Yearly Archives: 2007

World Without End by Ken Follett | Book Review

Ken Follett wrote mostly thrillers until the publication of The Pillars of the Earth in 1989. This huge book focused on the construction of a cathedral in medieval England and was something of a risk for his published. A risk that paid off, it became one of his best selling novels. Recently it got a lot of attention when Oprah Winfrey selected it for her book club. In 2007 the equally large tome World Without End was published. I read the Dutch translation, Brug naar de Hemel, which is just over 1100 pages (hardcover format). It is set in the same town in medieval England but roughly two centuries later. It covers the live of some of the descendants of the characters of Pillars of the Earth but can be read independently.

World Without End is set in the town of Kingsbridge. There is a Kingsbridge in Devon but the town Follett describes appears to be fictional. The novel covers events in the town in the years 1327-1361, a turbulent period in English history. In January 1327 King Edward II is disposed after a long running conflict with his nobles and a conspiracy lead by his wife Isabella of France and Roger Mortimer. Later that year he dies under suspicious circumstances in captivity. Various theories about his death have surfaced since but the truth is we don’t know for sure. Hints about the death of Edward II can be found throughout the book. Edward II is succeeded by his son Edward III who would reign England for the next 50 years. During his reign the Black Death struck England. Edward III also claimed that, after the death of Charles IV of France, he was the legitimate heir to the French throne. A claim that would result in the conflict known as the Hundred Years’ War. Both the Hundred Years’ War and the black death have a major impact on the lives of our main characters.

Although there are more points of view in the book there are four main characters brought together by an incident in 1327. All of them are between 8 and 10 years old by then and they witness a fight between two King’s men and a man named Thomas of Langley who would later enter into the Kingsbridge monastery. Gwenda is the daughter of a landless peasant, her family lives in poverty and has to resort to stealing to make a living. Caris is the daughter of a rich wool merchant. Methin and Ralph are the sons of a knight who has lost his lands to the monetary after he failed to pay a debt he owed them.

Gwenda fights for the man she loves and to escape the poverty of a landless peasant. Caris wants to become a doctor, one that does research instead of blindly following traditions and the works of Galenus. Methin sees his hopes of becoming a knight vanish as his younger and physically more imposing brother Ralph is sent to the count of Shiring to train for war. As Ralph starts his quest to regain his family’s nobility, Methin is sent to a local carpenter to learn his trade. During the course of their lives and careers they frequently clash with each other and the prior of the monastery, father Godwyn. Their lives illustrate a number of conflicts in medieval society as well as changes taking place in society, trade and government in their time.

Personally I think Follett does a great job on the historical aspects of his novel. He pays a lot of attention to the changes of the position of the lower classes in society after the plague decimates the population of England. I also liked to description of the Battle of Crécy, one of the early victories of the English in the Hundred Year’s War. I’m sure there are all manner of historical inaccuracies if you care to look for them but he certainly did his homework on the setting of his work. That being said, I think most of the characters are very liberal thinking people, more so than would be accepted in medieval society. While there obviously was a great deal of pragmatism involved in making things work, the characters don’t seem quite so aware of their social position as one would expect. But maybe that is just my imperfect understanding of history.

What I likes less about this book is that unlike The Pillars of the Earth it misses something really ties the characters together. Sure, the arrival of Thomas in Kingsbridge is something they all witness, and his secret is used to close the novel but in the years between the characters seem to float free. No overarching storyline seems to connect their individual projects. In the 14th century people still lived in relatively small but densely populated communities, so the characters run into each other frequently but they are driven by their own ambitions, much less by conflicts or joint projects. Where the cathedral provided a solid centre for the novel in The Pillars of the Earth, World Without End lacks such a core. The various episodes we get to see in the main characters’ lives sometimes strike me as random. Which given the length of the book is not a good thing.

Despite it length the novel is a light read, judging from the translation Follett doesn’t just use very complicated language. He also keeps a good pace even if not all scenes seem to fit into the overarching story. Despite it’s flaws I enjoyed reading it. The Pillars of the Earth is definitely the better of the two but people who enjoyed the first book will want to read this one.

Through Wolf’s Eyes by Jane Lindskold | Book Review

Through Wolf’s Eyes is the first part in Lindskold’s six book Firekeeper series. With the sixth novel published earlier this year, Lindskold has indicated the series is complete (for those of you who don’t want to commit to another unfinished fantasy series). The series as a whole is not ground breaking but it is well written and well researched. I found the books very entertaining.

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Elephantmen: Wounded Animals |Review

Sometimes, it pays to read the forewords to certain books. It can give the reader an idea of the tone of the book and possibly offer insight to the creative process of the author. Other times, it lowers the expectations for the piece, but that might not necessarily be a terrible thing, as in the case of “Elephantment: Wounded Animals.” Richard Starkings’ forward lists an array of influences which are campy cult classics that are vastly entertaining, but often not entirely substantial. He claims that his intent in the creation of the Elephantmen series was to make a sort of homage to the pulp sci-fi and mystery books and magazines of his youth. In a sense, he’s achieved exactly that, but in another, he’s failed horribly.

The basic premise of the Elephantmen series is that a mad doctor operating in Africa, which has now become nothing more than a wasteland of battlefields, created a race of super soldiers by splicing together the DNA of humans and animals. The resultant creatures are known as Elephantmen, despite the fact that some of them are clearly alligators, hippopautomi, rhinoceri, and warthogs. A movement formed that liberated the Elephantmen and complicated their lives immeasurably by forcing them to try to live in mainstream society. All of the Elephantmen are much taller and heavier than their human counterparts and they are treated very poorly by most of the humans in their world.

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A Sword From Red Ice by J.V. Jones | Book Review

A Sword From Red Ice brings us a long-awaited continuation of J.V. Jones’ Sword of Shadows series.

In the Northern Territories, the situation is rapidly growing ever more dire for all those living – the clans, the cityfolk and even the mysterious Sull people. Despite Raif Sevrance’s successful healing of the breach in the Blindwall in A Fortress of Grey Ice – the Blindwall has been breached again. The Unmade are being gradually unleashed on the world of the living and no one is safe. Ash March continues on her journey to the Sull homeland and struggles to gain acceptance from her adoptive people.

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God’s Demon by Wayne Barlowe | Book Review

Hell is a setting but never quite a theme in Wayne Barlowe’s debut novel God’s Demon; this explains both the book’s successes and its disappointments. At its best Barlowe’s novel provides a fairly typical, quasi-medieval fantasy story — in an infernal setting that evokes the primal otherness of games like Doom and Diablo. But with the novel emerging based on Barlowe’s concept art for a forthcoming film adaptation of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Barlowe’s own interest in Dante’s Inferno, God’s Demon aspires to more. Unfortunately, Barlowe’s attempt to include classic questions of punishment and redemption, freedom and divine will evokes admiration, yes, but also the sense that these questions never really mesh with the story he is telling. The result is a work that may yield some visceral pleasure for epic fantasy fans, but feels muddled in plot, characterization and theme.

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The Mad Ship by Robin Hobb | Book Review

The second book in Hobb’s Liveship Traders trilogy. I reread this book during my recent move and had to drag myself away repeatedly to see to such trivial details as packing. Like the first book in this trilogy The Mad Ship is a very good book.

The end of book one sees Pirate captain Kennit in possession of the Vestrit family’s liveship Vivacia. Back in Bingtown things are going little better for their family. Only the supposed revenue of the Vivacia is keeping the creditors at bay for the moment. The tensions between the Old Trader families and the newcomers keeps mounting but the Vestrits are too preoccupied to take much notice. Not until the news hits Bingtown that the Vivacia has been taken at least. Then the Vestrit family finds out how desperate things have become for their own class, and with how little support that leaves them.

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The Orc King by R.A. Salvatore | Book Review

the orc kingAs many fanboy will complain, Salvatore’s last few Drizzt books lost a step here or there. The story needed to move on though and sometimes that takes a few books. Here we have the culmination of those efforts in The Orc King with a new and exciting chapter in the life of our favorite dark elf, Drizzt.

Salvatore gives a glance at the future in the prologue and epilogue of the book. On one hand, maybe these peeks into the future give us too much information by allowing us to see who lives and who may die. On the other hand, I have been told that allowing us to see the ending allows us to focus on the story more. I personally disagree with the second statement and would have liked to seen both the prologue and epilogue removed from the book to allow me more of an element of surprise. Regardless of this, Drizzt and his friends/enemies are back, and the story they have to show us is magnificent and action packed. Salvatore is doing what he does best: action, sword fighting, and battle description. He brings you so close you can smell the blood and sweat and taste the dust. Salvatore can plop you in the middle of a raging battle you are brought in with a magnifying glass without ever losing the whole picture.

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The Follower by Jason Starr | Book Review

The yuppie dating scene in The Follower is convincingly rendered and provides an interesting backdrop for the story. The at times shallow cesspool where everyone is thinking about looks, sex, who’s hot and getting laid actually provides a good setting for this type of story because people quickly build up layers of deceit with each other.

The book is divided into three parts and I think that it’s best to take each one individually. In the first part we are given an in depth character study of the three main characters. We are given reasons to both like them and not like them as our initial perceptions about them will change as they become more fleshed out. Starr chooses, wisely, to end the first section when he does, when his adept characterizations threatens to become character saturation.

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Live Chat – Paul S. Kemp of the Forgotten Realms

On November 10th (2007) best selling author Paul S. Kemp joined us live for a chat in our chat room. Kemp has written several books perhaps most notable those featuring the adventures of his creation, Erevis Cale, in the Forgotten Realms setting. He also wrote an installment of the R.A. Salvatore presented War of the Spider Queen series, Resurrection, bringing it to a conclusion.

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Inside Straight – A Wild Cards Novel edited by George R.R. Martin | Book Review

Inside Straight is a Wild Cards novel. The Wild Cards universe is a shared universe that was created in 1987 by George R. R. Martin. A number of authors write individual chapters/short stories focusing on a specific character, which Martin then edits together into an overall story. Inside Straight is the 18th novel set in the universe.

In the Wild Cards Universe, an alien virus that re-writes human DNA was released on Earth in 1946. It killed 90% of the people it infected. 9% were mutated into Jokers, who were deformed into a wide variety of non-human looking appearances. 1% gained superpowers as a result of their exposure and became known as “Aces”.

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Spaceman Blues: A Love Story by Brian Francis Slattery | Book Review

As far as I can remember the science-fiction/fantasy genre hasn’t ever really had a novel written in this style before. A jazzy, beat-like rush of words that wash over you and result in a total immersion of the environment. This bop prosody style is also very musical. It attains its own rhythmic quality with chord progressions, riffs and multiple layers that may not reveal themselves upon first listening errrrr reading. Every single page is filled with exuberant and intense prose that leaves you breathless.

Mixed up into this Cosmic Slop is a story that manages at times to bring about both the ordinary and the fantastic. Wendell, as our gay Orpheus who must descend into the depths and transform himself to save the man he loves, is indicative of this dichotomy. The transformation of his ordinary being into the superhero Captain Spaceman is total and complete. Its a palpable and very real change but at the same time it really is just a strength training regiment, a make-over & rampant rumors. But to summarize it like this may give off the impression that it is mundane and maybe even boring. That’s not the case though and Slattery manages the high-wire act of making us believe that he really is a superhero.

Another thing that’s interesting about these characters is how much we get to know about them. The narrative plays it fast and loose with time and space and we are assaulted with all of the thoughts, actions, histories and movements of every single character. It makes for an intense broad experience that revels in and proudly displays the, at times, near-forgotten immigrant heritage of America.
Oh yeah, and did I mention the alien invasion, the destruction of NYC, the secret cults and societies, the metaphysical police detectives, the sidekick, the master who teaches our hero how to fight and an Australian pop band from the 80’s (who had one hit in China called ‘Don’t Try to Box (A Kangaroo)?’) turned smugglers? All of these, and more, are here.

Spaceman Blues is a novel that begs to not only be read out loud but demands to be performed, maybe at a slam if the poets of the Nuyorican Cafe collaborated on a novelization of Parliament songs and the soundtrack was played by Fishbone. If ever a novel left you with the mussed hair, quickie-in-the-elevator-between-floors feeling then this book is it.

A quick side note. While I do love the cover of the book I can’t help but think there was a missed opportunity in not having someone like Pedro Bell do an original piece instead. It would have been an inspired choice that would have fit the tone of the book beautifully. Just an observation and didnt affect how I felt about the book.

**Yes, I realize that the excerpts are longer then the actually review. Spaceman Blues has a distinct style and I think a review of this book is best served by extended excerpts, which I have tried to be generous in providing. Moreso then what I write they will probably help you decide if this book is for you.

Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing | Book Review

What makes certain writings “interstitial” is largely a matter of expectations, say Delia Sherman and Theodora Goss, editors of Interfictions: An Anthology of Interstitial Writing. How, then, to set expectations for the anthology itself? For reader expectations may either highlight or camouflage that this is a good if somewhat homogeneous assemblage of literate, fantastic short stories.

Insofar as the stories of the anthology suggest a platform to base expectations around, we might start by specifying that interstitial fiction is not itself a genre or movement in the conventional sense: it has few inherent characteristics or identifiers. Ignore the back cover braggadocio that interstitial writing is “a new type of fiction”; it has been with us, contradict the editors, since at least Shakespeare. Ignore also the frequent refrain that interstitial writing “crosses borders,” as further comments and evidence suggest that this is neither intrinsic nor exclusive to interstitial writing. Concentrate instead on the back cover’s suggestion that interstitial writing “falls in the interstices of recognized commercial genres” — and bear in mind Heinz Insu Fenkl’s comments from his Introduction to the anthology, that “an interstice is not an intersection. […] Literally it means to ‘stand between’ or ‘stand in the middle.'” Not stand between separate genres, necessarily (a semantic issue that plagues many attempted explanations of interstitiality), but as the cover blurb hints, between the commercial aspect of a genre and its wider potential. Continue reading

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay | Book Review

The fantasy classic the cover of my copy proclaims, and I suppose that is what it is. You would be hard pressed to find another single volume fantasy novel of such depth. It is the first book I read by Kay, and although in hindsight I must admit I like The Lions of Al-Rassan better, I am as impressed with this novel after a reread as the first time I read it.

Tigana is set on the peninsula of the Palm, a land loosely based on the city states of Renaissance Italy. Two decades ago two sorcerers from nations overseas invaded the hopelessly divided Palm and swept away all resistance. Now the Palm is neatly divided between Alberico of Barbadior and Brandon of Ygrath. The two Tyrants are warily watching each other afraid to make the first move against the other for different reasons. Alberico is cautious by nature and his true ambition lies in his homeland. He also knows himself to be the weaker of the two sorcerers. Brandon’s attention is occupied by revenge.

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Fleet of Worlds by Larry Niven, Edward M. Lerner | Book Review

“Fleet of Worlds” is part of Larry Niven’s Known Space future history best known as the setting of the Ringworld books. However, while it utilizes characters and settings from other Known Space books, extensive knowledge of Known Space isn’t essential to understanding the book. The book does contain a number of other nods to other Known Space stories and events, however, so a previous knowledge of the setting will increase enjoyment of the book. It is also Niven’s first collaboration written in that setting.

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The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall | Book Review

Some reviewers have been comparing The Raw Shark Texts to the movie Memento. It’s a largely uninspired comparison based solely on the fact that both protagonists share some form of memory loss. But it’s a superficial comparison at best and probably only lasts for the first 30 pages or so. Since the Raw Shark Texts becomes, in part, a sincere meditation on the nature of love, the power of its loss and the great lengths one is willing to go to re-capture it, a closer film comparison might be to a movie like The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a movie that also, in its own way, deals with fractured memory loss.

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Scalped: Indian Country | Review

Indian Country collects the first five issues of the monthly series Scalped.

The art in Scalped is very good. Offering up shadows with hidden depths at times and bright, clear and detailed panel at others that may represent the duality of the story. Perhaps indicative of the pervasive skin tones of the characters or just a reflection of the sandy deserts where the story takes place there are a lot of red tones and shades in the art of Scalped. Just about every issue ends in a great cliffhanger moment that compels you to read further and the art accompanies these tense moments becomes fraught with peril and potential destruction.

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Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb | Book Review

The first volume in the Liveship Traders trilogy. In this trilogy Hobb returns to the realm of the Elderlings where her hugely successful Farseer trilogy is set. Anyone expecting a return to the Six Duchies and Fitz is in for a surprise though. Except for the world the trilogies are very much different. Although they are loosely related, they could be read independently.

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Shakedown by Charlie Stella | Book Review

Hello fellow, potential and future crime fiction readers, I think that an introduction may be in order. I’d like you to meet Charlie Stella. Mr. Stella here is a friend of ours and also happens to be the best-kept secret in crime fiction. His first four novels, Eddies World, Jimmy Bench-Press, Charlie Opera & Cheapskates were published in hard back only and are now, unjustly, out of print. His fifth novel, Shakedown, came out in hard cover last year and just recently became the first of his novels to be released in paperback, something long over due. These novels, coveted by readers and spoken of highly by writers, are some of the most exiting crime novels being written in the new millennium. So, in other words, come on in, the waters fine.

Let me tell you a little bit about Shakedown.

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The Art Director | an Irene Gallo interview

I was finally able to get in touch with Irene, as she has a very busy schedule. This interview was all prompted from meeting Irene at last year’s New York Comic Con where I think I interrupted her lunch. Being the courteous person that I am, I figured I would let her finish lunch and track her down a bit later. That bit later took some stalking on my part and some annoying emails. I think Irene ended up finishing this interview just so I would not bother her anymore. All joking aside though I am very happy to introduce Irene Gallo, the Art director for Tor, Forge, and Starscape Books. I also want to thank Nicole Cardiff, one of my favorite young fantasy artists, who helped me with the questions for this interview.

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New Spring: The Novel by Robert Jordan | Book Review

newspringthenovelOn September 16th, 2007, Robert Jordan, one of the giants of epic fantasy, left us. The biographies in the back of his books said that he intended to write until they nailed shut his coffin, and from what I can tell from his blog that is exactly what he did. Despite that, he left the work for which he will be remembered most by his readers, The Wheel of Time series, unfinished. It looks like A Memory of Light, the 12th and last novel of the series, will be published, although when is still uncertain. Jordan leaves behind an impressive body of work that has been translated into two dozen languages and millions of fans across the world. While by no means universally loved, his work has had a big impact on the genre, so it is no more than fitting that fantasybookspot had a closer look at one of his books.

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Unnatural History by Jonathan Green | Book Review

Unnatural History is the first book in the Pax Brittannia series, written by Jonathan Green. The story is set in 1997 in an alternate universe, steampunk era London. In this universe the British Empire has continued to flourish under Queen Victoria, now in her 160th year of rule. The Magna Britannia Empire now controls two-thirds of the Earth and has colonies on the Moon and Mars. Through references made to the Challenger Wing of the London Zoo, containing living dinosaurs, it can be assumed that this is set in the Lost World universe, created by Arthur Conan Doyle. That was, however, tossed in there as a stray fact and never explained. Stray snippets of information, which intrigued but were never explained, were a recurring theme in this novel.

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Campaign Cartographer 3 | Review


Do you have what it takes to create your own world?

I came across this gem of a program while doing some research work on the web, sometimes it pays to be lucky.  After talking to the fine folks over at ProFantasy Software LTD I was able to obtain a review copy of Campaign Cartographer 3 (CC3).  After many days filled with map making (and I curse you for making me so unproductive CC3), I felt I needed to share my thoughts on a program that is not only fun, but helpful for many different professions as well as hobbies.  It is a software that draws out your imagination, no matter what your original intention was.  Lets tackle the program itself, then delve into some of its uses.

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Dragons of the Highlord Skies by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman | Book Review

Dragons of the Highlord Skies is Volume II of the Lost Chronicles. Again it’s set between books 1 and 2 of the original DragonLance Chronicles. We get more of the viewpoint from Kitiara and the forces of Takhisis. Kitiara and Lord Soth occupy one sub-plot of the story, and a knightly quest occupies the other sub-plot.

We do get to see some of the Companions during the course of the book and that is always enjoyable since those characters are always the high point for me. I enjoyed the focus on the Solamnic Knights as well, and the interplay between three knightly friends and their differing interpretations of honor, duty, and even The Measure, by which they conducted themselves as Knights, was very well done. I often see depictions of knights that are one-dimensional. They’re honorable, loyal, duty bound, rigid and unyielding in their beliefs, and often stereotypically done. It was nice that to deviate from that in this book.

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Shadowstorm by Paul S. Kemp | Book Review

Shadowstorm is the second release in Paul S. Kemp’s Twilight War Trilogy. It delivers the reader right back into the chaos that was brought to us by the first book, Shadowbred. In doing so, Kemp was able to sustain the A Song of Ice and Fire type presentation of multiple point-of-views, and, like George R. R. Martin, did it exceedingly well.

The opening pages of most books is where an author either grabs the reader’s attention, thwarting any desire to leave his/her world or does not set the hook, leaving the reader to idly swim to some other interesting feature. Kemp was able to do more than capture my attention; he strapped me to the front book jacket and warded me against outside evil wasting its time by attempting to lure me away.

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