Monday, September 29, 2014

Thank You, Derek Jeter

Today’s post will be a little different than the usual fare here at the ‘o Stuff considering I don’t write about sports that much. Hell, outside of SFF, the only thing I’ve posted about consistently is my dog. I know sports and SFF don’t always intersect, but I know some of my fellow SFF geeks are sports fans. Others…aren’t.

I have been a fan of the New York Yankees my entire life (and a Batman fan, too), I may have been three years old when my parents took me to my first game and I recall going to Helmet day during a very rainy day as one of my first baseball memories and memories overall. If I was three years old, then that puts my first Yankees game in 1978, when they were in the midst of their second Championship season in a row. It was a long time before they would return to the World Series and win it in 1996, the intervening years were not that great, to put it mildly. There were some highlights, for sure. Dave Righetti’s no-hitter against the Boston Red Sox on the fourth of July in 1983, with Wade Boggs striking out to end the game is a big one. The following year, the emergence of Don Mattingly as the face of the franchise and his run for the batting title to the last day of the season with teammate Dave Winfield. Then…not much else, sure Righetti converted to closer and broke the single season record for saves. The Yankees had another no-hitter thrown by Andy Hawkins, which they lost.

The famous jump throw
That’s a lot of preamble to get to 1995 and the debut of Derek Jeter, and him being awarded the everyday shortstop role in 1996. How did he handle that role in 1996? Oh, he only won the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Like many, I immediately couldn’t help but love him as a player, appreciate his skill and heart. He and I are also the same age, he was born in NJ, and grew up a Yankees fan. As if I needed any other reason to identify with him and root for him. With Dave Winfield as one of his favorite players (a Hall of Famer in his own right), Derek took it upon himself to start the Turn 2 Foundation his rookie year, before he was a multi-millionaire. He helped the Yankees get through the playoffs (and Jeffery Maier may have helped Derek just a bit in the ALCS) into the World Series to beat the Braves for their first championship in nearly 20 years. To put it another way, I lost my mind and I think a cloud of my screams of excitement after Charlie Hayes made that catch is still hanging over New Brunswick, NJ. My voice hasn’t been the same since October 26, 1996.  From that point on, the expectations of greatness for the Yankees was always high.  My then fiance and now wife and I went to a few games a year and to playoff games during this run. We came out, announced as Mr. and Mrs. Bedford to the "Here Come the Yankees" song and our ice sculpture at our wedding was the interlocking NY.

Circling the bases after the Mr. November HR
Jeter was an emerging superstar, which was further cemented when Michael Jordan hand-picked Jeter as the first athlete to endorse the Jumpman Nike brand. Jeter would go on to help the Yankees appear in five more World Series in old Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth Built and win three of them in a row. Jeter’s critics like to say he’s overrated, he doesn’t put up numbers he hasn’t won a regular-season MVP (he finished 3rd in final voting from 1998-2000 and he was second in 2006 when many thought he should have won). How about the fact that he’s (thus far) the only player to win the All Star MVP and World Series MVP in the same season? The nickname "Mr. November" has been given to him, both because he is the first player to hit a home-run in November, has a .351 World Series batting average, (and .309 in the postseason overall). Not too shabby, these numbers gave rise to Jeter’s other nickname “Captain Clutch,” because he always rises to the occasion. His 3,000th hit? A home run. How does he finish his final game at Yankee Stadium? With a walk-off hit in the bottom of the ninth inning.

While it would have been as fun to watch Jeter play while I was a younger fan, I think the fact that he was on the Yankees when he was allowed me to truly appreciate what a special player he was. The younger me might not have realized the level of greatness and legendary player we as Yankees fans had the opportunity to watch play every day from May through October (except three years when it was through September). 

The Dive
As great as his on-field accomplishments have been, Jeter has been a model athlete. He plays the game hard, he played the game the way it should have been played. He never got into trouble and he did the impossible for a NY athlete – he (along with manager Joe Torre) helped to soften George M. Steinbrenner AKA “The Boss.” Steinbrenner often focused his ire on his star players, hiring private investigators to spy on Dave Winfield and telling Don Mattingly he needed to cut his hair. The one time The Boss criticized Jeter (for partying too late) they turned it into a credit card commercial. Jeter also “dated” quite a few Hollywood women including a couple of Jessica Biel, Mariah Carey (he did not play well when they were dating), and most recently, Minka Kelly among others. He also hosted Saturday Night Live.

Jeter always said the right things, always acted the right way. You don’t have to be a sports fan or baseball fan to appreciate the kind of person (or persona) Derek Jeter projected into the world. His parents, at least his father, became a fixture at Yankees games and it is from his parents (and grandparents whose house in NJ he’d visit in summers) that Jeter learned how to be the person he is.

The shame of it all, is that Jeter is a player who is praised for simply doing things the right way – applying oneself, hustling, working, practicing his craft, learning his craft and being a student of the game. So many players don’t hustle and give very little effort or showboat after they succeed (a protracted homerun trot or touchdown dance, for example).
The Flip

Now that Derek Jeter’s last game has been played, he is the all time hits leader for the New York Yankees (which he achieved in 2009). Think about that, the New York Yankees, the most storied franchise in all of sports with some of the most legendary players and Jeter holds the team record for hits. He is also 6th on the all-time hits list. To have any top 10 achievement in baseball, with its lengthy history, is quite a feat.

What will he do once he’s retired? Last year, Jeter started a publishing imprint, Jeter Publishing, with Simon & Schuster. Who knows how much of a day-to-day hand he’ll have in that, but ultimately, the goal of the imprint will publish nonfiction books for adults, children’s picture books, elementary grade fiction, and books for children who are learning to read.

Will he be involved in baseball? That’s the tougher question. Jeter’s a close-to-the vest guy, but if he wants to manage, coach or work for the Yankees front-office, he’d excel at such positions.

All I know is that his play on the field will be missed. I was lucky enough to watch his entire career and be a fan of the team during one of their brightest periods.

So, thank you Derek Jeter for being you and putting everything into your time with the New York Yankees.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-09-27)

Just one book this week, and it is publishing so far into the future that there's no cover for it yet

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear (Tor, Hardcover 02/3/2015) – Bear churns out novels and stories with remarkable quality and regularity, something not many authors can say. This one sounds VERY interesting.

“You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I'm gonna tell you anyway. See, my name is Karen Memery, like memory only spelt with an e, and I'm one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. Hôtel has a little hat over the o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.”

Hugo-Award winning author Elizabeth Bear offers something new in Karen Memory, an absolutely entrancing steampunk novel set in Seattle in the late 19th century—an era when the town was called Rapid City, when the parts we now call Seattle Underground were the whole town (and still on the surface), when airships plied the trade routes bringing would-be miners heading up to the gold fields of Alaska, and steam-powered mechanicals stalked the waterfront. Karen is a “soiled dove,” a young woman on her own who is making the best of her orphaned state by working in Madame Damnable’s high-quality bordello. Through Karen’s eyes we get to know the other girls in the house—a resourceful group—and the poor and the powerful of the town. Trouble erupts into her world one night when a badly injured girl arrives at their door, seeking sanctuary, followed by the man who holds her indenture, who has a machine that can take over anyone’s mind and control their actions. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, the next night brings a body dumped in their rubbish heap—a streetwalker who has been brutally murdered.

Bear brings alive this Jack-the-Ripper-type story of the old west with the light touch of Karen’s own memorable voice, and a mesmerizing evocation of classic steam-powered science

Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Round-up: Brown reviewed at SFFWorld and My September Mind Meld

Howdy folks!  I've had a couple of things post this week; one at SF Signal and the other a review at good old SFFWorld.  Since the book review posted first, we'll go with that one, OK?

Eric Brown, for lack of a better term, is one of those mid-list Science Fiction authors who help to keep the genre on a solid foundation.  I feel that term is a slight to Brown because IMHO (and the opinion of my SFFWorld colleague Mark Chitty) because Eric Brown is an author who deserves more attention and a wider audience. I think his UK audience is fairly substantial, which makes sense because after all, he is from the UK.  I've read a handful of his books and enjoyed all of them, including Helix Wars, the review for which I posted to SFFWorld earlier this week.

In Helix Wars, the follow-up to Eric Brown’s space opera Helix, the author returns to the fascinating world he created with a story set about two hundred centuries after the previous novel concluded. The majority of the characters from the first volume are historical figures, legends in the human settlement of New Earth. At the end of Helix, humanity was given one of the many worlds on the Helix and was tasked with being the Peacekeepers for all the worlds. Each world is inhabited by mostly enlightened and peace-faring races. The Builders, the ancient race of aliens who built the Helix, only invited advanced, peaceful races who are willing to relinquish thoughts of war to inhabit the myriad of worlds.

While Helix Wars is very much Jeff’s novel, Brown provides the supporting characters, like Calla, with a trajectory of their own that is nearly as fascinating. Also part of the orbit of Jeff’s supporting characters is Kranda, from the alien race of Mahkan. Even though the Mahkan are engineers, there’s a proud warrior race feel to them as well. Jeff’s ex-wife is developed enough that her plight doesn’t bog down the overall plot, rather adds to it and comes around to the whole by the end of the novel. When Jeff and Kranda do meet up, Brown engages the characters in a lot of philosophical debates regarding death and the steps necessary to ensure their mission’s completeness.

Wednesday, my bagel overlord at SF Signal posted a new Mind Meld I curated, in which Ria Bridges (who inspired the topic), Richard Shealy (AKA SheckyX), Mieneke van der Salm, Steve Drew of reddit/fantasy,  Martin Cahill, Alex Ristea, Delilah Dawson,  and David Annandale

Books That Make Us Shake Our Heads at Other Readers
An inevitability of reading many books (and subsequently reviewing books) is feeling disconnected when reading a book which has been well-received by a great number of people. In other words, you begin to wonder who is missing something: you as the reader for not “getting” what is so great about the book, or the other readers for helping to raise the book to its hallowed status. This idea was inspired, in large part, by the blog post The Reviewer’s Dilemma: Did I Miss Something? by Ria Bridges. That’s the long way of asking this week’s panelists the following question:

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-09-20)

This is where I post about the review books which arrived on my front porch / in my mail box / in front of my garage / on my kindle the previous week.

Tainted Blood: A Generation V Novel by M.L. Brennan (Roc Mass Market Paperback 11/04/2014) – Brennan’s third novel in this vampire series comes just over a year after the first one. Not a bad schedule. 

In the third Generation V novel, Fortitude Scott proves that working with family can be deadly…

Former film student Fortitude Scott is finally gainfully employed. Unfortunately, said employment happens to be with a group of sociopathic vampires—his family. And as much as Fort is loath to get too deep into the family business, when his brother, Chivalry, is temporarily unable to run the territory, it’s up to Fort to keep things under control.

So when the leader of a powerful faction of shifters turns up murdered, Fort finds himself tracking down a killer while navigating dangerous rivalries, longtime grudges, and hidden agendas. Even with the help of his foxy kitsune sidekick, Suzume, he’ll need to pull out all the stops to hunt for the paranormal assassin.

But as he calls on fairies, witches, and ghouls for help, he discovers that the problem is much bigger than a single dead werebear. The supernatural community is preparing for a massive shift in power within the Scott family leadership—and Fort has landed right in the middle of the gathering storm.…

Scarlet Tides (The Moontide Quartet #2) by David Hair (Jo Fletcher Books Hardcover 10/07/2014) – Sequel to the well-received Mage’s Blood publishing a year and a month after the first book. This is the final version of the ARC I received earlier in the year.

The Moontide has come, and a scarlet tide of Rondian legions is flooding into the East, slaughtering and pillaging in the name of Emperor Constant. But the Scytale of Corineus, the source of ultimate magical power, has slipped through the emperor’s fingers. His ruthless Inquisitors are desperately seeking the artefact, before it falls into the hands of those who would bring down the Empire.

But there are some who have pledged to end the cycle of war and restore peace to Urte. They are the unlikeliest of heroes: a failed mage, a gypsy and a lowly market-girl

As East and West clash more violently than ever before, Urte will discover that love, loyalty and truth can be forged into weapons as deadly as swords and magic.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Books in the Mail (W/E 2014-09-13)

Well, after a couple of weeks with no new review books, a decent number of review books arrive for my perusal (and therefore yours)...

War Dogs by Greg Bear (Orbit Books Hardcover 10/14/2014) – I’ve read a small portion of Bear’s output and it has been more hit than miss for me, this one looks fun.


The Gurus came in peace, bearing gifts.

They were a highly advanced, interstellar species who brought amazingly useful and sophisticated technology to the human race. There was, of course, a catch. The Gurus warned of a far more malevolent life form, beings who have hounded the Gurus from sun to sun, planet to planet, across the cosmos. Pundits have taken to calling them the Antagonists-or Antags-and they have already established a beachhead on Mars. For all they've done for us, the Gurus would now like our help.

Enter Master Sergeant Michael Venn, a veteran Skyrine (a Marine who is specially trained for off-world combat) who is dropped onto the Red Planet with his band of brothers on a mission to take down as many Antags as possible.

But from the moment they're dropped through the thin Martian atmosphere, their mission goes horribly, terribly wrong. From a group of female special ops Skyrines with secret orders, to mysterious humans who've settled on Mars, to the overwhelming and highly-reinforced Antags themselves, Venn and his brothers will face impossible odds just to survive-let alone make it home alive.

Last Plane to Heaven: The Final Collection by Jay Lake (Tor Hardcover 09/16/2014) – Cancer took Jay’s life earlier this year and this is his final collection of short stories.

Last Plane to Heaven is the final and definitive short story collection of award-winning SF author Jay Lake, author of Green, Endurance, and Kalimpura. 

Long before he was a novelist, SF writer Jay Lake, was an acclaimed writer of short stories. In Last Plane to Heaven, Lake has assembled thirty-two of the best of them. Aliens and angels fill these pages, from the title story, a hard-edged and breathtaking look at how a real alien visitor might be received, to the savage truth of “The Cancer Catechisms.” Here are more than thirty short stories written by a master of the form, science fiction and fantasy both.

This collection features an original introduction by Gene Wolfe.

Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson (Putnam Juvenile Hardcover 10/07/2014) – Larson has some very proven writing chops having penned stories for many animated programs including My Little Pony.

Pennyroyal Academy: Seeking bold, courageous youths to become tomorrow's princesses and knights….Come one, come all!

A girl from the forest arrives in a bustling kingdom with no name and no idea why she is there, only to find herself at the center of a world at war. She enlists at Pennyroyal Academy, where princesses and knights are trained to battle the two great menaces of the day: witches and dragons. There, given the name “Evie,” she must endure a harsh training regimen under the steel glare of her Fairy Drillsergeant, while also navigating an entirely new world of friends and enemies. As Evie learns what it truly means to be a princess, she realizes surprising things about herself and her family, about human compassion and inhuman cruelty. And with the witch forces moving nearer, she discovers that the war between princesses and witches is much more personal than she could ever have imagined.

Set in Grimm’s fairytale world, M.A. Larson’s Pennyroyal Academy masterfully combines adventure, humor, and magical mischief.

The Bloodbound by Erin Lindsey (Ace Mass Market Paperback 09/30/2014) – I’ve this one garner comparisons to Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion books, which works great for me. The authors happen to share an agent (JABberworcky), Lindsey also writers under the name of E.L. Tettensor.

Of all those in the King of Alden’s retinue, the bloodbinders are the most prized. The magic they wield can forge invaluable weapons, ones that make soldiers like Lady Alix Black unerringly lethal. However, the bloodbinders’ powers can do so much more—and so much worse.

A cunning and impetuous scout, Alix only wishes to serve quietly on the edges of the action. But when the king is betrayed by his own brother and left to die at the hands of attacking Oridian forces, she winds up single-handedly saving her sovereign.

Suddenly, she is head of the king’s personal guard, an honour made all the more dubious by the king’s exile from his own court. Surrounded by enemies, Alix must help him reclaim his crown, all the while attempting to repel the relentless tide of invaders led by the Priest, most feared of Oridia’s lords.

But while Alix’s king commands her duty, both he and a fellow scout lay claim to her heart. And when the time comes, she may need to choose between the two men who need her most…

The Vines by Christopher Rice (47North Paperback 09/30/2014) – Just in time for Halloween, Rice (son of Anne Rice) is releasing a new creepy novel..

From the mind of New York Times bestseller, Lambda Award Winning author, and Bram Stoker nominee Christopher Rice comes a harrowing new supernatural thriller that will hook readers to the final page.

The dark history of Spring House, a beautifully restored plantation mansion on the outskirts of New Orleans, has long been forgotten. But something sinister lurks beneath the soil of the old estate.

After heiress and current owner Caitlin Chaisson is witness to her husband’s stunning betrayal at her birthday party, she tries to take her own life in the mansion’s cherished gazebo. Instead, the blood she spills awakens dark forces in the ground below. Chaos ensues and by morning her husband has vanished without a trace and his mistress has gone mad.

Nova, daughter to Spring House’s groundskeeper, has always suspected that something malevolent haunts the old place, and in the aftermath of the birthday party she enlists Caitlin’s estranged best friend, Blake, to help her get to the bottom of it. The pair soon realizes that the vengeance enacted by this sinister and otherworldly force comes at a terrible price

The Free by Brian Ruckley (Orbit Books Trade Paperback (10/14/2014) – I read and reviewed Ruckley’s debut Winterbirth but this seems to be something new and different from those books and anything else he’s written.


Led by Yulan, their charismatic captain, the Free have spent years selling their martial and magical skills to the highest bidder — winning countless victories that have shaken the foundations of the world. Now they finally plan to lay down their swords.

Yet when Yulan is offered a final contract, he cannot refuse — for the mission offers him the chance to erase the memories of the Free's darkest hour, which have haunted him for years.

As the Free embark on their last mission, a potent mix of loyalty and vengeance is building to a storm. Freedom, it seems, carries a deadly price..

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Round-up: Functional Nerds,, Bennett, and Bear

It has been an interesting week, from my perspective in the SFF online community.

On Tuesday, I made my second podcast appearance, this time on The Functional Nerds.  John Anealio is a fellow NJ SFF fan and he and I drove into NYC for a couple of events over the past year. Since we both live in NJ, we've been trying to get some NJ-based gatherings together since there seems to be quite a few of us in the great Garden State. He, Ed Lazellari (author of Awakenings and The Lost Prince) and I got together a couple of weeks ago and John (and his co-conspirator Patrick Hester) decided to invite me onto the podcast. So, go listen to me talk about The Strain, Guardians of the Galaxy, and how I came to be involved in the online genre community

Playing on that theme of "live" interaction with the genre community, had a launch party for the new Imprint headed up by Lee Harris and Irene Gallo on Wednesday.  It was a great event where I finally had the opportunity to meet some folks with whom I interact on twitter and elsewhere intarwebs like Richard Shealy (@SheckyX on twitter), spelling bee champion Max Gladstone, Thea James of the The Book Smugglers (we both choke up at about the same point in reading Memory, Sorrow and Thorn), Marty Cahill (@McFlyCahill90) and the legendary (in his own mind) Justin Landon. Yes he is a tall dude, we are nearly the same height so we literally did see eye to eye. (Seriously, though his Rocket Talk podcast for is MUST listen for any genre fan).

Photo courtesy of Irene Gallo

It was also great chatting with my editor Bridget McGovern, Orbit editor Devi Pillai, Orbit PR sorceress Ellen Wright,  Myke Cole, DAW editor Joshua Starr, Lee Harris, Irene Gallo, and quite a few other folks. What was coolest, from the point of view of my own ego, was that a few people knew my name, and people I didn't know too well or interact with much online recognized my name. 

The great Robert Jackson Bennett provided SFFWorld a guest post this week on the subject of secondary world fantasy: 

Lastly, I posted my review of Shattered Pillars, the second book of Elizabeth Bear's Eternal Sky Trilogy. While I recognize all the great things about the book, I wasn't connected with the narrative through the whole thing.  That said, she's doing some very interesting things in the book and series.

What Elizabeth Bear does in Shattered Pillars is broaden the global canvas of her world, adding depth to a world that already had a rich and authentic feel. Not only does Bear expand on the gods and world, she introduces new concepts of divinity and power foreign even to the characters we’ve already met. In part, Shattered Pillars can be seen as a travelogue through this beautifully created world. In other words, the world is a fully realized character in and of itself....But…and I hate adding buts into these things, but I must. For all of the splendor on the pages of Shattered Pillars, I found myself not connecting with the narrative or the characters as much as I would have liked. I felt a distance between me as the reader and the story on the pages. Perhaps because it was just over two years since I read Range of Ghosts, perhaps something else. I recognize what a solid piece of fiction Shattered Pillars is, but I had my problems staying intimately invested in the novel.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Books in the Mail W/E 2014-09-06 - Used Book Edition

In lieu of a regular Books in the Mail post today, I’m switching it up slightly. You see, no new review books arrived this week, so I’ll talk about the books I picked up at The Book Trader recently after trading in some books I’ve had for over a couple of years and never read (or plan to read). As I’ve opined in other posts, The Book Trader (once in Rahway, NJ now a few miles down the road and a right turn away in Colonia, NJ) is the used bookshop against which I judge all others. I can always find good books there, and more often than not, the majority of the specific books I’m trying to find, plus the occasional gem I wasn’t expecting or a book or two I didn't realize I was looking for until I saw it on one of their shelves. So, what did I pick up on this little trip? You might notice a theme or two. First the snapshot of the books followed by the explanations.

After reading and enjoying Elizabeth Bear’s fantasy, I wanted to try a novel-length science fiction novel from her. This book, Dust just jumped out at me from the shelves. Here’s the blurb/book description:

On a broken ship orbiting a doomed sun, dwellers have grown complacent with their aging metal world. But when a serving girl frees a captive noblewoman, the old order is about to change....

Ariane, Princess of the House of Rule, was known to be fiercely cold-blooded. But severing an angel’s wings on the battlefield—even after she had surrendered—proved her completely without honor. Captive, the angel Perceval waits for Ariane not only to finish her off—but to devour her very memories and mind. Surely her gruesome death will cause war between the houses—exactly as Ariane desires. But Ariane’s plan may yet be opposed, for Perceval at once recognizes the young servant charged with her care.

One author on my hunting list was Melanie Rawn and her Big Fat Fantasy saga, The Dragon Prince Trilogy, which fittingly enough, begins with Dragon Prince. Rawn and this book is another writer/series I’ve been intending to read for years, many years, for a few reasons.

Quite a few people spoke pretty well of her, specifically these books, in the SFFWorld forums, where I've been virtually hanging out for the better part of a decade and a half.

Joe Sherry (a blogger pal whose opinion I trust quite well, who also happens to be a beer snob and a bowler like me) holds these books in high esteem, and one of my primary web publishers,, is running a re-read of the series. It doesn’t hurt that the book is adorned in a classic Michael Whelan cover.

While the second and third book of this series (The Star Scroll and Sunrunner's Flame) were both on the shelf, I wanted to hold off to make sure I liked this one enough to continue. Also, see the other books I acquired on this trip.

I love me some omnibus books and few publishers keep their authors in print as well as DAW with their omnibus editions.  Confederation of Valor, an omnibus of the first two Confederation Military SF novels from Tanya Huff. In this case, Tanya Huff is somebody I’ve had on my mental to read list for a while. I picked up The Silvered earlier this year at Brandon Sanderson’s signing I attended in Philadelphia, PA based on Joshua Bilmes’s recommendation post at SF Signal. He’s also her agent, and I’ve come to learn that I really enjoy a majority of his client authors (i.e. Elizabeth Moon, Myke Cole, Peter Brett, Brandon Sanderson, Sylvia Izzo Hunter to name only a few).

Last and certainly not least was the big score, the three books I had at the top my my hunting list on this trip: books 5, 6, and 7 of Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars series, The Gathering Storm, In the Ruins, and Crown of Stars respectively. I’ve been intending to finish reading the series for years  and I last read book 4 (Child of Flame) about a decade ago. This was just before review copies began to arrive in droves and drown out other books I intended to read. I recall really enjoying what I read of the series, I remember a very magical aura and feel to these books.

I picked up the second book, Prince of Dogs, at JerseyDevilCon back in 2002 from one of the dealers. Much to my pleasant surprise, the book was a signed by Kate Elliott.

Also, following Kate on twitter and especially after her recent appearance on Rocket Talk, I wanted even more to get reconnect and catch-up with the series, so next year I’m planning to make Crown of Stars my re-read-and-catch-up series. I might even blog about it as I read through the series. I know, us biblioholics and our silly notions of "reading plans."

Any thoughts on these books, let me know in the comments.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Friday Link Update: Hunter, Hurley, Russell and Bennett

A couple of new book reviews since my last round-up/update, a guest post, and a new installment of my Completist column at SF Signal.

Last week I posted my review of Sylvia Izzo Hunter's magical debut, The Midnight Queen, a Regency-era inspired fantasy:

Set in an alternate England somewhat reminiscent of the Regency era, where Magic is taught to young men at Oxford’s Merlin College, Sylvia Izzo Hunter’s debut novel wastes no time introducing the protagonist, Graham (nicknamed Gray) Marshall, and the situation which propels his plight through The Midnight Queen. Specifically, some of his college friends encourage Gray to join them in a night time escapade, a heist of sorts, which ends in tragedy and Gray receiving a forced dismissal from the school. Gray is taken by Appius Callender, the Professor who sent Gray and his friends on the ill-fated mission to Callender’s estate where Gray is something of a prisoner and indentured servant. The only thing that gives him respite during his dreary days is young Sophie Callender, the Professor’s middle child. suggest that The Midnight Queen is merely a period piece / fantasy of manners / romance / conspiracy mystery is selling the novel and Hunter quite short. Sure, it is essentially a mash up of those four things, but there’s quite a bit of character development, world building, and fun storytelling throughout its short, but densely packed pages. It isn’t even in the explicit details of the world and magic that provided for the depth of the world but rather those elements only hinted at by the characters and the narrative. Although superficially, the church depicted in the story initially has a vaguely Catholic feel, there are actually multiple gods worshipped as the Roman and Celtic pantheons/religions dominate.

Earlier this week, I posted my review of what will likely take the #1 spot of 2014 books, Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Stairs:

Set in the imagined city of Bulikov, the novel is the first Bennett has penned which does not take place in a version of our world (although the parallels and echoes are there), but rather a fully realized secondary world. The gods (Divinities as they are referred to in the novel) have been driven from the Continent (where Bulikov is situated), having been pushed out by the Kaj – a legendary figure of the past. The “now” of the novel is filtered through the eyes of protagonist Shara, a spy working in Bulikov for her home land of Saypur with her “secretary” Sigurd, a hulking nigh-indestructible Dreyling, a humanoid race of the world. Saypur is drawn to Bulikov to investigate the murder of a prominent figure of Bulikov, setting the early portion of the novel as a mystery story after the murder of historian Dr. Efrem Pangyui. With the gods having been driven from Bulikov, the city has lost a great deal of its luster. Even with the milieu of a secondary world, Bennett frames the initial plot to lull the reader into the story with a murder mystery which possesses some spy elements
Few writers’ have been able to make me think deeply about their work while also entertaining me as has Bennett’s work. I loved the world-building in this novel, how the gods could be brought down by men (or a lesser set of beings) which I found to have some echoes of the Greek Gods toppling the Titans while the city of Bulikov itself had more of an Eastern European feel. The characters felt plausibly real, flawed and imperfect. The implied history to the characters in the narrative is just as powerful as the implied history to the world itself. I want to hang out with these people more, I want to read about this world.

Speaking of Bennett, in a bit of a response to a recent blog post of Bennett's, Kameron Hurley's Blog Tour for The Mirror Empire at SFFWorld spoke to the idea of genre.

Lastly, my latest Completist column features a duo of books, The Sparrow and Children of God by Mary Doria Russell:

Nearly twenty years ago a debut novel took the genre world by storm, at least in terms of awards. It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award, BSFA, the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, and author Mary Doria Russell received the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. It was a novel that walked a fine line in its themes between science and faith. The intersection between the two is not always a comfortable one and if anything can be a one-word apt descriptor of Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow and Children of God it is the word uncomfortable. In trying to come up with a “completed” series of books for this column, I pored over my reading logs and it wasn’t long before these two books shouted to me from deep within my memory banks. So again, I’m stretching the definition of completed by including a book and its sequel, but these are excellent books that people should be reading even today — nearly 20 years after The Sparrow first published.