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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Guest Post: ‘We Will Make an Ending’ or ‘How I Wrote Queen of Fire’ By Anthony Ryan

Endings are always tricky. Most truly memorable stories feature a climax that, whilst not always happy, is entirely fitting and lifts the tale into the realm of the classic. So whilst I didn’t want Sydney Carlton to walk the steps to the guillotine or Ilsa to get on the plane with Victor at the end of Casablanca, I also knew in my storyteller’s heart that this was how it had to be. If Sydney doesn’t walk up the steps he doesn’t get to say ‘It is a far, far better thing I do than I have ever done.’ If Ilsa stays with Rick he doesn’t get to tell Louie This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship’, and the Nazis might win WWII but that’s beside the point. So when it came time to write Queen Of Fire I was determined that the ending would do justice to what had come before, it would be how it had to be, and not necessarily how I wanted it to be. No cop-outs, no fairy godmothers and none of the parachutes under the seat that so enraged Annie Wilkes in Stephen King’s Misery.

The tale of Vaelin Al Sorna and co. has been an often bloody, emotionally wrenching journey, leavened, I hope, with some humour along the way. It has also, over the course of more than half a million words, generated an increasingly complex plot and an ever-growing cast of characters. Although I plan my work, I must admit I wasn’t entirely sure who was going to make it by the time the last drop of blood had spattered onto the arena floor. There were some, of course, whose number had been up from day one and others I’d grown fond of over the years. However, I’ve long held the opinion that the fiction writer must be a murderous parent; when it’s time to go, it’s time to go. Just ask poor old Scratch (about whom I still get the occasional heart-broken email).

Of course it wasn’t just a matter of listing the characters I needed to kill off. Each character, both major and minor, had an arc of their own that needed to be resolved. How would Reva deal with the responsibility of taking her uncle’s place as leader of Cumbrael, a burden made all the heavier by the fact that her people have come to regard her as a near messianic figure? What would happen when Frentis, the character I had perhaps put through the worst trials in Tower Lord, came face to face with Lyrna, newly resurrected Queen of the Unified Realm?

Lyrna herself proved an unexpected challenge. As her quest for revenge exacted an increasingly heavy toll on followers and foes alike I was faced with the question of how dark her destiny was going to be. Then there was Vaelin, who started all this when he popped into my head a decade or so ago. I’d done a lot to Vaelin over the years, most of it less than pleasant, and I must admit there was a certain reluctance in approaching the question of just how much more I was willing to take from him. In the end, I can only hope I got it right.

In addition to resolving the various character arcs, there was also the small matter of that complex plot which, by the advent of Queen Of Fire, had become intrinsically linked to the mechanics of the Dark. I had started Blood Song with the intention of being as vague and mysterious as possible when it came to magic. In fact, I think I began the book before the term ‘magic system’ had become so widely used. I wanted the Dark to be just that; dark, enigmatic, not fully understood or understandable, even for the people who use it. However, as the story progressed, and the events in Tower Lord revealed more about the Ally and his servants, it became apparent that many secrets would have to be revealed, including the origin of Vaelin’s arch-enemy.

This necessitated another round of world-building, a back-story beyond the existing back-story, for as Master Grealin says in Tower Lord: ‘Who he was might be a more pertinent question, for once he must have been a man.’ But what could have twisted a man into something so align and powerful? And could a being without physical form but still possessed of great power even be defeated? This need to craft an ending that made dramatic sense and conformed to the already established rules of magic was the primary reason why Queen Of Fire was more challenging to write than Tower Lord, and ended up twenty thousand words longer.

Although writing Queen Of Fire was more difficult than Tower Lord, once again the experience was ultimately a joyous one, if tinged with sadness. Saying goodbye to friends is hard, even if you know you’ll see them again someday. I’ll miss them, and I’m sorry to those lost along the way, but this is how it had to be.


Official Author Website
Order Queen Of Fire HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Blood Song
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Tower Lord
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Queen Of Fire
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Anthony Ryan
Read "The Influence Of History On Epic Fantasy" by Anthony Ryan (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Anthony Ryan is a pseudonym used by the author as his previous day job prevented him from using his real identity. The author has an academic background in history, previously worked full-time as a researcher and currently lives in London. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Winners of The Indie Day V Giveaway!!!

Congratulations to Sandy Klocinski who was randomly selected to win a KINDLE FIRE HDX 8.9” Tablet (8.9" HDX Display, Wi-Fi, 16 GB) courtesy of M.R. Mathias!!! Congratulations also to Tatiana Lammers and Betty Curran who will each receive a KINDLE E-READER (New Touchscreen Display, Exclusive Kindle Software, Wi-Fi)! Each Kindle will be loaded with the following titles:

Dragoneer Saga by M. R. Mathias
The Darkslayer (Volumes I-VI)by Craig Halloran
…and various other goodies :)

Thanks to everyone who entered and Happy Independence Day!!!

Queen Of Fire by Anthony Ryan (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Blood Song
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Tower Lord
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Anthony Ryan
Read "The Influence Of History On Epic Fantasy" by Anthony Ryan (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Anthony Ryan is a pseudonym used by the author as his previous day job prevented him from using his real identity. The author has an academic background in history, previously worked full-time as a researcher and currently lives in London. 

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB:The Ally is there, but only ever as a shadow, unexplained catastrophe or murder committed at the behest of a dark vengeful spirit. Sorting truth from myth is often a fruitless task.”

After fighting back from the brink of death, Queen Lyrna is determined to repel the invading Volarian army and regain the independence of the Unified Realm. Except, to accomplish her goals, she must do more than rally her loyal supporters. She must align herself with forces she once found repugnant—those who possess the strange and varied gifts of the Dark—and take the war to her enemy’s doorstep.

Victory rests on the shoulders of Vaelin Al Sorna, now named Battle Lord of the Realm. However, his path is riddled with difficulties. For the Volarian enemy has a new weapon on their side, one that Vaelin must destroy if the Realm is to prevail—a mysterious Ally with the ability to grant unnaturally long life to her servants. And defeating one who cannot be killed is a nearly impossible feat, especially when Vaelin’s blood-song, the mystical power which has made him the epic fighter he is, has gone ominously silent…

FORMAT/INFO: Queen Of Fire is 656 pages long divided five sections, each of which open with a Verniers account and a total of forty-eight numbered chapters. This pattern is very similar to that of the first and second book. Narration is in the third-person, via Vaelin Al Sorna, Reva, Frentis, Queen Lyrna and Alucius Al-Hestian. The book also feature maps of the unified realm, the Alpiran and Volarian empire. There is an appendix for the Dramatis Personae and this is the concluding volume of The Raven’s Shadow trilogy.

July 7, 2015 marks the North American Hardcover and e-book publication of Queen Of Fire via Ace Books. The UK version (see below) was published on July 3, 2015 by Orbit Books UK

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I’ve been waiting to read this book since I first finished Blood Song in 2012. There was a line in the book about a Queen Of Fire and of the Darkblade that was to serve her. When I learnt that the trilogy ending volume would be titled the same, I was extremely excited. As an Anthony Ryan fan, we have been waiting to what happens to Vaelin Al Sorna and the other characters from the unified realm and other areas. Be warned that since this is the concluding volume, my review will have spoilers for the preceding volumes as I will have to talk of certain events and characters.

When Tower Lord ended, we were shown that Queen Lyrna was attacked and “saved” by a special person. The Unified Realm is in a precarious situation as the Volarian invaders have ravaged it. However things aren’t lost as Tower Lord Vaelin Al Sorna managed to rescue the Cumbraelians and also saw the rise of Reva Mustor. She turned out to be as deadly a warrior as Vaelin. Lastly there’s Frentis who has been under the mental command of a Volarian assassin called Elverah and has been carrying out a savage murder spree. However her hold was weakened enough for him to regain his person and make his escape. Things however are dire as the unified realm is in shambles and no one knows what will happen next.

At the start of Queen Of Fire, we learn that Weaver has healed Queen Lyrna of her mental and physical scars. Vaelin has lost his song and finds himself much more human for the first time in his life. Reva is feted as a great warrior and championed by her people. Lyrna conscripts her in her campaign to attack Volaria. Frentis journeys back to join his brothers and what’s left of the order to help those afflicted by his actions. He however is very wary of the moment when he will have to explain his actions. Lastly there’s a new POV character in Alucius Al-Hestian who is forced to side with the traitorous Renfaelin lord Darnel. His father is also siding as his only son’s life hangs in the balance. That’s where all the plot threads in this concluding volume begin. What ends up happening is an insane action-packed volume wherein many secrets are revealed and many characters face deaths.

What do I say about this concluding volume, this is an action packed storyline very similar to Tower Lord. There’s a marked change in all of character who survived the events showcased in Tower Lord. Lyrna is far from the tempered character we met at the start of the second volume. Freshly healed, she’s back to her cold, calculating self that we first met in Blood Song and that’s a major plus point. Lyrna in many ways was the perfect foil to Vaelin, her brilliant acumen to his unsurpassed martial skills. Her faith in intelligence to that of his in people. In this volume, we finally get to see how dangerous she truly can be. Vaelin is Vaelin and with the loss of his Blood Song, he seems more conflicted with his choices and actions. Nevertheless he does whatever it takes to be the hero he’s meant to be. His journey is truly the best one in this as it’s via his chapters we get to know all the deep, dark secrets of the world.

Reva has another life-changing arc play out in this book. She’s thought of as a feared warrior equal only to Vaelin however with this book she faces the brunt of the expectations and faith that has been heaped upon her. Her skills get further refined with certain plot twists that happen in the second half of the story. For those who thought Reva had it rough, will be shocked to see what new tests she has to overcome. Then there’s Frentis and we finally get to see him unravel after the events of Tower Lord. Never one to shirk his duty, he does his best to aid his fellow warriors in the fight against the Volarians. However within his chapters we get to see his tenuous connection with the Volarian Empress and it’s via these sections that she is fleshed out to be more than just a caricature-ish villain.

Alucius was a surprise POV character and his arc plays out crucially not only for him but for his beloved. Lastly the surprise package in all of this is Verniers Alishe Someren. Again we only get his account in 5 mini-chapters at the start of each section but I believe his are the juiciest. Infact he even ends up getting one of his fervent wishes granted (for discerning readers, look up Blood Song, especially his conversations with Vaelin.) There’s also various other characters who make quick appearances and have to face various tribulations that see them either dead or refined. The character cast is at its widest in this volume and it will be good for readers to frequently check up the appendix to see who's who.

What are the best points of the story, firstly the author goes all out and lays out all the revelations that are related to the Ally and his machinations. And by everything I mean EVERY THING. We learn where exactly he came from, what did he do to gain his powers and what lead to the Volarians being the blood thirsty lot that they are shown to be. With this volume, Anthony Ryan leaves nothing behind with regards to the magic system, the hinted secrets of the world’s past and plot revelations such as who is Caenis truly and what does he know.

The truth about Caenis is something that had bugged a lot of readers (including me) in Tower Lord as he barely made an appearance and then disappeared from the storyline. In this book, I was expecting him to be a POV character and while that didn’t turn out to be the case. We do get to see his return and learn what he's kept secret for so long. There’s also another character that makes a return from Blood Song however it’s not the person you might think. Another plus point about this volume is the insane amount of action packed into the pages. Across each POV chapter we get to see either huge battles, or intrigue being played out. I was truly surprised that this book wasn’t broken in to two and kudos to the author for managing to combine everything but the kitchen sink into this story.

Now going to the points that didn’t quite make this an all-star read, firstly those readers unhappy with Tower Lord because of the loss of the tight focus found within Blood Song, will be unhappy similarly with this one. Secondly with the first book, there was a lot understated humor to the passages. There was a noticeable decline to that in the second book and it’s even less so in this one. Of course there’s a slightly logical reason, which is that all the characters are facing life-changing decisions and that doesn’t really come across through humor. I still wish that the author could have tried to bring some dark humor in the passages.

Another sticky point for me was the one that I mentioned earlier of Caenis not getting a POV. But the bigger issue is that his role in the book is wildly shorter than what I imagined it would be. Also Sherin surprisingly doesn’t have a role to play and that omission was out of the left field. Lastly the beginning of the book has a rather sedate pace and it’s only after the first hundred or so pages that the story truly gets going. This might hamper the read for many readers who are expecting for it to be fast-paced from the start like Blood Song.

There’s also an extra-ordinary amount of recall needed, as there are many minor characters and events that make an appearance and are referenced from the preceding volumes. I would sincerely recommend that readers at least read Tower Lord before beginning this volume so as to not get lost. I must reiterate how much story Anthony Ryan has crammed within these pages, I sincerely felt that this story could have been split into two and further fleshed out. Some reader might have grumbled but then many (like me) would have enjoyed the deep focus. However even with a single volume, the author brings to a spectacular conclusion the story that he began with his self-published bestseller Blood Song.

CONCLUSION: Queen Of Fire is an epic ending to one of the best debut epic fantasy trilogies that I’ve ever read. I was lucky that my quote graces the US cover and it’s a statement that I still heartily stand by: “Anthony Ryan is David Gemmell’s natural successor and epic fantasy’s best British talent”. Anthony Ryan ends his trilogy with a bang that doesn’t match his beginnings but is still a solid one that will resonate with all his fans.
Thursday, July 2, 2015

Guest Post: Betwixt & Between by Katherine Harbour

In Thorn Jack and Briar Queen, abandoned buildings are places where the past, the otherworld, and the present intermingle.

A tricky sort of magic lingers in border places; the woods, neglected buildings, the transitional times of dusk and dawn. In these liminal areas, benevolent or malevolent beings manifest; Sasquatches stalk forests, trolls lurk beneath brides, Bloody Marys haunt mirrors, and Djinn prowl cemeteries. Faeries ride with the Wild Hunt on All Hallows Eve. Divinities and devils guard crossroads where one might encounter tricksters such as the Greek Hermes and Hecate, or the West African Eshu.

Forests become a rite of passage for fairy-tale characters and a metaphor for life itself in Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. Wolves and witches, fauns and nymphs—all of life’s perils and temptations—exist in the woods. In Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock, the titular forest is a place where beings called mythagos, who once roamed the world as various cultural archetypes, take whatever form enters the mind of anyone who finds their way in. 

Man-made structures can also turn dangerous when unoccupied, leaving them to become a border place. But it’s an occupied house in Charles de Lint’s Moonheart, Tamson House, a puzzle of rooms and corridors (like the Winchester House in California) taking up an entire block in contemporary Ottawa, that becomes the portal for a sinister force. In Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, the house itself is an almost sentient thing that tricks the protagonist into a state of fear and madness.

Fear and madness seem to be an element of the creatures haunting rivers and lakes. Lakes, sometimes with drowned towns and monstrous serpents, are also the dominions of water horses, shapeshifters with the eating habits of crocodiles. Bridges that cross water and attract suicides thrive with hauntings, the Point Pleasant Mothman for instance. Demonic female entities such as the green ghoul Jenny Greenteeth and the child-killer La Lhorona are drawn to rivers. Yet water is less of a malevolent force in wells graced by goddesses (now the power places of saints), with the exception of one vengeful well spirit, Okiku, a murdered Japanese servant girl who became the inspiration for the Ringu (The Ring) films. And, in Elizabeth Marie Pope’s Elizabethan version of Tam Lin, The Perilous Gard, dark faeries haunt a sacred well where a child recently died.

Mirrors, so like water in appearance, have long been used as thresholds to the land of the dead—from the Aztec god of sorcerors, Lord Smoking Mirror, to the spiritualists in the turn-of-the-century using psychomanteum rooms. Mirrors are infamous sources of terror in horror films, magical devices in fiction: Alice’s looking glass adventures; the evil stepmother’s mirror in Snow White. Mirrors reflect a reverse world peopled with things that look like us, but are not.

And this otherworld, inhabited by such creatures, is often portrayed as a land people want to escape; as in this example from Lady Gregory’s Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland:
“…meeting a comely young man who had been his comrade but was now an inhabitant of one of those hidden houses, he asked how he fared."

"And for all his fine clothing . . ."

"The young man gave the names of three drudges . . ."

I would rather be living their life than the life I am leading now.”

In Greek myth, Persephone, the stolen bride of Hades, begins to pine away in the land of the dead until he grants her half a year in the sunlit world. Escaping the otherworld is a theme in fantasy fiction (although in Terri Windling’s Bordertown series and Lili St. Crow’s YA fairy-tale retellings, the real world and Elfland have met and become an uncertain reality.) In ancient ballads, Thomas the Rhymer and Tam Lin, drawn into fairyland by the queen, only want to be free of it.

Yet the otherworld, the betwixt and between, is where dreams are possible and human psyches create what they desire . . . and that will always be its lure. 


Official Author Website
Order Briar Queen HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Thorn Jack

GUEST AUTHOR INFORMATION: Katherine Harbour was born and brought up in upstate New York and since then has also lived in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She began writing Thorn Jack since she was seventeen years old. After multiple revisions, it lead to her publication. She currently live in Florida.
Wednesday, July 1, 2015

"Shadow Study: Soulfinders Series 1" by Maria V. Snyder (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Maria V. Snyder's Official Website Here

Once, only her own life hung in the balance…

When Yelena was a poison taster, her life was simpler. She survived to become a vital part of the balance of power between rival countries Ixia and Sitia.

Now she uses her magic to keep the peace in both lands—and protect her relationship with Valek.
Suddenly, though, dissent is rising. And Valek’s job—and his life—are in danger.
As Yelena tries to uncover her enemies, she faces a new challenge: her magic is blocked. And now she must find a way to keep not only herself but all that she holds dear alive.

FORMAT: Shadow Study is the first book in the Soulfinder Series. It takes place approximately six years after the last Study Series book. It could be read on its own, but it is best if it is read after you have read the Study Series and then the Glass Series (spoilers to these series will be inside the book).

Shadow Study is a YA fantasy romance. It stands at 384 pages and was published by Mira on February 24, 2015.

ANALYSIS: The minute I read Maria V. Snyder's first series of books – The Study Series – I was obsessed. I loved not only the characters, but the world building. The series was quick, satisfying, and fun to read. After finishing that series, I quickly read all of her other books and enjoyed them just as much.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered that Snyder was taking readers back to the characters that started it all – Yelena and Valek. I was thrilled. Unfortunately, that thrill did not carry over to the series.

Reviewing Shadow Study, for me, is going to be difficult. I wanted to love it. All of Snyder's other books – The Study Series, The Glass Series, and The Healer Series – I loved. Sadly, I do not feel that the first book in the Soulfinders Series is Snyder's strongest book. I didn't dislike the series and I feel it is great for fans of the series, but I am left with mixed emotions.

Fans of Snyder's original series will certain enjoy reading Shadow Study. Everyone's favorite characters are back and facing situations that seem all too similar. It was this part of the book that I did enjoy. I liked revisiting some of my favorite characters, seeing what they are up to, and how they have grown and changed. There were even a few new characters that helped keep things slightly new.

Now comes the part that has caused me mixed emotions. Snyder is trying something new with this book. She allows readers to follow three different characters – Yelena, Valek, and Janco. This is where I think the momentum from previous series was lost. Two of the POVs – Janco and Valek – are written in third person, while Yelena's is written in first person.

This constant jump between writing styles caused the book to have a fractured feeling to its flow. A reader just gets used to a certain POV and they are quickly jumped to another POV with a new style of writing. There was also something that felt off with Janco's sections. He felt sort of thrown in there just to be thrown in there. His sections were pretty short, but every time I came to them, I dreaded reading them which was sad, because he had some pretty good conversations and one-liners in the past (and even occasionally in Shadow Study).

It wasn't just the style of writing either that made things feel fractured. There was the jump in times. Valek's sections take readers back in time to his training as an assassin. While this story was interesting and something I have personally wondered about, it felt misplaced. It came across like another book was being shoved into this one.

I think, if each of these sections had been published separately, it would have made for a better experience. Instead, it felt like three separate books shoved into one edition. If it was needed to put them all into one book, I think it would have helped to maybe have two POVs and keep them in the same tense. It would have been less disruptive to the flow.

Now, on to the other aspect that was a bit disappointing. Shadow Study leads readers on Yelena's journey to discover why her magic is blocked. She is left defenseless and unable to access her magic. Sound familiar? Yes. This is so similar to the last book in the Glass Series, that it was distracting. I am sure the reason for her blocked magic will be revealed and it will be different than the Glass Series, but the similarities between the two books came across as 'same story, different characters' vibe.

Overall, I don't want to say Shadow Study was a bad book. It wasn't bad. It just didn't come across as Snyder's best work. Fans of her previous series will certainly love it and in the end, that is all that matters. In regards to my feelings, I was disappointed and hoped to see the momentum carry over from the other series. It isn't enough to make me stop reading the series, but I do hope to see the rest of the Soulfinders Series improve. Consider it more of a rocky start. Snyder can – and probably will – recover from it.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015

SevenEves by Neal Stephenson (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)

Official Author Website
Order SevenEves HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason." I guess in order to indulge in a bit of world-building one must destroy the world first.

Neal Stephenson is a genius. A polymath with a wide range of interests, he specializes in the big idea, and the more concrete the better. In this way he carries forward the tradition of hard science fiction, in which the best example is probably Arthur C. Clarke. Stephenson eschews FTL transportation, time travel, invading aliens, or any of the other tropes of sci-fi that cannot find a solid basis in contemporary science. Instead he takes what is known, adds what is possible, and extrapolates to what could be. His one concession to the unknown is his opening, noted at top. Although a theory or two are trotted out, we never really learn what caused the moon to explode. Consider it the MacGuffin of the novel, the plot device that gets the action moving. I guess breaking up isn’t hard to do. No exploding moon? No story. Why does it explode? Doesn’t matter. The story is about what happens after.

"The kernel around which the story nucleated was the space debris problem, which I had been reading about, both as a potential obstacle to the company’s efforts and as a possible opportunity to do something useful in space by looking for ways to remediate it. Some researchers had begun to express concern over the possibility that a collision between two pieces of debris might spawn a large number of fragments, thereby increasing the probability of further collisions and further fragments, producing a chain reaction that might put so much debris into low earth orbit as to create a barrier to future space exploration." – from Stephenson’s site.

And the story is a compelling one, not so much in the sense of classic plot construction, but in terms of how we get from the biggest “OH CRAP” moment in human history, to something not guaranteed to soil pants. Stephenson looks most attentively at the engineering details of what is involved in trying to salvage the human race, once it is clear that the sky will go all to pieces, that the term scorched earth will be applicable to all the land on Earth, that the homeland will become a wasteland. What hardware is necessary? What is available? What can go wrong? How do we get from here to up there? This is his gig. He loves this stuff and it shows. He also does a good job of portraying the ensuing struggles down below. Who will be selected to survive? How will they be picked? How will the politics of the selection be handled? What will the criteria be? Ideas bang into other ideas, which fracture and crash into even more ideas, and so on, until you have an entire layer of nifty concept blanketing your brain.

(Crater lake, Oregon where a certain important plot point unfolds)

I think Stephenson is more optimistic than most and his presumptions about the level of on-the-ground conflict and pure lunacy are out of line with what we know about humans. He gives only a little thought to deniers, but in a country like the USA, for example, in which a quarter of the population does not believe in evolution, in which the Republican base clings to beliefs that would make L. Ron Hubbard scream for mercy, in which Texas lunatics of both the tinfoil-hat and elected variety (I know, no real difference there) persuade themselves that a military exercise is a federal invasion, there would be a lot more going on, denier-wise, than Stephenson projects. All theoretical of course, but do you really think that in the time remaining that birthers and those who believe the Apollo moon landing was a hoax would not make use of their considerable ordnance to make life even more miserable for those with brains?

The book is divided into three parts, although it breaks down into smaller chapter chunks. The first takes us from the initial event to the beginning of the end of Earth as we know it, how humanity comes together, or doesn’t, to preserve the species. Part two takes on the final days of earth and a whole new world of conflict, resolution, or not, setting the stage for Part three, five thousand years on, when, through forces natural and engineer-enhanced, it is again possible to set foot on Mother Earth without singeing your toes. The seven eves of the title refer to the last orbiting survivors, whose reproductive capacity and DNA is used in an attempt to reconstitute the species, and, hopefully, in time, reclaim the original Mother ship.

Stephenson does action-adventure pretty well, and there is plenty of that here. The end of the Earth is a compelling starting point and survival of the species concerns will keep you engaged. Will this work? Will that? Who will live? Who won’t?

Character is not the thing in Neal Stephenson fiction. His greatest talents lie elsewhere. Although it is definitely fun that he puts an avatar of Neal DeGrasse Tyson aboard. The significance of character here is to consider personality differences and their social, and genetic engineering implications. Given people with certain traits, how are they likely to behave, and how will those behaviors help or harm the survivability of homo sap? There is consideration of the concept of the state of nature. What is natural for people? How is that defined? Pretty interesting stuff. And there is plenty more brain candy in this book. (Not for you, zombies, go away) On the hardware side, how about harnessing asteroids and comets for raw materials? Using robots of unexpectedly small dimensions for space-mining?

Making orbiting environments in which humanity could survive, and even expand? How about some notions for terra-forming not only lifeless space rocks, but…um…Terra. How about interesting ways of transporting people and materials between orbiting locations, and between Earth and orbit. How about some advanced notions for individual flight on-planet? Life sciences? How about the challenges of food production in space? Bio-engineering is the biggest item here, not only in selecting who gets to be among those sent into orbit to survive torch-ageddon. But in figuring out how the differences in people can be used to ensure survival of the species, and looking at the results, some of which are quite surprising. Social science? Well, the science is a lot softer here, but the politics of end-times Earth and struggles for power among the spacers offer a look at elements of human nature that will be familiar. Stephenson’s optimism about our ability to think our way to actual survival is balanced by his recognition that we are, as a species, probably certifiable, so will continue having at each other as long as there are others to go after.

(An O'Neill Cylinder from the outside)

I am certain that those more versed in contemporary sci-fi will have more recent comparisons to make, but the work that I was most reminded of here is the Hugo-Award-winner for Best-All-Time Series, Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. In both, a core of talented people (a broader range of talent than in Stephenson‘s more engineer-and-hard-science-oriented portrayal) are brought together to preserve human culture in the face of an imminent catastrophe. The specifics are quite different, but they share a grandness of vision. No psychohistory in SevenEves, but the multi-millennial look at humanity offers the opportunity for and realization of a great speculative vision.

There are some commonalities between SevenEves and another recent, and very popular, sci-fi offering of the space variety, The Martian. Not in girth, of course. The Martian, at a mere 384 pps, could dock with and be pulled up on the side the 880 page SevenEves like a tender boat on a cruise ship. Both deal with life-and-death scenarios in an airless void (no, not the US Congress), although one deals with a single life in jeopardy, while the other takes on a larger target. But there is a heavy emphasis on tech in both. Weir’s wonderful story offered an engaging narrator and way too much detail on how he goes about attempting to survive while stranded on the red planet.

Stephenson writes about things that he finds interesting whether or not they clutter up the story with technical minutiae, and at 880 pps, trust me, there is too much detail. Hey, his book, his story. He gets off on the details of mechanics, and it is nowhere as mind-numbing as an endless jeremiad by, say John Galt, but you may find yourself feeling a need to skim from time to time. (Purely an aside – I think Chris Moore should write a novel about the Republican clown car of presidential candidates, called The Galt in our Stars, in which someone gets a life threatening disease and no one cares). I wonder also how the very small number of remnant original eves is supposed to be able to provide the training their progeny will require to master all the skills required to sustain civilization. I am sure there are many other details one could look at in considering the next five thousand or so years, but it might take a few more volumes.

CONCLUSION: SevenEves is a major contribution to contemporary science fiction. It is engaging enough on a visceral level, but it is crack not just for sci-fi fans, but for futurists, scientists, geneticists, engineers, and those concerned with how humanity will survive the challenges that lie ahead. It is a big book, not only in its physical bulk, but in its ambition and range of interests. Like the great works of his predecessors, Asimov, Clarke and other giants of science fiction, the vision Stephenson has built in SevenEves will be read, I expect, as long as there are still people left alive, whether on Earth or not.

NOTE: This review was originally posted on Will's blog. Neal Stephenson picture courtesy of Devin Hahn & Bostonia. O'Neill Cylinder image courtesy of the National Space Society. Crater lake picture courtesy of Will himself.
Monday, June 29, 2015

Guest Post: The Pros and Cons of Literary Collaboration By Gail Z. Martin

I suspect that there are as many forms of literary collaboration as there are marriages, and each one is unique based on the people involved and their relationship. After being a solo author on twelve books and dozens of short stories, Iron and Blood, the new steampunk novel set in an alternative-history Pittsburgh, is co-authored with my husband, Larry N. Martin.

Epic fantasy and urban fantasy will continue to come out as solo work, but it's likely that we'll look at new series in other sub-genres as collaborations, and the short stories based in the Iron and Blood world also get co-written credit. Writing three books a year plus monthly ebook short stories plus stories for a lot of anthologies is a lot of work, and I'm not sure it's a pace one person can keep up, at least not for along.

For what it's worth, I'd say that there are three main positives about collaborating, and at least in our case, three minor negatives. Maybe it works differently for co-authors who aren't married to each other, or people who come to the work with radically different backgrounds. Larry and I have been married for 28 years, share a lot of interests and perspectives, and often finish each other's random references. It's a good beginning for a collaboration. 

So the positives:
 #1: Fresh eyes - After you've read something a dozen or more times, it gets very difficult to see errors in logic, typos or other problems. A second pair of eyes helps a lot, especially in pointing out where there may be consistency or continuity issues.

 #2: Division of labor - I do most of the draft writing, while Larry does a lot of the response to the editor's feedback and copyedits. That enables me to keep working on new stuff while we spiff up the submitted work. Likewise, I do a lot of the convention appearances while Larry handles the graphic design for the ebook short stories and our bookmarks, banners, etc. Collaboration gives us the chance to be in two places at once.

 #3: Good ideas - Every author hits a wall now and again. I don't mean writer's block, I mean knowing that you're at Point A and needing to get to Point C but being a bit hazy on the route through Point B. That's when we go out for lunch and bat ideas around, or incorporate a plotting session into a long car drive. Sometimes just a quick conversation yields a "well, what if you did this..." and the story is off and running again. 

Now, the negatives:
 #1: Burn-out - Whether you're collaborating on a book or working together in a small business, the boundaries between work and private time get blurry, especially during crunch periods. It's hard enough to leave the work on the desk when you work at home, but when both of you are deep in the middle of the same project, it can get all-consuming.

 #2: Differences of opinion - Even the most sympatico people disagree from time to time. Sometimes, we each bring different expectations to a scene, a plot point or a character interaction. That's when it's time to sit down and hash it through.

 #3: Varying levels of patience with editing - I get to a point on projects where I'm just ready to be done and move on. Fortunately, Larry is good at reminding me that the devil is in the details, and getting me back on board to do more polishing. When he's the one who is chafing to get to the next project, it's my turn to keep us focused.

In my opinion, the plusses far outweigh the minuses. Together, we can tell more stories in less time and produce cleaner manuscripts than most people could working alone. By dividing up tasks based on who has the patience or natural knack, we get to do what we're good at and enjoy, minimizing frustration. As far as I'm concerned, collaboration is a win-win!


ABOUT GAIL Z. MARTIN: Gail began writing fiction as a child and she was always a voracious reader since childhood, she frequently chose to read books with a supernatural slant, including folktales, compilations of regional ghost stories and gothic mysteries. She credits the TV show Dark Shadows with her life-long fascination with vampires. She discovery SF and fantasy during middle and high school and that has fueled her writing journey. She graduated from The Pennsylvania State University with an M.B.A. in Marketing and Management Information Systems. 

Gail Z. Martin writes epic fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books and Orbit Books. In addition to Iron and Blood, she is the author of The Chronicles of The Necromancer series from Solaris Books and The Fallen Kings Cycle as well as The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga from Orbit Books. She also writes two series of ebook short stories: The Jonmarc Vahanian Adventures and the Deadly Curiosities Adventures and her work has appeared in over 20 US/UK anthologies. For more about Gail’s books and short stories, follow her on Twitter @GailZMartin, and join her for frequent discussions on Goodreads

Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Summoner
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Blood King

ABOUT LARRY N. MARTIN: Larry fell in love with fantasy and science fiction when he was a teenager. After a twenty-five year career in Corporate America, Larry started working full-time with his wife, author Gail Z. Martin and discovered that he had a knack for storytelling, plotting and character development, as well as being a darn fine editor. Iron and Blood is their first official collaboration. On the rare occasions when Larry isn’t working on book-related things, he enjoys pottery, cooking and reading.
 Larry can be found on twitter @LNMartinAuthor.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

News: Skyborn by David Dalglish, One Good Dragon Deserves Another by Rachel Aaron, The David Gemmell Fantasy Awards shortlist, Twelve Kings by Bradley Beaulieu, The Death of Dulgath kickstarter by Michael J. Sullivan

Orbit Books are no slouches when it comes to amazing books and equally amazing artwork for those titles. Previously they have showcased their brilliance with the cover art for David Dalglish, Rachel Bach/Aaron, N.K. Jemisin, Joe Abercrombie, etc..

So I was very pleased to see them continue their trend with the release of cover for Skyborn. Tommy Arnold provides the artwork and the cover design is by Kirk Benshoff. Plus here’s the blurb for David Dalglish's next:

The last remnants of humanity live on six islands floating high above the Endless Ocean, fighting a brutal civil war in the skies. The Seraphim, elite soldiers trained for aerial combat, battle one another while wielding elements of ice, fire and lightening. 

The lives of their parents claimed in combat, twins Kale and Breanna Skyborn enter the Seraphim Academy to follow in their footsteps. They will learn to harness the elements as weapons and fight at break-neck speeds while soaring high above the waters. But they must learn quickly, for a nearby island has set its hungry eyes on their home. When the invasion comes, the twins must don their wings and ready their blades to save those they love from annihilation.

I’ll be of course reviewing it and I can’t wait to read this new trilogy from one of my favorite authors.

Rachel Aaron recently posted some exciting news that the second book in the Heartstrikers series is nearly done except for a round of copy edits. One Good Dragon Deserves Another is up for pre-order on Amazon and looks to be released on August 1st. Checkout the amazing artwork above by Anna Steinbauer. Here’s the blurb for it:

After barely escaping the machinations of his terrifying mother, two all knowing seers, and countless bloodthirsty siblings, the last thing Julius wants to see is another dragon. Unfortunately for him, the only thing more dangerous than being a useless Heartstriker is being useful one, and now that he’s got an in with the Three Sisters, Julius has become a key pawn in Bethesda the Heartstriker’s gamble to put her clan on top. 

Refusal to play along with his mother’s plans means death, but there’s more going on than even Bethesda knows, and with Estella back in the game with a vengeance, Heartstriker futures disappearing, and Algonquin’s dragon hunter closing in, the stakes are higher than even a seer can calculate. 

But when his most powerful family members start dropping like flies, it falls to Julius to defend the clan that never respected him and prove that, sometimes, the world’s worst dragon is the best one to have on your side.

I LOVED Nice Dragons Finish Last and for all those who yet to read it (what have you been waiting for?). The first volume is currently on sale for $0.99 so buy your copy pronto and find out for yourself why I love Rachel Aaron’s books so much.

The David Gemmell Awards For Fantasy are possibly the only awards that truly feature the whole of international fandom. Recently the DGAFF committee released the shortlist for the Legend, Ravenheart and Morningstar awards.

Here are the shortlist nominees in each category:

  - Half a King by Joe Abercrombie (HarperCollins)
 - Valour by John Gwynne (Pan Macmillan/Tor UK)
 - Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence (HarperCollins)
- Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson (Gollancz)
- The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks (Orbit)

 - Laura Brett for The Slow Regard of Silent Things 
 - Mike Bryan for Half a King 
 - Jason Chan for Prince of Fools
 - Sam Green for Words of Radiance
 - Jackie Morris for The Fool’s Assassin

 - Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell (Jo Fletcher Books)
 - The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley (Angry Robot)
 - The Godless by Ben Peek (Pan Macmillan/Tor UK)
 - The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley (Pan Macmillan/Tor UK)
 - Age of Iron by Angus Watson (Orbit)

The voting is open from June 1st and goes all the way till July 17th. Be sure to get your votes in for your favorites. I’ve already voted for my choices and I can't wait to see who wins.

Recently Bradley Beaulieu showcased the UK cover art for his upcoming epic fantasy Twelve Kings. It sports a slightly different title for its US release, namely Twelve Kings in Sharakhai.

While both are visually stunning, I find it’s one of those rare times when the US cover outdoes the UK one. I’ll reviewing this one in August and if the pre-release buzz is any indication then this book might be in the running for all the best fantasy lists at the end of 2015. All interested readers can pre-order Twelve Kings In Sharakhai over here.

After Orbit books released the omnibus editions and prequel books of the Riyria chronicles. Michael J. Sullivan recently went the Kickstarter route for the 3rd prequel The Death Of Dugath. After only 3-plus weeks, the campaign has well blown out its original goal and now been funded at little over 182%.

Here’s the blurb for the story:

Three times they tried to kill her. Then they hired a professional. She hired Riyria. When the last member of the oldest noble family in Avryn is targeted for assassination, Riyria is hired to foil the plot. 

Three years have passed since the war-weary mercenary Hadrian and the cynical ex-assassin Royce joined forces to start their thieves-for-hire enterprise. Things have gone well enough until this odd assignment to prevent a murder. Now they must venture into a forgotten corner of southern Avryn—a place whose history predates the First Empire. 

As usual, challenges abound as they try to anticipate the moves of an unknown assassin before it’s too late. But that's not their only problem. The Countess of Dulgath hides a dark secret she's determined to keep hidden. Then there's the little matter of Riyria's new employer...the Nyphron Church.

Take a peek at the various levels that are available to be a backer and be sure to join in. 
Friday, June 26, 2015

Guest Post: Underground Economy: Political and Financial Machines of Cities and Thrones by Carrie Patel

One of the joys of writing speculative fiction is playing with the what-ifs. As an author, I get to build worlds from ideas and civilizations out of thought experiments. This is especially true for my first two novels, The Buried Life and Cities and Thrones.

The world that these stories are set in has a unique history, and the cities they take place in were founded with special forethought and deliberation. Centuries before the events in the novels, they were designed and excavated as bunkers that would support a population while ruin and calamity raged aboveground. Such is the beginning for Recoletta, Madina, Underlake, the Hollow, and other cities like them. But, over time, their growth takes on a life of its own.

There’s a phenomenon known as “Gal├ípagos syndrome” that examines how comparable products, when developed in isolation, begin to diverge. It’s a reference to the evolutionary peculiarities that Darwin observed in the Gal├ípagos Islands. It’s also similar to what happens between the city-states of the novels.

Over a couple centuries of isolation, minor differences develop into deep cultural rifts, and communities that were founded with similar, survival-based goals evolve into complex political entities with different, and sometimes competing, objectives. Yet time and necessity return these societies (in part, anyway) to the surface, where they have to interact. That’s where the fun begins.

Long after the surface becomes safe and habitable once more, the cities remain primarily underground. After all, that’s where generations’ worth of infrastructure has been built, and subterranean life has taken on the force of habit. But as the populations of the cities grow, it becomes more difficult (and less desirable) to produce all of the necessary food and raw materials underground.

So the cities establish farming communes, which are small, scattered communities that supply livestock, produce, timber, and other commodities to the city-states. And though the farming communes are vital to the urban economies, they’re removed from the cities and from one another. This distance diminishes their status, and their lack of organization hampers their ability to bargain.

They’re mercantile colonies in the wilderness, and as the cities own all of their production, the communes have little opportunity to develop into more independent entities. So the world is run by the city-states, and the city-states are run by oligarchs.

Another tendency that has persisted from the founding days is a reliance on centralized authority. In the early years, when the city-states were most vulnerable, their survival dependent on the prudent guidance of key experts—engineers who knew how to safely dig new tunnels and caverns, agriculturalists who could grow enough food for the underground population, and plumbers who could keep the young cities clean and functional.

These first generations of leaders would have passed many of their skills to their own children, and as their children came to assume these vital responsibilities, a dynasty would begin to form. Over time, the needs of the cities would change, but power would remain organized under the influential families that held the most useful resources and relationships.

In Recoletta, this led to the establishment of the whitenail class and the ruling Council. Madina is another city-state introduced in Cities and Thrones, and while it’s also tightly run, its evolution took a slightly different turn. Thousands of people living and working in close proximity developed a complex etiquette around privacy and hospitality. And rather than relying on technocrats, Madinans chose to elect their decision-makers, leading to the rise of qadis, or arbiters with broad authority over matters of state.

Yet as much fun as it is to build up these settings, it’s even more fun to knock them down. Cities and Thrones brings the cities and their farming communes into conflict with one another. The events of the story give the cities something to compete over and the communes a cause to rally around. The shake-up will change these places—and their people—forever.


Official Author Website
Order The Buried Life HERE
Pre-order Cities And Thrones HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Buried Life
Read "Civilization Beneath The Ashes" by Carrie Patel (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Carrie Patel was born and raised in Houston, Texas. An avid traveller, she also studied abroad in Granada, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She acquired her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Texas A&M University and previously worked at Ernst & Young for two years. She currently works as a narrative designer and resides in Irvine, California.

NOTE: Underground City art by Yuanshandai. Author picture and book covers courtesy of the author.


Click here to find out more about “Blood & Royalty”
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Click here to find out more about “The Abyss Beyond Dreams”
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Click here to find out more about “Unholy War”
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Click here to find out more about “Station Eleven”

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Click here to find out more about “The Knight”
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Click here to find out more about “The Dark Defiles”
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Click here to find out more about “Tom Swan and The Siege of Belgrade 1”
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Click here to find out more about “City of Stairs”
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Click here to find out more about “Bete”
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