This is a blog with spoiler free reviews. Most will be Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but there will be some books in other genres, including the occasional Non-Fiction review. There is an ongoing series of Cover Reveal Round-Ups, and sometimes I'll write an article on something that interests me.

23 September, 2013

REVIEW: 2312

Cover by Kirk Benshoff


ISBN: 978-1-841-49996-3
Pages: 561
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 24 May 2012

On the cover:

The year is 2312. Scientific advances have opened gateways to an extraordinary future. Earth is no longer our only home; new habitats have been created throughout the solar system, on moons, planets and in between. But in 2312, a sequence of events will force humanity to confront our past, present and future. 
The first event takes place on Mercury, in the city of Terminator, itself a miracle of engineering on an unprecedented scale. For Swan Er Hong, it will change her life. Once a designer of worlds, now Swan will be led into a plot to destroy them. 

   Having previously read Robinson's Mars Trilogy you will pretty much know what you can expect when it comes to the level of Science Fiction in this novel. I haven't checked if it is actually set in the same world as the Mars Trilogy, but there's nothing that immediately says to me that it isn't. In any event, it does fit in with the society and space exploration we encounter in the previous trilogy.
   That being said, there is absolutely no need to read the Mars Trilogy before reading this. This is a novel that stands one hundred percent on its own as a story, and in worldbuilding for that matter.

   Worldbuilding is an important aspect of this novel, I would even go so far as to say it is the important aspect of the novel.  I like solid worldbuilding in my SFF, and there's certainly a lot of that here. Robinson makes the world of our solar system in 2312 come vividly to life. And he does it in such a way that it seems like a very natural development from our time.
   However, here the worldbuilding overshadows the story completely at times. Sometimes you feel that the story is just an afterthought, something put there in the last minute. There's quite a bit of the story here that doesn't go anywhere plot-wise, but does go the places it needs to show off what humanity has done in the solar system. 
   There's small interspersed chapters with additional worldbuilding, and they are very interesting, and add a lot to the understanding of what has happened in the coming three centuries. Despite these chapters being somewhat disruptive to the flow of the main narrative, I felt they were justified. They do a lot for what is happening that would be lost if they were relegated to an appendix.

   There's a very interesting story here, one of politics and power. Of the future of humanity, and of the problems that can crop up with progress. This is very well done, Robinson creates a lot of mystery, and the revealing of them makes for some interesting reading. 
   But there are some huge problems. One of them is that we aren't really involved in what is going on. The story mostly happens on the very outskirts of the investigation surrounding the mystery. There's an almost complete lack of suspense due to the solutions being presented "out of the blue". There's very little previous build up, and sometime they come from completely new information. 
   And even when we are at the centre of events we don't get much information. Instead the story is centred around a character that not only is kept apart from what is happening, but who mostly doesn't care about it at all.

   There's two main characters, Swan Er Hong and Fitz Wahram. Swan is the one who is the main focus, and she's not really a good point of view character. I found her to very unsympathetic, even annoying. It certainly is a daring choice to have a main character that is this self-centred, but I don't think it paid off here.
   Adding to the  problem with Swan is that she is not really central to what is going on. When she is placed at the centre of events, after an initial event that it's natural she's present for, it feels artificial. The story at times feels weaker by her having a place in it.
   Wahram is more central to what is going on, and should have served as a better narrator to the greater events. Unfortunately he is defined almost solely by his relationship with Swan. Something that I felt made him much less sympathetic. 

   Considering these flaws, this is still a good novel. The world building is simply excellent and very interesting. But the contrast to a weak story, that feels like it is there to show the worldbuilding, is very striking. That this is in many ways Swan's personal story didn't work for me. It clashed with the worldbuilding and the greater events. I'd have preferred this as a "History book" instead. The storyline pulls the whole down here.
   It's still very much a good Science Fiction story. Yes, it has massive flaws, but the future we see here still makes for interesting reading. Individual parts of the story are very good. Mostly when they focus more on the worldbuilding aspects, and not on Swan personally.

   If you need a really good story to go with your Science Fiction, I wouldn't say that this is a good choice. If you want an interesting look at the future of humanity however, this is a great choice. If you like solid worldbuilding this is excellent.
   I'm also sure that many will have quite a different reaction to Swan than I did. And since she's so central to the story , how you get along with her will decide how you feel about it.
   This is very good Science Fiction, that suffer from a story, and a main character, that just don't manage to feel significant next to the excellent worldbuilding.

18 September, 2013


Cover by Kay Sales


ISBN: 978-0-957-18833-4
Pages: 77 (Including glossary/appendix)
Publisher: Whippleshield Books
Published: 17 January 2013

On the cover:
(From the publisher's website)

For fifteen years, Earth has had a scientific station on an exoplanet orbiting Gliese 876. It is humanity’s only presence outside the Solar System. But a new and powerful telescope at L5 can detect no evidence of Phaeton Base, even though it should be able to. So the US has sent Brigadier Colonel Bradley Elliott, USAF, to investigate. Twenty years before, Elliott was the first, and to date only, man to land on the Martian surface. What he discovered there gave the US the stars, but it might also be responsible for the disappearance of Phaeton Base… 

   Like Sales previous Apollo Quartet novella, Adrift on the Sea of Rains (review), I'd define this as Hard SF Alternate History. It's not a direct follow up to the previous novella, in fact it's not even set in the same timeline. That sounds strange for two books that have a title collecting them together, but it really isn't. The operative word in the quartet's title is Apollo. That is what keeps these stories together. Not the god by that name, but NASA's Apollo Program.

   This time the main character is Bradley Emerson Elliot, who we follow at two major turning points of his life. Both have to do with space exploration, and both have significance for much more than Elliot himself.
   The Apollo space program, specifically the alternate history expansion of it, is very well handled by Sales. It's used as a really strong foundation for the story, and keeps it grounded in our reality even when it diverges from it. There's absolutely no doubt that the author has done his research. I especially liked how theories from the "fringe/alternative" corners were integrated.
   Sales has managed to stay on the right side of the Hard SF worldbulding/infodumping divide. There's more show than tell, and even when he does tell he manages to do so in an interesting manner.

   Being a novella, there's not much space for intricate character building (, not that I think there should be). But Sales has found room for giving us some insight into the character traits of Elliot that effects the story. Within the confines of this little slice of his life, Elliot is fully formed. And we also get some insight into his personal life that gives us a deeper understanding of him.
   There's isn't really room for getting to know the other characters that pop up in the course of the story, but that doesn't matter one bit. At least it was not something that I felt was missing. This is in one way the personal story of one man, and the focus on him makes the story more intimate.
   This is really an intimate story, but at the same time it's a very big one. The main character is present at some very important events, and thus this becomes his personal story. Bu for humanity as a whole, this story has much greater implications. And the story excels at that blending that together. Elliot isn't dumped into events, he as a natural place in them.

   There's a lot of tension in the story, even when we know that what the story makes us fear is not going to happen. Sales is very good at building up that atmosphere of uncertainty, there's a real feeling that anything can happen. Which is a testament to good writing when the storyline is split into two parts that are twenty years apart.
   More important than the mysteries though, is the journey. Both Elliot's personal/physical journey, and the bigger one that humanity does because of what Elliot experiences. The former is connected to space exploration and the latter follows from that. And although there are certainly strong Science Fiction elements in both, they feel like they are a natural extension.
   I must make a small addendum to my mention of the journey here. When you reach the end of the novella itself, it doesn't feel very fulfilling. It's like there is something missing, and there is. The following Glossary and Coda are a part of the story. They fill in the little bit that was missing, and adds quite a lot more of the history around what precedes it. I'd like to add that the story we get through the appendices to some extent exceeds what is contained within the relatively few pages of the book.

   Overall this is a great Hard SF novella. It is also a great Alternate History novella. Sales has created an excellent alternate world, that reads like Near Future Hard Science Fiction of the 1960s without in any way feeling old-fashioned. There's enough story here to comfortably fill a much larger volume, but it still doesn't feel crammed together. 
   This is an excellent starting point for those that want to take a look at Hard SF or Alternate History. For anyone who enjoys those genres this is an absolute must.

NOTE: I got an e-ARC of this from the author.

17 September, 2013


   I really wish I had written this when I first thought about it. Which wasn't between the Speculative Horizons article appearing and it exploding days later. It wasn't after the brief kerfuffle after the incident on Booksmugglers. No, I was thinking about writing this over six months ago. After one of the occasions when there was another one of those "things" involving an author on Goodreads.
   Now that this whole thing has exploded, I feel that this may be a bit too little, and way too late. The sad thing is that I feel the whole shitstorm over at Strange Horizons is a derail from a debate we should have had a long time ago. A debate I was hoping the article I planned on writing would help start. My mistake was to wait a while. To the current debacle over on Goodreads had died down, so I could write my article in an atmosphere where there was no current incident to distract from important principles.
   Of course, there was other things that delayed me writing about the issue of authors commenting. Other things I thought about, things happening in real life. Reading books, reviewing books, and the ever present general procrastination. And it was never like this was a problem that was likely to disappear all by itself, at least not in the immediate future. I can't write the article I thought about now, after all that has happened. But I can still write an article that focuses on what I wanted to say, instead of the current "shitstorm".

   On this blog, authors are very much welcome. I personally have no problem interacting with authors, I do it regularly both on Twitter and Facebook. Some authors have contacted me after I've reviewed their books, usually with nothing more than a "thank you". But I really appreciate that. This is a small blog, and just knowing someone out there is actually reading it and care about what is said here feels good.
   So, yes, if you are an author (,or editor or other publishing professional, ) you are more than welcome to engage on this blog, I don't mind at all. And it is after all I who run this little space on the internet.

   However, if you are an author be aware that no matter if this is my blog, and I welcome you here, there may be people from other corners of the internet who will look on you unfavourable if you comment/engage here.
   The problem is that there has been quite a lot of incident of what is most often called "Author Behaving Badly" or "Author Meltdown" online. Many of them have happened on Goodreads, leading to some people describing any incident there (, no matter what the facts in that particular case may be, ) as "Goodreads Drama".

    This is of course unfair. Yes, 95% of these incidents are actually authors going "batshit". And it is made even worse by the authors who have started up their own "bully central" on STGRB (Google it, I'm not linking to the kind of vile lies you'll find there).
   One thing that almost all of these authors have in common is that they are self-published. For me that doesn't matter much, I only review books that are self-published if I know the author. And I highly doubt that they'll go ape-shit on my blog if I am critical of what they have written.
   There have also been some incidents where published authors have gotten into an argument with a reviewer. And whatever the author does in those cases, the reviewer will have parts of the fan base attacking them. Yes, even if the author says clearly that they don't want their fans to engage.

   Authors having meltdowns, and overzealous fans, are a very little problem if you consider the number of authors out there, but the cases where it happens usually get talked about. If you don't look at the detail of the individual cases it's very easy to get the wrong impression. -And that goes for everyone talking about "Authors Behaving Badly", and doubly for those that talk about "Goodreads Bullies".
   I don't really think it is a problem at all. Author/reviewer/fan interactions happen in their thousands each day. If you take that into account the incidents where it blows up into a shitstorm are extremely few. But there is a lot of fear out there, perhaps from both sides, that it can happen at any moment.
   This fear is what in my opinion leads to people on both sides of the author/fan divide (, if such a thing even exists, ) being a tad too sensitive and quick to jump to conclusions. Some fans feel they are hindered from talking at once if an author so much as shows their (avatar-)face, and some authors feel bullied out of the conversation if they are less than welcomed.
   None of the above reactions need have anything to do with what is really going on, but I think everyone who travels in the book-sphere of the internet should be aware that it is how someone else may interpret things.

   So, authors are welcome here. And so are anyone else. If they behave in a civil manner. But be aware that I can't control how anyone else feels when an author shows up, and neither can anyone else. And that is why we have been burdened with the unfair guideline that "Author's should never comment on reviews".
   I'll end my rambling stream of thoughts here. I hope to see anyone who reads this in the comments on a post this blog if they feel like they have anything to say.

NOTE: The two badges are made by Gavin over at Gav Reads. (And I hope he'll forgive me for using them without asking permission first.)

16 September, 2013



ISBN: 978-0-451-17709-4
Pages: 372
Publisher: Signet (Penguin USA)
First published: 9 November 1992*
This edition published: 1 December 1993

On the cover:
(From publisher's website. Book has picture of King.)

When housekeeper Dolores Claiborne is questioned in the death of her wealthy employer, a long-hidden dark secret from her past is revealed- as is the strength of her own will to survive...

   This is not actually a SFF novel. There's a tiny supernatural element, but that has no impact on the story, and seems to exist only to tie this novel to another King novel. This is the story of the adult life of a woman who at the time of the novels present is in her sixties. You could make a case for this being a Thriller, but I really don't think it belongs anyplace else than in Contemporary American Novel - or whatever it is a novel published by an American author in 1993 is supposed to be called. (I could go on about how King's work is classified/seen, but I'll leave that for a later blog post.)

   Apart from a short "epilogue" this novel is a first person story, told by Dolores Claiborne in a police interview. The choice to do it that way is without a doubt the correct one, it works extremely well. We get up close and personal with what is going on, and there is no sense of us missing out on anything. 
   This is Dolores' story, and we get it straight from her mouth. And that means complete with some dialect, and plenty of authenticity. Something that really  makes this a very intimate story even structurally.

   On the surface Dolores' story doesn't necessarily sound very interesting, but it really is. Some of that has to do with the setting. This being told at a police interview does reveal that there is a crime involved, and beginning there does grab your attention. But once you get into what Dolores is telling, it's very easy to get invested in the story for no other reason that it is a fascinating story in itself.
   The story is told so vividly, that at times it's easy to get so involved that you forget that Dolores is actually the one telling it, and that you know what is going to be the result of the events you are reading about. King tells the story so wall that you do get involved on some level, how much will depend upon the person. I found myself very much rooting for Dolores, and I found her very easy to empathise with.

   Dolores Claiborne is of course essential to this story, it is after all her that is telling it. She's a marvelous character, and I found her to be a fascinating person. This is a women who despite being from a time when women where seen as subservient to their men stands up for herself. And she really does that to the full extent.
   King doesn't shy away from gruesome details in his description of some of what is happening, and I'm not necessarily talking about the gore we've come to expect from King. There's things here that may make people uncomfortable on a completely different level, and that is as it should be. This is not a story that is dominated by happy events.

   This story also has quite a lot of suspense to it. Like I mentioned above it's written in a way that means it's easy to forget that you know the outcome of some of the vents. And the outcome is left very vaguely described, so there's much left to discover when you read the novel. King is very good at creating this suspense by telling a bare minimum at first, and then feeding you the full story bit by bit.
   There's no doubt that this really shows of King's skill as a storyteller. This is completely stripped of any of the SFF that King is best known for, but that does not in any way make his way of telling us a story suffer. In some ways it showcases it, you can see here that King is not dependent on a SFF backdrop in his writing. He shows here that he can tell a good story in any setting.

   Overall I found this a great novel. This shows King to be a writer who is certainly one of the best storytellers we have today. The lack of SFF elements should not stop anyone from reading this, on the contrary it would be a good place to read a contemporary novel for those whose reading diet consists of SFF only. Likewise the name of the author, and what he's predominantly known as, should not stop anyone who likes to read contemporary novels from picking up this.
   This is a great story, and in some ways an important one, and I think it deserves wide reading. I don't hesitate to urge anyone who likes good storytelling to pick this one up.

*Most places, including King's website gives the publication date as 1993. But the November 1992 date looks correct, and a lot of books are released late in the year before the copyright date in the US. So I have good reason to believe this is the actual first date this book was available to the public on.

13 September, 2013


Cover art by Larry Rostant
Cover design by David Stevenson


ISBN: 978-0-553-57990-1
Pages: 969 (+ appendix)
Publisher: Bantam Spectra (Bantam Dell)
First published: 2 February 1999
This edition published: 2011*
(*First mass market paperback edition: 5 September 2000)

On the cover:

   A comet the color of blood and flame cuts across the sky. And from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns. Six factions struggle for control of a divided land and the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, preparing to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war. It is a tale in which brother plots against brother and the dead rise to walk in the night. Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside. Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, victory may go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel...and the coldest hearts. For when kings clash, the whole land trembles.

   This is the sequel to A Game of Thrones (review), and I mean sequel in the part two sense.This book does in no way stand on its own. I'd strongly advice against reading it before reading A Game of Thrones, and I'd say that goes even if you have seen season one of the TV-series.

   There's one other thing before I begin this review in earnest. If you don't like dream sequences, this is not the book for you. I have nothing against dreams used in narrative, but it became annoying to me here.

   Something that becomes apparent early on is that this is going to be slow going. And that is really something that characterises this novel. There is a hell of a lot not happening in the almost one thousand pages of this story. My review notes contains many variations on "this chapter could be summed up in a few sentences next time see this point of view (PoV)". There is just so much insignificant happening with the characters we do know, that when we see things that will become significant later (I've already read all the books that are out in the series) with characters we don't know much, or indeed anything, about it lacks any sort of impact.

   The multiple viewpoints aren't really working here, there is just way too much happening that we don't see. We get told about a lot of things happening around the characters we follow without seeing what is really going on. I almost get the feeling Martin has chosen the characters he wants to write for the PoVs instead of those that will help tell the story.
   Another flaw that becomes apparent with the multiple PoVs is that there is a tendency to repeat information. On a couple of occasions we get to see more than one PoV character receive the same news, without there being a feeling that their reactions really matter. Since we have no idea of how long these messages took to get to the different characters, it doesn't help setting up when the different timelines are happening in relation to each other either.

   One thing that is positive about the different PoVs is that they are now branching out much more than in the last book. The different storylines are really moving apart, giving us a wider view of events. But as already mentioned it is hampered by so much happening "off screen".
   There are three PoVs that stand out from the others; Jon, Arya, and Daenerys. While all the other PoVs are to some degree concerned with courtly intrigue in some form, these three have a completely different type of story to tell. It's really refreshing when you come to a chapter headed by the name of one of these three, because you know that even if their chapter is slow at least it is going to be different.

   Unfortunately the differences in these chapters only highlight the likenesses in the others. I don't feel it's really justified having to keep track of so many PoVs when the stories told differ so little in a bigger  perspective. And this goes even more for the fact that we get so little story from a character that is actually experiencing what is happening.
   Battles are the place this really shows up best. There is a lot of battles that we just hear about, in messages or summations. This wouldn't be such a big problem if Martin hadn't gone out of his way to show us he's actually great at writing battles.
   There's one battle in this books that we get to follow mostly from people who are actually in it, and it is perhaps the best sequence in the whole book. I really can't avoid thinking about how much better this book could have been if a few hundred pages of the type of chapters I started this review talking about was exchanged for scenes from the battles we only hear about in passing. This isn't something I'd usually mention in a review, I try to review what is, not what could have been. But it is just so frustratingly obvious here that I feel I would be holding back if I didn't mention it.

   I've been pretty focused on the negative in this review and I feel that is justified. There are a lot of flaws in this novel. But that isn't the full story of this book.
   Martin writes in a way that does make you want to hear more of the story. No matter how frustrating I found the pace of this novel, I wanted to read another chapter to find out what happens next. No matter how irritatingly misplaced I found a character in the part of the story they were supposed to tell, I wanted to find out more about what was happening to them.
   This story does really get under your skin. And even though it has flaws, a story that wasn't good in some way wouldn't be able to do that. Many of the parts here are definitely flawed, if not outright broken, but put together they make for an Epic Fantasy that gives you a good journey to another world.

REVIEW: A Game of Thrones

LINKS: George R.R. Martin  Bantam Dell

12 September, 2013


   First up the cover for the first book in a series coming in August 2014, with design by Lauren Panepinto. You can read more about the book over on the author's blog. I like this cover, it's a very simple one stylistically speaking, but it's an image that is eyecatching to me. The cover alone would make me check out this book more closely.

   This cover by Charles Vess is for a Subterranean Press limited print edition of a novella coming in April 2014. I really like Vess' art, and this is certainly not an exception to that.

   A new series from Strange Chemistry, with the first book being released 5 November, gets a cover with a symbol on it. I like this one, not sure what the symbol represents but it looks like it could be a real symbol for something. It has me intrigued.

   Some of you may have spotted that this isn't a new book. The cover is for Tor UK's latest release/printing of this collection, you can see the old one, and read a bit about the book, here. I haven't read the book, but I may pick it up in the future. I think the new cover looks much more modern and science fictiony, but not entirely sure I think it's better than the old one. But then again that could just be me getting old and nostalgic for the covers of yesteryear...

   This book will be out 24 October from Hodder & Stoughton, the art is by Marko Manev. I really like this cover. It has a Noir World War II Video-game feel to it. (And I hope at least one person understands what I mean by that.) This would certainly make me pick up the book and see what it's about.

   From Orbit we have this cover for book with a March 2014 release. It's the first book in a new Epic Fantasy trilogy. It has a hooded man on the cover, but I don't think that matters at all if the cover is well done. This is, and I like it a lot.

   Also from Orbit, this cover designed by Kirk Benshoff is the cover for the third book in a Science Fiction trilogy, it will be released 22 April 2014. If you haven't caught the first two books yet, it's because they are not out. Read more about them, and see their covers here. I think both the above, and the two other covers, look interesting. I'll most likely be checking out these books when they come out.

   More from Orbit. Coming in July 2014, this is designed by Kirk Benshoff and has an illustration by Raphael Lacoste. It's for a new Epic Fantasy series, and it looks very interesting. In fact I want this book to be out a bit before July next year based on what I can see on the cover.

   This one, also from Orbit, is for the forth book in the Expanse series. Illustration is by Daniel Dociu and design by Kirk Benshoff. This is pretty much what you expect a Science Fiction cover to look like, and I in no way mean that as something bad. I really like Science Fiction covers of this type, and I always check out books with this type of cover.

   Also from Orbit, again. This book will be released on 8 April 2014. The cover is dominated by the long title, but I think it works very well. But that isn't the most interesting thing about this book. According to Orbit,  "Claire North is a pseudonym for an acclaimed British author who has previously published several novels". Someone on Twitter suggested K.J. Parker, and that may be correct. But my suggestion was J.K. Rowling, not because I have any special reason to think so, but I wanted to make that prediction early just in case.

   You have probably noticed that there is a lot of covers from books from Orbit in this cover reveal post. That's because they have recently released covers for their Spring - Summer 2014 releases. You can see them here (UK) and here (US). There are a few differences between the two.

11 September, 2013


Cover based on illustration by Larry Rostant/Artist Partners


ISBN: 978-0-575-09943-2
Pages: 473
Publisher: Gollancz
First published: 26 May 1989
This edition published: 12 May 2011

On the cover:

The universe of the Human Hegemony is under threat. Invasion by the warlike Ousters looms, and the mysterious schemes of the secessionist AI TechnoCore bring chaos ever closer.

On the eve of disaster, seven pilgrims set out on a quest for the legendary Time Tombs on Hyperion, home to the Shrike, part god and part killing machine with powers that transcend the limits of time and space. The pilgrims have resolved to discover nothing less than the secrets of the universe itself.

   This Science Fiction novel is, I am told, inspired by The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. I'm sure that is correct, but I have very little knowledge of The Canterbury Tales myself. I've gotten the impression that they are important to English literature, but since my High School English teacher devoted three fucking months to Hamlet, we didn't have time to learn about any other part of the English literary heritage. Ahem... So, this review is done without any prior knowledge, knowing your Chaucer might make for a different reading.

   Obviously the "tales within a tale" structure is nothing new, quite a few examples come to mind within SFF, A Thousand and One Nights being the obvious one. What really matters her is how Simmons uses it. And I can't really fault what he does there.
   The six tales in Hyperion are very different from eachother, and they have influence from several genres and subgenres. They aren't only superficially influenced by these genres, but stylistically too. This makes for very diverse reading in a single novel. And it does take a bit of effort to follow the shifts when another tale comes along.

   Simmons has not only written some good stories within this novel, the novel's story itself is a very interesting one. It may not be much as a freestanding story, it would be a bit too slight for that, but it is coherent and complete.
   There is not any problem here that the revelations that matter to the overarching story is told in the tales contained within the story. It's a feature of this novel, and it works very well. Simmons gives us the information about our destination from different angles, and in completely different ways. This not only makes for great variety, it means that there is some degree of uncertainty to the information we have given. Even when everything is revealed there is a great deal of mystery left, but actually not in a way that makes this story unfulfilling.

   This being a Science Fiction novel, there's quite a bit of worldbuilding needed to give us a flavour of how society has evolved. Again, much of this is done through  the different tales. There is really a lot of great glimpses into the 28th century setting of the story.
   In the course of the novel we get some glimpses into warfare, travel, AI, family life, religion, and generally a good idea about how society has evolved. I found the world that serves as the backdrop for this interesting in its own right. The structure of this novel means that we aren't immersed to a great degree, there's simply not room for it. But what we get to see is glimpses that reveal a fascinating development from our own time.

   The characters are in many ways very integral to the stories they tell, and most of the character building is done through those tales. That the tales are so intimate means that we get pretty close to them. We do after all get to follow them through what is for some of them lifechanging events.
   They are of course a select group, not only in the obvious way that the author has chosen to tell his story through these characters, but they are also selected for this journey within the framework of the story. This can sound like a bit of "chosen one" trope, but that is far from the feeling you get when you read the story. These people may be in a special situation now, and been in special situations in the past, but they are all very much brought to life by what we learn about them.
   Structurally this novel doesn't give very much room for growth within the framework story. But that doesn't matter at all, we follow the characters and see them come to life in their own tales in a way that gets us closer to them than if we had did it through one narrative.

   This stands out among the Science Fiction I have read. The narrative gives it a very fresh feelings structurally, and Simmons' writing is excellent throughout. Like I said above, the influences from different genres work very well, and the characters are interesting to follow.
   There's nothing I can point to as being wrong with this novel, it comes extremely close to perfection, and deserves a place among the best of Science Fiction. I highly recommend this novel to anyone who has an interest in reading Science Fiction. And anyone who is a fan of the genre should see it as an obligation to pick it up if they haven't already.

LINKS: Dan Simmons  Gollancz  Gollancz Blog

09 September, 2013


   Last week fellow blogger Ria Bridges posted this on her blog Bibliotropic. I thought it was interesting, and for once decided to do one of these meme thingies myself. Being as slow as I am, another fellow blogger, Abinhav Jain managed to get his own up before me.
   Not that it matters how many others have done it. I think this is an interesting look into what others are reading and have read, and thought I'd share my own thoughts with you.


   That would be Terry Pratchett. But despite me having read all the Discworld books, only by a margin of a few book. In second place is Jack Higgins, an author I've read since I was about 12 years. At which point my mother already had quite a few of his books. Actually, if I hadn't stopped buying every new Jack Higgins book in the early 1990s he would have beaten Pratchett by a few books. Stephen King is not far behind either, and those three could certainly trade places in the future.


   This is a hard one. Firstly, I'm arbitrarily going to not include books in a series if they are part of the same single story. Or to put that in clearer English, no book two or three in a trilogy, or book five in a Fantasy series. I'm also going to make this even more difficult for myself by disqualifying Discworld books.And I also have to take the Culture books I've read out of the running, since I don't consider them sequels. They are just set in the same universe. (Use of Weapons would be a favourite if I wasn't so strict. -Review here.)
   So...this is actually still difficult. I think I'll have to go outside SFF on this one, and say Jo Nesbø's newest, Police. (Getting it's UK release this week, I've already reviewed it. I "cheated" and read it in Norwegian.) I haven't really got anything to add to my review, but it is really a superior sequel. It's worth reading at least it and the predecessor Ghost (Original title: Gjenferd) just to see how Nesbø makes writing a sequel into an art form. This is Crime, but there's certainly something in the way this story is structured that would carry over well to SFF.


   At the moment I'm reading Stephen King's Dolores Claiborne. Part of my ongoing project to review every book Stephen King has written.


   I don't drink alcohol at all when reading books. So usually what I drink while reading is coffee, and water.


   I don't have an e-reader, and there's not any real chance of me getting one in the foreseeable future. I do read books on my computer though, mostly e-ARCs.
   I do really like books, they appeal to me both as a reader and as a collector. I think books in a bookshelf is excellent furniture, and great for starting conversations. There's no way e-books can replace that for me.


   I got to assume here that the character we're talking about felt the same for me. Not that it matters much, I don't really think about fictional characters that way. And if they existed I'd have to meet them and see how they were in real life anyway before I could make make a decision about whether we could be dating.


   That one is actually very easy. Lord Foul's Bane by Stephen Donaldson. This is the infamous first book in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Like many others I put it down when I got to the rape scene, I think I was 16 or 17 at the time. When I was 19 I thought I'd give it another chance, I'm very glad I did. I've reread the first two chronicles three times since then, and I will do it again sometime next year. (Probably, I call my TBR-pile TBR-mountain.) 


   I'd have to go with a book I read recently; The Red Knight by K.T. Davies. (Review.) The author sent me a copy, and I'm very glad she did. This has gotten very good reviews from a few people, but it certainly deserves to be read much more widely.


   I'm going to go a bit against what I assume is the purpose of this question, I'm not going to go with something that was very positive.
   An important moment in my reading life was finishing The Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. It was a fucking hard slog. The first book tricked me a bit, I read it in Norwegian, and that hid most of Goodkind's technical writing flaws. I didn't think book two or three were very bad, but after that it just gets worse and worse... Faith of the Fallen has got to be one of the worst pieces of crap ever written, it's an ultra-capitalist manifesto in Fascist-Fantasy form. And I still continued.
   I've always been a completist. For instance, when I last read David Eddings Belgarion books, I read all twelve (Belgariad/Malloreon/Belgarath/Polgara). In a row. With no other books in between. 
   Reading The Sword of Truth series cured me of doing that, and if it hadn't it is unlikely that I would have this blog today. And if I was blogging, it would probably be a blog that did SFF series reviews. -That completist urge in me is why I am going to review all of Stephen King's books. And don't be surprised f any of  the series I have reviewed some books of will one day be reviewed fully.


   2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. Review coming on this blog soon(-ish).


   Gut reaction was to say Erotica here, but I was born before the Internet age so I have read Porn before. (And, no! There is no difference between Erotica and Porn, it's two different names for the same thing.) I don't think there really is any category of books I won't read. -Unless you count "books by authors I think are assholes" as a category. (Yes, I'm looking at you Orson Scott Card.)


   Since I don't have a wordcount for the books I have read, I'll go by page count here.
   The actual book I've read that has the most pages is Gobi by Tor Åge Bringsværd, clocking in at 1,463 pages. (+ 20 pages according to my notes. Probably foreword or afterword, I don't have the book here right now.) This is of course an omnibus edition, of originally five books.
   Meanwhile, my edition of Stephen King's The Stand comes in at 1,325 pages, and is the longest non-omnibus book I've read.


   As the two other bloggers I've linked to at the top of this, I'm going to skip this one. Not sure what it means, and not sure I would have an answer if I was.


   I'm not answering this one. I'll just say that I'm uncertain if I need two or three more bookcases for my books.


   Even if I said that I first read The Lord of the Rings when I was seven, and didn't actually remember that until I had read it several times since rediscovering it in my teens, that would be a boring answer, so I'll go with something else instead.
   I got Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub when it was new in 2001. I'd only read Carrie by King before that, and that was in Norwegian edition. I've now read this book three more times, and will do my fifth read of it (probably) sometime later this year. Black House is the book that got me hooked on King, and besides it being a great book it will always remind me of that. (And writing this reminds me I need to read some Peter Straub books.)


   My sofa.


   I'm no good with quotes at all. I very rarely write them down when I read, and when I do it is usually because they are funny. I think I have one quote in all my reviews (might be wrong though, it's been over three years), and I'll use that. It's from Stephen King's Bag of Bones. (Review.)

I like people who read actual books, and not just because I once wrote them myself. Bookreaders are just as willing as anyone else to start out with the weather, but as a general rule they can actually go on from there.


   That would be Goodkind's Sword of Truth again. I could have read at least 11 other books instead of those.


   Malazan Book of the Fallen. I was only planning on taking a small break after finishing Deadhouse Gates, an emotionally exhausting book. (Review.) But I've yet to pick up the next book. I really need to do something about that.


   Three books are really way to few, so I'll cheat a little bit (really a lot) and count series as one. Discworld by Terry Pratchett, Realm of the Elderlings by Robin Hobb, and The Eternal Champion by Michael Moorcock.
   But this is really one of those questions I don't feel comfortable answering at all, there are just so many good books out there. The three above are all among my favourite SFF series, but don't take it as a top three.


   I should probably change that to boy, but I'm comfortable enough with my heterosexuality that I don't feel threatened by letting it stand.
   And I don't think I have that fan enthusiasm any more. Reading for review gives you a bit more nuanced look at books. So while I can still vehemently argue that people should read a book, I don't think I am capable to do that in the uncritical way I associate with "fan boying". (No offence meant to anyone who considers themselves fan girls/boys. I admire your enthusiasm.)


   Being a blogger means you usually have a good idea of what's coming out for quite a while into the future. I could probably mention 50 books I want to read that aren't out yet. The one I would said I am most excited for right now is Stephen King's Doctor Sleep, and Terry Pratchett's Raising Steam not far behind.


   Ria and Abinhav is going with having too many books in the TBR-mountain. I can relate to that. 


   Daughter of Dreams - Elric The Moonbeam Roads Book One by Michael Moorcock.


   The Crow Road by Iain Banks.


   Any book I like does that to me, "I just want to read a chapter before I go to sleep"... -But Pratchett is particularly bad for this, seeing as he has no chapters. Makes it very easy to read until you are seconds away from falling asleep.


Cover by Will Staehle


ISBN: 978-0-85766-313-9
Pages: 346
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
First published: 26 March 2013
This edition published: 4 April 2013

On the cover:

The Empire State is dying

The Fissure connecting the pocket universe to New York has vanished, plunging the city into a deep freeze and the populace are demanding a return to Prohibition and rationing as energy supplies dwindle.

Meanwhile, in 1954 New York, the political dynamic has changed and Nimrod finds his department subsumed by a new group, Atoms For Peace, led by the mysterious Evelyn McHale. Their goal is simple: total conquest - or destruction - of the Empire State.

   As the cover states, this is the sequel to Empire State (link to my review). I wouldn't suggest you try reading this without reading that first, there's simply too much here that demands you have knowledge of what happened in the previous book.

   While Empire State was clearly influenced by Crime Noir, this novel seems to me to be influenced by old movie serials, at least in the later half. I had some problems with where to begin with this review, but this is a pretty good jumping off point. So, lets start with the later part of the novel.
   There is a lot happening when this novel really gets moving. The action is plentiful, and in the tradition of the movie serial carries a lot of suspense with it. There are plenty of cliffhanger moments and revelations. Unfortunately, there's also many of the flaws of these movie serials. Realism takes a bit of a backseat to creating cliffhanger moments. In movie serials that was done by inserting a short scene before the end of the preceding weeks final scene, a couple of instances does the same here.
   This isn't exactly a new narrative device in novels, but it becomes very noticeable when it's placed in a world where you more or less expect it to happen. It does take away some of the suspense, and makes the text itself seem unreliable at times.
   I didn't really take to what I have described in this paragraph, it simply didn't work for me. (Although it may do so on another read through of the book.) But I can't say this is something that is really wrong with the novel. It honestly read like that was intended, and it was a feature not a bug. And it was very well done. Although as you may have gathered, I found it transparent. Once I did that it became predictable, and some plotpoints felt very telegraphed.

   Let's back up a bit to the first part of the novel. It is a sequel, one that doesn't follow directly from where the preceding book left off. We are given a quick update on some of the events that have occurred since last time, but there doesn't seem to have been much happening. We do find out later though that there are actually things that are going on, and significant ones at that.
   We meet again detective Rad Bradley from the first book, and he has an even more prominent role this time around. He's at the centre of most of what is happening, and is also the reader's gateway into events. This is something he somewhat suffers for. Bradley is more of a guide through events that a part of them. He is there when significant things happen, but he's more or less along for the ride.

   Being along for the ride is also a pretty good description for what I felt as a reader with this story. The storytelling style made me feel distant from what was happening, there's really no time here to get a connection to either events or characters before you are moving on. While the disconnect from events in itself doesn't mean I can't get into the book, here I had no characters that brought me in either. I did feel some connection to Bradley, but that was because of the previous book. More of a memory of old friendship that a continuation of it.
   The other characters didn't really feel like someone I should connect to, they were pretty distant. Even Jennifer Jones, who follows Bradley all through the narrative, never really felt like she was someone I could feel sympathy for. And the rest of the characters does for the most part not give the reader much to grab on to.
   That being said, there were some glimpses here of great character moments. But I felt they were left undeveloped, they weren't really built upon and taken advantage off to create a connection to the reader. I felt that in many ways the characters were sacrificed to build the atmosphere of the novel. And the atmosphere is definitely the best thing about the novel.

   I've come back to what I began with now, the movie serial influence. This creates a rather distinct atmosphere for the novel. It helps a lot with establishing the feel of being in the era it is set in. Christopher really excels at this, you really feel the 1950s vibe coming from the page. I wouldn't have reacted at all if this was presented as a newly discovered tie-in to an action-adventure serial of that time.
   In this sense this is a really good development on Empire State. It feel like this is a natural successor to that, bringing us from Crime Noir to Matinee Movie Serial. But as I've alluded to above, I didn't really connect to that. It felt a bit too meta for me, like the framework was more important than the finished product.

   I realise all this makes it seems like I didn't enjoy this novel at all, that is not the case. It was a fast read for me and despite my problems with it an enjoyable one. This review has been very hard to write, because I am not sure I really can get across my ambivalence with this novel.
   On the one hand I really enjoyed the atmosphere, and there was some really good ideas in here. But on the other hand I felt disconnected from both events and characters. Christopher's writing is excellent, and at times his style is a real joy to read. But here I felt he put storytelling in the background.
   My experience can perhaps be best summed up as; I liked it, but... I haven't in any way been put off either Christoper's writing or his Empire State setting. I know I'll pick up more of Christopher's books, and if there is a follow-up to this novel I will get that too.
   This is a very well written novel, with an excellently created atmosphere. It does however have some issues, and your mileage may vary on how those will effect your enjoyment of it.

NOTE: I received an e-ARC of this book from the publisher/NetGalley. The review is however done from a finished copy I bought at the bookstore myself.

REVIEW: Empire State

LINKS: Adam Christopher  Angry Robot Books

06 September, 2013


Cover art by Stephen Youll
Cover design by James S. Warren Youll
(NOTE: The lion on the cover is done in "gold" relief, the lines in this image represents the relief.)


ISBN: 978-0-553-57340-4
Pages: 807 (+appendix)
Publisher: Bantam Spectra (Bantam Dell)
First published: September 1995
This edition published: August 2005

On the cover:

In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom's protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

   At the moment this is probably the most famous Epic Fantasy series in existence. And as long as HBO keeps running the Game of Thrones (, take note that there's no "A" in the title, ) TV series I don't think that is going to change.
   I think I managed to pretty much ignore the TV series while re-reading this, (my first read was done in the mid '00s,) and I am not going to try to make any comparison to it at all. I will say though, that if you have just seen the series, reading the book(s) is a quite different experience.

   It becomes obvious after a little while that the pacing of the story is glacial. Something that is certainly partly a result of the structure of the story. There is a big cast of characters, and many of them get their own point of view chapters. While this helps the reader come closer to the characters, it also means the story slows down a lot.
   The jumping back and forth between characters to give an "update" means that the progress of the overall story suffers greatly. And the individual characters arcs aren't much better. They all seem to wait for each other, progress is minimal in each "visit" we have to a new point of view. Sometimes it feels like we get a chapter about one character just so we won't forget they exist, and that feels unnecessary.
   Another problem I had with the jumping back and forth was how it effects character development. It does become repetitive, there are lots of small episodes establishing how someone thinks/behaves. But these are often repeated in a later chapter with the same character, and after a while this becomes an annoyance. It really feels like stalling. Which is a shame because Martin's prose is not overwritten, and seems, at the times when it is allowed to do so, well suited to creating a story with a well-flowing but measured natural pace.
   I need to add here that the jumping back and forth between characters does give an impression that the story is moving when it is actually standing still. Something I probably would not have noticed if I hadn't been reading this for review, but which comes obvious when you take notes after reading each chapter.

   I've already mentioned how there is some repetition in the character building, and it did grate on me after a while. But the characters themselves do come so vividly to life that it's almost something that wasn't worth mentioning.
   Martin is very good at getting us into the heads of the characters he has chosen to give a point of view. We do really get to know them well, and we get to watch them grow and find themselves. The latter part is an important point to make here. These characters are growing and finding themselves not only because we meet them in what is to be fair unusual circumstances, but because they are so young. Ned, Catelyn, and Tyrion are adults, but the rest of the point of view characters are no more than fourteen years.
   This does have quite a bearing on what the characters are like, as it should. It also makes it easy to showcase some very interesting contrasts in personalities. Some of the characters are very naive,  and some characters are very resourceful and intelligent. I always find the latter type more interesting, and that is certainly the case here. It's also very interesting that the characters who belong to that category are not the ones you'd guess at from a quick look at who the point of view characters are.

   From all I've written above it becomes pretty obvious that this is a book whose enjoyment will depend very much on whether you can get along with the characters or not. For me that was mostly something I did. There were passages that I felt characters acted in ways that felt too common, familiar to any type of story, and as such predictable. But overall the characters carry this novel, and they mostly do it very well.

   The story however gets a very late start. About two thirds of the first five hundred pages feel redundant. Most of it is character development that perhaps could have been done while the story was moving along. This doesn't necessarily constitute a problem for me when it comes to Epic Fantasy, but it did get a bit grating here.
   The above is actually highlighted by some narrative choices when the story really gets going. There are some battles that may be epic, I say "may"because we never get to see them. The close personal viewpoints means that we become detached from these mass-events to a degree I felt was detrimental to the novel as a whole. There is never a moment when we get to pull back from the personal and see the bigger picture, and for me that felt like a flaw in this type of story.
   It must be mentioned that this felt very original to me, even when doing a re-read after seeing season one of the TV series. Martin doesn't in any way reinvent Epic Fantasy, but he does tell a story that isn't quite like any we have seen before. There are some surprising twists, and the story certainly doesn't move in the expected direction at all times.

   Overall though this is a very good Epic Fantasy novel. It's easy to get immersed in the lives of the characters, and the greater storyline is a really interesting one. This certainly strives for excellence. And while it never quite reaches it, it gives the reader a thoroughly enjoying visit to another world.

   I started with mentioning how well known this series has become, and for some that may be a reason to read this novel. But it really does deserve a read on its own merit. This is truly Epic Fantasy that takes you to a world where anything can happen.

LINKS: George R.R. Martin  Bantam Dell

05 September, 2013


   This is my second Cover Reveal Round-Up post this week. I didn't plan it that way, but it looks like there's lots of upcoming releases being announced right now. Also, I decided a couple of weeks ago that I would make one of these posts when I had ten covers to show. I may take another look at that decision at a later date, but from experience that usually means about a post a week. And that is about where I want to be with these posts.
I love seeing new SFF covers, and I want to share that with those who read this blog. I hope you enjoy these posts.

   This is the cover for the first book in The Southern Reach Trilogy. Art is by Eric Nyquist and design by Charlotte Stick. You can see an animated GIF version of this cover here. The book will be out 4 February 2014 from Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. I like this cover. It's very different, and the green just makes it "pop".

   From Tor UK we have this one, out 10 October. This is a new version of the cover, and you can see the previous one here. Firstly, I think the new cover is a definite improvement on the previous one. Secondly, I like this cover. It's creepy, and really makes me want to know what is going on in the novel.

   This one is out from Hodder & Stoughton 31 October. I know very little about both the author and the Low-Town series, but this cover grabbed me for some reason. I'm not sure why, but I really like this one.

   With art by Ben Baldwin, this collection will be out 25 January 2014 from Crystal Lake Publishing. I went through a "Japanese period" in the 1980s (thanks to Wolverine going to Japan, Shogun being on TV, and watching Ran at the cinema), and I still find anything Japanese interesting. As such this cover got me interested at once, and the more I look at it the more I like it.

   The third book of The Lightbringer Series will be out in Summer 2014 from Orbit. The cover is designed by Lauren Panepinto, illustration by Silas Manhood and photo by Shirley Green. I don't think this suffers from "hooded man syndrome", I actually like "hooded man" covers - they tell you "this is Epic Fantasy". And this is a really good image, really a cover that almost screams for you to pick up the book.

   29 October will see the release of this follow up to The Lives of Tao from Angry Robot Books with cover art by ARGH! Oxford. This is (of course) a perfect fit with the cover for the previous novel. The silhouettes make a cover that really is busy seem ordered and simple. I must say I really like this style, and it certainly stands out in the SFF coversphere (, yep that is totally a word!).

    This is the sequel to Sea of Ghosts, and it will be out in November from Tor UK. Not really sure about this one. There's nothing really wrong with it,  I just feel it's too realistic - if that makes sense. I also have the urge to tell the character on the cover that the birds he's hunting are behind him. (That could be because I'm writing this early in the morning though.)

   From Orbit we have this cover. Done by Lauen Panepinto and Wendy Chan with a number of Shutterstock photos. The book will release in October. To me this has quite a traditional look, and I don't mean that in any bad way. I really like the castle on the cover, and the sword is very nice and makes a nice border. The eyes of the model are however a bit distracting, a bit too intense for my liking.

   This is for the first book in the Epic Fantasy series Elemental Wars, coming 29 October from Angry Robot Books. It's a type of cover I really like. It's clean and simple, and tells me quite a lot about what sort of book this is, while not revealing anything that will effect what I see in my head when I read the book.

   And finally, we have the UK cover to the final volume in The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. This will be published 17 October by Gollancz. It's a simple, stylistic cover. It doesn't really do anything for me in either a direction of "good" or "bad". But it does remind me that it's time I got caught up with The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, I have been waiting for this one to start reading it.