Archive for the ‘Fictions’ Category

Dangerous Thoughts!

February 17, 2010

Blood & Women & Swords, OH YEAH

December 15, 2009

Why yes, I’m a sucker for women with swords… isn’t everyone?

One of the big issues I have with a lot of ye olde Sword & Sorceress type stories is that the women hauling around the swords just aren’t that scary. I can’t explain this except to say that, you know, I’m a fan of the cheesy awful that is Conan, and… I’m looking for a heroine that can kick the shit out of him.

Best Served Cold
‘s heroine, Monza, is that heroine.

This book was an easy sell with the cover, but not so much the first few pages. The first 11 or 12 pages are kinda dull, really. Insipid people, insipid conversations, completely generic fantasy lite setting. Seriously, the setting was making me yawn. But according to the cover copy, this was a pretty solid rampaging revenge story, so I stuck it out.

I was not disappointed.

By page, what, 36? you’re going, “OH HOLY FUCK YO!” and Abercrombie gives you the big book opener you need to have to drive a revenge plot. You know, the thing that somebody does to you that’s so terrible that it can drive the whole bloody book all the way through. And trust me, it’s tough to justify the blood in this book. The big book opener goes a long way toward getting you there.

This book isn’t for everybody. It’s savagely brutal (I’m not making apologies for GW gore ever again). The people are decidedly unlikable. They’re the types of people who would survive and thrive in a world at perpetual war, and that means they are NOT NICE. So if you’re looking for nice people in bad situations, well. This isn’t it.

But they’re *interesting* people, and that’s what kept me reading. The cast is classically well done (reminded me of when I read my first Dragonlance novel… in a GOOD way). Folks are always backbiting, backstabbing. There are constantly shifting alliances and folks trying to play people off other folks. Old wounds and past events come into play. They’re wacky, driven, crazy folks, and I enjoyed watching them bicker (that said, there were some rather useless “fan fiction” scenes which added nothing but character squee. But not so many that I threw the book out. Just enough to roll my eyes).

I loved the main character, Monza, our sword-wielding heroine, primarily because she was not nice or honorable, and she was very, very scary. She’s out for herself. There’s no huge realization or change at the end. Just sort of a slow ebb and flow that made the ending satisfying but not syrupy. I loved, loved, loved the reversal between her and her initially optimistic sidekick. I found the fact that she’s supposed to be very good looking rather annoying (I do wonder how truly model-looking anybody in this world would look, but then, attractiveness is relative, so who knows what her face really looks like out there?), but Abercrombie made up for this with a few very nice, telling details about what it’s like to be a woman leading men (no easy comraderie with your men, who might take a pat on the back as come-on; always have to be the hard ass to keep from seeming too soft and having guys take advantage; always careful who you sleep with [if you sleep with anyone at all], etc.).

And that brings me to another plus for this novel. At one point, the team on board for the revenge plot has three women and three men. The balance shifts as the book goes on, but I was genuinely startled to realize that there was an entire scene central to the plot (a torture scene, no less!) which consisted entirely of female characters (our heroine, a mercenary, a poisoner, and a courtesan). Yes, it sucks that something like that is so surprising. But still neat when it happens. You just don’t see it a lot in fantasy epics.

The book was plotted like a dream, and I keep paging back through it to look at what Abercrombie did with this plot. My biggest complaint, as noted, was the bland fantasy lite setting. Incredibly disappointing with a well-plotted story like this with such great characters, brutality – and have I mentioned the plotting?

So, if you’re looking for new weird, this is not your cup of tea. But if you like strong female heroes, bloody battles, complex and twisted anti-heroes, and… if you just want a good, page-turning romp with cool but nasty folks, this is definitely the book for you.

Recommended, with aforementioned reservations.

Recommended: Heart of Veridon

November 10, 2009

I picked up Heart of Veridon, by Tim Akers, quite by accident. I was actually looking for Graceling and something by somebody named Connelly. I couldn’t find the Connelly and once I picked up Graceling, the prose on the first few pages was just so dull I couldn’t get myself to buy it.

Veridon was sitting on the shelf with the cover facing outward, and who isn’t going to pick up a book with a rotting, menacing, mechanical angel on the cover?

So I did. Read a few paragraphs.

It only takes a few paragraphs to know whether or not a writer actually knows how to write. It only takes a few sentences to figure out if they’re writing the type of story you’re interested in.

I didn’t even get to the end of the first page. I bought the book.

This is an incredibly good read. It has its flaws – which I’ll go into later – but man, what a read! This is an incredible, creepy, messed up little Victorian/noir/steampunk/bug tech world full of massively screwed up people.

I loved it.

Way more readable than anything by Mieville, and far more boneshaking than Boneshaker (which has, alas, been consigned to the bottom of my reading pile after I discovered there’s very little in this book that’s shaking my bones, 70+ pages in).

In Heart of Veridon, our protagonist is Jacob Burn, an outcast “noble” with a bum reconstituted Pilot’s engine in his chest that once allowed him to fly zepliners. It’s basically a steampunk version of hooking into a spaceship and becoming one with it in order to fly it. After getting cast out by his family, Jacob’s been doing odd jobs for a shady crime boss named Valentine, which has led him on board the particular zepliner, Glory of Days, which we find ourselves on in the beginning of the book.

Suffice to say, Glory of Days doesn’t quite make it back into Veridon, the city at the heart of this novel. It’s hijacked by an unknown group or groups of people who go ravaging through the ship. With his dying breath, an old acquaintance of Jacob’s who he bumped into on the ship hands him a mysterious Cog – basically a religious relict in this world – and tells him to bring it back to the city.

Then, more chaos. Shooting. Blood. Crashing.

Mmmm mmmmm.

It’s a fantastic novel opener, and things just keep going. I love the worldbuilding in this book, and the religions are… beautiful. I have never seen gods and religions done with just this right blend of sadness and creepy.You see, there are things in the world of Veridon that its residents did not and do not understand. Things that we, the reader, still don’t understand, and so they worship them. They create entire temples around them. It’s the first time I’ve convincingly seen gods created out of what are, quite possibly, advanced/aging races and/or their relics. What I love about this is that is speaks so… poignantly about the human need to make sense from nonsense, to control what they don’t understand and completely botch it in the process, and to worship what we fear in order to feel that we have some control over it.

Now, I have a lot of love for this book – I stayed up late last night to finish it, and it only took me a couple days to read because I was picking it up whenever I had a spare moment – but it does have its flaws.

The female lead carries a sword and a shotgun at one point. She’s tough as nails, full of secrets, and has no qualms being a whore, to boot – and I was desperately hoping Akers would pull an Ever After at the end of this one and she wouldn’t need any saving. But, well. There are two more female characters – both tough, calculating, and vindictive. Neither has a great end. I was secretly hoping that one of them would break free and just torch the whole fucking city. You’ll know which one when you read it.

Bah. This was more than a little disappointing. On the one hand, bad things happen to pretty much everybody in the book. On the other hand, there aren’t a whole lot of female background characters, so these were the only ones I had to root for, and they were pretty badly treated there at the end. That said: they were certainly cool enough to root for, and disappointing as the ending was in that regard, I appreciated a book that gave me a full cast of fleshed out characters.

There were a couple of annoying structural flaws. The first was that Jacob keeps repeating what’s just happened to him to characters not in the know. We have to sit through his version of events every time he fills somebody in on them. It got old, even when it was over in just a couple paragraphs. A one line, “I filled him in on what happened,” would have been fine. Overall, folks sat around and talked a little too much (as a writer, I felt I recognized this is as the writerly, “Holy shit, a lot of shit just happened. I’ll have my characters sit around and figure the plot out while I take a breather.”), and there at the end, the bad guys were actually *inviting* Jacob to ask them why they did what they did, you know, so they could exposit their reasons for being so bad. It was the classic bad guy monologue. It was a little silly.

Finally, there’s Jacob’s motives. There at the end, I was just like, “Dude, give up already! Give him the relic and have him destroy the fucking city!” (OK, yes, I may have been on the side of the chick who wanted to burn the city to the ground. But if I’d been fucked over so much by this city, it’s what I’d want too. I was totally on her side. It’s a creepy city). Jacob’s motivation for wanting to save the city was… strangely absent. I kept looking at what people had done to him, how much he’d been screwed over, how toxic and creepy the place was, and I just couldn’t figure out why he kept going when any reasonable person who have stopped (especially at the end, when he’s fighting this crazy rotting mechanical angel in a scene that, oddly, put me in mind of the end battle between Deckard and Roy in Bladerunner).

Overall, the characters were put together very well. Everybody had their own secrets and motives – many of which weren’t even totally revealed at the end. They were complex characters. I remember being struck, in the beginning, at how Jacob’s voice would weave between street tough and educated nobility. It really did that. I initially thought this was a clunky first-time novelist mistake, until I realized that, in fact, the character had been raised a noble and simply spent the five or so years in exile as a street tough. The strange voice changes made a lot more sense.

In fact, some of what makes this book such a good page turner is that Jacob is incredibly unpredictable. At one point, when the calvary comes in toward the end of the book, he refuses their help. Yes. Refuses. He gets out and the book goes on and you’re like, “What the hell? That was a comfortable trope you just totally stomped on!”

He makes a lot of mistakes. Mistakes that get people killed and get him into deeper trouble. He’s not a hero, he’s tragically human, and tragically flawed, and it shows every step of the way. I like flawed heroes. Jacob is a good one.

In any case, this is a wonderfully wild ride. Rotting angels, fish people, half-mechanical people, bizarre alien gods, steampunk tech, bug tech, shotguns, outcasts, folks coming back from the dead, folks who can’t die, crazy mods, zepliners, chicks with swords (or, at least, a large knife), and lots of gunfights and backstabbing and double-crosses.

What’s not to like?

Did I mention there’s a chick with a shotgun? And a totally rotting half-mechanical angel on the cover?

Good.

Heart of Veridon

November 4, 2009

Picked this one up on a whim at Books & co today while I was looking for something else (ended up passing on the other one and got this and Best Served Cold instead).

Folks, I may be in love. I’m 30 pages in and really hoping he doesn’t screw it up.

Proper review when I finish, but the guy sure knows how to take you on a bloody, weird, wild ride.

If chicks with swords show up later, I’ll have no complaints!

Why is it…

November 3, 2009

… that so many “lit” stories are about 1) whiny emo college students 2) whiny sub-par college professors?

I wonder, indeed.

Two Girls -UPDATED

October 29, 2009

A first pass at video creation with Windows Movie Maker. Cinematic art it ain’t, but it looks like if you can navigate PowerPoint 7, you can navigate Movie Maker. This is a pretty hack job I did in a few hours. I’ll be interested to see how I can improve things as I figure out what the hell I’m doing. Some of the transitions are still running a little fast.

Video is based on the unpublished short, Two Girls (I wanted to start with a story I didn’t mind messing up). View below or go directly to my my YouTube channel.

Website address at the end is still, obviously, not live, but I’ve started adding it to things in anticipation of the day.

I’m still not sure if giving me these sorts of tools is a good idea or not…

The Power of Books

October 27, 2009

(more here)

Happy 80th to Le Guin

October 21, 2009

Happy 80th birthday, Ursula K. Le Guin.

Here’s to many more! (and many more books!)

Someday I Will Be Famous Enough to Fix My Covers

September 29, 2009

I saw the initial row over this, but somehow the resolution totally passed me by (I don’t spend nearly as much time on the internets these days). There are lots of stories about SF/F publishers whitewashing covers. So even if you’ve got a heroine who’s a far darker shade of pale, it’s unlikely it’ll be seen on the bookshelf.

This was one of those, “Yeah, and this surprises people because…?” But it’s important to remember that our silence as authors can be read as complicity. If you don’t say something publicly – even if you’re fuming – readers assume you’re just going along with it. And that’s a shame. Because as somebody who has sometimes wanted to drag a publisher out and kick them in the shins publicly, I can tell you I’m not so keen on doing it because it means, you know, I might be out a meal ticket.

That said, I need to choose my battles. Because if I end up with a whitewashed cover someday, I’m going to have to say something about it. Even if it means the loss of a meal ticket. Because at the end of the day, it’s about systematic silencing, erasing. It’s about lying.

That said – and understanding what JL was up against – I find this to be a pretty cool win.

Bloomsbury backs down in Larbalestier race row

You can bet this is showing up in a GW book or two….

September 4, 2009

Moscowitz is founder of the International Security Coalition of Clergy, whose mission is to train Jews in self-defense and advance fighting techniques in the event of a terrorist attack on a synagogue. He says business was slow for his Coalition until May, when the FBI arrested a group accused of plotting to blow up synagogues in The Bronx. But now Moscowitz’s 100-hour synagogue self-defense course is in high demand.