Friday, December 30, 2011

Review: Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey

Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) is a pulp-ish space opera occurring just prior to humanity’s expansion beyond our solar system and any contact with extraterrestrial life. Earth and Mars are the big military powers while settlers in the asteroid belt and beyond (known as belters) are a sort of second-class of humanity with revolutionary aspirations. War breaks out as harried captain of a diminished cargo crew (Holden) and a down-on-his luck detective from the asteroid Ceres (Miller) find themselves at the center of something bigger than the escalating war around them.

James S.A. Corey is the pen name for the writing duo of Ty Franck and Daniel Abraham – with Abraham being a something of a darling for on-line critics and reviewers with a wide variety of works on the market and Ty Franck best known as George RR Martin’s assistant. With that, Leviathan Wakes has been widely reviewed with relatively high praise. I’m not quite as high on it as others, though it is certainly a good, fun read that combines classic space opera with a more modern sensibility (if vomit zombies are sensible that is J).

Leviathan Wakes is not hard SF, but it does feel for the most part like a reasonable possibility. Humanity and its flaws don’t change, they just change location. However the feel of the society at times rubbed me the wrong way – it feels like things are now. I find it hard to believe that society would seem so similar, in spite of few things clearly inserted to try and make things feel advanced – such as the family of Holden, which is a family of multiple ‘parents’ living together in a sort of communal setting and raising a single child (this is also pretty much the only family structure mentioned in the book).

Of course the most topical aspect of the book that you’ll either love or hate are the zombies. Yes, there are indeed space zombies in Leviathan Wakes – or as the they say in the book, vomit zombies. It’s not a cheesy as I make it sound and it’s actually rather interesting, however for some insane reason I couldn’t help but think of ‘space herpes’ from the 1980s SF movie, The Ice Pirates – which really has no resemblance, but that’s how my mind rolls. But there is quite a memorable scene as Holden and Miller flee from legions of vomit zombies while suffering the effects of acute radiation poisoning.

In my opinion what is more interesting and much more successful are the political and personal interplay between various characters and factions. The trust, lack of trust, bad judgment, idealism, obsessive devotion and conflicted loyalty show the flawed human spirit in action.

In short, Leviathan Wakes is a fun new space opera and the opening book in a series called The Expanse and yet another example that SF is not dead, nor will it be anytime soon. As with many others, I’m eagerly awaiting the publication of Caliban’s War, due out in June, 2012 (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound).

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Something Completely Different + update

I hope all have had and are having a wonderful holiday break (or at least not a terrible one). It's been quite around here for the usual reasons - family, work, etc. It'll continue to be quite since I've got a fair amount of travel coming and a huge deadline at work, though I do hope to get a few things tied up around here before the year ends. I still owe reviews for Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (Book Depository, Powell's Books, Indiebound) and Blackdog by K.V. Johansen (Book Depository, Powell's Books, Indiebound). Leviathan Wakes will probably be a mini-review since it's seen so much coverage and I'm a couple months late on it anyway. I also should get up the standard 'Year of ...' post in the next couple of weeks. Anyway, even though I'm quite busy I do hope to get to a more regular blogging schedule over the next month or so.

And now for something completely different....

The week prior to Christmas I was in Cedar City, Utah doing some work on a big landslide that has shut down a state highway for several months. This photo is a nice view we had on a very cold afternoon - note that trees on landslides often aren't exactly vertical.

Cedar Canyon, Utah

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Hive Mind Recommended Me Some Books for a Christmas Gift

Last week I asked of the hive mind of my Twitter followers for a book recommendation - not for myself, but for my cousin for her Christmas gift (technically I suppose she's my second cousin). She is an 11-year old girl who is an avid reader, particularly of fantasy. She even has a review blog (not linked because I don't want gift to be spoiled :) ). So, obviously the usual suspects won't do so well. And I imagine she's a bit under-read on the older books since she gets lots of books from her aunt who was a long-time manager at an indie bookstore.

Anyway, the recommendations that came from Twitter are below. Any other suggestions are welcome in the comments of course.

I've made no decisions yet, but thanks again to all those who provide recs.  

Friday, December 02, 2011

Helping Those in Need – Genre-Style

So, it’s that time of year when it’s all about getting stuff for you or others – or essentially spending money. But there are plenty of opportunities to put your money to a more charitable use, and various places around the world of SFF authors and bloggers can help you do just that. So, this post rounds up a few charitable enterprises around the SFF blogosphere. Please consider giving if you are able.

Patrick Rothfuss and Worldbuilders: This has become an annual tradition where Patrick Rothfuss sponsors a campaign to gain donations for Heifer International, an established charity that provides sustainable food for parts of the world that really need it. Last year the campaign raised over $190,000! The bonus – authors, publishers and various others have generously donated hundreds (perhaps even thousands) of items that can be won. Other items can be purchased (with the funds going to the cause) and there are auctions for some really special products/services. It’s a great cause that I happily contribute to every year now.

Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist for Breast Cancer: Pat has done quite a bit over the past few years to raise money for breast cancer, and this year is no different. It’s not quite as glamourous as what Patrick Rothfuss does, but it’s still a great cause.

Terri Windling Benefit: Author/editor Terri Windling has come across some hard times and a lot of her friends and colleagues have teamed up to raise money to help her out. There are lots of books and other stuff that can be bought for the benefit.

Ronald McDonald House for Neth Space: I’ll go ahead and throw this into the mix. Over the last year and a bit I’ve dealt with a number of health challenges with my very young daughter. There have been 2 surgeries and an additional hospital stay in the first year of her life – at a hospital about 150 miles from where we live. As a result, my family and I have been beneficiaries of the Ronald McDonald House of Phoenix, and as a result I plan to become essentially a life-long donor. It’s a great cause, a needed cause and one that has touched me and my family directly. So, please give if you are able to the Ronald McDonald House of Phoenix or your local Ronald McDonald House.

Monday, November 28, 2011

I'm Not Dead Yet...and a Few Books Received

So, it's been completely quite around here for quite some time. Yes, this is another post saying how busy I am and why I haven't yet written a review for Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey (lot of fun) or the full Acacia Trilogy or something else. As usual it's work and personal life plus the continued health challenges of my daughter that keep things so slow. Complicating matters are my computer dying a couple of weeks ago with me still on a loaner from IT (so, I'm without all my usual files) and the Thanksgiving break (very much needed). So, in the next few weeks I hope to catch up a bit. Keeping track of me on Twitter is recommended for any who would care.

Anyway....patience...patience... Here are a few of the books I've received in the last month or so.

Books Received: November 4 - 29, 2011

Monday, November 07, 2011

Interview: Brandon Sanderson

In the world of fantasy Brandon Sanderson hardly needs an introduction – simply put, he is one of the most prolific and best selling fantasy authors around. He was already gaining popularity when he agreed to finish the Wheel of Time series for the late Robert Jordan and was propelled into the spotlight. Somehow while writing the final three Wheel of Time books he’s managed to publish The Way of Kings (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound, my review), the first book in a planned 10-book series and his latest, The Alloy of Law (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound), a stand-alone story set in the Mistborn (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound, my review) world several hundred years after the original trilogy. Here is the blurb and a link to some sample chapters available on-line:

Three hundred years after the events of the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is now on the verge of modernity, with railroads to supplement the canals, electric lighting in the streets and the homes of the wealthy, and the first steel-framed skyscrapers racing for the clouds.

Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Sazed, Spook, and the rest are now part of history—or religion. Yet even as science and technology are reaching new heights, the old magics of Allomancy and Feruchemy continue to play a role in this reborn world. Out in the frontier lands known as the Roughs, they are crucial tools for the brave men and women attempting to establish order and justice.

One such is Waxillium Ladrian, a rare Twinborn, who can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will.  After twenty years in the Roughs, Wax has been forced by family tragedy to return to the metropolis of Elendel. Now he must reluctantly put away his guns and assume the duties and dignity incumbent upon the head of a noble house. Or so he thinks, until he learns the hard way that the mansions and elegant tree-lined streets of the city can be even more dangerous than the dusty plains of the Roughs.

And for those interesed in the audio book, here is a nice sample for you to listen to.
Sample Alloy of Law:

A few years ago I had the privilege of meeting Brandon and spending a good bit of time with him while he was touring for The Gathering Storm. He’s a great guy and very easy to talk to. So, it was late one night when I finished reading The Alloy of Law and I was excited, I simply had to talk with someone about it (my review is here). So, I got on the computer – however this was over a month before the official release date, and not many people had read the book and certainly no one was talking publically about it. Naturally, I thought that it’d be awesome to talk with Brandon about it – of course we all know how busy he is wrapping up the Wheel of Time. So, next best thing, I set up an interview with him with the help of his ever-faithful assistant, Peter. I love that a long-lasting blog comes with such privileges. Anyway, the interview below is the result and it’s almost entirely focused on The Alloy of Law. Of course since I didn’t really want to spoil the whole book, we don’t discuss everything that I wanted to, but this should give a nice taste of what The Alloy of Law has to offer. Warning, question 4 contains spoilers for the original Mistborn trilogy (Brandon mentions as much so there is a second warning).

Thanks again to Brandon for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions and thanks again to Peter for making it happen. Enjoy!

Neth Space: The Alloy of Law seems to have literally sprung up from nowhere. So, where did it come from? How has The Alloy of Law impacted your overall plans for events on Scadrial [the planet where the events of Mistborn occur]? Is it part of the original set of trilogies you had mapped out?

Brandon: This may be new information to some readers, but I’ve mentioned several places before that the Mistborn series was pitched to my editor as a sequence of three trilogies. Past, present, and future—epic fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction; all with the running thread of the magic system.

Since I just started coming out with the Stormlight Archive, I want to commit myself to that and don’t want to dig into the second Mistborn trilogy for quite a while. Yet I want to prep people for the idea that Mistborn is going to be around for a while, and they are going to be seeing more books. I didn’t want it to just come out of nowhere at them in ten years or whenever I get to it. So I decided to do some interim stories.

One of the things I’d been playing with was the idea of what happened between the epic fantasy and the urban fantasy trilogies. We have some very interesting things happening in the world, where you’ve got a cradle of mankind created (by design) to be very lush, very easy to live in, so a great big city could grow up there relatively quickly; civilization could build itself back up over the course of just a couple of generations. Yet there would be very little motivation to leave that area at first, which I felt would mean that you’d end up with this really great frontier boundary. The dichotomy between the two—the frontier and the quite advanced (all things considered) city in the cradle of humanity—was very interesting to me. So I started playing around with where things would lead.

To worldbuild the urban fantasy trilogy coming up, I need to know everything that happened in the intervening centuries. Some stories popped up in there that I knew would happen, that would be referenced in the second trilogy. So I thought, why don’t I tell some of these stories, to cement them in my mind and to keep the series going.

I started writing The Alloy of Law not really knowing how long it would be—knowing the history and everything that happened, but not knowing how much of it I wanted to do in prose form. Things just clicked as they sometimes do, and I ended up turning it into a novel.

Neth Space: The Alloy of Law has the feel of a Western with just a dash of Steampunk. Did you do a lot research into Westerns to try and figure out how one could fit into your world or was it more of an organic process?

Brandon: I’d say more organic. I honestly don’t look at it as much of a Western. The part that is in a Western setting, the prologue, is actually the last thing I wrote, feeling I needed a better introduction. Originally the story just started in the city.

As I said, I view it as a clash between these two concepts, the city and the frontier. Mistborn as a series has always been city-based, urban. I intend to keep it that way, mostly. The story here as I saw it was of the man who had been living out on the frontier for a long time who comes back and has to integrate into society. Which is another theme of the Mistborn books—just as in the original trilogy Vin had to go from the streets to upper society, I wondered what it would be like to deal with a character who had lived among the two-faced society of city politics and more or less rejected it, who gets pulled back against his will. So I would say it’s less a Western and more a clash between that more simple, rugged lifestyle and the city lifestyle.

Neth Space: Wax is quite the archetype, complete with a side-kick and (potential) love interest. Where did he come from?

Brandon: I don’t generally sit down and say I’m going to write someone who’s this archetype or that archetype. What I wanted for this book, honestly, was just to have fun. I love writing epic, awesome stories; I love stories that are full of deep character conflict and broad world-spanning conflict—but sometimes I just want to back away from that and have fun.

The Wax archetype with the sidekick—the two of them were built from the ground up to be characters who played off one another well to facilitate good banter. Because I like to write good banter. I like to read it, I like to enjoy it. Whether it’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, or Holmes and Watson or whatever—I get a kick out of these types of stories. So when I was writing this book, I was really just saying let’s step back for a little while from the kind of stories I was writing with the Way of Kings and the Wheel of Time—which are both (I hope) very awesome, and deep, and complex—and let’s do something that’s just fun.

Neth Space: How has religion and mythology changed in the 300 years since the events of the Mistborn trilogy?

Brandon: I had a bit of a challenge in this book because—and you may want to put a spoiler warning on this interview—at the end of the first Mistborn trilogy, one of the characters became the god of this world. He became a god figure, an almost omnipotent figure. I had planned this from the beginning, but it also offers a challenge, because in this world you have a real deity that is interacting, that is a character—not to say that in our world God doesn’t interact with us, because as you know I am a faithful, religious person. However, I think there is a different interaction going here where the reader has spent time with this person as a character, and now he is a deity figure. So how to deal with this is one of the big challenges in worldbuilding this next several hundred years.

I wanted Sazed to be involved—I didn’t want to just have him vanish and not be part of things. I wanted to acknowledge what happened with him and make it part of the mythology of the story. But at the same time, having one of your characters turn into God runs you right into the trouble of literal deus ex machina, once one of your characters has all of this power. So walking that line was both exciting and also very challenging.

I like to deal with religion in my books. I like to look at all aspects of it, and in this book I wanted to look at what it would be like if someone like Sazed had been put in this position and people started worshipping him—what do you do with that?

Neth Space: For those readers who read Mistborn years ago (or even not at all), what do they need to know before reading The Alloy of Law? Do you think this book is a good introduction to the world of Scadrial?

Brandon: I honestly don’t think you need to remember that much of the original trilogy, or even need to have read it at all, to enjoy this book. Granted, I drop some bombs on you in the epilogue—the epilogue and near ending of this book are deeply tied to the original trilogy, but the actual story of this book other than those after-the-fact bombs is very self-contained. Allomancy and Feruchemy are reintroduced; readers get some quick explanation of that. I think you can pick this up without having to read or reread the whole trilogy.

Neth Space: High Imperial? And where was Hoid?

Brandon: You will have to look. Hoid is in the book, though his name doesn’t appear. But the things happening here during this interim are not of deep interest to Hoid like the things happening in the original trilogy, so he is playing a much smaller role here than he was in the original trilogy.

Also, High Imperial just cracks me up.

Neth Space: My understanding is that The Alloy of Law is intended to be more or less a stand-alone book. However, without giving too much away, it feels like there is a whole lot more of Wax’s story to be told. When’s the sequel coming?

Brandon: I will most likely write a sequel. However, what you’ve got to remember is that I will be writing that future trilogy, the urban fantasy trilogy. The events in this book are of relation to what's happening in the future, so you will find out eventually the answers to the questions this book gives you, even if a sequel to this book never comes. But I more than likely will write more of these books over the next few years. The Stormlight Archive is my main focus following the Wheel of Time; I don’t want to leave people hanging too much where that’s concerned. But between books I will probably write more about these characters.

Neth Space: Since pretty much all fantasy fans are eagerly anticipating one story or another from you, let’s do the obligatory update on your on-going projects. How is A Memory of Light coming? Stormlight Archive 2? The Rithmatist? Alcatraz? Are any other side projects about to unexpectedly see the light of day?

Brandon: As of doing this interview, the last book of the Wheel of Time is nearly done, but boy, that’s a big “nearly.” There’s so much work to do with the last chunk of this book that it’s feeling pretty overwhelming right now. My goal is to have a revised manuscript in to Harriet by January 1st. When it comes out will depend on how long it takes to edit it.

The second Stormlight Archive book is in the planning stages; I should go right into writing that starting January 1st, with it coming out hopefully around a year after that, maybe March 2013. That’s a long wait since The Way of Kings was released, and I hate to make people wait that much, but I plan to write the third book fairly soon thereafter.

Alcatraz is on hold until I decide what to do with the series. I will write one more book in that eventually. The Rithmatist is exciting; it’s fun; but I also don’t want to have too many balls up in the air that people are reading and having to keep track of. So I keep delaying it with Tor, saying we shouldn’t release it until I’m sure I can commit to getting the trilogy done in a reasonable amount of time.

Other than that, I have a few random side projects in the works that should be coming your direction. I always have random side projects in the works, but none of those are ready for announcement yet.

A Challenge From My Wife…Or My Favorite Books

My wife recently issued me a challenge – she asked ‘what are your favorite 5 or 10 books’. On the surface it doesn’t sound like much of a challenge, but she knows me well enough to know that for me it was quite a challenge.

I’m terrible with lists of this sort – my mind simply doesn’t work in terms of favorites. I immediately said I needed qualifiers for a list like that – her response: ‘I knew you’d say that’. I needed to know what she was after – most entertaining books, books that ‘moved’ me the most, that lingered the longest, etc. – because a list of each of those qualifications could be very different. What about series? I may like a series enough to want to include it on the list, but that could be several books long and full of caveats.

So, I pestered her some more – basically she wanted to know what books I enjoyed the most so she could read them and appreciate more about what I like and get to know me better. After 10 years of marriage, I found this very touching – we’ve always shared books, but it’s generally more like ‘I think you’ll really like this book’. This time it’s all about the books I like.

I also got her to cut out series – she doesn’t have much free time, so she just wants books that can stand alone. Awesome, that cut things down considerably.

So, where did I go from there? It was tough and I thought about it quite a lot. But honestly, once I got into it the list began forming rather easily. Now, it’s a list with lots of variety. And some of these are books that I haven’t read in many years, so if I were to read them today I’m unsure if I’d truly place them on the list. Also, some of the books that I really enjoy are because of the ways they may subvert or build from ideas in hundreds of other books that I’ve read – my wife is not as well read in the SFF world to ‘get it’. However, I decided it didn’t matter and just went with my gut. She will probably learn a lot about me – some of it will bewilder her, some of it will amuse her, some of it will be expected, other parts less so. And now you get to too, if you so choose.

I ended up choosing 8 books. Another day may have been more or less and other books may have made the list with some of these being left off. But here is the list at the moment (in no particular order, so I’ll go alphabetical).

Perdido Street Station by China Miéville (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound)

I thought about giving reasons, but I’m going to keep them to me for now. I’ve linked reviews where available , so you can get an idea (note, some of these reviews are quite old and I would hope that I've improved a bit in my reviewing skills since then). Obviously it’s a very eclectic list – some are probably expected, others are probably not books your familiar with. I’ve ‘enjoyed’ each in some way, though in very different ways. But I’m sure I could find common threads in each if I were so inclined. Anyway, there you have it…as close to an absolute best of list that you’ll ever see from me. Enjoy!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Books Received: September 28 - November 4

It's been a while since I had a crazy schedule with work, volunteer duties, organizing a conference and then my daughter going to the hospital for a few days (150 miles from where we live). Things are beginning to approach normal (well as normal as normal is anymore), but I'll still be just as busy (if not more) for the foreseeable future.

Books Received: September 28 - November 4, 2011

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Review: The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

Late one night I finished reading The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) and reacted in a way that I rarely do – I was excited, very excited. I immediately got out the computer and wanted to talk about it with people. Which proved to be difficult since I had read it over a month before it was released, but the excitement was real and unusually strong.

Waxillium Ladrian (Wax) is a young aristocrat who left the civilization of the big city behind of Elendel to find his way as a lawman in the wild frontiers. After the tragic death of his lover he is called back to the city to take over as the head of a major noble house and suffer the politics of high-society. It doesn’t take long for a string of crimes to hit close to Wax as his role as patriarch and rugged lawman collide.

In many ways Sanderson has become very well known as something of a ‘cool magic system guy’. He first developed this magic system in the Mistborn trilogy (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound, my review) and he takes it to the next level with The Alloy of Law. It’s cool, it’s fun – it’s magic with guns and train robberies. The action keeps coming and coming as genres are mashed together – Fantasy, Western, Mystery, with a dash of a few others.

In The Alloy of Law Sanderson steps things up from previous novels he’s written, speeding up the pace and ratcheting up the action. It’s fun, exciting, utterly addicting and hard to put down. This isn’t supposed to be deep, meaningful fantasy, it isn’t supposed to be gritty and subversive, it’s not even particularly epic – it’s entertainment and it succeeds well within its goals.

The Alloy of Law is enthusiastic and energetic. In comparison to his previous works, think of the best of his fight or battle scenes in Mistborn and The Way of Kings (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound, my review). The Alloy of Law carries that high level of energy throughout most of the book.

Archetypes rule in The Alloy of Law. This is the buddy movie of fantasy thrown in with a hefty dose of Western where the wild-wild west meets up with civilization. Wax is a classic hero and Wayne his faithful sidekick. The Lady Marasi is the equally classic potential love interest. The big, bad enemy is also pretty standard – he knew Wax in the past, he’s a former lawman turned bad for his own sort of idealistic reasons that Wax can almost sympathize with. I suppose you could call it all cliché, call the hero a Gary Stu, etc. However that is the point – the cliché is embraced and the rather predictable story is hugely entertaining. The Alloy of Law succeeds because it doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t.

Of course this is where the problem will lie for many. Classic, archetype fantasy is not what is ‘in’ these days – fantasy is supposed to be hard core, gritty and subversive. Characters aren’t just flawed, they are really messed up, dialogue as rough as the slums, etc. Sanderson is both praised and criticized for his more PG to PG-13 portrayal of fantasy and the dreaded YA label is often thrown about (I’ve ranted before about how that’s a pretty short-sighted view). Sanderson has also come under fire for his dialogue – and I think that the overly witty dialogue of The Alloy of Law will be seen by many as a step backward.

But for me, this is all expected and not (necessarily) a bad thing. Sanderson does it all well and he tells the story in his typical style that has become very recognizable. Basically, I find his prose and style to be essentially negligible. To put it another way, it’s so benign that it fades to the background and the story takes over. I find it a perfect balance for getting sucked into the story and just running with it. The flaws and minor annoyance pass by without impact or notice as I simply enjoy the ride.

I started this review with the excitement I felt after finishing the book, so I should really discuss that a bit more. The Alloy of Law is billed as a stand-alone book in Sanderson’s Mistborn world. This is only somewhat true – for the end of the book throws a wrench into things. There are many questions left unanswered, a few exciting reveals that leave ending literally begging for an eventual sequel. And I really want to read that sequel. Unfortunately Sanderson is quite busy with other projects and any sequel is seemingly far off into the future, but I am hopeful – The Alloy of Law came out of nowhere, surprising Sanderson fans, so I hope that in the near future another surprise will emerge bearing the continuation of Wax’s story.

To sum it all up, The Alloy of Law really comes down to how you feel about Sanderson’s books. If you haven’t been a big fan of his previous books, particularly Mistborn, then this probably isn’t the book for you. However, if you like Sanderson’s books, particularly Mistborn, this will probably turn out to be one of the better books you’ll read this year. And fear not, if you haven’t read Mistborn, The Alloy of Law is fine introduction to Sanderson’s writing. The Alloy of Law is a relatively straight-forward book with lots of action and overly witty dialogue. It isn’t trying to be anything overly deep, gritty or subversive. It succeeds very well within its goals and yes, it's a lot of fun with some really clever use of a cool magic system.


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