Saturday, September 27, 2014

Review: old review from BSC: Lamentation

by Ken Scholes

Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Publisher: Tor
Cover Design: Gregorgy Manchess
Release Date: Feburary 17, 2009
ISBN-13: 978-0765321275

The tale of Lamentation begins with the total destruction of the city of Windwir.  Windwir is the religious capital of the Androfrancine Order and home to the greatest Library and scholarly school in the known world.  Then in a blink of an eye, it is utterly destroyed.  The obliteration is noted in the distance by many including Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses. Another is Sethbert, Overseer of the Entrolusian City-States.  With him, is his consort Lady Jin Li Tam of House Tam and pawn of her father’s intelligence network.  Still another is a deceptively simple fisherman and former priest by the name of Petronus.  And then there is Neb, a young initiate in the Order who witnesses the city’s complete annihilation and is the sole survivor of the cataclysm. 

Rudolfo and Sethbert are the first to converge on the ruins of the city and it soon becomes clear that Sethbert’s mad ambitions are behind the destruction.  They come to blows and war is declared in the Named Lands.  Jin Li Tam and her father quickly side with Rudolfo against Sethbert.  Petronus feels it is his duty to inter the dead but he soon realizes his true duty is take command over the remnants of the Order when a new Pope comes to power siding with Sethbert.  Neb, scarred by horror, tries to bury his need for vengeance in his work with Petronus.  Alliances are made and broken, Popes are made and religious schisms created, new players are revealed to shift the balance, all is in upheaval in the aftermath and the world is changed forever. 

One of the first things you’ll notice about this book is the high amount of politicking and intrigue.  Surprisingly, there is very little military action or battles as is typical of fantasy. Most of the novel is given over to plots and counterplots, wheels within wheels within wheels.  There are many layers to the scheming from those who merely react or act as best they can, those who have immediate plans, and those with far wider goals.  Such a level of politics in a novel is pretty rare and the closest example would probably be George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series.  By the end of the books, the plotting that is revealed is staggering and quite frankly some of it stretches credibility.  At the least it made my head hurt.

Part of the reason the political credibility seems to be stretched too thin stems from the world building.  Simply put, the world feels too small to be host to the story.  The former city of Windwir was the religious and intellectual heart of the Named Lands and had a population of 200,000 yet it seems major locations are only days or weeks away from each other.  Granted, I wasn’t expecting a travelogue (which would have ruined the story anyhow), yet the amount of politicking seems to feel a little out of place.  There is little mention of areas and cultures outside the Named Lands.  Hopefully more will be revealed in future books. 

On the other hand, other aspects of the world building such as trade, food, and history are better handled.  There are no major info dumps in this book, for which many readers will likely be thankful.  Bits and pieces of the background are only revealed as needed.  One of the most important parts of the history is that the current civilization is a less advanced derivative of an earlier one.  The Androfrancine Order actually began as a group of scientists that came into conflict with a family of sorcerers.  The head of the family was enraged beyond reason and created a spell that caused massive destruction and essentially threw society back into the medieval age. 

The magic practiced by the peoples in current age was kind of disappointing as it only consists of powders to enhance speed, voice, or invisibility.  It seems that the true magic was that from earlier times.  Because of the science aspect, Lamentation is not a typical fantasy novel and has elements of science fiction technology and concepts.  Some examples of this are steam-driven ships and gunpowder firearms.  The most important example however, is the existence of “metal men”, which are basically robots reproduced from the previous age.  The Order’s mission is to find retrieve knowledge and power from what went before.  They hoarded the knowledge for their own benefit and that was the basis of their downfall. 

The dangers of pure knowledge is one the themes of the novel.  Another main theme is that change is inevitable and that looking back on the past is done as the expense of the present and the future.  All the main characters in the story – Rudolfo, Petronus, Neb, and Jin Li Tam – take their own journeys to this viewpoint.  While the character development is a little simplistic and is not presented as an actual debate on the subject matter, it does flow naturally from the plot of the story. 

Lamentation is a solid first novel in a planned five book series known as the Psalms of Isaak by Ken Scholes.  The second book, Canticle, will be released in October 2009, with the final three to be published between 2010 and 2011.  While the book has its flaws, it is impressive for a first novel and I’m looking forward to reading future books in this series.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Thinking About Reading...

In My Bookstore our greatest authors write about the pleasure, guidance, and support that their favorite bookstores and booksellers have given them over the years. The relationship between a writer and his or her local store and staff can last for years or even decades. Often it's the author's local store that supported him during the early days of his career, that continues to introduce and hand-sell her work to new readers, and that serves as the anchor for the community in which he lives and works.  
My Bookstore collects the essays, stories, odes and words of gratitude and praise for stores across the country in 81 pieces written by our most beloved authors. It's a joyful, industry-wide celebration of our bricks-and-mortar stores and a clarion call to readers everywhere at a time when the value and importance of these stores should be shouted from the rooftops.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Eye on New Releases for September 23, 2014

Youthful, ambitious Peter Schoeffer is on the verge of professional success as a scribe in Paris when his foster father, the wealthy merchant and bookseller Johann Fust, summons him home to corruption- riddled, feud-plagued Mainz to meet "a most amazing man."

Johann Gutenberg, a driven and caustic inventor, has devised a revolutionary—and, to some, blasphemous—method of bookmaking: a machine he calls a printing press. Fust is financing Gutenberg's workshop, and he orders Peter to become Gutenberg's apprentice. Resentful at having to abandon a prestigious career as a scribe, Peter begins his education in the "darkest art."

As his skill grows, so too does his admiration for Gutenberg and his dedication to their daring venture: printing copies of the Holy Bible. But when outside forces align against them, Peter finds himself torn between two father figures—the generous Fust and the brilliant, mercurial Gutenberg, who inspires Peter to achieve his own mastery.

Caught between the genius and the merchant, the old ways and the new, Peter and the men he admires must work together to prevail against overwhelming obstacles in a battle that will change history . . . and irrevocably transform them all.

United Kingdom:

Note: This book has previously been released in the United States as two separate books, Blindsight and Echopraxia, but has been collected into one edition for the British version.

February 13, 2082, First Contact. Sixty-two thousand objects of unknown origin plunge into Earth's atmosphere - a perfect grid of falling stars screaming across the radio spectrum as they burn. Not even ashes reach the ground. Three hundred and sixty degrees of global surveillance: something just took a snapshot. 

And then... nothing. 

But from deep space, whispers. Something out there talks - but not to us. Two ships, Theseus and the Crown of Thorns, are launched to discover the origin of Earth's visitation, one bound for the outer dark of the Kuiper Belt, the other for the heart of the Solar System. 

Their crews can barely be called human, what they will face certainly can't. 

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 September 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.