Trickster


If you have been hanging around these parts for a while, you are aware that I'm a big fan of Jeff Somers' Avery Cates novels (The Electric Church, The Digital Plague, The Eternal Prison, The Terminal State, and The Final Evolution). I was sad to see that series come to an end and I wondered what Somers would come up with next.

It's no secret that urban fantasy has become the biggest game in town in recent years. We now see bestselling authors like Jacqueline Carey, Tad Williams, and a bunch of others giving that sub-genre a shot in the hope of riding that lucrative wave. And yet, not everyone, regardless of how talented they are, can capture the imagination of readers the way someone like Jim Butcher can. No matter how popular urban fantasy continues to be, I have a feeling that the sub-genre has become a bit saturated of late.

I love how edgy and in-your-face Somers' writing style has always been. I had no idea what his take on urban fantasy would turn out to be when it was announced that he would play in that sandbox when he signed a new book deal with Pocket Books. But I knew that it would be different. Jeff somers wrote Trickster with the same attitude that permeated the Avery Cates books. The somewhat noir novel is filled with wit and the author's dark sense of humor, flawed protagonists, and lots of grit. All in all, it contains all the ingredients that make this one another highly entertaining yarn!

Here's the blurb:

Praised by the Guardian for stories that are “exhilarating . . . powerful and entertaining,” Jeff Somers returns with a darkly original urban fantasy series featuring a cadre of mages operating just under the radar of human society.

Magic uses blood—a lot of it. The more that’s used, the more powerful the effect, so mages find “volunteers” to fuel their spells. Lem, however, is different. Long ago he set up a rule that lets him sleep at night: never use anyone’s blood but your own. He’s grifting through life as a Trickster, performing only small Glamours like turning one-dollar bills into twenties. He and his sidekick, Mags, aren’t doing well, but they’re getting by.

That is, until they find young Claire Mannice— bound and gagged, imprisoned in a car’s trunk, and covered with invisible rune tattoos. Lem turns to his estranged mentor for help, but what they’ve uncovered is more terrifying than anybody could have imagined. Mika Renar, the most dangerous Archmage in the world, is preparing to use an ocean of blood to cast her dreams into reality— and Lem just got in her way.

As stated in the blurb, magic requires blood in Jeff Somers' The Ustari Cycle. The more powerful the spell, the more blood is needed. In light of that, most of history's great disasters were in truth schemes orchestrated by mages meant to kill countless multitudes in order to trigger mighty feats of magic or rituals. With Trickster being essentially the opening chapter of a much larger tale, the author keeps his cards close to his chest regarding most of what has to do with magic. Of course, readers get the basics concerning the use of blood and the need for Words, and Somers elaborates briefly on the hierarchy of magic-wielders. But other than that, one reaches the end without knowing a whole lot about that aspect of the story. Personally, I would have liked to learn more about magic and everything it encompasses. Yet I understand the need to keep Trickster self-contained enough so that the book can be read as a stand-alone. Info-dumps and other elaborations would probably have gotten in the way of the tale and would have hurt the pace of the book. In any event, the way Somers brings this one to a close demonstrates that there is a lot more than meets the eye and that the overall storyline is much more multilayered than we were first led to believe. So I'm quite intrigued to find out what happens next!

We were not good people.
In a recent article titled "The Value of Grit," bestselling fantasy author Joe Abercrombie discusses facets such as the dirt physical and moral, the attention to unpleasant detail, the greyness of the characters, and the cynicism of the outlook in gritty genre books. If you are a fan of this sort of thing, then Trickster might be for you. If flawed characters with several shades of gray are your cup of tea, you'll find it hard not to root for Lem. He may not be the sharpest tool in the shed and he seems to possess a knack to make things go from bad to worse, but his heart is in the right place. The first person narrative means that we see everything unfold through his eyes, which makes for a fun and entertaining ride. Problem is, as interesting as it is to spend all that time in Lem's head, it prevents readers from getting to know the supporting cast. Given their importance in the bigger scheme of things, it would have been nice to learn more about Claire and Mika Renar. Having said that, I doubt that the novel would have been as good without Lem's first person narrative. Mags was a bit of a disappointment, however. I know there's likely a lot more to him than meets the eye, but Lem's hulking sidekick is little more than a caricature of sorts in this first installment.

We were fucking incompetent. In all things, we’d failed. We were wallowing in a nice, comfy pit of fucking spectacular failure, deep black and hermetically sealed, me and Mags bound together forever and ever with deep fishhooked ties of ruin.
In the past, Jeff Somers accustomed readers to fast-paced, balls-to-the-wall, high octane novels with impressive body counts. Although not as fast-paced as the Avery Cates books, the rhythm throughout Trickster is crisp and page-turning. The more the story progresses, the more layers are revealed, thus unveiling additional, more far-reaching plotlines that will indubitably be explored in the forthcoming sequels. As was the case with Jim Butcher's Storm Front, you don't know much about the overall story arc when you reach the end of Trickster. And yet, you are definitely hooked and want to find out where Somers will take this story next.

A very auspicious beginning. . . If you are tired of the same old, same old, and want a different take on urban fantasy from a cutting edge author, give Trickster a shot. You won't be disappointed.

The final verdict: 7.75/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Book trailer for Peter Higgins' WOLFHOUND CENTURY



Orbit has just released a new book trailer for Peter Higgins' Wolfhound Century (Canada, USA, Europe).

They have also created a new website to help promote the novel.

George R. R. Martin contest winner!

This lucky bastard will get his hands on my copy of George R. R. Martin's Tuf Voyaging! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Michel Sarrazin, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Many thanks to all the participants!

Extract from Peter Higgins' WOLFHOUND CENTURY


You can now read the first five chapters from Peter Higgins' Wolfhound Century (Canada, USA, Europe) on io9.com.

Here's the blurb:

A thousand miles east of Mirgorod, the great capital city of the Vlast, deep in the ancient forest, lies the most recent fallen angel, its vast stone form half-buried and fused into the rock by the violence of impact. As its dark energy leeches into the crash site, so a circle of death expands around it, slowly - inexorably - killing everything it touches. Alone in the wilderness, it reaches out with its mind.

The endless forest and its antique folklore are no concern to Inspector Vissarion Lom, summoned to the capital in order to catch a terrorist - and ordered to report directly to the head of the secret police. A totalitarian state, worn down by an endless war, must be seen to crush home-grown terrorism with an iron fist. But Lom discovers Mirgorod to be more corrupted than he imagined: a murky world of secret police and revolutionaries, cabaret clubs and doomed artists. Lom has been chosen because he is an outsider, not involved in the struggle for power within the party. And because of the sliver of angel stone implanted in his head at the children's home.

Lom's investigation reveals a conspiracy that extends to the top echelons of the party. When he exposes who - or rather what - is the controlling intelligence behind this, it is time for the detective to change sides. Pursued by rogue police agents and their man-crushing mudjhik, Lom must protect Kantor's step-daughter Maroussia, who has discovered what is hidden beneath police headquarters: a secret so ancient that only the forest remembers. As they try to escape the capital and flee down river, elemental forces are gathering. The earth itself is on the move.

Follow this link to read the excerpt.

Quote of the Day

Men need to whisper secrets, Lady. That's what makes them different from us--they need to share secrets, but we women only reveal them to gain an advantage. With a little silver and a ready ear--and I have both--it's all so easy. Yes. Men need to share secrets. That's why we're superior to them and they'll always be in our power.

- JAMES CLAVELL, Shogun (Canada, USA, Europe)

About 900 pages into this book and it is still absolutely awesome!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can download a number of Arthur C. Clarke's classics on the cheap!

You can get your hands on Childhood's End for 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

In the near future, enormous silver spaceships appear without warning over mankind’s largest cities. They belong to the Overlords, an alien race far superior to humanity in technological development—and their purpose is to dominate the Earth. Their demands, however, are surprisingly beneficial—end war, poverty, and cruelty. Their presence, rather than signaling the end of humanity, ushers in a golden age—or so it seems.

But it comes at a price. Without conflict, humanity ceases to work toward creative achievement, and culture stagnates. And as the years pass, it becomes more and more clear that the Overlords have a hidden agenda for the evolution of the human race—that may not be as beneficial as it seems.

Originally published in 1953, Childhood’s End is Clarke’s first successful novel—and is considered a classic of science fiction literature. Its dominating theme of transcendent evolution appears in many of Clarke’s later works, including the Space Odyssey series. In 2004, the book was nominated for the Retro Hugo Award for Best Novel.

You can also download The City and the Stars for 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A billion years into the future, Earth’s oceans have evaporated—and humanity has all but vanished. The inhabitants of the City of Diaspar believe theirs is the last city—but there is no way to find out for sure. The city is completely closed off by a high wall, and nobody has left in millions of years.

The last child born in the city in millions of years, Alvin is insatiably curious about the outside world. He embarks on a quest that leads him to discover the truth about the city and humanity’s history—as well as its future.

The City and the Stars is a rewrite of Clarke’s first novel, Against the Fall of Night. While the author assumed that the old version would be replaced by the new version and eventually go out of print, he was surprised to find that the older version was popular enough to stay in wide circulation. Today, both stories are equally popular.

Any fan of Clarke’s would find this book a fascinating read, not just for the intriguing story and Clarke’s singular futuristic vision, but also for the purpose of comparing his approach to the same story at different points in his writing career. While The City and the Stars shares the general plot of Against the Fall of Night, many details are different—making an interesting study of Clarke’s progression as a writer.

2010: Odyssey Two is also available for 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

In 1968, Arthur C. Clarke’s best-selling 2001: A Space Odyssey captivated the world—and was adapted into a now-classic film by Stanley Kubrick. Fans had to wait fourteen years for the sequel—but when it came out, it was an instant hit, winning the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1983.

Nine years after the ill-fated Discovery One mission to Jupiter, a joint Soviet-American crew travels to the planet to investigate the mysterious monolith orbiting the planet, the cause of the earlier mission’s failure—and the disappearance of David Bowman. The crew includes Heywood Floyd, the lone survivor from the previous mission, and Dr. Chandra, the creator of HAL.

What they find is no less than an unsettling alien conspiracy—surrounding the evolutionary fate of indigenous life forms on Jupiter’s moon Europa, as well as that of the human species itself. A gripping continuation of the beloved Odyssey universe, 2010: Odyssey II is science-fiction storytelling at its best.

You can download The Songs of Distant Earth for 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

More than two thousand years in the future, a small human colony thrives on the ocean paradise of Thalassa—sent there centuries ago to continue the human race before the Earth’s destruction.

Thalassa’s resources are vast—and the human colony has lived a bucolic life there. But their existence is threatened when the spaceship Magellan arrives on their world—carrying one million refugees from Earth, fleeing the dying planet.

Reputed to be Arthur C. Clarke’s favorite novel, Songs of Distant Earth addresses several fascinating scientific questions unresolved in their time—including the question of why so few neutrinos from the sun have been measured on Earth. In addition, Clarke presents an inventive depiction of the use of vacuum energy to power spacecraft—and the technical logistics of space travel near the speed of light.

You can also get your hands on The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke: History Lesson, Volume 1 for 2.99 here.

Here's the blurb:

In the title story of this collection, Earth has entered its final ice age—precipitated by the cooling of the sun. In this forbidding climate, a small tribe of nomadic human survivors travels toward the equator ahead of glaciers moving down from the North Pole, carrying with them a handful of relics from the 21st century—and racing against the ice to preserve them from annihilation.

This collection is a showcase of groundbreaking stories that wrestle with the moral, psychological, and ethical implications of scientific advancement—written by one of the foremost science fiction authors of our time.

There are more Clarke ebooks available at a discount, but that's enough for this post. . . =)

The Value of Grit by Joe Abercrombie


Gritty author Joe Abercrombie wrote an interesting article on the level of grit in fantasy books that's well worth a read. Especially for those little goodie-two-shoes SFF fans who are always whining about this particular aspect found in various works.

Here's a teaser:

I have been observing for some time a certain tendency for people to complain about the level of grit in fantasy books. The dirt physical and moral. The attention to unpleasant detail. The greyness of the characters. The cynicism of the outlook. I’m going to be vague about who I mean that I may properly remove all nuance from their arguments and construct a total straw man, of course. This is the internet, after all, I wouldn’t want facts or charitable interpretations to get in the way of my pontificating. But I think we can accept that some people think things have got too gritty. Or maybe gritty in the wrong way. Grimdark is a phrase I’m hearing quite a lot, which seems by definition to be pejorative – excessively and unnecessarily dark, cynical, violent, brutal without purpose and beyond the point of ridiculousness. There’s often what seems to me a slightly weird double standard applied of, ‘I find this thoroughly horrible and disgusting therefore the author must have intended me to be titillated and entertained!’

[...]

Others are less evangelical, but there’s a tendency to see grit as skeevy. As by default an appeal to the lowest common denominator. As wallowing in low-grade moral slime like a pig in filth for no better reason that the amusement of neanderthal idiots. We idiots, of course, need and deserve amusement as much as anyone else, if not more, and I’m happy to fill that need, but such criticisms ignore what grit has to offer to all kinds of other readers and, I would argue, entirely miss why it has become so popular of late.

Now before anyone makes a straw man out of me, let me say that this is not intended as some kind of manifesto. I don’t think everything has to be gritty by any means, in fact there’s a degree to which grit loses its power the more of it there is. Every writer has to find their own style, their own way to be truthful. And with great grit comes great responsibility. It’s easy in an earnest desire to be truthful, or perhaps a less earnest desire to bludgeon the reader with the amazing dirty grim gritty grim depths of which you are capable, to ride roughshod on your spiky horse over rightly sensitive issues. To cause offence through crap writing. Maybe to a degree that’s inevitable. Removing all crap writing from a given book is a herculean challenge. But I believe the role of a writer is not to avoid offence. Just to think carefully afterwards and reflect on how you might do better next time. To be assessing criticism and constantly striving to become that little bit less crap. But you’ve also sometimes got to laugh in the face of criticism. Because the role of the writer is also to throw caution to the wind and write the most honest and heartfelt books you can. Better to have a book that many readers love and some find revolting than a book that no one reads at all. Far, far better. Gritty is one tool in the writer’s arsenal, and it’s one I personally like to use. In discussing gritty, I’m going to be a little gritty. Possibly even grimdark. But if you really don’t like that shit, why are you even here?

[...]

There was a time when epic fantasy seemed to spend a whole lot of time on setting. It was about the maps, monsters and magic systems. The authorial voice hovered above the characters at some remove in a third person omniscient kind of way, occasionally dipping into their thoughts for a heroic aside. These days a lot of writers choose to get closer, to write in tight point of view, to give the reader a sense of what it’s like to be those people and how they see the world. And extreme people in extreme situations may well think, feel, and observe some pretty extreme stuff. I’d argue it’s very hard to write a convincing, immersive combat scene in tight point of view without including those details of blood, pain, fear, and horror that by definition take it into the arena of gritty. You don’t have to be an actual mass murderer yourself to realise that real violence is painful, dirty and deeply unpleasant, with sudden and explosive lasting physical and psychological damage stripped of all romance. Violence, related truthfully in tight point of view, is gritty. Of course you could find your drama elsewhere. In commerce, in conversation, in romance. But epic fantasy is about war, is about battle, is about violence and people who inflict and suffer it. These are live and pressing topics which people want to read about.

[...]

The modern world, with its 24 hour coverage of every point of view, seems like a much murkier place, at least to me. Perhaps we no longer accept the idea that people can be totally good or totally evil. At least we begin to suspect that they’re often not. That sometimes we’re dealing more with the greater good and the necessary evil. That the exercise of power requires compromises with the dark side, and high motives rarely entirely survive contact with reality. That everyone thinks they’re good, and that good people in bad corners might have to do bad things. Some of us want to read about such characters. We may not want every character in every book to be a morally grey irredeemable torturing tortured fuckwad. But some shades of grey, or even black, in some parts of a genre is a healthy thing. The bad things our good people have to do? They’re gritty. The good motives the bad people have in order to make them at all believable? You know what, they’re gritty too. When the whole thing becomes such a moral jumble that it’s really difficult any longer to tell which are the bad or good guys? That’s really gritty.

[...]

Forget historical accuracy. The truth is fantasy is rarely about the world as it was. That’s what historical fiction is for. It’s a reaction to the fantasy that’s come before. Gritty fantasy is a reaction to and a counterbalancing of a style of fantasy in which life is clean, meaningful, and straightforward, and the coming of the promised king really does solve all social problems, and there are often magical solutions to the horrors – like death, illness, and crippling wounds – that plague us in the real world. Good fantasy does not have to gaze wistfully over its shoulder at an imagined past, it can cast its uncompromising eye on the now. . .

[...]

In the end, ‘teh gritty’ is another tool in the toolbox. Grit is an inclusion. Not grit is an absence. Nothing to prevent gritty books including the ennobling, the clean, the beautiful. Indeed, I’d argue that the extremes of darkness only allow the glimpses of light to twinkle all the more brightly, if that’s the effect you’re after. Clean books deny themselves a chunk of the physical and emotional spectrum. Not to mention the wonderful, versatile and expressive word, ‘fuck’. And yeah, a lot of gritty dwells more in the dark half, perhaps, but often less than people tiringly bemoan, and no book exists in a vacuum, all books grow out of what has come before. A lot of gritty writing is about counterbalancing the heaps of clean, shiny, good guys win type stuff which dominated commercial fantasy throughout the 80s and 90s and is still, as far as I’m aware, being written very successfully and in large quantities.

[...]

And the fact is, for those who don’t like it, one has to smile, shrug and say – Tough Grit. There have always been rich seams of darkness, cynicism, savagery and moral ambiguity in fantasy, but this stuff is in the commercial heart of the genre now, and at the core of many of those examples that are spilling out into the mainstream. There are an awful lot of readers who love it, who find it has reinvigorated their interest in a tired genre, and the genie won’t go back in the bottle. I would say sorry, but I’m not.

[...]

There are still plenty of writers and publishers very successfully putting out more traditional stuff if you really need another righteous hero endlessly prevailing against the odds. In due course I don’t doubt the pendulum will swing back at least some of the way towards romantic and heroic. It’ll just take one great, interesting, exciting book to do it and I look forward to reading it. Who knows, I might even try to write it. But for the moment most of the debuts, most of the things that are really generating excitement, are more or less gritty. In this, fantasy is simply starting to catch up with what’s been going on in TV for some time now, and where written westerns and thrillers have been for years.

Follow this link to read the full piece. As for me, I wholeheartedly agree with Joe. . . =)

Pre-order Guy Gavriel Kay's RIVER OF STARS at 46% off!!


You can now pre-order Guy Gavriel Kay's forthcoming River of Stars at 46% off here. I have an Advance Reading Copy on its way and I can't wait to read this book!

Here's the blurb:

In his critically acclaimed novel Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay told a vivid and powerful story inspired by China’s Tang Dynasty. Now, the international bestselling and multiple award-winning author revisits that invented setting four centuries later with an epic of prideful emperors, battling courtiers, bandits and soldiers, nomadic invasions, and a woman battling in her own way, to find a new place for women in the world – a world inspired this time by the glittering, decadent Song Dynasty.

Ren Daiyan was still just a boy when he took the lives of seven men while guarding an imperial magistrate of Kitai. That moment on a lonely road changed his life—in entirely unexpected ways, sending him into the forests of Kitai among the outlaws. From there he emerges years later—and his life changes again, dramatically, as he circles towards the court and emperor, while war approaches Kitai from the north.

Lin Shan is the daughter of a scholar, his beloved only child. Educated by him in ways young women never are, gifted as a songwriter and calligrapher, she finds herself living a life suspended between two worlds. Her intelligence captivates an emperor—and alienates women at the court. But when her father’s life is endangered by the savage politics of the day, Shan must act in ways no woman ever has.

In an empire divided by bitter factions circling an exquisitely cultured emperor who loves his gardens and his art far more than the burdens of governing, dramatic events on the northern steppe alter the balance of power in the world, leading to events no one could have foretold, under the river of stars.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (February 18th)

In hardcover:

Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson's A Memory of Light maintains its position at number 3. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Kim Harrison’s Ever After is down five spots, finishing the week at number 16.

George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons is up two spots, finishing the week at number 17. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is up two spots, finishing the week at number 9 (trade paperback).

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is up four positions, ending the week at number 17.

Patricia Briggs' Fair Game debuts at number 21.

Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus is down five positions, ending the week at number 24 (trade paperback).

Anne Rice's The Wolf Gift debuts at number 26 (trade paperback).

George R. R. Martin's A Storm of Swords is up two positions, ending the week at number 27.

David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is down six positions, ending the week at number 29 (trade paperback).

George R. R. Martin's A Feast for Crows is up one position, ending the week at number 29.

Game of Thrones, Season 3 trailer



Awesome!! =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Neal Stephenson's Anathem for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Anathem, the latest invention by the New York Times bestselling author of Cryptonomicon and The Baroque Cycle, is a magnificent creation: a work of great scope, intelligence, and imagination that ushers readers into a recognizable -- yet strangely inverted -- world.

Fraa Erasmas is a young avout living in the Concent of Saunt Edhar, a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the outside "saecular" world by ancient stone, honored traditions, and complex rituals. Over the centuries, cities and governments have risen and fallen beyond the concent's walls. Three times during history's darkest epochs violence born of superstition and ignorance has invaded and devastated the cloistered mathic community. Yet the avout have always managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe, becoming out of necessity even more austere and less dependent on technology and material things. And Erasmas has no fear of the outside -- the Extramuros -- for the last of the terrible times was long, long ago.

Now, in celebration of the week-long, once-in-a-decade rite of Apert, the fraas and suurs prepare to venture beyond the concent's gates -- at the same time opening them wide to welcome the curious "extras" in. During his first Apert as a fraa, Erasmas eagerly anticipates reconnecting with the landmarks and family he hasn't seen since he was "collected." But before the week is out, both the existence he abandoned and the one he embraced will stand poised on the brink of cataclysmic change.

Powerful unforeseen forces jeopardize the peaceful stability of mathic life and the established ennui of the Extramuros -- a threat that only an unsteady alliance of saecular and avout can oppose -- as, one by one, Erasmas and his colleagues, teachers, and friends are summoned forth from the safety of the concent in hopes of warding off global disaster. Suddenly burdened with a staggering responsibility, Erasmas finds himself a major player in a drama that will determine the future of his world -- as he sets out on an extraordinary odyssey that will carry him to the most dangerous, inhospitable corners of the planet . . . and beyond.

Cover art for the limited edition of Joe Abercrombie's THE HEROES


Abercrombie just unveiled the beautiful Raymond Swanland wraparound cover art for the Subterranean Press limited edition of The Heroes!

For more info about this special edition, check out the Subpress website.

2012 Nebula Awards Nominees



Here are the 2012 nominees for the Nebula Awards:

Novel

Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW; Gollancz ’13)
Ironskin, Tina Connolly (Tor)
The Killing Moon, N.K. Jemisin (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The Drowning Girl, Caitlín R. Kiernan (Roc)
Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor)
2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit US; Orbit UK)

Novella

On a Red Station, Drifting, Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall, Nancy Kress (Tachyon)
“The Stars Do Not Lie,” Jay Lake (Asimov’s 10-11/12)
“All the Flavors,” Ken Liu (GigaNotoSaurus 2/1/12)
“Katabasis,” Robert Reed (F&SF 11-12/12)
“Barry’s Tale,” Lawrence M. Schoen (Buffalito Buffet)

Novelette

“The Pyre of New Day,” Catherine Asaro (The Mammoth Books of SF Wars)
“Close Encounters,” Andy Duncan (The Pottawatomie Giant & Other Stories)
“The Waves,” Ken Liu (Asimov’s 12/12)
“The Finite Canvas,” Brit Mandelo (Tor.com 12/5/12)
“Swift, Brutal Retaliation,” Meghan McCarron (Tor.com 1/4/12)
“Portrait of Lisane da Patagnia,” Rachel Swirsky (Tor.com 8/22/12)
“Fade to White,” Catherynne M. Valente (Clarkesworld 8/12)

Short Story

“Robot,” Helena Bell (Clarkesworld 9/12)
“Immersion,” Aliette de Bodard (Clarkesworld 6/12)
“Fragmentation, or Ten Thousand Goodbyes,” Tom Crosshill (Clarkesworld 4/12)
“Nanny’s Day,” Leah Cypess (Asimov’s 3/12)
“Give Her Honey When You Hear Her Scream,” Maria Dahvana Headley (Lightspeed 7/12)
“The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species,” Ken Liu (Lightspeed 8/12)
“Five Ways to Fall in Love on Planet Porcelain,” Cat Rambo (Near + Far)

Ray Bradbury Award for Outstanding Dramatic Presentation

The Avengers, Joss Whedon (director) and Joss Whedon and Zak Penn (writers), (Marvel/Disney)
Beasts of the Southern Wild, Benh Zeitlin (director), Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Abilar (writers), (Journeyman/Cinereach/Court 13/Fox Searchlight)
The Cabin in the Woods, Drew Goddard (director), Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (writers) (Mutant Enemy/Lionsgate)
The Hunger Games, Gary Ross (director), Gary Ross, Suzanne Collins, and Billy Ray writers), (Lionsgate)
John Carter, Andrew Stanton (director), Michael Chabon, Mark Andrews, and Andrew Stanton (writers), (Disney)
Looper, Rian Johnson (director), Rian Johnson (writer), (FilmDistrict/TriStar)

Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy

Iron Hearted Violet, Kelly Barnhill (Little, Brown)
Black Heart, Holly Black (S&S/McElderry; Gollancz)
Above, Leah Bobet (Levine)
The Diviners, Libba Bray (Little, Brown; Atom)
Vessel, Sarah Beth Durst (S&S/McElderry)
Seraphina, Rachel Hartman (Random House; Doubleday UK)
Enchanted, Alethea Kontis (Harcourt)
Every Day, David Levithan (Alice A. Knopf Books for Young Readers)
Summer of the Mariposas, Guadalupe Garcia McCall (Tu Books)
Railsea, China Miéville (Del Rey; Macmillan)
Fair Coin, E.C. Myers (Pyr)
Above World, Jenn Reese (Candlewick)

Wolfhound Century


I was immediately intrigued by the premise of this book when the ARC showed up in my mailbox. And the blurbs from Peter F. Hamilton and Richard Morgan insured that my curiosity was well and truly piqued. Peter Higgins' Wolfhound Century appeared to be unlike everything else on the market out there.

After the major disappointment that was A Memory of Light, I needed something different, something that could help me get back on track. And for some reason, Higgings' novel seemed to be just what the doctor ordered.

Here's the blurb:

Inspector Vissarion Lom has been summoned to the capital in order to catch a terrorist --- and ordered to report directly to the head of the secret police. A totalitarian state, worn down by an endless war, must be seen to crush home-grown terrorism with an iron fist. But Lom discovers Mirgorod to be more corrupted than he imagined: a murky world of secret police and revolutionaries, cabaret clubs and doomed artists. Lom has been chosen because he is an outsider, not involved in the struggle for power within the party. And because of the sliver of angel stone implanted in his head.

The worldbuilding is fascinating and probably my favorite aspect of this work. The pseudo-Soviet communist environment makes for an atypical setting for this SFF tale. The depiction of this totalitarian state was particularly well-done and gives Wolfhound Century its own unique flavor. The narrative is dark and brooding, which creates an irresistible atmosphere. Oddly enough, throughout the book I kept hearing the song "Belly of the Beast" by Anthrax as I was reading on.

You walk this earth without a heart
You tear the innocent's souls apart
You shovel your conscience into the grave
You walk this earth without a heart
Your uniform couldn't be take off
A tattoo burned into your flesh
Your mind, your voice
These are your instruments of death
How could you dare to be so bold
You only did as you were told
Marionettes dancing in time
To the apologetic lines
For all the monsters of our time

Wolfhound Century is impossible to label. It's some sort of hybrid that combines contrasting fantasy and science fiction elements. The mysticism of the Forest and its creatures are definitely fantasy, while Angels falling from the sky after roaming the stars are essentially science fiction. Sadly, the author doesn't elaborate much on those topics. Which means that a vast aura of mystery permeates the entire novel. Interestingly enough, although this could be perceived as a negative point, it just makes you dig into the tale even more.

The cast of characters is comprised of a decidedly disparate bunch of men and women. To be honest, I found that a bit off-putting at the beginning. And yet, as the story progresses, you realize that you need all those discordant POVs in order to fully understand what is taking place and to appreciate the depth of Peter Higgins' creation. Hence, it's not always about shining some light on the protagonists' thoughts and motivations, but it is also about giving readers a chance to learn more about the world at large and the way society works. Understandably, from the start one realizes that it's Inspector Vissarion Lom and Joseph Kantor's tale, as almost everything hinges on them both. But Wolfhound Century wouldn't be a page-turner without its supporting cast. Indeed, it's those secondary characters whose POVs unveil just how many layers there are to this story. Hence, Maroussia Shaumian, Raku Vishnik, Lakoba Petrov, and Major Safran are, in their own ways, as important to the overall story arc.

Insanity, the normal state
The left hand a hammer, the right, the stake
Driven so deep into the heart
It's killing love, it's killing faith
It's killing 'cause it's from the heart
What better way to demoralize
When your own children are your spies
The things you trust are not the same
Trust in death, trust in grief
Trust in hope is trust in pain

Wolfhound Century grabs hold of you from the get-go and refuses to let you go. The rhythm is not fast-paced by any stretch of the imagination, but the tale captures your imagination in such a way that makes this book very hard to put down. The relatively short chapters force you to keep going, making you reach the end all too soon.

And therein lies the problem. There is no ending per se. Sure, you reach an ending. But there is absolutely no closure, no resolution to any of the plotlines. Taken aback, at first I believed that my Advance Reading Copy was missing a few chapters. I contacted the folks at Orbit to inquire whether or not that was the case, but I was told that my ARC was indeed complete. And although Higgins signed a book deal for a trilogy, there is no concrete information regarding the title and tentative release date of a sequel at the moment. . .

Which, in the end, left me quite perplexed. Peter Higgins' Wolfhound Century was well on its way to becoming the speculative fiction debut of the year. In this house, in any event. But to bring what was up until that point a brilliant story to such an arbitrary ending, with no resolution whatsoever, makes no sense. This was shaping up to be one of the very best SFF titles of 2013. But the manner with which Wolfhound Century was brought to a close, I'm not sure what to make of it. To give you a sense of perspective, it is as though Star Wars would have ended when the Millennium Falcon reached Yavin IV. . .

Still, Wolfhound Century remains a very good read. For the setting alone, it's well worth a read. But the total absence of closure will definitely put off certain readers.

To learn more about the author and the book, you can visit Higgins' official website.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Extract from Guy Gavriel Kay's RIVER OF STARS


With River of Stars (Canada, USA, Europe) coming out in a few short weeks, Far Beyond Reality has the entire first chapter for you to enjoy!

Follow this link to read the extract.

It's out!!!


As of today, we can finally get our hands on HBO's Game of Thrones, Season 2 DVD and Blu-ray boxsets! For more info about this boxset: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's a list of the extras:

Blu-ray with HBO Select – includes all DVD features plus:

- War of the Five Kings – Track the claims, strategies and key players involved in the battle for the Iron Throne with this interactive guide that follows the movements of various armies detailing their victories and defeats.

- Histories & Lore – 19 animated histories detailing the mythology of Westeros and Essos as told from the varying perspectives of the characters themselves and featuring, in-part, illustrations from Game of Thrones storyboard artist Will Simpson.

- In-Episode Guide – In-feature resource that provides background information about on-screen characters, locations and relevant histories.

- Hidden Dragon Eggs – Find the hidden dragon eggs to uncover even more never-before-seen content.

DVD:

- Creating the Battle of Blackwater Bay – See how the epic Battle of Blackwater Bay was brought to life in this exclusive, in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the climatic episode. The 30 minute feature showcases never-before-seen interviews with cast and crew.

- Game of Thrones: Inner Circle – Actors Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Michelle Fairley and Liam Cunningham talk in detail about their experiences shooting season two in this roundtable discussion moderated by executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

- The Religions of Westeros – Hear author George R.R. Martin, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss discuss the competing religions in the series and how they influence the various characters in Westeros and beyond.

- Character Profiles – Profiles of seven major characters as described by the actors portraying them including Renly Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon, Robb Stark, Theon Greyjoy and more.

- Audio Commentaries – 12 commentaries with cast and crew including David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, George R.R. Martin, Emilia Clarke, Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington and more.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Kage Baker's Mammoth Books presents The Books for only 0.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

In a time beyond the apocalypse, when the remnants of society are trying to restore life to the way it once was, three young circus children go exploring in the town where the circus is camped. As they wander the empty streets they stumble upon a building they will never forget, in which floor after floor is crammed with an abundance of books. This library is heaven for these child survivors of the apocalypse, but they may not be the only ones who feel this way.

L. E. Modesitt, Jr. contest winners!

Our three winners will receive a copy of L. E. Modesitt, Jr.'s Imager's Battalion, courtesy of the folks at Tor Books. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Brian Zoetewey, from Orlando, Florida, USA

- Ashley Moser, from Franklin, Tennessee, USA

- Ramin Moghadam, from Palos Verdes Estates, California, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Extract from Jeff Somers' TRICKSTER


Thanks to the folks at Pocket Books, here's an excerpt from Jeff Somers'Trickster, the opening chapter of The Ustari Cycle. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Praised by the Guardian for stories that are “exhilarating . . . powerful and entertaining,” Jeff Somers returns with a darkly original urban fantasy series featuring a cadre of mages operating just under the radar of human society.

Magic uses blood—a lot of it. The more that’s used, the more powerful the effect, so mages find “volunteers” to fuel their spells. Lem, however, is different. Long ago he set up a rule that lets him sleep at night: never use anyone’s blood but your own. He’s grifting through life as a Trickster, performing only small Glamours like turning one-dollar bills into twenties. He and his sidekick, Mags, aren’t doing well, but they’re getting by.

That is, until they find young Claire Mannice— bound and gagged, imprisoned in a car’s trunk, and covered with invisible rune tattoos. Lem turns to his estranged mentor for help, but what they’ve uncovered is more terrifying than anybody could have imagined. Mika Renar, the most dangerous Archmage in the world, is preparing to use an ocean of blood to cast her dreams into reality— and Lem just got in her way.

Enjoy!!
-----------------------------

“There’s a girl in the tub,” Mags said.

I looked up at him. His hair was getting long. It was glossy and silky, a grand black forest of hair. His eyebrows almost met in the middle, giving him a permanently sinister expression. I could not actually pronounce his actual last name, and called him Pitr Mags because it was better than calling him Pitr the Indian Bastard.

“A fifty-year-old dead girl?” I asked, thinking bones and webs, a fine bed of off-white dust lining the tub beneath it. He shook his head, pushing his bandaged fingers into his pockets. “Recent.”

I paused in the act of tearing up the carpet. We were broke again. The last seventeen dollars we’d possessed had been spent on Neilsson, passed over with a pinprick of gas to make it look like three hundred and forty in twenties, and all Mags and I had to our names was what was pumping in our veins.

We were fucking incompetent. In all things, we’d failed. We were wallowing in a nice, comfy pit of fucking spectacular failure, deep black and hermetically sealed, me and Mags bound together forever and ever with deep fishhooked ties of ruin.

I hauled myself to my feet. Fished in my jacket pocket, produced a fresh bandage, and began working the thin wrapper free, difficult due to the damp and soiled bandages that adorned all nine of my other fingers and the fresh slice oozing blood on my index finger. Faint sparks of pain flared from my fingertips as I worked at it.

I was careful not to let any blood drip anywhere, get smeared anywhere. Leave no mark, that was rule one. No trace of yourself. Blood was usable for only a few seconds, ten, twenty. After that, you couldn’t burn it away no matter how big the spell. Best not to take chances.

The apartment was supposed to have been a good score. We’d heard that Neilsson had a card up his sleeve, and the old drunk had a sheen of success about him. Despite floating around our social level, which should have been our first clue. Neilsson worked art, and thus had an aura of intellect and culture that was powerfully attractive to men like Mags and me, small minds drenched in blood and peasant fare. The codger spoke with an adorable accent and I never had gotten past the childish idea that all people with some sort of accented English must be fucking geniuses. When sober, Neilsson was a good operator and he’d made some decent kosh from time to time, so we took the rumor seriously. And decided to work him, the way only Mags and I could: a little bit of charm, a little bit of booze, a little bit of gas.

It took all fucking night to get it out of the old bastard. We could have bled more and settled some real voodoo on his shoulders and pushed, but Mags and me, we didn’t bleed anyone else, we relied solely on ourselves, so that would have left us too exhausted to do anything useful. So we used our usual tricks. Aside from the faked twenties—the manager would count out the drawer later and discover a stack of one-dollar bills—we used a couple of charmer Cantrips to make Neilsson like us, and then poured whiskey down his throat until, grinning with his pink lips buried under a forest of yellow-white beard, he’d crooked a finger at us and told us about a wonderful score he’d heard of: the Time Capsule.

I looked around the room, holding the candle we’d found in the kitchen—misshapen, fleshlike in texture, already claiming a starring role in my nightmares for years to come—out in front of me. The room was cluttered, the furniture all curves and satin, uncomfortable to look at. I could believe that no one had opened the door or a window in fifty years. It smelled like death, and I tried to take shallow breaths. I shot my cuffs, wriggling my toes inside my wing tips. They’d seen better days. There was a thin spot on the sole beneath the ball of my foot that was a week or so away from a hole. It was October and if we didn’t manage something substantial in short order I was looking at a winter spent with wet feet, snow crowding in from the street and making me numb.

“Let’s take a look,” I said.

I had no idea how to monetize a dead girl in a tub, but somehow it seemed like there had to be a way to do so. Why else would the universe construct such a complex contraption if it didn’t roar into life, belch black smoke into the air, and start producing something?

The place had been locked up forty-five years before, the story went. Neilsson telling us with a slurred, ruby-red tongue and a yellowed, blurred eye. The owner was a rich bastard whose parents had died, leaving this apartment on East Seventieth Street. He’d had it shuttered and gone to California. And never came back, the apartment sitting here like an unopened oyster, growing some unholy pearl in its center, a time capsule of old money. Now that we were here, breathing in decades-old dust and farting into the moldy cushions, it was ridiculous. What had we expected to find? Fucking piles of jewels? Pots of gold? A helpful guidebook pointing out the valuables?

Well, I reminded myself, maybe there was a safe. We could handle a safe. I could bleed a bit more before I got woozy.

I followed Mags. He walked like he was angry at the floor. After a short hallway wallpapered in hideous stripes, a few framed oil paintings that might have been something special hanging every three feet, we were in the master bedroom. It was a large room, no window but a small en-suite bath—which was unusual for an older apartment. A huge brown water stain had bloomed on the ceiling, the plaster dropped away and lying on the bedspread in a moldy pile. The room smelled terrible, and I figured if I pressed a hand against the ceiling it would be damp, a tiny, persistent leak, probably only when the tenants upstairs flushed their toilet. A trickle of water that had been invisible for years forming into just a damp spot at first and then just a big damp circle and then just a big damp circle turning black from mold and then one day five years ago the ceiling had crumbled onto the bed in a silent catastrophe.

I stood on the thick carpet that felt crusty and stiff under me, my throbbing fingers in my pockets, and hesitated. It was strange. No one had been in the apartment for decades, and you could feel it, the emptiness, the shock of movement forcing jellied air back into motion. The place looked like a museum, smelled like the back alley of a butcher shop, and my skin crawled.

There was nothing. Of course there was nothing. I was shaking a little, my fingers throbbing and my newest wound bleeding slowly, the bandage damp and clinging on by sheer determination. This had been our last, best idea.

There had to be something. There had to be something.

There was: a dead girl in the tub.

The bathroom was small, covered over with a black-and-white tile design made up of tiny little squares, dozens of which had popped from the walls. There was more water damage in here, a humid feel, the ceiling sagging downward as if filled with brackish, rusty liquid. The smell was bad, trapped in the tiny confines. There was an ornate pedestal sink with brass fixtures and a small, basic-looking toilet with a pull-chain flush, the water tank on the wall above it. The mirror had darkened, black spots clouding the silver, one on top of the other until it was a dark, phantom mirror, something that grudgingly reflected you but only after running you through smoke and clouds.

The tub was a big old claw-foot, the porcelain yellow, the brass fixtures matching the sink. There was no showerhead.

The girl was young and naked, lying on her side with her knees drawn up to her belly, her skin milky, blue veins visible. She had short dark hair and looked almost peaceful curled up on the bone-dry bottom of the tub. I looked around; the place appeared deserted, but someone had been here within the last few days to drop off a body. I stood there, listening, as it suddenly seemed entirely probable that someone had crept into the place behind us.

Mags knelt down and peered at her, cocking his head. “She’s been bled, Lem.”

I blinked and looked at him. The words were just sounds, and then meaning snapped into them and I stepped over to stand next to him, looking down at the girl. He was right. She had the translucent look to her, drained cleanly, every drop of blood sucked out. I knelt down next to him and reached in to push some of her short, dark hair aside, squinting down at the wound on her neck. It was clean and minimal, familiar.

Mags had the clean-slate cheer of the dim-witted. He crouched there serenely, certain that I would solve this little problem for us. That I would roll her over and discover some ancient cash, or jewels, or discover that she wasn’t dead at all. Mags’s faith in me was sometimes invigorating, more often exhausting. Mags could survive on rage and profanity; he didn’t need to eat. I thought of him as a pet sometimes, a monstrous kitten I’d picked up and let sleep in my pocket one night, and now—when I looked at his plump, blood-engorged face and twitchy, murderous hands, I felt a stab of horrifying affection—Mags was my responsibility.

I was twenty-nine years old and I was wearing the sum total of my worldly possessions, and recently decisions I’d made when I was fifteen didn’t seem so fucking bright anymore. We all thought we were special—all of us, every fucking Trickster all the way up to the fucking enustari, we all thought we had the edge. And maybe we did. But here I was, dopey from blood loss and begging the universe for a handout. I stood up and fished my switchblade from my pocket, pressing the button and hearing the familiar, horrible snick of the blade flashing out.

“What—” Mags said, barking the word like he meant it as declarative: What!

I unfolded my left hand and drew the blade across my palm, just deeply enough to draw a thick, slow ooze of blood. The pain, as always, shivered through me like poison, and I sucked in breath, tensing. It never got easy. I’d cut myself millions of times. I had faint white scars on both hands, my arms, my legs, and even my stomach. And. It. Never. Got. Easier. I did it immediately and without thought, letting my underbrain run the show.

Blood dripped from my clenched fist as a hot, icy rash of fire spread over my palm. Closing my eyes I imagined the glow, saw the faint blue light in my mind, and on the beat of my heart I whispered the spell. The blood sizzled away midair, consumed, and my wound was dry and open, aching.

A wave of dizzy weariness swept through me. As a damp line of blood oozed into place on my palm, my hand was engulfed in a soft blue glow that made Mags look like he was made of shadows. Puke mounting in my throat, I knelt down and resisted the urge to put my forehead against the cool porcelain of the tub. I stretched out my arm to hold the eerie light over her. Instantly, a complex pattern of symbols, like invisible tattoos, faded into visibility on her skin, covering all of her. I knew without checking that they were under her hair, too, inside her earlobes, on the webby skin between her fingers.

“Fuck,” Mags breathed, the word now a plaintive exclamation. “She’s marked.”

I stared down at the runes for another second. They were complex, and I didn’t have time to pick through them and compare them to my memories, to what my gasam had taught me. I knew a few things right away: I knew the runes would warp other magic I might try to cast, resisting all but the most bloody and powerful spells, and I knew this meant she was part of something way out of my league. I studied her face. Sixteen? Twenty? It was hard to tell. Curled up in the tub, she looked peaceful. Young. There were old bruises on her arms. A crust of snotty blood around one nostril. I looked at her feet. Was relieved she was barefoot. For a second I remembered canvas tennis shoes, pink marker. The sound of a girl shivering, her bare arms bruised just like that. I pushed the memory away, angry at myself. I hadn’t bled this girl. I hadn’t done anything. I looked at Mags. His big flat face was crunched up in thought, and I knew I had to get him out of there before whoever had done this came back. I snapped my hand out like I was throwing something and the blue light sizzled away, leaving us in the faint light of the candle. I reached down and dragged him up by his collar. “Come on,” I said, pushing him toward the door. Mags could fold me into complex patterns and not break a sweat, but he was tame. “What’s up, Lem?” I kept pushing him, urging him to go faster, imagining the owner of that corpse walking in the door and finding us—and whoever had marked her was a fucking deep well of trouble for any Trickster.

We were not good people.

We rushed through the hall and back into the first room, as sealed and stultifying as ever, the candle guttering in front of us and throwing odd shadows everywhere. My heart was pounding as I urged the big cocksucker forward, almost throwing him through the door. I didn’t bother putting things back the way they’d come; the important thing was to not be there any more.

In the hall, I spun and pulled the door shut behind us, my fingers throbbing. I squeezed my sliced hand again and opened my palm to reveal a nice smear of greasy blood; I wrapped my hand around the doorknob, took a deep breath, and whispered a Cantrip to replace the wards we’d broken and not noticed in our haste to get inside, the syllables—not words, really, just sounds—welling up automatically from memory. It was all about patterns, rhythms. You could find ways to cut the Words down, just like any language. You could say Please pass me the salt or you could say Pass the salt and they meant the same thing. It was the same with magic. You could cast a spell with fifty words, you could cast the same spell with five words, if you knew what you were doing.

I’d always had a way with the Words.

Another wave of tiredness settled into my bones, and I staggered a bit, holding on to the doorknob. When I’d steadied again, I took my hand away. The door looked exactly as it had when we’d arrived. No one who walked by would ever notice anything out of the ordinary . . . unless they had a trained eye and specifically knew to look for something.

I took a deep breath. My heart was ragged in my chest, and I felt shaky and light. I reached into my jacket and extracted an old, soiled handkerchief and started wrapping it around my hand.

“C’mon, Mags,” I said, turning for the stairs.

He hustled to walk beside me. “What’s the matter, Lem?”

I didn’t pause. I could hear thick leathery wings in my head, too close. “Deep magic, Mags,” I said, pushing open the door to the stairs. “Deep fucking magic.”

China Timelapse

Guangzhou'2012/CHINA from zweizwei |motion timelapse| on Vimeo.


Amazing China timelapse video!! =)

Check it out!!

Quote of the Day

Love is a Christian word, Anjin-san. Love is a Christian thought, a Christian ideal. We have no word for 'love' as I understand you to mean it. Duty, loyalty, honor, respect, desire, those words and thoughts are what we have, all that we need.

- JAMES CLAVELL, Shogun (Canada, USA, Europe)

I'm approaching the halfway point of Clavell's masterpiece and this novel is absolutely awesome! Engrossing and irresistible, Shogun is impossible to put down!

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (February 11th)

In hardcover:

Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson's A Memory of Light is down one position, ending the week at number 3. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Kim Harrison’s Ever After is down six spots, finishing the week at number 11.

George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons is down two spots, finishing the week at number 19. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Max Brooks' World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War is down two spots, finishing the week at number 11 (trade paperback).

Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus is up three positions, ending the week at number 19 (trade paperback).

George R. R. Martin's A Game of Thrones is down fourteen positions, ending the week at number 21.

Troy Denning's Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Apocalypse debuts at number 22.

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game is up eight spots, finishing the week at number 23.

David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas is up nine positions, ending the week at number 23 (trade paperback).

George R. R. Martin's A Storm of Swords is down twelve positions, ending the week at number 29.

George R. R. Martin's A Feast for Crows is down twelve positions, ending the week at number 30.

George R. R. Martin's A Clash of Kings is down thirteen spots, finishing the week at number 32.

Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 is up three positions, ending the week at number 32 (trade paperback).

New Guy Gavriel Kay interview


With River of Stars (Canada, USA, Europe) being released in a few short weeks, the folks at SF Signal have an interview with Guy Gavriel Kay!

Here's a teaser:

Your new book, River of Stars, will be out in April and takes place four centuries after Under Heaven. Will you tell us a bit about the research you did for these novels, which take place in ancient China?

Well, small caveat, but an important one. As always in my work, it is not ‘in ancient China’ it is in a setting meant to evoke ancient China (the Song Dynasty this time). I do this ‘quarter turn to the fantastic’ for many reasons, and can be quite startlingly boring on the subject. For those with a tolerance for pain, there are essays and speeches over at brightweavings.com in the ‘GGK’s Words’ section.

The research for each novel is, put simply, my favorite part of any book. I am just learning things, reading, travel sometimes, corresponding with experts in a time and place. And in the early stages I have no duties, no responsibilities yet. Eventually the nagging voice becomes really assertive and I know I have to shift gears and begin to produce something from that year or two of preparation. But by now it is clear (to me) that my creativity flows best when grounded in a lot of detail. Indeed, I believe that grounding has to be so secure that the vast majority of the research does not enter the book except subliminally, or does so very quietly … or else you get what I hate as a reader, which is the ‘info dump’ meant to show off that the author did a bit of background stuff!

Quite a bit of fantasy features characters that are very black and white, with nothing in between, no gray. Your stories feature very gray characters much of the time and challenge the reader to judge for themselves the “right” and “wrong” of their actions. Do you personally find it to be more challenging to write “gray” characters? Was this a conscious choice on your part when you started writing or was it a more organic process?

I honestly think we write the books we’d like to read if someone else wrote them. Since I tend to be bored by the absence of subtlety or nuance, I suppose I am always trying to achieve that in my work. It is for the reader, obviously, to decide if a) they like this idea and b) I succeed. So it isn’t so much ‘conscious’ or ‘organic’ as a matter of my own aesthetic, I guess. I have been teased that I’ve never met a seocndary character I didn’t like … and there’s truth to that. I often find that through the peripheral figures I can achieve my strongest effects, whether of character, emotion, or shaping depth to a setting for the reader.

Follow this link to read the whole interview.

Extract from THE MONGOLIAD: BOOK 3


Thanks to the generosity of the folks at 47North, here's an excerpt from The Mongoliad: Book 3 by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, Nicole Galland, Erik Bear, Joseph Brassey, and Cooper Moo. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb for the final volume in the series:

The shadow of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II hangs over the shattered Holy Roman Church as the cardinals remain deadlocked, unable to choose a new pope. Only the Binders and a mad priest have a hope of uniting the Church against the invading Mongol host. An untested band of young warriors stands against the dissolute Khan, Onghwe, fighting for glory and freedom in the Khan’s sadistic circus of swords, and the brave band of Shield-Brethren who set out to stop the Mongol threat single-handedly race against their nemesis before he can raise the entire empire against them. Veteran knight Feronantus, haunted by his life in exile, leads the dwindling company of Shield-Brethren to their final battle, molding them into a team that will outlast him. No good hero lives forever. Or fights alone.

In this third and final book of the Mongoliad trilogy from Neal Stephenson and company, the gripping personal stories of medieval freedom fighters collide to form an epic, imaginative recounting of a moment in history when a world in peril relied solely on the courage of its people.

A note on this edition: The Mongoliad began as a social media experiment, combining serial story-telling with a unique level of interaction between authors and audience during the creative process. Since its original iteration, The Mongoliad has been restructured, edited, and rewritten under the supervision of its authors to create a more cohesive reading experience and will be published as a trilogy of novels. This edition is the definitive edition and is the authors' preferred text.

Enjoy!
---------------------------

The Shield-Brethren buried Finn on the hill where they had set up camp. “It is not as grand as one of those burial mounds—the kurgans—we have seen,” Raphael pointed out to Feronantus, “but it has a view of where we came from, and the sun will always warm the ground.” Given the choice, Finn had always preferred to sleep outside, where the sun could find him and warm his bones in the morning. Finn may not have been a sworn member of the Shield-Brethren, but he was a feral brother to many of them.

One by one the members of the Shield-Brethren attacked the rocky ground of the hilltop. Without coming out and saying as much, they all wanted to be the one to dig Finn’s grave, as if the backbreaking labor would somehow assuage their individual guilt. It was not that they valued Finn above their other fallen comrades—the loss of any brother was equally horrific—but each was racked with a sense of responsibility for the circumstances of the hunter’s death.

As he prepared Finn’s body for burial, Raphael tried not to let his thoughts dwell on other members of their company whom they had lost. Or even his own role in the deaths of those dear friends. With Vera’s assistance, he laid the small man’s body on Percival’s cloak—the knight refused to hear otherwise—and arranged Finn’s limbs as best he could. The stiffness that creeps into a man’s body in the wake of death had filled Finn, and one of his arms resisted Raphael’s efforts. His face, once it had been tenderly washed by Vera, was surprisingly boyish. Raphael felt the weight of his years when he saw the delicate lashes and the unlined swath of forehead clearly for the first time. Too young, he thought, to die so far from home.

And he realized how little he knew of Finn. How little any of them knew.

“Wait,” he said to Vera as she made to cover Finn’s face with Percival’s cloak. He strode to his bags and dug out his worn journal and his writing instruments. With the sun peering over his shoulder, he sat and carefully sketched Finn’s face on a blank page. There will be a record, he promised his dead friend. You will not be forgotten.

As Raphael painstakingly tried to capture the essence of Finn’s character—an amalgamation of the peaceful features before him and those memories he had of more exuberant expressions—Vera busied herself with washing Finn’s feet and hands. The leather of his boots had been soft and supple once, but months and months of being in the wilderness had hardened the material into a second skin over Finn’s feet. She tugged at them briefly, and then gave up, opting to run a knife along the thin seams instead.

“Strangely fastidious,” she noted when she got to his hands. Raphael looked up from his sketching as she showed him Finn’s palms. Calloused, as expected, but surprisingly clean. The nails were long, but there was no dirt or filth beneath them.

The Binder, Cnán, approached, and with some interest examined Finn’s hands. “Like a cat,” she said, and Raphael nodded in agreement.

“They’re done with the grave,” Cnán reported. “Though,” she snorted, “I think Percival would like to keep digging.”

Raphael nodded. “Yes, I can imagine he would.”

There had been very little conversation among the company since Alchiq’s attack on Finn; the sudden shock of the Mongol’s assault had left them all wordless. But no words were necessary to comprehend Percival’s grief at having fallen asleep at the watch.

Privately, Raphael thought it was more likely that the Frank had been captivated by an ecstatic vision—much like the one that had come over him in the forest shortly after the death of Taran and the knight’s horse. He tried to push the idea out of his thoughts though, because he did not want to face the dreadful conclusion that followed: illumination brought death to those nearby. What price was being exacted for the guidance the knight was receiving?

Vera indicated to Cnán that she should help with the wrapping of the dead. “It is time,” the Shield-Maiden said to Raphael, her stern eyes unusually soft. “No amount of drawing will bring life back to this face.”

“Aye,” Raphael agreed, and he set aside his tools. He lent a hand, and soon Finn was nothing more than a squat bundle.

The other Shield-Brethren came down from the hill and carefully carried the body to its final resting place. Without speaking, they lowered Finn’s corpse into the deep trough they had hacked out of the rocky hilltop. It was deep, Raphael noted. Deep enough that the body might never be disturbed by the carrion eaters. Feronantus waved them off, and even Percival relented, letting their aged leader undertake the task of filling the hole by himself. They stood around awkwardly for a little while, watching Feronantus scoop and pack handfuls of sand and rock into the hole. Once a thick layer had been carefully laid over the body to protect it from being crushed during the burial process, Feronantus would shovel dirt in more readily. A cairn would be raised and words would be spoken, but until then, they had little to do but wait.

Death itself was always quick, Raphael reflected, staring off at the distant horizon. It is the survivors who feel pain the longest.

“Where’s Istvan?” Vera asked.

Raphael blinked away from his thoughts and scanned the surrounding countryside. “I don’t know,” he said.

“Chasing Graymane,” Cnán offered, pointing toward the west.

Raphael vaguely recalled their pursuit of the Mongol commander after Finn’s death, the long line of horses strung out across the plain. One by one, their steeds had faltered, until only Istvan and Alchiq remained, two tiny dots dancing in the midmorning heat. “He hasn’t returned?” he asked, caught between surprise and apprehension.

Cnán shook her head. “I find myself hoping that he doesn’t. At least, not today.” She looked at Raphael and Vera, and they both saw their own pain mirrored in the Binder’s eyes. “If he is still hunting, then he might still catch him. If he comes back, we’ll know if he was successful or not.”

Vera nodded. “I don’t want him to return empty-handed either. Better he not return at all.”

None of us are going to return, Raphael thought as he turned and looked back at Finn’s slowly filling grave.

***

That night the company made no fire, and the stars wheeled dizzyingly overhead. The air grew cold quickly after the sun vanished in a burning haze of gold and red in the west. They hobbled their horses near a band of scraggly brush that the animals appeared to be interested in eating, and then they wandered off to make their respective prepartions for sleep.

Raphael tried to make himself comfortable. The lush grasslands surrounding the river had given way to flatter terrain, and he found the sere landscape to be oddly distressing. The muscles in his lower back and thighs kept twitching, phantom fears that the ground would suddenly tilt and he would slide away. But slide away into what? They had passed beyond the edge of the world that he—or any of the Shield- Brethren—knew. His hands pressed against the blanket beneath him, pressing the wool against the hard ground.

His reaction was not a sign of madness; it was simply a reaction to the unfamiliar. Men were drawn to civilization; only the most severe ascetic among them relished isolation. Penitent hermits craved seclusion. Being away from the squalor of humanity was an integral part of their spiritual monasticism. They could talk more readily to God in the silence of their mountaintop cave or their desert isolation. It was easier to believe that the voice you heard responding to your queries issued from a divine trumpet if there were no other souls nearby.

But he was a soldier. He slept more soundly when surrounded by the sounds of men preparing for war. His mind was less prone to fearful speculation when he rested behind a stout battlement. Even the sounds of domesticated animals were a welcome lullaby: cows calling to one another in the pasture; the nervous clucking of chickens as they scratched in the yard; dogs, barking at shadows.

On the steppes, there was nothing but the sound of the wind through the grasses; when there was no grass, the wind had no voice, and the silence was unsettling.

He heard her bones creak as she lay down next to him. A blanket fluttered like the wing of a large bird, and he shivered slightly as the cloth descended upon his chest and legs. Her breath hummed against the skin of his neck as she pressed her head against his. Their hands found one another beneath the blanket. Beneath the stars.

Her skin was hot. Pressed against her, his mouth seeking hers, he thought they could stay warm enough to survive the night.

In the morning, there was only a fading blush of heat in the base of his throat. A lingering memento of Vera’s kiss.

***

“This emptiness does not go on forever,” Cnán said. “We have ridden off your maps, but we are barely at the edge of ones I have seen that show the boundaries of the Mongolian Empire.”

“No wonder it is so huge,” Yasper complained. “Do you really control the land if there is nothing there?”

The lithe alchemist slouched in his saddle, his jaw working absently on a piece of salted meat. In the days since they had crossed the river—since they had left Finn behind— Yasper was typically one of the first to break camp, and more often than not, volunteered to take point. At first, Cnán had found it odd that Feronantus usually acquiesced to the Dutchman’s request. While Yasper was not his to command, typically Feronantus would set one of the more proficient scouts riding before the company. Cnán soon realized Feronantus’s strategy: the alchemist was looking for something— a natural deposit of some alchemical treasure. As long as Yasper was keeping an eye out for anything unusual, then he would be a satisfactory scout and Feronantus could allow the other riders some rest.

Though, recently, he had been afflicted with the same malaise as the more experienced Shield-Brethren. Graymane’s trail had led them toward Saray-Jük—not surprising, given the presence of more Mongol troops there—and with some caution they had found the place where Benjamin had instructed them to meet him. The caravanserai was deserted—nothing more than a scattering of fire pits near a stand of scrawny trees and a tiny trickle of a stream. The ashes were cold and there were too many tracks of Mongol ponies—it was dangerous for them to stay in the area. Before they left, Cnán found the cryptic message left by the trader, a series of marks carved into the bark of one of the trees—almost as if she had known to look for them. South and east for six days, the message had read, look for the rock.

Which rock? Feronantus had asked.

It will probably be the only rock, Raphael had pointed out.

Given how Yasper tended to focus so tightly on his own little projects, Cnán suspected he might ride right into the rock before he noticed it.

While Raphael’s comment was all too accurate and would likely be the only guidance the company needed, she knew the rock. It was one of the landmarks the Binders used as they passed from the east to the west. A station in the wilderness where messages could be coded and left for others to pick up.

Some Binders, like her, traveled widely, but others stayed within a few days’ travel of where they had been born and raised. At the verge of their domain, they would receive messages and instructions from other kin-sisters, and being more qualified to navigate the dense locality, they would complete the assignment for the foreign Binder. In this way, messages could be carried across the known world and delivery could be readily assured, because the kin-sisters were never dependent upon one messenger.

Such a landmark was used by the Silk Road traders as well.

Cnán glanced over her shoulder at the string of horses and riders behind her. While she was accustomed to traveling across wastelands such as this, she could tell the tedium of riding from daybreak to sunset was beginning to wear on the rest of the company.

And they have no idea how many more days await them, she thought.

“What are you smiling about?” Yasper inquired.

“Nothing,” she replied, setting her face aright. “What could I possibly see that would provoke some humor in me?”

“That’s why I asked,” Yasper said. He sat up and tapped his horse lightly with his stick, edging closer to her. “You’ve been this way before,” he noted. “Tell me, have you seen deposits of salt?”

“Salt?”

“Yes.” He spread his hand out flat and moved it across the landscape. “Like a dry lake. A place where the wind plays.”

Cnán laughed. “All of this land is like that.”

“No, no. Not like this. Perfectly flat. Alchemists call it a sabkha.”

Cnán shrugged. “I do not know that word,” she said, though she had a dim recollection of a Turkic word that might mean the same thing. She tried to dredge up the word, but nothing felt quite right on her tongue. “Nor have I seen one,” she admitted.

“A pity,” Yasper said. “Neither have I.”

Cnán smiled again. “There’s still time,” she said.

“I know, I know.” Yasper flapped his hands and blew out, puffing up his cheeks. This…wasteland…wears on me. I’ve been trying to find some solace in my recipes, but my supplies are terribly meager, especially after…” He trailed off, and Cnán knew he was thinking about the loss of his horse in Kiev.

When he had fled from the fight with the Shield- Brethren, the Livonian commander Kristaps had returned through the same stinking tunnels they had used to reach the Shield-Maiden sanctuary. Upon emerging from the well house, the Livonian had stumbled upon her, Yasper’s, and Finn’s horses. He had taken all three—a smart ploy to reduce their ability to pursue him. Yasper hadn’t been so distraught about the lack of his horse as he had been about the loss of his numerous satchels and jars and powders.

All of his alchemical supplies, gone.

Since then he had been trying to replenish his stores, with some mixed success. The market in the border town had supplied him with the firecrackers they had used so effectively against the Mongol war party, as well as a number of other basic ingredients. Yasper had been excited when they had first stumbled across the wormwood—the hearty plant native to these lands—but after days and days of seeing clumps of it everywhere, Yasper’s enthusiasm had diminished drastically. Cnán knew little about the alchemist’s recipes (and wanted to know very little, actually), but what she had gleaned was that all of his potions, unguents, powders, and salves were built from a carefully measured base of two or three simple ingredients.

Salt being one of those basic ingredients.

“What is it that you hope to create?” she asked, out of boredom more than any concerted interest.

Yasper offered her a wolfish grin. “Why, nothing more than the secrets of the universe, of course,” he laughed.

“Every alchemist seeks to unlock the riddle of existence by discerning the secret methods by which God constructed the world. All of this,” he gestured around them, “though this is not much, but all of the world was created through a complex set of instructions. Men have spent their entire lives trying to enumerate the multitudinous mystery of creation. Pliny—do you know Pliny? No, of course you don’t— Pliny wrote thirty-seven volumes on the natural history of the world. Thirty-seven!” He sat up in his saddle, his mood improving as he spoke. “Can you imagine how complicated this world is that God has created? Don’t you want to understand how all the various pieces fit together?”

“I hadn’t really thought about it,” Cnán admitted. “But why do you want to understand it? So that you can become a god too?”

Yasper shook his head. “That would be heresy,” he clucked his tongue at her, a grin stretching his mouth. “No, we seek to understand who we truly are, and what our true purpose is. If we can comprehend how the world was made, and learn the power of transmutation—the art of changing one thing into another—could we not give ourselves that same gift?”

“Which gift?”

“Transmutation.”

“Trans-what?”

“Becoming something new.”

Cnán scratched her nose. “What’s wrong with what we are?”

Yasper closed one eye and stared critically at her. “What’s right about what we are?” he asked.

Cnán, now somewhat sorry she had even asked her initial question, shook her head and stared out at the horizon in the vain hope of finding something to distract the alchemist. He was warming to this one-sided conversation, and she feared it was only going to get more confusing. “Look,” she said, sitting up in her saddle and pointing. She was not embarrassed to hear a note of elation in her voice. “There!”

Ahead of them, a thin black shape reached up from the flat ground, a finger stretching to poke the empty dome of the heavens. It wiggled, like a worm struggling to pull itself from rain-softened mud.

“Rider!” Cnán called out to the others while Yasper stood in his saddle, shading his eyes. After peering through the heat haze for a moment, he sank back down into his saddle, and the slope of his shoulders told her everything.

“It’s Istvan,” he said bitterly.

As the Hungarian drew closer, she could confirm what the alchemist had noticed as well. The Hungarian was alone.

But what chilled her was the fact that he was in front of them.

Where had Graymane gone?