Mini-Review: The Unblemished by Conrad Williams

The Unblemished
Conrad Williams
Virgin, 2008 (trade)/ Earthling, 2006 (HC)

The blurb from

A blood-crazed lover of amputee victims.

A mother determined to protect her only daughter no matter the cost.

A serial killer who believes he is the rightful son and heir to a horrific, ancient dynasty.

And one dying man who must make a stand against a horde of vengeful monsters who knew the shadows of London before the city even had a name.

This Halloween, if they catch you, you will beg for death

If you think that sounds like a lot to be contained in the pages of one book then I absolutely agree.  Weighing in at 367 pages Conrad Williams manages to craft a dense, taught narrative that reads like some kind of feverish nightmare.  It is the type of book that renews my interest in the horror genre.

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Review: Steal Across the Sky by Nancy Kress

Steal Across the Sky

Nancy Kress

Tor, 2009

A true “what-if” tale Steal Across the Sky introduces a mysterious alien race that commited a great crime against humanity somewhere in the distant past.  Now the alien Atoners have set up shop on the moon and are calling for human “witnesses” to travel to distant planets.  The exact nature of what they’re supposed to see is unknown only that it will supposedly reveal the exact nature of the crimes the Atoners commited.

The witnesses are divided into groups of three to two planets per group.  One person witness on the surface of each world and one to stay in orbit and monitor things from above.  The book focuses, initially at least, on a select group of witnesses: Cam, Lucca and Soledad sent to witness on the planets Kular A and Kular B.  What they see and do there impacts their lives, and lives of humanity as a whole in profound ways.  Steal Across the Sky is a difficult book to discuss without going into specifics and without going anywhere near spoiler territory so  I’m going to be sticking to mostly generalities. 

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Review: The Stormcaller by Tom Lloyd

Stormcaller by Tom LloydThe Stormcaller

Tom Lloyd

Pyr, 2008

Tom Lloyd’s Stormcaller, the first book in the Twilight Reign series first saw publication in the U.K. in March….of 2006.  If my previous rants haven’t hammered home the disparity between the U.K. and American fantasy market maybe that will.  I don’t know.  Regardless The Stormcaller is a fascinating entry into the fantasy genre that sparkles with originality while at the same time paying homage to the works that have come before.  The story centers around Isak, a white-eye, a creature touched by the gods and gifted with superhuman strenght, speed, and other magical abilities but cursed with a quick temper.  Isak, as it turns out is the Chosen of Nartis, the hunter god and chosen deity of the Farlan people, and thus is heir to the enigmatic and powerful Lord Bahl.  But there are greater things afoot and Isak finds himself drawn into a web of prophecy and power.

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Retro-Review: Young Miles by Lois McMaster Bujold Miles

Lois McMaster Bujold

Baen, 2003

Since certain distractions have slowed my reading I decided to brush the accumulated dust off an older title and hopefully entice some new readers.

If I’m not mistaken Bujold ties Heinlein for the number of Hugo’s she has won.  She is a diverse writer dabbling in both fantasy and science-fiction and managing to invest each genre with its own unique style.  She is probably most well known Vorkosigan series featuring the energetic, and frequently trouble making Miles Vorkosigan.

While the series properly begins in Cordelia’s Honor, Young Miles is the first book (or couple of books since it is rightly a collection) to feature the series’ most well known and titular hero.  Born a mutant overly prone to fragility and sickness as a result of an attempt on his parent’s life  Miles must make his way through the harsh militaristic society of Barrayar.  A society that typically dealt with mutated children by killing them at birth.

Cursed with a fast metabolism Miles is an energetic character whose mind suffers none of deformations that his body does.  In fact it is his mind, and frequently his mouth, that gets him into trouble and it’s usually both that manage to extricate him from the same.

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Some thoughts on The Taint and short fiction in general

First off I should say that I am terrible at reading short fiction.  I don’t know what it is but I’ve never been good at it.  Reading short fiction feels like it exercises a whole different set of skills than long fiction and I’ve always found myself stalling, and eventually abandoning, anthologies and collections on a fairly frequent basis.  A few authors have managed to capture my imagination: Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Patricia A. McKillip, Charles de Lint and Neil Gaiman are the ones that come to mind.

Regardless the list of anthologies and collections I have abandoned is long and storied.  I don’t know how I can read an 800+ doorstop of an epic fantasy but fail so miserably at a story barely 10% of that length; but there it is none-the-less.  I bring this all up because I find reading The Taint and other Novellas falls strongly under the “really hard” category for me.   On the one hand I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far.  Despite my rabid and inexplicable enjoyment of Lovecraft’s work I have stayed far away from other “mythos” fiction.  Lumley’s collection marks my first forray into that area.  Both stories I’ve read so far have been interesting and, despite borrowing thematically and literally, from the fiction of Lovecraft manage to carry the author’s own voice.

The first story, “The Horror at Oakdeene” , as Lumley’s explanatory text reveals, is largely an amateur effort.  It isn’t without merit however and definitely shows promise.  It moves along at rather fast pace, faster than most of Lovecraft’s fiction at any rate, but at the same time lacks the archaic and weathered feel that lent Lovecraft’s fiction such an authentic and thus all the more terrifying feel.   It shows hints of Lumley’s own distinct tone but feels more often than not like a pale imitation of Lovecraft.

“Born of the Winds” is a much stronger work.  It is very much a take on Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” set amongst the wilds of the Canadian north.  Where Lovecraft’s epic novella uses the oppressive isolation of Antarctica to ferment a sense of terror and foreboding Lumley instead turns to the peoples, and their myths, of his setting as a source for the strangeness. The result is in the end a wholly original tale that combines the best of “The Call of Cthulhu” with “At the Mountains of Madness.”

Anyway I’m going to keep plugging away at the stories here.  This is one of those books where I’m glad I’m librarian and thus do not generate overdue fees on materials I’ve checked out!  Also, I absolutely love the cover art for this image but none my searching could come up with a title for the image.  It doesn’t look like Cthulhu and my inclination is that it depicts Dagon, but if anyone knows for certain I’d appreciate it.

New David Anthony Durham Cover

The cover art and description for David Anthony Durham’s sequel to Acacia, The Other Lands have been making the rounds today.  You can check both out over a Suvudu here.  Acacia was one of my favorite reads in 2007 and despite being well received in most corners never seemed to get quite as much attention as I think it deserved.  It is out in mass market now so don’t be give it a try, escpecially if you’re in the mood for quality epic fantasy with well-realized characters, intense political meneuvering, and a fascinating and unique world.  Durham is well-known as a writer of historical fiction (primarily Pride of Carthage) and the same high detail and lyric storytelling indicitive of that genre work equally as well in a fantasy setting.

Something Vaguely Resembling a Review of New Moon

New Moon by Stephanie MeyerNew Moon picks up several months after Twilight with Bella and Edward starting their senior year of high school.  It isn’t long into the book before an incident at the Cullen’s house reminds Edward that he is a vampire so in his century-old wisdom decides the best thing to do is abandon Bella and run away.  Bella is, it turns out, completely codependent and has a mental breakdown as a result.  The conflict of the novel stems from there as Bella struggles to come to terms with Edward’s departure by avoiding the topic completely then abandoning that tactic and latches onto another overtly-male-though-less-androgynous-but-still-beautiful character Jacob Black.  That encapsulated plot might sound harsh but here’s the kicker: a kind of liked it.

Wait!  Don’t go!  Let me at least explain myself!

Starting New Moon was hard.  Really hard.  I honestly didn’t really want to read it but being I librarian investigating, or at least making an attempt to understand, reading habits is part of the job.  Not everyone likes what I read and I don’t like what everyone else reads but I still need to be able to recommend books.  As a participant in and observer of contemporary pop-culture I felt an obligation to investigate the phenomenon of Stephanie Myers’ Twilight series.  Despite both of those very academic reasons for starting this journey I still struggled mightily in sitting down and getting started.  My mind kept thinking of all the great genre fiction I could be reading I even put the book down with intent of finding another choice.

Then something happened….

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Review: The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks

The Way of Shadows by Brent WeeksThe Way of Shadows

Brent Weeks

Orbit, 2008

2008 may have been a banner year for Orbit.  They released an impressive number of fantasy mass-markets (not not mention an impressive number of other quality titles in hardcover and trade) featuring new or newish (at least stateside) authors like Karen Miller, Russel Kirkpatrick, and of course Brent Weeks.   Other bloggers/reviewers have spoken well of Weeks’ Night Angel trilogy and I’m here to report that it looks well deserved.  The Way of Shadows is a dark swords and sorcery action fantasy with memorable characters and fantastic pacing.  Read on for more…

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Review: Fathom by Cherie Priest

Fathom by Cherie PriestFathom

Cherie Priest

Tor, 2008

Cherie Priest is an author better known for Southern Gothic fiction and, despite its Florida locale, Fathom is a slight deviation from that area. Fathom certainly makes use of Priest’s familiarity with that genre but places more emphasis on the fantastic elements and overarching plot than on the setting and atmosphere of the story.  In essence Priest trades elements of horror for elements of the fantastic to craft a story more in vein with Charles de Lint than say Edgar Allan Poe.  Read on for more…

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Razer, gaming hardware to watch!

Back in August I attended a panel on PC hardware.  One of the panelists, Razer’s Robert Krakoff, had some absolutely fascinating things to say about PC hardware especially as it pertains to HIDs.  He was an absolutely fascinating speaker to listen to and, where many current peripheral developers remains ensconsed behind corporate structures, Razer’s public face and customer laison is the company’s co-founder.  They are a interesting company and while I’ve yet to own a Razer product they more I hear from Krakoff the more I think that my next mouse/keyboard might not becoming from Logitech.

The reason I bring this up is a great interview with Krakoff is up over at DriverHeaven.  Krakoff has a mad scientists like vision for the company that I hope one day (maybe one day far in the future, but one day none-the-less) comes to pass because the benefits for gamers would likely be huge.  Anyway, when asked about the future of gaming peripherals Krakoff responded thusly:

Science has already made a rudimentary game that can read minds (or more accurately, measure concentration), through an implant that gives basic functionality of operating a computer to a quadriplegic, and another “implant” that helps a paraplegic to walk.

Were mapping the entire brain out, right down to the individual neurons, in an attempt to emulate intelligence from its source. This will be an important step forward in learning how the brain functions. Once we can harness the full power of reading minds then we will be able to tap into the brain directly, and create a two-way stream.

Suppose that I can scan your brain and nervous system with an advanced scanning technology at very high resolution, high band-width magnetic resonance imaging and ascertain all of the salient information processes and then download that information to a suitably advanced neural computer.

If my personal computer is a neural net of simulated neurons made of electronic stuff rather than human stuff, the version of you in my computer will run about a million times faster. Can you begin to see the possibilities of the future of game development and gaming?

I highly recommend you check out the rest of the interview. Keep your eye on Razer they have some great products coming up that diversify their product-line quite a bit. The interview is here.