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Currently Reading: The Undivided by Jennifer Fallon

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A slow news week

Keeping with tradition my blog posts have dried up as I have gone back to work. Fortunately for me its been a slow new week, right?

In the last week alone the final nominations lists have been released for both the David Gemmell Legend Award and, probably more importantly, the Hugo Awards ballot. I will probably dedicate a post to each of these awards, but feel free to visit the official sites for the Gemmell and Hugo lists.

Very Australian

As a true patriot, and given that we have just enjoyed our annual Anzac Day commemorations, it would be remiss of me if I failed to highlight the Ditmar Awards which were presented at SwanCon in Perth over the (very) long weekend. My patriotism has never been more apparent - I haven't read a single one of the novels listed for Best Novel by an Australian writer. The winner, however, was Tansy Rayner Roberts's Power and Majesty (which I will read). And the trophy sure looks nice.

Meanwhile some of the major awards in Science fiction specifically have been announced. South African writer Lauren Beukes won the Arthur C. Clarke Award for her novel Zoo CityMark Hodder was presented with the Philip K. Dick Award for The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack. Unsurprisingly I have not read either of these books. My Science Fiction reading has dropped off dramatically in favour of Fantasy this year.

The biggest news of the week for me landed today. George R. R. Martin has completed the manuscript of A Dance with Dragons, which will now definitely meet the July publication window. It's been a while! George posted a cryptic message on his blog - so cryptic in fact that his editor Anne Groell felt the need to assure the internet that we did in fact interpret George's message correctly.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Review: Eon/Eona by Alison Goodman

To mark the US release of Eona by Australian writer Alison Goodman, my reviews of Eon (also known as Eon: Dragoneye Reborn) and Eona have been posted over at the Ranting Dragon. Follow the links for Eon and Eona. I gave Eon 4 stars and 3.5 stars to Eona. It's a very satisfying young adult duology that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to both boys and girls (though honestly there is more for the young ladies in Eona). 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Review: Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord

Another of my reviews has been posted over at The Ranting Dragon. Follow the link to read my detailed thoughts about Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord. The type of story Lord tells was very new to me, so I didn't know exactly what to make of the book other than its immediate impact on me. I gave it 3.5 stars.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

An evening with Robin Hobb

On Wednesday night last week I had the privelege of attending an evening with Robin Hobb at the Dendy Cinema in Newtown (which won't mean much unless you live in Sydney). It was a paid event, which is pretty unusual in Australia (or so I'm told) outside of conventions, and which caused a minor stir on Twitter. I was happy to cough up the $20.

Robin and me... obviously.

The event included two brief readings, in which Robin particularly wanted to establish the difference between the voices of Robin Hobb and Megan Lindholm (her other writing pseudonym - her real name is apparently Margaret Ogden). Robin followed up with a lengthy Q&A that must have run for over an hour. The questions kept on coming and the event organiser had to wrap it up with a few hands still in the air.

Many of Robin's responses were unsurprising, particularly having read interviews online, but I learnt plenty about her process and background. Robin is a believer in the idea of writing what you know, so the fantastic elements of her stories tend to reflect aspects of real life. In some cases the principle is applied very literally - for fans of The Liveship Traders who appreciated the accuracy of the nautical references, it turns out that Robin's husband is a third generation seafarer - and apparently not much has changed in the profession since the begininning.

Of her many answers I particularly enjoyed her comment about magic. She deliberately creates magic that is difficult and unreliable for the simple reason that, riffing off Clarke's Law, any magic that is sufficiently reliable is indistinguishable from science.


As I mentioned on Twitter, a young lady sitting a few seats away from me spent the whole time reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Since she must have paid her $20 for this rare opportunity as well, I can only conclude that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a pretty good book. Maybe I'll go there one day.

Of course the signing was a highlight for me - I picked up some hardcovers especially for the event, knowing Robin would be able to deface them. I'm pretty happy with the results. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Review: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – N. K. Jemisin (2010)
Genre: Fantasy
Sub-genre: Difficult to classify, Epic or High Fantasy
Completed: February 21 2011

I first came across The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms in my local book shop. After noticing the incredible cover and reading the blurb I nearly picked it up on the spot (which would have meant paying exorbitant Australian prices no less). Instead I waited, and as has been the case with several books, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms remained on my ‘to read’ pile for far too long. Aside: I have also waited a bit too long to review the book that has appeared on all of my nominations and ballots for the various Speculative Fiction awards.

The wait paid off, however, as The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was not the story I expected it to be. I would have been unduly disappointed. If the relatively slim page count didn’t already give it away this book is not an exploration of the interplay between myriad cultures. Yeine Darr has been summoned to the court at Sky, the seat of the ruler of the eponymous Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Her mother was next in line for the Arameri throne, until she abdicated to be with Yeine’s father (both of whom have died). Instead of being raised among the ruling class, Yeine is essentially a northern barbarian, so when she is brought to Sky to compete for the throne she is not expected to survive, let alone succeed.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is Yeine’s story in every imaginable way. She is an energetic protagonist with a beguiling narratorial voice. Her engaging but unreliable narration makes the story at once dynamic, believable and mysterious. Yeine is able to view Sky through outsider’s eyes, but her heritage gives her an insider’s agency. Although she is supposed to be a barbarian, she continually proves to be more humane and enlightened than her Arameri relations. Her bluntness and lack of Arameri subtlety make her easy to sympathise with.

Intriguingly, Yeine comes from a matriarchal society where men have a very low status. The obvious gender issues are not overplayed, but they form a vital part of Yeine’s character and actually help her to survive at court – she automatically identifies her female cousin Scimina as the real competition for the throne, while her male cousin Relad proves to be the insignificant player she assumed him to be.

Jemisin’s tale flows beautifully, once you become accustomed to Yeine’s narratorial interludes (which turn out to be more important than is immediately apparent). She creates terrific pacing through a perfectly rational premise – Yeine has seven days to win the right to inherit the throne or she will be killed. The prose is similarly smooth, with some tremendous descriptive passages that draw the reader into this other-world of incredible opulence and bound, subservient gods.

The mythology of the gods is compelling. Her creation myth provides a believable foundation and gives the gods understandable motivations. Jemisin handles the unique characters of the individual gods skillfully and consistently. Many readers will fall for the childlike Sieh (or develop some more mature feelings for the ominous Nahadoth).

There is a very good chance that The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms will appear in my favourite reads of 2011. I may even add a category so that I can properly acknowledge this astounding debut effort. I give it 4.5 stars – a tremendous story with only minor setbacks. It is a self-contained story yet also the first entry in The Inheritance Trilogy. I can’t wait to see where Jemisin is headed.

Read it – to see how intriguing and empowered a female protagonist can be in the hands of a strong, female author
Don’t read it – if you prefer to read bad books; to be fair the structure of the narrative and some of the content won’t appeal to many readers

Slight change of plans

I recognised that I still haven't posted my review of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin, and since it has appeared in all of my award voting posts I thought it was due. This might push The Dragon's Path review to next week.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Locus Awards (and challenge)

Voting is open for The Locus Awards. Visit the official site to participate in selecting the best works published in the Speculative Fiction field in 2010. As with The Gemmell Award there is no restriction on who gets to vote, though the votes of Locus subscribers (like myself) count for double. Locus also has a broader focus, covering (as the banner suggests) both Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Voting closes very soon (April 15), so get in there and get your favourites recognised!

The Ranting Dragon, the site that I have been reviewing for, has been running a challenge in order to help stimulate interest in the awards. If you want some tips on where and how to cast your votes, The Ranting Dragon has compiled a list of worthy candidates - and there is an additional competition with decent prizes for those who vote.

I have put my votes in. While there will be similarities to my Gemmell votes I tried to pick books that fit with the criteria of each award. I didn't vote in every category as there are some areas I feel  I chose the following (in order of preference, which does matter):

Best Sci Fi
Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willies
The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

Best Fantasy
The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett
Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (probably a more important book than Brett's, but not as enjoyable)
The Folding Knife by K. J. Parker

Best New Book
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

Reviews for all of these works are on the way, either here or over at The Ranting Dragon.

Best Magazine or Fanzine
Fantasy Magazine
Aurealis (the favouritism kicks in here)

Best Book Publisher
Subterranean Press
Harper Voyager

A quick aside - Suvudu Cage Match

The ultimate winner in the finale was Quick Ben from The Malazan Book of the Fallen, while Perrin Aybara from The Wheel of Time took out the consolation match.

I will also be able to publish a few reviews that I have been sitting on this week (now that I am on holidays), including a few of the major releases of the past month - Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick, The Dragon's Path by Daniel Abraham and Black Halo by Sam Sykes. The big daddy of them all, The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, will have to wait until next week.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Suvudu Cage Match 2011 - Final Round

I wrote in an earlier post about the very enjoyable Suvudu Cage Match that has been conducted again this year. The competition has reached the final bout! The good news is that voters are taking into account more than just which characters are their favourites, so there is some serious (and therefore hilarious) debate occuring about which characters should be winning.

Some of my all time favourite series were represented in the semi-finals, with Perrin Aybara (The Wheel of Time) going down at the hands of Quick Ben (The Malazan Book of the Fallen) and Vin (Mistborn) coming up trumps against Jon Snow (A Song of Ice and Fire). The final between Vin and Quick Ben should be interesting.

In addition, Suvudu is holding a contest for the best fan write-up of the ever popular 3rd place playoff between Perrin and Jon. The prize is a personalised copy of The Way of Kings from Brandon Sanderson. As per the site:
In order to be considered, please send your Perrin vs. Jon Snow write-up to with the subject line “Cage Match 2011 3rd Place.”

Monday, April 4, 2011

The David Gemmell Legend Award for Fantasy

The Gemmell Award is one of the most accessible awards in the Speculative genre. It certainly isn't about literary quality and to an extent it's not about new ideas or subversion of genre tropes. The Gemmell Award recognises books that embody everything that is enjoyable about commercial Fantasy. I like that. I can't help it.

The main category, the actual Legend Award, honours the best Fantasy book published in the last year. There are so many incredible choices in this category - Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, City of Ruin by Mark Charan Newton, The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett, The Black Prism by Brent Weeks and The Wolf Age by James Enge. However I will probably cast my vote for The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.

The secondary category, the Morningstar Award, recognises the best debut novels of the past year. In this category I will probably cast my vote the way of N. K. Jemisin for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (which I will review shortly). Jemisin would be a dserving winner of either category (she is also nominated for the Legend Award), but my soft spot for Sanderson will probably win out in the Legend Award. Some other notable nominees include Blake Charlton for Spellwright and Jon Sprunk for Shadow's Son.

The really good news about the Gemmell Award is that there is no specific voting qualification (such as Worldcon Membership for the Hugos). Anyone can vote. Head on over to the official site, and let me know what you choose.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Genre for Japan

Even though the bidding process is nearly over I should mention this group. This is a great example of the positive if small way in which any community can react to problems in our world. It seems like such a great and obvious idea for a fundraiser, and it has been organised in such a way that it is simple to be involved and everything is clearly above board.

Prominent authors and publishers have donated bundles of books and some very nice, rare books to be auctioned. All proceeds go to The Red Cross earthquake appeal and donations from the auction winners are made directly to them. You use your donation receipt to claim the item you win at auction from the Genre for Japan folks. Brilliant!

I have my eye on a few items that are getting way out of my price range, but hey, it's for charity.