23 July, 2015

(audiobook) Review - City of Golden Shadow (Otherland #1) by Tad Williams

Tad Williams has been one of those authors I'd never really gotten around to even though he's a pillar of fantasy literature. Technically, I did read his story contained in Songs of the Dying Earth (which was excellent), but never one of his mainstays such as Otherland and his epic, Memory, Sorry, and Thorn series.

Apparently that day has come and I've officially read Tad Williams. And what did I think? I hate to say this, but mostly meh.

That's not to say I didn't enjoy City of Golden Shadow, but for the ending we get (i.e., the status of the characters at the end), there's not really a whole lot to show for it. It's a long book, and not really all that much happens. There are tons of mysteries, but I found myself not really caring about some of the main characters and that made it difficult to say the least.

At the same time, I feel compelled to go on. Though I was disappointed with where we got in the end of the book, I wasn't so much disappointed in the ending itself. It was exciting to finally see things moving along, to see progress. I was finally sucked in by the end, but how did it take just under 800 pages to do that?

I won't go into the story, I feel like I'm one of the last to finally discover Williams so it's weird describing it, but it's interesting and mysterious and I guess that's what kept my interest for so long.

Additionally, I listened to this on audio and I really wonder if I would have pushed through had I been reading this page by page. It's so long and slow-moving, I honestly think I might have given up. I'm glad I listened to it because I'm excited to see what happens now that the story can finally begin. But that's one long intro.

And I have to say that the narrator, George Newbern, did an excellent job. That certainly helped as well. His accents for the different characters, including Indian, Spanish, and Bushman (!Xabbu) were always impressive. He switched through them effortlessly as well and though some sounded similar, it was also distinct.

Overall, I'm glad I finally read City of Golden Shadow and after doing so (to completion I might add) I'm convinced that Williams deserves the praise he gets. I was bored at times, but interested and even captivated at other times. I enjoyed it in the end, but I don't know if it's worth the slog for everyone because it really was a slog at times. I'll have to read more in the series for more incite.

3 out of 5 Stars (for a slow start but eventual payoff - recommended)

Note: ARC received from audio publisher with absolutely no conditions. I reviewed it anyway. :)
Note #2: Usually my audiobook reviews appear on sffaudio.com, however, they already have a reviewer covering this series and so mine has become superfluous.

18 July, 2015

Guest Post - Max Gladstone on "The Laws of Magic"

The Craft Sequence, starting with Three Parts Dead, is one of those that's been on my radar for quite some time, but with my schedule, I haven't had the time to get to it. At the same time, I've only heard great things about it, so I took the opportunity to host an article by Max Gladstone on "The Laws of Magic."

Being a lawyer myself, this article really hit home for me and Three Parts Dead has risen tremendously on my radar. Thanks go to Max and look for his latest from Tor, Last First Snow, book 4 in the Craft Sequence, which just came out July 14.


The Laws of Magic
By Max Gladstone

Modern fantasies tend to discuss magic as if it’s an alternate form of physics, or even computer code—but really, we expect magic to work much more like the practice of law.

In law, as in magic, the world functions according to certain rules and definitions.  In law, as in magic, masters of those rules and definitions can, in certain ritual circumstances, manipulate symbols to change aspects of their world.  Law, like magic, rests on pillars of dead languages and forbidden (or at least forbidding) tomes—I don’t know any other modern profession that involves quite so many thick tomes of onionskin paper set in small type and bound in red leather.

And law, like magic, depends on the personal skill and charisma of the advocate.  In computer programming, and in physics, you can’t just want something to happen hard enough, while time and again in fantasy we encounter moments where heroes triumph through sheer force of will.  Programming and physics are both profoundly impersonal.  Ted Chiang once suggested, when trying to define magic as something apart from science, that magic cares who’s practicing it, while science, ideally, works the same for everyone.  Well, law does care.

That’s where it started for me—that, coupled with the joking observation that law school classes tend to sound more like Hogwarts classes than do graduate level classes in other disciplines.  No “Advanced Topics in Biokinetics” or whatever—nope, you’ve got Remedies and Contracts and Corpse.  (Okay, fine, Corps.)  I think Potions is a 2L elective at most accredited US law schools.

They don’t teach you Defense against the Dark Arts, though.  That would make firm interviews more complicated.

Once I started pulling on this thread, the whole sweater unraveled—only to re-ravel itself into a different, weirder sweater.  I’ve written elsewhere about the connection between necromancy and bankruptcy law—surround a corpse with ritual wards and protections, remove the bits that don’t work, replace them with new bits built to your own design, and raise the corpse to shamble forth and do your bidding—but the implications go further. 

Law mediates relationships between people, and between people and these enormous immaterial entities that people naturally create, which have their own behaviors, histories, attitudes, psychologies, operations, and goals—we call them governments sometimes, and corporations other times, but at all times we use legal tools to develop them, maintain them, and, when necessary, destroy them.

Lawyers are one of the few groups in the modern world with the tools and power to engage these entities, and to help human beings relate to, and sometimes resist, them.  The enormous challenges we face in this new millennium, as those entities become more interconnected, intelligent, responsive, and invasive, are in that sense legal challenges—or at least, they’re challenges lawyers cannot ignore.

But law has as much potential to be an instrument of oppression as liberation; it’s much easier to pay off your student loans when you’re working for the power. To what extent can we work for good within the system?  How does reform happen?  What better options exist?  How do we resist regulatory capture?  These are enormous questions—too big, almost, to address in mimetic fiction.  Ever since the first proto-humans grunted stories to one another around the campfire, we’ve approached our society's biggest questions in the language of myth; that’s what I’m trying to do in the Craft Sequence.

Also, this approach lets me fill fantasy novels with jokes about Dead Hands, mediation practice, document review, and the Rule against Perpetuities—and goofy law jokes really are their own reward.

From Patrick Rothfuss's 5-Star Goodreads review of Three Parts Dead:" Twenty-ish years ago, I read Neverwhere and it kinda blew the top off of my head. It was a mix of things I didn't know could be mixed. It was magic and myth and London and faerie all brought together in a clever, cunning, subtle melange. 

That's how I feel about these books. They mix magic and science and culture and finance in a way I never considered possible before." 

10 July, 2015

Review - Ink and Bone (The Great Library #1) by Rachel Caine

Knowledge is power and that's what the Library has been cultivating for centuries. Instead of releasing this knowledge to the world, it hoards it and if knowledge equals power, then the Library has proven that equation time and again. With an iron hold on the world and it's knowledge, it makes itself out to be the protector of information. Owning books is illegal.

But what it really presents is the stagnation of technology. And Jess is a book smuggler.

Original works are worth their weight in gold and Jess' family has been running books to every sort, but mostly those who will pay the hefty fee. However, soon Jess begins to learn the truth of the Library he's always believed in as he witnesses an automaton in the form of a lion kill with abandon.

Jess also learns about the lengths the Library will go to stop those such as himself who pose a threat to their power. And that doesn't stop Jess' family from enrolling him in the Library's elite and pricey program that would allow him to enter into employment with the Library and become their spy from the inside.

Part Harry Potter, part Hunger Games, Ink and Bone introduces us to the Great Library series and the enrollment class for entry into the Library, but in an alternate world ruled for centuries by the Library. Throughout the book, we follow Jess in a third-person limited perspective as he makes his way through the elimination process of postulants attempting to become either Scholars or Guarda (Library military) of the Library.

If you've read my reviews before, you know I'm a sucker for these kinds of books. Throw a protagonist in a difficult, nigh on impossible school setting and you already have me halfway.

What's great about this entering class is that because of the Library's almost total control, the class students are from all over the world, as diverse as can be, whether from the Middle East, German, or the States. They have an instructor from Hell who has to winnow the class from dozens to 6 ... if he even accepts that many. And the class falls fast.

There are only a couple moments I found my disbelief difficult to suspend, because once you find out the volumes are available to anyone on what is termed a "blank," which is essentially an eReader, all we're really fighting about are original volumes of text. They're cool and all, but if you have the knowledge that's the important thing. And apparently they have some type of decent technology so it's difficult to see how much the Library has really held society back.

I think the story loses the point a little bit, but focuses back up to show the Library is also preventing knowledge from spreading to the point of murder. And they will do anything to stop threats to their power.

I don't read a lot of YA, but I found Ink and Bone to be hugely entertaining. From the very first page, I was enthralled, I couldn't put it down. Yes, I had some moments I questioned, but for pure entertainment value, I was behind this book 100%.

I can't recommend Ink and Bone enough. It's a unique world that draws from our own, only if the Library had risen to power and continued to control the world to this day. I had a blast in it and I can't believe I have to wait a whole year for book 2.

4 out of 5 Stars (highly recommended)

08 July, 2015

eBook Deals - Posey, Gaiman, Abercrombie, Kadrey, Chu, Scalzi, Grossman, Bester, Schwab,

I don't know what's going on lately, but there are a ton of great books on sale right now in the US.

[$0.99] Three (Legends of the Dustwalker #1) by Jay Posey

[$1.99] The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
[$1.99] Half a King (Shattered Sea #1) by Joe Abercrombie
[$1.99] The Getaway God by Richard Kadrey
[$1.99] The Lives of Tao (Lives of Tao #1) by Wesley Chu
[$1.99] Outlander (Outlander #1) by Diana Gabaldon

[$2.99] The Human Division (Old Man's War #5) by John Scalzi
[$2.99] The Magicians (Magicians #1) by Lev Grossman - I can't recommend this enough!
[$2.99] Virtual Unrealities, short fiction by Alfred Bester
[$2.99] Vicious by V.E. Schwab
[$2.99] Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

07 July, 2015

Review - Crystal Rain (Xenowealth #1) by Tobias S. Buckell

I've been hearing about Tobias S. Buckell's Xenowealth series for years and finally got around to it last month. My schedule made reading time difficult to find, so it probably suffered somewhat from that, but overall, I really enjoyed Crystal Rain, book 1 in the Xenowealth series.

John DeBrun has no memory of his past, but there are a few odd things he's realized about himself, such as the fact that he doesn't seem to age or get sick (unbreakable!). We find him established with a wife and son and living in a Caribbean-esque world that leans toward the steampunk.

In this Caribbean-style world, just about everyone talks in dialect. As far as a unique world, I haven't come across this yet and I thought it was interesting ... at first. Then, it got frustrating and difficult to read after a while. It really threw me off and I never got used to it even by the end. Kudos to putting it in there and diversifying the genre, nonetheless.

The Caribbeans are attacked by the neighboring culture who live across the Wicket High mountain range and who are intent on domination. Again, the actual reasons behind the attack (and the interesting surprises) are much more than one country ruling another and has more to do with who is pulling the strings as we learn as the story progresses.

I don't want to spoil too much, but the payoff in the end is really great after the mysteries finally start to unfold. I blazed through the last hundred pages and it helped I actually found that mysterious reading time I was looking for.

Again, I fear spoiling too much, but this is a brilliant mix of fantasy and science fiction that started off slowly, but really built to a great ending. I did have some problems, but overall I highly enjoyed Crystal Rain and I'm looking forward to the sequels. The reveals were worth the minor difficulties and I think going into the next book, those hiccups will be overcome.

3.5 out of 5 Stars (recommended)

Xenowealth series:
1) Crystal Rain
2) Ragamuffin
3) Sly Mongoose
4) Apocalypse Ocean

06 July, 2015

(audiobook) Review - Finn Fancy Necromancy by Randy Henderson

Check out my review of Finn Fancy Necromancy by Randy Henderson over on SFFAudio.com. I liked this one a lot more than I thought I would. From the review:
Not your typical urban fantasy in the best possible way.

02 July, 2015

Winners - Signed Prince of Fools paperback from Mark Lawrence

We had a great turnout for this giveaway. Apparently Mark Lawrence is a popular guy with fans literally all over the world. So without further ado, we've got two winners of the signed Prince of Fools giveaway:

David Keith from Indiana, USA


Mircea Popescu from Sibiu, Romania

Thanks for all the entries and congrats to the winners!

There wasn't a whole lot of snark because people generally were too happy to have a chance to win something by Mark Lawrence to be able to get into a really snarky mood. I can't say I blame them.