Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Just a quick post to let any readers out there know that my good lady wife and myself are heading over to Tasmania on holiday. They do have electricity and the internet over there, but who knows if I'll be able to get onto it for the time I'm at the Apple Isle. I'll be gone for a little over a week and will commence posting when I return.
Have fun and play nice while I'm gone.

Rosemary and Rue

I first encountered Seanan McGuire at Aussiecon. She was on a couple of panels that I attended. I found her amusing and entertaining. After seeing her win the John W. Campbell award (and tiara) for best new speculative fiction writer I decided to check out some of her work. I started at the beginning, because I'm odd like that. For Seanan the beginning is Rosemary and Rue, the first of her October Daye Urban Fantasy mysteries.

Aside from Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden books, I haven't read a lot of Urban Fantasy recently. Most of it seems to involve hot, tough, ass kicking female PI's, who spend more time having steamy relationships with vampires and werewolves than they do investigating mysteries.

Seanan's heroine; October 'Toby' Daye, is a changeling, the result of a union between a Daoine Sidhe female and a human male. As such Toby walks a fine line between two worlds; her very mundane human life in modern day San Francisco and that of a knight errant in the hidden and shadowy faery kingdoms.

The prologue to Rosemary and Rue introduces the readers to Toby and sets up the premise, the end of it was like a punch to the guts and left me gasping for breath, mouthing 'What the...?"

Toby has spent most of her life trying to deny her fae half and seems to have been relatively successful, when a cruel and brutal act draws her back in. Charged with finding out who murdered her friend the Countess Evening Winterrose, Toby suddenly finds herself fighting for her own life, renewing old acquaintances and reviving petty rivalries, playing a dangerous game and once again realising that her own actions have very real consequences for people other than herself.

Whilst reading the book I was reminded often of Jim Butcher's wise-cracking wizard Harry Dresden. Seanan McGuire has imbued her book with the same noirish feel as the Dresden Files. Toby moves between San Francisco and the faerylands, and Seanan's descriptions of San Francisco (the city where she lives) are very real and gritty, she displays intimate knowledge of the urban landscape of the southern Californian bay city. There are a couple of things that set Rosemary and Rue apart from most Urban Fantasies on the market today. One is the use of faery as the supernatural, it's refreshing to see nary a fang or claw of vampire or werewolf, not to say that they may not make an appearance in later books, but they were not present in the opening volume. Seanan was also not afraid to move away from the better known celtic faeries, occasionally using lesser known creatures such as Peris and Kitsunes. This was what I expected Laurell K. Hamilton's Merry Gentry series to be when I first picked it up, but as with the same author's Anita Blake books, the sex became more important than the story. There is sex in the October Daye novels, but at least in Rosemary and Rue it wasn't the focus of the story and it was not explicitly described.

The mystery was solved at the end and the book is standalone, but there's plenty more of Toby's story to be told and Seanan McGuire has given herself a lot of scope for further novels. Two sequels: A Local Habitation and An Artificial NIght are already out, with two more Late Eclipses and The Brightest Fell due to be released in March and September 2011. I'll definitely be reading and hope that others also discover October Daye.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Man Who Was Thursday

Powering through the challenge now, largely because the last few books have been fairly short. G.K Chesterton's unconventional thriller The Man Who Was Thursday is the 5th of the C authors and the 19th overall. Just as well I've had a few short ones, because looking ahead at the next book in the list I can see Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell and that is a monster.

G.K Chesterton is best known as the author of the Father Brown mystery stories, but he also wrote unrelated fiction and non fiction books across a number of genres. Although The Man Who Was Thursday was listed as fantasy, it was far more of a thriller than anything. The only fantasy element may have been the unasnwered question of exactly what anarchist leader Sunday was.

The strange title refers to the habit of the anarchist group at the centre of the plot of giving their members the names of days of the week. The central character, undercover policeman Gabriel Syme was codenamed Thursday.

The plot, such as it is, is fairly basic. Undercover policeman and poet Gabriel Syme meets with another poet, who is also an anarchist and introduces Syme to his group of anarchists. As Syme meets and interacts with the other members of the group he discovers that they are all undercover law enforcement officers, all except for the group's president; the mysterious, monstrous and at times terrifying Sunday. I felt the entire story was silly beyond belief and often strayed into the territory of poorly written and realised farce. I was also expecting a fantasy, and this was not that.

In a note at the back Chesteron explains that the book was intended to describe a world of doubt and despair with a glimmer of hope that pessimists at the time did not believe existed. Given that he wrote the book in the early 1900's when the spectre of war hung over the world, this probably isn't all that surprising. I still found the ending and the book as a whole extremely unsatisfying and felt that the time spent reading it was a waste of my time.

On the theme of a mad chase in thriller mode Lord Jeffrey Archer's A Matter of Honour is far more interesting and better written. Although it's steampunk it is set not long before The Man Who Was Thursday, Peter Blaylock's Homunculus put me in mind of Chesterton's work. I also read that book for the challenge was distinctly unimpressed.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Black Lung Captain: A Tale of the Ketty Jay

If anyone has read my recent review of Chris Wooding's first tale of the Ketty Jay Retribution Falls, then you'll be aware that I thought the book was immense fun. That made me look forward to the followup The Black Lung Captain with keen anticipation.

I was not disappointed, if anything, The Black Lung Captain is even better and more fun than it's well received predecessor.

Much like Retribution Falls the story begins right in the middle of a dangerous and life threatening situation. Captain Darian Frey and his misfit crew are down on their luck and have been reduced to unsuccessfully robbing orphanages, Frey's skewed moral compass justifies this as okay because he himself is an orphan, just to keep their derelict ship in the air. That's when they meet Captain Harlin Grist. He has a proposition for the crew of the Ketty Jay. All they need to do is accompany him to a remote island populated by dangerous beasts and subhuman savages, and use the talents of their daemonist; Grayther Crake, to retrieve a fortune from a crashed aircraft. Yes, it's crazy and possibly suicidal, but there's money to be made here.

The fun really begins when the object of Grist's desire has been located and retrieved. The future of a world could hinge on the possession of that object and everyone wants it. Cross and doublecross ensues, there may have even been a triplecross in there, and Frey and his crew are caught up in the middle of it all. Old friends and enemies return. The bonds between the members of the Ketty Jay's crew are tested to the limits, and it takes the reader on a breathless thrill ride.

Initially I had an air of I've seen this before about the book as it did follow the formula of Retribution Falls quite closely early on, and there didn't seem to be anything new to learn about the characters I'd come to love in the first book, but then Wooding changed the story, introduced new elements and delved further into the lives of the crew. Again there were echoes of Firefly with the Manes; zombielike creatures who were very reminiscent of the cult show's Reavers. That's a minor quibble, though.

The moments between Crake and his golem Bess were particularly touching and well done. The continuing battle between twitchy pilot; Harkins and ship's cat; Slag provided some brilliant comic moments with a surprising resolution. We also discover that there's more to Frey than initially met the eye in Retribution Falls. The characters are not cardboard cutouts, they have depth and history.

The world building continues to the extent that I thought a map would be most useful. There are two distinct levels of society on Vardia, the haves and the have nots. Frey tends to move between both worlds as the situation demands. The society party in Retribution Falls was one of my favourite sequences in that book and there's another delightful soiree in The Black Lung Captain, and an interlude at a university which is also fascinating.

The Black Lung Captain proves that lightning can strike twice and has me eagerly awaiting the next tale of the Ketty Jay The Iron Jackal.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Couple Capable

Having struggled to the top of the tower, it may actually be the bottom, it got kind of turned around when it lifted off, what does Cerebus find waiting for him?

The crazy artist with his Man-Thing/Swamp-Thing male/female parody; Fred/Ethel. He initially tries to knock Cerebus off the tower, which he fails at, but does manage to dislodge the sphere out of Cerebus' hands, and he has a much larger sphere.

He then tries to play mind games with Cerebus. What if Astoria was right? What if Tarim is Terim and female, not male? She's not going to look very kindly on someone who threw a baby off the steps of a cathedral, is she? Because the artist has Fred and Ethel he's covered both bases, male and female, can't fail.

Unfortunately for the unholy trio Cerebus never listens to what seems to be logical advice and he also never gives in. They do eventually capture him and that's when the chapter ends.

Dave really does the Man-Thing and Swamp-Thing characters very well. He draws them very much as the original artists did, but still gives them his own unmistakable style.

The Bloody Chamber

Another challenge book bites the dust! This time it's British author Angela Carter's collection of adult fairy tales.

There are 10 stories collected in The Bloody Chamber. They sometimes do the same tale more than once. I'll try to cover them as best I can in this review.

The Bloody Chamber, the title story is a retelling of the Bluebeard legend from his final bride's point of view. She manages to find out what he's done and although unable to escape the serial wife murderer, her spirited mother comes to the rescue.

The Courtship of Mr Lyon, this is the first of 2 retellings of the Beauty and the Beast legend. This one is very similar to the original and has a rather sad ending, although it isn't as violent as some of Carter's other retellings in this collection. I confess to particularly liking the faithful King Charles spaniel.

The Tiger's Bride, the second of the Beauty and the Beast stories. This explores a theme that crops up regularly in these stories of Carter's, that of shapeshifting. The ending was unseen and rather haunting.

Puss-in-Boots, the title is a reimagining of the identically titled fairy tale. It's uncharacteristically humourous and that was Carter's intent with this, to write an out and out funny story. She succeeded admirably.

The Erl-King. Not many people have heard of the Erl-King these days. My mother committed a poem about the malignant, life stealing forest spirit to memory, so I was aware of the legend. The character was also used as the basis for a Buffy episode. Carter's Erl-King is also a life stealer, but he appears to be a shape shifter as well.

The Snow Child, a very brief Snow White story. It was based on an obscure version that the Brothers Grimm collected, but never published. You'll realise why if you read it.

The Lady of the House of Love, this wasn't actually based on a fairy tale as such, it's about a vampiress, one of the descendants of Vlad the Impaler. It is characteristically bleak, but it does contain one of the best and what I see as truest descriptions of a vampire. This one doesn't sparkle.

The Werewolf, the first of 3 Little Red Riding Hood stories, all which feature werewolves. I'd never actually made the connection before, although thinking about it, it's fairly obvious. In this Granny is far from the put upon old woman preyed upon by a wolf.

The Company of Wolves, film maker Neil Jordan expanded on this and made it into a film. While there is a retelling of the Little Red Riding Hood story a good half of it is spent with other werewolf stories.

Wolf-Alice, the final story in the collection is another werwolf tale. I couldn't see any real connection with the Red Riding Hood story here, it was mostly about a girl who believes herself to be a wolf.

There's not a lot of narrative substance to most of the stories and it's fairly easy to pick what fairy tale they've targeted. Carter doesn't really develop her characters much either, not unusual when working with such limited space as a short story, what she does do is paint a picture with words. Her command of language and description is extraordinary, she uses a world of words and catches you up in her sensual imagery. A few themes are explored. I've mentioned a seeming fascination with shape shifting or the ability to hide one's true nature from the world outside. The subject of female subjugation comes up, for instance both of the Beauty characters are effectively sold into marriage with the Beast, one for a rose her father stole and the other was lost in a game of cards. The females in those stories generally use their very femininity as a weapon against the men who have taken possession of them, virginity is greatly prized. There's a regular mention of the colour red and of blood, especially it's appearance on snow, virginity, the first bleeding and women's menstruation are also often alluded to.

It's a fascinating look at some well known fairy tales and really gives them a different feel. Despite it's brevity it is not an easy read and will make you think.

More adult retellings of these old stories are very popular right now. I haven't read a lot of these, but I can recommend some of Robin McKinley's work, especially Beauty, which fits in well with The Bloody Chamber collection, Jane Yolen's Briar Rose, a retelling of the Sleeping Beauty legend with a Holocaust victim. There's also the comic Fables, which as the title suggests puts a very different spin on legends and fairy tales, the Fables companion book 1001 Nights of Snowfall, which investigates the old stories is particularly recommended, especially their look at the story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Retribution Falls: Tales of the Ketty Jay

I first started hearing about Retribution Falls in 2009 when some of the better known bloggers began to review it. Although it sounded more like science fiction than fantasy, they raved about it so much that I picked it up for a look when I saw it in a book store down here in Oz. Reading the back cover blurb, and the first couple of pages told me all I needed to know, and I bought the book. For the next week or so I spent time in the alien land of Vardia during my morning and afternoon commute, and totally loved every moment of it. A little over a month ago the sequel; The Black Lung Captain, was released (it took this long to reach Australia), so I reread Retribution Falls in preparation. Unlike long running series with huge gaps between books (we all know what I'm talking about) there wasn't really any need to reread it, but I did it anyway because it's so much damn fun.

It's rather hard to categorise Retribution Falls, it has elements of fantasy, science fiction and steampunk. I file it under R for rip roaring adventure.

Darian Frey is a morally bankrupt pilot who has one thing of value in his life; his cargo freighter the Ketty Jay. He operates just outside the law, he and his crew of misfits scrape by picking up barely legal jobs, so when Frey is offered the chance at some easy money he jumps at it. Things go horribly wrong and the crew of the Ketty Jay are wanted outlaws and running for their lives, it's going to take all of Frey's ingenuity and every talent that his crew has at their disposal to get out of this alive.

The characters and the story, particularly early on, are very reminiscent of Joss Whedon's short lived and much missed sci-fi/western show Firefly, but after a while it settles down and finds a voice of it's own. The characters are all well drawn and multi layered, most have secrets that they'd rather not become public knowledge and it is their terrible pasts that have thrown them together.

The world is well drawn, and instead of being hammered with information overload about it's history and cultures readers are fed this gradually, as if one would if they stepped into the world, readers are also left with just enough to know what's going on and how things work, but at the same time left wanting more, which will allow Wooding to build the world over a number of books.

Once in a while a reader is privileged to discover what I feel is a 'perfect storm' in book form, one where everything works and the end is dreaded. Retribution Falls is one such book.

Earnest Nonsense

So Cerebus is on his way up the wall to the moon. Along comes a character with a flaming carrot for a head shouting: 'To the rescue!'. This was the comic book hero Flaming Carrot. This was I believe the only appearance by Flaming Carrot in Cerebus. It was also the first time that another character had appeared in their original form with the permission of the creator. Flaming Carrot had his own book, which at the time was published by Dave's label' Aardvark Vanaheim.

It was a pretty surreal chapter, in fact all the moon ones were. The carrot leads Cerebus up the the wall, acting as a guide. Curiously enough despite the lack of air the flame on his head never goes out and he and Cerebus seem to be able to breathe easily and talk. Nothing the carrot says makes sense, but then again very little in Cerebus life of late has made sense.

Suddenly a walking sponge appears. Flaming Carrot introduces him to Cerebus as Sponge Boy. I assume he was a character in the Carrot's book, I don't know. The Carrot leaves Cerebus to make his own way up the wall to the moon because he has to take Sponge Boy back home.

The scene with Cerebus clambering up the wall of skulls with the full moon glowing above is breathtaking and all the more impressive for being rendered in black and white.

The last panel is Cerebus almost at the top, glowing golden orb still clutched in one fist, looking up suspiciously at something.

Nothing really happened in this, but it was amusing for the participation by Flaming Carrot and Sponge Boy. That may have been Aardvark Vanaheim's version of cross promotion.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

On with the challenge! The 3rd of the C's.

I was really pleased when I saw that Lewis Carroll's classic was on the list. I've read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland multiple times and never failed to be enchanted by the little girl's adventures in that strange and wondrous place or the breadth of Carroll's incredible imagination.

It's all nonsense, and you know that from the time a bored Alice sees a large white rabbit remove a pocket watch from his waistcoat and consult it before taking off in great haste down a rabbit hole, that you are in for a wild ride.

There is a dreamlike quality to many of the things that happen as Alice wanders through Wonderland trying to make sense of it all. It is explained as a dream when Alice wakes up alongside the river with her big sister, to whom she relates the tale of her 'dream'.

Many of the attempts to bring this to screen tend to ignore the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon, which is a great shame, because I find that their chapters contain some of the best imagery in the entire book, they also have some of the best nonsensical verse, although I felt Carroll reached new highs on that score in the sequel Through the Looking Glass.

The book, although written for children, has something to be enjoyed by adults and children alike, and stands up to repeated rereadings. It's stood the test of time very well, I find it's best enjoyed reading a version that contains John Tenniel's original drawings. These flesh out the sparse descriptions that Carroll gives, and have been the basis for any other visuals that have been produced based on the book, including Disney's animated version and the recent Tim Burton sequel.

For reading on a similar theme there's the sequel Through the Looking Glass, where Alice returns to Wonderland. Terry Pratchett seems to be able to make the most nonsensical concepts sound plausible in his Discworld series and Douglas Adams HItchhiker's Guide books contain some of the most inspired lunacy since Carroll passed away.

Book Challenge - Tymon's Flight

A couple of weeks ago Seak from issued a challenge to people to pick a book at random, read it and then review it on their blog. Tymon's Flight was my choice.

There are a few reasons behind it. I loved the cover, I'll go into that later. The author is a local (well, she's from New Zealand, but we'll claim her), she was at Aussiecon and signing when I saw Tymon's Flight. I've never had an author sign a book for me before and Mary graciously consented to sign my copy of Tymon's Flight.

Tymon's Flight is the debut of New Zealand based novellist Mary Victoria. It is the first book of The Chronicles of the Tree. Although the book is over 500 pages in mmpb and has not been marketed as a YA novel, it is most definitely YA. The story and the main characters are fairly generic. It's your basic foundling with a mysterious past uncovers a power that he never knew he had. A power that will help an oppressed minority throw off the yoke of their conquerors. I found Tymon a little frustrating, he was too often a doormat, I preferred the heroine Samiha, who judging by the title of the sequel: Samiha's Song, will feature more heavily in the future.

Despite those flaws, some rather convenient plot points and occasional clunky dialogue I enjoyed the book. I put most of this down to it's rather unique setting. Tymon's world is a huge tree. The Argosians spend all their lives in this tree and travel from canopy to canopy by means of dirigibles, rather like old sailing ships, only these sail through the sky and not on the ocean. Although during the course of the book readers only see the lush Central Canopy with it's capital city of Argos and the drought stricken Eastern Canopy, home to the oppressed and feared Nurians there are tantalising hints of other parts of the massive tree. The barbaric Northern Fifes in the Northern Canopy and the spice rich Lantria in the South Canopy. I hope to see more of these exotic 'lands' in future volumes. Mary Victoria has the knack of being able to hold readers attention and make them keep turning the pages.

Although Tymon's Flight is relatively self contained there is obviously a story to follow this. Samiha's Song is due out in February and I will continue to follow The Chronicles of the Tree.

I'm not entirely sure where the inspiration for the idea of a world in a tree came from, there's obviously a parallel with the Norse legend of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. Living in New Zealand I'm sure some if it came from the dense forests of the South Island and the giant kauri forests on the North Island, up at the 'winterless north' as the indigenous Maoris call it.

I promised to speak a little about the cover and I will. The cover art is done by Mary's husband Frank Victoria and shows a small airship taking off from Argos City. The tree city is in the background and has been beautifully realised, it really caught my eye and I hope they retain the artist for the rest of the series.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Hugos

One of the most prestigious awards that any author of science fiction or fantasy can win is the Hugo. The Hugo is named after Hugo Gernsback, a pioneer of science fiction publishing with his magazine Amazing Stories.
The award is voted for by supporting or attending members of Worldcon and it is presented at Worldcon. The first award was presented in 1955, although there are retrospective winners going back to 1946. The winners list reads like a whos who of science fiction and fantasy. When people talk about the Hugo they generally mean the final award of the night, which is for Best Novel, but there are 15 Hugos awarded for achievement in science fiction and fantasy and they range from Best Fan Artist to the Best Dramatic Presentation Long Form (usually a feature film).

One of the great things about being a full attending member at Worldcon is that you get to see the Hugos being awarded. This is basically the Academy Awards of science fiction and fantasy. If you ever get the opportunity to attend I recommend you take it.

The 69th Hugo Awards, presented at Aussiecon IV looked like being a good one and would be hotly contested. The MC was Australian YA author Garth Nix. I felt he was an odd choice. I hadn't read any of Nix's work, but he wasn't known for his humour, and he did not look like the most entertaining of people. However most authors do seem to be speak very well in public and Nix was no exception. His work as MC sparkled, and he even got a dig in at George R.R Martin relating to the delay in the eagerly awaited 5th novel in his epic A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series.

The first few awards were fan awards and as such were awarded by other prominent fans, some of whom had won the award in the past. Best Fan Artist was won by Brad Foster, Best Fanzine was taken out by Tony Smith's Starship Sofa and the best Fan Writer was interestingly enough the highly respected author Frederick Pohl. That award was accepted on the veteran author's (he's 90) behalf by his long time friend and fellow author Robert Silverberg. He gave a very amusing acceptance speech.

They then moved onto the professional or semi professional awards. First was Semi Prozine, Clarkesworld was awarded that by Bruce Gillespie. Best Professional Artist was the home town favourite; Shaun Tan, he was also one of the Con's guests of honour and he received the award from fellow local artist Nick Stathopulos, who was also responsible for designing the award's uniquely Australian base.

Ellen Datlow took out Best Editor, Short Form, which was her second consecutive one.

Robert Silverberg was welcomed back to the stage to present the Hugo for Best Editor, Long Form and gave a very funny speech in which he compared editors to wombats and not at all favourably. Tor books' Patrick Nielsen Hayden got his 2nd rocket ship and disqualified himself from next year's contest so another editor could have a chance at it.

Doctor Who writer Paul Cornell (Father's Day, Human Nature, Family of Blood) presented the award for Best Dramatic Presentation - Short Form. As Doctor Who had been nominated 3 times there was little doubt that the long running British science fiction series would win another rocket ship. Waters of Mars won the award, and this was, I felt deserved. I'd seen the other nominations and Waters of Mars had it hands down even over the other 2 episodes of that show. Paul Cornell was pretty chuffed because he's been involved in the show and he's close friends with both Russell T Davies and Stephen Moffatt. This also gave Doctor Who the record for the award over any other TV show, including Star Trek in all it's various forms.

George R.R Martin awarded the Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form. He really, really wants another Hugo, he's still smarting from 2001 when Harry Potter and the Goblets of Fire beat Storm of Swords. Moon won and that was the one film that I hadn't actually seen. I would have given it to District 9, but the majority of voters preferred Moon. George was tickled that the note said: 'accept on our behalf'. He trotted off the stage with the Hugo tucked under his arm, smiling impishly. I hope they checked his luggage before he left.

Best Graphic Story, presented by Best Artist Shaun Tan, went to a comic I'd never heard of: Girl Genius, Volume 9: Agatha Heterodyne and the Heirs of the Storm by Kaja and Phil Folio, who were on hand to accept it. I would have liked to see Fables Vol 12: The Dark Ages get it, but that's just because I love Fables, and they've got a bunch of awards anyway.

The veteran writer Jack Vance took out Best Related Work This Is Me, Jack Vance! (Or, More Properly, This Is "I") this award will be remembered for presenter Cheryl Morgan's quirky way of reading the titles complete with punctuation marks. It will also probably be Vance's last one.

Then we got into the actual fictional published work. Best Short Story, presented by Sean Williams and won by the interestingly titled Bridesicle by Will McIntosh. Terry Dowling presented the Best Novelette award (what exactly is the difference between a novelette and a novella?) to Peter Watts for The Island. Watts did not think he had any chance, so came dressed in a t-shirt, jeans and sneakers, it was rather funny. Aussie author and martial artist Sean McMullen gave out the Best Novella award. Charles Stross took this for Palimpsest, which Sean McMullen couldn't pronounce, and it was also confusing, as Catherynne M.Valente had been nominated for the Best Novel award with an indentically titled work.

The Guest of Honour Kim Stanley Robinson presented the evening's premier award. I actually hadn't read any of the nominated works, although I do have Robert Charles Wilson's Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd Century America, on my to be read pile. As I had seen Cat Valente numerous times throughout the event and quite liked her I was hoping she would win. It was a tie and unfortunately Cat wasn't one of the winners, that honour went to the high priest of New Weird; China Mievelle for The City & The City and Paolo Bacigalupi for The Windup Girl. Next year I'm going to have read all the nominated works so I can make a better educated vote.

There was one other award I must mention. The John W. Campbell award for Best New Writer. It was presented by the very casual Jay Lake (author of Green and former winner of the award). It went to Seanan McGuire. Seanan was another writer I became acquainted with at the Con, she's a very cool person. After the event I picked up a copy of Rosemary & Rue, her first Toby Daye book. Seanan is the first urban fantasist to win the award. She got the traditional tiara, she cried, she thanked the Great Pumpkin, and as she proudly proclaims on her blog she is now officially the Princess of the Land of Poison and Flame.

That was pretty much it for the 2010 Hugos in my experience. I get to vote next year, and I will and I hope to once again be in attendance, this time in Reno.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Aussiecon IV

I'm a con virgin, not just a Worlcon virgin, but a complete con virgin. I've never been to a convention. We do have some in Australia, but they're generally small and not usually centred on science fiction and fantasy literature, but TV, movies or comics. The last time Worldcon was held in Australia was in 1999 and I wasn't even aware of it at the time, nor would I have termed myself a fan then.

I wasn't really sure what to expect. The other cons I'd heard about seemed to involve a lot of costumes and props, but the stars of Worldcon aren't former TV or movie people or comic book heroes. They award the Hugos at Worldcon, the stars of Worldcon are the writers. People like Robert Silverberg, Kim Stanley Robinson and George R.R Martin. It's a literature centric convention, although there are comic book writers and a number of TV writers for cult shows like Doctor Who or Star Trek Next Generation.

The big thing at Worldcon is the opportunity to interact with writers, agents and editors. You can attend panels on any number of subjects, from tips of on how to write or get published to discussions about whether or not the next Doctor Who should be a female. There are signings, and meetings with authors, known as kaffeeklatsches. There are two major shows at Worldcon. One is the Masquerade Ball, which is a theatrical event and the other is the Hugo awards.

Looking through the schedule my wife and I lamented that we could not clone ourselves. There were so many panels which interested us that were on at the same time, but you could only be in one place at one time. On a couple of occasions when one of us was free we attended a panel that was of interest to the other so that we could report back and kind of get the best of both worlds.

Because this event was in Australia there were a large amount of local authors, which was actually quite useful and informative for anyone who is an aspiring author in this country. It was also good to have the international perspective from the international guests as well, though.

I planned a lot of my schedule around George R.R Martin. Kim Stanley Robinson may have been the official Guest of Honour, but for me it was George Martin. I've been following the man's epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire for the last 14 years and I was not going to pass up the opportunity to hear what he had to say about that and the industry in general.

My wife has a great interest in the long running British sci-fi series Doctor Who, so she had a lot of panels about the show on her schedule. In fact Sunday was actually Doctor Who day.

I discovered 2 authors of which I was previously unaware, who I now wish to read. Hugo nominated Catherynne M. Valente (Palimpsest) and John W. Campbell award nominee Seanan McGuire (the Toby Daye series). It was largely by accident. Seanan was on a Supernatural panel and for some reason Catherynne seemed to be on nearly every panel I attended. I loved the conversation they had one afternoon where they discussed everything from pumpkins (a particular passion of Seanan's) to their upcoming work.

One panel that sticks in my mind was one featuring all Aussie authors about whether trilogies and series are really one book broken up or if they're written as separate books. The subject itself was interesting, but what made it memorable were the actions of it's moderator; Fiona McIntosh. She looks a little like a strict school mistress and this image was further reinforced when her stern British voice reminded people to switch off their mobile phones as they walked in. Totally at odds with that was her comment that the lollies in the little jars for the panellists tasted like household disinfectant. When people were reluctant to go up the front and test this out, Fiona quite happily threw handfuls of them into the crowd, she also gleefully offered them to late coming panellists who weren't in on the joke.

My personal highlight came on Sunday when I got to attend a kaffeeklatsch with one of my literary heroes George R.R Martin. I'd wanted to sit down and talk to George about pretty much anything ever since I first read A Game of Thrones, so to have the opportunity to chat with him for an hour with other like minded fans was just heaven. George was very accomodating and we covered a wide range of subjects and even got some stories about his writing process for some of A Song of Ice and Fire.

The Masquerade Ball is also a must attend for people at Worldcon. The event was hosted with great hilarity by local artist Nick Stathopoulos (he designed the base of the Hugo for the 69th Worldcon) and fan Danny Oz. Among the contestants were Rorshach from Watchmen, the 4th Doctor Who (Tom Baker), King and Queen of the faeries Oberon and Titania, some Aes Sedai from The Wheel of Time and a very cuddly Cthulu. Nearly everyone got a prize, but Cthulu was the winner for mine, if for no other reason than the costume must have been very hot and uncomfortable.

I had a great time and I can't wait for Renovation in Reno next year.

The Return of the Black Company

In Bleak Seasons; the 7th book of the series, Glen Cook uses Croaker’s apprentice, and one of the younger members of the original Black Company from the North, Murgen to tell the story. It’s also the first book since the original Black Company novel that only has one point of view, unless you count the marvellous chapter where One-Eye is given the opportunity to try his hand at chronicling. It’s quite a treat for readers (especially me, because One-Eye is my favourite character), although judging by this chapter if the cantankerous old sorcerer were the Company’s annalist then all the books would be about 10 pages in total.
As the Company is still stuck halfway to their intended destination I felt that the story has stagnated a little. The Company isn’t even really fighting the Shadowmasters anymore, they’re more concerned with the power struggle between various factions within the Company itself. To spice things up a little, Cook introduced a new race of people; the Nyueng Bao. They seem to be a permanent under class in the South of his world. The names and appearances make them sound as if they’re based on the Vietnamese, but the descriptions of how they fight and the warrior code that they adhere to was more of a cross between the Chinese Shaolin monks and the Japanese Samurai.
I enjoyed reading Murgen’s take on things, he’s definitely a fresh voice and I appreciated having to follow one point of view, rather than multiple stories, but even so it was still somewhat confusing and disjointed. Murgen seemed to able to enter a trance like state and obtain visions of the future and the past. At times it wasn’t really clear which time he was in. It was rather like trying to read a novelised version of Christopher Nolan’s Memento. It ended on a typically bleak note.
Despite it’s flaws, it left me wanting more, but I also want to see some sort of forward movement from the Company itself.

She is the Darkness picks up where Bleak Seasons left off. The title could refer to a number of characters; the Taglian Goddess of Death, Kina, Croaker and Lady's stolen baby, who has been promised to Kina and does her bidding, it could be Lady or even Lady's sister the former Taken Soulcatcher. Murgen is again the narrator and only his point of view is seen throughout the narrative.

To show more of the story outside of where Murgen can be, Cook reuses the technique from Bleak Seasons of having Murgen put in a trancelike state which allows him to go places and see things he shouldn't be able to. He does not seem to travel through time in this installment, but only space.

For most of the book they were stalled, locked in a seemingly endless struggle with Kina, her followers, a breakaway division of the Company and Soulcatcher. There was one somewhat extraordinary exchange between Croaker and Murgen where the former annalist critiques his replacement's work. It's almost as if Cook had heard some criticism of recent books and decided to air it in the storyline. It was rather surrealistic.

I found Murgen's devotion to his dead Nyueng Bao wife somewhat unbelievable. There had just never been that level of affection between them. If anything he seemed closer to his horrible mother-in-law than his wife.

The Company did move forward and they may have finally reached their fabled home of Khatovar. That won't become clear until the next volume. There's still reasons to read as there are a lot of unresolved issues.