the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘fantasy

city_of_stairs-cover1City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett

published Sept 2014

where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks!)

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Where to start with City of Stairs? To say this book has everything sounds so cliche, doesn’t it?  To say it is funny and subtle and daring and fascinating would also sound cliche. But I’m going to say all of those things anyways, because this is one of those comes-a-long-once-a-decade books that transcends. It’s like one of those Hubble images where scale is all but impossible, where you can zoom in or out, and continually find new structures that your mind tells you shouldn’t exist. That shiver you feel? It’s your worldview expanding.

 

hubble-carina-20th-anniversary-660x607

Hubble image of the Pillars of Creation, taken in 1995. click here for more info on this image.

City of Stairs is a sort of political book that’s got nothing to do with politics, it’s a fantasy where there are miracles but not exactly magic, it’s got romance that’s not traditionally romantic, not to mention culture and beliefs and history and archaeology being treated as if they are living things sitting right next to you waiting for the right moment to tell you their secrets. Like I said, it’s got everything.

 

I was recently listening to a podcast about Cordwainer Smith, and one of the Karens mentioned something about how Smith had come out of nowhere, that he wasn’t building on what other writers had done, and it was as if he was reinventing science fiction. Robert Jackson Bennett is a modern day Cordwainer Smith in a similar fashion. But, if forced to make a connection comparison (because we all like those!), to say “this book is like this other book”, the only one that comes to my mind is The Scar, by China Mieville, and only because of the depth of secrecy involved and the ultimate and intimately personal goals of some of the characters.

 

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City of Stairs starts with a courtroom ruling, followed by a train arriving in the middle of the night.

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issola BurstIssola, by Steven Brust (Vlad Taltos series, #9)

published in 2002

where I got it: purchased used, or maybe paperback swap, I don’t remember.

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A friend of mine was going to read Dzur, and I hadn’t read that one before, so I decided to read it too. I picked up the book, and instantly learned two things:  It opens with the famous restaurant scene, and the story picks up immediately after the end of Issola, which I also hadn’t read.  So, promising to come back to Dzur as soon as possible, I grabbed my copy of Issola, which opens with the famous Klava scene.

 

It turns out Lady Teldra has been sent to seek out Vlad, who has been living rough for the past few years, in hiding from those who would do him or his family harm.  She needs his help, because her patron Lord Morrolan has disappeared, along with Aliera. Patron is certainly wrong word, but we’ll maybe get to that later.  There is nothing to imply Morrolan or Aliera were kidnapped or harmed, yet they are nowhere to be found. Lady Teldra is so very polite when she asks Vlad for help, and she’s come all this way, and if Sethra Lavode is involved he’s sure to be protected, and really, it would be very rude to say no to the Lady.

 

Peppered throughout the book are Vlad’s thoughts and his and Teldra’s conversations about manners and the unseen value of observing and respecting the etiquette and formalities of the culture in which you find yourself. An overly basic example is in the East, where humans like Vlad live, it is perfectly acceptable to “knock” on someone’s door to announce your arrival. But in the Dragaeran Empire? such a thing would never be done.  This is most certainly not a comedy of manners, but it is a commentary on how they are so ingrained in our culture that after a while we barely notice them, and when practiced, they become second nature.  It begs the question of what else becomes second nature while we weren’t paying attention?

 

There may not have been any overt signs that Morrolan and Aliera were kidnapped, but when Vlad and Teldra do eventually find them in a world that is not ours, they are chained to a wall, as guests of the Jenoine. And did I mention, there is a river of pure chaos flowing right outside their prison?  If you know anything about the Jenoine, you know this can’t end well.

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and when I say “goodies”, I mean books.   It’s been one of those weeks where I just want to curl up in a ball with a book (or six) and hibernate.  So i did.

nexus

A business trip last week with lots of down time (not to mention 2 hours stuck on an airplane each way) meant I had plenty of time to read. Finished Tobias Buckell’s Hurricane Fever, and got half way through Nexus by Ramez Naam.  Was craving laziness, comfort reads, and aliens when I got home, so zipped through Issola by Steven Brust and got a good start on Migration by Julie Czerneda.

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then I checked the mail, to find these beauties:

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Echopraxia I won from a giveaway over at Bibliotropic, and I’d requested Gleam from Jo Fletcher Books. The Watts I’ve been drooling over since I first heard about it (Blindsight will, as one blogger put it, will “blow your mindhole”), so yeah, I’m just a little excited about Echopraxia. And this Gleam book just looks hella fun.

Scale-Bright - Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Then I checked my e-mail and the twitters.  Accepted a review copy of Bastion Science Fiction Magazine #6, and was in the right place at the right time to get a review copy of Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s Scale-Bright.  And Scale-Bright? it’s gorgeous.  Do you like edgy, gorgeous prose, mythology that shimmers and glints like the surface of a summer stream, and frustrated deities? If yes, you’re gonna want Scale-Bright.

bastion-SciFi August

What does all this mean for you?  That hopefully I’ll be kicking out some smart reviews soon!  oh, and did I mention I’m frying my brain over my review of Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs?  Sometimes when I’m reading a galley, I’ll dog-ear a page that’s got something I want to remember. Here’s what the book looked like after 1st reading. 2nd time through I wrote down a list of page #s I wanted to remember. That list was very long, and didn’t include any of the already dog-eared pages.

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Here’s to hoping my brain is in high gear review writin’ mode pretty soon!

kaleidoscope anthoKaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios

published in August 2014

where I got it: received review copy from the editors (Thanks Alisa and Julia!)

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The tagline for Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios’s new anthology Kaleidoscope is “Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy stories”, but what’s in this collection goes much deeper than that.  I really wasn’t sure what to expect, and I very much appreciated the depth of variety of the stories, everything from contemporary fantasy, to parallel universe, to futuristic schools for shapeshifters, to ancient Chinese mythology, to accidental humor,  to a superhero story, and to one so ambiguous it could take place anywhere or anytime. As promised, the characters are diverse, (mostly female, some are queer, some with disabilities or disorders, many are ethnic minorities), and while some of them have already found acceptance, others have a tougher road to travel. A number of the stories deal with being an ethnic and/or racial minority, and being torn between doing whatever it takes to be accepted by your peers, and keeping to the traditions of your parents. Even as horrible things are sometimes happening and characters are in dark places, these are incredibly hopeful, optimistic stories.

 

I think many readers will agree that the two finest  stories in the collection are “The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” by Ken Liu and “Walkdog” by Sofia Samatar.  Multiple award winning Ken Liu is with good reason famous for his short fiction, and Sofia Samatar is a rising star, and in fact just won the Campbell Award.  In Liu’s “The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon”, Yuan and Jing are struggling with saying goodbye as Jing’s family prepares to move away. The two young women “fall” into the Chinese story of Zhinu and Niulang, who fell in love and were then forced to live apart (their stars are on the opposite side of the Milky Way). The story of the ancient lovers is beautiful in a way only Ken Liu can do, and if you’ve never read him, this is a wonderful introduction to the magic he does with words.  “The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” is a story of first love, and how to accept that your first love isn’t forever.

 

When I stop to think about it, Sofia Samatar’s “Walkdog” is also a story of first love, or at least about realizing you care deeply for another human being.  Yolanda is writing a paper for school, and you’re going to get a smile on your face reading this, because it looks like every research paper everything 9th grader has every had to write, complete with introduction, thesis statement, discussion of research and conclusion. Samatar has left in all of Yolanda’s spelling errors, unnecessary footnotes, and other errata, which just adds to the fun. So you’re smiling, and maybe laughing, and you wonder why Yolanda keeps going on this tangent about her classmate Andy, when her paper is supposed to be about the urban legend creature the Walkdog, which steals kids. This is not a very long story, and Yolanda realizes what’s happening as she’s writing the research paper, and she’s practically begging her teacher to help her, asking why someone didn’t do something earlier so the horrible thing didn’t have to happen. How can something that starts off so goofy turn so tragic so quickly? A testament to Samatar’s prowess, “Walkdog” will be on my Hugo nominations next year.

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Lynne and Michael Thomas

Ya’ll know Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas, right? Even if you’re not sure if you know who they are, I’ll  bet you know their work. Editors of Apex Magazine, Chicks Dig Time Lords, Glitter and Mayhem, Queers Dig Time Lords, among others, it’s no surprise these two amazingly talented editors have a brand new project up their sleeve.

Lynne and Michael were kind enough to answer a few of my questions about their newest venture, Uncanny Magazine, which they are funding the first year of via a Kickstarter campaign.

uncanny logo

 

LRR: Your newest venture is called Uncanny Magazine.  Tell us all about it!

L & M: We’re a professional Science Fiction and Fantasy online magazine, dedicated to sharing the kinds of work that stays with you after you’ve read it. We think that the best Science Fiction and Fantasy literature combines strong characterization, elegant prose, and diverse voices from around the world. We love stories that make us feel.

LRR: How did you decide that now was the time to start a new speculative fiction magazine?

L & M: Well, we stepped down from Apex Magazine due to our daughter’s major surgery in January of this year. She’s completed her recovery, and we felt ready to get back into the industry that means so much to us.

LRR:  You are currently doing a kickstarter to fund the first year of the magazine. When can readers expect the first issue, and will readers who missed out on the kickstarter still be able to subscribe or purchase single issues?

L & M: We plan for our first issue to go to backers and subscribers at the beginning of November. Readers who missed out on the Kickstarter after it closes August 28th will still be able to subscribe or purchase single issues, hopefully through all of the major online ebook retailers (we’re just beginning to work on that now, but we’ve already committed to working with Weightless Books (http://weightlessbooks.com/) for example.)

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julie dillon taking flight cropped

“Taking Flight”

Wanna hear this month’s best news? Of course you do!

One of my favorite artists, Julie Dillon, is making an artbook! Her Kickstarter for Imagined Realms: Book 1 was fully funded during it’s first week! It contains 10 all new pieces of fantasy artwork!

ok, that’s three really good pieces of news.  Also, you should totally head over to her Kickstarter page, and if you like what you see, put your  money where your mouth is and get yourself a copy of her book (and one of the print packs!).  If you can’t tell, I’m pretty excited about this.  I’ve been seeing Julie’s artwork here and there for a few years now, and it was always her images that pulled me in, asked me to trace the outlines, to triangulate where the person would be next so I could meet them there, to find something new in the piece every time I looked at it. Her artwork is full of movement and colors that stretch the spectrum, and characters that are yearning, reaching, and guiding. An opportunity to have some of her artwork in my home? To financially support her venture to create more of these visual anthems? Shut up and take my money.

Julie was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about Imagined Realms Book 1, and that there is so much more going on here than just a kickstarter about selling some artbooks.  Artwork can be and is so much more than just a cover on your book, frame on your wall, or a desktop background on your computer.  Let’s get to the discussion, shall we?

"Sun Shepherdess"

“Sun Shepherdess”

LRR: As I’m writing these interview questions, your Kickstarter has crashed through it’s first stretch goal of $20,000.  What made you decide to go the Kickstarter route for Imagined Realms, and do you have any advice for people looking to Kickstart a project?
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J.D.: Originally I was going to attempt to do it without the Kickstarter, and just take a chance with printing up a bunch of books and putting them up for sale. But that got progressively more cost prohibitive and risky, since I didn’t know how many books to get or how many people would want them. A kickstarter started to make more sense in terms of getting funding together. Plus, a Kickstarter campaign would let me gauge how much actual interest there was. I could print as many books as were ordered, rather than making a guess and hoping I didn’t print too many or too few. That said, setting up and running a Kickstarter has been a lot of work in itself, more than I’d even anticipated. I find myself just wishing it was done already so I could get on with things.

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My main piece of advice is that you really need to have a marketing and publicity plan. In my case, I have a modest following, and friends and industry connections who were able to help me out by spreading the word. I also got lucky getting features on major websites like Tor.com, TheMarySue.com, and io9.com. Some people have even bigger followings and do exceedingly well, and others don’t have enough of a reach yet and have a hard time gaining traction. Make sure you have a product people actually want, and a way to reach people who might want to buy it.

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"Scholars' Tower"

“Scholars’ Tower”

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This is the story of how a monster known as The Butcher came in existence. And it’s got a nice little hook at the beginning: big scary crazy guy walks into a bar, and treats his axe as if she’s a flesh and blood woman.  Good hook, followed by tight pacing, we’re off to good start!

All monsters start out as little boys, and as a youth Orsus always felt he was to blame that he couldn’t save his family. Conveniently, he grows up to be about seven feet tall, and he’s got the right combination of body strength and gullibility to be a basic gang thug. The fantasy narrative jumps back and forth in his life, from that horrible day in his childhood when his family was killed in front of him, to his employment with a criminal organization, to the loss of his wife, to his ordering of a slaughter at a border village, to his judgement day in front of the queen.

 

I think it’s great that tie-in fiction is showing up on the Hugo ballot, but in all the ways that matter, this story just didn’t work for me.

 

Orsus  will pretty much do anything to ensure he can be violent with little to no consequences, and the violence simply became too much for me at a certain point.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read plenty of violent fiction, and I’m usually okay with it, but part of being okay with ultraviolent is understanding *why* the character is doing what they’re doing. you’re buying in to the character’s mentality, sympathizing with them.  And i never bought in to Orsus, I never felt like I got inside his head enough to sympathize with what he does during the story.  Okay, yes, I understand that he blames himself for his family being killed, and that he blames himself for horrible things happening to his wife. But beyond that, there wasn’t any “there” there. The guy just didn’t have much of a personality and I didn’t find his story to be very compelling.  There had to be something else going on here that I was missing.

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Feeling lost and confused, I did some research. Turns out this is a tie in piece for the Warhammer 40K library.  Dan Wells has been into Warhammer for a long time, and had been invited to write an origin story for Orsus, a character who is a fan favorite. I’m sure if I was into Warhammer 40K, this story would thrill me. Now, if someone would just write a decent origin story for Liet Kynes and get it on the Hugo ballot, I can be one of those people cheering for a story that will have most readers scratching their heads in confusion.


2014 Hugo Awards

I reviewed some Hugo nominated stuff. Click here for the list.

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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.