Sunday, March 20, 2016

Review: mini-reviews of The Man Who Spoke Snakish and The Ballad of Black Tom

This is the English translation of a book that was a big hit in its native Estonia, about a world where snakes have taught humans Snakish, the language of animals.  The story is set in the medieval period where people are leaving the forest to live in villages and the main character is the last man who can speak Snakish.  The author heavily satires village life and Christian beliefs, but to be fair he does much the same to the Pagan characters as well.  Despite that, it's surprising dark at times.  It's well written and engaging, but where it fails for me is that I think the author had the opportunity to make some meaningful statements on social and cultural change, but concentrates instead on satire and drama.

Rating: 7.5/10.

This is another of the novellas that started putting out last year.  It's a retelling and deconstruction of H.P. Lovecraft's "The Horror at Red Hook".  I haven't read the original story, but from looking it up online some of the same characters appear, but the important new one is one Charles Thomas Tester, a young black man who deals with sorcerers, elder gods, and racism in 1920's New York.  Halfway through the narrative switches to the cop, Malone, and while it makes sense for plot reasons, I didn't find his character quite as engaging.  Otherwise, the story was very good.

Rating: 8/10.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Eye on New Releases for March 15, 2016

(Paperback and ebook reprint)

"When a young Victorian couple inadvertently tamper with Sir William Reynolds's latest invention, a time-space machine, they find themselves flung not only into the future but also across the void of space. Now, trapped on an alien world with a landscape of weird vegetation and overseen by giant, long-legged machines operated by gruesome octopus-like creatures, they must find a way to survive. And when they learn that the monsters are plotting an invasion of Earth, can they find a way to return home and save the planet?"

This one has been seen in the wild already and I myself got from the publisher three weeks early.  My review is here.

"Four women—a soldier, a scholar, a poet, and a socialite—are caught up on opposing sides of a violent rebellion. As war erupts and their loyalties and agendas and ideologies come into conflict, the four fear their lives may pass unrecorded. Using the sword and the pen, the body and the voice, they struggle not just to survive, but to make history."

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Eye on New Releases for March 8, 2016

 (Fifth and final book of The Dagger and the Coin)

"Lord Regent Geder Palliako's great war has spilled across the world, nation after nation falling before the ancient priesthood and weapon of dragons. But even as conquest follows conquest, the final victory retreats before him like a mirage. Schism and revolt begin to erode the foundations of the empire, and the great conquest threatens to collapse into a permanent conflict of all against all.
In Carse, with armies on all borders, Cithrin bel Sarcour, Marcus Wester, and Clara Kalliam are faced with the impossible task of bringing a lasting peace to the world. Their tools: traitors high in the imperial army, the last survivor of the dragon empire, and a financial scheme that is either a revolution or the greatest fraud in the history of the world."

 ( novella)

"Katya deals in Authenticities and Captures, trading on nostalgia for a past long gone. Her clients are rich and they demand items and experiences with only the finest verifiable provenance. Other people’s lives have value, after all.

But when her A.I. suddenly stops whispering in her ear she finds herself cut off from the grid and loses communication with the rest of the world.

The man who stepped out of the trees while hunting deer cut her off from the cloud, took her A.I. and made her his unwilling guest."

(Story collection)

Bestselling author Ken Liu selects his award-winning science fiction and fantasy tales for a groundbreaking collection—including a brand-new piece exclusive to this volume.
Table of Contents:
  • Preface
  • The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species
  • State Change
  • The Perfect Match
  • Good Hunting
  • The Literomancer
  • Simulacrum
  • The Regular
  • The Paper Menagerie
  • An Advanced Reader’s Picture Book of Comparative Cognition (previously unpublished)
  • The Waves
  • Mono no aware
  • All the Flavors
  • A Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel
  • The Litigation Master and the Monkey King
  • The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Review: The Winged Histories

The Winged Histories
by Sofia Samatar

Format: Hardcover, 337 pages
Publisher: Small Beer Press
Cover Art: Kathleen Jennings
Release Date: March 16, 2016
ISBN-13: 978-1618731142

"Four women — a soldier, a scholar, a poet, and a socialite — are caught up on opposing sides of a violent rebellion. As war erupts and their loyalties and agendas and ideologies come into conflict, the four fear their lives may pass unrecorded. Using the sword and the pen, the body and the voice, they struggle not just to survive, but to make history."

Sofia Samatar's debut novel was the lovely A Stranger in Olondria, released in 2013, about a young island boy who journeys with his father, a trader, to the empire of Olondria, and becomes haunted by a ghost.  The Winged Histories is the follow-up story.  It's billed as a "companion novel" rather than a sequel as only two minor characters from the first book show up here and the main plot is not directly connected.  So while it's not necessary to have read A Stranger in Olondria in order to read The Winged Histories, I would recommend it if only because it was a great read. 

The Winged Histories is itself a fantastic novel.  Like I previously stated, it's not a direct sequel, taking tensions simmering in the background of the first book and putting them center stage here.  The story is of a civil war, however, the conflict is not just political, but also cultural and religious as well.  There also seems to be an undercurrent of an ancient Olondrian superstition running through this too. 

Like the blurb above says, the story follows four women on various sides of the civil war.  Tavis/Tav is a girl from a noble family who defies her family to become a soldier and joins her cousin in launching a rebellion.  Tialon is the scholar, the daughter of a priest of a cult that has supplanted the land's primary religion.  Seren is a woman of a nomadic tribe often persecuted by the other ethnic groups and is also Tav's lover.  Siski is Tav's sister and is the socialite, who has rejected her cousin and comes to regret it later.

While the book deals with heavy themes of war and religion, it's more concerned with the effect on the characters and how each woman has made an impact on history.  After an opening chapter that was slightly incoherent (perhaps deliberately?), the story is easy enough to follow, though it does jump back and forth between narratives and chronologies.  I believe readers who are patient though will be rewarded.  The prose is excellent.  Samatar can certainly write and knows what she's doing. 

The Winged Histories is a fantastic, wonderful book and companion novel to the also lovely A Stranger in Olondria.  Very highly recommended. 

Rating: 9/10.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Artist Spotlight: Rovina Cai

Rovina Cai is a fairly new artist in the genre scene.  She first caught my eye with her art for short stories "The Maiden Thief" by Melissa Marr and "Tom, Thom" by K.M. Ferebee.  As you can see, her style is quite evocative and intriguing, and influenced by pencils and graphite materials.  I look forward to seeing more of her work. Her website is here

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Eye on New Releases for March 1, 2016

"For more than sixteen hundred years, Nick Medea has followed and guarded the Gate that keeps the mortal realm and that of Feirie separate, seeking in vain absolution for the fatal errors he made when he slew the dragon. All that while, he has tried and failed to keep the woman he loves from dying over and over.

Yet in the fifty years since the Night the Dragon Breathed over the city of Chicago, the Gate has not only remained fixed, but open to the trespasses of the Wyld, the darkest of the Feiriefolk. Not only does that mean an evil resurrected from Nick’s own past, but the reincarnation of his lost Cleolinda, a reincarnation destined once more to die.

Nick must turn inward to that which he distrusts the most: the Dragon, the beast he slew when he was still only Saint George. He must turn to the monster residing in him, now a part of him...but ever seeking escape.

The gang war brewing between Prohibition bootleggers may be the least of his concerns. If Nick cannot prevent an old evil from opening the way between realms...then not only might Chicago face a fate worse than the Great Fire, but so will the rest of the mortal realm."

 ( novella)

"The greatest philosopher of all time is offering to sell his soul to the Devil. All he wants is twenty more years to complete his life’s work. After that, he really doesn’t care.

But the assistant demon assigned to the case has his suspicions, because the philosopher is Saloninus–the greatest philosopher, yes, but also the greatest liar, trickster and cheat the world has yet known; the sort of man even the Father of Lies can’t trust.

He’s almost certainly up to something; but what?"

"In the vein of classic authors such as Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke, Nathan Arkwright is a seminal author of the twentieth century. At the end of his life he becomes reclusive and cantankerous, refusing to appear before or interact with his legion of fans. Little did anyone know, Nathan was putting into motion his true, timeless legacy. 

Convinced that humanity cannot survive on Earth, his Arkwright Foundation dedicates itself to creating a colony on an Earth-like planet several light years distant. Fueled by Nathan's legacy, generations of Arkwrights are drawn together, and pulled apart, by the enormity of the task and weight of their name."