My review of Old Man’s War by John Scalzi is up over at Fantasybookspot. I enjoyed this book – it was a fun and entertaining read, which is what I’ve come to expect now that I’ve read this and The Android’s Dream. It lacks the philosophical punch of something like Starship Troopers or The Forever War, but does entertain. 7/10
Saturday, December 30, 2006
My review of Old Man’s War by John Scalzi is up over at Fantasybookspot. I enjoyed this book – it was a fun and entertaining read, which is what I’ve come to expect now that I’ve read this and The Android’s Dream. It lacks the philosophical punch of something like Starship Troopers or The Forever War, but does entertain. 7/10
A small group of ancient Egyptian sorcerers in the early 19th century initiate a plan to end English domination of Egypt and reestablish it as a world power of its own right and religion, without the pollution of such up-start religions as Christianity and Islam. Magic has faded in the world and become perilous to use – a powerful spell intended to bring ancient Egyptian Gods back into direct interaction with the world fails, dramatically altering an attending sorcerer and blasting holes in the space-time continuum over a period of several hundred years.
A rich, powerful and eccentric old man in the 1980s seeks a way to conquer terminal cancer and discovers these gaps in time and how to use them for time travel. He seeks the help of an expert in early 19th century poetry to lead a group of high-paying, time traveling tourists to observe a lecture – the hapless Brendan Doyle. As expected, plans are more than they seem and they don’t last, leaving Doyle stranded and in grave danger.
The Anubis Gates is a plot-driven novel that keeps you wanting more once the story gets moving. While the plot is action packed and full of plenty of twists and turns, the lack of great characterization eventually catches up. One can’t help but cheer for Doyle, but his continued idiocy left me cold and questioning his character. Other characters are merely present, lacking the depth they beg for.
However, whatever The Anubis Gates lacks in character development, it makes up for with the sheer genius of the story. I might not be singing its praises as loudly as some, but I do recommend it to readers well beyond the traditional boundaries of SFF, as well as those of us within. On my 10-point scale, The Anubis Gates scores 7.5.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Why do I begin this review with the exploration of the origins of the mosaic novel as Bowes explains in the Afterword? The answer is because it took the Afterword to reveal to me what From the Files of the Time Rangers is – it is a celebration of speculative fiction, as well as the American Northeast that Bowes has known. While the pieces contained are dark, ominous, and rather pessimistic toward the human condition, the homage is one of love, hope, and remembrance.
The Time Rangers are international police force of a kind under the direction of the Gods, specifically Apollo, the God of reason. The Gods realize that through their own mismanagement and human kind’s self destructive nature the time of humans will end, and with it the Gods themselves. Through the endless parallel time streams the Gods and their proxies fight each other and other interests to keep the world from ending.
The pieces of the mosaic follow a small group of Time Rangers as they work to fulfill their mission of ensuring the success of the God’s chosen one. The setting is various times throughout the 20th century in the American northeast while Gods and myth flow through the back- and foreground of the stories.
The prose is powerful and dead on – if not always easy to read. The characters can be hard to follow through the often confusing web of time and space. The point of it all is elusive. However, when it all finally clicked in my head at the end, I was left with a sense of awe. From the Files of the Time Rangers is not an easy read, it is dark and disturbing and can be very confusing – clearly not a book for everyone. It’s not perfect, pieces were written at many different times and places, not necessarily with the others in mind, but the mosaic comes together and ultimately works (two of these pieces were finalists for the Nebula Award in 2002 and 2003). On my 10-point ranking scale, this mosaic homage scores 7.5 – in the end it was worth every bit of the effort.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
The title for the final Potter book will be Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The announcement is all over the web, but I saw it here first.
Sometimes I'll do these (generally) stupid quizzes when I'm board and procrastinating. It's very rare that I'll consider posting on the blog, but this one just seems appropriate - though I am not a SF writer myself, just a fan. Via VanderMeer's blog.
|I am: |
Hal Clement (Harry C. Stubbs)A quiet and underrated master of "hard science" fiction who, among other things, foresaw integrated circuits back in the 1940s.
I haven't read any Clement before - maybe I should look some up.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
The SFF genre seems to be suffering a real image problem right now, and we have the likes of Orson Scott Card and Michael Crichton to thank for it. Is this how the genre is really perceived by the general public? Is this image really out there? Correct me if I’m wrong, but what I would consider the best the genre has to offer to have a ‘liberal’ slant to it if you had to label it.
I’m not trying to have a political discussion, though anyone who has read enough of what I post here or at various message boards likely has a good idea about where I fall on the political spectrum, BUT I find this disturbing. Look at this article in the LA Times, or at the bullshit that Crichton has pulled lately, this essay by Card, and who can forget the objectivist ranting of Terry Goodkind (you’ll have to search that out on your own).
My gut reaction to all this: horrified, saddened, angry, darkly amused, nauseous, speechless.
Friday, December 15, 2006
This blog still hasn’t seen its one-year anniversary (which will come in February), but I have posted reviews here of most of the books I’ve read during the year of 2006 and even a few from 2005. It really has been a great year here at Nethspace – in November I saw the 5000th visit and 10,000 page views was exceeded in October (this does not count visits and views from RSS readers). I posted 41 reviews, a lesser number of rants and other posts, and conducted my first author interview with Sean Williams. I’ve started doing reviews at FantasyBookSpot and have managed to get several review copies from Pyr. I’m quite happy with how things are and where they seem to be going.
For me, I consider this year to a slow year – it looks like I’ll finish at just under 40 books read for the year. Last year the number was 43, and I have general goal of reaching 50 every year. Looking ahead, I actually think I’ll have a bit less reading time next year, but I still expect to read over 30.
Many websites and other organizations like to have a year’s best list. To be honest, I’m terrible at making lists, and will almost certainly never create an all-time favorites list. However, I will give you the top 11 books that I read this year. Why 11 – because everyone does 10, it’s time to give a bit of respect to 11. They are not really in any particular order since I liked each book for its own reasons and I am not entirely comfortable comparing them directly to each other. Know that it is entirely my opinion based on how I felt about the book, its quality, and my enjoyment while reading it (the full reviews are linked). Some were published this year and others were published in previous years.
This is the story of New York City from its beginnings to modern times told through the eyes of an immortal Irish immigrant. The city itself becomes a powerful character.
The Scar by China Miéville
The world of Bas-Lag is a dark, macabre place that is brought vividly to life by Miéville. This story takes place on the high seas where the floating pirate city of Armada seeks to harness unfathomable power.
The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
The horrors of war are told by Vietnam veteran Haldeman as the human race faces off against an alien race throughout the galaxy. Parallels of today cannot be ignored in this classic of science fiction.
City of Saints and Madmen by Jeff VanderMeer
This is a mosaic novel set in the VanderMeer’s city of Ambergris. The stories are darkly uncomfortable, powerful, and stylistic. If I had to pick a number one read for the year, this would be it.
Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
The colonization of Mars is told as only Kim Stanley Robinson can. My wife is a planetary geologist who studies Mars, as are many of my friends – this is Mars colonization for Mars scientists (and you too).
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
The winner of the 2006 World Fantasy Award is a beautifully told story of the journey of an adolescent in Japan. There is so much here that it will say different things to different people at different times.
His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
A fun novel in an alternative past where dragons are powerful weapons of war. The Napoleonic Wars have never looked like this.
Bangkok 8 by John Burdett
This is not a SFF book, but still one of my favorite reads. Thai noir – an engrossing view of Bangkok and the people of Thailand.
Infoquake by David Louis Edelman
Science fiction meets the corporate board room in a distant future – a wonderful debut.
The Prince of Nothing Trilogy by R. Scott Bakker
I know that this is three books and not just one – but it is one story. This is probably the best completed epic fantasy I’ve ever read. Think crusades, think jihad – a holy war at its worst with a greater conflict looming.
The Crooked Letter by Sean Williams
A wonderfully dark fantasy unlike any I’ve read before. Twin brothers, gods and monsters, a love triangle, and the cataclysmic end of the world – a great read.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
New ideas in the world of science fiction are hard to come by, and to be honest, I’m not sure just how new Infoquake really is, but it feels new. David Edelman’s debut is about cutthroat economics, technologic innovation, and government control that are played out in corporate boardrooms, work stations, and product release presentations. Most importantly, Infoquake remains engaging throughout.
Far into the future, corporations dominate the world economy under the guidance of a world government. Humanity nearly faced extinction when it developed AI machines that ruled the world; in the aftermath science and technology were shunned as the world put the pieces back together. A charismatic and brilliant scientist changed this track by developing bio/logic technology, allowing people to harness programmable nano-machines in the body to revolutionize human existence. The world evolves into a ruthless economic system based on the creation of the bio/logic programs for the human body and mind with the usual power struggles between corporations, government, and the equivalent of religious organizations.
The corporation at the heart of the story is the Natch Fiefcorp, run by the Natch, a brilliant and darkly motivated young master with a shady past. The Natch Fiefcorp is on its way up in the world through any means available, and then comes the offer it can’t refuse – the key role in developing the next technology to revolutionize humanity. A technology the government will do anything to keep out of the hands of the general population and leaves Natch’s long list of enemies salivating for a piece.
Edelman has created a fully-realized future with many parallels to the world we live in now – the boom and bust, high-tech, high-rolling economy will be familiar to many of us, as are the questionable actions of corporations and the world government. But the real power of this novel is in the players. Natch is brilliantly intimidating and mysterious and Edelman is at his best as he delves into Natch’s past. We know what his motivations are, we know how he came to be this way, but do we know what he will do next? Balancing Natch are the apprentices Jara and Hovril and his childhood guardian. These characters all function in some form as Natch’s conscience – not that he listens very often.
At first I was a bit worried to see 10s of pages of appendices, including a glossary and history of the world – I feared that the book would bog down in technical terms and the need to constantly consult supporting material. However, these fears were not realized – the book is a remarkably ‘easy’ read with a good flow and pace. The supporting material is just that, supporting.
Infoquake is a futuristic corporate thriller of a different sort and the first installment of the Jump 225 Trilogy. The book is compelling and suspenseful while it stands well on its own, the reader is left wanting more, needing to know what will happen next. Edelman’s first book is wonderful debut and one of the best books released this year – 8/10.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
I apologize for going off-topic; yes this is football related and has nothing to do with SFF.
I HATE the NFL network, or at least what the NFL has decided to do with it. In my mind the NFL is the best run major professional sports league in the US, but this really knocks them down a long way.
Does the NFL not want people to watch games? Are networks not paying them enough money? What is the point of playing games on an obscure network that almost nobody can watch?
As far as I know, to watch a game on the NFL network, you need to have satellite TV. Very few if any cable outfitters have picked up the network yet. Why? Because the network wants cable providers to pay them like they are ESPN and not a new, unproven upstart for a niche market. What’s the result – fans are cut out from watching games. Fans get pissed off (like this one), fans look at the greedy owners in the league and are completely disgusted, and the reputation and quality of the entire league goes down.
Look, I have satellite TV, but I refuse to watch the network. Now, I did break this boycott to watch for a few minutes last Thursday. And what is the quality of broadcasts? It’s even worse than the announcers for Monday night games (something I didn’t think was possible) and the quality of the product looks like it did over 10 years ago. There is absolutely no step forward, only backward.
I can only hope and plead the executives in charge pull their heads out of their asses and stop this. Let the established and accessible networks doe their jobs and televise the NFL. I hope all fans in the league join me in refusal to support this crackpot and short-sighted move of the league – don’t watch the NFL Network.
So, the big test comes next weekend when my Cowboys play Atlanta in a Saturday night game on the network. This game has big playoff indications, and I would want to watch it even if it didn’t. But I hate the NFL network and don’t want to support it in any way. I don’t know what I’ll do yet, but I do know that I hate the NFL network and consider it an insult to the fans that have helped make the NFL the league that it is.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Sourcery is a relatively early book in the series, and like all of the books, it more or less stands on its own. Pratchett returns to the life of Rincewind who is probably the most incompetent wizard of all time. When the eighth son of an eighth son breaks the traditions forbidding Wizards to mingle with the fairer sex he has an eighth son himself, bringing a Sourcerer into the world.
So typical things happen – someone tries to cheat death and makes up a destiny for the newborn Sourcerer, setting in place the necessary pieces for the end of the world. Rincewind, a hat, the Librarian, and a handful of other colorful characters do their best to stay alive.
Pratchett can be absolutely brilliant at times and positively unremarkable at others. Unfortunately, Sourcery is one of these other times. There is relatively little outright satire going on, and very few political or pop-culture references, which is where he tends to shine as an author. Aside from a few funny lines and an amusing scene in a pub with the Four Horsemen of the Apocralypse, this entry in the Discworld series is entirely forgettable. On my 10-point rating scale, Sourcery scores 5, an unfortunate score for a writer who can do better.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Bangkok 8 has all the usual components of a typical mystery/conspiracy novel – drugs, jewels, prostitution, the FBI, local police detectives, murder mystery, government cover-ups, corruption, and redemption. However, a person can easily read the book without ever realizing this – this is what makes it great.
I am about as ‘suburban white-guy’ as you can get, and I have not had the pleasure to visit Thailand (though as you would except of someone like me, I should point out that I like Thai food). I mention this because (to me) Bangkok 8 was a vision of Thailand – not the Thailand that I as a tourist would ever see or know, but the ‘real’ Thailand. The book is thoroughly modern, yet rooted in traditions of the East that cannot be equaled in the West. Have I gone a bit too far – perhaps, but when you read this book you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
Sonchai Jitpleecheep and his partner are the only honest cops in the whole of Bangkok – which is an interesting development as he is the half-blood son of a whore with a criminal past. His devout Buddhism and honesty set him apart and on a path to tragedy when his partner is killed in the line of duty. Honor-bound to seek vengeance, Sonchai finds himself teamed with a perplexing, beautiful, and very American FBI agent as the investigation turns from ‘who did it’ to ‘what will they do next’.
The murder-mystery-conspiracy plot of Bangkok 8 is good, but nothing new under the sun. The difference, and it’s a wonderful difference, is the point of view from Sonchai – he is all Thai, yet set-apart as a half-blood, and a keen observer as West meets East. I’m in no position to know if Burdett gets Thailand ‘right’ in this book, but it feels like he did.
Sonchai is a sort of metaphysical, karmic guide through the brothels of Bangkok while the wicked and biting exchanges between him and Agent Jones serve as the perfect vehicle for the cultural clash that is Bangkok 8. I now have the urge to visit Thailand to see this clash for myself, ideally as a somewhat removed observer, and to know whether the culture of the East is the future, the past, or something else.
On my 10-point rating scale, Bangkok 8 scores a very appropriate 8. The flavor of this book has all the spice of Thai chili and the moral ambiguity that Western culture cannot live with. I look forward to further adventures of Detective Jitpleecheep in Bangkok Tattoo and forthcoming Bangkok Haunts.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Thursday, November 16, 2006
When is a book science fiction, hard sci-fi, or a thriller? Mappa Mundi by Justina Robson succeeds as all three at once. Robson takes a near-future setting with bio-technological advances at the edge of probability and surrounds it with political intrigue and grand plots with a distinctly dystopian feel. One can’t help but weigh actions versus motivations versus the consequences of potentially beneficial scientific advancement when used by the ambitious powers of the world, all the while wondering if this could really happen.
The central plot of the book revolves around the development of bio-technology that essentially integrates computer-type programming and the human brain. Natalie is the proto-typical well-intentioned scientist developing a body of work that can fix all mental illness and truly benefit human-kind. Of course her research is sponsored by government with aims of applying her results differently.
Jude is a special branch FBI investigator whose sister has become involved in something big and bad. His private investigation leads him to Natalie and her research and a connection to an elusive Russian criminal mastermind he has been pursuing for some time.
Experiments go wrong, various deaths occur, and opposing interests clash as events spin out of control and the technology horrifically realizes itself, building to an unanticipated conclusion.
As I wrote earlier, Robson succeeds in creating the elements of a great sci-fi thriller, and I’m a sucker for a strong leading female protagonist. While the prose is generally tight, it does get bogged down in technical language at times, causing a bit of confusion – I can’t say that it is an easy read.
Mappa Mundi begins with a prologue of sorts that introduces us to the significant characters at earlier stages in their lives, giving us a feel for them before we get to the events driving the story. I can easily see these introductions being cut from the book, but I’m glad they weren’t. They provide an important baseline for the characters, helping the reader to understand and question motives throughout events of the story. However, this approach gives the book a slow and somewhat confusing start.
Mappa Mundi allows enjoyment for both the thinking and the escapist reader, while providing the excitement and twists of a typical thriller. After its slow start, the pace increases to evoke the cliché reaction: I couldn’t put it down. On my 10-point rating scale, Mappa Mundi scores a 7 and a solid recommendation in spite of a few hang-ups. I’m looking forward to reading other offerings from Robson.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Jordan posts a ‘little’ update on his blog where he talks about quite a bit of stuff. It generally sounds like his treatment for his amyloidosis is going well – at least as well as he can expect and hope for. He even gives a few hints regarding the final book (tentatively titled A Memory of Light) in his Wheel of Time series – specifically he references the characters Mat and Tuon as surviving the Last Battle and hints that he may write a follow up book or two. Curiously, he didn’t mention the separate trilogy that he announced he would write after Wheel of Time – Infinity of Heaven.
Keep fighting, RJ and don’t be too quick jump out of a perfectly good airplane!
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
I started this blog about 10 months ago and yesterday it passed the 5000 visitor mark. A few weeks ago it passed the 10,000 page view mark. As you can imagine, it started slow, with a daily visitors numbering 5 or less and maybe 10 on a big day. Now the blog typically ranges from 20 to 40 visitors a day, with occasional big days numbering as high as 100.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
- Novel: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
- Novella: "Voluntary Committal" by Joe Hill
- Short Fiction: "CommComm" by George Saunders
- Anthology: The Fair Folk edited by Marvin Kaye
- Collection: The Keyhole Opera by Bruce Holland Rogers
- Artist: James Jean
- Special Award: Professional: Sean Wallace (for Prime Books)
- Special Award: Non-Professional: David Howe and Stephen Walker (for Telos Books)
- Lifetime Achievement: Stephen Fabian
- Lifetime Achievement: John Crowley
I'm surprised that Kelly Link didn't win in the collection category, but I haven't read any of the nominees to justify that suprise.
This trilogy is not quite a trilogy. Translation: the final book is big – so big that it was divided into two books for paperback publishing (To Green Angel Tower part 1 and 2). Why do I start out with this? It illustrates the main weakness of the series for me – it could have been tightened up, especially in the first book, The Dragonbone Chair. It starts slow, but once it gets moving it is a well-written and entertaining story.
In many ways, this is a standard/cliché epic fantasy. The main character, Simon, is a low-born servant, with mysterious parentage, who is thrown into extraordinary circumstances over and over again during a conflict that could result in the end of the world. There are ‘elves’, giants, dragons, trolls, ‘wizards’, and other beasts. There is no escaping the similarities to Tolkien, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. While much of the story will seem familiar, there are enough unique moments and surprises to keep it fresh. In the end it comes to the simple fact that Williams tells a good and entertaining story.
Simon is a simple orphan kitchen boy; a typical teen with angst, big dreams, and difficulty with authority. He is taken under the wing of the mysterious Dr. Morgenes, reputed to actually be a wizard. Times are changing, the old and loved King dies and is succeeded by his dark and brooding son, Elias. With Elias comes his advisor, a priest who inspires little but fear and is a darkly powerful sorcerer. The inevitable conflict arises between King Elias and his brother, Joshua.
Events around Simon spiral out of control and he flees for his life from the castle he has always known as home to where Joshua is building a resistance to King Elias and his sorcerous advisor, Pyrates. Times are tough, people are restless, and evil creatures of legend prowl the lands – war is coming, and it is more than just a war of succession. The undead Storm King is pulling the strings.
Great adventures and battles occur. Simon comes face to face with elves, trolls, giants, a dragon, and even a beautiful princess.
What makes Williams’ take on Tolkien-esque fantasy seem novel and fresh is the accessibility. His writing style is more contemporary and he focuses on characters. Interesting parallels between individual characters are drawn, and Simon is one of the more realistic heroes I’ve encountered. Simon’s first battle is one of the best scenes I’ve read of the realization of horrors of war.
The Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series rates a 7 on 10-point rating scale. I consider it “new classic” in the epic fantasy sub-genre, and strongly recommend it, particularly for fans of epic fantasy.
Related posts: The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell, To Green Angel Tower
Thursday, November 02, 2006
It’s not the ideal way to start off a review, but I keep coming back to it – To Green Angel Tower is long. This final installment of Tad William’s Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy is so long that in its paperback form it had to be released in two volumes – each about 800 pages long. Either volume would be considered a fairly beefy book by itself, together, they are just plain long.
I know I’m coming off a bit rant-ish here, and there is some truth to it, but To Green Angel Tower is at the same time a worthy conclusion to William’s epic saga (did I really just use the word saga?). This book has all the elements of a successful (if somewhat un-original) end – horrible battles, hopelessness, stupid mistakes, super-human heroic action, dark magic, love, death, deception, a happy ending, and enough open ends to leave us wanting more.
The title, To Green Angel Tower, really provides the proper plot summary for this book. The major players of this epic wrap up what has been keeping them busy and converge at the Green Angel Tower – the key location of the end battle, and the place the story began. People take long and difficult roads to get there – some are hurt, even killed, and others are captured or otherwise delayed. Rest is assured; the key players make it where they need to be.
Ok, so here is a (obvious) spoiler – there is a happy ending. Really, could it have been any other way – we all knew it was coming. Our hero wins, but I won’t go as far to say whether he gets the girl or not. Yet there are still enough surprises to catch us off guard, to convince the reader that the end is a bit more than what we knew would happen. Mysteries are at once satisfactorily explained and left for the imagination and desire of more stories to come. Anyway, a good story is more about the adventure, the getting there, than about the end itself.
So, by now you may be wondering if actually like the book(s) or not. Of course I did. While all usual clichés are there, Williams does tell it well and even manages to surprise. There is character growth, and I’ve not ever read a better scene where a young hero realizes the true horror of war.
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Monday, October 30, 2006
First, look at the authors I have reviewed in the past. I picked most of these books, and I generally know what I like. If the book you want to send me fits in well over there, then I’m probably interested. Generally speaking, SFF is the genre I enjoy reading most, but I don’t read exclusively from it, and I enjoy the occasional challenge and something new..
Do you have a publisher, agent, and editor? I don’t read books from print on demand or similar sources (often referred to as vanity press). I find that the quality is way too variable, with most falling somewhere between bad and worse than bad. This is my opinion and you can disagree with it, but I don’t need to hear about it. I tend to believe that if an author is good enough to be published, they will eventually find their way to an agent and publication through more ‘traditional’ sources.
I read both e-books and print books. For review purposes I prefer electronic just because I have very limited shelf space, but I'll always consider a print book as well. This does not mean I want everyone emailing me direct a PDF (or other) copy of their book. That will get an email deleted. Pitch your book to me, and be sure you talk about who published it. As I said above, I don't read self-published (or indie - I really hate that term) books. And if I can't tell if your book is self-published or not, I will assume it is and delete.
I like supporting small presses and not just the big guys. I know that it can be a gray area between a small, independent publisher and the print on demand services that I don’t prefer to support. But in my private life I feel that the corporate model is not necessarily the best, and I’m happy to extend that to my reviewing. However, I need clear information to make this determination, if I suspect it's a self-publishing outlet, I won't even consider it.
It amazes me how often I receive books that are the third or fourth book in a series that I haven’t read – these are books I’m not planning on reading anytime soon. If it’s a series I’m already reading – great, it’s almost a guarantee that I’ll eagerly read and review the book. If not…well, I’ve got limited time and the queue is already long. If you really want me to review that work, consider sending me the other books in the series.
It also amazes me just how many paranormal romance, romance, erotica, parnaormal romance disguised as urban fantasy, generic woman kicking some parnormal ass, etc. I read very few of these books, particularly the closer they are to romance.
I get lots of inquiries about YA fiction. To be honest, I don’t read that much of it. However, if it is YA fiction that truly crosses over into an adult market, I’ll consider it. Some fo the best books I've read lately are marketed as YA, but then again, I'm long past my teen years, so it has to have appeal to someone my age.
I have a busy life – I have a standard day job that takes up normal working hours, I enjoy socializing with friends, I do lots of volunteer work, and I have a family. All this means that while try to read as much as I can, I don’t read near as much as I like (at least until I find a way to win the lottery). I currently have a Stack of books to read numbering 400+ and I only read about 30 books a year. Throw in the books I buy and the 300+ review copies I’ll receive in a given year and you get an idea of the hopeless backlog I’ve got going. The queue is long. If you send me a book, I’ll consider it, but I cannot guarantee a review. I’m genuinely pleased if you have sent me a book, so I will try, but time is limited. If I do choose to read a book I will try to read and review it by its release date if received with enough lead time.
If you’ve managed to get through all of that above and you still want me to review you book, email me at nethspace'at'gmail'dot'com and I’ll get you my mailing address (remove and replace the 'at' and 'dot' as appropriate or just click on the nice, realtively spam-proof link in the sidebar). Thank you for your interest in Neth Space.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
>Let’s get things started with the standard introduction: Who is Sean Williams?
I've been accused of writing boring bios in the past, so I approach this question with some trepidation.
My life for the last sixteen years has revolved around writing, and that hasn't left much time for anything else. Seriously. I've had over sixty short stories published since 1991, and there are 21 novels on bookshelves somewhere out there in the world (some of them in languages sufficiently foreign to me that I can't recognize my own name on the cover). I've written a stage play, some haikus, and fiddled with a few other writing-related areas, like reviews, columns and manuscript assessment. I'm heavily involved in community organizations, such as the SA Writers' Centre (the oldest in Australia) and the Writers of the Future Contest. I specialize these days in space opera and slightly askew fantasy, but I've also written SF thrillers and would like to write a straight crime novel one day.
That's about it on the writing front. Now I'm beginning to bore myself. :-)
> Why Science Fiction/Fantasy? How did you get where you are today as a writer?
I've been reading SF/F most of my life, ever since my mother handed me a children's edition of Sinbad. The love affair was instantaneous and shows no sign of passing. I find mainstream and capital-L literary fiction much more introverted than its more speculative cousin, which is not to suggest that's a bad thing, or that I don't read and enjoy mainstream fiction. Realist fiction strives for wonder in smaller, more difficult ways, and I just find it doesn't often push my buttons the same way. Naturally, when I write, I pursue stories that reflect the way I prefer to read, since in a very real way I'm my own first reader. So SF/F it is.
(For more info on this topic visit Sean's livejournal.)
As far as the direction my writing has taken down the years, it's been a fairly long and winding journey in search of a clearly-defined goal. I wanted to be a novelist from a very early age, and apart from an ill-advised stint at uni back in the 1980's, that's pretty much what I was working towards. In 1990, I decided to give my dream a good, solid bash, so started writing short stories with a view to learning the basics and building up a profile, then moved into novels a few years later. Now, I have my dream job, and life is good.
Looking back over that paragraph, I sound almost glib about the process of getting from then to now. Make the decision; start writing shorts; sell a book or two--easy! In fact, as with every writer I know, it was incredibly difficult. There were lots of dead-ends and disappointments. I've had hundreds and hundreds of rejections. But I do have a lot to be thankful for, and I wouldn't give it up for anything. I honestly don't think I'm qualified for anything else.
> You have co-authored a number of books with Shane Dix, how did this collaboration come about? Are there plans for future collaborations?
Shane and I met through each other's writing, specifically the short stories we'd had published in Australian fanzines in the early 1990s. I'd barely met a single other writer when he got my address from one of our mutual editors and wrote me a letter suggesting me got together for a coffee. (That's my current version of events, anyway. Shane gets to give his here.) We became firm friends, bonding over pizza, computer games, and the number 23. Collaboration was an obvious next step.
We've written 12 books together, if you count The Unknown Soldier as a separate entity to Evergence: The Prodigal Sun. A lot of single authors don't manage that, and I am amazed every time I think of it. Collaboration may be just as much work as a solo project, for half the money, but neither of us would've had it any other way. To be described as "the new Niven and Pournelle for the 21st Century", as we were once by Paul di Filippo, is an incredible buzz.
We would definitely like to write more, but are on hiatus at the moment while we recharge our batteries and get busy with solo projects. I have a ton of things going on at the moment, as does Shane. We'll get it together when the time is right, perhaps for that sequel to Evergence we've been talking about for, like, ever...
>Wow, 12 books is a huge number to write with another author – I’ll bet you two bicker like an old married couple ;-). How do you guys go about making it work so well?
Shane and I are both pretty even-tempered so we get along just fine. We knew from the outset that collaborating would mean having to give ground every now and again, otherwise what would be the point of doing it? In general, we agree on the story first, then I go away and write a first draft in a couple of months. When Shane gets it, the ms can be in pretty rough shape, but fixing text is Shane's specialty. When that's done, it comes back to me for a final polish. Technically I'm the one who gets the final say, since there always has to be someone playing that role, but I don't remember ever having to exercise my veto power. As with editors, if one of us doesn't like something in the final book, it's for a reason, and neither of us is the type to hang onto something in the face of good sense.
> As a science fiction writer, you often explore the evolution of human nature in its past, present, and future. Do you ultimately take an optimistic or pessimistic view of human nature and its direction? What makes you feel this way?
I tend towards being optimistic and pessimistic at the same time. The future is going to be a mixture of good and bad, just like the past. Some things will work out; others won't. We may not have got the robot butlers and flying cars we all hoped for, but we didn't get the World War Three either. And there's all the stuff we didn't see coming, like the Internet and global warming. I think it'd be slightly naïve to take a stance either way.
>Sounds like a rather logical and pragmatic approach to me.
I agree! But the lens of logic is just one through which we view the future. Most people, myself included, tend to assume on a gut level that 2046 will be much like 2006, because that's an emotionally safe reaction to a very complex issue. If we spent too much time wondering what the future might actually be like, we'd never get out of bed of a morning.
>Lately, there has been another round of internet debate bemoaning the death of SF and why it appears to be loosing readers. It seems to me that the loudest voices often take a very narrow view of SF as a genre and forget that these complaints are not new. How do you feel about the current state of things?
I think it's understandable that those speaking most stridently about their particular corner of the fuzzy set that is science fiction are those most heavily invested in making their corner the centre, but that doesn't make it right. In a contentious mood, I'd go further and say that it's a very non-collegial or even ungenerous writer who goes around building up his or her work at the expense of anyone else's. Yes, it's important to analyze and attempt to understand the genre and its place in the broader landscape of writing in general, but the moment you start drawing lines and declaring what's IN and what's OUT I reckon you've moved beyond analysis and into much riskier territory. It's like looking at a rainbow and filtering out everything but the blue end of the spectrum. You're not seeing a rainbow any more. So if you're ignoring the media end of SF, say, in your analysis of the genre, then I think you're inevitably going to come to skewed conclusions. Same with "category fantasy" and paranormal romance. Ultimately, I think it hurts writers to function this way.
But then I would say that, since an open, all-inclusive vision of the genre works to my benefit. I'm also a big believer in community. So who knows? I'm just smart enough to admit that I don't. :-)
> Correct me if I’m wrong, but I get the impression that your work with Shane Dix on the Force Heretic series in the New Jedi Order of the Star Wars expanded universe was a big break in your career. Often media tie-ins are looked on with a certain amount of disdain in spite of their economic success. What are your thoughts on this?
Working in the Star Wars universe undoubtedly increased our exposure, both here in Australia and in the US. Sales of our back-catalogue went up eightfold overnight, and that's never a bad thing. Me, I've always been a reader of tie-in novels alongside "real" books, having cut my teeth at a young age on Dr Who novelizations, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot mysteries, and books like Treasure Island and Roots. Am I a lesser writer for reading Dr Who? I don't think so. Does writing tie-ins in the current market change the way people think about my "serious" work? Maybe. But honestly, I'm a writer who writes fantasy as well as SF, books for kids and young adults as well as adults, and the market seems to cope with that. I don't expect the readership to cross over all the time, though. That's perhaps asking too much. :-)
>Well, I certainly believe that cross-over occurs – I’ve got two boxes full of my Star Wars books that served as a sort-of gateway for me to get to the really addicting stuff. The general consumer isn’t concerned about tie-ins vs. “serious” work vs. YA fiction – they just want a good book to read. Anyway, as an author that can successfully maneuver through a variety of audiences you must be doing something right.
I certainly hope so. Of course, there's a risk of spreading oneself too thin, in both creative and marketing senses. I'm nearing a point, I think, when the time to experiment will be over and I'll decided to concentrate on one (or two) particular modes of storytelling. That'll make it easier for my publishers, who are constantly juggling release dates and target audiences. Mind you, variety is the spice of life, and I doubt I'll ever settle on just one particular mode. My writing reflects my reading, and at present mainstream outnumbers genre by 2:1.
>Let’s drop a few names – what are some of those books you’ve been reading lately?
This conversation has made me look more closely than usual at what I've been reading in the last twelve months. The list is definitely more skewed to the mainstream than usual, thanks in part to judging a major literary award down here early this year. In fact, my top five books are all Australian and all marketed as "literary" titles, although one (John Harwood's The Ghost Writer) is overtly gothic in nature. (See here for the full list.) Maybe that reflects where I am at the moment in terms of my own writing--looking for gothic and literary allusions for the new space opera, learning how to write sparely but evocatively for the kids' books, etc. That said, I have read some very good speculative novels this year, by Tim Powers, Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, and Philip Reeve, to name just four, and my to-read shelf is groaning under the backlist. I'll get to it at some point.
> I very much enjoyed The Crooked Letter, the first installment of The Books of the Cataclysm. In particular, I found it to be a fresh approach to some old ideas, including sibling rivalry, religion and mythology. Where were the origins of this series? How much of it was planned vs. taking on a life of its own?
Thanks. I'm always pleased to hear that people have enjoyed The Crooked Letter because it was so difficult to write, perhaps the most difficult project I've undertaken so far. But in lots of ways it was the most rewarding, too. I have a fascination with religion that goes right back to Sunday school, when I persistently queried theological points that didn't make sense to me. When I was in High School, my father had just started studying for the priesthood, so I was exposed to nuts and bolts of theology from a practitioner's perspective, as well as a parishioner. Later, I realized that any faith I had once had in Christianity had evaporated, and I became an atheist, where I've been comfortable ever since--but my fascination with religion has never gone away. There's an awful amount of energy invested in world-building and story-telling behind every religion. It's not so different from science fiction, in that sense, if you look at it long enough. So wanting to devise a natural system that might be the big picture lurking behind all human religions was a perfectly natural step. The world behind the Books of the Cataclysm was the result, in which there is a form of reincarnation as well as an afterlife (in fact there are two afterlives, which reflect the belief of some cultures that we have two souls), and there is an almost-supremely powerful deity ruling over a lesser pantheon. Magic used to work, but does no longer. The world has undergone several apocalyptic changes, and might yet go through another one. As theological world-building goes, this one has everything.
But it needed a story as well, and that's where the twins come in. I went to school with identical twins, and I guess my fascination with the subject stems from that early exposure. We relatively discrete individuals can be fascinated with and unnerved by the existence of identical twins; just look at the debate over cloning, and how threatened it makes some people feel. Mirrors, twins, reflections, doppelgangers...they've been the source of many stories down the years. In a sense I'm tapping into that grand tradition, but I'm also trying to do something uniquely my own too.
The idea that the psychic link some people believe exists between identical twins could link one twin to his dead brother in the afterlife was also too good an idea to let slide. It was optioned some years ago by a film company, but never amounted to anything. I was relieved when the rights reverted so I could tell the story the way I wanted to.
>It’s funny how most of the atheists I know often have given religion much more thought and objective study than the most ardent believers I know.
My best friend's mother, a Christian, delights in telling me that nobody thinks more about the Bible than an atheist. That shocks me, in a way, until I remind myself that thinking about religion is something of an oxymoron for those with faith. That's not to say that those with faith are stupid or anything remotely like that. My father was a very smart man, and so is my best friend's mother. And I too have philosophies or opinions that aren't as considered as I'd like to believe. We can't think about everything all the time, and that applies to the nature of the universe as well as the future. Until we find a way to expand our cognition, we will always think this way.
>I particularly enjoyed the twin aspect because my father is an identical twin. I’ve asked him in the past about a psychic link or private language between him and his brother (if you knew my father you’d know how awkward a conversation that was ;-). He replied that he didn’t think it was a psychic connection, but that there are plenty of times where they are clearly thinking almost exactly the same thing and that communication becomes unnecessary.
This is an absolutely fascinating area of human experience. Theories of mind and interpersonal communication are stretched to their limits with identical twins. When you can convince yourself by means of a simple optical illusion that an image of your arm in a mirror is actually your arm, how disorienting must it be to confront a living, breathing, independent reflection every moment of every day? Perhaps it's unfair to ascribe a supernatural facet to people who are perfectly ordinary apart from their possession of a genetically near-identical sibling, but the temptation was too strong to resist.
>I’m happy that this one did not go in the movie direction.
I am too, most of the time. Mind you, I'm a big fan of collaboration, and the script-writer hired to work on the project had some truly wonderful ideas. The core conceit is so flexible and potent it could work in almost any genre: crime, romance, supernatural thriller, even comedy. Sometimes I wish I could peer into an alternate universe and see what someone else has done with the same idea.
> I know that music is a big interest in your life and that you even DJ on occasion. How has this influenced your writing, and is there any example you can give that you found particularly enjoyable to write?
My love of music influences the way I think about writing. That's the most obvious way my two loves intersect. I rarely feature music in my books, although I do frequently refer to it, name-dropping the odd composer or song title along the way. I've yet to find a convincing way to convey the "eargasm" you get when a piece of music breaks you out in goosebumps, for instance, or the moment of creation when, as a composer, everything comes together just right. Maybe it is like dancing about architecture, or maybe I just haven't nutted it out yet. Anyway, I'll keep skirting around the edges until inspiration strikes, turning Edgar Allen Poe's poems into song-lyrics and quoting Gary Numan at every possible opportunity.
>So, what music do you typically listen to while writing? How does it change for various characters, settings, etc.? How about right now – what’s the tune of this interview :-) ?
I listen to a lot of ambient electronic music by artists like Maneki Neko, Biosphere, Gas, Susumu Yokota, Global Communications, Anders Ilar, Andrew Thomas, Donnacha Costello, and golden oldies Tangerine Dream. Some light classical and soundtracks, when I need a change; nothing with lyrics, ever; music that is unobtrusive but redolent with its own kind of energy, basically.
My all-time favorite is, without a doubt, Steve Roach [http://www.steveroach.com/], whose Magnificent Void revealed to me (way back when I was reviewing New Age music for a radio show here in Adelaide) that "ambient" doesn't have to mean static or lifeless. Some of his music, in fact, is quite terrifying, and Void must surely be the best album ever for writing New Space Opera to.
At this moment, the soundtrack is Thom Brennan's "Vibrant Water", which I am finding just a little too calming. Daylight savings just kicked in here, on the spring-forward end of the cycle, and I am even keener to get back to bed than usual. :-)
>Well, ignoring the obvious legal and ethical implications, this final question has become a tradition at the wotmania OF community. So…
>If you were to own several monkeys and/or midgets, how many would you own, and what would you name them?
That is, without a doubt, the second strangest question I've ever been asked in an interview. :-) To answer: my favorite number is 23, so that part's easy. I'd pick a mixture of monkeys and midgets, since the monkeys will need someone to look after them. Furthermore, as a tribute to The Crooked Letter and your father, I'd want the monkeys to come in sets of identical twins. As far as names go, I've always named my pets after people involved in or characters from the work of Frank Zappa (another musical reference), so here goes:
Greggery, Jemima, Kenny, Lucille, Punky
Alfonzo & Aynesley
Beefheart & Bunk
Bobby & Buddy
Chester &amp; Chunga
Eddie & Evelyn
Emma & Erroneous
Flo & Freddie
Nanook &amp; Napoleon
Ronnie & Ruben
Related Posts: Review of The Crooked Letter
Thursday, October 26, 2006
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
A recent Wired article features a bunch of 6-word stories in the spirit of Hemingway’s famous: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. The writers of these stories are well-known writers and the like, and they range from serious to funny to stupid, to lazy. It’s a great read. Contributors include Robert Jordan, Neil Gaiman, Kevin Smith, Josh Whedon, and many more. A few of my favorites are copied below.
Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time
- Alan Moore
The baby’s blood type? Human, mostly.
- Orson Scott Card
To save humankind he died again.
- Ben Bova
Batman Sues Batsignal: Demands Trademark Royalties.
- Cory Doctorow
Metrosexuals notwithstanding, quiche still lacks something.
- David Brin
Of course the message board where I originally saw this suggested that I give it a try. I came up with two.
Internet...addicted. Lost job, wife, sanity.
And because the first is way too serious...
Pee burns. Can't remember. Drunk. Female?
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
You know what I felt when Episode III was done? Relief. I was done with the Star Wars films. I was free.
Ahh…the middle book of a trilogy, like the ugly stepsister is often of little note, the weakest installment, lacking the magical beginning of the first and the massive impact of the conclusion. Stone of Farewell serves as this bridge from Dragonbone Chair to To Green Angel Tower. However, this book is not the lesser book – it is a better book than Dragonbone Chair, far more interesting and simply better written.
As I’ve said before, Tad Williams doesn’t tread new ground with the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy – it is the story of an orphan boy, apparently destined for greatness, in a struggle to save the world. We have many of the usual suspects: an orphan hero, dark wizard, mysterious witch, tyrannical king, exiled prince, desperate princess, trolls, giants, elves, etc. But, Tad Williams does this well. The characters are realistic, people die, interesting parallels are created, growth occurs.
With this being a second installment, I’ll skip the typical plot summary. Suffice to say, the story takes us from the end of the first installment to the beginning of the third. Bad things happen along with a few good, death, cold, separation, and coming together. This book does not stand alone in anyway – it is simply the middle of a large story.
The most notable thing about Stone of Farewell is that it is clearly an improvement from Dragonbone Chair. The story doesn’t bog down or take a too long in gaining inertia. We learn more of the important players, we can guess at what is to come, and carefully set up parallels emerge.
On my 10-point scale, Stone of Farewell scores 7 to 7.5. This series really is a ‘new classic’ in the realm of epic fantasy. It stands on the shoulders of Tolkien and lifts the genre higher – would Bakker look so brilliant without the likes of Robert Jordan and Tad Williams?
Related Reviews: Dragonbone Chair, To Green Angel Tower, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn Trilogy
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
It was a great vacation visiting England, Scotland, and Wales. I may do a post dedicated to the trip with a few pictures later, but it’ll be a while. It may have also inspired me to start up a second blog, but I’m still deciding that one. Anyway, it was wonderful, and now I’m back to being a slave to society again.
I finished up Stone of Farewell by Tad Williams on the trip (review forthcoming in the next few days) and I’m now reading To Green Angel Tower (Part One) to conclude the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy. In the last month or so I’ve received a handful of books from Pyr, so I look forward to reading Mappa Mundi by Justina Robson, Infoquake by David Louis Edelman, and River of Gods by Ian McDonald sometime soon. Of course there are many other books from The Stack that I look forward to reading as well – so no reading order is guaranteed.
I’m not a huge follower of web comics, but there are some that are pretty great. My wife loved Piled Higher and Deeper when she was earning her PhD (I’m pretty sure Cecilia was based on her). Now it seems there is a webcomic devoted to the likes of me. Check out Greenhorn. I particularly like this and this – beware the purple ninja (I look forward to a future meeting of the purple ninja with evil monkey - hint).
Friday, September 22, 2006
I leave this weekend for a two-week vacation in Europe, so I won’t be posting here (or elsewhere) for a couple weeks. The trip last month was an unexpected work trip; this trip has been planned for many months and is pure fun for the wife and me.
We fly into London and head strait to Bath for a few days. Next we have a bit of time in the Cotswolds and the North Wales – we stay in Conwy. After Wales, we hit Scotland and will be in Edinburgh for several days before heading south to York. After York, we finish the trip in London.
I’ve not been to Britain before, so I’m looking forward to some time off and that wonderful European experience. This will be my wife’s first time in Europe and I know she’ll love it.
Anyway, I’ll not bother with the internet while I’m on vacation, so expect no posts or reviews. I haven’t decided yet what I’ll take to read, but they will be relatively light reading and paperbacks that won’t bother me when they get travel worn. Right now I’m thinking it’ll be some Tad Williams, Terry Pratchett, and Charles de Lint. I may just take the chance to finish the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
I finally finished the beast of a book!
Sarum doesn’t really fit with the typical books I review around here – it fits firmly in the historical fiction realm in the mold of a James Michener book. So, this review will be a bit shorter than I typically write (not that most particularly long).
Sarum is the story of the region around Salisbury in southern England – we begin with its initial settlement in the Stone Age. Following the decedents of the original settlers and newcomers through time in a series of short stories, we see the coming of the Bronze Age, the Celts, the Romans, the Saxons, and the Normans. We have stories set during important events throughout English history including the War of the Roses, the beginning of the Anglican Church, the black plague, wars with the French and the Spanish, the Napoleonic Wars, and more. It is a great way to tell the history of England through the eyes of one of its oldest settlements – Sarum.
This book plagued me with the same issues I’ve encountered with Michener – it was hard to get through. Not because it was badly written or uninteresting, but because it was long. I found when I got to about the half-way point (somewhere in the 1400's) I had to break it up by reading other books in between stories. I wish some areas had been covered more (the early history of the Picts and Celts – especially in terms of religion), but that would make a long book even longer.
If you’re a fan of Michener-style historical fiction, this is a good book for you, and it’s a great way to pick up some history for someone like me who has had little in the way of European history. Anyway, on my 10-point scale I give Sarum a 6.5 – it’s good, but I had to set it aside from time to time.