Friday, January 30, 2009

The Republic of Thieves Disappointment

As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the books I am looking forward to is The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch. I pre-ordered the book from back in November and was looking forward to reading it at the end of February. Today, I received an email from telling me the order got canceled and the book is no longer available for ordering. Reading some forums it looks like the manuscript has been delayed and the expected release is actually in August 2009 if not later. I am disappointed :(. Well, at least White Witch, Black Curse by Kim Harrison is still being released in February.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Heir to Sevenwaters

Title: Heir to Sevenwaters
Author: Juliet Marillier
Genre: Fantasy, stand alone
Published: 2008

Recommendation: Must buy for fans of the Sevenwaters Trilogy and Celtic fantasy fans.
Rating: 8/10

Summary: Clogdah is the third child in a large family headed by Lord Sean of Sevenwaters. She is troubled since her mother has conceived another child late in life and her father is dealing with warring factions around their border. Clogdah runs the household, now also hosting her cousin Johnny and his men. Little does she know that soon she and mysterious Cathal, Johnny's warrior, will be plunged into the world of magic and fair folk.

Reactions: I've read Marillier's Sevenwaters trilogy years ago and I was very happy to return to the world of Sevenwaters. The book takes place several generations after the Sevenwaters trilogy and can be read as a stand-alone though a few characters from Sevewaters trilogy show up in the tale. To tie it to the previous books, there is a family chart at the beginning of my edition.

I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the book. The Sevenwaters holding is set next to a forest where the last of the Fair Folk live. The forest setting is lyrical and the descriptions of the estate are homey and comfortable. There are family dinners, children, animals, and picnics on the lake.

Clogdah is the third daughter of Lord Sean and Lady Aisling and while in the beginning of the book she manages the household, we immediately see that there's a lot of fire in her. Clogdah is smart, capable, and independent without being boyish which I find very attractive.

The book itself is hard to put down. I found myself reading it in 3 long sessions, some going late into the night because I just needed to stay with the story. The story is more character-driven than plot driven, but that doesn't make it any easier to put down. The plot had a fairy-talesque feel with clear distinctions of good and bad characters and plenty of magical artifacts. Yet, somehow, there is lots of thought and feeling hiding behind simple events.

To sum it up, Heir to Sevenwaters is a quick and very enjoyable read that I wouldn't pass up.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Moving and Virginia Woolf

I've spent the last half a week or so moving apartments, which meant lots of packing, no internet for a bit, and not a whole lot of time to read. Hopefully, I will be able to find and unpack my books soon enough, but meanwhile I read an essay by Virginia Woolf on reading that I wanted to share with all of you.

Title: The Love of Reading
Author: Virginia Woolf
Genre: Essay

Rating: 9/10

Thoughts: I've never read anything by Virginia Woolf before and found this essay accidentally. Her writing style absolutely incredible. Somehow she manages to find words that give just the right shade of feelings to what she is trying to convey. At the same time reading the essay was easy and it really flowed.

In the essay she talks about why reading is important, the process of reading a book, and how she judges books. Not everyone would agree with her methods, but I definitely found a lot of what she was saying resonating with me. She speaks of suspending judgment while reading the book and letting the author carry you away with their narrative and only once the book is done judge the book as a whole.

An interesting essay, well-written, with a nice flow and a message I can support. It's also quite short, so don't be shy to give it a try even if it doesn't sound like your usual cup of tea.

Favorite Quote:
There they hang in the wardrobe of the mind - the shapes of the books we have read, like clothes that we have taken off and hung up to wait their season.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Guardian's Science Fiction and Fantasy Novels Everyone Must Read: The Meme

Guardian has been running a series called 1,000 Novels Everyone Must Read and has recently published their 124 149 science fiction and fantasy picks. (Links to intro. For the list, see Parts OneTwo and Three.) They've also listed a couple of interesting articles: The Best Dystopias by Michael Moorcock, Imagined Worlds by Susanna Clarke, and Novels that predicted the future by Andrew Crumey.

So I have marked bold the titles I have read from the list. Plenty of reading left for me to do. Feel free to copy the list and post which ones you've read.
  1. Douglas Adams: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1979)
  2. Brian W Aldiss: Non-Stop (1958)
  3. Isaac Asimov: Foundation (1951)
  4. Margaret Atwood: The Blind Assassin (2000)
  5. Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid's Tale (1985)
  6. Paul Auster: In the Country of Last Things (1987)
  7. J.G. Ballard: The Drowned World (1962)
  8. J.G. Ballard: Crash (1973)
  9. J.G. Ballard: Millennium People (2003)
  10. Iain Banks: The Wasp Factory (1984)
  11. Iain M Banks: Consider Phlebas (1987)
  12. Clive Barker: Weaveworld (1987)
  13. Nicola Barker: Darkmans (2007)
  14. Stephen Baxter: The Time Ships (1995)
  15. Greg Bear: Darwin's Radio (1999)
  16. William Beckford: Vathek (1786)
  17. Alfred Bester: The Stars My Destination (1956)
  18. Ray Bradbury: Fahrenheit 451 (1953)
  19. Poppy Z Brite: Lost Souls (1992)
  20. Charles Brockden Brown: Wieland (1798)
  21. Algis Budrys: Rogue Moon (1960)
  22. Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita (1966)
  23. Edward Bulwer-Lytton: The Coming Race (1871)
  24. Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange (1960)
  25. Anthony Burgess: The End of the World News (1982)
  26. Edgar Rice Burroughs: A Princess of Mars (1912)
  27. William Burroughs: Naked Lunch (1959)
  28. Octavia Butler: Kindred (1979)
  29. Samuel Butler: Erewhon (1872)
  30. Italo Calvino: The Baron in the Trees (1957)
  31. Ramsey Campbell: The Influence (1988)
  32. Lewis Carroll: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
  33. Lewis Carroll: Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871)
  34. Angela Carter: Nights at the Circus (1984)
  35. Angela Carter: The Passion of New Eve (1977)
  36. Michael Chabon: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)
  37. Arthur C Clarke: Childhood's End (1953)
  38. GK Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday (1908)
  39. Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (2004)
  40. Michael G Coney: Hello Summer, Goodbye (1975)
  41. Douglas Coupland: Girlfriend in a Coma (1998)
  42. Mark Danielewski: House of Leaves (2000)
  43. Marie Darrieussecq: Pig Tales (1996)
  44. Samuel R Delaney: The Einstein Intersection (1967)
  45. Philip K Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
  46. Philip K Dick: The Man in the High Castle (1962)
  47. Thomas M Disch: Camp Concentration (1968)
  48. Umberto Eco: Foucault's Pendulum (1988)
  49. Michel Faber: Under the Skin (2000)
  50. John Fowles: The Magus (1966)
  51. Neil Gaiman: American Gods (2001)
  52. Alan Garner: Red Shift (1973)
  53. William Gibson: Neuromancer (1984)
  54. Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Herland (1915)
  55. William Golding: Lord of the Flies (1954)
  56. Joe Haldeman: The Forever War (1974)
  57. M John Harrison: Light (2002)
  58. Nathaniel Hawthorne: The House of the Seven Gables (1851)
  59. Robert A Heinlein: Stranger in a Strange Land (1961)
  60. Frank Herbert: Dune (1965)
  61. Hermann Hesse: The Glass Bead Game (1943)
  62. Russell Hoban: Riddley Walker (1980)
  63. James Hogg: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824)
  64. Michel Houellebecq: Atomised (1998)
  65. Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (1932)
  66. Kazuo Ishiguro: The Unconsoled (1995)
  67. Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House (1959)
  68. Henry James: The Turn of the Screw (1898)
  69. PD James: The Children of Men (1992)
  70. Richard Jefferies: After London; Or, Wild England (1885)
  71. Gwyneth Jones: Bold as Love (2001)
  72. Franz Kafka: The Trial (1925)
  73. Daniel Keyes: Flowers for Algernon (1966)
  74. Stephen King: The Shining (1977)
  75. Marghanita Laski: The Victorian Chaise-longue (1953)
  76. CS Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-56) (Book 1 at least)
  77. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: Uncle Silas (1864)
  78. Stanislaw Lem: Solaris (1961)
  79. Ursula K Le Guin: The Earthsea series (1968-1990)
  80. Ursula K Le Guin: The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)
  81. Doris Lessing: Memoirs of a Survivor (1974)
  82. MG Lewis: The Monk (1796)
  83. David Lindsay: A Voyage to Arcturus (1920)
  84. Ken MacLeod: The Night Sessions (2008)
  85. Hilary Mantel: Beyond Black (2005)
  86. Michael Marshall Smith: Only Forward (1994)
  87. Richard Matheson: I Am Legend (1954)
  88. Charles Maturin: Melmoth the Wanderer (1820)
  89. Patrick McCabe: The Butcher Boy (1992)
  90. Cormac McCarthy: The Road (2006)
  91. Jed Mercurio: Ascent (2007)
  92. China Miéville: The Scar (2002)
  93. Andrew Miller: Ingenious Pain (1997)
  94. Walter M Miller Jr: A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960)
  95. David Mitchell: Cloud Atlas (2004)
  96. Michael Moorcock: Mother London (1988)
  97. William Morris: News From Nowhere (1890)
  98. Toni Morrison: Beloved (1987)
  99. Haruki Murakami: The Wind-up Bird Chronicle (1995)
  100. Vladimir Nabokov: Ada or Ardor (1969)
  101. Audrey Niffenegger: The Time Traveler's Wife (2003)
  102. Larry Niven: Ringworld (1970)
  103. Jeff Noon: Vurt (1993)
  104. Flann O'Brien: The Third Policeman (1967)
  105. Ben Okri: The Famished Road (1991)
  106. George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-four (1949)
  107. Chuck Palahniuk: Fight Club (1996)
  108. Thomas Love Peacock: Nightmare Abbey (1818)
  109. Mervyn Peake: Titus Groan (1946)
  110. Frederik Pohl & CM Kornbluth: The Space Merchants (1953)
  111. John Cowper Powys: A Glastonbury Romance (1932)
  112. Terry Pratchett: The Discworld series (1983- ) (A few of them)
  113. Christopher Priest: The Prestige (1995)
  114. Philip Pullman: His Dark Materials (1995-2000)
  115. François Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-34)
  116. Ann Radcliffe: The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794)
  117. Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space (2000)
  118. Kim Stanley Robinson: The Years of Rice and Salt (2002)
  119. JK Rowling: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (1997)
  120. Geoff Ryman: Air (2005)
  121. Salman Rushdie: The Satanic Verses (1988)
  122. Joanna Russ: The Female Man (1975)
  123. Antoine de Sainte-Exupéry: The Little Prince (1943)
  124. José Saramago: Blindness (1995)
  125. Will Self: How the Dead Live (2000)
  126. Mary Shelley: Frankenstein (1818)
  127. Dan Simmons: Hyperion (1989)
  128. Olaf Stapledon: Star Maker (1937)
  129. Neal Stephenson: Snow Crash (1992)
  130. Robert Louis Stevenson: The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886)
  131. Bram Stoker: Dracula (1897)
  132. Rupert Thomson: The Insult (1996)
  133. JRR Tolkien: The Hobbit (1937)
  134. JRR Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings (1954-55)
  135. Mark Twain: A Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur's Court (1889)
  136. Kurt Vonnegut: Sirens of Titan (1959)
  137. Horace Walpole: The Castle of Otranto (1764)
  138. Robert Walser: Institute Benjamenta (1909)
  139. Sylvia Townsend Warner: Lolly Willowes (1926)
  140. Sarah Waters: Affinity (1999)
  141. HG Wells: The Time Machine (1895)
  142. HG Wells: The War of the Worlds (1898)
  143. TH White: The Sword in the Stone (1938)
  144. Angus Wilson: The Old Men at the Zoo (1961)
  145. Gene Wolfe: The Book of the New Sun (1980-83)
  146. Virginia Woolf: Orlando (1928)
  147. John Wyndham: Day of the Triffids (1951)
  148. John Wyndham: The Midwich Cuckoos (1957)
  149. Yevgeny Zamyatin: We (1924)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Battlestar Galactica, Season 4

Yesterday was Martin Luther King day in the U.S. Since it was a holiday, I took it as a chance to catch up with Battlestar Galactica episodes which I saved up. I started watching from the first episode of season 4 and continued through episode 10. It was quite a marathon, but I really enjoy watching episodes back to back. This way you can totally submerge into the world and everything is fresh in your mind.

I have to say that the series is excellent. If you haven't yet watched any, buy the DVDs for season 1 and try it out, it's totally worth it. It's a drama, it's gritty, it's full of action, and the actors are amazing. And what's really good is that even by Season 4 the series has not deteriorated. It's still sharp and moving and the plot continues to evolve without becoming ridiculous **cough**Lost**cough**.

The preview above gives a good idea on what major plot points are going to be evolving. In addition, these 10 episodes had everything. From completely depressing situations, to enraging death of one major character, to hope and inspiration. I don't really want to give much away, so watching it is the best way. I will be picking up the second part of the season now which started last week. Here's the trailer:

Monday, January 19, 2009

Out of This World Mini-Challenge Wrap-Up

The clock strikes midnight and I am done with this weekend's science fiction short story mini-challenge. Huge thanks to Carl for hosting this challenge. It was not just fun to read all these stories, but to see what others are reading and be able to discuss some of the stories. Carl's reviews and winner announcements can be found here.

As for me, I've read and reviewed 7 science fiction stories this weekend. Starting with my favourite:

I also found based on others' reviews that I'd like to pick up The Starry Rift anthology edited by Jonathan Strahan and Eclipse 2 edited by the same. So perhaps more story reviews are still to come.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth

Title: When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth
Author: Cory Doctorow
Published: Baen's Universe, 2006
Genre: Science fiction, short story

Rating: 7/10

Thoughts: I don't think you would enjoy this story unless you have met some sysadmins before. I have met and worked with them and from the story it's easy to tell Cory Doctorow has first-hand experience with them too. Many of sysadmin descriptions are very spot-on for the sort of people you find configuring the servers into wee hours of the morning.

This story deals with a postapocalyptic scenario where the major cities are all attacked by a bio-weapon and a number of sysadmins all over the world survive in the data ceters with good isolation and their own power generators. The protagonist of the story is Felix who finds himself watching the CN tower topple over from his data center in Toronto. The rest of the story deals with the consequences of the catastrophe.

Overall, it was an interesting story with some good internet-related humor. However, I felt the ending wasn't as strong as it could be and I was a little taken aback by the way Felix coped with the catastrophe aftermath. I will consider reading some other Cory Doctorow fiction now, I imagine I might like some of his other writings better.

The Nine Billion Names of God

Title: The Nine Billion Names of God
Author: Arthur C. Clarke
Published: Star Science Fiction Stories No. 1, 1953
Genre: Science fiction, short story

Rating: 9/10

Thoughts: I was snickering a little bit in my head throughout the first part of this story. A lama orders a computer/typewriter from a Western company that will be able to write out all permutations of 9 letters of a certain alphabet the monks devised. Of course to do the task on a modern machine would take 3 lines of code and less than a millisecond of time. But in 1953, this is a stretch of imagination and the machine will take 3 months to go through all permutations and print them out.

Nevertheless, I really enjoyed reading the story. It is well written, deeply inquisitive, and the last line of the story is breathtaking. I am very glad other participants of the Out of This World Mini-Challenge steered me to it.

The Crystal Spheres

Title: The Crystal Spheres
Author: David Brin
Published: Analog, 1984
Genre: Science fiction, short story

Rating: 8/10

Thoughts: I felt a bit frustrated as the start of the story by the author throwing around future-world terminology without explaining what it means. However, in a way that was part of building tension for the story, this discovery of what the author is talking about and it was effective.

In the story, a group of deepspacers travels to a planet whose crystal sphere has shattered. I will let the story tell you what that means, but in a nutshell it is a SETI-themed story that is told quite well. It examines human psychology when it comes to finding new species and living in the stars. Overall, a well-written story with a nice thought-through ending.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Falling Onto Mars

Title: Falling Onto Mars
Author: Geoffrey A. Landis
Published: Analog Science Fiction and Fact, 2002
Genre: Science fiction, short story

Rating: 7/10

Thoughts: The story is fairly short, probably around 4 pages. In that time the author manages to paint a rather brutal picture. Incorrigible prisoners from Earth are piled onto flimsy space ships and sent to Mars. This is a story of who survived and how.

The story is good and has an interesting twist at the end. It also does a great job presenting a certain grim mood inherent to the setting. The downside seemed to be that the details of how humans managed to survive were often skimmed over. It seemed strange that people managed to survive given the description of available technology. It bothered me in places, but overall is probably not too important to the story.

There is also one scene that can be interpreted two ways and I wonder what the author intended there. It is a scene where Kayla is found, she speaks of how to get oxygen. However, I wavered to understand whether what she said was a sabotage attempt or a true advice. It also doesn't mention whether her advice was taken. I feel like motivations here could be interpreted in several ways... If you have read the story, let me know what you thought. 

The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate

Title: The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate
Author: Ted Chiang
Published: The Subterranean Press, 2007
Genre: Science Fiction, short story
Url: (Read by James Campanella)
Unfortunately the full-text got taken down, I am glad I saved a copy.

Rating: 10/10

Thoughts: I loved this story! I am not surprised it has won both Hugo Award for Best Novelette and Nebula Award for Best Novelette in 2008. The story is lyrical, poignant, and at the same time examines the questions of time travel and human nature.

The premise of the story is that a man in Baghdad discovers a shop at the back of which there is a gate that will allow one to travel 20 years into the future. Before the main character makes up his decision on whether he wants to try the gate, the shopkeeper tells several tales of other people who have done the journey previously.

The whole story is told in the Arabian Nights style, the images are very vivid and the conclusion is satisfying without being predictable. I can't recommend it enough!

The Cold Equations

Title: The Cold Equations
Author: Tom Godwin
Published: Astounding, 1954
Genre: Science Fiction, short story
Url (Skip the english part of the lesson -- the story starts below)

Rating: 7/10

Thoughts: The story takes place on an EDS (Emergency Dispatch Ship) where the pilot discovers a stowaway on the ship. However, there is not enough fuel in the ship to take both of them to their destination and the two on the ship must deal with that.

I am of two minds about the story. On one hand it was quite touching, there was lots of tugging on the heartstrings and there were some very nice descriptions. On the other hand, I did not feel impacted by the story beyond the immediate pity that the situation warranted.

The story does bring up a number of ethical questions and questions of human nature, but I feel Tom Godwin doesn't supply any of the answers in the story. The ending did not surprise me, but I was glad of it. Good story overall, but I guess I was expecting more as it came recommended by Carl.

What's Expected of Us

Today is Out of this World Mini-Challenge! I am reading and reviewing science fiction stories. As I mentioned in a post before, I am starting with Ted Chiang.

Title: What's Expected of Us
Author: Ted Chiang
Published: Nature, 2006
Genre: Science fiction, short story

Rating: 8/10

Thoughts: The whole story is only one page, but it gives something to think about. Ted Chiang introduces a device called Predictor which is a box that blinks a light a second before the button on it is pressed. Then implications of the box on human free will is discussed.

I thought the format of the story was tied quite well into the message itself. And I feel like my take-away from the story is that discussing whether free will exists does not change much -- lots of circular arguments abound and at the end they don't matter. And that's a little ironic in the context of the story. But decide for yourself!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

One More Reader Quiz

I took another "what type of reader you are" quiz. The result is ambiguous but somewhat fitting. You can try the quiz here.

Your Personality: All-Rounder!

Your responses showed you fitting equally into all four reading personalities:

Involved Reader: You don't just love to read books, you love to readabout books. For you, half the fun of reading is the thrill of the chase - discovering new books and authors, and discussing your finds with others.
Exacting Reader: You love books but you rarely have as much time to read as you'd like - so you're very particular about the books you choose.
Serial Reader: Once you discover a favorite writer you tend to stick with him/her through thick and thin.
Eclectic Reader: You read for entertainment but also to expand your mind. You're open to new ideas and new writers, and are not wedded to a particular genre or limited range of authors.


While I am reading the next book, Heir to Sevenwaters, I'd like to introduce a more recent hobby of mine: German-style board games. I have started playing these games a little over a year ago and now consider myself addicted.

One of the games I have been very much enjoying recently is Dominion. The game is interesting in that it doesn't actually involve a game board. Unlike many other German-style board games it does not have a marker going around a scoring track. The entire game is played entirely with cards.

There are three types of cards: point cards, money cards, and action cards. Each player starts with 3 point and 7 money cards. At the end of the game, the person whose point cards sum up to the highest number wins. That's almost the only use for the point cards. The money cards are straightforward, they allow a player to buy action cards, point cards, or more money. The action cards are the element that makes this game really interesting. There are 25 action cards, but only 10 are randomly selected to be used in each game. Because of that, each game plays differently and demands different strategies for winning. 

The action cards vary in what they can do: some allow you to play several action cards at once, others make your opponents to discard some of their cards, yet others give you extra money. Throughout the game, players buy different cards into their hand (and play 5 of them at a time) and at the end the point cards in one's hand determine the winner.

I like that this game is very easy to play, but hard to master. Depending on the set of action cards drawn, each game plays differently and that keeps the game fresh. The game plays well even with only 2 people, but allows up to 4 players. The attack action cards create player interaction without causing too much contention. Dominion is fairly short, usually running between 20 and 40 minutes. It's definitely made my top 5 favorite games list. And there's really no reason not to give it a try :)

Ted Chiang

When I was in university I took a course on science fiction and fantasy literature as an elective. It was a perfect course: read a sci-fi or fantasy novel each week, then discuss it during the lecture. I have discovered several new authors by taking this course, one of them is Ted Chiang. He is the author of a short story collection Story of Your Life and Others. My favourite stories from the book were Story of Your Life and Hell is the Absence of God though the quality was amazing across the board. I definitely recommend you check out his stories.

In preparation for the short story reading mini-challenge coming up this weekend, I decided to find whether Ted Chiang has published any new stories. Here are the links to the ones I found:

There is also a new story called Exhalation, but I am having trouble tracking down a copy.  Let me know if you know where I can find it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Storm Front

Title: Storm Front
Author: Jim Butcher
Series: The Dresden Files
Genre: Urban fantasy, novel
Published: 2000

Recommendation: An interesting read for those who appreciate dry humour and noir detective stories.
Rating: 6.5/10

Summary: Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden is a wizard, under W in the yellow pages. Things are slow and he is behind on rent until a couple is found murdered by a magical force. In the same afternoon, Harry is threatened by a mob boss and hired to look into disappearance of a husband. Suddenly things start moving much faster...

Reactions: I have heard a lot of praise for this novel and overall was a little disappointed. Perhaps it just did not fit the mood, but I found myself often distracted while reading the first part of the book. The action just failed to keep my interest and it was unclear how everything was going to be tied together.

The biggest problem for me was actually the main character, Harry. The story is told from first person point of view where Harry narrates his adventure. After being in Harry's head for 300-some pages of the book, I found him to be too inconsistent and didn't find him particularly likable though there are some very well narrated amusing scenes in the book. This is the main reason I did not enjoy the book as much as I might have with a different character.

Most of the time Harry was on an emotional roller-coaster. One moment he would be super-powerful kick ass wizard, ready to take on the whole world. The next he will be tired and defeated, ready to lie down on the side of the road to die. It would not be so bad if these drastic mood changes did not oscillate continuously throughout the novel. In a way it made Harry predictable and irritated me because I knew that on the next page he will somehow recover his resolve and suddenly become hyper again.

The novel is also a little odd in how it mixes the mundane and magical. There are some very stereotypical words and figures when it comes to magic: wizard, white council, wizard's staff and wizard's skull.  Many other urban fantasy authors bring modernity to their characters when they mix magic with 21st century technology. Harry, however, is anything but modern due to the twist where any technology he comes in contact with almost immediately stops working. Magic combined with his old-fashioned car, candles, etc, felt at odds to me.

I found the second part of the book to move quickly and be more satisfying. The plot resolution lacked a good twist, but there was enough of a mystery for Harry to power through in the book. The wry humour made the book worth reading and some of the comic scenes were absolutely brilliant. I imagine many people might enjoy the book more than I have.

Favourite Quote:
Yet there was something about her that revved my engines, something about the way she held her head or shaped her words that bypassed my brain and went straight to my hormones.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Urban Fantasy Land Readers' Choice Awards

The Urban Fantasy Land blog just announced that it's running 2008 Urban Fantasy Readers' Choice Awards. You vote for your favourite 2008 urban fantasy novels and enter into a $25 draw for a gift certificate from a major online bookseller. What urban fantasy novel did you enjoy reading in 2008?

Monday, January 12, 2009

Gripping Books Forum at The Dragon Federation

Many thanks to Mulluane who set up a forum for science fiction and fantasy bloggers and their readers at The Dragon Federation. Read more about it here. Also you can now check out a forum for this blog: Gripping Books at The Dragon Federation!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Urban Fantasy

Urban fantasy is a fantasy subgenre that has become quite popular in the last 5 years or so. The novels in this genre are usually set in a contemporary world with some magical influences and typically other species. They also often feature strong, hot chicks who solve mysteries and kick ass. The fact that they are kickass very often makes it to the cover of the book:

As with many other genres there are plenty of people who love it and plenty of people who will go to great lengths to explain to you how it's trash. A great example of the controversy showed up in Pat's Fantasy Hotlist post by an urban fantasy author, Lilith Saintcrow, defending the genre and the replies it got in the comments and other genre blogs.

This week, another urban fantasy author, Carrie Vaughn, posted a series of blogs discussing the genre, what she dislikes about it, and why it has become so popular recently. It makes for an interesting reading, so the links are below:

6. The book has a strong woman character. But only one. You’d think a genre that supposedly celebrates kick-ass women ought to be able to have more than one per series. You’d think a genre that’s supposed to be all about empowering women would be able to pass the Bechdel Test more often. The test: The story in question has 1) at least two women, 2) who talk to each other, 3) about something other than men.
The Bechdel Test is not something I have heard of before or thought about. But in retrospect Carrie does have a point, most of the heroines in urban fantasy novels usually have a male sidekick/love interest and very rarely female friends. On one hand that may be understandable, with the lifestyle they typically lead, I am sometimes surprised they have friends at all. It also probably makes the author's job easier in portraying this particular woman as exceptional, after all her friend would need to be pretty kickass too just to keep up.

On the other hand, this neglect of secondary female characters is a loss. I have been thinking how Buffy the Vampire Slayer, one of my all-time favourite series predates, but fits into the urban fantasy phenomena. And I think Buffy's relationship with Willow on the show and the fact that they are both strong though in very different ways has a lot to do with how much I enjoyed watching the series.

So what is the take away? I enjoy reading urban fantasy. Some of it is good, some of it... not so good. A lot of the UF novels have their flaws, but their popularity shows at the very least that they have a great entertaining value. Let's hope we'll see lots more quality authors in the genre as the time passes and I think I will be watching for secondary female characters from now on.

Finally, if you are new to the genre and want to try some urban fantasy I would suggest picking up Kim Harrison's Dead Witch Walking, Emma Bull's War for the Oaks or Laurell Hamilton's Guilty Pleasures.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Book Reviewers Linkup Meme

From Grasping for the Wind:
My list of fantasy and sf book reviewers is woefully out of date. I need your help to fix that. But rather than go through the hassle of having you send me recommendations or sticking them in comments, what you can do is take the following list and stick it on your website, then add yourself to the list, preferably in alphabetical order. That way, I will be able to track it across the web from back links, and can add each new blog to my roll as it comes along. So take this list, add it to your blog, and add a link to your blog on it. If you are already on the list, repost this meme at your blog so others can see it, and find new blogs from the links others put up on their blogs. Everybody wins! Be sure to send the list around to others as well. There is an easy to copy window of all the links and text at the bottom of this post to make it even simpler to do.

I would be ever so grateful if you would help me out.

My additions to the list are in bold:

7 Foot Shelves
The Accidental Bard
A Boy Goes on a Journey
A Dribble Of Ink
A Hoyden's Look at Literature
Adventures in Reading
The Agony Column
Andromeda Spaceways
The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.
Ask Daphne
Australia Specfic in Focus
Author 2 Author
Barbara Martin
Bees (and Books) on the Knob
Bibliophile Stalker
The Billion Light-Year Bookshelf
Bitten by Books
The Black Library Blog
Blog, Jvstin Style
Blood of the Muse
The Book Bind
The Book Smugglers
The Book Swede
Breeni Books
Cheaper Ironies [pro columnist]
Cheryl's Musings
Confessions of a book Whore
Critical Mass
The Crotchety Old Fan
Damien G. Walter
Danger Gal
Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews
Darque Reviews
Dave Brendon's Fantasy and Sci-Fi Weblog
Dear Author
The Deckled Edge
Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
The Discriminating Fangirl
Dusk Before the Dawn
Enter the Octopus
Eve's Alexandria
Fantastic Reviews
Fantastic Reviews Blog
Fantasy Book Critic
Fantasy Cafe
Fantasy Debut
Fantasy Book Reviews and News
Fantasy and Sci-fi Lovin' Blog
Feminist SF - The Blog!
The Fix
The Foghorn Review
Frances Writes
From a Sci-Fi Standpoint
Fruitless Recursion
Fyrefly's Book Blog
The Galaxy Express
The Gamer Rat
Genre Reviews
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Grasping for the Wind
The Green Man Review
Gripping Books
Highlander's Book Reviews
The Hub Magazine
Hyperpat's Hyper Day
Ink and Keys
Jumpdrives and Cantrips
Lair of the Undead Rat
League of Reluctant Adults
The Lensman's Children
Literary Escapism
Michele Lee's Book Love
The Mistress of Ancient Revelry
MIT Science Fiction Society
Monster Librarian
More Words, Deeper Hole
Mostly Harmless Books
My Favourite Books
Neth Space
The New Book Review
OF Blog of the Fallen
The Old Bat's Belfry
Outside of a Dog
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
Piaw's Blog
Post-Weird Thoughts
Publisher's Weekly
Reading the Leaves
Realms of Speculative Fiction
Reviewer X
The Road Not Taken
Rob's Blog o' Stuff
Robots and Vamps
Sandstorm Reviews
Sci Fi Wire
Sci-Fi Fan Letter
Sci-Fi Songs [Musical Reviews]
The Sequential Rat
Severian's Fantastic Worlds
SF Diplomat
SF Gospel
SF Revu
SF Signal
SF Site
SFF World's Book Reviews
Silver Reviews
The Specusphere
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
Speculative Fiction
Speculative Fiction Junkie
Speculative Horizons
Spiral Galaxy Reviews
Spontaneous Derivation
Sporadic Book Reviews
Stella Matutina
The Sudden Curve
The Sword Review
Tangent Online
Tehani Wessely
Temple Library Reviews [also a publisher]
True Science Fiction
Urban Fantasy Land
Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic
Variety SF
Walker of Worlds
Wands and Worlds
The Wertzone
With Intent to Commit Horror
WJ Fantasy Reviews
The World in a Satin Bag
Young Adult Science Fiction

Foreign Language (other than English)

Cititor SF [Romanian, but with English Translation] [French]

Foundation of Krantas [Chinese (traditional)]

The SF Commonwealth Office in Taiwan [Chinese (traditional) with some English essays]

Yenchin's Lair [Chinese (traditional)]

Interstellar [Danish] [Danish]

Scifisiden [Danish]

Aguarras [Brazilian, Portuguese]

Fernando Trevisan [Brazilian, Portuguese]

Human 2.0 [Brazilian, Portuguese]

Life and Times of a Talkative Bookworm [Brazilian, Porteguese]

Ponto De Convergencia [Brazilian, Portuguese]

pós-estranho [Brazilian, Portuguese]

Skavis [Brazilian, Portuguese]

Fantasy Seiten [German, Deustche]

Fantasy Buch [German, Deustche]

Literaturschock [German, Deustche]

Welt der fantasy [German, Deustche]

Bibliotheka Phantastika [German, Deustche]

SF Basar [German, Deustche]

Phantastick News [German, Deustche]

X-zine [German, Deustche]

Buchwum [German, Deustche]

Phantastick Couch [German, Deustche]

Wetterspitze [German, Deustche]

Fantasy News [German, Deustche]

Fantasy Faszination [German, Deustche]

Fantasy Guide [German, Deustche]

Zwergen Reich [German, Deustche]

Fiction Fantasy [German, Deustche]

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


It is fairly rare for me to not finish a book. Considering the number of books out there, picking only books that sound interesting still would leave me with more books than I can get to in my life. However, every so often I stumble upon a book that I have trouble finishing. In fact, I have so much trouble finishing them that I start reading other books and leave these books behind indefinitely until there is some motivation to pick them up again.

Currently, I have two books that I have started last year (somewhere in the middle of last year to be more precise) and that are still sitting half-read around my house. The first book is The Harsh Cry of the Heron by Lian Hearn. I picked it up because I enjoyed reading the first 3 books in the Otori series and I expected the 16-years later sequel to be on par with the earlier books. Sadly, despite pretty prose and oriental feel similar to the previous books, I found that I could not connect to the characters, neither old nor new, and with the plot barely moving the book has been sitting half read on my bedside table for a long time now.

The second book I still haven't managed to finish is In Conquest Born by C.S. Friedman. My first introduction to C.S. Friedman was The Coldfire Trilogy, which is a truly fantastic science fiction/fantasy mix with some of my all-time favorite characters. However, In Conquest Born, written about 5 years before the first book of The Coldfire Trilogy is a much thornier read. After a 100-something pages I have just been introduced to the cast and have gone through numerous explanations of the world's complexities and social theories. The ideas are interesting, but the info dump doesn't seem to be slacking off. So far the actual plot could fit on 10 pages of the 100-something I have completed to date. I feel the book actually has potential, but find it hard to bring myself back and feel like I might need another refresher on who is who and that's a bit of a turn off.

In both cases, my main complaint is lack of plot. Yet I have completed books where plot is even less apparent in shorter time. I think the main hook for me while reading the book are the characters. I'll overlook a lot to read about interesting people, but world building/social theories without characters or action to back them up are just not enough.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Out of This World Mini-Challenge

Carl at Stainless Steel Droppings is running a mini-challenge on Jan 17th and 18th. All the details can be found in his post, but to summarize it's a sci-fi short story reading challenge. You read short stories (there is a bonus drawing for reading a story from Best Science Fiction Stories Site) and then you comment on it in Carl's blog posting for the mini challenge.

I think this mini-challenge is going to be excellent for me because it doesn't require a big commitment and will allow me to explore some science fiction. One of the most memorable science fiction collections I have ever read is Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang made me realize how amazing short stories can be and how much you can get out from just a couple dozen pages. I am looking forward to looking up some of his newer stories on the 17th and also reading stories by other classic authors. In fact, I can't wait!

Monday, January 5, 2009

$1 free ebooks from Orbit


Orbit – in partnership with a number of major ebook vendors – has launched a promotion offering one ebook for sale each month at the introductory price of $1.00. At the end of the promotional month the cost of the ebook returns to its standard price and a new book will be offered at the discount. Details of the promotion are at

The promotion will include The Way of Shadows by debut author Brent Weeks, Empress by Karen Miller, as well as classics of science fiction such as Use of Weapons by Iain M. Banks.

VP and Publisher of Orbit Tim Holman said: “We believe that this promotion will give readers a great opportunity to discover new writers. Most of our consumer marketing has an online focus, and the digital marketplace offers the perfect platform for price-promotion initiatives such as this. It will be very exciting to see how effective it is. The range of titles chosen for the promotion includes a mix of frontlist and backlist, from both new and established authors, and we will be monitoring the performance of every title very closely.”

A list of titles that will be available at the discount price can be found at

Launched in the US in 2007, Orbit is the Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint at Hachette Book Group.

The book they are offering in January is The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. I've read the book in December and I heartily recommend it. Despite a rather cliche summary for the book, it's well written, interesting, has some excellent characters and a good plot. Basically, downloading the book for $1 is a steal. I already purchased the second book in the series and it's one of the top books to pick up next.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

What Kind of Reader Are You?

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Literate Good Citizen

You read to inform or entertain yourself, but you're not nerdy about it. You've read most major classics (in school) and you have a favorite genre or two.

Dedicated Reader

Book Snob

Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm

Fad Reader


What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

What kind of reader are you? Comment!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Reading Goals for 2009

So I've decided to set some reading goals for 2009. I've been looking through a number of challenges other bloggers are hosting this year. There's everything there from reading the classics to reading books whose titles start with the letters of your name. Finally, I decided not to enter any of the challenges for now. I tend to change my reading to suit my mood and I don't want to tie myself to a particular type of books. After all I tend to read simply for fun. So instead, I came to the conclusion that I would like to set a goal of reading 50 books this year. That's approximately 4 books a month. I am almost at the goal for this month already, but it's mostly because I had lots of days off around New Years and spent the last couple days reading non-stop. This is a pretty rare luxury, in general, so I don't think my goal will be too easy to complete.

I do hope I will get to a variety of books this year. In addition to fantasy (urban and heroic) which I tend to read quite a bit of, I hope to get to a few sci-fi novels, some historical fiction, and a few classic novels. I will also try to finish reading some non-fiction books that I've started last year. Those tend to go a bit slower. Well, isn't it time to read?

The Killing Dance

Title: The Killing Dance
Author: Laurell Hamilton
Series: Anita Blake Vampire Hunter, Book 6
Genre: Urban fantasy, novel
Published: 1997

Recommendation: For fans of the series who enjoyed the plots and the mysteries, you can skip this one. If you want more of Anita, Jean-Claude, Richard romance, then it's a book for you. For those who haven't read the series, this book wouldn't work well as a stand-alone.
Rating: 6/10

Summary: Edward calls up Anita to let her know someone has tried to hire him to kill her for half a million dollars. He comes into town to serve as her bodyguard and several attempts on her life end up with the assassins dead, but they don't stop coming. At the same time Richard is still facing the dominance fight with Marcus. And Jean-Claude has not given up on Anita.

Sadly, the series seems to be going downhill. Most of the book focuses on the love triangle between Jean-Claude, Anita, and Marcus. A lot of pages are spent working up the tension between everyone involved. For the first time in the series there are some quite explicit sex scenes. I may have been complaining that it wasn't very modern of Anita to not have sex, but in this book the plot gave way to the romance and I wouldn't call it an improvement. Way too much time is spent on everyone's sexy outfits and describing various body parts.

While some of the books had decent plot twists at the end, I found this one to be obvious from the moment we find out there is a time-based contract on Anita. There are a few small surprises along the way, but not nearly enough time is spent on the mystery. In addition, Anita becomes more of a killing machine in this book than in the previous ones. There used to be more deduction involved, but in this case she just shoots her way through until the end of the novel.

I am considering whether to stop reading the series. While Dexter is an interesting show, watching a character I once liked deteriorate to the point of a sociopath is disappointing.

First Line: The most beautiful corpse I'd ever seen was sitting behind my desk.

Bloody Bones

Title: Bloody Bones
Author: Laurell Hamilton
Series: Anita Blake Vampire Hunter, Book 5
Genre: Urban fantasy, novel
Published: 1996

Recommendation: Still worth reading as part of the series.
Rating: 6.5/10

Anita gets hired to raise a whole cemetery worth of corpses to figure out the land ownership. At the same time, a number of vampire killings happen in the area and Anita is called to investigate. Anita, Larry, Jason (a werewolf introduced in the previous book), and Jean-Claude take a stand against vampires and the fey.

Reactions: This book is in many ways similar to other ones: there is a mystery, there are murders, there is a powerful villain, and plenty of other monsters. As usual, there is a romance/sexual tension angle with Anita and Jean-Claude. However, the biggest change I felt during the book is how far Anita slipped from the principles she held in the first few books. It used to go along the lines of "I will not betray humans to monsters", but became more of, "You have tried to go against me, you deserve to die." Hamilton juxtaposes Larry's moral stance to make this very clear. I have a feeling Anita will just continue to deteriorate in the future books. Is it really good to have a hero, who is not so much a hero anymore? It's not about flawed characters, Anita had enough flaws to start with, but she seems to be moving across the line where I am starting to sympathize with her enemies a little.

So far it is still a fun read. However, several other reviews of the series I have seen mentioned that the series is only worth reading until book 7 or 8. I will still be reading the next book in the series, but I feel this book is the first warning that I will not be reading the whole series.

First Lines:
It was St. Patrick's Day, and the only green I was wearing was a button that read, "Pinch me and you're dead meat."

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Lunatic Cafe

Title: The Lunatic Cafe
Author: Laurell Hamilton
Series: Anita Blake Vampire Hunter, Book 4
Genre: Urban fantasy, novel
Published: 1996

Recommendation: If you haven't read any Anita Blake books yet, start with Guilty Pleasures, for those reading the series, a fun continuation of the saga.
Rating: 7/10

Summary: Anita finds out that her shapeshifter boyfriend, Richard, is in the middle of a power struggle to become a pack leader. At the same time, she is given a case by Marcus, the current pack leader, to find 8 missing lycanthropes (shapeshifters). The assignment plunges her in the middle of lycanthrope politics and as usual there is also a murder investigation to help police with.

Reactions: This is the first book of the series that focuses more on lycanthropes than on vampires. We get a view of the lycanthrope society and some rather psychotic characters who are members of thereof. The mystery of missing lycanthropes gets tied up a little too quickly and neatly in this book, but there is still a surprising twist at the end.

The book also progresses with Anita's love story. Richard proposes to Anita and she says "Yes" and then pretty much immediately gets cold feet. Jean Claude finds out and insists that he will kill Richard unless Anita goes out on a dozen dates with him as well. One detail of this whole mess is that Anita is refusing to have sex until marriage. The reasoning given is that a boyfriend she slept with in college dumped her. Apparently, the man who will have sex with her first will irrevocably have her heart in this matter. This felt very out of character for Anita, who is quite modern in her views when it comes to everything else. I also felt that Jean-Claude complication was a little over the top and the ease with which Anita agreed to date both men at the same time was a big relationship fail on her part.

Speaking of modern views, I find Anita's relationship with religion fairly amusing. She is portrayed as a believer, because "An atheist waving a cross at a vampire was a truly pitiful sight." and she can use her cross to protect herself. However, she takes switching from being Catholic to Episcopalian pretty easily when all animators(zombie raisers) are excommunicated. It's mentioned that she goes to church on Sunday (except for the days where she is too busy killing something), but to me she feels completely atheistic especially when it comes to her views on relationships and killing.

Despite some characterization I disagree with, the book is a fun quick read with some new creatures introduced and insights into lycanthropes and I will be moving on to the next book in the series.

First Lines: It was two weeks before Christmas. A slow time of year for raising the dead.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Awaiting in 2009

I am looking forward to reading lots of interesting stuff in 2009. Plenty of older books I'd like to catch up on and some new releases. Here's the list of new releases I will be looking forward to this year.

  1. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss (April 7, 2009).

    The second installment in The Kingkiller Chronicle. The first book of the series, The Name of the Wind, was one of my favourite reads of 2008 and I can't wait for more adventures of Kvothe. I have also been following Patrick Rothfuss's blog and has been delighted with his love for Joss Whedon. I just hope there aren't any more delays to getting this book out. Also check out the excerpt from the new novel.

  2. Naamah's Kiss by Jacqueline Carey (June 2009)
    Jacqueline Carey returns with a new book set in Terre d'Ange. There are currently two other 3-book series set in the world. The first series, starting with Kushiel's Dart follows the adventures of Phedre, a courtesan, a spy, and many others things to boot. The second series, Kushiel's Legacy, follows Phedre's adopted son. Both series are well-written, fun, and impossible to put down. I have great hopes for the new book.

  3. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch (February 24, 2009)

    The third installment following the adventures of Locke Lamora, a thief who takes pleasure in stealing from the rich in inventive ways while facing dangers at every turn.

  4. White Witch, Black Curse by Kim Harrison (February 24, 2009)
    This is the seventh book of The Hollows series. A fairly typical urban fantasy series following Rachel Morgan, a witch, who starts a detective agency together with a vampire Ivy. The third partner in the firm is a pixy Jenks. Other fun characters also become regulars. Despite following the urban fantasy formula, the series is a really fun read and the characters become so dear, you can't stop following their adventures.

Noticing how the last two books are coming out on the same data, I have already placed an amazon order for them. Can't wait to start on 2009 releases!


It's only hours into 2009, but it's always a good idea to start on your new year's resolution early. After all, if it was easy to make yourself do whatever it is you resolve to do, you would have done it in the previous year already. Well, my resolution is to keep a blog and post thoughts on books I read and perhaps occasionally on other things as well. We will have to see what comes out of it. Welcome!