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Erin Lindsey on "Sex and Explosions Part Deux: Now with More Sex!"

Qué_valor!

About six months ago, I did a guest post over at SF Signal called “Sex and Explosions”, in which I observed that according to the Hollywood model, the essential ingredients of a blockbuster/bestseller are – spoiler! – sex and explosions. A great action romance, I argued, links a suspenseful plot and an engaging love story in a positive feedback loop: each influences the other, so that the romance shapes the action and vice versa. Ideally, these knock-on effects raise the stakes and increase the momentum of the story.

Catchy title notwithstanding, that post was really about romance and action, rather than sex and explosions per se. Needless to say, not all sex is romance, and explosions are but one way (albeit a particularly awesome way) of demonstrating action. Sex rears its… er, head… in many different guises, serving various masters. Explosions, meanwhile, are merely one subset of violence, and this too can be used to achieve a variety of aims. (Or at least, they should serve a purpose; all too often, sex and violence are simply tossed in as a matter of obligation.)

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Age of Iron by Angus Watson

Age of IronI'm reading and reviewing all ten finalists for the David Gemmell Legend Awards. You can follow along here. Voting has closed, but the winners aren't announced until August, so I'm plowing on...

Age of Iron (2014) is a gory, goofy, visceral romp. It combines a historical setting with shameless anachronism, enjoyable characters with gory violence and a simple (if largely reactive) plot that's focused on causing as much destruction as possible over the course of a few hundred pages.

Dug is a warrior - he's earned his really big hammer and his very impressive mail shirt. He's also, in a now-familiar trend that can be traced back to the works of David Gemmell himself, 'too old for this shit'. Experienced enough to understand he's not immortal, Dug's looking for an easy gig - someplace where he can wave his weapon around, but avoid taking a spear to the face. 

Unfortunately, his retirement gig - a sort of warrior-in-residence to a small town - comes to an abrupt and bloody end, when said town winds up in the path of a power-hungry local king, Zadar. Dug gets the hell out of dodge, but only after witnessing a massacre. 

Meanwhile, on the massacring side, Lowa is the leader of a troop of immensely talented archers - several laps further along in the arms race than anyone else in proto-Britain. Unfortunately, she's wound up on Zadar's bad side, and she too needs to get the hell out of dodge.

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Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Words of RadianceI'm reading and reviewing all ten finalists for the David Gemmell Legend Awards. You can follow along here. Voting has ended, but the winners aren't announced until August, so I'm pressing on...

Words of Radiance (2014) is the second volume in the Stormlight Archive, a projected ten volume series. Its predecessor, The Way of Kings (2012) was a previous DGLA winner, and, although I had some reservations, it was certainly a worthy one. As I noted at the time, it is "as good as a book can be without being exceptional" - and I bandied around words like "entertaining" and "hugely dramatic". Faint praise, but praise.

I've reviewed Sanderson a lot, thanks to his DGLA dominance. And those reviews have more or less gone from 'not so great' (The Alloy of Law) to 'good for what it is' (A Memory of Light) to 'pretty good' (The Way of Kings, The Final Empire). I don't seek his work out, but I've never needed to, as his annual fantasy book always winds up on the DGLA list.  It is fair to say that I've grown accustomed to a certain standard of decency.

I say all this to establish a baseline. I'm not a Sanderson fan, but I daresay I've got a proven track record of not being a hater. So please don't immediately disregard my opinion when I say Words of Radiance is a very bad book.

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The Western isn't dead...

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The Western isn’t dead. It just has a problem with logistics.

Go into your local bookshop and look for the Western section. Chances are, there isn’t one. So where do Westerns end up? Sometimes they sit confusedly with Science Fiction or Fantasy. Sometimes, they’re lumped in with Crime. Often, they’re spread through general Fiction. Interestingly, Westerns are almost always scattered: the only place I’ve ever encountered a dedicated Western section is in my local library.

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The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

Emperors bladesI'm reviewing all ten of the finalists for this year's David Gemmell Legend Awards. You can see the list and my approach here, and vote in the Awards here.

The Emperor's Blades (2014), by Brian Staveley, is perhaps the least surprising entrant on any of this year's shortlists. To pat myself on the back, I called this in February - but then, anyone could've.

Which, of course, begs the question - why? Other than its immense popularity1, what is it about The Emperor's Blades that says 'I AM LEGEND' (or, in this case, Morningstar)? The answer to that is pretty simple. The Emperor's Blades is the most 'core fantasy' fantasy of the year, and in that lies both its strength. 'Core fantasy' is actually a rubbishy marketing term, but works well here - basically, this is a really fantasy fantasy. "Formulaic" is a slightly prejudicial way of putting it. "Classic" may be more accurate. Pick your term of choice.

The Emperor of Annur is dead, presumably assassinated through arcane means. His three children, our protagonists, are stationed at different parts of the empire, finding themselves. Kaden, the oldest son and heir to the throne, is having his mojo tested at an isolated monastery - learning that being a man involves emptying his mind, avoiding the Dark Side, and spending a lot of time buried up to his neck in the ground. Valyn, the second son, is sublimating his spare heir angst training with the Kettral - the big-bird-based sky ranger elite. While Kaden contemplates nothingness, Valyn does epic fantasy boot camp - push-ups and war games. Finally, Adare, the Emperor's daughter, and the only one left in the capitol city. As the newly-minted Minister of Finance, she's in a position not only to keep the empire ticking along, but also to snoop around into the cause of her father's death.

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John Wordsworth on "How the Zombie Ate the Cowboy"

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People have been predicting the comeback of the Western for years.

There have been some notable hits on both the big and small screen: Django Unchained, HBO's Deadwood, and the True Grit remake, among others. While the pulp Western novel is buried in a dusty hilltop cemetery in Wyoming, there have been some excellent more literary takes on the genre, including Philipp Meyer's The Son and, going further back, Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove series. You also can't ignore the impact of the massively popular game Red Dead Redemption. But somehow this trickle of new Westerns has never become anything more than that.

My theory is that, in fact, the Western is back ... but as the Zombie genre. (ZomGen? Zomre?)

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Weirdness Rodeo

Helen Mirren narrating Shel Silverstein's 'Where the Sidewalk Ends' for the World Cup.

How do you raise your children to appreciate video games? (via Kotaku)

We are the first generation of parents who grew up playing video games, which makes us the first moms and dads to possess the wisdom to guide our children through the world of PlayStation, Steam, Nintendo, and the like rather than the desire to merely abandon them to it. We are tasked with figuring this out for ourselves. It’s our job—our responsibility—to establish some traditions.

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Weirdness Rodeo

Peter Blake - Through the Looking Glass
Your round-up of oddness. This time: pictures, websites, the importance of brands, submissions info and all the fun stuff Pornokitsch people are doing not-here.

#PicturesMeanBusiness and #WebsitesMeanAwards

An update on the #PicturesMeanBusiness from Sarah McIntyre, who met with Nielsen to understand how artists' data is (or isn't) captured:

If our economic value can't be assessed, we'll be forgotten by business people and written off as not contributing anything to the economy. Not even The Bookseller credited illustrators in sales charts until March of this year. You could see that Julia Donaldson was ruling the picture book sales charts, but you had no idea how The Gruffalo's illustrator Axel Scheffler's books were doing. In fact, if you entered his names into the Nielsen sales charts, he came out as quite a low moneymaker, since only the books he's written himself were calculated.

Sarah's explanation of the convoluted metadata of publishing - and its weird legacy systems - is the best I've read so far. Worth checking out.

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Friday Five: 5 Terrific Techy Ladies in Sci-Fi

Brave New GirlsThis week's guest is Mary Fan, co-editor of the brand new Brave New Girls. The anthology collects science fiction stories featuring "brainy young women who use their smarts to save the day". That is to say: it not only brings readers a whole pack of awesome role models, but they're also clever stories featuring brains over brawn.

All proceeds from Brave New Girls are being donated to a scholarship fund set up by the Society of Women Engineers, so buy with confidence - you're not just reading about bright futures, you're helping make them. With no further ado, we'll hand over to Mary...

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It’s no secret that there aren’t a lot of women in science and tech, both in the real world and in fiction. Which is a shame, really. There’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem around this issue—are techy women not depicted in sci-fi because they’re rare in real life, or are they rare in real life because girls don’t see themselves depicted in those roles and therefore don’t pursue those careers? The fact is, pop culture is a powerful influencer, especially on girls and teenagers. And the scary thing is, your career is dictated by decisions you make as an impressionable kid (think about it… the college major you pick at age 19 determines whether or not you’ll become a research scientist).

While there are plenty of ladies in sci-fi, they’re usually not put in the science and tech-based roles. The scientists, hackers, engineers, etc. are usually guys. But every so often, you’ll stumble upon a character that makes you go, “Yes! More of her, please!” Here are five brainy sci-fi ladies who use their smarts to save the day:

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