Damoren, by Seth Skorkowsky

Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – April 12, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReadsA secret society of monster hunters.
A holy revolver forged to eradicate demons.
A possessed man with a tragic past.
A rising evil bent on destroying them all.

MATT HOLLIS is the current wielder of the holy weapon, Dämoren. With it, he stalks and destroys demons.

A secret society called the VALDUCANS has taken an interest in Matt’s activities. They see him as a reckless rogue—little more than a ‘cowboy’ corrupted by a monster—and a potential threat to their ancient order.

As knights and their sentient weapons begin dying, Matt teams up with other hunters of his kind such as LUIZA, a woman with a conquistador blade; ALLAN, an Englishman with an Egyptian khopesh; MALCOLM, a voodoo priest with a sanctified machete; and TAKAIRA, a naginata-swinging Samurai.

As the hunters become the hunted, they must learn to trust one another before a powerful demonic entity thrusts the world into a terrible and ageless darkness.

Thoughts: Seth Skorkowsky’s Damoren is what happens when you take elements from Supernatural, twist the mythology a little, and then add more guns and history. From the get-go I could see the similarities, and I can say with pretty good certainty that if you’re a fan of the show then you’re probably going to enjoy Damoren a fair bit.

The book follows Matt, owner and caretaker of Damoren, which was once a holy sword that was broken and remade in the form of a gun. He lost his family to demons when he was a child, and was subsequently raised by Clay, whose voice in my head sounded so much like Bobby Singer that the only thing missing was the occasional “idjit” comment. After Clay’s unfortunate death, Matt finds himself wrapped up with the Valducan Knights, protectors of ancient holy weapons, sworn to battle and eliminate demons wherever they may be found. Interspersed with the main plot are little interludes, reports of historical demon attacks, theories on demonic possession or nature, excerpts from journals of past Valducan knights, adding depth and backstory to the novel without the awkward experience of having characters sit down and play Mr. Exposition with the newbie.

While the concept behind the Valducan Knights is an interesting one, I found that scenes within the organization suffered for the large cast of characters. Less than half of them got any real development; most were names on a page, sometimes with a few lines, and thus were largely unmemorable. Matt, of course, stood out above the others due to being the main character. Luiza as the love interest, and Anya for her later exploits as the plot advanced. Malcolm, Allen, Susumu, and Kazuo got enough development for me to be able to tell you a couple of things about them. Others, though, showed up and did things but felt like they were placeholders, some random person filling in a spot because a spot needed to be filled. People died, and I don’t actually remember who at times. Forget getting connected enough to feel anything about their deaths.

Honestly, I think that was really the biggest thing that negatively impacted the writing, though. Many of the scenes which featured only a few characters, or Matt by himself, were very smoothly written. The interludes were also full of interesting theories with some nice detail put into them when they were looking at how demons work. Skorkowsky is no lightweight when it comes to attention to detail, and when such detail was lacking in the narration itself, it was more due to the fact that Matt himself wasn’t prone to noticing things. Admittedly, though, that did lead to some uneven reading, rich detail in some areas and then skimming over things in others. It made it realistic from a third-person-limited perspective, but also frustrating when it felt like a scene was begging for something else to make it come alive but that detail and description just wasn’t forthcoming.

There was a lot of promise to this series, and it’s getting good reviews all over the place, but I’m afraid to say that it’s a series I probably won’t continue with. I want to stress that it’s not a reflection of the quality, or the demonstrated creativity of the author. It’s more because the novel just wasn’t to my taste. There are plenty of people I can guarantee that this book would appeal to, and there’s a reason that many have expressed their liking of Damoren since its release. But between my own personal taste and the way I couldn’t really connect with any of the characters, I just don’t think the series is for me. Can’t win ‘em all, I guess. Still, even if your tastes match mine impeccably, I would still say that Damoren itself is worth reading once, to see Skorkowsky’s creative mind at work and to see an interesting twist on the underlying concepts of holy and evil, modernity and tradition, where lines get blurred all over the place and you never know quite what’s going on.

(Received for review from the publisher.)

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 8, by various authors

Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Editor’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – May 13, 2014

Summary: (Taken from Amazon) The best of the year’s Science Fiction and Fantasy stories as selected by the multiple award-winning editor Jonathan Strahan. The series moves to its new publishing home, Solaris, with this eighth annual volume of the celebrated and popular series.

DISTANT WORLDS, TIME TRAVEL, EPIC ADVENTURE, UNSEEN WONDERS AND MUCH MORE!

The best, most original and brightest science fiction and fantasy stories from around the globe from the past twelve months are brought together in one collection by multiple award winning editor Jonathan Strahan. This highly popular series now reaches volume eight and will include stories from both the biggest names in the field and the most exciting new talents.

Previous volumes have included stories from Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Cory Doctorow, Stephen Baxter, Elizabeth Bear, Joe Abercrombie, Paolo Bacigalupi, Holly Black, Garth Nix, Jeffrey Ford, Margo Lanagan, Bruce Sterling, Adam Robets, Ellen Klages, and many many more.

With this volume the series comes to a new home at Solaris, publishers of Jonathan Strahan’s award-winning original Infinities SF anthologies and the and Fearsome fantasy anthologies.

Thoughts: More and more I’ve come to appreciate short story anthologies, especially when they’re labelled the best of whatever genre I’m interested in. They may not necessarily be the best by my standards (though I confess I’d be hard-pressed to assemble such a collection if asked), but I can say with certainty that at least with this collection, every story between the covers was very good. The ones I liked less than others were largely a matter of personal taste rather than an indication of quality.

One of the things I noticed about this collection fairly early on is the diversity in both characters and authors represented. The stories are not dominated by white men, written by white male authors. It isn’t that white men don’t exist in any stories here, but instead they’re represented as often as women, as often as people of colour, and so there’s actually a fairly good range of culture and gender here. This is indicative of the wonderful shift that’s going on in SFF fandom at the moment, with more people striving for equality and greater representation. It isn’t necessarily that more women or people of colour are writing SFF than they used to (though I don’t doubt that is a factor), but people are taking more care to make sure that they get such work noticed instead of constantly being overshadowed. It’s great to see this reflected, and it made for a book filled with wonderfully diverse stories, not just in characters and authors but in a greater range for tone and content.

There are so many stories in here that are worthy of note. Ramez Naam’s Water was a disturbing and insightful look at the pervasive advertising in our lives and cranks it up to 11 by attaching the concept to cybernetic implants so that companies can directly stimulate your brain and make you crave their product at the chemical level. K J Parker’s The Sun and I was an amazing look at religion, and seemed to me like it was taking the Christian split from Judaism and sticking it in a fantasy world, with the added twist that the religion was made up and a money scam from the get-go. (Or was it?) Madeline Ashby’s Social Services was a very creepy near-future blend of sci-fi and horror, with an ambiguous ending that practically made me shake the book and demand to know what happens next. Yoon Ha Lee’s Effigy Nights was almost like a fairy tale in the poetic language used, and Neil Gaiman’s The Sleeper and the Spindle was a rewrite of a fairy tale. Multiple fairy tales, technically, with the kind of unexpected twists and turns that you come to expect from Gaiman’s writing.

I’m not the only person, though, to point out that the earlier stories in the book are the ones that they find the most engaging, the highest quality, and that the stories tend to lose something as the anthology goes on. I won’t say that the worst were saved for last, exactly, but the last few stories were really not to my taste and were it not for the fact that I don’t feel right skipping stories when I’m trying to review anthologies, I would have just passed over them and not have felt any real loss for having done so. They weren’t bad, in terms of sheer objective quality of writing or skill at storytelling. They just weren’t for me, and it seems the same has been said by other reviewers.

But still, the vast majority of stories in this anthology were incredible, and I had a great time reading them. I found a few authors who were new to me and whose work I now want to take a closer look at, and as I mentioned in a previous post, I’m convinced more than ever that my introduction to K J Parker was just a coincidentally poor one and that I really do need to give their longer work another chance. This is a talented and skilled collection of authors writing an amazing collection of stories, and this is a book that should be gracing your bookshelves. Expect to have your mind blown open a time or two while reading.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Afterparty, by Daryl Gregory

Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – April 22, 2014

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) It begins in Toronto, in the years after the smart drug revolution. Any high school student with a chemjet and internet connection can download recipes and print drugs, or invent them. A seventeen-year-old street girl finds God through a new brain-altering drug called Numinous, used as a sacrament by a new Church that preys on the underclass. But she is arrested and put into detention, and without the drug, commits suicide.

Lyda Rose, another patient in that detention facility, has a dark secret: she was one of the original scientists who developed the drug. With the help of an ex-government agent and an imaginary, drug-induced doctor, Lyda sets out to find the other three survivors of the five who made the Numinous in a quest to set things right.

A mind-bending and violent chase across Canada and the US, Daryl Gregory’s Afterparty is a marvelous mix of William Gibson’s Neuromancer, Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, and perhaps a bit of Peter Watts’s Starfish: a last chance to save civilization, or die trying.

Thoughts: In the near future, drugs can be made by anyone with the recipe, the chemicals, and a chemjet printer to pump out pills and powders for the consumption of, well, anyone who wants to buy them. The story focuses on Lyda, a woman who starts out in a psych facility after an unfortunate drug-related incident that caused hallucinations and the death of her wife. And yes, you read that correctly; the cast of Afterparty is, by and large, not concerned wholly with white heterosexual characters, which already puts it one step ahead of the game at a time when more and more people are looking for diversity in their SFF. Anyway, when Lyda learns that a new arrival to the facility has committed suicide after finding drug-induced religion, she recognizes the symptoms as the very same ones that she experienced, which were traced to a drug she played a hand in inventing and that should not, under any circumstances, be being made, distributed, or even really discussed. Curiosity piqued, she gets herself discharged from the facility and starts to unravel the mystery, piece by drug-steeped piece.

Much of the novel takes a look at off-label drug use and the culture that can spring up around it. Taking a cue from the way Viagra was originally conceived as a blood pressure medication, Afterparty makes new drugs and invents new and unexpected side effects, ranging from a hypothermia treatment also causing increased wakefulness and, er, same-sex attraction until it wears off, to a potential treatment for Alzheimer’s that causes religion awakening and hallucinations. There was even a nod to the way many people now down energy drinks like water and consume caffeinated everything, with a drug named Clarity that provides that mental and physical boost but also rewires your brain until you’re a paranoid mess seeing connections in everything, whether or not they really exist. Off-label drug use is, weirdly, something that has fascinated me for a long time. Ditto the unexpected side effects of drugs in development that show they may be better suited to something other than what they’re being developed for. Gregory throws us into that world with more than enough detail to make it real, at times terrifying, but also in such a way that those without a background in medicine or chemistry can still appreciate it.

There’s plenty of dark humour in this book, with characters who feel real enough to step off the page, each with developed personalities, idiosyncrasies, and the majority of them being neuroatypical in one way or another. Gregory writes a tight story, equally well skilled across narration and dialogue, and he writes first-person limited in a way that doesn’t feel forced or provides all that extra information that people rarely think about themselves. (“My long brown hair gleamed as I brushed it, and my bright blue eyes looked back at me from the mirror.” Yeah, nobody thinks like that…) Lyda is an amazingly fun character to sit on the shoulders of, her thoughts caustic and witty.

It’s an ambitious thing to try to tie science and religion together, but I’d say that Gregory achieved his goal. Lyda is derisive of religion and faith, her experiences relegating it to the realm of drug-induced psychosis and so applying the same concept to those who find religion without the aid of chemicals. But what was so interesting was the way it all remained ambiguous throughout. There were hints dropped that perhaps the hallucinations weren’t quite hallucinations, that the drug actually did open one up to different aspects of the divine and they were made manifest… Or perhaps any actions affecting the physical world were done by the very human individual and they just hallucinated that it was done by a divine entity. There were no real concrete answers, just hints and speculation, and some wondering if it really matters after all, whether a person’s actions and decisions come from themselves or from a perceived connection to God. These are some deep concepts to juggle, and Afterparty did so with aplomb.

And the ending! I admit that I suspected the identity of the culprit who was manufacturing NME 110 (or Numinous, as it is alternately called throughout the book) about halfway through the story, so that reveal didn’t come as much of a surprise, but it was still interesting to see how it all played out. But what really got me was the final page, and I’ll say up front that it’s a rare book that gets to the very end and makes me do a double-take from one small reveal that ties so much of what happened together, and in a perfect and non-intrusive or non-awkward way. The story was broken up by parables inserted between chapters, insight into other characters, backstory, bits and pieces that make the story that much richer. Each written and signed by “G.I.E.D.” And when I hit that final page and realize just what that stood for… Such a small thing, and it hit like a bolt of lightning. Demonstrating Gregory’s serious skill at writing a complex story and having it stay coherent and multi-layered, and pretty much guaranteeing that I will read whatever else he writes.

It’s impressive, what kind of change can come with such a small thing.

Long story short, you need to be reading this novel. It’s the kind of book that will grab you, heart, mind, and soul, and pull you into an incredible story and refuse to let you go. Inspirational, insightful, thought-provoking, with incredible writing and perfect pacing that has no slow or dull moments to interrupt the ride. It’s the kind of sci-fi that I really can sink my teeth into, and now I’m craving more in the same vein. If you enjoyed Ramez Naam’s Nexus, you will adore Afterparty.

(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Guest post by Seth Skorkowsky

Seth Skorkowsky, author of the new book Dämoren (which is very high on my To Read list, I might add), has kindly agreed to drop by and do a guest post regarding said novel, and the origins of the idea.


Dämoren: It Started With a Gun and an Idea

damorenMy novel Dämoren didn’t originate from a story concept or even a brilliant “Ah-hah!” moment. The book was born with the merging of two separate ideas.

The first half of Dämoren came about when I was imagining a new twist to classic folklore monsters. Every culture has their own beasties, and two of the most popular in the Western World are, of course, vampires and werewolves. Modern Folklore (primarily TV and movies) has redefined these creatures as disease carriers. If a werewolf bites you, it infects you with a werewolf germ and now you’re a monster. Killing a werewolf is simply loading your trusty gun with a silver bullet and taking it down (usually after delivering a clever pun).

The idea that I had was, “What if the monster wasn’t a virus, but a demon?” People that become vampires or wendigos aren’t “infected,” they’re “possessed”. Demons, of course, are immune to mortal weapons, so shooting a werewolf with a silver bullet or staking a vampire wouldn’t kill it. It would only kill the host body. The demonic spirit could then hop over to the next victim it had marked through a bite, and go about causing havoc. The only way to kill the demonic spirit would be with a holy weapon.

The second concept that I had was the idea of a magical revolver. This might come as a huge surprise to some, but I play a lot of Roleplaying Games. Magic swords and axes are common in RPGs, and using them against creatures that require a magical weapon to damage them is easy to understand. You physically hit the monster with the magic blade (usually after delivering a clever pun). Ranged weapons are a different matter. The magical weapon never touches the target, but its projectile (arrow, bullet, tomahawk missile, etc.) does. How would firing a normal bullet with a magical gun work? Obviously the gun would need to somehow imbue its enchantment into the bullet.

I decided that a holy pistol would have a blessing inscribed along the inside of barrel. As the bullet flies down the barrel, it gains this blessing. The word “Amen,” is inscribed onto the bullet, and seals the blessing into the slug. I wanted the gun to be old, and made back when most firearms were still hand-crafted by gunsmiths. Since the bullets needed to have a word written on it, I decided that the entire loading process should be ceremonial. Silver bullets cast from a special mold, and set into blessed, graven shells.

A friend of mine suggested the idea that Dämoren should be single-action, where the shooter has to cock the hammer before each shot, and that the shells should be loaded one at a time through a little slot called a Loading Gate. This would make loading and shooting much slower when compared to other firearms.

Finally, I came up with the idea that Dämoren was once a holy sword that was broken in battle. The owner took the shattered pieces to a master gunsmith and had them turned into a revolver (which at the time was cutting-edge technology). Surprisingly, Dämoren’s easily recognizable under-barrel blade wasn’t part of this. The gun received her sinister blade several years after I had come up with all this, just a week or so before I began writing the novel.

The two ideas of “Monsters Are Demons”, and “Super- Sweet Holy Revolver” came about around the same time, but one was a story idea and the other a gaming idea. Eventually, some part of my brain said, “Hey, check it out. Those totally work together.” And that was the beginning. I had a rough concept of a modern world where demons can mark victims’ souls and possess them at will, transforming them into old-world monsters, and an archaic holy revolver that could kill them.

-Seth

sethskorkowskyWhen not writing, Seth loves going on walks to clear his head and daydream. He enjoys traveling. His favorite city is Florence. Table-top role-playing is still an enormous part of his life. He love shooting, going to Renaissance faires, and watching movies with friends. Damoren can be purchased from Amazon.com or Ragnarok Publications. He can also be found on Twitter.

Princess Academy, by Shannon Hale

Because how can you go wrong with a title like Princess Academy?

Buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.ca

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – December 1, 2008

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) Miri lives on a mountain where, for generations, her ancestors have quarried stone and lived a simple life. Then word comes that the king’s priests have divined her small village the home of the future princess. In a year’s time, the prince himself will come and choose his bride from among the girls of the village. The king’s ministers set up an academy on the mountain, and every teenage girl must attend and learn how to become a princess.

Miri soon finds herself confronted with a harsh academy mistress, bitter competition among the girls, and her own conflicting desires to be chosen and win the heart of her childhood best friend. But when bandits seek out the academy to kidnap the future princess, Miri must rally the girls together and use a power unique to the mountain dwellers to save herself and her classmates.

Thoughts: I don’t normally review mid-grade novels. YA is usually about as young as I’ll go, since often I find books for audiences much younger than that don’t have plots as deep or complex and can’t often hold my attention as well as books for older audiences.

Shannon Hale’s work, on the other hand, appears to be a pleasant exception.

I’d say that Princess Academy straddles that fine line between mid-grade and young adult, with an easy-to-follow writing style and simple conflicts to resolve, combined with some deceptively in-depth world-building, unexpected plot twists, and it’s certainly a thick enough book to hold some good story inside. It’s a fine read when you’re looking for something light and relaxing, something that doesn’t take too much of your attention, but that still has a decent plot and is something worth reading.

The story centres around Miri, a young girl from a poor mountain village who is chosen, along with every other girl of a certain age in her village, to be part of what they call the princess academy. Fortune tellers have predicted that the kingdom’s prince will find his future bride in that region, and in order to allow each girl to put her best foot forward, they must be trained in politics, history, etiquette, and a dozen other things that none of them have ever had cause to think about before. All so that one of them might impress the prince when he visits and so can marry into the royal family.

You go through the book expecting that, as is typical for such stories, Miri will be the one that the prince chooses. Hale throws readers for a loop by not having that happen. It’s a small thing, but bucks the trend enough to be very noticeable and praise-worthy. Instead, that honour goes to Miri’s friend, who knew the prince when they were children, and Miri instead goes on to change the economy of her village and improves the lives of everyone there. It’s impressive to see a story about a girl who isn’t just some romantic prize, but instead is more concerned with finance and trade and justice, making sure that the people of her village are no longer taken advantage of by traders. It’s not something often seen. Usually you’ll see a female character who is concerned with that kind of justice and is the romantic prize. Kudos to Hale for not setting up the story that way.

It’s also interesting because it shows how a good story can be told from a character that isn’t technically the main focus on the unfolding events. Miri is undeniably part of the whole princess academy deal, but she isn’t particularly interested in the academy’s primary purpose. It’s someone else who goes through that, beginning to end, and is the one chosen by the prince when all is said and done. But Miri’s story is still interesting to follow, probably moreso because it’s atypical for stories but very typical for what the majority of people will actually experience in their lives. We won’t always be the ones to achieve greatness. We won’t always get the guy, or girl, or whoever. We won’t always be the centre of the stories going on around us. Sometimes someone else will have the spotlight shining on them and will get the fairy tale ending. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have our own stories to star in, and that we can’t do something amazing with the lives we lead. It actually sets realistic expectations for readers, and doesn’t  cave to the pressures of the standard story: girl gets chance to become princess, girl thus marries prince. Here it’s: girl gets chance to become princess, girl uses training to discover her village is being swindled and puts a stop to it.

As I said earlier, Hale’s writing style is clear, smooth, and easy to follow, without making things simplistic or dumbing down the expectations of what the audience can understand. The world-building draws on European-inspired fantasy to provide a very traditional feel to the setting, and it doesn’t break too many molds where that’s concerned. But a lot of the subtler aspects of culture-building are there, from snippets of local songs and jokes and the expressed difference between the mountain girls and the people from the royal capital. It’s familiar enough to draw younger readers is and different enough to make it clear that it’s fantasy, that Miri’s world is not our own at any point through history. It’s the kind of book I curl up with when I don’t want to stretch my brain much, when I was comfortable and familiar fantasy that I can sink into with minimal effort and still come away from having been entertained. As far as mid-grade fantasy goes, Hale has definitely piqued my interest enough for me to want to check out more of what she’d written, to see if her world-building and skill with creating individual and very real characters continues.

Apex magazine issue 59

Buy from Amazon.com or the Apex website

Contents: FICTION
Perfect by Haddayr Copley-Woods
Steel Snowflakes in My Skull by Tom Piccirilli
The Cultist’s Son by Ferrett Steinmetz
Repairing the World by John Chu
Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary by Pamela Dean (eBook/subscriber exclusive)
The Violent Century (extract) by Lavie Tidhar (eBook/subscriber exclusive)

POETRY
Cogs by Beth Cato
Unlabelled Core c. Zanclean (5.33 Ma) by Michele Bannister
Tell Me the World is a Forest by Chris Lynch
Aristeia by Sonya Taaffe

NONFICTION
Resolute: Notes from the Editor-in-Chief by Sigrid Ellis
Interview with Cover Artist Mehrdad Isvandi by Loraine Sammy
Interview with Ferrett Steinmetz by Maggie Slater
After Our Bodies Fail by Abra Staffin-Wiebe

Cover art by Mehrdad Isvandi

Thoughts: Issue 59 of Apex Magazine is filled with stories that really invite you to stretch your mind, some going a little too high over my head, others hitting me full in the face and rocking me backward. Ferrett Steinmetz’s The Cultist’s Son was deeply disturbing, violent and evoking a very visceral reaction from me in the way where I can’t tell if I liked it or not no matter how good it actually was. Tom Piccirilli’s Steel Snowflakes in my Skull was delightfully ambiguous about the ending, and was one of those stories that left me unsure as to whether I fully understood it or not. Haddayr Copley-Woods’s Perfect, though, was exactly what it says on the box: perfect, and very thought-provoking and insightful.

And Pamela Dean’s Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary made me want to track down more of what she’s written so I can bury myself in her writing style again. I’ve heard her work praised before but hadn’t read anything she’d written, or at least not that I’d been aware of, but now that I have I definitely want to see more. Ditto Lavie Tidhar with the excerpt of The Violent Century; I have read some of his stuff before, but I very much want to read the whole of that book now!

As with the previous issue I reviewed, I don’t feel entirely qualified to comment much on the poetry. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy poetry, or that none of the poems in here spoke to me (in fact, Chris Lynch’s Tell Me the World is a Forest was brilliant, and Beth Cato’s Cogs was one of the pieces that left me blinking and trying to fully wrap my head around what I’d just experienced), but poetry is such a hard thing to deconstruct sometimes, and I have little practice with it, and beyond “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it,” I find I’m pretty lousy with reviewing poetry.

I do want to take a minute to express my love of Abra Staffin-Wiebe’s After Our Bodies Fail, which talks about how medicine has advanced from the days of placing leeches sometimes in a person’s body to now being able to print out mechanical prosthetic hands from 3D printers, and talks about the Spoon Theory of trying to manage one’s health when it’s not optimal. It got me thinking of Sarah Chorn‘s Special Needs in Strange Worlds series on SF Signal, and it made me appreciate how more information about disabilities and health care is getting out there, especially in the genre community. So awesome.

Mehrdad Isvandi’s cover art was, in a word, striking. At first glance it looks like nothing more than an anthropomorphic tiger putting on a suit, a fantastical enough idea on its own. Until you notice the zebra mask on the dresser. To me it seemed like a more poignant version of “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” using less common animals to demonstrate the same idea… until my brain attached another layer of meaning to it in the fact that it almost looks like the tiger’s getting dressed for work, professional clothes needed to set a good impression and thus hide his true nature in order to pass as something else. Now I admit that’s probably my own interpretation getting slapped onto the artwork there, but even so, that idea is something I’ve struggled with a lot in the past, hiding myself in order to pass for ‘normal’ in public, and to see artwork that captures that sentiment so well for me was incredible, and very moving.

After reading this issue, I’m sure that I made a good choice in getting a subscription to Apex Magazine. I may not enjoy every single in the issues, but what I do like outstrips what I don’t, and even what I don’t enjoy still gets me thinking. I’m going to be looking forward to this magazine at the beginning of every month, and I can’t wait to see what will be coming in the future!

 

Apex Magazine issue 58

Buy from Amazon.com or the Apex website

Contents: FICTION
Waking by Cat Hellisen
Undone by Mari Ness
To Increase His Wondrous Greatnesse More by Sunny Moraine
The End of the World in Five Dates by Claire Humphrey
Actaeon by Jacqueline Carey (eBook exclusive)
Maze by J.M. McDermott (eBook exclusive novel excerpt)

NONFICTION
Invisible Bisexuality in Torchwood by K. Tempest Bradford
Author Interview with Claire Humphrey
Artist Interview with Julie Dillon
Resolute: Notes from the Editor-in-Chief by Sigrid Ellis

POETRY
Tempus by J.J. Hunter
The Parable of the Supervillian by Ada Hoffmann

Cover art by Julie Dillon.

Thoughts: This is the first time I’ve reviewed a magazine like this, and I’m finding that it’s actually a fair bit different from reviewing a book. The most similar thing would be a short story collection, but even then, there are differences that make this unlike what I usually do. Still, I’ll give it my best shot, now and from now on because I’ve subscribed to Apex Magazine and I’m enjoying what I’ve seen so far enough to want to talk about it here more often. Maybe I’ll get better at reviewing magazines as time goes on, so bear with me for now.

Julie Dillon’s cover art is something I could look at for ages. The bright red against the background of brown and beige, the way the minotaur looms larger than life… I kind of want a print of this to hang on my wall.

The short stories in here were top-notch, and even the ones that didn’t resonate so well with me were still pretty enjoyable, and I couldn’t deny that their respective authors have a large helping of skill to their names. In particular, though, Cat Hellison’s Waking was a take on angels and family that got my attention pretty quickly, Mari Ness’s Undone was short and sweet and made me hungry for more stories in that world, and holy crap, I can’t give enough praise to Sunny Moraine’s To Increase His Wondrous Greatnesse More! I could probably dedicate an entire post to it, but I’ll leave it to a quote from the story to encapsulate why I loved it so much.

There is a point at which every victim tires of being so. There is a point at which every victim perceives the joys of being the villain.

If that doesn’t at least get you curious about the story, sorry, I can’t help you. :p

I really enjoyed reading K Tempest Bradford’s article, Invisible Bisexuality in Torchwood. Having heard so many good things about how sexuality was presented in Torchwood but having yet to watch it (or anything else related to Dr. Who), it was interesting to see a different perspective. The examples cited made me rather uncomfortable, made me look up some other opinions on the subject; forewarned is forearmed, so when I do finally watch it, I don’t think my expectations are going to be quite as high as they once were. As someone who doesn’t fit into either a heterosexual/homosexual category, it bothers me a lot when I find that other forms of sexuality are downplayed and illegitimized in media, and the sting is doubly harsh when something was once so praised as breaking molds and presenting viewpoints that straddled lines and skirted boundaries.

The interviews in the magazine, sadly, were rather lost on me. It was interesting to see a little bit about the cover artist’s procedures, but interviews with people I haven’t encountered before don’t do much for me. They weren’t bad or inappropriate or anything. Just something that I’m not in much of a position to appreciate fully.

But whether or not I could appreciate certain aspects of the magazine did nothing to lessen my enjoyment of reading it, and I’m glad that I have April’s issue sitting on my Kindle, no delays between moving from one issue to the next, and I can already tell that this is going to be a magazine I’ll be excited about each month. I’ll withhold judgment about whether it was worth the money I paid on my subscription; I strongly suspect it is, but making that judgment after only one recent issue is premature.

(This issue received complimentary from the publisher as part of Operation Fourth Story. I did not pay money for it. Each issue I review after this, though, I did pay for and this disclaimer won’t be seen again.)

Apex Magazine’s “Operation: Fourth Story”

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably read at least one issue of Apex Magazine at some point in your life. A random pickup in the magazine section of a bookstore, borrowed from an SFF-loving friend… And if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably also enjoyed what you’ve read in the magazine, too.

Which is why I’m thrilled to be a part of promoting Apex’s “Operation: Fourth Story.” Allow Lesley Conner, the marketing leader for Apex, to talk a little bit about the idea behind it.

Every month we’re gaining new subscribers and our web readership is at record levels. On top of that, we are receiving more submissions now than ever before. With that in mind, we’re getting ready to launch Operation Fourth Story, with the goal of getting enough new subscribers to add a fourth original short story to every issue of Apex Magazine. We want to continue to build our readership and be able to publish more of the amazing stories that are submitted to us every month.

Coming out on the first Tuesday of every month, Apex Magazine strives to bring its readers science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories that blend genre and are full of marrow and passion, stories that are twisted, strange, and beautiful. Each issue contains two or three original short stories, a reprint, a nonfiction article, and an interview with one of our authors. In the past, we have published such authors as Catherynne M. Valente, Kat Howard, Lavie Tidhar, Ken Liu, and Mary Robinette Kowal, plus many more.

During Operation Fourth Story, which will run from April 3rd to April 17th, subscribers will be able to get a 12-month subscription for only $17.95 direct from Apex or through Weightless books. We’ll also be offering a free Apex eBook to anyone who subscribes through Amazon, Weightless, or direct through Apex, and, if we reach our goal of 250 new subscribers, will randomly select one person to win a Kindle Paperwhite.

The regular price for a yearly subscription is $19.95, so a saving of $2 may not seem like a heck of a lot on the surface. But consider that the price per issue, if you bought each issue on its own, is $2.99. The new limited time price means you’re getting each issue for $1.49. So, half price. And the increased subscriptions will mean that Operation: Fourth Story suceeds, and the magazine will provide even more awesome content!

I don’t know about you, but I’m now a subscriber!

So how else am I going to do my part for Operation: Fourth Story? Well, tomorrow I’ll be reviewing March’s issue of Apex Magazine, and on Friday I’ll be reviewing April’s, the most current issue, so that anyone who hasn’t taken a look at it before can get a taste for some of what the magazine has to offer.

So what are you waiting for? Head on down to the Apex Store and subscribe! (Keep in mind, it’ll say that the price is still $19.95, but it changes when you go to check out.)

(And before someone suggests it, I receive no kickbacks or anything of the sort if I get people to subscribe to Apex Magazine. I just think it’s a pretty good deal and I like the idea of Operation: Fourth Story.)

First Impressions: You Only Get One

Ever pick up a book by an author whose work you hear praised to the high hills, only to be disappointed in the end because what you’re reading just doesn’t live up to the hype? Wonder what you’re missing? Wonder what other people are seeing in this that just seems to be going over your head?

And how do you come back from that, anyway?

I’ve been thinking a lot about first impressions lately, since I started reading The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, volume 8, and came across a story by K J Parker, which I loved to death. Just as I did the last short story I read by Parker. Parker’s stuff seems to be awesome!

The disconnect comes for me when I remember that I read The Hammer a few years ago and was rather less than impressed by it.

There could be many reasons for this. Maybe that one book was just a poor introduction to Parker’s writing and their other books are considerably better. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right headspace to enjoy that story at the time; I know my tastes and appreciation have changed as time has gone on. Maybe, as some people have said of Stephen King’s writing, Parker does better short stories than full novels. I honestly don’t know.

Something similar happened when I read Maria V Snyder’s Touch of Power. I haven’t read anything else by Snyder, before nor after, but I’ve heard her praised endlessly for smooth writing and engaging stories, and people who like her books tend to like them a lot. For my part, though, I found that she largely lacked any ability to do decent foreshadowing (characters had 1 of 2 reactions to the MC: they either liked her instantly and were good guys, or were mean to her or told a lie and thus were bad guys, completely without exception), and the writing seemed too simplistic at times to deal the weightier subjects spread throughout the novel. I couldn’t see what the appeal of her writing really was, no matter how highly others spoke of other books.

And that’s the problem, really. You only get one first impression. One chance to either hook a reader or lose them, maybe forever.

It isn’t fair. I know that a poor first impression could well be souring me away from books that I might love to death, if only I could get over the lingering feelings from the first read. Thankfully, where Parker is concerned, those 2 awesome short stories I’ve read have convinced me that it’s worth taking another chance (though when that chance will be taken is entirely unknown, seeing as how I’ve had a copy of Sharps around for who knows how long now…); the same can’t really be said for Snyder.

So even if first impressions are a once-off thing that can have huge and long-lasting effects, maybe they aren’t so eternal. The effects, I mean. A couple of good short stories have turned me around on one authors, so who’s to say the same approach couldn’t work for others. In my review of The Hammer, I mentioned that I didn’t care much for Parker’s writing style, when in the short stories I freaking love it. Maybe I just caught them on a bad book.

I can’t offer advice to writers on this. “Don’t ever write anything that isn’t awesome on all levels” is pretty crap advice, practically. There’s no way to ensure that a reader’s first introduction to your work is going to be a good one, the one that will hook them and have them lining up to buy others in the future. Or advice to readers: “Don’t read anything except what you already know you’re going to like.” (Which would likely result in people reading the way I did in years past, which was to essentially reread old favourites more than I read anything new.) It’s a bit of an intimidating notion, isn’t it, to think that at any point, someone is going to have a first introduction to you and that may affect how they view you from then on.

So, at the risk of rambling further, I’ll draw this down to a question: have you ever had any poor first impressions of an author or their work that has later been turned around? How was your opinion change? Do the lingering impression from that first time still colour your appreciation or lack thereof of anything else they’ve done? Let me know in the comments!

Spam Saturdays

Lately I’ve been getting some fantastic word-salad spam that makes me chuckle when I read it. Honestly, it’s one of the things I start looking forward to. “What awesome spam comments were tried yesterday?” I’ve been sharing choice bits of them on Facebook, but so that people who don’t follow my personal Facebook account can also get a kick out of them, I think I’ll start making it a weekly weekend feature here on the blog. Highlighting the giggle-worthy excerpts from spam comments.

Silly? Absolutely. But come on, we all need a chuckle in our lives now and again, right?

[...]Just wanted to say thanks for the shoes. Received them one day earlier then expected lice [...] Hope to do future business with you appear to beseashore crabs..

Lice and seashore crabs! Considering this seems to be a spam comment trying to direct me to a site to buy cheap knockoff-brand shoes, I don’t think talking about good shipping and unexpected parasites is the best selling point to go with…

Say yes to this remark and we’ll spare an made up critter!

Honestly, I’m considering letting this one through the spam filter because it’s hilarious in its own right!

Eat your rolled oats all day! porridge is one of your program. [...] This is how to rent you. Do not mechanical phenomenon thing on their tender.

…Please do not mechanical thing on my tender. I’ll pay you money to not do that.

You may desire degraded speech, but it reimbursement importantly writer so try meet victimisation classic transport to prevention money on facilitated conveyance, prefer capacity unit business enterprise is untold easier for hackers who predate on those purchases, you should countenance peachy

Honestly, what can you say to this? I think it’s telling me to avoid the bus because people don’t speak good English there, and there are hackers who can steal my groceries… But don’t quote me on that.