the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for April 2013

the spirit thiefThe Spirit Thief, by Rachel Aaron

published in 2010

where I got it: the library

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The entire internet has been afire about Rachel Aaron’s Eli Monpress series for a while now, and it’s no secret I’ve a major weakness for thieves in fantasy environments, so how could I resist a story about the greatest thief ever?  The first volume wasn’t exactly what I expected, but surprises are always a good thing, right?

The infamous thief (and wizard!) Eli Monpress is certainly the focus of the story, but we learn about the world through Spiritualist Miranda Lyonette. She’s been sent to the Kingdom of Mellinor to keep Eli from stealing an important artifact.  Lucky for us, she’s rather unsuccessful in her mission, otherwise this would be a very short and rather un-fun book.

Upon her arrival at Mellinor, Miranda finds that Eli has completely ignored the artifact and has instead kidnapped King Henrith and is holding him for ransom.  Out of the woodwork steps the King’s brother, Prince Renaud, who claims the throne for himself and convinces everyone that Miranda is secretly working for Eli and against the kingdom.  As Miranda unravels what’s going on, she’ll have to choose which is more important: following the rules, or doing the right thing.

Miranda is a court-trained Spiritualist, which means she’s made binding agreements with the spirits she works with. She offers them physical protection and a portion of her own energy, and in turn she can use their magic upon request. It’s a very formal agreement, and she’d never think of using a spirit against its will, or hurting it in any way.  Wizards who go against their training, who take advantage of the strength of spirits, are known as enslavers, and should be destroyed at all costs.

Eli’s relationship with spirits is completely different. He doesn’t offer protective contracts with them, but he doesn’t force them to do anything either.  He just talks to them, almost as if they were just other people he was having a conversation with. He’s certainly not a spiritualist, nor is he an enslaver. The Spirit Court isn’t sure what to make of him.  And that’s just one reason why there’s a huge bounty on his head.  Eli Monpress, the man who steals everything that’s not nailed down, and when he wants something that’s nailed down, he convinces the nails to give him a hand.

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well, at least New To Me!

SAM_2674Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein. For those of you paying attention, yes, I already have a copy. But I wanted another one.

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I found a really nice newer printing, with some beautifully Frazetta-esque cover art. I had started listening to an audio version of this, but the audio I had (free download? sometimes you get what you pay for) just wasn’t working for me. Happy to have finally found a copy, regretting that I didn’t the other two Burroughs books they had.

Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon, by Spider Robinson. Never read any Spider Robinson. And how can I say no to something with that ridiculous of a title?

Plague Ship by Andre Norton. Speaking of things I can’t say no to. I got a kick out of the cover page that says Andre Norton writing as Andrew North.  The “about the author” page closes with”Miss Norton presently resides in Florida under the careful management of her feline associates.”

A Million Open Doors by John Barnes. I loved his earlier novel, Orbital Resonance, so why not give this one a try? It’s the beginning of a trilogy, I think.

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein.  A title I’ve heard about, but never actually seen a copy of. HAD to buy it! I like that it says “To Fritz Leiber” on the copyright page. this might be a first paperback printing. anyone know?

SAM_2696

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atrocityStrossThe Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross (The Laundry Files, book 1, also includes the novella The Concrete Jungle)

published in 2004

where I got it: purchased new (not in 2004. closer to last year)

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finally! I have finally read the first Laundry novel!  and learned two things: You can read these out of order and do just fine, and the first book is decent but not the best in the series. For fans of Stross’s Laundry series this is a must-read, and if you’re not a fan, start with the 2nd or 3rd  book in the series, work your way backwards, and then you’ll be a fan, so you’ll want to read it.

Bob Howard is not a hero. He doesn’t kick ass, he can’t keep his roommates from trashing the house, and cops are embarrassed if they have to work with him. Bob is your average IT professional, a super nerdy guy who spends his days checking the network for viruses, keeping spam out your e-mail, and avoiding his supervisor, which is totally okay because she’s an absolute bitch.  Bob’s problem is that he’s way too good at what he does. So good in fact, that he can’t help but get involved when things go to shit, especially when the jackass from accounting gets himself possessed by a Lovecraftian intelligence during a training class.

IT jokes? Lovecraftian horrors?  If you’re not into IT or Cthulhu, don’t worry, there’s no experience needed to enjoy The Laundry.  Everything is explained. For god sakes, these books are how I got into Cthulhu mythos in the first place! and what isn’t explained in easy to understand language is glossed over in purposely arcane and sometimes sarcastic infodumps.

The Atrocity Archives is where it all begins (well,  not where it all begins, but you know what I mean). We learn how Bob got “invited” to join the Laundry, his bachelor-esque life before Mo, and how many mainline supervisors he had to piss off to end up in Angleton’s office.  It looks like fantasy horror, but The Laundry books are really hard scifi thrillers. Mathematics are the name of the game here, where changing a variable gets you from pie are squared to Azathoth coming up your bathtub drain. If you’re the scientist who hits on which variable and what to change it to, you can expect a call from The Laundry.

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The other day I got to interview Gillian Philip, author of one of my favorite new novels, Firebrand.   I got talking on twitter with Seth MacGregor (the main character of Firebrand), and managed to convince him to answer a few interview questions too. He claims Gillian doesn’t let him have any fun, but he has got a weakness for twitter, Joss Whedon TV shows, modern conveniences, and finding trouble.

If you’re already a fan of Firebrand, go harass Seth on twitter. If not, learn what all the fuss is about by reading my interview with Gillian Philip, or my reaction to the book.

firebrand UK

Gillian never lets you do anything fun? I find that hard to believe. I also find it hard to believe she could stop you, if you really wanted to do something. I’ve never interviewed someone like you before. be gentle with me. 😉

Hi Andrea! Oh, Gillian’s such a control freak. At least she’d like to be, and she thinks she has a say in anything I do. Ha. Given what she puts me through, I think I deserve a bit of fun. And thank you for interviewing me. She-Who-Would-Like-To-Be-Obeyed has tried to make me promise I won’t flirt, but hey, I have given no oath, and all that.

Unlike many other Sithe, you can actually physically feel the veil, you can pull it and pinch it, hold it between your fingers. What does it feel like? you wouldn’t um, do anything to harm it, would you?

I’m absolutely not supposed to be able to do that, so this is between you and me, okay? I mean, the Sithe don’t burn witches, and they have a healthy respect for them, but… they tend not to be all that fond of them. So anyway, yes, I can feel the veil. It’s kind of… elusive. Sometimes it feels like very, very fine silk; sometimes it’s so fragile it’s more like mist. Or like mist would be if you could touch it, if that makes sense. It isn’t visible.

And no, I wouldn’t harm it even if I could. It’s too valuable as a defense. I am tempted to tweak it a little, just occasionally; like, say, if a gorgeous full-mortal blogger is asking me questions and I want to hold her attention.

But I can’t damage it, or tear it. There’s no-one on earth who can do that, even if the blasted thing is dying all by itself.

Can you tell me more about your water-horse? the first time you met it (her? him?) was one of my favorite scenes in Firebrand.

Ah, thank you! That is one of my favourite memories, I’ve got to say. I think I fell in love with that kelpie before I’d even seen it. It’s pretty hard to master a water-horse; once you get on one you can’t get off, and they’ll only answer to the right bridle and the right mind, so I was kind of proud I didn’t get killed.

My blue roan isn’t exactly Champion the Wonder Horse; if he found a kid in trouble he’d probably eat it instead of going for help. He’s voracious and he’s violent – great in a fight – and he can be fickle. He’s not as obedient as Conal’s horse, and I wouldn’t trust him with puppies or small children. But he’s loyal to the death and I love him.

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firebrandSome of you may remember a few weeks ago when a book called Firebrand blew my mind, gave me a band-aid, then blew my mind again.  I’ve pretty much been twitter-stalking Gillian Philip ever since, harassing her friends, following people who follow her, and generally being a pest. I was such a pain in the rear that Gillian agreed to let me interview her and ask all sorts of personal questions about her writing habits, her favorite foods, other projects she’s involved in. Even better, she let me interview a very close, um, friend of hers. That interview will be posted a little later this week, and trust me, you’ll like it.

Since I can’t even coherently talk about Ms. Philip or Firebrand without turning into a blathering fool, here’s some official bio type stuff:

Gillian Philip was born in Glasgow, lived for twelve years in Barbados, and now lives in the north of Scotland with her husband, twin children, three dogs, two sociopathic cats, a slayer hamster, three chickens and a lot of nervous fish. She’s the author of The Darke Academy series (writing as Gabriella Poole), the  Survivors series, (as part of the Erin Hunter writing team), a long list of children’s and young adult stand alone novels, and the Rebel Angels dark fantasy series.  She’s been nominated for the David Gemmell Legend award, the Carnegie Medal, and been shortlisted for numerous other book awards.

Learn more at her website her twitter, and her facebook page.

Let’s get right to the interview!

Was there something that triggered you to write the Rebel Angels series? How did you develop the characters of Seth and Conal?

There were all kinds of triggers for this one. I always wanted to write a fantasy set in Scotland, and the faery myths seemed a good place to start (because believe it or not, when I started writing Rebel Angels, there were hardly any books about modern fae… so you can tell how long ago I started it…) The landscape where I live is just brimming with stories, and I’d get ideas practically every time I went for a walk. The very first spark came at a small but sinister loch, where I threw in a couple of teenagers and watched them vanish. (But only in my head, honest.) That was how lochs became my watergates between the worlds.

There are lots of places in the Highlands named after the Gaelic Sith – Schiehallion, Glenshee and so on – but I didn’t want to use the term Sith because of the Star Wars connotations. I compromised on Sithe, because they aren’t the Irish Sidhe (though they are related. I’d like to see one of those family get-togethers).

Seth and Conal kind of grew, organically. Seth started out as a villain, but he grabbed hold of the story (and my throat) and wouldn’t let go. And brothers have been fascinating since Cain and Abel, so there were so many games to play with them.

Our supernatural characters in Firebrand are violent fae, certainly not angels in the traditional sense. Why is it called the Rebel Angels series?

That came from a Highland myth that really appeals to me. The story (which varies from region to region) goes that when the Rebel Angels were thrown out of Heaven, the ones that fell in the sea became selkies, or seal people. The ones that got caught in the sky became the Northern Lights. And the ones that reached land became the faeries.

The opening scene of Firebrand is quite the hook. Did you always plan to open the book that way? (you can read an excerpt of Firebrand, which just happens to be that opening scene, here)

I did. Originally, that scene was all there was. I’d actually written Bloodstone first, before Firebrand, and Conal had made a throwaway remark – the way characters sometimes do – about something that had happened to him centuries before. I found I wanted to know more, so I started scribbling the backstory in a notebook. At first it was just that scene between Seth and Conal; before I knew where I was, I had pages and pages of notes. When it reached about five chapters, I gave in and wrote the whole novel.

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scourgeScourge of the Betrayer, by Jeff Salyards

published in 2012

where I got it: received review copy via the author (Thanks Jeff!)

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I read plenty of fantasy, but not much in the way of military fantasy, so Scourge of the Betrayer was more than a few steps outside of my comfort zone.    Young Arkamondos (he goes by Arki) is a trained scribe. Used to living in the city and recording the daily activities of bored merchants, Arki thinks he wants a more interesting gig. The Emperor has decreed that travelling bands of Syldoon Warriors must have a scribe, and our story begins when Arki finds himself hired by Captain Braylar Killcoin.

The rest of the troop make it no secret they don’t want Arki around, that they think he’s a worthless city boy, and a liability to their missions. The only member of the group who shows Arki any friendship is Lloi, a fingerless hedge-witch. She’s an outcast of her tribe, so she knows exactly what it’s like to be seen as an outsider.  Braylar might not come right out and say it, but he desperately needs someone to observe and witness what happens, just not for the reasons the Emperor thinks.

For a skinny little book, Scourge of the Betrayer touches on a ton of cool worldbuilding ideas.  Soul devouring weapons, the Godveil, Memory witches, Salyards has built himself a well populated playground to play in for future books in this series.  For this volume, he’s kept the worldbuilding very light, perhaps as a tease for the reader, and perhaps simply as a requirement of an action heavy novel that’s less than 300 pages long.

I was about out of my comfort zone as Arki was out of his.  The members of Braylar’s troop are very, very good at what they do. Highly trained, they know how to take orders with out question, set up weapons and ambushes, and generally kick tons of ass. Arki mentions on more than one occasion that it would take him years to learn all this. No wonder they see him as a liability.  Even if he manages not get himself killed in an ambush,  if he asks too many questions or connects too many dots, that might get him killed quicker. Braylar has found reason to kill more than one scribe these last few years – they observe too much, they ask too many questions.

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There’s a new trailer out for Star Trek Into Darkness.  It’s a pretty fucking epic trailer.

go watch it over at Wired.

Looks awesome, yeah?  i want to stand up and applaud after watching that.

but do these J.J. Abrams movies feel like Star Trek?

And does it matter?  Does Star Trek have, for lack of a better term, umami, that is or should be present in the J.J. Abrams films? and if yes, what is that particular flavor?

discuss.

 

I’ll go first. You know how a lot of people were annoyed with the X-Men prequel that came out a couple years ago? Long time fans said it didn’t jive with the cannon story line and ret-conned a bunch of stuff. my only experience with X-Men is the movies, so if characters and plotlines were changed from the comics I had no way of knowing.  The way Abrams is handling Star Trek makes me really sympathize with those X-Men fans.

I rewatched one of my favorite Doctor Who episodes the other night, “The Girl in the Fireplace”.  In this episode, The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey arrive in an abandoned spaceship. The crew are nowhere to be found but an immense amount of energy is being expended to do, well, something.  It’s discovered the different windows in the ship look into 18th century France and focus on the life of Reinette, soon be known as Madame de Pompadour.

Hello little girl! ehhm, what year is it?

Hello little girl! ehhm, what year is it?

When the Doctor first discovers the connection between the abandoned wreck and Reinette, she’s a little girl, maybe 7 years old, and she sees him through her fireplace.  They talk a moment, the connection is broken, and a few minutes later the Doctor is able to speak to her again. It’s been just minutes for him, but for Reinette it’s been weeks.  The Doctor saves her from a mechanical automaton that states it’s waiting for her to be completed.

The mystery of the episode is what happened to the crew of the ship? What’s with all these beautiful clockwork automatons who are planning to kill Reinette when she’s “complete”? And why in the world would a ship be obsessed with the life of Madame de Pompadour?

clockwork automatons may be totally creepy. . .

clockwork automatons may be totally creepy. . .

. . . but are in fact rather empty headed

. . . but are in fact rather empty headed

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garden of IDenIn the Garden of Iden, by Kage Baker

published in 1997

where I got it: library

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I’d read Kage Baker’s The Anvil of the World a while ago and loved it, but where to begin with the rest of her works? Why not start at the beginning, with her first novel, In the Garden of Iden?  Her first “Company” series book, In the Garden of Iden is told in a diary style by Mendoza, a young company operative who is reminiscing about her youth and her first mission.

Saved as a young girl from the Spanish Inquisition, Mendoza is recruited into The Company, a 24th century organization of time travel and artifact hunting. Instead of sending people or cyborgs back in time to collect specimens or change history, they send a few people back with all the technology, recruit “natives”, and offer them immortality and cyborg implants in exchange for being a Company operative.  It sounds gruesome, but Mendoza happily takes this over starving to death in an Inquisition prison. As a native, Mendoza knows the languages and the customs like the back of her hand.

Yes, this is a futuristic scifi  book that takes place one hundred percent in the 16th century. That’s pretty damn awesome when you think about it.   Remember Joss Whedon’s show Dollhouse?  Garden of Iden had a bit of that feel, with operatives being trained to act and roleplay and dress and walk in a certain way, except no hypnotizing or brain scans. All the operatives remember everything that happens to them with perfect clarity. And some of them have been working for The Company for centuries. All of a sudden that sounds awesome, and, uh, really creepy.

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Silence is golden you say?

How’s this for creepy science fiction in real life:  The anechoic chamber at Orfield Labratories is the quietest place on earth. So quiet you can hear your internal organs.  So quiet, people start to hallucinate after 30 minutes in the room.

The longest that anyone has survived in the ‘anechoic chamber’ at Orfield Laboratories in South Minneapolis is just 45 minutes.

It’s 99.99 per cent sound absorbent and holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s quietest place, but stay there too long and you may start hallucinating.”

Read the rest of the article here. It’s a quick article.

When hubby told me about this the other day, I immediately said “I wanna go!”.  he said people hallucinate there. Now I really, really want to go!

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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.