Tag Archives: Fantasy

New Novella, “Family Demons,” Now Available on Amazon!

Spook is a sorcerer for hire in downtown Atlanta. He’s also the youngest son in a megachurch dynasty, estranged for years until his eldest brother tracks him down. Their dying father needs him, and not for deathbed reconciliation. In this novella, Spook’s return home will put his skills to the test as he unlocks his family’s secrets and learns that one of their demons is real.

Find it here.


The Half-Made World

 

Author: Felix Gilman

I think the allure of Westerns comes down to two points: the mystery of the frontier and the simplicity of the white hats versus the black hats (though often those white hats are trying to wipe clean the tarnish of their past). 

It’s hard to capture the spirit of exploration these days.  There are few mysteries left to the surface of the Earth.  I can crack open Google right now and see any place on the planet.  Mention the name of an exotic culture, and I can find out most of what there is to know about them from Wikipedia in a few minutes.  How do you capture the since of vastness of the world that Westerns have provided to generations past when the whole of the world seems known?

In The Half-Made World, Felix Gilman solves the riddle.  Set, roughly speaking, in a parallel 1860s, the world exists on a continuum between the well-known, well-solidified East, and the mysterious, tumultuous West, where Creation itself is not yet complete.  In between is the vast frontier of the Half-Made world, stable enough for living, but plagued with Powers unintentionally called forth from mankind’s subconscious.

It would be easy to label Half-Made World as Steampunk.  After all, it’s got steam – in the form of the demonic Engines that rule the bureaucratic army that is the Line – and it’s got punks – the chaotic Agents of the Gun.  But to label it as such overlooks the fantastic (in both senses) elements.  The Line and the Gun are engaged in a Great War between mankind’s lesser attributes – as the Agent Creedmore put it, humans made the Gun out of their spite, and the Line out of their fear.

While Gilman solves the riddle of the frontier by making the world only half-made, our heroes are not white hats.  One might be, the Doctor Liv Alverhyusen, who is broken but ultimately recognizable as a civilized person.  But Creedmore, possessed of a demonic Gun and a certain joie de guerre, is complex but ultimately sympathetic.  The clear villain, Lowry, is a middle manager of the Line, proud and ambitious despite the Line’s distain for individualism.

All three are charged with recovering a General whose mind was nearly destroyed by a weapon of the Line.  But this General may know a secret would could forever change the balance in the Great War.

The book charges through at a bullish pace, but if you cling to, you’ll come to learn a lot about these conflicted characters as the evolve under the pressures of their missions.

If I have a criticism, it’s that the book feels almost unfinished (I’ll spare you the wordplay).  This isn’t quite fair, the story promised in the opening is the one that is closed.  But there’s a cliffhanger – a clear invitation to a sequel.  The story I wanted to see finished will carry on, probably for many books to come.

But, really, if the worst you can say about a book is that you want to read more of it, that’s hardly so bad, right?


Ariel


Author: Steven R. Boyett

What happens when all technology suddenly fails, and magic, however reluctantly, comes to life in the world. Ariel is the tale of a young man and his smart-ass unicorn on a quest to fight the evil Necromancer of the ruins of New York City. Fast and gripping, but touching. The only significant drawback is the pages and pages and pages and … and pages about hang gliding, which are enough to convince you that hang gliding most be a sport accountants pick up when cranking Excel gets too hectic. But, really, focus on the smart-ass unicorn. Her name’s Ariel.

Ariel was recently re-released ahead of Boyett’s long awaited sequel (which he swore he’d never write), Elegy Beach.


Bridge of Birds


Author: Barry Hughart
This story is a watercolor painted on a silk screen, beautiful and simple. Don’t know what I mean? Maybe you should read the book.

It is a story of “ancient China that never was,” a fairy tell of sorts, but wrapped around a heist, or perhaps a mystery. It’s funny, charming, and engaging. You will likely figure out the ending before it’s delivered, but seeing the story unfold is no less pleasurable for it.


Mistborn: The Final Empire


Author: Brandon Sanderson

Synopsis: In a fantasy world where ash rains from the sky and the majority of people are oppressed by nobles ruling under an immortal god-king, a young girl discovers vast powers within herself and joins a plot to bring justice to the downtrodden.

Brandon Sanderson was recently tapped to complete the Wheel of Time series after the unfortunate death of Robert Jordan. This piqued my interest. When a friend recommended the Mistborn trilogy, I decided to take him up on it.

And I’m glad I did. Epic trilogies are the bread and butter of fantasy, and Sanderson is starting his off with a bang. In the first several pages, I was concerned about the prose – it was a little literal, not highly imaginative. I took this to be a sign of the story to come, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. The story is superb. The characters are rich, but fathomable. That’s an apt word, here, because one actually feels that there are depths to fathom – not de riguer in fantasy circles.

The magic system is sensible, complete, and compelling. One consumes metals to power a handful of effects, including the capacity to Push or Pull on metal objects, but only on the line between the mage and the object. I was most impressed with the physical astuteness Sanderson brought to the magic system. If you Push or Pull on an object much lighter than you, it moves. If it’s much heavier (or attached to something heavier, or Push or Pulled against it), you move instead. This makes for some fantastically imaginative and stirring action scenes.

The final books in the trilogy are already out. I will be picking them up soon, and reporting my thoughts here.


Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town


Author: Cory Doctorow

SCtTSLT seems like an experimental piece by a young author. It is his third published book, and, to my mind, is very clearly an attempt to write a fantasy novel with no borrowed mythology, or perhaps the result of losing a bet. No orcs here, nor wizards. Instead, you get the tale a curious family. The patriarch is a mountain, and the mother is a washing machine (See what I mean?). The children, sons alls, are peculiar – one is normal (ish), one can see the future, one is dead, one is an island, and the last three constitute a set of living Russian dolls. The problem is that the dead one is pissed about being dead, and the normal one isn’t that good at being normal.

This could make for a good story. Indeed, if you cut out a third of the book, it would be a good story.

But then there’s that third.

Cory is obsessed with technology. No problem, I like it too, and this was how I came across Cory to begin with, via Boing Boing. But the other third of the book is a useless subplot about trying to bring democratic wireless internet to the downtown Toronto. Seriously – there are talks with telecoms, with shop keepers, with city officials. We get to see him lecture over and over to a variety of individuals about how great this would be for the town (Cory, there are some times you should tell instead of showing). The net result? We understand why he feels connected to this one guy, and we get a throw-away plot device near the climax. This in return for hours of your life.

While we’re at it, the story is told in parallel between three different timelines. Two are okay – flashbacks to the protagonist as a child and then current day. But there’s another one, to make two “current days” – now, and a few months ago. These are not well resolved, and in one irritating case something extremely important happens, and the narrative switches to now-now, several months later, with the protagonist deeply involved in setting up wireless hot-spots and utterly ignoring the Important Thing.

So, I’ve said “the protagonist” a lot. That’s because he doesn’t have a unique name. He responds to any name beginning with A, and his brothers are B – G. This actually was kind of cool for a while.

Anyway, I hope Cory learned a lot while writing this. I hope even more that the publisher learned about publishing something like this. That is – don’t.

BTW, as with most of Cory’s stuff, it is also released for free under Creative Commons.


The Graveyard Book


Author: Neil Gaiman

Let me preface this review by stating that I would bear Neil Gaiman’s love child. I know that this would require significant experimental surgery and a long talk with my wife, but, in the end, it would be worth it. I came to this conclusion after reading Sandman, and renewed my decision with American Gods, Neverwhere, and Stardust. And his short stories and poems, some of which are amongst the best I’ve read.

But Anansi Boys was a little meh.

And now the Graveyard Book.

I looked forward to this book for months. It seems a return to Gaiman’s simply delivered and richly textured work that runs through Stardust and many of his short stories. Patterned after the Jungle Book, this is the story of a boy named Nobody who is raised by the shades that inhabit a cemetery, a story told in a series of short-story chapters that gradually develop an over-arching plot which only becomes directly referenced in the last chapter.

I expect to love it. To really love it, as I do Sandman. I expected this to be a book that I would re-read yearly.

I expected too much.

It’s good. I should say that, somewhere. It is – the story is charming and imaginative. There isn’t much borrowed mythology, and what is borrowed is creatively massaged to fit the world of the story.

I suspect my disappointment is a result of the fact that this is a book for young readers. That is, while Gaiman avowed that it was written for readers of all ages, the syntax and story are ultimately simple. And I guess there just wasn’t enough world and wonder replace that lost stimulation.

I strongly suspect that my opinion will evolve with additional reading – this just seems the type of book that I have to be in the right mindset to appreciate.  Maybe your mind is already thusly set.