The four books I read this time are all interesting, and from just two publishers.

K. E. Mills' The Accidental Sorcerer is a fantasy, set in a world that has an early electric age feel with a lot of magic. Gerald Dunwoody is our title character who has all the good fortune of a plague victim without the blessed death at the end. We start off the book with him in the middle of a magic wand factory that is about to explode. Politicians and bureaucrats being the same everywhere he is blamed for it despite evidence to the contrary. This job was of course his last shot at success and the explosion yet another disaster in an life that could be the highlight reel from I Love Lucy. A fun book overall with a some interesting insights hidden amongst the litter of fantasy tropes.
Three Urban Fantasy's also got onto the list, and all three are written by people from different areas of the nation. Each has recognizable regional quirks that make their work distinct.

Anton Strout's Dead To Me features a thief gone straight who has decided to use his ability to read objects for something other than lining his pockets. As part of proving that there's no saint like a reformed sinner he's joined a pseudo government agency. Strout's Big Apple is replete with scenes that demonstrate all the shades of gray that color scale life in any large group. Some of Simon's superiors are not as nice as even Simon's low opinion of them, some are not as pure as he'd believe, it's a mantra we see more than once to good effect. The quips about New York life, and various denziens of the city are a hoot.

Jennifer Rardin;s Once Bitten Twice Shy is the first UF i've read from Orbit, and the first book by the author. Jaz Parks is like the author from the Midwest, although i doubt the authors boss is a vampire. Jaz, is a CIA assasin, and she's good at her job, aside from wrecking cars and her boss's nerves. Jaz has a personality that utterly fits her battle scarred experiences to her her pragmatic midwest roots.

Mark Del Francos Unshapely Things is quite the tour of Boston, and his imagination with a well concealed smattering of New England common sense. Connor Grey is medically, or at least magically retired Druid who has to eek out a living working as a private investigator with the shreds of his once formidable power. Connor's Boston is one where Elves, Fairies and other creatures of legend have come to live. Unfortunatly someone is making ritual killings in his neck of the woods. Connor Grey is not the type to stand around and let things like this happen, especially when he can do something and irritate the powers that be at the same time.

A fun, and contrasting four books.
 

edited since i conflated the real and pen names of the first author.

  

First up was Amsterdam by the redoubtable Elizabeth Bear. I really liked this one, it has an episodic feel with each chapter leading into the next, but semi distinct. The first chapter feels like The Orient Express which I suspect is as accidental as pulling your own teeth. The main characters are fun, and the settings, dialogue and language have that fell that instantly lets you know who the writer is.

 

Next up was a book I bought half expecting to hate just based on the cover. Sorry, but it’s true, I mostly hate the cover art on books. Children of Chaos I mostly picked up because I noticed the number of titles on the shelf by David Duncan who I’d never before read. David Duncan has the unforgivable habit of doing things I hate, and doing them well enough to make me overlook those things. Epic, multigenerational, ensemble fantasy is very difficult to do and do well. I will be reading more.

 

Liberators: Latin America's Struggle for Independence is one of the best pieces of history I’ve read in a long time. It has the ease of reading of a good novel, includes writings by the principals, and discusses how various historical actions were perceived at the time, and since. For understanding foreign cultures this is hugely valuable. I already knew from other readings that Simon Bolivar was an interesting character and almost a living caricature, this fills in more of the forces that shape him, and the other men who helped break the various colonies free. Anyone who wants something good to read or people to base characters off of should read this. Robert Harvey has done a truly masterful job with this.

 And last,

 Draw One in the Dark was a fun book and had a small number of the inherent edges a first book is gifted with simply by its birth. Gentleman Takes a Chance, shows the coherence of character and world that normally takes an author at least four or five books to achieve. Tom and Kyrie grow more, take their odd relationship into new ground, and in general are just fun people to read. We learn more about the world, more about the characters, and about how good a writer Sarah Hoyt is.

As a follow on to yesterday's post I've got a couple books to recommend. I may have mentioned some of these before, some are pretty basic, some are a bit further afield.

The Encyclopedia of Eastern Mythology. ISBN0754800695
Great guide to the deities, legends, and more of the eastern world. The cover price was $40 when i bought it and i consider that a pretty low price for its quality. It has a good number of illustrations, and parses gods, demons and heroes.It tells you what areas a deity was worshiped in and lists relationships where appropriate.

The Icon and the Axe James H Billington. It's a huge, thick Russian history book that goes from the formative period to the fall of communism. It's not the most readable history text ever, but far from the worst. If you can' get a decent grasp of Russian history reading this there's not much anyone can do for you.

Adolescence. Laurence Steinberg.This is a psychology text that covers a lot of the theory, practice and research on adolescent psychology. It leans slightly towards behavioral theory but has strong biological credentials. I've got the seventh edition, i doubt for most writers there will be much difference between it and the sixth both are probably available on Ebay/Half or elsewhere.

DSM-IV-TR. This is the encyclopedia of mental health used across disciplines. the DSM 5 is expected out soon (and has been for three years) and this should be enough to make any mental health writing solid.

Family Names and their story. S. Baring-Gould. It covers the family names of a lot of the northern European area. It has some interesting anecdotes and goes into nicknames as well.

Africana. Appiah & Gates. ISBN 046500711 It covers pretty much everything with a heavy African influence that has happened since the African diaspora. It's huge and expensive. The version i got is i believe out of print, and i doubt anyone will want to part with theirs. The one i have is the original version is oversized and more than 2000 pages. It has ethnic groups, various African cities, celebrities. The list goes on and on. There are a couple other versions available.

The Good War. Studs Terkel. This is a collection of oral histories from people who lived through WW2. It has soldiers from more than one nation, nurses, people detained in the "Japanese" prisoner camps in the US. It's fascinating.

Two Years Before the Mast. Richard Henry Dana Jr. Good information about what was going on and what the world was like during Dana's time. Not really a thrilling read except for the information.

Got any you'd like to share?

The human mind is capable of doing amazing things. When you think of if, it's rather amazing we haven't made more technological advances. The first airplane was designed without the aid of computers, and the general principles of aerodynamics are not much changed since that time. Someone decided that the funny stuff growing in a petri dish might make a real good medicine, and it has. Both of these were the results of specialized thinking. General thinking though is what has lead to the far ranging works of Leonardo da Vinci and his contributions not just to art, but to engineering, mathematics, botany and more. Ben Franklin was another generalist contributing in social and physical sciences.
cut for length and pics ).
I asked a couple of the writers in the Better off Undead anthology about their stories,  

Dave Freer says: "If you are writer who has ever wondered just how some works of 'literary genius' escaped the toilet, and adore the taxman, read this."

Jay Lake says of his story:  Zombie chef searching for an out of this world taste

Kate Paulk says of hers:  It's a vampire who works the graveyard shift in a convenience store and has to deal with a wannabe vampire slayer.
and: Just an ordinary guy trying to get along who happens to be a vampire.

Sarah Hoyt: It's a story about a murder, a goddess and (Chinese) hell(s) to pay.

onyxhawke: (Default)
( Oct. 27th, 2008 10:47 pm)
It's a conspiracy, I know it is. I took some great picks of the foliage today. Sadly the computer won't read the memory card. Not in the camera, not in the adapter and not in the memory card reader. Once is chance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action. This is enemy action.

I just wish i knew who the enemy was. It's much easier to counter a known adversary. Is it the Illuminati? Maybe its Green Peace who in attempting to prove global warming are trying to keep pictures of trees from appearing on the internet? Or is it possible that the company who made my computer has designed it to fail so I need to buy a new computer? Maybe they are even in league with the government who would win because I'd be taxed on that purchase?


Who knows maybe it isn't a conspiracy and I'm just struggling for something to fill this neglected space?


A lot of SF/F has a conspiracy at its heart. Sometimes it is the major motive force of the plot, sometimes its a tantalizing subplot. I've read a lot of urban fantasy lately that had conspiracy theories at their core. Once of the better ones was Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Goes to Washington. Unlike some of the intrigue laden fiction I've seen lately it keeps the conspiracy tightly wrapped and makes it very difficult to figure out exactly who was part of it and how willingly.

I do wonder at why we see so much in the way of conspiracy stories in UF. It might be that our world has enough fodder for them that they are easier to form here and near here than in some pure fantasy world or space colony.

So what are some of your favorite conspiracy theories? What books do you like that are centered around a conspiracy or two?

onyxhawke: (Default)
( Oct. 15th, 2008 01:45 pm)
The following people owe me sleep and should make reparations quickly.


First up is the delightful Carrie Vaughn. I got to meet her in the lobby of one of the three hundred hotels attendees of Denvetion were spread across. I'm possibly the last person on the planet to read Kitty And the Midnight Hour, but if I'm not, and you're among those who hasn't go do so. The characters are very real, the plot is solid and the story is very internally consistent. I was hesitant to pick this one up because well, the werewolf is named Kitty. I'm glad i did finally read it, but i had no intention of reading it all in one night.

Jocelyn Drake writes the other type of fanged fiend of the night, and does so with a few variations that make her vampires distinct. NightWalker follows a vampire who is called upon to confront enemies she thought were dead, by an unlikely enemy of her enemies who is not her friend. After that it gets complicated.

Bill Fawcett's collection of major military blunders How to Lose a Battle is a great read and the type of history i wish people would send me. It covers battlefield blunders including those in the Punic Wars, the Napoleonic wars, and World War Two. One of the highlights is a day by day dissection of Gettysburg. It is not intended to be a bone deep guide to any of the battles it covers, but it is a great place to get a look at how to realistically screw up your characters lives.


Don't forget that Dave Freer's Pyramid Power and Slowtrain are both on the shelves, and that most stores will order at not extra charge if you ask.



Tags:
Conjecture has wrapped and i met some fun people. Getting to meet [livejournal.com profile] sartorias , [livejournal.com profile] shweta_narayan ,[personal profile] gregvaneekhout and half a dozen others was fun. I got to catch up with old friends, and was saved the wrath of a con chair when someone else brought up a topic i was told not to mention. Conjecture was a smallish fairly laid back con. The hotel wasn't bad, in fact for the cost of the rooms you got a real nice place to leave your things while you wandered around to parties, panels and other events.

The Darkcon party was a blast and had some interesting mixed drinks. I may some day be forgiven for assisting my friends and other party goers in trying some of them.


It's sorta funny how all cons have their own vibe and how much or little the vibe changes year year. I've been lucky enough to get to Ravencon is a quietly intense literary con that is moving strongly towards being more of a general SF con. Right now it has a feel that is remarkably similar to Boskone despite the lack of cross over.

Arisia, which is only a month and half a city away from Boskone is very different. Arisia is very much a general con, and a great place to make friends across the sf/f fandom spectrum. Costumes are probably as high as 1 in 10 people, where as i don't recall seeing anyone at Ravencon or Boskone in costume.

Pi-Con is higher-than-most-energy con, with a much younger base than the others I've mentioned and is heavily into gaming, with strong filk, fannish, and literary elements.

Conjecture, which was about the same size as Raven had a good mix of interesting people, but I think it needs more people from outside the immediate area to get it from a fun con to a great con. Myself, Jason Cordova, and David Drake seemed like the only real "outsiders" at the con. Everyone else seemed to know each other. This can be fun, and it was but there was a lack of spark that you get when new elements are mixed in at the right proportion. I do intend to go back some day because I did enjoy it, and i'll probably decide to make a real vacation out of the trip.

One thing I won't be doing if I go back is visiting Hunter's Steakhouse. We had reservations, got their at 8:45 Saturday night, and it wasn't too busy. We got sat pretty much right away. It took 15 minutes before our drink order was taken. The two tables that were sat after us, one by fifteen minutes, one by thirty both got their food before we did. In fact when the first of them was sat, the waitress had our drinks in her hands, put them down on an empty table, took their drink order, walked back by the drinks and our table like none of it was there. She then came back with something for the new table, and again walked by our drinks three times.

This is when one of the people i was with got up and got our drinks. The waitress came back as we are all drinking and apologized, saying that she was coming back to give them too us. Ten minutes had elapsed while our drinks sat there. Were now almost forty minutes into our window to eat and get back for one of the party of six to get back to a panel.

Time goes by...

Our orders come, I looked at the steak of the person who had ordered medium well. Generously speaking it was medium, honestly speaking it was too red for a lot of people who like medium rare. Not surprisingly she sent it back. About three minutes later the steak is brought back, it's still medium. Again it goes back. On the third try it was close enough to medium well for this person to eat. I've eaten with this person before, and never seen her send anything back. I've cooked and waited tables, and getting it wrong once is sad, but forgivable getting it wrong twice is about the time you should start worrying if the pooch is on birth control. It took us almost two and half hours to get in and out at a half full restaurant.

Conjecture was the last con of the year for me, and much as I wish i could go to WFC, Calgary is just too far to when I've been to Denver and San Diego already this year. I should be at WFC next year, and in Montreal. Ravencon and Lunacon are the only definite dates at this point. I'd like to go to Arisia, Balticon, and Boskone this year but other events might push them down the scale.

Don't forget [livejournal.com profile] davefreer's Slowtrain is available in hard cover on 10/1, and the paperback of Pyramid Power is now available. It should be noted that the Slowtrain review up does contain spoilers.
onyxhawke: (Default)
( Sep. 20th, 2008 07:22 pm)
Being an evil agent can be pretty fun. There's kicking puppies which never gets old, telling vegetarians they smell like prey, ripping the tags off mattresses, and of course the fresh tastes of victory and vengeance as another domino falls in the plan for world conquest.


Then too there is the simple ability to inspire awe and envy by posting one simple picture.






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