The Road to Empire (of Ashes): Review of The Waking Fire

Cover for The Waking Fire

Oooh Dragons

So this post will be a book review, but it will not be about Anthony Ryan’s Empire of Ashes regardless of that book being mentioned in the title of this post.

This post will be about the first book in that series The Waking Fire. Essentially, I was given an ARC of Ryan’s Empire of Ashes, only to realize that it’s the third book in the series . . . and I haven’t read any of the others yet (well I suppose now I’ve read the first one).  So without further ado, the first step in the road . . .

To put it simply, The Waking Fire checks all of the boxes for an epic fantasy and then some. And then some more. Like I kinda imagine the writing process going something like this:

Dragons? Check. Is the fate of the world at stake? Yup! Is there magic? Yes! And it’s color-coded! Good Good. This is very good.

Then it starts to throw in some other elements which are not as ‘stereo typical’ (although I might argue still pretty common) as a tolkeinesque fantasy. Steam punk(ish) time period? Sure let’s do it! Large naval battles? Duh pirates are the best! But do you like spy novels? Uh who doesn’t? And you probably also like adventure stories too? We could throw in a lost civilization . . . Dude The Mummy is like one of my favorite movies.

Ok so we’ve got just a few more things to add. We aren’t done yet? Oh no sir buckle up. Do you like faceless hoards of enemies who’s only purpose is to be mowed down by really big guns? Great! and oh, no it’s not extra, we throw in a planetary alignment with every third trope, it’s destiny after all. Oh oh sorry, how do you like your MacGuffins? Unresolved? We got you fam.

I’ve probably overdone this just a bit. This book really does shine in the depth of its world and the interaction of its characters with each other. No detail about this world was forgotten and each of the characters felt alive and real (except for Clay’s main love interest who doesn’t have a speaking role until the last chapter of the book).

dragon about breathe fire as man watches

I suppose artwork is on the list of things this book does right. I mean just look at this dragon.

I suppose that all books are just a list of their component parts. It’s just unfortunate when the reader can see those parts so explicitly. Joshua S Hill over at Fantasy Book Review addressed this issue as contrivance, noting that all books have parts that are ‘contrived’ but some authors are better at distracting you from it than others. I’m starting to think that Joshua and I have similar tastes and opinions.

Despite all of this, I’ll be reading the second book in the series,  The Legion of Flame, as I am quite curious as to what the next step in our journey will be. I’m not sure whether this will be a trilogy, or longer, but I’m hopeful that book won’t suffer from 2nd book syndrome.

I think that’s all for now.

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Robert Sharp’s 01001001 01000011 01000101 a ‘bit’ deep, a bunch cool

Cover: Two children on a cliff overlooking damaged cityscape

Image credit: Daria Schreiber, you can follow her on twitter @Yefimia 

Way back in March of 2015 I reviewed a book called The Good Shabti by Robert Sharp (feel free to read my review of The Good Shabtiand spoiler alert, I loved it!

I love Ancient Egypt and am always hungry for any stories that take place there. And while reading the story, I was impressed by how much detail the author incorporated and how ‘real’ everything seemed while also telling a meaningful story.  A great first impression no doubt.

Needless to say I was ecstatic when Sharp actually contacted me (all these years later) about his new story called ‘01001001 01000011 01000101’ published over at Pornokitsch.

Just looking at the title, I was pretty confident we wouldn’t be cruising the placid waters of the Nile, but I did not expect that we would be sledging through the permanent snow drift of a post societal collapse where children are sent to scavenge for fuel and have no compunction (or at least very little) at burning books to stay warm.

Spoiler alert, I loved this too.

‘01001001 01000011 01000101’ is a tale of survival, but also a question about the value of information to those who can’t use it. What is the purpose of saving and archiving the past if future generations aren’t able to access that knowledge? What is the value saving something for the future, when an immediate benefit can be gained now? Is all of the knowledge in the world more valuable than a human life? All very serious questions.

The word HAPPY and then binary under

How I felt reading this novella. 🙂

I think perhaps my favorite aspect of the story though, is the seemingly random bits of binary code that interrupt the text. I’m a big nerd and just happen to have a binary to text converter in my favorites bar, so an added bit of fun for me was translating the code along the way and attempting to reflect on what it said as I continued reading.

I’m waffling on whether or not I recommend this approach as it was a bit hard to remember what the last part said while reading the newest sequence and also keeping track of the story. I may just advise collecting all of them along the way and translating them all at once at the end. Even so, I very much enjoyed how these interruptions sort of jolt you through the story. You’re kind of reading one part and then you skip ahead a bit. It feels a little like listening to a scratched CD (anybody remember those days?), but in a good way. Neat effect.

Finally, you should all be proud of how many different ways I used the word ‘bit’ just then and didn’t make a joke about it in reference to that word being a portmanteau of binary digit . . . Just be proud ok!

TLDR:

I highly recommend this piece. Sharp continues to bring a tremendous attention to detail and craftsmanship to his work. Where in the past it was focusing on the little details of an ancient civilization which immerse the reader into the story, now it is the small details of the actual form of the piece which again immerse you into a pretty philosophical story. Go read it!

Oh and here’s just a bit (this one I didn’t even mean to do) of fun since we’re talking about binary so much and I just love Flight of the Conchords. Binary solo! 


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The Refrigerator Monologues: Critique Served Cold

the-refrigerator-monologues-9781481459341_hrPlease read this book.

I hate it when reviewers simply summarize what they’ve read, but honestly I’m not sure how to talk about this book without giving some kind of background, so I’ll give you the premise instead. Essentially, Catherynne M. Valente has written a parody of our most beloved super heroes, but instead of focusing on the men-in-tights, she gives us the stories of their dead lovers.

Why Should I care?

Well for one, it’s pretty amazing. These women’s stories are angry, sad, stunning, whimsical, nostalgic, pitiful, miraculous, inspiring, morose and so much more . . . all at the same time. In a post for Mary Sue, Valente gives her inspiration for the book (apparently, Spiderman 2, cuban cocktails and Gail Simmone’s Women In Refrigerators) and describes her own work as:

” . . . putting the calligraphy aside and just punching a page over and over until it breaks.”

That sentence alone is an example of the precision and awareness Valente can bring to her words. She does so throughout the entirety of The Refrigerator Monologues. 

If you’re a comic book fan, you’ll probably enjoy the crap out of spotting these unique, and often silly, analogues to MC and DC universes (Valente had to create her own entirely different universe). If you’re not a huge fan of comics? You’ll probably still get a kick out of it. All the majors are pretty mainstream now, and even a lot of the minors are in the public eye. You’ll know what’s going on.

But you said it critiques comics . . .

. . . and in a lot of cases it does so harshly. With this in mind, it might be easy to pass up.  After all, who wants to read a book that just condemns a thing that they love?

Please don’t pass it up.

It’s obvious that while Valente recognizes a lot of problems in the ways women have been represented in comics, she still loves them. The stories are carefully (and excellently) written. They are clever in their characterizations, tone, and story arcs. This can only come from someone who truly cares for the genre.  I think my favorite is the 2nd story, about Julia Ash, but each one I read, I though “Oh so-and-so would get a kick out of this one” or “Wow. I wish [Insert ‘I-have-friends‘ name] had read this. S/he would love it.”

It doesn’t take much to see there is a bit of a feminist thing going on in “Geekdom” (I’m really understating this lol) and I think this is, and will be, an important part of whatever ‘Geek Feminism’ evolves into. In my (irrelevant) opinion it is certainly a worthy addition. I hope that we all go out and read this book now, and that in 10 or 20 years (hell maybe 5?) people will be assigned this in their literature classes.

So . . . ?

So go read this one. Talk about it with your friends. Post about it online. And leave me your thoughts in the comments.

eyesidarenotmeet_full

Image by Yuko Shimizu

Also, don’t hate me for knocking off The Skim in writing/formatting this post. It just sort of happened.

UPDATE: I always end up doing this in a way that isn’t a true update but whatever. If you want to check out another story (a free one) that deals with women and refrigerators, please go check out Sunny Moraine’s eyes I dare not meet in dreams which Tor.com has recently posted. Apparently, it was posted at another website back in 2015 but now it’s Tor’s. It is very different in tone, meaning and style, but I think Moraine’s reaction to the Women in Refrigerators trope is as important as anything else I’ve written on this topic. Also, Lady Business seems to have done a good job explaining everything if it’s at all weird or confusing. Ok. Carry on!

 

 

Dreamer: A Different Flavor for Brandon Sanderson

Dreamer
This was an interesting (little) piece from Brandon Sanderson. I don’t really think of Sanderson’s books as being overtly moral. We watch his protagonists struggle with situations that are truly pretty grim, but through it all we kind of have a feeling of which way north is. Even if it gets a little bit fuzzy sometimes.

And for all that we know which way is north, it never feels forced or belligerent. It’s not shouting in the front row but somewhere in the back. Hidden but we know it is there and it is reassuring.

Dreamer seems to be missing this quality.

We are so wrapped up in the action of this piece that even though we realize the consequences of the game we’re playing (there are a few lines that make it pretty explicit), we have to work at being horrified by them. We want Dreamer to catch Phi. We want Dreamer to win, even though the cost for doing so is quite high for everyone except Dreamer and Phi.

All in all it’s a bit disorienting. But good disorienting? What I can pin down is that I’m very impressed that I’m able to think/write this much about such a short story. After all, it was only 12 pages. I think that means it was good. 🙂

Trying to Get Caught Up on Scalzi (Review of Miniatures & Redshirts)

Miniatures
Miniatures was a very quick and fun read. The stories are short and very easy to speed through (I think I read the whole thing in two sittings). For fans who have read a lot of Scalzi in the past, this collection displays all of the trademark imagination and humor that we associate with a Scalzi novel. For people who have never read one of his novels, I feel that you’ll get a pretty good feeling for his style and what kind of stories he writes. Nothing in this collection was earth shattering but all of the stories were enjoyable and most made me laugh. If you’re feeling that you’ve been in a bit of a rut when it comes to what you’ve been reading, this collection will be a breath of fresh air.

Also, many of the stories were written a pretty long while ago. Around eight years ago and further back. It’s amazing to me how prescient they were reading them in 2017. Not in terms of technology that we have today (many of the stories don’t have really visible future tech), but in terms of subject matter. For instance one story was written in 2008 posits an alternate history in which Vladimir Putin is the first person on moon. Not sure what Putin was doing back in 2008 but he’s certainly relevant today. Another story (written in 2010) forms a scenario in which yogurt takes over the world. I think the mixed feelings of “How could this have happened?” and “Is this a joke?” perfectly reflect the way many Democrats feel after this most recent election. To think that it was written 7 years ago . . .

red shirtsMoving onward, I have been doing a bit of “catching up” in terms of Scalzi’s catalog. I just finished Redshirts but elected not to give it its own post as it’s a Hugo award winner and probably has had enough written about it. Needless to say, I enjoyed Redshirts a lot, but am surprised by just how critically acclaimed it was. A quick look at the other authors nominated that year show: Kim Stanely Robinson, Saladin Ahmed, Mira Grant, and Lois McMaster Bujold. Seems a strong roster. I’ve not read any of these other authors but am familiar with their work (except Bujold). I also feel that if Redshirts had been nominated for the most recent Hugo award, it would not have stood a chance. Definitely interesting to see how awards change and how “what’s popular” changes over time.

Looking forward, I may try to read Lock In quickly before Collapsing Empire comes out. I’ve been told it is very different from Scalzi’s other works which seem to all be Star Trek parodies in one way or another (with Redshirts being literally a Star Trek parody). I’m very interested to see what Scalzi would write about when he isn’t writing about shooting things in space. Until next time . . .

The Stars Are Legion: Half Space Opera, Half Surgery

the-stars-are-legion-final-coverSeriously though. This one’s a bit . . . gooey.

Remember Osmosis Jones? This book’s setting is like that, except turned up to eleven and not for kids. Basically, most of our story takes place inside a big a planet that is living and breathing just like we are. Instead of being made of rock, water, and precious metals, this planet is made of skin, veins, teeth, flesh and tentacles. Yea, tentacles.

There are many of these planets (hence ‘Legion’) and the protagonists must travel to a few (really where the space opera part comes in) and explore the depths of another. If you’re bothered by words like ‘placenta’ and ‘afterbirth’ showing up too many times on a page, then you may want to pass this one by.

Indeed the setting is probably the biggest hurdle to enjoying this story. However, after a while, you kind of get desensitized to it. After a longer while you realize just how critical these pieces are to the larger story (and messaging) Hurley is trying to create.

I suspect many will find The Stars Are Legion Hugo worthy and indeed it should probably get nominated (already found one review talking awards). I’ve been trying to relearn and improve my knowledge of the more technical parts of writing fiction. Hurley shows herself to be a master of these technical aspects. A great opening sentence (Simply: “I remember throwing away a child” Like who doesn’t want to read more after that?), sparse but meaningful use of onomatopoeia, and good use of POV to slowly reveal pertinent information for the reader (you can tell what I’ve been studying this week haha).

It’s setting, and use of POV, seem reminiscent of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice, which I loved, and the cast of only female characters (there is obviously a statement about gender happening here) certainly puts the book in conversation with Leckie’s book. However, I’m unsure if it is as effective.

In all, I enjoyed reading this book very much. Ken Liu’s cover endorsement of “mind-bending” is absolutely true and I feel the book is worth picking up just to explore the setting alone. It certainly shocks and there is a good deal of awe. The fact that we get an intricate story is even better. If there is a sequel, I hope it’s revealed what some of these ‘terrible things’ are that the protagonists keep thinking back on although it is implied that they might only look towards the future.  We will see.

That’s all for now folks. Happy surgery!

Review of Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson

snapshotEnjoyable. I will probably look into Reckoners series now (like I wasn’t going to already). I think maybe he tried to do a little too much at the end but the story was still very good.

Snapshot is basically a detective story. I occasionally read detective stories (Ok that’s a lie. Apparently I’ve read a lot) and enjoy them though my bag is much more in the SF and Fantasy realm. Indeed I’ve read a few SFF stories that are basically just detective novels (with all the bad writing and misogyny) set in a science fiction or fantastic world. These types of stories are often disappointing as we’re not progressing in either genre. Snapshot does not feel this way to me. If anything it is a detective story with one fantastical (SF?) element: the Snapshot.

As such the expectations being met, broken, or subverted are unique to detective stories. His effort here is not simply: “Look! I mashed two genres together!”. But it seems he really wanted to add something to the detective genre and I feel he’s done that to an extent.

Perhaps what was showcased the most for me was Sanderson’s ability to write characters. They always seem incredibly real and I enjoy the little quirks he gives them to make them feel that way. Snapshot is no exception. You get to witness an incredible series of events that happen to very likable (well at the very least very sympathetic) people. I wouldn’t ask for more.

Please feel free to comment your thoughts, impressions, praise, or random blatherings. I’m always up for talking Brandon Sanderson.