Friday, November 29, 2013

Sadism and Surrealism in The Wasp Factory (#bookreview)

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks 
Paperback, 192 pages
Simon & Schuster (September 10, 1998)

Synopsis:

Meet Frank Cauldhame. Just sixteen, and unconventional to say the least:

Two years after I killed Blyth I murdered my young brother Paul, for quite different and more fundamental reasons than I'd disposed of Blyth, and then a year after that I did for my young cousin Esmerelda, more or less on a whim.

That's my score to date. Three. I haven't killed anybody for years, and don't intend to ever again.
It was just a stage I was going through.


Review:

Children can be bad when the parent is a loopy themselves. The Wasp Factory is one of those stories with such possibilities.

Frances was a normal kid . . . maybe . . . with three murders under his belt and his older brother who ended up in the loony house after setting neighborhood dogs on fire. Frances is not even a teenager yet, and is also missing the biggest part of his life that his father is holding with his secret.

This was a blowout ending, I really thought myself that his older brother was his actual alter-ego, but I guess I was wrong.

(as posted by Donald on Goodreads)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Losing Faith in Innocent Blood (#bookreview)

While The Blood Gospel was a problematic read for me, one with which I wasn't entirely comfortable, I enjoyed the adventure aspects of it enough to give the second volume a chance. All I asked was that the issue of faith be better explored, that Erin's character develop the way I felt it should, and that the villains come out of the shadows.

Unfortunately, Innocent Blood (The Order of the Sanguines #2) failed to deliver for me on all accounts. I hate to say it, but as much as I have enjoyed some of James Rollins solo efforts, I think I'm done with this series.

What originally drew me to the series was its take on vampires. I'm a huge fan of dark, sinister, old-fashioned, monstrous vampires, so I was really curious to see what he and Rebecca Cantrell would do with the mythology. The whole idea of the strigoi (damned and fallen) versus the Sanguine (saved and redeemed) is an interesting one, but I didn't feel they did anything to develop it further here. If anything, they erased some of the grey areas that I felt made the concept so interesting.

The first book teased us with a question as to whether consecrated wine really has magical/miraculous properties, or whether graduating strigoi into Sanguine was all a matter of faith, but it shied away from providing an answer. Here, we see the power of consecrated wine, and the consequences of would-be Sanguinists being found unworthy. Not without faith, mind you, but unworthy. Clearly, despite the novel's early tease (in which a Crusader if he is so certain there is only one God), the authors come down hard on the side of Christian certainty.

As for the characters, I was really disappointed in the way Erin's character was developed here. I felt she was robbed of much of her objectivity and inquisitiveness, becoming little more than a romantic entanglement. Similarly, Jordan fell very much into the stock hero mold, and what I originally thought to be a game-changing act of sacrifice turned into nothing more than an excuse to have him jump the proverbial religious shark.

Rasputin was one of the most interesting characters introduced in The Blood Gospel, and I was curious to see how he'd be developed here, but I found his potential to be largely wasted. By contrast, I really loved what they did with the introduction of Elizabeth Bathory, especially the complexities of her relationship with Rhun. I kept waiting for her to be cleansed and redeemed, to fall into the fold, but Rollins and Cantrell allow her to remain true to her past and to her self. It was probably her, more than anybody else, who kept me reading.

While the presence of Judas in the series pushed the story a bit too far into Christian territory for me, he presented some interesting dilemmas, and prompted some interesting questions. I quite liked the way he was explored, the influence he had on the other characters, and the justifications he presented for his actions. As willing as I was to accept his role, though, the story lost me completely when it started dealing with angels. It was at that point that I started skimming, looking ahead, and waiting for an end, as opposed to anticipating it.

Overall, Innocent Blood started out slow, with very little of consequence happening early on. There was some absolute carnage at the halfway point that got me interested, with what seemed to be some legitimate stakes involved, but the potential was just as quickly erased. What we're left with is a religious thriller that becomes more tedious than tantalizing. It will probably appeal very much to the right audience, but I'm convinced now that audience simply doesn't include me.


Hardcover, 448 pages
Expected publication: December 10th 2013 by William Morrow & Company

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday - Peaceable Kingdoms (Star Trek: The Fall) by Dayton Ward

"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:

Peaceable Kingdoms (Star Trek: The Fall) by Dayton Ward
Pocket Books/Star Trek (December 31, 2013)

Following the resolution of the fertility crisis that nearly caused their extinction, the Andorian people now stand ready to rejoin the United Federation of Planets. The return of one of its founding member worlds is viewed by many as the first hopeful step beyond the uncertainty and tragedy that have overshadowed recent events in the Alpha Quadrant. But as the Federation looks to the future and the special election to name President Bacco’s permanent successor, time is running out to apprehend those responsible for the respected leader’s brutal assassination. Even as elements of the Typhon Pact are implicated for the murder, Admiral William Riker holds key knowledge of the true assassins— a revelation that could threaten the fragile Federation-Cardassian alliance. 

Questions and concerns also continue to swell around Bacco’s interim successor, Ishan Anjar, who uses the recent bloodshed to further a belligerent, hawkish political agenda against the Typhon Pact. With the election looming, Riker dispatches his closest friend, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, in a desperate attempt to uncover the truth. But as Picard and the Enterprise crew pursue the few remaining clues, Riker must act on growing suspicions that someone within Ishan’s inner circle has been in league with the assassins from the very beginning . . . .


If anything can wipe the J.J. Abrams lensflares from my eyes and make Star Trek something I can get excited about once again, this series looks like it may just fit the bill. A five-book story arc that takes place over a sixty-day period, this one crosses "all aspects of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine universes." I've already picked up the first book, Revelation and Dust by David R. George III, but I'm looking forward to immersing myself in the series for one long back-to-back read.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Witch: Not about the Monster (a guest post by W.C. James)

When I think about my favourite horror stories, it isn’t about the monster. We have all had a hearty helping of vampires, zombies and other assorted creatures in books and movies. Even Stephen King, whom I consider a rock star horror writer, penned a vampire story, Salem’s Lot, and a werewolf story, Cycle of the Werewolf, and he threw a little bit of everything into IT with the shape-shifting clown, Pennywise.

My point is; an interesting monster seems to be a necessary ingredient, but good spooky stories are about the characters and their relation to the monster. If we do not care about the characters, if we cannot relate to them – the monster is kind of boring.

I tried to have this mindset as I wrote The Witch, which has its share of creepy critters, but most of the best writing revolves around the characters. My hope is that the people in the story will be the thing that makes The Witch a memorable read; not just another mindless gore-fest.

Thanks for the opportunity to speak about my book.

αωαωαωαωαωαωαω

W.C. James schooled at Colorado State University, where he graduated with a degree in creative writing in 1993. This latest book will be his forth work of fiction and his first attempt at the horror genre.  James continues to work a regular job hoping and praying that someday, maybe, a bestseller will break through and free him from the corporate matrix, which at this time is destroying his soul.

αωαωαωαωαωαωαω

The Witch by W.C. James 
Black Dawg Press, 233 pgs

The Witch is a modern horror story set in rural Colorado in the early nineteen eighties. The story unfolds around a colourful cast of characters as they are confronted with a growing evil that is mustering around a haunted house; a little place the locals call The Witch. It turns out that The Witch has a dark history, and things get interesting when a mysterious cult arrives on the scene and starts stirring up trouble. It is a classic story of ordinary folks thrust into extraordinary circumstances and how they navigate the troubled waters of the supernatural. All of them react in different ways, but are all working toward a common purpose of defeating an evil foe that threatens to destroy their town and everyone in it.

Stacking The Shelves & What I'm Reading

If it's Monday, then it must be time for Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme that provides a virtual gathering place for bloggers (and readers) to share the books that came their way over the past week. Originally hosted by Marcia, of To Be Continued..., it has since become something of a book tour, with a new host each month. This month's host is  Crystal @ I totally paused!

Here are the books that found a home on my shelves over the last week:


by Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen
(translated by Lola Rogers)
If David Lynch did Finland . . . A highly contagious book virus, a cult literary society and a world-famous, disappearing author, set in a distinctly Twin Peaks-like atmosphere . . .

by Mike Resnick
Welcome to aSteampunk wild west starring Doc Holliday, with zombies, dinosaurs, robots, and cowboys.

edited by Lynne M. Thomas 
Thirty-three science fiction, fantasy, and horror short stories grab readers by their emotional cores to star deep into the source of our humanity and inhumanity . . . sketch surreal pasts, presents, and futures full of characters with familiar and outsized desires and fears. 


As for what I'm reading this week, It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Book Journey, and it's focused on what's in your hands, as opposed to what's on your shelf. I've got reviews coming up for:


What's topping your shelves this week?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Remembering Mister October with Christopher Golden (#bookreview)

If you were a fan of horror in the 80s, then the name Rick Hautala will certainly ring a bell. If not, then a quick peek at the paperback covers will certainly summon up some memories:

    

In March of this year, Rick passed away suddenly of a heart attack, leaving his wife and sons in a difficult situation. Already suffering from some financial struggles, he had allowed his life insurance to lapse, leaving his family with no help for funeral expenses or life to follow. When he heard the news, Christopher Golden reached out to dozen of authors and artists, asking them to contribute to a charitable anthology, with the proceeds going to Rick's family.

Much to his delight, nearly every one of them agreed to take place, hence the 2 volume Mister October collection, An Anthology in Memory of Rick Hautala.


Personally, I found Volume I a bit uneven, with a number of stories that just didn't work for me, but some definite highlights included:

FEEDERS AND EATERS by Neil Gaiman. Could there be a better way to kick off an anthology than with the signature feel and narrative sound of a Neil Gaiman tale? This is a great story, creepy and understated, with a great final scene.

A GUY WALKS INTO A BAR by Matthew Costello. Sometimes it's the suggestion of horror, and sometimes it's the expectation of a twist that makes a story. This one plays to both, slowly building the sense of dread.

TIGHT LITTLE STITCHES IN A DEAD MAN’S BACK by Joe R. Lansdale. This was one of my favorite stories of both volumes. It's a post-apocalyptic tale where the horrors of monstrous, tentacle-like roses and barren ocean floors, populated with crawling whales, pale in comparison to a tattoo drawn in mourning for a couple's lost daughter.

THE YEAR THE MUSIC DIED by F. Paul Wilson. In a story that adds a X-files sort of paranoia to an episode of the Twilight Zone, this one re-imagines the death of rock 'n roll's early heroes as not a series of unfortunate accidents, but a carefully orchestrated political conspiracy.

PROPERTY CONDEMNED—A Story of Pine Deep by Jonathan Maberry. As a fan of the Pine Deep trilogy, I was looking forward to this one, and it didn't disappoint. It's a haunted house story that takes a Stephen King sort of look at the dynamics of a childhood friendship, as well as the horrors awaiting them on the other side of adulthood. It's a sad tale, but a powerful one.

By contrast, Volume II was just a solid collection from start to finish, making it hard to limit myself to just a few highlights, but they are:

TOM REQUIEM by Clive Barker. Okay, as it turns out, there is one better way to kick off an anthology than with Neil Gaiman tale. This one reminds me of the Barker I fell in love with all those years ago, through the slender volumes of the Books of Blood.

HOLOGRAM SKULL COVER by Jeff Strand. This is just a fun tale, and one that's built around those trashy, glorious old covers of Rick's work that I mentioned above.

DEVOTION by J. F. Gonzalez. I wasn't sure about this one at first - it just seemed to so ordinary - but it turned out to have a great twist at the end (which I won't spoil here).

BREATHE MY NAME by Christopher Golden. The best stories are those that speak to our deepest, most closely held fears . . . the ones that make us squirm and sweat as we imagine what the characters are suffering. This is one of those stories.

JOHNSTOWN by Brian Keene. This was a sad, melancholy sort of tale, and not at all what I expected from him - a great, understated sort of read.

JUST BREATHE by Tim Lebbon. This was one of my favorite stories of both volumes. It has an innocent, desperate sort of feel to it that reminds me of the opening chapters of Pet Semetary - before, of course, that went so very, very wrong for Gage's parents. I thought the ending was going somewhere much darker, but I liked the revelation here.

ILLIMITABLE DOMINION by Kim Newman. Wow. This one reads like a catalog of old horror movies and b-movies, with a dark sort of geek banter connecting it all, but when life starts imitating art . . . well, you can probably guess just how that's going to go.

HOTLINE by Jack Ketchum. When old partners reconnect over a suicide hotline, the pain of helplessness becomes that much harder to bear. A short story, but a powerful one/

IT’S… by Amber Benson. Another short one, but an interesting look inside the head of a deranged, psycho stalker.

GHOST TRAP by Rick Hautala. What better way to end a collection than with a story from the man himself. It all starts with a body . . . and ends with another on the way.


Paperback, 404 pages \ 376 pages
Published November 8th 2013 by JournalStone

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Waiting on Wednesday - Her Vampyrrhic Heart by Simon Clark

"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:

Her Vampyrrhic Heart by Simon Clark
Severn House Publishers; First World Publication edition (January 1, 2014)

She will come back to me, Tom Westonby tells himself. We’ll be reunited. It has been five years since he’s seen his beloved wife, Nicola Bekk. Five years since their wedding day – when he won her hand, but in doing so triggered the curse that has blighted the Bekk family for centuries. Nicola became a vampire, and fled, lest she harm the one she loves the most.

Since then, Tom has lived a remote life in Nicola’s ancestral home in the woods, patiently awaiting the return of his vampire bride. But little does he know that someone else is returning to the village – someone who holds great power over the supernatural forces that dwell within it, waiting for revenge.

Soon, Tom will be forced to risk his life – and the lives of those he loves – in the fight against an ancient evil that cannot possibly be beaten . . .


Simon Clark is one of those authors I've always had the best of intentions to read, but who has never seemed to make the leap from shelf to hand. Well, with an ARC of Her Vampyrrhic Heart in hand, and His Vampyrrhic Bride cued up for a read first, we'll finally be making that leap before the end of the year.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Rollins & Cantrell Bleed the Back-story with Blood Brothers (#bookreview)

Blood Brothers is a short-story bridge between last year's blah The Blood Gospel and the forthcoming Innocent Blood, with James Rollins & Rebecca Cantrell providing some interesting back-story to The Order of the Sanguines.

As short stories go, this is definitely much more of a traditional horror/thriller than The Blood Gospel itself was. Here we have a damaged family, complete with a Gothic sort of suicide, and a murder mystery spanning decades. It's all tied together by a rare orchid that links both brothers and a series of brutal murders.

The story really serves two purposes. First, it humanizes Christian to a certain degree, giving the reader a glimpse into his mortal past. At the same time, however, it lends ever greater significance to the horror of his actions. Through the eyes of his brother we see Christian as a young man, as a monster on the cusp of damnation/salvation, as the creature is he today. It is where those lines cross, however, that the real story lies, reminding us that no matter what role he chooses to play in the holy order, a monster still lies within his heart.

While those who haven't read the first book in the series will certainly miss the significance of the decision that links the two timelines within the tale, the story does provide an interesting introduction to the series, and just may drive some new readers back to check out the entire series.


ebook, 50 pages
Published October 22nd 2013 by William Morrow Impulse

Mailbox Monday & What I'm Reading

If it's Monday, then it must be time for Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme that provides a virtual gathering place for bloggers (and readers) to share the books that came their way over the past week. Originally hosted by Marcia, of To Be Continued..., it has since become something of a book tour, with a new host each month. This month's host is  Crystal @ I totally paused!

Only two new books came in the door this week, but they book look fantastic:

Zombie Survival Manual by Sean T Page
Haynes Publishing; First edition (November 1, 2013)
Received via Publisher

What would you do in the event of a zombie apocalypse? Would you know how to protect your family, forage for food and hold your own if confronted by the undead? 

Packed with vital information about how to prepare yourself (mentally and physically) and your surroundings for attack, the Zombie Survival Manual will also include advice on how to flourish in a post-apocalyptic world. 

Accompanied by illustrations, maps, diagrams and step-by-step instructions, this manual will be essential reading for those interested in protecting themselves, their families and society at large from the living dead.


The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley
Tor Books; First Edition edition (January 14, 2014)
Received via NetGalley

In The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley, the emperor of Annur is dead, slain by enemies unknown. His daughter and two sons, scattered across the world, do what they must to stay alive and unmask the assassins. But each of them also has a life-path on which their father set them, destinies entangled with both ancient enemies and inscrutable gods.

Kaden, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, has spent eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, learning the enigmatic discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power he must master before it's too late. 

An ocean away, Valyn endures the brutal training of the Kettral, elite soldiers who fly into battle on gigantic black hawks. But before he can set out to save Kaden, Valyn must survive one horrific final test. 

At the heart of the empire, Minister Adare, elevated to her station by one of the emperor's final acts, is determined to prove herself to her people. But Adare also believes she knows who murdered her father, and she will stop at nothing—and risk everything—to see that justice is meted out.


As for what I'm reading this week, It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Book Journey, and it's focused on what's in your hands, as opposed to what's on your shelf. I've got reviews coming up for:


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, November 15, 2013

Ellen Larson invites us to solve a crime . . . In Retrospect (#bookreview)

Imagine, if you will, a post-apocalyptic future where humanity exists on the edge of an uneasy truce, following years of civil war. The upstart Rasakans have come out on top, but victory has done nothing to dull their jealousy of the technologically superior Oku - particularly the Forensic Retrospection technology used to travel backwards in time as an observer of pivotal events.

As In Retrospect begins, Merit remains the only woman left alive who is capable of performing a Forensic Retrospection. She is a tortured, conflicted young woman who isn't even sure of her own loyalties, much less who she can trust. The Rasakans want her to use the technology to investigate the murder of General Zane, the Oku commander who betrayed her with his inexplicable surrender, but she suspects there's far more to their demands than a simple desire to see justice served.

As murder mysteries go, Ellen Larson has crafted a solid tale, one with enough deception and suspicion to keep even the most jaded reader guessing. While there are a few twists and turns that seem a bit contrived, the story doesn't rely so heavily upon them that it suffers in any way. Instead, it's the nature of the telling, the jumping between three different times, that drives the mystery. Each chapter slowly unveils the truth about Merit, Zane, and the world they inhabit, building connections and linkages over time that serve to bring the story together.

The characters here are the strongest element of the story, well-developed players who deftly avoid being pigeonholed as mere heroes or villains. Larson really seizes upon the complexities of civil war, exploring both sides of the conflict through changing loyalties, betrayals, and changes of heart. Merit is difficult to get a grasp on early, making for a difficult beginning to the novel, but once she breaks her silence and begins allowing her emotions to show, she becomes a compelling protagonist. Lena and Eric present and interesting mystery themselves, and while they don't get the same exposure as Merit, they certainly test the reader's assumptions.

Where the story faltered for me is in the world-building. We're over 1300 years in the future, but much of the story feels like it could be happening 13 years from now. The dialogue is very contemporary, and there's very little 'wow' factor to our technological progress. There's a lot of talk about technology, and how the whole Forensic Retrospection process really works, but it's more 'tell' than 'show'. What I found the most challenging, however, was the lack of narrative description. Larson sketches the outline of the world, but leaves the reader to imagine the colors and the textures. It's not something that necessarily detracts from the story, but once you stop and wonder what something or someone looks like . . . well, you realize what's missing.

As for the central theme of time travel, and the question as to whether one can truly alter the past, I quite liked the way Larson explored that. I won't spoil the conclusion, since that question is integral to the plot, but it's a satisfying resolution that doesn't try to get away with avoiding the question.


Hardcover, First, 268 pages
Expected publication: December 11th 2013 by Five Star (ME)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Venturing Beyond the Rift with Peter Watts (#bookreview)

Science fiction is an incredibly diverse genre, both in terms of content and in terms of storytelling. At one end of the spectrum you have your pulp sci-fi, rollicking adventure stories that often skirt the boundaries of science to tell their fantastic tales. Further along the line, at the middle of the spectrum, you find space opera, which generally uses (and often abuses) the more outlandish possibilities in science to tell a tale. Finally, at the other end of the spectrum you have hard science-fiction, which more often than not uses the techniques of the tale to convey the intricacies of its science.

That, of course, is a gross simplification, but if we think of the spectrum in those terms, then Beyond the Rift is the kind of collection that often peers back towards the centre, but which is very firmly grounded in the hard. Peter Watts is an interesting guy, a scientist, an author, and something of a political philosopher. He's been described as "too dark" by some, and as both "exhilarating" and "deeply paranoid" by others. To dismiss him as just another depressing, pessimistic hard science fiction author, however, is to do him a huge disservice. Personally, I would lean more towards terms like deep, daring, and deliberately thoughtful. He's an author who isn't afraid to stare off into the bleakness of space and ponder our own insignificance, but one who also isn't afraid to look inward and question the very core of what makes us human.

I won't attempt to tackle everything in the collection, but instead look at the highlights.

"The Things" kicks off the anthology with, as he describes it himself, a bit of fan fiction. Watts takes the story of The Thing and turns it inside out, exploring the shapeshifting monster as not the aggressor, but the victim. He stares back at humanity from an evolutionary distance, expressing not the horror of the monster lurking inside, but the emptiness it inhabits.

"The Island" is a bleak, creepy sort of tale, one that tackles the subjects of first contact, artificial intelligence, genetic manipulation, and extended lifespans. It's absolutely stunning in its ingenuity and scope, but rather cold in its long-term prognosis. "The Second Coming of Jasmine Fitzgerald" is one of my favorites, a simple story about sanity and the war between the psyche and the soul, which dares you to accept the fact that it may also be about resurrection and restoration as well.

"The Eyes of God" is absolutely brilliant in its exploration of free will, of human privacy, and of the question between intent and action. It takes a bold, almost frightening twist at the end, when you find out what heinous sin the computer deemed the protagonist to be capable of, but Watts asks some crucial questions here that force the reader to come to a difficult conclusion.

"Nimbus" is probably the simplest, most straightforward of all the tales, but I liked its idea of an antagonistic sky almost as much as I appreciated its exploration of a father's conflicting emotions. "Mayfly" continues with the parental theme, but takes a hard look at what happens when we dare to mess with the natural order of conception, birth, and nurturing.

"Ambassador" takes another stab at the first contact story, but perverts the assumption that any race intelligent enough to make first contact must be benevolent. It's a tale with some rather chilling implications, not the least of which is how far the instinct for self-preservation can push someone.

"Hillcrest vs. Velikovsky" is a short, straightforward tale that almost seems out of place in the collection, but which is still intriguing. Watts asks whether faith can really overcome human illness, and then asks whether it's a crime to reveal that placebo for what it is. It's almost a cruel sort of courtroom drama, but fascinating on an intellectual (and even spiritual) level.

The collection ends with "A Niche" that, quite literally, takes us into the rift itself. It's probably the most complex narrative in the collection, one in which a woman's abuse has oddly conditioned her for the claustrophobic confines of living underwater. It's a very psychological tale, one which forces a confrontation between the scientist and the experiment. Watts baits us early and takes his time reeling us in, waiting for the very end to reveal precisely what's going on, but the payoff is worth it.

Like I said, Beyond the Rift is deep, daring, and deliberately thoughtful. It's not a collection to be breezed through in a few sittings, but one which demands we pause after each story to let it settle, and to see what our imagination can make of it. It is definitely hard in the sense of where it falls in the genre spectrum, but easier reading than most tales claiming to share that same space.


Paperback, 240 pages
Expected publication: November 18th 2013 by Tachyon Publications

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Preston & Child Talk White Fire (#interview & #giveaway)

While I've had the good fortune to host a number of authors over the past two years, and to conduct some really exciting interviews, today kicks things up to a whole new level. Joining us in the ruins today is none other than Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, joint authors of nineteen novels to date, including the wildly popular Agent Pendergast books.

If you missed my review of their latest, WHITE FIRE, please be sure to check it out after the interview.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, gentlemen. As a long-time fan, it’s great to have the opportunity to host the two of you. For those who haven't yet had the pleasure of reading an Agent Pendergast adventure – and I can’t understand what they’re waiting for – can you give us a brief introduction?

[Linc]: Agent Pendergast is probably the most unusual, and certainly one of the most capable, FBI agents around. He is wealthy, eccentric, faintly misanthropic, well educated, and possessed of a dry and mordant wit. There are a great many skeletons in his family closet. He manages to keep getting involved in dark, complex, Gothic cases. He is famous—or infamous—for the very low number of perpetrators he catches who survive long enough to make it to trial.

[Doug]: He is a man out of his time, in a way, a gentlemen from New Orleans who lives by an outdated code of conduct. He is very pale, tall, and dresses in black suits. At a crime scene he is often mistaken as an undertaker.

Q: Agent Pendergast has always had something of a Sherlock Holmes quality to himself, particularly in his aloofness and his strength of personality. What was your experience writing a novel in which both characters play such an important part?

[Linc]: It was a really wonderful experience. As you say, Pendergast is often compared to Holmes—though of course the two are very different in many ways—and so it was nice to see them on the same virtual stage together, so to speak.

[Doug]: It was fascinating to get into Holmes’s mind as we wrote the Sherlock Holmes story, and then switch and go into Pendergast’s mind in the very next chapter. They have their similarities, but Pendergast is a darker and more twisted character than Holmes.

Q: In writing an “official” Sherlock Holmes story as part of WHITE FIRE, you collaborated directly with the Conan Doyle estate. What was this process like to be writing in the name of such a well-revered author from literary history?

[Linc]: I felt a great responsibility writing the first draft of that story. Holmes is like the Everest of crime fiction. There are lots of thinly-veiled and unauthorized pastiches written about the great detective’s escapades, many of them—frankly—second rate. Once we got the go-ahead from the estate to write this short story, I spent a week doing nothing but reading Conan Doyle’s tales and immersing myself in the mindset, time, and manners of speech and description.

[Doug]: The estate, that is Conan Doyle’s authorized descendant, had to read and approve the story in order for it to get the imprimatur of the family. Fortunately, they loved the story.

Q: Did you ever have any concerns about ‘interrupting’ the main story for a Sherlock Holmes adventure, or were you confident that enough groundwork had been laid to justify its inclusion? Similarly, were you at all worried that Holmes might overshadow the contemporary story?

[Linc]: I don’t think that was ever a concern of ours. The Pendergast novels tend to be multi-layered and complex, and subplots can be very useful in taking some of the narrative heat off the main storyline. Our only concern going into the story was how we should make the Holmes story relevant—what information it could divulge that would help solve the contemporary crimes being committed—but Doug nailed that almost right away with a really brilliant thread to link the past with the present.

[Doug]: Our readers love and expect complexity, twists, and depth in a Pendergast novel. We have wonderful readers in that sense, that we don’t have to worry if they’ll lose patience or somehow get lost in the story.

Q: WHITE FIRE, of course, marks your thirteenth Agent Pendergast adventure together, and your nineteenth collaboration overall. How did you first become writing partners, and what is it you feel the combination of your talents brings to the story, as opposed to in your solo works?

[Linc]: We met back in the 80s, when Doug was working at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and I was an editor at St. Martin’s Press. I contacted him about writing an armchair tour of the Museum, and that turned into his first full-length book, DINOSAURS IN THE ATTIC. We became good friends during the process, and somehow it just seemed like a natural next step for the two of us to write a thriller set in a natural history museum. That became our initial joint novel, RELIC.

Watching Doug take an outline I’d written for him and turn it into a full-blown chapter, I learned a great deal about the writing process that I hadn’t absorbed during my youthful attempts at fiction. And I think that by seeing me edit and revise his material, Doug learned how to write more concisely and effectively.

[Doug]: As an editor at St. Martin’s Press, Linc had to read a lot of manuscripts submitted to the publisher for consideration. Some of them, he tells me, were really bad. He became sensitized to what didn’t work, and when I write something that doesn’t work, he pounces on it. Ouch. But it’s made me a better writer.

Q: Coming off The Helen Trilogy (Fever Dream, Cold Vengeance, and Two Graves), was it something of a relief to sort of take a step back with a standalone novel, or do you prefer the challenge of the longer, more complex story arcs?

[Doug]: All the Pendergast novels are complex, some more than others. But, yes, it was a relief not to have to keep ten balls in the air, only three, with a standalone novel. The long, complex story arcs have their own charm and interest for us, but a crisp, self-contained novel, like WHITE FIRE, which could be read by a reader who had never heard of Pendergast, also is very satisfying.

Q: Your collaborations have, at times, dabbled in everything from supernatural horror, to science fiction, to contemporary thriller. How would you classify your work, particularly the Agent Pendergast novels, for someone not familiar with it?

[Doug]: We can’t really classify it. We know that bookstores have a lot of trouble deciding where to put our books, but that’s fine with us. We like busting genres. There’s nothing expected or normal or usual in a Pendergast novel. Readers who are looking for a smooth, predictable read may not like our novels. But readers looking to be drawn in, taken for a ride, and staggered and surprised by the ending, will probably like a Pendergast novel.

Q: Sometimes, it seems as if characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated, especially when they’re pulling upon two different creative forces. Have there been any twists or turns in your writing that surprised you both, or that forced you to sit down and challenge your original plans?

[Doug]: This happens to us all the time, almost with every novel. It isn't just Pendergast who pulls a novel in an unexpected direction, but also some of our other characters, especially Corrie Swanson, who is an unpredictable person to begin with. She’s one of the driving characters in WHITE FIRE, and she is almost as important in the story as Pendergast.

Q: In terms of reader reactions, either to your collaborations or to your solo work, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction that you've encountered to -date? Has a reaction ever left you a bit bewildered, or perhaps even a little frightened?

[Doug]: About five books ago, one of our most beloved characters, who had been with the series since RELIC was killed. We knew there would be a strong reaction but we did not expect the outpouring of grief and anger. We wanted to signal to our readers that anything can happen to any character in one of our novels—that no one is safe. Not even Pendergast. We like keeping them on edge. And we had killed important characters before. But this one particular character was especially beloved, and it gave us pause. We don’t particular want to play God with our characters.

Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there another Agent Pendergast or Gideon Crew novel in the works, or perhaps a solo work or two on the horizon?

[Linc]: The next Pendergast novel is WHITE FIRE, to be published on 11/12/13. Here’s a link for those who would like to learn more:

http://www.prestonchild.com/books/whitefire/

The next Gideon Crew novel is slated for late summer 2014 publication. The title is THE LOST ISLAND.


Once again, a huge thanks to the guys for stopping by today. If you haven't read them yet, then check out my review of WHITE FIRE, as promised, HERE. Fair warning, you will become a fan!

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The thrillers of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child "stand head and shoulders above their rivals" (Publishers Weekly). Preston and Child's Relic and The Cabinet of Curiosities were chosen by readers in a National Public Radio poll as being among the one hundred greatest thrillers ever written, and Relic was made into a number-one box office hit movie. Coauthors of the famed Pendergast series, Preston and Child are also the authors of Fever Dream, Cold Vengeance, and Gideon's Sword. Preston's acclaimed nonfiction book, The Monster of Florence, is being made into a movie starring George Clooney. Lincoln Child is a former book editor who has published four novels of his own, including the huge bestseller Deep Storm.

Readers can sign up for The Pendergast File, a monthly "strangely entertaining note" from the authors, at their website, www.PrestonChild.com, and on Facebook


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Monday, November 11, 2013

Mailbox Monday

If it's Monday, then it must be time for Mailbox Monday, a weekly meme that provides a virtual gathering place for bloggers (and readers) to share the books that came their way over the past week. Originally hosted by Marcia, of To Be Continued..., it has since become something of a book tour, with a new host each month. This month's host is  Crystal @ I totally paused!

Here are the books that found a home on my shelves over the last week:

The End of the Road: An Anthology of Original Fiction edited by Jonathan Oliver
Solaris (November 26, 2013)
Received via Publisher for review

Each step will lead you closer to your destination, but who, or what, can you expect to meet at journey’s end? Here are stories of misfits, spectral hitch-hikers, nightmare travel tales and the rogues, freaks and monsters to be found on the road.

The critically acclaimed editor of Magic, The End of The Line and House of Fear has brought together the contemporary masters and mistresses of the weird from around the globe in an anthology of travel tales like no other. Strap on your seatbelt, or shoulder your backpack, and wait for that next ride... into darkness.


Broken Sigil by William Meikle
DarkFuse (January 14th)
Received via NetGalley for a review

There are houses like this all over the world. Most people only know of them from whispered stories over campfires; tall tales told to scare the unwary. But some...those who suffer...know better. They are drawn to these places to ease their pain.

If you have the will, the fortitude, you can peer into another life, where the dead are not gone.


The Black Church by Toby Tate
DarkFuse (December 17th)
Received via NetGalley for a review

When Daniel Ivanov's father dies in a freak accident, he inherits all his worldly possessions, including a hand-woven Anatolian prayer rug whose bright colors and elaborate designs have been flawlessly preserved over the past 600 years.

But the young lawyer soon learns the ageless tapestry is much more than it seems when he begins to see the terror-stricken faces of his loved ones within its intricate patterns. And he is suddenly plagued by vivid dreams and dark visions of a mysterious Black Church standing amid mist-shrouded mountains.

As his life unravels around him, Daniel descends into a pit of madness and terror, driven by an ancient curse that threatens to destroy everything and everyone he loves, unless he can uncover its terrible secret.


Some of the Best From Tor.com, 2013 Edition
Tor Books (November 5, 2013)
Available Free on Amazon

A collection of some of the best original short fiction published on Tor.com in 2013.

Includes short stories from the likes of John Chu, Paul Cornell, Cory Doctorow, Charles Stross, Genevieve Valentine, Carrie Vaughn, and more.


As for what I'm reading, I have reviews coming up over the next 2 weeks for:



So, what's topping your shelves this week?