A bit of humor. . .

Someone sent me a link to this clip and it brought a chuckle out of me.

Bikini girl, James Cameron, Chuck Norris, and BP. Can't go wrong! :P

The Machinery of Light

I didn't think that it was humanly possible for David J. Williams to come up with something even more action-packed than both The Mirrored Heavens (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks) and The Burning Skies (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks), but somehow the author managed to outdo himself. I called the second volume a veritable train wreck, and The Machinery of Light takes it up a couple of notches. This final installment is another balls-to-the-wall, no-holds-barred, the-shit-has-hit-the-fan kind of book that pulls out all the stops!

Here's the blurb:

With The Machinery of Light, David J. Williams completes his furiously paced, stunningly imagined trilogy - a work of vision, beauty, and pulse-pounding futuristic action.

September 26, 2110. 10:22 GMT. Following the assassination of the American president, the generals who have seized power initiate World War Three, launching a surprise attack against the Eurasian Coalition's forces throughout the Earth-Moon system. Across the orbits, tens of thousands of particle beams and lasers blast away at one another. The goal: crush the other side's weaponry, paving the way for nuclear bombardment of the cities.

As inferno becomes Armageddon, the rogue commando unit Autumn Rain embarks on one last run. Matthew Sinclair, an imprisoned spymaster, plots his escape. And his former protégé Claire Haskell, capable of hacking into both nets and minds, is realizing that all her powers may merely be playing into Sinclair's plans. For even as Claire evades the soldiers of East and West amid carnage in the lunar tunnels, the surviving members of the Rain converge upon the Moon, one step ahead of the Eurasian fleets but one step behind the mastermind who created Autumn Rain - and his terrible final secret.

Oddly enough, I remember commenting that one of the shortcomings of The Mirrored Heavens was its lack of depth compared to the breakneck pace of the exciting action sequences. The Burning Skies revealed just how complex a tale this series truly was, setting the stage for one terrific finale. Well, it turns out that The Machinery of Light is even more multilayered and convoluted than the first two volumes combined. Filled to the brim with unanticipated twists and turns, Williams has the uncanny ability to switch things around when you least expect it, taking the story on a different path you never would have guessed. The man appears to relish the thought of pulling the rug from under his readers' feet every chance he gets, keeping us guessing and second-guessing throughout the novel. World War III is just the backdrop of this tale. To a certain extent, it's just a diversion as the truth about Matthew Sinclair and Autumn Rain is revealed.

The rhythm is pedal-to-the-metal from start to finish. There is not a single lull in the action, making The Machinery of Light a page-turner that is well nigh impossible to put down!

As the Manilishi, Claire Haskell remains the central character of the novel. And yet, as all hells break loose, a panoply of POV and non-POV characters have an integral role to play in the endgame. With storylines built on so many layers of deceit, the different perspectives of various characters are required to help make sense of all that is occurring. As such, it helped carry the myriad plotlines forward to have Strom Carson, Leo Sarmax, Stefan Lynx, as well as a number of other protagonists as point of view characters.

The Machinery of Light is divided into five parts. As was the case with its predecessors, there are no chapters. The narrative jumps from one POV to another in rapid succession, with each POV portion rarely exceeding a single page. Flipping from one quick sequence to the next will make your head spin. Like all good rollercoaster rides, all you can do is hang on tight and keep going till you reach the end. Which comes all too rapidly, what with such a pace maintained throughout the novel.

The Machinery of Light is a another fantastic blend of military science fiction and cyberthriller that should appeal to fans of Richard Morgan and William Gibson. By bringing this complex series to a close with such a bang, David J. Williams proved once and for all the he is for real. I'll be lining up for whatever he writes next.

Intelligent and exhilarating in equal measures, The Machinery of Light features enough politicking, backstabbing, action and explosions and battles to satisfy anyone looking for a good science fiction yarn that goes all out.

The final verdict: 8.25/10

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

Win a copy of Jeff Somers' THE TERMINAL STATE

I have one copy of Jeff Somers' The Terminal State up for grabs, compliments of the fine folks at Orbit. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks.

For balls-to-the-wall scifi/tehno thriller books, don't miss out on the first Avery Cates adventures: The Electric Church (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks) The Digital Plague (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks), and The Eternal Prison (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks).

Here's the blurb:

Avery Cates is an army man. Between the army's new dental plan and a set of first class augments, he's been given a second chance - albeit a quick one.

When a corrupt officer decides to make some money on the side by selling new recruits, Cates finds himself in uncharted territory. Sold to the highest bidder, his visions of escape and revenge quickly come to an end when he realizes who's bought him - and for what. Because the high bidder is Canny Orel himself. And he wants Cates to do one last job as the System slides into chaos. Cates will have one shot at getting back at Canny - but this time, Canny is holding all the cards.

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

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (July 27th)

In hardcover:

Justin Cronin's The Passage is down four positions, ending the week at number 11. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks.

Charlaine Harris' Dead in the Family is down three spots, finishing the week at number 17. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Naomi Novik's Tongues of Serpents debuts at number 33. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, and AbeBooks.

Stephen King's Blockade Billy is down five positions, ending the week at number 35. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Stephen King's Under the Dome maintains its position at number 4 (trade paperback)

Charlaine Harris' Dead and Gone is up seventeen spots, finishing the week at number 13.

Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's The Strain is up eleven positions, ending the week at number 17.

Charlaine Harris' Dead Until Dark is up twelve spots, finishing the week at number 21.

Lev Grossman's The Magicians is down six positions, ending the week at number 23.

Stephenie Meyer's The Host maintains its position at number 25 (trade paperback).

R. A. Salvatore's The Ghost King is down five spots, finishing the week at number 29.

Montréal Complètement Cirque

When it was announced last year that Montréal, as the circus capital of the world, would put together its first festival dedicated to circus acts and invite artists from around the globe, I was pretty excited! Of course, idiot that I am I booked my trip to the Balkans during the festival, thus missing basically everything.

But I did catch three shows. . . Okay, so it's nothing to write home about in terms of quantity. But the quality sure than made up to all that I did miss.

- Totem by Cirque du Soleil

Written and directed by the award-winning playwright Robert Lepage (the man responsible for Kà, for my money the best Cirque du Soleil show ever), Totem is a jumble of themes that don't always form a coherent whole. He should have stayed with the Native American theme, for when he attempted to combine it with evolution the overall story arc of Totem suffered a bit. The various acts are perfect, as is always the case with the Cirque du Soleil. But the interludes, which are always more funny and interactive, are for the most part failures to launch. Hence, though each act is as spectacular one would expect, the boredom associated with some of the interludes break the momentum of what could have been another wonderful creation.

All in all, Totem is nonetheless an exciting show. But the magic found in previous Cirque du Soleil productions is unfortunately not always present. Totem will be in Québec City for the rest of the summer, and will make its way to Europe this fall.

- Nofit State by Tabù

This Welsh circus show was totally fucked up! It was their first time in North America after playing in front of over 125,000 spectators around Europe, and I have a feeling that it won't be their last!

There are no stands; spectators stand around as the action takes place before, behind, around, and above them. For those of you who have always wanted to be smack down in the middle of the stage and part of the action, Nofit State will thrill you like nothing you've seen before. There is a live band playing and the organized chaos is absolute. The configuration of the show is such that your experience will vary depending on where you are standing.

Unlike anything I have ever seen, you don't always know what the heck is going on. But a very satisfying circus experience, no question!

- iD by Cirque Éloize

Saw this amazing show last night and I was blown away!

Another "Made in Québec" circus, Cirque Éloize has always been forced to live in the shadow of the Cirque du Soleil. But with quality productions such as Nomade, Rain, and Nebbia, they have shown that they are for real and have made quite a name for themselves the world over.

I didn't really know that to expect from iD. All I knew was that it was some sort of hybrid between circus acts and urban dancing. But man did it deliver! This show was the absolute shit! Every number was great, the music sucked you right into this one, and the performers were incredible.

The Cirque Éloize will bring iD on the road this fall as they start their tour in Toronto. Don't miss out on a terrific experience!

I promise to do better next year! It looks like Montréal Complètement Cirque was a success, so I can't wait for the second edition of the festival to hit the town in 2011!

Sam Sykes contest winners!

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Gollancz, our three winners will get their hands on a complimentary copy of Sam Sykes' Tome of the Undergates (Canada, USA, Europe).

The winners are:

- Marco Longobardo, from Messina, Italy

- Andrej El, from Frankfurt am Main, Germany

- Alberto Ablanedo, from Oviedo, Spain

Many thanks to all the participants!

The Chicago Sun-Times' interview with Nnedi Okorafor

I mentioned Nnedi Okorafor's Who Fears Death (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks) last week, for I believed that many people hanging around the Hotlist might be intrigued by something different.

For those of who are interested in learning more about the author, Mary Houlian interviewed Nnedi Okorafor for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can find the full article here.

I received my review copy from Daw Books at the end of last week, so this one just went to the top of my "books to read" pile.

Interestingly enough, Betsy Wollheim, editor-in-chief at Daw, had this to say when I got in touch with her to request a copy:

I’m glad that you want to read WHO FEARS DEATH. It’s an awesome book, in my opinion. It’s gotten huge critical acclaim, but I think some of the reviews (although glowing) may be scaring away readers, and that’s a shame. Yes, the book is a feminist work that touches on some difficult topics, like the African practice of clitorectomy, genocide and racism between tribes, rape, etc. However, it is told in first person from the viewpoint of a magical, shape-changing shaman, and she is fierce! I found the book transcendent and ultimately uplifting, as well as quite true to human nature on many levels. Oddly, it’s not a bummer! It’s really a very empowering book, and although feminist, two of the most beloved characters in the novel are men.

Hmmm, now I'm even more eager to read it!

Excerpt from S. L. Farrell's A MAGIC OF DAWN

I feel like an idiot because I was convinced that S. L. Farrell's A Magic of Dawn (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks) was being released this fall. So you can imagine my dismay when I learned last week that the book has been out since April. My bad, I know. . .

Here's the blurb:

Kraljica Allesandra sits on the Sun Throne of a much-diminished Holdings empire, while her son Jan rules the rival Coalition of Firenzcia. The schism between them threatens to tear apart the realm when they need solidarity the most. Facing powerful threats, from the rising influence of the Numetodo sect to the fundamentalist preacher Nico Morel-- as well as the army of Tehuantin from across the sea-- Allesandra and Jan must each find a pathway to survival for themselves and their people.

Anyway, I now have a copy on the way, and here's an extract from the novel.


Varina ca'Pallo

It was difficult to be stoic, even though she knew that was what Karl would have wanted of her.

Karl had been failing for the last month. Looking at him now, Varina sometimes found it hard to find in the drawn, haggard face the lines of the man she had loved, to whom she'd been married for nearly fourteen years now, who had taken her name and her heart.

Because he was so much older than her, she had feared that their time together must end this way, with him dying before her.

It seemed that would be the case.

"Are you in pain, love?" she asked, stroking his balding head, a few strands of gray-white hair clinging stubbornly to the crown. He shook his head without speaking -- talking seemed to exhaust him. His breath was too fast and too shallow, almost a panting, as if clinging to life required all the effort he could muster. "No? That's good. I have the healer's brew right here if that changes. She said that a few sips would take away any pain and let you sleep. Just let me know if you need it -- and don't you dare try to be brave and ignore it."

Varina smiled at him, stroking his sunken, stubbled cheek. She turned away because the tears threatened her again. She sniffed, taking in a long breath that shuddered with the ghost of the sobs that wracked her when she was away from him, when she allowed the grief and emotions to take her. She brushed at her eyes with the sleeve of her tashta and turned back to him, the smile fixed again on her face. "The Kraljica sent over a letter, saying how much she missed us at the Gschnas last night. She said that her entrance went better than she could have wished, and that the globes I enchanted for her worked perfectly. And oh, I forgot to tell you -- a letter also came today from your son Colin. He says that your great-daughter Katerina is getting married next month, and that he wishes... he wishes you..." She stopped. Karl would not be going to the wedding. "Anyway, I've written back to him, and told him that you're not... you're not well enough to travel to Paeti right now."

Karl stared at her. That was all he could do now. Stare. His skin was stretched tautly over the skull of his face, the eyes sunken into deep, black hollows; Varina wondered if he even saw her, if he noticed how old she'd become as well, how her studies of the Tehunatin magic had taken a terrible physical toll on her. Karl ate almost nothing -- it was all she could do to get warm broth down his throat. He had difficulty swallowing even that. The healer only shook her head on her daily visits. "I'm sorry, Councilor ca'Pallo," she said to Varina. "But the Ambassador is beyond any skill I have. He's lived a good life, he has, and it's been longer than most. You have to be ready to let him go."

But she wasn't ready. She wasn't certain she would ever be, could ever be. After all the years she'd wanted to be with him, after all those years when his love for Ana ca'Seranta had blinded him to her, she was to be with him only for so short a time? Less than two decades? When he was gone, there'd be nothing left of him. Karl and Varina had no children of their own; despite being twelve years younger than Karl, she'd been unable to conceive with him. There'd been a miscarriage in their first year, then nothing, and her own monthly bleeding had ended five years ago now. There were times, in the last several weeks, when she'd envied those who could pray to Cénzi for a boon, a gift, a miracle. As a Numetodo, as a non-believer, she had no such solace herself; her world was bereft of gods who could grant favors. She could only hold Karl's hand and gaze at him and hope.

You have to be ready to let him go...

She took his hand, pressed it in her fingers. It was like holding a skeleton's hand; there was no returning pressure, his flesh was cold, and his skin felt as dry as brown parchment. "I love you," she told him. "I always loved you; I will always love you."

He didn't answer, though she thought she saw his dry, cracked lips open slightly and then close again. Perhaps he thought he was responding. She reached for the cloth in the basin alongside his bed, dipped it in the water, and dabbed at his lips.

"I've been working with a device to use the black sand again. Look-" She showed him a long cut along her left arm, still scabbed with dried blood. "I wasn't as careful as I should have been. But I think I may have really stumbled upon something this time. I've made changes to the design and I'm having Pierre make the modifications for me from my drawings..."

She could imagine how he might answer. "There's a price to pay for knowledge," he'd told her, often enough. "But you can't stop knowledge: it wants to be born, and it will force its way into the world no matter what you do. You can't hold back knowledge, no matter what those of the Faith might say..."

Downstairs, she could hear the kitchen staff beginning to prepare dinner: a laugh, a clattering of pans, the faint chatter of conversation, but here in the sickroom the air was hot and still. She talked to Karl mostly because the quiet seemed so depressing. She talked mostly because she was afraid of silence.

"I spoke to Sergei this morning, too. He said that he'll stop by tomorrow night, before he goes off to Brezno," she said in a falsely cheery voice. "He insists that if you won't join him at the table for dinner, he's going to come up here and bring you down himself. 'What good is Numetodo magic if you can't get rid of a little minor illness?' he said. He also suggested that the sea air in Karnmor might do you some good. I might see if we could take a villa there next month. He said that the Gschnas was ever so nice, though he mentioned that Stor ca'Vikej's son has come to the city, and he didn't like the way that Kraljica Allesandra paid attention to him..."

She realized that the room was too still, that she hadn't heard Karl take a breath for some time. He was still staring at her, but his gaze had gone empty and dull. She felt her stomach muscles clench. She took in a breath that was half-sob. "Karl...?" She watched his chest, willing it to move, listening for the sound of air moving through his nostrils. Was his hand colder? She felt for his pulse, searching for the fluttering underneath her fingertips and imagining she felt it.


The room was silent except for the distant clamor of the servants and the chirping of birds in the trees outside and the faint sounds of the city beyond the walls of their villa. She felt pressure rising in her chest, a wave that broke free from her and turned into a wail that sounded as if it were ripped from someone else's throat.

She heard the servants running up the stairs, heard them stop at the door. The sound of her grief echoed in her ears. She was still holding Karl's hand. Now she let it drop lifeless back to the sheet. She reached out and brushed his eyelids closed, her fingertips trembling.

"He's gone," she said: to the servants, to the world, to herself.

The words seemed impossible. Unbelievable. She wanted to take them back and smash them so they could never be spoken again.

But she had said them, and they could not be revoked.

Rochelle Botelli

She hadn't expected to find herself in Brezno. Her matarh had told her to avoid that city. "Your vatarh is there," she'd said. "But he won't know you, he won't acknowledge you, and he has other children now from another woman. No, be quiet, I tell you! She doesn't need to know that." Those last two sentences hadn't been directed to Rochelle but to the voices who plagued her matarh, the voices that would eventually send her screaming and mad to her death. She'd flailed at the air in front of her as if the voices were a cloud of threatening wasps, her eyes -- as strangely light as Rochelle's own -- wide and angry.

"I won't, Matarh," Rochelle had told her. She'd learned early on that it was always best to tell Matarh whatever it was she wanted to hear, even if Rochelle never intended to obey. She'd learned that from Nico, her half-brother who was eleven years older than her. He'd been touched with Cénzi's Gift and Matarh had arranged for him to be educated in the Faith. Rochelle was never certain how Matarh had managed that, since rarely did the téni take in someone who was not ca'-and-cu' to be an acolyte, and then only if many gold solas were involved. But she had, and when Rochelle was five Nico had left the household forever, had left her alone with a woman who was growing increasingly more unstable, and who would school her daughter in the one, best skill she had.

How to kill.

Rochelle had been ten when Matarh placed a long and sharp knife in her hand. "I'm going to show you how to use this," she'd said. And it had begun. At twelve, she'd put the skills to their intended use for the first time -- a man in the neighborhood who had bothered some of the young girls. The matarh of one of his victims hired the famous assassin White Stone to kill him for what he'd done to her daughter.

"Cover his eyes with the stones," Matarh had whispered alongside Rochelle after she'd stabbed the man, after she'd driven the dagger's point through his ribs and into his heart. The voices never bothered Matarh when she was doing her job; she sounded sane and rational and focused. It was only afterward... "That will absorb the image of you that is captured in his pupils, so no one else can look into his dead eyes and see who killed him. Good. Now, take the one from his right eye and keep it -- that one you should use every time you kill, to hold the souls you've taken and their sight of you killing them. The one on his left eye, the one the client gave us, you leave that one so everyone will know that the White Stone has fulfilled her contract..."

Now, in Brezno where she had promised never to go, Rochelle slipped a hand into the pocket of her out-of-fashion tashta. There were two small flat stones there, each the size of a silver siqil. One of them was the same stone she'd used back then, her matarh's stone, the stone she had used several times since. The other... It would be the sign that she'd completed the contract. It had been given to her by Henri ce'Mott, a disgruntled customer of Sinclair ci'Braun, a goltschlager -- a maker of gold leaf. "The man sent me defective material," ce'Mott had declared, whispering harshly into the darkness that hid her from him. "His foil tore and shredded when I tried to use it. The bastard used impure gold to make the sheets, and the thickness was uneven. It took twice as many sheets as it should have and even then the gilding was visibly flawed. I was gilding a frame for the chief decorator for Brezno Palais, for a portrait of the young A'Hïrzg. I'd been told that I might receive a contract for all the palais gilding, and then this happened... Ci'Braun cost me a contract with the Hïrzg himself. Even more insulting, the man had the gall to refuse to reimburse me for what I'd paid him, claiming that it was my fault, not his. Now he's telling everyone that I'm a poor gilder who doesn't know what he's doing, and many of my customers have gone elsewhere..."

Rochelle had listened to the long diatribe without emotion. She didn't care who was right or who was wrong in this. If anything, she suspected that the goltschlager was probably right; ce'Mott certainly didn't impress her. All that mattered to her was who paid. Frankly, she suspected that ce'Mott was so obviously and publicly an enemy of ci'Braun that the Garde Hïrzg would end up arresting him after she killed the man. In the Brezno Bastida, he'd undoubtedly confess to having hired the White Stone.

That didn't matter, either. Ce'Mott had never seen her, never glimpsed either her face or her form, and she had disguised her voice. He could tell them nothing. Nothing.

She'd been watching ci'Braun for the last three days, searching -- as her matarh had taught her -- for patterns that she could use, for vulnerabilities she could exploit. The vulnerabilities were plentiful: he often sent his apprentices home and worked alone in his shop in the evening with the shutters closed. The back door to his shop opened onto an often-deserted alleyway, and the lock was ancient and easily picked. She waited. She watched, following him through his day. She ate supper at a tavern where she could watch the door of his shop. When he closed the shutters and locked the door, when the sun had vanished behind the houses and the light-téni were beginning to stroll the main avenues lighting the lamps of the city, she paid her bill and slipped into the alleyway. She made certain that there was no one within sight, no one watching from the windows of the buildings looming over her. She picked the lock in a few breaths, opened the door, and slid inside, locking the door again behind her.

She found herself in a store room with thin ingots of gold -- 'zains,' she had learned they were called -- in small boxes ready to be pressed into gold foil, which could then be beaten into sheets so thin that light could shine through -- glittering, precious metal foil that gilders like ce'Mott used to coat objects. In the main room of the shop, Rochelle saw the glow of candles and heard a rhythmic, dull pounding. She followed the sound and the light, halting behind a massive roller press. A long strip of gold foil protruded from between the rollers. Ci'Braun -- a man perhaps in his late fifties, with a paunch and leathered, wrinkled skin, was hunched over a heavy wooden table, a bronze hammer in each of his hands, pounding on packets of vellum with squares of gold foil on them, the packets covered with a strip of leather. He was sweating, and she could see the muscles in his arms bulging as he hammered at the vellum. He paused for a moment, breathing heavily, and she moved in the shadows, deliberately.

"Who's there?" he called out in alarm, and she slid into the candlelight, giving him a small, shy smile. Rochelle knew what the man was seeing: a lithe young girl on the cusp of womanhood, perhaps fifteen years old, with her black hair bound back in a long braid down the back of her tashta. She held a roll of fabric under one arm, as if she'd purchased a new tashta in one of the many shops along the street. There was nothing even vaguely threatening about her. "Oh," the man said. He set down his hammers. "What can I do for you, young Vajica? How did you get in?"

She gestured back toward the storeroom, placing the other tashta on the roller press. "Your rear door was ajar, Vajiki. I noticed it as I was passing along the alley. I thought you'd want to know."

The man's eyes widened. "I certainly would," he said. He started toward the rear of the shop. "If one of those no-good apprentices of mine left the door open..."

He was within an arm's length of her now. She stood aside as if to let him pass, slipping the blade from the sash of her tashta. The knife would be best with him: he was too burly and strong for the garrote, and poison was not a tactic that she could easily use with him. She slid around the man as he passed her, almost a dancer's move, the knife sliding easily across the throat, cutting deep into his windpipe and at the side where the blood pumped strongest. Ci'Braun gurgled in surprise, his hands going to the new mouth she had carved for him, blood pouring between his fingers. His eyes were wide and panicked. She stepped back from him -- the front of her tashta a furious red mess -- and he tried to pursue her, one bloody hand grasping. He managed a surprising two steps as she retreated before he collapsed.

"Impressive," she said to him. "Most men would have died where they stood." Crouching down alongside him, she turned him onto his back, grunting. She took the two light-colored, flat stones from the pocket of her ruined tashta, placing a stone over each eye. She waited a few breaths, then reached down and plucked the stone from his right eye, leaving the other in place. She bounced the stone once in her palm and placed it on the roller press next to the fresh tashta.

Deliberately, she stripped away the bloody tashta and chemise, standing naked in the room except for her boots. She cleaned her knife carefully on the soiled tashta. There was small hearth on one wall; she blew on the coals banked there until they glowed, then placed the gory clothes atop them. As they burned, she washed her hands, face and arms in a basin of water she found under the worktable. Afterward, she dressed in the new chemise and tashta she'd brought. The stone -- the one from the right eye of all her contracts and all her matarh's -- she placed back in small leather pouch whose long strings went around her neck.

There were no voices for her in the stone, as there had been for her matarh. Her victims didn't trouble her at all. At least not at the moment.

She glanced again at the body, one eye staring glazed and cloudy at the ceiling, the other covered by a pale stone -- the sign of the White Stone.

Then she walked quietly back to the storeroom. She glanced at the golden zains there. She could have taken them, easily. They would have been worth far, far more than what ce'Mott had paid her. But that was another thing her Matarh had taught her: the White Stone did not steal from the dead. The White Stone had honor. The White Stone had integrity.

She unlocked the door. Opening it a crack, she looked outside, listening carefully also for the sound of footsteps on the alley's flags. There was no one about -- the narrow lane was as deserted as ever. She slid out from the door and shut it again. Walking slowly and easily, she walked away toward the more crowded streets of Brezno, smiling to herself.

Brie ca'Ostheim

Brie raised her eyebrow toward Rance ci'Lawli, her husband's aide and thus the person responsible for the smooth running of Brezno Palais. "She's the one, then?" she asked, pointing with her chin to the other room -- a drawing rooms in the lower, public levels of the Brezno Palais. Several of the court ladies were there, but one was seated on the floor with Elissa, Brie's oldest child, the two of them working on an embroidery piece.

Rance nodded. He towered over Brie as he towered over most people: Rance was long and thin, as if Cénzi had taken a normal person and stretched him out. He was also extraordinarily ugly, with pocked skin, sunken eyes, and the pallor of boiled rags. His teeth seemed too big for his mouth. Yet he possessed a keen mind, seemed to remember everything and everybody, and Brie would have trusted him with her life as she trusted him now. "That's Mavel cu'Kella," he whispered. It sounded like the grumbling of a distant storm.

"I suspected as much; I noticed Jan paying a lot of attention to her at the ball last month. And you're certain of her... condition?"

A nod. "Yes, Hïrzgin. I have my sources, and I trust them. There's already some whispers among the staff, and when she starts obviously showing... Well, we can't have that."

"Does Jan know?"

Rance shook his elongated head. "No, Hïrzgin. I came to you first. After all..."

"Yes," Brie sighed. "It's not the first time." She stared at Mavel through the sheer fabric of the curtain between the rooms. The young woman was younger than Brie by a good ten years, dark-haired as most of Jan's mistresses tended to be, and Brie envied the trim shape of her, though she imagined that she could see the slight swell of her belly under the sash of her tashta. After four children, Brie struggled to keep her own figure. Her breasts sagged from years of feeding hungry infants, her hips were wide and her stomach was crisscrossed with stretch marks. She was still holding much of the weight she'd gained with Eria, her youngest from almost three years ago. Mavil had the litheness that Brie had once possessed herself.

She wouldn't keep that long. Not now.

"The cu'Kella family has some land holdings in Miscoli. She could stay with her relatives there during her interment," Rance said. "I've had dealings with her vatarh; he was supposed to be on the list to be named chevaritt, but now..." He shook his head. "That will have to wait. We'll see if one of the minor Miscoli families might have a younger son they need to marry off, who would be willing to call the child his own. I'll make the usual offer for the girl's silence, and draw up the contracts for her vatarh to sign."

Brie nodded. "Thank you, Rance. As always."

He gave her an awkward half-bow. "It's my pleasure to serve you, Hïrzgin. Send Vajica cu'Kella to my office, and I'll talk with her. She'll be gone by this evening. I'll give the staff some convenient reason for her absence to counter the gossip." He bowed again and left her. Brie took a breath before the curtain and entering the drawing room. The women there rose as one, curtsying to her as she approached, while Elissa grinned widely and ran to her. Mavel rose slowly, and Brie thought she saw a hesitation in her curtsy, and a cautious jealousy in her eyes. The young woman's hand stayed on her stomach.

Brie crouched down to hug Elissa and gather her up in her arms, kissing her. "Are you enjoying yourself, my darling?" she asked Ellisa, brushing back the stray strands of gold-brown hair that had escaped her braids.

"Oh yes, Matarh," Ellisa said. "Mavel and I have been embroidering a scene from Stag Fall. Would you like to see?"

"Certainly." Brie kissed Elissa's forehead and put her down on the floor. She glanced at Mavel, who dropped her gaze to the rug, with its black and silver patterns. "But I was just talking to Rance, and he has asked that Vajica cu'Kella come to his office. Some family news." That brought the girl's head up again, and now her eyes were large and apprehensive. "I'm sure you'll excuse her," Brie said to Elissa.

There was a moment of silence. Brie could see the other ladies of the court glancing at each other. Then Mavel curtsied again, hurriedly. "Thank you, Hïrzgin," she said. "I'll go immediately." She gathered up her sewing, and left the room, brushing past Brie with the scent of almonds and flowers.

"Well, then," Brie said to Elissa. "Let's see that embroidery..." She smiled as she let Elissa take her hand, and the other women of the court smiled in return. Brie wondered, behind the smiles and idle talk, what they were really thinking.

But that, of course, she would never know.

Win a set of Chris Wooding's Ketty Jay books

I have two sets of Chris Wooding's Ketty Jay novels up for grabs, courtesy of the nice folks at Gollancz. The prize packs include:

- Retribution Falls (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks)
- Black Lung Captain (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks)

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email to: reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "KETTY JAY." 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!

Croatia photo album

Finally finished uploading some of my pics from Croatia on Facebook. So here's the link to the album. . .

If, after looking at these photos, you don't feel the urge to visit the Balkans, you might want to put a bullet in your head! Both Slovenia and Croatia were beautiful countries that have a lot to offer. And the Montenegro/Bosnia & Herzegovina/Serbia album is coming up!


Plane ticket: 1500$
Hostel bed: 20$ to 25$
Full meal with half a litre of beer: 12$
Good coffee: 1$ to 2$ a cup
Delicious gelato: 0.70$ to 1.75$ a scoop
Pint of beer: About 2.25$
Ferry ticket to the islands: 9$

Discovering a country full of culture and history, which offers terrific value for travelers, which seems to have gotten the best of what ex-Yougoslavia had to offer in terms of climate and real estate, and which has more stunning women per capita than anywhere else on this Earth:


Cover art for the limited edition of Joe Abercrombie's THE BLADE ITSELF

Here's the final version of the cover art for the Subterranean Press limited edition of Joe Abercrombie's debut, The Blade Itself. They went for one of the Alex Preuss pieces I posted a while back.

While I really like the illustration, I'm not too thrilled by the red font of the title. I feel it clashes with the background too much. But all in all, this is another gorgeous collector's item from the folks at Subterranean Press.

Check out the Subpress website if you want to pre-order your copy!

New Ian McDonald interview

Jason Pettus from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography recently interviewed science fiction author Ian McDonald. As always with McDonald, the Q&A is quite interesting. Even better, I felt that the interview works as well with long-time fans or newbies.

Here's an extract:

CCLaP: I know that text-based interviews are notoriously long to get through, so I'm going to stick mostly to your two newest US books, Ares Express and The Dervish House, but did want to start with a few general questions before doing so, starting with what I just mentioned, that you're nearly a lifelong resident of Northern Ireland. You've mentioned briefly in the past that this has a bit to do with your famed "third-world" settings for many of your SF novels, or perhaps it's better these days to call it the "developing world." Could you tell us a little more about the relationship between Northern Ireland and these countries that you see?

IM: That's right, start with the heavy hitter. Northern Ireland is the last vestige of the British Empire -- one of its first and last territories, and it's here that the end-game of Empire is still being played out. Thirty years of 'sectarian' violence -- in truth, armed unionism versus old-school 'one nation' nationalism -- does tend to predispose you to looking for those situations in other places around the world, whether it's India, or somewhere with its own Imperial past, like Turkey. I'm interested in divisions in society, where they come from, how they play out, how they become the hidden narrative of a nation -- the one the visitor has to be very sutble to pick up.


CCLaP: And in fact you've said before that these types of novels were at first a very hard sell to American audiences, especially when you started your Africa-set "Chaga" series. Has that changed? And what do you think about very recent developments like the global rise of the so-called BRIC coalition (Brazil, Russia, India and China, which to borrow the Victorian terms are in the process of upgrading from third-world status to second-world these days)? Oh, and I should make it clear, I'm with you as far as such terms as "third world" and the like being inherently uncomfortable and not really that applicable anymore to today's global society.

IM: The idea behind River of Gods was born out of an observation: when did you ever seen an Indian on 'Star Trek?' For all its vaunted racial harmony, it reflected the US world-view at the time. Yet here is a major nation with one of the world's most individual, powerful and ancient cultures -- the future is happening there like it's happening everywhere else, so why not set an SF novel in India? You still see the old attitude in US-centric message boards --when the mention is 'Asian,' it means east Asian. To us on this side of the Atlantic, we've always had a close relationship with South Asia. Likewise, as I researched more into Turkey, the more I was interested in how it challenged the stereotypes of populist post-colonial arguments: here's a big, diverse Empire that owned a lot of Europe, but wasn't Europeans -- and collapsed in nationalism, genocide and ultimately reinvented itself. That asks questions.


CCLaP: Okay, so that brings up my biggest question of this entire interview, the thing I've been intensely curious about since first becoming a fan, of just how much research and what type of research actually does go into writing these novels. They're known, in fact, for being unusually precise and detailed looks at these countries, not just the major issues but how local pop-culture is influencing these societies, the multiple tiers of differing views on religion, etc. As someone who's jealous of how well you do this, just how do you go about gathering in all these details in the first place?

IM: What, give away all my secrets? Well, I have this avatar body I can occupy...It takes years. I read a lot. I travel a lot -- and as much as I can afford. I talk to people, I read the papers. I cook the food. I buy the music, I follow the sports teams. I try to second-guess what the government will do in international politics. I learn a bit of the language. I study the religion. I study the etiquette. I try and work out what the day-to-day details are like. I watch people. I have a very strong visual memory and I can recreate an entire scene in my head and observe details. I cultivate an eye for detail. I take thousands of photographs of boring everyday things. I look at what's on sale in gas stations and what that tells you about a culture. I study the ads. I talk to more people. I get hammered on the local booze. I try to take the country's political position in the world news. I watch television. I read books for those tiny details. Is this like Method Acting? WTF are you doing with those lights?!? This takes time and intellectual and emotional commitment. I love it. Of course I get it wrong. Then again, I can write about what's going on at the bottom of my street and get it wrong...particularly my street. Oh, one other research tool. I tie bundles of memories to scents and smells. When I smell that scent again or something like it, everything in the bundle springs back into the forebrain.

You can read the full interview here.

And be sure to read any and all of Ian McDonald's fascinating scifi novels!:

- River of Gods (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks)
- Brasyl (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks)
- Cyberabad Days (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks)
- Desolation Road (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks)
- Ares Express (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks)
- The Dervish House (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks)

Get Kay Kenyon's BRIGHT OF THE SKY for free!

For a limited time only, Kindle-user can get Kay Kenyon's excellent opening chapter in The Entire and the Rose series, Bright of the Sky (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks), for free.

For my money, this is one of the very best recent science fiction series on the market and I encourage everyone to give it a shot. You won't be disappointed!

Subsequent volumes include A World Too Near (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks), City Without End (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks), and Prince of Storms (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks).

Hurry up before it's too late! ;-)

Comic book fans strike back!

This from Comics Alliance:

They've faced down humans time and time again, but Fred Phelps and his minions from the Westboro Baptist Church were not ready for the cosplay action that awaited them today at Comic-Con. After all, who can win against a counter protest that includes robots, magical anime girls, Trekkies, Jedi and...kittens?

Unbeknownst to the dastardly fanatics of the Westboro Baptist Church, the good folks of San Diego's Comic-Con were prepared for their arrival with their own special brand of superhuman counter protesting chanting "WHAT DO WE WANT" "GAY SEX" "WHEN DO WE WANT IT" "NOW!" while brandishing ironic (and some sincere) signs. Simply stated: The eclectic assembly of nerdom's finest stood and delivered

Click on the link above for photos and more. =)

Daniel Abraham contest winner!

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Subterranean Press, our winner will receive a copy of Daniel Abraham's Leviathan Wept and Other Stories. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks, and Subpress.

This collection of short stories is a must for any fan of SFF short fiction!

The winner is:

- Ieva Zalite, from Ikskile, Latvia

Many thanks to all the participants! =)

Musical Interlude

By sampling the Rocky soundtracks, Puff Daddy created what is probably his best beat ever.

There is an official video for this one, but it sucks. So I went for this instead...

Win a full set of S. L. Farrell's The Nessantico Cycle

For my money, S. L. Farrell's The Nessantico Cycle could well be the most underrated and overlooked fantasy series out there. With the third volume out since last spring, I wanted to give the trilogy some exposure as I get ready to finish reading the series. I have a full set up for grabs, courtesy of the kind folks at Daw Books. The prize pack includes:

- A Magic of Twilight (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks)
- A Magic of Nightfall (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks)
- A Magic of Dawn (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks)

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

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (July 20th)

In hardcover:

Justin Cronin's The Passage maintains its position at number 7. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Charlaine Harris' Dead in the Family is down one spot, finishing the week at number 13. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

MaryJanice Davidson's Undead and Unfinished debuts at number 15.

David Weber's Mission of Honor is down two spots, finishing the week at number 26.

Dean Koontz's Frankenstein: Lost Souls is down eleven positions, ending the week at number 29.

Stephen King's Blockade Billy is down five positions, ending the week at number 30. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Stephen King's Under the Dome debuts at number 4 (trade paperback)

Lev Grossman's The Magicians is down two positions, ending the week at number 17.

R. A. Salvatore's The Ghost King debuts at number 24.

Stephenie Meyer's The Host is down one spot, finishing the week at number 25 (trade paperback).

Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's The Strain is down four positions, ending the week at number 24.

Charlaine Harris' Dead and Gone is down twelve positions, ending the week at number 30.

Charlaine Harris' Dead Until Dark is down four spots, finishing the week at number 33.

Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Goes to War is down 18 positions, ending the week at number 35. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks.

Carrie Vaughn contest winners!

These lucky ladies will each receive a set of Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Goes to War (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks) and Discord's Apple (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks), compliments of the cool folks at Tor Books.

The winners are:

- Wendy Cheairs, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

- Alexa Huguet, from Greeley, Colorado, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Thirteen Years Later

Since I felt that Jasper Kent's Twelve (Canada, USA, Europe, AbeBooks) was the 2009 speculative debut of the year, I was quite excited to read the sequel, Thirteen Years Later. Regardless of their undeniable popularity, it's relatively easy to become jaded about the whole vampire fad. But the way Kent mixes up historical fiction and these bloodsuckers, well the results are something that keeps me coming back for more!

Here's the blurb:

In the summer of 1812, before the Oprichniki came to the help of Mother Russia in her fight against Napoleon, one of their number overheard a conversation between his master, Zmyeevich, and another. He learned of a feud, an unholy grievance between Zmyeevich and the rulers of Russia, the Romanovs, that began a century earlier at the time of Peter the Great. Indeed, while the Oprichniki's primary reason for journeying to Russia is to stop the French, one of them takes a different path. For he has a different agenda, he is to be the nightmare instrument of revenge on the Romanovs. But thanks to the valiant efforts of Captain Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, this maverick monster would not be able to begin to complete his task until thirteen years later. Now that time has come: it is 1825 and Russia once more stands on the brink of anarchy, and this time the threat comes from within...

It's been thirteen years since the French invasion, and Jasper Kent takes us back to a Russia at peace. But it is a peace that doesn't satisfy everyone in the country. Once again, the author's flair and his eye for historical details create an evocative narrative which takes us through the events that led to the Decembrist uprising in St. Petersburg. As was the case with Twelve, Kent's depiction of 19th Century Russia feels genuine and his prose creates an imagery that makes you feel as though you were there.

Unlike Twelve, however, Thirteen Years Later is not limited solely by Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov's first person narrative. Although it worked well in the first volume, I doubt it would have been as successful in this sequel. Hence, in addition to Danilov's narrative, we see events unfold through the eyes of a number of other players, great and small, and I felt that their POVs added another dimension to this quality tale. Danilov remains a fascinating character, complex and flawed though he may be, and it was great to see how he had grown in the last decade or so, and how he remained true to himself. New point of view characters include Tsar Aleksandr, Danilov's son Dmitry, Domnikiia, and the child Tamara. All in all, Kent maintained a good balance between the various POVs, which made for an enjoyable reading experience.

The novel's only problem was the sluggish pace that plagues the first portion of the story. The entire storyline surrounding Aleksei Danilov's first few meetings with the mysterious Kyesha moves at a snail's pace which prevents the reader to fully get into the novel. Once Kyesha's identity and his reason for seeking out Aleksei are finally revealed, then the plotlines kick into high gear and the rhythm is no longer an issue. God knows there are enough revelations and "fuck me" moments through the later portion of Thirteen Years Later to satisfy anyone. But I get the feeling that some people might find the beginning offputting and give up on the novel. No matter how slow the opening chapters are, keep going and you'll be rewarded with another engrossing read.

It's now obvious that Twelve offered us but a glimpse of the multilayered tale that the Danilov Quintet will turn out to be. In Thirteen Years Later, Jasper Kent lives up to the promise generated by his debut and demonstrates that he is for real.

If you have yet to give Jasper Kent a chance, I suggest you do so ASAP. Especially now that his novels will be published by Pyr in the USA. You can learn more and read extracts of Kent's novels on his official website.

The final verdict: 8/10

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

And here's the book trailer for Thirteen Years Later: