the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Steven Brust’ Category

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time. If you’ve been paying attention, nothing on this list will be a surprise to you.  If you happened to stumble by because you like “year end” lists,  these are my top ten speculative fiction books I read this year.  Looking for a good read? go find one of these.

Some of them are old.

Some of them are new.

Some of them were borrowed.

None of them are blue.

;)

I’ve linked the titles to my reviews.  In no particular order:

Sky Coyote by Kage Baker (1999) – the second in The Company series, this novel is told from Joseph’s point of view (and yes, Mendoza is still really, really pissed off at him). Joseph gets to do one of his favorite things – pretend to be a God. But this time, he’s got to get even the skeptics to believe his act.

The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch (2013) – No surprise this one made it to my best of the year list, as this is one of my favorite fantasy series.  It’s true, I ranted a little about a character who really annoyed me, but holy shit, that ending??  holy shit!  Also, I do just happen to have a Cinnamon colored dress/jacket combo and a four cornered grey hat in the making.

The Incrementalists by Steven Brust and Skyler White (2013 )- Secret societies, multiple personalities, sublime prose, metaphysics, unexpected romance, characters that rip each other to shreds.  What more could you possibly want? I got meddled with, my switches got hit, and I never wanted it to end.  Just go read it already. Everything about this book was spot-on perfection for me.

Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks (1990) – only the best Culture novel of the best space opera series in existence.  Not the easiest book in the world to read, but the subtlety, and the reveal at the end, and oh god I knew something was so horribly wrong as soon as he said he was going to cut his hair. . .

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I did many cool things this past weekend. One of them was listening to the audio of The Incrementalists. It’s narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal and Ray Porter. I live under a rock and didn’t know who Ray Porter was.  Kowal was great (and she gets to read one of my favorite scenes), but this other guy, Porter?

This blog post is not a review of the audio.

You read my review of The Incrementalists and it doesn’t seem like your thing? Fine. I won’t hold that against you.  Still, get something else Ray Porter narrated. Do it because you trust me. And do it because this man’s voice does something you to. Something that words and ink and turning pages can’t do.

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You never forget your first time.

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Ray Porter’s voice moves over you like a summer storm. Unstoppable, his voice contains the roiling tension of the incoming storm front, the thunder you feel through your feet before your ears know what it is, the shadow that falls as the clouds roll in, everything to that surreal moment when your breath catches in the silence and the stillness before the storm hits.  And then the skies open up, and in his voice are the rhythms of the rain, from gentle caresses to a pounding need to being in every pore of the parched ground beneath; the tympani pulse of the thunder that resonates in your chest; the rain becoming an ocean and drowning feeling like heaven.

And as his voice fades, you are left with the shattered remains of the sated clouds that slowly lie down in repose, their edges set on fire by the glorious sunset.

The storm has passed. And all you can do is reach out with your quivering, cloudy fingers and whisper “you must come back. my ground is still thirsty for you”.

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Or I suppose you could just hit play again on the file.

Stay tuned, I have more cool stuff for you tomorrow and the next day. Photos! Links!  the awesomess that was ConText! book reviews!  you know, more of the cool stuff and less of these weird misguided attempts at prose-y things in which I tell all the rules of writing to fuck off because I’m having a moment.

Way back when I didn’t know epic fantasy from high fantasy, or an orc from a soulsword, my husband gave me a book and said something along the lines of “This is weird, but you might like it.  It’s fantasy, but it hasn’t got any orcs or quests or stuff. It’s about a guy who is an assassin, but he doesn’t like, like it. It’s just his job, and he doesn’t nejoy being so good at it, and there’s some cool magic. It’s by that same guy who wrote that book you really liked, The Sun, The Moon and The Stars“.  This was like eight or ten years ago, but it really did go something like that. My memory for these kinds of things is awful.

That book was The Book of Jhereg, and I have been a huge fan of Steven Brust ever since.  I have yet to find another author whose voice affects me so strongly. I haven’t read everything he’s written, but I am working on it. A little while ago Steven tweeted that he’d be interested in being interviewed about his upcoming novel, The Incrementalists, co-written with Skyler White.  After all the big-name famous bloggers chimed in, I quietly raised my hand.  One day I’ll realize my favorite authors are just regular people. But until that day, they can stay up on their pedestal and remain superheroes. Before I say anything too much more embarrassing, let’s get to the interview, shall we?

Feeling lost? Go check out my interview with Skyler White, my review of The Incrementalists, or if you have some time on your hands check out all my Steven Brust reviews. You might notice I asked both authors some of the same questions. that was on purpose.

Photo swiped from Wikipedia.

Photo swiped from Wikipedia.

Q: I’ve been a huge fan of yours for years. I’m nuts for Vlad Taltos, nearly ended a friendship because she thought Greg from The Sun, The Moon, and The  Stars was an asshole, and I pretty much follow you around twitter. But  everyone else reading this might not be like that, so would you introduce  yourself, and tell everyone a little bit about yourself?

A: This is tough for a Minnesotan; we get really uncomfortable talking about ourselves.  Um.  I’ll do my best.  I’ve been writing for 30 years, full time for about 26 of them.  I’m an amateur musician and poker player. Politically, I consider myself a Red.  I’m not an incrementalist.

Q: How did the idea for The Incrementalists come about?

A: I was involved in a sort of complex shared world open source creative commons multi-media project a while ago.  Being that far over my head (I understand almost nothing about any of those things), I went out asking for advice.  One of the people I asked–because one always asks him–was Tappan King.  In the course of the conversation, he mentioned the idea of a secret society operating through all of history and dedicated to making things a little better.

The idea stayed with me long after the collapse of the other project.  I was hanging out with Skyler talking about writing process and writer tools and tricks and How To Do It Gooder and stuff, and she mentioned how much she missed the collaboration that is inherent in theater.  I remembered what a joy it had been to write with Megan and Emma, so I mentioned Tappan’s idea.  We drank whiskey.

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The Incrementalists, by Steven Brust and Skyler White

Available Sept 24th, 2013

where I got it: NetGalley

you can read an excerpt over at Tor.com.

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In a garden as old as humanity, disguised memories become the seeds of change. The residents of this garden archive the smell of your grandmother’s soup in the curve of a vase, or the feel of your first kiss in the color of piece of yarn.  Memory is a funny thing, you don’t even remember what happened until the smell of a particular white wine brings it all back like a flaming spike to the head.

A genre-bending cerebral thriller masquerading as a mainstream novel, The Incrementalists enchanted me in the first chapter, and in return I devoured the rest of it. I read this book in one day. Like Bastian in The Never Ending Story, I ignored the world, skipped the pop-quiz, hid in a corner and climbed right into the lives of Phil and Ren, and Celeste and Irina and Oskar and Jimmy, staying very quiet so they wouldn’t notice me listening in on their conversations. And I am still listening, because they told me where to look.

Who are the Incrementalists? A secret society of nearly immortal people who make the world a better place,one tiny change at a time.  No pay, no thanks, no credit in the history books, their work is as invisible as a fading dream. They are the ones in the garden. And when their human bodies die, someone new must be found to carry on the work, and carry around the personality of the recently departed Incrementalist.

It’s been a few months since Celeste’s old body died, and her ex-lover Phil thinks he’s identified a good Second for Celeste’s stub.  He approaches Ren with the offer, and unlike most  Seconds who take at least a week to make up their minds, Ren agrees almost instantly that this is what she wants. She doesn’t give Phil a chance to tell her it’s a painful experience. She never gives him the chance to warn her that once she’s accepted Celeste into her mind, there’s a good chance Celeste’s personality could completely subsume Ren, effectively killing her.  Ren says Yes, Phil says OK, and from that moment on the chemistry between them is palpable.

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agyar-197x300Agyar, by Steven Brust

published in 1993

where I got it: purchased used

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Ladies, John Agyar is the kind of man your mother warned you against.  He’s charming and mysterious, and he only wants one thing from the beautiful young women he flirts with.

Some of you may have already stopped reading, because you’re not interested in *that* kind of character. As a reward to those of you still reading, I’d like to share with you the thought that screamed through my head around the halfway point of the book: “holy shit, that’s what’s been going on all this time!?”

Squatting in an abandoned house, John is told there is a typewriter in an upstairs room, and he therapeutically begins to write. At first, he just records his conversations with the boring residents of this sleepy Ohio town.  As he gains comfort with the idea of writing as therapy, and with the idea of his housemate Jim actually reading these typewritten pages, he begins to add in more important details.  The pages of Agyar are those typewritten pages.

Here’s the thing through – This is John’s diary, and he talks about what he feels like talking about. He’s under no obligation to tell you anything important.  You’ve got to figure that part out for yourself.   In so many books the story is in the ink, in the words, on the pages.  In Agyar, everything important is between the lines. If you look close, it’s all there. As per usual, this review may be more vague than needed.  I type the wrong word, and I spoil the surprise. (whatever you do, don’t read review of this book on Amazon. the surprise is spoiled instantly, and in the most unkind way)

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athyraAthyra, by Steven Brust

published in 1993

where I got it: purchased used

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Every house in the Dragaeran empire has something it stands for, its primary characteristics. Vlad is a member of house Jhereg, who stand for Greed and Opportunism. Just because the house of Athyra stands for magic and philosophy doesn’t mean a poor Teckla boy can’t dabble in that as well.

For those of you who are keeping track, Athyra was the 6th Vlad Taltos book written, but chronologically, it comes near the middle of the series, around the 8th or 9th book. The chronology gets a bit wibbly wobbly, as swaths of many books jump back and forth in the time line. If you’ve been following my reviews, Athyra comes after The Book of Jhereg, but before Orca. I’ve read Orca like 3 times, so it was really nice to finally learn what lead up Vlad having to search out the woman who lives in the hideously blue cottage.

Anyway, recently on the run from the Jhereg, Vlad finds himself out in the countryside. And from here on out, we get the story straight from Savn, a young apprentice physiker who at the moment is helping his parents with the flax harvest.  Savn’s life was going so good, why did he have to get mixed up with a short Easterner? But as usual, Vlad needs a hand with whatever mischief he’s getting up to, and Savn seems to have the right blend of curiosity gullibility, and  enough common sense to know when to shut up.

Above all, Savn is a product of his society  - he’s been taught that he will grow up, learn to physick, marry a farmer’s daughter, harvest flax at the right time of year, and tithe most of what he makes to the local Baron. He’s the perfect Teckla – submissive, subservient, and seemingly simpleminded. On the socioeconomic scale of the Dragaeran Empire, the Teckla are at the bottom – the farmers, the peasants, the untouchables. They even have their own priests and doctors, because no one else wants to have anything to do with them.

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Ok, one new book, and everything else is older, but it’s all new-new stuff for. And so very pretty!

prettiest first:

I know they say “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”, but I have been drooling over this book since I first saw the cover art a few months ago. I’ve read a few Marie Brennan short stories and enjoyed them, and I don’t even know even know what this one is about, I just knew I had to have it. Teh blurb, in case you are interested:

A Natural History of Dragons -

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, knows Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light ofmodern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiousity, of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

Wowza!!  When do I get to reward myself with reading this??  I’ll make you a deal: after I review Iain Bank’s Use of Weapons, and finish Athyra by Steven Brust, Seeds of Earth by Michael Cobley, and King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, I’ll reward myself with this  beautiful book!

ok, on to some other new-to-me goodies:

Husband got me addicted to Fritz Leiber a few months ago, and we’d picked up the first book and the last book in the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series, so it was nice to find all the middle ones in the same printing.  You don’t need to read these in any particular order (book “one” was actually written last), but there is a sort-of chronological order to the lives of the characters.

and speaking of “you don’t need to read them in chronological order because they weren’t written that way”, I’m slowly filling the gaps in my Steven Brust collection. The problem is that I forget what I’ve purchased, so sometimes I end up with duplicates.  I can tell in the first couple pages of a book if I”ve read it before, and at the store I was pretty sure I was missing Athyra, so I grabbed it. I started reading it last night, this one was a good choice, as I”ve read the one that comes right after like 3 times, so it’ll be nice to see how that situation came about.

The Swords Against Tomorrow collection is a little volume of sword and sorcery and sword and planet tales, including a yes, you guessed it, a Fritz Leiber Lankhmar tale, yay!

I couldn’t resist the Rising Stars novel by Arthur Byron Cover. You probably recognize the name J. Michael Straczynski from Babylon 5, but he also wrote a wonder trilogy of graphic novels called Rising Stars. A little like X-Men, but no exactly. I hope I can find more novels in this series, as I LOVED the graphic novels!

For the most part, all this new stuff is rather slim, which means I can cram it into the remaining nooks and crannies in my bookshelves.

It’s that wonderful time of the year again! When we bake cookies and get cards in the mail and forget that we need extra time to warm up our cars in these cold, cold mornings.

It’s also time to talk about the best books we’ve read this year. I confess, I cheated a little on my list, I didn’t limit myself to books that came out in 2012, I’ve even got a reread on the list. Mostly space opera, a little fantasy and time travel, even a YA book made the list! In no particular order, here are my top  books that I read this year, with review excerpts and links to the  review should you feel so inclined to learn more about the titles that rocked my world this past year.

Redhead’s Best of 2012

224_large Faith

Faith, by John Love (2012)  – I read this all the way back in February, I knew right then it would make my best of the year list.  An amazing debut from author John Love, Faith is a dark and tense stand alone science fiction novel. The pages drip with a danger and fear that doesn’t quickly dissipate after you’ve put the book down.  This isn’t a book for everyone (that’s a polite way of saying it has lots of violence, amorality and swear words), but for those of us that like this sort of thing, Faith is quite the hidden gem.

(full review here, and I got to interview the author here)

Silently and Very Fast, by Catherynne M. Valente (2012) – has anyone been putting out short stories, novellas and full length novels as fast as Valente? she’s the hardest working writer I know, and this year she got to walk away with Hugo for Best FanCast to show for it.  it’s no secret that Valente is one of my favorite authors, and the Hugo nominated Silently and Very Fast is certainly her most science fictional piece.  With her signature flair for poetic metaphor and lyrical storytelling, this novella follows the life of Elefsis, a house AI who was told fairytales by the human children in the house. To Elefsis, life is a fairytale, and it should have a happy ending.

(full review here)

Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht (2012) – I don’t read a lot of urban fantasy, but when I do it’s a treat for it to be a beautifully written as this series (the 2nd book And Blue Skies from Pain came out later in 2012).  Northern Ireland, the 1970s, Liam Kelly would prefer to live a normal life. He’s not interested in getting arrested or learning secrets about his heritage. But all of those things are very interested in him, and in destroying everything in his life that he cares about.  Leicht spoiled me for urban fantasy.  I am eagerly awaiting future novels in this series.

(full review here)

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Tiassa, by Steven Brust

published in 2011

where I got it: purchased new

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I am among the fans who came to Tiassa with trepidation. The two books that come before it, Jhegaala and Iorich are slower, quieter reads. Not much happens, Vlad pines for his ex-wife, everyone is very sad about a lot of things, the witty snark was toned down. They aren’t bad books by any means (Brust’s writing will break your heart no matter what’s going on in the story) they just aren’t super fun to read. Would Tiassa be more of the same?  I didn’t even care if it moved the timeline forward, I just wanted the feeling of fun, and adventure, and optimism that I’d gotten out of the earlier Vlad  books.

After a handful of “meh” reads these last few weeks, I was desperate for a book that would grab me and insist that it was going to lead this dance.  I needed a comfort read; an author I could trust to transport me to a different world, a book that would swallow me whole so quickly I wouldn’t even feel its teeth.

Steven Brust’s Tiassa to the rescue.

I saw a review on Amazon that said Tiassa was Brust’s love letter to his fans, and after reading it I have to whole heartedly agree.  If you are already a long time reader of the Vlad Taltos series, you will be in heaven with Tiassa. But on the flip-side, if you’re new to the series, this is a terrible place to start (start here. really.).

The book is sharply divided in three portions, with interludes inbetween, and throughout everything a silver tiassa sculpture keeps coming up.  A tiny, seemingly useless sculpture of a winged cat, it may have been forged by the gods or it may be worthless. Regardless, the little tiassa seems to be making its own plans.  Packed with the requisite witty dialog but jumping around in time and touching on Draegaran mythology, Tiassa isn’t so much a Vlad Taltos book as it is a Dragaeran Empire book.

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Jhegaala, by Steven Brust

published in 2008

where I got it: had an ARC from way back when

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On the run from the Jhereg, Vlad needs to lay low for a while, preferably outside the Empire. Conveniently, he’s always meant to visit the country his mother is from, and there’s no time like the present, right? Vlad knows his mother’s maiden name and the village she came from, and that’s about it. With the help of a few spells and charms, no one will be able to find him, provided he’s able to avoid using witchcraft until the trouble back home blows over, if it ever blows over.  And who needs witchcraft when you’ve got two jhereg familiars on your shoulders, right?

Jhegaala is The 11th book (chronologically the 8th)  in Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series. If you’re a beginner in this series, you’re probably best off starting here.  Already read a  few Vlad books? go ahead and dive into Jhegaala, but know that it’s quite a bit different than the previous stories. For one, it takes place completely outside the Empire, and is more of a hard  boiled detective story.

In a paper-making village in the eastern Kingdoms, Vlad is completely and utterly surrounded by his own kind, and he’s completely and utterly out of his element. Even worse, he’s an ex-assassin, with the habits that tend to come with the job, including rampant paranoia, unbridled suspicion of everyone and everything, and carrying unconcealed weapons.

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About this redhead, etc.

Redhead is a snarky, non-politically correct 30-something who reviews mostly science fiction and fantasy and talks about all sorts of other fun scifi and fantasy geekery. She once wrote a haiku that included the word triskaidekaphobia.

This blog contains adult language and strong opinions. The best way to contact her outside of this blog is twitter, where she is @redhead5318 .

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.