Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Monday, November 29, 2010

Book Review: Bleed by Peter M. Ball


Sequels can be tricky. Bleed's predecessor, Horn, deserves all the praises it received: it's tight, compact, subversive, and invigorates new energy into the urban fantasy genre. The dilemma of Peter M. Ball is how do you follow up on that success.

Now there are several avenues to tackle a sequel, just as readers will have different expectations. Take for example Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead, which has little resemblance to Ender's Game, and could only be called a sequel in the sense that it includes a character or two from the previous book. There is also the case with Jeff VanderMeer and his Ambergris novels, each one distinct from each other, but are nonetheless sequels because of the common setting and fresh, creative energy that drew our attention in the first place. More common are the safe sequels, books that continue the formula and plot that were present in the original, delivering more of the same while progressing the story. Bleed falls under the last one and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Ball, after all, left his protagonist in an interesting place at the end of Horn, and Bleed explores those consequences.

The author maintains the strengths of Horn: Bleed is relatively short, quick to the action, and uses flashbacks to keep readers up to speed on current events. Knowledge of the previous novella is not necessary to appreciate the story and this stands quite well on its own. It also successfully fuses elements of the noir and urban fantasy genre to create its own stylish atmosphere.

Having said that, what originally drew me to Horn was the freshness of it and how everything comes together. Bleed, for the most part, feels a bit derivative, and lacks the edginess of its predecessor. It's still an entertaining read, mind you, but in terms of quality, there is no doubt that I'd recommend new readers to try Horn first rather than Bleed. This is, of course, down to reader expectation, and those looking for their Miriam Aster fix will find that Ball delivers. Personally, I was hoping that Ball would write a sequel that surpassed his previous work, but Bleed isn't that kind of novella.

On its own merits, Bleed for the most part is an entertaining urban fantasy that's tight and doesn't waste the reader's time with unnecessarily details or action. Ball gives readers a complex protagonist that is both pulpish and modern, and definitely one of the more memorable characters in fiction.

November 29, 2010 Links and Plugs

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eBook fan? Go buy these books:
Sourdough & Other Stories by Angela Slatter
Black-Winged Angels by Angela Slatter

Friday, November 26, 2010

November 26, 2010 Links and Plugs

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Yarn by Jon Armstrong

Friday, November 19, 2010

November 19, 2010 Links and Plugs

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Fresh from the mail:
The Barsoom Project by Larry Niven & Steven Barnes

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

November 17, 2010 Links and Plugs

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If you're in the US, now's a great chance to read this impressive comic. Here's an old review from Andrew Wheeler.
Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan

Monday, November 15, 2010

Book Review: Glitter Rose by Marianne de Pierres

 

After reading Marianne de Pierres's short story collection, I realized that the book's packaging was apt. Glitter Rose is small hardcover that’s compact and gives off the vibe that it's elegant and reliable. Pierres's prose is similar: it's concise, fast-paced, and quite atmospheric. Arguably it's the latter that is the author's strength. Four of the five stories included here focus on her fictional Carmine Island and what immediately grabs you in the sense of foreboding and eeriness.

Looking at it objectively, there's nothing remarkable when it comes to the plot of Pierres's stories and neither is the language fanciful nor precious. Instead, the author focuses more on characterization and developing her setting without being overt when it comes to the details. Take for example the protagonist Tinashi. It's clear that she's haunted but it isn't until the third story, "The Flag Game", that the specific nature of her crisis is revealed. Yet in the initial short story, "Glimmer-by-Dark", we already realize that she's running away from some tragedy. Another character that shines through the text is Carmine Island. It takes a skillful writer to make the setting a unique individual and Pierres succeeds here. This is a good example of how a writer can conjure images in the reader's mind without ramming description down our throats.

Having said that, what is Glitter Rose? It's a collection of five stories, four of which revolves around de Pierres's Glitter Rose (or Carmine Island, as I've been using in this review) setting. The way the book is designed is intentional. There is no table of contents for example and we immediately dive into the first story. And in a way, this makes sense as The four stories, read in chronological order, form a coherent narrative but each one easily stands on its own. It's only after the fourth story that we get a section devoted to the author's notes for each story before it transitions into the fifth story, a stand-alone piece on an enigmatic bookshop. The style of "In the Bookshop" is undeniably de Pierres's as she employs the same techniques which made her Glitter Rose stories potent.

November 15, 2010 Links and Plugs

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Songs of Love and Death: All-Original Tales of Star-Crossed Love edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Friday, November 05, 2010

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Happy release day: (Matt's also a legendary game designer)

Amortals by Matt Forbeck

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Plug: Five Supernatural Thrillers by Lavie Tidhar

On the day of publication of his latest book, the supernatural thriller An Occupation of Angels, Lavie Tidhar picks five favourite works which helped inspire it.

1. Raiders of the Lost Ark

Not only does the first Indiana Jones movie show once and for all that Nazis make the best villains, but it has everything else, in the best tradition of the 30s movie serials and pulp fiction: a tough hero, a beautiful girl, a mysterious object of great power, an international scope, a chase, a mystery, ancient ruins... In An Occupation of Angels the girl is the tough hero, and the sunny climes of Egypt give way to the frozen ways of Siberia, but the spirit of pulp, I hope, runs through it nevertheless, and the sense of adventure, and mysteries, and fun.

2. Declare

In Declare, Tim Powers created a Le Carre-style thriller focusing on the fictional Andrew Hale, the real-life story of British superspy Kim Philby (and his father), and Noah’s Ark! A brilliant mix of the spy novel with the supernatural, filled with Powers’ usual meticulous historical research, and showing that Cold War era Russians make the second best villains. I saw no reason in An Occupation of Angels, incidentally, not to have both... including a scene with our heroine trapped in the dreaded Lubyanka prison. Naturally.

3. Northern Lights

Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights (or The Golden Compass, for you Yanks) is many things, including, I think, a damn good thriller. It’s set in the North, where my own heroine, Killarney, ends up, and it includes contemplation of the role of God and belief, and angels, all of which feature in An Occupation of Angels. I loved Northern Lights when I first read it... I even had a first edition at some point, long sold on a lean month to pay off rent.

4. The Dumas Club

Or The Club Dumas to you Yanks (why do Americans keep changing perfectly good titles? See also my last book below). Arturo Pérez-Reverte’s masterpiece of book collecting, Three Musketeers aficionados and, just possibly, the devil was made into an excruciating film starring Johnny Depp (The Ninth Gate) but if we ignore Polanski (as we should!) this book reminds us just how important books are – and how much fun they can be, too.

5. Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow

Or Smilla’s Sense of Snow to our American cousins (as readers of John Le Carre would call them). Another wonderful book, by Peter Høeg, combining a murder mystery, a possibly science fictional, possibly Tintin-inspired premise, and some of the best writing ever to grace a page, this book really knows snow.

There’s a lot of snow in An Occupation of Angels, too – inspired by my own trip across Siberia, on the Trans-Siberian route from Moscow to Beijing, in 2000 – as well as angels, spies, Nazis, the KGB, God, trains, microlights, knife fights, snipers, small planes, an ice castle and a transdimensional gateway. Possibly.

Lavie Tidhar’s An Occupation of Angels (“stunningly imaginative and perfectly realised” – Michael Marshall) is released today. Pick up a copy on Amazon or follow Lavie on Twitter for a chance to win signed copies of his books!

November 2, 2010 Links and Plugs

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Special offer if you pre-order now:
Steampowered Lesbian Steampunk Stories edited by JoSelle Vanderhooft

Monday, November 01, 2010

Book Review: Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer


I’ll be upfront: I’m not a big fan of steampunk. Which isn’t to say that I dislike it, but rather it’s a concept that’s foreign and never piqued my interest. So an anthology like Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded doesn’t automatically impress me due to its subject matter or its editors.

Having said that, I find this book to be a strange beast. First is that this is a sequel. I didn’t get to read the original Steampunk so I have no idea what was covered there, but this anthology seems to pick up from what was supposed to be tackled there so the basics on the definition/history of steampunk isn’t thorough here, although it still touched upon for unfamiliar readers like myself. Because of this, the fiction more than the non-fiction (neatly located at the end of the book) speaks for the sub-genre.

The second point I want to highlight is the book design. Now the books of Tachyon, while elegantly laid out, has a certain uniformity that’s evident to anyone who’s bought more than a few of their titles. Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded remains (edit:) is not faithful to the house style, although there is some deviation, which is more than welcomed in this instance. Scattered throughout the book are fictional tidbits that elicit the steampunk mood: ads, notes, and portraits.

When it comes to the stories themselves, Ann & Jeff VanderMeer does a combination of reprint and original stories. The editors succeed in delivering steampunk-themed stories that are quite diverse in their subject matter. For example, if I encountered “The Gernsback Continuum” by William Gibson or “Wild Copper” by Samantha Henderson elsewhere, I wouldn’t immediately peg them as steampunk, although in restropect, there are steampunk elements in those stories if you assess them with a careful eye. This gives me hope that steampunk has flexibility without being overt when it comes to its sensibilities. Another memorable piece that’s reprinted here is “The Mechanical Aviary of Emperor Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar” by Shweta Narayan. Now what made this story stand out is that initially, it seems to be an Arabian Nights-esque piece peppered with steampunk elements as just an aesthetic. For some readers, a good science fiction story is wherein the science fictional aspect is integral to the narrative and in Narayan’s story, the steampunk element is essential. Which again goes to show the diversity of steampunk, not simply fantasy or science fiction with a different look but a genre with its own unique tropes.

That’s not to say every story here is impressive. There are choices here that while enjoyable, are honestly forgettable or have weaknesses that are evident. “O One” by Chris Roberson for example has a terrific start but the ending, while workable, seems abrupt and I wish the author could have develop this point more. Still, for the most part, I think the editors did a good job. In the original fiction front, “Dr. Lash Remembers” by Jeffrey Ford is an atmospheric and bizarre piece that could easily have found a place in other genre anthologies like New Weird or Horror. “The Mecha-Ostrich, ‘A Secret History of Steampunk’” by various authors is very different but at the same time what I’d come to expect from the VanderMeers. I give it props for ambition and delivery, but those looking for a more straight-forward narrative might be lost. When it comes to reprints, “Machine Maid” by Margo Lanagan is a story I encountered in the past in Extraordinary Engines and it was a great story back then and it’s still a terrific story now. Sydney Padua’s comic, “Ada Lovelace: The Origin!”, is popular and rightfully so.

The non-fiction isn’t to be ignored. “Which Is Mightier, the Pen or the Parasol?” by Gail Carriger and “At the Intersection of Technology and Romance” by Jake von Slatt are accessible essays. I wouldn’t label them as critical and essential must-reads in the history of steampunk, but they provide breathing room from what came before it. Rounding up the non-fiction is a roundtable interview and this is the real gem of the anthology and while it’s short, gives voice to the possible trajectories of the genre.

I’m still not a convert of the genre, but Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded showcases diverse fiction that I never realized was possible when it comes to steampunk. In that sense, the anthology is a success. There’s enough material here, whether it’s the selections or the design, for the book to be memorable, although those looking for a more formal 101 education about steampunk might fare better with the anthology’s predecessor.

November 1, 2010 Links and Plugs

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Glitter Rose by Marianne de Pierres