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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Year In Comics

This post is a little unusual for JRT.  I don't review the comics I read, but I thought there might be people out there who read this blog that like comics.  I also thought it'd be nice to share what's been on my plate and see if I pique anyone's interest.

I didn't read as many comics in 2009 as I wanted to.  Considering the number of TPBs I have sitting on my shelves waiting to be read, I'm kind of ashamed to admit I didn't get to most of them.  But I did get through half of what I had which, unfortunately, wasn't the Star Wars half.  Since the year is coming to a close, I wanted to showcase my year in comics--either those I read, re-read, or plan to read.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Specials by Scott Westerfeld


Title: Specials, book three in the Uglies Quartet
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Reviewed Format: UK paperback
Pages: 384 
Release Date: November 6, 2006

If you’ve read this far into the series, then I think you can figure out what’s happened to Tally Youngblood.  For those of you that haven’t, but are still reading this, I’ll keep the spoilers to a minimum in the first couple of paragraphs.  At the end of Pretties, Tally’s former friend Shay had a new trick up her sleeve: she’d turned into a Special, one of Dr. Cables surgically-altered attack dogs trained specifically for optimal performance outside city walls.  Specials monitor activity outside of New Pretty Town, making sure no one dares to challenge the authority of the government.  If they do, there’s a unique future ahead of them.  It involves razor sharp teeth, nails, and senses fine-tuned for ultra-clarity.  Specials are made to be tough and indestructible.  Their bones are replaced with high-grade materials designed for light weight and fast movement; their tendons and muscles are similar.  With bodies full of swarming nanos ready to repair any damage, Specials are as much construct as they are human.  These cyborgs are kept as a threat to their fellow citizens who fear their power as much as they fear wolfish eyes and cruelly-angled faces.  Specials were designed to be feared.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Message From The Jawas #2

Dear Readers,

Hey, we're back!

Did you ever grow up with the kid next to you stealing your haul after you'd done all that climbing and digging getting to the scraps of the best, most shiny droid spill you'd ever seen and claiming dibs on the sale? In front of your superior?  What's that?  Oh.  You can't relate to that story?  Sometimes we forget we Jawas are in the minority here.  You humans have that thing called school, eh?  Well, what if one of your classmates started copying off your paper and getting all the A's off'a your hand cramps and the best BSing skills you've had all year 'cause you had that late night with a Horror movie marathon that you couldn't miss even though your pack leader--I mean your mom, said you weren't allowed to watch 'cause you'd be up all night and wouldn't do so hot on that exam in the morning and here you are struggling with lazy over there peeking over your shoulder who winded up doing better than you did?

Yeah, our hostess kind of does that to us.  Only she's been writing down our fireside book club talks and posting them on this in tern et thing.  Frankly, we're appalled.  The good news is she's agreed to let us have more say!  I don't know how much this, "I'm just letting the world see how intelligent Jawas really are" excuse is going to fly, or for how long, but we're warming up to her new idea real nice.

For as much as we Jawas love to talk about books, we don't always agree with each other on what's good or what's bad.  That doesn't make it too easy to recommend books to other folks if we're coming at you from different angles.  I mean, that'd get kind of overwhelming, wouldn't it?  After each "review" you'll now see our hostess implementing her latest crazy plan.  Since there's five of us regulars dragging our feet around here, and we can't always come to a concession on what to recommend, we'll be taking votes.  Depending on how many of us would recommend a book for you kind folks to read will be the number of Jawas you'll see at the bottom of those "review" entries.

For example, all five of us recommend this message to you since we think it's one of the best things since hydrospanners.  And so:

How many Jawas recommend this book?






See?  It's not too hard.  Just remember, there's five of us, so take it with a grain of salt when one of us is the only one to recommend a book.  You gotta keep in mind we're all individuals and there's bound to be one mopey lug around here who doesn't agree with the rest of us sometimes and he'll be the odd man out recommending a book all by his lonesome.  But at least he's got a vote, you know?  We're all about fairness here.  And, there's always something for everyone to enjoy.

Look for this feature on the first book we read in the new year!

Keep On Reading,

The Jawas

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pretties by Scott Westerfeld


Title: Pretties, book two in the Uglies Quartet
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Reviewed Format: UK Paperback
Release Date: July 3, 2006
Pages: 384

Tally Youngblood’s sacrifice from Uglies has turned her into a beautiful, tall, fun-loving, disease-free, and anti-infection masterpiece.  In short, she’s a Pretty.  Like all pretties, she’s forgotten a lot of what most her life was like as an Ugly beyond the normal dumb “tricks” Uglies do for sport and, of course, being ugly.  She drinks champagne, parties all night, stays up until the wee hours of the morning, and wakes up just in time to get ready for the next evening shindig.  The only problem is Tally’s also forgotten why she became pretty.  When a mysterious stranger arrives with a message from her past, Tally struggles to remember what brought her to New Pretty Town in the first place.

Who’s Croy and what does he have to do with David--a name and face that rises out of her past like a ghost--or, for that matter, with her new best friend, Shay, or boyfriend, Zane?  What do the terrifying Specials want with her and why are she and her friends now being closely monitored?



Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood


Title: The Year of the Flood, second book in the MaddAddam Trilogy
Author: Margaret Atwood
Reviewed Format: hardcover
Release Date: September 22, 2009
Pages: 448

It’s lucky that we have another MaddAddam book to read, lucky because Atwood didn’t initially plan to write another book like Oryx and Crake, lucky that The Year of the Flood fleshes out her frightening dystopian world and gives us much more to hope for.

The Year of the Flood isn’t a sequel to Oryx and Crake.  It works as a companion book, following the timeline of events leading up to and around our experience with Jimmy and Glenn (a.k.a. Crake).  One of the biggest differences, aside from point of view, is the inclusion of religion in the text and the influential presence it has to the characters and their motivations.  God’s Gardeners is a religious group formed out of a mutual dislike of the direction science and society has taken.  Under their leader, Adam One, the Gardeners are strict vegetarians--when the situation allows this to be the healthiest outcome--and waste nothing.  Their reversion to crafting, cooking, and hand-sewing clothes or recyclables is in reaction to society’s heavy dependence on technology.  Coincidentally, it also becomes their saving grace when technology (more specifically, electricity) breaks down in the days, weeks, and months following the mysterious plague (this, too, is a technological terror) that wipes out most of civilization.  Unlike other dystopian books where this pre-modern state is adopted out of necessity, the Gardeners have chosen this way of life as part of their religious doctrine.  As a result, they’re tough survivors.

As the book opens, we’re given two narrators (three if we could Adam One’s proselytizing speeches; four if we count the religious songs of the Gardeners): Ren and Toby.  Both were once Gardeners, but now find themselves alone in the middle of a ravaged city, teetering on the edge of total destruction, with quickly depleting food supplies and no idea of knowing if they’re the only ones left alive.  Ren is trapped in an isolation suite above a dance studio--the kind of dancing done on the SeksMarket--with all the amenities of a small hotel at her disposal.  Toby has taken up shelter at a women’s day spa with lots of organic moisturizers that double as semi-nutritious snacks.  If the two are to survive another day, they need to venture outside to find other sources of calories, protein, and weapons to protect them from the vicious wolvogs (unnamed here, but prior knowledge having read Oryx and Crake helps) and scheming pigoons (explained finally as “pig balloons”).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Most Anticipated Reads of 2010

I'm too indecisive to pick a "best of" anything list of 2009.  Instead, I'm offering a look into the titles I'm most looking forward to reading in the next year.  All of these are new releases; most of them are sequels.



The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

If you're a fan of fantasy books and haven't read The Name of the Wind, you've probably heard of it.  You might also have heard how this book's release got pushed back due to a lot of really horrible things happening in Pat's personal life. Fear not!  Kvothe is back and if you're like me, this is in the top five most anticipated releases of 2010.  It's rare that I read epic fantasy.  The Name of the Wind had all the makings of one of those: dictionary sized, nature-y cover with a strange, mysterious, dream-ish male on the cover (I read the first edition), a long set-up and exposition, lots of world-building, magic.  I even put it down after the first 100 or so pages because frankly, I wasn't impressed. Thanks to a coworker, I picked it up again and I'm glad I did! Now I can't wait for the next in the Kingkiller Chronicles.
Release Date: May 5, 2010


The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson


I've been a staunch supporter of Sanderson since I first shelved a brand new copy of Elantris.  He wowed me with his innovative fantasy tropes (albeit, I'm hoping this one has nothing to do with gods) that completely blew away every preconceived bias I had against epic fantasy.  As predicted, he's become an even more fantastic author and quite a popular one.  Brandon is even finishing off Robert Jordon's series that challenges the Oxford English Dictionary in size and scope: The Wheel of Time.  I'm not a Robert Jordan fan, but The Way of Kings is the first in a new series by Sanderson that I won't let myself miss out on.
Release Date: August 17, 2010



Kraken by China Miéville


At one point I might have said this man can write no bad.  Then I read Looking For Jake and lost my rose colored glasses.  Don't worry, when it comes to break-through Science Fiction authors, Miéville is still one of my favorites.  His latest, like this year's The City & The City, leaves the familiar New Crozubon behind for a dark London, a mysterious theft, and the threat of an apocalypse.  Miéville's cities are always heaving monstrosities, as alive as his characters and at times steal the spotlight from their fleshy counterparts.  His writing is intricate, complex, and incredibly alluring.  I have no doubt this will be a promising read.
Release Date: June 29, 2010


The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

I'm such a huge Philippa Gregory fangirl and have been since I read The Other Boleyn Girl.  I don't care if she's historically inaccurate--she writes historical fiction.  I'm in it for the context, not necessarily the details.  Her books are always fun to read.  They're filled with sex, scandal, romance, mystery, intrigue... the list goes on, really.  The Red Queen is the second in her Cousins War Trilogy.  Her first, The White Queen, followed Elizabeth Woodville, future York Queen, and the historically epic War of the Roses.  There's so many names and titles to keep track of (especially who's on which side and when) that I needed a map to navigate the genealogy of the Yorks and Lancasters.  Luckily, I hear the final print edition includes such a map.  Alas, I read an ARC and had to look on Wikipedia.  Here's to hoping book two comes with a map, too!
Release Date: August 3, 2010



The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell


Speaking of historical fiction, I first started Cornwell's Saxon Chronicles series while at UC Davis completing my BA.  A professor of mine encouraged me to take a graduate course on Borders and recommended The Last Kingdom since it was part of the course reading.  At first I was pretty wary.  My only experience with historical fiction had been Philippa Gregory and Cornwell is clearly no Philippa Gregory.  Luckily, I warmed right up to Uhtred and his crazy Viking ways.  This is the 5th in a series that, apparently, hasn't ended yet. I guess that goes to show how much I know about Britain's history?  The series follows the rise of King Alfred the Great through Uhtred's point of view who, heaven help him, can't stand Alfred.  It's a great series with lots of blood, violence, and lusty Danes.  And it's out early in the year!
Release Date: January 1, 2010



Dark Moon of Avalon by Anna Elliott


I really love Arthurian legends although I haven't read too much in that area.  As far as popular fiction goes, I couldn't wait for the first in Anna Elliot's debut trilogy, Twilight of Avalon, to be released.  It dealt with the elusive figures of Tristan and Isolde.  The next book, Dark Moon of Avalon, promises to grow from the painful past Isolde pushed away to deal with extenuating circumstances a normal person would crumble under.  And, rumor has it, there's a budding romance sure to please readers eager for the familiar aspects of this legend.  Plus, it looks like it has another John William Waterhouse cover!  I'm drooling already.
Release Date: May 11, 2010



The Hunger Games #3 by Suzanne Collins


This might be one of the more popular titles on my most anticipated 2010 list.  I may not particularly like Katniss that much, but my aversion to her as a character makes her more appealing to me than if she were nothing but good and self-sacrificing (i.e. boring).  I'm excited to read about District 13 and see how Collins handles her nuclear fall-out, if the nuclear explosion wasn't just cover story for something more sinister.  She created such a wider world in Catching Fire than what we'd seen in The Hunger Games; I'm eager to see how the trilogy wraps up.  Also: hoping Peeta catches a break.
Release Date: August 24, 2010



Star Wars Fate of the Jedi 4: Backlash by Aaron Allston


Oh boy.  Where do I begin with this series?  It started out slow and never picked up in the two books after the initial release.  In fact, the first two books were so similar, I wasn't sure if there wasn't some confusion as to which one should have been set-up and which was the next installment.  It seems the folks at LucasBooks heard the plea of fans 'round the globe and decided something had to be done about this.  Not only were the books short (200 pages short), they were hardcover releases.  I don't know about you, but unless it's a stand alone or super ultra mega edition, 200 pages is undeserving of the cost of a hardcover.  To alleviate our wallets and the cramped storyline, authors now have more wiggle room between deadlines.  Hopefully this reinvigorates a stale, semi-interesting plot.  After all, there are 5 more books in the series after this.  Things gotta start happening.  Seriously.  And, it's out the week after for my birthday so of course I'm looking forward to it!

Release Date: March 9, 2010



The Thirteen Curses by Michelle Harrison


This is actually a UK release since the first book in this series (trilogy?) won't be out in the US until 2010.  The Thirteen Treasures was a pretty amazing MG fantasy book with wicked fairies, dark promises, and terribly long, hidden passageways in an old musty home.  The Thirteen Curses follows Tanya and Fabian into the depths of the Fairy Court and the evils that lurk beneath.
Release Date: January 7, 2010



Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore


I'm not sure if this will even be released next year, but it's on the list anyway.  I loved Graceling and Fire.  Cashore writes my favorite female protagonists: strong, independent, capable, and always tangled up in realistic and complicated romantic relationships.  Bitterblue was such an interesting character in Graceling, I'm looking forward to a book featuring her in the future!
Release Date: ?



Tails of Wonder and Imagination edited by Ellen Datlow


This is a collection of short stories about our beloved feline friends.  It's mystical, it's magical, and it's about cats.  And it's edited by Ellen Datlow, one phenomenal lady.  While I haven't finished The Green Man or The Faery Reel, I did start them awhile ago and really loved what I read so far.  And there are usually pretty familiar and popular fantasy authors in her collections, so that's always nice to look forward to!  And, you know, the kitties.
Release Date: February 15, 2010



Fables vol. 13 by Bill Willingham


Goodness me, I love these comics.  I've never been one to pick up singles as they're released.  It's true across the board: I wait until TPBs are out and then stock up for comic binge reading.  The only exception to this was the Star Wars Union comics.  Those were the ones where Luke and Mara actually got married.  But, it's Luke and Mara.  How could I wait?  In any event, the Fables comics appeal to my love of fairy tales and darker, adult fantasy.
Release Date: February 9, 2010


This list is by no means comprehensive.  I could go on and on about the books I'm looking forward to coming out next year.  For instance, the next two Cherie Priest books in her Boneshaker universe, the next in Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan series, Holly Black's latest, White Cat , Paul S. Kemp's Star Wars: Crosscurrent, the next Clone Wars book by Karen Miller, Gambit Stealth.  There's even Star Wars books that were axed that I'm still hoping I get a chance to read.  Trust me, there are a lot more.  It looks like it's going to be a fun year anyway.



What about you? What are you most looking forward to reading in 2010?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Message From The Jawas #1

Dear Readers,

Come in, sit down, have a drink.  Thanks to the studious effort of our kind hostess, JRT has a brand new, much cleaner, layout (and a fancy new acronym)!  The new year is rolling in and it's time to change things around.  About time, if you ask us.

By the by, we overheard some clandestine conversation.  Far be it from us to eavesdrop on the local color at the Mos Eisley spaceport--we hear some of them pull people's arms out of their sockets and others wave around over-sized glow sticks, chopping arms off--but rumor has it there's a new rating system in the works.  No no, don't take our word for it!  Keep it down, don't spill your drink.  Stay cool, OK?  It's only a rumor.  How often are these things true?  I mean, if it was, it wouldn't have anything to do with us--we're just the ones that do all the work around here, if you know what I mean.

Don't let our hostess fool you--here, let me get you another drink--she's been stealing our book club discussions for over a year now and slapping together haphazard "reviews" to post around the internet.  Shoddy translation jobs, if you ask me.  All the meaning's gone when you put it in Basic.  But we're keeping an eye on her.  We'll set the record straight and reveal her for the clever phony that she is!

Err--in the meantime, why don't you take a look around and reacquaint yourself with the wallpaper?  And, keep it between you and us, eh?  It wouldn't do to upset our hostess.  She might have one of those shiny sticks or, you know, a brush.  We hate brushes.

Much appreciation,

The Jawas

Monday, December 21, 2009

And the winner is...

You'll have to head over here to find out!

Congrats to the winner and thank you everyone who participated in the Twilight of Avalon Giveaway.

Next time, the giveaway won't be so secret. ;)

And, it'll be on JRT primarily!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Weekend Discussion

The holiday season is a reminder that another year is coming to a close. There were so many books I read this year and so many I loved. But I was recently reminded that there are books I received as gifts last Christmas that I haven't actually gotten around to reading yet!

Don't get me wrong--they're not books I dread starting. In fact, I'm quite excited about them. I've been hoarding them away "for a rainy day" because once I know I read them, the experience is over (The Faery Reel & The Green Man, both edited by Ellen Datlow, if anyone is interested). Has anyone else ever done this before?

Are there books that have been sitting on your shelf for weeks, months, even years? If there are, what are they? I'm embarrassed to say I still have books from when I was working at Waldenbooks/Borders Express 2 years ago. I'm making it my goal this year to get to those books in at least the first half of 2010. That's totally doable. ;)

The winners of this week's secret Twilight of Avalon Giveaway will be posted tomorrow morning!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Title: Oryx and Crake, the first of the MaddAddam Trilogy
Author: Margaret Atwood
Reviewed Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 376
Release Date: March 30, 2004 (this edition)

Oryx and Crake opens to find “Snowman,” alone and malnourished in a tree. Believing himself (and convincing us) he’s the last remaining human on the planet, he watches over a curious group of multi-colored beings known to us only as the “Children of Crake” and the “Children of Oryx.” Their odd behavior and impressionable nature has both entertained and exasperated Snowman up to this point. While he’s relished the power he’s had helping them navigate what remains of the world around them, he’s also found the lack of normal conversation frustrating. In his lingering despair, he traces his steps in time as he narrates through memory the events leading up to the mysterious plague that’s wiped out humanity. He walks through the broken city, avoiding wolvogs and pigoons--weird genetic amalgamations bred for specific traits and features--and finds in the wasteland the memories of a better time when the deserted streets he now walks flourished with people, activity, and promise.

One of the first things we learn is Snowman’s name isn’t really Snowman--it’s Jimmy. Before he reduced himself to walking around on a beach wrapped in a bed sheet, he lived on a compound with his parents, two OrganInc Farms scientists churning out the latest ideas for growing human-tissue organs and implementing their strategy on things like pigoons--a pig genetically altered to grow several organs at once that would then be harvested for human use. The genius of the project isn’t just the end product, it’s the guilt-free sustainability of the pigs as continued organ hosts. Once a product is reaped for use, the pig isn’t rendered useless--it continues to live and grow more organs like a tomato plant. The perpetua of the Pigoon project served to satiate concerns over waste and humane treatment. After all, who would want an organ harvested from an abused or poorly treated animal?

What drives Oryx and Crake forward is the desire to find out who Oryx and Crake are, what caused the plague that killed so many people, what Jimmy’s past has to do with his present, who are the weird, child-like beings Snowman surrounds himself with and why. What begins as a tale backward in time to Jimmy’s childhood unravels into a long demonstration of the tortuous back and forth game Snowman plays with himself: what if he had seen the clues earlier? What if he had said or done something? Could he have actually done anything? This recollection of events that turns into our narrative is a type of self-flagellation as Snowman tries once more to rid himself of the guilt of hindsight.

As his story unfolds, we learn Crake (originally Glenn--with two n’s) and Jimmy met in middle school and developed an odd relationship that survived into adulthood. Crake was an intellectual genius and after the two separated, went to one of the best schools, one of the best companies, rose to an enviable position at the top of a secret project rumored to alter the way mortality is thought of. Oryx is the survivor of a third world sex trade, hired by Crake to work on his project. Jimmy gets caught in between the two--in love with Oryx, admiring of Crake who, by now, has not only become his best (if oddly detached, tunnel-visioned) friend, but his only friend. Crake also happens to love Oryx.

Don’t let the romance run away with you. It’s really not the center of the plot, but rather, only a part of the complicated fulcrum that churns events around Jimmy, catching him in a vortex of his own shortcomings. It’s as much about the elusive figures of Oryx and Crake as it is about the legacy they’ve left behind and Snowman’s struggle to make sense of them even after they’re gone. He lives amidst the ghosts of Blood and Roses, of Extinctathon, of the “human experiment.” To his credit, he calls himself Snowman after the "Abominable Snowman," the mythical creature and for the transient nature of humanity (apropos to the short life of a snowman), to celebrate the here and now and exist in the present; in short, to celebrate himself as human, a monkey brain, juxtaposed against the creatures created to be better than their models.

Margaret Atwood’s imagined future is a marvelous and frightening extension of extant society and global concerns. Gene splicers have discovered ways to postpone the weather of age (through multiple and continued trial and error), create chickens that appear to be 95% edible meat, 5% niggling details, and process even more food for easier consumption. The product, company, and marketing names, if anything, make this book worth reading: ChickieNobs, Sveltana No-Meat Cocktail Sausages, HelthWyzer, NooSkins, BlyssPluss, RejoovenEsense, Paradice (this one might be my favorite, layered as it is).

Scientists have an elevated role in Oryx and Crake. They live in compounds separated from normal cities, or Pleeblands--an odd combination of “plebeian” and “bland,” apt descriptions for society’s opinion of these ordinary, unexceptional (non-genius) people. They work on everything from food, health, and beauty, to pets and disease control. It might be said that the biotechnology here is almost too present and unsurprising. The same could go for the wide variety of (and cavalier attitude toward) porn websites, crazy marketing campaigns, the extent of animal extinction, and the ever-present threat of global warming, but that’s the point of a dystopian novel. What we read is supposed to be quite similar to what we’re familiar with--so similar in fact, that it imagines a frightening reality, one which grows from the depths of the society of today and projects into the not-so-far-off future. We’re supposed to see in Oryx and Crake the derivations of modern practices, foods, and morals to see how close Atwood’s reality is to today’s, to imagine one possible extension of rising sea levels, vaccinations, disease, cosmetic surgery, genetically enhanced foods. This is not to say Atwood can do no wrong, it’s to say I had little to no problem believing her projections and on one level wondering, why are we not already there?

Oryx and Crake takes you on a frightening and mysterious journey to uncover the truth. It’s masterfully written, intelligent, and at times, witty. Fans of Margaret Atwood who haven’t read it, should. If you like dystopian novels, don’t let this one pass under your radar! Add it to your library. I already want to read it again.

Monday, December 14, 2009

On Science Fiction & Whether Or Not It's "Dying"

I was going to save this for my weekend discussion, but decided to post it here early in light of the great conversation I got started on a LiveJournal community. If you're interested, you should see what some people are saying!

As many of you know, I love SF and F, but I've had a longer relationship with SF and so, really don't quite know how to feel about the two articles I found last night.

According to Newton, I'm in the minority: a female reader that picks up "hard" SF (really, didn't we do away with that arcane distinction a long time ago?) and enjoys it. I think the time when SF could be defined as a 12 year old male is over and done with. The sensawonder is still thriving in books like the recent Paolo Bacigalupi title, The Windup Girl, and Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood (I am currently trying to finish Oryx & Crake so I can get to this before the year is over). I don't think the genre is dying, but I do think different genres, specifically Fantasy, and YA Fantasy in particular, are having a heyday in the marketplace right now because of the success of books like Harry Potter and Twilight. Cringe all you want, but Meyer and Rowling introduced a new batch of readers to the Fantasy genre--not SF. They've become popular and publishers go where the trends are.

I don't think this is necessarily at the expense of SF. Nor do I think readers appreciate any implication that they have to be talked down to, in one sense of the phrase. If the quality of SF is part of what's in question, why blame the readers? Clearly Bacigalupi and Atwood (while she remains symptomatic of the problem at large by denying her books are SF; my using her as an example is probably defeating my point), Ursula K. Le Guin, or even China Miéville don't hold back for the sake of their readership when it comes to their writing.

I want to go point by point with Newton's examples, but that would make this post really long. I'd rather hear what other people had to say on the matter and get as much attention on this issue as possible.

Is Science Fiction dying?

Mark Charan Newton seems to think so!

In his blog article, "Why Science Fiction is Dying & Fantasy Fiction Is The Future" on December 3rd, he explained his stance on the issue with the following four points:

1. More women than men read books. (you'd have to read the explanation of this one to see his point)

2. Culture has caught up with our imagination.

3. Literary fiction is eating up SF.

4. Modern Fantasy readers have grown up on the films of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings.

Of course, with such a bold stance, the article incensed a lot of people, although to their credit, were quite civil in voicing their disagreement. Many also agreed.

In response, Newton wrote a second article last week expanding on his earlier statement. One quote from reader (and author) Richard Morgan struck me as something to note:

The big zeitgeist shift that’s really coming into play here, as far as I can see, is the infantilisation of consumer society, and the death of challenge. There’s not enough space here to get into the many and massive ways in which modern consumer culture goes about this infantilisation, but suffice it to say that where the SF/F genre is concerned,the message has gone out, loud and clear, that in order to make successful artefacts of mass entertainment, you must not challenge your audience with anything that a 14 year old American mid-western teenager can’t instantly relate to. Exhibit A – the last Star Trek movie: the future and all it has to offer, crushed down in conceptual terms to fit inside the comprehension gap of a teenage boy from Iowa. What are the challenges facing this vast multi-species star-faring culture? Well, bullying from your class-mates, getting caught cheating on tests, sassy girls who won’t give it up, adults who doooooon’t understaaaaaand your teen pain, and big, stroppy guys with tattoos.

What are your thoughts on Newton's argument? Do you agree or disagree? Why? What about Richard Morgan's comment?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Twilight of Avalon: A Novel of Trystan and Isolde by Anna Elliott

Title: Twilight of Avalon: A Novel of Trystan and Isolde, Book One in the Twilight of Avalon Trilogy
Author: Anna Elliott
Reviewed Format: UK Trade
Release Date: October 15, 2009
Pages: 448

The wonderful thing about Arthurian legends is they’re all so different. Some versions want to approach characters, that are by now well familiar to many of us, from a historical perspective, as if they really existed. The creative license to execute such a fiction is left to assembling their dialogue, their mannerisms and behaviors--the idea that Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin, and Morgan le Fay need only the imaginative coaxing of an Author’s talent to be released once again into a world they inhabited long ago. Other versions take great advantage of the legend as a fairy tale, something that at one point may have been based in reality, but has now risen above the mundane and into the powerfully magical and fantastical.

I enjoy reading both types of Arthurian legends. Each side has something to offer, something new to share, some other perspective to explore, or some new twist to alter the way we may have thought about the turn of events or the roles we’ve come to expect of the characters. Anna Elliott’s Twilight of Avalon, the first in a new Twilight of Avalon Trilogy, is a book that takes its cue from the historical, and one might say cynical, perspective. Like every other author, Elliott shows us a new way to spell everyone’s names (although Arthur’s is woefully always the same): Mordred is Modred; Guinevere is Gwenyfar; Merlin, like most versions, is a title, the real name being Myrddin. This, though, is a novel about Trystan and Isolde. As we are reminded several times in the narrative, “Camlann was over. Arthur and Modred, Myrddin and Morgan and Gwynefar lingering now only as voices in the wind. One age is ended...And another, perhaps, begun.” (p. 425)

Camlann, mind you, isn’t referring to Camelot (albeit here is Camelerd). It’s the rumored historical site of the battle between Arthur and Mordred--Arthur’s final resting place. When the narrative begins, it’s been seven years since Arthur and Camelerd’s demise. Isolde, daughter of Gwynefar and Modred--Arthur’s son with his half sister Morgan--is mourning the sudden death of her husband, and Arthur’s heir after Modred, Constantine. Britain is without a leader and in danger of being overrun by Saxons eager to take over the countryside. Stuck in the middle is Isolde and Camelerd, all that she has left of her family. War is ongoing and now, thrown into the bid for power is Isolde and her land. As the smaller kings fight amongst themselves to win the High Kingship, Isolde is fearful of the man who may win the battle. Even worse than Marche’s temperment and penchant for torture, is the easy way he has with his soldiers. Marche’s ability to persuade and to lead are dangerous when combined with his ambition: Camelerd is not safe, nor does he have its best interests at heart.

Twilight of Avalon is a dark, brooding novel. The magic that’s come to be understood as an integral part of Arthurian legend is instead the stuff of stories. As Coel relates to Isolde, “There are plenty of tales about Arthur these days. But I doubt any of us who knew the man himself would find much to recognize in the stories you hear told and retold.” (p. 138) Magic and witchcraft and very feared things and the people of Britain are nothing if not terribly superstitious here. There are frequent references from the characters themselves to the tall tales already being told of people they once knew, of what they would delight in having said of them when they are gone.

The land has changed and so has Isolde. She has lost her Sight, her ability to see into the past and future at will--oddly enough, this is the only magic that’s even remotely referred to as real. Instead her visions come to her sporadically and function narratively to fill in the gaps of a willed amnesia that has blocked out a good portion of Isolde’s painful past. Elliott’s writing is enchanting and lyrical, the kind that slows a reader down to absorb the pages in at length and gorge on the richness and beauty of the narrative. Nothing particularly happens, except one or two things, over and over again: Isolde runs free and is captured, twice; Isolde is held on trial for witchcraft, twice; Trystan is beaten, many times.

I felt pretty bad for Trystan. He was never without bruises, lash wounds, or blood. Isolde was constantly referred to as the “Witch Queen” and made to suffer under the obstinate ignorance of the men around her who used her as a scapegoat for many deaths, and accusations of witchcraft over what they could not do or did not understand. Like always, Isolde’s “witchcraft” is presented as a very feminine thing woven tightly together with healing. For all intents and purposes to the men of Constantine’s remaining army, the two are inseparable; Isolde’s bedside ministrations are a highly suspicious thing to behold under the utmost scrutiny and wariness. These characters clearly had their assigned roles and little would be done to tear them free, until the end of the novel that is. In less than the course of a week, so much despair and frustration made Isolde’s mission appear hopeless. Combined with her inability to cope with the tumult of misfortune she’s experienced in a short period of time, save for pushing it all to the back of her mind, there’s something depressingly urgent fueling the momentum of the story. We want to see Isolde succeed, if only to allow her time to breathe, time to mourn.

While she isn’t a terribly dynamic character, I have to remind myself this is the first in a trilogy. Isolde has to go through her trials here in order to--hopefully--grow in the next book. She heals others and tells stories now to push back the time when she has to remember to heal from her own stories. She’s a wounded animal. I think with the novel being as dark and despairing as it is, there’s still a beauty found in Isolde and the other character’s efforts to continue fighting for a cause greater than themselves as everything dies off around them. In their perseverance is found something of the grandness of Arthur’s court. There is hope.

I do want to say one last thing, before anyone walks away wanting to pick this up. The jacket copy refers to this book in passing as something of a romance novel. Let me clear this up for you: it’s nowhere near a romance novel. If there is romance, it waits on the other side, in the pages of the second or third book, but not here.

Overall, I really, really enjoyed this novel. Plus, the cover is a gorgeous John William Waterhouse painting (Boreas; he also did the infamous Lady of Shalott painting). Who doesn’t love John William Waterhouse? His artwork is so hauntingly beautiful and this one in particular fits the novel well. But of the book, I think Anna Elliot has a talent suited well for this type of historical-mythological novel and I can’t wait for The Dark Moon of Avalon and Sunrise of Avalon to be released. Arthur, Mordred, Morgan, and Merlin are all larger than life figures that loom out of their place in history to affect even the characters they once walked alongside, lingering like ghosts. While Elliott did approach Twilight of Avalon from a historical perspective, she also pays tribute to the fairy tale. For that, I think, she did a wonderful job! My thanks go out to Ally Glynn at Simon & Schuster UK for generously providing me with this review copy.

Now for an extra bit of fun: I've got an extra copy of this book, the US Trade edition, which is the same as the UK edition except for a dollar instead of a pound symbol, and it's up for grabs! Half of the hard work on your part is done: you've actually read this far into the review.

Simply leave a comment on the LiveJournal entry of this review (non LJ people: use openID, NO anonymous comments will be allowed) with your e-mail address telling me which is your favorite Arthurian Legend (Monmouth, White, Zimmer Bradley, Malory, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Cornwell, Lawhead, something I probably haven't listed here). Unfortunately, I have to limit this to US residents only due to shipping costs.

You get an extra entry if you become, or are, a follower of Jawas Read, Too!, my book review blog. Let me know who you are (in the same comment as the other info, please) so I can compare you to the people that have (if they do) become followers.

The contest will run for a week, until next Sunday at midnight PST. Winners will be picked randomly. Multiple entries will result in your complete removal from the contest.

Good luck!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Book Fairies - December Edition

Yes, yet another new feature!

For the past couple of months on LiveJournal, I've been posting up a photograph of the books I've received as gifts, review copies, contest prizes, or that I've bought myself.

I'd like to bring this feature over here and share with you readers! I call this "The Book Faeries" because, like the tooth fairy who gives you compensation for your lack of teeth, there's been many kind people who have made me feel incredibly lucky and grateful by providing me with books when I don't have the means to buy as many, or as often, as I used to.

This month's surprises are mostly thanks to TJ from Book Love Affair, who introduced me to BookCloseouts.com. It's a website that thrives on Bargain books (most of the time, there is nothing wrong with these books, although working in a bookstore, I often found an upside down binding, or British edition of a book lying around the bargain barges) and had a GREAT Black Friday deal. For $20 I got 5 books; 2 hardcover, 3 trade.

Octavia Butler's Lilith's Brood, an omnibus for her Xenogenesis Trilogy
Mercedes Lackey's Firebird, a fairy tale re-telling and my first Lackey book
Joe Haldeman's The Forever War
Mary Rosenblum's Horizons
Bernard Cornwell's Agincourt


The book on top is a separate deal. Simon & Schuster UK had fantastically huge Christmas/Holiday Giveaway. I walked away with Thomas Asbridge's The First Crusade!

This month has an extra photo of a non-book item I won from Heidi at SurLaLune Fairy Tales Blog. It's a beautiful (and heavy) Little Red Riding Hood Christmas Ornament! I love this fairy tale and I love this ornament. She also has a shop where you can buy your own! I recommend any of the Arthur Rackham paintings... He's one of my absolute favorites.


That's it for this month's edition of The Book Faeries! :)

A New Feature!

I'd like to be more active here since I spend most of my blogging time on LiveJournal at the expense of all of you here on blogger. I've taken a couple of steps in that direction; there is a new layout and I made a new banner that, hopefully, showcases my wide range of taste when it comes to books! While I do favor SF/F, I could never limit myself to any one (or two) genres. The focus on this book blog is simply: books. And everyone around me knows, boy do I love me some books.

Now, on to the news!

I had an idea to start new conversations on Jawas Read, Too!, which is to ask a question every weekend and see what kind of fantastic answers you readers can provide!

This weekend's question deals with busy schedules and finding the time for one of our favorite hobbies: reading. Recently, I've had a lot going on in my personal life that's prevented me from reading as often as I'd like. And when I do finally get to sit down with a book, I get to feeling guilty. Why am I indulging when I should be doing something else? But I've found the perfect excuse. I never feel bad about curling up with a good book when I'm doing laundry. It's not as involved as cooking or cleaning where one has to be completely aware of what one is doing so as not to burn or spill anything. With laundry, I can dump my clothes in the washer and enjoy the wait. Of course, some of you may be more proactive than I am and combine other household duties with this spare time, but I prefer my method.

Here's my question to you: What's your perfect excuse for reading?

Also, if anyone wants to help me think up of a new title for this weekly event, your suggestions are more than welcome*. :)

My review for Twilight of Avalon, book one in Anna Elliott's Avalon Trilogy, should be up later this evening or tomorrow. Next on my list, Margaret Atwood's Oryx & Crake, followed by The Year of the Flood.


*Star Wars and Jawa-related themes are encouraged!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Honest Scrap Award


Lily's Bookshelf gave me this lovely award!

According to the rules, I should pick seven bloggers to pass this along to, but I'm still new to book blogging outside of LiveJournal and don't know that many bloggers! I'll display it proudly anyway!

Thanks, Lily. I really appreciate it. :)

Monday, December 7, 2009

ZOO by Otsuichi (ARC)

Title: ZOO
Author: Otsuichi
Reviewed Format: Advance Reading Copy in UK trade paperback
Release Date: September 17, 2009
Pages: 300

ZOO is a collection of short stories by acclaimed Japanese horror author, Otsuichi. It’s translated, which always begs for an original reading to see what, if anything, has been lost or gained in the switch to another language. The writing isn’t too descriptive. It borders on the extremely bare-bones, minimalism to the point where I began to imagine the narrative in comic book form with illustrations to fill in the emotion I felt was missing from the text (my rating reflects this--it would be a 4 star otherwise). To be fair, my only other experience with Japanese horror was The Ring and that as manga. I can never bring myself to watch the film (or any Japanese horror film), but I was so scared by the end of reading the comic I gave it away when I was finished. That being said, I steeled myself for jumping into ZOO. With time and distance, I was sure I’d appreciate the tingly terror Otsuishi’s writing would elicit.

While some of the stories read quickly, there’s always some lingering emotion left over that makes you want to stop and think about what was just read. Because this is an ARC, I won’t quote the book, but I desperately want to. There are some gruesome scenes that, when combined with some of the more incredulous and ridiculous dialogue and behavior clash against my sensibilities of propriety. I think there’s a certain appreciation that comes with Japanese horror that has to be taken into consideration before anyone attempts to read something like ZOO. It’s not Stephen King by any stretch of the imagination. There’s always something a little ridiculous and weird in the premise of a Japanese horror story--something that require a strong suspense of belief in what you’d expect to happen or what’s accepted behavior, or turn of events. There’s a lot of fantasy that has to be believed in order to appreciate the fiction created. Also, there’s a lot of corny dialogue that begs for re-writes, but don’t be put off. A lot of the stories have an underlying creepiness about them that stay with you long after the story’s been put to rest. And that, I think, is the benefit of reading Japanese horror.

The title story, “Zoo,” is about a man who receives a photo every day of his decomposing ex-girlfriend. It’s also the name of a movie they saw when she was alive about the process of decay--which, as it turns out, is both metaphorical for the photographs and the protagonist’s life. “Zoo” is a shocking, troubling story about a man desperate for recognition, and the horrific actions he takes to ease his conscience. His narration style he adopts can get irritating, especially as the story progresses; his speech and actions become more and more ridiculous, but it remains a haunting piece.

The stories that follow trace a pathway from the awesomely gruesome to the relief of freedom and avoidance of death. All of these stories (not a single exception) deal with death in some way--death by way of murder. After a few stories, I began to get tired of this premise. The surprise was ruined if someone was always going to die; I could expect some awful, terrible death at the end, at the beginning, somewhere in the middle of each story. The suspense wasn’t there. But on second thought, perhaps it wasn’t death for the sake of death that I was supposed to focus on. Perhaps it was a collection built upon that title story, with death as decay: a thing to be studied over time as it faded away into something almost unrecognizable from that first unexpected glimpse. Or, perhaps, something to be watched through the metaphorical bars of language, enclosed in the cage of Otsuichi’s narrative. The impact of being inundated with so much loss, so much careless and senseless death isn’t fully understood until the last story, “Seven Rooms.” When a brother and sister discover they only have six days to live, it begs the question: is it better going to your death knowing that it’s coming or living without that anxiety, despite dying in the end anyway?

As I reflect back on the collection as a whole, I felt this message really spoke of the stories as one entity. The journey from the first to the last is an experience in preparation for the final, and what I felt to be, the best of the bunch. The impact the final story makes as I close the book, is even more appreciable in light of everything we’ve come to expect by that point in the collection. The relief is larger, the freedom sweeter, and hope lingers in the air like sunlight.

If you decide to pick up ZOO (I recommend this to horror fans in general, if anything, to experience another avenue of the genre), keep in mind this: there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Once you finish, I think you’ll know what I mean. Many thanks to Simon & Schuster UK and Ally, in particular, for always being so awesome and generously providing me with this review copy!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Soulless by Gail Carriger

Title: Soulless (The Parasol Protectorate): An Alexia Tarabotti Novel, Book One
Author: Gail Carriger
Reviewed Format: mass market
Release Date: October 1, 2009
Pages: 384

Alexia Tarabotti has a few things going wrong in her life: she’s a 26-year old spinster in Victorian England, is half Italian (with the skin, hair, and temperament to match), and she has no soul. Resigned to the first two, Alexia is resourceful: she helps BUR (Bureau of Unnatural Registry--a division of Her Majesty’s Civil Service) with supernatural phenomenon and they help her keep her preternatural (soulless) state a secret. Being a preternatural isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Carriger’s 19th century world is re-imagined with werewolves and vampires peppering society in the same way one might consider religion or politics: an emotional, opinionated topic of discussion and in some cases, an intrusion on morality. Alexia’s state is quite rare--preternaturals have the ability to revert vampires or werewolves to their human forms, temporarily rendering them “normal” and revoking their supernatural gifts with just a touch of the hand. And so, she’s valuable--very valuable.

She’s so valuable, she’s had not one, but two assassination and kidnapping attempts. It’s not easy hiding her soulless-ness from a nosy family with two very silly, highly ambitious sisters, but now Alexia’s in trouble. She turns to a cadre of friends and familiars (a Scottish Werewolf and a rather dandyish Vampire) to help discover who’s after her, what they want, and why suddenly lone vampires and werewolves are going missing.

Soulless seemed, at first, an awkward juggle for balance, an effort to negotiate several elements: wit, world building, romance, and suspense. Despite my initial stumbling, I warmed to the writing style after the first couple of chapters and found the entire book to be incredibly delightful! It was reminiscent of Mark Gatiss’ Lucifer Box novels, albeit with considerably more romance, sex, and a little steampunk on the side. The alterations in history were amusing and fit well with the atmosphere Carriger infused throughout the text. For example, the Puritans didn’t flee England because of religious persecution. In a hilarious stroke of wit, they left due to a Elizabth I’s proclamation in the 16th century that finally sanctioned the open existence of supernaturals in Britain--supernaturals which Puritans disagree to on a deeply religious level. Carriger also weaves her supernaturals deeper into American history, noting that “everyone knew the Americans burned to death any accused of being supernatural” (p. 146)--so you see, the oft mentioned witch burnings weren’t just for witches. She also adds another elements to Vampire mythology. The vampire’s “inability to enter private residences uninvited was a myth based upon their collective obsession with proper social etiquette” (p. 46-7).

The Victorian England Carriger creates is a celebration of decorum, etiquette, tea, and propriety. Even the narrative retains certain rules of conduct, seeped from the imaginative fantasy of Carriger’s world--Alexia is rarely referred to by her first name and often related to us as “Miss Tarabotti.” Her companions, and the secondary characters, were wonderful and I wouldn’t mind more of them in the next book. In particular, Foote (her butler), Professor Lyall (second, or Beta, to Alpha Wolf Lord Maccon), and Lord Akeldama--especially Akeldama. He was such a sweetheart, all politeness, warmth, and tastefully dressed. I wouldn’t mind having him (or his endless supply of silk handkerchiefs) at my side.

While her friends were endearing, and Lord Maccon was an interesting take on lycanthropy, I think his burgeoning romance (and sex life) with Alexia overshadowed the plot too often for my taste. It should be noted, however, that in this way, the romance came off as just as important and integral to the story as the suspense and mystery. Even though I thought it rose in priority at the expense of missing vampires, werewolves, and Alexia’s mysterious kidnappers, it doesn’t mean the book isn’t worth reading. In fact, I already want to read the second book, Changeless right now! It’s only that the romance took tangents in a book I did not expect to be more romance than supernatural. Although, the romance was heavily influenced and contingent on supernatural elements which makes it all the more alluring to readers of a certain venue. I, for one, just could have done with less.

The steampunk aspect of the book is also a quiet hum in the background. Dirigibles are mentioned and seen occasionally, a few odd tools (metal sheets for paper, fantastical glasses/goggle contraptions) and steam-powered devices are featured. This is not a book to read solely for the steampunk. Rather, the steampunk is woven around an already entertaining plot and not the thing which the novel is hinged upon. I can’t say this disappoints me--I didn’t pick up the book looking for steampunk. It was icing on the cake, if you will. Just don’t expect anything on the level of books like Boneshaker or Perdido Street Station. Alexia travels quite mundanely by phaeton or carriage when she isn’t walking, but that’s part of the charm of the novel. It’s lovely to see the things Carriage adds a steampunk touch to, and those which are left curiously to the mercy of 19th Century conventions.

Overall the book was lovely, even though there were some flaws. Nothing detracted so much that I didn’t enjoy the book. It’s light and fun to read--perfect for an afternoon read or detour from homework (not that I’m in anyway advocating abandoning homework for it, but, you know, if you feel like a breather… ;) ) and the stress of work. Changeless, the second Alexia Tarabotti novel, comes out next year! And the plus? They’re all being released in mass market. The only downside is, “No one ever explained the octopuses.” (p. 342)

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