Book Review – The Trade of Queens by Charles Stross

The Trade of Queens by Charles Stross

The Trade of Queens by Charles Stross

The blurb explains:

A dissident faction of the Clan, the alternate universe group of families that has traded covertly with our world for a century or more, have carried nuclear devices between the worlds and exploded them in Washington, DC, killing the President of the United States. Now they will exterminate the rest of the Clan and keep Miriam alive only long enough to bear her child, the heir to the throne of their land in the Gruinmarkt world.

The worst and deepest secret is now revealed: behind the horrifying plot is a faction of the US government itself, preparing for a political takeover in the aftermath of disaster. There is no safe place for Miriam and her Clan except, perhaps, in the third alternate world, New Britain–which has just had a revolution and a nuclear incident of its own.

Charles Stross’s Merchant Princes series reaches a spectacular climax in this sixth volume. Praised by Nobel laureate Paul Krugman as “great fun,” this is state of the art, cutting edge SF grown out of a fantastic premise.

I was surprised to realize that this was the sixth book in the series – I didn’t remember it being quite that long.

Obviously since I’ve read all six books I must be a fan of the series, but there are some peculiarities with it.  It starts off like a portal fantasy but within the first couple of books it reveals itself to be many-worlds sci fi.  That’s not really a bad thing, it just makes the books a bit uneven – the first books is different from the rest.

You really couldn’t read this book on its own – even having read the previous five books I found it difficult to keep track of all of the characters in all of the worlds and all of the storylines.

My biggest problem with this book is that it really just plays out the consequences of the previous books.  In fact, most of the series just plays out the consequences of the beginning of the first book.  Unfortunately a result of this is that the book (and the series) doesn’t really end properly – the dominos fall and then it just stops.  Looking back at the series there was no moral, no point to the story.

Until the announcement of a sequel trilogy this book was supposed to wrap up the series, and that would have been the end of it.  If that had been the case I would have been disappointed, so I hope that the new trilogy will be more focused.

Book Review – Devil Said Bang by Richard Kadrey

Devil Said Bang by Richard Kadrey

Devil Said Bang by Richard Kadrey

The blurb doesn’t say much, seeming to rely on you having read the previous books:

Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim—aka James Stark—is, quite simply, one of the most outrageous uber-anti-heroes ever to kick serious butt on this or any other world or dimension.

In his previous three adventures—Sandman SlimKill the Dead, and Aloha from Hell—Stark has fled Hell for California, taken on angels, demons, outlaw bikers, zombies, covert government operatives, and all manner of monsters, while saving humankind from total annihilation on numerous occasions. But in Devil Said Bang, he finally assumes the role he was destined for: as the new Lucifer, ruler of the Underworld.

Combining outrageously edgy humor with a dark and truly twisted vision, Richard Kadrey has once again delivered a masterful amalgam of action novel, urban fantasy, and in-your-face horror that will delight a wide range of readers—from Christopher Moore and Warren Ellis fans to the devoted adherents of Jim Butcher, Charlaine Harris, Kim Harrison, and Simon Green.

Of course most people won’t start a series four books in, so I guess that’s understandable.

The book continues pretty much exactly where the previous one left off, so that’s another strike against people who jump into the series late.

The first half of the book was spent resolving the cliffhanger that the end of the previous book left, and the second half was a more traditional Sandman Slim story.

All in all I enjoyed it – Sandman Slim’s voice, presence and humor is as refreshing as ever.

This book leaves a lot of hanging plot threads for later books to resolve, so it’s definitely trying to tie the reader in for the long haul.  To a certain extent I don’t mind this as I was planning on reading the rest of the books anyway.

Book Review – Fade to Black by Francis Knight

Fade to Black by Francis Knight

Fade to Black by Francis Knight

The blurb says:

From the depths of a valley rises the city of Mahala

It’s a city built upwards, not across – where streets are built upon streets, buildings upon buildings. A city that the Ministry rules from the sunlit summit, and where the forsaken lurk in the darkness of Under.

Rojan Dizon doesn’t mind staying in the shadows, because he’s got things to hide. Things like being a pain-mage, with the forbidden power to draw magic from pain. But he can’t hide for ever.

Because when Rojan stumbles upon the secrets lurking in the depths of the Pit, the fate of Mahala will depend on him using his magic. And unlucky for Rojan – this is going to hurt.

What got me to try this book in spite of its mediocre reviews was the mention of “noir”, which I’m a huge fan of.

It does start off as a good noir story, but as it progresses it ends up as more of a dark fantasy.

Altogether I think this is a good book, with good world building, high stakes and some cool twists.

There were a few flaws – some of the writing was less than clear and on occasion the main character’s choices were dubious, but on balance I liked it and plan to read the rest of the series.

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Writing update


Writing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently I’ve been writing more, and I think it’s because I’ve been writing short stories (Last Day and Dear Caroline) rather than trying to write a whole novel.  Being able to write a story in a week means that I’m less likely to get distracted or lose motivation before it’s finished.

I’m not posting my most recent short story on my blog right now because I’ve submitted it to (the web presence of Tor, the scifi/fantasy imprint of MacMillan) and they only accept previously unpublished work.  Apparently it takes them at least three months to respond to submissions, so I have a while to wait.  If it gets rejected I might post the story here or I might try to submit it somewhere else.

I only found out about the possibility of submitting a short story to Tor because I’d posted the first two to N3J and /r/shortstories and had a much better response than just posting them on my blog.  I was looking for other places to post the story and found out that Tor might actually pay me for it, and how I could I resist that?

Since I have some momentum going, I’d like to start on another story right away.  This time I think I’ll submit it to Kindle Singles.  There are a few differences – Tor pays by the word whereas Kindle Singles pay a royalty, so if the story doesn’t sell I won’t make any money.  The other difference is that whereas Tor has a maximum submission length of 17,500 words, Kindle Singles need to be between 5,000 and 30,000 words.  If I don’t aim for the minimum, this would make the next story either a novelette (7,500-20,000 words) or novella (20,000-40,000 words).  I think in light of the expanded length I think I’ll spend some time planning it out, something I didn’t do much of for the short stories.  In retrospect the third story could have used some more planning as it’s 3x the length of the first two.

I may also take a shot at Scientific American’s Quantum Shorts 2013 competition, since the deadline isn’t until December 1 and they only want 1,000 words.  The downsides are that I imagine the competition will be pretty fierce and that the subject is prescribed (must involve quantum physics in some way).

I noticed something interesting when writing the third story – I alternated between thinking it was AWESOME and thinking it was AWFUL and I should just delete it.  Both reactions were so extreme that they were noticeably abnormal, so I did my best to ignore them.  I think it’s in my nature to only see the flaws in my own work, so some external encouragement would be helpful, I but I know better than to rely on something as fickle as that.  I need to expect a rejection, but it’s difficult not to hope.

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Book Review – The Bone Triangle by B. V. Larson

The Bone Triangle by B. V. Larson

The Bone Triangle by B. V. Larson

The blurb says:

When twenty something Jacqueline Swanson mysteriously goes missing in Las Vegas, supernatural crime investigator Quentin Draith is hired to investigate. Determined, Draith immerses himself in the darkest corners of the city’s underworld, unveiling a string secrets and bizarre deaths.

The deeper he digs, the more otherworldly his assignment gets. Assassins, human and otherwise, put a target on Draith’s head. An old foe ignites a storm of mad science. And a ravenous beast rampages through the city.

The clues point Draith to Sin City’s infamous “Bone Triangle,” a neighborhood marked for its dark happenings and disappearances. And when Draith finds that the daughter’s disappearance may be linked to an alien plot against the city, he goes all in to make a final high-stakes play to save the city he loves.

With this return to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library were back to the B-Team.  “Quentin Draith” is still one of the stupidest character names I’ve ever encountered, there are unlikely coincidences and the ending is ambiguous in service of the next book in the series.

Having said that, like the first book this one has a spark of something better that makes it more readable.  I can’t stop seeing the flaws, but there’s some goodness in there too.  If the third book were out, I’d read it.

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Minimalist t-shirt of the The Vision from the Avengers comic book

My friend’s favorite superhero from the Avengers comic is The Vision:

The Vision

The Vision

There’s a rumor that The Vision could be included in the second Avengers movie.

Anyway, my friend wanted a Vision t-shirt, but being an adult he wanted something minimalist and understated rather than wearing a halloween costume to work.

A good example was the Flash t-shirt that Sheldon wears on The Big Bang Theory:

Sheldon Cooper - The Flash

Sheldon Cooper – The Flash

People who recognize the logo will know what the shirt means, but people who don’t will just assume it’s a random pattern.

We looked for a minimalist Vision t-shirt online but couldn’t find one anywhere, so I made one myself and put it on my Spreadshirt store:

The Vision t-shirt

The Vision t-shirt

Maybe someone else who’s a fan of The Vision will find this useful.

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Book Review – Lamentation by Ken Scholes

Lamentation by Ken Scholes

Lamentation by Ken Scholes

The blurb says:

An ancient weapon has completely destroyed the city of Windwir.   From many miles away, Rudolfo, Lord of the Nine Forest Houses, sees the horrifying column of smoke rising.  He knows that war is coming to the Named Lands.

Nearer to the Devastation, a young apprentice is the only survivor of the city – he sat waiting for his father outside the walls, and was transformed as he watched everyone he knew die in an instant.

Soon all the Kingdoms of the Named Lands will be at each others’ throats, as alliances are challenged and hidden plots are uncovered.

This remarkable first novel from an award-winning short fiction writer will take readers away to a new world – an Earth so far in the distant future that our time is not even a memory; a world where magick is commonplace and great areas of the planet are impassable wastes. But human nature hasn’t changed through the ages: War and faith and love still move princes and nations.

As I’ve said in other reviews, I prefer books that are part of a series to be as self-contained as possible.  Not because I make a habit of reading random books from the middle of series, but because it’s a much more satisfying experience to read a whole plot arc rather than part of one, especially if I’m going to have to wait at least a year between installments.  Unfortunately this book doesn’t do very well by this measure – very little is resolved by the end of the book and a lot is left open for the sequels.

Having said that, I think my biggest problem with the book is that it wasn’t very engaging.  The author put a lot of work into the world building, the events are suitable epic and suitably personal, however something about the book felt shallow.  It may have been that there were too many main characters, or the fact that all of the characters were impossibly good at everything so it was difficult to relate to them.

I may read the rest of the series but it’s not on the top of my list.