27 September, 2012

Review - Legion by Brandon Sanderson

With Brandon Sanderson, you can always expect something unique and well thought out. It's not even a question. Well, maybe a bit because of that whole finishing the Wheel of Time thing...but otherwise, you can expect what I just said.

That's one of the best parts about reading Sanderson. Yeah, he's got great characters, compelling plot twists and stuff. But what makes him a pleasure to read is the way he makes something like epic fantasy vibrant and new. His unique ideas and magic systems become characters of their own and half the reason I continue to read is because I want to experience more of it.

Legion [US - only $2.99 on Kindle] [UK] is no exception. As the novella begins, "My Name is Stephen Leeds, and I am perfectly sane. My hallucinations, however, are all quite mad."

Leeds lives in a 47 bedroom mansion inhabited by himself...and his hallucinations. They are each unique, we're lead to believe, but we only deal with a few of them for this story.

His hallucinations tend to specialize in different things that help Leeds to be quite the problem solver, which lends well to detective work, not to mention the desire for every shrink in the world to want to study him.

The uniqueness to this story is that the hallucinations essentially make Leeds a genius. In some way that is not explained, as long as Leeds takes some time (a very short time actually) to familiarize himself with a particular discipline (such as weapons or linguistics), he will immediately create a hallucination that is an expert in that subject.

Having recently read The Hollow City, I can't help but wonder who had the idea first. I know Wells and Sanderson are friends. Not that they're exactly the same conept, they just both deal with a protagonist who has hallucinations. This one's much more Sandersonized (of course) with the well thought-out system whereas Wells' seems to be closer to actual schizophrenia.

In the end, it's a really fun concept and tons of fun to read, especially when for instance the hallucinations are tied up along with Leeds and one of them frees himself up to untie the rest. Or, when they drive, each of the hallucinations needs their own seat.

As if you needed any impetus to read this novella, just do it, have fun, be happy. :)

4 out of 5 Stars (Highly Recommended)

Note on Rating: While a fun concept (I know, I can't stop saying "fun"), it's not my favorite of his. I also prefer fantasy, so that plays a big part. I can see this concept expanding into more, but I think it really worked best with this shortened format. I think I would have tired of it were it any more, but I'm sure I'll have the opportunity to find out.:)

25 September, 2012

Review - Downside Girls by Jaine Fenn

Downside Girls [US] [UK] is a novella-length collection of four short stories by Jaine Fenn, all of which take place in the universe of Fenn's Hidden Empire series, beginning with Principles of Angels. With a foreword by Alastair Reynolds, I couldn't resist giving this a go.

After reading the first story, I was already extremely interested in this world Fenn's created and convinced to give the main series a go.

"Collateral Damage" - As I said above, I really enjoyed this story. A topsider (upper class) inadvertently spills her drink on an "Angel" (who ended up not quite being what I thought she was having no experience with this world) and a budding friendship ensues. This story was a good setup of the universe and some of its elements including the fact that "Angels" are downsiders (poor/lower class) who act as the justice for the people...i.e. assassins. Angels are also enhanced in ways that make them better (and cooler) assassins. You can't really go wrong for me with this type of story, although there wasn't a whole lot of assassining (It's a real word right? ...No) going on. Instead, this story was a great introduction to the world and had a nice twist. (4/5)

"Death on Elsewhere Street" - Another solid entry into this short short story collection. After running from an Angel (huge no no), mistaking her for a thief, the Angel makes the story's protagonist witness the events that unfold. This one's the shortest of the bunch, but doesn't lack for great storytelling. (4/5)

"Angel Dust" - My favorite and longest of the three connected stories. A downsider's brother ends up with a box that's wanted by all the wrong people. Rival gangs are implicated, angels show up, fighting, and lots of suspense. I couldn't put it down. (4.5/5)

"The Three Temptations of Larnia Mier" - While on par with the rest of the stories in terms of being well-written and captivating, I had a hard time with this particular story. Larnia is involved in an accident that may injure her music career especially due to the fact that her faith prevents her from obtaining any implants that could easily help.

I struggled with The Three Temptations because I didn't feel like religion in general got a fair shake. The guy who's anti-religion in this story makes great points against religion, but what about the other side of the argument? I enjoyed her character, but suddenly this person I thought was completely competent has no ability to defend herself and her beliefs? I'm sorry, but that's just not going to be the case. Not every religious person is a complete idiot (even though plenty act as such).

I feel like the point you're making loses credibility by completely ignoring the other side's argument. (3.5/5)

Overall, this is a great collection that's highly recommended. I will do my best to find more from Jaine Fenn, especially the original series from which these stories stem, although I think they may only be available in the UK at least paper-wise.

4 out of 5 Stars (Highly Recommended)

If you're interested in her work, here's what I found:

Hidden Empire series:
Principles of Angels [Amazon]
Consorts of Heaven [Amazon]
Guardians of Paradise [Amazon]
Bringer of Light [Amazon]

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher

20 September, 2012

Review - The Other Lands (Acacia #2) by David Anthony Durham

To be honest, before I knew anything about this series, I saw the title and thought, wow, don't get too creative there. After having a little experience with this world and this series, there really isn't a better name for this, the second book of the Acacia trilogy

The Other Lands [US] [UK] is an excellent sequel to Acacia: The War with the Mein. It takes the solid foundation built in Acacia and expands it to, well, the Other Lands, which is a place full of new creatures and peoples. Best of all, we finally get to meet these people the Acacians have been so afraid of and sending their children to.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I look a a sequel review as a place to discuss the first novel freely, so if you haven't read it, 1) you should and 2) you may not want to read the rest.

The Akarans, rulers of Acacia, are back in control after the Mein usurpation. Queen Corinn is doing her best to keep Acacia safe, which now includes her son, Aaden. She refuses to abolish the terrible "quota," Acacia's dirty not-so secret, which is where a quota of children are traded to a distant people through the League of Vessels and the Lothan Aklun.

The late Prince Aliver's dream is refused and the people are restless.

Durham really knows how to tug at the heartstrings and the quota is no exception. Having three kids of my own, it's hard not to think about losing your precious children to a trade with a foreign people, not knowing what becomes of those children.

In The Other Lands, we find out what does become of them, but I won't go ruining that for you.

As we know from Acacia, Prince Aliver was killed by Maender Mein, brother of Hanish Mein, the ruler of the Mein (whew). The rest of the Akaran children (although no longer children as this book takes place 9 years after Acacia) are under the rule of Queen Corinn as well, who has plenty to keep them busy.

Starting out, Mena is sent out to fight the foulthings. Foulthings are those creatures that came about because of the Santoth's magic use toward the end of the first book. Due to the Santoth's corrupted magic, these beings came about, essentially causing havoc among the people of the Known World.

This leads her into some trouble, but for the most part, Mena doesn't play an enormous role in this book. She's in it plenty, but her parts seem more of a set up for the next book whereas all the action really occurs with Corinn and especially Dariel.

Dariel decides, with Corinn's approval, to go about rebuilding the empire. With the destruction caused by the Numrek and the Mein, many places were in need of help including Aushenia in the north, which faced some of the worst of it.

Very quickly Corinn has another mission for Dariel, sending him across the Gray Slopes to the Other Lands (first of the Known World to do so) on a mission devised by the League of Vessels. And we all know how trustworthy they are.

The Other Lands is really a book full of answers. Many of the mysteries presented in Acacia are explained as we learn more of the Other Lands and the peoples therein. We learn of the quota children, we learn of the Aldek, and we even learn why the Numrek arrived in the Known World.

We get glimpses of the creatures and the trip across the Gray Slopes was breathtaking. I applaud Durham's imagination, which never ceases to astound me.

While we get many answers, The Other Lands is still very much a set up for the final volume of the trilogy. There are some great moments and some great action, but mostly there is preparation for what is to come...and it will be amazing.

It's also a book that needed to happen and it doesn't suffer for being the bridge between the two. There's enough wonder and amazement to keep you turning pages and even some big events that I'm sure will pay off in the final volume.

Durham's also written some of my all-time favorite characters in stouthearted Mena and the ever witty Dariel. These are the main reason you read these books and I can't get enough.

The Other Lands is an incredible and epic installment in the Acacia trilogy. It brings everything to a whole new level and prepares us for the final encounters that I couldn't be more excited for. If you like epic in your fantasy, the Acacia trilogy is the one for you. It will have you living and breathing the life of a Known World inhabitant (and Other World as well) and that's exactly why I read fantasy.

4.5/5 Stars (Extremely Highly Recommended!)

The Acacia Trilogy: (read in red)
1) Acacia: The War with the Mein (review)
2) The Other Lands
3) The Sacred Band

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher

17 September, 2012

Review - Cell by Stephen King

Stephen King does zombies! Well...kind of. We'll get to that in a bit.

But first,

How I think this book came about (that means this next part is 100% fictitious):

Way back in aught-6 (2006), or just before because Cell was published in '06, but who knows with King, am I right? But anyway, we've come a long way since that time. Everyone was getting cell phones and they were just about getting to every last person around. I imagine him having this conversation with, let's say, his son, Joe Hill.

Stephen: "Wow, cell phones have really gotten popular lately. Everyone seems to have one."

Joe: "Yeah Dad, come on, get with the times already, man."

Stephen: "Well, at least we'll never get rid of these landlines right? Both are VERY necessary. [useless joke probably not in King's character, just wanted to make fun of how we used to still had landlines when everyone was switching to cell phones]

"But seriously, I am SO sick of people being on their cell phones all the time. You can't even have an honest-to-goodness conversation with a person without someone bombarding you with a call.

"Can't we just have real conversations with human beings anymore? Instead, we talk to electronics and let them control everything we do, sacrificing our humanity.

"If only there was a way to put an end to this nonsense...I've got it!"

The Review:

Cell [US] [UK] starts out as your basic zombie book. People are going about their normal business when suddenly lots of people start going crazy and attacking other people while a few people escape unscathed for a while until they get attacked.

Well, Stephen King made a couple of changes to the normal zombie mythos (I think we can call it mythos now). Here, the zombies are created by a pulse that occurs through cell phones. All the people using their cell phones at the time of the "pulse" (as its known throughout the book) are immediately changed into what is essentially a zombie. Those without cell phones or not on them at the time are saved.

It's not exactly clear whether they are (or have to be) dead or not, some are, but not all, but they all have the same traits, which are pretty zombie-like. They go crazy, they attack people including their own kind, and make survival the number one priority for those who weren't turned.

They are known throughout the book not at zombies, but as "phone crazies." Boy did I hate that term after a while. It's just so dumb. It's also descriptively appropriate, but meh. Call them walkers, call them phoners even, but "phone crazies" just bugged me to no end.

In addition, the zombies only come out during the day and therefore leave the night to the survivors.

Cell follows Clayton Riddell, a survivor of the pulse who happened to be in Boston at the time of the "pulse." He lives in (you guessed it) Maine (but he's not a writer, he's a comic artist, completely different because they do "graphic" novels), which is where his family is located at the time of the pulse and provides the impetus for Clay and his group of survivors to head north.

I did enjoy this book, but to talk about why I didn't enjoy it enough to even reach the 4 star threshold, I'm gonna have to get into some spoilers. These aren't huge, ruin-the-book spoilers, just possibly ruin a part of the first 200 pages/quarter of the book. You've been warned.

/Begin mild spoilers

I could go more into Clay's group because they do play a large role in the novel, but I just don't have the time nor the energy at the moment. Know they're there and they are some great characters.

The reason I wasn't a huge fan of this particular zombie book is that King almost immediately kills the whole reason I read zombie books. I read them for the constant suspense and scare that the people we've grown close to are going to get eaten, turned, die, whatever.

King introduces telepathy into the zombie mythos.

While it's an interesting and unique take, I realized toward the end that it pretty much killed this particular zombie novel for me.

Because the zombie apocalypse occurred through the pulse, the phone crazies (bleh) are connected somehow, they can even communicate in a way telepathically. It begins through large gatherings where they sleep during the night while getting essentially reprogrammed telepathically.

While they are communicating telepathically, they begin to flock just like some types of animals (birds in a "v" for instance). While they flock, they don't attack humans. It just stops.

There's more that happens and they do begin to do some much more devious things, but the survivors, and especially our little crew we follow, are essentially immune from the day-to-day zombie attack.

Bigger Spoiler and for the novel I Am Legend as well: While I'm still within the spoiler section of my review, I also wanted to add that I totally thought he was going to go I Am Legend with the zombies, making the zombies the new society and the survivors the outcasts. It seemed to be going there, but didn't in the end.

/end mild spoilers

I enjoyed this book, it had great characters (as expected) and a good enough story to keep me enjoying it. It also had an interesting take on zombies that, while I applaud King for his creativity and boldness, kind of killed the zombie part of this zombie novel.

3 out of 5 Stars (Recommended with reservations)

13 September, 2012

Why I've Been Slacking Lately...

These girls have kept me pretty busy. Having one newborn baby is tough, having two is doubly so, I just wanna know how people do any more. I'm barely at my wit's end as it is. :)

They're just over a month old right now and we're pretty lucky. Even luckier is that I'm waiting for bar results for the time being so I have bit of time to help take care of these little ones.

I know those aren't the most glamorous of outfits (and not even a bow in the hair, I know), but I think they're hilarious. :D

08 September, 2012

National Buy a Book Day - The Books I Bought

I really loved that there is a day set aside to buy a book each year and because I don't even need a reason to buy books at any given time, having a reason was the perfect time for me to go a bit overboard.

I wish I could have made it to a store, as I recommended yesterday, but that did not happen. I have newborn twins! That pretty much excuses me from everything.

Here's what I bought:

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang (Amazon - only $2.99 for kindle)
What's the best way to create artificial intelligence? In 1950, Alan Turing wrote, "Many people think that a very abstract activity, like the playing of chess, would be best. It can also be maintained that it is best to provide the machine with the best sense organs that money can buy, and then teach it to understand and speak English. This process could follow the normal teaching of a child. Things would be pointed out and named, etc. Again I do not know what the right answer is, but I think both approaches should be tried."

The first approach has been tried many times in both science fiction and reality. In this new novella, at over 30,000 words, his longest work to date, Ted Chiang offers a detailed imagining of how the second approach might work within the contemporary landscape of startup companies, massively-multiplayer online gaming, and open-source software. It's a story of two people and the artificial intelligences they helped create, following them for more than a decade as they deal with the upgrades and obsolescence that are inevitable in the world of software. At the same time, it's an examination of the difference between processing power and intelligence, and of what it means to have a real relationship with an artificial entity.

Armor by John Steakley (Amazon)
Felix is an Earth soldier, encased in special body armor designed to withstand Earth's most implacable enemy-a bioengineered, insectoid alien horde. But Felix is also equipped with internal mechanisms that enable him, and his fellow soldiers, to survive battle situations that would destroy a man's mind.

This is a remarkable novel of the horror, the courage, and the aftermath of combat-and how the strength of the human spirit can be the greatest armor of all.

Swords and Dark Magic edited by Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan (Amazon)
Seventeen original tales of sword and sorcery penned by masters old and new

Elric . . . the Black Company . . . Majipoor. For years, these have been some of the names that have captured the hearts of generations of readers and embodied the sword and sorcery genre. And now some of the most beloved and bestselling fantasy writers working today deliver stunning all-new sword and sorcery stories in an anthology of small stakes but high action, grim humor mixed with gritty violence, fierce monsters and fabulous treasures, and, of course, swordplay. Don't miss the adventure of the decade!

Army of the Fantastic edited by John Marco and John Helfers (Amazon)
13 original tales of fantastical battles for anyone who needs a dose of un-reality.

How might the course of World War II have changed if civilized dragons ran bombing missions for the Germans? Here are 13 tales of war in alternate worlds where magical creatures are real and often prove victorious. Human troops fight alongside gryphons, unicorns, and a sea serpent, who can give submarine warfare a whole new slant.

These are just a few of the stories gathered together in this all-original volume that opens the way to magical places in our own world where the armies of the fantastic are on the march, waging wars both vast and personal.

U.B.I.K. by Phillip K. Dick (Amazon)
Glen Runciter is dead. Or is everybody else? Someone died in an explosion orchestrated by Runciter's business competitors. And, indeed, it's the kingly Runciter whose funeral is scheduled in Des Moines. But in the meantime, his mourning employees are receiving bewildering -- and sometimes scatological -- messages from their boss. And the world around them is warping in ways that suggest that their own time is running out. Or already has.

Leviathan Wept and Other Stories by Daniel Abraham (Amazon)
What if you had a holocaust and nobody came?

Imagine a father who has sent his child's soul voyaging and seen it go astray. Or a backyard tale from the 1001 American Nights. Macbeth re-imagined as a screwball comedy. Three extraordinary economic tasks performed by a small expert in currency exchange that risk first career and then life and then soul.

From the disturbing beauty of 'Flat Diane' (Nebula-nominee, International Horror Guild award-winner) to the idiosyncratic vision of 'The Cambist and Lord Iron' (Hugo- and World Fantasy-nominee), Daniel Abraham has been writing some of the most enjoyable and widely admired short fiction in the genre for over a decade.

Ranging from high fantasy to hard science fiction, screwball comedy to gut-punching tragedy, Daniel Abraham's stories never fail to be intelligent, compassionate, thoughtful, and humane. Leviathan Wept and Other Stories is the first collection of his short works, including selections from both the well-known and the rare.

The Cambist and Lord Iron (2007)
Flat Diane (2004)
The Best Monkey (2009)
The Support Technician Tango (2007)
A Hunter in Arin-Quin (2010)
Leviathan Wept (2004)
Exclusion (2001)
As Sweet (2001)
The Curandero and the Swede (2010)

The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan (Amazon) - I needed to complete my collection of the original, self-published versions. (review here)
Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater make a profitable living carrying out dangerous assignments for conspiring nobles until they become the unwitting scapegoats to the murder of the king. Sentenced to death, they have only one way out…and so begins this epic tale of treachery and adventure, sword fighting and magic, myth and legend.

06 September, 2012

National Buy a Book Day

I was recently asked to help spread the word for National Buy a Book Day. I'll let the foundation speak for itself:
The National Buy a Book Day Foundation's primary activity is educating the American people on the importance of books to our culture and community by encouraging citizens to go to any bookstore on September 7th of each year, which we hope to establish as National Buy a Book Day, and buy a book. By buying a book, as a community, every year on the same day, we come together in support of books, booksellers, authors, and publishers alike. This is the exclusive goal of the organization, and it is funded entirely from public and corporate donations. (source)
September 7 is the day to go out and by a book. It's that simple, whether online or at the book store, the latter of which is highly recommended. :) I'll put a badge on the side bar over to the right so you can check out the website and see what the National Buy a Book Day Foundation is all about.

My advice is to go get something solely based on its cover or the blurb on the back, maybe try something new. Have fun with it and let me know how it goes.

At the very least, go out and buy a book tomorrow!