Excerpt from C. S. Friedman's WINGS OF WRATH

I feel that C. S. Friedman's Feast of Souls (Canada, USA, Europe) was probably one of the most underrated fantasy novels of 2007. Too bad it flew low under the radar of so many readers, for it's the opening chapter of what appears to be a great new series from the author who brought us The Coldfire trilogy.

I'm currently reading the sequel, Wings of Wrath (Canada, USA, Europe), and thus far it's even better than its predecessor!

The book will be released in a few short weeks, but here's a teaser to whet your appetite!;-)

The gods were coming.

The boy pressed himself down against the hot ground, clinging to the mountain with blackened hands. Broken bits of lava and clumps of ash came loose beneath his fingertips, searing his skin like hot coals, but he hardly noticed. His attention was fixed upon the view overhead, in particular those few places where the thick clouds parted and the sky itself was visible.

They were coming soon. They must be.

They would not refuse the offering.

Beneath his vantage point, in the vast grey bowl of the caldera, a half dozen girls whimpered in pain and terror. They were small things, his age or younger, and bright red blood streamed from cuts on the backs of their legs. The priests had decreed they should be hamstrung before being cast into the caldera, lest they do what the last group of sacrifices had done: flee to the lava pit at its far end to throw themselves in, rather than embrace their destiny. The gods were not pleased when the offerings died too quickly. And when the gods were not pleased the Sleep came, and children died, and crops stood untouched in the fields until they rotted, for lack of strong men to harvest them.

The girls were terrified -- of course -- and the boy winced as one of them screamed, unable to see which one it was, trying not to wonder about it. The Land of the Sun was a small place and he knew the name of everyone in it...but once a girl was chosen to be sacrificed she gave up her former name and identity and became only Tawa, a handmaiden of the gods. It was too terrifying to think of them as anything else, to remember that the girls who had once run with him, jested with him, and played “show me yours and I will show you mine” in the shadow of the great mountain, were now set out like lambs for the slaughter, awaiting the gods who would devour them.

Food. The priests never called them that, though that was what they were. Everyone in the Land of the Sun knew it, but no one ever said it aloud. A man could offer up his daughter to be a bride of the gods and feel there was honor in the act, but once he admitted that she was little more than a herd animal being staked out for slaughter, that honor died a cold and miserable death. The flowers woven into the girls' hair ceased to be bridal circlets, no longer crowns of communion but simply a macabre garnish; their cries were no longer the songs of welcome a virgin bride might offer to a majestic and powerful bridegroom, but simply squeals of primitive, overbearing terror.

Little wonder none of the villagers ever stayed behind to see if the sacrifice was accepted, the boy thought. The illusion of sanctity might not survive such close inspection.

Suddenly the clouds overhead seemed to stir. The boy drew his breath in quickly, which made the sulfurous smoke burn his nostrils and set him to coughing. He shut his eyes tightly as his chest spasmed, tears streaming down his soot-blackened cheeks as struggled to keep silent, lest the gods who were surely approaching turn their attention to him before he was ready. And perhaps mistake him for a sacrifice.

Then the fit passed, and the last cough was swallowed, and he opened his eyes again.

And they were there.

They were clean -- so clean! -- cool, clear colors against a blazing sky, ice against fire. Their wings were like the finely veined wings of insects, but broad beyond measure, and so strong that every stroke of them raised whirlwinds of dust and ash from ground beneath. Their bodies glistened like the ocean at moonrise, with sparks of blue and purple and colors that the boy did not even know the names for playing across their skin. Their wings were sheets of blue sea ice that cooled the smoky wind with every stroke, and they slid through the filthy sulfurous air like seals through water, poisonous clouds frothing in their wake.

The priests taught that any man who looked upon the gods directly would perish. The boy stared at them despite that warning, naked in his hunger to witness the magnitude of their power, to understand it, to possess it.

One by one the vast creatures dropped down from out of the clouds, banking low beneath the hot smoke as they glided over the caldera. The girls had stopped screaming now. They still trembled in fear, and one moaned softly in pain as the broad wings beat the smoky air into whirls and eddies all about her, but otherwise they were eerily still, transfixed by the sight of their winged bridegrooms. Even from where the boy crouched he could feel the sheer power of the gods' presence, and it made his blood run cold with fear ...yet at the same time it stirred his flesh -- strangely, uncomfortably -- as if he were watching those same girls bathe naked in a hot spring. Unable to move, he watched in silence as the creatures swooped low over the girls, one after the other. The young brides appeared to have forgotten their pain now, and lay back to the last one upon the hot earth, arms reaching out to welcome the creatures as one might welcome a lover. It was a grotesque scene to be sure, but also fascinating, and he could not look away from it.

None of the gods had noticed him yet, or if they had, they did not deem him worthy of their attention. Had any of the boy's people ever seen the gods like this, ever been this close to them without being offered as sacrifice? For the first time since leaving home, he began to think he might really live long enough see his plan through to the end.

And if it worked...if it worked...

He didn't even dare think about that.

One of the girls was dead now, it seemed, but he could not tell what had killed her. A great god with wings of cobalt and amethyst had swooped down low, as if it intended to strike her, but then pulled up suddenly to join its fellows in the sky, letting out a cry as it did so that filled the caldera. There had been no physical contact; he was sure of it. Yet the girl was strangely still now, motionless in the way that only dead things are motionless, as if all the living strength had been sucked from her limbs. So silent had her death been that the other girls did not even realize she was gone. Or perhaps, in their efforts to offer themselves up to their bridegrooms, they simply did not care.

And then the boy saw what he had been waiting for.

It sat astride the back of one of the gods, a rider more insect-like than human to his first glance. Its limbs were sheathed in a blue-black substance not unlike the skin of the great beast itself, making it hard to distinguish where one creature began and the other ended. Lesser wings from the god's upper body were wrapped backwards about its rider, creating the illusion of a glistening chrysalis. Even as he watched, the surface of that cocoon slowly parted, its occupant revealed like a locust in season.

The boy's heart skipped a beat. For a single moment the world seemed frozen in time.

So the legends are true.

The creature seated on the back of the god was a man. Not one of the boy's own people, no, but similar enough that he could not mistake it for anything but a human being. The rider's skin was pale, unlike his own, a strange and unwholesome hue that reminded him of clotted milk. His hair was long and matted with dirt and oil, and his close-fitting armor appeared to be slick with oil as well, so that every beam of light which fell upon him caused dark rainbows to dance across its surface. It was a chilling image to be sure, but it was also undeniably a human one. And that was what mattered most.

Girding his courage, the boy drew in a deep breath. Now, he thought. Now is the time.

He stood.

His legs were shaking, moreso than they should have been even from his strenuous climb. For a moment he thought he could not manage to stand at all, and the landscape swirled dizzily about him; then, by sheer force of will, he managed to make the world stand still, and forced his shaking legs to bear his weight. What other choice was there? The gods were watching now, and if he showed any sign of weakness in front of them he might as well just cast himself into the caldera along with the other sacrifices and let them devour him.

When he thought that he had his legs securely under him he drew in as deep a breath as his constricted lungs could manage, shut his eyes for a moment to focus his spirit, and then let out a cry no living creature could miss. Wordless, it echoed across the caldera, and into the fuming clouds beyond it.

The gods did not stop their circling, but he knew that they had heard him.

Opening his eyes once more, he looked for the one that had a man astride its back. That one alone had not come low to feed, but was circling high above the others. Had it seen him? If he cried out to it, would it hear his words? The volcano beneath him rumbled, and the fragments of pumice beneath his feet seemed to shift slightly in response. Did the gods speak in sounds, like animals and men, or did they use volcanoes as their mouthpiece? So little was known about them!

Then the rider's eyes fixed on him -- undeniably human, maddeningly scornful -- and he knew that he must seize this moment or lose it forever.

"Take me with you!" he demanded. "I would serve the gods!"

For a moment it did not seem that either the human or his mount had heard him. So he yelled the words again, even louder.

The mountain rumbled again beneath his feet. A whiff of hot sulfurous smoke stung his nostrils.

"I'm strong!" he cried out. "I have survived the cold of the ice and the heat of the testing stones! I've have hunted the sea lion and faced down the snow bear! I am brave enough to face the anger of the earth --"

To come here, he wanted to say. Brave enough to climb the Mountain of Sacrifice and stand here before you with no weapons, no armor, nothing at all to protect me from the gods' wrath save my own stubborn belief that I can be of value to them.

The man's eyes were cold, unblinking. Like a lizard's.

Then he turned away.

The boy howled in rage. It was an animal sound, that welled up from the primitive part of his soul without human urging or sanction. One of the girls looked up to see what the source of the noise was, then quickly turned her attention back to the winged bridegrooms. Did she recognize him as a boy she had run with, played with, shared secrets with? Or did she see only a soot-blackened animal howling hoarsely at the sky, as a seal might howl while some predatory beast crushed the life out of it?

Then the talons of one of the gods closed around her and she was jerked off the ground, her neck snapping backwards with an audible crack. Apparently the gods did want fresh meat after all.

Not one of them acknowledged the boy's presence.

Not one.

"Take me with you!" he screamed, his voice hoarse with frustration. "I belong with you!"

The gods were rising now, heading back toward the clouds. Several held small girls clasped in their talons, dangling like broken dolls. The sacrifice had been accepted.

The single rider glanced back at the boy, then turned away. His mount circled higher and higher as the glassy wings folded back about him once more.


Then the breath was knocked from the boy's body as something hit him hard from behind. He would have plummeted down into the caldera had not sharp claws grabbed hold of him; with a suddenness that left him reeling, he was jerked off his feet and into the air. Fragmented images from the world below swam in his field of vision, disconnected, unreal. Whirlpools of poisonous smoke. Blue-black wings that beat the air above his head, driving the ground down and away, stroke by stroke. In the distance, beyond the Land of the Sun, he could now see a vast field of white stretching from horizon to horizon. It had no end. It knew no mercy.

I will serve you, he promised the gods. Better than any other. You will see.

The gods did not answer.

Happy New Year!!!

MySpace Comments

I just want to take a moment to wish everyone a Happy New Year! May 2009 be everything you want it to be!:-)

This year was quite a ride for Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. Once again, traffic increased by a vast margin, which is a bit mind-blowing. New friends, new enemies, new detractors, the whole gamut! Many thanks to everyone who stops by every once in a while. Because this blog would be no fun without an audience, and you guys have made this whole blogging experience something really special!

As you know, I've never taken myself too seriously and that's not likely to change in 2009. At the end of the day, it has to be fun, or there's no point in continuing on. And I have to admit that too many people take themselves way too seriously around the Blogosphere nowadays. So much so that it just isn't as much fun as it used to be not so long ago. . .

How long will I keep on doing this before hanging it up for good??? I have no idea. As long as I can keep things fun and interesting in my little corner of the World Wide Web, chances are I'll keep the ball rolling.

Now let's see what 2009 has in store for SFF fans. . .;-)

Musical Interlude

Do you remember one of the first iPhone commercials?

They obviously had a pretty limited budget to shoot this clip. . .

Quote of the day

Break out the parka: Canada is the world's coldest country, with a frosty average temperature of -5.6°C. Ottawa is the second-chilliest national capital after Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia.

- LONELY PLANET'S Best in Travel 2009: 850 Trends, Destinations, Journeys & Experiences for the Year Ahead (Canada, USA, Europe)

Interestingly enough, Lonely Planet selected Canada has one of its top 10 countries to visit in 2009. Which reminds me that I need to start writing those posts on Montréal to encourage SFF fans to come here in droves for the Worldcon next summer. . .

By the way, -5.6°C is nothing. That's a beautiful winter day up here. Unlike today, with -30°C with the windchill, now that's cold! The average for late December is about -10°C to -12°C. . .

Matthew Stover contest winner!

This lucky bastard will receive my review copy of Matthew Stover's Star Wars: Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Edward Crayton, from Jacksonville, Florida, USA

Thanks to all the participants!

The Hotties: 2008 Year-End Awards

It's that time of year again!

With 2008 coming to a close, it's time to unveil my year-end SFF awards!;-) The categories are more or less what you have come to expect over the years! In addition to my SFF Top 10 of the year, you also get the ten runner-up titles as a bonus!

As always, feel free to disagree with my selections. I've never taken myself too seriously, so it's all in good fun!

By the way, the Index of Reviews and Interviews in the top right corner of your screen has been updated.

2009 sure looks like it's going to be a heck of a year for speculative fiction fans, so here's to hoping that it will be the case!

SFF TOP 10 OF 2008

1- Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson (Bantam Press/Tor Books)
*- Neuropath by Scott Bakker (Penguin Books/Orion/Tor Books) This novel would have been number 1 on my list, but it's not a speculative fiction title.
2- The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia (Prime Books)
3- Return of the Crimson Guard by Ian Cameron Esslemont (PS Publishing/Bantam Press)
4- MultiReal by David Louis Edelman (Pyr)
5- Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie (Gollancz/Pyr)
6- Bloodheir by Brian Ruckley (Orbit)
7- Inside Straight edited by George R. R. Martin (Tor Books)
8- The Ten Thousand by Paul Kearney (Solaris)
9- The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford (William Morrow and co.)
10- The Edge of Reason by Melinda Snodgrass (Tor Books)
11- A World Too Near by Kay Kenyon (Pyr)
12- Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik (Del Rey Books/Voyager)
13- The Digital Plague by Jeff Somers (Orbit)
14- The Company by K. J. Parker (Orbit)
15- Kitty and the Silver Bullet by Carrie Vaughn (Grand Central Publishing)
16- The Six Directions of Space by Alastair Reynolds (Subterranean Press)
17- The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan (Gollancz/Del Rey Books)
18- Busted Flush edited by George R. R. Martin (Tor Books)
19- A Magic of Twilight by S. L. Farrell (Daw Books)
20- The Mirrored Heavens by David J. Williams (Bantam Dell)


- Pyr

The market is no level playing field, and yet year in and year out Pyr titles manage to stand out from the competition. Kudos to Lou Anders and his team. The guy deserves a Hugo Award and a raise!;-)

- Honorable mention: Subterranean Press

This not-so-small-anymore press is making quite a name for itself. And with a stellar year in 2008, the sky appears to be the limit for Bill and his crew.


- David Louis Edelman

Infoquake was a smashing scifi debut, but Edelman came up with a tighter novel with its sequel, MultiReal. Can't wait to read the final volume of this trilogy!


- Michael Komarck's cover for the Subterranean Press limited edition of Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon. This is one of the best-looking fantasy covers of all time!


- The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson and Ian Cameron Esslemont

In terms of depth and scope, nothing even comes close to this series.


- Joe Abercrombie


Ran's Westeros remains my favorite hang-out spot. Never a dull moment on these forums!

- Honorable mention: http://www.sffworld.com/


- The Wild Cards

With two highly entertaining Wild Cards books in 2008 (Inside Straight and Busted Flush), the franchise is in good hands!


- Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

This sleep-inducing novel could be the most overrated SFF work ever!


- Tor Books

For putting the Busted Flush blurb on the mass market paperback edition of Inside Straight. Come on, man. . .


- A World Too Near by Kay Kenyon

- Honorable mention: The Edge of Reason by Melinda Snodgrass


- The first 9-way interview I ever did with the Wild Cards contributors.

This one was something special!

- Honorable mentions: The first and second interviews I did with R. Scott Bakker


- The Edge of Reason by Melinda Snodgrass

- Honorable mentions: A Magic of Twilight by S. L. Farrell and The Mirrored Heavens by David J. Williams


- The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

- Honorable mention: The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan


- Ekaterina Sedia

Although I did not enjoy The Alchemy of Stone as much as The Secret History of Moscow, it's obvious that Sedia is a talented writer with a long career ahead of her.


- Yours Truly

For letting novels/series such as Stephen King's The Dark Tower, Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, Neil Gaiman's American Gods, Jim Butcher's Storm Front, and many others lie there on my shelves while I read books that are only good for the crapper. I'm not telling you what I have on my "Books to Read" piles!


- The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia

Came out too late in the year in 2007 for most people to have heard about it, so it's my pick for SFF debut of the year!


- Joe Abercrombie

For demonstrating that in this age of doorstopper fantasy series that seem endless, you can still tell a compelling story without a back story which goes back 300,000 years into the past, without hundreds of characters, without dozens of convoluted storylines. Abercrombie showed that, if you play your cards right, you can still do it with an honest-to-god trilogy. He brought this series to a close with a bang in Last Argument of Kings, and I'm eager to get my hands on Best Served Cold.

In addition, Joe just might be the Ricky Hatton of fantasy. The guy got clocked with a bannister, and carried on with blood leaking out of his head like a real trooper. Say one thing about Joe Abercrombie, say he's one tough cookie! If ever in a fist fight with him, go for the body. If a bannister won't put him down for the count, no punch will!

No but seriously, long live.:-)

Happy Holidays, everyone!

NFL SHOWDOWN: GRRM vs Pat (week 17)

New York Giants: 19
Minnesota Vikings: 20

Dallas Cowboys: 6
Philadelphia Eagles: 44

Well, at least I was spared the pain of watching this rout. Damn, but I absolutely hate sattelite TV. If it rains too hard, you lose the signal. If there's too much wind, you lose the signal. If there's too much snow, you lose the signal. It was so windy today that I don't even know if my dish is still on top of the building, or if the wires are disconnected. All I know is that I haven't been able to pick up a signal since mid-afternoon.

So George wins again. . . Damn him!!! And damn those Cowboys!:-(

Hopefully the books GRRM forces me to read and review will be good reads. . .:/

Bones of the Dragon

There's been a buzz about Weis and Hickman's new series, Dragonships of Vindras, ever since Tor Books paid a seven-figure advance to acquire the rights to publish it. Add to that a 200,000$ national marketing campaign, and everything seems to hint that this six-book sequence will be the sort of signature work such as The Death Gate Cycle -- the kind of series that made them the bestselling duo of SFF authors of all time.

These factors raised expectations quite high, that goes without saying. And for the first time in years, I found myself thoroughly excited about a new Weis and Hickman book. And yet, regardless of the positive buzz surrounding Bones of the Dragon, the opening chapter of Dragonships of Vindras would have to deliver on all fronts in order to truly satisfy fantasy aficionados everywhere. Indeed, Weis and Hickman have been unimpressive of late.

Unfortunately, Bones of the Dragon fails to deliver on most levels. In depth, style, and tone, this novel is more akin to The Sovereign Stone trilogy, as well as Dragonlance's The War of Souls and The Lost Chronicles trilogies, than the Weis and Hickman series which made them such genre powerhouses throughout the 80s and 90s.

In terms of worldbuilding, the authors elected to go with a universe in the Norse tradition, with the focus on tribes of Viking-like warriors. I was under the assumption that this series would be as ambitious and original as The Death Gate Cycle, so I found the worldbuilding to be lackluster, to say the least. It's nothing we haven't seen before. From Weis' answers in our upcoming interview, I'm aware that there is a lot more to come in the forthcoming sequels. But based on Bones of the Dragon alone, the worldbuilding is decidedly bland.

Characterization has always been Weis and Hickman's bread and butter. Over the years, these two have created a variety of memorable characters. One only has to think about the Heroes of the Lance; Raistlin, Caramon, Tanis, Sturm, Tasslehoff, Lauranna, and the rest of the gang. The original Dragonlance series also featured a number of great secondary characters such as Lord Soth, Dalamar, and Kitiara. The Darksword trilogy had Joram, Saryon, Simkin, and Mosiah. The Rose of the Prophet had Matthew, Khardan, and Zohra. The Death Gate Cycle featured Haplo, Alfred, Hugh the Hand, Xar, Marit, Zifnab, and more. Sadly, Bones of the Dragon leaves a lot to be desired in that regard. The main protagonist is the anti-hero Skylan Ivorson. I'm well aware that he's meant to start off as an ass, and he will undoubtedly mature as the story progresses. Still, Skylan is as annoying and unsympathetic as it gets. Moreover, the rest of the cast is comprised of a forgettable group of clichéd and unimaginative characters. Other than Wulfe, none of them even came close to piquing my curiosity. As far as characterization goes, this is about as bad as I've ever seen Weis and Hickman look.

The battle of the gods story arc appeared to be intriguing at the beginning, but it's nowhere near as interesting as it was in the Dragonlance saga or The Rose of the Prophet trilogy. I feel that had the plotlines focused a bit more on that facet of the tale, it might have provided much-needed depth to the story.

The overall execution is a bit clumsy at times, and you can see some plot twists coming from a mile away. Which was a major disappointment coming from the duo that brought us such multilayered series as The Death Gate Cycle. The pace drags a bit from time to time, and most storylines are uninspired at best. It feels as though the authors are just going through the motions, that their hearts and minds are not into this project.

The narrative appears to be aimed at a more adolescent crowd, and the dialogues are a bit trite. Hence, I feel that Dragonships of Vindras will appeal to a younger, less demanding audience. Bones of the Dragon is adventure fantasy/sword and sorcery fare, something suited for the legions of Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms novels on the market. As such, it was a major disappointment for me, as I was expecting a more "adult-oriented" work, something that could compete in depth and originality with novels/series by authors such as Jordan, Martin, Bakker, Erikson, etc.

Things pick up a little at the end, promising more to come, but it's nowhere near enough to save this one. Bones of the Dragon simply didn't do it for me. Looking back, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman have not been at the top of their game for over a decade (since the release of The Seventh Gate). Which is too bad, because in top form they can swing with the best of them.

Given the popularity of their latest Dragonlance books and R. A. Salvatore's Forgotten Realms offerings, I'm convinced that Bones of the Dragon will probably do very well. But for long-time fans like me, it's evident that Weis and Hickman's heydays are now behind them. A pity. . .

The final verdict: 6/10

For more information about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (December 23rd)

In hardcover:

Stephenie Meyer's The Host is up three positions, ending the week at number 5.

Stephen King's Just After Sunset maintains its position at number 6. This marks the novel's fifth week on the NYT list. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Orson Scott Card's Ender in Exile is up two spots, finishing its fifth week on the charts at number 24. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Charlaine Harris' From Dead to Worse is down three positions, ending its 12th week on the bestseller list at number 27.

In paperback:

Tobias S. Buckell's Halo: The Cole Protocol is down three spots, finishing its third week on the prestigious list at number 7. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Stephen King's Duma Key is up four positions, ending its eighth week on the charts at number 9.

J. R. R. Tolkien's The Children of Húrin is up four spots, finishing its ninth week on the NYT list at number 27.

Kim Harrison's The Outlaw Demon Wails is down six positions, ending its third week on the bestseller list at number 26.

Charlaine Harris' six of seven Sookie Stackhouse novels rank from number 6 to number 25.

What is wrong with M. Night Shyamalan????

I was a bit disappointed that my trip to Europe last summer would make me miss M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening. His last few movies pretty much sucked, but I'm always intrigued by the stuff he comes up with.

Finally saw it last night. Man, it was awful. . . Just AWFUL!!! Utter fucking shit, pure and simple! How could it be SOOOOO bad??? I feel that downloading porn for 90 minutes would have been a more worthwhile pursuit. This movie was a crapfest from start to finish.

The Sixth Sense was brilliant. But the more I think about it, the more I begin to realize that it was probably a fluke. Shyamalan was supposed to be the next big thing in the film industry, the Steven Spielberg of the 21st century. Well, after a string of stinkers (Unbreakable, Signs, The Village, and Lady in the Water), I would go as far as claim that M. Night Shyamalan could well be the most overrated director in the industry.

The Happening takes the cake for worst film of Shyamalan's career thus far. I think it's time for him to direct and let someone else write these scripts. . .

Bad, bad, bad. . .

R. Scott Bakker contest winners!

Okay, it's time for me to play Santa! Our three winners will get their hands on a copy of R. Scott Bakker's The Judging Eye (Canada, USA, Europe), compliments of the nice folks at Orbit!

The winners are:

- Per Bäckman, from Stockholm, Sweden (Voland on asoiaf.westeros.org and malazanempire.com)

- Xavier Henault, from Clermont-Ferrand, France (Merwin Tonnel on Elbakin.net)

- Finn Arne Jorgensen, from Trondheim, Norway

Thanks to all the participants and Merry Christmas!!!

Merry Christmas!

MySpace Comments

Merry Christmas to you and yours!:-)

My Top 10 SFF novels of 2008

As was the case last year, I'll include this Top 10 and the ten runners-up when I post my year-end awards next week.


1- Toll the Hounds by Steven Erikson (Bantam Press/Tor Books)
2- The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia (Prime Books)
3- Return of the Crimson Guard by Ian Cameron Esslemont (PS Publishing/Bantam Press)
4- MultiReal by David Louis Edelman (Pyr)
5- Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie (Gollancz/Pyr)
6- Bloodheir by Brian Ruckley (Orbit)
7- Inside Straight edited by George R. R. Martin (Tor Books)
8- The Ten Thousand by Paul Kearney (Solaris)
9- The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford (William Morrow and co.)
10- The Edge of Reason by Melinda Snodgrass (Tor Books)

As always, feel free to disagree!:p But these are my picks!

Musical Interlude

Remember that Mitsubishi commercial of a few years ago. . ?

Cool tune!:-)

Storm Front

Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable
rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.

I remember picking up Jim Butcher's Storm Front and Fool Moon and flipping through them at the bookstore when they originally came out. Urban fantasy was not yet the powerhouse the subgenre became in recent years, and I wasn't really impressed by the blurb and the few pages I read then. It's funny what a difference a few years can make. Witnessing Butcher's Dresden Files' immense popularity, I decided to give the series a shot. And a wise decision this was, for Storm Front is an entertaining joyride of a novel!

It's not easy being a true wizard. Though he is a part-time consultant hired by the Chicago P. D. when they encounter supernatural cases that transcend their capabilities, Harry Dresden's career is anything but lucrative. Strapped for cash, he is drawn into a strange case when the police asks him to investigate the magical murder of a high-end prostitute and the bodyguard of the city's mafia kingpin. The deeper he digs, the more Dresden begins to realize that his own life might be in danger if he doesn't let go. But Harry Dresden is a stubborn man. . . And broke.

Storm Front features a first-person narrative, that of Harry Dresden. Such narratives can be tricky, for the entire story is told from a single POV. Hence, if you like the main protagonist, it's all good. If you don't, well everything has a tendency to go down the crapper fast. Just ask Robin Hobb and Patrick Rothfuss. It wasn't a problem for me with this book, for Harry Dresden's witty, ironic, and sardonic voice was one of my favorite facets of this novel.

Although this is a "one man show," the supporting cast is nonetheless comprised of a bunch of interesting characters, chief among those Bob the skull and Detective Karrin Murphy. Still, no matter how much the secondary characters play a role in this novel, it will all come down to whether or not you like Harry Dresden. The guy isn't exactly your typical wizard type, that's for sure. And that's what makes him so endearing.

Jim Butcher paced this one perfectly, and there isn't one dull moment throughout. Everything moves at a crisp pace, and the many cliffhangers at the end of various chapters keep you turning those pages, promising yourself that you'll only read another chapter.

I feel that Butcher did a good job in this opening volume of the Dresden Files. Though quick-moving and entertaining, Storm Front offers us a few glimpses of a richer and deeper tale. It's hard not to root for the down-on-his-luck wizard. Yet there is a lot more to him than meets the eye, and I'm curious to learn about Dresden's past.

Another nice touch was the variety of one-liners bringing a number of chapters to a close. Lines such as So I have a problem with creepy, dead, poisonous things. So sur me., Who says I never do anything fun on a Friday night?, Who says I don't know how to show a lady a good time?, Do I have a great job or what?, Less than a minute on the clock and no time-outs remaining for the quaterback. All in all, it was looking like a bad evening for the home team had me smirking and laughing, and they would carry me on over to yet another chapter. I reached the end of Storm Front a lot quicker than I ever thought. To my disappointment, as I don't have a copy of the second volume on hand. . .

Looking forward to reading the rest of the Dresden Files installments, especially since many fans claim that Storm Front just might be the weakest volume of the series. If, like me, you have yet to give Jim Butcher's signature series a try, then by all means do so now!

The final verdict: 7.75/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Win a copy of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's BONES OF THE DRAGON

I have three copies of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's latest, Bones of the Dragon, up for grabs, courtesy of the folks at Tor Books. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "BONES." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

Another way to help raise funds for Breast Cancer research

Don't have anything to buy on Amazon for yourself, but you are looking for a gift idea for a friend or family member. Then why not offer them an Amazon gift certificate?

By doing so you make sure that he or she will get what they want for the Holidays, and your purchase nevertheless help me in my quest to raise funds for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

Click on any of these links and you're good to go!: Canada, USA, Europe.

I will probably extend the fundraiser till mid-January to give everyone a chance to spend their Christmas money on cool stuff on the various Amazon sites.:-)

NFL SHOWDOWN: GRRM vs Pat (Week 16)

Carolina Panthers: 28
New York Giants: 34

Baltimore Ravens: 33
Dallas Cowboys: 24

Well, this was like a playoff game. Both the Ravens and the Cowboys needed a victory to keep their hopes alive and retain control of their destiny. Dallas looked pretty good, but the two rushing touchdowns they gave away at the end of the game sealed our fate.

Having lost two straight games, the damned Giants were able to score an in extremis victory against the Panthers in overtime last night, thus securing home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Shockingly, regardless of all the crap Dallas had to go through this season, they can still get the last Wildcard spot and make the playoffs if they beat the Eagles next week. It's been a crazy NFL season, no question!!!

To all my German friends and anyone else who actually bought this thing

Okay, so if you live in Canada or the USA, you probably have seen this commercial by now. It's so damn hilarious that it's the butt of countless jokes over here. But everyone's wondering if it works. We doubt it, but what the heck!?!

It's gotten to the point where I'm actually considering ordering this as a Christmas present for someone, just to see his face when he unwraps the box, and I can shout, "ShamWow!"

Made in Germany, the ShamWow supposedly sold millions of units in that country. Does anyone out there have the guts to admit that he or she actually purchased the ShamWow!?! Tell us about it!:p


Brandon Sanderson's WoT interview retrospective

Now that he's been working on A Memory of Light for about a year, author Brandon Sanderson decided to revisit and update the interview he did with Dragonmount.com in 2007.

Poor Brandon, trying to pull a fast one on us and throw us off the scent by claiming that Moiraine might not be still alive. Moiraine IS coming back. That has never been in question in most WoT fans' minds. We're not buying it, sorry. . .

Hell, I'll believe that Mat is gay and that Mazrim Taim is deep down a very decent guy before I believe that Moiraine's life ended in The Fires of Heaven.

There is some interesting stuff in this interview, but beware of spoilers. You can read the full Q&A here.


Got this one in the mail the other day, but I won't have time to read it. So Matthew Stover's latest Star Wars offering, Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, is up for grabs! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "LUKE SKYWALKER." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

Coming attractions

My year-end awards, the Hotties, will be back. They will be posted along with my Top 100 SFF books of 2008 at the end of the month. Other than that, here's what I have in store for you for the first couple of weeks of 2009.

Book Reviews

I just finished Jim Butcher's first Dresden novel, Storm Front (Canada, USA, Europe), and I found it very entertaining. A quick and fun read. So yeah, I'll be reading the rest of the series!

Next up is Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's Bones of the Dragon (Canada, USA, Europe), to be followed by C. S. Friedman's Wings of Wrath (Canada, USA, Europe).

Future reviews will include Kay Kenyon's City Without End (Canada, USA, Europe), Dan Simmons' Muse of Fire (Canada, USA, Europe, and http://www.subterraneanpress.com/), A Fantasy Medley anthology (http://www.subterraneanpress.com/), L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s Imager (Canada, USA, Europe), Carrie Vaughn's Kitty and the Dead Man's Hand (Canada, USA, Europe) and Kitty Raises Hell (Canada, USA, Europe).

Last but not least, I will also be reading what is one of the most eagerly anticipated scifi book of 2009 for me, Ian McDonald's Cyberabad Days (Canada, USA, Europe).

Of course, I will also be giving older titles a shot, though I have no idea which ones I'll be picking up to read and review. In addition, Peter V. Brett's The Painted Man/The Warded Man (Canada, USA, Europe) is sitting there staring at me, which means that it's a definite possibility.


Although more could be in the works, there are only two interviews which have been confirmed. First of all, along with Adam and Larry, I'll be doing a Q&A with R. Scott Bakker to promote The Judging Eye (Canada, USA, Europe). Interviewing Scott is always interesting, so I'm looking forward to this one!

Also, I will be doing a Q&A with Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman to promote their latest, Bones of the Dragon. Already have Weis' answers to the interview questions, so this one shall be posted as soon as Hickman gets back to me with his.


Many contests have yet to be confirmed, but here are those which should see the light.

There will be a giveaway early next week for Weis and Hickman's Bones of the Dragon.

Though quite extraordinary, the giveaway for Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book (Canada, USA, Europe, and http://www.subterraneanpress.com/) was not the "big" giveaway that Subterranean Press and I had in store for you. Keep your eyes peeled for this one in early 2009! Speaking of Subpress, I'm confident that we should also have a contest for the anthology A Fantasy Medley.

There will be a giveaway for C. S. Friedman's Wings of Wrath in January. Though these have no been confirmed yet, I'm pretty sure we'll have giveaways for both Kay Kanyon's City Without End and Ian McDonald's Cyberabad Days. The same thing goes for the US edition of Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains (Canada, USA, Europe).

Finally, there should be a contest for both new Kitty novels from Carrie Vaughn, as well as L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s Imager.

All this and more!


As things stand, the only confirmation I have is for a sample of C. S. Friedman's Wings of Wrath to be posted in January.

Stay tuned for more surprises!;-)

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (December 16th)

In hardcover:

Stephen King's Just After Sunset is down two positions, ending its fourth week on the charts at number 6. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Stephenie Meyer's The Host is up two spots, finishing the week at number 8.

Jim Butcher's Princep's Fury is down eight positions, ending its second week on the bestseller list at number 21.

Charlaine Harris' From Dead to Worse is up six spots, finishing its eleventh week on the NYT list at number 24.

Orson Scott Card's Ender in Exile is down five positions, ending its fourth week on the prestigious list at number 26. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Tobias S. Buckell's Halo: The Cole Protocol maintains its position at number 4 for a second week in a row. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Stephen King's Duma Key is down one spot, finishing its seventh week on the charts at number 13.

Kim Harrison's The Outlaw Demon Wails is down two positions, ending its second week on the NYT list at number 20.

J. R. R. Tolkien's The Children of Húrin is down nine spots, finishing its eighth week on the bestseller list at number 31.

The Six Directions of Space

Every time there's a discussion regarding the best science fiction authors out there, Alastair Reynolds' name is usually found alongside his upper echelon peers, writers such as Peter F. Hamilton, Greg Bear, Ian McDonald, Iain M. Banks, and Richard Morgan. Though I own three or four of Reynolds' novels, to my shame I have to admit that I have yet to give the author a shot.

Hence, when I received this limited edition novella from Subterranean Press, I realized that this was the perfect opportunity for me to get acquainted with Alastair Reynolds' style. And if The Six Directions of Space is any indication, I will certainly be reading more of Reynolds' works on the future.

A female spy operating under the codename Yellow Dog is sent to the far reaches of the enormous Mongol-ruled galactic empire to investigate strange anomalies occurring near the end of civilised space. Phantom spacecrafts have appeared in the spacefaring conduits which are the transit system binding the empire together. This covert operation takes Yellow Dog to a distant autonomous zone under the control of a local tyrant who doesn't seem to care much for the central government. When her cover is blown and she is captured, Yellow Dog finds herself disavowed by her superiors. From her captor, Yellow Dog is shocked to discover that they know more about the anomalies than she thought possible. When one of the phantom ships is retrieved, revelations will force Yellow Dog to accept the fact that reality as she knows it could well be an illusion.

I was impressed with the worldbuilding in The Six Directions of Space. Indeed, this novella resounds with as much depth as most novel-length science fiction works. The intergalactic Mongolian empire was a nice twist and an interesting change from the habitual genre stereotypes. The ancient khorkoi, the Infrastructure, the Shining Caliphate, the Smiling Ones -- this 88-page novella packs a powerful punch!

I was also impressed with Reynolds' characterization. Although the format precluded much depth in that regard, the author nevertheless came up with an engaging cast with Yellow Dod, Qilian, and Muhunnad.

The Six Directions of Space is hard to put down. Don't be surprised if you reach the end of this novella in a single sitting.

Though I thoroughly enjoyed this one, I can't help but feel that there's more than enough material here to fill an entire novel. This short novella keeps you begging for more.

This introduction to Alastair Reynolds' work has made quite an impression on me. Hopefully the rest of his books will now live up to these lofty expectations.

The final verdict: 7.75/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Del Rey ARCs contest winner!

This lucky bastard will get his hands on advance reading copies of the US editions of both Peter F. Hamilton's The Temporal Void (Canada, USA, Europe) and Peter V. Brett's The Warded Man (Canada, USA, Europe), compliments of Yours Truly!

The winner is: Brett Simmons, from Seattle, Washington, USA

Thanks to all the participants!

More thoughts on "Angry Chicks in Leather" by Lilith Saintcrow

Lilith and I sort of knew that people would likely be talking about her column once it was posted. But I don't think either of us would have believed that it would kick up this kind of online storm. People are talking all right!:p

In response to a lot of what's been said about this recent ad lib column, Lilith posted something that should generate even more discussion. You can find her piece here.

Here's a preview:

So, the Angry Chicks In Leather post got a few comments. The anonymous/troll comments fell into two categories: one, that I was a Bad Feminist (in several senses at once, from “shrill harpy” to “traitor to femininity”) and that smaller, more delicate women couldn’t kick ass; and two, that authors like Charles de Lint and Emma Bull and Jim Butcher were true Urban Fantasy and the stuff I was talking about was just lowbrow schlock.

Thanks for making my point for me on both counts, trolls.

I actually consider Charles de Lint and Emma Bull magical realists, not urban fantasists. (And China Mieville I consider steampunk fantasy, but that’s just me.) They also published a lot earlier than the current spike of titles I consider urban fantasy, and in any case I defined my terms pretty thoroughly–urban fantasy as the chicks-in-leather flood we’re having right now. There are exceptions like Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden (which to me seems more straight fantasy than urban fantasy, cityscape notwithstanding, for a variety of reasons).

The borders between urban fantasy, steampunk fantasy, straight fantasy with urban elements, some brands of magical realism, and paranormal romance are FLUID. They are not SOLID. Genre is more an ad hoc designation by bookstores than anything else, because you have to be able to find a book to sell it to the person who wants it. Genre is also something for fans to argue about, because let’s face it, fandom isn’t fun without feuds[1]. Genre is also a set of conventions that give a writer some shape to aim for, somewhere to aim the arrow.

What genre isn’t is this: a straitjacket. Or a way to denigrate someone else’s experience.
I made it pretty clear I was talking about the current wave of books designated urban fantasy. I gave my definitions and some of the reasons why I think this type of book is so “hot” right now. I also passionately defended it, because I think this genre is important and I do think there’s a lot of social conversation going on under the surface in these books–conversations about sex, violence, justice, gender, expectations, identity, a whole kit and caboodle of issues. These issues are not the story.

Part of telling a good story (to answer the concern trolls who bleated “what happened to just telling a good stoooory?”) is telling a relevant story. These are issues we’re thinking about now, as a society. Just like Star Trek and hard sci-fi took on issues relevant to their day (and hard sci-fi still does) and high fantasy took (and takes) on issues relevant to their day through the lens and filter of genre, so too does urban fantasy. Only we’re not supposed to analyze or talk about it, either because these are scary taboo subjects…or because we’re getting Too Big For Our Britches, because we only write schlock, dontcha know.

Yeah. Sure.

Click on the link to read the rest. . .

By the way, if you are an author/editor/agent/publicist/yada yada yada and you'd be interested in writing a piece for my ad lib column, simply get in touch with me (use the giveaway email address if you don't already have my contact details).

A World Too Near

In Bright of the Sky, Kay Kenyon introduced readers to the world of the Entire, an exotic environment whose imagery is a cross between fantasy and science fiction. This unique hybrid was the backdrop for what appeared to be one of the most fascinating ongoing scifi series on the market today. Having thoroughly enjoyed the opening volume of The Entire and the Rose, I was eager to read its sequel, A World Too Near.

I'm glad to report that Kenyon delivered once again. Indeed, this second volume is as satisfying as Bright of the Sky. Moreover, A World Too Near raises the stakes even higher. With two quality yarns under her belt, it feels as though Kay Kenyon could well be one of the most underrated science fiction authors out there. A pity she doesn't get more love. . .

When former star pilot Titus Quinn returned to the Entire to search for his missing wife and child, he unearthed a secret that threatens reality as he knows it. Forced to reconsider his plans, he needed to overcome the odds stacked against him and find a way to return to our universe, the Rose, in order to warn his superiors of the menace Earth faced. And in so doing, he had no choice but to abandon his loved ones to their fate.

Now Titus Quinn must travel back to the Entire, this time armed with the means to eliminate the threat which hangs over Earth. Yet in order to do so, he will have to traverse the galactic reaches of the Entire and journey to the fortress of Ahnenhoon to unleash the nanoscale military technology he carries. But to his dismay, he'll discover that an unwanted companion was sent to the Entire with him. Even worse, on their way to Ahnenhoon Quinn will uncover the terrible truth about the weapon he carries. Time is running out, and he'll soon realize that he holds the faith of both universes in his hands.

Once more, the worldbuilding is the most enthralling aspect of this novel. The Entire is a milieu unlike anything you have ever read about, and it's fascinating to discover more of its secrets during Quinn's perilous journey. Revelations about the storm walls, the River Nigh, Ahnenhoon, the Paion intrusions, and more are ample evidence that Kenyon's creation resounds with even more depth than I thought. Add to that secrets about the Tarig Lords, and you have quite a few surprises in store for you. Rich in details, A World Too Near should have you clamoring for the third volume, City Without End.

Although Titus Quinn once again takes center stage in this book, the supporting cast plays a much bigger role in this one. Hence, even though the journey to Ahnenhoon is pivotal, other storylines are nearly as important in the vaster scheme of things. I particularly enjoyed Johanna's -- Quinn's wife -- plotline. Through her, we learn more about the Bright Lords and the fortress of Ahnenhoon. Sydney's storylines, which seemed so interesting in Bright of the Sky, took an odd turn in this second volume. I can't elaborate much without spoiling the story, but let's just say that I found her quick acceptance of one of her father's enemies in the midst of the Inyx to be a bit far-fetched. In addition, the political intrigue involving players such as Cixi and Lady Chiron added another dimension to an already superior read.

Other than Sydney's plotline, my only complaint would have to be Kenyon's tricky habit of jumping from one POV to the next without any break in the narrative. At times it takes a paragraph or two to realize that you are no longer in this or that character's head.

The rhythm keeps you turning those pages, and Kay Kenyon closes the show with a bang. I can't wait to see where the author will take this tale next.

I commend The Entire and the Rose to your attention. Good, good stuff!

The final verdict: 7.75/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Pilot Episode Script Review for GRRM'S A GAME OF THRONES

The full piece can be found on Winter is Coming, but here's an excerpt:

First, a synopsis:

As already mentioned by Benioff and Weiss, we open with the prologue. Waymar, Gared and Will ranging beyond the wall when they are set up by Others.

After the prologue, the credit sequence. A raven is sent from Castle Black to King's Landing. As it flies over Westeros we see the map, the raven dips down over points of interest (Winterfell, The Eyrie, etc.) and the map fades from view to show the actual castles. Eventually, the raven flies into the Red Keep and lands on the Iron Throne. End credits.

Next the beheading scene. Plays out almost exactly like the book, down to Theon kicking the disembodied head. Then the direwolf pups are discovered.

Cut to Dany in Pentos. Viserys and her discuss the wedding and his plan to retake Westeros. Illyrio introduces Viserys and Daenerys to Drogo.

Next, we jump to King's Landing. The lifeless body of Jon Arryn on his deathbed. Cersei and Pycelle discuss his final words. "The seed is strong." Cut to a brothel. Tyrion is enjoying the company of one the "employees" there. Jaime barges in, tells him they are heading to Winterfell.Cut to Catelyn and Ned in the godswood, they talk about the King coming to Winterfell. The King and his party arrive. Robert and Ned go down to the crypts to talk. Next scene, the feast in the Great Hall. There is an exchange between Ned and Jaime that wasn't in the book. Jon and Benjen talk about the Night's Watch. Tyrion and Jon talk about bastards.

Cut to Catelyn and Ned in their bedchamber. They receive the message from Lysa. Ned decides to accept the King's offer. The next day, we see the Stark and Lannister boys at their sword play. All these scenes play out very closely to the book, with the exception of the Ned-Jaime encounter, albeit condensed quite a bit.

Cut back to Pentos. Drogo and Dany's wedding feast. We see some dancing, some raping, some killing. The gifts are given. Dany and Drogo consummate the marriage.

Back to Winterfell, Robert and Ned speak before leaving to go on a hunt. Bran climbs. Spys Jaime and Cersei in the act. "The things I do for love." Fade to black.

Sounds good to me!;-)

Ad Lib Column: Lilith Saintcrow

When I invited authors to be guest bloggers on the Hotlist, Lilith replied that she would be interested. But she didn't really know what to write about. When I suggested that she could write a piece on urban fantasy being considered lowbrow crap by some, she immediately jumped on the opportunity!

If you are not familiar with her work, I figure that you have guesses that Lilith Saintcrow writes urban fantasy novels. To learn more about the author and her books, visit http://www.lilithsaintcrow.com/. Her latest book is Hunter's Prayer (Canada, USA, Europe), sequel to Night Shift.

In any event, you know that an article titled Angry Chicks in Leather is going to be good!;-)


Lilith Saintcrow

What defines urban fantasy?

That's simple, you might say. Chicks kicking ass. Well, leather-clad chicks kicking ass. Leather-clad chicks kicking ass in an urban environment where some form of "magic" is part of the world. There. That’s about it.

But that's not all there is to it.

Urban fantasy, they tell me, is "hot" right now. Paranormal romance (vampire/werewolf/something girl meets vampire/werewolf/something guy, wackiness or danger ensues, happy ending happens) is just as hot, but the "romance" tag keeps it from being literature. The "fantasy" tag keeps urban fantasy from being classified as Serious Literature as well.

It reminds me of Tom's Glossary of Book Publishing, where LITERATURE is "Designation applied to titles judged unsaleable", and MAINSTREAM FICTION is "The pretense that there is a group of readers who can be reached through writing that is sufficiently unspecific as to exclude no one". There's just one thing lacking from this set of definitions--the fact that Literature and Mainstream Fiction are seen as highbrow.

They're genres you don't have to act ashamed of writing in. But romance or urban fantasy? You might as well start embroidering your own scarlet letter, honey.

Paranormal romance is considered lowbrow and trashy because it's female. Despite the fact that it's a multibillion-dollar business (and every dollar a woman shells out for it costs more because let's face it, we earn a lot less), it's still that pink-jacketed crap for bored housewives. Tom Clancy is supposed to be Real and Hard-Hitting, even if his "novels" are thinly-veiled technical manuals. Nora Roberts is supposedly less Real because she writes about feeeeeeelings. While we could debate the relative merits of Clancy vs. La Nora all day--and not agree, mind you, because Roberts is just plain the better writer--the fact remains that Clancy has a better shot at being considered "serious" because his is MAN'S FICTION.

Smell that testosterone, baby.

Urban fantasy is mostly women's fiction too. (Yes, I know there are significant exceptions, like Jim Butcher, Simon Green, and Charles de Lint. We'll get to that.) There's a lot of crossover between paranormal romance and urban fantasy. I like to say that UF is PR without the HEA (that's Happily Ever After, for those just joining us.) Which touches on the thing I think separates urban fantasy from other genres, the reason why it's hot, and the reason why I think it's a direct heir to Raymond Chandler and Daishell Hammett, those masters of the gritty noir thriller.

Sure, UF is full of chicks in leather pants with big guns or special powers. But so is sci-fi or, say, some of the men's suspense series (Two words: Mack Bolan!) Leather pants and firepower do not an urban fantasy book make, but a lot of industry people have trouble defining that something-extra that makes a true UF title. Like Judge Potter Stewart, we know it when we see it--but what is it?

It's ambiguity, pure and simple.

What truly defines UF, and why the genre has exploded recently, is the moral and ethical ambiguity of its protagonists.

Urban fantasy is pretty much the only genre today exploring not only the ethics of power and consent, but also serious questions of violence and gender relations from a primarily female point of view. There are significant exceptions, to be sure--I mentioned them above; UF series with male protagonists. But the really huge bump in titles has been series and books with female protagonists, examining these questions from a female perspective.

In urban fantasy, the protagonist is dealing as best they can with a world where "good" is relative. Moral and ethical quandaries lurk under the surface, there are very few clear examples of pure unstained good. The lead character's talents and abilities either set her apart in or initiate her into a world where there is very little in the way of certainty. Friends and foes change places, and antihero isn't so much the order of the day as that old noir trope, the "decent person in an indecent world".

Part of what makes this so fascinating to me is the fact that female UF protagonists are almost without exception extraordinarily tough, and that violence is acceptable for them to use. This is a huge revolution in the type of stories our culture tells itself. Violence in our culture is a man's game. Women are supposed to be weaker and more passive--the recipients of violence or protection, instead of active agents dishing it out. In paranormal romance, nonviolent heroines--or heroines who follow gender norms more closely--is more the rule, but the exceptions are popping up like mushrooms after a week of rain in my backyard.

The responses of female protagonists to violence lies at the heart of the moral and ethical ambiguity that makes for good urban fantasy. Our culture is horrified at the idea of the Dark Feminine--the woman who demands for herself the right of violence and doesn't feel bad about it.

Or, if she feels bad, doesn't let it stop her from blowing away her enemy, whether in self-defense or because she is handing out justice. Who, let us not forget, is a woman too.

We have whole genres overwhelmingly dedicated to the male "right" of violence--military hard sci-fi, suspense, Westerns, the Executioner knockoffs and pretty much every damn movie made about a cop or an army man (or group of men, a dirty dozen) going outside the chain of command or the norms of behavior because their violence serves a higher cause of justice or protection for those same norms. Urban fantasy is the first such genre I can think of that adds another layer of tension by switching the gender of the protagonist, making it truly socially groundbreaking.

The simple move of violating our expectations by placing a woman in the position to dish out the hurt introduces a lot more gray into areas normally considered black and white. Questions like When is violence acceptable? or What is justice, and can it be administered personally? become questions with no right answer, questions we must re-examine.

It's not just in books we have this ambiguity. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Kill Bill, and Sympathy For Lady Vengeance all cover the same territory, with varying resolutions (including none) of the prime questions. These type of movies would be unthinkable a very short time ago. (Unless we're willing to press exploitative titillations that never made much money into service and call them groundbreaking as well. But I digress.)

Buffy, Beatrix Kiddo, and Lady Vengeance are all women with peculiar talents only brought out by the (culturally male) training for violence. The tension between their talents and training, their need to dish out justice (Buffy fights demons, Beatrix and Lady Vengeance are out for revenge against foes you can't help but understand the need to kill) and the sometimes-urges to be a "normal" female creates vast wellsprings of ambiguous tension.

And how could I go any further without mentioning the series that blew the UF genre wide open?

That's right. Enter Anita Blake.

Anita Blake started out as a woman who had little trouble murdering the monsters. That was her job. The reader wasn't sure if she would become the things she hunted down and dispatched, if she would kill Jean-Claude or sleep with him, or both, and got a vicarious thrill from experiencing absolute license through her. In later books, the tension drained away as Anita became more gender-normal and sexual relationships rather than noir ambiguity became the primary focus.

But those first five to seven Anita books were pure dynamite. They blew the doors and the lid right off one of the most persistent myths of our time--that women don't get angry. Women are trained from birth by massive social and cultural weight to make nice, get along, smooth things over.

It's what makes us such good and expedient victims of so much violent and domestic crime.

But an angry woman with a gun, a reason to use it, and a narrative framework that says she's justified? That kicks the victim mentality straight in the pants. Chandler and Hammett's noir masterpieces were about men trying to be decent in an indecent urban world, where the decks are stacked against you and the fumes of cigarette smoke and liquor don't quite hide poverty and sleaze. Urban fantasy borrows that smoke, sleaze, decency-in-an-indecent world, and lights its fumes with a match borrowed from chop-saki action films.

The use of magic in UF is also particularly telling. Magic in fiction is the time-honored way of slipping a hand up the skirt of convention and giving her something to smile mysteriously about. It's a way to frame deep questions without getting boring; a way to explore what-ifs. Every urban fantasy novel worth its salt has magic that costs something, whether it's cash, blood, innocence, or just plain physical energy. Magic also allows more gray spaces to be opened up, so the ambiguity can breathe.

I think urban fantasy is a blooming of ambiguity in fiction, and I'm incredibly excited to see where it goes next. I think it's awesome that we as a culture are having these sorts of conversations about gender, power, violence, expectations, victimhood, justice, sexual roles, and a whole kit and caboodle of other issues. The interplay between paranormal romance and UF is particularly fascinating to watch and analyze because of the sheer numbers of female authors who write both.

One thing's for sure, though. This isn't just about chicks in leather.
Although, you know, I never say no to a nice pair of leather pants. Or a well-maintained gun or katana.

Just call me ambiguous.