Blindsight, by Peter Watts

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – October 3, 2006

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) It’s been two months since a myriad of alien objects clenched about the Earth, screaming as they burned. The heavens have been silent since – until a derelict space probe hears whispers from a distant comet. Something talks out there: but not to us. Who to send to meet the alien, when the alien doesn’t want to meet? Send a linguist with multiple-personality disorder, and a biologist so spliced to machinery he can’t feel his own flesh. Send a pacifist warrior, and a vampire recalled from the grave by the voodoo of paleogenetics. Send a man with half his mind gone since childhood. Send them to the edge of the solar system, praying you can trust such freaks and monsters with the fate of a world. You fear they may be more alien than the thing they’ve been sent to find – but you’d give anything for that to be true, if you knew what was waiting for them.

Thoughts: Normally when books are difficult for me to review, it’s because they’re so amazingly good that it’s hard for me to pin down what I want to say without devolving into raving fangasms. And that isn’t to say that Blindsight isn’t a good novel. It is. It’s very good! But it’s difficult for me to review for a reason that’s entirely new for me here.

It was too smart for me.

That isn’t the full story, of course, but it does describe the feeling that followed me throughout most of the reading, and is why I have, in the past, largely tended to avoid hard sci-fi. I like to think that I’m not a stupid person, but diving deep into the science of space travel and engineering and whatnot is something that I’ve never been interested in nor really been able to understand that well. And since a good deal of Blindsight involves characters talking about their various fields of expertise, commenting on various ship’s functions and locations, and I’m left with this feeling of disconnect and eventually resorted to sort of letting my eyes skim over those little bits since it frustrated me to not understand them more fully, and it was spoiling my enjoyment of the rest of the book.

Which is amazing, and very complex and worth paying attention to! Though the description of half of the characters in the synopsis makes this book sound like it’s going to be a dark comedy, it’s actually quite a serious novel, and one that I really enjoyed because it played with ideas that have been on my mind for years. What if, in our attempts to communicate with extra-terrestrial life, we come across something that is so unlike us and anything we understand that the very act of us trying to communicate is interpreted as an attack because these aliens don’t have communication as we know it? What if our assumptions about extra-terrestrial life and its evolutionary path is utterly wrong? It’s a testament to human egocentricity, and it makes for an excellent base for a sci-fi novel.

The characters, though, are what make it all worthwhile.  The linguist with multiple personalities (not a disorder, since aside from the fact that it’s not disorderly and they all get along just fine, there’s a scene that deals with the stigma of the old diagnosis and treatment and how the idea was elimination of all but the ‘primary’ personality, essentially killing off people to make a body more socially acceptable and how, in this futuristic setting, this is no longer the case), and the vampire (who is explained with some interesting science and behaves very much like the predator he really is) are my favourites of the two, since I’ve long had an interest in vampires and multiple personalities, so it felts, in some ways, like these two may well have been custom written to hold my interest even when other, more technical aspects of the novel, were frustrating me.

First encounter stories are usually pretty interesting, serving not just as a way of demonstrating how different something is from us, but flipping it around to show how different we are from them. It may sound like a meaningless distinction, but there are times when it’s easier to understand ourselves when we’re confronted by what we’re not, allowing us a chance to show what we are. There was plenty of conflict in Blindsight to allow for this, not just with the issue of the aliens but also between the characters themselves, making the entire novel have a very tense feel even when little was occurring but expository dialogue.

The more I try to write a decent review of Blindsight, the more it seems to fall apart. I can touch on areas that were great, that weren’t so great, but short of writing about another 5000 words or so, no review is really going to be able to do this book justice. It’s highly intelligent and has so much background setup that Watts ends up adding appendices at the end to go into more detail that he couldn’t fit into the story itself. Even the fictional part of the science fiction is presented as so wonderfully flawless and real that you come away wondering about all the things you don’t know about the world, how much is happening around you that you don’t notice simply because your eyes haven’t been opened to the ideas. The narration may feel a bit distanced at times but that doesn’t mean Watts has a problem with conveying good characters nor the struggles they experience, both physical and emotional. Blindsight is complex enough to transcend reviews, or at least my ability to give them.

But one thing’s certain. Despite my annoyance at not being intelligent enough to understand more of the science behind the novel, I will be reading the sequel, Echopraxia, and I anticipate enjoying it just as much as I did Blindsight. Watts knows how to write an incredible and nuanced story, and I want to see more of what he can do with the foundation he built here. I won’t say that this book made me a convert to harder sci-fi, but it certainly has made me more curious about what I’ve been missing in the genre, and if this is representative of what’s out there, then I’ve done so many books a disservice. Allow me to start fixing that with Echopraxia.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

The Red Magician, by Lisa Goldstein

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – October 21, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The Red Magician is the tale of Kicsi, a young girl in a backwoods Eastern European village in the early 1940’s, a hamlet so isolated that the villagers know nothing of the brewing war – have no hint of the future save for ominous dreams. Into this village comes Voros, a redheaded wanderer, a juggler and magician, to disrupt their lives and antagonize the local rabbi…with whom he must fight a cabbalistic duel to which Kicsi is a secret witness. Then the Nazis arrive, and the world changes. Kicsi is first imprisoned, then must journey with Voros back to what remains of her village, for a climactic battle between the old world and the new. The Red Magician is a notable work of Holocaust literature, a distinguished work of fiction, and a marvelously entertaining fantasy – as Philip K. Dick remarked upon its first publication, “nourishment for the mind and the soul.”

Thoughts: I’ve been taking greater note of Open Road Media these days, since their reputation for rereleasing older books as ebooks is worth paying attention to on that merit alone. But thanks to the rerelease business model, they get to pick through books that have stood the test of time and have proven themselves just as good and relevent now as when they were first published, and so that means they’re a company that will hard far more hits than misses.

Lisa Goldstein’s The Red Magician is representative of the quality I’ve come to expect in their books as I read more of them. While more a novella than a novel (it’s around 140 pages), The Red Magician is an excellent read and doesn’t suffer from being so short the way some novellas do. I finished this book not wishing it could have been expanded into something longer and more detailed, but instead appreciating just how much could be crammed into so short a space without losing anything in the process.

The story focuses on Kicsi (and yes, there is a pronunciation guide before the story starts, so you’re not mentally mispronouncing names like Voros, Kicsi, and Aladar through the whole thing), a young girl in an eastern European village who encounters Voros, a red-haired magician who intrigues her more than others think is healthy. Especially the rabbi who tends to the spiritual needs of the village. They try to discourage Kicsi from being around Voros, but events conspire to keep bringing them back into contact, and secrets of Voros’s magic are revealed. But the realities of the war and Nazis take hold and the world horrifically expands beyond Kicsi’s small village, and what follows is terrifying and touching all at once.

Early on, I expected that the rivalry between Voros and the rabbi was going to devolve into a metaphor for God and Satan fighting, and you know, I would have been okay with that, especially since it seemed like it was shaping up to be the religious leader who was portrayed as the selfish manipulator and the unappreciated travelling stranger who was, oh, say, creating a creature from clay and naming it Adom. I have a special love for stories involving religion where the primary deity incarnates and people actively oppose them because they’re not following tradition. It’s a persona taste, admittedly, but I love to read those stories. But that isn’t what happened here. Both Voros and the rabbi were stunningly human, neither one the embodiment of the divine or the diabolical. Just people. And it brought the story closer to home, making magic something that people could do instead of limiting it to the supernatural or the religious. It was confined, and yet was so earthly as to be almost mundane.

As mundane as the ability to create detailed illusions and animate clay can ever be, anyway.

The section of the book that has Kicsi in a concentration camp is chilling, and is a reminder of the horrors experienced by people there. For just about every single one of us, such things are the realm of stories and textbooks, and those are the only way we have to connect to that part of the past. It’s easy sometimes to think that it’s something that only ever existed within books. As such, I’m grateful to find books that treat the issue with respect, not just removed talking about politics and human experimentation but the day-to-day lives of those who lived through the terror. It’s hard to not feel for Kicsi here, and it’s extremely difficult not to feel your own heart sink at her subsequent depression and survivor’s guilt.

Goldstein takes the wide-reaching and the large-scale and brings them down to wonderfully human levels. Despite being a story about magic during World War 2, this isn’t a wish-fulfillment story about spells stopping Hitler, or good triumphing simply because good should triumph. It’s a story about life, the good and the bad. It’s a story about discovery and survival and recovery. Originally published in 1982, 2 years before I was even born, time has not spoiled this story, and it’s just as good to read now as it was then. Do yourself a favour and spend an afternoon delving into The Red Magician. It’s an excellent story, with fantastic commentary on humanity and religion, and one that I know with certainty that I’m going to read at least once more.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

The Anonymous Game; or When People Need Help

If you’ve been floating around in Twitter for the past few days and happen to follow as many authors and book bloggers as I do, you probably caught at least some part of the unfolding drama about author Kathleen Hale and her article in which she admits to outright stalking a reviewer who didn’t like her book. Dear Author has a wonderful summary of the article and events here, if you don’t want to give hits to the original article.

But there are some points I want to add to the discussion, from a personal standpoint.

The first is on the idea of using a pseudonym. This is something I used to do a lot, in regard to, oh, just about every action I ever made online. I’d have stuff connected to my personal real-world identity, but a lot of things I would only talk about if my real name wasn’t involved. I would make journals and blogs under fake names, talk about the hard stuff there, keep so many aspects of my life disconnected from each other because I had this fear of people connecting all the dots and getting a real picture of who I was.

This got complicated. Stuff leaked through. Always. Maybe other people wouldn’t have put 2 and 2 together, but as soon as I made the mistake of mentioned on my craft blog that I watch a certain TV show, and crap, I mentioned the same show the other day on my personal blog, SOMEONE’S GOING TO KNOW! Never mind that this is the Internet and nobody, without good cause, is going to see 2 blogs mentioning the same TV show and assume they’re written by the same person. But I had this paranoid idea that somebody would.

I knew this was unhealthy. And I know that compartmentalizing had to stop. So I worked hard to make it stop.

And yet it was still so weird to see people call me by my real name online, after I started bookblogging. I’d see random people refer to me as Ria, and I’d have a moment of panic. How did you find out that was my name? I comment on blog posts as Bibliotropic. My Twitter handle doesn’t include my real name. How do you know?! Oh, right, my blog’s registered under that name and I freaking mention it on here. Right. That’s how. But I still had that panic because I was afraid of people discovering anything real about me. It made me solid, made me real, made me unable to escape without notice if something in my life messed up and I had to disassociate and start all over again.

(Hey, I never claimed to not have emotional issues. I’ve learned how to deal with many of them. My intent was not to make me seem reasonable here…)

I’ve gotten used to people knowing me over time. I feel like I’ve made some real progress in learning to accept myself and not hide and to not compartmentalize aspects of my personality quite so much. So when articles like this come around, they scare me. I wonder, reflexively, if I might not actually be safer to have hidden myself all along, to use a pseudonym so that if somebody tries to stalk me, they’ll at least have a slightly harder time doing so.

The author in question went to some pretty absurd and scary lengths to uncover the real name and location of somebody who wrote a negative review of her book. She paid for a background checked to be done. She went to their house. In that, I might be safe; I have a hard time getting pizza delivery people to knock on the right door of this apartment building even when I give them specific instructions. She obtained info under false pretenses. And through the original article, there’s this air of, “I was right to do this because I found evidence that the reviewer was using a pseudonym.”

This is one of the many reasons people invent personas for their online selves. Give yourself a new name, tell the world you who a job you’ve always wanted, and for the brief time you’re writing as that persona, you are them. It’s a little bit of escapism. It’s generally harmless so long as you don’t take it too far. And, as we’ve earned in the case of Kathleen Hale, it might slow down people who are trying to stalk you for no reason other than that you said something they don’t like.

Seriously, that author’s actions were creepy. And I get the feeling that she thinks herself justified, because she uncovered evidence that the reviewer in question was an assumed name and persona created by someone else. But that doesn’t mean her review is less genuine, her opinions less valid, and that doesn’t make the reviewer the creepy one for valuing the disconnect between the real world and the online world.


Second, I want to address the issue of bullying, which is a word that’s getting tossed around a lot here when I think that some people don’t really know what it means. In the case of “Stop the GoodReads Bullies,” it’s taken to mean that a bully is somebody who says a negative thing that someone doesn’t like. In, oh, the English language, it means to habitually be obnoxious and intimidating to those you perceive as weaker than you, to be arrogant and overbearing. Thus a negative review does not a bully make. Even if 50 people write negative reviews of the same book, that doesn’t make those reviews bullying. It makes them a lousy piece of luck, sure, but it’s not bullying.

Now, if those same 50 reviews were all written by the same person using sockpuppet accounts, then yes, that is bullying. And if the 50 people who wrote those reviews continually seek the author out and make disparaging comments about them or their books without provocation, then yes, that is also bullying.

I’ve written negative reviews. I’ve written them in a snarky tone sometimes. I’ve cross-posted them to various review sites. That doesn’t make me a bully. It sucks for the author who wrote a book I felt had a lot of problems, but it doesn’t make me a bully.

But by the definition of some, the very fact that I said something negative, something that might have upset someone else, makes me a bully. Which is the thought process behind, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Which is a wonderfully guilt-trippy way to tell someone to shut up and that you don’t think they have anything or worth to say. You, reviewer, are not stroking someone’s ego, so you should shut your mouth.

Which brings me to another point, brought up by some, mentioned in multiple articles about the issue, and an area where my opinion diverges from the popular one. I don’t believe that reviews are for readers only and not for authors, and I don’t believe that any author-reader interaction is unwelcome and harassment.

I’ll address each point separately. First off, the idea that reviews are for readers and not authors. Why do I disagree with this? For one thing, because there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary. For another, because the relationship is something symbiotic anyway. What a reader does affects the author. If a review is only for readers to determine whether they should or should not read a book, then that affects the author’s sales and stats. So right there there’s a connection. If reviews were only for readers, then authors and publisher wouldn’t send some reviewers free books and pay for shipping so that the reviewer could read something in advance, or just read without having to buy the book at all. They’d wait until the book was bought. Their hope is that early reviews will drum up increased sales by building hype. Which affects the author and the publisher.

If you run a blog and don’t accept any review copies, then I think you’ve got a free pass to say that your reviews are for readers only. But I find it rather hypocritical for someone to say that while accepting free stuff from the very people they claim have nothing to do with the reviews.

But the main reason I consider it to be false is because it’s not like authors get nothing but money from what our reviews say. Maybe I’m thinking too much of myself when I think this, but I’m certainly not thinking too much of others and their influence. What reviewers say is likely to be indicative of what readers think, and that can help an author post problems with their novel that weren’t seen before, through all the stages of editing. When you write and edit something, you get close to it. Phrases that may make sense to you may come across as very clunky to others. A scene may make perfect sense to you because you know what’s going on, but it might come right out of left-field for a reader because things weren’t set-up well. Stuff you thought was awesome might actually come across as really sexist to a large percentage of readers. This is stuff that’s important to authors. Very important. Stuff that could and often does influence how their next novel is written. Believe me, authors do read reviews. Even mine. I know because some have thanked me and made reference to stuff that I’ve said, or we’ve had discussions about the finer points of a scene or a what-if scenario.

I’d also like to point out that authors are readers too, so by default, “reviews are for readers” applies to them anyway.

Secondly, not all author-reader interaction is unwelcome. It is if readers don’t want that. But if they’re fine with it, how is imposing someone else’s preference going to do anyone any good? Yes, it’s a good rule of thumb for authors to not engage and defend when it comes to negative reviews, because things rarely end well, but that doesn’t mean that there should be no interaction at all.

If a reviewer wants it, then fine. Go nuts. If a reviewer says that they welcome all author comments, both positive and negative, then let the interaction commence. (Bearing in mind, of course, the actual definition of bullying.) If someone says they want no author interaction, then also fine. That’s their choice, and it ought to be respected.

But I’m not someone who clings to the idea that it’s a hard and fast rule that should be followed despite what both parties may want.

This is the only way I feel any sympathy for what Hale experienced. She was told that she was wrong in one area for reasons that are entirely subjective and based on personal choice.

She was wrong in so many other ways, though, and I can’t deny that. And that doesn’t change my overall opinion that she behaved f*cking badly and that her actions are dangerously scary. If I may exaggerate to prove a point, it’s like hearing that a serial killer got locked in the basement as punishment for childhood misbehaviour. I feel bad that they experienced that, and they shouldn’t have gone through it, but that doesn’t change the fact that they killed a bunch of people and it doesn’t exonerate them.
So now I’ve said my piece. Most of you know my real name. Most of you know roughly where I live. Some of you know specifically where I live! I trust none of you will make stalkery use of this info no matter how much you may disagree with what I write sometimes. As I joked on Twitter:

(Ignore the Halloween name. I don’t usually reference myself by bad bowel movements. Usually…)

The Younger Gods giveaway winners

And the winners of the e-copies of Michael R Underwood’s The Younger Gods are…

Paul Weimer and romeorites!

I’ve sen your respective emails to the publisher and they should send you the promo codes to download your copies from there. Hope you both enjoy reading it!

(I’d say thanks to everyone else who entered, but, erm, you were the only two… :p So thanks to the both of you!)

The Younger Gods, by Michael R Underwood

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – October 13, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Jacob Greene was a sweet boy raised by a loving, tight-knit family…of cultists. He always obeyed, and was so trusted by them that he was the one they sent out on their monthly supply run (food, medicine, pig fetuses, etc.).

Finding himself betrayed by them, he flees the family’s sequestered compound and enters the true unknown: college in New York City. It’s a very foreign place, the normal world and St. Mark’s University. But Jacob’s looking for a purpose in life, a way to understand people, and a future that breaks from his less-than-perfect past. However, when his estranged sister arrives in town to kick off the apocalypse, Jacob realizes that if he doesn’t gather allies and stop the family’s prophecy of destruction from coming true, nobody else will…

Thoughts: I must say, this is an excellent introduction to Underwood’s writing. The Younger Gods sounds simple enough in premise (guy tries to leave his cultist family to live a normal life but ends up getting drawn right back into their schemes) but a combination of the diverse cast and Jacob’s charmingly old-fashioned speech patterns create something unique, something that stands out from other similar-on-the-surface offerings. Jacob’s observations and his background alone could have made this novel great, honestly, and I’m impressed that Underwood managed to pull off such a creative blend of elements like this.

Like many presentations of fictional cults that actually involve some legitimate connection to the supernatural, Jacob’s family is part of a cult that draws a great deal of its mythology from the Cthulhu mythos. Which is a mixed bag; on one hand, there’s plenty there to work with, but on the other hand, it’s the go-to source for such things, which means it’s been done by so many people already. There’s always such a cult around. Rarely does anyone present a supernatural cult that doesn’t involve such things, and there are always horrible sleeping gods about to waken. Not that there’s anything wrong with the idea, but at this point in the game it’s hardly original, and so it does lose something.

In fairness, though, Underwood does throw in a lot more mythology than your run-of-the-mill Lovecraftian horror, and you see elements from various world faiths and legends. From omnipresent werewolves to less common things like rakshasas, to incorporating elements from Judeo-Christo-Islamic creation myths, you’re left with a mishmash of mythology that blends together surprisingly well, and gives the impression of a complex world filled with ideas that transcend the region of their creation. I loved this aspect of the book, since so often I see stories of the supernatural that take only one small part of the current myths floating about in the modern world and assume them to be entirely true and the rest entirely false, or else set the whole book in the area that gave rise to those myths in the first place and ignore the rest of the world.

If you love your novels action-packed, then The Younger Gods is a safe bet, since while the book may start off a little slowly, once it gets going it doesn’t let up its hectic pace for even a moment. Which does prove to be a bit of a detriment; after a while you find yourself relating very well to Jacob’s complaints about how he’s literally been running all over New York for a day or more without rest, and the book feels much the same way. There’s only so much action that a person can take before the frantic pacing should let up for a little while to give the reader a rest, otherwise it gets overwhelming and, unfortunately, a bit dull even when spells and flying and swords are being slung. This was the book’s biggest drawback, I found. Too much action, not enough chance to actually process what just happened before another crisis starts.

I was, however, impressed with the reactions characters had to Jacob’s heritage, and with Jacob’s characterization in general. Rather than managing to escape his family, Jacob still finds himself in the thick of things, even unwittingly playing his part in the prophecy his family worked for generations to complete. Though he tried to hide who he was, his reputation preceded him, and he faced understandable prejudice from those around him, even those he tried to help, since they’d heard tales of his families actions and goals and viewed Jacob with a jaundiced eye. And Jacob is very much how you would expect from someone who grew up fairly isolated in an apocalyptic cult; odd speech patterns, unfamiliar with the pop culture that permeates social interactions, hating what he was raised on but often falling back on old thought patterns. He’s an interesting character, one with plenty of redemptive potential, and I’d love to read more about him and to follow along as he tries to right wrongs and undo the damage he and his family caused over time.

Ultimately, The Younger Gods is a solid urban fantasy with an interesting premise and characters you can’t help but get invested in. It’s a smart ride with plenty of diversity, commentary on how equally odd myths and modernity are, and I have to give Underwood praise in setting the whole thing up, because it’s clear that an impressive amount of research went into the small details that make the whole thing so rich and realistic. It’s soaked in the supernatural, marinated in mythology, and is one of those books that will hold up well to a reread when the sequel rolls around.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Release Day Regrets

I think I ought to make this a regular feature here, honestly, because there are so many books that I receive that I don’t have the chance, for one reason or another, to read and review by release day. And I regret that I don’t have the time to give them due attention. Today there are some books being released that I haven’t had the chance to get to, so here’s my way of shining a little light on them because I couldn’t do it any other way.

The Cutting Room: Dark Reflections of the Silver Screen, by various authors.

The credits have rolled, but the lights are still off. Something is lurking on the other side of the screen. There are dark secrets, starving monsters, and haunted survivors who refuse to be left on the cutting room floor. But that’s okay, right? After all, everybody loves the movies….

Here are twenty-three terrifying tales, dark reflections of the silver screen from both sides of the camera. James Dean gets a second chance at life—and death. The Wicked Witch is out of Oz, and she’s made some very unlucky friends. When God decides reality needs an editor, what—and who—gets cut? These award-winning, bestselling authors will take you to the darkest depths of the theater and beyond.


The Cure for Dreaming, by Cat Winters

Olivia Mead is a headstrong, independent girl—a suffragist—in an age that prefers its girls to be docile. It’s 1900 in Oregon, and Olivia’s father, concerned that she’s headed for trouble, convinces a stage mesmerist to try to hypnotize the rebellion out of her. But the hypnotist, an intriguing young man named Henri Reverie, gives her a terrible gift instead: she’s able to see people’s true natures, manifesting as visions of darkness and goodness, while also unable to speak her true thoughts out loud. These supernatural challenges only make Olivia more determined to speak her mind, and so she’s drawn into a dangerous relationship with the hypnotist and his mysterious motives, all while secretly fighting for the rights of women. Winters breathes new life into history once again with an atmospheric, vividly real story, including archival photos and art from the period throughout.


Of Bone and Thunder, by Chris Evans

A land of thick jungle and mist-swirled mountains. An enemy moving unseen beneath the lush canopy. The growing threat of thaumics—a magic wielded by few that threatens to destabilize all. The youth of a kingdom sent to fight in a faraway hell while back home, discord and disillusionment reign…

Fantasy author Chris Evans masterfully pushes the boundaries of the genre in his brilliant, groundbreaking new epic, a unique and penetrating vision channeling the cultural upheaval, racial animus, and wholesale destruction of the Vietnam War. Here, in the distant nation of Luitox, which is wracked by rebellion, thaumic users copilot mammoth armored dragons alongside fliers who do not trust their strange methods. Warriors trained in crossbow, stealth, and catapult are plunged into sudden chaotic battles with the mysterious Forest Collective, an elusive enemy with a powerful magic of its own. And the Kingdom’s most downtrodden citizens, only recently granted equality, fight for the dignity they were supposed to have won at home while questioning who the real enemy is.

Of Bone and Thunder is the story of Thaum Jawn Rathim, whose idealized view of the war clashes with its harsh realities and his realization that victory may cost him everything…of conscripted soldier Carny, awash in a hallucinogenic haze of fear and anger…of Breeze, the red-haired graduate from the Royal Academy of Thaumology, certain she can transform the very nature of warfare—if only she can win the trust of the man holding her fate in his hands…and of Ugen Listowk, a veteran crossbowman who finds solace in the darkest shadows of the jungle and whose greatest fear is failing the men he leads into battle.

Plunging deep into the heart of a moral and mortal darkness, these reluctant soldiers struggle for survival and for meaning amid a blazing drama of blood and magic. They will duel a ghostly enemy, fight to understand their roles in a sprawling maelstrom, and ultimately wage the war their way—not for glory or the Kingdom, but for one another.

I actually thought there were more that were going to appear on this list, but some had their release dates moved forward or back from what I originally marked down, and others I actually managed to read and review on time! So,  shorter post than I thought this was going to be!

Still, I like the chance to give the books I haven’t read a chance to get a little more attention, and not limit it solely to the books I have read. If there are any books you see here that you think you may like, well, now’s the time to go buy them!

[CHAPTER EXERPT AND GIVEAWAY] – The Younger Gods, by Michael R Underwood

Michael R Underwood’s new novel, The Younger Gods, is out today, looks like it’s going to be a good one, and thanks to the generosity of Pocket Star, I get to present to you all a chapter exerpt and a giveaway of 2 e-copies of the book!

theyoungergods  The first in a new series from the author of Geekomancy (pop culture urban fantasy) and Shield and Crocus (New Weird superhero fantasy).

Jacob Greene was a sweet boy raised by a loving, tight-knit family…of cultists. He always obeyed, and was so trusted by them that he was the one they sent out on their monthly supply run (food, medicine, pig fetuses, etc.).

Finding himself betrayed by them, he flees the family’s sequestered compound and enters the true unknown: college in New York City. It’s a very foreign place, the normal world and St. Mark’s University. But Jacob’s looking for a purpose in life, a way to understand people, and a future that breaks from his less-than-perfect past. However, when his estranged sister arrives in town to kick off the apocalypse, Jacob realizes that if he doesn’t gather allies and stop the family’s prophecy of destruction from coming true, nobody else will…




I’d never met lycanthropes before. There were no packs in the Dakotas. My father and grandmother had seen to that years ago.

I was starting to understand why. Our family’s sorcerous might was unmatched, but a wolf moving through thick brush, especially with a pack at her back, could make quick work of an unprepared sorcerer, unless the sorcerer was willing to bring down an entire forest to protect themselves.

It’s what Grandmother had done.

One of the many races made by the gods in the first days, lycanthropes could move among humans without notice, only revealing their power when they wished. When their creator, the moon, was strongest, so were they.

Antoinette cleared her throat. “I am Antoinette Laroux. And a friend told me to show you this.” She produced the Nataraja statue, holding it out in the scant inches between herself and the looming wolf-woman.

The woman chuffed once, very canine in that moment, all pretense of humanity cast aside. She looked Antoinette dead in the eyes, then sized her up, gaze going to her feet and then back up to her eyes.

She took a single step back.

“So you know the Nephilim. Fine. Why are you here?” “Someone’s after the Hearts. She’s trying to awaken the Younger Gods.”

The wolves snarled as one.All of them, the woman included. “And you’re here, what, to warn us? As if we aren’t always  on guard? There’s precious little of the earth left in this place.

You think we aren’t always vigilant?”

“We want to help,” I said, breaking with Antoinette’s request.

The woman snapped at me, baring her teeth. “You smell of the Deeps, boy.”

Again, judged before I was known. Even thousands of miles away from my family’s center of power, I was just a Greene to them. Even if I bested Esther, would I ever be rid of that stain, or would I carry it with me my whole life, my family’s sins painted clearly across my face with the distinctively bland look of our family?

“We’ve had a long day already,” Antoinette said, by way of explanation. “But he’s right. We’re trying to get the whole city to join up so we can stop this woman. She’s ridiculously powerful.”

“Her power means little here,” the woman said. “Her power comes from the Deeps, but this is the horizon, the union of earth and sky, and we are protected.”

“Tell that to the Hidatsa and Arikara packs,” I said. They’d been the last two to give up the fight. The Hidatsa had fled west. The Arikara had been eradicated.

More snarls.

“We are not them. But we take your offer as it is intended, in recognition of the Nephilim’s friendship to our pack. Go. This island is sacrosanct. Help the others, and when the time comes, call for us and we will be there. Our fangs will tear her throat and spill her lifeblood. It will be washed away by the Hudson and her stain sent out to sea.”

A cheery sort, this one. I could just imagine what she’s like at parties.

“Care for some juice?”

“I will rip this cup to broken shreds and see its ruin smote upon the mountain.”


“No, thank you.”

Perhaps not.

“Thank you for your time,” Antoinette said. “How will we call you?”

The woman reached into her sweatshirt, and produced a spent exoskeleton. Cicada, possibly a grasshopper. I’d always been an indoor child. “Crush this beneath your boot and we will know.”

“Will you know where as well?”

The woman snarled at me. “We will know.”

I elected not to probe further, trusting the wolf-woman’s confidence.

Antoinette accepted the exoskeleton, handling it with care and sliding it into the pocket with the Shiva Nataraja statue. “Thank you for your time. We will go now.”

The woman nodded, and another wave of shadows passed over her, leaving behind the wolf she had been before.

In an unexpected act of kindness, the wolves led us to another way down the hill, such that we were able to leave the park with no more bruises and scrapes.

When we were out of earshot of the pack (or, when I assumed we were, the exact details of supernal wolf hearing being an area outside my expertise), I released the hold on my tongue.

“Why did she speak that way?” I asked.  Antoinette raised an eyebrow. “You’re one to ask.”

“I am asking. That speech pattern is not familiar to me. I had been informed that the filmic depictions of Native American speech were inaccurate, but her speech was neither that stereotype nor anything with which I am familiar.”

“She’s a wolf, Jake.”

“A lycanthrope, yes. I assume they all are. Is that typical of the local group? A tribal cant, then?”

“Everybody’s got a dialect. They don’t talk to people much, from what I can tell.”

“But how will we know if we don’t ask?” I prodded, struck by Antoinette’s lack of curiosity. Some would call it prudence. But I’d never been the one to stop until I’d gotten to the bottom of something. Be that turning the basement until I found the frequently-cited text that was somehow not on the bookshelves, or waiting and listening at the door until Mother and Father thought we’d all gone to bed so they could resume their fights.

“I don’t really care. I’m not the needs-to-know everything type. That was more my mom’s bag.”

We arrived at the bus stop. A woman joined us, old before her time, with a multicolored heap of plastic bags in a laundry cart. We suspended our conversation, dwelling in silence as my mind continued to race. I checked my watch several times over the course of the same minute, then turned to Antoinette. “Have you heard anything from Carter?”

She shook her head. “Don’t worry, Jake. We have time.” I was not so optimistic.

After seven minutes of fidgeting  and  feeling  helpless, the bus appeared, which led directly into another fifty-two minutes of powerlessness. But with the space in the bus, I felt comfortable drawing out one of the texts I’d borrowed from Antoinette’s store and refreshing my familiarity with agate/ruby sympathetic connections and their applications in combat.

The peridot would be my greatest asset in any combat against creatures of the Deeps, but I would be well advised to take a versatile approach, perhaps happen upon a configuration unexpected to Esther and catch her unawares. She was a natural, and had never needed to study as I had. Her power was unquestioned, but she was sometimes shortsighted.

On the ferry  trip back, we  found a corner  of the deck sufficiently remote to speak freely, working through various scenarios—if Esther had already claimed this Heart and that one, this is what she could do, and so on. She had perhaps three of the Hearts at most, one at the least. Antoinette’s connections in the Bronx were not extensive. If she had three, the second circle would be opened soon, and the city would take notice.

My seasickness was not as pronounced as on the trip over, but I still found prudence in fixing my gaze on the horizon, the vision locked into my mind to help convince my inner ear that we were not about to be hurtled into the sea or whatever it was about the rolling motion of the water that unsettled my equilibrium.

“That place is a battlefield,” she’d said by way of explanation. “We go there next, then. She may hope to use our reticence against us. But what about Queens?”

“The Raksha in Queens are very capable, and even more secretive. Queens is a big place, and the Raksha have full cooperation of the entire community. People live in Queens to be safe, not for ambition.”

“That seems somewhat reductive,” I said.

Antoinette shrugged. “Not everything I say has to be the gospel truth, you know. This isn’t a trial.”

I blanched at the comment. “But why dissemble?”

“It was a turn of phrase, for emphasis. I think you’re right about the Bronx. It’ll take Esther longer to pin down the Bearer in Queens, so it seems only smart that she’d head north first.”

“Excellent. I would be amenable to stopping for lunch somewhere on the way.  Preferably after my stomach has settled again from the ferry ride.”

Antoinette nodded, her gaze turning out to the water.

I wished that my stomach or the water would be calm enough to resume my reading. It was nervous distraction, but still far better than queasiness for my nerves.

Instead, my mind drifted to Esther, spinning out scenarios of the people she could be hurting this very moment, the carnage she could be tearing through this city while eight million people  moved  around  her, ignorant  of the  coming storm.


Now that you’ve made it all the way down here, it’s time for the giveaway details! It’s a quick an easy enter, just comment on this post and include an email address (or link to where I can find your email address), and you’re in!

~ Open to US residents only (sorry, rest of the world!)
~ 1 entry per person
~ Contest will close at 11:59 PM, PST, on Wednesday October 15, 2014, and the winners will be drawn on Thursday October 16.

Winners will be emailed a promo code to download an e-copy of the book in the format of their choosing, except for Kindle formats.

Michael R. Underwood is the author of Geekomancy, Celebromancy, Attack the Geek, Shield and Crocus, and The Younger Gods. By day, he’s the North American Sales & Marketing Manager for Angry Robot Books. Mike grew up devouring stories in all forms, from comics to video games, tabletop RPGs, movies, and books. He has a BA in Creative Mythology and East Asian Studies, and an MA in Folklore Studies. Mike has been a bookseller, a barista, a game store cashwrap monkey, and an independent publishers’ representative. Mike lives in Baltimore with his fiancée, an ever-growing library, and a super-team of dinosaur figurines and stuffed animals. He is also a co-host on the Hugo-nominated Skiffy and Fanty Show. In his rapidly vanishing free time, Mike studies historical martial arts and makes homemade pizza. He blogs at and Tweets @MikeRUnderwood.

Done bruised m’brain.

Like a genius, someone left some cardboard boxes in the hallway recently. And like a genius, I slipped on one and fell down the better part of a flight of stairs, smacking my head off something (probably a step) as I went down. I’m now the proud disoriented owner of a mild concussion.

As such, I’ve been ordered to take it easy for a few days. No TV, no computer stuff, nothing that tends to make a brain work harder than usual. (So I guess reality TV must be okay, then…) Being bad enough as it is to sneak online and relieve a little boredom by typing this to let readers know that there’ll be a bloggy silence until next week, since I didn’t schedule any posts between now and then.

Thanks for your patience! I shall now resume staring at the ceiling and fantasizing that I’m a rock star! (In all honesty, I can read for chunks of time if I take breaks, so I’m not climbing the walls from boredom just yet.)


Meritropolis, by Joel Ohman

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Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – September 8, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) The year is AE3, 3 years after the Event. Within the walls of Meritropolis, 50,000 inhabitants live in fear, ruled by the brutal System that assigns each citizen a merit score that dictates whether they live or die. Those with the highest scores thrive, while those with the lowest are subject to the most unforgiving punishment–to be thrust outside the city gates, thrown to the terrifying hybrid creatures that exist beyond.

But for one High Score, conforming to the System just isn’t an option. Seventeen-year-old Charley has a brother to avenge. And nothing–not even a totalitarian military or dangerous science–is going to stop him.

Where humankind has pushed nature and morals to the extreme, Charley is amongst the chosen few tasked with exploring the boundaries, forcing him to look deep into his very being to discern right from wrong. But as he and his friends learn more about the frightening forces that threaten destruction both without and within the gates, Meritropolis reveals complexities they couldn’t possibly have bargained for…

Thoughts: This was one of those books that drew me to it out of rage-induced curiosity. The idea that on a weekly basis, people would be evaluated for their use to society, assigned a number based on that, and if they were deemed to be too useless, their score would be ‘zeroed’ and they were be turned out beyond the city’s protective walls, left to the mercy of the elements and the dangerous beasts that roamed at night. This brutal regime is the only way to keep the city’s population in check with their limited resources. It was an idea that hit home due to the sheer number of times I’ve felt that I’m utterly replaceable. I do no job that couldn’t really be done by anyone else. I have made no real contributions to society. I’ve affected nobody in a really significant way. I probably would have been zeroed long ago, if the world I live in worked in such a way. So I had to take a look and see what the book was all about.

Unfortunately, there were a few questions that didn’t really get answered that made me think the system was full of holes. First off, use is relative; a baby is utterly useless within those terms, especially if there’s a population problem, so enforced sterility would have worked better for controlling things. Most children are similarly useless. The system did have a bit of a sliding scale, allowing children to be graded on a bit of a curve relative to their peers and developmental milestones, but there was a case of a young girl who developed mobility problems, who was zeroed because of them. The system was painfully ablist, unless there are literally no useful jobs a person could do while sitting or lying down, this girl could still have had a use. No real mention was made of training outside of what High Scores get; many people feel pretty useless until they find something that really resonates with them and they get the training in it, and then they go on to be amazing.

All of that could be argued against by saying that there was no merit to wasting time and resources on someone who might grow up to be useful to society later, and the reveal at the end shows that the whole thing was meant to be a short-lived project anyway, but therein lies my second problem. Short-lived regimes like that don’t work without every inhabitant being brutally beaten down or given no other choice. The first generation to really be born and raised in Meritropolis (for that’s the city’s actual name) is just coming to age as the book takes place, which requires adults of many ages to have willingly and without a fuss consented to the whole system in the first place. I see this problem a lot in near-future dystopias, the idea that such a regime could crop up almost overnight and go entirely without a hitch until the protagonist comes along. People may have felt forced into Meritropolis because they didn’t think they had anywhere else to go, but that doesn’t mean they would have just lain down and accepted every single rule without question. People don’t even do that now and here, and the laws we live by here are much more permissive!

As for the protagonist, Charley, well, he’s a golden boy, the kind of do-no-wrong character that gets himself into all the right kinds of trouble in the name of justice. Disgusted with the system for zeroing his brother, he aims to get his revenge, to stand up for the wronged, and in doing so catches the attention of the city’s ruler and highest-scoring citizen, Commander Orson. Orson decides to fast-track Charley and put him in a dangerous position, raising his Score in doing so, as a sort of back-handed reward. Charley excels at this (further proving my point that some people may seem useless until put into the right situation or given the right training), and without any real experience with fighting, manages to do things like pole-vaulting over the head of a charging boar-hybrid, as well as seeing his Score skyrocket until he, not Orson, is the highest Score in the city. If mistakes happened, things would always come out perfectly in the end. He may drop his toast, but it will always land butter side up.

I found the characters to be fairly flat and uninspired. Charley is a hothead with little regard for consequence, which makes him a surprisingly boring protagonist to ride on the shoulder of as the story progresses. Meritropolis’s criminal kingpin, Chappy, shows more foresight and restraint and ability to plan than Charley does, and when the criminals are doing it better than the revolutionary hero, there’s a problem. Charley gets random spots of info from Orson’s incredibly attractive girlfriend, who gets said secret intel from Orson without problem and then, because it makes her unhappy, she just must tell someone and it just happens to be the person trying to overthrow the system. So few characters played major roles but had sparse motivation, or were just straight-up caricatures of humanity.

I think, when all is said and done, that the ideas explored in this book were fantastic and compelling but suffered from poor delivery. Too many unanswered questions and too few explored motivations made a lot of the story ring hollow, and it felt a lot like every event was set up just so Charley could show off how awesome he was destined to be. It was a hero story, a story of triumph against all odds, but an unrealistic one, and I feel that there were numerous missed opportunities for character development. The foundation on which the whole story was built was complex but ultimately unstable.

A lot of people really seem to enjoy this book. It’s been getting a lot of positive reviews, so this may simply be a case of Your Mileage May Vary. For my part, Charley was a rather unappealing character. Others who enjoy seeing someone act the hero and ignore consequences in his pursuit of personal justice may resonate better with him and find fewer problems with the story because of it. But it’s not a series I plan to continue with, because all the problems mounted up by the end and even the initial interest I had fizzled away after Meritropolis fell, so there’s not much for me to feel compelled to go back to.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Black Swan, White Raven, edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

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Datlow’s website | Windling’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – September 30, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Once again, World Fantasy Award–winning editors Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling prove that fairy tales don’t have to be for little children and that happily ever after doesn’t necessarily mean forever. Black Swan, White Raven is Datlow and Windling’s fourth collection of once-familiar and much-beloved bedtime stories reimagined by some of the finest fantasists currently plying their literary trade—acclaimed writers like Jane Yolen, John Crowley, Michael Cadnum, and Joyce Carol Oates, who give new lives and new meanings to the plights of Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel, and more.

Hansel and Gretel make several appearances here, not the least being at their trial for the murder of a supposedly helpless old woman. The shocking real reason for Snow White’s desperate flight from her home is revealed in “The True Story,” and the steadfast tin soldier, made flesh and blood, pays a terrible price for his love and devotion.

The twenty-one stories and poems in this collection run the gamut from triumphant to troubling to utterly outrageous, like Don Webb’s brilliant merging of numerous tales into one wild, hallucinogenic trip in his “Three Dwarves and 2000 Maniacs.” All in all, the reimagined fairy tales and fables in Datlow and Windling’s literary offering mine the fantastical yarns we loved as children for new and darker gold.

Thoughts: Fairy tales are interesting, both in their original form and the more sanitized happy versions we tend to grow up with today, and the differences between them. They resonate with so many people, no matter which form they’re in. From cautionary tales to hopeful visions of one’s future, there’s a place for fairy tales in our lives.

Which is why this collection is such a great one. It’s the sort of thing that can appeal to so many, not just fans of genre fiction. Though that is their primary appeal, since the overwhelming majority of the stories feature a sci-fi or fantasy bent, some read more like historical fiction or contemporary fiction, so there’s a range in here that’s fitting with the range of authors.

As with just about any anthology I read, though, some stories and some presentations hit harder with me than others. Particular favourites in this collection were Michael Blumlein’s Snow in Dirt (a sci-fi story involving a man who finds a strange comatose woman buried in his yard, then proceeds to revive and live with her), Esther M Friesner’s No Bigger Than My Thumb (a very twisted story of revenge), Gary Kilworth’s The Trial of Hansel and Gretel (exactly what it sounds like, portrayed as a medieval courtroom drama), Anne Bishop’s Rapunzel (a take on the classic story in which adversity builds character and everybody is more deeply flawed than you expect), Midori Snyder’s The Reverend’s Wife (a hilarious tale of ignorance and infidelity)… Okay, I’m starting to realise that there are more favourites in this collection that I first thought. Maybe it would be easier to say that there were really only 2 stories that I didn’t enjoy as much as the others rather than list all the ones I did like. And the ones that I didn’t find so appealing weren’t indicative of the quality of the story or the writing so much as they were just stories that didn’t really click with me. This happens a lot when I read anthologies with a mix of authors; inevitably there’s something that doesn’t appeal as much as the rest. Can’t win ‘em all.

I understand that this isn’t the first collection in the series, and that there are plenty of other dark retellings of fairy tales edited by Datlow and Windling that I can look for now, and believe me, if this collection is indicative of the others, I’m going to have a damn good time reading through them. If you’re looking for a trip into a disturbing twist on the stories you grew up with (assuming you didn’t grow up with the Grimm versions, that is; they’re disturbing enough on their own), then I highly recommend Black Swan, White Raven. You’ve got a star collection of authors contributing here, and it really shows in the fantastic diversity of content and style. This is one to stay on my bookshelves for years to come!

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)