City of Ruins

Back in 2009 we read Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s DIVING INTO THE WRECK. With its incredible accessibility to all sorts of readers and its awesome idea of wreck diving in space, it instantly became one of our favorites that year. We waited patiently for the sequel, and it finally came out.

CITY OF RUINS follows up a bit after DIVING. Boss is back, and this time she’s made a company that investigates the stealth tech discovered in the first novel. On a hunch she heads to city of Vaycehn to investigate the possibility of stealth tech on the planet. With her are a slew of historians, archeologists and the other six people who can safely navigate the stealth fields. The people in the city are suspicious, and the city itself falls victim to a weird phenomenon called "death holes" that swallow whole sections of Vaycehn. It's partly the mystery behind this city that makes the book so enthralling.

We were worried. It’s a kind of paranoia we have. We tend to assume that the second book in a series—especially when following such a pleasantly surprising one like DIVING—will fail to live up to the quality of the first. It's a legitimate fear. CITY OF RUINS takes place nearly entirely on a planet. Our initial thoughts were, “Well crap. The whole reason we liked the first one was because of the deep-space wreck diving.” What would happen when Rusch took that away?

We were absorbed into the story within a few pages, and then when the major “twist” type moment happened about 1/3 through the book, we were absolutely sold. Not only was this as good as the first novel, it was better in every way. We mean it. Every. Single. Way.

The writing is better. The pacing is fluid and effortless. You may recall from our review of DIVING INTO THE WRECK that Rusch’s first novel in this series felt more like a couple novellas stuck together rather than a true novel. CITY OF RUINS has none of those problems that slightly knocked the first novel. What’s more is just how easily Rusch recaptured our imagination. How? With her main character, Boss. She is a fantastic example of a strong female protagonist that has baggage and flaws. Boss’ obsession with finding more stealth tech (including the reason behind her obsession) not only gives the character depth, but the universe as well.

One of the real awesome parts of this novel is just how much is really brewing beneath the surface. Without giving anything away, this is the novel that really makes you ask the question, “What is really going on here?”

CITY OF RUINS is a perfect evolution of this series. Everything you think you know about this universe is stood on its head and spun a different way. Even the slow bits of the novel were extremely interesting. What more can a guy ask for? Remember, we don’t particularly care for Science Fiction. But this series? We’ll gobble up every story in this universe that we can. Twice.

It can get a little difficult to convey just how thrilled we are with this book. You should read this book. You should read both the novels in this series. You should pre-order the third novel, BONEYARDS, coming out next January. You should probably also buy copies for all your friends and family. You know, just to be safe.

Recommended Age: 15 and up
Language: Some. Not too much at all really.
Violence: Nothing major.
Sex: Nope.

The Mage In Black

She's a "shoot first and ask questions later" half-vampire with assassin skills, trust issues, and who must learn the magic inherited from her mage father in order to unite the dark races.

/yawn

If you've read your share of chick urban fantasy, THE MAGE IN BLACK is more of the same. Unfortunately, it's not even average more of the same. Perhaps I should start with what it has going for it: straightforward storytelling and fast-paced action. What it doesn't have going for it? Everything else.

It starts off with Sabina, our kick-butt heroine, arriving in New York after leaving the good graces of her vampire queen grandmother in RED-HEADED STEPCHILD. She's on her way to meet her long-lost twin sister, she's unsure what's going to happen, how she's going to make a living, whether she should kiss Adam the mage again—and of course they're attacked en route. Gotta shake things up early! Cuz, you know, otherwise people might get bored with the predictable story. Also, make sure to keep it snappy and distracting enough so that readers won't catch on that there's little point to the opening violence to the plot as a whole.

For Sabina, once she arrives in New York, things don't seem to get any better. The mage council doesn't trust or approve of her. Maisie, her bubbly twin sister is too busy being the mage council figurehead and resident prophetess to bother getting to know her own sister. Adam the potential love interest spends most of the book MIA, absent on an important mission to the Fairy Queen—because the mage council has convened to decide whether they should go to war with the vampires and the mages are going to need all the help they can get.

Often a reader will be forgiving to predicable plots, mediocre prose, and simplistic world-building if the characters are worth caring about. Unfortunately, not even the main character escaped secondary-character syndrome: shallow stereotypes, without even much detail to add depth. Sabina's first-person PoV emotional baggage was clunky and hard to sympathize with, especially since her decisions were inconsistent. She's supposed to be a well-trained assassin, right? Yet she's always caught off-guard by attackers, will find herself without a weapon during a fight, and goes broke when her funds are frozen by her grandmother's organization...even though she had plenty of time to withdraw emergency cash. The secondary characters are, for the most part, flat and uninteresting. What are these peoples' motives? Where do they come from? Why are they here? What do they like to eat/drink/wear/drive? Anything beyond the existing sparse details would have helped.

Something that could have boosted character personality? Dialogue. However, there was nothing to differentiate one set of quotes from another, including the main character's. Even then, the dialogue had no personality, was cliche, and did little other than awkwardly propel the plot forward.

One thing that could have really been cool was Sabina's demon familiar Giguhl, but the demon wasn't anything more than a sidekick for comic relief, whose origins, magic, and abilities aren't given more than basic information. In fact, I had a hard time seeing him as anything other than a strange-looking, sex-obsessed guy who happened to be able to shapeshift into a cat, and who's got some nasty street-fighting skills (how convenient).

The mage magic was traditional and dull—can't they do more than "throw" a magic force to attack with? Anything? It wasn't much different than Giguhl's magic, now that I think of it... A more imaginative effort might have really added some punch. And speaking of fight scenes, they left me uninspired. Well, the opening sequence was pretty good, I'll grant that, but it appears that the author's imagination was used up for that scene, because the climax lacked a real sense of peril, purpose, and anything interesting. Then, we get stuck with no resolution and a cliffhanger. Yippee.

Recommended Age: 17+
Language: Scattered profanity, but not lots
Violence: Yes, there are vampires and werewolves and demons, so there's blood and pain
Sex: Lots and lots of innuendo, references, and one graphic scene

The Silent Land

When is a fantasy novel not a fantasy novel? Well, I’d say when it’s this novel, but there might be others that would beg to differ. This one feels more like a literary novel to me. Anyone visiting this site interested in reading a literary novel? I don’t know if there will be, but here I go, nonetheless.

THE SILENT LAND is a Graham Joyce novel, an author with quite a few works already under his feet. It’s a quick, focused read revolving around the relationship of a single couple, Zoe and Jake. Zoe is the main PoV character, though Jake’s thoughts are peppered infrequently throughout the book.

Zoe and Jake are on vacation, skiing in the Pyrenees mountains above the village of Saint-Bernard-en-Haut. They’re out for a brisk morning slide down the mountain, when an avalanche descends on them from above. After making their way out of the resulting mess and back to their hotel, they find that everyone has gone, with nothing to explain their disappearance. The rest of the story details what they do there, on that lonely slope, all by themselves, and how it all turns out.

Joyce’s prose is excellent here. Fluid, descriptive, riveting. The setting of the small skiing village, the majestic mountain side, and the ever-oppressive weather were one continuous landscape that easily transported me to their surroundings. The plot develops well, moving from one discovery to the next, laying out the pieces to this couple’s predicament one layer at a time. At times, the portrayal of their story did feel truncated to some extent, but that’s probably what kept the book so short, which was nice.

There weren’t very many large surprises in this one, and I pretty much knew what was going on from the get go. It was interesting to see how Joyce laid his story out though, and to get into its telling. I do tire of the tool some authors use to try and relay tension by having characters “feel” or “sense” that something is going to happen. Thankfully, this wasn’t the only tool used to develop the atmosphere of the unknown that pervades the character’s minds.

There were also quite a few references to money and religion, death and life in general that really made it more of a literary novel than anything interesting. Guess I’m just not interested in the questions and ideas that literary novels try to develop. I’d rather get lost in the snow-stormed mountains with a dragon, or, honestly, get trapped in a town like Silent Hill, than read about the nuances of society. Call me a geek. It’s what I am, and I wear the badge proudly.

I can’t say I didn’t like this one, but as far as the story goes? The ideas? The fun? It’s on the low end of things. Read this one if you like literature. It definitely won’t leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Recommended age: 18+
Language: Infrequent but strong
Violence: None
Sex: Several scenes between a married couple that are quite detailed

Graham Joyce's Website

Leviathan Wakes

No, this isn’t LEVIATHAN WEPT, the short story collection from Daniel Abraham. This is LEVIATHAN WAKES, the collective effort of Mr. Abraham and his buddy, Ty Franck. Why such similar titles from the same author? Who knows. They aren’t related though. This one is new. It’s special. It has a fancy cover. Whoa, cool. But is it good? Of course it’s good. You gotta know I’m gonna love it. This guy just plain delivers.

LEVIATHAN WAKES is the first in a planned series of five books titled The Expanse, and was a book that I expected some good Ju-ju from. If you’ll remember, I’m not such a big fan of Science Fiction in general. I do have my favorites though, and James S. A. Correy (Abraham and Franck’s pseudonym) is now one of them. Add him to your list, people. Yeah.

The main story revolves around two characters: Detective Miller and Jim Holden. Holden is the XO on a space freighter that moves massive icebergs from the rings of Saturn to deep space communities built on spun-up (gravity-bearing) asteroids. Right up front, they receive a distress signal from another ship, the Scopuli, moored to a nearby asteroid. They stop to help, and stuff just starts getting shot up and blown up all over the place. It’s chaos and firepower and nukes and lotsa dead people, and only very rarely does it let up the pace and give you a chance to breathe until the bitter end.

Detective Miller works for a Belter security agency and has just been given a chump partner that grew up Earth-side. He works to keep the peace, find the criminals, and pretty much everything you’d expect from this kind of working-class schmoe. Then he gets assigned to a new case, a bogus one. It’s a snatch and grab, with Mommy and Daddy Warbucks footing the bill to have Detective Miller bring their baby home. But everything isn’t quite as it seems, and soon the trail for the girl leads Miller to the Scopuli.

And you know that has to be good for us. Just not so much for him.

There are three big pulls in this book that totally made it rock. The first, of course, was the characters. Miller and Holden are just two great viewpoints.

Holden’s your average Joe, trying to make a buck and save the universe one iceberg at a time. He’s a bit idealistic but true to his convictions. He’s honest. Someone that’s easy to root for and hard to watch get hurt, without feeling it yourself.

Miller is good at what he does. He gets in, gets out, and does his job. Click, clack, spidat! Along the way he gets blindsided though, and quickly becomes one of those characters that you just can’t take your eyes off of. Every time you see him, he’s sunken into that downward spiral just a bit further, and it leaves you wondering just how long it’ll be until he self-destructs.

The second thing LEVIATHAN WAKES has going for it is the action. There’s loads of it and it starts up right off the bat. Ships getting blown up. People dying left and right. Military warships threatening whole communities and local thugs beating on the innocent, alike. Everyone wants a piece, and it seems like there’s never a lack for something going on during this ride.

The third piece of awesomeness was the story. Not only has this pair done their homework on the plot, but the world-building was awesome. The tension between those that have been born in space and those that have lived in gravity wells their entire lives was perfect. They don’t trust each other, “they don’t belong together”, and this shows in every aspect of the character’s interactions. It isn’t long before Mars and Earth and the Belters are all pointing their guns at one another, screaming threats and seeing who’s going to fire the first shot.

The series itself is supposed to be a space opera, but this one feels more in line with a dark, noir, detective novel. Plus explosions. So much of the story was built around the mystery of the Scopuli, and of the missing girl, and how all this violence and chaos jived. We’re finding things out right up until the very end, and it was serious-awesome how it all ended up fitting together.

I did have a few issues with it. Some of the space battles felt a little too fast for me. The speed factor I have in my head for space-action is something along the lines of 2001/2010 fast, but mostly this one felt more like that old-school Asteroids game after I figured out you could move the ship around. Timing was also a bit of an annoyance, as I had a hard time keeping track of how much time was passing as the story moved on. By the end, I found out that almost a year had passed since the beginning, and that surprised me a little.

The last problem was probably the biggest one for me, and that was the secondary characters around Holden. They just didn’t hold water. Those around Miller were awesome. Nuanced, real, responsive. Most of those around Holden almost felt more like name-holders instead of people. They kept dying off and it really didn’t matter all that much to me, and seemingly only in slight manner to Holden. The one exception to this was when the two story lines merged. It was then that I saw those secondary characters surrounding Holden from Miller’s perspective, and suddenly they popped. Immediately, they were there, and not just names any more. Afterward, I went back and was actually quite surprised at how little there was in those sections, dealing with the faceless secondary characters, that made everything work for me. Abraham just knows how to do character.

The ending on this one was absolutely awesome. It closed the story we were being told, leaving plenty open from which the next one can jump. From what I’ve heard, that next book, CALIBAN’S WAR, has already been turned into the editor for feedback. How cool is that? It’ll be in my greedy little hands less than a year from now. Can't. Freaking. Wait.

If you're looking for some Space Opera Noir SF goodness, then read this one, people. It’s sure to please. It certainly did good things for me.

Recommended age: 16 plus
Language: Moderate amount
Violence: Fairly high level, occasional detail gets pretty gory
Sex: A few references and some ubiquitous tension

The James S. A. Correy Website

2011 Hugo Nominated Short Stories

The 2011 Hugo Nominated Short Stories

Short stories are interesting beasts. They are extremely subjective—even more so than novels. For the sake of reviewing the Hugo Nominated Short stories, Steve & Shawn gave them a read. Enjoy!

***

Shawn: I love Hugo voting season. I know I'm one of the few, but I love seeing the nominees. I relish going online and finding all the works I can and reading them all. My dad and I read them and talk about them. We yell at each other for being idiots and liking certain works and disliking others. I love it. For the past few years I've read all the fiction works and now that I'm reviewing books for the Elite I thought I would share my ramblings.

Steve: I've come to have a greater appreciation for short fiction over the past few years. Some of it can be truly excellent. Shawn was all keyed up to talk about the 2011 Hugo Nominated short stories, and after reading them it's easy to see why. While they were all good, two ended up standing out for me.

***

"Amaryllis" by Carrie Vaughn—This story surprised the both of us. Most of the time in these shorter works you expect to find a really cool idea. The author only has a few thousand words (or less sometimes) to tell the story and most of the time it's used to just get across one really cool or weird idea. That wasn't the case here. Instead we're treated with a tender character story. The setting is a not too distant future where the world is worried about over-population and not enough food to go around, and quotas rule everything. The story follows a group of fishers as they struggle with the politics and prejudices of the world.

Shawn & Steve:
We both felt pretty equally about this story. It was well done, and exceeded our expectations.

--

"For Want of a Nail" by Mary Robinette Kowal—We're both fairly surprised that this is Mary Robinette Kowal's only nomination this year. Her debut novel SHADES OF MILK AND HONEY was excellent and deserved a nomination as well. This story takes place on a generation ship. A simple accident—dropping a family's AI unit which severs its wireless connection to the ship—has major repercussions.

Shawn: I felt it was fun, but the repercussions weren't as large as he was hoping. The ending depends on a deep feeling for the characters (a tough task in a short story, that's why "Amaryllis" was so impressive) that I just didn't feel story hammered home enough. Good, but not great in my opinion.

Steve: Whoa, I totally disagree. I actually liked this story much more than "Amaryllis". Why? Well to give details would spoil some of the story, but I personally cared way more about these characters and the interactions with the AI. I thought it was fantastic. I will admit that part of may have to do with writing style, and I'm a big fan of the way Mary writes.

--

"Ponies" by Kij Johnson—There's no easy way to discuss this story without hurting the experience. It's a very short story, so seriously ANY in-depth discussion will totally ruin this story. It should be mentioned though that it seems like this one will invoke very different feelings in the readers.

Shawn: OK, am I the only one who didn't really get this one? I mean I can see a bit of relevance to the story and how it could be a metaphor for blah blah blah...but this one just didn't sit well with me. Nothing was explained and you're just dropped into a weird social situation that is bitter and cruel. Not that I'm against those things. I actually like a bit of dark in what I read, but this one just didn't do it for me. Sorry. I'd tell you the premise but that would almost be as long as the story itself. Read it if you want. Not my cup of tea.

Steve: Honestly, I hated it when I first finished it. Then I thought about over the next few days—not because I wanted to, but because my mind couldn't get free of the visuals this story stabs you with. I started liking it more and more. I, too, felt that the story was lacking in explanation at first, but now I think that more explanation would have hurt the story. I still don't love it, but for what it represents it is actually pretty solid. It's pretty impressive really.

--

"The Things" by Peter Watts—Have you seen the brilliant John Carpenter movie The Thing (based on a short story of the same name)? Well this short story tells the same tale from the alien's point of view. The alien in the movie is a monster so horrible and terrifying that it makes the chest-bursting aliens seem tame by comparison. And yet Peter Watts manages to give that horrible creature morals and method and reason. He twists the whole thing on its head and gives something really wonderful and actually alien.

Shawn: Here it is folks, my pick for the Hugo! I actually read this one awhile ago and was distraught because I thought it was eligible last year and it didn't get the nomination. When I saw it here I was SO happy. This story is brilliant!

Steve: High-fives, Shawn! This story was AWESOME! For me, "The Things" was easily the best story here—which should say something since I enjoyed them all. It was fun, interesting, and had me smiling the whole time.

Consensus:

Shawn:
I'm thinking I vote "The Things" to win, followed by "Amaryllis", "For Want of a Nail", and then "Ponies" in that order.

Steve:
I'll also go with "The Things" as the winner, but I'll follow it with "For Want of a Nail", "Ponies", and then "Amaryllis".

***

So what do you all think? These were all solid stories, so it can be tough to pick out the order. Make your own decision and read them all online:

Amaryllis - Carrie Vaughn
For Want of a Nail - Mary Robinette Kowal
Ponies - Kij Johnson
The Things - Peter Watts

The Hounds of Avalon

You ever had a bad Snickers bar? I’m not talking about one that's obviously bad--with flaky, grey chocolate crumbling from the edges because of how old it is. I’m talking about a Snickers bar that looks just like every other one, but when you bite into it you nearly get sick right there because of how bad the peanuts are. Bitter, and pasty, and just...yeah. Those peanuts not only ruin the rest of the sugary goodness of the bar, but they stick in your craw and affect everything you eat for a long time afterward. This book was kinda like one of those.

In THE HOUNDS OF AVALON, our heroes from the previous two books in the trilogy (my reviews: DEVIL IN GREEN and QUEEN OF SINISTER) are finally joined amidst the chaos and the overpowering evil that’s threatening to drown the entire world. Mallory and Sophie from DEVIL IN GREEN, get together with Caitlin and Thackeray from QUEEN OF SINISTER, and then run into Hal and Samantha. There are a few others to help mix up pot: a government type or two, a soldier named Hunter, Thackeray’s tag-along Harvey (wait...Hal, Hunter, Harvey...that makes three main character H-names. Nuts. How am I going to keep track of them all? He-he. Nuts.), and don’t forget the leftover guys from the first trilogy in this sequence. They're around somewhere too.

The Lament Brood are still combing across the country and gaining strength all the time. Everyone they kill comes immediately back to life, glowing purple, and adding to their mob-strength. So our “heroes” decide band together and...retreat and retreat and retreat, until they can’t go any farther. And then figure they can safely lie down and die. Meanwhile, the Golden Gods that have continually swept in and saved the day in previous books continue to do so, but face dire peril themselves when a civil war breaks out. Half of them start to wage war against the half, those championing humanity and those who think humanity sucks. The the Void is still coming.

The characters feel like cardboard cut-outs all; no depth, no development. They wander from one disaster to the next. Every other page or so, I had to remind myself who this character was and what part they’d played in previous books. When a new character came on, they usually got a one- or two-paragraph description, and then everything would continue. Situation normal. The only reason the characters seemed to be there was as vehicles for getting across what’s happening to the world. They're three year-olds with all those burning questions on their lips. They're Watsons, with every secondary character the most recent incarnation of Sherlock Holmes ready to pontificate and enlighten.

The story’s still the same one from the beginning of things. The gods of legend have come into the world, and we have to protect ourselves from them. Five heroes arise from the ashes to save what is left. Yeah. Six books into this series and nothing much has changed about the plot line.

Things go downhill fast as the book progresses. In general, there's a complete lack of consequence that runs rampant throughout. This plot device rears its head repeatedly, and I quickly lost any sense of peril or tension because I knew that nothing bad was going to happen to the good guys. In the end, it lacks just about everything a good book doesn’t: engaging characters, twisted plot-lines, and a satisfying ending (surprising, especially for this being the third book in a trilogy). There was just too much/little in this book/trilogy for me to set aside my critical eye and simply enjoy it.

Sorry, peoples. But this one is just more of the same. Move along. Stick with Chadbourn's excellent Swords of Albion series.

Recommended age: 18+, for a smattering of everything
Language: Some, fairly strong in places
Violence: Yeah. It’s an apocalypse, so it pretty much has to be there, and it is
Sex: Several scenes, glorified and graphic but quick


Mark Chadbourn’s Website
http://www.markchadbourn.net/

The Winds of Khalakovo

When it comes down to it, I picked up this book based on the cover. I do that more frequently than one would think, and of course the results vary. Bradley P. Beaulieu’s debut novel, THE WINDS OF KHALAKOVO, has a lot going for it. But it also has some factors that, for me, hurt the overall experience.

What is KHALAKOVO about? The story mostly revolves around Prince Nikandr Khalakovo as he prepares for an arranged marriage, attempts to overcome a terminal wasting disease, and also endeavors to solve a series of mysteries that are causing ever increasing hostilities with other factions. And then readers are introduced to an autistic child, Nasim, who could potentially solve everything, or destroy everything instead.

One of the main elements of this novel that really had me nodding in appreciation was the setting. The use of an archipelago for the country/kingdom felt fresh. Beaulieu focuses on one main area, while still giving subtle nods to a much larger world. The use of airships in this novel was very well done, and felt completely natural. Mainly though, it was the inclusion of two distinct cultures that was fantastic. The character Nikandr Khalakovo and his betrothed Atiana Vostroma are very Russian, from traditions to language, to dress. It comes across smoothly and effortlessly. The other main culture is the nomadic Aramahn who feel extremely Middle Eastern influenced—perhaps Turkish or Persian. What is impressive is how these two wildly different cultures can coexist in this novel and feel natural together.

This is a very context-heavy novel. Not only are readers showered with Russian terms, but readers also get a huge does of the terminology used by the Aramahn. On the surface it can seem daunting and confusing, but to me it added a richness to the world. Would a glossary have helped? I imagine to some people it would. However in this case it added to the discovery of the reading.

Opinions on characters are just that; opinions. To me Nikandr was the most enjoyable to read. He acts believably without being predictable. Atiana had a few moments where I wondered why she was even participating in certain scenes, but on the whole she was pretty solid. Rehada—an Aramahn who is Nikandr’s lover—had moments of awesomeness, but also moments that were polar-opposite. It gave her a wishy-washy feel that detracted from her sections. Nasim, initially, was mediocre, but grew on me as I saw his internal pain.

I’ve said all sorts of good here, and you are likely thinking, “Geez, this book sounds freaking amazing!” There is one glaring issue that kept this novel from being a truly incredible debut. Clarity. When we say a novel has clarity issues, it can mean a wide variety of things. In KHALAKOVO, it was a little like trying to see without your glasses on. Everything was a bit blurry and unfocused. Transitions from one scene to the next are rough. Additionally characters just seem to pop in and out with no warning. There was a scene part-way through the novel where Rehada is being attacked. She is saved by another character, and a fight ensues. Everything was fine until in the middle of a sentence another completely different character is suddenly there in the melee. There’s no warning, the character just appears out of thin air. This happens frequently in this novel, and the result is that the flow and pacing of that scene screeches to a halt. There are also several times during action scenes where I got lost. Who is shooting? Who is being shot? What is the reasoning behind the emotions the characters are feeling? What just happened? I found I was constantly re-reading sections to see if I was just missing something. In some cases that held true, and I missed a one-line reference that changes the whole dynamic of the scene. But most other times it is just due to lacking in clarity and concrete descriptions.

It bothered me. A lot.

The bright side here is Beaulieu can fix this right away going into his next novel. The cultures are fine. The characters are fine. The magic is fine. The setting is fine. See where I'm going? Pretty much everything is doing alright. It’s making sure the reader can easily read and understand all those great pieces of the novel that is important.

I like that Beaulieu didn’t take the easy road with THE WINDS OF KHALAKOVO. He could have easily fallen into using bad clichés and predictable plotting, but he didn’t. Remember, I like authors who take risks and try to be fresh. Were there problems in this novel? Yes. And I expect them to be largely cleared up in the second novel. Beaulieu has a ton of potential, and THE WINDS OF KHALAKOVO, overall, is a good read.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: There was a little bit of offensive language, but mostly it just seemed forced and out of place.
Violence: Most of the action scenes in the novel lack clarity which robs them of how awesome they could have been. There was violence, and it was brutal at times, but I just wasn’t able to enjoy it.
Sex: A couple scenes that cut away before getting tooooo graphic.

Bradley Beaulieu's website:

http://quillings.com/

Black Swan Rising

Garet James is different, but she doesn't know it. She leads a pretty normal life for a mid-twenties New Yorker: runs her elderly father's gallery, has made a decent business for herself from making jewelry, hangs out with her friends.

Until she finds out that the debts on her father's gallery are suddenly due and she doesn't know how they'll ever repay them in the current economic crisis. On the way home from the lawyer's, she wanders into an antiques shop to ask for directions, and the mysterious owner asks her to help him open a sealed silver box using her talents. How could she refuse his generous monetary compensation?

But the box turns out to be important, a sort of gate to the supernatural, and when Garet opens it, demons are released to wreak havoc on New York.

Garet learns she's descended from a long line of women 'watchtowers'--those who stand as guardians on the border between humans and magic. And it will be up to her to stop John Dee from using the magic box and destroying New York and eventually the world.

As a result, Garet must learn the elemental magic from the Fae around the city: Ariel and wind, Melusine and water, Noam Eardmann and earth, Ddraik and fire. Her guide is Oberon. Do any of these names ring a bell? There's an assortment of supernatural creatures: fairies, gnomes, and of course a vampire love interest.

Garet has a lot to learn before she'll be ready to face John Dee. As a result Garet spends a lot of her time traipsing through New York and learning magic--so much time is spent on it, in fact, that there's little time for deeper characterization and explaining the magic. Garet spends half of the novel learning about the different elemental magics, so my logical conclusion was that this knowledge would be used in the climax. It wasn't. The over-saturation of magic throughout the book all dissipates during the last chapter, after the climax, as though it's not important anymore. Almost as though there weren't consequences to the demons unleashed, or her learning powerful magic, that it has no room in her mundane life. Which was rather a let-down.

Garet, as the main PoV character could have been better developed. I did like that she wasn't a kick butt brassy typical urban fantasy heroine, but having spent the whole novel building up for her confrontation with John Dee and have it fall so flat means that she doesn't really progress as a character. A problem I had with her was she would make random decisions, without really thinking about it, mostly for the sake of the plot's tension for her to have trouble to get out of. The other secondary characters, while interesting and important to Garet, were also shallowly drawn. The 'romance' between Garet and rich vampire Will Hughes, while starting out fine, progressed awkwardly and their interactions were disappointingly emotionless. By the end of the novel, there was left a big enough hole in their relationship to leave room for sequels.

The prose and plot are very straightforward; and while the pace is pretty consistent, the flow lurches in places making it hard to follow as Garet travels from place to place, mostly because she moves around a lot through New York. However, I did enjoy the glimpse at New York, without making me feel like an idiot for never having been there. I was able to follow Garet's movement through the city easily enough.

I read BLACK SWAN RISING pretty fast. It was fun, Lee Carroll obviously spent time researching in order to add the supernatural elements to the book, which made it fun to point out and look up later. But it's similar in depth to other urban fantasy books, and may even be a fresh departure from the other uber-powerful heroines out there.

Recommended Age: 16+, this will appeal to older YA readers, as well
Language: Infrequent, and not very strong at that
Violence: Some peril and blood, but nothing intense or graphic
Sex: A brief scene

Lee Carrol is the pseudonym for the collaboration between mystery novelist Carol Goodman and her poet husband Lee Slonimsky.

Fuzzy Nation

FUZZY NATION is a book unlike anything I've ever read before. It's the reboot of a classic Science Fiction franchise—a retelling of the original LITTLE FUZZY. It follows the story of the original in a loose sense, yet tells that same story in a completely new way. It's fan fiction...in a good way.

I'm not sure exactly what the aim of this book was. Whether it was simply a writing exercise that John Scalzi undertook to clear his head and have a bit of fun. Whether it was meant to draw attention to a series that Scalzi loved, or whether it was meant to be simply a darn entertaining story. Whatever his motives, Scalzi has succeeded.

Like its originator, FUZZY NATION tells the story of one Jack Holloway, a man who discovers a new race of creatures, the Fuzzys, and befriends them. The creatures show remarkable intelligence and the issue of whether or not the Fuzzys are in fact sentient beings becomes the main focus for the book. If the Fuzzys are sentient, thinking reasoning beings, the consequences to the large mining corporation that own the planet could be catastrophic. That could be a summary for both books, the original H. Beam Piper Hugo-nominated novel, or the recent Scalzi reboot. How they go about that story is completely different.

The first thing Scalzi does is get rid of every character in the Piper original, except Holloway. He then populates the world with a fresh set of faces, new backstories, motivations and character quirks, Holloway included. I agree with this 100%. One of the bigger flaws of the original, in my opinion, was the characterization. All of the characters were simply talking heads useful only to have various arguments on the Fuzzys' intelligence. In LITTLE FUZZY there were several times where I lost track of who in fact was speaking to whom and it didn't really matter. What mattered to Piper was the argument. Scalzi has taken a different road. The argument is still there, still important, but so are the motivations behind it. These characters have life, have needs, have character. Holloway's ex-girlfriend has a major role, as do the local thugs, the heir apparent to the major corporation and others. Even the fuzzy's in the book have been re-purposed.

The other thing that Scalzi does is give the story a sense of adventure and a bit more of a modern sense of pacing. LITTLE FUZZY was a treatise on sentience, an enjoyable treatise, but a treatise nonetheless. In FUZZY NATION, Scalzi ups the tension, the pacing, and throws in a splash of action for good measure. The end result is a much more enjoyable reading experience that suits my personal tastes much better.

Like all of Scalzi's books, this one was easy and effortless to read. The pages flew by and I finished the book within a few days of getting it (quite a compliment with how busy my schedule is). Scalzi prefers to let the characters themselves describe who and what they are. Everything is learned from dialogue and action instead of long sections of exposition. And he makes it all seem so easy. I mean really? This is just what he writes when he needs a breath of fresh air? If only more authors out there said, "You know what, I'm kind of bored. I think I'll write an interesting intelligent page turning SF novel. You know, just for kicks." The world would be a better place for it.

I'm not sure if this is the novel I wanted Scalzi to write (I'm a big fan of his Old Man's War universe and an even bigger fan of THE ANDROID'S DREAM), but it's hard to argue when you get something so enjoyable as a result. Scalzi hit the nail on the head with this one, keeping all of the fun and warmth of the original series while adding a touch of the new and making it in my opinion and even better novel than it's predecessor. Enjoy.

Recommended Age: 14+ A little bit of language but nothing major.
Language: Not too much although one scene in particular had a bit of it and it was really funny (if you've read the book I'm sure you know the scene I mean).
Violence: A couple scenes. Mostly involving Fuzzys, which was hard to read.
Sex: Not to my recollection.

Elitist Classics: Little Fuzzy

LITTLE FUZZY, the Hugo-nominated novel by H. Beam Piper, has been getting a lot of attention recently since fan favorite author John Scalzi wrote a novel-length, Tor-published piece of fan-fic rebooting the series. Scalzi has said repeatedly that he hoped that his reboot would in turn send attention back to the original works and that people would read those books that Scalzi himself loved.

For me it worked. The book LITTLE FUZZY is available for free from multiple sources online (Kindle free version) and since I had preordered Scalzi's book FUZZY NATION, I thought it would be fun to read the original work and have a kind of book double-feature reading experience.

It didn't take long to get through LITTLE FUZZY, it's very short by today's standards, and was a quick and easy read. It was simple, and it was fun.

Jack Holloway is a surveyor on the alien planet Zarathustra working for the large corporation that is exploiting the planet of its natural resources. There are several alien species on the planet, Prawns, lobster-like creatures that are a real menace to the humans and others. Jack's life is turned upside-down when a Fuzzy, an up-to-this-point undiscovered species, enters Jack's life. The Fuzzy, the only name suitable that Jack can think of, is a small cat-like creature that walks on its hind legs and uses tools to kill and eat the Prawns that are around Jack's home. The more Jack spends time with the Fuzzy, including the Fuzzy family that moves in with him, the more Jack sees that these creatures aren't merely smart on the level of chimps or dogs, but could very well be a sentient species. IF the Fuzzys are sentient then the corporation Jack works for could lose their rights to strip mine the planet and could lose vast amounts of money. Surprisingly the book consists mostly of a large courtroom battle to determine the Fuzzys' supposed sentience.

Reading LITTLE FUZZY was an interesting experience. Most of the books dating back to when this book was written (1962) that I've read have been Hugo award winners. Some of those books have dated well and others haven't. This one, in my opinion, fits right in the middle. There were parts of it I liked very much. The back and forth of the court was very good as well as the various arguments about the Fuzzy's level of sentience. If you enjoy reading Isaac Asimov's work then this book should be right up your alley. LITTLE FUZZY, like Asimov, deals mostly with conversations between characters. The interest lies in the problems presented and the logical, if not obvious, manner in which those problems are solved. If, however, you are looking for a book packed with action and adventure, then I would steer clear of this one.

And that's the biggest thing I see as dating this book. It felt slow and lacked some of the dramatic tension I'm used to now. There are problems, but they seem small. There was some worry, but not much. The Fuzzys themselves disappear for a brief part of the book, but it never entered my mind that they were in any real danger or that they wouldn't return.

Let's be honest here, Piper's main goal in this book was to talk about what makes us different from animals. What is that that defines us as a thinking sentient species. In that, Piper succeeded very well. The rest of it is just a vehicle for that discussion. The characters seem very flat and are only interesting in progressing that discussion. The Fuzzys themselves are cute, adorable creatures, and I mean they are so cute that Walt Disney himself would throw up over how adorable they are. Is it a bit much? It was for me.

In the end it was a fun read, and I couldn't complain about the price. It was an interesting study for me to see what Science Fiction was doing and concerned about 50 years ago. Well worth your time.

Recommended Age: No real problems here. Age appropriate for anyone.
Language: Maybe a word or two. Not much that I can remember and nothing very harsh.
Violence: One scene of violence, again not graphic, but a little disturbing.
Sex: None.

The Scarab Path

Adrian Tchaikovsky is gold! Gold, we say! We have stated over and over in our reviews that one of the main things we look for in a series is growth. Growth in the story, growth in the characters, and especially growth in the author. The instant we began reading Tchaikovsky's work we were hooked. Sure, EMPIRE IN BLACK AND GOLD had some problems--what authors don't have problems in their first novel? But even with those problems, EMPIRE was awesome. With each novel he got better. The problems slowly vanished. The characters in the series matured. The setting, somehow, got infinitely better. It got to the point where we were mentioning Tchaikovsky in the same breath as our favorite authors.

The first chunk of Tchaikovsky's Shadows of the Apt series came to an end with SALUTE THE DARK. It was his best novel yet. Unfortunately, as many of you know, we are paranoid readers. We constantly fear that the next book by our favorite authors will be a let-down. So when Tchaikovsky's fifth novel, THE SCARAB PATH, was sent our way we dove in with a mixture of nervousness and excitement.

It only took a few pages for us to realize this novel was going to be awesome.

THE SCARAB PATH reads like a new beginning to the Shadows of the Apt series. The pacing of the beginning is slow, yet extremely interesting. Following the events of the the last novel, in THE SCARAB PATH we are reintroduced to Tchaikovsky's characters...only they are all broken. The loss they have all suffered is illustrated to perfection. This novel mostly follows Che as she is sent as a delegate to a backwater city called Khanaphes. Everyone wants the city for different reasons, and the city is the core of the mystery in this novel.

The main characters of this novel are Che, Totho and Thalric. Totho became awesome in the last novel, and Thalric has always been a pleasure. But Che...she's a different story. She's always been our least favorite of the characters. So color us impressed when Che was a supremely entertaining read for the entire novel. It all leads back to growth. When we looked back over the series as a whole, it was truly in this novel that we got to see Che take huge steps as a character. While she maintains those few small nuggets of character that keep her anchored in her unique position, she now has grown into a strong and entertaining read. Perhaps the main thing here is that she doesn't stumble and bumble the whole novel. She becomes more decisive.

Throughout this series we've seen the world advance technologically step-by-step. So this was the perfect time to introduce a city that refuses to advance in a similar fashion. In every novel Tchaikovsky manages to surprise us. He manages to introduce something new and fresh. The city of Khanaphes and the mystery surrounding it add such a cool dynamic to the novel. Really what this all boils down to highlighting the disparity between Apt vs Inapt--something that hasn't ever been totally explored in the series so far.

But what would a Tchaikovsky novel be without war? Every novel in this series has a fresh sort of battle scene in it. We get sieges, coliseum battles, guerrilla strikes, germ-warfare...the list goes on. In THE SCARAB PATH we get a battle that reminded us a little of 300. A small force holding a choke-point against overwhelming odds. The writing here was so clear that we could visualize every little piece of the action. For us it ranks as one of his top action/battle sequences to date.

The real treat, however, is the end of the novel. When the mystery is revealed, it gave us chills. This novel works perfectly as a stand-alone novel following the first 4-book arc, yet it also sets up the next novels in the series without resorting to being just a set-up book--the balance is spot-on.

The main thing we want to point out though is that all those tiny issues that bugged us in the first novels are gone. There are a lot of new authors out there that should read Tchaikovsky's work as an example in growing as an author. As aspiring authors ourselves, we look at Tchaikovsky as one of our main examples to follow. He get's better with every book, and learns from his successes and small mistakes.

THE SCARAB PATH has everything in it that we have come to expect from Adrian Tchaikovsky. An amazing world, evolving characters, incredible actions sequences...it's all here. Plus we get an old-fashioned mystery thrown in, and some insight into the history of the world and the old races. What more can a reader ask for? This is easily Tchaikovsky's best novel yet, and we cannot wait until THE SEA WATCH is put out here in the US.

In all honesty we may not be able to wait...

Recommended Age: 15+
Language: A little.
Violence: The action here is described so clearly that all the violence has greater impact. It does make it all more brutal, but the skill of the writing removes it completely from the realm of shock-value. Our hats are off to Tchaikovsky.
Sex: Nope.

We recently discovered that Adrian has a bajillion short stories on his website http://shadowsoftheapt.com/. We knew he had a couple, but man, there were way more there than we realized. Adrian REALLY needs to put all these out in a collection.

CONduit 2011

CONduit 2011 Report

CONduit, for me, was an interesting experience. For the longest time I have attended conventions solely as an attendee. I would sit in the panels and listen to the various professionals as they spoke about different topics, and mostly keep my mouth shut. I’ve learned a lot from conventions. This year, however, I went to CONduit in a completely different capacity. This time I was one of those guys on the panels sharing my wisdom (lol!) with the masses. I even was a moderator on two panels. I know, the program directors must have had a serious sense of humor.

So, I figured I would share my experiences on the panels. My impressions. What I learned. Nuggets of brilliance (usually not my own). You get the picture. The easy way to share my thoughts is to just go in order of panels I was on. Here we go:

Panel 1 – Self Promotion:


On the Panel: Michaelbrent Collings, Jaleta Clegg, Jess Smart Smiley, Tristi Pinkston, Larry Correia, Steve Diamond, Kevin Wasden

This was a fantastic panel. All 80 bajillion of us on the panel—OK, so there were only 7 of us, but still—were all from diverse backgrounds. I think diversity is super important on panels. It keeps things fresh, and it gives the audience the most information possible in the short amount of time you have—usually an hour. The audiences come to panels to be entertained and edified. It’s the job of the panelists to make sure that happens.

In the case of this panel, since so many of us came from different backgrounds we were able to cover a ton of ground. From being an author, to a graphic novelist, to an illustrator, to a reviewer (me), we hit it all. Some of the authors on the panel were self-published, and some were NYT Bestselling Authors. But no matter where we were coming from, we all had the same message: you have to help yourself. Self promotion is just that; promoting yourself. In an economy as crappy as ours, it’s important that new authors make a name for themselves on their own. Relying solely on the publishing company to do you marketing is a good way to suck and fail miserably. Michaelbrent Collins said that if you aren’t an expert on yourself yet, you better get there. Soon. How can you market your work if you can’t even market yourself? Wise words. That guy was a complete riot. It was also interesting to hear Larry Correia's take since he has gone from self published to published with Baen to NYT Bestselling author. He put in the hard work, and I think he got that point across to the audience (and the panelists).

My own contributions to this panel involved telling the aspiring authors in the audience (not to mention the already established ones) that they needed to treat themselves like a grassroots band. Tour every blog online. Get every blog that reviews the stuff you write to review your novel and interview you. Guess where a lot of blogs get ideas of who to review and interview? That’s right, other blogs. Not to mention you need to go to conventions. Network with other authors and pros. You never know when those contacts will com in handy.

Panel 2 – How to Give Good Critiques and Receive Critiques Well:

On the Panel: Tristi Pinkston, LuAnn Staheli, Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury, Lesli Muir Lytle, Angie Lofthouse, Steve Diamond


Oh man. I got into a huge debate on this panel with Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury. Unfortunately she got held up prior to the panel and showed up late, so we had to start without her. The direction we were taking the panel without her was completely different from the direction she wanted to go with it.

It all started when she commented that a review of a novel is not a critique. Now I can see where she was coming from, but at the same time I couldn’t agree. I review books. My reviews are critiques. I explained that it was my opinion that a good/professional reviewer points out the perceived strengths and weaknesses of an authors work, and that if the author can look at this critique with an open mind they may learn something and be able to improve their future work. Kathleen disagreed, as is her right. I further explained my opinion by asking the authors in the audience and on the panel if I understood correctly that the goal of every writer was to improve with every novel. It was a rhetorical question, I know, but it made my point. Authors can learn just as much from a review as they can from a critique of their manuscript prior to publication. I even shared a few examples of authors who had personally emailed me to say so.

When the dust had settled (we both handled it professionally and had a good follow-up discussion after the panel), we moved on to discuss critiquing in a writing group setting. Having just sold a short story myself, I was eager to talk about this as well.
While we helped the audience quite a bit I think, I personally learned a lot about how to be a moderator from this panel. It was an awesome learning experience for me, and a much needed one since I was the moderator on my next panel.

Panel 3 - Building Your Audience

On the Panel: Steve Diamond, Karina Fabian, Carole Nelson Douglas

Not only was this my first convention as a program participant, it was also my first as a panel moderator. Originally Dave Wolverton was supposed to be on this panel as well, but he got sick and couldn’t come to the convention at all. This was a bummer since I was totally looking forward to having him on my panel. Yeah. I was freaking scared to death.

But you know what? This panel went VERY well. I tried to be the good moderator and guide the discussion rather than take it over (as I’m sure everyone has witnessed at some point). I was able to pull the audience into the discussion, and it was here that I was able to come up with an awesome bit of wisdom. In truth I thought it up the day before when chatting with an author (Amber Argyle), but I refined it in this panel. To build an audience, you have to have a relationship with your readers, not a one-night-stand. Building and maintaining an audience is a just like a personal relationship. It is built on kept promises, emotional growth, trust, and is an equal partnership. You want these readers to be loyal to you. You can’t have that level commitment with the readers if you don’t give a crap about them. One-night-stands are void of meaning. Do you really want that kind of sentiment with your readers? I know right? I was kinda pleased with myself for thinking it up. Every now and then I have a moment.

The panelists with me in this discussion were terrific. Carole Nelson Douglas completely old-school and awesome. Karina Fabian was more in the new way of thinking, and equally helpful to everyone. The great thing about them was how easy they made my job as a moderator. Class-acts the both of them.

Panel 4 – This Year in Film


On the Panel: Bryce Moore, Blake Casselman, Bob Defendi, Steve Diamond

I was asked to participate in this panel at the last minute by my good friend Bryce, who was on the panel. It was a completely low-key, loose, and fun discussion on how crappy the movies have been this year, and how badly we want the rest of the year to get better. We discussed the 3D hoax, movies that need more attention (Adjustment Bureau and Source Code), and how little care seems to be given to the writing in movies. Not much to tell here. It was fun, and I’m glad I ended up on it.

Panel 5 - Book Reviewing and Having Your Book Reviewed


On the Panel: Steve Diamond, Larry Correia, Jessica Day George, Julie Wright

This was my favorite panel. I’m not just saying this because it was my idea. The truth is that I was scared to death that it would completely suck. The opposite ended up being true. It was completely and utterly awesome. Both Jessica and Julie signed on to the panel late, but I can’t imagine it going even half as well without them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Larry and I could have held our own, but having Jessica and Julie there made the panel frakking terrific. The tone of the panel was fun, easy, and informative, and we all just seemed to naturally know when to move on to a new topic. That, my friends, is the mark of a good group working together.

The thing is, people in general have very little idea how much reviewers actually do. This goes even for authors. We discussed what a reviewers’ job is and why reviews are important. We talked about the dangers of being a reviewer and an author at the same time. We talked about how authors can get in touch with reviewers, and why they should. The authors at the table (essentially everyone but me haha!) talked about the worst reviews they’ve ever been given, and why those reviews frustrated them. I then talked about a few of my rules as a reviewer (a post will come later talking about reviewing the EBR way...it will be awesome).

If I was offered this panel to do again with these three, I would in a heartbeat. My only wish is that this panel had been on Saturday instead of Sunday. We would have packed the house on Saturday, and I think everyone on the panel agreed that the things we said could have helped a lot more people. But hey, there's always CONduit next year...and WorldCon in Reno! Yeah, I'm trying to get a similar panel going there.


So there you have it, CONduit 2011 in a nutshell. And I didn’t even talk about all the great authors I met, or the epic L5R game both Nick and I were involved in on the Saturday night of the Con (I had the highest kill count I think...Larry was right there with me though).

I am one of those guys that questions the usefulness of a convention I have attended. Almost a buyer’s remorse type of thing. But in this case I can say it was easily worth every bit of time and money spent. Awesome.

Iron Angel

It isn't often that we're completely taken by surprise by how deep the scope of a series is. After finally getting around to reading Alan Campbell's SCAR NIGHT, we were left feeling complete and satisfied. The novel was fantastic, and it had a strong and definitive-feeling ending. In short, we had no idea where Campbell was going next with the story.

Just a few pages of IRON ANGEL will have you--as with us--saying, "Holy crap...so THAT'S where this is going." The scope will throw you for a minute, and then you will begin devouring the pages of the novel that has raised the stakes and the bar significantly higher.

The first thing back is Campbell's awesome setting. He starts with the familiar. The city of Deepgate has been turned upside-down (literally) and is in shambles. The Spine (order of religious assassins) have basically declared martial law after what happened to their god. We just love the way Campbell describes Deepgate and the current state of things. In addition, we get caught up on Rachel and Dill who are on the run. What this story boils down to is the gods are at the precipice of war. Hell is making an attempt to take over the world, and our main PoVs get involved.

What comes across so quickly is Campbell's skill at handling the brutality that the world has fallen in to. He evokes so many shocking emotions with so little words. It is seriously incredible. What does this accomplish? Well, mainly it makes you feel for the characters. As awesome as Campbell's setting(s) is, it is nothing without great characters. Aside from Rachel and Dill, we are introduced to the fantastic character of John Anchor. What he does and who he is should be left to the reader's discovery, but we loved his scenes. All the characters are so well done that when Campbell is cruel to them, you feel it down to your bones.

A few negatives. First has to do with the character Carnival. All we'll say is that we hope that wasn't really all there was to her. If so, it was a bummer and a letdown. However the main issue we had was when the book would go into a new section or "Part." When Part 2 and Part 3 start, there is a huge moment of disorientation. Where are we? When are we? These questions are not answered right away. It ends up killing every shred of momentum and pacing which is a huge shame. However, once Campbell gets his opportunity to describe everything, it's all good. We just wish he had handled it better/differently. It was SO jarring.

In the end, those negatives were not near enough to bring down the novel. Everything going on here is just so deftly handled. This series has almost worked its way into the realm of Weird Fiction not unlike Miéville and Lebbon's ECHO CITY...just with much less questionable content. Aside from the points mentioned above, the pacing is completely awesome. Expect to burn through this novel even quicker than SCAR NIGHT.

The ending was nuts. We saw what was happening, and we were literally screaming for the characters to take notice of the impending doom. Where SCAR NIGHT felt like a contained story, IRON ANGEL ends in an ENORMOUS cliff-hanger. GOD OF CLOCKS is next, and we may have to put off some other reading to finish off this series. Everyone should be reading this series. Alan Campbell seems to be one of the best authors no one is reading. Fortunately we can rectify this oversight. All this said, we are worried about book 3. It could either make the series completely awesome, or take it down a few notches. We'll see...

Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: At times. It comes in spurts and can be pretty strong, but there isn't much of it.
Violence: Some of these scenes were horrifying. It isn't that they were shock-value, or hack-and-slash-grotesque. They were just so amazingly well written.
Sex: Nope.

For the Win

FOR THE WIN is Cory Doctorow's novel from last summer. If you have read and liked Doctorow's work in the past, then this book will be just right for you. If not, then I don't think this book will push any buttons that Doctorow's stuff missed in the past. Basically this is the typical Cory Doctorow novel.

The novel is about a bunch of online gamers forming a union.

No, really. That's what it's about. You want more than that? Fine. The story follows several view point characters around the world, all connected by online games (similar to World of Warcraft) that they enjoy playing, but want better rights for the work they do. There's Mala and Yasmin, brilliant young players in the slums of Dharavi. Leonard, or Wei Dong to his Chinese friends, who lives in California and is addicted to the online games and his friends. Matthew and Lu are some of those friends in China trying to get a better deal for their gold farming services. All of their stories have different twists and turns as they evade corrupt cops and ruthless bosses, and eventually bring them all together for the finale. But like I said, this novel is about a bunch of online gamers forming a union.

I read this book initially because I enjoyed Doctorow's LITTLE BROTHER so darn much and I was hoping to get a little more of the same. And I did...partially. Doctorow's writing style is clean and effortless to follow and even during the times when the characters are talking about something totally foreign to me, Doctorow pulls back for a moment to explain in simple terms what's going on. Normally I find this off-putting, but for some reason I like it Doctorow's work. It feels like I'm watching Mythbusters where right before they explode another car into a million pieces they step back to explain the physics of said explosion. There is also still a fun story going on with all the characters. The characters are all interesting and sympathetic and I did find myself wanting to keep reading to see what would happen.

That being said this book didn't delight me the way LITTLE BROTHER did. The fact that it had multiple viewpoints for me was a detraction. In LITTLE BROTHER I was able to really get into the mind of the character. I followed his every move. In FOR THE WIN, the constant changes in viewpoint sometimes had me lost as I tried to keep track of the different people. The negative side-effect here is that it also made it easier to put down for long stretches of time--not good. The viewpoint would switch and I just wouldn't be into the current story so much. The other complaint that I personally had with the novel was the fact that it the entire book dealt with a bunch of gamers. These are people who spent countless hours in their respective video games...and then the novel spends almost no time in the games themselves. I was kind of disappointed in that. It seemed like a fun way to show the lives of these characters. After all, they spend more time in that virtual world and come to think of themselves more in that world than out of it. Why then couldn't we see those fun imaginative games?

Overall FOR THE WIN was a mixed bag for me. I'm not upset that I read it, but it wasn't my favorite book of all time either. Doctorow is a big proponent of sharing his work for free online. He figures that if you really like it you'll go out and buy a copy and support the author. So that's good news for all of you out there. You can go out and read any of Doctorow's books for free right now. If I were you though I would start with LITTLE BROTHER.

Recommended Age: 16+ The plot is a bit complicated and not as action packed as kids might be used to. There's also a bit of language and violence.
Language: Not a ton, but it's there.
Violence: Again not a ton but some. One scene in particular was fairly graphic.
Sex: Mild innuendo.