The Secret to Successful Female Action Hero Films

SFF author Joel Shepherd wrote an interesting guest blog for SF Signal. Here's an extract:

In Hollywood, there's a feeling that movies with leading female action characters don't do very well. This in turn makes it hard for more movies of that ilk to get made. Now let's be fair to Hollywood -- rather than just blast the many film industry folks who believe this stuff by listing all the big movies with leading female action characters that have done good or great, let's acknowledge that there are plenty that have done poorly. It's not that Hollywood is wrong to say female action leads have a mediocre record, it's that they're wrong to attribute that record to a lack of audience interest. The poor record is because most of these movies stink, and audiences, unsurprisingly, don't like bad movies.

Why do these movies stink? It's this...

If Hollywood make a movie about a 'male hero', they will focus upon the word 'hero'. Hollywood tells hero stories extremely well -- the great powers, the great responsibilities, the tortured origin story, the moral and existential conflict. It's all there, and Hollywood can tell these stories as easily as LeBron James can make a layup, and for similar financial reward.

But if Hollywood makes a movie about a 'female hero', they'll focus upon the word 'female'. They'll lose emphasis upon the hero story, and focus on sex and gender instead. Our female hero will be dressed in ridiculous outfits, and will have action scenes dedicated less to showing how kick ass she is, than to how many teenage boys she can give erections while kicking ass


Because audiences, male and female, want a hero story. Sex appeal you can get from the internet, where hot women will do all sorts of things that Hollywood just can't compete with for teenage erections. What Hollywood can do much better than the internet, or better than anyone else in the world, is tell a tale about a great and unique individual who faces insurmountable odds, and conquers personal demons, in pursuit of justice, truth and inner peace. Or something like that. If Hollywood would actually tell that story, with women in lead roles who were allowed to be genuine heroes, audiences would turn up -- they have in the past, on the rare occassion Hollywood (meaning James Cameron) made this kind of movie, and would again.

This is not to say that sex appeal is not important, quite the contrary. Christian Bale's Batman made many millions from female movie goers due to sex appeal, and straight male viewers like to see that their hero's 'got it' too, for street cred purposes. But sex appeal can't be the focus of any dramatic narrative, because it tells no tale worth telling -- which is of course why porn movie plots are so bad. I hear

Follow this link for the full article.

By the way, you can download Joel Shepherd's Sasha for free on Kindle here.

Yeah, yeah, I have it. . .

Okay, so quite a lot of you have been asking me whether or not I received a galley for George R. R. Martin's A Dance With Dragons (Canada, USA, Europe) .

The answer is yes. Trouble is, it's waiting for me at home while I'm traveling around the Balkans. . .

So yes, I do have it. And if not for this latest Eastern European adventure, I would already have read it. Don't know if I would have been allowed to post my review, for I had to accept a non-disclosure agreement in order to get my hands on an early read.

Guess what I'll be reading when I return home this weekend!?!

Provisional speculative fiction Top 5 of 2011

Well, we've almost reached the halfway point of the year, so once again it's time for my provisional speculative fiction Top 5 of 2011! I've also include the runner-ups, so you guys won't bug me with the rest of the short list!

1- Steven Erikson's The Crippled God (Canada, USA, Europe)

2- C. S. Friedman's Legacy of Kings (Canada, USA, Europe)

3- R. Scott Bakker's The White-Luck Warrior (Canada, USA, Europe)

4- James S. A. Corey's Leviathan Wakes (Canada, USA, Europe)

5- Robert McCammon's The Five (Canada, USA, Europe, and Subpress)

6- Joe Abercrombie's The Heroes (Canada, USA, Europe)

7- Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear (Canada, USA, Europe)

8- Alastair Reynolds' Troika (Canada, USA, Europe, and Subpress)

9- Paolo Bacigalupi's The Alchemist (Canada, USA, Europe, and Subpress)

You don't agree!?! You don't know shit!! :P

A bit of humor. . .

"I think I'm missing a few pieces."

Indeed. . . ;-)

The Five

Something about the blurb from this book talked to me as soon as I received the ARC. Add to that the ringing endorsement by Stephen King, and I was hooked! But prior commitments prevented me from giving Robert McCammon's first contemporary novel in nearly twenty years a shot. And yet, the ARC kept mysteriously returning to the top of my pile, demanding that I read it as soon as possible.

When the time came to select books to bring on my latest Eastern European adventure, McCammon's The Five simply wouldn't take no for an answer. So it went into the suitcase, awaiting its slot in the rotation.

Now that I'm done, all I can say is this: If you love rock and roll; if you have ever been in a band, dreaming of one day making it big; if you have ever written a song, or composed music; this is a work that will speak to you on a very profound level. Robert McCammon's The Five is brilliant!

Here's the blurb:

Robert McCammon, author of the popular Matthew Corbett historical thrillers (Speaks the Nightbird, Mister Slaughter), now gives us something new and completely unexpected: The Five, a contemporary novel as vivid, timely, and compelling as anything he has written to date.

The Five tells the story of an eponymous rock band struggling to survive on the margins of the music business. As they move through the American Southwest on what might be their final tour together, the band members come to the attention of a damaged Iraq war veteran, and their lives are changed forever.

The narrative that follows is a riveting account of violence, terror, and pursuit set against a credible, immensely detailed rock and roll backdrop. It is also a moving meditation on loyalty and friendship, on the nature and importance of families—those we are born into and those we create for ourselves—and on the redemptive power of the creative spirit. Written with wit, elegance, and passionate conviction, The Five lays claim to new imaginative territory, and reaffirms McCammon’s position as one of the finest, most unpredictable storytellers of our time

The premise is pretty straightforward. We follow the tribulations of a struggling rock and roll band called The Five. Things are tough, but they have a new video out and they are embarking on a new tour to promote their stuff. When the tour manager and one of the band members announce that they are calling it quits after this series of gigs, no one knows how to deal with the fact that this is The Five's last tour together. And then, the band comes to the attention of a deranged decorated veteran whose life was changed forever while he was fighting in Iraq. What follows is a terrorizing tale of violence that could break The Five before their tour comes to an end in Austin, Texas.

The backdrop is a richly detailed tapestry of the music industry and the life on the road of a small-fry touring rock and roll band. If you are into music, for that alone The Five is a worthwhile read. But the novel is much more than that. Yes, understandably there are speculative fiction elements -- mainly horror -- to give this story its own unique flavor. Yet what truly sets this work apart is that it's a thought-provoking exploration, beyond the rock and roll angle, of themes such as love, friendship, loyalty, creativity, patriotism, family, and much, much more. When all is said and done, The Five is a powerful and rewarding work that leaves an impression which shall remain with the readers long after they have reached the end of the book.

The characterization is by far the most interesting aspect of this novel. Though the author sometimes jumps from one POV to the next without any clear breaking point in certain scenes, all in all everything works out just fine. Seeing events unfold through the eyes of a somewhat dysfunctional group of protagonists makes for a memorable reading experience. Little by little, McCammon reveals portions of the band members' pasts, fleshing them out in a way that adds another dimension to an already compelling story. I really enjoyed how McCammon also plays with our own preconceptions regarding the characters' personalities. Nomad starts off as the kind of rebel without a cause everyone wants to punch in the head. But before long, as you learn more and more about how he grew up to be like this, it becomes well nigh impossible not to root for the guy. When you reach the last page, you can't help but appreciate Nomad, Ariel, Berke, Mike, and Terry. But there are also poignant moments involving George, the Little Genius, the demented Jeremy Pett, and agent Truitt Allen.

The pace can be a bit uneven at times, especially at the beginning of the book. But when the story kicks into high gear and the narrative grabs hold of you, there is not a dull moment till the end. And the emotional last chapter pulled on my heartstrings in a way that made my eyes water.

If you are looking for something different to bring with you on vacation this summer, look no further. Robert McCammon's The Five is for you!

Long live rock and roll!

The final verdict: 8.25/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, and Subpress.

Bulgaria: Shopska salad, I will miss you! (And why do Bulgarian men carry purses???)

I was a bit sad to be leaving Romania behind. Aside of perhaps having rabies, I did have a good time during my Romanian stint. Yet all good things must inevitably come to an end, so I found myself in a train bound for Ruse, Bulgaria.

The funny thing about Bulgaria is that I had absolutely no expectations about it. I had been meaning to travel to Romania since 2004, when I visited Eastern Europe for the very first time. Couldn't fit it in my itinerary, so it got postponed. Tried again last year when I visited the Balkans for the first time, but again I was forced to scrap it from my plans. So when the Tokyo earthquake fucked up my plans to fly to Indonesia earlier this spring, I knew that a return to Eastern Europe was in order. Romania was the first country to make the list, but I had 4 weeks to fill up. At the beginning, I was considering going to Moldova and the Ukraine. But I would have been forced to backtrack because of flight problems. Hence, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Belgrade, Serbia, were added to the mix. I dearly wanted to visit Albania, but trips are like that. There are choices to make and you must live with them. So Albania will have to wait. . .

So when I boarded that train bound for Ruse, I had no idea what Bulgaria would be like. I feared the Cyrillic alphabet, for my encounter with it in Belgrade last summer had left me more than a little bewildered. They say that all you need is an hour and a beer to figure it out. Well, I beg to differ! I've had plenty of beer, yet I'm no closer to deciphering the stupid thing! The good thing about it is that, in most places, at least for major streets and sights, indications are often found written with both alphabets. Pat was a very happy camper when he found out about this!

Vesi, the manager of The English Guest House, picked me up at the train station, insuring that everything would get off to a great start in Bulgaria. Located near Svoboda square, the guesthouse is great and offers very good value. Vesi and her sons are helpful and friendly, and they're always there for you. Soon I was on my way to the bank to exchange money and then it was time to do a little sightseeing.

As I made my way along the pedestrian street Aleksandrovska, two things became obvious right away. First and foremost, Bulgarian women are among the most beautiful in the world. Nearly got a crick in my neck just from staring this way and that! :P Secondly, about 80% of the men carry purses!!!! WTF!?! Purses!!! Don't they know that rule from the male code? If it doesn't fit in your wallet, you don't need it! Funny thing is that a good portion of Bulgarian men are big fellows. Tall as the Dutch, but much more corpulent. And yet, walking around with a purse takes some of the manliness away, I suppose. Didn't find it in my heart to raise the issue, however. It's quite enough that I must visit hospitals to get those rabies shots, I had no desire to lose a few teeth in the process of trying to understand this issue. . . ;-)

Ruse might not be the Bulgarian city which has the more to offer. But if you are traveling South from Romania, Ruse just might be the best Bulgarian primer you can find. Since they don't get that many tourists, the people are much more friendly than they are in Varna. Ruse was also the place where I discovered that Bulgaria doesn't attract many Canadian tourists. The shock and disbelief every time they asked me where I was from was incredibly funny. "Canada!?! Wow, that's very far! But why come here???"

Eager to try Bulgarian food, I headed out to a restaurant called Mehana Chiflika for dinner. That's where I fell in love with shopska salad, the traditional Bulgarian salad. I've been eating this salad once or twice a day (they have it in Macedonia too!) and it's delicious. It's made of tasty tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, onions, parsley, and cheese. My mouth is watering as I'm typing these words! But Bulgarians are a devious bunch, believe you me. Locals will tell you that this is a salad made for drinking. Everywhere, people eating it as they're downing half-liters of beer. You see, the salad prevents the alcohol from dehydrating your body, hence allowing you to drink more and not suffer from a bad hangover. How brilliant is that!?!

My second stop was in Varna, on the much-pimped Black Sea coast. I won't go on and on about this city, but I pretty much hated everything about Varna. Some say that it's supposed to be the Miami Beach of the Balkans. That's bullshit. It's got more to do with New Jersey's nickel-and-dime beaches than anything you'll find in Florida. I wasn't expecting anything like Thailand or Hawaii, but I was expecting more than this, for sure.

I stayed at the Flag Varna hostel. It was all right, but nothing to write home about. I was rooming with two Belgian men who turned out to be the two dumbest fucks I have ever met. I mean, I've stayed at more than 100 hostels in 44 countries. I've had weird and/or stupid roommates before. But these two take the cake. Didn't realize it at first, so I asked one of them if he was in the mood for a drink that first night.

"Would you like to go out for a beer, or something?" I asked one of them, since there was no one else at the hostel.

"Yes, sure," he replied. "But there's supposed to be prostitutes near the cathedral," he was quick to add. "Maybe we could each get one."

I laughed, thinking it was a joke.

He made a face when he realized I wasn't taking him seriously.

After an awkward silence, it dawned upon me that I wasn't exactly rooming with Captain Cool. . .

The only positive things I took back from Varna was a Refan eau de toilette and a taste for Bulgarian gelato that never quite left me!

Took a train to Veliko Tarnovo after two nights in Varna and that place blew me away. The old town is beautiful and the fortress makes for an awesome visit! I stayed at the Veliko Tarnovo Hostel Mostel, one of the best hostels I have ever visited. If ever you are in VT, there is no other place where you should book a bed. The hostel was built in an old Turkish house, giving the place a lot of character. Although it's supposed to be almost impossible to get a table on the outside terrace, I did manage to score one two days in a row at Shtaslivetsa, what is likely the best restaurant in Veliko Tarnovo. I can tell you that this is where they make the best shopska salad in the country!

If you want to visit the nativity church in Arbanasi, hiking up the trail through the hills might not be a good idea at the moment. At least not until they sort of clear the way. To my dismay, the trail sort of disappeared 300m from the summit. Which means that I had no choice but to go through brambles to reach the top, emerging from the vegetation leaking blood from several cuts on my legs. I stained my beloved O'neill shorts and tore my Carey Price Habs shirt in the process. Not a good way to end an afternoon, let me tell you!

After beautiful Veliko Tarnovo, Plovdiv was kind of lackluster. Sadly, there was no way the city could measure up. The old town and the Roman theater are kind of nice, sure. But a single day is more than enough to see it all. The Plovdiv Hostel Mostel is kind of a work in progress as we speak, so it's nowhere near as nice and comfortable as the ones in Veliko Tarnovo and Sofia.

Basically everywhere I went in Bulgaria, there were signs or people in hostels warning travelers not to go to Sofia. It is the ugliest and most polluted city in Bulgaria and no one should waste a second of their lives there, or so they say. Again, I beg to differ. True, Sofia may not pack a powerful punch the way Prague, Paris, or Berlin do, but it is nevertheless a nice place to visit. As far as its ugliness and pollution are concerned, I found it more beautiful and less polluted than Bucharest, so that's that. Okay, so there is not enough here to capture your attention for a week, but two or three nights will allow you to make the most of your experience there. It will also give you the opportunity to visit the gorgeous Rila Monastery.

Kudos to the guys and girls running the Sofia Hostel Mostel! Brilliant bunch, they should give seminars to hostel staffs around the globe! So nice and friendly and helpful, always there to answer all your questions and make suggestions. They helped me locate the right hospital where I could get my fourth rabies injection. The Canadian embassy had given me a long list of hospitals and clinics, but it turned out that only a single hospital in Sofia offered the treatment I needed. Thanks to them, I got there in no time and got through everything in less than 5 minutes! And it was free, to boot!

My Couchsurfing experiences sort of went down the crapper after a great start in Bucharest. I was supposed to meet locals for drinks in Brasov, Sibiu, Varna, Veliko Tarnovo, and Plovdiv, but somehow we never managed to make our respective schedules work. For, though I am on vacation, they have life and reality to deal with. I was hoping that things would take a turn for the better in Sofia. Didn't quite work out that first night, as I was supposed to meet a Bulgarian fan of the Hotlist named Joro. Emailed him again the second day, to see if we could make it happen. Didn't hear back from him before going out to dinner, but the lovely Maya did email me, saying that tonight was her only free night and I should meet her in front of the Sheraton hotel at 8:30pm if I wanted to have a few drinks. It looked that my run of bad luck with Couchsurfing was about to come to an end!

Maya was beautiful, funny, and great company. An architect, a free spirit, and almost as well-traveled as I am, we had a great time at Toba & Co! The beer and mohitos helped, of course, but it was cool to get the lowdown on Sofia and Bulgaria from someone who had seen the world and could appreciate them on another level.

After an excursion to the Rila Monastery, I met up with another lovely Bulgarian girl named Aniela and her friend Desi. Yes, two Couchsurfing hook-ups in a row! Probably won't happen again. So Aniela was planning on taking me to a super 3D show in the City Garden, in front of the National Theater. Got some beer and set out to wait. Aniela told me that there would also be a meeting of Sofia's Couchsurfers, so we got together with them before the show began. To my surprise, though our attempts to meet had gone down the crapper twice, I stumbled upon Joro among that CS group! I guess fate decided that we would meet, after all! So it was cool hanging out with the girls and meeting all those people, but we did end up waiting about three hours for that 3D show to finally begin. After several delays (another fifteen minutes, the announcer claimed), the show did begin. Only two end abruptly about two minutes later when the computer fucked up, leaving us with the frozen image of a giant swimming turtle upon the façade of the National Theater. Bummer, as I would have liked to see the whole thing...

Anyway, Bulgaria turned out to be loads of fun for me. I had no expectations, yes, but the country somehow managed to "wow" on basically every level. Beautiful women everywhere, great food, good and affordable beer, nice sights and attractions; Bulgaria has a whole lot to offer. Give it a shot and you won't be disappointed!

There is an inescapable vibe emanating from the younger generation. I alluded to that in my posts about the Baltic states, Poland, and the rest of the Balkans last year. After all the shit their countries have gone through, you can perceive that they have drive, that they want to make a better world for themselves. Give these people the means, and they could shake the world. . . Unfortunately, it doesn't look as though their governments plan to do just that. . . But when you consider that nearly 60% of France's youth dreams of becoming functionaries (Are you fucking kidding me), you just know why things have been slowly going down the shitter there over the last couple of years. There is a lot of pessimism in North America. People are disillusioned, they no longer believe in anything, and yet they have it better than in most countries around the world. And then, you visit countries such as Latvia, Poland, Romania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Bulgaria, countries that have been through wars, that are riddled with corruption, that have gone through crisis after crisis, that don't necessarily offer their younger generation the best of prospects. And still, these people are aware that the worst appears to be behind them, that they have bigger and better things they can aspire to, that the sky's the limit. And if they can only catch a break, they would change their world for the better.

God knows Canada could use a few people like that. So would the USA, France, the UK, etc. Heck the entire Western World could learn a lesson from these people. . .

It's kind of rewarding and uplifting to encounter people with such a mindset when you travel around. Trips are meant to be fun, but a vibe like that certainly adds another dimension to the whole experience. Trips often make you appreciate home in various ways, making you realize how much better we have it compared to so many other people. But there are always two sides to any coin. And when you least expect it, trips can make you realize that finacially we might be in better positions than most, but we could sure use some of the positive energy which seems to permeate most emerging countries. . .

Okay, so I ramble. . . Two words for you: Visit Bulgaria!!! =)

A Game of Thrones Parody

And here's episode 7!

Musical Interlude

Cool tune and nice spoof of 28 Days Later!

Peter F. Hamilton's "If at First"

Just read that you could get Peter F. Hamilton's short story "If at First" for free in eBook format. Maybe there's a glitch on Amazon, for right now you need to pay for it. But you might want to keep an eye out for it, as it is supposed to be free. Probably for a limited time only. . .

Here's the blurb:

Peter F. Hamilton has proven himself a modern master of epic space opera, carrying the tradition of far-future empire building begun by Heinlein and Asimov into the new millennium. But Hamilton is also a master of the short story, and when he tackles one of science fiction's most enduring themes -- time travel -- the result is as provocative as it is entertaining.

It starts in 2007 with a break-in. The victim: Marcus Orthew, the financial and technological genius behind Orthanics, the computer company whose radical products have delivered a one-two punch to the industry, all but knocking PCs and Macs out of the ring. The perpetrator: a man obsessed with Orthew. Just another simple case of celebrity stalking--or so everyone assumes at first, including Metropolitan Police Chief Detective David Lanson. But when Lanson interviews the suspect, he makes a startling claim: Orthew is from the future. Or, rather, a future--a parallel timeline. Thus begins the ride of a lifetime for Lanson, as his pursuit of the facts tumbles him headlong down a rabbit hole--and the hunter finds himself hunted

For more info about this title, follow this link. . .

What Cultures Are Neglected in Science Fiction and Fantasy?

The latest SF Signal Mindmeld asked the following question: What Cultures Are Neglected in Science Fiction and Fantasy?

A number of SFF authors were asked to answer the question, and their responses make for interesting reading. I particularly liked Guy Gavriel Kay's reply:

I'm never contrarian (!) but it does feel a bit wrong to imagine writers cynically prowling in search of underexploited real estate in fantasy. (Maori! Toltec!). The key, surely, is to work from within, let research be guided by what engages, animates; for authors to be steered not by claim-staking but by passion. I am happier reading, say, another Renaissance-inspired work if it is genuinely inspired, rather follow a writer who has done routine due diligence on some apparently under-used time and place purely because there was no one else exploiting it. If a writer's intense engagement steers them to new settings, that's wonderful - for all of us. But intense engagement + talent will give us something wonderful, even in areas covered before.

Follow this link for the full article.

Win an Advance Reading Copy of Terry Brooks' THE MEASURE OF THE MAGIC

I'm giving away my ARC of Terry Brooks' The Measure of Magic to one lucky winner! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

After more than three decades of captivating epic fantasy readers, the storytelling magic of New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks’s Shannara saga continues to enthrall. Now the fascinating chronicle of Shannara’s prehistory reaches a thrilling new peak in the sequel to Bearers of the Black Staff.

For five hundred years, the survivors of the Great Wars lived peacefully in a valley sanctuary shielded by powerful magic from the blighted and dangerous outside world. But the enchanted barriers have crumbled, the borders have been breached by predators, and the threat of annihilation looms large once more. Sider Ament, bearer of the last black staff and its profound power, devoted his life to protecting the valley and its inhabitants—and, in his final moments, gave stewardship of the black staff to the young tracker Panterra Qu. Now the newly anointed Knight of the Word must take up the battle against evil wherever it threatens: from without, where an army of bloodthirsty trolls is massing for invasion; and from within, where the Elf king of Arborlon has been murdered, his daughter, Princess Phryne Amarantyne, stands accused, and a heinous conspiracy is poised to subjugate the kingdom. But even these will pale beside the most harrowing menace Panterra is destined to confront—a nameless, merciless figure who wanders the devastated land on a relentless mission: to claim the last black staff . . . and the life of he who wields it

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "MEASURE." 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!

Game of Thrones

Just watched the tenth and final episode of HBO's Game of Thrones. And though I had my doubts before the first episode aired (you know what I think of most SFF movies and TV shows), this adaptation blew me away!

So yes, the book was better. What else is new??? Has there ever been a movie better than the novel?

Overall, this was a quality production through and through. The casting was excellent, the soundtrack awesome. Okay, some of the special effects may not have been Star Wars worthy. But the scripts were solid, the actors did a terrific job (give me a "hell yeah" for Littlefinger, Tyrion, Bronn, King Robert, Catelyn, and many more), and regardless of what little nitpicking there is, this TV series truly captured the essence of GRRM's ASOIAF.

I'm buying ther boxset the day it comes out.

Roll on spring 2012!!! =)


Alastair Reynolds has the uncanny ability to write works of epic proportions that resound with depth in short form. I mean, when you have 600+ pages to work with, you can be as epic as you want to be. Yet somehow, Reynolds can, seemingly effortlessly, imbue the same richness of details and depth in a novella, something that makes me shake my head in wonder every time I read some of his short fiction.

As you know, I absolutely loved Chasm City. Prior commitments and my going away overseas for a month precluded me from giving any of Reynolds' novel-length works a shot. But joy of joys, the following day Troika showed up in my mailbox!

Here's the blurb:

In novels such as Chasm City and Revelation Space, Alastair Reynolds established himself as an indisputable master of the far-flung intergalactic epic. Reynolds brings that same deceptively effortless mastery to the shorter fictional forms, a fact that Troika, his elegant, compulsively readable new novella, amply demonstrates.

Troika tells the story of men and women confronting an enigma known as the Matryoshka, a vast alien construct whose periodic appearances have generated terror, wonder, and endless debate. During its third “apparition” in a remote corner of the galaxy, a trio of Russian cosmonauts approach this enigma and attempt to penetrate its mysteries. What they discover—and what they endure in the process—forms the centerpiece of an enthralling, constantly surprising narrative. Troika is at once a wholly original account of First Contact and a meditation on time, history, and the essentially fluid nature of identity itself. Suspenseful, erudite, and gracefully written, it is a significant accomplishment in its own right and a welcome addition to a remarkable body of work

As a matter of course, I was amazed by the depth of the worldbuilding, especially given the format of the story. Vast in scope, as are all his novels and previous short fiction works, Troika packs a powerful punch. Slowly, insidiously, the story grabs hold of you and won't let go. So much so that I finished reading this novella in a single sitting.

First Contact stories are a dime a dozen and have been done ad nauseam. Yet by writing this one from the Soviets' point of view, it gives Troika a different flavor altogether. Occurring in a not-so-distant future, it's at once immediate and science fiction.

Though the tale is told from Dimitri Ivanov's point of view, both in the past as the Russian cosmonaut remembers his encounter with the enigmatic alien construct known as the Matryoshka, and in the present as he lives through the aftermath of that encounter, the spaceship becomes a character in its own right, to a certain extent. In a way, it's the revelation of the mysteries of the Matryoshka's secrets that make the entire novella.

But the characterization is extremely well-done. Though the size of a novella doesn't give the author much room to manoeuver, Reynolds did an amazing job with this small cast of protagonists. Again, how he managed to achieve such character development in so few pages, I'll never know. But he did, ending this one in poignant fashion.

Troika is paced close to perfection, with never a dull moments found within. My only complaint is that, once more, this is a story I feel could have worked even better as a novel. Mr. Reynolds, please keep these works of short fiction coming!

The final verdict: 8/10

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

Quote of the Day

People lived and people died, and the lives of people were precious; their time to create and exist, live and love, was also precious. The song said, keep trying, keep living in the fullness of life, keep growing and creating, because no one here gets out alive. It was not a cry of fear; it was a declaration. You are here today, said the song. One tomorrow you will not be.

The song asked: Between those days, what will you do? Who will you become?

- ROBERT McCAMMON, The Five (Canada, USA, Europe, and Subpress)

Just finished this book on the bus to Plovdiv, Bulgaria, today.

Awesome! =)

Excerpt from Jeff Somers' THE FINAL EVOLUTION

Thanks to Jeff Somers, here's an exclusive extract from his latest, The Final Evolution. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.


If they didn't have guns, I'd be insulted

The corridors were tight and filled with the steady, nerve-shredding noise of the alarm. I led the way, followed by Adora, then Remy facing our rear and making sure no one got behind us. We owned the straightaways; so far the crew didn't have a fucking boomer among them, and I was shocked and appalled that they might have scrupled to lie about being armed.

There were multiple staircases leading to and from each deck, and at each one we had to stop cold and make sure the way was clear before I hedgehogged up, boosted by Adora so I could keep the Roon in action. The first three decks went by fast, empty and grimy, little-used. I didn't know how much crew a tanker like this normally required, but it looked to me like they were running light, with the lower decks largely abandoned. As I was pushing my head up over the top step from the third deck to the fourth, I contemplated the fucking ridiculous bad luck that we'd been noticed in the first place.

As I looked up over the lip of the stairs on the fourth deck someone tried to put a boot on me and I had to let go of the railing and slide downward, colliding with

we're going to try a hot shot

Adora and sprawling to the third deck floor. Behind me I heard three of Remy's deafening shots, loud enough to hear even over the endless whine of the alarm.

“What the fuck are you shooting at?!”

“We got a crowd,” he hollered back. “Just keeping 'em back!”

“Watch your bullets!” I growled, pulling myself up and ducking up the stairs to check the way. “We can't shoot every cocksucker on this boat!”

so try to relax; the effect is not going to be

To make myself look ridiculous, I underscored this advice by putting two shells into the air straight up the stairway, making one burly-looking man with a bald head and a heavy-looking striped shirt screech and throw himself backwards from the stairwell.

“Coming up!” I bellowed. “Back the fuck up!”

I grinned. Reminding myself that just because we hadn't seen a gun yet didn't mean there wasn't a gun somewhere on the ship, heading our way, I had to admit I was enjoying myself. Two weeks sleeping in the dark, breathing Remy's farts and having headaches—just being able to move was pleasant, which is why we had to


Creeping up the stairs, I took a breath and popped my head up again, then ducked down. Below and behind, Remy peeled off another two shots, and I got the impression we were in a rush to keep moving. I took a step up and sighted down the fourth deck—about four, five crew carrying heavy wrenches and pipe fittings in their hands, ten, twelve feet away. I spun rapidly and found three more creeping up the other way.

I squeezed the trigger and put one shell into the floor right in front of the trio, then spun again, putting my gun on the first group.

“Kid! Get up here and take my flank!”

I felt Adora pushing up behind me. The five in front of me were four men and one woman. One of the men, a short man with a tan, deeply-wrinkled face and a yellowed beard like cake frosting on his face took a step forward, holding his spanner out in front of him like a shield.

restrain you. You're experiencing a dissociative

“What in fuck is wrong wit' ya, you fuckin' blödes arschloch?” He shouted, his eyes wide in outrage. By his accent I marked him as Captain Kaufman. “We ain't tryin' to kill ya!”

I put a shell at his feet too, because I could—I felt so sharp and light, I thought I might be able to put a bullet between his eyes without even looking, just based on my spatial memory.

“That's good news,” I shouted. The alarm, I had to admit, was getting under my skin like a termite and chewing on my nerves. “Because if this is you trying to kill me, it's a fail, and when people fail to kill me it gets unpleasant.” I gestured a tight arc with the Roon. “We just want off this fucking boat. You have my apologies for stowing away.”

He squinted at me, chewing his lip, but he didn't move. Remy fired again, and someone behind me started screaming like a cat in a sack.

Mutterficker!” Kaufman yowled, eyes going wide. “We canna let you go!” His voice had taken on a pitiable quality I didn't like. “We fuckin' sold ya, and took the yen already.”

I grinned again, a thrill going through me. I'd been sold like cargo so many times, it was familiar territory, but this time, for once, I still had my gun and a field of vision. I suspected this transaction was going to

break due to the psionic's pressure, causing you to relive immediate experiences, and we have to introduce a

turn out differently than I was used to. For a moment, I imagined the Cosmos had tried to put me back on the Rail, and I'd kicked a stone under the wheels and bucked myself off. It was an exhilarating thought. I grabbed onto it and decided to see how far the ride would get me.

“You sold me,” I said slowly, stepping forward and keeping the gun directly on Kaufman's face. “You sold me.”

He put his hands up and took an involuntary step backwards, colliding with his crew and stopping short. “We—we put the name out there, an' hell, we got an offer in two hours. A decent offer.” His face reddened and he found his balls again. “What the fuck were we supposed to do? You were stowaways! You don't have any fucking rights!”

I nodded. “Back up.”

Kaufman pushed himself back up straight and cocked his head. “You can't shoot all of us, Mr. Cates.”

I raised an eyebrow, still grinning. “I can't? You sure?” His crew, standing behind him, weren't convinced, I could see that. “Back up.”

He swallowed, and for a second I thought Captain Kaufman was going to try and be a hero, but his crew started to fall back and that settled him. He didn't turn his back on me, though; he started walking backwards, hands still up to show me he wasn't going to try anything. I trusted Remy to guard my rear and we started walking. Now that he was doing what I wanted, I was inclined to feel friendly towards Kaufman.

“All we want is


off this ship,” I offered.

Kaufman's anxiety seemed to bloat inside him, pushing out the leathery skin of his face. He almost looked back over his shoulder, but caught himself, and a sudden idea

in order to

formed in my head. “They're here—right? Your buyers. Taking possession?”

We'd reached the next set of narrow, steep metal stairs leading up to the next deck. A bilge of dirty water stood an inch deep on the floor here, and I figured that meant we were near the main deck.

After a moment's hesitation as the crew behind him stopped moving, confused, at the bottom of the stairs, he nodded. “Ya. They came just before the alarm. We assured them it was just a malfunction.”

I nodded, gesturing up the stairs with the gun. The stairs were going to be tricky, because if anyone was inclined to try for a grab of the gun that would be the ideal spot—my field of vision truncated, a third dimension I couldn't easily police introduced. If there was any talent in there, this would be where I'd find out. I didn't have much choice, though; it was up the stairs or


stay in the floating hell forever.

The buyers were another problem altogether—the chances that people who would pay money to buy me did have guns were about 100%. If they didn't have guns, I'd be insulted.

the connection

The crew began climbing the stairs, one by one. When the captain, a man who was shrinking right before my eyes, stood nervously at the base of the stairs, watching me in an agony of indecision and horror at the twist his life had just taken, I stepped back and gestured Adora ahead of me.

“Backwards,” I said. “Be my eyes.”

She scowled and muttered a string of Spanish. Then she waved at the gun. “Are you pointing it at me, as well?”

“That depends,” I said, “on whether you're doing what I tell you.” I smiled. “Just

prepare yourself

tell me if anyone's trying to fuck with me as I come up.”

She nodded. “I cannot wait to say goodbye to you, Mr. Avery Cates,” she said, smiling a little. She was filthy, caked in a dark sort of mud that glazed her hair and stained every visible inch of her. “You are the worst thing to happen to me in many years, and that is saying something, senor.” She fell into place in front of the captain as they backed up the stairs. When she had cleared the deck she looked around and then shouted down to me.

“They're all still backing away down the corridor. Oh, thank you, the fucking sun.”

I chanced a glance behind me to make sure Remy had everything under control, and headed up the stairs quickly, ascending into bright, liquid sunshine streaming in through the huge plate windows that lined the corridor of the main interior deck. The ocean, gray and listless, stretched away from us on all sides, and for a moment, I was dazzled just like Adora. Fresh air and sunlight had never looked so good. My HUD even snapped into clarity for the occasion, showing me mostly green status bars with a few yellowed ones here and there—but I never knew how much I could

if you can

trust the HUD anymore, with my implants rotting away in my head, gifting me with audio hallucinations and sudden, random headaches like a sweating drum of toxic waste buried in my brain. I stepped aside to let Remy come up and stand next to me, then gestured with the gun again.

“You assholes down there,” I shouted. “Come up and join everyone else. Let's have you all in one place.” I didn't know if there were other crew creeping about the ship, but I could see the fucking water. We were getting off the Daniel Krokos if I had to shoot everyone


in my way.

I took a handful of Kaufman's shirt and shoved him. “Let's go. Where are your clients?”

I wasn't sure he'd tell the truth, but it didn't make any sense to not ask. He backed away with his hands up as I advanced on him, his eyes everywhere as he licked his lips nervously—I was starting to think Captain Kaufman had never been hijacked at gunpoint in his life, which seemed fucking impossible in the new world, without police, without government, with men like me walking around free.


“My quarters,” he said, blinking rapidly. “Where they could be comfortable while we fetched you.”

I thought about it for three steps, and decided I believed him. A sign over the pair of swinging doors was in English, with arrows pointing up for GALLEY and BRIDGE. I didn't want to go either place, but I wanted to get out into the open air as quickly as possible.

“Can you swim?” I shouted over my shoulder.

“Yes,” Adora said immediately.

“Fuckin' hell, no I canna swim!” Remy snarled. I blinked. Remy could swim. I'd seen him swim. He swam like a fucking fish. Before I could think on that any further, Kaufman crashed through the swinging doors and I followed him out into the warm, wet air. For a moment all I was aware of was the warm sun on my skin and the distant sound of birds. Then I was aware of the ten or twelve armed men and women waiting for us on the deck. A shaft of pain stabbed up from my neck into my head, making me wince as I struggled to figure out who to put the gun on first. A thin, medium-sized man wearing glasses stepped forward


Go the f**k to sleep


A bit of humor. . .


Game of Thrones is a lot of things: a fantasy epic, a sprawling drama, a tangled web of family intrigue and magical elements. And now, it's also a buddy comedy! Fan favorites Tyrion and Bronn — the rich, smarmy "Imp" and the weary but hilarious mercenary — give the otherwise bleak and bloody series its few delightful moments of levity. Sunday might be the Thrones season finale, but these two are just getting warmed up.

Musical Interlude

Sex sells in Bulgaria, folks!

You should see the ads they have for Lipton's Ice Tea around here!

Meet sexy Andrea. She probably has a few gigs coming up, for she was on posters everywhere in Ruse.

She looks like a friendly gal... :P


Great Jon Sullivan's cover art for the forthcoming Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon by Mark Hodder!

Quote of the Day

I'm just saying, the reason blacks rule music these days is because their songs are about fun and sex. The guys sing about getting bling and finding fresh pussy, and the girls sing about getting bling and cutting the nuts off the guys who screwed them over, huh? White musicians are singing about angst and the cruel world and how nothing's any damned good. What's the fun in that? Who's going to dance to that beat, huh?

- ROBERT McCAMMON, The Five (Canada, USA, Europe, and Subpress)

Win a copy of Mark Charan Newton's THE BOOK OF TRANSFORMATIONS

I have five copies of Mark Charan Newton's latest, The Book of Transformations, for you to win, courtesy of the folks at Pan Macmillan! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

A new and corrupt Emperor seeks to rebuild the ancient structures of Villjamur to give the people of the city hope in the face of great upheaval and an oppressing ice age. But when a stranger called Shalev arrives, empowering a militant underground movement, crime and terror becomes rampant.

The Inquisition is always one step behind, and military resources are spread thinly across the Empire. So Emperor Urtica calls upon cultists to help construct a group to eliminate those involved with the uprising, and calm the populace – the Villjamur Knights. But there’s more to Knights than just phenomenal skills and abilities – each have a secret that, if exposed, could destroy everything they represent.

Investigator Fulcrom of the Villjamur Inquisition is given the unenviable task of managing the Knights, but his own skills are tested when a mysterious priest, who has travelled from beyond the fringes of the Empire, seeks his help. The priest’s existence threatens the church, and his quest promises to unravel the fabric of the world. And in a distant corner of the Empire, the enigmatic cultist Dartun Súr steps back into this world, having witnessed horrors beyond his imagination. Broken, altered, he and the remnants of his order are heading back to Villjamur.

And all eyes turn to the Sanctuary City, for Villjamur’s ancient legends are about to be shattered

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam) with the header "TRANSFORMATIONS." 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!