Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: old review from BSC: The City and the City

The City and the City
by China Mieville

Format: Hardcover, 312 pages
Publisher: Del Ray
Cover Design: FWIS
Release Date: May 26, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-0345497512 

It’s difficult to give a decent summary and feeling for The City and the City without going too much into spoilers.  When a young woman is murdered in the city of Beszel, it looks to be a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlu.  However the investigation quickly reveals that nothing is at seems, for though the victim's body was found in decaying Beszel, she was murdered in the sister city of vibrant Ul Qoma.  This changes everything for Ul Qoma is not just a neighboring city; it is practically another country, one that shares the same topographical location as the city of Beszel. 

Longtime residents grow up with the two cities built side by side and on top of each other.  They become practiced at "unseeing" the other side for to inadvertently cross the border, is to invoke "Breach", an entity which polices and separates the two cities.  Borlu partners up with Ul Qoma dectective, Qussim Dhatt to search for clues to the young woman's murder.  In the process, they stumble upon conspiracies involving nationalists, unificationists, and a terrifying third entity that is said to lie in the spaces between the cities.

One of the first things you’ll notice is that this book defies easy classification.  What genre is it: fantasy, science fiction, mystery?  The truth is, it is rather a blending of all three, a homage to murder mystery and crime fiction in a strangely fantastical setting.  The mystery itself is pretty straightforward.  A young woman is found murdered and an investigation discovers a conspiracy (or two or three).  The trick is to uncover the conspiracies and bring the woman’s murderer to justice.  This part is done fairly well and the author does a good job keeping the tale moving and providing plot twists to keep the reader interested.  Though there are a few mistakes that real detectives probably would not make, mostly stemming from Borlu's decision to not to follow up on some clues.  Borlu figures since a breach has probably occured that the mysterious police body will have the resources to find the killer and serve justice.  However, the murderer does not make things so easy for him.

In combination with the murder mystery, is the novel’s interesting literal take on Charles Dickens’ title, A Tale of Two Cities.  The nature of the two cities is hard to explain, but think of known cities in history that have been divided such as Berlin and Jerusalem.   Now take that to the next level and you may find the truth behind Beszel and Ul Qoma.  The true nature of the cities' "split" is never revealed.  Rather Mieville shows the effects of the split and psychology of the cities’ residents and leaves the rest up to the reader.  I suppose you could say the book is not only a tale of two cities but also a tale of two mysteries.

This was my first book by China Mieville.  I have no idea how it compares to his other work, but I have to admit it was a very interesting read.  The City and the City is an extremely interesting novel that combines several genres at once and should appeal to many readers of speculative fiction.  This review cannot truly capture the essence of the story so be sure to pick it up and find out for yourself.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Thinking About Reading...

This magnificent retelling of a Native American hero cycle brings to life an ancient people and a time of magic. Dahzi is a child of prophecy, born with magical powers but also with deadly enemies who will stop at nothing to kill him and everyone he loves.  Sunoya, a young shaman of the Galayi people, has had a powerful and frightening vision: it is of the eagle feather cape, the gift of the Thunderbird that is worn by the seer of the people to see the future and gain the guidance of the gods. The cape is torn and bloody, and it will no longer bring visions to the seer. But Sunoya's vision also tells her of the cure: a child will be born to the Galayi, a hero who will restore the cape and return the goodwill of the gods to the people. Sunoya takes her vision to the seer, an old woman named Tsola who has been Sunoya's teacher, and learns that it is true: the cape is in ruins, and Tsola's visions are dark. The Galayi are cut off from their gods.  Dahzi may be that hero, if he can survive the hatred of his grandfather. He was born after his mother's death, as she fled from her father's anger. But Dahzi carries the hope of all of his people, along with the power to become a great chief. He will be tested by his family, by his people, and by the gods.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review: old reviews from Bookspot Central starting with In the Courts of the Sun

A while back I did some book reviews for a message board called Bookspot Central.  I never posted the full reviews here on my blog; only provided a link to the other site.  Well, things have moved on like they do on the Internet and I recently discovered that the links to the reviews I did for BSC are now gone.  I thought I would post the old reviews here so they aren't lost.

In the Courts of the Sun
by Brian D'Amato

Format: Hardback, 684 pages
Publisher: Dutton
Cover Design: Gene Mollica, Brian D'Amato
Release Date: March 26, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-0525950516

According to the ancient Maya, December 21, 2012, could be the day the world ends. In the Courts of the Sun begins with Jed DeLanda, a modern-day descendant of the Maya, who goes back in time to save mankind. He can’t go back physically, but it is possible to send back the consciousness of a person and to place it inside the mind of someone living in the past. The plan was to put Jed’s mind inside the body of a Mayan king in the year 664 CE, but, instead, he winds up inside the head of a man about to be killed by ritual sacrifice. Can Jed keep his host alive long enough to save the world?

Jed has experienced many of the hardships of being a Native American.  He’s also a math prodigy who was taught the Sacrifice Game; a divination ritual used by the ancient Maya, and uses that to his advantage in online trading.  When a previously unknown Maya Codex surfaces with remarkably accurate predication of disasters, Jed gets in touch with researchers in hopes of using the Game to avert the end of the world.  Unfortunately, many aspects of the Game have been lost over time.  A terrorist strike on Disney World starts the world sliding into chaos, leaving the one chance to save mankind in a one-way trip to the past. 

One thing going for Brian D’Amato’s book is that it has several intriguing concepts, one of which is the Sacrifice Game.  It differs from palm reading and prophecies in that it relies more on math and knowledge of events to discover the most probable outcome.  Thankfully, D’Amato provides just enough of the basics of the Game and abstracts the rest to make the story a lot more interesting. 

The most fascinating part of the novel is the journey to the Maya historical period.  This section is incredibly well researched and detailed, giving an extraordinary view into a very strange and complex society.  It was a joy to read about a civilization that did not think or act like modern society and sadly, the section was only a portion of the novel. 

While In the Courts of the Sun has an interesting premise, the book also has several flaws.  Ironically, while the section set in the Maya historical period is the best part, it is also the most unnecessary to the plot.  As previously stated, the time travel technology works by sending a person’s mind and it leaves no way for that person to get back.  The whole purpose of going back in time was to rediscover the lost methods of the Game and in that the research team did succeed, however, Jed had to leave clues that those in the future had to reassemble.  Thus, about half of the entire book could have been excised without any real loss to the main story arc. 

Another flaw is that Jed is not a very sympathetic or empathic character.  He’s a bit of a wiseass (which seems to be a popular in fiction lately) who has an intuitive understanding of games, but that is really all drew me to him.  He’s also a bit of a Gary Stu who knows and can do more things than I think the character is really capable of.  Some of this is explained early in the novel; however, since most of the character development happens in the historical period, nothing really happens to the original Jed in the 21st Century. 

I also did not like the plot twists at the beginning and end of the novel.  As you may have already noted, the story opens with a cliffhanger, which in my view is not really a good way to start a book.  Unless the author is planning to use it to play around with the reader’s expectations, a cliffhanger is merely a cheap plot device.  And neither did I like the twist ending for the character.  I did not buy the change in Jed’s mentality or the explanation behind the Maya end date. 

Overall, In the Courts of the Sun is an interesting book, however I could not get past what I considered to be several big flaws.  It’s almost as if the author wrote two different stories and then tried to force them together into one big novel.  Frankly, I don’t think D’Amato managed to pull it off.  Some people might be able to enjoy this book, but I’m afraid I cannot recommend it to anyone else.  I’m still uncertain if I will read the next book in the series.

Thinking About Reading...

Diamond is an odd little boy, a seemingly fragile child—who proves to be anything but. An epic story begins when he steps into the world his parents have so carefully kept him from, a world where gigantic trees each house thousands of humans and another human species, the papio, rule its far edges. Does Diamond hold the promise to remake one species and, perhaps, change all of the Creation?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Winners of the British Fantasy Awards 2014

The winners of the British Fantasy Awards 2014 were announced this past weekend.  A Stranger in Olondria won Best Fantasy Novel.  I read this one last year and it was a wonderful book.  Congratulations to all the winners!

Best fantasy novel (the Robert Holdstock Award): A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar (Small Beer Press)

Best horror novel (the August Derleth Award): The Shining Girls, Lauren Beukes (HarperCollins)

Best novella: Beauty, Sarah Pinborough (Gollancz)

Best short story: Signs of the Times, Carole Johnstone (Black Static #33)

Best anthology: End of the Road, Jonathan Oliver (ed.) (Solaris)

Best collection: Monsters in the Heart, Stephen Volk (Gray Friar Press)

Best small press: The Alchemy Press (Peter Coleborn)

Best comic/graphic novel: Demeter, Becky Cloonan

Best artist: Joey Hi-Fi

Best non-fiction: Speculative Fiction 2012, Justin Landon and Jared Shurin (eds) (Jurassic London)

Best magazine/periodical: Clarkesworld, Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace and Kate Baker (ed.) (Wyrm Publishing)

Best film/television episode: Game of Thrones: The Rains of Castamere, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (HBO)

Best newcomer (the Sydney J. Bounds Award): Ann Leckie, for Ancillary Justice (Orbit)

The British Fantasy Society Special Award (The Karl Edward Wagner Award): Farah Mendlesohn

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Artist Spotlight: Vincent Chong

I've been a fan of Vincent Chong for a while now.  I can't really describe his style, but something about it really appeals to me.  He does a lot of work for limited edition small presses, notably Subterranean Press.  You can see his full portfolio on his website.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Eye on New Releases for 9/2/2014

The final installment of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy.
It is winter in Area X. A new team embarks across the border on a mission to find a member of a previous expedition who may have been left behind. As they press deeper into the unknown—navigating new terrain and new challenges—the threat to the outside world becomes more daunting. In Acceptance, the last installment of Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy, the mysteries of Area X may have been solved, but their consequences and implications are no less profound—or terrifying.

Buy it today at your local bookstore, B&N, or Amazon.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Thinking About Reading...

Julienne's aunts are the archer who shot down the suns and the woman who lives on the moon. They teach her that there's more to the city of her birth than meets the eye - that beneath the modern chrome and glass of Hong Kong there are demons, gods, and the seethe of ancient feuds. As a mortal Julienne is to give them wide berth, for unlike her divine aunts she is painfully vulnerable, and choice prey for any demon. 

Until one day, she comes across a wounded, bleeding woman no one else can see, and is drawn into an old, old story of love, snake women, and the deathless monk who hunts them.

This is a novella put out by Immersion Press, but you can buy it from B&N or Amazon.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Eye on New Releases for 8/26/14

On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past... while a world goes to war with itself. 

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin. At the heart of this war lie the pacifistic Dhai people, once enslaved by the Saiduan and now courted by their former masters to provide aid against the encroaching enemy.

Stretching from desolate tundra to steamy, semi-tropical climes seething with sentient plant life, this is an epic tale of blood mages and mercenaries, emperors and priestly assassins who must unite to save a world on the brink of ruin.

As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war; a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family to save his skin; and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father's people or loyalty to her alien Empress.  

Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself. 

In the end, one world will rise - and many will perish.

Buy it today at your local bookstore, B&N, or Amazon.

Flying at the Speed of Night . . . Following in the successful footsteps of his previous short fiction collection ("Lights in the Deep") award-winning and award-nominated Science Fiction author Brad R. Torgersen is back with twelve new tales. From the edges of explored space, to the depths of the artificial soul. At once breaking the limits of human endurance, while also treading the tender landscapes of the human heart. Originally appearing in the pages of Analog magazine, Orson Scott Card's InterGalactic Medicine Show magazine, Mike Resnick's Galaxy's Edge magazine, and elsewhere, these stories are collected here for the first time; with commentary and anecdotes from the author. Introductions by bestsellers L.E. Modesitt, Jr., Kevin J. Anderson, and Dave Wolverton (Farland.) 

Buy it today at your local bookstore, B&N, or Amazon.  


It's the eve of the twenty-second century: a world where the dearly departed send postcards back from Heaven and evangelicals make scientific breakthroughs by speaking in tongues; where genetically engineered vampires solve problems intractable to baseline humans and soldiers come with zombie switches that shut off self-awareness during combat. And it’s all under surveillance by an alien presence that refuses to show itself.

Daniel Bruks is a living fossil: a field biologist in a world where biology has turned computational, a cat's-paw used by terrorists to kill thousands. Taking refuge in the Oregon desert, he’s turned his back on a humanity that shatters into strange new subspecies with every heartbeat. But he awakens one night to find himself at the center of a storm that will turn all of history inside-out.  

Now he’s trapped on a ship bound for the center of the solar system. To his left is a grief-stricken soldier, obsessed by whispered messages from a dead son. To his right is a pilot who hasn’t yet found the man she's sworn to kill on sight. A vampire and its entourage of zombie bodyguards lurk in the shadows behind. And dead ahead, a handful of rapture-stricken monks takes them all to a meeting with something they will only call “The Angels of the Asteroids.”

Their pilgrimage brings Dan Bruks, the fossil man, face-to-face with the biggest evolutionary breakpoint since the origin of thought itself.

Buy it today at your local bookstore, B&N, or Amazon. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thinking About Reading...

The sign above his Island Books says, "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World," but grumpy bookstore owner A.J. Fikry seems like a living refutation of its meaning. Recently widowed, his sales falling precipitously, and his prize rare book missing, A.J. finds little comfort even in the company of books. Then just when it seems like he has become an unreachable island, a large package arrives that begins to change everything....