Archive for the ‘Shelf of Honor’ Category

I actually have some free time and today (edit, not really. I wrote half of this last Tuesday) so I am going to use it to talk about awesome books. Or at least, books I expect to be awesome. I’m not going to talk about books I’ve already finished this time. I’m elbow deep into Dance with Dragons anyways, so the previous read was a while ago. Today, I want to talk about the books in my To Read Pile. They’re sitting on the shelf, waiting to be read as soon as I finish this last GRRM tome. Of course, at the speed I’ve been getting books done lately, I’ll see October before I finish this pile.













So that’s them, held up with a Medusa head. That’s how I roll. Time to talk about them. From top to bottom and left to right.

Generation V by M. L. Brennan – I think I first heard about her because Brennan was at NY ComicCon with Myke Cole. That sounds about right. Then I saw on twitter she was going to be doing a reading from the latest book in Providence and I was all like “Holy shit! People do things in Rhode Island! …. on days I’m unavailable…” One thing I’m seriously jazzed about, this book takes place in Rhode Island! New Yorkers can get blaze about urban fantasy happening in their backyard but after the author tweeted “Enjoy the RI locales”, I skimmed for where they were. The protag lives in Cranston, all of two miles from my house. I’m absolutely going to troll Cranston and take pictures of where the book happens. I’ve always wanted to do that (the pictures part, not trolling Cranston)

The Cracked Throne by Joshua Palmatier – This guy is a Shelf of Honor author with Well of Sorrows (as Benjamin Tate). This particular book is the second book in his first trilogy. Honestly, I often don’t read the back of the book for Shelf of Honor authors, or sequels to books I already liked. I don’t need any further convincing to buy them and the way the last book left off, the second should pick up pretty shortly after. I first saw him at Boskone 49.

Half-off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire – This is book three in the InCryptid series. I think this will be the fifth of hers that I’ve read. I first started reading her books from a recommendation by Jim Hines. I started with InCryptid, instead of the Toby Daye books, because InCryptid was brand new at the time. McGuire was the Guest of Honor at the last Boskone and is pretty rad.

A Discourse in Steel by Paul S Kemp – Another sequel. Hrm, seems I have a lot of these. This is the second Egil and Nix book. They buckle swashes and kick asses. I’m pretty sure I learned of these books because anything published by Angry Robot is automatically on my radar.

Tricked by Kevin Hearne (a.k.a. Taco Pope) – Book four of the Iron Druid Chronicles, which is up to six or seven plus some novellas. I found Hearne off a recommendation via Sam Sykes (who was recommended by Scalzi). The protag, Atticus, and his dog Oberon are one of the best duos in the SF genre. There’s just as much humor in these books as the serious stuff. It makes the books refreshing.

In a Fix by Linda Grimes – This is a straight up bookstore browse find, the only proper one on the list. The protag is a “human chameleon” who pretends to be other people to fix things for them. Like getting someone to accept a marriage proposal. Shapeshifters and spies? Done. You don’t need any more to sell it.

The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig – Here’s some more awesomeness from Angry Robot Books. This is book three of the Miriam Black series, which just got picked up for a TV deal on Stars. Wendig writes with a lot of flair. And swears. So many swears. He’s also one of the go to people for writing shop talk. I read the first Miriam Black book when it was brandy new based off the trifecta of Lauren Beuckes, John Scalzi and the power of the Angry Robot.

The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig – Copy and paste half of above right here. This is the start of a new series about gangsters and demons and magic.

Zeus and Co. by David Lee Jones – This is an old one I scored on a Book Barn browse. That’s the seriously epic used book store down in Connecticut. The book is old enough that it doesn’t even have a picture on Goodreads. I can’t even find any sort of web page for the correct David Lee Jones. It’s about hackers and Greek gods. I love godpunk so I nabbed this right away. I’m sure the 20 year old tech is going to be silly in it’s oldness, but I’m hoping it holds up anyways.

 Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest – Buying this book was another no-brainer. Fiddlehead is part of the Clockwork Century series which was bequeathed (bequoth?) on the Shelf of Honor. The series is often considered the definitive books of steampunk. I also enjoy how they are all interconnected but still readable as individuals. That’s a nice trait when I don’t usually have time to go back and reread a whole series. I think I first put Boneshaker (the first Clockwork Century) on 2009’s Xmas list after reading a Scalzi Big Idea post.

The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin – This book takes place in a world where the dominant magic system is fueled by people’s dreams. That is bad ass. The practitioners of this magic, well they could heal you … or maybe kill you. Either way. That’s a temple that is definitely worth reading about. Jemisin also comes recommended by most of my twitter feed.

Reamde by Neal Stephenson – Here is another Shelf of Honor author (with Ananthem). This is another of his books set in the real world. Reamde is a cyberpunk deal about online gamers and wars with Chinese gold farmers that spill over into the real world. It will get me all nostalgic for my Warcraft and EverQuest days. I read my first Stephenson book years ago off a recommendation from my dad.

God’s War by Kameron Hurley – I swear I had this book on my To Buy List before it was nominated for all the awards. Freelancing ex-government assassins? That’s pretty sweet. “Alien gene pirates” alone would sell me on it. I know that was all part of a back cover marketing angle and there are a lot more layers to the book. Good. As it should be. I think I first heard about Hurley from Seanan McGuire. She’s also a great person to follow on ye olde twitter.

Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear – This is not my first book by Bear and I know it won’t be the last. I previously read Undertow and thought that Bear wrote one of the best alien POV’s I’ve ever read in decades. She even got the seriously obscure reference to the cheela I made when I talked about her well written aliens. Ghosts is the first book in Mongol / Eastern based fantasy rather than the same old Medieval British based fantasy world. Bear came recommended from most of my twitter feed and I finally bought some of her books after seeing her at Boskone 50 last year.

lextalionisIn The Mail – Lex Talionis by R.S.A. Garcia – I was recommended this book when a twitter pal said “Hey, my sister has an awesome book coming out soon.” I was all like “Ima gonna go check this out.” And I did. And I got super happy because Lex uses one of my favorite SF tropes, which I hardly ever see anywhere. Amnesiatic protags that have to discover their identity right along with the reader. I can think of all of four books that do this, and two of them (Nine Princes in Amber and A Thousand Words for a Stranger) are on the Shelf of Honor. So this book is totally happening. I’m pretty sure I would have found this book regardless because Elizabeth Bear has also given it her recommendation.


shatteringtheleyOn Order – Shattering the Ley by Joshua Palmatier – Remember above how I said he was a Shelf of Honor author? Still applies here. The magic system in this book is closely tied with the infrastructure of the world and I find that whole concept very intriguing. I’m excited to see an epic storyline set in the urban city of the book. Ley drops in July right before Readercon so I’m hoping Palmatier rolls in for that con and I can add to my signed shelf.

republicofthievesI’m un-neglecting my blog for once! I’ve been busy on the new novel, shopping the old one still, and an odd little short story. But more than all that, this last week, I’ve been busy with The Republic of Thieves.

If you don’t know about The Republic of Thieves and the Gentlemen Bastard books by Scott Lynch… Go! Read them now! This post can wait!

Seriously, this series is one of the books I recommend the most. It is Ocean’s 11 set in a fantasy world. Books like this have the broad appeal that can draw in new readers to the genre. I read the first two books, The Lies of Locke Lamora and Red Seas Under Red Skies back when Seas was fairly new in 2008 and have been eagerly awaiting book three since then. Well it finally dropped and wasn’t I just ecstatic that the book release even was up the road in Massachusetts.

Seriously, there is not much that willingly gets me to drive to Boston. That place sucks. A lot. But all the cool writerly stuff happens in Massachusetts and not Rhode Island. (I swear, we really are different states.) I won’t gripe about driving in Boston. Much. A lot of one way streets. Without pavement. It took twenty minutes to get off the exit ramp off the Mass Pike. New Englanders are all nodding knowingly with solidarity.

Scott Lynch reading from The Republic of Thieves

Scott Lynch reading from The Republic of Thieves

So Pandemonium Books is an awesome little store, even if it is inconvenient to get to. We seriously broke the fire code for this reading. It was standing room only. We weren’t far from needing those guys from the Tokyo subways and their sticks. The event was even a two for one. Scott Lynch’s partner, Elizabeth Bear also had a book coming out, Book of Iron, one of those awesome little Subterranean Press minis. I met both of them at Readercon this past summer and Bear was also at Boskone last winter. They’re both very friendly people and great speakers on panels and such. They’re even better when they’re bantering with each other, very witty and well spoken. Each of them treated the room to a reading from their new books.

Even cooler? When I got up to the front of the line, Scott was like “Oh! You’re Mike from twitter!” and in my head I was all “I just won at twitter.” And he remembered that I build submarines for a living. I may hate my job but I forget that other people who don’t work with me find it impressive. My whole set of Gentlemen Bastard books are now all signed and personalized. Not pictured is Seas where it says I’ve “got the right attitude when it comes to work and books” because I told him I was taking the next day off just to hole up with the book once my kiddo was at daycare.

It was a fantastically fun time. When I get jealous about people going to all the fun cons and stuff scattered

"We all live in a nuclear submarine!"

“We all live in a nuclear submarine!”

across the country and the world, I remember that sometimes they’re only one state away from me. Sometimes it’s my turn to do the fun stuff. And someday Rhode Island is going to take over and we’ll get our own cool people events too. Seriously, I’m turning into a real Rhode Islander and 50 miles away requires packing snacks.

Oh so how was the book? Bloody fucking fantastic. There were two Book Throwing Moments. TWO. On the

They brought cookies!

They brought cookies!

same page! Book Throwing Moments are the best things ever by the way and I haven’t run across one since I was reading Well of Sorrows a year and a half-ish ago. BTMs have happened… maybe a dozen times ever?

Once every two years or so sounds about right. So in twenty years of reading SFF that would be about ten or eleven. Ever. Some of my all time favorites don’t have a BTM and Thieves has two in what may be one of the best chapters I’ve ever read.

I could talk all sorts of shop about this book. The ins and outs and the mechanics and what works and what doesn’t quite and how it fits in with the other two books. But that’s not the hat I’m wearing today. Today, I’m wearing a reader hat, a fan hat and I want to impart how much this book is a joy to read and how much everyone should be reading Scott Lynch.

Go. Do it now.

Catching up with the plethora of great books I’ve been reading. They’re distracting me from writing about them, they’re that good. But it’s not surprising to me when I’m reading authors I already know are awesome in the middle of a series that I never want to end.

Time for Crossed Blades by Kelly McCullough. Jumping right to the back of the book!

For six years, former temple assassin Aral Kingslayer has been living as a jack of the shadow trades, picking up odd jobs on the wrong side of the law. But that past is never dead, and Aral’s has finally caught up to him in the beautiful, dangerous form of Jax Seldansbane – a fellow Blade and Aral’s onetime fiancee.

Jax claims that the forces that destroyed everything Aral once held dear are on the move again, and she needs his help to stop them. But Aral has a different life now with a fresh identity and new responsibilities. And while he isn’t keen on letting the past back in, the former assassin soon finds himself involved in a war that will leave him with no way out and no idea who to trust…

If you go back and look at what I talked about with the first two books in the series, Broken Blade and Bared Blade, you’ll be able to copy and paste a lot of what makes this third book great. I’ve crowed praise for McCullough pretty often on this blog because I feel it’s very well deserved. So I could repeat myself a lot, but I’m going to press on and try to focus on the specifics and evolution this series is taking.

One of the hallmarks of McCullough’s writing is the relationships between his characters. (Spoiler alert from the end of book two) I was super excited when Faran showed up in book two. We’ve seen how the downfall of the Blades affected Aral, not good but his whole getting better thing is the overall arc of the series. Faran and her shade were younger when their temple fell. Surviving the intervening years has left her with two very different sides to her personalities. One side is the cold blooded killer who will shank whoever needs shanking to make it through the day. The other side is a very uncertain teenager who doesn’t know her place in the world.

There’s a chunk of time between the second and third books and Aral takes Faran under his wing. She’s kind of his apprentice, but not really because of the experiences she had surviving on her own. It evolves into a big brother / little sister kind of relationship more than anything else. I think they’ve got one of the more complicated relationships in any of the books McCullough’s written and became one of the best ones to read.

Then there’s Jax. She brings the plot to Aral in this one and they’ve got a lot of history. It shows in every word they say to each other. And there’s a big secret that Jax carries with her for the plot so I’m not going to talk about it. Suffice to say the plot features a lot of secrets, twists, turns and double dealing like the others. And like the others, that makes it very hard to talk about without ruining anything that happens. Rest assured that it is entirely satisfying. There’s a slow play going on with one of the characters that’s so slow, you don’t even realize it’s a play until it happens. Damn that made the ending feel great and I hope it plays in with the next book.

A lot of Crossed Blades moves outside the city of Tien. I missed Tien, it’s like the New York City of that world, the center and coolest place around. I missed some of the supporting cast from the previous books like Captain Fei. (I still want a whole book about Captain Fei) That’s always a problem with a series, reading and writing. There’s so much to like, it’s got to be hard to keep it all in. But I never felt like I was missing out with Crossed Blades. A couple characters don’t show but we get Faran and Jax with her crew. We don’t get the dyads but we get the Hand and their storms.

I think that is one of the hallmarks of an excellent series. Growth and evolution. Layer in the new stuff and let the story go where it needs to without getting hung up on fan service. I know I just said I missed some of the supporting cast from the previous books, but there wasn’t any reason to have them waltz into this one. I’ll love it if they do in book four (and a peek at the sample chapter says a couple do!) but the story is boss. I’d rather see the narrative arc grow than forcing it around for fan service. (Although… Captain Fei book! I will throw all sorts of money at that!) This series is Aral’s story. His travels took him one way and that’s what mattered. He makes a lot of progress in getting his life back underneath him.

The series continues to get better and I’m looking forward to the next book coming out this summer.

Happy Birthday Zelazny

Posted: May 13, 2013 in Shelf of Honor
Tags: ,


Roger Zelazny would be 76 years old today if it wasn’t for cancer. nineprincesinamber

Fuck cancer.

Books live on even though he passed away eighteen years ago. The first Amber book, Nine princes of Amber is my all time favorite book and Roadmarks is not far behind it. Thanks to an awesome used bookstore, I have most everything he ever published. I’m going to read a little bit tonight. Take the time to read a bit of your favorite author today.

Zelazny infodump.

Nine Princes in Amber

Posted: September 25, 2012 in Reading, Shelf of Honor
Tags: , ,

Nine Princes in Amber by Zelazny. The only book I’ve ever read more than this is Dr Seuss’ ABC’s. When I was two. The reason my child wasn’t named Corwin was that me and his mom figured no one would listen to us when we said we don’t like ‘Corey.’ So I know this book.

It’s a biggun in the genre. You’ve got to be a biggun to have a ten book set published. When you’ve graduated from ‘series’ to ‘cycle,’ you’ve written something pretty important. So I’m sure most people who would see this, know all about this.

Back of the book time anyways!

Long exiled to the Shadow Earth, Corwin has returned to sieze the throne. Yet his bloody path is blocked and guarded by eerie structures beyond imagining… impossible realities forged by demonic assassins… and staggering horrors to challenge the might of Corwin’s super-human fury.

Back of the book time was pretty short back in 1970.

This isn’t so much of a real book review so much as a “Woo! Lookit my favorite book!” It starts out with a theme that I love to read about. Corwin doesn’t know who he is on page one. He wakes up with amnesia. It takes a third of the book for him to admit it. I really don’t know why this is a topic that facinates the crap out of me, but it is. I’m sure there are some sort of professional could figure it out with ink blots, but whatev. I like to read about it. It shows up in my Shelf of Honor a couple other times. It’s a quest and a mystery that works out as an internal and external thing. In this book, it gets amped up because Corwin keeps it a secret for so long. Adds to an intensity.

The concept of walking through Shadows is a very philosophical thing, which is the stuff Zelazny liked to play with in his writing. In the over arching cycle, there’s the whole spectrum of chaos and order and the conflict between them. Amber is the center of the universe and order. In the later books, we’re introduced to the Courts of Chaos. These are physical places that represent each end of the philosophy and the worlds that Corwin and his siblings travel through are all the points in between.

Some more of the plot points what since this isn’t a philosophy textbook. The battle going up the mountain steps to Amber is one of the most unique I’ve ever read to this day. An undersized army fights via swords up a single file switchback trail. Corwin’s punishment before being dumped into Amber’s prisons for defying the crown is pretty intense. It leaves him riding around the edge of madness.

As a reread of a set I’ve read plenty of times, the first book sits alone just fine. For a new reader, it mostly does. The ten book cycle is split up in two halves, the first about Corwin and the second about his son. So for this first five books, the first is the most stand-alone. It has a self contained story arc but doesn’t exactly resolve all the big questions. In today’s market, I’m not sure how that would sell at all. I think it leaves too much open for a brandy new book one in today’s world. People expect the Star Wars arc now, with One being self contained and Two and Three tied together. I think that goes a long way towards why the only way you can buy the Amber books now is as the whole ten book set.

Even ten small books put together make a serious tome. Don’t let that be daunting because the read just flies by. It’s solid. It’s fun. And I’m going to read it dozens of more times.

So I was called out on being tired and/or child distracted at the end of the last post about First Lines. It took much longer to type than I thought it would what with needing to hold the book with one hand and do the 3rd grade hunt and peck typing. The people have spoken, here I am to deconstruct the first line.

As a reader, it’s very easy to gloss over the first line. As a writer, I know I tend to agonize over it.

When I start reading a new book, I’m running pellmell face first into it, I can’t stop for just one line. For me, the first dozen pages are where I get my quote unquote, first impression, from. In fact, some of the first lines off the Shelf of Honor books give a different impression than what I remember of the openings. Specifically I’m thinking of A Thousand Words for Stranger and Boneshaker. In regards to Stranger, I remember Sira waking up not knowing who she is. Amnesiatic characters is something I find fascinating (also, see Zelazny for that) so that’s probably why it tends to jump at me. My first memories of Boneshaker are of Briar shleping through the muck of Seattle coming home from work, not of a mood moment.

Opening lines tend to be mood moments or action. Both can set the pace of what’s going on but even as I type this, I’m thinking of all the ones that do the opposite. Look at Un Lun Dun, the word ‘nondescript’ is used twice. You get a juxtaposition out of that one. When I write my own stuff, I tend to be of the ‘start with a bang’ school of thought. I vaguely remember it being taught in school at some point. I’ve tried mood openings or informational openings and they just don’t pop for me. In my in-process novel, I actually lopped off the first four pages and ended up with two people dying on page one. It made for a much better hook. It’s a show don’t tell kind of thing for me.

That’s not to say I can’t enjoy a book with a mood opening, the Shelf of Honor First Lines clearly shows that, but deconstructed as a single opening line, action speaks much louder than words. Actions make you ask Why? That little question propels the reader just as much as the writer. Actions? Questions? What single lines are the flavors I like best? I’m getting there. They’re next in fact.

“At the height of the long wet summer of the seventy-seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately hoping to sell him the Lamora boy.” —The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

There’s a lot of information going on here. The weather and the year, they don’t do anything for me, but fortunately this is a nice long line. Thiefmaker and Eyeless Priest… who are these people? They’re titles so unique, they demand answers in themselves. But that’s informational. What’s the action? Why he’s got Lamora up for sale. The title character is for sale in the first line? Do tell more.

“Colin saw Walter’s foot a moment before it connected with his stomach.” —Well of Sorrows by Benjamin Tate

This is all action, simple and impactful. Both literally and figuratively. By starting off the whole book right in the middle of the fight, we’re instantly involved with what’s going on. There’s no lead in for us to choose sides nor are we shown the aftermath yet with the winner dusting himself off. We’re not even given a chance to take a breath before stuff’s going down.

“In a cold jail cell in Boston in Massachusetts Bay Colony on November 16, 1699, a weather-beaten man with hard scarred features unbuttoned his trousers.” —The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd by Richard Zacks

This one is a little bit odd in that it’s the only non-fiction book on the Shelf of Honor. But take a look at that. This book doesn’t read like a history text. It’s researched just the same but it reads like a novel. We’ve got action in a place that could easily start out as “Captain Kidd was in jail in Boston on November 16, 1699.” What we got instead is a lot more interesting, even if the image of a pantsless angry Scotsman in jail isn’t exactly an image we want willingly.

I just now spent twenty minutes going through my shelves for more first lines that really pop for me. What’s surprising me is that so many books I enjoy the b’jebus out of, have regular first lines. This goes back to running headlong into a new novel. When there are 400 pages, you’ve got at least fifty to hook me, one hundred if I’m being generous and you’ve got an awesome premise. In the last twenty minutes though, I did find two more that really jab the hooks in before the first punctuation mark.

“On the last true day of spring the nine worlds will ever know, my brother and I fly recon through the land of the gods.” —Norse Code by Greg van Eekhout

Godpunk is one of my favorite subgenres and the Norse are especially awesome. Not only do we have the ominous declaration that might as well be a Ned Stark saying “Winter is coming… everywhere,” we’ve got this awesome action of flying recon in the land of the gods. Something dicey is going on. There are so many questions in that half statement. There’s got to be danger a plenty in doing that, you don’t fly recon in safe zones. Expound on this danger! Tell me more!

“She let Johnny gag her mouth with a belt, that way she wouldn’t scream when he amputated her two mangled fingers.” —Johnny Zed by John Gregory Betancourt

Take a look at this book and read it’s synopsis and it sounds like a very dated 1980s popcorn muncher and then holy hell back alley amputations! I’m not so sure if I need to say much more about that. We’re starting in the middle of the action but it’s simultaneously the aftermath of another. What starts off as something sounding like it needs an R rating, turns out to be a lot more squeamish and intense than that. The question “What next?” drips off the page.

So there’s a thousand words about first lines, none more than 41 words themselves. One of the primary reasons I run this blog, is so that when I talk about these things, I become conscious of what works and doesn’t work in the books I read so I can apply those lessons to my own novel writing endeavors. So what have I learned, or more accurately, what have I become more aware of? Well, novels don’t have to get you in one line. Most of the Shelf of Honor books don’t hook me as fast as the 80s popcorn muncher that is Johnny Zed. When a first line really clicks though, it’s magic. Things are happening, things are moving and you’ve got no time to wonder what’s going on. All those magnificent questions these wonderful first lines raise, well hell, there’s no time to stop and think of them. We’re swept up in what’s going on without coming up for air.

There’s a whole novel for us to come up for air, but you’ve got to shove the reader back under the tide of words anyways. Make them work for it.

First Lines

Posted: July 19, 2012 in Genre, Reading, Shelf of Honor
Tags: , ,

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you’ve probably heard me mention the Shelf of Honor. It’s my small shelf of my most favorite books. Inspired by a post over at, which frankly I can’t find after ten minutes of searching because their search function is crap. Nonetheless, it was a post about great opening lines in science fiction. There was a corresponding one for fantasy and one for closing lines. Zelazny showed up a few times which made me happy. And now that I mentioned Zelazny, I found the posts. Here’s Great Openings from Fantasy, which links to the others in the article.

So here are the opening lines from my most favorite of favorite books. Depending on the energy I have left and/or attention level my infant needs, I may talk about what makes for good opening lines or I might save it for later. And now, in no particular order….

“Colin saw Walter’s foot a moment before it connected with his stomach.” —Well of Sorrows by Benjamin Tate

“Do your neighbors burn one another alive?” was hownFraa Orlo began his conversation with Artisan Flec.” —Anathem by Neal Stephenson

“In a cold jail cell in Boston in Massachusetts Bay Colony on November 16, 1699, a weather-beaten man with hard scarred features unbuttoned his trousers.” —The Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd by Richard Zacks

“Gleaming steel, gleaming steel…” —Thirteen by Richard K Morgan

“Eliot Post and his sister, Fiona, would be fifteen tomorrow and nothing interesting had ever happened to them.” —Mortal Coils by Eric Nylund

“In an unremarkable room, in a nondescript building, a man sat working on very nondescript theories.” —Un Lun Dun by China Miéville

“Unpaved, uneven trails pretended to be roads; they tied the nation’s coasts together like laces holding a boot, binding it with crossed strings and crossed fingers.” —Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

“The sign was rain-streaked and had never been overly straight.” —A Thousand Words for Stranger by Julie Czerneda

“The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself.” —Neverwhere by Niel Gaiman

“A mile below the lowest cloud, rock breaches water and the sea begins.” —The Scar by China Miéville

“In the tower of the nameless necromancer, it is always cold.” —Grunts by Mary Gentle

“Nothing here,” said Melchior,his voice echoing from the depths of an ancient citrus-wood chest.” —WebMage by Kelly McCullough

“The ticking of the conference room’s antique clock was deafening as the Hereditary President of the People’s Republic of Haven stared at his military cabinet.” —On Basilisk Station by David Weber

“It began, as many things do, in a tavern: about eight o’clock on a Friday evening, in The Pot of Gold on Post Hoc Lane in Simka.” —Trapped by James Alan Gardner

“Pull over!” cried Leila.” —Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny (although it starts at chapter two, so I’m not sure if that counts.)

“I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday.” —Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

“Blackness. Blackness over and about her.” —In Fury Born by David Weber

“The small family group gathered in the library was only conventionally alarmed by the sound of a violent explosion – a singularly self-centered sort of explosion.” —The Night Life of the Gods by Thorne Smith

“At the height of the long wet summer of the seventy-seventh Year of Sendovani, the Thiefmaker of Camorr paid a sudden and unannounced visit to the Eyeless Priest at the Temple of Perelandro, desperately hoping to sell him the Lamora boy.” —The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

“About a third of the way down the massive wooden staircase the older of the two tuxedo-clad men paused, head up, nostrils flaring as though he were testing a scent on the air.” —Smoke and Mirrors by Tanya Huff

“Shadow had done three years in prison.” —American Gods by Neil Gaiman

“John Rolfe had rented the house for seventy-five a month, which sounded extortionate but was something close to reasonable, given the way costs had gonr crazy in the Bay Area since Pearl Harbor.” —Conquistador by S.M. Steirling

“Since Maria had decided to die her cat would have to fend for itself.” —Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

“It started to end, after what seemed most of eternity to me.” —Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny

Well of Sorrows

Posted: May 2, 2012 in Reading, Shelf of Honor

I first became aware of Benjamin Tate from a guest blog post over on Jim Hines’ website. A couple weeks later, I saw him at one of the Boskone panels I was at. I made it a point to pick up books by the panelists when I was there but my copy of Well of Sorrows sat on my shelf for a little while. I never should have let it sit that long.

Let’s go with a back of the book kind of summary… In fact, I think I’m going to actually quote it today.

Colin Harten and his parents had fled across the ocean to escape the Family wars in Andover and find a better life. But the New World proved no haven for the Hartens and their fellow refugees. Forced to undertake an expedition to the unexplored plains east of the newly settled coastal cities, the Hartens and their companions were not prepared for the dangers they would face.

Pursued by plains dwellers known as the dwarren, the Hartens’ wagon train fled to the very edge of a dark forest — a place they had been warned to avoid at all costs by a small band of Alvritshai warriors, the first race they had encountered on the plains.

Colin survived the perils of the forest, rescued by spirits of Light and transformed by the power of the Well of Sorrows, but he paid a very high price. For drinking the Lifeblood — the waters of the Well — changed Colin into something not entirely human… into someone who might prove the only defense against the dark spirits of the forest and the Wraiths they had created to destroy the humans, dwarren and Alvritshai alike.

I’ll admit, I’ve been … less than motivated with traditional fantasy for the last few years. I was saturated it when I was a kid reading all sorts of this stuff I ganked from my parents written in the 80s and 90s. It kinda became done for me a few years ago. I still poke at it now and again but other than GRRM, I actually had to go back and look at my list of Sixty-Four from last year to see what my last actual fantasy book was. (Sam Sykes, Scott Lynch and GRRM were the only ones last year) But the back of the book blerb here doesn’t make it sound too traditional right? Not overly, it came off as a paranormal-ish to me and there certainly was an important element of that in the book but holy crap I should have paid more attention to the Midwest Book Review quote underneath it where it says the words “strong thriller.”

Well of Sorrows is a fantasy thriller.

All the things that you normally associate with fantasy books are there but there’s this intense world building that makes the focus of the story turn into something more like a … well.. a thriller. If you took Well of Sorrows and stripped the fantasy tropes out of it, the book would still stand up on its own. Dress it up differently and you could make the same story historical fiction or sci fi, hell you could dress it up as modern political thing. The meat and potatoes of Well has this universal story sort of feel going for it that I love. It’s the sort of thing that says to me “This character and plot are strong enough to carry this without any gimmicks, they’re not dependent on their setting.”

That’s not to say the setting is lacking at all. The world building in this is top tier stuff. I see so much potential is off hand mentions. The town Colin settles in on page one is Portstown. There’s very much an American Colonies kind of vibe to the Provinces but the homeland has a very Italian feel. Colin’s family is fleeing feuding among the Families who are fighting over something called the Rose which has religious-magical implications. Right off the bat, I liked that touch of familiarity mixed up with something else. The whole thing with the Rose and what’s going on with the mainland causes what goes on with the Provinces but never fully explained. This isn’t a negative since the Why’s aren’t the story of Wells. The Rose and the mainland are just the catalyst and would get too tangential, although it is a story I would like to know. There’s a whole history to this world going on here we’re not seeing and even though we’re not seeing it, it’s difference is felt and highly positive.

The dwarren and Alvritshai get similar treatment, although we see more of the Alvritshai. When these races first showed up on Colin’s trek into the plains it’s easy to go “yup, dwarves and elves.” They’re really not though. Tate took the same kind of “start off with something familiar and mix it up” tone with the races. You can’t call the Alvritshai elves even though they are tall, live long lives and don’t reproduce fast. The stock Tolkienesque races were modded up into their own fully formed creations and having read so much of those stock cultures, this was eminently satisfying.

The combat, when it does show up, is not the point of this book so don’t expect GRRM style brutality here. It gets the job done. Like I said, this is almost a political thriller racing to form alliances and create peace rather than grind their enemies into dirt. There are two Book Throwing Moments. It’s a term coined by my mom because she found a moment so intense in a book, she actually threw it across the room. I’d say about one in six, if that, has a Book Throwing Moment in it. I can count on one hand how many I’ve found this year so far. Well of Sorrows has two. Pages 212 and 471. If I’ve ever come across anything with two Book Throwing Moments in them, I can’t think of it, which means I probably haven’t because I would remember the hell out of that. My Shelf of Honor books, the small pile of my most favorite and revered books, don’t even all contain Book Throwing Moments.

Well of Sorrows has exceeded my expectations to the point where I officially dub this book Shelf of Honor worthy to sit next to the likes of Zelazny, China Mieville and Scott Lynch.

In Fury Born

Posted: March 30, 2012 in Reading, Shelf of Honor

I’m going to make no bones about this, In Fury Born is one of my favorite books of all time. This has been a Shelf of Honor book since I first read it years ago by an author I’ve been reading for almost twenty years. And that’s hard to do at twenty eight. I read my first David Weber book back in the mid nineties, mass market sized hardcover library version of On Basilisk Station, the first of the Honorverse books. I must have not read Fury until after 2006 because I’ve got the expanded version rather than the original Path of Fury version. I had been reading a lot of swords and magic and needed a change of pace and Weber is one of the best at space operas.

Short back of the book version of what goes on … Alicia DeVries is a bad ass space Marine. Seriously, the best of the best and gets tapped into the appropriately elite drop commando unit, the Emperor’s Cadre.So the first chunk of the book is Alicia’s progress from recruit to Cadre to the front lines. She racks up all sorts of combat medals but gets seriously betrayed and retires out early to a frontier planet. Oh hello pirates! The pirates start pwn’ing face all over the sector kill off everyone she cares about. How’s she going to get back at them? There are still three hundred pages left! Oh that’s right, a Greek fury gets into her noggin too. And they hijack a sentient space ship. Time to own some pirates.

So yeah. I’m going to try to avoid getting all spoiliery but my level of “spoilery” and yours might be different. Fair warning.

Fury is actually the original version plus a “novel length prequel.”  If you didn’t know about it, you might not notice. If you are looking for it, the break where the original started is blatent. When the story shifts to post-retired Alicia and the frontier, some of the info dumps repeat. They’re not lengthy or obnoxious, you can’t be a published author for decades and not know how to do it well, but they’re there. Character descriptions and the like. It’s like reading a book and it’s sequel back to back, which essentially this is.

But yeah, this book has so many things I love to read. Let’s count. One… space marines! I’m no hardcore military SF guy. I’ve read some that lean too heavy on procedure and the bureaucracy of the military. But Weber doesn’t do that. There are full fledged characters inside the uniforms. This is the norm across the board for all the Weber books I’ve read. The book jumps POVs a lot, even though Alicia is the primary focus, but Alicia isn’t all knowing and the other POVs are crucial to knowing what goes on. But even in little chunks of text that follow a base lieutenant or smuggler boss who is about to die after a page and a half, there’s still a sense that there’s more than just a cardboard cutout. So space marines with souls. Alicia is a confident warrior but one who knows killing isn’t always the answer. She shows this through her deeds and not just thoughts.

Two… multiple personalities. It sounds like a cliche soap opera thing, but I find it interesting as hell. When it’s done well, it’s not derivative at all. In Fury it’s not a psychosis but rather more than one entity living in the same noggin. My love of the tropes of psychological SF probably stems from the early Zelazny I like such as Roadmarks and all that New Wave stuff from the 70s. Character driven stuff is always my favorite and the battles inside someone’s mind are the best way to get to know them. Notice I avoided saying “getting inside their head” until now. So literal and figurative bam on that.

Three… modern mythology, or in this case, future mythology. I first read this book, WebMage by Kelly McCullough and American Gods all around the same time. It has become one of my favorite subgenres partly because it’s pretty new on the scene and partly because it mixes up all the conventions of the genre I’ve been reading for ever. Now most of the modern mythology stuff is current day,Fury is the only one I can think of that takes the ancient deities and plops them down in the future. So in addition to the uniqueness, Weber makes Tisiphone, the titular fury, into just as much of a proper character as any of the others. In some ways, she has the most growth of any of them.

There are some similarities to Honor Harrington but in no way is Alicia just Honor with a rifle. Especially in the later Honorverse books, there’s a whole lot of diplomacy. I could see Alicia dealing with people, but not so much being a stateswoman like Honor gets to do. They’re both fighters to be sure, but I see Alicia as a predator that stalks prey where as Honor always seemed to have more patience, to lay in wait. I think a lot of that has to do with the differences of person to person combat versus ship to ship combat.

So three of my favorite things rolled up into one action packed book. The action is visceral without being gory or gratuitous and when Weber gets down to space naval combat, there’s no one I’ve read better. A full blooded Weber space battle is the Platonic ideal of a space battle. Seriously, if I ever teach writing space combat, anything he writes can be Exhibit A.

If you have even the remotest interest in space operas and/or military SF, check this book out immediately. Don’t let the addition of the mythology bent sway your hand, this book is worth it.

Next up, Arctic Rising by Tobias Buckell.

Music and Writing

Posted: March 19, 2012 in Shelf of Honor, Writing

So as promised, Music and Writing.

This is a snippet of the query I put out there last week…

I’ve had the interplay of music and writing on my mind ever since I read Jeff VanderMeer‘s Finch as part of The Sixty-Four last year. In the back “About the Book” page there was a paragraph saying Finch has an official soundtrack by a band called Murder By Death. The writing influenced the band and the music “was a substantial influence on the book’s mood and tone.” Direct quote. I really wish that had been printed in the front of the book and I saw it before I read it.This has completely fascinated me and I’ve run across it again with Lauren Beukes Zoo City.

I got a few answers back and frankly the answers are a bit different than I thought they would be. I don’t consider that a bad thing. It’s kind of like when you watch Mythbusters and they get more excited over the unexpected results than anything. Some examples….

Shelf of Honor author Kelly McCullough (@KellyDMcC) said via ye ol’ twitter…

I almost never write to music. Only when I need to block out some other sound and never with lyrics. I find it distracting.

The epic Jim Brady (@UrHumbleNarr8or) echoed the same sentiment although I must have accidentally deleted the response because I can’t find it for the life of me. I swear it was a similar thing.

So out of all the responses I got, the overwhelming opinion is that silence is golden. The only dissenter was over on the page I posed the question and only partial. Myke Cole (@MykeCole ) said that silence is only sometimes golden and music without lyrics is for the rest of the time. I actually did a similar thing writing papers back in film school. Once I learned the lyrics to an album, I couldn’t use it for work anymore. But papers for class didn’t get infused with the mood of my music like proper writing does. (They just got infused with sleep deprivation hallucinations)

Why is this? It actually did take me off guard and I got to thinking why my opinion is different. Not that I think there is anything wrong with the way my creativity works, it just got me curious. The better to understand it is the better to take advantage of it and all. First of all, I’m a white noise kind of person. I’ve had tinnitus as long as I’ve known. I thought it was normal until I was 22 or so. I sleep with a fan on or will have the tv on in the background when I’m doing other things. But that’s kind of a minor thing. When I got back into writing I had an hour long commute to Connecticut. Driving down the interstate on a road I’ve driven a thousand times even before starting that commute gave me a lot of time to space out. I got in the habit of plotting out scenes and chapters and such while driving. It was actually creepy sometimes because I’d space out and then be in another state. In college on my CT to NH run, I forgot all of Massachusetts. But I very rarely drive without music so the two became associated with each other. A little Pavlovian. I can’t do quite or low tempo music when I’m driving, even if it’s music i like. I end up with a lot of punk, metal and experimental weird stuff. (I was a college radio DJ after all, weird is part of the recipe)

Tub Ring‘s Secret Handshakes is officially the unofficial album of the current novel I’m working on. “Cryogenic Love Song” has a very drifting in space kind of feel I built a scene around. Ironically enough, in my head I changed the song to a different one on the album. The early notes I’ve been storing up for the next novel I tackle has a main character as front man for a punk band. Living vicariously through my characters in that one. I have a mental image of that one tied in with The Descendents “When I Get Old.” These are all songs I rock out to when I’m driving, often very loudly with the windows open.

I like to think that some of the tempo and energy can rub off on the writing I’m doing. I think if I could manage a bit of that it would be quite beneficial to my writing and maybe give me an excuse to find new music.