Saturday, 31 March 2012

Thoughts | Rereading The Wise Man's Fear - and News from Berkley UK

Firstly, a little news from Berkley UK: for fans of the I Am Number Four series, the promotional campaign for the April 12th release of The Power of Six has begun. Which means, naturally, competitions! I haven't read the novels myself (yet, anyway - my bibliophilia may still grow all consuming!), but for those who have, Berkley have a new game over at this Facebook page, where fans have a chance to win copies of both this novel and advance copies for the next release in August - as well as some other great prizes. For those who know the series, this could be a nice chance to get your hands on the upcoming books.

Secondly, less in the realm of the newsworthy, my personal reread of The Wise Man's Fear. Patrick Rothfuss' second novel, and the sequel to the acclaimed The Name of the Wind, The Wise Man's Fear inspired a few mixed thoughts from me on first readthrough. That, and the fact that Rothfuss writes some of the best prose in modern fantasy, inspired this reread. This isn't a review, but just a few thoughts on what I found!

- It's as episodic as I recalled. As opposed to Name of the Wind, which had a single overriding narrative, Wise Man's Fear could just have easily been 'Selected Adventures of Kvothe'. (Or even 'Kvothe Learns a New Skill (Or Two, Or Three, Or Five)' Because - my, does Kvothe garner new abilities fast. He was rather a genius already, but with Wise Man's Fear, Rothfuss takes this to new levels - which unfortunately negate some of his more interesting problems (the swordfighting being one such - because his existing improvisation in the case of armed conflict was far more interesting). Still, it is mitigated by the fact that Kvothe is explicitly the legendary figure of his time - intentionally larger than life, if you like.

- The traipsing after bandits in the woods wasn't nearly as wearing as I recalled. Although that would be pretty hard (my memory being of constant repetition of firemaking and storytelling). In fact, I actually rather enjoyed it as something new, this time round.

- Rothfuss' prose is incredible as ever. While I know some dislike the term 'lyrical' for writing, here it genuinely applies: his words have a very poetic, storytelling quality to them unlike any other author I've read - excepting possibly Kay. He's by no means perfect, and these words from the mouth of a few characters sounds  alittle incongruous, but it is a pleasure to read.

- By contrast, the aftermath of the Felurian sequence seems as silly as ever. [Spoilers, beware!] Okay, perhaps Kvothe learns - well, the art of horizontal romantic liasons - from Felurian, but he has only to step into an inn and people see it in his eyes? And it gets sillier. And as for when he gets back to the University? He's a larger than life character, yes, but the Fela's description of him makes the whole sequence sound more like a wish fulfillment fantasy than a novel - whiich it isn't.

- Finally? I yearn for that third novel as much as ever.

...And those were my chief discoveries.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Review | Costume Not Included - Matthew Hughes

Apologies for the brief slip in posting this week - I'm now back with the regular array of reviews and articles! Costume Not Included is the sequel to The Damned Busters, which I reviewed last year - which was an enjoyably unconventional novel. And as the title would suggest: yes, there are superheroes. Or rather, one superhero in particular - Chesney Arnstruther, an actuary with high-functioning autism. In The Damned Busters, said actuary accidentally make Hell go on strike: which was rather more devastating than it might seem. While negotiating the settlement - and discovering that the world is in fact a very messy novel being written by, apparently, God - Chesney manages to negotiate a clause of his own: a demon sidekick, Xaphan, and the powers to go crimefighting. And, to skip over the rest: a lot of other stuff happened.

In the sequel, Chesney faces new problems. Specifically, the Reverend Billy Hardacre is attempting to become a cowriter on the new edition of the world - it's a very literary theology - and unfortunately, that involves casting Chesney in the role of prophet. Chesney's new girlfriend, Melda, also wants in on the action: she's thinking more along the lines of corporate sponsorship. And rumours abound of a new draft of the book; the police are investigating Chesney's crime fighting persona; and many things are fairly stuffed (to summarise).

Unfortunately, with these additions,  Costume Not Included neglects one of the key aspects of the original title. Damned Busters was a flawed but enjoyable deconstruction with a quirky literary view of theology. Its sequel neglects that first part - the 'enjoyable'. Subplots, such as the struggle against the city's corruption, are left dangling as the focus turns solely to the 'new draft'. Which, as it turns out, really isn't sufficiently interesting to sustain a novel - particularly with the likeable Chesney's role slightly peripheral. Costume Not Included tries for a complex plot: subversions, schemes, and nested betrayals. It's only unfortunate that to the reader, it looks like a mess.

Long-time SF readers are likely wary of time travel: as a plot device, it's known for introducing plot holes as well if not treated carefully. Costume Not Included introduces this once more - and in my opinion, it doesn't work. Chesney's arrangement with Xaphan was previously powerful, but limited: he had the powers he asked for, but it was entirely possible to beat him for lack of those he didn't. (The pepper spray being a particularly amusing instance of this). But if your protagonist has the (apparently unlimited) ability to time travel as well? That was the sound of tension draining away.

This isn't to say Costume Not Included is all bad: far from it. Hughes writes as engagingly as ever; Chesney is a likeable if flawed protagonist, and the core concept did have potential - it's a quirkily interesting worldview, if nothing else. But the series suffers from the derailment of its key premise in this particular sequel; and the lack of a truly characterised female (Chesney's mother is severely flawed; and Melda's enthusiasm for sponsorship of crime fighting really says it all) lets the novel down. Original and concise, but this sequel wasn't for me.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Thoughts | Tales of the Emerald Serpent

Shared world anthologies are commonly viewed as a thing of the past - although the Wild Cards series was, last I heard, still going strong. For those who haven't come across the genre, shared world anthologies are pretty close to what it says on the tin: anthologies composed of multiple authors' stories set in a single shared setting.

Well, a new project is promising a new anthology of its kind: a fantasy shared world collection called - you guessed it - 'Tales of the Emerald Serpent'. The problem is that funding's been insufficient - so they're attempting to secure the $10, 000 needed through Kickstarter (a website throught which individuals pledge money to fund projects in return for rewards if the project succeeds in gaining the sum - if it doesn't, no money is lost).

So, why am I so excited about this? Partly, it's who's taking part. The page lists 'authors like Lynn Flewelling, Harry Connolly, Juliet McKenna, Martha Wells, Robert Mancebo, and Julie Czerneda' - just one or two of whom would, as a dedicated fantasy fan, excite me! Juliet McKenna, in particular, has written some extremely interesting titles and takes on old tropes before, so I'm looking forward to witnessing this new effort.

Secondly, it's what could amount to the revival of the trend - an entirely new shared world anthology, rather than merely a continued series. And as a result, mainstream publishers could begin to take a chance on such anthologies once more - something that's been lacking in recent years. As an interesting concept (I enjoy the indea of interlinked short stories - which have possibilities that novels rarely explore), I'd like to see a new take on it - and as always, more books by such great authors are welcome. So I'd encourage people to take a look at, and consider supporting this new anthology - which you can find here.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Review | The Court of Dreams - Stuart Sharp

An abrupt genre shift from my last review, The Court of Dreams goes for the markedly more amusing subgenre of comic fantasy. My personal view is that comic fantasy is the hardest subgenre to pull off: when done well, it's hilarious - but much of it is trite or just unfunny. It's easy to slip up. The Court of Dreams goes for the route which I have a slight preference for: humour through writing and character, rather than world (a setting where worldbuilding is based entirely upon amusement value and how many puns can be obtained thereby often comes off as pointless).

 From the first chapter, which introduces Grave, it's easy to see that Sharp is aiming for a style squarely between Pratchett and Rankin - witty and frequently absurd. What's more surprising is that - generally speaking - he succeeds, and Court of Dreams is one of those few genuinely funny comic fantasies. Don't judge it from the first chapter, however: the initial two pages suffer slightly from trying too hard for the style I mentioned, and while they manage it, the constant Pratchett-style digressions are distracting. Thankfully, the novel soon sticks with a more soberly comic tone. And it works well.

An urban fantasy partially set in a secondary world, the titular Court of Dreams, the novel follows a pair of students - well, finishing students (don't be picky or I'll settle on 'whippersnappers') - as they're drawn into the eponymous Court. When Thomas Greene witnesses a murder - or, by Grave's insisistent terminology a hunt - he becomes rather a liability to the Court's scheming Princess, Siobhan - so naturally, Grave (the Court's huntsman) is ordered to dispose of him. Greene, who happens to be breaking up with his girlfriend Nicola at the time, seems curiously averse: and when the assassination attempt goes awry, it catapults both into the Court of Dreams.

Which, of course, is utterly bizarre and frequently attempts to eat them. This is urban fantasy, after all.

From the nature of the Court, you might well expect the setting to be utterly incomprehensible. Not so. It is, as I've mentioned, bizarre at times - but on the whole, it's a fairly clear setting, and the novel benefits immensely from this. Thomas is a convincingly sympathetic protagonist, though not hilarious in and of himself: it's generally the narration that provides the comedy value here, as the plot is fairly sober (coups, chases, and rather large Wars - capital included - feature prominently).

On the other hand, Nicola - while appreciable - is a little less sympathetic than Thomas: she's not as strong a female character as some, and has a tendancy to randomly blame him. Thankfully, she's counteracted by Melissa, who's entirely more reasonable. And Grave, who isn't (but is much funnier). It's an interesting cast, and most aren't particularly humorously by themselves - the comedy comes through combination and narration. And to be honest, I like that. A frequent problem with comic fantasy is pointlessness: if the world is just a cosmic joke waiting for the author's punchline, how are we meant to take anything seriously? Maybe we're not, in some - but most try for a range of tones. Court of Dreams thankfully avoids this by infusing humour into the plot and setting, rather than relying on comedy inherent in them.

Some twists you'll see coming. Siobhan is hardly a sympathetic antagonist. But despite any flaws The Court of Dreams may have, it's an engagingly fun piece - not always laugh-out-loud funny, but at least look-weird-by-grinning-at-your-book amusing throughout! Getting a tone partway between Pratchett and Rankin, though slightly quieter than either in narration, The Court of Dreams is short, fast-paced, and well worth picking up.

Find it here: UK US

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Best Of... | SFF Detective Tales

Seems like a rarefied subgenre, doesn't it? After all - detectives hardly seem a common sight in the realms of SFF. But despite that initial perception, you'd be surprised to find how many there really are: from Simon R Green's Nightside tales to the archetypal Dresden Files. And as you've likely guessed, this is my list of the best (and as always, subjective!):

A Study in Emerald - Neil Gaiman

Shorter fiction than my usual habit, Neil Gaiman excels himself in A Study in Emerald - which readers will probably recall as a pastiche of the title of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes tale, A Study in Scarlet. But in Gaiman's conception, the protagonists are working for Lovecraftian horrors, who have ruled Europe since - well - forever. (There's even a play about their rise to power... And the locals scoff at the thought of humanity ruling itself.)

In this memorable crossover with the Cthulhu Mythos, the duo are called upon to investigate the death of a member of the Royal Family. And from the quick introduction to the setting - well, you can guess the victim is rather less human than he seems, and the Queen herself is taking a close interest. If you're familiar with Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, you'll get much more out of it, but as with all - well, most - of Gaiman's work, it's pretty brilliant. Some nice twists and detective work make this one of my favourite fantasy shorts.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Who doesn't like a spot of Adams? Though obviously best known for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Adams' other novels are - in my view - equally good! The titular agency is quite possibly the weirdest - and most amusing - example of the fantastical detective in the genre.

Dirk Gently's method of detection of 'holistic' - it relies upon the 'fundamental interconnectedness of all things'. In practice, he relies on an elaborate chain of coincidence, science fiction, and plain weirdness to succeed: and it's frequently hilarious to watch his carefully constructed, entirely improbable conclusions turn out to be - well - entirely accurate. And as with all Douglas Adams, it's a great deal of fun.

While lacking the conventional draws of a mystery novel - because who could jump to the right conclusions in Adams' case? - Dirk Gently has more than enough to attract any SFF reader. Honestly, who doesn't love the idea of an Electric Monk?

The Dresden Files - Jim Butcher

And of course, the one long-time readers of Drying Ink will probably have guessed: The Dresden Files. Though occasionally straying from his primary occupation, our protagonist, Harry Dresden, is at heart a private investigator - especially a magical one. While involving at least as much action and - inevitably - magical showdown as mystery, The Dresden Files almost all begin with Harry taking on a case as an investigator. Though not always the case, mystery frequently plays the central role in the novels of The Dresden Files - this isn't a straightforward set of urban fantasies. And most of the time, that's part of the fun.

Though not as unfailingly logical or deductive as some, Harry Dresden's magical methods are always rule based - meaning that the cases are far closer to conventional mysteries than my other examples. And as always, they're great fun.

Well, those are mine - but feel free to tell me yours.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Review | The Darkening Dream - Andy Gavin

I've been promising a review of this for a while now, and at last we reach the inevitable conclusion: delivery! The Darkening Dream is a vampire novel. But before you start turning away with 'Jacob, what have you done?' expressions, let me say this: these vampires aren't sparkly. In fact, they're very much an antidote to the recent craze of likeable, sympathetic monsters who are the targets of teenage girls rather than grizzled vampire hunters.

That's a big point in The Darkening Dream's favour: its vampires are fearsome, powerful, and occasionally genre-savvy - at least enough to evade cliche, a common danger of the staples of the supernatural. Though my opinion of the novel as a whole is more complex, it's a good starting point.

The novel begins in Salem, in the year of 1913: immediately diving outside the norm with its choice of protagonists - Sarah, a young Jewish scholar, and Alex, a Greek immigrant (and according to the blurb, 'attractive': so you can guess where this is heading). And this is an area in which I can applaud the novel once more: while I don't dislike more usual choices, more cultural backgrounds provide more variety - and in the case of Alex, this is definitely true. Alex's family has encountered the undead in the past, so when a local is found murdered - and then comes back - the pair and their friends rapidly become involved. Both are likeable and Sarah in particular is a very strong character: and joyously proactive! (Passive protagonists are a pet peeve, I'll freely admit.) Soon, however, the plot becomes more complex: with the local pastor, a 900 year old vampire, and even an Egyptian god or two after the mystical artefact in Sarah's father's keeping.

While the novel on the whole is well written, one or two scenes were slightly confusing on a first read - and required another look to work out exactly what had occurred. Whether that's desirable or not is a matter of taste, as these were near the tail end of the book. The plot on the whole was compelling, with the antagonists sufficiently threatening, and even - dare I say it - intelligent. (I wouldn't be surprised if one or two had read the Evil Overlord List). And fortunately, the romance subplot doesn't dominate - this isn't paranormal romance.

On the other hand, I'm of mixed mind about the magic used. While the supernatural is close to that of real myth and legend, the setting was firstly slightly confusing in that regard - though the rules for what was used were relatively clear. The Jewish faith was used a lot - and angels definitely stuck around. But so did witchcraft and the Egyptian gods - including the memorable Khepri - leaving open the question of what the limits were. As always, I also had my qualms regarding a magic rooted in theology and prayer. Though making it slightly fresher by basing it on the Jewish faith, it does somewhat take away the tension - after all, if you've a deity on your side... Well. Like real stories of the supernatural, magic is also rooted in a fair amount of blood and *cough* horizontal romantic liason, so while interesting, The Darkening Dream definitely isn't recommended as a YA read - there are some fairly graphic scenes.

All in all? The Darkening Dream is a refreshingly dark urban fantasy that will wipe any trace of vampiric sparkle from your literature. With some original choices as protagonists - both of whom dive, rather than stumble into the supernatural - and a delicious twist or two, this novel is recommended (with the caveats mentioned) to fans of dark urban fantasy who've wearied of the subgenre's conventions. Though no Neil Gaiman, this is more than worth a look.

Find it here: UK US

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Why You Should Read | Epic Fantasy

Perhaps I'm preaching to the choir here: after all, I'm a fan of epic fantasy, and most likely so are most of my readers (who are much appreciated in this, naturally!) But for those of us who have yet to give it a try, and for anybody who just wants a quick refresher: well, here's my crash course on Jacob's Reasons to Read Epic Fantasy. (There will be a test; please write in black ink or blood only; complete your name in block Elvish - the usual). Review of The Darkening Dream tomorrow!

- Scope and scale. I've talked a lot about escalation - and mainly in a negative sense. Escalation turns a great character-based story into an (often poor) fate-of-the-world one, but sometimes we want high stakes: the destiny of species, the death of gods, and the rest of the drama which epic fantasy brings with it. Personal, character driven, or simply smaller scale stakes are great, too - but sometimes we want more to be at stake, and more to be changing: and that's where the epic comes in.

- Worldbuilding. Urban fantasy, steampunk, and historical fantasy have their great worldbuilders: and some upcoming debuts like Chris F Holm's Dead Harvest spring to life. But these are rarely secondary world fantasies, and as such they're somewhat constrained by the limits of history or reality: limits which - despite the traditional nature of much of the subgenre - don't have to apply to epic fantasy. As such, epic and other secondary world fantasies have the possibility to be far more radical in their settings: Brandon Sanderson's alien ecologies and storm-beaten world (even the plants have shells!) in The Stormlight Archive and the demons of Carol Berg's Rai-kirah trilogy could belong only to the epic. Although epic fantasy can be traditional at times, it has the potential to be the least so of the subgenres. And at times, it achieves that.

- Complexity. Though part of epic fantasy's 'scope and scale', I thought it deserved a point of its own - because for me, this is one of the big draws of the subgenre. Fantasy has a tendancy towards long novels and longer series (the Wheel of Time alone will reach its conclusion this year at fourteen books), and despite its flaws, there is an advantage to that: complexity! Many points of view often mean that variety's preserved within a single novel, but the main advantage is simply that connecting plotlines, complex intrigues, and subtle interconnecting hints are all possibilities. And they're very viable, as any George R R Martin fans will know...

- Variety. There's a lot which can be done with epic fantasy. Far from popular belief, it's not all 'wizards and dragons': there's low-magic and high-magic, high and low, and as many tones as you can name - from the melancholic if glorious of Guy Gavriel Kay's work to the grittiness of Martin's. Which means, of course, that it's great fun to read. And very, very changeable - so by not reading epic fantasy as a broad subgenre, you might be missing out on much that suits your tastes.

Well - that's my personal ode to the subgenre. Coming up tomorrow is my review of The Darkening Dream, a rather intriguing urban/historical fantasy of the Jewish faith, vampires, and Egyptian gods. One thing I can promise you: it won't be short!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Review | Death Most Definite - Trent Jamieson

Things were rather quiet on the blog front last week, but never fear - posting schedule should be back to normal now (for anyone missing their dose of raving)! Due to the busyness of the last week, reviews for Court of Dreams and The Darkening Dream are going to be pushed forwards a little, and today will be a slightly older read: as you've almost certainly guessed from the whopping great picture (and the title), Death Most Definite.

An Urban Fantasy set in Australia, Death Most Definite takes as its hero one Steven de Selby, a psychopomp in the family industry: death. Under the Regional Manager of Mortmax Industries, Mr D, Steven pomps the dead into their afterlife: but now someone is murdering his family and fellow pomps, Mr D is missing, and Steven is next. In fact, he would have been out of the game already if not for one Lissa, a dead girl who's just saved his life. And now both are on the run...

I likely expected too much from Death Most Definite, to be honest: it's been compared to The Dresden Files in the past, so I anticipated a sort of cross between Harry Dresden and Johannes Cabal, two of my favourite UF protagonists. Unfortunately, the resulting novel subverted said expectations - immensely.

Steven de Selby is a likeable protagonist, but the problem is that he's passive. He spends almost the entire novel responding to the actions of the antagonists - and by 'responding', you've probably guessed that I mean 'dashing for his life'. I'm not a fan of that: yes, Harry Dresden is fun when he's fleeing, but would you want an entire book of it? I think not. What's fun is when heroes stop responding, when they begin to act on their own; do something surprising and surprisingly awesome. Steven's relationship with Lissa was - to me - similarly unconvincing. She's a much more interesting character, but I honestly couldn't see the depth of the connection that the author was pushing us to accept. Perhaps I'm just inept at detecting these hints. But honestly, I think this felt like a superfluous element, or one that should have been developed more subtly than continuous mentions of Steven's attraction to her. We got it the first time...

And besides, she's dead. Which makes it just a tad disturbing in context.

I was also a tad underwhelmed by the psychopomps' abilities. In urban fantasy, the expectation is that the supernatural will be toned down from - say - epic fantasy, and there will be more combination of magic and technology. It's part of what I enjoy about a subgenre I rarely used to read. In Death Most Definite, on the other hand, the abilities weren't so much subtle as disappointing: psychopomps can touch souls to send them into the afterlife, and can stop reanimated bodies by touching them with a pomp's blood - along with a couple of peripheral abilities. And to me, because they're always used in the same way, that got tedious fast.

See Stirrer ---> Make small cut ---> Wrestle ---> Slap with blood

As the only component of the supernatural, it's underwhelming: although the environment of the afterlife I did like, as an impressively neutral, bleak end.

This isn't to say that Death Most Definite was all bad - the worst that can be said is that it is bland. It's still a relatively enjoyable read. It's fast-paced, occasionally dramatic, and does have some rather nice twists. If you're into urban fantasy, this might well be worth a read, but not as a first choice. As a rainy afternoon novel, though, it's fine.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Worldbuilding | Video from Open Road Media and Some Thoughts

Open Road Media, who are rereleasing some classic fantasy titles as ebooks (one of which I reviewed here - Patricia C. Wrede's Caught in Crystal), have released this video on worldbuilding: featuring Barbara Hambly, Alan Dean Foster, and of course Wrede's own take on the subject. It's relatively short - so naturally, there's no excuse for not watching it below!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Surpassing Conventions | ... Back From The Grave

The article, not the trope - because I'll once more be running a couple of surpassed conventions on the blog. Those who missed this series of articles last time might be wondering exactly what I'm on about - so for you, an explanation! There are certain features of novels which are considered overused: cliche, stereotype, or simply too typical - and this feature is to name those which we enjoy despite it. Whether it's because the feature in question is justified (for example, magic glows in The Stormlight Archive because it's stormlight - captured and rereleased), subverted (as with Aliette de Bodard's Obsidian and Blood series), or simply driven up to such a scale that it's fun despite its previous use. Whatever the reasons, Surpassing Expectations is dedicated to finding the novels which do this with specific tropes - so if you have one, don't hesitate to recommend in the comments.

So, without further ado: the overused.

Token Human Sacrifice Civilisation
Maybe the term I'm using is a little vague, but we've all seen them: a slight detour to a location, generally tropical, where the native people, generally Aztec-based, sacrifice visitors by the boatload. And it's boring. Not only is it overused, it's trite and simplistic: in only one or two cases has the civilisation in question turned out to have anything else to it than the flowchart of:      Find visitor -> Rip out beating heart -> Repeat

 And this stereotyped version of the Aztecs has coloured our own perceptions, which means the series in question - Aliette de Bodard's Obsidian and Blood - is even more welcome. As its civilisation, it takes a historical fantasy version of the actual Aztecs - not their Fantasyland counterparts. Which is rather wonderful! The sacrifices are justified, at least to them: in this historical fantasy, their gods do exist, and both appeasement and magic requires blood. Becoming a sacifice is even honourable for captured warriors, and human sacrifices are far rarer than their flanderised counterparts. Furthermore, this is the least part of their civilisation - which comes with (shock! Horror!) customs and traditions which don't involve casual homicide. 

Talking of homicide, the stories involve an Aztec priest of death solving mysteries. What's not to love?


Not so much a cliche as an overused plot device, amnesia is nonetheless a staple of fantasy. Thankfully, it's become less so, but it can be done well. Do I have an example for that? Why, coincidentially, I do... Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber, and specifically the first novel of that series. Corwin wakes up amnesiac in a hospital in New York. So far, so typical. What surpasses reader expectations is what he does with it: far from playing the typical amnesiac and attempting to regain his memories, Corwin bluffs that he possesses them, among people whose loyalties and histories are uncertain. And somehow, it works... And turns out a great deal of fun. If you haven't read Zelazny, he's a classic fantasy writer, and is well worth the investment.

And what of your own? (Be sure to check out the previous posts in this series if you're interested- which you can find by clicking the 'Surpassing Conventions' tag below)

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Links and Opinion | Hugo Awards and Scrutinising SFF Sexism

...Yes, I am fond of alliterating. Why do you ask?

It's been a busy week on the internet - and by this, I mean the SFF-related portions of it. Yesterday Stefan Raets, blogger at Far Beyond Reality, wrote an excellent article on the Hugo Awards -and the proposed rule changes which could make blogs ineligible for the 'Best Fanzine' award. And like him, I'd thoroughly encourage you all both to read the article (which is worthwhile in itself, and raises some excellent point - as does Cheryl's response in the comments) and to nominate bloggers for the award itself. No, that isn't personal interest you see! (Drying Ink is nowhere near that kind of standard) Rather, it's a desire to see great bloggers, as well as print media, continue to get the acclaim they deserve - and believe me, there are blogs out there that well deserve this sort of award. No doubt you can name a few yourself, so if you have registered for Chicon: why not nominate a few?

[Regarding the sexism argument: my article came off badly - though it was not intended so, and I detest internet arguments. I do read widely, as readers of my blog will likely know, and writing a post while half asleep is never (well, rarely) a good idea. I hope people will understand that I merely wished to remind people that reviewers look at content, not gender, and many can only reflect the publication proportions of the stories they read. That's all, and I hope my readers will forgive a previously stupid sounding post.]

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Hunger Games Readalong | Chapter 20

In recent years, The Hunger Games and its sequels have received more than their fair share of hype - and naturally, as a reviewer, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I first read The Hunger Games back in January, and enjoyed it: so signed up for the readalong, for which (as have been noticeable hints!) this is my post. The readalong is hosted by Larissa over at The Howling Turtle, so you can find the rest of the post links there. For those of you who haven't yet read the novel - beware of spoilers. Big, big spoilers of enormous magnitude.

So, without further ado, the post.

Chapter 20 was a mixed read on my initial venture into the world of the Hunger Games trilogy: on the one hand, one of my favouite moments (for reasons which will soon become apparent), but on the other - the fake romance.

Chapter 20 essentially consists of Katniss nursing Peeta, whose wounds at this point are preety terrible - and as she discovers, due to blood poisoning, lethal. The lethality of the Games themselves are emphasised: as is the impossibility of getting the necessary medication from the sponsors. The scene continues with a side order of romance - and while I enjoy Peeta and Katniss' banter, much is obviously put on for the cameras as the popular star crossed lovers routine. Which, of course, comes off a little cloying (and at times, intentionally so). But that's just a pet peeve...

However, my opinion of the chapter then shot up - along with the newfound impossible situation, an impossible solution. An announcement is made that the organisers have set up a feast, the Cornucopia containing objects which each player needs... Inevitably, medication for Peeta. Peeta, however, refuses to let Katniss go. And so, of course, comes one of my favourite moments. Haymitch sends another package. This time, sleep syrup - which Katniss uses to drug Peeta and depart. While some readers might not enjoy that moment, I like it: the Hunger Games are about ruthless necessity, it's what we expected - and of course, it's nicely devious.

A fun chapter - if a little overly romantic for us non-fans of that element - Chapter 20 begins the uphill struggle to the finish line: and while I did not by any means find The Hunger Games perfect, it is by all means a great YA read.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Review | Roil - Trent Jamieson

Not just touching on the steampunk aesthetic, but diving into the subgenre itself, Roil is an interesting tale of a world on the edge. Like Mark C. Newton's Legends of the Red Sun sequence, Roil could convincingly be described as transformative fantasy: although there are tantalising hints otherwise, the titular Roil may well be a natural phenomenon, which humanity is struggling against.

Roil is set on the land, or world, of Shale - one threatened by the aforementioned region. The Roil is an uncontrollably spreading environment: hosting its own temperature (hotter), spores, creatures, and even mind - or minds. As I mentioned, it's more than a little mysterious. And as the first novel of a series, Roil raises more questions than it answers - what else do you expect? The Roil has consumed many of the human cities, but at last, there seems to be a hint at a solution: the I-bombs. Developed by the Penn family, these seem capable of reclaiming entire regions of the Roil - but just as they are successfully tested, the Roil claims the city, leaving only the Penns' daughter, Margaret. And with no blueprints... David, meanwhile, is an addict to a fantastical drug: Carnival. When his father is murdered by his political opponents, David is rescued by Cadell, a man who is older than he seems. If we trust his word, 4000 years older... And both, driven by both the encroaching Roil and the manipulative Stade, find themselves embroiled in humanity's truggle against the titular advance, and Cadell's hints at a solution.

Shale gets a great deal of credit, here, for an imaginative design. And some very superior worldbuilding. The Roil is a convincingly overpowering threat - how do you stop an environment which spreads itself with heat and spores? As it turns out, cold. Humanity has turned to endothermic weapons to harm the Roil's creations: ice walls, guns firing cold, and even temperature-reducing pills. The rest of the technology is similarly fun: Aerokin, semi-biological (and living) airships, for one! As my mantra goes, who doesn't love airships? This is a thoroughly alien world - imaginatively built, and a joy to explore.

While I enjoyed Cadell's point that David was not a 'chosen one' - because the world simply doesn't work that way - I can't help feeling that as a protagonist, he had similar problems to those chosen by destiny in some way. in a word? Passivity. As a character, Devid is not proactive. His behaviour is largely responsive through the novel, and though he does experience development - growing from a fixated addict to someone genuinely capable of some rather awesome achievements (which I'll keep quiet about) - he is always driven by the plot, not the other way around. Cadell might be a mentor character, but he's by far the more interesting of the pair. By contrast, Margaret Penn is a more proactive character - but gets a far lesser role.

Roil is, however, an interesting read. As the first book of a series, it hints at some tantalising future revelations: sentient weapons, the plans of the Roil, and secret histories - and its sequel would be worth reading just for that. Nevertheless, there's more to this novel than simply worldbuilding: some of the later action scenes are spectacular (and the second half of the novel is superior as a whole), David develops considerably and should be of far more merit as protagonist in the following book, and the Roil is a genuinely interesting opponent: an environment. I would recommend Roil, despite a passive main protagonist, but with caveats: if you want resolution rather than hints, wait for a sequel - and be prepared to read through a slow start before the action gets going.

Find it here: UK US

And my new article's up on Fantasy Faction, where I'm a staff member: this time, on novellas, and why they're coming back.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Just for Fun | Blogger Tag

...But before I explain just what that esoteric game is, I'd just like to point readers in the direction of a great new blog that you really should be reading: Far Beyond Reality. Despite Stefan's quasi-heretical apathy towards steampunk (I mean, who doesn't like airships? - to quote my most frequent mantra in any steampunkish review), he's got some great articles up there, including the 50 Page Fridays. I thoroughly recommend any fans of Drying Ink check it out.

And now, onto the blogger tag. Naturally, this post is just for fun - so don't expect a review at the end of the rainbow rant. Anyway, I've kindly been tagged by the Little Red Reviewer (who you should also check out - but since she's been on my blogroll for an eternity, you probably have already!) which means that not only do I get removed from the hit-list, but I have to answer some slightly nifty questions below. And then, of course, tag some others... So, here goes!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Review | A Civil Campaign - Lois McMaster Bujold

Again, image taken from the audiobook to save your eyes from obliteration. Really. At any rate! Skipping ahead slightly on my Vorkosigan readthrough - I've already reviewed a few of the intervening novels (which you can view by clicking the 'Lois McMaster Bujold' tag on the bottom of the post) - A Civil Campaign became my next target. One of the lightest reads of the series, A Civil Campaign is exactly what it describes: Miles applies his military tactics to a social engagement... With limited success, as you might imagine.

Returning to the setting of Barrayar, A Civil Campaign is set shortly - very shortly - after the events of Komarr. With preparations for the Imperial wedding already in progress, the capital is in a state of flux: socially as well as otherwise. Miles Vorkosigan intends to woo Ekaterin Vorsoisson... The problem being that she's the only one who doesn't know about it. And is in mourning for her late husband - whose death rumour pins on Miles... The ever-amusing Ivan, meanwhile, is in similarly perilous - or at least embarassing - straits. He's been press-ganged as adviser for a bid for Countship which looks to be setting itself against all of Barrayar's traditions... (But how would spoil a truly excellent moment - so I'll stay silent on the matter). Mark, Miles' clone brother, is trying out entrepeneurship for a change. Flying home from Escobar with a scientist who's jumped bail, he's brought with him some truly unusual creatures, which he hopes could make a fortune. Unfortunately, there are more than a few personnel issues to deal with first...

And naturally, and in true Bujold fashion, all of these schemes collide. Dramatically. A Civil Campaign features most of the Vorkosigan series' most memorable characters, and as such it's also one of the most amusing novels in the series - especially with the political intrigue, which is resolved... Interestingly.

My brief summary may give you the impression of a hefty dose of vaguely romantic cliche: not a bit of it. While the initial setup seems like it could lead in that direction, Bujold readers will know that stereotypes are rarely left unturned; cliches seldom played straight - and this is no exception. Miles' attempts at romance are structured as a military campaign - which as you can imagine has some rather gaping problems. Though these were amusing (though embarassing - if you don't have a high threshold for that, you may have to skip a scene or two), I preferred the intrigue occurring between the Counts. The series has alluded to interesting moments in Barrayaran politics since it began, and to finally see more of them that just a single scene is one of the most satisfying aspects of the book.

A Civil Campaign, like Komarr and unlike every other Miles novel, switches viewpoints between Miles and Ekaterin - but this time, adds Ivan as well. Ivan is lazy as ever and hilarious despite (and perhaps because of) it, but Ekaterin, though a strong female figure, simply can't match up to Miles and Ivan for sheer character. It doesn't help that her side of the plotline is by far the least interesting: for the most part the unwitting object of Miles' affections, though engaging in some tactical manoevre of her own to keep custody of her son. I think part of it is she's simply far less proactive than Miles, and unlike Ivan, nobody is around to drag her deeper into a more interesting set of circumstances.

Despite this minor weakness, A Civil Campaign shows us long awaited sequences in the series, and offers a great deal of entertainment on its own merit. It has more than a few references, so long-term readers will get far more out of it than those new to the series, but this is definitely a recommended read: an example of how even well-done circumstances can be twisted around to become one of the weirdest dramas of the series.

In a good way, of course.

You can find it here: UK US

Friday, 2 March 2012

News | Fantastical Intentions, Free Books, and What the Future Holds (in a Vaguely Threatening Manner)

Wow, this is going to be a weighty news post!

...And the first item you've likely already guessed: Fantastical Intentions, the joint feature run by Hannah (of Once Upon a Time) and myself, is up - this week over at her blog! You can find it here...

We hardcore bibliophiles love books - it's a pretty self descriptive name - and free books are no exception. While this isn't exactly news, I'd encourage anyone who hasn't to check out the Baen Free Library - here. While much of Baen's novels consist of military SF (not my favourite subgenre), there's plenty to interest most of us (including the Vorkosigan Saga, which I've been working my way through). You can also find legal copies of all of the Baen CDs, some of which contain entire series, here. While this isn't exactly news, free books are always fun - right?

In other blog news, Drying Ink has attained the lofty state of a link on Pat's Fantasy Hotlist's blogroll! Which is very complimentary, considering the Hotlist was one of the blogs which inspired me to start my own - so yes, thanks to Pat for furthering my evil plans for world domination. Soon they will come to fruition...

Which brings me to - the future. Coming up on the blog are reviews of The Darkening Dream - steampunk! - and Jason Starr's The Pack, which looks a great deal of fun (and has already been opinioned for a film. It's coming out in April).