Posts Tagged ‘sci-fi’

First Lines

Posted: July 19, 2012 in Genre, Reading, Shelf of Honor
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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 io9.com, 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

Blackbirds

Posted: July 3, 2012 in Reading
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Lately, most of the books I’ve been reading have come from recommendations that other authors I like are also reading. Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig has come highly praised from a whole lot of corners of the internet. Wendig himself is one of this batch of authors I’ve been finding lately on ye olde internets that are selling me as people first, getting me interested in the stories they have to tell long before I hold ink and paper in hand. So in addition to being one of the more interesting people I follow on twitter, his writing is a swear filled festival of awesome.

What time is it? It’s 943. So what?? I type slow and had to feed the infant. But it’s also Back of the Book Time!

Miriam Black knows when you will die.

Still in her early twenties, she’s foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and slow deaths by cancer. But when Miriam hitches a ride with truck driver Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days he will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name.

Miriam has given up trying to save people – that only makes their deaths happen. No matter what she does, she can’t save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she’ll have to try.

Oh my that sounds like the sort of thing that will mess a person up and holy crap Miriam is messed up. But by no means take that as a knock against the readability of Blackbirds. I don’t think I’ve ever read a protagonist as emotionally broken as Miriam. We don’t just get this emotional fragility first hand, it’s shoved into our faces, uncomfortably close, bleeding and slobbering all over your shirt while saying “eat a dick.”

This in-your-face fragility is oddly endearing. You just want to give Miriam a hug even though she’s swearing like a sailor. Actually out-swearing a sailor. I actually work in a shipyard, a sausage fest of crusty old men, and Miriam could put all of us to shame on our best swearing day. I never felt it was shock value though. Or more accurately, I never felt it was Wendig’s shock value. Miriam wants to shock people as a barrier to keep them at arms reach. Swearing as characterization, not gratuity.

There really is a lot to like about Blackbirds though. The book is mostly Miriam’s point of view, part of the whole in-your-face thing I mentioned above. Wendig weaves in these interludes which provide a bit of a break from the plot with some backstory. There’s a guy named Paul who interviews Miriam. I get the strange sense that he’s the author cameo. The interlude between 32 and 33 is actually one of the funniest chapters in the book. It really shouldn’t be because it’s actually gruesome, but in such a matter of fact tone, it becomes absurdest.

And that’s one of the talents Wendig’s got going here which I didn’t consciously think of until now. He’s taking the gruesome, the brutal, the sleightly horrible, and turning these things upside down. The tone and storytelling wordsmithing makes you ok with hacksawed legs and a fishknife in the brain. I feel like the whole novel is like the most beautiful train wreck you’ve ever seen, moving ever so slowly and getting ever so better looking the throughout.

So waxed prophetically about Miriam’s teetering state of being a lot. But what about the plot? What in the hell is she actually doing this whole time? There’s a philosophical battle with Fate going on. That’s capital F Fate. It’s not Incarnations of Immortality with a physical person acting as Fate, but it’s a very specific force at play here. It has it’s own rule set, even if we don’t quite get to see all of the rules in play. There’s a couple layers to all that’s going on and we get them pulled back slowly.

I feel like I’m shortchanging this book with this abbreviated amount of musing. But there is a very blurry line between talking about this and giving away too much. This book is too awesome to risk giving anything away as spoilers. After all this I’m still left with questions regarding Miriam. I can’t tell you what they all are, but it’s an appropriate amount of questions. I walked away from Blackbirds supremely satisfied. Angry Robot isn’t putting out the sequel, Mockingbird, until August so at least we’ve not long to wait to find out all these answers.

So as much as I have been hamstrung by my aversion to spoilers, all the praise this book has been getting is 143% justified.

As a related tangent, the cover is a work of art. Joey HiFi, out of South Africa who has also done covers for other Angry Robot authors, has set me out on a quest to find a frame to put my book in. It’s the most gorgeous cover I’ve seen in years.

Carpet noodle. Always carpet noodle. It makes sense now.

Mass Effect: Revelation

Posted: June 5, 2012 in Reading
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So for this book, I’ve gone into territories that I don’t often go into and also gets a bit of a bad rap sometimes. The two are only partially related. Today’s book is Mass Effect: Revelation by Drew Karpyshyn. I can hear you now “What’s wrong with that? I remember you going on and on about Mass Effect 3 a while back?” Well it’s a tie in book. Star Wars and Star Trek books take up shelves upon shelves in bookstores because they’re a proven commodity among nerds, but tie in books have a bad reputation for not always being the best there is.

As part of the Sixty-Four last year, I read two. Well… I tried to read two. Sooner Dead, a D&D Gamma World tie in set in Oklahoma (get the joke?), I liked. It was solid. I tried to read Homefront: The Voice of Freedom. That’s a tie in with the Homefront video game which was written by the same guy who wrote Red Dawn (Wolveriiiiines!). The story was the main selling point of that game even though the game is gathering dust. That book got technical and lame real fast and I sent it off to the used bookstore just as fast. But Mass Effect is known for it’s top shelf writing, so I figured I’d take a chance.

Before I go to far, let’s get to the back of the book so I can start dropping specifics.

On the edge of colonized space, ship commander and Alliance war hero David Anderson investigates the remains of a top secret military research station: smoking ruins littered with bodies and unanswered questions. Who attacked this post, and for what purpose? And where is Kahlee Sanders, the young scientist who mysteriously vanished from the base hours before her colleagues were slaughtered?

Sanders in the prime suspect, but finding her creates more problems for Anderson than it solves. Partnered with a rogue alien agent he can’t trust and pursued by an assassin he can’t escape, Anderson battles impossible odds on uncharted worlds to uncover a sinister conspiracy – one he won’t live to tell about. Or so the enemy thinks.

Chances are, if you’re reading this book, you’ve played Mass Effect. Ok, that’s cool. You can make some logical assumptions based off the cover of the book, not listed in the text. Saren, the villain of the first Mass Effect game, is smack on the cover. Can you guess who the “rogue alien agent” is? Also, Anderson is a primary character in all three of the games. As Revelation is a prequel to the games, he clearly lives through the ordeal. Although, the book is from 2007, the same year as the first game so when this was fresh you’d only know he was in the first.

Speaking of Revelation‘s prequel status, this book revolves around some of the really cool back story that is only hinted at in the games. Anderson starts out as Shepard’s boss in the first game and there’s a lot of talk of history between him and Saren. Then way later in ME3, Sanders makes an appearance. The game nerd in me thought it was pretty awesome to tie all that stuff in together.

But this is a book, so I’m getting out my book nerd hat now. This book is very… streamlined at times. Pieces of it move in a real quick staccato fashion where I think other books would dive a little deeper. Style has got to place a part of that, but I think the target gamer audience might have another part. But it’s not a distracting thing while I was reading it. It was the kind of thing that you realize on retrospect so I’d take it with half a grain of salt rather than the full grain.

Occasionally, Revelation degenerates into Gamer Weapon Mode. This was one of the big reasons I ditched Homefront last year. There’s a certain type of gamer who really enjoys all the nuances of guns and ammo. Now, Mass Effect is less of a shooter game than Homefront, but it still has a high armament pedigree. Revelation will throw down  with “He unholstered his pistol manufactured by yadda yadda I don’t care and knew the other guy was imposter because his weapon was made by whatever I don’t even remember manufacturers from the game.” That stuff is utterly distracting because it destroys the flow of the prose. I understand that there’s a section of this book’s audience that would loudly complain and whine if that kind of gun porn wasn’t included in the book, but that doesn’t mean I care one bit about it when I’m reading. Fortunately, this doesn’t happen too often in Revelation. Enough to satiate those who want it, but not enough to turn off those who don’t.

The story itself is worth of the Mass Effect name. There’s action and emotion and it’s a solid fun read. Strip this book of all its Mass Effect setting, I think it would still be a good solid popcorn read. I would compare it to a movie like National Treasure or a Clive Cussler book. It’s quick, it’s competent, it’s fun. I would recommendRevelation to someone who didn’t even have an interest in the games because it stands up on its own.

Next up… The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

Kings of Eternity

Posted: May 16, 2012 in Reading
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A bit late to the party with this one, what with the aforementioned small child who was birthed last week. But the little guy is sleeping now and I already took a dad-nap so I’m going to cram in as much work as I can.

This time I’m going to throw down the Back Of The Book not out of laziness, but because Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown has a Big Question going for it which frankly will make talking about it a bit hard without ruining it.

1999. On the threshold of a new millennium, the novelist Daniel Langham lives a reclusive life on an idyllic Greek island, hiding away from humanity and the events of the past. All that changes, however, when he meets artist Caroline Platt and finds himself falling in love. But what is his secret, and what are the horrors that haunt him?

1935. Writers Jonathon Langham and Edward Vaughan are summoned from London by their editor friend Jasper Carnegie to help investigate strange goings-on in Hopton Wood. What they discover there – no less than a strange creature from another world – will change their lives forever.

What they become and their link to the novelist of the future, is the subject of Eric Brown’s most ambitious novel to date. Almost ten years in the writing,The Kings of Eternity is a novel of vast scope and depth, yet imbued with humanity and characters you’ll come to love.

So the Back Of The Book here says a bit less than usual and I didn’t realize that until typing it out. I suspect the person over at Solaris Books writing that summary had the same trouble dancing around the same Big Question I’m going to have. I was drawn toKings in part because of the cover, frankly. If you click that Goodreads link above and check out the cover, it gives you a pretty good hint about the “goings-on in Hopton Wood.” It shows a man dressed in 30’s suit and fedora dwarfed by a gaping blue portal to another world. This is the kind of novel where you really can judge a book by its cover as it shares almost as much information as the back cover.

Kings is a little bit of a departure from the usual stuff I read. It’s really a character study on the two Langhams, the one in the 30s and the one in the 90s. For the first 150 pages or so, almost half the book, there is very little overtly science fiction about Kings. The first page and a half, then almost nothing until the 150 mark. I never found myself struggling to get through the book though. The writing and the characters are compelling enough to pull me along the pages.

Speaking of the hard to speak about Big Question… It’s what ties the two tangents and the two Langhams, grandfather and grandson, together. I figured it out around page 100, well before the book actually tells it to me. There’s still enough going on to keep me reading as it’s not the only Big Question, just the one that makes it really, really hard to talk about the book without ruining it.

I enjoyed this book, but I can’t be completely fluffy rainbows about this little review. There’s a very important side character who gets killed in one of the more actiony scenes and the book never really takes any time to dwell on it. He’s not the protagonist, but has strong ties with the Langham of that tangent so a little bit of dwelling should have been in order once the characters had time to pause. The guy’s death was “Eh, he was at peace with himself” and onto the next paragraph.

In all reality, it was probably longer than that one short line, but it felt that short and left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth, even five days after finished. The short little sentence is truthful, that particular character was at peace with himself, but still. Dwell a little bit. Some sort of closure before moving on would have been appreciated.

But don’t let that make you think I didn’t enjoy Kings. It’s got some very intriguing Big Questions and satisfying answers to them. I wouldn’t pick this one up if you’re looking for an action heavy sort of thing, but as an in depth character piece, Kings is well worth the read.