No author has been more recommended to me – either by friends or computer generated algorithims – than Brandon Sanderson. Apparently he fits so strongly into that science fiction/fantasy wheelhouse that he’s become a must read. I haven’t picked up a book of his until I decided to finally take a flyer on Steelheart. This is probably not the book that would have been suggested for me to start with, but it did its job. I finished it wanting more of the series. As a young adult series (which I didn’t know until after I started), it’s not as deep as some stories out there, but he does a good enough job with character development and unique concepts to pull the reader through.
Times are hard in Newcago – what Chicago became after the Epic Steelheart transmutated the entire metropolis into steel. Epics are humans that have developed superpowers; the downside is that they all are evil. With their enhanced powers, they subjugate the populace for their own pleasure with Steelheart running the show. David was there the day Steelheart came to power. He saw the Epic kill his dad, but not before he saw the seemingly invulnerable Steelheart bleed. Now he holds the secret to bringing Steelheart’s reign to an end. To do this, he must somehow join with the Reckoners, an underground team of Epic hunters, and convince them to help take down the strongest Epic of all.
Steelheart is a fairly fast paced book. Told in first person from David’s perspective, there is a lot of inner monologue from the near-twentysomething, but Sanderson doesn’t get bogged down with the hero’s vengeance or angst over his life. He allows David to continually act. This draws the reader down a story that could have stalled out, but the action keeps it alive. The concept of power corrupting is not a new one, but to introduce it to a superhero world where it corrupts all superheroes into villains is an excellent conceit to generate plenty of fun storylines. In essence, this becomes a dystopia-lite. Sure the Epics run the world, but none of the characters in the book have any more than just a hint of the brokenness that slavery in actuality brings. It’s meant to be a fun soft action book, and it succeeds.
First person books are a pet peeve of mine. They rarely succeed as the author continually has to throw in semi-third person vantages to get the full story across. And they can get too much into the inner life of the hero. Insight is good, a constant monologue is mind numbing. Sanderson does a decent job keeping it light without needing much objectivity thrown in. I know it’s to try to get young readers to put themselves in David’s place, but being passable is not the same as being preferable.
Check it out if your looking for a fun quick “superhero” read. I’ll probably need to get some of Sanderson’s other work to get a full exposure to his style.
Winston Churchill by any account must be one of the most amazing statesmen of the 20th century. His unparalleled position at the highest levels of government through both World Wars puts him in a unique position to reveal the forces at work in the interregnum between the two. In Milestones to Disaster, he does just that – not as he says as a “history” – but as an eyewitness account to be used by future historians. The fact that he is himself a masterful writer helps one not wait for some future analysis. This work is not only accessible, but it is a very enjoyable if unsettling glimpse into the European political shake-ups of the 1920’s and 1930’s.
I was given Churchill’s six volume history of World War II by my great uncle who had the privilege to meet the then Prime Minister at Harvard. Churchill spoke to the Navy officers that were being barracked there during the U.S.’s initial involvements in the war. This work is actually an abridgment of the first volume of that set The Gathering Storm. Churchill did the trimming himself for this work, but it has been pleasant to peruse the unabridged work to see what has been removed. Mainly it is coordinating documents that help to strengthen the assertions made by the author. It also contains several appendices that contain correspondence between Churchill and other world leaders and politicians. Both the full length and edited versions are readily accessible online and make worthy additions to any library.
In Milestones, the period after the Treaty of Versailles is examined with a brutal eye to all the failings made by the then world powers to keep Germany in check. One misstep after another is frighteningly unfolded for the reader. Even though, we all know where this story leads, it gives one a knot in the gut to see how it all may have been avoided. Churchill reveals how, to his thinking, the overwhelming liberal policies of socialism and disarmament weakened the victorious nations to a point where the defeated Germany could rise under Hitler’s cult of personality. By backing off in the critical moments again and again and capitulating to appease the Führer, the European governments doomed the world to repeat on a larger scale the slaughter of the first World War.
Mr. Churchill is definitely not afraid to point out the mistakes of others. While I’m sure that the facts that are being recorded are all trustworthy, he has gone a fair way to frame them to cast a better light on his position during this time. Churchill was consistently sounding the warning of Germany’s re-armament, and he takes great pride in his un-involvement of the policies that allowed this to happen. He doesn’t sweep his own personal misjudgments under the rug, but he shines a hard light on the British administrations that he sees as failing to protect the world from the German threat. He believes the playing out of Hitler’s conquest of central Europe is a vindication of his viewpoints, and he perceives his rise as an appointment of destiny.
If you’re not familiar with how Germany came a mere twenty years after being completely despoiled to conquering the Rhineland, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and Holland with virtually no resistance, this is the book to read. It’s a tragic tale, but one that needs to be understood if but for the hope that it will not be repeated. Churchill truly is one of the great twentieth century writers, and you will not be disappointed by his recollection.
A while back I was listening to a podcast (I wish I could remember which one) where they were interviewing Neal Stephenson. Neal’s been one of my favorite authors since I read Snow Crash almost twenty years ago. The main material in the podcast was over his then most recent work Anathem, but what stuck out to me at the time was his interest in ancient weapons and fighting techniques. He later got together with several (many, if truth be told) authors with a similar fascination. They decided to work on a collaborative effort which involved a realistic world where many of these forgotten martial arts could be put on display in word form. Thus was birthed the first book in the Foreworld Saga: The Mongoliad.
I’ll list all the authors since I’m sure they all want credit: Erik Bear, Greg Bear, Joseph Brassey, E. D. deBirmingham, Cooper Moo, Neal Stephenson, and Mark Teppo. They combine to tell the fairly straightforward tale in 13th century Europe and Asia. There are dual storylines in play – one in Asia where a young warrior is trying to save the Mongolian Empire from courtly corruption and one in Europe following a band of knights on their quest to kill the Khan of Khans. The tales thread back and forth throughout the book with zero overlap and without much thought to pacing. There is however quite a bit of – I’m sure fairly historical – fighting and war-making. Unfortunately all the martial prowess cannot make up for the lack of actual plot.
The book started off slow, but picked up with some early character development. This however played out into a story that went nowhere. Half of this book is supposed to be a knightly quest, yet the heroes never went anywhere significant. The other half is supposed to deal with courtly machinations and intrigue, but only got as far as some thin innuendo. This book did have some interesting characters and seemed to set up some clever plot ideas, but ultimately the story just stops without anything coming to fruition. I’m not sure if this had to do with the multiplicity of authors or the foreknowledge of sequels to come, but typically there is some payoff at the end of a volume that makes you want to follow up. This book provided none. I have some curiosity to see what becomes of some of the characters, but probably not enough to take the time to find out.
I have looked at the Foreworld website, and in the past couple of years, they have put out many sequels and “side-quest” stories. There must be some depth to the series, I just wish this talented group of authors could have done a better job of introducing the world to the reader. Read this only if you have time to spare.
I am a Science Fiction nut. Really. I just did a quick review of the last 100 books that I’ve read – 59 of them were Sci-fi…and I hate to admit that I’ve been trying to make sure to add other genres into the mix. That being said, I’m extremely excited about my first Sci-fi review for my new site: Chimera the first book in the upcoming Universe Eventual series. I was lucky enough to be given an advanced copy of N. J. Tanger’s debut novel, and I can’t wait for you to be able to get a copy of your own!
The Stephen’s Point colony is on the edge of collapse. Its only hope rests in a new generation who hold the genetic key to a return to Earth. To survive they must struggle with the riddles of a madman’s prophecy and unlock the imprisoned mind of an ancient ship – Chimera.
Fittingly, this novel follows two complementary stories. The first is about Theo Puck: a good-hearted teen who has skirted the colony’s rules in order to make life better for his family. The second follows Selena Samuelson: a space miner’s daughter who is just trying to help her dad get one big score. The dual story lines – one male, one female; one on planet, one in space – drive the plot with a pace that keeps the pages turning. The characters are full of the life and vigor of youth, and even while they struggle under great pressures and responsibilities, they are not mired in the depression and angst that most young adult fiction substitutes for depth. Theo and Selena have real depth; the kind that connects you to their lives.
Reminiscent of Orson Scott Card’s early work, especially Treason and Ender’s Game, the storytelling has been well crafted – inviting the reader into a new world that is fresh and deep yet utterly recognizable. N. J. Tanger (actually a pseudonym for the writing team of Nathan Beauchamp, Joshua Russell, and Rachael Tanger) skillfully pulls from the best ideas of the genre. In lesser hands, this quest for survival in deep space would become a cliché, but they write like seasoned veterans – clean and crisp. The tempo starts high with the discovery of a murder and does not let up until the last page. The end of each chapter says, “You have time for one more.” I can attest, you do.
When I try to introduce the Sci-fi pantheon to my reading friends, I don’t throw them into to the deep end right away. Asimov, Clarke, Herbert, Banks are top shelf, but they can be a hard slog for someone unaccustomed to the style. Until now, I have started with the almost unavoidable classic of Ender’s Game; however, I now have a great alternative. This is the book to get people interested in science fiction.
Chimera is a bold start into the Universe Eventual trilogy. There is a lot of promise for what is yet to come. With the expectation met in the first installment, I believe it will be a promise kept.
Recently I had the chance to have a little back and forth with N.J. Tanger – the pseudonym for the writing team of Nathan Beauchamp, Joshua Russell and Rachael Tanger – ahead of the release of their debut novel Chimera. This thrilling sci-fi adventure is the first in the Universe Eventual series. (If you haven’t checked out my review, you should read here first: Chimera review) There’s no spoilers here – the book is being released April 24 – but our conversation is wide ranging. I’ve left a lot of the fun asides out of this post, but if you want to check out the entirety of our talk check here: Chimera (unedited interview). I hope you enjoy this glimpse behind the scenes.
Like human chimeras that see out of two different color lenses, your novel offers two main protagonists and their viewpoints in which to see the world and beyond of Stephen’s point. Was there ever a time when the story was going to be told from Theo’s view only or was this always going to be a two narrative book?
As far as I can remember, Chimera was always going to have dual protagonists. I think we started out that way because it was easier to write in a team with dual protagonists (for the obvious reasons; that is, we were stepping on each other much less). Now that we’ve developed a structure to our team-writing, I think we could easily write a single-protagonist novel, but honestly, it’s more fun to write ensemble stories. I think they skirt the overworked hero myth that Western culture worships.
Stephen’s Point seems like a well lived in place. Was it created ex nihilo or did you draw on certain images or stories to piece it together? Is a habitable moon different from having the story take place on its own planet? The permadawn gives an edge to the world, does this subtly affect the characters?
Stephen’s Point originated from a few complimentary ideas. The first was of an Earth-like moon versus an Earth-like planet simply because it added a layer of intrigue. The science behind it is relatively sound (such a moon could exist and could support life) but it would need an extremely thick atmosphere to hold in the heat.In terms of how the permadawn would impact the characters, I like the greyness that permadawn provides, the mystery of it, the aloneness. We have a moon that’s not that different from Earth in a great many ways. Permadawn felt like a good way to differentiate and give the reader the experience of a unique, alien locale.
Theo. Fess up, is he autobiographical? Do all readers feel like they’re the potential hero that has unrecognized skills and a good heart even if life hasn’t worked out their way?
Yes, I think so. Certainly it’s a trope, but I do think the trope is in fact true. Every human being (every creature) is unique, by definition. We all have unique DNA, we all have unique life experiences. Because of this, we all have the ability to be uniquely special, or uniquely gifted — each of us, in our own way. Theo actually has unconventional strengths, and I think that the ninety-nine percent can get behind that. We all want to believe we are special, and (surprisingly), we all ARE special, because we’re all unique. The hero myth reaffirms that, and rightly so — we all need to be reminded who we truly are. Nevertheless, the thing that’s most fun about Theo, and most important about all heros in my opinion, won’t be fully revealed until late in the series. No spoilers though…
Selena is the firebrand of the book, savvy with ships but not with her temper. She could easily be the anti-girly girl cliché, but she has a reality that keeps her believable. Did you feel like you had to walk a line with her character from being too much of one thing?
Selena is polarizing. People tend to really like her, really identify with her, or have a tough time with her brashness. I wanted a strong female character that maintains some level of vulnerability, who makes significant mistakes, and who has a lot to learn about becoming a leader. Without giving too much away about Book II: Earthbound, Selena has a lot of obstacles to overcome to step into her destiny as a leader. Showing how those changes take place is the most exciting part of storytelling for me personally. I hope that as readers see her grow and change in the next few books that she’ll become even more nuanced, even more complex, even more likable.
One of the great intrigues of the novel is the ship Chimera. Is she semi-aware, fully sentient, somewhere in between? What can you reveal about how integral she will be deeper into the series? Are ships always “she”-s?
Chimera started as one thing (a low-AI, non-sentient ship) and made the jump to becoming something far more though her experience in fractal space with Stephen, her original navigator. We have a novella titled “Ascension” that will flesh out how Chimera came to be “more,” and how her friendship with Stephen altered her forever. That story is a really interesting one (I think) but you’ll have to wait for the novella to come out (sometime after Earthbound) to learn the details.The Chimera is a “she” because of the historical precedent of referring to ships as female, in addition to the way that she conceives of herself. She holds life within her, gives birth to that life. She’s a nurturer first and foremost, a protector. It felt natural to make her female. Earthbound will explore that theme extensively. If you like the Chimera, you’ll love the second book—she has a huge role to play, both in terms of plot, and relationally to Selena and Theo.
Marcus is a scary dude. Are there signs that there’s more than meets the eye or should he be shoved out an airlock? Locke? Let’s talk about names. There seems to be a lot of names with literary provenance. Would you like to reveal how any were chosen?
Thanks! I think it’s hard to write scary dudes. I mean I’m not frightened by most antagonists, personally, so it’s a big deal for me to feel like we’ve made a character truly scary. When I was writing Marcus, I tried to mimic the voice of a friend of mine, who holds his cards close to his chest, as a way of keeping him enigmatic — we all worked very hard to make him scary like a real life deviant, not just a force to add conflict for the protagonist. In fact, I hate that way of thinking about story: as if antagonists only exist to create conflict for the protagonist. It’s a lame gesture. The antagonist should be someone who thinks of himself as the protagonist in his own story. He should have excuses for his behavior. He should have a logic that makes his deviance acceptable. Someone who thinks and feels and has wounds of his own. Someone who, given better life circumstances, might even have been the hero.
I want to chime in here and say that if you’re asking if Marcus has some connection to the famous John Locke, the 17th century philosopher and idea man, then the answer is no. (The actual name John Locke was used for a main character in the television phenomenon Lost, and I think there was a connection there that was subtle and intentional.) But Dr. Locke’s ideas surrounding the self, the ineffable thing that makes us who and what we are–what makes us truly human, more or less–are definitely present as themes. They begin to make an appearance in book one, but it’s not until book two that they become visible in a strong way.
How does the writing work between three people? Do all three have inspiration about story ideas or has one person been the primary idea maker with the others coloring the story?
The short answer is that we all do it all, but this has definitely evolved as we’ve become a stronger, more cohesive team. Furthermore, even though we all can “do it all,” we’re not all equals. Some of us are quicker at making smart stylistic changes, have a better knack for dialogue, or are more gifted with character or story structure. I think the key ingredient for us here is in knowing ourselves. In other words, we’ve learned what to fight for, what to die for, and know what to let go of.
I’ll be honest, I’m hesitant to pick up anything with the tag Young Adult on it. For a middle-age guy, that just screams “Twilight” or something else that makes me want to pull up my pants and be grumpy. This book had young adults in it, but not some of the coming-of-age hallmarks and heightened emotionality that I equate with bad YA stuff. I think it has great appeal for all ages. Is this a targeted book or did you write it for everyone?
Truth told, YA is a hot market and we’re aware of that. We wanted to place a story into a market full of potential readers, and going the YA route is a way to do that. We hope to differentiate ourselves in terms of story type, characters, etc… I wanted to write about characters that I care for, that I personally can root for, and I think we’ve more or less accomplished that.We’re surprised (and thrilled!) at how well the book is doing with a wide range of readers. Most of the themes we’re working with are universal. The character set and their ages are merely the frame we’re offering the reader to look through.
The book, website, art, all seems very slick for a debut novel. Was there a specific idea to deliver an end product right away? How much more work has that been besides just writing?
Massive amounts of work, and a good chunk of it wasted. We’ve spent money on things we shouldn’t have, paid too much for others, and learned a lot in the process. We never wanted to just throw a book out into the world, but rather to establish long-term relationships with potential readers. Good art helps us win over potential readers because before someone reads one word of your book, they’re going to first see your book cover, webpage, Amazon page, etc…
It’s also incredibly helpful that there are three of us. We have all worked jobs, had professions. Once you’re working on something that you are completely responsible for, for which you feel this incredible ownership, you start digging deep looking for anything, any background or experience, things you know or can do that can be applicable to the project. It’s clichéd, but when people talk about projects being their baby, they are NOT making that up.
Could each of you reveal a little about why you wanted to work on this project with the others? Do you feel that a team can work better or more efficiently than an individual writer?
I’m an extrovert. I love working with people. Writing is so often a solitary venture, and I personally wanted to find a way to make it collaborative. Josh and I have been friends for almost a decade. Rachael is my sister. They’re both very talented artists. I feel like a very lucky guy to get to work in close relationship with each of them.
Three years ago Nathan was working with Josh on what would become Book One. I was aware of that at the time, but I wasn’t involved. Nine months later, Nathan approached me about doing a satellite book: set in the same universe, but not part of the main series. I looked at it as something fun to do with my brother. More and more words were put on the page, themes developed, and it became clear that this was going to be part of the main series. I knew Josh through Nathan, we’d been at the same parties and events and knew one another in passing, but we had no idea what it would be like to work with the other. Really I think we went on gut feeling with the whole thing. It was organic, in the same way that the writing was organic.
I LOVE writing as part of a team (especially THIS team, because they’re my dear friends) and think it gives me a huge advantage over most solo authors. As you’ve heard it said, writing is rewriting… which is absolutely true. With three writers, we go through several rounds of heavy revision very quickly because of the built-in “fresh eyes” of our writing partners. In other words, as a team, we are able to do quality work, quickly. And I think we have only just begun to scratch the surface of our real capacity. I really can’t say enough about how great it is to be a part of a fiction writing team. Sure, you have to work with well-adjusted, mature creatives, but assuming you can land partners like that, it’s a huge plus.
Several novels are credited as being inspirational to this story, do you think that all sci-fi stories about teens trying to save their home planet are going to be compared to Ender’s Game? Is it a good or bad thing to be compared to Card’s stuff?
Is it a good thing to be compared to Card? Depends on who you ask. He’s taken a beating for some of his political opinions and stances on certain issues, but I don’t think anyone can take away from the man as an artist. Ender’s Game is iconic, and it would be impossible to write anything about teenagers in space without that comparison coming up. I think we’ve done enough to make our story unique while also giving credit where it’s due.
Name one under the radar sci-fi book to read and film to watch.
I would suggest reading anything by Ted Chiang. He doesn’t write a whole lot, but what he does write is spectacular. His first eight short stories are collected in a book called Stories of Your Life and Others. He’s won the Nebula as well as Hugo Awards multiple times, but because he’s not very prolific a lot of people haven’t heard of him. And a good sci-fi to watch is Primer. Made in 2004 on a (now famous) budget of only $7000, Primer is billed as a time travel story. But it’s actually the story of the destruction of a friendship through greed, hubris and the latent desire to control not only your own destiny but others.
I’m not usually into time travel, but the indie film Primer blew me away. The complexity of the story is insane. And they got time travel “right” by avoiding all the clichés and logic errors of pretty much everything else in that genre. In terms of short fiction, watch out for Brook Wonders. She sold a story to Clarksworld a year or so ago and everything I’ve read from her is simply fantastic.
Yes – Shane Carruth is the go-to guy for sci-fi cinema that is cutting edge (in more ways than one), in my opinion. His sophomore film after Primer, Upstream Color, is also spectacular. He has a very strong following now and has done a great job of keeping control of his craft and maintaining an active audience.
Is this solely going to be an e-book? Will Luddites like me eventually be able to order a print-on-demand hard copy to share with friends? Can I suggest Peter Kenny for your audiobook version?
We are in the process of making the book available as print-on-demand. We still have a lot of friends that haven’t read the book because they simply do not read electronically! Apparently our social circles are not good evidence for the death of the paper word. And funny you should bring up audiobooks. We’re pursuing that in a pod-cast form and are pretty excited about the process. Stay tuned for updates on that venture.
Please check out these links for more info on the Universe Eventual series:
The conclusion of the Riddle-Master series finds Morgon and Raederle struggling to find the mysterious High One and the reason for the war that has spread across the realm. The quest begins simply enough as they head for the ancient wizard’s city of Lungold. This book, like the other two, has almost all of its action take place on the way to destinations instead of at them. Morgon and his bride-to-be struggle on the journey and have their characters developed. They fall into traps, escape, get to Lungold, where they fall into a trap, escape, head to another destination, fall into a trap, escape…I think you get the idea. The main riddles of the book, if not the series, are who is the High One, who are the Earth Masters, and what does one have to do with the other? These questions have needed to be answered for a long time, and when they finally are, it almost really doesn’t matter.
Patricia McKillip’s writing is quite good. She describes details and emotions with a power to draw the reader into imagery. The effect is such that – like the illusion that the wizards of this book so often create – there is an illusion that this story has more of a plot than it actually does. Thankfully, in the final third of Harpist, the main plot is finally revealed, and yet when it is, there’s not really any more to it than what one kind of expects. The motivations behind the final reveal and what all the characters are fighting about are basically left to the idea that power corrupts. It’s vague, but at least the writing was nice.
There are moments of real emotion in the book. Raederle’s character is continually the touchstone for any strength this series has found. I have read many reviews that claim that this is that reader’s all time favorite series. My only conclusion is that they have connected with these characters in their brief moments of genuine insight. Each of them, especially Deth the harpist, have the potential to be major fantasy characters, but at the end of the day, plot helps flesh characters out, and these books were lacking in it. Florid prose does not a series make.
The Riddle-Master Trilogy had many good ideas and characters – even though their fullness didn’t quite pan out. There was enough here that I would be willing to try more from this author. If you read this series, you may not be disappointed, but there’s also plenty of other fantasy out there you should hit first.
The continuation of the Riddle-Master trilogy, Heir of Sea and Fire, gets going with a little more steam than the first book of the series did. That selection, The Riddle-Master of Hed, just seems to lag from the beginning and only developed a decent pace more than halfway through. This was not the case with this book. The pace starts steady and builds throughout to not a dramatic conclusion, but at least, a fitting one.
The heir mentioned in the title is Raederle, the promised bride of Morgon, the aforementioned Riddle-Master. The story follows her and an unlikely group of girls as they quest toward Erlenstar Mountain to find Morgon. Whether it’s because the protagonist of this tale is female or she has a better understanding of where she’s going with the story, the author seems to develop the characters in a more relatable way. Raederle becomes the first person that you care about. You understand what motivates her and how she’s torn between love of family and love of her promised Morgon. Her personal battles drive the story. Her inner world is more interesting than the world she’s moving through.
Unfortunately for the series, the unknowns about the motivations of the evil Ghistestlwchlohm (say that three times fast!) are hindering the real immediacy of the plot. Two books into a trilogy, the reader should have more of an idea about why the bad guy is bad. There is more innuendo about what is happening to the world than actual understanding. Yes, the characters have developed, the plot is still weak.
I’m far enough in that I will read the conclusion Harpist in the Wind, but the resolution to this series needs to reveal much more than it has until now.