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DGLA: Voting Deadline Today!

Well, I got six reviews done in time! 

Voting closes for the DGLA today - don't forget to swing by and click a button or two:

For further fun...

I'll continue with the remaining reviews over the next few weeks. At the very least, I should have them all done and discussed before the announcement of the winners.

Friday Five: 5 Games That Make Their Own Worlds

This week's Friday Five is a fun one, as Max Edwards (@onechaptermore) shares an unusual (or is it?) perspective on strategy games. Please share your own in the comments - I suspect we all have some similar stories of alternate histories and dark Dwarven drama. (Ok, maybe not the latter.)

I never quite get on with Role Playing Games. Despite their similarities to the genre I love – they and I never quite click. Instead I like my worlds more flexible. More dynamic maybe. I like a game where no two players play the same game, where stories happen naturally, where the romance is in the telling.

I tried to write this with descriptions of the games, but it just didn’t capture it. So instead, I’m going to tell you a story. Not everyone likes dwarves,  football, incest or the middle ages. But I hope you can appreciate that a game has created these stories. That they are unique to me, and yet everyone who has played them will have something similar. And that’s amazing.

Europa Universalis 3

Oman 1680#The year is 1680. The mighty nation of Oman has spent the best part of the last 250 years conquering southern Arabia and Eastern Africa, in the name of spreading the Shi’ite religion while surrounded by heathen Sunni. To our south lies Somalia, cash rich and technologically weak. When I can, I like to steal the odd province and chunks of gold off them. When I can. The problem is that they are allied with my Northern neighbours, The Ottoman Empire. In the early 1500s they inherited Hedjaz, in modern-day Saudi Arabia. In the early 1600s they took Egypt, destroying The Mamluks and Tunis in a series of wars. They are the most powerful nation in the world, capable of fielding 125,000 troops at any one time.

All it took was a year.

My Indonesian colony had rebelled. I sent a couple of thousand troops over to quell it, and The Ottoman’s bit. All of a sudden I was at war with them in the North, flooding my African and Arabian holdings. I had 10,000 men on the Island of Bahrain, but only the capacity for 2,000 to be evacuated to Indonesia. They destroyed my navy, then destroyed those poor 10,000. Every mainland province, captured. Ethiopia, wrested from my grasp. The Mamluks, reborn in provinces that should have been mine. My nation split in two as The Ottoman’s took my coastal provinces.

1780. A war between Oman and Delhi breaks out. Britain and The Ottoman’s intercede on either side. Constantinople falls to British and Omani troops. Delhi is captured by 100,000 men, Bengali-British and Ceylonian Omanis. India becomes Shi’ite.

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Hugo Voter Packet / Fanzines Fanzines Rah Rah Rah

The Hugo voter packet is out. This means that if you're in the Hugo Voting Electorate, you can have free access to, uh, Pornokitsch. Or a 'best of 2013', compendium, I guess.

Anyway, we wanted to share a couple things.

First, in case you aren't a member of the Hugo Voting Electorate and want to see what we selected, we've set up download links below. The only new material, of course, is the introduction - in which we thank you, the amazing readers of Pornokitsch (round of applause) - which is all the more reason you should have access to the (um, already accessible?) material.

Anyway - snaffle it here:

Download Pornokitsch - Anne C Perry and Jared Shurin (PDF)

Download Pornokitsch - Anne C Perry and Jared Shurin (MOBI)

Download Pornokitsch - Anne C Perry and Jared Shurin (EPUB)

If you want a physical copy (which feels awfully counter-intuitive, but, hey), we've set it up as POD through CreateSpace:

Order Pornokitsch - Anne C Perry and Jared Shurin (PAPERBACK.) (Also: 76 pages?! How?!)

(We've set the price at cost: $2.69 / £1.60 - sorry we can't make it cheaper!)

Second, we also have a little message for our competition in the Fanzine category - Journey Planet and Elitist Book Reviews - and especially to our friends at A Dribble of Ink and The Book Smugglers:

Underground Reading: Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

[This is part of a series reviewing all ten finalists for the David Gemmell Legend Awards.]

Emperor-of-thornsEmperor of Thorns (2013) is the third and final volume of the Broken Empire trilogy by Mark Lawrence. The first two books - Prince and King of Thorns respectively - were also finalists for the DGLA and I feel that reviewing this series has become part of the annual tradition. 

Please be warned that the plot summary below contains  serious spoilers for the entire Broken Empire trilogy.

In Emperor, Jorg Ancrath is finally close to achieving his grand ambition: to take the throne and declare himself Emperor. Every seven years, the Congression is held at Vyene. The many, many rulers of the bitty kingdoms of the world all flock to the former Imperial hall to cast their votes for a candidate. One kingdom = one vote, so Jorg, after thumping his rival (the Prince of Arrow - in King) and claiming his lands, has quite a few in his pocket. That said, other notable claimants have come and gone in the past, and the odds of Jorg being the first to unite the Broken Empire are slim indeed.

And the land has problems (above and beyond the prospect of 'Emperor Jorg'), zombie-monsters are continuing to rise and their mysterious leader, the Dead King, seems particularly fixated on Jorg. His chosen harbinger is a familiar one to readers: the necromancer Chella, who has the dubious honor of having appeared (and been thwarted) by Jorg in the past. 

As with the previous books, Emperor splits its narrative into two parts. In the 'present', Jorg and his retinue head towards Congression and a showdown with the Dead King. In the 'past', Jorg (after the events of Prince but before King), travels the world trying to learn more about its history and his own potential.

Again following the pattern of the previous books, the two narratives build (more or less) to the same climactic moment. Jorg faces his destiny, his past, his enemy and his future - all at the same time and, fittingly enough, at the base of the Imperial throne.

Continue reading "Underground Reading: Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence" »

Crossing Over: Crisis on Infinite Earths


The origins of DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths go back quite a long way - in one sense to the justly-famous 1961 Flash story Flash of Two Worlds which introduced the idea of multiple DC universes (there had been other ‘parallel Earth’ stories, but this was the one that created the rules and established the paradigm for the DC multiverse). The story showed the first meeting of the Barry Allen and Jay Garrick versions of the Flash, as Barry accidentally ‘vibrated’ himself to Jay’s world. Cross-universe team-ups then became a regular occurrence, with Justice League/Justice Society crossovers for example becoming basically annual events.

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'Sea-Serpents' by F. Edward Hulme (1886)

Wellcome Library - London - Sea Serpent - The Stronsa Orkney

The depths of ocean, so impressive in their mystery and vastness, have been peopled by the lovers of the marvellous in all ages with a special fauna of their own, and have been made the home of divers strange and wondrous creatures, some purely reptilian, others fish-like, or still more commonly a weird combination of the two. 

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Poking at Awards: David Gemmell Legend Awards

I'm halfway through reading and reviewing the shortlists for the David Gemmell Legend Awards. That seems to be going well (and thanks to everyone who's joining in with comments and thoughts). What I wanted to do was create a separate space to discuss the award itself. What do you think works about the Gemmell Awards? What could other awards learn from it? If (when) appointed Supreme Leader of Earth, what would you do to improve on it?

As far as discussing awards goes, this seems a relatively straight-forward one - if this works, we'll move our collective gaze onto other awards.

Ground rules

  • We are starting with the assumption that awards are Good Things. If your stance is that awards suck and accomplish nothing, no matter what, your input isn't all that useful.
  • I'm in no way associated with the DGLA. Nor am I advising it, consulting for it or anything else. I vote, that's it! This is, like the other posts in the 'Poking at Awards' series, simply a discussion around these strange and wonderful institutions in genre fiction.
  • Don't be a dick. As with all things, let's review the content, not the 'author'. The nice people who run the DGLA - or any award - work their asses off, and they do it for love of literature, and they do it knowing full well that they're exposing themselves to criticism. Let's talk about the award and let's do it with empathy for our fellow book-lovers. 

Background and criteria

The David Gemmell Awards seek out the best epic fantasy book of the calendar year. The exact definition of 'epic fantasy' is 'epic fantasy, high fantasy and/or in the tradition of David Gemmell'. The books are submitted by publishers. There's a fee and several copies are required, to be distributed to reviewers. The books all need to have been traditionally published [I believe], but digital-only books are accepted. Although the book must be published in English, publishers and voters come from around the world.

There's a little vetting based on genre, but generally speaking, all the submissions that fit the physical criteria become the 'longlist'. This is then voted on by the public - first down to a shortlist of 5, and finally to a winner. 

There are three categories: best book, best debut and best cover.

I think that covers all the salient points. After the jump - what other awards could learn from the Gemmells and a few crazy (and not so crazy) suggestions...

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Friday Five: 5 Lit Crit & Theory Books for Everyone

Ben Blattberg returns for this week's Friday Five and, rather heroically, he tackles the challenge of making literary criticism fun. Does he succeed? Let us know in the comments - and please, share your own suggestions as well! You can find Ben blogging about movies and story structure and making jokes on Twitter at @inCatastrophe

For all that Wikipedia and iTunes U have brought literary theory out of the ivory tower and into the streets (where it belongs), it can still be pretty easy to find yourself accidentally wandering off into solar anus territory.

“Coitus is the parody of crime.” - Georges Bataille, “The Solar Anus” (1927/1931)

So, while I don’t believe in “everyone” as an actual category, I’d like to present five books texts constellations I’m glad I read in grad school and that I think about even after I left. 

For people who read too fast

Erich Auerbach, Mimesis (1946) 

Mimesis is the second-best thing to come out of World War II: holed up in Turkey during the war, Auerbach wrote only about a few books, including the Bible, The Odyssey, Woolf, Proust, etc. - the usual hits - but he wrote the shit out of them. Auerbach takes his time with each book, exploring how the littlest choices capture/express a different sense of reality. If you want to think about why a particular character says “O” rather than “Ah,” this is the book for you. 

D. A. Miller, Jane Austen, or The Secret of Style (2003)

For a modern take on Auerbach, Miller reads Jane Austen for her “style,” which has less to do with Austen's sense of reality and more to do with her sense of a comprehensible world. (Wait, aren't those the same thing?) This book has two of the six prime pleasures of any book: it is gracefully written; and it is short. Miller is sensitive to Austen's language and perceptive about what that language means; and he gets bonus points for noting her "proto-Wildean brio."

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YA Sexytimes: A Personal Journey

Twitter’s been rather aflutter following Caitlin Moran’s explanation to the Bookseller that her forthcoming YA book is bringing strong female characters and sexytimes to YA. So what did we read back in the bad old days when YA showcased neither strong female characters nor sex? Well, I don’t know about you, but I found enough to keep me happy.

Here are a few of my old favorites:

Valley of horsesThe Valley of the Horses (Jean M. Auel, 1982)

Jean M. Auel’s cave people sexxxytimes series appears on a lot of ‘first sexy books I ever read’ lists, and lo and behold, it’s on mine, too. My mother handed me the first three in the series (back when there were only three) when I was 12, suspecting (rightly) that I’d like Ayla’s self-sufficiency. I don’t know if she forgot about the sex or just didn’t care, but I didn’t just learn what stone-knapping is by reading these books.

No, they were educational in many, many ways. (Spoiler: sexual positions and acts are all thoroughly explored.) Notably, however, The Valley of the Horses is also extremely sex-positive, which is a relief considering that rape is a plot-point in The Clan of the Cave Bear. And, yes, Ayla is a very, very strong character – indeed, she invents everything from sewing to cornrows to the bow and arrow, all the while keeping a cave lion as a pet.

  • Sex: Yes, and lots of it.
  • Sex-Positive: Extremely much. (He's essentially a sex-teacher and has a huge... well, let's just say he's very good at flint-knapping and impresses everyone he meets with his flint-knapping skillz.)
  • Strong female character: Boy howdy, is she ever. She gets really good at flint-knapping too, by the way.

Continue reading "YA Sexytimes: A Personal Journey" »

No Harm Can Come to Three Glazed Tigers

GlAZE_COVER_FRONTOne hell of a day for new releases:

Nick Harkaway's Tigerman - kind of about superheroes and technology and post-colonialism and father-son relationships and loneliness and YouTube and the actual concept of 'awesomeness'. The first chapter is here or you can buy it anywhere - let's say, Foyles.

James Smythe's No Harm Can Come to a Good Man - which is about politics and the panopticon and terrifying algorithms and standards of perfection and THAT HORRIBLE CLAUSTROPHOBIC CHOKING FEELING WHEN THINGS ARE GOING WRONG SO WRONG AND YOU CAN'T STOP THEM. I've reviewed it here, or you can buy it anywhere - say, I dunno, Blackwells.

Sarah Lotz's The Three - which is about the end of the world (maybe?) and things going oh-so-subtly disturbing and not being able to sleep at nights and My Little Pony and internet culture and conspiracy theories and human frailty (and not-human worse-than-frailty). Stephen King loved it, which is a pretty good sign that it just might be the best thriller of the year. I haven't reviewed it properly, but I've written a little about it here and, if it helps, I said this about it too and, boy, it is a great one. You can buy it anywhere too, so how about... Waterstones.

And, of course, we release the limited edition of Kim Curran's Glaze today. This one's about social media and adolescence and fitting in (or not) and the herd mentality and protests and privacy and growing up and getting along with your mom (mum) and the right to vote. I haven't reviewed it, because that would be pretty corrupt, but here are a lot of people who have. Plus, I liked it enough to publish it. Which hopefully says something. You can buy the ebook on Amazon and the hardcover from, well, me.

Any one of these books would be a contender for "best of the year" style praise. Getting all four on the same day? Unbelievable.