Posts Categorized: Review

Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear

Publisher: Tor Books - Pages: 432 - Buy: Book/eBook
Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear

Steles of the Sky, like its two preceding volumes in Elizabeth Bear’s outstanding Eternal Sky trilogy, proves that room remains in fantasy for fresh ideas, unique world-building, hearty characterization and high-stakes magic and warfare. Bear’s trilogy pushes the genre forward, challenging her contemporaries to write tighter, more inclusive and creative fantasy, while also paying homage to many of the genre’s oldest roots.

Bear fills Steles of the Sky, and the entire trilogy, with a masterfully crafted meld of Asian and Middle Eastern mythology, legend and history with the wholly unique and deeply considered secondary world she has created. Shedding the tried and true landscapes and politics of faux-medieval western Europe, Bear introduces readers to a diverse world and political landscape that avoids feeling like the same ol’, same ol’, despite readers a story that uses many of the genre’s most recognizable tropes—ancient magic; an exiled youth of royal blood; a journey from one side of the map to the other; evil sorcerers; dragons; clashing armies. Read More »

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Publisher: Doubleday - Pages: 384 - Buy: Book/eBook
Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Full of Pratchett’s trademark wit and humor, Raising Steam is a tour de force of comedic fantasy and proves that despite recent health issues and uncertainty about his future as a novelist, Terry Pratchett is still a wordsmith and storyteller at the top of his game.

Steam power has come to Discworld and caught in the middle of it all is the irascible (but oh-so-lovable) Moist von Lipwig, the golden-tongued swindler and conman. As if running the Royal Mint, Royal Bank and Post Office of Ankh-Morpork wasn’t enough, Moist is quickly thrown to the wolves after being named (err… forced) by Lord Venitari to the role of civil representative for the new railway system as it spreads its tendrils through Discworld, maneuvering between mountains of trouble (literal, figurative and, well, always enormous) at every turn.

Moist von Lipwig, who should be recognizable to Discworld fans for his appearance in some of Pratchett’s most loved novels, returns to the Ankh-Morpork’s spotlight after being handed the responsibility of handling the next great invention on Discworld: the steam engine. As expected, hilarity and much fuss ensues, leaving Moist to navigate the politics and fast-moving (no pun intended) world of steam-powered locomotion. Add to this a civil war among the dwarfs, who are none-too-fond of the new-fangled railway, and you’ve got a story that’s chockfull of amusing misadventures, hair raising escapes and, as Pratchett fans will expect, a few genuinely tender and perceptive moments, too. Read More »

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Lightning in a Bottle, an unfilmable story.

Last year, after a decade of speculation, failed starts and mountains of expectation, Peter Jackson released The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, the first in a trilogy of films adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy novel, The Hobbit, for the big screen. Following in the footsteps of its bigger brother, Jackson’s adaptation of Lord of the Rings, a modern film classic in its own right, The Hobbit was almost destined to disappoint. With his first trilogy, Jackson captured lightning in a bottle. He took the movie industry by storm, and revitalized mainstream excitement for fantasy to a level not seen since the ’80s. He did so, somehow, by executing an enormous passion project that seemed almost impossible under the circumstances: no major stars, a production and special effects company that no one had heard of, a story deemed unfilmable by many fans, and a film industry that had not seen anything of its scale since Lucas’ Star Wars (which, in itself, faced many challenges and doubters before it found success.)

When Jackson first approached New Line Cinema, he pitched them on an adaptation of The Hobbit, with a two-film adaptation of Lord of the Rings to follow. As these things go, film rights to The Hobbit were split between two companies (which would again later impede production of The Hobbit trilogy we know today), while Lord of the Rings was entirely under the umbrella of New Line Cinema’s owner, Saul Zaentz. Jackson, a relative unknown in the world of big budget Hollywood films, was given the reigns to one of the most revered entertainment properties in the world. Read More »

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Note: This article was originally published as part of Smugglivus, a year-end celebration of all things books over at The Book Smugglers. Check out the rest of the fun!

To begin the year, I set myself a challenge: read a perfect split balance of male:female authors in 2013. It was a personal challenge, and I asked no one else to follow along with me. This challenge had two purposes. The first was to provide more exposure for female fantasy and science fiction writers. The second was to expand my own tastes, to discover new authors. As 2013 winds down, I consider this challenge a success, but it wasn’t without some controversy.

In particular, the comments thread generated some salty discussion about my challenge and the idea of ‘quotas’ playing against the natural interests of a reader/critic. I read a lot of the same arguments, mostly about being ‘genderblind’, that I had once made. These arguments are so easy to fall back on, a safety net to avoid falling into blame. At first, I was quick to respond the same way, “I just read what I want to read, and ignore the gender of the author completely.” Well and true, maybe, but I started to recognize that, despite these excuses, there was a large bias (about one to three, female to male) in my reading habits. I began to ask myself why. I still don’t have an answer, but I did recognize that a conscious course correction was something I could be proactive about without needing an answer right away. Read More »

The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton - Pages: 353 - Buy: Book/eBook
The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

Lavie Tidhar’s The Violent Century has done for World War II what The Watchmen did for the Cold War (and should have done for the Vietnam War). I make that comparison not because both feature humans with superpowers, but because they offer an opportunity to look at real events through a hyperbolic layer. Tidhar, like Alan Moore, is interrogating real events with the speculative fiction toolkit, looking not at how it happened historically, but at what about the human condition allowed it. The result, in Violent Century’s case isn’t just a great piece of superhero fiction, but a beautiful novel of cultural and literary merit.

[The Violent Century] is the kind of stilted romance built on repressed feelings and unspoken connections.

The jacket copy of the novel reads, “Fogg and Oblivion must face up a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism to answer one last, impossible question: what makes a hero” I’m loathe to sum it up so simply. While there are some notions of heroism throughout the novel, the quote describes what a fan reckons a superhero novel ought to be without a sense of the novel’s real themes. In the end, The Violent Century is a love story. Not a tale of heroism or social commentary, although it is those things too, Tidhar’s novel is the kind of stilted romance built on repressed feelings and unspoken connections.

For seventy years Oblivion and Fogg have guarded the British Empire with their abilities as arms of the opaque Retirement Bureau. Divided by a secret from decades past the pair is called back to answer for their actions. Fogg is a child of neglect, exploited for his ability, and asked to do things he finds incongruent with his morality. Oblivion, meanwhile, is more of a cipher, a mystery to solve. There’s also a woman named Klara who sits at the root of the conflict between the novel’s main characters and at the root of how Tidhar’s world is changed from our own. Read More »