Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2010 Mid-Year Review

We are half-way through 2010, and it seemed like a good time to take a look at the first half of the year. 2010 has seen 87 posts (averaging a post every 2.1 days). There have been 7 “information” posts (such as Top 15 of 2009), 1 on a product catalogue, 10 posts of “FREE FICTION,” and 2 interviews. There was one piece of non-fiction read and 53 fiction books: 2 roleplaying games, 1 magazine, 3 novellas, 3 anthologies, 3 omnibuses, 8 single author collections, and 37 novels. The genres have been pretty diverse as well, with 1 historical fiction, 2 mainstream fiction, 2 thriller, 3 mystery, 7 horror, 23 fantasy, and 34 science fiction (science fiction and fantasy are much closer when you take out the graphic novels I counted for them, putting them on exactly equal terms). There have been 26 2010 releases reviewed so far (in order of review, with stand out titles in bold):

Sons of Dorn by Chris Roberson

Rynn’s World by Steve Parker

Explorer X – Alpha by L.M. Preston

Molly Fyde and the Land of Light by Hugh Howey

Gran’s Secret by Trevis Powell

Death & Dishonour edited by Alex Davis, Nick Kyme, and Lindsey Priestley

Call to Arms by Mitchel Scanlon

The Hualapai Cycle by Jason Walters

Friday Night in Beast House by Richard Laymon

The World House by Guy Adams

The Breach by Patrick Lee

Neverland by Douglas Clegg

The Holler by Marge Fulton

Flesh and Iron by Henry Zou

Zendikar: In the Teeth of Akoum by Robert B. Wintermute

Helsreach by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

The Book of Blood edited by Christian Dunn

The Specific Gravity of Grief by Jay Lake

The Crossroads by L. Ron Hubbard

Gold and Glory by Brian Libby

Black Gate – Winter 2010 (Issue 14)

The Pack by L.M. Preston

The Starcrossed by William I. Levy

Bloodborn by Nathan Long

Swords from the East by Harold Lamb

Half Way Home by Hugh Howey

I look forward to sharing the second half of 2010 with all of you. I hope you keep coming back, and keep reading!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Half Way Home by Hugh Howey

NOTE: Half Way Home was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Hugh Howey.

Regular readers of the site will recognize Hugh Howey’s by-line. He is growing quite a fan base for his Bern Saga, which began with last year’s Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue, continues in Molly Fyde and the Land of Light, and reaches its penultimate chapter with this summer’s Molly Fyde and the Blood of Billions. Based on Hugh’s first two novels, I was very excited to check out his third, Half Way Home. This is his first non-Molly Fyde novel, and a bit of a departure for him, so I was intrigued.

In the future, countries send out ships full of unborn children to new planets. If the planet is deemed viable, the children are grown for a full thirty years, implanted with knowledge of their profession and their surroundings. If the planet is unviable, then the unborn are aborted. Yet, for one set of colonists, something else happens. Fifteen years into their growth, the abort sequence begins and then is terminated. Ninety percent of the colonists die in the ensuing debacle. Those who are left alive are trapped on their world, under their harsh AI task master, Colony. Yet, when Porter and a group of colonists set out to find freedom, a planet of striking danger and dark possibilities is discovered.

Initially, I was having problems with this novel. The first chapter, one of the longest in the book, breaks the tried-and-true “show, don’t tell” rule. Howey takes a very long time to tell us the background of his story, and it was like trying to run through mud. If he had worked these details into the story, letting them come up naturally, we could have gotten all of the information and none of the overbearing and slow introductory material. It was a very weak start that left me with doubts about the rest of the novel.

I also found myself frustrated with what I felt were a few logical lapses throughout the novel, most of them found in the very beginning. Frustratingly, one of them nullified the logic of the long and dry first chapter, thus making it necessary for story, but a breaking of story logic by its very need to exist. That likely makes no sense unless you have read the novel, but I don’t want to give details and spoil parts of the plot.

All of the above is a shame, because once Howey finally gets the story rolling, it becomes a very engaging novel. If you can get through the early chapters, past the background and the aborting of the mission chapters, then things finally begin to get good. Howey creates fun characters that readers will like to follow, and the relationships between characters are very engaging. The novel becomes the type of entertaining adventure that makes his other books so readable.

This one is certainly a bit of a change up for Howey, and it didn’t succeed on all levels. It is nice to see him expanding his scope, something necessary to long term success as an author, but I hope the next time he does so the results are a bit more like I had hoped for.

I ran into trouble on who to suggest this one for. I wouldn’t want new fans to begin this one, get mired in the lows, enjoy the highs, but not want to try more from a capable author. However, fans of Howey’s previous work will find this one a bit of a letdown. Thus, to any who choose to venture here, take the bad with a grain of salt: it’s not a typical turnout, and there is plenty of good to be found here. Relish the characters and the adventure in the later sections, because they are quite good. Skim through the beginning and the not-so-good parts, which can be derailing. If you are new to Howey, maybe try another of his books.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Black Gate – Winter 2010 (Issue 14)—Part 2

NOTE: Black Gate Issue 14 was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by New Epoch Press.

I recently worked my way through the exciting first third of the newest issue of Black Gate, and now it is time to return to the magazine for part two of our three part journey. This time we will see 3 novellas, 3 short stories, and 1 poem, listed below with individual comments.

“Devil on the Wind” by Michael Jasper & Jay Lake: This tale of a witch heading to town to collect her coven’s “tax” on the citizens was one that fell entirely flat for me. I just couldn’t enjoy this one. After the level of enjoyment I took from my last Jay Lake piece, The Specific Gravity of Grief, this one was a major let down.

“The Price of Two Blades” by Pete Butler: A story-teller and entertainer sits down to learn a new story for his repertoire, and finds much more. This is an absolutely brilliant piece. The novella flew by, playing both with action fantasy and the art of telling stories. One of the best pieces of short fiction I’ve read from 2010, it would be an injustice for this one not to win some awards.

“The Girl Who Feared Lightning” by Dan Brodribb: A brief and wryly humorous tale of a security guard who has to deal with a rather supernatural problem. Brodribb presents a tale that works, but I wonder if it wasn’t as funny as it was supposed to have been.

“Wanted! A Clown Incognito” by Aamir Aziz: The first poem of the volume, this one wasn’t bad, although I have trouble giving a more substantial review of brief poetry than that.

“Destroyer” by James Enge: A tale of Enge’s popular character, Morlock the Maker. Morlock leads a family through hostile territory, trying to pass through a valley in the middle of a gigantic mountain range. With insect-like enemies on all sides, Morlock does everything he can to lead his charges to safety. This was my introduction to Morlock, and I will certainly be on the lookout for more, including both of Enge’s Morlock books out from Pyr.

“The Natural History of Calamity” by Robert J. Howe: The last novella of the collection is another winner. While I found this tale of a karmic detective in a case far deeper than she ever imagined to have an ending I didn’t find satisfying, the plot was very engaging, working as a mystery novella along with its fantasy trappings. I will be looking for more from Howe.

“Red Hell” by Renee Stern: In a steampunk-esque environment, criminals work off their debt to society as laborers. However, when one man is framed, he’ll do anything to escape. This one started of slow, but got better as it went along. It wasn’t one of the highlights of this issue, but it wasn’t too bad.

The second of the three sections proved to be even better than the first. Despite weak opening and closing stories, the novellas in particular stole the show. Stop back again in a couple weeks for the third and final part of my look at Black Gate issue 14, reviewing “The Lady’s Apprentice” by Jan Stirling, “The Wine-Dark Sea” by Isabel Pelech, “”On a Pale Horse” by Sylvia Volk, “La Señora de Oro” by R.L. Roth, “Building Character” by Tom Sneem, “Broadcaster” by Arthur Porges, “Folie and Null” by Douglas Empringham, “Spanish Dance” by Arthur Porges, an extended book review section, and a special 8-page Knights of the Dinner Table strip.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Swords from the East by Harold Lamb

NOTE: Swords from the East was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Bison Books.

Adventure fiction comes in all shapes and sizes, and one of those is historical. Many authors have played with historical adventures, from Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (Scott being more or less the inventor of the genre) up through today. One of the major authors to work in that genre, and who is sadly not well known today, is Harold Lamb. Writing a large number of pieces set all over the world, he captured the historical adventure tale in the era of pulp magazines. Editor Howard Andrew Jones is working with University of Nebraska Press and Bison Books to bring his fiction work back into print, with one of the newest volumes being Swords from the East, a collection of Lamb’s tales of the Mongols. Excited about the chance to dive in, I did, reading the forward by editor Howard Andrew Jones and the introduction by fantasy author James Enge. Below are thoughts on the stories, followed by overall thoughts.

“The Gate in the Sky”: Maak, a reindeer herder, spends a night in the camp of some traders, only to have his precious reindeer stolen. Maak sets out to find the thieves and recover his reindeer. This is an excellent beginning to the collection, giving us in a short space a character driven to stop the thieves, with excellent setting, plot, and action.

“The Wolf-Chaser”: Hugo, a former French count, has traveled into the mountains of central Asia in search of his brother, who had travelled there in an attempt to spread Christianity. After finding his brother had died, Hugo hangs around, and when a vast army comes to threaten the people he has been living with, Hugo leads a small group in the defense of a mountain pass that he must hold if the city of Kob is to be won back by its citizens. This is an exciting piece of a brutal last stand in the mountains, continuing Lamb’s excellent characterization and writing style.

The Three Palladins: A novel length tale of Mingan, a prince living in Cathay, who escapes an assassination attempt and flees to the Horde of Temujin, the future khan, to be known as Genghis Khan. The story begins at the death of Temujin’s father, and continues as Temujin struggles to create an empire in the Gobi, and becomes Genghis Khan. A very well-told and powerful story, this is one of the best historical novels I have ever read.

“The House of the Strongest”: Ermecin is the strong one, and comes to be the leader of his tribe. However, he can’t win the love of his wife, Cherla, until he sets out to find his kidnapped son. A brief tale, but one well-told.

The Road of the Giants: The second novel-sized tale in this volume follows Captain Billings, Russian cartographer, who is tasked to make a map of the lands in which the Mongols live. However, before he can even begin, he has a run in with a prince, and winds up a captive. As Billings is forced to travel with the horde to its homelands, he continues to make his map, but for a different master. Yet, when he discovers treachery afoot, he sets out to save the horde that imprisoned him. An exciting tale, this one doesn’t equal The Three Palladins in impact, but has even more action, and engaging characters.

“Azadi’s Jest”: Azadi, a member of the sultan’s harem, is known for her “little tricks.” However, when she sees a Cossack being tortured, she sets in her mind a trick that will set them both free. One of the lesser tales of the volume, but still entertaining.

“The Net”: This emotionally engaging tale of a blind fisherman and his adopted children who come against the whims of evil sailors is one of the highlights of the collection. Lamb is at his most powerful here.

“The Book of the Tiger: The Warrior”: This is the first part of Lamb’s retelling of the Babar-nameh, The Story of the Tiger. The Babar-nameh is the autobiography of Babar, the Tiger, a 16th century conqueror and the first of the Moghul emperors. “The Warrior” follows Babar from the death of his father and the assumption of his father’s role, through his fighting throughout central Asia, culminating in his repeated attempts at capturing and holding a city of his own. This is a very interesting piece, with a wonderful stylistic voice all its own. At times you can tell that this is a condensing of a larger work, as it feels a bit rushed or abbreviated, but it never stops being engaging. It ends on a very abrupt note, with some questions that don’t get answered, but it is a very fun piece.

“The Book of the Tiger: The Emperor”: The second part of Lamb’s retelling of the Babar-nameh, this one picks up as Babar is heading to take Kabul, and after struggles there moves on into India. Another tale in the style of the previous one, this one is also very engaging, although I felt suffered worse than the previous one in the area of occasionally feeling very much as a condensation of another work, at times feeling almost out-line-like. It is still, however, a very fun tale.

“Sleeping Lion”: An engaging tale of Marco Polo and a stolen ruby of tremendous value, this one sadly is missing a portion of the middle of the story, as it was printed wrong upon first appearance, and the original has disappeared. That absence hurts the denouement, but it is still an entertaining short piece.

After the stories, there is an appendix that reprints a number of letters that Lamb wrote that appeared in Adventure, the main source of publication of these stories. They are all much more than simple letters, however, but more essays, some on the historical context of a story, others on the history of central Asia in general. These are quite fascinating reading, and very engrossing.

This volume is large and dense, cramming a lot of content into its pages. Amazingly, it is almost all excellent, and the few that didn’t shoot fireworks for me still weren’t bad. The stories read very well, and don’t feel aged at all. The pace is quite fast, the action is invigorating, and the plots are brilliant fun. What Lamb has accomplished is rather wonderful. He has taken an area of history most readers, at least here in the USA, aren’t too familiar with, and made it feel very real and very comfortable, infusing them with rich culture that helps the plot along. The heroes are heroic, but they also don’t feel just like western heroes transposed into central Asia. This collection of stories is brilliant, and will definitely have me on the lookout for more Lamb. This volume is a good buy, both in quantity and quality. Fans of historical fiction, Asian history, and swift adventure shouldn’t miss Swords from the East.


Sunday, June 20, 2010

Monster by A. Lee Martinez

Sometimes, what you need is a fast-paced, over the top fantasy adventure, rather than a deep, dark, moody tale. One of the names that seems to be becoming more and more popular in that area is A. Lee Martinez. His adventure fantasies, filled with liberal dashes of humor, began with the publication of Gil’s All Fright Diner, and have continued on into his seventh book, Divine Misfortune, out now in hardcover. His latest paperback release is the paperback release of his novel Monster. It looked like fun, so I dove in.

When a stray dog is bothering you, or the local cat is looking a little rabid, you call animal control. But when you have a yeti problem, or trolls in your closet, you need someone a little different. It’s time to call Cryptobiological Containment and Rescue Services, and their best crypto-catcher, Monster. However, when Judy can’t seem to stop having problems, she and Monster realize that there is more at stake than either of them dreamed, and it may be up to them to save all of existence. If they can ever get along, that is.

Martinez has written a wonderfully entertaining story. Monster and Judy are a lot of fun as characters, are fully fleshed out, and set up plenty of laughs. All of the secondary characters work well, too, and help fill out the very entertaining plot. The novel easily moves from mild-animal control work to saving existence, and neither feels out of place or overly abrupt. The integration of the real world and the magical one is something that Martinez does very well here as well, laying the two on top of each other in a completely believable fashion rarely seen in fantasy. There is a whole lot to like here, and will certainly make you pick up another Martinez novel in the future.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Guest Review: Bloodborn by Nathan Long

NOTE: Bloodborn was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by the Black Library.

Everyone knows the old and grossly over-quoted adage, “Never judge a book by its cover.” Everyone also knows that that is nearly impossible to do. A book with a garish cover just isn’t as appealing as one with a wonderful cover, and when making a choice on a new author or book, most people won’t go with the garish cover. It’s neither good nor bad, just how it is. Another aspect of book covers is that they help identify genre and audience. That can be critical. If I see a book that has a man, in a bold stance, with shirt torn so that his unbelievably muscular chest can be shown to greatest effect, and who has a woman wearing a rather scantily-clad ensemble clinging to him, it can be called War in Space and I’m still going to be thinking it is a romance novel. So when I received Nathan Long’s newest novel, Bloodborn, I saw the Victorian-esque cover of a lone female vampire in the candlelight, and thought, “Not for me.” In an attempt to be a slightly better reviewer than that, I read the back, and realized that it seemed to be exactly the kind of book my fiancée likes to read, and in the interest of getting a review out there, I gave it to her to read and review. I hope you enjoy the first guest review here at Luke Reviews.

I, like many of my generation, have been caught up in the new vampire sensation created by Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight. So when Luke suggested I read Nathon Long’s new Warhammer novel, Bloodborn, I could hardly refuse! What I found though was not a novel of fanciful vampire romance – it was much more than that.

Bloodborn follows a Warhammer character from previous books, Ulrika, who at the start of the novel has been unwillingly turned into a vampire by her captor. As she struggles between her new vicious nature and her humanity, her mistress, the Countess Gabriella - responsible for not only her life but modeling her into a vampire worthy of her coven - is called upon by her queen to bring an end to a series of murders against her fellow vampires in Nuln. Together they travel to the city, where Ulrika assists in the mystery, makes unlikely friends, and begins to understand who she is in a world of vampires, witch hunters, ghouls, and other strange supernatural beings.

It has been a long time since I was so completely caught up in a book that it took me a matter of hours to finish, that had me laughing and crying along with Ulrika at every turn. The only negative that I could possibly find with the book was all the Warhammer terminology and culture that eludes and distracts the new reader, but it quickly falls to the background. Long brings all the original elements of the vampire myths and blends them flawlessly into the Warhammer world to create one of the most fun, thrilling, even heart-wrenching tales I’ve read this year.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Starcrossed by William I. Levy

NOTE: The Starcrossed was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by BlackWyrm Books.

Small press publisher BlackWyrm has been putting out some neat books, filling the void of short novels and novellas in the current market of thousand page behemoths and never-ending series. While I find them to be hit and miss at times, I really enjoyed a couple of their books, and was excited to receive their latest release, The Starcrossed, which seemed right up my alley.

On the first trip in space searching for alien life, humanity struck gold and found some. Cat-like humanoids, the beings are a couple years behind humans technologically. Barret and a group of soldiers arrive on the planet and act as ambassadors, but when Barret falls in love with Paum, one of the aliens, he tries to abort the mission, only to have his plans fall through. A year later, after finally being released from prison, Barret finds an exhausted and disoriented Paum on his doorstep, and opens his future to the machinations of an ancient evil that has ravaged both the catmorphs and humans before.

William I. Levy has crafted a wonderfully fun science fiction thriller, as Barret and his friends fight a renegade military group and a demonic-like evil to save Paum and the planet. The pace is fast and doesn’t let up, but it isn’t at the sacrifice of well-developed characters. All of the numerous characters Levy throws around are very fully formed, and are a lot of fun in their interactions.

I did find it a little odd that, while the aliens people weren’t too happy about the inter-species relationship, no humans actually spoke up against it. I found that a seemingly large gap in logic. Even friends might have concerns if their friend had brought back his new alien girlfriend, especially in the situation of first contact.

However, small flaws aside, there is a lot to like in this novel. For fans of fast-paced science fiction action, a smidgen of romance, and a wonderfully fun tale, go grab a copy of this (it isn’t in big bookstores, so head over to BlackWyrm’s site, found in my links section). You won’t regret it.


Monday, June 14, 2010

The Pack by L.M. Preston

NOTE: The Pack was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Phenomenal One Press.

After the surprise success of Explorer X – Alpha by L.M. Preston, I was looking forward to more of her work. Those of you who read the interview I did with her know that Preston has a number of books on the horizon, the next out being The Pack the first of a new duology out from Phenomenal One Press.

On the Mars of the future, a crime spree resulting in the kidnappings of a number of children have rocked the Martian police force, as they seem to be the targets of the attacks. Shamira, daughter of two members of that group, uses her training and the enhanced senses she has grown into after losing her eyesight to try and track down these kidnappers. However, after an emergency trip to Earth results in the return of her eyesight, her repeated run-ins with Valens, another young adult looking for the answer to the riddle of the missing children, and the kidnapping of her own brother, Shamira has to go past the point of no return if she is to save her brother and the other children of Mars.

The Pack, aimed at an older age group than Preston’s Explorer X series, definitely has a more mature feel to it. The setting and mood are much darker, as Shamira runs through the shady side of Mars to solve her brother’s kidnapping. However, Preston shows herself to be versatile enough to handle this drastic shift in the feel of her first two books, succeeding in making the dark environment feel natural. Shamira is certainly a well-developed character

I felt, however, that The Pack suffered from some things that didn’t hold up quite as well as in Explorer X – Alpha. Shamira, while she may be well-developed, I found at times to be frustrating as a character. That may have been part of the point, but her abrupt shifts in mood, and her need to be angry at everyone and everything but her brother, made her a bit grating at times. I didn’t feel like this one drew me in quite like Aadi and his friends did Explorer X – Alpha, and that it made this one a little less engaging.

The Pack fills a void in young adult literature, reaching out to the young adults right on the edge of that genre, and adulthood itself, and will be well-received by those readers. However, to see all that Preston’s capable authorship can do, I would point back to Explorer X – Alpha. That said, I still am excited about Preston’s next release, out in Spring 2011, Bandits.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

X-Men: The Shattering by Alan Davis, Terry Kavanagh, Jay Faerber, and Mike Raicht

Every once in a while, in a fit of nostalgia, I go back to look at the joys of my youth, so to speak. One thing that was ever present in my formative years were comics, in particular (and my favorite) X-Men. Now a days, collections of these comics are being put out, and finding some from when I was younger, I decided to pick up a collection and see how it read. X-Men: The Shattering is the beginning of a string of collections of consecutive comics, continuing in X-Men vs. Apocalypse Volume 1: The Twelve. Much of this volume works as a prelude to that next volume.

After a string of trying exploits taken them from one of their greatest upsets to the edges of space, our band of mutants return home, only to find their leader and mentor, Professor Xavier, has seemed to snap, disbanding the team. The group breaks into three pieces, each setting out on their own new adventures, only to find out that a common foe is behind the breakup of the team and their latest problems. But after one of their own is killed before their eyes, can the X-Men recover in time to stop a threat that may have catastrophic consequences for the entire universe?

X-Men: The Shattering contains: Uncanny X-Men #372(“Dream’s End, Chapter One: Rude Awakenings”), #373(“Beauty & the Beast, Part One: Broken Mirrors”), #374(“Beauty & the Beast, Part Two: You Can’t Go Home Again”), #375(“I am Not Now, Nor Have I Ever Been…”), X-Men #92(“Dream’s End, Chapter Two: Pressure Points”), #93(“Hidden Lives, Part 1 of 2: Open Wounds”), #94(“Hidden Lives Part 2 of 2: Pandora’s Box”), #95(“Do Unto Others”), Astonishing X-Men #1(“Call to Arms!”), #2(“The Trouble with Mannites”), #3(“In the Shadow of Death”).

The story is fast and fun. Despite the multitude of creators with hands in on this one, the story remains cohesive, and it is organized in this volume to give us the story in the smoothest possible way. A very entertaining volume. There are a lot of characters being handled in this one, some I wasn’t too intimately familiar with, but they were introduced and integrated into the story quite nicely, without too much trouble at all.

The only possible major drawback would be that, as stated above, this isn’t so much a stand-alone story as a prelude to the two volume X-Men vs. Apocalypse series. If you want a one volume complete story, this one won’t be for you. However, after finishing this one, I know that I can’t wait to dive into the next book. The Claremont era (the original one, at least) was over in X-Men, and with it some of the deep stories that delved into religion, racism, and the like. This volume doesn’t try to attain that, but instead is just geared to give a fun story, and in that regard, it certainly succeeds.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Interview with Brian Libby

A couple days ago I put up my review of Brian Libby’s latest fantasy novel, Gold and Glory, and also reviewed his previous novel, Storm Approaching, a while ago. I thoroughly enjoy Libby’s novels, and was delighted to have the chance to sit down and ask him a couple questions.

Thanks for the interview, Brian!

First off, I want to congratulare you on your first novel, Storm Approaching. It has garnered some wonderful praise and solid reviews! I know you went through a bit of an extended process getting that first novel out there, from having it in the hands of publishers to deciding to publish it yourself. How was it trying to get your first book published?

Many say that getting an agent is harder than getting a publisher, but that was not true in my case. In 2004, after about a hundred query letters, I succeeded in getting a very good New York agent. (This did not result from the query letters, but, oddly, from his irritated response to a review of one of his authors that I posted at Amazon. But ‘a soft answer turneth away wrath;’ after an exchange of e-mails, in which I mentioned my writing, he asked to see my book; I made a number of changes along lines he suggested; he accepted it.) In 2005 and 2006 several fine publishers declined Storm Approaching. At one it was recommended for publication by the first reader, but then languished until mid-2008 (!), waiting for the supreme editor to read it. Whether or not she ever did remains a mystery; after a note in which I said I was planning to self-publish if nothing good happened soon, the last word from my agent (August 2008) was, “I don’t think she is going to do it. From what I gather, she started it but lost interest. And then she said she would try again. But she never does. So go self publish. We tried. I think it is a fine book. It’s just not where the market is in fantasy. With some exceptions the market for new authors is ‘urban fantasy.’ Vampires, zombies, and werewolves.”

So I decided to produce Storm Approaching as a print-on-demand book, its unfortunate lack of vampires, zombies, and werewolves notwithstanding.

I had already published a satirical novel about education, And Gladly Teach, in 2001, with AuthorHouse, so the POD process went as expected, although I used another publisher for Gold and Glory.

Who are the biggest inspirations for your work, both literary and otherwise?

Inspirations? In my high school and college days (the late 60’s and the 70’s) I read much fantasy: Tolkien, of course, and earlier writers (e.g. George MacDonald, William Morris, Lord Dunsany, E.R. Eddison), and many books in the fantasy series edited by Lin Carter. I largely stopped reading it in grad school and beyond. When I decided to write Storm Approaching I wanted to see what sort of fantasy was now popular, so I read many pages from contemporary authors, and many more reviews; I have to say that few of them inspired me. (I do not read much contemporary fantasy now; studying history provides enough blood, sex, and misery.)

Authors I admire for their style and brilliance include George F. Kennan, Telford Taylor, S.J. Perelman, Thomas Mann and Dostoevsky (in translation), Edward Gibbon, and Alexander Pope.

Now that the first two books of Mercenaries have been released, a kind of over-arching theme in the world around your characters is becoming apparent. Do you have plans for the rest of the series? Will it be something you want to be ongoing, or do you have a set beginning, middle, and end in mind?

I know that many readers, rightly irritated by series that never end—or whose authors seem to have abandoned them—are reluctant to start reading anything new until it is complete. Well, good news here: the first three volumes of Mercenaries is a trilogy (i.e. a complete story, not just three books), and I plan to publish the third volume later this year. There is a fourth, a stand-alone volume, set in the same world with some of the same characters.

Can you give us any hints on what the next Mercenatires novel will be about?

Resolution continues the story of the first two and brings it to a definite conclusion. I should not like to say more, as it might spoil things for the readers—myriads, I hope—who will be starting Mercenaries. :)

Do you have any non-Mercenaries or non-novel plans for the near future?

I have already published And Gladly Teach, a satirical novel about prep-school life. Most readers find it very funny. There is also Miscellanea, a small book of humorous pieces on various subjects such as education, the LOTR and Star Wars films, and the nutritional benefits of eggplant parmesan. I don’t have plans for any non-Mercenaries novels. I post essays (mostly humorous) on my blog.

Your series has a very strong sense of history to it. Have you drawn a lot of details from the past, in particular the middle ages? Does your background in history help you work with the large political and global struggles that are the underpinnings that create Andiriel's world?

I’m a historian; my fields are European diplomatic and military history. Without professional knowledge I could not have written the books. I have, for example, striven earnestly to present diplomacy as it actually works—not as the lying and backstabbing that some uninformed authors seem to think it is. Military matters (found more in Gold and Glory than in Storm) are mainly described from the Operational level—that of regimental commanders in small armies—which I think is something new, as it avoids both the vagueness of a merely strategic description and the dreary, repetitive homicide of minor tactics. (It strikes me as odd how some writers seem to feel an obligation, if not an obsession, to emphasize the brutality of small-unit combat, as though readers were unaware of it. I will leave incessant carnage to these masters; it has been done enough, and new authors are supposed to do something different. More interesting, perhaps, to see how battles are planned and fought and won, or lost, from the viewpoint of those in command.)

Certainly there are parallels between my books and historical events and situations. The New Empire, for example, has certain features of the Holy Roman Empire; the possible inheritance crisis is similar to the situation before the War of the Austrian Succession and involves an equivalent of Charles VI’s Pragmatic Sanction. However, the world I am trying to create has nothing directly to do with Europe at any particular time. The society contains features from early and late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, and, I hope, many original things. Mercenaries is not historical fiction.

Any final comments?

Thanks very much for the opportunity to say something about my writing. I hope readers will be sufficiently intrigued to take a look at my blog, perhaps to get in touch, maybe even to take a chance and read something I wrote. Some print-on-demand books are better than others!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Black Gate—Winter 2010 (Issue 14)—Part 1

NOTE: Black Gate issue 14 was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by New Epoch Press.

There are fewer and fewer successful genre magazines these days, and you would be hard-pressed to find a fantasy magazine out there better than Black Gate. It is a solid magazine with good content, and very much worth the entry fee. After a long period since Issue 13, Issue 14 was released, and it is a behemoth. Gigantic doesn’t begin to describe it. So, with that in mind, I am going to take a look at the newest issue of Black Gate over three segments, each covering (very) roughly one third of the magazine.

The issue starts with John O’neill’s always entertaining editorial, this time on “Tiny Empires” and his experiences with wargaming. We then get the letters section, before diving into the stories and articles.

“Dark of the Year” by Diana Sherman: In a world where children are taken by shadowy demons if they are unnamed, one man sets out to find a name for his orphaned granddaughter. I found the ending to be a bit predictable, but this is an entertaining story never-the-less. The quest of the grandfather was one that carried you right along.

“The Hangman’s Daughter” by Chris Braak: In a world of non-human but human-like sentient species, one little girl must face a childhood nightmare that is far more real than people want to believe. I found this one entertaining, with a bit of a slow start but a satisfying conclusion. The repetitive parallel paragraphing for the protagonist’s dreams didn’t work for me at all, but they luckily didn’t crop up too often.

“The Bonestealer’s Mirror” by John C. Hocking: Brand the Viking, along with his companions, stop to investigate a signal fire, only to find a town beset by a terrible creature that steals the bones from its victims’ bodies. Hocking proves, yet again, to be a top-notch storyteller worthy of the mantel of the next Robert E. Howard, yet he fills his tales with a sterling originality that would be done a gross disservice by labeling it anything other than purely Hocking. The plot, the characters, the setting: all are wonderful, and a joy to explore. The day a collection of Hocking’s Brand stories comes out is the day I wait in line to buy a copy.

“The Word of Azrael” by Matthew David Surridge: This tale of a man on a lifelong quest in search of the angel of death grasps the moody, mystical quality of both dream and myth, and weaves it throughout. The story carries you along without effort, and is certainly wonderful to read. It occasionally got a bit too slow and tried a little too hard to add poetics to its setting, but I still found it to be a solid story from an author I will be looking for more from.

“Back to the Future: Modern Reprints of Classic Fantasy” by Rich Horton: A wonderful essay from a man entrenched in the genre, Horton explores host of publishers who are bringing back some unjustly forgotten classics. While most will be familiar with some of these, few will be familiar with all, and the essay brings up both authors and books that I will be keeping an eye out for. A wonderful essay.

“The Mist Beyond the Circle” by Martin Owton: When slave-dealers kidnap their families, ten people set out to get them back, using a little mysticism, a little fighting of beasts of the dead, and a dab of murder. I had a bit of trouble getting into this one at first, but it got better as it went along.

“Freedling” by Mike Shultz: A middle-of-the-line story, not great but one that I feel I won’t think much about and will forget soon enough, this tale is of a young girl and an evil sorcer who are trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building.

“The Renunciation of the Crimes of Gharad the Undying” by Alex Kreis: A very short story, this one is an open letter to the people Gharad oppressed as their dictator, now that he has been defeated and thrown into prison. A fun piece of fluff, but without much to really impress me.

We then are given a 20 page gaming review section, covering a huge host of titles. I am very much of the opinion that the review sections are among the highlights of each issue of Black Gate, and I am not proven wrong this time around.

A solid start to Issue 14, stop by in a couple weeks for part two, which will look at “Devil on the Wind” by Michael Jasper & Jay Lake, “The Price of Two Blades” by Pete Butler, “The Girl Who Feared Lightning” by Dan Brodribb, “Wanted! A Clown Incognito” by Aamir Aziz, “Destroyer” by James Enge, “The Natural History of Calamity” by Robert J. Howe, and “Red Hell” by Renee Stern.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Gold and Glory by Brian Libby

NOTE: Gold and Glory was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Brian Libby.

Last year, one of my best surprises was Storm Approaching, Brian Libby’s fantasy debut that introduced the world to Andiriel, orphan school-girl who becomes a government agent and a mercenary leader in a pre-gunpowder fantasy environment full of historical touches. Hot on the heels of that release is the second volume of the saga, Gold and Glory.

Following from the events of Storm Approaching, Gold and Glory picks up after a winter of training for the Pelicans mercenary regiment. Andiriel, along with her ever present sand fox, continues on as an atypical and very effective leader, joining an army of mercenaries led by General Demantius. After a couple of battles that Andiriel takes in stride, a unique offer from an odd source presents itself. Sarenia, enemy of the Empire, wants to hire the Pelicans, along with an army of other mercenaries, to fight in the Sarenian Succession War currently taking place. Andiriel accepts, and sets off on a whirlwind adventure in a strange, foreign environment.

Once again, Libby has presented us with a very fun adventure, although this one is in a very different vein than Storm Approaching. While Storm Approaching was a sort of coming-of-age story, Gold and Glory is the action epic, the heroic fantasy saga of the series so far. Filled with battles, Gold and Glory never lacks for action and adventure. Libby works very well at creating characters that are very memorable, both major and minor. The action is very exciting, and feels very real, yet also retains an interesting strategic aspect sadly absent from most action fantasies of the day, which follow the hack-and-slash method instead (not that that is bad, but the variety and uniqueness is nice).

The only thing that I felt detracted from the story at all was the fact that I never felt the Pelicans were in any real danger. Andiriel seemed to always be on top, and it seemed a little too easy or convenient at times. While that can be an issue, I never felt that bothered by it, as the crux of the story, despite all of the action, never was the action itself, but Andiriel and the other characters, and how they grow and develop. What Libby is writing feels different than most modern fantasy (and not just because of the lack of certain tropes), and it is a welcome and refreshing addition to any fantasy reader’s library. If you enjoy fantasy, action, history, or a good story with characters you can become deeply attached to, give Libby a try.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Starblazer Adventures by Chris Birch & Stuart Newman with David Donachie & Douglas Nicol

NOTE: Starblazer Adventures was a free review copy provided to Luke Reviews by Cubicle Seven Entertainment.

In an effort to explore deeper into the genre, I took a look at the roleplaying game 3:16: Carnage Amongst the Stars. I wanted to keep that up by taking another look into science fiction roleplaying, with Starblazer Adventures, based on the British space opera comic.

In the future, humans are reaching out into the stars, finding intrigue, exotics, war, and greed. Flying through space, adventure is everywhere in a large universe full of planets, aliens, and dangers.

Starblazer Adventures is a huge book. At first glance, it can seem daunting. But when you dig into it, it is proven otherwise. The first 30 pages give you enough information to start throwing together an adventure to explore the cosmos. So what do the other 700 pages contain? All of the detail that turns this into an incredible setting worth having adventures in. The basic rules are given expansions, more fully fleshed out, but even more importantly the setting comes alive.

Starblazer Adventures isn’t overburdened with a complex rules system, but uses the FATE system seen in games such as Spirit of the Century. The system allows for more storytelling and less number crunching. However, each of the simple items you use to play are given huge amounts of potential and adaptability. Huge chapters detail attributes and skills your character can have, with amazing variety, and plenty of description that gives you an idea of just how far you might push your new traits. Small rules variations are given so you can control not just a player, but a spaceship, or even an entire space-faring system. Hosts of planets, each with detail on a large array of features, coupled with a large assortment of aliens and humans, spaceships, machines, traps and androids, give this one huge play potential.

The beauty of Starblazer Adventures is that with just this one book, you are given enormous information to set up and play. It would take years to play out all of the material contained within. Set up both for those who want to create their own settings and for those who want to use the hundreds provided, this system is perfect for gamers of all types. No supplements are needed, and very little looking up of rules during gameplay. For the price, you will be hard-pressed to find a book that gives you as much quantity and quality. There are very few new systems that are as self-contained yet adaptable as Starblazer Adventures. If you can only get one game book this year, make it this one.