Friday, December 31, 2010

Trin's Best of 2010

2010 was a year of mostly mediocre books for me, so I was hard-pressed to choose at least 4 that were really good enough to be worthy of the 'best of 2010' title. Additionally, only a couple of books I've read this year were actually 2010 releases, and I've reviewed only two or three of them. Oh well.

So, here's my best of '10 list, in no particular order:

The Separation (2002) by Christopher Priest

What can I say? It blew my mind. I've since read The Affirmation and I had a hard time deciding which one of the two was better. Priest's unreliable narrators are simply awesome.

(Here you can read what Thrinidir thought about The Separation)

The Forest of Hands and Teeth (2009) by Carrie Ryan

The one book on this list that I've actually reviewed :) I put it on this list partly because it really was one of the best books I've read this year, but also the most surprising one (in terms of quality).

You can read my review of Forest of Hands and Teeth here.

The Long Price Quartet (2006-2009) by Daniel Abraham

Definitely one of the best fantasy series I've read lately. I admit that I've not yet read the last book, but the first three were really good - and, which was even better, the quality went up with every next book (instead of down, as it so often happens). I honestly liked all of it - the setting, the characters, the plot.

(2008) by Ursula Le Guin

This was my last (finished) read of 2010. I heard a lot of praise for Lavinia, but I hardly imagined that it will be that good. It was really nice, finishing a year of mostly unimpressive books with an unexpectedly good one.

Lavinia will be reviewed here; I'll probably put the review online next week.

Biggest Disappointments

Empress by Karen Miller. First book I was unable to finish in a long, long time, partly because the plot was going nowhere, partly because the protagonist was so incredibly annoying.
The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan. After the surprisingly good first installment in the series, I expected something equally good from the second book, but got a lukewarm plot and boring protagonist instead.

Books I expect most in 2011:

The Islanders by Christopher Priest -this will be his first novel in a long time and I'm curious what it will bring.
The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss - I liked The Name of the Wind, but this book will probably decide whether I'll keep following the series or not.
The Cold Commands by Richard Morgan - I got the impression that not many people liked The Steel Remains, but I actually enjoyed it. I just hope that the sequel will be as good or better.
His Father's Fist by Matthew Stover - Yay! ^^ After Blade of Tyshalle, which was great, I found Caine Black Knife a bit disappointing, mostly because it was very short and ended, if I remember correctly, with a huge cliffhanger. Naturally, my hopes for His Father's Fist are high.

Last, but not least, let me wish you all a happy 2011 :) May it bring as much joy as possible.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Freda Warrington - Midsummer Night (Book Review)


Reasons for reading: I got a review copy from the publisher (Tor)

Gil wants to escape from the world, so she books a cottage on an estate belonging to Lady Juliana Flagg, a famous sculptor. Much to Gil's dismay, Lady Flagg's annual art school is taking place on the same estate, meaning Gil won't be as far from other people as she wanted to be. Despite her best efforts to stay away from other people, she stumbles onto a path into Otherworld, the realm of faeries, and forms a new friendship. And while friendship is going swimmingly, the Otherworld only brings trouble – first of them being a young boy who seeks shelter in Gil's cottage.
(This is what Midsummer Nights is actually about. I don't know who wrote the original summary, but it is full of weird mistakes.)

Midsummer Night is a second part of the Aetherial Tales series (first part being Elfland), but even though I didn't read Elfland, I didn't feel like I've missed anything – Midsummer Night can easily be read as a standalone novel. It's been a long time since I've read an urban fantasy book that dealt with the fairy world, and even those I've read last were all YA books, so I was happy to see one written for adults. Luckily, Midsummer Night didn't disappoint.

One of the first things I've noticed was that the troubled protagonist was very well written. Gill, suffering from PSD, is a perfect example of the 'show, not tell' principle - staying in character throughout the first few chapters, being paranoid and filled with irrational guilt, feeling asocial and broken. Her thoughts are full of pessimism, she doesn't know how to act with other people and everything she sees reminds her of the event that caused it all:

“What was it like, to be part of such a clique? Dangerous, maybe. You could find yourself suddenly rejected by the pack, alone and broken.”

Later on, though, Gill gets over her fears and negative feelings; she becomes much more normal and likeable, but also less interesting as a character. The plot of Midsummer Night is pretty generic, but since the book is well-written, I didn't mind it that much. It seemed to me that Warrington was not really trying to give us anything new or unique, but rather trying to write a decent genre book. I was also happy to see that she was aware that the whole 'I accidentally wandered into Otherworld' thing has been around for ages and therefore didn't overdo it – instead of dwelling on Gill's disbelief for a chapter or two, Warrington moves on with the story instead.

Sadly, after the first few chapters, the plot deteriorates a bit – it becomes a very typical urban fantasy plot, with protagonists moving to and fro between Earth and Otherworld and some romance tossed in for good measure. This could become boring very quickly, especially as the Otherworld parts were one of the least interesting in the book, but luckily, the parallel plotline saves the day – dealing with Lady Juliana Flagg's history, it was much more entertaining; I would actually be perfectly happy even if the Otherworld parts (or most of them) had not even been in the book.

While Midsummer Night was not one of my favourite books of 2010, it certainly was one of the best urban fantasy books I've read lately. Warrington obviously knows how to write and if the plot is a bit generic, the very lifelike characters and the family secrets more than make up for it. All in all – enjoyable.


They say it's better late than never: merry Christmas, everyone!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ayn Rand - Atlas Shrugged (Book Review)


Reasons for reading: I've heard that it's a good post-apocalyptic book.

Dagny is a confident young executive of Taggart Transcontinental, a railroad company which is but a shade of its former glory due to difficult economic situation and incompetent leadership. While Dagny is determined not to let her company sink, other successful bussinessmen crumble under the pressure of the government and unfair competition. To save her company, Dagny has to take a leap of faith - she enters a bussiness partnership with Hank Rearden, the inventor of the supposedly brilliant, but as of yet untested new alloy, Rearden Metal.

As soon as I've read the first few chapters, I realised that Atlas Shrugged is definitely not a post-apocalyptic book. I was nevertheless captivated by Rand's prose, the plot was interesting and protagonist likeable, if a bit of an implausible character. It seemed to me that Atlas Shrugged will probably be a very good read – until I began reading the second part of the book.

While the first part is more plot-oriented, Rand uses the second part of Atlas Shrugged to present her dystopian future to the reader. As promised in the blurbs and various reviews, her ideas and world-views are unusual, sometimes even radical, but what bothered me most were the inconsistencies and improbabilities.

In Rand's dystopian world, law works in weird ways. There seems to be no constitution that would interfere with the new laws that are constantly being passed; the latter just spring into being with incredible ease that doesn't seem very realistic. The book is set in a time of changes, yet there is no explanation whatsoever of how the present situation came to be. That, too, nagged at me while I was reading, especially as the situation mentioned is very unlikely by itself – in every single major industry, there is but one competent person on whom absolutely everyone relies. Of course, this makes for a very nice setting for the point Rand wants to prove (remove the competent people and the economy collapses), but it still looks like a very implausible background to build your story on, not to mention that the lack of explanation is somewhat surprising, since Rand obviously did lot of research on various subjects such as the organisation and operation of railway system and various economical situations.

The society depicted in Atlas Shrugged is no less strange. The politicians, as far as I've managed to gather, don't have an agenda; their only goal seems to be gathering as many votes as they can, but it seems as they only want to get elected for the power the position would bring them. They let various committees, cobbled together from random wealthy businessmen, decide on matters such as radical changes in the country's economy; at least the politicians still have some power over deciding who gets what materials and, sometimes, which laws will be passed. I couldn't help but wonder – how come? Why is quality of service of no concern to anyone and what happened to consulting with professionals when deciding on important matters?

The general public doesn't seem to matter in Atlas Shrugged; even though they're the ones voting, the big fish rarely think about them. There's no mention of the role they play in supporting the economy or how important they are when it comes to selling non-essential products like cosmetics, toys … – the businessmen in Atlas Shrugged deal mostly in steel, transport, oil..., things that always sell and rarely get out of fashion, but what about the industries that depend on the fickle customers? The workers in various plants are pretty much the only mention of 'the people' and they are mostly referred to as if they were simply living, breathing tools without personality. The curious thing is that Rand's main characters never think of exploiting the workers, even though they're all about profit; despite the desperate situation, no-one seems to think of employing the minimum number of workers for a minimum wage or moving the industry to other countries, where the price of labour would be lower. In fact, other countries are mentioned only once or twice in the whole book (there's a mention of a trade with Germany and a Danish pirate); import and export seem to be unimportant or non-existent.

The capitalists, who are the true protagonists of Atlas Shrugged, are the most curious lot in the book. Rayn distinguishes two kinds of capitalists, successful and unsuccessful ones. The former are smart, fair and honourable, while the latter are spoiled, corrupt and college-educated (despite being college-educated herself, Rayn presents it as a bad thing). They are also running the business only because they've inherited it, or because everyone else is doing it, whereas the 'good guys' do it because they love their work. What struck me as really odd was that those capitalists, competent and incompetent alike, have no power whatsoever. Of course, the 'bad guys' all have friends in high places (what kind of bad guys would they be if they didn't have any?) but still, I'd really like to know how it is possible to run a very successful business and at the same time have no power at all.

What seems perhaps most implausible is how the 'good guys' all agree in their world-views, beliefs and virtues, so they can relate perfectly to each other and are as unified as they can be. I don't think such a thing would be possible in the real world – real people are too different to each other, they have different upbringings and convictions, so this Rand's clique of competent businessmen is yet another implausibility for the list. It is same with the immense success they have all achieved through hard work and use of wits and therefore proved that they are able businessmen. Ironically, it is Rand herself who mentions other people rising through incompetence and timid personality, so it's all a bit of a mess – success proves that someone is competent, but not when incompetent people are successful? This and other, similar contradictions, leave the reader confused and hardly add to the reading experience.

In general, it's clear that Rand sees her version of capitalism (not the dystopian one the book is set in but the one her protagonists keep talking about) as the ultimate world order and tries to prove that by presenting us with a dystopia where the last of the 'good guys' try to succeed against the prevailing incompetence. The problem, though, is that it's very hard for a reader to distinguish between the good and the bad without Rand explaining which is which. Judging a character's competence by success is no good, as I've mentioned before, and it's the same with their ability to keep the company up and running (in fact, the 'bad guys' are even better at this than the 'good guys'). So, a 'good guy' must be both successful and able to prevent his company from collapse while not pulling any strings, being a fair boss and not selling products by deceiving people. It sure sounds nice, but not very profitable – and Rand's capitalists, logically, value profit above all else, not to mention that no profits probably means no success.

Then, in the third part of the book, Rand depicts the 'good guys' not only as good businessmen but also as brilliant at anything they decide to do, from fishing and farming to sewing and building motors, when they decide to form a self-sustaining community away from civilisation. Again, Rand doesn't explain how a handful of people manages to produce their own paper, wine, cigarettes, ceramics, paints and all kinds of cloth (all high-quality products, of course) and mine gold and iron, neither we get to see how can all those natural resources be available in such a small area. I know that Rand's idyllic valley was meant to depict an idyllic capitalist society, but yet again, the sheer implausibility of it ruined most of it for me.

There were some other convictions presented in Atlas Shrugged that bothered me, such as that the poor are poor because they are either stupid or not trying hard enough (I wonder whether they knew the term 'cultural deprivation' in 50's?) and a fervent rant about how communism is the greatest evil possible. As for Rand's style – her prose is wonderful but most of the dialogues are very long-winded, repetitive and incredibly boring, with Jon Galt's 60-page monologue taking the prize (it is not only long and boring but also tells the reader nothing that hasn't been said or thought at some previous point in the book).

So, what can I say? Atlas Shrugged starts off nicely, but is sadly reduced to beautifully written propaganda after the first part of the book – and as much as I enjoyed Rand's prose, I really dislike reading propaganda. My initial excitement about Rand not being afraid to write about economy and its mechanisms gave way to disappointment as I saw that she doesn't really provide any plausible explanation of her imaginary society's foundations, probably because there are none. Atlas Shrugged did give me some food for thought, if mostly in form of me spotting the implausibilities, but as far as works of speculative fiction go, I wouldn't call it one of the more enjoyable ones.

N/A (I'd give it a 5 for prose, a 2,5 for plot and a 0 for the dialogues)


The longest review I've ever written! :) Also, sorry for not updating in quite a while, I was re-reading ASOIAF and not writing any new reviews.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Jaclyn Moriarty - Dreaming of Amelia (Book Review)


When Riley and Amelia transfer to Ashbury High School, they immediately capture everybody's attention and become two of the most popular students. Theirs is, however, not the only mystery of Ashbury High – between all the schoolwork, secret crushes and upcoming HSC (High School Certificate) exams arise the rumours of a ghost that haunts the hallways.

About a month or two ago, I took a short break from epic fantasy – after I read a book and a half of Malazan, I really needed something different, something a bit lighter in style and topic. Around that time, I also noticed Ana's review of Dreaming of Amelia (called The Ghosts of Ashbury High in the US), and decided to give it a try.

At first, I found Dreaming of Amelia very intriguing – the many POV's (Riley, Emily, Lydia, Toby …) are presented to us via an intertextual narrative that uses essays, e-mail correspondence, meeting minutes … to convey the story. It creates the impression that the reader is discovering the story through someone's research on the events that are described and also creates a very plausible high-school atmosphere.

By the time you get to know the characters better, however, the effect of the narrative wears off and the novel gets a bit annoying. I could relate to neither of the characters - Lyda is a spoiled girl with detached parents, Riley thinks that he and Amelia are superior to other students because neither of them comes from a rich family, Emily is a drama queen who likes to throw 'big' words around her essays and is unable to spell words such as 'annihilate', and Toby's essays are mostly telling the story of an Irish convict named Tom Kincaid who lived in New South Wales in early 19th century. This last narrative is actually very interesting, more so than the others, but it does nothing to keep the reader's attention on the main plot, which mostly revolves about how popular Riley and Amelia are and how they excel at everything they do and a ghost that just might be real but probably isn't.

I'm not really sure why I pressed on, but I'm glad that I did. Both the characters and the plot develop after the initial standstill – Em gets a grip on herself and proves that she's more than just a silly girl, Riley and Amelia get friendlier, the secret of the ghost is solved … I found it very nice how all the side plots (Ashbury ghost, Tom the convict) found their epilogue as well as got tied to the main plot. I'm not used to endings where all the loose ends are tied up, but it was really nice to see one of those for a change; it gives the reader a nice feeling of completion at seeing everything wrap up so nicely.

Dreaming of Amelia is not one of those YA books that appeal to readers of all ages; it's clearly aimed at a younger audience. This gave me some problems as I didn't really care about the characters or their (mostly very typical) adolescent problems. I can still say, however, that Dreaming of Amelia was just what I needed - a sweet, undemanding read to pass my time. I just wish I discovered it earlier – I bet my 14 year old self would love it.
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Just deleted >9000 of spam posts. Fun fact: the spambots seem to be drawn to my review of James Enge's Blood of Ambrose :D At least the blog is clean now ^^

Monday, November 1, 2010

World Fantasy Award 2010

The World Fantasy Convention 2010 was held on the Weekend of October 28-31 in Columbus, Ohio.
WINNERS of the Life Achievement Award

Brian Lumley
Terry Pratchett
Peter Straub

Blood of Ambrose by James Enge (Pyr)
The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan (Roc)
The City & The City by China Miéville (Macmillan UK / Del Rey) winner
Finch by Jeff VanderMeer (Underland Press)
In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield (Jonathan Cape UK/Del Rey)

The Women of Nell Gwynne's, Kage Baker, Subterranean Press
"I Needs Must Part, the Policeman Said," Richard Bowes, December 2009 F&SF
"The Lion's Den," Steve Duffy, Nemonymous Nine: Cern Zoo
The Night Cache , Andy Duncan, PS Publishing
"Sea-Hearts," Margo Lanagan, X 6, coeur de lion publishing winner
"Everland," Paul Witcover, Everland and Other Stories, PS Publishing
Short Story

"The Pelican Bar," Karen Joy Fowler, Eclipse Three, Night Shade Books winner
"A Journal of Certain Events of Scientific Interest from the First Survey Voyage of the Southern Waters by HMS Ocelot, As Observed by Professor Thaddeus Boswell, DPhil, MSc, or, A Lullaby", Helen Keeble, June 2009 Strange Horizons
"Singing on a Star," Ellen Klages, Firebirds Soaring, Firebird
"The Persistence of Memory, or This Space for Sale " Paul Park, Postscripts 20/21: Edison 's Frankenstein , PS Publishing
"In Hiding," R.B. Russell, Putting the Pieces in Place, Ex Occidente Press
"Light on the Water," Genevieve Valentine, October 2009 Fantasy Magazine
You can peruse all of the nominees and the winners on the official World Fantasy Award site.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Carrie Ryan - The Dead-Tossed Waves (Book Review)

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Gabry lives a peaceful life in the town of Vista, helping her mother man the lighthouse, never even thinking of setting a foot outside city limits. But when her best friend Cira invites her to explore the nearby amusement park ruins, Gabry can't refuse, not if she doesn't want Cira's cute brother, Cathcher, think that she's a coward. As they cross the fence and find themselves in the forbidden territory, Gabry and Catcher are getting along really well … until the group is surprised by the Unconsecrated.

After reading two of her books, I think I can safely say that beginnings are clearly not Ryan's forte – they always seem a bit too familiar. The beginning of The Forest of Hands and Teeth reminded me of The Village, and the one in The Dead-Tossed Waves could be its long lost twin brother. The protagonist is, again, a teenager, which was a huge disappointment in itself, since I was hoping for an older, more mature Mary. Instead, we get Gabry, a shy girl who doesn't like doing any of the forbidden things her peers like – for example, climbing over the town fences. We soon learn that Mary is still around, that she is, in fact, Gabry's mother, but we don't really see much of her.

What bothers me about Gabry is that she is predictable, which makes her a bit boring. Most of the time, she's either feeling guilty about something (usually for all the wrong reasons) or is being a bit of a drama queen, all the while expressing her feelings in great detail, with more than just a bit of pathos. i.e.: [minor spoiler]

All the times I wondered about my mother. When I tried to remember her voice and her smell. When I felt empty and wrong for having forgotten her.” (pg. 306)

In fact, this was completely new for me; after Gabry found out that Mary is not her real mother, she surely spent lot of time fussing over how Mary never told her the truth, but never mentioned anything about trying to remember her real mother or 'feeling wrong for having forgotten her'. [end of spoiler]

Sometimes, however, there is a surprising lack of reaction from her. [another spoiler] When she kills someone in self-defence, there are no feelings of guilt, no nightmares or anything.

I knew I killed him and yet hearing it from someone else – knowing it for sure – makes it somehow different. I realise then that there's a difference between the possibility of hope – the idea of things we can never know – and the starkness of reality. The weight of knowledge.” (pg. 213)

After that, Gabry spends no more thoughts on the incident. [end of spoiler]

As in Forest of Hands and Teeth, characters other than the protagonist are reduced to archetypes. There's Mary, the mother who gives advice and serves as a role model, Cira, the best friend, Catcher, the boy Gabry was in love with before she first left Vista, and Elias, the boy she's in love after she leaves Vista. Gabrielle's dilemmas about who she was and who she is now, complete with the two guys she is/was in love with, reminded me a bit of Scott Westerfeld's Pretties, where the protagonist struggles with similar questions.

As mentioned before, Gabry's reactions can be a bit unusual regarding the situation given. When some of her acquaintances die and the others, including her best friend, are to be exiled, Gabry doesn't seem very shocked by the deaths but is very concerned about how she ran away and left her peers alone with Mudo (aka Unconsecrated aka zombies), even though they don't seem to be friends of hers and she couldn't do much to help them either way. [minor spoiler] When Mary, on the other hand, tells Gabry that she's in fact not her biological mother, Gabry throws a fit about her being someone else's daughter and Mary being selfish. Even worse, she keeps being a drama queen about it, thinking about how Gabry is not her real name and how Mary is not her real mother.[end of spoiler] She also has some very unconvincing issues with being courageous – she is too afraid to follow Mary into the Forest but gladly and without much fear returns to zombie-infested wastelands to see a boy she likes, despite the danger.

Where Mary was atypical but likeable, Gabrielle is the typical 'good girl' who always does the right thing, but I still found it hard to sympathise with her. Her problems mostly seemed overblown to me; she made so much drama about every little thing that I found it hard to feel for her when she talked about some more serious problems, using the exact same tone.

I have no problem with books that are mostly character-driven, as The Dead-Tossed Waves certainly is, but they tend do be very hit and miss, especially since everything depends on the protagonist and how well the reader likes him/her. The Forest of Hands and Teeth was really good mostly because Mary was an interesting, refreshing character. Sadly, Gabrielle is not such a character – we've seen her type many times before. Since the plot backing her up has some problems with being predictable, and, at times, corny, The Dead-Tossed Waves is a huge disappointment for me. The book in itself is not so bad, but it doesn't even come near to living up to it predecessor.



Related posts:
-Trin's review of The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Karen Miller - Empress (Book Review)


I bought Empress mainly because I enjoyed Karen Miller's Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology and hoped to get something similar – flowing style, predictable but intriguing plot, likeable characters. Wrong. Empress is nothing like that, but sadly, that's nothing positive.

The beginning promises a lot – the protagonist, Hekat, is a young girl, born and raised in 'the savage North' where she, as a female child, is not even worth to be named and is only good to be sold as a slave. When that happens, however, Hekat's potential for beauty (ant thus a high price) brings her comfortable living, education and above all, a new-found confidence.

Hekat's personality and behaviour are a bit hard to explain. It's only logical that she bathes in the attention she is suddenly receiving, and she is stubborn by nature, but there are little to no doubts or fears born of her earlier life. She finds her confidence in being 'precious and beautiful', but when she learns that she is only precious because she will undoubtedly fetch a high price as a slave (and is therefore only good for her beauty), her faith in herself is not shattered. She escapes from her masters, decides mid-escape that she is god-chosen, and sacrifices her beauty so she would not be easily recognised. Hekat suddenly doesn't need her physical beauty to feel 'precious and beautiful'; she substitutes it with her connection to the god in the same moment she realises that she is 'in the god's eye'. It's all too rational, swift and unconvincing – Hekat has no second thoughts, her faith is absolute and despite everything that happened, she still feels precious and beautiful.

After that, the quality of the plot seems to deteriorate. Hekat doesn't grow as a character, she just gets more and more annoying. Sadly, she's the protagonist, so not even the more likeable characters such as Vortka and Zandakar can make the novel more enjoyable. I found Hekat more annoying than even Catelyn in ASOIAF (who is, for me, a synonym for an annoying character) – where Catelyn was whiny and overprotective, Hekat keeps repeating that she is precious and beautiful and likes to think that she is the smartest, the best and the most beloved of god. She also dislikes most of the people around her with the exception of her son, of whom she is obsessively overprotective.

I gave up on Empress on page 430. Maybe if the book were a bit shorter I could fight my way through it but as it is, I felt that for every interesting, plot-oriented page, there were three pages of Hekat being an annoying, unlikeable character. It also seemed to me that the book was getting worse, not better, so I saw no point in reading on. It's too bad – the book really has potential, but it got lost somewhere along the way.

DNF (did not finish)


Related posts:
Trin's review of Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology

My first DNF review! I was in a bit of a dilemma whether to post it or not, but in the end, I decided to post it anyway.
Also, sorry for not updating in such a long time! I was busy passing the last of my exams for this year and looking for a roommate. Now that both is taken care of, I can focus more on reading and reviewing.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

In the Limelight: Paul Kearney (take two)


I've been hooked on Kearney from the moment I've read "The Mark of Ran" (first book in the - as of now yet - unfinished The Sea Beggars Trilogy). "Hawkwood and the Kings" and "Century of the Soldier" are the first and the second omnibus editions that contain all five volumes of Kearney's classic and long out of print Monarchies of God series. I'm really keen on reading them as soon as possible but I'm currently involved with another behemoth - "Ash: A Secret History" (Amazon).

If you want to find out more about Kearney and his work I recommend you read our reviews of The Mark of Ran, (Book One of The Sea beggars), This Forsaken Earth (Book Two of The Sea Beggars) or/and The Ten Thousand.

If you need more information on Monarchies of God series you can read through this dedicated thread on A Song of Ice and Fire forums or you can read the reviews on the series from the biggest Kearney advocator I know and who also piqued my interest for the author: Wertzone's review of the first and the second omnibus.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

2010 Hugo Award Winners

2009 Hugo Award Winners were presented at Aussiecon 4, in Melbourne, Australia, which was held from August 2-6, 2010.

The Winners:

  • Best Novel (TIE!): The City & The City, China Miéville and The Windup Girl, Paolo Bacigalupi China Miéville
  • Best Novella: “Palimpsest”, Charles Stross
  • Best Novelette: “The Island”, Peter Watts
  • Best Short Story: “Bridesicle”, Will McIntosh
  • The John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Seanan McGuire
Congratulations to all the winners!

source (where you can find other Winners & Nominees as well): The Hugo Awards

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Carrie Ryan - The Forest of Hands and Teeth (Book Review)

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Zombie apocalypse came and went, but generations later, there is still a group of survivors left – not that zombies are gone, though. Mary is a teenager growing up behind well-guarded fences in the middle of Forest of Hands and Teeth. Her village, run by the Sisterhood, is in constant danger of being overwhelmed, but Mary has other problems: the boy she fancies decided to marry her best friend and her mother just got bitten by one of the Unconsecrated.

When I first heard about The Forest of Hands and Teeth, I was all 'Yay, another post-apocalyptic book!' and was eager to see how this particular zombie apocalypse turned out. The beginning was not what I expected, though - the setting is interesting, but the world of Forest of Hands and Teeth only works if you don't think about it too much. The zombies (or the Unconsecrated, as Mary calls them) are presented as if they were an unstoppable force of nature, even though it's not clear where they all even came from, seeing how it's been generations since the original outbreak, and they seem to be able to swarm even the most prepared villages. People from Mary's village also seem to have a habit of wandering too near the fences, there seems to be an unlimited amount of fence material and the more I read about how the village works, the more similar everything seemed to The Village. Luckily, this village is not the main focus of the book, but instead only provides a background for the protagonist's various problems and dilemmas.

Mary is a typical teenager – stubborn, a bit naïve and capricious. This was why I had a hard time deciding whether Forest of Hands and Teeth is a YA book or not, because she, despite her age, is also a very non-typical YA character, mostly because not only she's far from perfect, I also find her very hard to empathise with. She rarely speaks her mind and abides by the norms of the society she's trapped in, even though she despises them; any rule-breaking she does seems coincidental. She is quick to notice other people's failings, slow to realise her own and most of the time completely passive. Even though she mentions all kinds of sacrifices she's willing to make, those, too, would require only minimal participation from her (for example, agreeing to a 'scandalous' proposal, but not voicing it). I actually found all that pretty refreshing – I'm used to YA protagonists who are rebellious, active, and all in all the person most teenage readers would love to be. I can't imagine that many teenagers would want to be Mary, but she does strike me as a pretty realistic character.

The other Mary's personality trait that I found atypical was her inability to be satisfied with anything that doesn't go according to her various daydreams. She is unhappy with a boy who fell in love with her because he is not 'the one', and never gives him a chance to prove himself; when she finally gets to be with the boy she supposedly loves, she quickly gets bored and starts longing to fulfill her long-time wish to see the ocean. Where a more typical YA character would realise (probably with a little help from a good friend) that they've been too selfish ans try to make amends, Mary chooses her wish over everyone she knows and leaves them to their own devices and unknown fate.

That's actually what made the book for me and what I liked most about it. Mary is stubborn, unreasonable and selfish, but not annoying; the reader may not agree with her decisions, but has to go along with them. True, the setting (and the zombies) is there only to provide a background and other characters are not nearly as lifelike as Mary - mostly, they're only archetypes (the best friend who grows distant, the older brother who loves her sister despite a grudge, the two love interests who (of course) both fall in love with her, the strict teacher …) for Mary to interact with, but Mary herself is a very nicely written, realistic character; the journey to her realisation of what she really wants is what makes this book well worth reading. I can't wait to see what the sequel (The Dead-Tossed Waves) will bring.



Yet another skipped week. Study time = crazy time.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Blogroll Update!

Hey guys, I've been meaning to update the blogroll on Realms for quite some time and now I finally got around to it. I've sifted out the blogs that haven't been updated in more than 6 months (R.I.P) and now have some empty spots to fill. If you think I'm missing an essential or up-and-coming blog that needs to be read, please drop me a line in the comments.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Stephen King - Under the Dome


On a usual October morning, the residents of Chester's Mill find themselves abruptly cut off from the rest of the world by an invisible dome. While most people are concerning themselves with confusion and casualties, some of them have other things on their mind: Dale Barbara is now trapped under the dome with the very people he was trying to escape; 'Big Jim' Rennie plans to extend his already significant influence to hold the town under his control, while his son, Junior, discovers that most problems can be solved with murder ...

Under the Dome starts in King's classic style. The narrative is interesting enough to capture the reader from first moment onward; King perfectly depicts the feeling of a small town where most everybody knows most everybody else down to the mistakes of their grand-grand-fathers. There are plenty of characters, which adds to the small town feeling but can sometimes be a bit annoying since it is fairly easy to confuse people with similar names, especially because not all of them play a significant enough role in Under the Dome for the reader to know exactly who they are.

Along with his usual qualities, King seems to have kept all of his weaknesses as well. He still has a bit of a problem with 'show, not tell' principle – he makes almost no distinction between the behavior of adult people in different age groups. Dale 'Barbie' Barbara, the 30 years old protagonist, could easily be aged anywhere from 40 to 80 – he is described as 'Iraq war veteran' and at first, I was sure he took part in the Gulf War. He doesn't act like a young man who grew up during the 80's and 90's – he doesn't care about technology, his way of thinking and acting is universally mature and apparently, he is into apocalyptic fiction:

“[...] It was built in the fifties, when smart money was on us blowing ourselves to hell.”
“On the Beach,” Barbie said.
“Yep, see you that and raise you Alas, Babylon.”

Not that there's anything wrong with apocalyptic fiction (I'm a fan of it myself), but this little piece of conversation just didn't work for me. It's as if Barbie's different characteristics just didn't add up - he did not strike me as a real person, more like a rough character sketch. Kid characters are a bit more plausible, but there is otherwise no difference in maturity, responsibility and general behavior between the characters aged 20, 30, 40 or more. Aside from that, the characters are wonderfully written, with various life stories, personal traumas and moral dilemmas.

Under the Dome is set in the not-too-distant future; this, from what I gathered, means somewhere between 2012 and 2016. It, however, doesn't seem like the people of Chester's Mill keep up with the times: an iPod is referred to as 'one of those computer-music doohickies', kids born in the 00's wish to be characters from Star Wars for Halloween (again, nothing wrong with that, but it strikes me as a bit odd – why not Pokemon, Hello Kitty, Dora the Explorer, anything that is a bit more recent?). And of course, the gift of blank CD's at the end of the book. Even now, this one must top the chart of lamest gifts for your SO (or anyone, actually) ever, and I can't even imagine how lame it will be in, say, 2014. Sure, King needed these blank CD's for plot's sake, but he could've at least said that they were meant for a 'Back to 2000's' party or something.

Speaking about the ending – it's as sudden and unrelated to the rest of the story as endings in King's books often are. King makes a mess out of Chester's Mill, creates a very tense situation which makes the reader eager to see how it will all resolve. The book, however, ends after a sudden turn of events that erases all the previous problems and leaves a lot of little details unexplained.

Despite everything I've just said, Under the Dome is a very good read. Mistakes and inconsistencies are mostly lost during the fast-paced turn of events – Chester's Mill sees more action in just a few days than other towns see in years, so it is easily to get confused and get the feeling that it's all been going on for ages. Some of the characters also seem to have gotten confused – they act excessively or overconfidently, regarding that they have been trapped under the dome for only a few days. Other than that, characters are (mostly) plausible and full of life, with their own stories and reactions to the sudden isolation. These reactions are what King builds most of his story on, and I must say that it's a pretty good story, worthy of a re-read.



Sorry for not updating in two weeks. I was elsewhere, having fun :P

Friday, July 16, 2010

Genre Classics: Consider Phlebas - Iain M. Banks (Book Review)

"Consider Phlebas" (Amazon: UK, US)
Format: Paperback, 467/544 pages
Publisher: Orbit (first publication 1987)

Scottish novelist IAIN M. BANKS is deemed a science fiction powerhouse whose Culture series -- a set of standalone space opera novels that share the same milieu -- represent one of the finest works in the genre. "Consider Phlebas", published way back in 1987, was the first novel set in the Culture. It was originally written in 1984, but has been later rewritten; a fate shared by many of his earlier works. It is, by this day, considered to be one of the finest space opera novels ever written, rarely matched or surpassed even by later Culture works.
Bora Horza Gobuchul belongs to the race of Changers whose members have mastered the ability to alter their physical appearance. As such, they are extremely suited for spy and undercover missions. Bora Horza threw his lot in with Idirans, a pious galactic megaforce that chose to oppose Culture's unaggressive expansionism promoted by the promise of leisure and technological advancement. This is a clash of ideologies that spans across galaxies. Idiran's are a highly hieararchical and militaristic society and they cannot and will not forgo the threat -- may it be imaginary or not -- that the blashphemous sentient machines of The Culture present to the sanctity of Life.

Bora Horza is tasked with a mission to retrieve a renegade Mind that would bring Idirans invaluable technological and tactical intelligence on the state of The Culture. Along the way he employs with a crew of freelancers, gets involved in a kind of relationship, excapes from a mad prophet that rules over a tropical island, witnesess a grand destruction of an orbital, is on a reckless run from Culture agents and many more exciting things...
Now, to be totally honest, I expected more from a novel of Culture fame; but such is usually the fate of exuberant expectations...they shatter. Far from being a bad book in itself, but the high-octane adventure in space that the book does provide in spades, lacks some depth, a type of substance that makes great books out of good ones. Horza is thrust from one "grand scale" action scene to another, with little "slower passages" that would make the protagonist and the characters around him more tangible. I had similar problems with books like "The Ten Thousand" by Paul Kearney and Takeshi Kovacs books by Richard Morgan. I just have this feeling that something essential is missing. But what redeemed this book in my eyes is the ending, because it definitely carries that emotional punch that the rest of the book was missing. It conects you to Horza and the rest in a more profound way than before.

I would label Horza as a partial anti-hero. He's not as obnoxious a person as Thomas Covenant is, but there is this cold detachment and a nasty streak to Horza that makes a reader leery. He is still likable, despite his shortcomings. The support cast is, sadly, severely underdeveloped. They are intriguing, but the author rarely slows down the pace of the story to tell us what makes them tick. The unrelenting pace can be both a curse and a blessing at times. It might make you read the book in one sitting, but it also might make you feel a bit unsated afterwards. Although the ending carries the emotional punch that might be lacking before.

Banks often often stops to vividly describe epic vistas, blown-out-of-proportion entrails of flying cities and space crafts, colossal space battles and scenes of destruction. Worldbuilding is at the same time vast and limited (not overdone; it doesn't impose on the flow of the fable). If you're a visual type you'll get a big kick out of the novel, since the descriptions of scenes are done in exemplary manner. "Consider Phlebas" is without a doubt strongest in its beggining and its ending sequence. One of the novel's other hallmarks is without a doubt it's relentless pace.

If you enjoy vigorously energetic space opera with a clearly set course of action from the outset, morally ambiguous protagonist, crunchy prose, vivid scenery and destruction on behemothic proportions, then "Consider Phlebas" clearly comes recommended.


Related Posts:
Review of "Matter"

- Thrinidir -

Monday, July 12, 2010

Graham Joyce - Memoirs of a Master Forger

I first heard about Memoirs of a Master Forger when the title appeared a few times while I was rounding up our ultimate best of 2008 list. The reviews were all extremely positive, so I decided to give it a go. Judging by its cover, I figured that MoaMF will be set, say, in 18th century, with elements of either steampunk or fantasy. Well … I was wrong. When they say ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, they say it for a reason.

Memoirs of a Master Forger is a story of a man named William Heaney, whose name is also being used by the author of the book. He is a random person from 21st century and his life isn’t going exactly as he’d imagined. His wife left him for a TV chef, his son is growing up into a snobbish brat, his job is boring and the forgery his friend Stinx is working on is hardly going well – the latter because Stinx’s woman has just left him and despite it being the third time in a row, Stinx still seeks refuge in drink.

Will is not really the master forger mentioned in the title, although the memoirs are undoubtedly his. He is just the guy who sells forgeries when Stinx completes them. Ok, he does write poems for another friend, Jaz, but since they are, in his own words, really bad poetry, I don’t think it counts. Will’s main characteristics are donating money to a local homeless shelter and the ability to see demons, the latter obviously being enough to put this book under ‘fantasy’ section. The demons are only mentioned in an offhand manner, though, and are most probably just a metaphor for human suffering.

I guess this is the reason why I was pretty disappointed with Memoirs of a Master Forger. It’s got little to do with forgeries – the only forgery beside the really bad poetry is a Jane Austen first edition that seems like a minor, unimportant side plot and mostly just another thing that does not go as planned. It’s not about demons, either, even though there was some promise to that, but the narrative is simply not unreliable enough to be of intrigue.

The book follows a typical formula where the setting is a contemporary society and the main character is a random person with whom the reader can easily identify. He is not entirely average, though, because average is uninteresting and nobody wants to read about that. He has his flaws, but still clearly a nice guy. His life is not completely dull for the same reasons the protagonist is not entirely average. Whatever happens, be it good or bad, is just uncommon enough to be interesting but could easily happen to the reader as well. Following the formula, the ending can be either a happy one (reader: ‘oh, the world is a nice place after all’) or a somber one (reader: ‘huh, I shall reflect upon this’). I notice books follow this formula fairly often; it seems to be very popular in contemporary fiction, probably because the reader can easily picture himself in main character’s shoes. Aside from the obvious benefits, this also carries the ‘something extraordinary could happen to you as well’ message, which, I think, is something readers generally like. While this formula does not necessarily predicate a lack of writing skills (on the contrary – a skilled writer can, with a few variations, convert this formula into a very good novel) it can often lead to an otherwise mediocre novel becoming a success.

And, of course, Memoirs of a Master Forger has a happy ending where every wrong is righted and everything is just swell. There is no bitter aftertaste or feeling that it could all be undone any second now. The problems are all solved and the general feeling is that everyone will be happier from that point on. No fears, no doubts, just fields of shiny happiness. Blergh.

Don’t get me wrong, Memoirs of a Master Forger is a nice enough story written in a flowing style, but I really don’t see what’s so great about it. The forgery/demons bit is original enough, but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that the narrator could be a bit more unpredictable, the characters less generic and the plot more than just a path to happy ending. All in all – average.


I guess I'll never manage to do something on time, but late is still better than never. This review is a bit old, but I hope you'll enjoy it nevertheless :)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

And ... we're back.

As I promised in my April post, RoSF will update regularly again, beginning with next week. There will be at least one review per week, possibly more. Hope you will enjoy them and spread the word that we're back from the dead. :)

Until next week,


Friday, April 30, 2010

Snippy Snippets: "The Separation" by Christoper Priest

"The Separation" by CHRISTOPER PRIEST is a prime example of great and mind-boggling alternative history fiction. You get caught up in a story narrated by two identical twins through their journals and a few external publications on the lives of the two. The story is about the lives of Jack (the bomber pilot) and Joe L. Sawyer (the pacifist ambulance driver) during the WWII England. They have a love-hate relationship and they are both in love with the same woman. The war and their personal differences separate them, but as we follow their journal entries and external ("objective") facts are introduced along the way via newspaper articles and other official publications, we realize that a lot of the information we picked up along the way really contradicts itself. Priest does not spoon-feed the reader with the right answers, but leaves you to juggle with your thoughts and come up with a reasonable explanation for what was really going on. The writing is superb as well. A great page-turner even though the book offers limited action. If you want a breezy read full of adventure this probably isn't it, but what it offers is high quality drama, a well-written and highly enjoyable prose (the red herrings and the conflicting facts are masterfully woven into the fable so they don't disrupt the flow of the novel at all), and a sharp mind to connect the dots at the end to come up with an answer for the factual discrepancies. A great, heartily recommended read! Somewhere in between 4/5 and 4.5/5.

- Thrinidir -

Friday, April 23, 2010

Not dead (yet)

Thrinidir linked me this today and while I'm not really thrilled about it, I'm not really surprised either. After all, it's been more than 4 months since our last update here on RoSF.

My plan at the end of 2009 was to take a short break, say, for two to three months. I planned to resurrect the blog sometime in March, maybe early April, and try to update regularly - at least once in every two weeks, preferably more often. Truth is, I still have no more time than I had in December. I have about five or six reviews written and waiting, I just never seem to find the time to type them (or, more often, I simply forget about them). I also have about 7 exams coming up and am juggling my time between college and hobbies.

Thrinidir has been pretty much WoW-oriented for the past year or so, which basically means that regarding this blog, I'm mostly on my own. This makes keeping this blog up much less fun and at the same time that much harder. While I enjoy reviewing, I don't really want to keep a blog that updates once in a month and a half. I want to do this properly, and right now, I need more time for that (or another pair of hands to help me, but that's unlikely).

So, just so you know: RoSF is not dead, just hibernating :) I will begin to regularly update it again once I pass most of my exams for this year, which will be somewhere around end of June/beginning of July.

Until then, have fun :)



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