Author – Richard K. Morgan
Pages: 544 pages
Release Date: September 9, 2002
In the six or so short years since Richard Morgan hit the SF scene, he’s become synonymous with hard edged Science Fiction. Hell, he is probably one of the sole reasons that ‘gritty’ has become such an overused descriptor in the SF publishing universe. He made further waves earlier this year when he took the leap from Science Fiction into Fantasy with the release of The Steel Remains. Wanting to see what all the fuss was about, I decided to go back to the source and start with his debut novel, Altered Carbon.
Immediately I was struck at how evenly Altered Carbon delivered a mix between hard edged Science Fiction and a dusty old detective novel. As with any good first person narrative driven novel, the strength of Altered Carbon rests on the shoulders of its main protagonist and Takeshi Kovacs (not pronounced KOE-vacs, but rather KOE-vash, if you know what’s good for you) more than delivers. On the surface he’s a hardened killer, straight out of the future’s version of prison, and simply bent on doing what he needs to to survive. Over the length of the novel, though, Kovacs grows through Morgan’s brisk, evocative prose and shows more layers than I ever expected of him.
Author – Pamela Freeman
Pages: 480 pages
Publisher: Orbit Books
Release Date: April 7, 2008
A couple of months ago, I wrote an article about how I was feeling over saturated with Epic Fantasy. You know the kind â€“ evil forces, semi-medieval world, lots of horses and swords and even a smattering of magic thrown in for good measure. It’s the kind of story I grew up on, but it just wasn’t floating my boat anymore.
Pamela Freeman was one of several authors to respond to the article and she had some interesting things to say about her first foray into adult fiction and why she’s trying to make a difference in the Epic Fantasy sub-genre:
I did a lot of reading in the genre for a doctorate, and I found that I was getting jaded, too – when I looked at why, I realised that a lot of secondary world writers were setting up the world and the magic in the first book, and then just letting the story/politics/war run to its conclusion, without revealing anything new. As a reader, I wasnâ€™t getting a constantly renewed sense of wonder about the world, and since I read epic fantasy as least as much for the world as for the plot, I was getting bored.I kept wanting someone else to read the third book for me and just tell me what happened. I am trying hard not to let that happen in the Castings Trilogy, but maybe that means Iâ€™m slowing the plot downâ€¦nothingâ€™s simple. The great advantage epic fantasy has is that itâ€™s – epic; like Tolkien, I wanted to try my hand a really long story
Curious to see if Freeman could back up her words, I tossed Blood Ties into my backpack along with several other novels for the cross country journey. Could Freeman really be tackling Epic Fantasy in a new way?
The answer’s more complicated than a simple yes or no.
The Ten Thousand
Author – Paul Kearney
Pages: 480 pages
Release Date: August 26, 2008
Several months ago I wrote a controversial review of Paul Kearney’s The Ten Thousand. Some people applauded it, some people called me a hack for reviewing a book without having finished it. Either way, I put to paper a reasoned explanation of why I felt compelled to put down the novel over half way through.
Jeff, the scribe of Fantasy Book News & Reviews, read The Ten Thousand and a funny thing happened: he felt more or less exactly as I did about the first half of the novel, but pushed through where I gave up. The Ten Thousand, based almost wholly on the strength of the second half, ended up being one of Jeff’s favourite reads of the year. Quite a turn around, no? In response to this, Jeff issued me a challenge: to re-read The Ten Thousand and give it the chance he felt it deserved. I’ll admit that there was always a small part of me that wanted to give Kearney that second chance, and so I took Jeff up on the challenge (being able to pick one novel for him to read and review was icing on the cake).
The Drawing of the Dark
Author – Tim Powers
Pages: 336 pages
Publisher: Del Rey Books
Release Date: June, 1979
When I first read The Anubis Gates, a novel hailed by many as Powers best, I fell in love with it. I had searched high and low for a copy for months and when it finally landed on my mother’s head (almost literally), I dove right in and almost instantly knew it was worth the search.
Since that time, I’ve hunted down many of Powers’ other work (sadly most of his older work can be hard to find, at least in my part of the world) and have saved each of them for a time when I need something special to read, something to kick my imagination back in gear. The Drawing of the Dark seemed like the perfect companion for the other novels I packed with me on my trip – it takes place in Hungary (which I just left) and Vienna, Austria (where I’m headed), has an Irish protagonist (which, if you couldn’t tell from my name, I have a lot of in my blood), and is about beer (which any decent man has a love affair with).
Unlike Powers’ other works, The Drawing of the Dark is a more standard fair, very akin to the works of other authors writing fantasy at the same time (Terry Brooks, Stephen R. Donaldson, etc…). It has everything that made Epic Fantasy of that period so damn good – big battles, rip-roarin’ magic, a mysterious wizard, hidden legacies – but with that Tim Powers twist.
Author – Neil Gaiman
Pages: 400 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Release Date: January 25, 2005
There are a few authors that I save for special occasions. Travelling is one of those special occasions and Neil Gaiman is one of those authors. So when it came time to pack my bags and choose the novels that were coming with me Neverwhere was a no-brainer. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I loved American Gods and figured something in the same vein set in Europe could only be a good thing. What I got wasn’t exactly what I expected, but it was a bloody fun romp, nonetheless.
Neverwhere is more Stardust (Gaiman’s whimsical take on the classic Faerie Tale) than American Gods (Gaiman’s dark, menacing take on America, Media and Gods), which, in the end, I think was a good thing for the novel. Neverwhere starts off quick, and never looks back – leading the reader through a version of the London Underground that constantly keeps the reader on their toes with imagination. Half the fun with the novel comes from that anticipation about what Gaiman will throw at Richard Mayhew (and, by extension, the read) next. Wonderful visuals delight and the characters met along the way are just as charming and magical as the fantasy world.