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Friday Five: 5 Fantastic Fictional Girls & Women

Anne-of-green-gablesThis week's Friday Five guest is Zen Cho, author of the Crawford Award-winning short story collection Spirits Abroad and editor of Cyberpunk: Malaysia. Her debut novel, Sorcerer to the Crown, is out soon from Ace (US) and Pan Macmillan (UK), and has already been receiving (well-deserved) rave reviews.

Zen's short story "The Four Generations of Chang E" is collected in The Apex Book of World SF 4, released at the end of August. 

Zen's chosen the topic of "Five fictional girls and women that I will love forever" - please join in with your own favourites in the comments!

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Anne from Anne of Green Gables (L. M. Montgomery)

Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert of Prince Edward Island put in an order for an orphan boy to help them out on the farm, but they get a girl instead. Thus begins one of the most enduringly popular works of children's literature, featuring one of literature's best girls, the eponymous Anne.

It's hard to write a character who is meant to be universally charming and make her universally charming, but Montgomery somehow managed it. This comes not just from Anne's whimsy, but the fact that Anne is actually pretty good at life. She's orphaned at birth and exploited throughout her childhood, but she manages to hang onto optimism. She saves babies with ipecac and turns down scholarships so she can look after the people who took her in. I'd read another fourteen books about her. There's no one quite like Anne. 

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DGLA: And the winner is...

Axe

...and the moment we've all been waiting for. Let's pick the winner of my vote! After 12 blog posts, 10 book reviews and 6,000 pages of reading, I can now announce who won approximately 1/7,000th of a Gemmell Award!

Ok, granted, the voting closed on 17 July, but since the official winner won't be announced until Saturday, I have two days where my 1/7,000th can feel particularly meaningful. Plus, I've got a lot of rambling to do.

Let's get to it.

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The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks

The-Broken-Eye-HCI'm reading and reviewing all ten finalists for the David Gemmell Legend Awards. You can follow along here. Voting has closed, but the awards aren't announced yet, so I'm plowing on...

The Broken Eye (2014) is the third in the four book Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks. The books take place in a world where light is power, with 'drafters' as the wizards able to wield said power. The Chromeria - an alliance of powerful drafters - has been (more or less) running the world, stewarding over a (more or less peaceful) sort of aristocracy. Although drafters are the top of the pecking order, there are checks and balances in place - largely involving noble families, the high church, a handful of military organisations and a seemingly-infinite number of secret conspiracies. 

Arguably the greatest 'check' is the cost of drafting - as the wizards use their power, it begins to change them. The immediate effect is an emotional one: drafting 'blue', for example, makes you more logical, while 'red' makes you angry. But there are long-term physical changes as well, with drafters eventually becoming more and more colour-infused, and eventually turning into 'wights' - colour-monsters. Although drafters can rule the world (and largely do), it is difficult for them to maintain that power. As a last nod to their humanity, for centuries drafters on the verge of 'going wight' (pun!) have willingly sacrificed themselves. They live fast, die young, and leave very colourful corpses.

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Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

Prince FoolsI'm reading and reviewing all ten finalists for the David Gemmell Legend Awards. You can follow along here. Voting has ended, but the prize isn't announced yet, so I'm forging on...

Prince of Fools (2014) is the start of a brand new series from Mark Lawrence. Lawrence's previous trilogy, The Broken Empire, picked up last year's DGLA with its concluding volume - Emperor of Thorns.1

Prince Jalan Kendeth is a noble and a jackass - and he would, I think, be the first to admit it. Born to privilege, but not responsibility, his primary concern in life is avoiding his creditors. And when Snorri Snagason - a captive Northerner - is hauled into court, Jalan thinks he's found a way. Snorri's a scary bastard, and, after pulling a string or two, he's Jalan's scary bastard - a pit-fighter that can get Jalan out of debt.

Except Snorri doesn't quite behave to plan. He escapes and, after an unfortunate magical incident, Jalan's dragged off with him. The two are linked together by a backfiring magical spell - one that's been kept from completion by Jalan and Snorri being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Now they're two halves of an occult whole, a broken circuit. They can't bear to be together, but, magically linked, they can't stay apart. The heroic Snorri and the unscrupulous Jalan are off in search of a cure - a search that will take them through all the broken kingdoms of the land, and eventually, to a deep dark horror lurking in the frozen North.

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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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Films of High Adventure: The 13th Warrior (1999)

The Film: The 13th Warrior (1999)

13th

Dedicated to the Memory of Omar Sharif.

Responsibility Roundup: Directed by John “Die Hard is actually my adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream” McTiernan. Based on the novel Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton, who supposedly came on as director to reshoot some scenes after McTiernan’s initial cut bummed out test audiences. Scripted by William Wisher Jr. (Terminator 2, Judge Dredd) and Warren Lewis (remember Ridley Scott’s Yakuza movie Black Rain? With Michael Douglas? Don’t worry, nobody else does, either). Original soundtrack by Graeme Revell (The Crow, The Craft, the Riddick movies) and Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance, before Michael Crichton insisted on trashing the entire thing and having it rescored by his Congo buddy Jerry Goldsmith (always a good sign, amirite?).

Hackting by Antonio Banderas (lots of stuff), Maria Bonnevie (lots of Swedish stuff), Suzanne Bertish (The Hunger, Eleni on Rome), Diane Venora (Heat, Wolfen), and a whole Crossfit box’s worth of beefcake, including Vladimir Kulich (that Vikings show, the voice of Ulfric Stormcloak in Skyrim), Dennis Storhøi (Two Lives), Clive Russell (Ripper Street, Brynden Tully on Game of Thrones), Richard Bremmer (Control), Tony Curran (LXG). Also a very embarrassed Omar Sharif (RIP) (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago, Top Secret), who hated the movie so much he took a leave of absence from acting afterward.

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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 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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