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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Paperback Review: Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Anathem represents my second encounter with the genius of Neal Stephenson (third, if you count my aborted read of Quicksilver), and I can honestly say that while the reading experience does not get any easier, there is the same sense of satisfaction accomplishment waiting at the end. More dense, less accessible, and somehow not as interesting as Cryptonomicon, it's a book that almost violently defies categorization.

I find it a really difficult book to review. The university-educated, critical reading, spectacle-wearing intellectual who lies deep within me wants to award it five stars for its sheer audacity, limitless depths of esoteric concepts, and laudable efforts to make math interesting. It really is a book to be admired as much for what it sets out to accomplish as for the skill behind it. However, the tired, overworked, long-haired geek in search of entertainment who resides a bit closer to my surface is struggling to award it any more than two stars for the brief, fitful glimpses of story hidden between the concepts. There's a really exciting novella buried here, but it would take an entire concent another millennium to unearth it.

More than anything else, I guess my problem is its all just so boring. Plot developments are so few and far between, it feels like the story never moves ahead. There's a lot of talking, a lot of thinking, a lot of writing, and a lot of calculating going on that, quite honestly, I would have been content to have seen left off the page. Yes, it's interesting and, yes, I can honestly say I learned a few things, but they were hard lessons. By the times the aliens actually appear, I'd honestly forgotten that there were aliens in the book, and by the time we get to the revelations about Fraa Erasmas . . . well, I'd stopped caring.

It took me nearly a year of on again/off again reading to get through it, and it was more a sense of obligation that kept dragging me back than any real desire to get back into the story. The book never really grabbed my attention, and simply didn't offer my any incentive to keep reading. I feel bad, because there's a nagging voice in the back of my head that keeps telling me I should appreciate it more, but appreciation is not the same as enjoyment, and therein lies the rub.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Monday Morning Musings - Genre News Wrap-up

I tend to read a lot of genre sites over my morning Coke and donuts (yeah, breakfast of champions, I know!), so I thought I'd get in the habit of sharing the more interesting tidbits once a week.


That's it for this morning . . . happy reading!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Genre Conventions (Southern Ontario) 2012

For those who are interested, and who may be in the Toronto area this year, here's a list of the science fiction, fantasy, horror, and comic book conventions that I've been keeping my eye on. I doubt very much I'll get to them all, but Erie Con, Fan Expo Canada, and World Fantasy Convention are high on my list.


Ad Astra
April 13-15
Holiday Inn Markham Hotel and Suites
http://www.ad-astra.org/
Guests Announced: Harry Turtledove, Lesley Livingston, Joe Jusko, and Shelly Shapiro


Wizard World Toronto Comic Con
April 14-15
Metro Toronto Convention Centre
http://www.wizardworldcomiccon.com/home-toronto.html
Guests Announced: Scott Bakula, Jeri Ryan, Amy Acker, Jeremy Bulloch, Sean Maher, Colin Ferguson, the cast of Being Human, and a ton of comic book artists (including Dale Keown & David Mack)


Erie Con
April 27-29
Days Inn at the Falls (Niagara Falls, New York)
http://www.eeriecon.org/
Guests Announced: Catherine Asaro, Lois Gresh, Anne Bishop, Carolyn Clink, David Clink, Jennifer Crow, David DeGraff, Carl Frederick, Mark Garland, Sèphera Girón, John Harlacher, Marvin Kaye, Mark Leslie, Derwin Mak, Lynna Merrill, Alex Pantaleev, Stephen Pearl, John Allen Price, David Sakmyster, Darrell Schweitzer, and David Stephenson



Niagara Falls Comic-Con
June 9
Scotiabank Convention Centre
http://www.nfcomiccon.com/
Guests Announced: Burt Ward, John A. Russo, Chandler Riggs, Jessie Sulidis, Murtz Jaffer, Dustin Diamond, Cap’n Video, April Mullen, Tim Doiron



Polaris
July 6-8
Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel
http://www.tcon.ca/polaris/modules/tconguests/
Guests Announced: Wil Wheaton and Larry Stewart


Fan Expo Canada
August 23-26
Metro Toronto Convention Centre
http://www.fanexpocanada.com/schedule/
Guests Announced: Patrick Stewart


The Word on the Street
September 23
Queen's Park (Toronto)
http://www.thewordonthestreet.ca/wots/toronto


World Fantasy Convention
November 1-4
Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel, Suites & Conference Centre
http://www.wfc2012.org/
Guests Announced: Elizabeth Hand, John Clute, Richard A. Kirk, Gary K. Wolfe, Charles de Lint, Tanya Huff, Patricia Briggs, Mercedes Lackey, and Larry Dixon


SFContario
November 9-11
Ramada Plaza Hotel (Toronto)
http://2012.sfcontario.ca/
Guests Announced: Jo Walton, Jon Singer, and Christopher J Garcia

Thursday, January 26, 2012

TGIF - Feature & Follow Friday

Feature & Follow Friday is a blog hop that is designed to provide some much-appreciated exposure to the bloggers participating, and to expand their following. Hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read, each of whom feature a chosen blog for the week, it's an interesting way to get to know one another.

Question of the Week: Which book genre do you avoid at all costs and why?

My first thought was Romance (it's fine as an element of a story, but holds no interest to me as a story itself), but I can't say I avoid it at all costs. After all, if my wife really insisted on it, I would give one a read, even if just to have something new to discuss over dinner. Having slept on it, I realized the obvious answer is a genre I originally missed because I do avoid it at all costs - Faith-Based Fiction. Personally, I have no interest in religious dogma, and no absolutely patience for being spoon-fed an author's spirituality. I am quite content to stay out of the shack, and to allow myself to be left behind. :)

Parajunkee also hosts a Social Hop for Facebook and Twitter, which I've taken part in the past two weeks. So, if you're one of those people who aren't on Blogger, or who just don't like Google Friend Connect, it's a great way to keep in touch and follow one another.

αωαωαωαωαωαωαω

TGIF is another blog hop designed to provide much-appreciated exposure to the bloggers participating, and to expand their following. Hosted by GReads, it's an interesting way to recap the week, pose a question, and find some exposure with a different audience.

Question of the Week: Where do your books that you read come from? The bookstore? The library? Do you prefer to own a book, or have it on loan?

I tend to be a bit of a pack-rat and a hoarder when it comes to books - I definitely prefer to own them. I also tend to be a bit obsessive compulsive when I discover a really good book, and feel immediately compelled to add everything he or she has ever written to my library, just in case I want to read them again some day. As a result, libraries and borrowed books don't really work for me, especially when I get that middle-of-the-night urge to read a certain book.


eBook Review: Draculas by Crouch, Kilborn, Strand, and Wilson

A little light on those insignificant little things like plot or character development, Draculas is still one wild, bat-shit crazy, over-the-top romp through what feels like a B-grade 80s gore-fest. More importantly, as the authors state in their introduction, this novel represents their attempt to reverse the 20+ years of sparkly, bare-chested, sexually ambiguous, romantic nonsense that's been injected into vampires and "make them scary again."

The vampires here are not cunning, seductive, or even dangerously attractive. They are more like bloodthirsty, fast-moving zombies with jaws so full of fangs that their teeth explode through the cheeks and lips in all directions. These are ugly, animalistic, single-minded SOBs who exist to feed, and who want nothing more (or less) than to tear your throat open and guzzle down every ounce of blood in your body.

As for pacing, it's almost frantic, will one intense scene after another tacked together like some sort of sick carnival ride. The authors waste absolutely no time getting into things, opening with the delivery of a million-dollar vampire skull to a dying recluse, and then snapping its jaws around his throat so quickly you're already on your way to the hospital with him before you realize what's happened. There we encounter a very different sort of bite, with a young birthday girl whose braces are caught in the flesh of a sad, suicidal clown.

With that, the set-up is complete, and it's time to open the floodgates on the bites, the blood, the breeding, and the body count. This is not a story of hope and survival; it's not a story full of deep moral lessons; and it's not a story with any redeeming message to offer . . . unless that message is RUN AND HIDE! There's so much carnage here, wonderfully bloody and excessive, but also freakishly inventive. The sad vampire clown with the red nose and shoes that still squeak? Genius! The birthday girl who wants to tear into people and eat up all the red candy inside? Fantastic! The hungry, pregnant vampire with the equally hungry vampire infant exploding from her stomach à la Aliens? Brilliant!

Don't get too attached to any of the characters because, odds are, they aren't going to make it to the end. Those that do, however, are well worth following, especially with a few throwing themselves blindly into last-minute sacrifices. Even more interesting are the characters who fight to retain a semblance of humanity in their vampire transformation, giving the story the edge it needs to be more than just a kill-em-all monster saga. There's a point at which the story completely passes the point of containment or simple resolution, but the explosive Hollywood ending is completely apropos, as is the lingering thread that sets up the inevitable sequel.

As fun as it is frantic, this is well worth a read for anyone sick to death of what people like Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyer have done to the monstrous side of the vampire.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Orb Sceptre Throne by Ian C. Esslemont

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Orb Sceptre Throne by Ian C. Esslemont:

The epic new chapter in the history of Malaz—the new epic fantasy from Steven Erikson's friend and co-creator of this extraordinary and exciting imagined world.

Darujhistan, city of dreams, city of blue flames, is peaceful at last; its citizens free to return to politicking, bickering, trading and, above all, enjoying the good things in life. Yet there are those who will not allow the past to remain buried. A scholar digging in the plains stumbles across an ancient sealed vault. The merchant Humble Measure schemes to drive out the remaining Malazan invaders. And the surviving agents of a long-lost power are stirring, for they sense change and so, opportunity. While, as ever at the centre of everything, a thief in a red waistcoat and of rotund proportions walks the streets, juggling in one hand custard pastries, and in the other the fate of the city itself.

Far to the south, fragments of the titanic Moon's Spawn have crashed into the Rivan Sea creating a series of isles...and a fortune hunter's dream. A Malazan veteran calling himself 'Red' ventures out to try his luck—and perhaps say goodbye to old friends. But there he finds far more than he'd bargained for as the rush to claim the Spawn's treasures descends into a mad scramble of chaos and bloodshed. For powers from across the world have gathered here, searching for the legendary Throne of Night. The impact of these events are far reaching, it seems. On an unremarkable island off the coast of Genabackis, a people who had turned their backs upon all such strivings now lift their masked faces towards the mainland and recall the ancient prophesy of a return.

And what about the ex-Claw of the Malazan Empire who now walks the uttermost edge of creation? His mission—the success or failure of which the Queen of Dreams saw long ago—is destined to shape far more than anyone could have ever imagined. [February 28]

While I enjoyed Night of Knives, Esslemont's first contribution to the Malazan Empire storyline, it didn't exactly blow me away the same way Gardens of the Moon did. Return of the Crimson Guard was a much better read, and enough to convince me that the empire was in good hands. I haven't caught up with Stonewielder yet (after The Crippled God I just had to walk away from the world for a bit), but I'm like Esslemont's style and I'm glad he's back with a new entry.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Top Ten Fantasy Sagas of My Youth

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme hosted by Paula over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new Top Ten list is shared, based on suggestions of fellow bloggers, for all to answer.

This week's list is a freebie, so I thought I'd reach back into the dustiest of my bookshelves, push aside the TBR pile, and look at the the Top Ten Fantasy Sagas of My Youth.

  1. Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever by Stephen R. Donaldson - this series tends to get a lot of bad reviews, based largely on a horrendous act perpetrated early on by the hero, but you have to take things in context. Overall, a brilliantly chilling slice of imagination.
  2. Dark Tower by Stephen King - while I kind of fell out of love with the series after the Wizard of Oz homage in the fourth book, the next more than won me back . . . and, in hindsight, I have a much greater appreciation for how King incorporate pop culture mythology.
  3. Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman - this was actually the first fantasy saga I ever read, even before Tolkien, and I can still remember being amazed by the thought that not all heroes were good.
  4. Dragon Prince by Melanie Rawn - one of the first fantasy sagas to really wow me, and the series that began a long love affair with Ms. Rawn through the Dragon Star and Exiles sagas.
  5. Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb - an absolutely brilliant piece of fantasy, complex and layered, well-written, and full of ambiguity. One of the more challenging reads of my youth, but one that I cannot recommend highly enough.
  6. Fionavar Tapestry by Guy Gavriel Kay - okay, the purists may want lynch me for saying this, but in my humble opinion this is the single greatest fantasy trilogy ever written.
  7. Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn by Tad Williams - at the time I delved into this saga, these books were some of the thickest door-stoppers I'd ever read (particularly the too-big-for-one-book To Green Angel Tower) but I don't know that anyone has dealt with the maturing of a young hero any better.
  8. Riftwar Saga by Raymond E. Feist - okay, what I just said about Tad Williams . . . well, here is the one author who has done a better job with the maturing young hero. While the later sagas strayed a bit too far from the core storyline for my tastes, sacrificing a lot of the magic, the story of Pug and Thomas is a must-read for any fantasy fan.
  9. Wayfarer Redemption by Sara Douglass - this was the first fantasy saga to offer me something truly different, to present a fresh take on the epic hero, the quest, and the complex mythology of heavenly gods and earthbound avatars.
  10. Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan - I'll admit, I resisted the series for a long time, partially because I didn't like being told I had to read it, and partially because I started the first book a few times and just couldn't get into it. At some point Rand and I clicked . . . and the rest is history.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday Morning Musings - Genre News Wrap-up

I tend to read a lot of genre sites over my morning Coke and donuts (yeah, breakfast of champions, I know!), so I thought I'd get in the habit of sharing the more interesting tidbits once a week.

  • First of all, the Clive Barker Info Google+ feed has a quick note from the man himself, referencing some medical issues that have Clive away from his "beloved desk and into the hospital" (yikes!) but also promises he "will be home soon and back to causing trouble" (let's hope so).
  • Courtesy of Flavorwire, we get a peek at the 10 most expensive books in the world, including the William Shakespeare's First Folio at $6 million,  Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales at $7.5 million, and Leonardo da Vinci's The Codex Leicester  at a whopping  $30.8 million.
  • Over at Blastr, there's an interesting discussion with Sylverster MyCoy on how he'd like to take part in Doctor Who's 50th anniversary . . . as a (wait for it) . . . villain!
  • Tor has a great piece on their Wheel of Time celebrations for 2012, complete with a chance to win 1 of 50 copies of The Eye of the World.
  • The always fun staff over at Topless Robot have a great piece on Surprising Literary References in video games, including a Ray Bradbury homage in Fallout 3, and the appearance of Titania and MacBeth in the Starfox games. 
  • HorrorNews.Net has a great piece on Vintage Screams: Anthology Television that covers the usual suspects like Twilight Zone and Outer Limits; hits some of my favourites with The Hitchhiker, Tales From the Darkside, Amazing Stories, and Tales from the Crypt; and also offers a surprise shout-out to Danger Theatre!
  • Finally, the Stephen King Fancast has a piece about a rumoured reboot of Pet Semetary that I hope to Hell is not true, since that is both my favourite King book, my my favourite King movie adaption.

That's it for this morning . . . happy reading!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Lords of Dyscrasia by by S.E. Lindberg

I don't generally read a lot of small-press or self-published books, but when one snags my attention, I'm more than willing to give it a shot. Lords of Dyscrasia is one of those books where everything fell into place - the cover caught my eye; the review blurb comparing it to "the works of Poe and Lovecraft" made me curious; and the concept of infected bloodlines, diseased souls, and necromancy assured it a spot on my shelf.

Stylistically, this was a very interesting read, with a mix of high fantasy, pulp adventure, and visceral horror that worked as well as I could have hoped. Elements of it did indeed remind me, at different times, of H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe, but I also detected the flavour of Robert E. Howard, and even some early Books of Blood era Clive Barker.

The storyline here is interesting, and the investment in the mythology is quite impressive. It's definitely one of the more unique concepts I've come across in a long while, taking a very Cthulhu-like approach to an otherwise standard fantasy trope of interracial breeding and the mingling of mortal & immortal races. The world-building doesn't quite live up to the mythology, but only because we don't get explore enough of it.

This is a very intense, very frantic, very driven read that leaps from scene to scene. The action and the tension is relentless, which has a definite appeal for some readers, but I felt it suffered somewhat because of it. I think one more pass at the story to build some narrative bridges between the scenes, and to pad out the intensity with some subtler moments of reflection could have really served the book well. It's not very often that I put down a book wishing it had been just a bit longer, but her I would have welcome some fluff to round things out.

That said, what's on the page works very well. Doctor Grave is a fantastic character, secretive and manipulative, but driven by an honest purpose. His ethereal assistant is definitely a nice touch, and the ways in which she is used outside the Doctor's environment were a very pleasant surprise. Lysis, unfortunately, came across as a bit one-dimensional for me. I would have like to see some more vulnerability in him, some lighter emotions, but I suspect that lack is due more to the unrelenting intensity of his quest than to any failings on the part of the book.

Other reviewers have said this is a very dark book, and they're right. This is pulp fantasy for the horror fan (not the other way around), and it is wonderfully grotesque. There's a very clinical detachment from much of the horror, which actually serves to elevate the monstrosities to a higher level. Like I said earlier, this reminds me of Books of Blood era Clive Barker on the page, or original Hellraiser era Clive Barker on the screen, and I delighted in that visceral element.

By no means a perfect book, but one that manages to offer something new, and which does an admirable job of bringing it all together. I look forward to seeing what Lindberg produces next, and would even be up for a reread were he to expand the text here . . . and author's preferred edition, if you will.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Feature & Follow Friday

Feature & Follow Friday is a blog hop that is designed to provide some much-appreciated exposure to the bloggers participating, and to expand their following. Hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read, each of whom feature a chosen blog for the week, it's an interesting way to get to know one another.

Question of the Week: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done to get your hands on any particular book?

I once drove for over an hour, then took a hour long train ride, and then stood in line all night, in the rain, for a chance (a chance!) at a signed Stephen King hardcover.

Parajunkee also hosts a Social Hop for Facebook and Twitter, which I've taken part in the past two weeks. So, if you're one of those people who aren't on Blogger, or who just don't like Google Friend Connect, it's a great way to keep in touch and follow one another.

Wanna Get Your Face on a Stephen King Book?

From the Stephen King newsletter:

With the help of mosaic design technologies, Hodder & Stoughton are offering thousands of readers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have their photo featured in the jacket artwork for King’s new novel The Wind through the Keyhole. Visit their Facebook page through this link for details.

What the heck are you waiting for? Naturally, you've already liked Stephen King on Facebook (you have, right?), but get on over there and upload your photo today. FYI, if you're using Chrome, there is a bug with the redirect that they're working on. In the meantime, once you've liked the page, hop directly to the photo app here.

Of course, as long as you're there, you may as well like Beauty in Ruins as well. After all, it's only 1 more click, and it is a nice way to say thanks for the scoop!

Finally, as an added bonus, the Facebook page gives you a sneak peek at the entire cover. If you think the front is epic, wait until you see the mosaic that will make up the back . . .

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Big Book of Kolchak the Night Stalker by Stuart M. Kaminsky

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Big Book of Kolchak the Night Stalker by Stuart M. Kaminsky:

This tome collects the long-out-of-print first two Kolchak TPB's all in one affordable package! Contains seven complete stories: "The Night Stalker," "Get of Belial," "Fever Pitch," "Mask of Moment," "Pain Most Human," "Pain without Tears," and "Devil in the Details.". [February 7]

It's Kolchak the freakin' Night Stalker! 'Nuff said.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Shadowrise by Tad Williams

Oh, Tad . . . what a tangled, deceptive, infuriating web you weave! It seems as if the Shadowmarch series has been going on forever, and it seems that I've been reading Shadowrise (the first half of the concluding volume) for even longer than that. With it's deliberate pacing, slow unveiling of the deeper mysteries, and fitful advances of the plot, this is hardly what one would describe as an all-consuming read . . . and yet, no matter how many times I put it down, it was never long before I found myself itching to take it up again.

Although a far more languid read than the first two volumes, this is also the first instalment where we really begin to get a sense of what is going on in the realm of Southmarch and beyond. All the various tangled threads begin to come together here, hinting at deeper meanings, yet never really coming right out and declaring the story's intentions. King Olin's story develops nicely, alongside that of the insane Autarch Sulepis, but it takes so long that, by the time it comes, the Autarch's grand revelation of his plans for the King is largely anticlimactic.

On the other side of the world, Vansen and Chert finally get a chance to show what they are made of, putting them squarely at the centre of the only real action within the novel. We also begin to see glimpses of who Flint really is, and what his role in the story is to be, but he's still a character-in-waiting. More disappointing is the way in which Chaven is wasted, relegated to a supporting role as the crazy old man.

As for Briony, the young woman who dominated much of the first two books is largely left to fill space here. She gets entangled in court politics, a long-distance love triangle, and even some mystical affairs, but she really does nothing to advance herself or the story. It's almost as if Tad felt the need to insert some courtly scenes into what had largely become a story of forests and tunnels, and chose to draw out her return home just long enough to win her few enemies and a few friends. Meanwhile, Qinnitan is provided with some early growth and exposure, hinting at some deeper ties to the royal twins, and even gets the chance to seize her own fate and dictate the final chapter of her story, but her significance has been held back for far too long to make her a truly effective character.

Having said all that, this is the book where Barrick gets to shine, and it's his presence that makes this a must-read. He grows, evolves, and develops more over the course of this one book than most heroes do in an entire saga. I dreaded his scenes in the first two books, and often found myself skimming over his "pity poor me" ranting. Had I been Gyir, or even Vansen, I would have sacrificed him long ago. Fortunately, being left on his own (accompanied only by a crazed bird) frees the young prince to stop playing against others' expectations and start being himself. He has some powerful scenes in this book, so much so that I actually found myself caring for his safety, and ultimately cheering his heroic maturing.

As it always the case with Tad's books, the writing here is stellar, with the dreamlike scenes beyond the shadowline more powerful than anything I've read in recent years. The dialogue is crisp and clever, and the theology/mythology is wonderfully detailed. Even the minor characters stand out on their own, instantly recognizable no matter how little page time they receive.

Part of me wants to rail against Tad for choosing to split this final volume into two parts (with Shadowheart concluding things), unnecessarily drawing out the story, and dragging us through a novel that's as much set-up for the end as it is movement towards that end. The other part of me, however, is perversely thankful for the prolonged climax and the chance to spend a little more time in his world. Don't get me wrong, this is no Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, but it is Tad Williams, and that means it's epic fantasy of a higher calibre. Had this been any other author, I likely would spend more time singing it's praises, but Tad has created such expectations that I (perhaps unfairly) feel the need to nitpick.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Monday Morning Musings - Genre News Wrap-up

I tend to read a lot of genre sites over my morning Coke and donuts (yeah, breakfast of champions, I know!), so I thought I'd get in the habit of sharing the more interesting tidbits once a week.


The always interesting folks over at io9 have a zombie apocalypse unfolding via mock updates from CNN, Al-Jazeera, and the Wall Street Journal (click here); sunken treasure at the bottom of New York Harbor that just screams out of a Clive Cussler adventure (click here); and a link to Charles Stross' article predicting the next 30 years of technology, prejudice, and sex (click here).


Meanwhile, the equally interesting (yet far less active) folks over at Blastr have teased Doctor Who's new companion (click here); revealed the details of a new BBC monster/sci-fi series called The Fades (click here); confirmed that Spielberg produce but not direct Jurassic Park 4 (click here); and have put together a great collection of books from classic novels and TV shows that we only wish existed (click here).


The good folks over at Tor.com have an update on their fan-voted Stubby Awards, which currently sees the bewildering combination of The All-Pro by Scott Sigler and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss with a commanding lead (click here); a wrap-up on their tribute to David Bowie week (click here); and yet another look at the latest photo of Johnny Deep from Tim Burton's take on Dark Shadows (click here).


Finally, picked up from my Google+ feed, we have a price reduction on the remaining limited edition copies of the Clive Barker exploration Memory, Prophecy, Fantasy (click here); and some free short story reads courtesy of Jeremy C. Shipp (click here). Enjoy!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Feature & Follow Friday

Feature & Follow Friday is a blog hop that is designed to provide some much-appreciated exposure to the bloggers participating, and to expand their following. Hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read, each of whom feature a chosen blog for the week, it's an interesting way to get to know one another.

Question of the Week: Many readers/bloggers are also big music fans. Tell us about a few of your favorite bands/singers that we should listen to in 2012?

I'm still very much an 80s hair metal fan, but Wednesday 13 does some great horror-themed rock (think Alice Cooper with an edge), Steel Panther is almost as talented as they are awesomely inappropriate, and good old Marilyn Manson has a new album out this spring (hopefully it's better than his last two). Sadly, though, no matter how much I beg and plead, Danny Elfman refuses to do another Oingo Boingo album. :)

Parajunkee also hosts a Social Hop for Facebook and Twitter, which I've taken part in the past two weeks. So, if you're one of those people who aren't on Blogger, or who just don't like Google Friend Connect, it's a great way to keep in touch and follow one another.

EXPLORATION: Welland Canal

Construction on the current Welland Canal (actually the 4th in canal history) was completed in 1932. Originally 7.6 meters deep, it was later dredged to 8.2 meters, and again to 9.1 meters. The 8 locks, each 24.4 meters wide and 261.8 meters long, provide a man-made channel stretching 43.4 kilometres, all the way from from Port Weller (Lake Ontario) to Port Colborne (Lake Erie). Even more impressive, over the course of those 8 locks, ships are either raised or lowered 99.36 meters . . . nearly twice the height of Niagara Falls.

Given that the canal was completed 80 years ago, the fact that extensive annual maintenance is needed should hardly be a surprise. Fortunately, the last few years have seen significant maintenance over the winter months, during which time the canal is almost completely drained of water, providing a unique (and interesting) exploration opportunity.


With the water drained, you can literally walk the bottom of the canal - provided, of course, you don't mind getting muddy. The hike is a bit easier later in the winter, when the cold weather has frozen the exposed mud, but it's also a much more frigid adventure. Regardless, walking its depths, imagining the 300 meter long ships passing overhead, each carrying as much as 78,850 long tons of bulk cargo, is just a bit humbling.


Walking the bottom of the canal is a unique (almost surreal) experience, providing a glimpse of things that even the ships traversing the canal aren't privy to. For instance, walking the stretch between the Locks 3 and 4, you can walk beneath the lift bridge and look up at the steel grating above, listening to the traffic rumble overhead. From that perspective, the heights to which the bridge must be lifted in order to allow the ships to pass is quite daunting.


Considering the amount of traffic crossing the bridge, and the amount of machinery required to raise and lower it, the rotten, crumbling concrete below is no surprise . . . although it does make you think twice about finding an alternate route home.


While the canal is kept clean throughout the season, with any large debris (such as the occasional crashed car) removed promptly, the winter months reveal sights along the bottom that are as perplexing as they are curious. What purpose these four pillars ever served is a mystery, but they definitely stand out amidst the kilometres of nearly empty dirt and rock.


Perhaps the most interesting view, though, is that of the pier which stretches out into the canal, against which ships can be tied when waiting for sister ships to pass the other way through the lock. Standing in the mud, looking 7.5, maybe 8 metres into the air, the rounded end of the pier appears almost monolithic.


Unfortunately, while the recent stretch of nice weather certainly made for a warmer hike, it's also made the underside of the pier impassable. The mud here is thick and deep, and making it back out with both shoes still attached requires as much quick thinking as it does quick footwork - pause to consider your next step, and you're likely to be stuck there for a very long time, waiting for help.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

"Waiting On" Wednesday: City of Dragons by Robin Hobb

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

City of Dragons: Volume Three of the Rain Wilds Chronicles by Robin Hobb:

Continuing the enthralling journey she began in her acclaimed Dragon Keeper and Dragon Haven, Hobb rejoins a small group of weak, half-formed and unwanted dragons and their displaced human companions as they search for a legendary sanctuary. Now, as the misfit band approaches its final destination, dragons and keepers alike face a challenge so insurmountable that it threatens to render their long, difficult odyssey utterly meaningless. 


Touching, powerful, and dazzlingly inventive, Hobb’s City of Dragons is not to be missed—further proof that this author belongs alongside Raymond E. Feist, Terry Brooks, and Lois McMaster Bujold in the pantheon of fantasy fiction’s true greats. [February 7]

I still have the Liveship Traders and Soldier Son trilogies to get through before this, but new Robin Hobb is always a cause for celebration. I find her books tend to be a bit more dense and complex than your usual fantasy novel, requiring a bit more patience before the payoff is revealed, but they're always immensely satisfying.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Top Ten Authors I Wish Would Write Another Book

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme hosted by Paula over at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new Top Ten list is shared, based on suggestions of fellow bloggers, for all to answer.

This week's list is the Top Ten Authors We Wish Would Write Another Book.


  1. Clive Barker - Yes, he's still writing the Abarat series, but I want another of his dark, weirdly fantastic, gloriously graphic tales for adults. Find a new publisher for Black Is The Devil's Rainbow (it kills me to know there's a finished manuscript we're not getting to read), and finish up The Scarlet Gospels (you can't tease Pinhead versus Harry D'Amour and then leave us hanging).
  2. Richard Laymon - Okay, so he's dead, but I'd love it if somebody discovered a pile of unpublished manuscripts in his cellar. Then again, given his penchant for creepy, inappropriate horror, you have to wonder if he had them buried with him, just waiting for somebody to dig them up. 
  3. Melanie Rawn - This one's kind of a cheat, because she is writing again (we'll see if Touchstone fulfills the uneven promise of The Diviner), but I'd still like to see the next volume of the Exiles saga sometime before I die.
  4. Jude Fisher - While she's still writing under her own name (Jane Johnson), I really wish she'd slip back into the Jude Fisher persona for another epic fantasy tale. There's just so much unfulfilled potential there waiting to be explored.
  5. Poppy Z Brite - She's still alive and kicking, writing her Rickey and G-Man series, but I'd like to see her step outside the kitchen and return to the realm of gothic horror that made her famous. With watered down vampires hogging the spotlight, I think she could help shock the genre back into respectability.
  6. Michael Crichton - Richard Preston helped to finish off Micro, but I'd like to think Crichton left behind a few other unfinished manuscripts . . . maybe even a return to Jurassic Park. He was such a technological visionary, you have to wonder if he's hidden something somewhere. 
  7. Sara Douglass - Having passed well before her time, I'm really hoping Sara left behind a few unpublished works as well. I'd gladly settle for another historical fantasy, but a hidden epic fantasy gem would be great to see.
  8. Robert T Bakker - Raptor Red was such a great read, I wish he'd do another dinosaur novel.
  9. Thomas Harris - it's been 6 years since Hannibal Rising and nearly 40 years since Black Sunday . . . long enough, I hope, the rekindle the creative juices and offer us something new.
  10. Chris Claremont - Yes, he's still writing comics (and doing a fantastic job), but I'd like to see him return to epic fantasy, to offer us something along the line of the Chronicles of the Shadow War.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Rafflecopter Launch Party Giveaway: Win an iPad & a Kindle Fire

Check this out - Rafflecopter, the online contest portal, is hosting a Launch Party Giveaway. Open to residents in Canada (yes!) and the US, with a 16GB Apple iPad2 and several Kindle Fires available to be won.

Just click here to enter (please tell them I sent you), and get extra entries for following on twitter, tweeting about it, blogging about it, and a few other easy tasks.

Open all month, it's the first big giveaway of the year for bloggers and followers alike.

Obviously, I'm hoping I win one of the prizes, but good luck at the others. :)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Feature & Follow Friday

Feature & Follow Friday is a blog hop that is designed to provide some much-appreciated exposure to the bloggers participating, and to expand their following. Hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read, each of whom feature a chosen blog for the week, it's an interesting way to get to know one another.

Question of the Week: Go count the number of unread books sitting on your shelf. How many?

Let's see, 11 shelves, at an average of 37 books each (I pack 'em tight), puts me at about 407 - or, as my wife would more accurately estimate, "too many".

Parajunkee also hosts a Social Hop for Facebook and Twitter, which I've taken part in the past two weeks. So, if you're one of those people who aren't on Blogger, or who just don't like Google Friend Connect, it's a great way to keep in touch and follow one another.

The Athena Project by Brad Thor

Since this is my first exploration of Brad Thor's world, I suspect there's some back story and character histories that were lost on me, which likely would have helped. Having said that, The Athena Project is a really good read, but the characterization (and the tendency to have too much happen off the page) is what kept it from being a great read.

I expected more of a Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn type thriller going into it, but I was surprised instead to find it more of a James Bond kind of story - with an obvious twist. Here it's the women of Athena (an all-female Delta Force team) who run the show, with their male counterparts relegated to more of a sidekick or love interest role. They're all beautiful, athletic, and deadly, but I found little to distinguish them. I had a hard time keeping track of who was who, until I realized it didn't really matter - they're virtually interchangeable.

The man they're up against is a cruel, sadistic SOB, but not quite up to James Bond supervillain standards. The mad scientist he relies upon, however, is exactly the kind of guy you'd expect to find overseeing the supervillain's lair. He's entirely consumed by the potential of his experiments, and not above sacrificing a few whores (he refuses to see them as women, no matter how many times he's corrected) as human guinea pigs.

As for the experiment, that is 100% something that could have come from a lost Bond novel. Without giving too much away, the basic premise of the novel is that the Nazis experimented with teleportation/wormhole technology during the war, but were forced to abandon their equipment when the tide turned against them. The USA has been trying to recover (and reproduce) that technology for years, leading to a nice bit of urban legend propaganda about Denver International airport, but they're one step behind the bad guys.

That's where my other complaint comes in - far too much of the cool stuff is left off the page. The horrific aftermath of the failed experiments is detailed again and again, with body parts fused to rock and protruding from impossible places, but we never actually get to see the machine at work. Similarly, for all the effort that's put into setting up the clandestine secrets of Denver International, the payoff just isn't worth it.

Overall, it's a briskly paced novel, with some great action sequences, some amusing banter, and some inventive interrogation scenes that definitely raised an eyebrow or two. It's a book that has blockbuster movie written all over it, and strong enough in the storytelling that I'll gladly give Brad another chance.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"Waiting On" Wednesday: The Dread by Gail Z. Martin

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

The Dread by Gail Z. Martin:

War has come to the Winter Kingdoms. The Dread will rise. Kings will fall.Summoner-King Tris Drayke takes what remains of his army north to fight a war he is ill-prepared to fight, as reports from spies confirm Tris's worst fear. A new threat rises across the sea: a dark summoner who intends to make the most of the Winter Kingdoms's weakness.

And in Isencroft, Kiara's father is assassinated and she will now have no choice except to return and claim the crown. But she must leave behind her husband Tris and their infant son and face the dark power that threatens her rule.

With this, the epic conclusion to Gail's Fallen Kings Cycle, it looks like I have another series to get caught up on. First, though, I need to wrap up her Chronicles of the Necromancer (which shares the same world).

Monday, January 2, 2012

Doctor Who: Coming of the Terraphiles by Michael Moorcock

How could something that (in concept) seemed so perfect fail so miserably in its execution?

On the one hand you've got Michael Moorcock, one of the greatest living British fantasists, and undisputed master of the multiverse. On the other hand you've got Doctor Who, one of the greatest British fantasies, and undisputed master of the timestreams. Really, when you think about it, the only surprising thing about this crossover is that it's taken 48 years (both debuted in 1963) for the Eternal Champion and the Time Lord to meet.

They should have saved themselves the effort.

Coming of the Terraphiles is a nearly incomprehensible and entirely nonsensical bit of narrative fluff that does nothing to advance either storyline. Much of it is a Victorian farce surrounding the pursuit of a hat so enormous that wearing it would require the assistance of an anti-gravity device. What may have worked as a short-story length novelty is stretched, twisted, and drawn into into a novel that exceeds the novelty factor about 20 pages in.

The prologue is the best part of the book, packing more drama, suspense, and excitement into the first 6 pages than can be found throughout the remaining 330 pages combined. Even though Captain Cornelius is one of my least favourite incarnations of the Eternal Champion (give me Elric, Hawkmoon, Corum, or Erekosë any day), his story is infinitely more exciting than that of the Doctor. As much as I'd like to blame that on Matt Smith being my least favourite Doctor, and Amy being my least favourite companion, the fact that both are largely relegated to supporting characters (disappearing for multiple chapters at a time) makes that a stretch even for such a nonsense book.

Not nearly as witty as it wishes to be, or as clever as it pretends to be, this is the kind of fanboy crossover dream that makes you rethink being a fanboy of either franchise.