I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I am so excited about this book that I decided to start with a review of the prologue. Some might consider prologues to be annoying, but I think this is an example of a prologue done right. Just to be clear, there will be spoilers. You have been warned.
McClellan is one of the more prominent authors in the flintlock fantasy subgenre and helped it make it popular with his debut novel Promise of Blood. I’ve been a big fan for ten years now and for the past year, I’ve been included in McClellan’s “Street Team” group chat. I wasn’t able to beta-read the book, but it’s been fun to get a look behind the curtain at a book as it is being written. I can’t wait to read it and take about it with you all and I already think this book is worth your time.
It’s set in a world of industrial magic, where huge factories churn out magical glass called cindersand. Society runs on this vital resource, and it’s running out. But the wealthy guild families of Ossa aren’t about to let something as minor as the death of magic to stop them from scheming.
The book begins with our MC Demir accepting the surrender of a defeated city. Instead of killing its leader and decimating its population (killing 1 in 10) as is tradition, Demir declares his intention to spare the city. After all, they would not have rebelled if they didn’t have legitimate grievances. Right from the beginning we see Demir as someone with a conscience and a strong sense of right and wrong. And then the schemes of others breaks him.
While he had been busy accepting the city’s surrender someone else had been busy distributing counterfeit orders to his officers. The falsified orders in question instructed the army to raze the city. Demir was too late. His own soldiers fail to recognize him and push him aside. When they find him the next morning he is cradling the body of a young girl who was trampled by his cavalry.
If this first look at In The Shadow Of Lightning has you interested then you should definitely pick the book up or listen to it on Audible. Audiobooks are a great way to keep up with current fiction on your drive to work. You can also follow me on Twitter if you want to chat about it or be the first to know when my full review is posted.
I finished reading a book. Which for me is saying quite a lot. This time I finished reading After the Revolution by Robert Evans.
These days have a dozen or so books that I am “reading” at any one time, so actually finishing one is quite remarkable. This book is remarkable too, for a few reasons.
About Robert Evans
First off, it’s a book published by an anarchist publishing house called AK Press. They’re completely democratic and worker-owned. They also publish about twenty books every year. They’re really cool and you should check them out.
This is Evans’ first foray into fiction and it doesn’t disappoint. If you have listened to his podcast “Behind the Bastards” you can tell that he has read a lot of fiction and non-fiction for both fun and profit. It’s always exciting when someone who can reference classic science fiction so readily and critique Ben Shapiro’s terrible science fiction so fiercely decided to publish their own book.
Setting and Characters
After the Revolution takes place in a post-USA North America, where the former states have balkanized into a handful of smaller states, each of them experimenting with different ways of living. Kind of. The most direct successor of the USA, the AmFed, seems like a pretty safe place to live but also pretty dull. The moving city of posthuman nomads lovingly named “Rolling Fuck” where alcohol and narcotics flow freely at all times of the day seems a lot more fun.
This book is set primarily in the failed libertarian experiment that is the Republic of Texas. It’s not a very stable polity. The Free City of Austin and the Secular Defense Force (SDF) are the main players were care about in terms of sane governments. The other is the Heavenly Kingdom, a group of christofascist militias with an excellent command of social media and propaganda, and also a willingness to shell civilian neighborhoods into submission at the first sign of resistance. At the start of the book this conflict has been simmering for years, but that is about to change. That brings us to the three POV characters we get to follow.
Manny – a fixer who was born and raised in Austin. Manny makes a living by making introductions for foreign journalists. He has dreams of saving up to move to a less violent part of the world, like Europe.
Roland – a posthuman combat vet with almost no memory of his past. Roland prefers to spend his days ingesting as many drugs as he can get his hands on. He does this to dull his enhanced senses while he works very hard to avoid killing people. He is very good at killing people and is nearly unkillable himself.
Sasha – a nice studious girl attending high school in the AmFed. She became radicalized online and even fell in love with a soldier fighting for the Heavenly Kingdom. She’s been hiding her allegiance from her parents for two years while she prepares to emigrate to the Heavenly Kingdom and work to see God’s will done on Earth.
Now, I’m just going to say it, I really enjoyed this book. I don’t normally take an interest in stories that fall into the twenty-minutes-into-the-future category but honestly, that’s a mistake on my part. With the exception of some especially magical nanobot healing, Evans created a setting that feels real and not too far away from the present.
In the acknowledgments, Evans says that this is a book mainly about trauma, and we are presented with a lot of characters who are all dealing with trauma in different ways. What I think he did so masterfully, was craft a future America that could feel real and relatable, no doubt thanks to his experience as a war correspondent in the Middle East. We tend to otherize the people who are victimized by western bombing campaigns in the Middle East. Evans does a phenomenal job portraying scenes we expect to see on the news overseas as taking place on a continent more familiar to us. The book challenges us to otherize the characters but we can’t help but empathize with them.
I think this is a really great book. Robert Evans did a fantastic job of envisioning a future where all the bad things that we don’t like to imagine happening here actually could. Easily 5/5, especially when the novel stands on its own. The ending leaves room for possible sequels but doesn’t require them. If you’re hesitant about buying a copy for yourself you can listen to the book online. But I really recommend buying a copy if you can afford it to support a smaller press.
Fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, famous for completing The Wheel Of Time series after Robert Jordan’s death, his writing classes at Bringham Young University, and his massive Cosmere setting in which the majority of his books take place trolled his fans on Youtube this week.
During his weekly update on Monday, he announced to his fans that he had a big announcement regarding his career that he would be making on Tuesday. Rumors abounded online. Some fans wondered if the author was ill, others suggested he might be stepping away from his sprawling Cosmere universe or bringing in other authors to help him complete it.
The truth was far more epic, far funnier, and a masterclass in trolling. Sanderson, already known for his insane level of productivity, revealed that the lack of convention traveling during the pandemic gave him more time to work on his side projects. He revealed that he wrote not one, not two, but five novels during the pandemic. For fun. He then went on to explain that four of these novels will be released in 2023.
Fans of Sanderson will be able to sign up to receive these books quarterly by signing up for his Kickstarter. The lowest tier includes just the ebooks. Physical books are available in higher tiers, as are swag boxed, and signed copies. Set up initially with a $1 million goal, it rocketed past $10 million in the first day and will probably exceed $20 million by the time it’s done.
Commentators like Daniel Greene and others have been quick to declare that Sanderson reinvented the publishing industry in a day with his Kickstarter. While other authors such as John Scalzi and Brian McClellan were quick to point out that most authors do not have a fandom large enough to pull a similar scheme off, Sanderson’s Kickstarter is showing the rewards that authors can reap if they put time into building their community.
Unfortunately, few authors have the time, resources, or Sanderson’s dedicated social media team. However, we can hope that his work will be an example for traditional publishing houses to follow as they continue to adapt to the changing markets of the 21st century.
As of this writing, there are twenty-seven days left to sign up for Sanderson’s Kickstarter. Best get over there before time runs out!
We’re all used to the adaptation being worse than the book, but aside from Eragon and Wanted I can’t think of a worse movie adaptation than Netflix’s adaptation of Altered Carbon.
The Altered Carbon of Richard K. Morgan’s imagination shows an amazing cyberpunk world where some of the secrets of the universe were unlocked by alien ruins on Mars. Where minds are cheaper to transport than bodies and the military trains psychopaths to inhabit premade bodies on remote worlds to brutally suppress insurrections. Where those same psychopaths have to come to grips with what they have done once they reenter the civilian world.
The adaptation did none of this. It combined huge chunks of Takeshi Kovac’s backstory into just a few bullet points. It took a soul tortured by his experiences as a cog in the machine and turned him into a lackluster failed freedom fighter. Now that I’ve read the source material I’m a little insulted by the Netflix version.
The Takeshi Kovacs of the book is a deeply flawed character with a deeply flawed past. He still does a lot of terrible things, but he has something of a conscience and he manages to find some kind of purpose in the process. The Takeshi Kovacs of Netflix however, was a starry-eyed idealist who got burned and as a result, he’s angsty…I guess?
I wish that studios wouldn’t do this. They get handed the rights to an amazing story and they decide to mutilate it. Unfortunately, it seems to be rare for the people adapting the source material to actually understand the source material.
If you’re like me and you spend a lot of time therapy shopping in book stores you’ve probably come across more than a few books on the shelf that you keep stopping to consider but keep walking away. This was one of those for me. Over the past few years, it’s become harder and harder for me to get invested in SFF books despite my love of the genre. So lately I’ve made a rule for myself if I keep stopping to consider a book two or three times I’m going to give it a try.
“A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians” was one of those books for me. In a word, it’s fantastic, 5/5. It’s the first in a series called The Shadow Histories and the second book, “A Radical Act Of Free Magic,” just came out. Which for me is always a plus, I love it when I can get excited about a new series or author and immediately have another book to dive into.
From the title of both the book and the series, I think you can probably guess what it’s about. It’s a magical alternative history of our world that takes place during the French Revolution and follows the characters of William Pit, Robespierre, and others. The progression of events, so far, seems to closely mirror the events of our own history with some exceptions. The main difference is that there are millions of people all over the world who have some kind of inherited magical ability.
How is society not radically changed? Simple. A few centuries before we dive in, the Templar Church fought a war to eliminate Europe’s vampire rulers. Magic, after this was heavily restricted in most countries and commoners, were forbidden from using magic. Only the aristocracy was allowed to use their powers and an old agreement called The Concord forbids the use of magic in warfare.
But this is an age of revolution and the common folk of Europe of tired of not having their voices heard. With talk of freedom and liberty comes also freedom of magic. And there are forces fighting in the background, manipulating events as they happen. This leads to one of our protagonists, Prime Minister William Pitt, working to not only lead his nation through the horrors of the Napoleonic War but also to fight a smaller and more personal conflict in the background.
Like I said. 5/5, 10/10, A+. Go give it a read! You can purchase the book in physical format or on kindle here.
Dune is a movie that I have been waiting for for a long time.
I tried to manage my expectations. I really did. But I failed. And that’s okay because this movie is fantastic. It met every expectation that I had and surpassed them.
It’s a problem inherent in every movie adaptation. Too many times readers have been disappointed by movie adaptations made by people that don’t seem to understand the source material. We can’t always expect to get the Peter Jackson treatment, as much as we all wish that wasn’t the case. But this time, this time readers were not let down.
This movie is amazing in so many ways. I was worried that all of the lore and politics that the book dwells on so much would seem hamfisted in the movie. I was totally wrong. So wrong. Villeneuve and company distilled all of that worldbuilding into its most essential elements. It all just worked. Everything was made with an obvious appreciation for the source material that is hard to find in movie adaptations.
However, I really want to talk about what made the movie better than the book. Yes, you read that right. Sometimes the movie is better. In some ways. Sometimes.
Here, the movie succeeds in how large the world feels. Science fiction is littered with planets that feel like villages. The book series that is Dune is filled with a few planets that feel like universes. In the first several books the narratives focus exclusively on events that take place on Arrakis. That single planet feels big and there is a lot that happens there. We are told that there is much more out there in the rest of the universe but we mostly have to take the narrator’s word for it. In Dune Messiah we are told that Paul’s armies have rampaged across the known universe, but we are only told that. We aren’t shown that. We only ever focus on the lives and actions of a handful of characters.
That’s okay. It’s characters who are at the heart of any narrative. But it’s also hard to feel like the rest of the universe is really out there. The movie doesn’t have that problem and that is where it really shines.
From the book, we know that the Atreides are one of the great houses and that they are powerful. In the movie, we see that. We see that in the army behind them at the signing ceremony chanting “Atreides” and in all the pomp and ceremony that we see when the Atreides arrive on Arrakis.
Everything in the movie is big. All of it is focused on Paul and the other main characters, but everything around them is so much bigger than they are.
Honestly, it’s nearly perfect. Just go watch it. And then watch it again. And again! In my mind, Dune is to SciFi what Lord of the Rings is to Fantasy. They’re not the end all be all, but their shadows loom large. It’s so good to see Dune finally get the treatment it deserves on the big screen.
I waited way too long to read A Memory called Empire. It’s a phenomenal book that presents readers with unfamiliar names and customs, and it’s done so well.
This is a book that has been sitting in my TBR pile for quite a while now and truthfully I am not done reading it, but the naming conventions interested me so much I decided to look into them a bit and write this post.
The book follows the new ambassador from Lsel Station, Mahit Dzmire, as she arrives at the imperial court of the Teixcalaanli Empire. Her first priority? Finding out what happened to her deceased predecessor. That’s enough context for now.
What I really want to talk about are the names of the characters from the Teixcalaanli Empire. The first one we meet is named Three Seagrass and we are soon introduced to many others like Nine Maize, Ninteen Adze, Six Direction, Fifteen Engine, Thirty Larkspur, and so many others. Luckily, we see all this through the eyes of a character who is new to the culture and her assigned cultural liaison is able to provide some context. In short, all names consist of a number and a noun. Parents then use certain customs such as a belief that low single digits are good luck to decide on the name of their child. It’s further implied that the noun used in their name may sometimes reflect what is important to daily life in their place of birth.
So far that’s all that’s been explained so far, it’s possible that more will come later in the book but I am impatient so I decided to do some digging. To begin, I started out looking for the historical inspiration that Arkady Martine most likely drew from in crafting the Teixcalaanli Empire. If your instinct was to think “mesoamerican” then congratulations, you and I think a lot alike.
I began in the place where all research begins, Wikipedia. There I found an account of the Mixtec king Eight Deer Jaguar Claw, or 8 Deer for short, who was the only Mixtex king to ever unit them all under one banner. The Mixtecs were later conquered in the 16th century by the Spanish and there are about 800,000 Mixtec still living in Mexico today.
So that was a good start and it gave me what I needed to look a little further. As it turns out, the basis for Mixtec names came from the calendar that they used, with individuals being named after the day they were born. So Eight Deer would have been named after the day on which he was born. There are thirteen days and twenty symbols on this calendar. Eventually, I found this site which offers much more context on Mixtec names and mesoamerican culture in general.
Basically, the day a person was born would be their name as we already established, and the individual may then add to their name or change it later in life. The day a person was born was believed to reflect their future including their profession, personality, and even spouse.
So that’s the basis of names used in Arkadi Martine’sA Memory Called Empire. It’s a great bit of worldbuilding on Martine’s part. It makes complete sense that after several millennia parents would stop using the literal date to name their children and instead name them based on their hopes for their child’s future. Depending on how involved Martine chooses to get with the names later in the book, a character’s name could say a lot about what their family expects of them.
I’m not finished reading this book, but my initial impressions are nothing but positive. I really like the worldbuilding based in mesoamerican culture and can’t wait to see other ways in which that history and culture is incorporated.
Have you read A Memory Called Empire? What did you think? Did you find any good resources to learn about the historical inspirations for Arkady’s worldbuilding? Let me know in the comments!
This book first came to my attention thanks to a “Big Idea” post on John Scalzi’s blog Whatever. In that post, Dewes explained that the original inspiration for the book came from a single line sung by Johnny Cash in the song “Highwayman.”
“I’ll fly a starship across the universe divide.”
That instantly hooked me because like Dewes I’ve listened to that song many times and thought that there must be a story somewhere in that line. Turns out Dewes found it.
The Last Watch follows a group of Sentinels, soldiers sent to stand guard at the edge of the universe as a punishment. That’s how Adequin got there at least. The other POV character, Cavalon, was once the heir-apparent to one of humanity’s royal houses, THE royal house in fact, or as close to this universe has to one. Forcing him to enlist in the Sentinels was a convenient way to get rid of him.
In a way, both Cavalon and Adequin are out of place in their current posting and are in conflict with each other. At the start, Adequin is trying to beat Cavalon into an acceptable soldier and Cavalon is just trying to be…Cavalon? He really wants to be better he just can’t seem to keep his mouth shut.
Both of them will learn a lot by the end of the book. They accomplish a lot too. In this book, Dewes manages to tell a small story with large implications. I think that’s a skill. We are so used to protagonists with outsized importance. The characters that Dewes created do have a great deal of importance, but they have also been completely relegated to the edges of society. And I mean it when I say edges.
The book’s back cover promised an existential threat that only the Sentinels could avert. It didn’t disappoint. There are a lot of ideas in this book coupled to a lot of fun. The dialogue is great, the ideas are better, and I can’t wait to see what happens in the second book. You should go read it. Right now.
Mystery can be a great driver of plot and a trap at the same time. J.J Abrams is notorious for using this strategy in Lost and blowing it at the end. The problem is if you set up some huge mystery at the beginning of a narrative you better have a satisfying answer to the mystery by the end. Or do you?
I would argue that you don’t. If you do it right.
If you have a great answer to the mystery you present to your audience at the beginning then by all means share it, but if you do you better make sure you are very confident in the answer. Your audience will not thank you if your answer fails to live up to their expectations. Remember how disappointed Spongebob was to find out Patrick has just spent the entire episode hiding the string in his secret box?
I am here to argue that sometimes it’s best to leave mysteries unsolved. There is both terror and wonder in the unknown, that’s part of being human, there’s no reason the stories we tell shouldn’t reflect that.
I am using Dan Simmons as an example here because his 1989 science fiction novel “Hyperion” is fantastic. It’s the kind of “genre fiction” that gets literature snobs to lower their barriers. But I think it would have been better if Simmons had never written a sequel. Let me explain.
Hyperion, unsurprisingly, centers around the planet Hyperion. A planet at the edge of known space, one that is not incorporated into the network of gates that allow instantaneous travel between worlds.
Traveling to Hyperion means sacrificing a great deal of time and accepting a certain amount of risk. Many accept this because Hyperion is a planet of mysteries. It is one of the labyrinthine worlds, worlds with great labyrinths constructed by unknown aliens. It is also home to the Shrike and the Time Tombs. Both have been sent back in time for an unknown purpose.
One group of humans, the Shrike Church, believe that the Shrike is a punishment for humanity’s sins and traveling willingly on pilgrimages to Hyperion where most of them will be killed in various horrible ways by the Shrike. It’s strange how the bishops never go themselves, isn’t it?
The protagonists of Hyperion have all been selected for what will probably be the last Shrike pilgrimage. At the start of the book, it is stated that the Time Tombs are opening and that a group of transhumans called Ousters are about to attack the planet. There’s not much hope that the planet will hold out either. None of them are members of the Shrike Church, none of them know exactly why they were selected, all of them have their own reasons for accepting the missions.
The book is a futuristic retelling of the Canterbury Tales. In between chapters that narrate their journey to the planet and their attempts to determine who among them might be a spy, they each share their stories about what led them to accept their place on the pilgrimage.
Through their stories and their motivations, Simmons explores imperialism, artistic integrity, betrayal, love, artificial intelligence, technological reincarnation, fatherhood, and many more themes. In some ways, the book is also a love letter to John Keats.
In the end, despite their differences, they joined hands and walked to their fate. Then the book ends. The series should have ended there too.
Instead, Simmons continued to write in this universe, which eventually became the Hyperion Cantos. The second book, The Fall of Hyperion, wasn’t that bad. It largely follows an artificial reincarnation of John Keats and much of the book’s events are told through his experiences. But we also see the POVs of the characters from the first novel. This is where the problem arises.
In writing the second novel Simmons had to explain all of the questions that arose in the first. In doing so he brings up a lot of interesting ideas that were totally unprecedented in the first novel. So instead of leaving the mysteries of the first book as mysteries, he chose to answer them with time-traveling agents from the future and messianic powers that came out of nowhere.
The first book was an amazing opportunity to explore multiple stories at once, to get close to deeply flawed characters with mixed motivations for being where they are, and to see them accept the uncertain future in front of them. I think the series would have ended beautifully with just one book. Instead, Simmons decided to keep writing.
That’s not to say that I hated the second book. I enjoyed most of it. Just not as much. I think I would have enjoyed it more if some of the concepts introduced in the first actually mattered in the second. Powers that destroy the Shrike don’t bother me as long as we the readers were given reason to think they might be possible beforehand.
But we weren’t.
I keep looking at the third book on my shelf and I don’t know if I can convince myself to read it. Hyperion is a great book and if it was the only book of the Hyperion Cantos that you read it will likely remain a great book in your eyes. Because the answers provided in the later books simply don’t hold up to the questions posed by the first. If you haven’t read Hyperion yet then you definitely should, but consider skipping the books that follow.
We all make promises to ourselves that we can’t keep. We say we’ll go on a diet or go to the gym more, or spend more time outside. If you’re like me you probably tell yourself you’re going to read more. That’s what I told myself at the beginning of the summer and I did, but not as much as I had hoped. I told myself a similar lie when I said that I would get this written over a month ago. And yet here we are.
So here is my very late list of some of the reading I got done this past summer.
Every fan of science fiction has probably at least heard of Frank Herbert’s masterpiece and with a new movie adaptation on the horizon it’s bound to get even more buzz. I first read the series back in middle school, it was one of the books I would bring with me every day to read on the bus and during study hall. It’s amazing the details you miss out on when you’re fighting to stay awake on the ride to school because you stayed up too late reading the night before.
I’ve been telling myself for years that I would revisit Dune to take in some details that I missed on my first read-through or that simply went over my head at that age. Well, I’ve finally accomplished my goal, or part of it. Back in July I was gifted the book on Audible and finally gave the platform a try (I admit this is a loose definition of reading). I never thought I would enjoy an audiobook but this really changed my mind. The narration brought the characters to life and some sections of the book even boasted separate voice actors for each character. These different voices helped greatly with immersion, especially in the case of Baron Harkonen. My only complaint is that the entire book was not narrated in this style.
I was really amazed by how many details I missed out on. Frank Herbert crafted a book with a complex setting that feels lived in and distant, but familiar at the same. I thought I knew the story well but I felt as if I was experiencing the book again for the first time. These books certainly deserve more than one read to really appreciate.
I haven’t been doing much to keep up with recent scfi, or keep up much with scifi at all. So when I saw Meghan O’Keefe’s Velocity Weapon on sale I wasn’t sure what I was getting into. Boy do I regret staying away from scifi for so long.
O’Keefe introduces us to rogue AI, a wounded gunnery sergeant and her brother, and a thief living in the slums of her planet’s habit domes. The action takes place across two planets and a space ship, and leaves you guessing for much of the book about how they connect and what is real. O’Keefe does a great job keeping the reader in the reader guessing. Several times I tried to guess at an upcoming plot twist and turned out to be right, but the book keeps its secrets leaving readers to discover deeper plots alongside the characters.
The Darkness That Comes Before
I have a friend that has been trying to get me to read some of R. Scott Bakker’s work for years now and this summer I finally picked up the first book of “The Prince of Nothing” which is in turn the first trilogy of Bakker’s “The Second Appocalypse.” Before going on I should point out however that these books are not for young readers, and certainly not for those who might find gruesome of explicit content in their books disturbing. With that said, I very much enjoyed this book.
I started out unsure of how I felt. The book throws a lot at you in the opening chapters and doesn’t give a whole lot of explanation of what is going on. Overtime we learn a few things, Achamian is some kind of sorcerer who belongs to an magical order called the Mandate. Kellhus is a monk who has been sent out to accomplish some task that we aren’t quite sure of yet. And there is a holy war coming that several factions are fighting to take advantage of.
The book has a lot of things that I enjoy including a deep sense of history. The world we’re shown just feels old and there are constant hints of a greater past that has been lost. Bakker’s characters are deeply flawed and readers will likely be hard pressed to say that any of them are truly good. These are characters who have been shaped by a harsh world and their actions show it.
Magic is shown to be incredibly powerful in these books. At one point we are shown a relatively small group of sorcerers who annihilate a much larger force. With that said, magic is not something that is used frequently, at least in the sections that I have read so far. In fact we are told that Achamian, on of our POV characters, is incredibly powerful. Enough so that even the leaders of other magical schools seem to be wary of him and yet in the entire book we only see mentions of his power but few actual demonstrations. If anything I think this shows his strength more than any spell-slinging could.
The Thousand Names
Django Wexler’s books have been on my to-read list for a long time now and I have to say that I regret waiting. The series takes place in a gunpowder fantasy setting and follows a group of soldiers assigned to their kingdom’s colonial forces and in the beginning of this book find themselves faced with the difficult task of reinstalling the local rulers following an anti-imperialist coup. Their situation is then made more difficult by arrival of reinforcements led by an eccentric commander who has other motives for having requested this assignment.
I really enjoyed the book’s focus on the common soldiers and its portrayal of napoleonic style tactics in a fantasy setting. Even though this is a fantasy setting magic is not seen for most of the book. Features that initially seemed magical later turn out to have much more mundane explanations. Not to worry though, the book’s namesake turns out to be central to the plot later on and my initial impressions of the second book lead me to believe that magic will become a bigger part of the plot as the series progresses.