The Unincorporated Man

I found this book in the most unusual way. I went to the bookstore and saw it on the shelf. I know, weird right? I didn’t see it on some blog, or see it in some random post from another site. It wasn’t recommended to me by a friend or any of that. Nope, I was just at Barnes & Noble one day and thought I would check out what was new and what looked interesting--and there it was, calling to me. I then did the only sensible thing and I went home and ordered it off of Amazon.

I’m glad I did.

THE UNINCORPORATED MAN has a very simple premise that hooked me immediately. A man with a deadly disease is frozen in a cryogenic chamber hoping to be thawed out in a time when technology will save him (kind of sounds like Futurama in a way doesn’t it?). The man, Justin Chord, is forgotten for hundreds of years and is then awakened to a world similar to his own but different in many respects. The main difference that the book illustrates is the concept of personal incorporation.

Upon birth any individual born gives 20% of shares in themselves, to their parents. While they grow up, various shares are traded away for things like schooling and the government. As the individual starts to work, the dream they all share is to one day own enough shares in themselves to become a majority shareholder--thus taking control of all of their own decisions.

Justin Chord is thrown into this world as a person who owns 100% of his own personal stock--a thing unheard of. His very appearance shakes the foundations of this society and the book deals with the implications of his arrival.

The book actually reads very similar to the first half of STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND by Robert Heinlein (which is pretty high praise indeed). Justin wanders into a strange land and meets various people who want to either help him or incorporate him into the system, an idea Justin equates with slavery. The read is nice and smooth and I liked the fact that we were seeing this future landscape through the eyes of a person from our time. It didn’t feel odd for Justin to look around the world and wonder at the marvels the future holds and I was able to marvel with him.

That being said I wish the future was a bit stranger than it was. It felt to me like the future as seen from 1960. Flying cars and homes that mold to your liking and things like that. It didn’t feel like something new. The idea of self incorporation was new, but everything else felt like the here and now, only slightly advanced. I’d like to think that in 300 years we will have done something new and unexpected and that’s what I wanted to see.

It’s a small complaint really. The book was fun to read and I eagerly picked up the sequel (review coming soon). The characters were fun and interesting, but it was mostly the world itself, the idea of self incorporation, that kept me going. If you liked STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND or INFOQUAKE then you should enjoy this.

Recommended Age: 14+ Nothing too over the top here
Language: Not a lot but there is some
Violence: Almost none
Sex: One graphic scene that is over fairly quickly, and a fair bit of innuendo

Want to give this novel a shot? Here are the links to the various books in this series, in order:




I Don't Want to Kill You

One of the lessons we have learned during our time reading and reviewing novels is that it is hard just to get a book published. Making that first novel solid? Even harder. But you know what’s even MORE difficult than that? Writing a series where every novel gets better and better.

Dan Wells’ horror series staring John Cleaver—a teenager who has all the early tendencies of a serial killer—comes to a conclusion (just for now hopefully) with I DON’T WANT TO KILL YOU. The novel is fantastic, even better than last year’s terrific MR. MONSTER.

So what makes this novel so good? We’ll start with the character, John Wayne Cleaver. If you’ve read the previous two novels in the series (which hopefully you have, otherwise why the heck are you even reading this review?), you know that John is an odd sort of fellow. He obsesses over serial killers; their methods, their psychology and their motives. John also worries that he will become one, so he sets rules for himself. He also works (secretly from his classmates at school and the rest of the town) in the family mortuary. The great thing about John is that for every instance where he scares the reader with his macabre thoughts and actions, he also makes the reader laugh. The balance here is perfect, and even better than the previous novels. At the same time, however, Wells has made this character grow. Remember, the events of the three novels all take place collectively over a very short amount of time. John has seen and experienced a lot since he first faced off against the killer from I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, and it shows in I DON’T WANT TO KILL YOU. There are moments where the realizations of what he has done both harden and simultaneously soften John. It is such an interesting and unique dynamic that we couldn’t help but love completely.

I DON’T WANT TO KILL you follows John as he attempts to track another killer in town. This time though, the Killer is in town because John issued a challenge. He also finds himself in a relationship of sorts. Nothing having to do with emotions is ever clear-cut with John, and Wells’ writing really showed just how out of his element John really is when “dating.”

The pacing of the novel is smooth as butter 99% of the time. Wells’ writing is perfectly accessible while not feeling dumbed-down. We’ve read this novel twice now, and it was just as good, and fast-paced the second time as it was the first. Don’t expect to set the novel down once you get going. Give yourself a few free hours and down it one sitting—it’s what we do.

There are a few things we do feel like we should mention. First, it would have been nice to have been reminded of John’s physical appearance. It’s super minor, but would have been helpful all the same. There was really only one moment where the pacing, story and dialogue lagged. There is a moment later in the novel where John is talking on the phone to a Pastor. You’ll know it when you get to it, but for us it was really flat compared to the rest of the novel. Essentially the dialogue is wooden, and the Pastor acts like he’s under a compulsion spell. It’s a small section that is over quick, but it could have used a revision.

One of the main things that certain people complained about with Dan’s last novel, MR MONSTER, was about the continued supernatural angle. They complained that John was never really facing off against true humans, and that he only killed so-called “demons.” I DON’T WANT TO KILL YOU follows the same method. There is a strong supernatural element. Deal with it. It’s what sets this series apart from simply being “Young Dexter.” There are some fantastic lines towards the end of this novel where Wells sets this series apart, and makes it far better than the Jeff Lindsay series it is inevitably compared to.

I DON’T WANT TO KILL YOU is a terrifying and absolutely thrilling novel. John Cleaver is a believable teenager who readers instantly love, and who’s story readers will be sad to see come to an end (for now). This novel—and this series—is one of the best we have read, and is a must read for EVERYONE. Easily one of the best novels of the year.

Recommended Age: 14 and up.
Language: Like two words.
Violence: Yeppers. Dan deals with suicides, murders and monsters. He also has his requisite embalming scenes.
Sex: Nope.

Dan's Website:

Writing Excuses:

Dan's series in order:

Can You Survive the Zombie Apocalypse?

CAN YOU SURVIVE THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE? by Max Brallier has managed to break us out of our staunch anti-zombie book stance. It is a choose-your-own-adventure book for an adult, with a setting guessed it, a zombie apocalypse. We figured it was different enough we could relent on our anti-zombie attitude for one more book.

We are glad we did. This book is a riot!

There is remarkably little to actually review about this book. You'll know whether it is something you're interested in or not just after reading that it is a Zombie Choose-Your-Own-Adventure. You don't expect great writing, storytelling, plot, character development, etc from this thing.

To clear something up right away so that your expectations are set it in the right place. This isn't like those Facebook quizzes about how long (or if) you would survive the Zompocalypse. We expected it to be a little more of a "test your knowledge" kind of thing. It wasn't. The scenarios set up in the book are beyond ridiculous and set up a more humorous exploration of the idea.

There were some real missed opportunities because of this. Mainly to make it a little more serious, on the note of World War Z and the like. We thought that if Max had taken the subject matter a little more seriously (Yeah yeah...taking zombies seriously? You don't have to say it...) we could have been treated to something a little more entertaining or involving. Instead we get various escapades that run the gamut from bunkering in a B&N to read zombie books (PATIENT ZERO, THE NEW DEAD, THE WALKING DEAD, WORLD WAR Z, etc) to getting our face peed on by a Hell's Angel, to watching Zombie Overlord George Romero direct his zombie underlings. We understand that B-Movie zombie styles definitely are what some people are after, and that's fair. We just wished it was a little darker, a little more serious (Big surprise, right?).

There are a few dozen different endings, but from what we could tell none of them were really..."endings". Except the ones where you died of course, and believe us, those were spectacularly gruesome. You will die in just about every fashion imaginable. Some of them are downright horrific and others and brilliantly hilarious.

Another thing that sort of bugged us was that the choices were often too stupid. We feel like anyone reading this is going to be a zombie aficionado, and be frustrated by the stupidity of choices. When Nick sent an email saying the title of the book, Steve originally thought Nick was asking him the question "Can you survive the zombie apocalypse?". He involuntarily started thinking about what he would do. This is the kind of book we feel it should have been. Instead we get things like this particular example in one of the early divergent paths where you can choose to go home to your apartment. While there you have the choice to get drunk or leave for somewhere else. Who is going to choose the Xanax and Coors!? If you choose to leave, the supplies you take with you are a Nintendo DS and a few copies of Hustler. That will throw you completely out of the immersion aspect of a CYOA book. Our bet is that Zombie Fans are going to like the book because of its pulp and fun factor, but be frustrated and quickly bored by the inanity of many of its segments.

Honestly, the book is pretty silly, but hilariously entertaining. A brilliant idea with a fairly lack-luster execution. However, some of the opportunities it DIDN'T miss however are the multitude of homages to Zombie Culture, as well as Americana references. Those little things were almost always good for a chuckle. Whether or not you liked Seinfeld, just the image of George Castanza running at the kid's birthday party and knocking them all over referenced as your character flees from zombies, will be enough to warrant caution about drinking anything while reading, lest you spurt it from your nostrils in laughter.

Bottom line: It's not an award-winning, reality-altering, genre-bending book. It is a riotous throwback to our time as kids when CYOA books were a complete craze, and it certainly delivers on that front. We aren't going to recommend this book to everyone, but if you think, at all, it sounds fun, you will want to check it out. The price-tag of $16.00 bucks is pretty steep for what will keep you occupied for 45-60 minutes tops, but hey...that's never stopped you dorky Zombie-Freaks before has it?

Recommended Age: 18 +
Language: Yeah. It doesn't take long for the F bombs to start flying and then they don't stop.
Violence: Wow, lots of it, in comedic amounts, and extremely bloody and graphic.
Sex: Some. Nothing graphic.

Hawkwood's Voyage

Buzz, buzz, buzz. Can you hear it? Bees? you wonder, but no. Not bees. Did someone leave the stereo speakers on? No. Not that. Huh. Then what? I’ll tell you what. It's the buzz of advertisement. Every once in a while we see it pop up. There’s some new book or author that gets people talking and soon it’s all over the place and everyone wants to know more. There was a bundle for NAME OF THE WIND, a grip for TOME OF THE UNDERGATES, and yes there was enough for this book that I got caught up by it. Thus.

HAWKWOOD AND THE KINGS is an omnibus version of two books written by Paul Kearney back in the mid-90’s that Solaris decided to bring back after some of Kearney’s more recent novels got some acclaim. Decent idea. We’ve seen it before and will see it again. Sometimes it works great: more of a great author to digest. Others, not so much: earlier work isn’t up to par with what we know. Which is this? I can’t say one way or the other as this is the first Kearney novel I’ve read, but if I had to guess, I’d say it’s more than likely the latter due to poor presentation. The first book in the omnibus was originally titled HAWKWOOD'S VOYAGE, which I found rather confusing as I was reading it. More on that later though. This review will take us through that first novel collected in HAWKWOOD AND THE KINGS.

The story itself revolves around a couple main characters. The first we meet is Corfe, who is a solider escaping the burning and looting of the City of God. The nefarious Merduks have finally done the unthinkable and sacked the city. Instead of fighting through though, instead of trying to find his commanding officers, or instead of trying to find his wife and save her from their rapacious enemies, he turns tail and runs away. Bye bye city. Can’t stay to chat. Hmm. Unfortunate beginning...

Then we get Hawkwood. He’s the captain of a fine sailing vessel, touting a crew from all over the known world. He’s at the end of another trip and finally sailing back into the realm of the Monarchies of God. As the ship comes into the port of Abrusio, however, he notices that there are burning bodies everywhere. The church has declared all foreigners and those with magical ability to be heretics, and as such they must all be burnt at the stake. Like any rational character would, he ignores all the signs and sails into port. As a result, half his crew is thrown in prison and put in the queue to be killed. And thus he can’t turn his nose up when he’s approached by a representative of the king to load a bunch of magic users into his boat and set sail toward an unknown continent, months to the west. First though, he has to visit his mistress for several days and then yell at his wife for being so weepy after hearing the news. Nice.

The book itself is involved with both Hawkwood’s journey across the waters (eventually) and the advance of the Merduk army across the Monarchies (as preceded by Corfe). There are also a number of other secondary characters through which the story is told. Arungzeb, the Merduk king. Bardolin the Mage. Heria, Corfe’s wife. Abeleyn, the King in Abrusio. Murad, the king’s cousin. Hu--- So many, you ask? Yes, I know--this is quite the list--but there’re still a few more. You don’t want to know? But there’s such a good reason. Here. I’ll just give it to you.

This novel has an omniscient narrator.

We move from one character to the next, sometimes mid page, never really getting a sense of who any of them are; though when we do they're not all that impressive. We see very few connections between them, which are important; we don’t see arcs, which we love; we hardly even see emotion, though when we do it feels like a switch has been flipped. And then flipped off again. There are, in essence, no characters to love. No character to enjoy.

And that completely breaks my heart.

What is here is a ton of possibility for story, but we don’t really get one. In fact, it reads more like a history book through a combination of info dump, prose, and speech:

Here’s what’s happened up to this point.

Here’s a good description on what the city/room/landscape/boat looks like.

Here’s some conversation to help you understand what’s happening around the world (most times with little to no obvious connection to a character of interest)

Next chapter.

The one thing that Kearney does do quite well is give a good sense of living on a boat. As a significant portion of the story happened on a boat, this was an added bonus. But bonuses do not a story make. Especially if said voyaging boat trip doesn’t start until 60% of the book has already passed. (You find that odd too? Well then.) Writing was well-done. Pacing was rough for the most part and shifted frequently. As I mentioned, no real character development. Logical progression. The scope was epic though, I’ll give it that: the big bad church, politics spanning vast countries, evil baddies from other countries coming to chop you and yours to bits, magical heretics peppered in amongst it all. And there was even a werewolf.

The problem was that I couldn’t care a fig about any of it. Too bad, really. I would have loved to see something non-mediocre. It just wasn’t there. That said, there wasn't enough to put me off of reading the next part of the omnibus.

Recommended age: 18 plus
Language: Occasional, but strong
Violence: War and werewolves. Yeah.
Sex: Several scenes that, oddly enough, received more detailed attention than the main crux of the story

Paul Kearney’s Homepage

Among Others

Morwenna is an odd girl. At least that's how she perceives herself. And it may very well be true since the other girls at the English boarding school have confirmed the points against her: she reads endless stacks of SF, she uses a cane as the result of a lame leg, she's from Wales so doesn't have a posh accent, and her mother is a witch.

This oddity means that the girls leave her alone, which is fine with Mor, but it also leaves her lonely. And she has many reasons to feel lonely. Her parents divorced when she was young, so she barely knows the father just recently come into her life. She ran away from home to get away from her evil mother, leaving behind a beloved grandfather. And her twin sister died mere months ago.

It's 1979 and 15-year-old Mor's diary is the subject of AMONG OTHERS by Jo Walton. It only covers a few months, recounting the struggle of a young girl trying to simply get on with her life in the aftermath of the death of her twin sister. As a result of it being only a slice of Mor's life, there isn't a definite plot, no real climax or conclusion, and it just sort of ends in what feels like the middle of the story. But this novel is less about the story and more about how Mor's love affair with books helps her to cope.

AMONG OTHERS is a nostalgic-feeling character study, told in tight and delightful prose. Mor is a girl who understands her own limitations, as well as her strengths. She is terrible at math and sports, but she loves reading--specifically SF. It's possible that people who didn't read fantasy and sci-fi growing up may not 'get' this book. I discovered SF early and inhaled it, much like Mor did. It was fun to see her references of novels and authors; her love of books is infectious, you feel her excitement about the visits to the library or bookstore, the joy of reading the strange and unusual, and about finding others who love SF the same way she does.

But there may be a reason why Mor loves SF so much: she knows magic. Born and raised in Wales, Mor was a friend to the local fairies, and her own mother is a witch. But magic scares Mor, and for good reason. While she understands how to do magic, she also understands its dangers. About magic Mor says that "You can almost always find chains of coincidence to disprove magic. That's because it doesn't happen the way it does in books.... It's like if you snapped your fingers and produced a rose but it was because someone on an aeroplane had dropped a rose at just the right time for it to land on your hand. There was a real person and a real aeroplane and real rose, but that doesn't mean the reason you have the rose in your hand isn't because you did the can dismiss all of it if you have a sceptical turn of mind because there always is a sensible explanation. It always works through things in the real world, and it's always deniable" (pg 40). But what kind of magical compulsion was necessary to force the pilot into that aeroplane just so she could magic a rose? Even though it can be explained away does that make magic real? Mor seems to think so. But I wonder...

From the beginning we know that Mor's sister is dead, but we don't know why. The events leading to Mor's injury, her sister's death, and Mor running away from home are all revealed along the way, leaving you to imagine what a story that would have been.

Despite the book's brevity, it's an engaging and nostalgic look at what it means to grow up loving books. And it's the sense of wonder--magic, the heft of a new book, finding a kindred spirit, overcoming a tragic past--that makes AMONG OTHERS a thoughtful story.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: None
Violence: None
Sex: As a teenager it's on her mind so it's referenced with some detail


Bob Fingerman's PARIAH has been sitting on our to-review list for a while now. We were just so thoroughly bummed out by it that after finishing it we were just too depressed to get any momentum going on a review.

Let's get the introduction out of the way. PARIAH is a zombie book. Another one. Now that alone should tell you that there were conflicting opinions on the book. Steve loves zombies and Nick thinks they have been played out. However the book didn't really satisfy either of us.

PARIAH, initially, had a lot going for it. After the initial, obligatory, "outbreak" scene we are treated to more of an examination of humanity in the worst of conditions than an actual zombie book. In fact there were really only two good "zombie" scenes in its entirety. While we know that zombie stories are only told so that we can examine the enemy in ourselves, and quit spending so much energy hating and fearing the enemy without, there still needs to be some Horror aspect. So it didn't fulfill the desire for a good Horror book for Steve. Not only that, but the examination of humanity wasn't very deep or thought provoking so it didn't fulfill that aspect for Nick. The book was more about starvation, masturbation, sex, boredom, and porn than anything else.

Oh yeah, don't forget the copious amounts of vulgarity.

One thing the book DID succeed with, was being just chock-full of twisted humor. But when this is the best thing we can say about a book you know it's got to be one you steer clear of. It also did an extremely good job of painting a very bleak picture for what a zombie apocalypse could be like. It wasn't a popcorn zombie bashing novel where resources are abundant. PARIAH's world would be a very frightening one.

An extremely common thread that ties zombie stories together is a very close examination of human nature and social issues. PARIAH makes it seem like it Bob was intending to do just that, but lost himself and the plot in the midst of all the depravity. It could be THAT is actually the idea he wanted to explore, but it never came through.

We spend a lot of time with these characters and, so, get to know them very well. This is another strength of PARIAH. These characters aren't the type you forget when you close the book. They are all unique, very well characterized, and with the lack of (with a couple exceptions) cliches the characters are all pretty original. Put a tally mark, for this category, in the painfully lonely "Win" column for PARIAH.

Most of the book is an exploration of these characters doing...well...nothing. OK maybe not nothing. They starve. Look at porn. Have sex. Want to have sex. Think about having sex. Look out the window. Think about sex some more. Cry. Get naked. You get the idea. There is no plot. At a certain point of the book some random chick is seen meandering her way through the zombies, without being noticed. When she starts interacting with the characters...let's just say she doesn't bring much to the table. For us anyway. She brings lots of food to the table for the characters, which is nice. At least they have something to do now instead of whine of about food and sex. At least we can read about them eating now instead of lamenting about sex.

This random chick is called Mona, and gets zero character development, and only serves an impetus for the group to leave the confines of their safe haven. We get no explanations or anything.

PARIAH's story, for us, is one of boredom and disappointment. At no point was the book thought-provoking, as it should have been. At no point was it an examination of social issues, or the Horror genre. The book had no real depth, or plot. It was less of a zombie book (with only 2 real zombie scenes) and more of a plot-bereft study of as we said before "...well nothing".

Recommended Age: Honestly? None. OK, in the interest of being helpful...still none. OK fine. Adults...if anyone...
Language: As we said earlier. Copious Amounts. Enough to be distracting. Of didn't distract from much as there wasn't much to be distracted from.
Violence: There are a couple zombie-style violent scenes and a couple other less graphic scenes. Not much here.
Sex: TONS. The characters are either being eaten by zombies, having sex, thinking about sex, wishing they could have sex, talking about sex, looking at porn and masturbating. Etc...

The Buntline Special

The Wild West. Dusty towns. Empty streets. Tumbleweed rollin’ ‘cross the prairie. Tombstone, Arizona. Ain’t nothin that better describes it. But this ain’t no normal town. No. It’s got electric cars. Magic Indians. Undead and vicious monsters alike. Read em all and weep, people, cause Resnick’s come to town.

THE BUNTLINE SPECIAL is a weird Wild West tale stripped out of the historical annals of the region and twisted to decent effect by the master of science fiction, Mike Resnick. Think “electro-punk western” and you won’t be far off.

The plot is pretty straightforward. The American Indians have kept at bay the expansionist dreams of the United States with their magical powers and somebody’s upset about it. So they send Thomas Edison out to Tombstone to figure out a scientific way to negate the magic of the Indians. A few of the chiefs don’t take too kindly to it and so Tom is soon in a heap of mortal trouble. So the local sheriff, one Wyatt Earp, calls in a couple of his buddies, Bat Masterson and Doc Holliday, to help him and the brothers Earp protect the scientist. Then, of course, it’s the Indian’s turn, so one of them resurrects Doc Holliday’s only rival when it comes to shooting: Johnny Ringo. And at long last, the stage is set.

The story itself revolves around Doc Holliday, a veritable dentist, who drinks enough whiskey each day to drown an elephant and is slowly dying of consumption. Despite this fact, he’s still the quickest draw in the west and there’s not a soul that doesn’t know just what ol’ Doc will do to 'em if they get on his bad side. He flashes his guns, grumbles at his girl (the proprietor of the town’s only whore house), and talks literature whenever given the chance.

The style of Buntline reminded me a whole lot of STALKING THE DRAGON, the most recent book that I've read by Resnick. After ripping through two chapters and seeing that about 85% of the text was dialogue, a few things became fairly obvious. One, this book was going to move fast; two, I probably wasn’t going to get a whole lot of characterization; three, atmosphere was going to be minimal, sure shootin’; and four, I better not expect a whole lot of action either. That’s essentially what I got.

All the characters are pertty much the same (and no that’s not a spelling error--think dialect): Old West hard cores that’ll shoot you in the head before you can so much as sneeze at them. They talk hard, have short tempers, and are ready to go for their guns at the drop of a hat. Lots o’ drinking and gambling and whoring to be had. Surprisingly though, there was also a lot of respect for the law when it came to killing people. Funny, that.

I had to laugh when I got to the end and realized that the chick that is apparently on the front cover barely even makes a proper showing. Ain’t nothing like a bit (bundle) of cleavage front and center though to make the masses check it out. The book, people. Sheesh. What did you think I was talking about?

Overall, there was too much talking (surprise, surprise) and not enough action for me. Additionally, one of the subplots totally overtook the book, leading to the climax (which only got two pages as it was) feeling fairly lackluster and without impact. It was decent though. Fast, interesting, and infrequently funny, this book is something that you could easily pick up between, say, two Malazan novels and totally blow through with a respectable amount of enjoyment to be had.

In the end, it was fun, but really quite superficial. Right on the edge of "Like" and "Mediocre."

Recommended age: 16 plus
Language: Some fairly strong language
Violence: Animal mutilations, people getting shot
Sex: Talk concerning the whore house, a couple short scenes without detail, and a picture of a robot whore (yes, they're in the book, and don't ask, because I have no idea)

Mike Resnick’s Website

True Grit

I grew up a John Wayne fan; I readily and unashamedly admit it. For whatever reason I absolutely loved his movies--The Longest Day, McLintock! and El Dorado being among my favorites. My grandparents owned a video rental store, so when I wasn’t watching Transformers, Voltron or G.I. Joe, I was watching John Wayne movies. It was with mixed emotions that I first saw the trailer for the Coen Bros. remake of John Wayne’s True Grit. Honestly I originally planned on sitting this movie out. You just don’t remake John Wayne. Right?

Reviews started trickling in, nearly all of them positive. So what’s a guy to do? Simply put, I bought tickets to the Coen Bros. film, Netflixed (yes it’s a word…now) the John Wayne original and bought the original novel by Charles Portis (which I had not read previously). That’s right! I went for the whole experience!

The Remake

Let’s start with my impressions of the Coen Bros. remake. Overall, I felt it was fantastic. I feel that sticking to the PoV of Mattie Ross--played by the absolute revelation of Hailee Steinfeld--was a perfect choice. It gave different eyes to the whole experience of the film. Jeff Bridges playing Rooster Cogburn, surprisingly, didn’t bother me at all. In fact there were moments in the film where Bridges puts on an absolutely perfect expression of cold steel--or perhaps “true grit” is the phrase that should be used--that you can, in the words written by hundreds of novelists, feel the blood freeze in your veins. Then in the next moment Bridges will deliver a spot-on comical line that cuts the tension, keeping the film from posing as a remake of Unforgiven. Matt Damon as La Boeuf was a pleasant surprise. I have become more and more impressed by his acting skills as I watch his varied roles. For the limited screen-time Josh Brolin has as Tom Chaney, he did an amazing job capturing the false innocence, real malevolence and pathetic whining that essentially got Mattie’s father killed to start the movie.

Not everything is perfect. I am typically far less critical of movies than I am of novels, but there were still a few things that jumped out at me. The first was the liberal use of garbled mumbling that is forced upon all the main characters (excepting Mattie). There are moments where you can’t understand Bridges as he growls his way through his lines. Damon has an incident in the movie that forces a slurring on him. Brolin doesn’t escape it either. I get that the Coen Bros. wanted all these characters to be gruff, but it was a bit overboard.

But really that is all minor compared to the ending. To be blunt, it was handled poorly. A friend of mine mentioned that the ending took it from a 5-star film to a 4 or 4.5-star. I agree with him completely. From the scenes before the epilogue of the film (good, brief moments in a traveling montage that was just awful), to the epilogue itself, I was left with a bad taste of grit in my mouth (see what I did there!). In a way it reminds me of the ending to another Coen Bros. film, No Country for Old Men. Great movies that can’t keep it together for the full length of the feature (though to be fair, True Grit’s ending isn’t near as poor as No Country’s).

As a whole, I’d give True Grit 4.5 stars. It touched all the right notes for me even with the jarring ending/epilogue. And yes, Bridges takes the reins between his teeth without looking ridiculous. For that alone the True Grit will be a purchase for me when it goes on blu-ray.

The Novel

After watching the movie remake, I received my copy of Charles Portis’ TRUE GRIT in the mail. Like most westerns, the novel totaled a whole 230 pages (give or take), and I plowed through it in two short sittings.

A few things became readily apparent. First, for a novel written in 1968 TRUE GRIT has aged remarkably well. Secondly, my respect for the Coen Bros. actually increased for how close they stuck to the original material. They actually (minus the tacked-on ending) made Mattie an even stronger character in my opinion. I could literally hear Hailee Steinfeld voice in my mind like I was listening to her reading an audio book—something I think should actually be commissioned immediately.

I do feel, however, that the Coen Bros. missed an opportunity with Le Boeuf. The novel has Le Boeuf present for the entire hunt of Chaney, and it actually smooths out his increasing respect for Mattie. In fact the novel itself proceeds much smoother for the entire ride, up to and including the ending. Novels just have more room to explore character growth and motivations.

What else can I say other than “Read this book”? It is one of the rare cases where it actually serves as a solid companion piece to the movie. In fact it may even help you get over a little of the bad taste left in your mouth from that ending. Don’t get me wrong, it still feels tacked on. I just don’t like the ending of either. But at least it makes more sense now. Instead of Mattie becoming a grumpy hag for no apparent reason like she does in the remake, those last lines she utters actually have some significance in Portis’ novel. No, it still isn’t a perfect ending, but it is way easier to stomach.

Perhaps the main message that the novel and remake get across is that the title TRUE GRIT actually refers to Mattie rather than Rooster Cogburn. It is her “grit” that actually makes Cogburn have his own as the story progresses. It’s what makes the novel so enjoyable, and ultimately what makes the remake so successful. If you’ve ever read and enjoyed a western (Louis L’Amour anyone?) then Portis’ TRUE GRIT should be on your list of novels to read.

The Original

Seriously, the only reason this review took so long to put out was because Netflix couldn’t seem to get me a copy. My movie collecting friends? Nope, it was always that movie they were “thinking of adding to the collection” but never did. Good grief.

My main worry about rewatching the 1969 original for the sake of this review was that it wouldn’t age well. Turns out I was right. Hindsight being what it is, I wish I had started with the original film rather than saving it for last. As much as it pains me to go against the Duke, the original True Grit just can't stand up when compared to the remake or the novel.

Watching the original movie has all but cemented my view that reading a book before watching the movie based on that same novel is a bad idea. The changes made in the original film were distracting, as were the writing and casting. These issues are even more glaring when one considers how well the Coen Bros. did adapting the novel into a script.

The original True Grit stars John Wayne, and like all John Wayne movies the focus is entirely on him. Honestly it was the only saving grace of the movie. Watch this movie again and tell me anyone else of importance does an even passable job. Nope. Won't happen.

What strikes me as humorous is people's faulty memory regarding this version of the film. Almost every single person I talked to about the original film mentioned how they thought that Mattie pretended to be a boy in the story. I myself had that exact recollection. We were all wrong. It never happens. Mattie is a female the entire time. However. Mattie in the original film is played by Kim Darby where she manages to completely destroy the role. Darby was 22 playing a 14 year-old. In an effort to hide her height and maturity, she slouches and hunches her shoulders the entire film. Everything she does in the film is annoying, and she completely demolishes any chance the viewer has of rooting for her. Remember, True Grit is supposed to be about her journey, not Rooster Cogburn's. She simply couldn't pull it off.

While the original film does the right thing by having Le Boeuf present the entire time, the actor portraying him--Country artist Glen Campbell--is just bad. He's not quite at the Kim Darby level of horridness, but he comes close. Not to mention that his ending in the original movie is completely wrong and pointless.

What else? Changes to the dialogue. Changes to the setting and season. A completely ridiculous happy ending. While John Wayne is, well, John Wayne, these is no ruthlessness to his portrayal of Rooster Cogburn. And again, this original film goes completely against the spirit of what the novel seems to represent by removing Mattie from the focus of everything and putting Cogburn at the center of it all.

Then again, this movie would been even more amazingly awful had Darby been given any more screen time. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.


It seems that the general consensus is that people always feel the original film is better than the remake. Just look at the train-wreck of Clash of the Titans to see why, or the remake of Charade. Regardless of how long it has been since viewing the original, people seem to have this set of blinders on. "Oh, how dare they remake the Duke! That movie was a masterpiece! Nothing will ever come close!" Guess what? The original True Grit film is, to use Mattie's own words, "trash" compared to the new film. It just is. I've watched many a film from that time period, and I've seen far better. If it wasn't for the Duke, that movie wouldn't even warrant a second thought.

Forget about the original film. There are plenty of other John Wayne films that have maintained their appeal over the years, this just isn't one of them. Watch the new Coen Bros. movie, and then read the original Charles Portis classic.


Note: Don't expect these kinds of reviews from me often. They take a ton of time. I may do one or two a year. If you have a suggestion for my next movie vs novel smackdown, let me know via email!

Interview with Ian C. Esslemont

We were recently offered the opportunity to interview Ian Cameron Esslemont (Cam), author of NIGHT OF KNIVES, RETURN OF THE CRIMSON GUARD, and STONEWIELDER. We first met Cam at World Fantasy back in 2009, and we were immediately impressed by his openness and enthusiasm. It was one of those situations where you meet an author for whom your exceptions are unrealistically high...only to be easily met, and then just as easily surpassed.

***The Interview***

Elitist Book Reviews: We want to start off by thanking you, Cam, for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with us for a bit. Our tradition at Elitist Book Reviews is to start off by letting the author brag a bit. Tell us why you are awesome, and why everyone should be reading your work.

Ian C. Esslemont (Cam):
Brag? Well, what I will say is that among the groaning fantasy shelves the World of Malaz is different. If you are tired of the predictable hero-beats-villain-gets-girl fantasy staples and are looking for something a little bit more challenging, then Malaz is for you. The series is, for better or worse, more like the realpolitik of life. All is shades of grown-up moral grey and the good guys don’t necessarily win. In fact, it’s rather hard even to find any good guys – which is not to say there is no one to root for. There are plenty of individuals to identify with and we follow their fortunes, their mistakes, and learn with them. If a great number of fantasy series aim to embrace the reader in the glow of medals earned through perilous trials and set-backs – the drama of expected rewards, then in Malaz I believe Steve and I are more interested in inviting the reader to share in the wrenching conflicts of being human, which is to say – the drama of tragedy.

EBR: With every novel you seem to get better and better—your war scenes, specifically, are some of the best out there. A measure of growing confidence can be seen in your writing. Where do you think you’ve improved the most, and where do you think you still have room to grow?

Cam: Many thanks for that generous evaluation. I believe that what you mention is exactly where I have allowed myself to grow: in confidence. Early on I wouldn’t explore much of what I do now simply because I wasn’t sure I was ‘allowed’ to, so to speak. Now I’m more inclined to just go for it, reasonably confident that the reader will give me the rope necessary. As to where I might still have room to grow, yikes! I feel that there’s still plenty of room for me to explore all the aspects and elements of story that I hope to.

EBR: How much feedback do you get from Steven when writing, and how much do you typically give on his own work?

Cam: Currently, the feedback has actually been far slimmer than many would assume, I think. The time for most of that has passed. We shared enormous feedback in the mutual creation of the world. It was a dialogue in which we hammered out all to come later. Since then the feedback has been more ‘global’ judgments (as they say in creative writing workshops), as when I read a finished manuscript from Steve and give it the ‘thumbs up’ or he does the same for me. Occasionally, one of us would get snagged on a particular plot or character problem or such and we would kick it around together to come up with a resolution. For example, in my upcoming fourth: Orb Sceptre Throne, I tackle Kruppe and so I can tell you I was very apprehensive. I talked that one over a great deal with Steve – he even suggested how I might resolve that particular plot thread. Likewise, he knows I’m dealing with Jacuruku next and so he asked how I was developing the Ascendant Ardata.

That’s the nature of the feedback right now I guess: plot and character specifics, world continuity, shuffling options for greatest effect, that sort of thing.

EBR: Do you have any plans for a few short stories/novellas of your own?

Cam: Actually, yes. Steve has encouraged me to tackle tales of the early ‘Empire’ in the form of novellas similar to his Bauchelain and Korbal Broach series. I am also interested in what happens to Shadowthrone and the Rope and their realm after the point that we leave them off. So that is another possibility as well. Unfortunately, I’m not as fast a writer as Steve and I have a full-time day job of looking after my sons. So I am currently hard-pressed in managing to keep up with one novel a year as it is. Next year, though, I believe I may have more time available to explore those works. I hope so. And I hope the readers would be interested in hearing those stories.

EBR: What made you decide to focus on the “old guard” in your works? Was it specifically planned by you and Steven?

Cam: It was planned. In our division of stories and arcs these were the areas I wanted (at least that’s the way I remember it). Or perhaps it just worked out that way. In any case, it wasn’t all that formalized with barriers or ‘turf’ so to speak. Nothing like that. We both merely went where our interests took us and compiled a master list of some fifteen or so possible novels, or projects, which would constitute the main arcs. That list goes way back.

I’d like to take this opportunity, if I may, to address this issue of collaboration. Many times Steve and I have heard people express surprise at what we have accomplished together and at our continued cooperation in this creative project. For neither of us it is a surprise. I’m not sure why, but perhaps it is generational, and, to an extent, professional. In the field of archaeology he and I saw firsthand the bitterness and division the old-school approach of possessiveness and professional rivalry can generate. Unlike this old model, neither of us sees the other’s success as our failure. Rather, each of us sees the other’s success as adding momentum to the larger project. Burnishing it further, if you will. In anthropology there is an old concept of societies that subscribe in the idea of ‘limited good.’ This is an ancient worldview wherein any good accruing to another, a neighbor or relative, means there is less ‘good,’ or fortune, remaining for you. Suffice it to say that neither Steve nor I subscribe to it.

EBR: You are three novels into your series. What has been the highlight of it all so far?

Well, by far the biggest so far is just getting into print in the first place. Given that, the appearance of Night of Knives, real and physical, would be that highlight. Other than this the contract with Bantam for four more novels was of course another. On the larger scale, so far I believe I’m lucky in being able to say that each work has been the highlight to date. I felt that way about Return of the Crimson Guard, with Stonewielder, and now with Orb Sceptre Throne as well.

EBR: If you had to recommend someone a novel/series, what would be the recommendation? No cheating here by recommending your own or Steven’s.

Cam: Oh dear, this is a tough one because I’m reading more nonfiction for research and such right now. What I do wish to put in a plug for (as if he needs one from me) is the SF of Iain M. Banks who deserves far more attention here in the US. I am reading fantasy series with my lads and so can speak to the target age of about ten years old or so. Here, I quite enjoyed the ‘Last Apprentice’ series by Joseph Delany. I feel that he did a fantastic job of evoking a harsh and very dark ‘real’ world that is actually quite creepy (at least for us adults reading along).

EBR: What does the future of your series hold for the readers?

Cam: As I mentioned, Orb Sceptre Throne will be out next. It is set in Darujhistan and follows up on Toll the Hounds quite closely. It is thus more or less contemporaneous with Stonewielder. Right now I am working on the next of the series, which follows events unfolding upon the continent of Jacuruku. The working title for this novel is City in the Jungle. After this (everything having worked out) I hope to tackle the final work of the main arc, which is titled, Assail.

That is the main sequence for Malaz. If I somehow find extra time there are SF projects I’ve had my eye on for some time now. I can only hope.

EBR: Thank you again, Cam, for dropping by. It has been a true privilege for us. Any parting words for our readers, and can we expect to see you at any conventions in the near future?

Cam: Yes, Steve talked me into coming to the World Fantasy Convention and I quite enjoyed it. Now we both try to make it so we can hang out together for a time. This year it is in San Diego and I hope to make it. After that, I understand it will be in Toronto and so Steve and I really ought to make that one!

Many thanks to everyone at Elitist Book Reviews. It has been great having the chance to talk over all things Malaz.

Cheers, Ian C. Esslemont.



We were worried that STONEWIELDER wouldn’t quite live up to (or build upon) the greatness of RETURN OF THE CRIMSON GUARD. Ian C. Esslemont had set his own bar pretty high, so we kept our level of optimism well in check. Turns out it was all needless. STONEWIELDER is awesome.

STONEWIELDER takes place a little less than a year following the events of RotCG, making it fairly current with Erikson’s TOLL THE HOUNDS. Again we follow Rillish, Greymane and Kyle as events in the world begin going crazy, leading to the finale we read in THE CRIPPLED GOD. It’s hard to give a short and sweet summary of this novel. You have Greymane and Rillish being forced to confront their pasts, Kyle struggling to figure out his place in the world, a religious war, and a massive invasion of the Stormriders. We also get to see some of the Crimson Guard coping with the final events in the previous novel.

The first thing we noticed upon reading this book was the pacing. While smoother than and of Esslemont’s previous novels, it is also slower. Whether you take it as a positive or negative is really up to you. We didn’t “take it” one way or the other, we just made an observation. The pacing neither helped nor hurt the novel in the slightest. You may remember that RotCG essentially had 250 pages of war to close out the novel. It was intense, and amazingly well described. STONEWIELDER doesn’t have the same drawn-out war scenes as its predecessor, and we think this is a good thing. Even we like variety in our literary carnage, and Esslemont really focused in on the action of this novel making it more personal. His excellent war scenes are still there, but they aren’t nearly as…pulled back?...from the action.

The great thing about this novel—and really all of Esslemont’s work so far—is being able to see the other half of what is going on around the world. The events in Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen don’t happen in a vacuum. The rest of the world is in chaos as well. Seeing all these other events is really beginning to fill in the whole story. It’s a lot like that first read-through of DEADHOUSE GATES and MEMORIES OF ICE where you really get both sides of the story. Reading Esslemont’s portion of the series drives home how much effort has gone into the planning this whole giant tale.

The real question is has Esslemont improved his craft with this volume. Easily. His descriptions are better and more focused on the important stuff. His characters have more depth to them (though this is partially due to us getting more and more exposure to them). His dialogue flows SOOOO much better. Humor? Just wait until the character Manask is introduced. Possibly one of the funniest characters introduced so far in the whole Erikson/Esslemont series. It is this level of improvement that makes Esslemont’s such a pleasure to read. You can tell that he is working HARD to improve his craft, and as readers we appreciate this attention to detail.

STONEWIELDER isn’t perfect. There are some cliff-hanger events that we can only assume will be picked back up in ORB SCEPTRE THRONE, specifically with Kiska’s story. This may bother you, and it bothered us a little. Additionally, we have yet to really have that moment that emotionally punches us in the gut. Esslemont can perfectly envision the horrors of war, but we still need some of that deep, heart-wrenching emotion. With the way he has improved thus far, it’s easy to imagine him raising the bar again and addressing these issues.

Look, if you are a fan of Erikson’s work, you should be reading Esslmont—there’s really no middle ground here. The two series feed off of each other and are perfect compliments. STONEWIELDER is Esslemont’s best novel to date. Freaking read it. NOW! (or when it comes out in May...)

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Some. On par with the other Erikson/Esslemont novels.
Violence: There are some seriously cringe-worthy moments in this novel. Utterly vicious. Completely amazing.
Sex: Talked about a little.

Return of the Crimson Guard

It is now safe to say that Ian C. Esslemont brings some serious excellence to the Malazan world. Perhaps the general consensus of the masses after reading his first novel, NIGHT OF KNIVES, was that his work wasn’t of the quality expected or that was used to from reading Steven Erikson’s work.

We don’t doubt Esslemont at all. He belongs.

RETURN OF THE CRIMSON GUARD is awesome. It is a meaty novel (700 pages hardback) that not only gives us a 200 page climax (WAHOO!!!), but also lets us get to know the “old-timers” of the Malazan world. While the novel does have some issues, it is a must-read for anyone who is a fan of the Malazan world.

Esslemont’s second novel is about, obviously, the return of the Crimson Guard. Nearly 100 years prior to this novel, the Crimson Guard made a vow that they wouldn’t die until they had destroyed the Malazan Empire. If you’ve read the series, you know that vows of this sort are par for the course, and usually lead to treachery and violencce. With Laseen’s empire spread absurdly thin, it is the opportune time for the Guard’s return, and also for civil war. Of course, being that this is a novel set in the Malazan world, all this craziness is just the surface.

If we were to point out the greatest strength of this novel, it is the war sequences. Considering more than half of the novel involves direct war, there is a lot to enjoy. Esslemont just GETS how to write the horror and confusion of war. He also is amazing at making a “hero” stand out from the other larger-than-life figures. There are quite a few times when he does this even better than Erikson. When you get to the final battle, you will know exactly what we mean.

What we mainly wanted to see with this novel was how Esslemont could improve. NIGHT OF KNIVES was a novella pretending to be a novel with very little character depth. It was good, and a much needed change-of-pace in the series, but we wanted to see Esslemont really add some meat to his portion of the Malazan world. Man did he deliver. The main place of notice was the characters. Kyle was fantastic as a young man over his head with the Guard. Jumpy and his saboteurs were absolutely perfect. Esslemont’s take on Laseen, Pearl, Traveler and all the rest of the old guard was great. Toc the Elder? More Temper? Seguleh? Yeah. All here. In typical Malazan style, good and evil are just a matter of opinion.

There are still places where Esslemont can improve. His dialogue can be meh. A lot of times his descriptions will be completely confusing and ridiculously over-blown, and other places he only give three words about something that we need three paragraphs for--he just needs to learn what to describe, and what not to. Some of his humor still misses the mark too.

But still, this is a fantastic novel that pulls its own weight with ease. There is so much promise in Esslemont’s work, and it fits so well with Erikson’s portion of the series. You should probably read this novel after THE BONEHUNTERS, but if you’ve already read ahead of that point then it’s not worry. But new readers? Absolutely don’t read this novel until after THE BONEHUNTERS.

If you are a fan of Erikson’s series, there is no reason for you not to be reading the novels Esslemont is writing. That said, if you don’t like Erikson there’s no point in reading Esslemont. The way we see it is that this second novel is right there in terms of quality with books 5 through 8 of Erikson's portion of the series. Take from that what you will, but we were EXTREMELY impressed. Here’s hoping that STONEWIELDER is as great as RETURN OF THE CRIMSON GUARD.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Yep, but not a ton.
Violence: All sorts, and awesomely described.
Sex: Talked about, but not shown.

Night of Knives

When you read Steven Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen, often you get a prologue giving you the narrow piece of history needed to understand the story about to be read. History in the Malazan series is an interesting thing. It has supreme importance, but we typically only see what has been built on the foundation of that history (or what was built upon the ruins of a “newer” history that was built upon an even older past). Personally, we love the series that Erikson is writing. It isn’t perfect, but it is awe-inspiring nonetheless.

But even then, there are times when the Malazan reader wants more detail on the larger-than-life figures in Malazan history. Kellanved, Dancer, Surly/Laseen, Tayschrenn…well, you get the picture. Mostly we don’t see these people in action. We don’t get a look into what makes them tick. This is what Ian C. Esslemont (Cam) offers the Malazan reader with his entries into the Malazan world--a world he co-created with Erikson. The first entry in the works by Esslemont is NIGHT OF KNIVES.

The first thing you should know about NIGHT OF KNIVES is that it takes place before GARDENS OF THE MOON. The idea behind this short novel revolves around a prophesy of Kellanved and Dancer returning to Malaz island to use the Shadow Moon to attain the goal of essentially becoming gods. Kinda. It’s complicated.

The entire novel takes place over the course of a night, so many aspects of character development just aren’t going to be addressed. That said, the main two characters of the novel--Temper, a war veteran who served with Dassem, and Kiska, a young girl who dreams improving her skills to the level of the Claw--still manage to grow a bit over the course of the novel. Though Temper’s growth is more accurately a recapture of his past, he still is an awesome character. Kiska’s growth is all about potential, and there is a lot of it.

The pacing of the novel is extremely fast. It doesn’t get bogged down in characters reflecting on the meaning of life for a hundred pages. It will likely be a bit of a shock to most Malazan readers. Some will complain about it, and justifiably so. NIGHT OF KNIVES isn’t up to the same standard as the other Malazan novels. But. In a way it was refreshing to have a quick, action-packed Malazan tale. We’ll be the first to admit that it takes effort to get into a Malazan novel. They are dense, deep reads that leave you drained at the end. NIGHT OF KNIVES was more of a romp.

Esslemont’s writing is very different from Erikson’s. He is more direct, less poetic, and less elliptical. His humor isn’t quite at Erikson’s level yet, and neither is the dialogue. The action, however, is every bit as good as Erikson’s. In addition, Esslemont writes some amazing scenes--the flashbacks of Temper and Dassem are completely, 123% awesome.

This is a prequel, sorta, but you shouldn’t read it first. We’ve seen readers recommending it as an alternative starting point to the series. We don’t agree at all. The earliest you should read this novel is after GARDENS OF THE MOON, but you may be best served waiting until you’ve read half the series. There are so many hints to other Malazan happenings here that will be completely lost on the reader without having read any of the series—these hints are what make the novel good.

So is this book worth your time? We think so. It has issues, but it is still a very good addition to the Malazan world. Just the chance to get some back-story to the world makes it completely worth it…if you are a fan of the series. This novel won’t turn someone who dislikes Erikson’s work into a fan. Like we always say, the Malazan novels aren’t for everyone, and that’s OK. But if the Malazan novels are to your liking, you need to read Esslemont’s work…cause it only gets better.

Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: Sometimes. Can be strong at times.
Violence: Oh yes. Writing violence and action is one of Esslemont’s strengths.
Sex: Talked about, but never shown.

Our 2011 Hugo Ballot

The Elitist Book Reviews 2011 Hugo Ballot

Before we let you in on our opinions of the Hugo Awards, we are going to give you our picks. You'll notice that we didn't nominate in a few categories. Usually that means we either didn't read anything in that category, or just didn't feel like nominating. The Hugo Award nomination deadline is the 26th of March. If you attended WorldCon last year, or bought your membership to this year's convention in Reno before the 31st of January, you can nominate--and we strongly suggest you do so. If you have already electronically voted, and forgot to put us on your list (GASP!!!) you can just recast your entire ballot and add us in before the deadline. We aren't begging...oh who are we kidding, we're on hands and knees here groveling!

Now this isn't by any means a final list. This is really a collaborative mash-up of what we all think. Our individual ballots will probably be slightly different, and of course we may add stuff to it as we read/watch more of the various stuff that was released last year.

Best Novel

GEOSYNCHRON - David Louis Edelman
NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR - Mark Charan Newton
TWELVE - Jasper Kent
MR. MONSTER - Dan Wells

Best Short Story

In the Stacks - Scott Lynch
The Family Business - Jonathan Maberry
The Non-Event - Mike Carey
The Goats of Glory - Steven Erikson
The Fool Jobs - Joe Abercrombie

Best Related Work

Writing Excuses Season 4
Elitist Book Reviews (Duh!!)

Best Graphic Story
Schlock Mercenary: Massively Parallel

Best Dramatic Presentation (Long Form)

Best Dramatic Presentation (Short Form)

The Walking Dead - Guts
The Walking Dead - Days Gone Bye

Best Editor (Long Form)

Lou Anders
Toni Weisskopf
Moshe Feder

Best Editor (Short Form)

Lou Anders
Jonathan Strahan
Christopher Golden

Best Professional Artist
Raymond Swanland
Stephan Martiniere
Isaac Stewart

John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer

Dan Wells
Adrian Tchaikovsky
Larry Correia
Jasper Kent
Mark Charan Newton
John Brown

For a complete list of Hugo Categories, follow the link below:
Hugo Categories

The Hugo Awards. Honestly, we have mixed feelings about them. It's completely awesome for the authors/works that get picked...but we can't help but feel it is a popularity contest. Let's be honest, the main award for the Hugos is for Best Novel. This isn't to say the other categories are less important--in fact, we feel the other categories are more...well, let's say fair and an accurate representation of what the award represents. The award for Best Novel is the big one. The one that sells books.

But like we said, we have mixed feelings about it.

Before you go all "torches and pitchforks" on us (or even worse, delete your internet browser bookmark to our blog) hear us out. You may have noticed that our picks for the Hugo awards are very different from what usually gets picked. We have very little SF. We don't have the usual authors on the list. Just for fun, this is who we think will be on the final ballot for best novel: Sawyer, Willis (we wouldn't have a problem with this), Wolfe (his 2010 novel was good, but not great), Scalzi (doesn't have an eligible book? Doesn't matter), Stross...well, you get the picture.

It's not that these authors are bad. It's not like they don't write well. On the contrary, we like all those authors a lot. It's simply a matter of them, in our opinions, not being the best every time they write a novel. We love guys like Erikson, but even we will admit that his novel isn't ALWAYS the best novel released during the year. For example, Vernor Vinge has a novel coming out this year. Why even have an official nomination for the 2012 Hugos? When he writes something, it is an auto-win (for the record, we DO like Vinge). Are his novels ALWAYS the best written that year? Yeah we know, subjective judging and all that. But hopefully you get our point.

What appears to be happening is that the winner of the award is either a "Big Name Author" or has a blog with 82.5 bajillion hits a day (if you detect some jealously in that last bit, you'd be reading it correctly). When you look back over the list of winners, do you say, "Oh man, that was one of the best novels ever!" or do you say, "Huh. That won the award?" If you agree with the awards, then that's great. But we can't help but feel that it's like when you look back over the past Oscar winning movies and see The Hurt Locker or A Beautiful Mind. All too often the response is, "Really?"

We don't want to come across as bashing certain authors. We have a lot of respect for the authors that have become published and who have built up a loyal following. They got their awards, and we give them high-fives for it. We just wonder if there isn't a better way. We don't have a good solution. If you open the nominating up to everyone, then suddenly the latest YA Emo Vampire-of-the-Month gets nominated. No thanks. We just don't know. Maybe the people who attend need to be more well read--but then that is an unfair generalization.

But hey, what the heck do we know? Maybe we are just complaining since the books we think the best are rarely ever on the list--we vote, so we're allowed. It's not like the Hugo Awards are comparable to MVP awards for sports. No, those have actual stats to back them up. The Hugo Awards are totally subjective. In the end, this is a blog, and therefore an opinion. No doubt there are bajillions of bloggers and professionals out there who would read this and say, "Frak them." Different strokes for different folks and all that.

So. Since there is really nothing that we can do about it, and since we have no better ideas that we can implement without bailing on this blog and doing it ourselves (a tragic suggestion...unless we get paid), we've thrown our opinions out there the same as everybody else. Our votes are for works (or people) that we think are awesome. Not just those that are popular. We command...err...encourage you to do the same.

A Discovery of Witches

Debut author Deborah Harkness has been on my 'to read' list since her appearance at New York's ComicCon fantasy author panel with the likes of Peter V. Brett, Naomi Novik, Brandon Sanderson, Jim Butcher, and Joe Abercrombie. Yeah, a newb sitting amongst some of the most popular fantasy authors today. I had to know if she deserved being there.

In A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES Harkness takes all the urban fantasy romantic tropes and...uses them. Main PoV character Diana is smart, orphaned, stubborn, beautiful-though-she-doesn't-know-it, and a powerful witch. Her vampire love interest Matthew is almost perfectly thoughtful, impeccably dressed, brilliant, rich, and well connected. The antagonists resent their blossoming romance because vampires and witches 'just don't mix' (Really! It's never happened before!). There's the trendy locales (Oxford, France, upstate New York), the wine/books/artifacts only a centuries old vampire could have, the tension between the supernatural races. If you've read your share of urban fantasy, you've seen all this many times over.

The issue isn't that Harkness uses these tropes over again--they are tried and true for a reason--it's that it's her first novel and you can tell. Her foreshadowing lacks subtlety. Last-minute contrivances fix issues. Too much time is spent on the minutiae of eating/traveling/clothing. Expository conversations are used to forward the plot. And the plot itself is bogged down with irrelevant information. You know, the kinds of things any Writing Excuses episode would explain are problems because they affect flow and readability.

But do these problems ruin the story?

For most urban fantasy readers, those are issues that won't impede their enjoyment of the love story. However, while I enjoyed Harkness' blending of ideas and the magic, even if they aren't exactly groundbreaking, the execution made it hard for me to enjoy it on a level that would make me give an unhesitating endorsement.

The story starts off with a problem: Why does everyone want Ashmole 782? Diana is a Ph.D. in history, an expert on alchemical texts, and during her research at Oxford she finds a text that has been missing for 150 years. She can tell it's special because it fires off all her witch's senses. But she's here as a scholar and not a witch, so sends it back, where it disappears again. Now every vampire, witch, and daemon in Oxford wants to know how she got it to appear and if she's going to do it again. Because its hidden text supposedly explains the origin of paranormal creatures--and perhaps even how to destroy them forever.

During Diana's research, Matthew Clairmont appears. He's mysterious and attractive, but he's a vampire. He's a scientist at heart, who wants to not only know the how but also the why. He claims to want to help Diana, and is interested in Ashmole 782, but his altruistic intentions are suspect. Diana, against her better judgment, is drawn into Matthew's circle of protection. The other witches don't want anyone but another witch to ever obtain Ashmole 782, and see Diana's vampire-trusting behavior as a betrayal.

Then the dots start connecting: the death of her parents, the meaning of the text, the motives of witches and vampires who are trying to keep Diana and Matthew apart. Harkness blends history, magic, science and alchemy into a story that sucks you in despite its awkward pace--because, really, you don't know where Harkness is heading with all this and you are compelled to know.

Harkness's prose is easy enough to read, and she handles the magic well, including the separation of the supernatural races, and even the 'science' of their behaviors. Even though some of it seems to be for convenience's sake (i.e., vampires awake and walking around during the day; their meeting being 'fate'). My favorite part of the entire book is the sentient house where Diana's witch Aunt Sarah lives. It creates new rooms for guests, has temper tantrums, and hides/reveals things at the appropriate times.

The love story between the main characters is a strangely mixed bag of reality and contrivance. I wanted to want to see them together, and they seem to fit together as a couple personality-wise, but the execution made Matthew creepy and Diana wishy-washy. Matthew is an over-protective control freak and Diana is a 30-something Ph.D. who devolves into a lovestruck teen, which made me kind of embarrassed for my sex. It doesn't help, either, that it only takes them a few weeks to decide this is True Love Forever.

While I was eventually able to enjoy the main characters, and even the plethora of secondary characters that are important in Diana and Matthew's lives, I couldn't get around the meandering storyline. Certainly there's forward movement as they fall in love, travel, and unravel the mysteries of Ashmole 782, but I look back and there's just so much fluff. I spent 500+ pages reading to remember all these details (historical, alchemical, etc), only to have them mean nothing to the story. If you asked me, I don't think I could pinpoint the exact climax of the novel (I think it was around the 2/3 mark, which is an awkward spot); then the last third of the novel devolves into a meandering buildup for an event that leads into what's obviously going to be a sequel. I guess we'll have to see if she improves with subsequent novels.

Recommended Age: 16+ for sexuality
Language: Fewer than five instances
Violence: Not much beyond a hazy torture scene and some peril
Sex: One detailed scene and plenty of implied scenes and conversations

Other Kingdoms

If you are an occasional or obsessive reader of the Horror genre, you know the name Richard Matheson. To say the guy is a legend and and icon doesn't even begin to scratch the surface. He is one of our favorite authors, and the author of our favorite works of fiction ever, I AM LEGEND. When we realized Matheson had a new novel being released this year, OTHER KINGDOMS, we contacted the lovely people at Tor and begged them for a review copy. We aren't exaggerating. We groveled, offered bribes in the form of cookies, and even promised our undying love. We aren't quite sure which one was the clincher, but a copy of OTHER KINGDOMS came as did an accompanying chorus of angels.

Even on his worst day, Matheson is amazing, and OTHER KINGDOMS is one of Matheson's better days. The story plays out as an "honest" memoir of one Alexander White. As an 82-year-old man, White relates his personal story of surviving the WWI at the age of 18. He is injured in the trenches, and upon his discharge moves to a small town in England rather than going home to the US. It is here in the small English town of Gatford that White tells of his encounters with the strange and horrific that eventually lead him to becoming the author he is "today".

There are many layers to this story which could have completely ruined it. We have an 82-year-old Alex telling us about his days as an 18-year-old. The simple difference in age and experience is enough to potentially make the novel unreadable. Not so for Matheson. Matheson recently celebrated his birthday (Happy Birthday, Sir!), and is able to perfectly capture the voice of an old, wise, rambling Alex White. He also manages to hit perfectly the tone of an immature, self-pitying 18-year-old. The blend of the two is near flawless.

What OTHER KINGDOMS comes down to is a love story. "What?" you say. "A love story? I thought this was Horror?" Don't worry, it is. Matheson illustrates how perhaps nothing can be more horrific than love itself--especially to a young man. Matheson simultaneously shows how beautiful it can be. It is incredible how easily this literary legend (A. Black would be proud! You readers will understand the reference when you read the novel) juggles several opposing views throughout the entire work.

The pacing and flow of OTHER KINGDOMS moves along effortlessly. So effortlessly, in fact, that we read the novel in just a few hours. We didn't want to put it down, and when we did, the story occupied our thoughts until we were compelled to pick it back up and finished it.

Now to be fair, we need to point out some of the things that bothered us, and that may bother you. This novel gets fairly sexual in a couple of places. It isn't as graphic as, say, Richard K. Morgan, but the sections may shock you nonetheless. To us, some of them were a little much. For most of the novel, there is no language whatsoever. But then when it happens, it is very strong and therefore even more shocking--we assume this was the intent of it. Maybe this all will bother you, maybe not--like any book, it isn't for everyone. Regardless, it is hard to dwell on it due to how quickly the novel pulls you along.

Matheson's OTHER KINGDOMS is a unique experience. It contains Matheson's amazing writing and the horror he is know for while also containing love and tragedy. It is the type of novel that grows more enjoyable the more you think upon it. Should you read it? Without question. Happy Birthday, Richard Matheson, and thank you for giving you readers a new novel to devour. May you have many, many more years.

Recommended Age: 18+
Language: When it comes, it is strong and shocking. It contrasts dramatically with the rest of the novel where the narrator intentionally avoids swearing.
Violence: From descriptions of the trenches in WWI to the young Alex White's adventures in England, things can get violent, horrific and descriptive. Matheson has been doing this for longer most, so he knows exactly how to do it.
Sex: Uh, yeah. Telling you exactly what happens would kill the story for you, but suffice it to say that things get fairly graphic for a spell.