Saturday, January 30, 2016

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed any of it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .


The Ghost in the Machine . . . a guest post by Aldous Mercer

A Rant about Rude, Lazy, Ignorant Authors

Reboot? No, Re-imagine. a guest post by J Tullos Hennig

Fantasy Review of City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

Horror Review of The Moon in Your Eyes by Adrian W. Lilly


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Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

For Review:

Freeze/Thaw by Chris Bucholz
Expected publication: May 17th 2016 by Apex Book Company
The Shade, a set of micro-satellites designed to stop global warming, worked. A little too well. The Earth is icing over and no one knows how to shut the Shade off. Every attempt in the last thirty years has failed and humanity is nearly out of options to regain a world that isn’t covered in snow. Gabe Alfil may be the only person alive with enough expertise to solve the problem, but a group of eco-terrorists has other plans.

The Fireman by Joe Hill
Expected publication: May 17th 2016 by William Morrow
No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe. 

 

The Devil's Serenade by Catherine Cavendish
Expected publication: April 19th 2016 by Samhain Publishing
Maddie had forgotten that cursed summer. Now she’s about to remember… She’s barely settled in the Gothic mansion she inherited from her auntbefore a series of bizarre events drive her to question her sanity. Aunt Charlotte’s favorite song shouldn’t echo down the halls. The roots of a faraway willow shouldn’t reach into the cellar. And there definitely shouldn’t be a child skipping from room to room. 

War God Rising by Tim Marquitz
Expected publication: January 31st 2016
Monty Python meets Gladiator! Sand is destined for greatness. Or so a pair of two-bit criminals would have him believe. After rescuing him from certain doom, Bess and Kaede embark on a scheme to game the War God Tournament. It’d be easier if Sand wasn’t an alcohol-soaked twit with a disturbing interest in mutton. Pitted against monsters, magic swords, and murderers galore, they soon realize winning the tourney is the least of their worries. 

 

Published December 1st 2015 by Meerkat Press, LLC
Twenty-six brilliant speculative fiction stories about love, and the pain that so often accompanies it. Enjoy a cornucopia of imaginative tales, wondrous settings, and unforgettable characters—such as the disillusioned time traveler who visits ancient Japan to experience a “Moment of Zen,” the young woman from planet Kiruna who can only communicate in song when the moonlet Saarakka is up, and the sorcerer who loses their happiness in a bet with a demon. 


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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner
The sequel to When the Heavens Fall features gritty characters, deadly magic, and meddlesome gods. Once a year on Dragon Day the fabled Dragon Gate is raised to let a sea dragon pass into the Sabian Sea. There, it will be hunted by the Storm Lords, a fellowship of powerful water-mages who rule an empire called the Storm Isles. 

Night Things: Dracula versus Frankenstein by Terry M. West 
This novel spans several centuries, following the relationship of the two most iconic monsters in literary history. Once as close as brothers but now sworn enemies, Bram Stoker's Dracula and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein meet for a final showdown beneath the streets of New York City. 


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Ghost in the Machine . . . (a guest post by Aldous Mercer)

The Ghost in the Machine, Descartes, and the difference between SF and Fantasy
Aldous Mercer

Talking about what makes a book Science Fiction or Fantasy does feel, to some extent, like flogging a dead horse. Pretty much everyone agrees that spaceships and aliens do not SF make—“Star Wars” is a work of epic fantasy, regardless of the genre retconning attempted by the midichlorians. Similarly, feudal societies and dragons do not automatically mean Fantasy—Anne McCaffrey’s Pern (even in the first two books) is SF regardless of the world’s sword-and-bard trappings.

Readers do have a “gut feel” for which camp a work of fiction falls into. And not a s’mores-and-rafting type of camp either, but a military one from which soldiers strike out to do battle. Make no mistake, there is a battle, and always will be a battle—at the heart of them, these two genres are inherently inimical to each other, for all that they are found together in Amazon’s fiction-categories and bookstore shelves. It’s not a question of shades of grey, or “future-looking” vs “past”, or scientific progress vs. post-apocalyptic regret for a golden age; this SF vs. Fantasy question is just another subset of the most divisive and important questions that humanity has yet to answer.

It’s a question of whether there is a Ghost in the Machine, or not.

The champion of the Fantasy army was none other than Descartes, of Cartesian coordinate and “I think therefore I am” fame. Rational Descartes, logician and patron of the natural sciences, was still a Dualist; for Descartes, the mind (or the soul, or the spirit) was something other than Body, something more, an inhabitant and a controller.

Science Fiction’s star warrior is less well-known. The stalwart Gilbert Ryle coined the phrase “The Ghost in the Machine” to describe Descartes’s worldview, and dismissed it out of hand as “speculative”. Neuroscientists and philosophers and psychologists today are overwhelmingly critical of the dualist approach, and firmly convinced of consciousness as a property of the body and not apart from it, and many are even of the opinion that consciousness itself is not a thing in and of itself but merely an emergent sensation, an inward-looking version of the same mechanisms that give us taste, and smell, and touch. Research continues.

Science Fiction and Fantasy are great fun, but they are also a form of gedanken experiment through story, a philosophical device that was old long before Plato imagined his cave. SF & Fantasy books are simulations, if you will—in a universe where the gods actually answered prayers, what would the people be like? What would define their loves, their losses?  In a universe where we had absolute control of our genome, who would we want to fuck?

I really don’t think an SF or Fantasy writer can write a book without first answering the mind/body dualism question. They may not be conscious of answering it, and they may do it but indirectly, yet the very foundations of their world are a consequence of choosing a side in the matter. Mystical Dune is very firm on the fact that the Kwazich Haderach is simply one possibility of many that we carry in our own genomes, that prophecy is a construct, and that destiny itself is simply a drug-induced hallucination, a self-fulfilling prophecy generations of gene-manipulation in the making. Pragmatic Song of Ice and Fire, where the most gut-wrenching conflicts are born of men and their base, body-based, compulsions, is nevertheless held helplessly in thrall of the Other—spiritual and mystical forces independent of the laws of experiential reason or biological truth.

I was very careful to call The Prince and the Program a work of “Science Fantasy”. I couldn’t answer the mind and body question—research is still being conducted, as I mentioned. And so I made a battleground of my characters. Alan is the Ghost in the Machine, a mind and soul devoid of bodily causality. Mordred is simply the logical consequence of his sensory experiences and viral biology, a biological simulation, an organism, propagated for a thousand years. And he knows it.

I really didn’t intend to write a love story when I started out—the ghost of Alan Turing and the bastard son of King Arthur working at a Canadian tech startup? They were supposed to be a battleground of conflicting opinions, gedanken experiments given voice. But when Mordred defined himself as a soul, and Alan became convinced of the sovereignty of body, I knew I was in trouble. Research continues, and I’m looking forward to the results obtained in Book Two (should I ever finish writing it).


From: M Penn <m.penn@electrickindren.com>
Date: Tue, Jul 31, 2012 at 2:33 PM
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Machine Loving
To: cto@electrickindren.com

Dear Alan,
Love is one soul recognizing another
Regards,
Mori

From: <cto@electrickindren.com>
Date: Tue, Jul 31, 2012 at 2:35 PM
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Machine Loving
To: m.penn@electrickindren.com

Dear Sceptic,
Souls can be programmed.
Truly,
Alan
From: M Penn <m.penn@electrickindren.com>
Date: Tue, Jul 31, 2012 at 2:36 PM
Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Machine Loving
To: cto@electrickindren.com

Dear Genius,
I dare you to try.
Regards,

Mori

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About the Author

Aldous Mercer likes to create worlds, then populate them. You can read his flash fiction and short stories at technomance.com, and he can be reached for questions, comments and vitriol at mercer[at]technomance(.)com, @technomance on twitter.

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About the Book

The Prince and the Program
by Aldous Mercer

Mordred Pendragon, the Bastard Prince, has done a Bad Thing—again. Exiled to Canada for seven years, he has to find a job to pay his bills. For reasons he refuses to reveal, Mordred decides “Software Engineer” has a nice ring to it. And though experience with “killing the Once and Future King, my father” and “that time in feudal Japan” makes for a poor résumé, he is hired by a small tech startup in Toronto.

In the midst of dealing with a crippling caffeine addiction and learning C++, Mordred thinks he has finally found someone to anchor him to the world of the living: Alan, the company’s offsite lead developer. Except that Alan might not be a "living" entity at all—he may, in fact, be the world's first strong AI. Or a demon that mistook a Windows install for the highway to Hell. Or, just maybe, the ghost of Alan Turing, currently inhabiting a laptop.

Mordred's attempts to figure out his love life are hampered by constant interference from the Inquisitors of the Securitates Arcanarum, corporate espionage, real espionage, a sysadmin bent on enslaving the world, and Marketing's demands that Mordred ship software to the Russian Federation. Then Alan gets himself kidnapped. To save him, Mordred must ally himself with the company’s CEO, who will stop at nothing to rescue her lead developer so he can get back to work. But the Prince doesn’t just want to rescue Alan, he wants a Happily Ever After—and he will travel beyond Death itself to get one.

Too bad Alan is perfectly happy as a computer.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Rant about Rude, Lazy, Ignorant Authors

I've done a number of interviews with other blogs over the years, and one question that always comes up is what advice I'd give to an author looking for reviews. My answer is always the same - Do Your Homework.

There are days where I actually dread opening up my email or checking the submissions on my review form because I know it's just going to be an exercise in adding authors to my black list. Some of these authors I can dismiss as being lazy and opportunistic, dropping spam bombs on every reviewer they can find. These are authors who mined my email address from my Amazon profile, never bothering to read the very simple statement that identifies me as a "Science fiction & fantasy reader, reviewer, and writer."

These are the authors who send me review requests for books like . . .

  • Being Equal Doesn't Mean Being the Same (SELF-EMPOWERMENT BOOK)
  • Introduction to Journal Writing: The Absolute Beginner's Guide to the Life Changing Habit (TEEN & YOUNG ADULT / SELF-HELP)
  • Minecraft: 50 Unofficial Minecraft Books in 1 (CHILDREN'S EBOOKS / ACTIVITY BOOKS)
  • I just released my first two COLORING BOOKS on Amazon

Then there are authors who actually made an effort to stop by the blog, who made a point of visiting my Review Policy, and who took the time to fill out the Review Request form. Forget lazy and opportunistic, the authors that get blacklisted here are nothing less than rude, ignorant, and possibly even arrogant. They are authors who deliberately ignored the very clear cautions about what I won't read (one at the top of the page, and one above the request form).

What you won't find here is faith-based fiction, religious themes, YA or NA fiction, romance novels, poetry, and self-help or how-to books. These are subjects that do not appeal to me, so please don't waste time your time or mine by submitting such titles.

Before you waste your time filling out the form, please remember that I do NOT read YA/NA fiction. I am NOT interested, and your pitch is NOT going to change that.

These are the authors who send me review requests with notes like . . .

  • This eBook will help kids grow in the positive directions. The only best way on how to do this is by use of positive affirmations. (GENRE: SELF-HELP)
  • The first volume in a trilogy of YOUNG ADULT fantasy adventures sure to delight fans of C.S. Lewis
  • For YOUNG ADULTS and adults with open minds
  • I AM SLEEPLESS: SIM 299, a newly released YA Science Fiction novel

In case you think I'm exaggerating, the above are all examples from the past week.

I have nothing but respect and admiration for most authors. I know what goes into writing and editing a book. I have nothing but sympathy for the challenges they face in marketing their own work. It's not an easy job, but you're never going to be successful if you don't do your homework. Blatantly ignoring a reviewer's guidelines is only going to get you blacklisted and forever consigned to the spam folder.

Finally, the same caution about doing your homework applies to book communities like Goodreads. Blindly adding friends just so you can spam them with invitations to your young adult, romance, or self-help group is just as offensive and insulting. The only thing worse is re-inviting them (multiple times) when they've declined the invitation. That's a quick and easy way to not just getting yourself unfriended, but flagged as well.

Yeah, I'm being a bit of an ass this morning, but this shit frustrates me. Every spam email I have to scan through, every day I have to open my review form for nonsense, and every time I have to go through the nonsense of cleaning up Goodreads . . . that's time I can't spend reading and reviewing books from authors who are intelligent, polite, and respectful - and that's the real shame. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Reboot? No, Re-imagine. (a guest post by J Tullos Hennig)

Reboot? No, Re-imagine.
a guest post by J Tullos Hennig

Has anyone else noticed the trend? Fairy tales retold. Yet another blockbuster comic remake. Well-loved franchises trotted out, either to success or despair—or both. Book covers featuring the same tropes (often involving someone with their head chopped off at the upper lip, or some silhouetted dude or chick in leather).

Always a factor, lately it’s beyond pervasive. Be it book or movie, its practically required to be tied-in, redone, revamped, or jumpstarted from extant (often overused) material. Forgive my sounding like a crotchety old fart, but there are entirely too many reboots these days.

Now, before you take me to task for a strange—even arsy—statement from an author who’s publishing a series based on the legends of Robin Hood... well, let’s consider the whys. (And I do hope you’ll allow me a teensy pass in the fact that I first wrote ‘my’ Robin over 30 years ago.)

One could argue everything is a reboot; after all, there are only so many plots/ narratives/ what-have-you within the realm of Story. Yet it follows, almost exponentially, (and yes, yours truly had a mathematician friend check me on this because, well, math) how an infinite number of ways exist in which that finite number of plots can be duplicated, mashed-up, and expounded upon. Especially considering that each artist has their own experiences, their own lens through which to consider the infinite.

So it seems to me this reboot thing can be winnowed down to a basic comparison: does said reboot qualify as what as come to be known as ‘fanservice’, or is it devoirs?

Devoirs is a word and concept from the Old English (kindly indulge the word-nerd ) and has roots in ‘to give’; not only an act of obligation and courtesy, but one of homage and duty. It stresses sincere recognition of what has come before, with strong implications of renewal, remittance, and possession: What has come before now comes through me and I, in turn, pass it along.

Fanservice... well, it’s nice to be in on the joke. (Particularly for those who didn’t grow up being in on the joke very often; and even more particularly for those of us who were SF “geeks” back when we didn’t use the word, since it meant “to bite the heads off small animals, as in a sideshow act”.) I like to say “I grok it”, or call it being “of the body” (and yup, following fanservice rules, if you know those phrases, you get extra points!) A wonderfully inclusive feeling, to know someone is talking to you, you’re in the know, and you don’t have to work that hard to slide yourself into the adventure—hey, they already speak your language!

Except when they don’t.

So. While fanservice and devoirs can meet in the middle to great effect, there more often a stark difference between the two. The former is often little more than a device; a high-five or side-wink to an already invested audience; it costs little and unfortunately, often ends up meaning just as little. Usually dictated by marketing—which, to (very) roughly paraphrase LeGuin, might be deedy at selling deodorant, but shouldn’t be the dominant factor in the making and freedom of art—it has many regrettable limitations. To use a farm metaphor from my childhood, “you’ll milk a cow dry if you don’t have her freshened”. On the other hand, a bit of the second concept used in an meaningful fashion isn’t so, well, easy. It requires deliberation and regularly challenges renewed investment, not only from the creator but the audience.

Damn, but I miss that investment.

I keep looking for it. The question I ask myself, as author and reader: does a familiar situation carry its own meaning, instead of relying upon familiarity to provide it? Is it merely one of context, or can it carry its own import and subtext?

Let’s talk examples. As my present immersion therapy at this moment in time concerns the legends of Robin Hood....

  • Fanservice is putting in the archery tournament just because, well, Robin Hood. Just have him shoot at a target and rescue the girl, fercripesake!
    • Devoirs is putting in the archery tournament because, well, yes, Robin Hood... but you craft it into mindful necessity, not instant device. What if the prize arrow is a Saxon artefact captured by the Sheriff, and Robin has to get it back?
  • Fanservice is changing a screenplay away from the Sheriff’s PoV because it might not market well without Robin as hero.
    • Devoirs is writing an excellent book from the Sheriff’s PoV, making him a tough man in a tougher spot.
  • Fanservice is making Marion the ‘hero’ in a seeming sop to feminism... except that strength is reliant upon making the male heroes ineffectual.
    • Devoirs means Marion has agency outside involvement with the lads, her own journey and her own role.

So, instead of the same ol’, tired ol’ reboot, perhaps we need more re-imaginings. Less surface-scratchy retellings that don’t challenge us to think outside the box; more rich investments of time and heart-space, where familiar characters manoeuvre us unto unfamiliar territory, twist expectations and trim our sails for unexpected horizons and, always, honour old friends whilst transforming them into new ones we didn’t realise we had.

Its what I’ve done my best to accomplish with the Wode books. And let me put it out there, right now: I would love to hear some examples of well-told re-imaginings. Let’s compare lists.

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About the Author

With an inveterate fascination in other worlds and times, J Tullos Hennig has managed a few professions in this world–equestrian, dancer, teacher, artist–but has never successfully managed to not be a writer. Ever.

Nomad by birth and bohemian by nature, Jen lives with her longstanding Amazing Spouse in a remote cottage on the Pacific Northwest coast. This merely encourages–nay, guarantees–already rampant hermetic and artistic tendencies, particularly in winter. Comparisons have also been made to a bridge troll. Hopefully emulating the one under the Fremont Bridge: moderately tolerant, but… you know. Bridge troll. An equally remarkable daughter and grandkids, as well as many students—human, equine, avian and canine—have taught her much of what she knows. Wild places, travel, and interlibrary loan fill the gaps in said education–

And merely encourages the boundless escapades of a press gang of invisible “friends”, who Will. Not. Be. Silenced.





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About the Book

Greenwode
By J Tullos Hennig

The Hooded One. The one to breathe the dark and light and dusk between.... 

When an old druid foresees this harbinger of chaos, he also glimpses its future. A peasant from Loxley will wear the Hood and, with his sister, command a last, desperate bastion of Old Religion against New. Yet a devout nobleman's son could well be their destruction—Gamelyn Boundys, whom Rob and Marion have befriended. Such acquaintance challenges both duty and destiny. The old druid warns that Rob and Gamelyn will be cast as sworn enemies, locked in timeless and symbolic struggle for the greenwode's Maiden.

Instead, a defiant Rob dares his Horned God to reinterpret the ancient rites, allow Rob to take Gamelyn as lover instead of rival. But in the eyes of Gamelyn’s Church, sodomy is unthinkable... and the old pagan magics are an evil that must be vanquished.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fantasy Review: City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

As much as I came to see City of Stairs, the first book of The Divine Cities, as a remarkable multi-genre crossover success, it took me a while to warm up to it. In fact, at one point I put the book down with little intention of finishing it. What a mistake that would have been. I’m glad I decided to give it one more chance, because something just ‘clicked’ for me, bringing the whole jumbled mythological tapestry together. In the end, it turned out to be one of my favorite books of the year.

Fortunately, there was no such hesitation or doubt involved with City of Blades. This is a book that hooked me from the first chapter and kept me reading at a frantic pace. I devoured the first 180 pages on a Friday night, and then binged my way through the rest over the weekend. While I’m sure familiarity with the world and the mythology helped (there was a steep learning curve with the first book), it was the shift in point-of-view that really made this second book so immediately accessible. Shara Thivani is kept largely off the page here, appearing only in a few scattered scenes, leaving General Turyin Mulaghesh to carry the tale.

Mulaghesh was definitely a secondary character in the first book, but one of significance. Giving her role in the Battle of Bulikov, I wasn’t sure we’d see her again in the series, but I’m glad Robert Jackson Bennett chose to put her at the forefront. Her angry sarcasm serves the story well, and it’s refreshing to have a non-traditional hero leading the tale. Leading with her allows Bennett to explore more of Bulikov’s history, which helps add new layers to the world building, and also reveals some surprisingly dark secrets in Mulaghesh’s past that explain her character and her return to action. She's a darker, more tragic hero than we knew, but she's also harder than we ever suspected. Retired she may be, forced into one last retirement tour, but she's still a soldier at heart.

We heard a lot about Voortyashtan in the first book, but actually seeing it for ourselves is something of a shock. This is not the civilized, progressive, urban fantasy setting of Bulikov. This is much more of a traditional rural fantasy setting, but one with layers and secrets of its own. Beneath the broken harbor town is a submerged city that must be dredged to reopen the canal; beneath the feudal conflicts of the river tribes and hill tribes is a dangerous political situation; and beneath the military presence on the frontier of civilization is . . . well, I won’t spoil the revelation of those layers. There's an entire other story under water and underground here, and it's the best part of the book.

Once again we have a traditional sort of mystery to launch the story, a murder mystery that brings Mulaghesh out of retirement, and a question of Divinity to add a frightening edge to things. This time, however, the threat of the divine is very much at the forefront of the tale, even if it does call into question one of the most well-known stories of the Blink. I loved the way Bennett explored that aspect here, and even if I guessed at the connection between the mines and the City of Blades itself, I have nothing but positive things to say about how it was all revealed. It’s a much faster paced story than the first one, with multiple conflicts to keep the reader on edge, and the epic finale is suitably HUGE for a book about the nature of Divinities and the question of an Afterlife.

City of Blades does have a lot in common with the first book, dealing with a lot of the same themes and ideas, but the new setting and change in POV make it a completely different book. I can honestly say I enjoyed it more than the first, and am anxious to see where Bennett takes us next.


Paperback, 464 pages
Expected publication: January 26th 2016 by Broadway Books

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Horror Review: The Moon in Your Eyes by Adrian W. Lilly

Sometimes you just crave an old fashioned horror story, a literary excursion into the literary equivalent of a slasher flick or b-grade monster movie. You know the majority of characters won't make it out alive, but you're anxious to see just how each of them meets their demise.

The Moon in Your Eyes is one of those stories. Adrian W. Lilly weaves a story in which a group of strangers set out for a few days of technology-free hiking and camping. Their reasons for being there range from court order to new age nonsense, and from adventure to nostalgia.

Lilly takes a few pages to introduce the characters, and then gets right into the carnage. It's a fun, frantic, bloody story, with the monster fiercely front-and-center. There's no doubt or mystery here, just a desperate attempt at survival. What ultimately makes it stand out, however, is the entirely surprising series of twists in the final pages.

At 50 pages, The Moon in Your Eyes is perfect for a quick read in the dark of night.

ebook, 53 pages
Published January 22nd 2016 by Self-published

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the author in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed any of it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .


WTF Friday Review of The Battle for Alien Relish by Moctezuma Johnson

#SPFBO Review of What Remains of Heroes by David Benem

Waiting On Wednesday with Fall of Light by Steven Erikson

Cover Reveal of The Magician (Dark Arcana #1) by E.J. Stevens

#SPFBO Review of The Weight Of A Crown by Tavish Kaeden

#SPFBO Review of City of Burning Shadows by Barbara J. Webb


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Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

For Review:

The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone
Expected publication: July 5th 2016 by Random House Canada
An astonishingly inventive and terrifying debut horror novel about the emergence of an ancient race of carnivorous spiders, dormant for ten thousand years but now very much awake. There's a reason we're afraid of spiders...

Disappearance at Devil's Rock by Paul Tremblay
Expected publication: June 21st 2016 by William Morrow
A family is shaken to its core after the mysterious disappearance of a teenage boy in this eerie tale, a blend of literary fiction, psychological suspense, and supernatural horror from the author of A Head Full of Ghosts.



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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner
The sequel to When the Heavens Fall features gritty characters, deadly magic, and meddlesome gods. Once a year on Dragon Day the fabled Dragon Gate is raised to let a sea dragon pass into the Sabian Sea. There, it will be hunted by the Storm Lords, a fellowship of powerful water-mages who rule an empire called the Storm Isles. 

The Moon in Your Eyes by Adrian W. Lilly
A group of strangers enters the woods on a week-long camping trip to escape technology. But, the trek meant to test their endurance has them fighting for their lives when they cross paths with a blood-thirsty werewolf.

Night Things: Dracula versus Frankenstein by Terry M. West 
This novel spans several centuries, following the relationship of the two most iconic monsters in literary history. Once as close as brothers but now sworn enemies, Bram Stoker's Dracula and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein meet for a final showdown beneath the streets of New York City. 


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, January 22, 2016

WTF Friday: The Battle for Alien Relish by Moctezuma Johnson

Every once in a while, as the mood strikes me, I like to indulge in those titles that are a bit odd . . . a bit different . . . a bit bizarre . . . and a bit freaky. These are books that don't always get a lot of press, and which rarely benefit from any prominent retail shelf space.



They're often an underground of sort of literature, best shared through guilty whispers, and often with embarrassed grins. These are our WTF Friday reads!

Last summer I indulged myself in a WTF Friday read of Triangulum Stain by Moctezuma Johnson. It was pure b-grade schlock, a literary science fiction cheese-fest (with a sexually subversive spin) that played with all the alien invasion tropes. I enjoyed it, but lamented that the story really just stopped, with only a suggestion of an end, and left me with a lot of questions.

Fortunately, Johnson has since reopened the case (and provided some answers), introducing The Battle for Alien Relish as the second book of the Triangulum Stain series. Basically, without spoiling too much of either book, the ladies of the Five Hive were a tad too successful in stopping Dildoggeddon, and now the entire universe is dying, robbed of the lust and the passions that drive us as a species.

There is a lot going on in this second book, but the breathless sort of reading experience is entirely suited to the story being told. It's a bold, busy, and bewildering, but somehow the convergence of sci-fi schlock, monster erotica, and ribald humor really works. Johnson opens up the world here, taking us outside the confines of the original Andromeda Strain homage, and lets his imagination run wild, this time using the Cthulhu mythos (and celebrity pop culture) as his inspiration.

The absurdity of The Battle for Alien Relish simultaneously amuses and arouses, making it not just for mature readers only, but also for intelligent (and open minded) ones.

Kindle Edition, 59 pages
Published January 9th 2016

Thursday, January 21, 2016

#SPFBO Review: What Remains of Heroes by David Benem

It's time to play catch-up this week on my reading for Mark Lawrence's Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off. I actually read 3 of the finalists over the holidays, but with so much else going on at the office and at home, I'm just finding time to draft the reviews now. Saving the best for last . . .

While I still have two more finalists to read, I can honestly say that What Remains of Heroes is my favorite book so far. David Benem has crafted a very dark sort of fantasy here - one that is violent and sometimes even vulgar - but one in which all of the pieces are polished to a shine, dazzling the reader from start to finish.

We have several key characters here, all of whom are flawed or twisted takes on a trope. Lannick is the old soldier, once a celebrated captain in the royal army, who has been reduced drunken wastefulness by the death of his family. Karnag is the scoundrel, a thief and an assassin who is slowly going mad as a result of his last job, and who is slowly (and surprisingly) pushed out of the narrative by his partner. Bale is cowardly but good-hearted scholar, a monk who has discovered a conspiracy within the royal palace, and who is sent to investigate the very same murder that is driving Karnag mad.

I won't spoil precisely how or why they betray the tropes, but I like what Benem did with each of them. For example, while Lannick does come to once again demonstrate the skills that made him such a celebrated captain, it's painfully clear that he's too broken to ever be a leader of men again. I kept waiting for some cheesy moment to break him, to make him realize his greater responsibility, but it never happens . . . and I liked that.

At first, I wasn't sure about the villains or their plot. After all, the idea of evil necromancers trying to resurrect their dark god has certainly be done before. Again, however, Benem plays against the tropes and makes them legitimately evil, fearsome antagonists. The moment I saw them pit Lannick against monsters who have stole the faces of his dead family, I knew I was going to like where this is headed. There's such a great bit of mythology here, and it's as deep as it is creepy. It's is a story with strong characters and realistic dialogue to go along with that mythology, and moments of humor (often dark) to balance out all the grief, the madness, and the monstrosities.

Yes, What Remains of Heroes initially seems like a trope-laden a tale of vengeance, complete with a quest and the age-old task of saving the world, but Benem proves that an author can be aware of those tropes without blindly embracing them. Definitely a recommended read, and one that's going to be hard for my last two finalists to beat.
[8.5]

Kindle Edition, 486 pages
Published April 17th 2015

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Waiting On Wednesday - Fall of Light by Steven Erikson

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

Fall of Light by Steven Erikson
Expected publication: April 19th 2016 by Tor Books 

It is a bitter winter and civil war now ravages Kurald Galain, as Urusander's Legion prepares to march upon the city of Kharkanas.The rebels' only opposition lies scattered, bereft of a leader since Anomander's departure in search of his estranged brother, Andarist. The last brother remaining, Silchas Ruin, rules in Anomander's stead. He seeks to gather the Houseblades of the Highborn Noble families and resurrect the Hust Legion in the southlands, but is fast running out of time.

The officers and leaders of Urusander's Legion, led by Hunn Raal, want the Consort, Draconus, cast aside and Vatha Urusander wedded to Mother Dark, taking his place on a throne at the side of the Living Goddess. But this union will be far more than political, as a sorcerous power has claimed those opposing Mother Dark - given form by the exiled High Priestess Syntara, the Cult of Light rises in answer to Mother Dark and her Children.

Far to the west, an unlikely army has gathered, seeking an enemy without form, in a place none can find, and commanded by a Jaghut driven mad with grief. Hood's call has been heard, and the long-abandoned city of Omtose Phellack is now home to a rabble of new arrivals. From the south have come Dog-Runners and Jheck warriors. From the Western Sea strange ships have grounded upon the harsh shore, with blue-skinned strangers arriving to offer Hood their swords. And from the North, down from mountain fastnesses and isolated valleys, Toblakai arrive, day and night, to pledge themselves to Hood's impossible war. Soon, all will set forth - or not at all - under the banners of the living. Soon, weapons will be drawn, with Death itself the enemy.

Beneath the chaos of such events, and spanning the realm and those countless other realms hidden behind its veil, magic now bleeds into the world. Unconstrained, mysterious and savage, the power that is the lifeblood of the Azathanai, K'rul, runs loose and wild. Following its scent, seeking the places of wounding where the sorcery rushes forth, entities both new and ancient are gathering. And they are eager to feed.

Comprehending the terrible risk of his gift of blood, a weakened, dying K'rul sets out, in the company of a lone guardian, to bring order to this newborn sorcery - alas, his choice of potential allies is suspect. In the name of order, K'rul seeks its greatest avowed enemy.


Take this one with a grain of salt, because the release date has changed several times, and there appear to be different dates for Canada, USA, and the UK, but I think we can all agree the wait will be worth it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Cover Reveal: The Magician (Dark Arcana #1) by E.J. Stevens

I am excited to reveal the cover for THE MAGICIAN, the first novel in the Dark Arcana series by E.J. Stevens.  Cover art is by digital artist Ruxandra Tudorica of Methyss Design.

Cover Reveal: The Magician

The Magician Dark Arcana fantasy by E.J. Stevens


The Magician (Dark Arcana #1) by E.J. Stevens

When members of tarot's Major Arcana begin manifesting in the mortal
world, magic is in the air and change is in the cards.

Release Date: September 20, 2016
Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
Add to Goodreads.

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About the Author
E.J. Stevens is the author of 14 works of speculative fiction, including the Hunters' Guild urban fantasy series, the Spirit Guide young adult paranormal series, and the award-winning Ivy Granger urban fantasy series.  She is known for filling pages with quirky characters, bloodsucking vampires, psychotic faeries, and snarky, kick-butt heroines.

Connect with E.J. Stevens by following her on TwitterFacebookNewsletterBlogGoodreads, and Amazon.

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The Magician Cover Reveal Giveaway

To celebrate The Magician's cover reveal, we are giving away a signed cover art postcard and a $10 Amazon Gift Card!

Win $10 Amazon Gift Card

To enter, please use the Rafflecopter form below.  This giveaway is INTERNATIONAL.  Giveaway ends February 2, 2016 midnight EST.


What do you think of the cover?

Monday, January 18, 2016

#SPFBO Review: The Weight Of A Crown by Tavish Kaeden

It's time to play catch-up this week on my reading for Mark Lawrence's Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off. I actually read 3 of the finalists over the holidays, but with so much else going on at the office and at home, I'm just finding time to draft the reviews now. Next up . . .

While it's very clearly only the first chapter of the story, in which most of our main characters never ever get the chance to meet, The Weight Of A Crown was still a very entertaining read. Tavish Kaeden has taken the novel approach of exploring a world that has already experienced it's epic conflict. Esmoria is a world that should be at peace, but which is threatened as much by its sinister prince as by a defeated race, desperate to regain its lost cities/cultures.

There are four main characters here, four points of view, and four individual storylines. Jeina is a young slave, working the camp of a silver mine that has accidentally rediscovered a sinister weapon of old for their equally sinister Prince Tobin. Nicolas is a young engraver’s apprentice prone to seizures, who we discover possesses a power he is too immature to wield responsibly. Xasho is a Curahshar warrior who survived a trap laid by Prince Tobin’s men, driven underground (literally), where he uncovers an odd pair of enchanted short swords with uncomfortably spiked handles.

These are the kinds of characters you expect to lead a story like this, common people who discover uncommon talents and abilities. Jeina I took a while to warm up to, and Nicolas grated on my nerves a bit (I suspect he's supposed to), but Xasho I like from the start. Having said all that, Lord Commander Bokrham may just be the most interesting piece of the puzzle. Once a commoner himself, he is a former woodsman who was elevated to nobility by the previous king, and then forced into the role of Regent by Prince Tobin's disappearance. While it's natural to expect him to be a traitor, an evil mastermind, or some 'chosen' hero, he is just a man dangerously unsuited to his task. He's not an evil man, despite his temper, but one who is in so far over his head, his morals and intentions may not matter.

Like I said, this is very clearly the opening book of a longer series, so there's no resolution to what's begun, but it is a well-written first installment that lays the groundwork, establishes the characters, and makes us want to read more. I thoroughly enjoyed The Weight Of A Crown, and was disappointing to see it end.
[8]

ebook, 448 pages
Published August 11th 2011

Sunday, January 17, 2016

#SPFBO Review: City of Burning Shadows by Barbara J. Webb

It's time to play catch-up this week on my reading for Mark Lawrence's Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off. I actually read 3 of the finalists over the holidays, but with so much else going on at the office and at home, I'm just finding time to draft the reviews now. First up . . .

Something of an urban fantasy, science fiction, noir detective novel crossover, City of Burning Shadows makes the fatal mistake of trying to do too many things. I got the sense in reading it that Barbara J. Webb was stretched a bit too thin, with a better book lurking beneath the pile of genres and idea.

There are several concepts at play here, any one of which could carry a story on its own. We have a world that gods have abandoned and a desert city that is dying, slowly robbed of its water by that abandonment. We have a city that is home to over a dozen different races, including shapeshifters and aliens. What's more, we have a city divided in two, with the technologically superior Crescent (a city in the sky) above, and the shadowy shanty town Web below. Linking it all together, we have an ex-priest, now working for a law firm, who is seeking out a new technology that could save the city from its god-stricken drought.

While this mix of genres and concepts seems to have worked for some readers, I felt as if they were in conflict, preventing one another from being full realized. There's just so much potential here left unexplored. For me, the science fiction elements overwhelmed the story, and kept the more interesting elements from being explore. The mythology and world building were intriguing, but there wasn't nearly enough history or backstory to pull it all together and have it make sense.

The writing is solid, and the characters are well-defined, but the dialogue didn't always flow naturally for me. With the exception of the book's middle portion, which felt like one of those clip montages from an adventure movie, the pacing was decent and did help to keep the story moving. It was an interesting book, but I can't say it's one I was anxious to pick up again after stopping for the night.
[6.5]

Paperback, 344 pages
Published March 13th 2014 by Frontiers

Saturday, January 16, 2016

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed any of it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .


Interview with Lawrence M. Schoen (author of Barsk)

Fantasy Review of Road Brothers by Mark Lawrence

Waiting On Wednesday with The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Fantasy Review of Steal the Sky by Megan E. O'Keefe

Interview with Megan E. O’Keefe (author of Steal the Sky)


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Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

For Review:

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
From the editor-in-chief of io9.com, a stunning novel about the end of the world--and the beginning of our future. A deeply magical, darkly funny examination of life, love, and the apocalypse.



Won from Tor Books:
Thankfully, the women working to dangerous and/or questionable ends in the pages of Daughters of Frankenstein are unafraid of the patriarchy. Eighteen imaginative, if not insane, women; eighteen stories told by some of the finest writers working in queer speculative fiction.



Kindle Freebies:

An Amniotic Odyssey: The Four Causes by Dale M. Chatwin
An odyssey which stretches across multiple dimensions and reaches into the untimely fathoms of humanity's macabre nature, where three men find their destinies entwined within the web of one woman: Velouria Elements. A creature wreathed in mystery and desire



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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett
The city of Voortyashtan was once the domain of the goddess of death, war, and destruction, but now it’s little more than a ruin. General Turyin Mulaghesh is called out of retirement and sent to this hellish place to try to find a Saypuri secret agent who’s gone missing in the middle of a mission, but she soon finds herself wondering what happened to all the souls that were trapped in the afterlife when the Divinities vanished. 

Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer
A high fantasy following a young woman's defiance of her culture as she undertakes a dangerous quest to restore her world's lost magic. The Red Death's return can mean only one thing: someone is spilling innocent blood in order to master dark magic. Now poets who thought only to gain fame for their songs face a challenge much greater: reclaim their legacy and reopen the way to the Otherworld.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Beauty in Ruins chats with Lawrence M. Schoen (author of Barsk)

We're wrapping up this week off with a visit from Lawrence M. Schoen,college professor, researcher, authority on the Klingon language, and (of course) author. A 2007 finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, and 2010 Hugo nominee for Best Short Story, he is currently touring in support of Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard, available now from Tor Books.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Lawrence. For those who have yet to indulge in Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard, your Amazing Conroy universe, or any of your short fiction, please tell us a little about yourself and give us an idea of what we can expect.

As a writer, I like to think I’m always changing, always growing, pushing myself to do better, to try new things, new ways of crafting a story, of modulating pacing or folding subplots into the main theme. All of that aside, I suspect the thing that is unchanging is that I am first and foremost writing character-driven fiction. It comes easily to me, whereas handling the nuances of plot is a battle every time. Which of course means that’s the wall I keep throwing myself at.

As for me, I’m your typical overeducated, middle-aged cis white male, happily married (second time around) for a bit over a decade now. I have a dog. Most days I wake up and look at my life and feel truly blessed.

Q: The Fant, the anthropomorphic elephants of Barsk, are definitely one of the more original species in science fiction. In fact, the only other example I can think of is Footfall by Niven and Pournelle. What possessed you to put elephants at the core of the story?

It started as a whim, a random firing of a few neurons, as part of an accidental conversation with the roommate of one of my students more than twenty years ago. But then as I began to learn more about elephants, I became hooked. I’m stunned that more authors haven’t used them in fiction. They’re extraordinary!

Q: In your future, there are no surviving remnants of humanity, just our animal successors. Given that your background in the study of human behavior and the mind has previously influenced your fiction, what was it like to step outside humanity and, really, start all over again?

I think that, deliberately or otherwise, my background as a psychologist causes me to slip in bits about cognitive processes, memory, and language in everything I write. And yes I do step outside humanity, but not really. Because whether you’re writing about “raised mammals” (as I call them in Barsk) or utterly alien extraterrestrials, the only way you make them comprehensible to your human readers is to leave them human at their core. Otherwise, we can’t relate. With the Fant on Barsk I get the best of both worlds, playing with characters who have very clear and understandable motivations to their thoughts and actions, all the while coloring them with the quirks that come from having prehensile trunks and enormous, flapping ears, and all the rest of species-specific behaviors like matriarchal family units and infrasonic calls. There’s enough that’s not human to intrigue, but plenty of basic humanity for them to be sympathetic.

Q: You are also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language, even going so far as to document Khamlet - Klingon Hamlet. How did you come to be so involved with a fictional language?

Timing is everything, right? During my teen years I hung out with older, college-aged folk who were members of the Mythopoeic Linguistic Fellowship (shout out to Paula Marmor, Donald Keller, Chris Gilson). Fast forward two decades and I was a professor at a small liberal arts college in Illinois that was feeling an economic crunch, resulting in the need to fire some faculty members, your humble narrator included. So after I put my papers together and sent out job applications, I needed a distraction while I waited to hear back. A copy of Marc Okrand’s The Klingon Dictionary fell into my hands, and I thought it might be fun to dabble with it for a while, six months tops, using my experience in academia to pull together interested parties and create a central forum for the discussion of the language. Then the media found out about it, and the thing exploded and I was being written up in Time Magazine and The National Inquirer and Omni and on and on. That was back in 1992, and it’s still going on.

Q: Given that Star Trek is a largely optimistic form of science fiction, especially in TOS and TNG, is your human-less future a different kind of optimism, or is there something of a reaction there against such ideals?

I’m going to be cagey here because answering this question is part of the storyline in the sequels that I have planned. It’s not really a spoiler to say that the raised mammals in Barsk were created by humanity many millennia before. But of all the many races you see in this book, you won’t find any that are uplifted from any primate species. There’s a reason for this that I’m looking forward to exploring. There’s both a greatness and a doom that goes with being a primate, and I’ll be riding that pony in book three.

Q: In drafting Barsk, you clearly had a lot of work to do in establishing your vision of the future, building an alien society, and extrapolating animals as sentient characters. As a writer, what aspect was your your toughest challenge?

Playing it straight. At no point did I want a reader to look at my protagonist, Jorl, and see Babar. I didn’t want any of the characters of any race to be seen as cartoon animals. I don’t know why, but typically when we see anthropomorphic animals they seem to be of the Disney variety — amusing, harmless, pretty two-dimensional. I wasn’t trying to write Dostoyevsky with elephants, but I wanted the full range of human emotion. I wanted my creations to be imbued with soul. That was the challenge.

Q: If we can turn the spotlight directly on you for a moment, I know you’ve listed Burroughs, Heinlein, Le Guin, and Zelazny as inspirations. Who do you find yourself turning to when it’s time to relax, enjoy, and refresh your imagination?

There are genre writers that I’ve had the great privilege to get to know personally, authors who do things with their fiction that I can only aspire to do, and I devour their work hoping that somewhere in the process I’ll learn to do what they do, and then if I’m really lucky I’ll make it my own. I’m talking about people like Paul Park for whom the term “brilliant” is insufficient, alternative visionary Karl Schroeder, master fantasist Max Gladstone (with whom I share an editor, so I’ll probably have future opportunities to eat his heart or at least pick his brain), the all around and ever-astounding Daniel Abraham. It’s a privilege to be a colleague of such talent.

Q: Somehow, you also manage to find time to run your own small press with Paper Golem, paying it forward to talented up-and-coming writers. What can you tell us about Paper Golem and the kind of work you’re producing there?

For most of the duration of the press we’ve had two main tracks: an anthology series of original novellas and single author collections for authors that I thought needed more exposure. I started the former series, Alembical, because at the time there just wasn’t much in the way of markets for fiction in the 20 to 40 thousand word range. That’s changed tremendously in recent years, and I think our fourth volume will be the end of the series; the niche we filled has been taken on by bigger and better presses. The single author collections are also less pressing, as more and more authors avail themselves of self-publishing options. But it’s been a great thing to take a handful of writers and enable them to hold up a book all their own when on a convention panel. That’s magical.

Q: Looking forward, what’s next for you on the writing front? Is there another big concept novel in the works, or perhaps more tales in the Conroy universe?

Yes, yes, and also yes. I’m currently at work on the first book of what I hope will be a mutli-volume series, involving the sapient heart of lost cities throughout the world, and the human instruments who aid them in advancing civilization.

As hinted above, I’d like to write several more books in the Barsk cycle, continuing to explore these characters and their world, and also branching out to do books about some of the other races and places that I’ve only touched on so far.

And too, as regards the Amazing Conroy and Reggie, I have outlines for a grand story arc that needs at least four more books to complete, and which likewise promises spinoffs. In addition, I have lots of stand alone short stories and at least one more novella involving Conroy.

And then there’s the YA series I’ve written the first book of, involving the descendants of humans removed from Earth back during the Bronze Age, modified by unknown and unseen alien forces, bred for generations, and returned during (and possibly causing) the Renaissance in Europe. And I pick up the story of these people with three cool teens here in the 21st century.

So, yeah, I expect to be busy. Ideally, I hope to write two or three books a year for the rest of my days.

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About the Author

Lawrence M. Schoen holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology and psycholinguistics. He’s also one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Klingon language, and the publisher of a speculative fiction small press, Paper Golem.

He’s been a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award, the Hugo Award, and the Nebula Award.

Lawrence lives near Philadelphia. You can find him online at LawrenceMSchoen.com and @KlingonGuy.

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About the Book

Barsk: The Elephants' Graveyard
by Lawrence M. Schoen

An historian who speaks with the dead is ensnared by the past. A child who feels no pain and who should not exist sees the future. Between them are truths that will shake worlds.

In a distant future, no remnants of human beings remain, but their successors thrive throughout the galaxy. These are the offspring of humanity's genius-animals uplifted into walking, talking, sentient beings. The Fant are one such species: anthropomorphic elephants ostracized by other races, and long ago exiled to the rainy ghetto world of Barsk. There, they develop medicines upon which all species now depend. The most coveted of these drugs is koph, which allows a small number of users to interact with the recently deceased and learn their secrets.

To break the Fant's control of koph, an offworld shadow group attempts to force the Fant to surrender their knowledge. Jorl, a Fant Speaker with the dead, is compelled to question his deceased best friend, who years ago mysteriously committed suicide. In so doing, Jorl unearths a secret the powers-that-be would prefer to keep buried forever. Meanwhile, his dead friend's son, a physically challenged young Fant named Pizlo, is driven by disturbing visions to take his first unsteady steps toward an uncertain future.

Hardcover, 384 pages
Published December 29th 2015 by Tor Books