite well written with very few duds.  A few stories, while good, seem a better fit for a more general sci-fi anthology, but most do a good job presenting a more thoughtful look at the cyborg experience itself. 

Rating: 8/10.

Zadayi Red is a mythical, fantasy story about the ancestors of Native Americans.  The author, Caleb Fox, is himself a Native American of Cherokee descent and this story was inspired by his ancestral legends and myths.  Indeed, there are mythical fantasy elements including shape-shifting, spiritual journeys, spirit companions, and ritual magic.  It's a good lyrical quest story, though not near as good as say, The Last Unicorn.

Rating: 7.5/10. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Thinking About Reading...

Award-winning author Philip Murdstone is in trouble. His star has waned. The world is leaving him behind. His agent, the beautiful and ruthless Minerva Cinch, convinces him that his only hope is to write a sword-and-sorcery blockbuster. Unfortunately, Philip - allergic to the faintest trace of Tolkien - is utterly unsuited to the task. In a dark hour, a dwarfish stranger comes to his rescue. But the deal he makes with Pocket Wellfair turns out to have Faustian consequences.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Review: The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem
by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu

Format: Hardcover, 399 pages
Publisher: Tor
Cover Art: Stephen Martiniere
Release Date: November 11, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0765377067

Wang Miao is a Chinese researcher working on nanomaterials with the eventual goal of creating a space elevator.  He seems to be living in strange times however, as scientists are committing suicide and the military asks him to join a secretive scientific organization as a double agent.  He also comes involved in an online video game that seems deceptively simple at first, but turns out to be incredibly complex and may be have staggering implications to the real world and mankind’s place in the cosmos. 

The name Cixin Liu, or more properly Liu Cixin, is probably not familiar to most Americans or other English speakers and that’s because the author is Chinese.  To others, he is one of the biggest authors of speculative fiction in China, and his Three-Body trilogy, of which The Three-Body Problem is the first book, is China’s biggest-selling hard sci-fi series, spanning time from the chaos of the Cultural Revolution to the end of the universe.  This is not the first time Liu’s work has been translated, but The Three-Body Problem is his first novel to have been so. 

One of the first things someone might ask about this book is how well was it translated and how does it stand up.  To my eyes, it does so extremely well.  The translation was superbly handled by Ken Liu, one of the best emerging sci-fi authors of the last few years.  In his translator’s postscript, Liu mentions that very slight changes, with the author’s permission, were made to help explain background detail of China and to streamline the storytelling differences between Chinese and English. 

So what is different about the story than most Western readers would expect?  It’s actually a little hard to put my finger on it.  If I were pressed, I’d say one thing is that while the plot is very straightforward and linear, the structure is somewhat unusual in that it jumps around a lot focusing on bits here and there that contribute to the story.  In other words, the plot may be pretty direct but the story is not.  Those who prefer a simpler novel may be put off, but those used to unconventional narratives should be fine.

One thing in particular I want to mention about this book is that I think it works better if you don’t know much about it going in.  I believe the story reads much better if you ignore the official blurbs in order to avoid spoilers.  That’s why the synopsis I provided above is fairly minimal, and it’s therefore why I won’t say much other than that the novel involves aliens, complicated physics, and an interstellar struggle for survival. 

The final point I do want to make is that this book, and the trilogy by implication, is quite complex.  It has many of historical and literary aspects that would appeal to Literature readers while also covering many philosophical, mathematical, scientific issues in often mind-numbing detail.  A rudimentary understanding of physics is not just recommended, it’s required.  It’s easy to see why these books have garnered so much popularity and acclaim in China.

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu is a great, enthralling book and I’m glad it’s now available in English.  It is a complex science fiction book and it’s easy to see why it is so popular in China.  It is a welcome addition to world speculative fiction.  Strongly recommended. 

Rating: 8.5/10.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Artist Spotlight: Donato Giancola

It's the beginning of December and therefore time to showcase another cover artist.  This month's spotlight is on Donato Giancola.  He's been around for a while and like many artists in the genre he's done a lot of both fantastical and science fictional scenes.  His work has a very lush, painted quality that can startlingly photo-realistic or abstract at will.  His website is here

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

New Releases for December 2, 2014

 (B&N, Amazon)
(ebook only)
Maritinia is at the far edge of the Empire, a planet with little economic value in the Sire’s sphere of influence. 

And it’s just rebelled. 

The people of Maritinia believe the Empire will not care that they’ve broken free. But the Empire is built on the belief that if an insignificant planet can revolt, then other, more important planets might follow suit.

So the Empire sends an agent to Maritinia with a mission: assassinate and replace one of the conspirators, and do enough to sow discord that when the soldiers do land, any opposition will be quickly crushed.

Thus Jakob finds himself immersed in the inner circle of the madman who led the rebellion. A raw recruit with only his political officer—a separate consciousness inserted into his brain—to speak with, Jakob is out of his element as an operative. And while he falls deeper into the conspiracy, he begins to question everything: the despotic admiral in charge of the coup, his feelings for a native woman, and—most troublingly—whether he still agrees with the will of the Sire.

Possessed by a ghost who feeds on death, the undying assassin Ahjvar the Leopard has been captured by the Lady of Marakand, enslaved by necromancy to be captain of her Red Masks. His shield-bearer Ghu, a former slave with an uncanny ability to free the captive dead, follows Ahjvar into the war-torn lands of the Duina Catairna to release him, even if that means destroying what is left of Ahj’s tormented soul.
Deyandara, the last surviving heir of the Catairnan queen, rides into a land ravaged by disease and war, seeking the allies she abandoned months before, though they have no hope of standing against the army led by the invulnerable Red Masks of Marakand and the divine terror of the Lady.
In the city of Marakand, former enemies ally and old friends seek one another’s deaths as loyalists of the entombed gods Gurhan and Ilbialla raise a revolt, spearheaded by the Grasslander wizard Ivah, the shapeshifting Blackdog, and the bear-demon Mikki. The Lady’s defenses are not easily breached, though, and the one enemy who might withstand her, the Northron wanderer Moth, bearer of the sword Lakkariss, has vanished.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Review: Foxglove Summer

Foxglove Summer
by Ben Aaronovitch

Format: Hardcover, 377 pages
Publisher: Gollancz
Cover Art: Patrick Knowles
Release Date: November 13, 2014 (UK)
ISBN-13: 978-0575132504

The fifth book in the Peter Grant series, Foxglove Summer moves the action to the countryside in the region of Herefordshire.  Two eleven-year-old girls have gone missing and Peter is sent to investigate.  At first, it seems like a standard missing or kidnapping case, but it doesn’t take long for a supernatural element to creep in.  Peter must delve into the strangeness and darkness of the country because time is running out…

The Peter Grant books have become one of my favorite series and Foxglove Summer is another great entry.  First off, Aaronovitch gets the main character out of his usual comfort zone and deep into the country, but the storytelling is just as strong and crisp as always.  All the usual stuff fans have come to expect are present: the quick plot, the snappy dialogue, as well as the numerous genre references.  Peter is once again in fine form, though he is obviously changed due to Lesley’s betrayal.  He gets a new romantic interest, the identity of which should not be surprising to those to have read this far. 

The big difference with this book is of course the change in location.  Set in the rolling hills and rural area of rural western England obviously changes things a little, though the short digressions into historical detail remain.  Once again, it is clear Aaronovitch has done his research to make the location feel true.  The big fantastical bit of this book is the heavy focus on the fae.  I don’t want to say too much so as not to spoil anything, but those who have read some other stories with the fae and the countryside may have some idea of what happens.   

It’s hard to think of any drawbacks with this book.  If there is any problem with Foxglove Summer, it’s that it’s clearly a middle book.  It’s meant to be a breather after the climatic events of the last book, Broken Homes.  Personally, I would have preferred to jump right into the overall storyline with Lesley and the Faceless Man, but that’s just me.  To be fair, Aaronovitch does start laying the groundwork for future books and we do learn some background stuff like the events at Ettersberg and the genealogy of another character. 

Foxglove Summer is another great, enthralling entry in the Peter Grant series.  It does something a little different while maintaining the quality and tone of the previous books.  The only real drawback is that it steps back to take a breather after the last book.  Can anyone tell that I really love this series?  Give me the next book already!

Rating: 9/10.