Quote of the Day

They will kneel, or they will burn. I will show no mercy.

- GEORGE R. R. MARTIN, The Winds of Winter

Being Ser Patrek of King's Mountain certainly has its perks! ;-)

The Player of Games

My first experience with Iain M. Banks' Culture cycle was Consider Phlebas back in 2009. Regardless of its shortcomings, I found the novel to be a work of vast scope and rare imagination. The worldbuilding, especially, was fascinating. The Culture and the Idiran Empire are fighting a galaxy-spanning war; the Idirans fighting for their Faith, while the Culture fights for their right to exist. But for all of its strengths, Consider Phlebas wasn't necessarily an easy book to get into.

Most Iain M. Banks fans opine that The Player of Games is an easier read and makes for a better entry point into the series, so I knew that this was the one I'd read next. As to why it took this long for me to finally give it a shot, I have no excuse. Too many books, too little time, I reckon. And yet, after finishing C. J. Cherryh's Cyteen I wanted to give another "older" scifi title a go. So here we are!

Here's the blurb:

The Culture--a humanoid/machine symbiotic society--has thrown up many great Game Players. One of the best is Jernau Morat Gurgeh, Player of Games, master of every board, computer and strategy. Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel and incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game, a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game and with it the challenge of his life, and very possibly his death.

Once more, though the worldbuilding is probably not as dense as in Consider Phlebas, it remains my favorite aspect of The Player of Games. I particularly liked everything that had to do with the Empire of Azad, where a complex game is used to determine social rank and political status. Known as the game of Azad, the game itself is subtle and convoluted and the strategy used by the players reflects their own personal political and philosophical outlook. It's a tactical game played on three-dimensional boards of different shapes and dimensions, and the winner is named emperor The bulk of the action takes place on the Empire's home planet of Eä and on Echronedal, the Fire Planet, where the last games of the tournament are played and where the emperor is crowned. Surprisingly, and that was likely my biggest disappointment, we learn very little about the Culture. I was expecting more in that regard. . .

The characterization was a bit uneven. I found that Gurgeh was ill-suited to carry the full story on his shoulders. Although he has his moments, he simply wasn't a compelling main protagonist. In addition, how the drone Mawhrin-Skel contrived to put Gurgeh in a position to be blackmailed so it could rejoin the ranks of the Culture's Special Circumstances (an organisation part of Contact, which is a bigger institution that coordinates Culture interactions with other civilisations) and send him to the Empire of Azad was more than a little far-fetched. Gurgeh's interaction with Flere-Imsaho, another drone sent to accompany him and help him in case things go south makes for some fun scenes. It was also interesting to witness Gurgeh's outlook on what he needed to do and his approach to the game change the more the tournament progressed and the more interactions he had with other players and Emperor Nicosar.

The pace is mostly fluid throughout the novel. There are a few rougher spots here and there, but for the most part the rhythm is never an issue. And though Gurgeh is not the most endearing or likeable of fellows, following his progress through the game of Azad is never dull. The conclusion of The Player of Games was satisfying, but the final revelation was telegraphed and came as no surprise to me. Which robbed the ending of a bit of its impact.

Having said that, for the most part I enjoyed reading this book and went through it in just a few sittings. Weighing in at 391 pages, The Player of Games is a relatively quick read. It's just not something that stays with you for very long afterward. It's entertaining, witty, intelligent, and well-written. But ultimately, it's not a novel that makes you want to read more Culture titles. Which is why I'm not sure if it's a better starting point for newbies than Consider Phlebas turned out to be.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

Just saw that you can now get your hands on the digital edition of Sylvain Neuvel's excellent Sleeping Giants for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A page-turning debut in the tradition of Michael Crichton, World War Z, and The Martian, Sleeping Giants is a thriller fueled by an earthshaking mystery—and a fight to control a gargantuan power.

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can get your hands on one of science fiction's most beloved classics, William Gibson's Neuromancer, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The Matrix is a world within the world, a global consensus-hallucination, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace . . .

Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employees crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction.

Hotwired to the leading edges of art and technology, Neuromancer ranks with 1984 and Brave New World as one of the century’s most potent visions of the future.

You can also download Rob Reid's Year Zero for 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Low-level entertainment lawyer Nick Carter thinks it’s a prank, not an alien encounter, when a redheaded mullah and a curvaceous nun show up at his office. But Frampton and Carly are highly advanced (if bumbling) extraterrestrials. The entire cosmos, they tell him, has been hopelessly hooked on American pop songs ever since “Year Zero” (1977 to us), resulting in the biggest copyright violation since the Big Bang and bankrupting the whole universe. Nick has just been tapped to clean up this mess before things get ugly. Thankfully, this unlikely galaxy-hopping hero does know a thing or two about copyright law. Now, with Carly and Frampton as his guides, Nick has forty-eight hours to save humanity—while hoping to wow the hot girl who lives down the hall from him.

Quote of the Day

I killed God and I feel empty inside.

- SYLVAIN NEUVEL, Waking Gods (Canada, USA, Europe)

Looks like this one will be as good as its predecessor!

Win a copy of Ian McDonald's LUNA: WOLF MOON

I received an extra ARC of Ian McDonald's Luna: Wolf Moon, so I'm giving it away to one lucky winner! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

A Dragon is dead.

Corta Helio, one of the five family corporations that rule the Moon, has fallen. Its riches are divided up among its many enemies, its survivors scattered. Eighteen months have passed.

The remaining Helio children, Lucasinho and Luna, are under the protection of the powerful Asamoahs, while Robson, still reeling from witnessing his parent’s violent deaths, is now a ward--virtually a hostage-- of Mackenzie Metals. And the last appointed heir, Lucas, has vanished of the surface of the moon.

Only Lady Sun, dowager of Taiyang, suspects that Lucas Corta is not dead, and more to the point—that he is still a major player in the game. After all, Lucas always was the Schemer, and even in death, he would go to any lengths to take back everything and build a new Corta Helio, more powerful than before. But Corta Helio needs allies, and to find them, the fleeing son undertakes an audacious, impossible journey--to Earth. In an unstable lunar environment, the shifting loyalties and political machinations of each family reach the zenith of their most fertile plots as outright war erupts.

Luna: Wolf Moon continues Ian McDonald's saga of the Five Dragons.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "WOLF." 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 Wind Through the Keyhole

When I finally finished reading Stephen King's The Dark Tower last summer, I knew I'd have to read The Wind Through the Keyhole in the near future. But having read the last three installments of the series over the course of a few weeks, I knew I also needed to take a break.

Since my favorite volume was Wizard and Glass, I relished the opportunity to revisit a younger Roland and hear him tell the legend of Tim Stoutheart to a frightened boy. And even though The Wind Through the Keyhole is little more than an interlude which adds nothing to the greater scheme of things, it was great to be reunited with Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy.

Here's the blurb:

Stephen King returns to the rich landscape of Mid-World, the spectacular territory of the Dark Tower fantasy saga that stands as his most beguiling achievement.

Roland Deschain and his ka-tet—Jake, Susannah, Eddie, and Oy, the billy-bumbler—encounter a ferocious storm just after crossing the River Whye on their way to the Outer Baronies. As they shelter from the howling gale, Roland tells his friends not just one strange story but two . . . and in so doing, casts new light on his own troubled past.

In his early days as a gunslinger, in the guilt-ridden year following his mother’s death, Roland is sent by his father to investigate evidence of a murderous shape-shifter, a “skin-man” preying upon the population around Debaria. Roland takes charge of Bill Streeter, the brave but terrified boy who is the sole surviving witness to the beast’s most recent slaughter. Only a teenager himself, Roland calms the boy and prepares him for the following day’s trials by reciting a story from the Magic Tales of the Eld that his mother often read to him at bedtime. “A person’s never too old for stories,” Roland says to Bill. “Man and boy, girl and woman, never too old. We live for them.” And indeed, the tale that Roland unfolds, the legend of Tim Stoutheart, is a timeless treasure for all ages, a story that lives for us.

King began the Dark Tower series in 1974; it gained momentum in the 1980s; and he brought it to a thrilling conclusion when the last three novels were published in 2003 and 2004. The Wind Through the Keyhole is sure to fascinate avid fans of the Dark Tower epic. But this novel also stands on its own for all readers, an enchanting and haunting journey to Roland’s world and testimony to the power of Stephen King’s storytelling magic.

As far as the timeline is concerned, The Wind Through the Keyhole is set between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Calla. The tale begins a few days following their departure from the Green Palace, as the ka-tet follows the Path of the Beam toward the land of Thunderclap. Roland realizes that a starkblast is coming and they must soon find shelter, or they'll freeze to death. The phenomenon is a storm of enormous proportions that sweeps over a landscape like a hurricane. A starkblast is always preceded by unseasonably warm weather, and its coming can be predicted by billy-bumblers who sense the approaching storm and keep turning around in circles. Hunkering down inside a stone building to survive the cold night, Roland kills time by recounting the tale of the Skin-Man and a boy named Bill Streeter. As much as I relished a return to Mid-World, it was an even better treat to have the opportunity to go back in the past, in the days of Gilead.

From the very beginning of the saga, as a no-nonsense Gunslinger Roland of Gilead immediately became a fan favorite. Wizard and Glass introduced us to a younger man and told the tale that explained how he ultimately became such a hardass Gunslinger. The tragic love story with Susan and the death of his mother affected Roland in a profound way. Still devastated by the fact that he was tricked into murdering Gabrielle Deschain, Roland and his friend Jamie De Curry are sent by his father to the town Debaria to investigate and capture a shape-shifter that terrorizes the area. Shortly following their arrival, a group of men, women, and children are brutally killed at a farm. The sole survivor is a boy named Bill, now an orphan for his father was murdered during the savage attack. Under hypnosis, Bill reveals to Roland that he saw the Skin-Man in his human form just after the attack. But he was hiding and only glimpsed his feet. He explains that the Skin-Man had a tattoo of a blue ring around his ankle. Such a tattoo indicates that the murderer spent time in a nearby prison. While Jamie is sent to round up possible suspects, Roland brings Bill to a cell in Sheriff's station. His plan is to walk each of them past Bill in the hopes that the boy can identify the Skin-Man, or that the murderer will somehow reveal himself by trying to escape. While they wait for Jamie's return, Roland tells Bill a tale from his own childhood, one that his mother used to tell him, "The Wind Through the Keyhole."

This is essentially another story within a story, the third one comprising this work, and makes up the better part of the book. It is the tale of a boy named Tim Ross. He lives alone with his mother Nell in a small village. Tim recently lost his father, who was apparently killed by a dragon while in the woods chopping trees. Faced with an uncertain future, Nell fears the annual collection of taxes by the Covenant Man. A starkblast is part of young Tim's misadventures, which is why it was brought to Roland's mind as they sought shelter from the storm. The boy is sent on a quest to find a cure for his mother's blindness, a quest that will take him far and at the end of which he'll meet the fabled magician Maerlyn. He would grow up to become Tim Stoutheart, one of the very few gunslingers not from the proven line of Arthur Eld.

Weighing in at only 309 pages, The Wind Through the Keyhole is a short work. The pace never drags and all too quickly one reaches the end. The three different storylines blend together seamlessly. What takes place in the "present" at the beginning and the ending are basically just an excuse for Roland to tell his tale to the rest of the ka-tet. As magical and interesting as Tim Ross' story turned out to be, it is the conclusion of the Debaria segment that offers the most poignant moment. On their way back to Gilead, they briefly stop at Serenity, a community of women where Gabrielle Deschain lived for a while after suffering a mental breakdown following her affair with Marten Broadcloak. Roland is shocked to discover that his mother left a missive for him, that somehow she knew he would one day visit Serenity. The content of that note makes for an emotional ending and was the perfect way to close the show.

The Wind Through the Keyhole brings nothing new or important to The Dark Tower series. It offers no insight into the plotlines or the characters. It does offer some sort of closure regarding Roland's guilt-ridden anguish following the killing of his mother. Other than that, it doesn't aspire to be anything but a fascinating and otherworldly return to Mid-World. Here's to hoping that inspiration will strike again and that Stephen King will treat his fans to other such enchanting tales in the future!

The final verdict: 7.75/10

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

For a limited time, you can download Deborah Harkness' A Discovery of Witches for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Deep in the stacks of Oxford's Bodleian Library, young scholar Diana Bishop unwittingly calls up a bewitched alchemical manuscript in the course of her research. Descended from an old and distinguished line of witches, Diana wants nothing to do with sorcery; so after a furtive glance and a few notes, she banishes the book to the stacks. But her discovery sets a fantastical underworld stirring, and a horde of daemons, witches, and vampires soon descends upon the library. Diana has stumbled upon a coveted treasure lost for centuries-and she is the only creature who can break its spell.

Debut novelist Deborah Harkness has crafted a mesmerizing and addictive read, equal parts history and magic, romance and suspense. Diana is a bold heroine who meets her equal in vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont, and gradually warms up to him as their alliance deepens into an intimacy that violates age-old taboos. This smart, sophisticated story harks back to the novels of Anne Rice, but it is as contemporary and sensual as the Twilight series-with an extra serving of historical realism

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

In hardcover:

Patricia Briggs' Silence Fallen debuts at number 2.

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is down one position, ending the week at number 3. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Anne Bishop's Etched in Bone debuts at number 15.

In paperback:

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is up one position, ending the week at number 9 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Humble Bundle and Open Road Media Partner to Celebrate Women in Science Fiction & Fantasy and Support First Book

This from the press release:


New York, NY; March 22, 2017—Two iconic science fiction titles­— Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed, and Skin Folk by Nalo Hopkinson—have been added to the sixteen-book Humble Book Bundle launched last week by Open Road Media and Humble Bundle to celebrate Women of Science Fiction and Fantasy. The bundle, in turn, supports First Book, a groundbreaking nonprofit that distributes books and educational materials to schools and programs serving children from low-income families, and gets books into the hands of disadvantaged children.

The Women of Science Fiction and Fantasy Humble Book Bundle now offers eighteen science fiction and fantasy titles by ten critically-acclaimed female authors including Octavia E. Butler, Robin McKinley, Elizabeth Hand, Nalo Hopkinson, Jane Yolen, Pamela Sargent, Katherine Kurtz, Jo Clayton, Kate Elliott, and Diana Pharaoh Francis. The ebooks are DRM-free and available in multiple formats including PDF, mobi, and epub. And as with all Humble Bundles, readers can choose how their purchase dollars are allocated: between the publisher, Humble Bundle, the featured charity First Book, or a second charity of their choice via the PayPal Giving Fund.

The bundle has three tiers. Readers who pay at least $1 will receive Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, Elizabeth Hand’s Wylding Hall, Kate Elliott’s Jaran, and Path of Fate by Diana Pharaoh Francis.

For $8 or more, readers will also unlock Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents, Robin McKinley’s Sunshine, Elizabeth Hand’s Black Light and Saffron and Brimstone, Jo Clayton’s Skeen’s Leap, Lammas Night by Katherine Kurtz, as well as the two iconic titles just unlocked as a Mid-Promotion Addition: Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed, and Skin Folk by Nalo Hopkinson.

Readers who choose to pay $15 or more will receive all of the above, plus Octavia Butler’s Unexpected Stories, Robin McKinley’s Beauty and The Hero and the Crown, Katherine Kurtz’s Camber of Culdi, Pamela Sargent’s The Shore of Women, and Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen.

The Women of Science Fiction and Fantasy Humble Book Bundle has already sold more than 5,600 bundles, and runs through March 29th at 11:00AM Pacific Time; to learn more, go to https://www.humblebundle.com/books/women-of-scifi-and-fantasy-book-bundle.

Paul S. Kemp contest winners!

These winners will get their hands on a copy of Paul S. Kemp's A Conversation in Blood, compliments of the folks at Del Rey. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Jesse Gurr, from College Place, Washington, USA

- Bob Wilkins, from Spanish Fort, Alabama, USA

- Patrick Ernst, from Fontana, California, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Win a copy of Cherie Priest's BRIMSTONE

Thanks to the generosity of the folks at Ace, I have a copy of Cherie Priest's Brimstone for you to win! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

In the trenches of Europe during the Great War, Tomas Cordero operated a weapon more devastating than any gun: a flame projector that doused the enemy in liquid fire. Having left the battlefield a shattered man, he comes home to find yet more tragedy for in his absence, his wife has died of the flu. Haunted by memories of the woman he loved and the atrocities he perpetrated, Tomas dreams of fire and finds himself setting match to flame when awake....

Alice Dartle is a talented clairvoyant living among others who share her gifts in the community of Cassadaga, Florida. She too dreams of fire, knowing her nightmares are connected to the shell-shocked war veteran and widower. And she believes she can bring peace to him and his wife's spirit.

But the inferno that threatens to consume Tomas and Alice was set ablaze centuries ago by someone whose hatred transcended death itself...

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

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Michael J. Sullivan's Age of Myth for only 1.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

Michael J. Sullivan’s trailblazing career began with the breakout success of his Riyria series: full-bodied, spellbinding fantasy adventures whose imaginative scope and sympathetic characters won a devoted readership and comparisons to fantasy masters Brandon Sanderson, Scott Lynch, and J.R.R. Tolkien himself. Now Sullivan’s stunning hardcover debut, Age of Myth, inaugurates an original five-book series—and one of fantasy’s finest next-generation storytellers continues to break new ground.

Since time immemorial, humans have worshipped the gods they call Fhrey, truly a race apart: invincible in battle, masters of magic, and seemingly immortal. But when a god falls to a human blade, the balance of power between humans and those they thought were gods changes forever.

Now only a few stand between humankind and annihilation: Raithe, reluctant to embrace his destiny as the God Killer; Suri, a young seer burdened by signs of impending doom; and Persephone, who must overcome personal tragedy to lead her people. The Age of Myth is over. The time of rebellion has begun.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (March 13th)

In hardcover:

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology maintains its position at number 2. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Chuck Wendig's Empire’s End: Aftermath is down eight positions, ending the week at number 11.

In paperback:

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale maintains its position at number 10 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Quote of the Day

Never do what you can't undo until you've considered well what you can't do once you've done it.

- ROBIN HOBB, Assassin's Fate (Canada, USA, Europe)

About 200 pages into this one and it's pretty good thus far! =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Alan Smale's Clash of Eagles for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Perfect for fans of action-adventure and historical fiction—including novels by such authors as Bernard Cornwell, Steve Berry, Naomi Novik, and Harry Turtledove—this stunning work of alternate history imagines a world in which the Roman Empire has not fallen and the North American continent has just been discovered. In the year 1218 AD, transported by Norse longboats, a Roman legion crosses the great ocean, enters an endless wilderness, and faces a cataclysmic clash of worlds, cultures, and warriors.

Ever hungry for land and gold, the Emperor has sent Praetor Gaius Marcellinus and the 33rd Roman Legion into the newly discovered lands of North America. Marcellinus and his men expect easy victory over the native inhabitants, but on the shores of a vast river the Legion clashes with a unique civilization armed with weapons and strategies no Roman has ever imagined.

Forced to watch his vaunted force massacred by a surprisingly tenacious enemy, Marcellinus is spared by his captors and kept alive for his military knowledge. As he recovers and learns more about these proud people, he can’t help but be drawn into their society, forming an uneasy friendship with the denizens of the city-state of Cahokia. But threats—both Roman and Native—promise to assail his newfound kin, and Marcellinus will struggle to keep the peace while the rest of the continent surges toward certain conflict.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can download James S. A. Corey's excellent Leviathan Wakes for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Welcome to the future. Humanity has colonized the solar system – Mars, the Moon, the Asteroid Belt and beyond – but the stars are still out of our reach.

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, The Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to The Scopuli and rebel sympathizer, Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe

You can also get your hands on Ken Follett's perennial bestseller, The Pillars of the Earth, for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The spellbinding epic set in twelfth-century England, The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of the lives entwined in the building of the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known—and a struggle between good and evil that will turn church against state, and brother against brother.

In a time of civil war, famine and religious strife, there rises a magnificent Cathedral in Kingsbridge. Against this backdrop, lives entwine: Tom, the master builder, Aliena, the noblewoman, Philip, the prior of Kingsbridge, Jack, the artist in stone and Ellen, the woman from the forest who casts a curse. At once, this is a sensuous and enduring love story and an epic that shines with the fierce spirit of a passionate age.

You can also download C. A. Higgins' Lightless for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

With deeply moving human drama, nail-biting suspense—and bold speculation informed by a degree in physics—C. A. Higgins spins a riveting science fiction debut guaranteed to catapult readers beyond their expectations.

Serving aboard the Ananke, an experimental military spacecraft launched by the ruthless organization that rules Earth and its solar system, computer scientist Althea has established an intense emotional bond—not with any of her crewmates, but with the ship’s electronic systems, which speak more deeply to her analytical mind than human feelings do. But when a pair of fugitive terrorists gain access to the Ananke, Althea must draw upon her heart and soul for the strength to defend her beloved ship.

While one of the saboteurs remains at large somewhere on board, his captured partner—the enigmatic Ivan—may prove to be more dangerous. The perversely fascinating criminal whose silver tongue is his most effective weapon has long evaded the authorities’ most relentless surveillance—and kept the truth about his methods and motives well hidden.

As the ship’s systems begin to malfunction and the claustrophobic atmosphere is increasingly poisoned by distrust and suspicion, it falls to Althea to penetrate the prisoner’s layers of intrigue and deception before all is lost. But when the true nature of Ivan’s mission is exposed, it will change Althea forever—if it doesn’t kill her first.

Quote of the Day

These must be your only three thoughts: I will escape. I will make them fear me. And if I have the chance, I will kill them.

- ROBIN HOBB, Assassin's Fate (Canada, USA, Europe)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Neal Stephenson's Seveneves for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Anathem, Reamde, and Cryptonomicon comes an exciting and thought-provoking science fiction epic—a grand story of annihilation and survival spanning five thousand years.

What would happen if the world were ending?

A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.

But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain . . .

Five thousand years later, their progeny—seven distinct races now three billion strong—embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown . . . to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.

A writer of dazzling genius and imaginative vision, Neal Stephenson combines science, philosophy, technology, psychology, and literature in a magnificent work of speculative fiction that offers a portrait of a future that is both extraordinary and eerily recognizable. As he did in Anathem, Cryptonomicon, the Baroque Cycle, and Reamde, Stephenson explores some of our biggest ideas and perplexing challenges in a breathtaking saga that is daring, engrossing, and altogether brilliant.

Bradley P. Beaulieu interview

When I considered resuming doing new interviews, I checked to see who was releasing something new in the near future, or had just published a new book, and of course Bradley P. Beaulieu's name immediately came up. With Blood Upon the Sand (Canada, USA, Europe) just hit the shelves and the timing was just about right to have a chat with the author!


- TWELVE KINGS IN SHARAKHAI garnered a lot of rave reviews when it was released in 2015. That book marked a lot of new beginnings for you: New series, new publishers, new Middle-Eastern setting, etc. Looking back, how happy are you with readers' response to the first installment in The Song of the Shattered Sands series?

Honestly, I couldn’t ask for much more. It got a lot of attention when it came out in September of that year and again a few months later when it hit over twenty “Best of the Year” lists. My favorite part has been meeting (mostly virtually) so many new fans. People really seem to like the main character, Çeda, and that’s been immensely gratifying, because I really came to like her as well.

- Without giving too much away, can you give potential readers a taste of the tale that is The Song of the Shattered Sands?

I usually tell people to think of A Game of Thrones crossed with Arabian Nights. The Song of the Shattered Sands is a sweeping epic fantasy told against a backdrop of cruel kings, fickle gods, sandships, blood magic, and a desert city as grand as the soaring palaces of its kings and as gritty as the back-alleys that house the desperate yet brutal resistance to their rule.

- What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write The Song of the Shattered Sands in the first place?

There were a lot of influences roiling around when this book started to coalesce—things that sparked early ideas without it necessarily being a story as yet. What really made me fall in love with it, though, was the notion of family and society and how those concepts can change over time. The main character, Çeda, is a pit fighter when we first meet her. Through flashbacks, we also meet her mother, who was murdered by the Kings when Çeda was young. Her mother had a purpose in the desert city of Sharakhai. She just hadn’t told Çeda about it by the time she died.

Throughout the book, Çeda begins to see more of her mother’s purpose. She starts to connect with her mother’s past—her family’s past as well—and it’s through that journey that we start to see more about the Kings and the dark bargain they made with the desert gods to secure their power.

Again and again, I came back to the notions of friendship, family, culture, and customs. Çeda thought she knew what the desert was about, what the city was about, but that all changed when she began uncovering more secrets about her mother’s past. Those ideas were emotional touchpoints that helped drive the novel and keep me interested in writing it.

- How well-received has the second volume, WITH BLOOD UPON THE SAND, been thus far?

So far so good! Enough people seemed to be hungry for it that it got a decent bit of buzz when it hit the shelves.

I was very nervous about it, though. This may come as a complete surprise, but authors are kind of neurotic. I believed in the book, of course. So did my editors and beta readers. But there’s always that doubt. Will it really take off? Will it live up to the promise of the first book?

So far, I’m happy to say that people seem to be digging it. The hope now is that the momentum continues through the rest of the series!

- What's the progress report for volume 3? Any tentative release date?

The third installment is titled A Veil of Spears, and I’ve heard word that we’re targeting March of 2018, a year from now. I’m just now reaching the end of the book. It’s a hot mess, honestly. The longer I write, the more I leave minor details and massaging of prose to the next draft so I can simply get the bones down.

- You have also published some sort of companion book titled OF SAND AND MALICE MADE a few months back. What can you tell us about it?

Of Sand and Malice Made is a small novel, a triptych of three novellas that tell a story that’s set a few years before Twelve Kings in Sharakhai. The story is about Çeda and an ehrekh, a djinni of sorts, who becomes … curious about Çeda. With the ehrekh’s curiosity comes mystery, intrigue, and danger, but when the ehrekh sets its sights on Çeda’s friends, she becomes desperate to stop it.

It’s a prequel of sorts. I think it’s great for existing fans of the series who want to dive back into the world, but some have said it was a nice introduction that got their feet wet before biting off a doorstop fantasy. For fans of the series, there are also some cool plot threads that begin in Sand and Malice and are picked up again in With Blood Upon the Sand.

- You were unfortunately affected by the troubled times at Night Shade Books while writing/publishing The Lays of Anuskaya. It wasn't easy for anyone involved, that goes without saying. How different has your experience been working with the folks at Daw Books and Gollancz for The Song of the Shattered Sands?

When I signed with Night Shade Books, they were a small, hungry company looking to expand into epic fantasy. They decided to give my books a shot, and for that, I was and remain grateful. I feel genuinely bad that Night Shade didn’t survive in their initial incarnation. (Their assets, as you alluded, were later sold off in a rather messy process for most authors.) Despite how it ended, they had good vision and put out a lot of strong, bold books while the original team were publishing. Their ship eventually hit choppy waters—which is no real surprise; publishing is a famously ruthless business, after all—but they still have a lot to be proud of.

Things are always going to be different when moving from a mid-sized publisher to one of the Big 5, or one like DAW, who distributes through one of the Big 5 (in their case, Penguin Random House). They have bigger budgets for editing, artwork, marketing and publicity. They have longer, closer relationships with book sellers. They have more personnel to handle various specialized tasks.

So the experience has been different, and welcome, because it’s given the books a chance at reaching a wider audience. I’m grateful to DAW and Gollancz for giving me a shot. And because the books have been doing so well, I’m glad I’ve been able to reward their faith.

- Terrorism has been an important part of both The Lays of Anuskaya and The Song of the Shattered Sands. In the former, you gave the character Soroush a lot of depth, showing that there was much more to him than just being a fundamentalist terrorist. Personally, and I'm aware that some readers will disagree with me, I felt that your portrayal of the Moonless Host was decidedly black and white. There were no layers, no shades of gray.

And I'm wondering if the fact that Islamic terrorism is on the news every day of the week, as well as the fact that you have created a Middle-Eastern environment, perhaps had you walking on thin ice while writing about the Moonless Host? That perhaps you could go deeper in a Russian-inspired setting, but that fear of being accused of Islamophobia or of generalizing could have forced you, even subconsciously, to somewhat take a step back. Could that be the case?

One of the primary themes I was working with in both series was the notion of how empire is viewed and what the consequences will be. Conquest isn’t easy. It’s bloody and painful and has ramifications that last generations into centuries. When a society is conquered and is so thoroughly outmatched, whether that’s through technology or magic or sheer might, there’s little left for the marginalized except peaceful protest, civil disobedience, or terrorist acts.

I’ve long been struck by the notion of resistance movements, and that interest was only heightened by the Gulf War, 9/11, the Iraq War, and all of the US’s meddling in the Middle East. What one person views as a terrorist others view as a freedom fighter. I condemn all such actions, of course, but it’s not difficult to understand why constant occupation and bombing would lead to a strong, radical resistance movement. In fact, it’s ridiculous to think it would lead to anything else. Violence begets violence.

All of that has been roiling around in my mind since then, and it’s come through in my writing. With The Lays of Anuskaya, I wasn’t interested in painting either side as right or wrong. I wanted more shades of gray between the various players to show how easily we can dehumanize the “other.” And to then ask the question: what do we do when confronted with the humanity of your enemy? We have preconceptions of what our supposed enemies are like, but if we knew them, we’d likely be struck by how similar they are to us, how aligned our desires: to live, to worship as we choose, to raise children and see them prosper, to do what we love without interference.

In The Song of the Shattered Sands, however, I made a conscious decision to make the opposition, the Kings, more traditionally evil. It did this partially to make sure that the two series had their own unique identities, and partially to tread new ground as a writer. I wanted a starker difference between the heroes and the antagonists.

The Kings, while still human, are right bastards. And the Moonless Host, the primary opposition to the Kings, are pretty ruthless in return. They do some terrible things in the city and beyond. Even so, I don’t consider them completely black or irredeemable. They are people who are dealing with centuries of oppression and, right or wrong, they’ve become desperate to even the scales.

I suspect part of the issue in Twelve Kings is that we view the Host primarily through two characters—Çeda and Ramahd—and both of them hate the Moonless Host for different reasons. If some consider the Host without gradation, it may be because Çeda and Ramahd view them that way. I don’t know. I can only say that there is a deep-seated anger in the scarabs of the Moonless Host that pushes them to try harder, to be as ruthless as the Kings have been. After all, if they aren’t, what hope is there for them?

- What comes first for you when it comes time to consider your next novel/series: themes you wish to explore, a setting you're interested in, or characters you want to write about?

I don’t know that there’s any one answer. I let ideas marinate for a long time before I start writing a new series. Several years, in fact. My next two series are marinating now, and a several more are bubbling around inside my head in nascent form. Worldbuilding is really important to me, so I suppose that’s one of the first things I focus on. But I feel very, if you’ll excuse the pun, ungrounded if I don’t get a few characters out pretty quickly after that. The two play off one another, because to me they’re inextricably linked: the world itself gives birth to the characters, and character ideas often necessitate certain aspects of the world.

This creates a feeback loop of sorts. Ideas, be they world or characters ideas, grow and start to influence one another, and slowly but surely the story itself starts to accrete. Then it’s a matter of becoming the gardener, in George Martin parlance, to fertilize the soil and prune the story into a shape that’s pleasing to me (and hopefully readers!)

From that process, the theme starts to make itself known. I don’t often focus on it heavily just then, however. If it does present itself, great. If not, I know it will come to me in the writing. By the time I’m done with the first draft of the book, I know pretty well what things I want to enhance and draw out on the subsequent drafts.

- You have been a prolific short fiction writer in the past. Do you have any short stories/novellas coming up in 2017?

I do! There are two more coming up in anthologies, both Shattered Sands shorts. One is going to appear in Ragnarok Publications’ Hath No Fury anthology. It features Djaga, Çeda’s mentor in the fighting pits of Sharakhai.

The second is a story that will appear in Grimdark Magazine’s Evil is a Matter of Perspective anthology, which features a story from the perspective of the ehrekh, Rümayesh, whom we first met in Of Sand and Malice Made.

I’ll also give a shout out to the Unfettered II charity anthology, from Grim Oak Press, which came out last September. That one features a story about Dardzada, Çeda’s foster parent in Sharakhai after her mother was killed by the Kings of Sharakhai.

- Characters often take a life of their own. Which of your characters did you find the most unpredictable to write about?

Dardzada the apothecary was probably the trickiest to write. He was someone who loved Çeda’s mother, and loved Çeda in his own way, but became overly protective of her. He did some pretty nasty things to her, things no loving parent would ever do. He’s a man who bottles his emotions, which often makes them come out much later in cruel and ugly ways. It certainly did with Dardzada.

I still wanted to paint him as human, though. He genuinely cared for Çeda. He just did a shit job of it. Having the young Çeda fall into his lap wasn’t something he was prepared for. That line between fumbling foster parent, an agent of the Moonless Host, and a man who wants to do right by the memory of Çeda’s mother was a difficult one to walk.

- How has your interaction with fans and critics colored your choices in terms of characterization and plot? Has there ever been anything that you've changed due to such interaction in any of your novels?

No, not really. I think that’s a really dangerous path to head down. It can really stifle creativity, make you tentative, and nothing kills a story like being tentative. When I write, I try to stay bold. Sometimes when I read it back I realized I’ve gone too far and I pull back, or that I’ve been tentative and I push harder, but in doing so I do try hard to keep it my story, the one my inner self wants to read, not what I hope readers will like. The distinction between writing for you and writing for your audience may seem small, but for me it’s crucial one, and I always try for the former.

As a small aside, and perhaps a word of warning for other authors out there, you’ll eventually come across a critique of your work that hits home. Really wounds you. Someone hates a character you dearly love, or thinks your plot is simplistic, or that the world is dull. But you’ll find in the very next critique someone who loves all the things the previous person hated about your story. You can’t please everyone. So don’t try to. Write for yourself. Write the book you really want to read.

The time for editing will come. Trust your beta readers and your editors. They’ll (generally) steer you right. And by the way, this is not to say we can’t improve in our writing. We all can. But it’s counterproductive at best to listen to too many critics. At worst, it can choke your creative process so fully that it can stifle your career, even damage it irreparably.

In the writing, stay true to yourself. Stay true to the story. The rest will work itself out later.

- According to George R. R. Martin, most authors are either architects, who write novels based on detailed outlines, or gardeners, who have a general idea of where the storylines are going but prefer to watch things grow as they go along. Which type of writer are you and why do you prefer that approach?

Ha! I hadn’t read this question before I answered above using the gardener term.

It’s funny. I come from a computer science background. I’ve been a programmer in the IT world since graduating college mumbledyfumble years ago. I thought I’d be a heavy outliner. And I tried to be for my first few trunked novels. Tried hard. But it just never came to me. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t see the story until I was knee-deep in it.

That said, I can’t just spin a story from nothing, either. This is partly why I take years to generate story ideas and to fill out the tale. I do plot, I just don’t do it heavily. I loosely work out the major turning points in the novel, as well as the ending, I plot out the first several chapters in some detail, and then I get into the writing.

The writing immediately starts to advise me, not only on what’s happening in the here and now, but where the story’s headed, where it’s necessarily been in order to arrive at this point in these circumstances with these particular characters. I’m constantly course-correcting while I’m writing, though I tend not to go back and re-write major pieces of the novel while I’m in progress. I don’t want to stall my forward progress, so I just jot down notes that I know I need to work on during the next draft.

I’ve come to really enjoy the second and third drafts, by the way. That’s where a lot of the magic enters the story for me these days.

- Have you ever written a scene, only to be stunned by your own reaction after reading it?

Yeah, there are some that are quite emotional for me. The scene in Twelve Kings in Sharakhai that does this to me is the one where Çeda visits this salt flat, and there are flocks of “blazing blues,” birds which flock in massive numbers like starlings. It was a touching scene, and one I added to create a bond between Çeda and her mother that had been lacking previously.

There are also some where people do some heroic or dastardly things. Meryam of Qaimir (Ramahd’s companion) is one such. She’s become one of the main players in the story, and it’s been quite fun seeing her transformation from driven to nearly maniacal in her quest to further the interests of her kingdom.

- How do you see heroism in epic fantasy?

Heroism can be a tricky subject, especially for authors new to the craft. We want our heroes to do great things. But we can’t have them be shining paladins with perfect smiles, either. They have to be human. One of the more difficult parts of the story-making process is to place the hero into a situation where they can do great things without making it look too easy. It has to come hard. The heroes have to work for it. There has to be an emotional cost to it, because it’s only through that the reader is going to care about the outcome.

I want my characters to do great things. I want them to be seen as heroic. But I want them to be believable too. They have to be human. They should celebrate their victories, certainly, because in that the reader feels a sense of release as well, but there also needs to be grief when they’ve made mistakes or made the hard choice. It’s a tricky formula to get right.

- Some writers admit having a favorite book among those they've written previously, others say that their favorite is their current work in progress, and others still say it's always the next book that hasn't been written yet. How about you?

I will admit that there’s a certain luster to that next book. There’s so much possibility. Things are still in your head, and they’re shiny. They’ve not yet been marred by your inability to create the perfect novel.

That said, I really do get invested in the current book while I write. I try to get myself into the emotional space to heighten what the characters themselves are going through. I don’t often get that on the first draft. It comes a bit more on the second and third drafts, when all the hard work is really starting to come together. There’s nothing more satisfying for a writer then reading a scene that feels just right in the context of the greater story.

- Neil Gaiman said of Lord Dunsany’s THE KING OF ELFLAND’S DAUGHTER, “...It’s a rich red wine, which may come as a shock if all one has had so far has been cola.” If WITH BLOOD UPON THE SAND was a drink, which one would it be? Would you recommend downing it in one shot or sipping it slowly...?

I’ll admit that I’m often thinking about single-malt whiskeys while I write about araq in the novels, so I’m going to go with that. Something with a bit of bite, subtle smoke, peaty and buttery, notes of vanilla, oak, and leather. Sipped slowly, of course! Always savor.

Now I need a drink. Be right back...

- Anything else you wish to share with us?

On the off chance that any of your readers will be in France this May, I’ll be headed to Les Imaginales in Épinal, France, May 18-21. My next appearance in the US is likely going to be GenCon in Indianapolis this coming August 17-20.

Thanks for having me by! This was an interesting talk.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download China Miéville's Three Moments of an Explosion for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The Washington Post • NPR • The Guardian • Kirkus Reviews • The fiction of multiple award–winning author China Miéville is powered by intelligence and imagination. Like George Saunders, Karen Russell, and David Mitchell, he pulls from a variety of genres with equal facility, employing the fantastic not to escape from reality but instead to interrogate it in provocative, unexpected ways.

London awakes one morning to find itself besieged by a sky full of floating icebergs. Destroyed oil rigs, mysteriously reborn, clamber from the sea and onto the land, driven by an obscure purpose. An anatomy student cuts open a cadaver to discover impossibly intricate designs carved into a corpse’s bones—designs clearly present from birth, bearing mute testimony to . . . what?

Of such concepts and unforgettable images are made the twenty-eight stories in this collection—many published here for the first time. By turns speculative, satirical, and heart-wrenching, fresh in form and language, and featuring a cast of damaged yet hopeful seekers who come face-to-face with the deep weirdness of the world—and at times the deeper weirdness of themselves—Three Moments of an Explosion is a fitting showcase for one of literature’s most original voices.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (March 6th)

In hardcover:

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology maintains its position at number 2. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Chuck Wendig's Empire’s End: Aftermath debuts at number 3.

V.E. Schwab’s A Conjuring of Light debuts at number 6.

In paperback:

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is down five spots, finishing the week at number 10 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Kristen Britain interview

Since Kristen Britain's Firebrand (Canada, USA, Europe) has just been released, the timing was perfect to have a chat with the author.

Here's the blurb:

Green Rider Karigan G’ladheon, not yet recovered in heart or mind from her unexpected trip through time, is assigned a new mission. She must seek out the legendary creatures called p’ehdrosian to renew an alliance of old in the face of dire threats from enemies who seek to destroy Sacoridia using dark magic.

Each step on her journey northward grows more perilous as she faces attacks from groundmites, encounters with ghosts, and, ultimately, the threat of the necromancer and leader of Second Empire, Grandmother, as they approach the enemy encampment in the Lone Forest.

Meanwhile, King Zachary of Sacoridia has been kidnapped by an ice elemental who is allied with Second Empire. Can Karigan free her king from captivity with just two allies by her side?


- Without giving anything away, can you give readers a taste of the tale that is FIREBRAND and the Green Rider series?

FIREBRAND is the latest installment in the Green Rider series, which follows the adventures of king's messenger (Green Rider) Karigan G'ladheon. Karigan is constantly challenged on a personal, as well as larger, level and some of her trials in the new book will be quite difficult for her to overcome. I've also drawn the character of King Zachary more into this latest book which should make for an interesting dynamic. In the previous books he has had only two very small point of view scenes.

- Are you happy with the advance praise garnered by FIREBRAND thus far?

To be honest I have not seen a lot of it since I have been very busy around release, but I am gratified that the response seems positive so far.

- Will you be touring during the course of the spring to promote FIREBRAND? If so, are there any specific convention dates that have been confirmed as of yet?

I won't be doing any formal touring, but do have some events lined up. I've just returned from Emerald City Comic Con which was overwhelming but fun, and will be doing signings at the Las Cruces, NM Barnes & Nobel 3/25, and the El Paso, TX Public Library (main branch) 3/26. I'll be a guest of honor at Ad Astra in Toronto 5/5-5/7. Then onward to the Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor, ME for an event 5/12.

- Is the release of a new book always stressful, or does the feeling fades to a lesser extent now that you have gained a wider readership?

For me personally, book release is a little stressful every time. Maybe because it has happened to me fewer times than other authors and I am not as accustomed to it. There is suddenly a lot of activity on social media, requests for interviews, essays, blogs, etc. I am introverted and the sudden scrutiney can be a little intimidating. But, it is also a pleasure to get one's book out into the world to share with others.

- What can readers expect from the upcoming sequels? Any tentative titles and release dates?

I am under contract for at least two more Green Rider books, titles and dates TBA.

- Now that you've made it to the New York Times Bestseller list, is there added pressure when the time comes to release something new? Readers likely have higher expectations with each new work you publish. Do you ever think about that, or about the fact that publishers now expect you to move a certain amount of units every time something with your name on it hits the shelves?

Yes, I do feel a little more pressure to perform with each book, which adds to the stress addressed above, however I am not sure how much of the pressure is actually extermal or internal. I think we tend to be harder on ourselves. Of course, it's better not to bomb, because that can precipitate a downward spiral in one's career.

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

Characters. At least that's what I am told. I like to meddle in the affairs of my characters, and they are the ones who dictate how the story goes.

- What comes first for you when it comes time to consider your next novel: themes you wish to explore, a setting you're interested in, or characters you want to write about?

All of the above, really, though characters, and what is to become of them, really drives a given book.

- Were there any perceived conventions of the fantasy genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write the Green Rider series?

One was landscape. I grew up reading fantasy in the late '70s and '80s and it seemed that many books were set in a sort of pseudo-European landscape, perhaps because of Tolkien. When I started the first book, I was living in Maine, which is really the landscape of my heart, and thought it would make a wonderful backdrop for a fantasy novel, which I thought would also break the mold of the generic or pseudo-European landscape.

- Characters often take a life of their own. Which of your characters did you find the most unpredictable to write about?

Xandis Amberhill. He was supposed to be a no-name walk on character, but he sort of stole the show in THE HIGH KING'S TOMB.

- GREEN RIDER was originally published 19 years ago. I know it doesn't make you feel any younger, but how special is it to see the book still selling after nearly two decades? Are you surprised by your debut's longevity?

I am actually surprised and delighted by GREEN RIDER's longevity, especially knowing that some books barely see the light of day before vanishing into the mists. We gave out a lot of copies at Emerald City Comic Con and I hope it will find new readers. And no, acknowledging the 19 years doesn't make me feel any younger...aaaaaahhhhh!!

- Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. What are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of the covers that grace your books?

As mentioned above, I grew up reading fantasy novels in the late '70s and '80s. The Brothers Hildebrandt were very hot. I absolutely loved their Tolkien calenders and their paintings really seemed to catch some ambiance of The Lord of the Rings and carry on the story in some way. So, maybe I'm a little old fashioned in liking highly illustrative covers. I feel very fortunate in my covers, first illustrated by Keith Parkinson, then carried on by Donato after Keith's premature death. I own some of the original art, if that is any indication of how much I love the covers.

- Have the plotlines diverged much since you began writing the series, or did you have the entire plot more or less figured out from the very beginning? Were any characters added or further fleshed out beyond your original intention? Have you made any changes to your initial plans during the course of the writing of the series?

My "plans" are very general. When I wrote GREEN RIDER, I had no idea if anyone would want it, much less a sequel. Unlike JK Rowling, I have been mostly flying by the seat of my pants.

- According to George R. R. Martin, most authors are either architects, who write novels based on detailed outlines, or gardeners, who have a general idea of where the storylines are going but prefer to watch things grow as they go along. Which type of writer are you and why do you prefer that approach?

I tend to be more of a "gardener". I am not much of a planner in any aspect of my life.

- Some writers admit having a favorite book among those they've written previously, others say that their favorite is their current work in progress, and others still say it's always the next book that hasn't been written yet. How about you?

I am fond of all the books for one reason or another. In each I try to challenge myself and my abilities, and I think that is a key to continued creativity, plus increasing skill.

- Neil Gaiman said of Lord Dunsany’s THE KING OF ELFLAND’S DAUGHTER, “...It’s a rich red wine, which may come as a shock if all one has had so far has been cola.” If FIREBRAND was a drink, which one would it be? Would you recommend downing it in one shot or sipping it slowly...?

I don't know. Depends what kind of drinker the reader is ;-). From what I gather from readers I hear from, it is a fast shot.

- If your readers could only take one thing away from having read FIREBRAND (apart from enjoying the read) what would you want that thing to be?

That as much as there can be terrible things that happen, there is also humor and delight.

- You have been writing novels for nearly two decades. What has changed the most in the speculative fiction genre since you began your career? How about you as a writer?

I think, and it's not necessarily genre-centric, the biggest changes have been in technology and markets, as well as in the diversity of voices being published. Since I started writing GREEN RIDER, the internet became a thing and personal computers have proliferated. Amazon became a giant and old standbys such as Borders and B. Dalton and others failed. Independent publishing has become popular as have ebooks. As far as diversity, fantasy publishing no longer belongs to one single culture or race, which enriches the genre. It will be interesting to see what the future holds.

- If you could go back in time and offer some advice to Kristen Britain at the start of her career, what would it be?

It'll be all right. Patience.


When bestselling and award-winning SFF author C.J. Cherryh was named the 32nd SFWA Damon Knight Grand Master last year, I knew I had to read and review something she had written. I own a few Cherryh titles, but they're in storage somewhere and I couldn't find them. Perusing various threads on message boards, I discovered that a majority of the author's fans consider Downbelow Station and Cyteen to be her best novels to date. Both have won the Hugo Award for best novel and both appear on basically every single "Best science fiction books of all time" lists out there. Hence, it seemed that I couldn't go wrong with either of them.

I elected to go for Downbelow Station first because, even though it's part of the Alliance-Union series, the novel reads like a stand-alone. My only concern was that it might not have aged well. Originally published in 1981, the book was now 35 years old. And unlike fantasy, older scifi titles often tend to lose a lot of their luster as time goes by. Not so with Downbelow Station, I was pleasantly surprised. True, some of the technology was a bit obsolete. But it could stand on its own and give most recent space opera books a run for their money. All in all, in terms of plot and characterization, it was an excellent read!

Be that as it may, Cherryh fans were quick to point out that Cyteen was a better, more ambitious story. Understandably, I knew I had to get my hands on a copy and review it. From the very beginning you realize that this is going to be something special. Cyteen is definitely one of the very best science fiction novels I have ever read. For a while, it looked as though it would garner a perfect score from me. But the closer I got to the end, the more it became evident that the author couldn't possibly close the show adequately with that dwindling pagecount. Problem is, Cyteen ends in an abrupt fashion and offers no resolution whatsoever. Little did I know that the story continues in Regenesis, the direct sequel to Cyteen. I was shocked to discover that it took C. J. Cherryh twenty-one years to write that book! I simply couldn't believe my eyes when I read that. Imagine waiting for over two decades to find out how what is considered one of the best science fiction novels ever written ends. Makes you realize that George R. R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss are not that bad, right? In any event, I have a copy of Regenesis on its way, so I won't have to wait for a long time before I can sit down and read it. This lack of a genuine ending prevented this one from getting a perfect score, yet there is no denying that Cyteen remains an incredible read. And like Downbelow Station, though it is twenty-nine years old, Cyteen stands head and shoulders above most scifi titles still in print today.

Here's the blurb:

A brilliant young scientist rises to power on Cyteen, haunted by the knowledge that her predecessor and genetic duplicate died at the hands of one of her trusted advisors. Murder, politics, and genetic manipulation provide the framework for the latest Union-Alliance novel by the author of Downbelow Station. Cherryh's talent for intense, literate storytelling maintains interest throughout this long, complex novel.

Like Downbelow Station, Cyteen is set in the Alliance-Union universe. For years and years, space was explored by the Earth Company, a private corporation which became extremely wealthy and powerful. What is known as the Beyond began with space stations orbiting the stars nearest Earth. And those early stations were emotionally and politically dependent on the Earth Company. A number of star systems were found to lack planets suitable for colonization, so space stations were built in orbit instead, each of them a stepping-stone for further space exploration. Then, Pell's World was discovered to be habitable and Pell Station was built. This newly discovered planet altered the power balance of the Beyond forever, as Earth was no longer the anchor that kept this incredibly vast empire together. And Pell was just the first living planet. Then came Cyteen and others, and a new society grew in the farther reaches of space. Earth's importance continued to fade and the Earth Company's profits continued to diminish as the economic focus of space turned outward. When Earth began to lose control of its more distant stations and worlds, the Earth Company Fleet was sent to enforce its will in the Beyond. This led to a prolonged war with the breakaway Union, based at Cyteen. Caught between the two factions are the stationers and the merchanters who crew the freighters that maintain interstellar trade between planets and stations. This conflict came to be known as the Company War.

While Downbelow Station took place during the final days of the war, Cyteen occurs decades following its end. The entire novel takes place on planet Cyteen, and this one is more hard science fiction than space opera. Cyteen is home to the research facility of Reseune, which holds the monopoly on all research and development of human cloning. The Union boosts its population and its army with genetically engineered and psychologically conditioned human clones. These azi, as the clones are known, are seen as an abomination by Earth and the Alliance. This is a dense and brilliant work that explores the concepts of free will, identity, and personality, as well as the ethics surrounding human cloning, genetic manipulation, social conditioning, and the psychological and emotional repercussions associated with these things. It is well nigh impossible to put a distinct label on Cyteen. It's a richly detailed and complex novel that is not always easy to read. Some readers might find that off-putting, but stick with it and you'll be rewarded with an amazing science fiction psychological thriller/political murder mystery hybrid.

Once again, the characterization is interesting because it features a cast of protagonists who are at odds with each others. Ariane Emory takes center stage throughout Cyteen. Now 120 years old, she has been running Reseune since the death of her parents, the original founders of the research facility. She is one of fourteen "Specials", Union-certified geniuses, and is also a member of the Council of Nine, the elected executive body of the Union. As such, she is one of the most powerful individuals in the Union. Ariane Emory leads the Expansionists, one of the two principal political factions, whose mission seeks to expand the Union through space exploration, the construction of new stations, and human cloning. The Centrists and Abolitionists oppose them and would rather focus on the existing stations and discovered planets. Jordan Warrick, fellow Special, is Emory's former colleague and bitter rival. He has created a clone of himself named Justin that he raises as his son. The boy is forced to work for Emory to help insure his father's good behavior and grows close to her. Taking advantage of him by using drugs and tape technology, she rapes the innocent seventeen-year-old. This trauma causes him to experience occasional debilitating flashbacks that will harm him for years to come. The boy attempts to hide the sordid affair from his father, but Jordan eventually finds out. Furious, the man confronts Emory and she is found dead the following day. Ariane Emory's last project had been the cloning of a promising young man in an attempt to recreate his abilities. An earlier attempt with the inventor of the equation that led to faster-than-light travel had been a spectacular failure. Emory was persuaded that this was due to the clone growing up in a different social environment than the original. Emory's ultimate objective was to clone herself and have her successor reliving her life as closely as humanly possible. She also created a sophisticated computer program meant to guide her replacement as soon as she reached a certain stage in her development. With Emory's unexpected death and the resulting political disruptions at Reseune and in the Union, this cloning project begins in complete secrecy.

Cyteen follows the evolution of Ariane Emory's clone, from birth to the age of her majority. Like her predecessor, she is brilliant and grows up to be a cunning and manipulative teenager. Reseune is now run by her uncles, Giraud and Denys Nye. Giraud replaced the first Emory on the Council of Nine and now leads the Expansionists. It was interesting to follow the progression of both Florian and Catlin, the second clone version of Emory's azi bodyguards. They were both terminated following the original Emory's death, and are now reborn so we can follow their training, the bond that unites them, and their relationship with young Ari when they become her personal bodyguards once more. Justin grew up with and is now in a relationship with Grant, an experimental azi created by Emory from the modified geneset of another Special. I think that the emotional and psychological anguish experienced by Justin in the presence of a child who will become the woman who raped him was particularly well-done. As a Special, Jordan Warrick could never be prosecuted and found guilty of Emory's murder. Although he claimed he was innocent, he ultimately confessed to protect Justin and Grant, and he was exiled to an isolated research facility far from Reseune. Giraud and Denys Nye control all three by threatening the life of the others should anything untoward take place. As the years go by, the Centrists would like to use Jordan Warrick's knowledge of Reseune to discredit the Expansionists and finally gain control of the Council of Nine. As you can see, there are various threads forming a great tapestry of storylines that progress over the course of nearly two decades. There are several POV characters, chief among them the original Ariane Emory, young Ari, Giraud and Denys Nye, Jordan Warrick, Justin and Grant, Florian and Catlin, Jane Strassen (a Reseune scientist who acts as substitute mother to young Ari for a number of years), Mikhail Corain (moderate leader of the Centrist Party), and Admiral Leonid Gorodin (Councillor of Defense). Some readers have complained that there are few endearing characters in that bunch and they're right. One of Cherryh's greatest accomplishments with this work was to keep you enthralled while relying on a cast of often despicable, power-hungry men and women. No small feat, that goes without saying.

Cyteen can be an extremely slow-moving novel at times. As a hard science fiction title, it's definitely a cerebral read. The complexity of the science involved compounded by the convoluted plotlines and a century-spanning timeline force you to concentrate and work more than a little. But the payoff is well worth the effort. Cyteen is a stunning, ambitious, and thought-provoking novel. The lack of ending precludes the sort of grand finale that readers had come to expect, but thankfully I won't have to wait for twenty-one years to find out what happens next. A genius at the time of her death, rejuv treatments extended Ariane Emory's lifespan and allowed her to live for more than a century. But there are hints that her life's work could not be completed in a single lifetime, and that perhaps this devious woman had planned for everything that would occur and may have messed with Justin and Grant's minds so they could help her pursue her quest for knowledge once her clone reached adulthood. This story is not over, not by a longshot. I can't wait to see what C. J. Cherryh has in store for us in Regenesis.

Deserves the highest possible recommendation!

The final verdict: 9/10

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