Category Archives: Books and Reading

Some Books in 2015 I am looking forward to getting to read

I’ve seen some lists of books people are looking forward to in 2015. I hope 2015 will be a banner year of reading and writing. I’m looking forward to a lot of interesting books by authors familiar to me, and making new discoveries as well.

Here is a list of a few of the books I am salivating over.

The Just City, Jo Walton

So Pallas Athena decides to put the practice of the Republic into practice on an island populated by people throughout history. The Classics lover in me is enthused.

Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin

A new fantasy series, set in a post-Apocalyptic world. Jemisin has a rich, immersive voice that draws you into the world and the characters that populate it.

Silver on the Road, Laura Anne Gilman

Disclaimer: I know a little about this book already, set in an alternate, magical Wild West. The Devil’s not going down to Georgia, he has his own territory in the west, and when a teenaged protagonist signs a pact with the Master of the Territory, demons and worse are on the road she will have to walk.

Court of Fives, Kate Elliott

Little Women in a world inspired by Greco-Roman Egypt, with a Count of Monte Cristo plot.

(I have already read The Very Best of Kate Elliott, but you will want to add it to your list.)

Stories of the Raksura: Volume Two: The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below , Martha Wells

More stories of the shapeshifters known as the Raksura, with fascinating gender and social dynamics in one of the most populated fantasy worlds I know of.

Edge of Dark, Brenda Cooper

Set on the edge of the solar system we saw in Ruby’s Song duology, Cooper explores AIs and transhumanism.

The Galaxy Game, Karen Lord

Set in the world of The Best of All Possible Worlds, and featuring a school for the psionically gifted, along with high scale star civilizations scheming and colliding? Yes, please.

Cold Iron, Stina Leicht

Flintlock Epic Fantasy in a world with dying magic, a scion of a noble family more known for books than swords is thrown into an epic conflict.

Updraft, Fran Wilde

A city of living bone rises high above the clouds, its past is lost to legend. I am reminded of New Weird notes in that description, aren’t you?

Last Song Before Night, Ilana Myer

“An epic fantasy of the lures and perils of art”. I am reminded of The Golden Key, which I well love. And its got a gorgeous cover.

Madeline Ashby, Company Town

Madeline Ashby skates toward the Singularity (again). Her nonhuman characters are deeper and more human than many authors human ones.

Lagoon, Nnedi Okorafor.

Okay, not new for most of the world, but finally getting a US edition in 2015. More fantasy from beyond the Great Wall of Europe.

Empire Ascendant, Kameron Hurley

The Second Mirror Empire novel. Need I say more? I would, but the carnivorous plants might eat me.

I’d add Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear to this list, but I’ve read it already. *You* will want to add it to yours. This is Steampunk as only Bear could do it, with the protagonist you won’t expect but you will want.

There’s plenty more out there, too. Read widely. You may only get one life in order to do so.

My favorite books of 2014

2014 was a productive year, even if I really understand that, like Jon Snow, I know nothing. I read (and listened) to more than I have in many years, and yet discovered that I am only an egg. There are people in the genre world with more reading experience(Fred Kiesche), more erudite reading experience(John Stevens) , stronger in comics (Jeff), more productive in terms of amounts read (Sarah).

I’m just this guy, you know?

Favorite books first published in 2014:

The Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley

The prodigious talents of Kameron Hurley transfer well to epic fantasy, in a tale of diverse societies, magic based on moons, carnivorous plants, and yes, brutal women.


Steles of the Sky, Elizabeth Bear

My friend Elizabeth Bear caps off the first trilogy set in her Eternal Sky universe, with a tale of dragons, destiny and duty.

City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett

Bennett, like Hurley above, jumps into Epic Fantasy with both feet, with a delicious story of post-colonialism, not so dead Gods, and amazingly nuanced characters.


Marakand (The Leopard and The Lady), KV Johansen

Cheating a bit by putting them both here, but The Leopard and The Lady really tell one story of the city of Marakand, as a half-dead Goddess, scheming devils, ancient curses and wandering wizards clash and collide in a Silk Road fantasy with notes of Siberia and the far Russian north.

Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie follows up her amazing Ancillary Justice with a smaller, more intimate tale of duty discharged, the logic of empire, and tea.


Hurricane Fever, Tobias Buckell

Following in the Arctic Rising universe, Buckell’s spy thriller set in the Caribbean brings back the scene stealing Roo, working hard the tropes of spy thrillers and James Bond with a whipcracking pace that keeps the reader turning pages compulsively.


The Incorruptibles, John Hornor Jacobs

In a Roman-esque world, geopolitical concerns and family dynamics come to an unexpected head as a expedition into wild territory inhabited by elf-like natives is the spark for a powder keg of dark magic, and bloody, violent retribution.

Full Fathom Five, Max Gladstone

The unbelievably talented Max Gladstone returns to his Craft Sequence world, with a story of deific banking, clerical magic and lost Gods in a tropical island paradise.


The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison (Sarah Monette)

The most unlikely of inheritors to the throne of fairyland is Maia, plunged into the cutthroat politics of a royal court and a society. Maia struggles to do right by a kingdom that has treated him so very badly, and yet remain true to himself. A closed room epic fantasy.

I don’t read anywhere near as many short stories as I might, and generally only read them in anthologies and a very few online magazines.


Reach for Infinity, edited by Jonathan Strahan

Continuing his infinity series, Strahan’s latest volume tackles near-Earth future science fiction.

War Stories, edited by Jaym Gates and Andrew Liptak

One of the best military SF anthologies ever, and one that brings the subgenre firmly into the 21st century.

There are a lot of runner ups to this list. While I did come across some books that I really, really bounced off of, and had a stretch when I wondered if I was ever going to like a book again, it was a very good year. I read a lot more fantasy than science fiction, and I am not sure how I feel about that.

Next year, I intend to focus my reviewing efforts on women authors, as part of the Skiffy and Fanty focus on women. This is likely to lead me to corners of genre that I haven’t explored as thoroughly as I might. Ad Astra per Aspera!

Guest Post: Clifton Hill on “Fantasy: Please Pass the Grit”

Today’s post is something unusual for Blog, Jvstin Style. Today, I welcome Clifton Hill to the blog:

About the writer: Clifton Hill discovered robots in the fourth grade with Isaac Asimov and explored the Belgariad soon after. Slaving away under the lash of the muse, Clifton forged an epic fantasy of battles about a young man named Hestea:

Fleeing the inaction of his people from a secret order grown listless and apathetic, Hestea flies into the face of an age-old enemy. Under a foreign general in a fractured land he finds his place as the remaining armies of Molroun make a last stand. Hestea finds love, seeks out a murderer in his own camp and must question the strange power that he had always thought was a blessing.

Now available on Amazon Kindle and Print (http://www.amazon.com/author/cliftonhill): Veil of a Warrior (the novel) and the companion novelette Seeking the Veil. Check http://www.CliftonH.com for more

Fantasy, Please Pass the Grit

Why does gritty fantasy sell?

Visceral, terrible, gut wrenching, laden with death and loss. Why does it sell? And why in the genre of luminescent fairy wings, immortal wizards, and chivalrous knights that can not die— Why do we want to bring in the grime, the stink of malice and the cut of despair?

In an industry dominated by the One Ring and a boy wizard, where there was death and violence, but only to an extent, it seemed that Fantasy was a soft genre. There was the thrill of discovery, strange wondrous new lands and…magic! So what made The Game of Thrones rise so high?

Perhaps, because, it was more real. The setting is not one of wonder, it is one terrible and dirty, where people die. A world where a single man rules with the authority to kill on a word, where political factions scheme for power, for survival: the landscape of influence can change in a heartbeat.

Game of Thrones shocks and pulls you in when Eddard Stark, the moral center of the book is beheaded before the people of King’s Landing and before his own daughter. For some it was too much, for others it had us shaking our heads wanting to not believe. But whichever camp you were in, in a world of political intrigue where only the strong survive—those that will do ANYTHING—it shows the brutal reality.

I hated it, but it pulled me in. I wanted Ned to live, I wanted it to be a giant farce. But people are cruel, people are terrible, and some people will do anything to keep the power they clutch with greedy or trembling hands. This is the core of his book, and it is something he has never forgotten.

You might argue the series is also about the redeeming qualities of the human soul. That even the worst of us have a kernel of good and even the worst can change. But this wouldn’t be relevant if his world was painted in pink and pastel. The contrast makes it stronger.

The grit and gore stands out in Martin’s work, but it is not by itself what differentiates. Unrelenting consequence shows he is not afraid to take the story where it must go. And as an author I know the fear of killing a character that drives your story, but sometimes it must be done.

In The Lord of the Rings, Boromir is obsessed with the One Ring and his need to use it for his own purposes. He scared off Frodo, the Fellowship scattered and when the Uruk-Hai came, they were unprepared and Boromir died. It is a real moment. Where our own fear and mislaid confidence is reflected in Boromir. He died for his mistakes, the Fellowship is split and the entire journey seems in peril. Instead of being pushed away the reader is pulled in.

Things become more believable when you see true consequences of character actions.

Anyone find it uncompelling when the hero of the story walks away unscathed? We’ve all enjoyed the Summer Blockbuster with the hero dodging a thousand bullets, but how engaged are we? Maybe the first time we enjoy it, perhaps the tenth? (Ok, let’s be real, we’ve all enjoyed a few dozen, but we want something different now. Something more.) Our belief and engagement with the show is threatened. We start remembering this is just a bunch of actors and actresses running around on a sound stage. There is no peril, there is no risk. So, why do we care?

Prime example:
-Edward in Twilight has a massive battle with the redheaded vamp that wants nothing more than to kill him for killing her lover. Meyer sets up the scene with foreshadowing about this being a moment of impending doom. We come to think that something tragic could happen. But no. No big deal. Edward kills her and barely musses a hair.

Gritty fantasy sells because the genre has matured and with it readers have found that they want something more. It doesn’t have to be blood or death, but it does have to be a true consequence. One that leaves more than just a scratch.

The Song of Ice and Fire became a phenomenon because it was well written, had true consequence and because Martin painted a gritty picture to fit.

We became lost and immersed in the work. And it became real because we never stopped believing.

Regards,

My Favorite/Best Books of 2014

I still have a month of reading to go, but with that month to go:

My favorite novels of 2014:

Mirror Empire, Kameron Hurley
City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett
Steles of the Sky, Elizabeth Bear
The Goblin Emperor, Katherine Addison
Full Fathom Five, Max Gladstone
Ancillary Sword, Ann Leckie

What are *yours*? Sell me on reading it now now now.

Also see Jonathan Strahan [http://www.jonathanstrahan.com.au/wp/2014/11/25/the-best-of-2014-getting-started/]

Also see Tor dot com [ http://www.tor.com/blogs/2014/11/pre-order-for-free-some-of-the-best-from-torcom-2014]

Book Review: The Four Musketeers: The True Story of D’Artagnan, Porthos, Aramis & Athos by Kari Maund and Phil Nanson [2005]

Book Review: The Four Musketeers: The True Story of D’Artagnan, Porthos, Aramis & Athos by Kari Maund and Phil Nanson [2005]

The titular characters in Dumas’ Three Musketeers (and its various sequels and add-ons) were not made up out of whole cloth by the master of swashbuckling adventure, but rather based on real 17th century personages that inhabited the tumultuous word of a France struggling through wars political and religious, dynastic maneuverings, changes in government and outright rebellions and insurrections. So who were they based on? And who was Dumas anyway?

The Four Musketeers: The True Story of D’Artagnan, Porthos, Aramis & Athos seeks to answer all of these questions and more. Written by Phil Nanson and Kari Maund, the latter under the psuedonym Kari Sperring has written fantasy fiction that has more than a touch of Dumas’ spirit (Living with Ghosts and The Grass King’s Concubine). Maund, as well as Nanson are also professional historians, with a solid background in medieval and renaissance history.

The book looks first at the historical D’Artangan, giving him a whole chapter for the authors to flesh out the real person, and what elements Dumas borrowed to make his fictional creation. The book follows with a chapter looking at the titular three Musketeers (surprisingly, one of them has an extremely thin biography, the invented Dumas character very much invented), a look at the role of Musketeers in 17th century France and a look at the 17th century quasi biography Memoirs de M’ d’Artagnan, the major source of Dumas information and inspiration on Charles d’Artagnan, the basis for Dumas’ hero.

Finally, the book looks at Alexandre Dumas as a writer himself. Did you know, for instance, that a fair portion of his work was written with uncredited collaborators? The book ends with (a slight out of date) look at the afterlife of TheThree Musketeers in various forms of media. The fact that although the book was written in 2005 and already is out of date is a testament to the abiding power of Dumas’ characters and stories.

The major detraction from the book might be a matter of expectations for casual readers. As the authors ARE professional historians with a style and format to match. Readers expecting something like Mark Kurlansky’s popular and populist histories are going to be put off by the painstaking, footnote infused style of the authors. As a protip, those footnotes in The Four Musketeers come fast and furious, and this is a book where the footnotes are as important as the main text in gaining understanding.

The other detraction from the book isn’t a problem within the book itself, but again a reader issue. The book presumes a fair bit of knowledge about 17th century Europe and what was going on in France and its environs (especially the Thirty Years War, and there is an excellent book recommended in the footnotes on the subject). The relative shortness of the book and its laser like focus mean that the authors cannot digress heavily to explain the socio-political situation surrounding the lives of the men who inspired Dumas’ characters.

Even with these caveats, The Four Musketeers shows solid scholarship, research and depth of knowledge of the subject. Anyone at all who wants to know more about the real people who inspired the immortal characters of Dumas would be well served by picking up this book.

Soul of Fire by Laura Anne Gilman

Soul of Fire is the second in Laura Anne Gilman’s Portals duology, following Heart of Briar. In that previous volume, Janet, discovering her lover has been kidnapped by elves, forges an unlikely alliance with supernatural creatures to find a way into elfland and, in the best traditions of Tam Lin, win him back.

This accomplished, there still remains a greater threat–why have the elves been so active, and with a time limit on a truce running out, can Janet and her friends find a way to keep them from their voracious predations on humanity? And can they even figure out *why* the elves have stepped up their hunger to take mortals back with them?

Some of the characters feel less well used than what I would like, but its a more than satisfactory conclusion to the duology. The novel worked extremely well for me as an airplane read, an excellent diversion and diversement in the harried life of airplane travel. Gilman’s work transported me to a whole different set of problems and characters for a while, and kept my mind off of the chaos around me. That counts for a lot.

There is no giant magic reset button at the end of the story, though, and Gilman takes some care in looking at, and deconstructing some of the tropes of urban fantasy and romance alike in finishing off the two book series. Every time I read a Laura Anne Gilman novel, I get the sense that I haven’t read enough Laura Anne Gilman novels. Soul of Fire continues that tradition.

Traitor’s Blade, by Sebastien de Castell

Traitor’s Blade, by Sebastien de Castell, contains some of the virtues of Musketeer fiction. High paced action and adventure rule the first portion of the story of a disgraced set of swordsman of justice for a King who has been killed, replaced by a set of squabbling Dukes who would rather rule their petty little fiefdoms with an iron fist rather than offer justice. Falcio and his companions have become outlaws, swords for hire, dreaming of better days. The first act also shows us how Falcio got on his path in the first place.
The book misses, however, a good bet with a very questionable structure choice. Midway through the book, the action focuses on Falcio, alone, and someone he has sworn to protect. The novel completely abandons the fresh banter and interplay that is one of the best things about Musketeer fiction, and replaces it with a base-under-siege sort of storyline. I felt cheated by this. When I read Musketeer fiction, I want fast paced action and adventure. As said above, Traitor’s Blade has those in spades. I also though want that Musketeer dynamic, and Traitor’s Blade takes that away from me, the reader and replaces it with something lesser. Similarly, the movie The Musketeer, often having D’Artagnan go solo, completely gets this wrong as well.
However, ‘fridging’ a female character to provide motivation to the protagonist to go on his life path is more than just lazy writing, its a perpetuation of a very tired and sexist trope. There were any number of ways to get Falcio to meet the king and resurrect the Greatcoats. To do it this way helped set the book on the wrong foot for me early on, and the book never recovered. There is also a brief encounter between Falcio and another female character in that second act that was frankly offensive to me.
The denouement of the book is a muddled mess as well. The already murky motivations of the antagonists compounds with a lot of coincidence and hand waving. Worse, while the first part of the book reveled in swordplay, and the second, while questionable structurally, at least provided some action beats, the third act has the wheels go off entirely. A crucial fight scene in the end of the book is not described at all. The big battle at the end is a wet firecracker. The book feels like an imperfect but entertaining first act, and then loses its way as soon as Falcio goes off on his own.

Reading Herodotus: A Guided Tour through the Wild Boars, Dancing Suitors, and Crazy Tyrants of The History<

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008GRRRL4/
If you have any interest or curiosity about Herodotus, the “Father of History”, Debra Hamel has helpfully focused on the “Good parts” (and yes, she does reference the Princess Bride in that). Hamel provides context, analysis and thought to the parts of Herodotus’ History that she chooses to share with the reader. From crazy Kings to strange Oracles, this is one of the best ways for readers new to Herodotus, and those unwilling to read the whole bloody thing again (raises hand) to get a feel for what he was up to, and what riches there are to be found.
Highly recommended.

The fraught social activity of buying a book

So, there’s an author.
I like his work, he writes in a subgenre of F/SF that not many people tackle, and he tackles it rather well, I think. Good stuff, a tad underappreciated, good stuff.
However his political and personal beliefs are diametrically different than mine. This has usually balanced out to reading his books, except…
His newest forthcoming book is coming from a new micro-press run by one of the most odious, bigoted, horrid people in the F/SF community. Buying the book, when it comes out does support the author, warts and all, but it also supports this micro press, its founder and the founder’s goals.
The question is–do I buy the new book?
I don’t think there is an easy answer to this.
Buying a book can be a social act, and can be similarly fraught Not news, I know, but there it is.