Win a set of Wild Cards novels

Thanks to the folks at Tor Books, I have five sets of the first two volumes of the latest Wild Cards triad edited by George R. R. Martin, Inside Straight (Canada, USA, Europe) and Busted Flush (Canada, USA, Europe), for you to win!

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

NFL SHOWDOWN: GRRM vs Pat (Week 12)

Oakland Raiders: 7
Dallas Cowboys: 24

New York Giants: 6
Denver Broncos: 26

The Cowboys are now 8-3, two games ahead of the G-Men. But Dallas is playing some tough teams down the stretch, so victory is far from assured. . .

Guest Blogger: Vincent Chong + Art print sale!

Now more than ever, it seems, cover art remains one of the most talked about topics among the SFF online community. So much so that I invited the artist Vincent Chong to elaborate on the subject and help shine some light on some misconceptions along the way.


Guest blog by Vincent Chong

As a book cover illustrator, one of the things I get asked about is the process of creating a cover, from being commissioned to producing the finished artwork, so that’s what I’d like to talk about here and take you through this journey from start to finish. This of course is based on my own experiences and other artists may work differently and have another approach.

The first step after being commissioned is to come up with a concept for the cover. Sometimes the client already has a specific idea of the image they’re after or the scene they want illustrating, and will send details of this to me in a brief. Using this information I’ll come up with rough sketches visualizing the idea. If the client does not have any specific ideas they will send me the manuscript or some passages to read so I can propose some concepts myself. Although more time-consuming, I do quite like being able to read the manuscripts as it gives me a better feel for the story and what approach would be best when illustrating it and the type of atmosphere I should convey. Sometimes I may even be able to talk to the author to see if they have any suggestions, or if they can provide me with any extra details that may be useful. When reading through the manuscript I’ll highlight and make notes on anything that might inspire a suitable image for the cover. I’ll then brainstorm, do any research I need and come up with different approaches for the cover that I’ll sketch out. The roughs are then sent to the client for feedback.

Depending on the feedback, I may have to come up with other revised sketches until everyone’s happy with the composition. At this stage I usually like to keep my sketches loose, done in B&W, in pen or pencil. It’s mainly for working out the composition and getting the concept across. I don’t tend to do colour roughs but will start to build an idea in my mind of the colour palette that would work for the image and make notes of this.

In my experience, the bigger publishers usually have a more specific idea of what they want before they approach me whereas independent publishers give me more creative freedom to bring my own ideas to the table. Also, when working with a major publisher, there can be more people involved in the process; the designer, art director, editor, publisher, author and may be even the marketing department can all have a say. So during the rough stages there can be more back-and-forth and revisions to be made. By the time roughs are approved and I can proceed onto the final artwork I’ll have a clear idea of the image I’m aiming for, and just use the sketch as reference.

Although my finished artwork is put together digitally in Photoshop I use a lot of mixed-media and different techniques. So before I start putting together the final piece of art I’ll gather together all the materials I need, which depending on what the image requires, may include creating painted textures, drawings, photo-shoots with models and scanning in objects and materials. Once I’ve imported all these various elements into the computer I’ll start manipulating and combining them to create the artwork. The techniques and processes that go into this would take up an entire different article on its own.

When I’ve finished the artwork to a point that I’m happy with, I’ll send it to the client for approval. If everyone involved approves the artwork, it can be signed-off and the project is complete. Other times, the client may request some small tweaks such as colour changes or adding/taking away an element etc.

Below I’ll use my cover artwork for Nekropolis by Tim Waggoner, which was commissioned by Angry Robot, to illustrate this process.

The publisher wanted the cover to show the main character of the zombie private eye standing in front of a backdrop of the nightmarish city that he lives in. I was given descriptions of the character and setting and also suggestions of various poses he might be in (tipping his hat, smoking a cigarette, leaning on a lamppost made of bone) along with the colour scheme and what atmosphere it should invoke - the style they were looking for was something along the lines of the Sin City posters.

First of all I researched and gathered together any reference material that might be useful or could be used as inspiration and then I did a few different quick sketches to try out various poses.

The feedback from these initial roughs was that they liked certain elements from each sketch. They wanted him tipping his hat and leaning against a bone lamppost but also wanted to have quite a close up shot on him. So taking all these suggestions I produced a revised rough which they were happy with. I was then able to proceed onto the final art.

Below is the initial version of the final artwork that I created.

They were happy with the way it looked but thought that the character was looking a bit younger than he’s meant to be in the story so they asked me to make him look more gaunt. So this was the only revision I had to make on the final artwork.

As every client has different requirements and each project varies, what is entailed and the time taken to complete a cover illustration from start to finish can differ from project to project, but this gives a broad outline of the general process behind creating a book cover illustration.

Huge art print promotion:

Throughout December 2009, any order placed on Chong's website ( for an art print will receive a 20% discount.


Oh my God, this one looks like it's going to be the shit!!!=)

'Tis the Season Giveaway: Transworld

This is our third Holiday mega-giveaway, this time from the folks at Transworld. Their prize pack includes:

- Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Gardens of the Moon special anniversary edition by Steven Erikson (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Raven Blood Eye by Giles Kristian
- Fallen by Lauren Kate
- Twelve by Jasper Kent (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Dragonheart by Todd McCaffrey
- The Third God by Ricardo Pinto (Canada, USA, Europe)
- The Other Lands by David Anthony Durham (Canada, USA, Europe)
- The Keeper by Natasha Mostert
- Return of the Crimson Guard by Ian Cameron Esslemont (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Bryant & May on the Loose by Christopher Fowler
- Divine Misdemeanors by Laurell K. Hamilton

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

Exclusive excerpt from L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s ARMS-COMMANDER

The latest volume in the bestselling Recluce saga by L. E. Modesitt, jr., Arms-Commander, will soon be released, and the author was kind enough to provide this extract for your reading pleasure. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

Arms-Commander takes place ten years after the end of The Chaos Balance and tells the story of the legendary Saryn. The keep of Westwind, in the cold mountainous heights called the Roof of the World, is facing attack by the adjoining land of Gallos. Arthanos, son and heir to the ailing Prefect of Gallos, wishes to destroy Westwind because the idea of a land where women rule is total anathema to him.

Saryn, Arms-Commander of Westwind, is dispatched to a neighboring land, Lornth, to seek support against the Gallosians. In the background, the trading council of Suthya is secretly and informally allied with Gallos against Westwind and begins to bribe lord-holders in Lornth to foment rebellion and civil war. They hope to create such turmoil in Lornth that the weakened land will fall to Suthya. But Zeldyan, regent of Lornth, has problems in her family. To secure Zeldyan’s aid, Saryn must pledge her personal support—and any Westwind guard forces she can raise—to the defense of Zeldyan and her son. The fate of four lands, including Westwind, rests on Saryn’s actions.


The sun was approaching the western horizon, seemingly barely a hand above the highest peaks, turning the glistening ice needle that was Freyja into shimmering golden white, when Suhartyn, flanked by four armsmen, walked onto the arms field. Ryba and Saryn stood waiting with ten guards from Llyselle’s second squad. Behind the envoy and his guards followed four other better-dressed men, also with guards. All wore heavy winter leather jackets, unlike the riding jackets of the Westwind contingent. Two of the four Suthyans following the envoy wore uniforms, and two wore more ornate riding garments.

“We are here at your pleasure, Marshal.” Standing before Ryba, Suhartyn was slightly shorter, and considerable more rotund. His ginger beard was well-trimmed and shot with gray, and his wary eyes were guarded by dark pouches beneath. His voice was high, not quite unpleasant. “What are we about to behold?”

Saryn felt Suhartyn’s company would prove wearying over time.

The marshal gestured to the south end of the arms practice field, a good half kay from Tower Black and the stone road up to the stables. Ten woven brush and wood targets, each roughly the size and shape of a mounted armsman, stood solidly anchored in the stony ground. The section of each target that resembled a rider had a tunic and a breastplate and a battered helmet. “In a few moments, you will see. We should walk a bit closer.”

Suhartyn nodded, then inclined his head northward. “I see that you are building a larger hold uphill from the black tower.”

“After a time, any successful community finds it must grow,” replied Ryba, moving toward the targets. “Growth on the Roof of the World requires solid stone and careful planning.”

“I can see that you have, what, several full companies of your guards?”

“We do, and we will have even more before long. Guards are not our only defense, as you may recall. Our abilities do not lie in just the numbers and skills of the guards, as Lord Sillek and his sire discovered.”

“Ah, yes. How could anyone forget that? Still… that was some time ago.”

“You should watch the demonstration, Envoy Suhartyn. It might answer some of your questions. If not, afterwards, I will be more than pleased to do so.” Ryba’s voice was calm and cool, like a polished shortsword.

Saryn had stepped back, matching steps with the four men behind Suhartyn, the closer two of whom wore officers’ cold weather jackets of a dark green wool.

One inclined his head. “You’re the arms-commander?”

“I am. Saryn. And you?”

“Lygyrt, Captain of Horse. This is Undercaptain Whulyn.”

Lygyrt was young, barely twenty local years, while the grizzled Whulyn looked to be a good ten years older than Saryn… and probably wasn’t. Saryn marked him as the equivalent of a noncom who’d come up through the ranks, even more rare in Candar than in the UFA.

“Then you both should find the demonstrations of interest.”

“I’m certain we will,” Lygyrt replied.

Whulyn nodded brusquely.

Ryba stopped in the middle of the field. Almost as she did, the twenty riders of Hryessa’s first squad, two abreast, started down the stone road at a quick trot. Lygyrt and Whulyn immediately began to watch the guards. The other two Suthyans, more richly dressed in golden brown leather coats with black brocade-trimmed sleeve cuffs, did not survey the riders, but kept their eyes on Ryba and Suhartyn.

Saryn glanced to Catya, the nearest guard, and then inclined her head toward the two civilians, both with short trimmed beards, doubtless the equivalent of Suthyan gentry – or dressed to convey that impression. Catya nodded and dropped back slightly, easing gradually westward so that she took position behind the two. Another guard – Trecya – joined her.

Whulyn’s eyes flickered toward the two guards as they shifted position, then back to Saryn, before returning to scrutinize the mounted squad as the riders turned onto the packed gravel on the west end of the arms field.

Just before the southwest end of the field, the column turned, and the riders urged their mounts into a canter, then a gallop, with the guards on the north side holding their mounts back just enough that each file was staggered, but with each rider maintaining the same interval between mounts.

Each target received two flung blades, released from ten yards away. Every one struck the torso area of the designated target.

“Rather impressive,” offered Suhartyn, “if not terribly practical in large battles.”

“They’re not finished,” said Ryba.

At the end of the field, the squad turned right and then headed back westward along the south end. They continued due west up the long slope that served as the archery range.

“Bows?” asked Whulyn, looking at Saryn.

She nodded. “At two hundred yards.”

Near the top of the slope, short of the cliffs that formed a natural backdrop, the squad turned and reformed. Barely had they done so than their bows were out. Each guard loosed three shafts.

In instants, every single target had sprouted shafts.

“You will notice that every shaft penetrated a vital area,” Ryba said conversationally.

“Picked squads can do that,” noted Suhartyn.

“Have you ever seen one that could do what that squad did?” Ryba looked hard at the Suthyan.

“I’m certain it is possible,” Suhartyn said pleasantly.

“Indeed it is. We just proved that. But have you seen any other squad do that?” She paused. “Still, we have another demonstration.”

Two guards ran across the field carrying a leather-covered sphere slightly less than a yard across. They set it on the ground twenty yards in front of the marshal, then ran back to their positions with a squad to the east of the marshal.

“Do you see the ten archers on the road above the smithy?”

Suhartyn turned. “Yes.”

“They are a different group, and the distance is about three hundred yards.” Ryba raised her arm, then dropped it.

In instants, the wicker globe became a hedgehog of feathered shafts.

“One hundred shafts in a target a yard across at three hundred yards in little more than a score of heartbeats.”

Saryn could sense the concern and the tension in the two Suthyan officers, but none from Suhartyn. Didn’t the envoy have any idea just how accurate the archers were?

“That is most impressive marksmanship,” acknowledged Suhartyn.

“In the field, of course, they would all target different armsmen, all across the front lines, so that any charge would slow, if not halt. Then they would pick off those trapped behind.”

Whulyn nodded, if almost imperceptibly. Lygyrt glanced at his undercaptain, but Whulyn did not look at his superior.

“We have one last demonstration for you, Envoy Suhartyn. Would you indicate an officer to accompany my arms-commander?”

Suhartyn turned. “Undercaptain? If you would?”

One of the junior guards led two horses out onto the field. Saryn mounted her gelding, where the heavy black hood was draped over the front of the saddle. Whulyn was almost as quick with the other mount, and he rode beside her as they headed uphill on the road.

Less than a hundred yards above the northwest corner of the field, Saryn turned her mount and reined up. Then she extended the heavy black hood to Whulyn. “Look it over, then put it over my head.”

Whulyn edged his mount closer with an ease of long experience, then bent forward.

Saryn leaned toward him, waiting until the hood was in place. “Is there any way I can see?”

“No.” Whulyn’s voice contained veiled amusement. “There wouldn’t be, would there?”

Saryn managed to keep from smiling, not that the undercaptain could have seen her expression under the hood. “No. There’s no trickery involved. You can follow me to watch and see what you think.”

“Thank you, Commander.” The amusement had vanished from Whulyn’s voice.

Using her senses, Saryn guided the gelding back down the road toward the arms practice field. Her free hand checked the blades in the shoulder harness and then the one in the sheath at her knee. At the west end of the field, she turned south, then, once she was past a point even with Ryba and Suhartyn, she urged the gelding eastward and into an easy canter.

When she was still a good twenty yards from the wicker target, she released the first blade, smoothing the flows and sending it toward the breastplate once worn by a Lornian lancer. The second blade was away at about fifteen yards. Then she turned the gelding, and with her back to the target, flung the last blade.

She slowed the gelding gradually, wishing she hadn’t had to ride on the field, then turned and rode back to where Ryba, Suhartyn, and the Suthyan captain stood. After reining up, she removed the heavy black hood and gently tossed it to the captain. Ten yards away, all three blades were buried to their hilts in the iron breastplate, each spaced two fingers from the one beside it.

She dismounted, and a guard hurried up and handed Saryn another blade, which she slipped into the left shoulder scabbard one-handed. The guard took the gelding’s reins and led him away. Saryn walked forward to Suhartyn, inclining her head politely. “I trust that these small demonstrations provide some idea of what our guards can do.”

Suhartyn, a good half-head taller than Saryn, smiled politely. “You are all most impressive. But there are not that many of you.”

“There were less than forty of us when we destroyed the thousands of Lornth,” Ryba replied calmly. “We would prefer not to fight, because fighting wastes golds and resources. That is why we destroy all those who try our patience. It keeps us from wasting resources too often.”

“Ah… yes.”

Saryn slowly drew the shortsword, then looked to Lygyrt. “Would you like to see if you could put this blade, or your own, through the breastplate of the target?”

“I’d prefer not to dull my own.”

Saryn reversed the shortsword and extended it, hilt first, to the captain.

She and Lygyrt walked to the target.

There captain jabbed, and the shortsword skittered off the iron. “This is a useless blunted weapon.”

“Please return it to me, then.” Saryn extended her hand.

The officer reversed the weapon and offered it.

Saryn took the shortsword, stepped back some three paces, summoned the blackness around her, and released the blade. It turned exactly once before the tip sliced through the iron, directly below the middle blade of the three she had thrown from horseback. Like the others, it buried itself up to the hilt.

Lygyrt swallowed.

Saryn smiled. “It doesn’t seem that blunt to me. All the shortswords are balanced to be used as both blade and weapon.”

“…demon-woman… all of them…”

“… wouldn’t have one chained and stripped bare…”

Saryn ignored the mutters her senses picked up and walked back across the field to where Suhartyn stood beside Ryba.

The marshal turned to Suhartyn. “Do you still think it was a trick?”

“Perhaps… I should have said that it was a form of magic.”

“And all of the archers were using magic?” Ryba paused “I suppose skill with weapons is a form of sorcery.”

Whulyn had dismounted and returned the mount to a guard. He said nothing when he rejoined Lygyrt and the two nobles.

Ryba half-turned so that she could speak to both Suhartyn and the others. “That concludes our little demonstration. We have tried your patience, and it is time for your men to be fed in the main hall at Tower Black. The rest of us will meet there in two glasses for the banquet. Perhaps we should call it a dinner. There will be places for you and up to a halfscore others.”

“We will be there, and we look forward to conversing and enjoying your hospitality.” Suhartyn inclined his head.

Saryn could sense something, particularly from one of the two well-dressed men who had said nothing, not while she had been in earshot, anyway. But she said nothing until the Suthyans had left the field and she and Hryessa walked toward the tower, following Ryba.

“They’re planning something,” Saryn told the guard captain. “Have two squads watching their armsmen at all times. If they try anything, kill anyone who lifts a weapon.”

“Yes, ser.”

Once she entered the tower, Saryn went to the armory. There, she drew another shortsword, before heading up to her small corner of the tower, where she slipped out of the riding jacket and battle harness and donned a formal swordbelt, slipping the blade into the scabbard. Then she walked down to the main hall, to wait and watch while the Suthyan armsmen were fed, followed by the Westwind guards.

Almost two glasses later, Suhartyn appeared, accompanied by seven others, including Lygyrt, Whulyn, and the two bearded nobles who had watched the demonstrations. As the Suthyans entered the tower foyer, Saryn noted that all wore blades, if single, and all weapons were sheathed in highly ornamental scabbards.

Once inside, the envoy inclined his head to the marshal, then nodded toward the blond bearded man. “This is Lord Calasyr of Devalona, the most distinguished of our party.”

“Not lord,” protested Calasyr, who wore a blue and green tunic trimmed in silver. “My father is lord. I might be such if I live long enough.”

“And High Trader Baorl, of the House of Aramal.”

The older dark-haired and bearded man smiled and bowed to Ryba. “Marshal. Word of your abilities has spread far, but not of your impressive personage.”

“Thank you, Trader.” Ryba gestured toward the main hall. “I believe a modest dinner awaits us.”

Saryn flanked Ryba as the marshal led the way.

Those from Westwind at the table were Ryba, Saryn, Istril, Llyselle, Siret, Hryessa, Huldran, Ydrall, and Duessya. Suhartyn was seated to Ryba’s right, with Calasyr to her left. Saryn sat to Calasyr’s left, with Istril across from her. Trader Baorl sat down the table from Istril, while Lygyrt was on Saryn’s left, and Whulyn to Istril’s left.

At each place was a crystal goblet and a large porcelain plate, bearing the crest of Westwind that Ryba had designed. The formal dining accessories were seldom used, and only for comparatively small dinners, since there were settings sufficient for just twenty-five.

Once everyone was seated, and the goblets filled, Ryba raised hers. “A welcome to our guests, for you have traveled far through rugged terrain.”

What was served in the ceramic pitchers was not properly wine, but more like an ice-wine from the bitter wild grapes that Istril had managed to use her senses to, as she put it, “tame.” The resulting liquid was half table vintage and half brandy, odd but smooth and drinkable. Far too drinkable in larger quantities, Saryn knew.

“And our thanks for your hospitality,” replied Suhartyn, lifting his goblet.

Saryn but sipped from her goblet, as did Undercaptain Whulyn, she noted, while the captain drank less sparingly.

“How did you come to be a captain in the Suthyan horse?” she asked.

“A younger son in a trading house has few honorable options. That is most true if one’s talents do not run to trading and counting.” Lygyrt lifted his goblet slightly. “And you, Commander, how did you come to command the arms of the Roof of the World?”

“The marshal commands, Captain,” Saryn replied evenly, almost softly. “I do what is necessary to carry out those commands.”

“But… you are most talented with arms.”

“The marshal is also most talented with arms, and she has had many more years experience in fighting and leading.”

“It is said that you who are true angels were born on another world.”

“That is true, and we have fought in the darkness and cold between worlds. But all at Westwind are angels.”

“Yet you remain here?”

“We had no choice. The vessel that carried us between worlds failed, and we made landfall here.”

The servers appeared with large serving platters, holding sliced wild boar that had been cold-marinated for several days, then slow-roasted. Another set of platters held fried lace potatoes, and another a heap of mashed local turnips, in a white sauce. Two baskets of fresh-baked bread also appeared.

“Excellent,” exclaimed Suhartyn after a bite of the boar.

“Simple as this is, our usual fare here is even simpler,” Ryba said. “We can only maintain a small herd of cows through the winter, and the chickens are not grown this early in the year.”

“Early in the year?” asked Baorl. “This is late spring.”

“It is late spring for you in Suthya,” replied Istril, “but the last of the snow and ice around Westwind melted away but two weeks ago. Some snow in the shaded areas above us may last all summer.”

“It is chill indeed here,” observed Calasyr, “and yet some of you wear but summer garments.” The young noble lifted his right hand, and a reddish-whiteness swirled around it – except the chaos wasn’t from his hand, Saryn realized, but from his large and elaborate gold ring.

“That is why they need trade, Lord Calasyr,” said Suhartyn. “The season is too short here to be certain for them to grow the wheat corn.”

“Ah, yes,” added Baorl, “trade. But trade can also be uncertain, even in the best of times. And it is said that Lord Karthanos is loathe to let traders travel from his lands to the Westwinds.”

“It is no secret that the lands of Gallos are not as amicably disposed toward us as are… others,” replied Ryba. “Still, many do trade with us.”

“Mainly through Lornth, I believe,” suggested Suhartyn. “If any ill should befall Lornth, as might have happened had Cyador not collapsed in ruins, even the most doughty of traders might find it difficult to reach the Westhorns… except, of course, from Suthya.”

“What ill might befall Lornth?” asked Ryba. “Its regents have offended no one, so far as we have heard.”

“One never knows,” said Calasyr, gesturing extravagantly. “It is said that some of the older holders in Lornth fear that the regent’s rule may not lapse even when Lord Nesslek reaches his majority.”

“We, in Suthya, of course,” added Suhartyn, “would like to remain on good terms with all, especially with Westwind, whatever might occur in Lornth.”

“Unlikely as that might seem at the moment,” continued Calasyr.

Even though she followed Calasyr’s gestures closely, Saryn couldn’t determine how he managed it, only that the chaos – poison presumably – was suddenly in Ryba’s goblet. Before Ryba could lift the goblet again, Saryn half-stood, turned, and grasped it with her left hand.

“What…?” The marshal half-smiled, but immediately released her grip and let Saryn take the vessel.

Saryn set the goblet before Calasyr, the shortsword in her right hand. “You, Lord Calasyr, have a simple choice. You can swallow what you put in the Marshal’s goblet or you can swallow cold iron – ”

The blond man bolted to his feet, a poignard coming up and aimed toward the marshal.

Two blades went through him, one from in front and one from behind. He stood there… wavering, then started to topple forward. Hryessa stepped forward and grabbed the back of his tunic, pulling him away from the table. Saryn eased her blade from between his ribs.

Llyselle’s blade tip was at the back of Suhartyn’s neck, and Huldran had cold iron on Baorl. Ydrall and Duessya had moved behind the two officers.

The envoy paled, and the high trader slowly put his hands on the table, palms up.

"Suhartyn…” Ryba said coldly. “I expected better of you.”

“I didn’t know. I didn’t!”


“He’s telling the truth about that. I’d guess he suspected treachery, but not by Calasyr. I don’t think he was told.”

“Of course. They feared that we’d detect any lies on his part.”

Ryba’s smile was cold as she stood. “Does your council fear a collection of distant women so much that they would try such treachery?” She shook her head. “I doubt it. Like all thieving merchants, they merely looked for the cheapest way to their ends. And like all dishonest traders, you and they will end up paying far, far more as a result of your dishonesty. As for you, and your men, you have one glass to depart Westwind. You may leave the tower now.”

Suhartyn inclined his head.

“And take that carrion with you.” Ryba glanced toward Calasyr’s corpse.

Thousandth Night & Minla's Flowers

To my everlasting shame, though I own many of Alastair Reynolds' novels, I have yet to give any of his novel-length works a shot. I enjoyed The Six Directions of Space last year, and I was eager to sink my teeth into the upcoming Subterranean Press double-feature comprised of the novellas Thousandth Night and Minla's Flowers. Once again, I was shocked to discover that Reynolds can write works of epic proportions that resound with depth in short form, more so than most authors manage to do in long form.

It is evident that I'll have to move at least one Reynolds book up in my rotation, so that I can finally sit down and see what the buzz is all about early in 2010. Since Thousandth Night is to all ends and purposes the genesis the novel House of Suns, I'll probably put this one on top of the pile. Although I'll have to ask around whether or not I'm better off reading an earlier book in the sequence. . .

Here are the novellas' blurbs:

Thousandth Night, the genesis for the epic novel House of Suns, is quintessential Reynolds. A visionary account of intrigue, ambition, and technological marvels set within a beautifully realized far-future milieu, it combines world-class storytelling with a provocative meditation on the mystery, grandeur, and inconceivable immensity of the universe.

The masterful novella Minla’s Flowers features Merlin, a familiar figure to Reynolds’s readers. Diverted by technical difficulties to a planet known as Lecythus, Merlin finds himself forced to play a part in the moral and military dilemmas of a world on the verge of extinction.

Once more, I was incredibly impressed with the worldbuilding found in both novellas. I don't know how he does it, but Alastair Reynolds works wonders in short form. Vast in scope and filled with cosmological themes, I didn't think one could pull this off seemingly so effortlessly in the short fiction format. Especially since Reynolds is not known for writing slender novels. And yet, grand ideas are the norm in both Thousandth Night and Minla's Flowers. This is especially true in the former, with the Gentian Line, immortal human clones whose DNA derived from a single individual, traveling around the galaxy and meeting up every 200,000 years to share their experiences and update their collective memory.

In a format that doesn't give you much room to work with in terms of character development, I was impressed with Reynolds' characterization. Especially in Minla's Flowers, where the interaction between Merlin and Minla's at various stages of her life was truly memorable.

Both novellas are paced adroitely and there's never a dull moment. I went through this Subpress double-feature in no time, grumbling in frustration when I realized that it was all over. This scifi combo is definitely one of my favorite reads of 2009!

Minla's Flowers was first released in The New Space Opera anthology (Canada, USA, Europe), while Thousandth Night was first published in One Million A. D. (USA).

For those of you new to Alastair Reynolds' body of work, Thousandth Night & Minla's Flowers should entice you the same way it did me, thus encouraging you to discover more about this author.

Thought-provoking and hard to put down!

The final verdict: 8.25/10

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

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (November 24th)

In hardcover:

Stephen King's Under the Dome debuts at number 1. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan's The Gathering Storm is down two spots, finishing its third week on the NYT list at number 6. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Charlaine Harris' A Touch of Dead is down eight positions, ending its sixth week on the charts at number 17. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Charlaine Harris' Dead and Gone is down seven positions, ending its 28th week on the bestseller list at number 31.

Anne Rice's Angel Time is down ten spots, finishing its third week on the NYT list at number 32.

R. A. Salvatore's The Ghost King is down three spots, finishing its sixth week on the prestigious list at number 35. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Sherrilyn Kenyon's Born of Fire debuts at number 3.

Karen Traviss' Star Wars 501st: An Imperial Commando Novel is down seven spots, finishing its third week on the charts at number 15. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Stephen King's Just After Sunset is up seven spots, finishing its 8th week on the NYT list at number 18.

Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is down two positions, ending its 33rd week on the bestseller list at number 19 (trade paperback).

Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters' Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is up one spot, finishing the week at number 23 (trade paperback).

Sherrilyn Kenyon's Born of Night returns at number 28.

Keri Arthur's Bound to Shadows is down thirteen positions, ending its third week on the NYT list at number 31.

Five of Charlaine Harris' eight Sookie Stackhouse novels are on the paperback bestseller list, ranking at number 17 and 33.

Quote of the Day

Thank you for your many heartfelt words of support. Your flood of letters and emails really means a lot to me. To underscore the overriding sentiment, yes it is really sad that a few heartless, conscienceless people can do so much harm and there’s no rational reason why other people would believe such nonsense. The Internet makes it easy for anyone to say any hateful, untrue thing they want. And when a small group of people with agendas do this for nearly a decade, I can see why otherwise smart people might start to believe the nonsense.

Clearly the originators, and perpetuators, of all this nonsense are enormous fans of George RR Martin. Going back to the beginning of this nonsense, back to 2002, they are the ones who started spreading the lies.


Why have the books endured despite wide-spread smear campaigns led by fans/friends of other authors? Simple, they’re good and beloved by people of all ages.

Why don’t these haters want anything positive to be written online, or otherwise, about the books? Simple, they’ve invested a huge amount of time and money to ruin my reputation while pumping up the reputation of those other guys/gals.


Must be terrible books indeed when so many professionals and regular-joe readers enjoy them. Do me a favor next time you see the hatemongers spreading lies: set the record straight. The books are pretty good, thousands of readers have said so and dozens of professionals have said so as well.

- ROBERT STANEK, in a recent blog post

Wow, after the Goodkind crew, now Stanek is blaming the nice folks hanging out at Westeros for his shortcomings. . . Yeah, everyone knows that all of us get up in the morning thinking about how we can invest our time and money to ruin Stanek's reputation!

Creating I don't know how many alts to write glowing reviews of your own novels on Amazon doesn't fly too high in the face of credibility, Mr. Stanek. Nor does being published by a vanity press which you own. Not to mention photoshopping yourself in pictures we legitimate authors. Get an agent, get a true book deal, get real fans, and then we'll see.

Set the record straight, you say??? I've never met someone who has read, let alone loved, any Robert Stanek book. And I'd like to think that I've been around.

Of course, being a bestselling author in literary powerhouse countries such as Vietnam, Burkina Faso, and Chad could explain why. . .

Get real!

Kim Stanley Robinson news + Giveaway

This from Orbit's website:

We are very pleased to announce that Orbit has agreed to a three-book deal with internationally bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson. The first novel, scheduled for publication in 2012, has the working title 2312.

Tim Holman, Orbit VP and Publisher, says: “Kim Stanley Robinson is a writer who can make the future credible, no matter how incredible it might seem. 2312 will be set in our solar system three hundred years from now; a solar system in which mankind has left Earth and found new habitats. This will be a novel for anyone curious to see what our future looks like – a grand science-fictional adventure in every sense – and I’m thrilled that Orbit will be publishing it in both the US and the UK.”

Robinson, best known for his critically acclaimed Mars Trilogy, is a winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Campbell, World Fantasy, and BSFA Awards, and in 2008 was named a Hero of the Environment by Time magazine. He says: “It’s a real pleasure to join Orbit and their ambitious program to extend the reach of science fiction to the entire reading public.”

Stan — welcome aboard!

Speaking of Robinson, I have a copy of Galileo's Dream up for grabs, compliments of the folks at Bantam Spectra. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

The winner of every major science fiction award, Kim Stanley Robinson is a novelist who looks ahead with optimism even while acknowledging the steep challenges facing our planet and species: a clear-eyed realist who has not forgotten how to dream. His new novel offers his most audacious dream yet. At the heart of a brilliant narrative that stretches from Renaissance Italy to the moons of Jupiter is one man, the father of modern science: Galileo Galilei.

To the inhabitants of the Jovian moons, Galileo is a revered figure whose actions will influence the subsequent history of the human race. From the summit of their distant future, a charismatic renegade named Ganymede travels to the past to bring Galileo forward in an attempt to alter history and ensure the ascendancy of science over religion. And if that means Galileo must be burned at the stake, so be it.

Yet between his brief and jarring visitations to this future, Galileo must struggle against the ignorance and superstition of his own time. And it is here that Robinson is at his most brilliant, showing Galileo in all his contradictions and complexity. Robinson's Galileo is a tour de force of imaginative and historical empathy: the shining center around which the novel revolves.

From Galileo's heresy trial to the politics of far-future Jupiter, from the canals of Venice to frozen, mysterious Europa, Robinson illuminates the parallels between a distant past and an even more remote future—in the process celebrating the human spirit and calling into question the convenient truths of our own moment in time.

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

Vincent Chong contest winner!

Thanks to artist Vincent Chong's generosity, our winner will get his hands on the art print of his choice from the selection found in the Image Archive on The print will be a size of 8.3x11.7 inches and be printed on 280gsm Smooth Pearl paper.

The winner is:

- Antoine Tiévant, from Salles, France

Many thanks to all the participants!

Star Wars in Concert

I was in the audience at the Bell Center last night, and what a performance! This is a "must see" for all John Williams fans! And for Star Wars fans, of course!

Sure, every single person is already won over from the very first note. But there's no denying the quality of the gig. I could have done without the sound effects while the symphony orchestra was playing, but overall it was a memorable night.

I didn't expect the Bell Center to be this packed. I thought they were using the configuration of the venue normally reserved for smaller, more intimate shows. Imagine my surprise when I realized that they were using the same set-up reserved for bands like U2 and Bon Jovi.

And the crowd was really into it. Both Anthony Daniels and the conductor seemed taken aback by the ovations they received.

If the tour stops in your city, make sure you're there! It's worth every single penny!=)

Over the years, the Star Wars movie soundtracks have remained my favorite CDs to listen to while reading SFF:

- A New Hope (Canada, USA, Europe)
- The Empire Strikes Back (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Return of the Jedi (Canada, USA, Europe)

- The Phantom Menace (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Attack of the Clones (Canada, USA, Europe)
- Revenge of the Sith (Canada, USA, Europe)

And here's one of the best Star Wars themes ever. And you just might hear it twice if you are loud enough!

Jeff Somers promotional videos

You can see a number of hilarious promotional videos on Jeff Somers' blog.

This one gives you 5 good reasons to buy the mass market trade paperback edition of both The Electric Church (Canada, USA, Europe) and The Digital Plague (Canada, USA, Europe).

Win an Advance Reading Copy of Steven Erikson's DUST OF DREAMS

Since I have no use for my US ARC of Steven Erikson's Dust of Dreams, I'm giving it away to one lucky winner! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

In war everyone loses. This brutal truth can be seen in the eyes of every soldier in every world…

In Letherii, the exiled Malazan army commanded by Adjunct Tavore begins its march into the eastern Wastelands, to fight for an unknown cause against an enemy it has never seen. And in these same Wastelands, others gather to confront their destinies. The warlike Barghast, thwarted in their vengeance against the Tiste Edur, seek new enemies beyond the border and Onos Toolan, once immortal T’lan Imass now mortal commander of the White Face clan, faces insurrection. To the south, the Perish Grey Helms parlay passage through the treacherous kingdom of Bolkando. Their intention is to rendezvous with the Bonehunters but their vow of allegiance to the Malazans will be sorely tested. And ancient enclaves of an Elder Race are in search of salvation—not among their own kind, but among humans—as an old enemy draws ever closer to the last surviving bastion of the K’Chain Che’Malle.

So this last great army of the Malazan Empire is resolved to make one final defiant, heroic stand in the name of redemption. But can deeds be heroic when there is no one to witness them? And can that which is not witnessed forever change the world? Destines are rarely simple, truths never clear but one certainty is that time is on no one’s side. For the Deck of Dragons has been read, unleashing a dread power that none can comprehend…

In a faraway land and beneath indifferent skies, the final chapter of ‘The Malazan Book of the Fallen’ has begun…

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

The Sandman: Fables & Reflections

I've said early on that the early Sandman omnibuses were sort of hit or miss with me, what with all the stories being so all over the place without any sort of continuity. Well, The Sandman: Fables & Reflections is the worse in that regard, I'm afraid. The storylines which comprise this sixth omnibus are vignettes that have little or nothing to do with one another and, perhaps, the overall story arc.

I felt it was a bit of a letdown, for the tale had become brilliant in the last few installments. And yet, when they sat down to produce these trade paperbacks, I reckon the folks at Vertigo had no choice but to round up the odd ones out and put them all together.

In a way, The Sandman: Fables & Reflections sums up the Sandman series: It has its ups and its downs. At times fascinating, clever, and shrewd, and others sluggish and a bit on the boring side. Funny how the sequence consists of so many disparate parts.

Illustrated by Bryan Talbot, Stan Woch, P. Craig Russell, Shawn McManus, John Watkiss, Jill Thompson, Duncan Eagleson, and Kent Williams, the artwork in this omnibus is as uneven in quality as the tales it contains. Though the bar has not been set too high where artwork is concerned, the last two trade paperbacks featured the best artwork thus far. The contrasting styles used in this omnibus sometimes clash with one another, and some issues like "Fear of Falling" "Soft Places" and "The Hunt" border on the mediocre in terms of visual quality.

This omnibus is comprised of nine more or less stand-alone tales which vary in style and tone. "Three Septembers and a January," "Thermidor," "Orpheus"and "The Parliament of Rooks" were great, while "August," "Soft Places" and "Ramadan" were okay. As for "The Hunt," it was a decidedly forgettable piece. All in all, it makes for an uneven reading experience, the more so because I felt this omnibus added nothing to the bigger scheme of things. Of course, I may be wrong in my assumption. Which is why I'm curious to jump to The Sandman: Brief Lives (Canada, USA, Europe).

If you are looking for something to put on your Christmas present list, you might want to add The Sandman: Preludes & Nocturnes (Canada, USA, Europe), The Sandman: The Doll's House (Canada, USA, Europe), The Sandman: Dream Country (Canada, USA, Europe), The Sandman: Season of Mists (Canada, USA, Europe), and The Sandman: A Game of You (Canada, USA, Europe), if only to discover what the buzz is all about.

I'm about to begin the seventh installment, which means that it's the home stretch now. Can't wait to see what Gaiman has in store for me!

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

Mark Charan Newton interview

This Q&A should have seen the light last spring when Nights of Villjamur (Canada, USA, Europe) was published. Unfortunately, I was way too busy to conduct an interview at the time. Better late than never, right!?!

Special thanks to Graeme Flory from for tag-teaming with me on this one!

There's been a lot of talk about Mark Charan Newton lately, namely about tie-in fiction and cover art. So here's more from the man himself!


- How well-received as NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR been thus far?

Remarkably well, actually, especially online. I was very lucky (or so I initially thought) to have one of those hyped books, but I soon found out that people expected it to, you know, cure cancer, to be the second coming, that kind of thing. Strangely, it doesn’t do that, and so a few responses have been against the hype, but that’s all part of the game. All I ever wanted to create a book that people talked about – whether or not they loved or hated it – and that’s been happening so far, so I consider the first wave a success.

- Given how difficult it can be for British SFF authors to make it in the USA and vice versa, how rewarding is it to see NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR being picked up by Del Rey?

Difficult question. I don’t think an author’s origin country really has an effect on how well an author can do elsewhere. That said, an author will generally grow up reading one country’s book market, which will undoubtedly influence the writing style… But we’re a global community these days, and the internet and movies have changed things a lot. We he similar tastes. And UK buyers are importing books from the US, and vice versa. So I would say it’s easier than it used to be to sell in both markets, since tastes are becoming increasingly homogenous.

As for me, I was ridiculously excited for the book to be picked up in the US. I did a stupid dance. It’s actually Bantam Spectra now, a sister imprint of Del Rey (both owned by Random House, and both close to each other in the same building!). It’s the same editor, Chris Schluep – and he’s also edited China Miéville and Richard Morgan etc., so I’m honoured to be an addition to that list. It won’t be released until June (same time as book two in the UK) so I’ll have a better idea of the US reaction much later on next year.

- You have worked as an editor for a number of years now. How humbling an experience was it to find yourself on the other side of the table and get your own work edited?

If anything, I think it made it easier. I know that an editor wants to help make a book better, not destroy it! The people behind the scenes at a publisher really help make an author become successful, so I was rather laid back about the whole affair. Of course, there’s an element of diva in every writer, a case of “How dare you touch my prose!” but I got over it pretty quick, reminding myself that the changes are for the better. In the UK I've actually got two editors, to make matters worse! Julie Crisp handles the structural work, and Peter Lavery does the line-edits. Those who work on books really know what they’re doing – there is a big team of people behind the scenes, and they deserve more credit that they get.

- Were there any perceived conventions of the fantasy genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR and its sequels?

I think I’m always looking for ways to challenge myself, and look for new directions. But, specifically, the things I was interested in exploring for fantasy fiction was concentrating on personal issues during epic events. For example, what happens if you’ve a gay character having to deal with his personal life, as well as momentous occurrences in the plot? It should be about lives, and not have people merely go through the motions. I didn't think it was particularly realistic.

Another thing was prose – I wanted to write a modern, stylistic book. And I knew it was a risk, but why should fantasy fiction in a secondary world be limited to ye olde speak? A few people have told me that the dialogue grated, or the prose didn’t agree with them – but that’s fine, if you set out to be a little different, you come up against complaints. The last thing I’d want is to have a book which, you know, gets a “Meh, it was all right” from everyone.

- What can readers expect from the upcoming sequel, CITY OF RUIN?

It’s very different. I’ve let loose basically, for reasons I’ll explore in the following question. But it’s grungier, more violent, sinister, and bizarre. The general set-up is that of a city siege, but the city in question is a real cesspit, and you wonder if it’s a city that needs saving in the first place. Plenty of gang violence thrown into the mix, really sinister sub plots, and bat-shit-crazy monsters, and a truly eyebrow-raising sex scene I really hope doesn’t get take out of the edit...

- You mentioned that CITY OF RUIN was the one that you wanted to write and you were really able to let loose on it. How did it feel having to write a whole book before you could get to the bit that you really wanted to write about?

Firstly, I’m proud of Nights of Villjamur, so I didn’t not want to write that kind of book – I loved the process, but I was very much aware that to get published, to get that first novel deal, I had to reign in my craziness. I’d been writing too much weird stuff, and kept getting rejections because of it, so I consciously made some aspects of the novel more conservative. No harm in that, right?

But in City of Ruin, I’ve let myself go because I’ve got the book contract, and I don’t have to err on the side of caution. It was a more natural book for me to write – so in essence, the type of book I’ve always wanted to write.

- You’ve mentioned that NIGHTS OF VILLJAMUR was inspired by the likes of Gene Wolfe, Jack Vance and M. John Harrison. I’m assuming that those influences are still there in CITY OF RUIN, but will we see any new influences come to the fore and shape this work?

Yes. China Miéville’s Bas-Lag stuff, very much so. The baroque weirdness, the sheer inventiveness. Reading Miéville’s books made me want to write in the first place, after all, so I think this will show more, but I wouldn't ever want to simply clone favourite authors - it's more me than anyone else. There’s one sub-plot in particular which owes a debt to Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, but I won’t go into detail, because that will ruin my fun...

- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?

If anything, I’d like to think I’m ambitious. I want to try new things. Even if it doesn’t always work, at least I’m consciously putting in the effort not to turn in a novel that contributes nothing to the genre’s development.

- By the same token, what would be your weaknesses, or aspects of your craft you feel you need to work on?

Sounds ridiculous, but I'd probably still want to work on everything. I think a writer – at all times in his or her career – should always do something to improve. I mean, I'm 28 and hopefully have many more years to refine the craft. The moment I sit here and say “Yes, I think I’m perfect at this writing malarkey” will be a dire day indeed.

- Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy/Hugo Award? Why, exactly?

Probably the Hugo. The Hugo is an award given to popular authors, ones which have a large fanbase, which means that I’ll probably already have a NY Times bestseller under my belt!

Although I do think awards like World Fantasy can give more to the genre – since they’re giving an airing, sometimes, to books which aren’t that well known. My favorite award is actually the Man Booker Prize, because it can pluck an author form obscurity and put him or her into the limelight. How wonderful is that? Awards that are popularity contests are great fun, a celebration, but surely successful authors are already rewarded by a healthy royalty and strong sales? This is just my opinion, but promoting new talent and different books only goes to make the genre stronger in the long run.

However, I remember talking to a buyer at a major UK bookchain about one of the country’s best-known SF Award (I won’t say which) and asked him how many more books he expected to sell, across the chain, of the winning book in the week after. And he replied, “About 50 or so.” Which goes to show the effects of awards on the front line.

- Various British SFF authors have had a hard time trying to find commercial success in the USA, and the same can be said of American writers in the UK. Is there a difference between both markets that can explain how difficult it is for popular SFF authors to fail to generate the same sort of interest on the other side of the Atlantic?

Marketing money and cover art – those are the only things I can think of that make a big difference. The realities of the book industry would shock a lot of people – publishers have to pay for promotions in stores (essentially, paying for the chance of success) and this varies from book to book, and between countries. Cover art, too, is one of the most important factors in what makes a book a success. Tastes can vary between countries on that front. Keeping this in mind, with the same book, one publisher could get it right in the US, and another fail in the UK.

That’s why the blogosphere is increasingly important, especially as online activity grows year on year. But no one really knows what makes a book a success, outside of those things. If they did, they’d be very rich!

- You’re a champion of well written tie-in fiction whilst also being a writer of original fantasy fiction; what particular shared world would you like to write in given half a chance? Is this something that you can see yourself doing in the future?

Indeed – I think a well-written book is a well-written book, period. As for a shared world… it’s really difficult, and to be honest, I’d probably find it more difficult that writing original fiction, because of the laid-back sprawling-ideas way I work. It’s something I could see myself doing in other formats – the idea of writing for computer games is hugely appealing. But I've no immediate plans, and I really don't have much free time.

- Honestly, do you believe that the speculative fiction genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature? Truth be told, in my opinion there has never been this many good books/series as we have right now, and yet there is still very little respect (not to say none) associated with the genre.

My answer for this is generally along the lines of: Who gives a fuck? “Literary” writers (whoever wears that badge with pride) would kill for the sales and readership and passion and debate that SFF books generate. In the future, as in the past, books will be judged not on the literary merit of the day, but on the longevity of that book, and it’s enduring popularity.

But I do think genre fans – bloggers in particular – can do more to help this, by not fretting about genre angst, about which literary magazine said what about SF, but by being more analytical and investigating books with more vigor. The more intelligent the debate, the less billingsgate and “ZOMG that author sucks cock” that gets propagated in forums, then the more the genre will receive respect naturally.

- Now that you are almost done with the final edit of CITY OF RUIN, what project will you be tackling next?

The next book in the series! It’s a four-book story at the moment, so I need to carry on regardless. I’m determined to finish these four before I do anything else.

- Anything you wish to share with your fans?

Yeah, don’t believe the hype. :)

Jeff Somers contest winners

These lucky guys and gals will each receive a set of the mass market paperback edition of The Electric Church (Canada, USA, Europe) and The Digital Plague (Canada, USA, Europe), compliments of the nice folks at Orbit.

The winners are:

- Jeff Madill, from London, Ontario, Canada

- Lisa Green, from Richmond, British Columbia, Canada

- Paul Brown, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA (Stinky93 on

- Sara Chamama, from New York, New York, USA

- Lon Braidwood, from Owosso, Michigan, USA

Thanks to all the participants!