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Monday, April 29, 2013

"Dualed: Dualed Book 1" by Elise Chapman (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)




Visit Elise Chapman's Official Website HERE


OVERVIEW
: The city of Kersh is a safe haven, but the price of safety is high. Everyone has a genetic Alternate—a twin raised by another family—and citizens must prove their worth by eliminating their Alts before their twentieth birthday. Survival means advanced schooling, a good job, marriage—life.

Fifteen-year-old West Grayer has trained as a fighter, preparing for the day when her assignment arrives and she will have one month to hunt down and kill her Alt. But then a tragic misstep shakes West’s confidence. Stricken with grief and guilt, she’s no longer certain that she’s the best version of herself, the version worthy of a future. If she is to have any chance of winning, she must stop running not only from her Alt, but also from love . . . though both have the power to destroy her.

Elsie Chapman's suspenseful YA debut weaves unexpected romance into a novel full of fast-paced action and thought-provoking philosophy. When the story ends, discussions will begin about this future society where every adult is a murderer and every child knows there is another out there who just might be better.


FORMAT: Dualed is a YA novel that has a post-apocalyptic feeling to it. It is filled with advanced technology, adventure, and romance. It stands at 302 pages and was published by Random House Books for Young Readers on February 26, 2013.   

ANALYSIS: Dualed was one of the YA novels of the year that I was looking forward to reading. It had a dystopia setting that had a unique plot twist – two individuals walking around as twins and one must 'kill' the other in order to survive. Unfortunately, as I sit here days after finishing the book I have mixed feelings about the entire book.

My mixed feelings stem from the fact that I seemed to enjoy what I read, but unfortunately the extreme holes presented in the plot and the rather loosely developed world left me feeling as if this whole book could have been a lot better.

To fully understand my issues, I will give you a brief synopsis of the book:

The whole concept of the book revolves around the idea that some remove part of the nation has found a way to remove themselves from an ongoing war. Unfortunately, this removal came with a price. The individuals are unable to produce children.

A group of scientists came up a way to bypass this problem and created an extremely complex cloning system that involves taking the genes of two individuals and mixing them with the next two people to create two children that are the same. These children are brought up in two separate worlds and will not meet until their 'task'; that is described below.

Now, in order for this new small nation to survive they have to take the cloned children and force them to kill their alternative self. This is done in an effort to raise a nation of warriors. Children between the ages of 10 and 20 are 'activated' and given the task to try and kill their alternative self within 30 days. If this is not done, on the 31st day both children die.

This whole process is overseen by a 'board'. However, I can't really tell you much about the board because they weren't very developed in the story.

Then things get interesting. People who are unwilling to kill, or who are extremely rich, can hire a 'striker' who will kill their other self. This secret striker organization is run by a mysterious man and made up of the most elite fighters.

While this whole idea may seem like it would make a great story, it didn't unfold that way. I have so many questions that are left unanswered. For example, how did the 'alts' (name for the twins until one of them is killed) not run into each other when growing up? How come the scientists who created this complex system, were not be able to come up with a better system that didn't involve mixing genes from random strangers?

The abundance of questions I had only seemed to grow as I kept reading. I wanted to see more of a roll of "The Board". Unfortunately, that didn't happen. So this mysterious "Board" was just left out there with no real development. In fact, it just seemed as if there were a bunch of people running around afraid of the Board, but they didn't really do anything.

I also could not understand how West (main character) was able to just gain entry into some ultra-secret striker club with no training, no knowledge, and no experience. How did they know she'd perform the tasks at hand? Did they not care?

The abundance of questions I was left with when I finished this novel wasn't my only issue. The writing style of this book is extremely stiff. I'm not sure if this is intentional because the character is rather 'badass' and wants to keep to herself, or if it was an oversight. This stiff writing style led me to not really care about the characters, but just read through the book as an observer.

Another issue I had was I kept waiting for someone, somewhere in the book to rebel against the Board. This doesn't happen. Maybe there are plans for this in the future, but I kept feeling as if the book was trying to go one direction (a rebellion), but not succeeding.

Why with so many issues did I keep reading the book? I have to admit a part of me was intrigued by it. The storyline was rather unique and I wanted to see how it panned out. Maybe things didn't go the way I wanted. Maybe I have more questions that need to be answered, but I don't think the book was a waste of time.

I believe people going into the book understanding that this is a 'light' novel with no real development can get a lot out of it. There is also a planned a sequel, so there is a chance that things will flesh out in the future. I have to admit I hope so, because I feel this story may have had potential and there might still be hope for it.
Sunday, April 28, 2013

2013 HUGO Award Nominee "Captain Vorpatril's Alliance" by Lois Bujold (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)



"Book fifteen in the best-selling Vorkosigan series. This time the story moves away from Miles Vorkosigan, the protagonist of the earlier books, to his cousin, Captain Ivan Vorpatril.

Captain Vorpatril is happy with his relatively uneventful bachelor’s life as a staff officer to a Barrayaran admiral, assigned to the planet Komarr, far from the Byzantine court politics of his home system. 

This content existence is shattered when an old friend in Barrayaran intelligence asks Ivan to protect an attractive young woman, who may be on the hit list of a criminal syndicate. Ivan’s chivalrous nature takes over, and it seems danger and adventure have once more found Captain Vorpatril.

Tej Arqua and her half-sister and servant Rish are fleeing the violent overthrow of their clan on the free-for-all planet of Jackson’s Whole.  Now it seems Tej may possess a hidden secret of which even she may not be aware. It’s a secret that could corrupt the heart of a highly regarded Barayarran family and provide the final advantage to the thugs who seek to overthrow Tej’s homeworld.  But none of Tej’s formidable adversaries have counted on Ivan Vorpatril.  For behind Ivan’s facade of wry and self-effacing humor lies a true and cunning protector who will never leave a distressed lady in the lurch–up to and including making the ultimate sacrifice to keep her from harm"



Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is a fun and smart Lois Bujold romantic adventure novel and a part of the Vorkosigan Saga, though as is obvious from the title/blurb, it is a side novel in many ways. Chronologically, the book takes place before the last Miles proper adventure, Cryoburn - which as it happens is the only one I have only browsed so far, while I've read the rest a few times each, with my current favorite being the other romantic comedy/adventure one, A Civil Campaign, as after a while it is much easier to enjoy Miles and co in their lighter mode. 

There are allusions to earlier events throughout and of course the main characters of the saga appear either in person or by name-checking, so while  Captain Vorpatril's Alliance can be read as a standalone, familiarity with the universe will enhance its enjoyment.

Always having a bit-part in the Miles novels - and actually being a co-star in Cetaganda - Ivan Vorpatril is a high Barrayaran noble ("High Vor") whose place in the line of succession (during Gregor's minority and then before Gregor's marriage and children, so essentially for most of his life, Ivan was the unofficial but sure to be contested in the event heir to the Barrayaran Empire), domineering mother and overachieving cousin (Miles of course), convinced him that his best bet for safety and a long and enjoyable life was playing the nice "fool", somewhat too fond of parties and women and always eager to help his friends as long as that doesn't include too much physical discomfort.

Currently aide-de-camp, ie glorified secretary, to a powerful Navy Admiral on a tour of inspection on Komarr, Ivan is approached by one of his shadier acquaintances and another bit part player in the saga, Byerly Vorrutier, who wants to exploit Ivan's gallantry and have him help rescue a mysterious woman who may be in danger due to By's present covert mission. And so it starts, though Tej and her spectacularly looking and obviously genetically engineered friend Rish - who grace the fun cover above alongside Ivan - are not quite the defenseless women in distress as Ivan learns somewhat painfully...

When the situation gets messy and Ivan now entangled with Tej, offers to marry her so she can escape the sticky situation on Komarr - marriage to be dissolved asap on Barrayar when Tej's trip to safety could be continued properly - little does he know that he actually marries in the galactic scale version of the mob with all the colorful in-laws he will ever want. Actually, he knows it "theoretically", but well, like in the various "in laws" comedies one is familiar with, actually meeting them turns out to be a bit different than anyone expected. And of course Ivan has his relatives to consider too...

If you look for a "serious, tackle current problems of the world" novel - which incidentally mostly tends to reveal the ideology of the author more than anything else,  you won't find it here and the world building is of course the older fashioned hand waving one of the classical space opera sf which is very easy to nitpick, but I would say that those objections miss the point as Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is just pure fun written in the wonderful style of Lois Bujold and a book to cherish and enjoy whenever you want something to lift your mood...

Highly recommended for a light and fun adventure with great characters, a bit of wish fulfillment and considerable entertainment value. 


Friday, April 26, 2013

GUEST POST: Scott Lynch — The Man, His Books and What's Yet to Come by Sandra Scholes



INTRODUCTION: The Lies of Locke Lamora was quoted by fantasy author and legend George R.R. Martin as being “A fresh, original and engrossing tale by a bright new voice.” Which is not bad as it was Scott Lynch's first novel bought by Orion Books and published by Gollancz in the UK, and Bantam in the US. The Gentleman Bastard series of novels revolve around thief Locke Lamora, the third volume being The Republic of Thieves which is the long awaited new book set for release this year.

THE STORY: Taken into the care of the Thiefmaker, young Locke Lamora is different from his fellow thieves in the Gentleman Bastards gang; he steals far too much than is good for him, and from the wrong people. Being more light-fingered than most, he needs special care and attention so he doesn't get the Thiefmaker into trouble with the law. Locke doesn't always listen to his master, though, and he has a golden rule to only thieve for himself, no one else. He is a lone-wolf whose parents died in the plague, or so he told the Thiefmaker, but then you don't always believe what Locke Lamora says. And what starts out as a test of skill on the streets of Camorr turns into a fight for their lives...

One thing I like about Scott Lynch's Gentleman Bastard series is that he tells the story with a sense of honesty. The language sounds rough, but it comes across as humorous. For example, the Thiefmaker keeps telling his own band of thieves that they could have a worse time if they were on their own on the streets of Camorr as they are likely to be at the mercy of whoremongers. This adds realism to a fantasy story that feels realistic all the way through. He tells them what will happen if one of them is captured by their target—it involves a noose, and they make sure they never let anyone touch them when they are out. As the thieves won’t be on their own, he tells them all the tricks of the trade, pick pocketing, and thieving in general. The children under the Thiefmaker's care aren't naive, but they are innocent, and the Thiefmaker uses that to his advantage. For older readers, he will no doubt remind them of Fagin from Oliver Twist, saying “My loves,” a great deal. Most of the men Locke encounters are treacherous and dangerous and there are cruel people at every turn. Lynch uses many traps for the unwitting characters—drug abuse isn't only in modern day; he has Gaze addicts who drop a liquid into their eyes so they can see visions.

Locke isn't a fool, even at a young age, and narrowly avoids being killed by his former master for murdering two other members of the gang. He acts compliant, but there is something unusual about him, and his former master had picked up on that, and this is the reason he sells him to a priest called Father Chains who makes a living from pretending to be a seer and a priest, but he is nothing of the sort, more like a beggar in disguise who has a lot of followers. Chains was given a shark's tooth for the boy, so that if he presented him with any problems, he could kill him and no one would bat an eyelid. This would be the sort of action one would expect of someone like the Thiefmaker, but Chains isn't like him; he thinks it would be a shame to waste a boy's talents for thievery.

Scott Lynch does have a great sense of humour, and that shows in the novel and his others, though he is also effective at reinventing a popular city like Venice, and giving it another name, with streets and places, but keeping the gondolas and Italian sounding names. He also seems to enjoy creating a darker side to those streets; Locke and his Gentleman Bastards have to keep an eye on those who would betray and even kill them as several thieves have been murdered already, hung up as if a warning to others.


Red Seas Under Red Skies is Scott Lynch’s second novel in the seven volume series and had Locke escaping the Bondsmagi with Jean Tannen, where they come to Tal Verrar to plan a heist on a gambling establishment called the Sinspire. This will at once remind readers and movie goers of Ocean's Eleven. It is a daring plan to be sure, but one that might cost him his life and Jean's for no one has ever robbed the place. This is the standard plot, but there is another; the two of them become embroiled in a plot to bring the pirates of Zamira Jakasha to justice. So far Locke has escaped the Bondsmagi, who will never forgive him for humiliating them and living to tell the tale, and to make the story more interesting, they are in hot pursuit of Locke and his friend to the very end.

This novel is several in one, as it is part escape story, part Ocean's Eleven, and veers off into the realms of being a pirate tale. It might be strange to take it all in, but Scott Lynch manages to keep the readers hooked to the pages—all 576 pages in fact, so it could be said he is fast becoming the Stephen King of fantasy.

The Republic of Thieves, the third novel in the series, is yet to be published, but as the other two books are intriguing and engaging reads, we will just have to wait and see what Scott Lynch brings us.

The Gentleman Bastard Sequence:

The Lies of Locke Lamora (June 2006)
Red Seas Under Red Skies (July 2007)
The Republic of Thieves (October 2013)
The Thorn of Emberlain (Pending)
The Ministry of Necessity (Pending)
The Mage and the Master Spy (Pending)
Inherit the Night (Pending)


THE REPUBLIC OF THIEVES OFFICIAL SYNOPSIS: With what should have been the greatest heist of their career gone spectacularly sour, Locke and his trusted partner, Jean, have barely escaped with their lives. Or at least Jean has. But Locke is slowly succumbing to a deadly poison that no alchemist or physiker can cure. Yet just as the end is near, a mysterious Bondsmage offers Locke an opportunity that will either save him or finish him off once and for all.

Magi political elections are imminent, and the factions are in need of a pawn. If Locke agrees to play the role, sorcery will be used to purge the venom from his body—though the process will be so excruciating he may well wish for death. Locke is opposed, but two factors cause his will to crumble: Jean’s imploring—and the Bondsmage’s mention of a woman from Locke’s past: Sabetha. She is the love of his life, his equal in skill and wit, and now, his greatest rival.

Locke was smitten with Sabetha from his first glimpse of her as a young fellow orphan and thief-in-training. But after a tumultuous courtship, Sabetha broke away. Now they will reunite in yet another clash of wills. For faced with his one and only match in both love and trickery, Locke must choose whether to fight Sabetha—or to woo her. It is a decision on which both their lives may depend...


October 8, 2013 marks the North American Hardcover (Preorder HERE) publication of The Republic of Thieves via Del Rey. The UK version (Preorder HERE) will be published on October 10, 2013 by Gollancz.

Subterranean Press will also be producing a Signed Numbered Hardcover copy of The Republic of Thieves which is limited to 500 copies, and a Signed Leatherbound copy housed in a Custom Traycase and limited to 26 copies. This Subterranean Press edition of The Republic of Thieves will feature artwork (see above) by Edward Miller and is slated for release in late 2013. The books can be preordered HERE.

ABOUT SCOTT LYNCH:


Like many fellow authors, Scott Lynch had various jobs before he became a writer—waiter, office manager, dishwasher and web designer among many others before he realized his freelance writing jobs would lead him to something better and more rewarding. In his spare time he is a volunteer fire-fighter—Minnesota and Wisconsin trained—so he does like an element of daring courage. For more information on Scott Lynch and the Gentleman Bastard Sequence, please visit the Official Scott Lynch Website.

ABOUT SANDRA SCHOLES:

Back in 2006, Sandra Scholes ditched her career in book and interior illustration for writing, and decided it wasn’t a good idea to look back as too many people were relying on her to edit pieces and get them sent for publication. During the past six and a bit years, she has written reviews and articles for some of the most diverse publications she could imagine including The British Fantasy Society, Fantasy Book Review, SF Site, Active Anime, Love Vampires, Cars and Girls Magazine, The London Vampyre Group’s The Chronicles  and Love Romance Passion.
Thursday, April 25, 2013

Tom Swan Returns, while Satyrus and Melitta Start a New Storyline in Tyrant V Destroyer of Cities, both by Christian Cameron (with comments by Liviu Suciu)




"A young Englishman, Tom Swan, is badly wounded in a desperate sea fight. When he wakes in a hospital, he's in one of the last towns in Greece holding out against the Turks. And there aren't any women to be found. Rich men vie to hire him, and they all seem to want the same thing-a fabulous jewel made for Alexander the Great.

He's not a professional soldier. He's really a thief and a little bit of a scholar looking for remnants of Ancient Greece and Rome - temples, graves, pottery, fabulous animals, unicorn horns. But he also has a real talent for ending up in the midst of violence when he didn't mean to. Having used his wits to escape execution in part one, he begins a series of adventures that take him to the high seas, bedrooms in Constantinople and street duels in Italy, meetings with remarkable men - Cyriaco of Ancona and Sultan Mehmet II and the whole Sforza family - and from the intrigues of Rome to the Jewish Ghetto in Venice"


The fourth Tom Swan installment is the best so far as it hits just the right notes and it coheres the story that came before - in a way this one is the natural ending of the first part as volumes 2 and 3 ended on huge cliffhangers, while Tom Swan 4 - Rome ends with a new beginning.

Now that the first part of the story is done and the new one is under way, one can look back and appreciate how good this serial is as the author started hitting all the sweet spots - adventure, intrigue, atmosphere and very interesting characters you want to follow and find what what happens with next.

And as one more incentive to get this installment, one mild spoiler: Tom Swan gets married - at least more or less (!).

****************************************************************************



Read FBC Review of Poseidon's Spear and The Long War Series to Date

"Demetrius, son of Alexander's former comrade, Antigonus One-Eye, was perhaps the most dashing and charismatic of the Successors, the Macedonian generals who fought a bitter war for the spoils of Alexander's short-lived empire. Still smarting from his epic defeat at the hands of Ptolemy, Demetrius has his eye on one of the richest prizes in the ancient world - the naval superpower of Rhodes. But the Rhodians know that defeat will mean annihilation, and Demetrius's campagin will entail five separate naval battles over several years before he can begin to breach the city walls - leading him to employ an array of fantastic war machines: ancient super-weapons like his gigantic lens of polished bronze used to focus on the city's wooden ramparts and set them ablaze. If she is to survive against such a merciless assault, Rhodes will need the help of every ally she can muster - including the newly crowned King of the Bosporus, Satyrus, and his fiery twin, Melitta..."

Tyrant: Destroyer of Cities is the 3rd Satyrus and Melitta novel and moves ahead in time some 5-6 years after the events of King of the Bosporus. As I thought the twins' story ended well in King of Bosporus, I was a little wary about this one and it took me a few months after publication to read it, but once started - with a little impulse from Tom Swan 4 which reminded me how much I enjoy Christian Cameron's style -  but I should not have worried as Destroyer of Cities continues superbly the series with high octane action, narrative energy and the usual "realistic feel" of the author.

While the main event is indeed the famous siege of Rhodes, the book covers much more and is chock full of action, intrigue and powerful moments. The prose style is very smooth - this was the main issue in the earlier Tyrant novels but now the author seems to write effortlessly and roll on all cylinders.

The historical background is reasonably accurate - of course the main hero of the story, Satyrus, and his role are inventions but they are inspired from the real story as the author describes in the afterword. If you are familiar with the author's work you will recognize quite a few motives and pieces of action, both naval and on land. Also while technically #5 (or #3, or even #6 depending how you count, the two Kineas novels and God of War)
, Tyrant: Destroyer of Cities works well as a standalone with the back story integrated smoothly in the main thread.


And there will be more since Tyrant: Force of Kings is scheduled for next year and at a reasonable guess I would say it will lead to the Battle of Ipsus that essentially ended the Successors' Wars some two decades after Alexander's death and decided the Helenistic status-quo until the coming of Rome. Since the story in Destroyer of Cities, while ending its main thread, begs for more, that novel became again a huge asap...


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Drifting Isle Chronicles Multi-Author Interview with Charlotte E. English, Meilin Miranda and Joseph Robert Lewis (Interviewed by Robert Thompson and Mihir Wanchoo)

Order Black Mercury HERE
Order The Kaiser Affair HERE
Order The Machine God HERE
Read Melissa's Review of The Kaiser Affair
Read Qwill's Review of Black Mercury
Read FBC's Review of The Machine God
Read The Drifting Isle Chronicles - A new way to tell new stories ( A guest post by Joseph R. Lewis)
Read When Collaborating, Say Yes! (A guest post by Meilin Miranda)
Read On Machines And Talking Birds (A guest post by Charlotte E. English)
Read The Kaiser Affair - A fantasy thriller and travelogue to The Drifting Isle Chronicles (A guest post by Joseph R. Lewis)

The Drifting Isle Chronicles is a project that I have been fascinated by since I first heard of its inception. I happened to know Joe Lewis only and so I wished to know know more about his fellow chroniclers. With that in mind, I requested all three of them if they could share some time amid their busy schedules for this interview. To my surprise and happiness, all three of them responded promptly and so, read ahead to find out how this project came together, how each author wrote their book and much more. Lastly my thanks to our chief editor Robert Thompson for his help with most of the questions.

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic! For starters, could you please introduce yourself, tell us what inspired you to write in the first place, and describe your journey in the completion of this fascinating project? 

CE: Thank you for having me! My authorish name is Charlotte E. English, I am the author of Black Mercury from the Drifting Isle Chronicles project. I started writing (many years ago) because I have always loved reading; it’s the entertainment I received from other people’s stories that encouraged me to write my own.

The Drifting Isle Chronicles has been unlike anything I’ve ever done to date, both in terms of the story I’ve written and the processes involved. Taking on a group project has forced me out of my comfort zone a little, and really stretched me as a writer (in a good way!).

MM: I'm MeiLin Miranda and I've been a professional writer most of my adult life, though in nonfiction. I always wanted to write fiction, but I was too afraid, to be honest. A bad workshop experience in my youth convinced me I wasn't cut out for it. A near-death experience seven years ago changed my mind; it was now or never.

Part of me didn't want to accept Joe's challenge. I'd never collaborated before. But now I've done it, I'm going to miss having others to bounce ideas off! Luckily, we all intend to keep writing Drifting Isle novels, so I'll be talking to these guys for a while to come. Heck, we're already talking together about our next DIC books. Joe and I have stories in semi-active development, and Charlotte's starting to kick ideas around.

JRL: I'm Joe Lewis, writer of historical and urban fantasy. I first set out to write a novel when I was 11 and I finally succeeded 14 short years later. Mostly, I love to live inside my own head where I can have all manners of adventures in the safety of my own skull. Everything fascinates me - science, history, mythology, tragedy, relationships, the future and the past, and so on. But I also care about the relationship between stories and reality, the way stories shape our language and culture, and I want to tell stories that have a positive impact on people and society, in whatever small way I can.

The Drifting Isle Chronicles was the result of my desire to create a shared-world collaborative series, and it evolved very organically as the writing team worked together. I personally found it fun and new, and I'm hoping to be a part of the series for a long time.

Q] With each of you releasing your own book set in the shared world. Could you each tell us a bit more about your book and what readers can expect from each of them? 

CE: I’ve just said that Black Mercury is unlike anything else I’ve done, which is largely true, but there are a few features in common with my other books: namely a focus on quirky characters, not all of whom are human. Besides that, Black Mercury is a rollicking adventure, heavily influenced by our particular brand of steampunk technology; there are chases and dark plots, kidnappings and rescues and all manner of heroics. Quite this much chaotic action is a little unusual for me.

MM: The Machine God is about grief, betrayal, healing and both the joy and terror of discovery. My main character, Professor Oladel Adewole, has suffered both personally and professionally; the much-younger sister he was raising has died, and he's been denied tenure at his home university, a victim of academic politics. He takes a job, partly of necessity, on the continent to the far north of his tropical home.

At the University of Eisenstadt, Adewole doesn't fit in. He's an anthropologist in an institution full of engineers, a coffee drinker in a city of tea drinkers, a man whose national dish is a spicy chicken stew stuck in a place where you don't eat poultry because birds are people--they're sentient beings.

But there's this island floating over the city, an island Adewole has studied from afar since childhood. Academically, he's specialized in world mythology surrounding the island, and so his self-imposed exile isn't entirely without its solace.

When black mercury makes flight to the island possible, Adewole goes up as part of the government's military survey. Once there, his scholarship leads him to discover a forbidden magic, and the heartbreaking story behind the island's rising a thousand years ago--a story that paradoxically helps him heal both personally and professionally.

JRL: My book is The Kaiser Affair, a crime thriller about a pair of married detectives chasing a cunning thief all over the city of Eisenstadt and up to the flying island of Inselmond. It's fast, exciting, funny, and sexy, and it introduces readers to many of the locations and characters featured throughout the series. Readers should definitely read mine first, and then buy a copy for a friend, and then talk about it online, especially on Friendster.


Q] For some authors, it’s easier writing their follow-up novel. For others, it’s more difficult. What has it been like for each of you compared to writing your individual books? Have you done anything differently this time around? 

CE: This project was definitely more difficult, and it was certainly necessary to change my regular methods. The biggest problem was a relative lack of freedom, compared to a completely independent book; I couldn’t always use the ideas I came up with, because they sometimes conflicted with aspects of the other stories.

But this was a good thing, in the end, as it forced me to be more creative with my ideas and to think in different ways. That’s one of the things I was particularly hoping for when I got involved.

MM: Obviously the most different part was the collaboration. Apart from that, The Machine God is the shortest but most action-packed novel I've ever written; it's less than half the size of my usual phone book. A lot is stuffed into its 200-odd pages.

JRL: I wrote this book almost exactly the same as any other book. The only difference this time was that I often needed to consult with my team about new ideas, rather than simply do whatever I wanted at the spur of the moment. But I felt that the team often contributed ideas and perspectives that pushed me as a writer to experiment and evolve in new ways. So the talking was new, but the writing was familiar.

Q] Since this is a shared world, obviously it’s quite a different writing experience. In this regards what did you think was the most challenging part about writing your individual novels? What about the easiest or most rewarding?

CE: For me, the most challenging part was coming up with a stand-alone adventure that would overlap sufficiently with the other books. We needed our initial titles to be self-contained, but also to tell different parts of the same story - the first flight to the Drifting Isle - and that required a lot of communication and co-ordination. It was well worth the effort, though; seeing everything come together was really thrilling and the outcome is, I think, something to be proud of.

MM: The most challenging part is making sure everything "squares up," that we've kept the world consistent. We went over things obsessively while writing, but when we read each other's final books we still had issues to resolve.

The most rewarding part was having three other people to work with. One of us would say, "Hey, what do you think of this?" Another would say, "Yes!" and add another aspect. A third would say, "Wait, that raises a problem," and the fourth would come up with the solution. All four of us have been in one or the other of those positions. It sounds chaotic, and it kinda was, but in a way it was also easier. The world came together much faster than I expected it would.

JRL: I didn't find any aspect of the project to be uniquely difficult. There were extra steps, of course. Discussions, votes, etc. But we all had the same goals, professional attitudes, and compatible personalities, so the process went fairly smoothly for us. The hardest part was probably reining in our collective creativity and egos to stop discussing new ideas and start making decisions we would have to live with. But we did it, and everyone seems pretty happy with the result.


Q] Joe in your book The Kaiser Affair, one of the protagonists Arjuna Rana shares his name and archery talents with another great mythical hero. Could you tell us about this connection and why you chose to name your hero Arjuna? 

JRL: I collect stories, especially mythical ones, with the hope of eventually using them in my books. I've been sitting on the Indian epic of The Mahabharata for months now, and I thought I might weave it into the DIC a little bit. So I made my detective Bettina's husband a faint copy of the legendary hero Arjuna, who defeated many monsters and armies with his superhuman archery in the Kurukshetra War.

At one point in the hero's life, he went on a long journey in exile, and I chose to use a similar story to explain why my Arjuna had come to Eisenstadt from the nation of Dumastra. When my next book, The Shadow Gambit, comes out, I'll be diving even deeper into that mythology, blending the epic of The Mahabharata with the fantasy of the Drifting Isle world.

Q] Each of your individual novels can be described as fantasy, but they all offer very different reading experiences. The Other Earth series combines alternate history with the supernatural and steampunk elements. An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom focuses on Religion, Gods and magic as an everyday occurrence of life. And The Draykon series and The Malykant Mysteries are alternate world fantasy novels, Was it a conscious effort on your part to try and write a fantasy novel that offered something unique? 

CE: Yes and no. I think the most unique part about our project is our world: we’ve combined a lot of traditional steampunk/fantasy elements in new ways, and thrown a great variety of things into the mix. But I don’t think we consciously tried to achieve that: it was the inevitable outcome of pouring the assorted ideas of five different people into the pot and mixing them up. Great fun it was, too.

MM: My goal going in was selfish. I wanted to challenge myself as a writer to do something outside my comfort zone. I said "yes" as much as possible; even when I wanted to say "no," I didn't unless it was an insurmountable obstacle for me. In some ways this is familiar territory; Victorian, though non-steampunk, analogues are my usual setting. But this is more adventure-oriented than most of my work, which tends toward political intrigue.

JRL: Personally, I was hoping that the series would be something new for me. Far-future science fiction, or Tolkien-esque high fantasy. I was looking for an excuse to break out of my mold. But we ended up very close to my wheelhouse with this new steampunky fantasy world, so I took the opportunity to try a little more humor and romance, which seems to have worked out well. Who would have thought laughter and sex were so popular?

Q] Cover art is a very important aspect for all fantasy stories. In this regards, you have a single artist drawing all the covers to get a uniform look, which is really smart. How do you all choose Elsa Kroese? What were your thoughts during the decision process? 

CE: Elsa is my preferred artist. When it came time to choose, nominations were made (of course I nominated Elsa), and we had a vote. I had complete confidence in making that nomination, because in addition to being a fantastic artist she is reliable and very easy to work with - all very important attributes.

MM: Elsa is Charlotte's usual artist. We chose a different artist at first, but he had to bow out for personal reasons. Elsa saved the day, and gave us absolutely stunning covers to boot. I will definitely be using her for future DIC projects.

JRL: Originally, we had hired a different artist, but he was pulled away by family business. So we ran a whirlwind search for a new artist, talked to lots of folks from around the world, debated art styles extensively, and ended up agreeing that Elsa was the perfect choice. My only goal was to have some art with drama, excitement, and atmosphere, and I think she pulled it off in spades.


Q] I noticed that one of the founding chroniclers Charlotte English has been involved with Elsa Kroese in the Spindrift Webcomic Project. Could you (Charlotte) tell us more about it, as to how the inception occurred? How did you & Elsa meet and decide to collaborate and more about the series itself? 

CE: Meeting Elsa was one of those serendipitous things that sometimes happen in life. We met because our respective partners went to school together; we began collaborating on Spindrift because Elsa needed a writer and I happened to be one. It’s fortunate for us both that we’ve turned out to be a great partnership: we get along really well, freely share ideas and we’re both very dedicated to our projects.

The story of Spindrift is mostly Elsa’s, though I’ve tossed a lot of ideas into the project over time. It’s about a mixed race heroine, Morwenna, and the trouble she faces when clashes occur between her mother’s people and her father’s. We’ve completed the prologue and most of chapter one so far (which are free to read online). It’s a long process with a lot of hard work involved, but it’s been hugely rewarding.

Q] After finishing your respective books in the DIC project, what do you hope to write next (in the DIC world as well your individual books)? Do you see yourself trying out different genres? Different formats? 

CE: I’m always interested in trying new things! That’s the main reason I signed up for this project. I’m planning to do another DIC book next year (though what exactly that will be about has yet to come together). I’m working on another stand-alone novel at the moment - a fairytale fantasy set in the English Regency, which will be my first fantasy/historical fiction crossover. After that I have more titles in my Malykant Mysteries series to write, plus a follow-up series to the Draykon books as well.

MM: In the DIC world, I'm working on a novel called "Songbird," based on work by our fifth collaborator Coral Moore, who was instrumental in the world's initial formation but who had to drop out. I'm also working on a short story tentatively titled "The Bug Merchant" about the trade in angler bug shells. Sounds boring but it features smugglers, cops and various ne'er-do-wells both on the island and Down Below.

In my own series, I'm working on the third book in the Intimate History series. "The Machine God" pushed it back, so that book is going to be later than I'd hoped. Such is the publishing life. I'm also working on a History novella/short story collection called "Whithorse" that is a Kickstarter reward from last year! I only recently got a handle on the dang thing, and I'm hoping to have it out in the next two months.

JRL: I'll be releasing my first high fantasy book The Falcon Prince this summer (hooray!) but then I'll be coming right back again in the fall with my second DIC novel, The Shadow Gambit, which will feature my detectives Bettina and Arjuna on another bizarre case, this time taking them to the country of Dumastra. Looking ahead, I plan to write many more books set in different centuries and cultures around the world, so fans of my past work should have a few good reasons to stick around. *coughSamuraicoughAtlantiscough*

Ouch. All that fake coughing is rough!

Q] Nowadays, it’s very common to see novels adapted into movies, comic books, TV shows, and even video games! Just for fun, how would you like to see your respective novels adapted? 

CE: It’s always fun to imagine adaptations. I think that the books could make a great set of graphic novels, and as a gamer I’d love to see a series of video games set in the DIC world. I think that the variety inherent in the DIC world opens up so many possibilities for adaptations into just about any format - its great strength is its flexibility.

MM: I would love to see a DIC television series. You could run all the story lines concurrently in "real time," as events happen, since we have overlapping stories. I'll be seeking auditions at ACX for the audiobook version of "The Machine God" later this week, and the team is also in tentative discussions with an RPG designer on a DIC tabletop game.

JRL: Well, my book hinges on the banter and general naughtiness of my married detectives, so I think we'd all like to see The Kaiser Affair in the flesh. I mean, in live action! I also think the world of the Drifting Isle Chronicles would lend itself well to a role-playing or mystery game, either for the computer or tabletop.


Q] I’m always interested in seeing what other people are reading. So what books have recently impressed you the most, what are you currently reading, and what titles are you most looking forward to? 

CE: I’ve just finished reading Patricia C. Wrede’s Mairelon the Magician series, which was fantastic, and right now I’m reading A Civil Contract by Georgette Heyer (steeping myself in Regency stuff!). I’m a fan of Jim Butcher’s long-running Harry Dresden series, so I’m looking forward to the next installment.

MM: My bias toward 19th century literature is on display: my current book is Anthony Trollope's "The Way We Live Now," which I'm re-reading with a Trollope study group. On deck I have "Wild Seed" by Octavia Butler (who to my shame I haven't read), "Leviathan Wakes," and Stephen Toulouse's "Buddy's Eye." I may also have another run at N. Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon," and may re-read his "The Diamond Age" with my 15-year-old daughter if I can talk her into it. It's one of my favorite books.

What's impressed me the most recently: Saladin Ahmed's "Throne of the Crescent Moon," which was just fabulous. I hear he's got the sequel well under way, and I'm really looking forward to it.

JRL: I'm currently reading the Meji books by Milton Davis. It's an epic fantasy series in an African setting centering on estranged twin brothers, a conquering warrior and a mystic healer, and their adventures and conflicts over several decades. Excellent stuff!

Q] Thank you for taking the time to join us today, is there anything else you’d like to add? What can we expect in the future from you?

CE: Lots more books! I’ve also got plans to work with Elsa on a number of art-related projects to support my existing (and future) titles. I’d love to do audiobooks someday, too, though that’s for later.

MM: More books! And audiobooks, read by me and others. I'm still trying to get a decent home studio set up to record the History books myself; I recently discovered my Mac Mini hates my microphone, so I need to find a solution to that problem before I can record anything.

Thanks for having us, Mihir!

JRL: As I mentioned, you can expect plenty more from me in the realm of historical fantasy. If there's any particular time or place you'd like to see appear in a fantasy novel, shoot me an email or tweet at me. I'd love to chat about it (although the odds are fair that I'm already planning to write whatever it is you're thinking about, so I encourage you to be as obscure as possible in your suggestions... no, even more obscure than what you're thinking now).

ABOUT CHARLOTTE ENGLISH


AUTHOR INFORMATION: Born in the historic city of Lincoln, UK, Charlotte now lives in the heart of windmill country in the Netherlands. She has a degree in Heritage, and her interests include books, crafts, cooking and social history. She likes to write whimsical, colourful tales full of character and humour.

ABOUT MEILIN MIRANDA


AUTHOR INFORMATION: MeiLin Miranda came back from the dead to write books. In 2006, she suffered a cardiac arrest and realized it was high time to get on with writing fiction after 30-plus years of professional nonfiction writing. Her main series is the fantasy epic saga An Intimate History of the Greater Kingdom, and she is a co-creator of the shared steampunk fantasy series The Drifting Isle Chronicles. Her influences include Ursula K. LeGuin, Anthony Trollope, Jane Austen, Patrick O'Brian, Georgette Heyer, MFK Fisher and Neil Gaiman.

She can't seem to get away from writing stories set in the 19th century (or something like it) no matter what she does. MeiLin lives in Portland, OR with a husband, two kids, two cats, a floppy dog and far, far too much yarn.

ABOUT JOSEPH R. LEWIS


AUTHOR INFORMATION: Joseph Robert Lewis was curious about world mythology since a tender age and so he then decided to write stories in which history, mythology, and fantasy would collide in unpredictable ways. He also likes writing about heroines that his daughters can respect and admire. Joe was born in Annapolis and went to the University of Maryland to study ancient novels, morality plays, and Viking poetry. He graduated with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Maryland with his family, a needy cat, and a zombie fish.

NOTE: Author pictures courtesy of the authors themselves. Spindrift prologue artwork courtesy of Elsa Kroese.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Lives Of Tao by Wesley Chu (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website 
Order The Lives Of Tao HERE 
Read an excerpt HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Wesley Chu
Read Villains by Wesley Chu 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Wesley Chu was born in Taiwan and soon immigrated to USA. He was then raised in Chicago, Illinois. Wesley graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also an avid gamer and a contributing writer for the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. He has previously worked as a stunt man as well as a Senior Software Systems Engineer and is a member of the SAG. He has worked in Hanes and Chicago Blackhawks commercials and also films like Fred Claus. He currently works as an Associate Vice President at a bank and spends his time writing and hanging out with his wife and their Airedale Terrier.

OFFICIAL BLURB: When out-of-shape IT technician Roen Tan woke up and started hearing voices in his head, he naturally assumed he was losing it. He wasn’t.

He now has a passenger in his brain – an ancient alien life-form called Tao, whose race crash-landed on Earth before the first fish crawled out of the oceans. Now split into two opposing factions – the peace-loving, but under-represented Prophus, and the savage, powerful Genjix – the aliens have been in a state of civil war for centuries. Both sides are searching for a way off-planet, and the Genjix will sacrifice the entire human race, if that’s what it takes.

Meanwhile, Roen has to train to be the ultimate secret agent. Like that’s going to end up well…

FORMAT/INFO: The Lives Of Tao is 464 pages long divided into thirty-nine chapters. The narration is in third person and is via Roen Tan, Sonya, Sean Diamont, Edward Blair, Tao and Devin Watson. This is the first book on the Tao trilogy with the second book titled “The Deaths Of Tao” and the third being tentatively titled “The Rebirths Of Tao”.

April 30, 2013 marks the paperback and e-book publication of The Lives Of Tao by Angry Robot books.

ANALYSIS: Wesley Chu’s debut The Lives Of Tao comes with very little fanfare attached to it. This book was selected by an open submission call taken by the Angry Robot folks in March 2011 and frankly I think this was a stroke of luck for Angry Robot that lead to the discovery of Wesley Chu among other authors. When I started reading The Lives Of Tao, I didn’t know what to expect entirely and that just helped in knocking my socks off even more explosively.

The Lives Of Tao begins with an agent named Edward Blair who has a being within him called Tao that is helping him with his mission. The mission fails as Edward is betrayed and Tao’s own existence gets endangered. He however gets another vessel and that turns out to be Roen Tan. An overweight slacker who just barely manages to not get fired at his job as an IT tech but still leaves a lot to be desired for Tao. Tao is an alien being belonging to a race called Quasing who have inhabited Earth since eons ago. These beings have since then shepherded humanity on the path that that has been recorded as our history (including all its ups and downs).

However in the midst of this shepherding, a schism developed within the ranks of the Quasing over the philosophy and the trajectory of their actions. This lead to the formation of the two groups titled the Prophus and the Genjix. Tao is a member of the Prophus who have been on the back foot since the past few decades. His main nemesis is Chivya, a Genjix who is looking for every way to kill Tao, nullify the Prophus’ plans and eradicate them from the face of the Earth. His vessel Sean Diamont (who was the basis of Wesley’s guest post about Villains and what goes into great villains) makes for a fine mirror antagonist for Roen as he’s everything that Tao wants to Roen to be.

The story is basically about what happens next as Roen’s life is not only turned inside out but he literally discovers the existence of a whole new way of life. Knowing his transformation won’t be an easy one, Tao enlists the help of another fellow Prophus called Baji and her host called Sonya. Soon Roen learns what it truly means to be a host to the Quasing but he only has so much time before he’s drawn in to the Genjix-Prophus war and before he knows it, his life will never ever be the same. That I think is a close summation of non-spoilery things in the plot, the rest can be discovered by the readers as I did and hopefully the read will be a fun one as I found out.

I think this is one of the best amalgamations of SF, Thriller, buddy-stories, comedy and other genre assortments, which was even more impressive because it’s a debut and is funny as hell. The story is a nice one with a bit of everything to satisfy most readers, beginning with characterization. We get to meet Roen who is for a lack of a better term, a genuine lost individual however as Tao takes over his life, his transformation begins. It isn’t a pretty one but boy is it a hilarious one to read about. The mental banter between Roen and Tao is written nicely and keeps the reader in splits as Roen is getting his ass handed to him by all the tasks. Also there are the supporting characters that though don’t get as much page time as Roen but stamp their authority for the reader to see. The Rocky soundtrack played throughout Roen’s entire transformation in my mind and it was even more hilarious with all the stumbles and mis-fires in between.

The story is a well plotted one as the reader is given a nice glimpse of the actual war that is taking place covertly and with comes all the various things that come along with such covert warfare. Roen and the readers learn that it’s not all like James Bond except certain action-oriented events. Roen learns all the ricks of the trade while also learning more about Tao and all of his previous human hosts. There’s a lot more to Tao especially with those whom he terms his mistakes for example Genghis Khan but there are only cryptic reminders to those events and hopefully we’ll learn more about that aspect of Tao’s history in the remaining books of the trilogy. Overall I can easily see this book converted into a film and with the right screenplay, it would be a kick-ass one.

This I believe is the book’s biggest strength that the author has combined several elements into a coherent plot and managed to execute one of the oldest tropes of genre fiction spectacularly. His slant of science fiction mixed with a thriller and then laced with several comedic overtones might not please everyone but for the casual reader or the genre fan who’s is looking for a good read, Wesley has aced his debut. The world system and its mythology are very tantalizing and the author drops enough hints of things to come, things that have been and how the Quasing has modeled history. There’s also a nascent love story that has been handled well by the author and I was particularly surprised by the author’s twists in the climax in relation to Roen’s personal life and Quasing alliance.

Things that weren’t so groovy with this book, now this is going to be entirely subjective. I thought this was a very good debut. Perhaps the author could have given more page time to the other POV characters Sonya and Sean and we would have gotten to know them a bit more. Also the author could have revealed a bit more about the world in context of the Quasing, but these things are not a major hindrance as the story is more about Roen, Tao and Roen’s transformation vis-à-vis Tao. In this regard, the author hits all pertinent points and so I have no major complaints with it.

CONCLUSION: Wesley Chu’s The Lives Of Tao is a debut that is a perfect amalgamation of many things, which I love. I hope other readers will also see it for what it is, a rather well written book about genre tropes handled competently by a debut author. The Lives Of Tao is an excellent find by Angry Robot and IMO heralds Wesley as a fantastic debutante to watch out for.

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