Sunday, January 30, 2011

[Beyond the Wordcount] Blake Charlton on Worldbuilding Genesis

Do you wonder how a book is made? If you are an avid reader and the sight of a book makes you glow, then you probably have wondered about a novel’s journey from idea to hard/softcover delight on your local bookstore’s shelf. Did the author discover the story whole and intact? Did the story need countless revisions? How much is researched and how much is the product of the author’s imagination? What did the author have to go through to publish that novel you just love? Beyond the Wordcount is the feature that will give a behind-the-scene look to the story behind the story, the things that you will never guess as they stay off the pages.

BIO: Pursuing dual careers can be an exhausting, even haunting task. Devoting time to one craft is almost always accompanied by the sensation that the other craft is being neglected. The above quotations remind me why I bother to combine medicine and literature. At the root of both arts—when practiced correctly—is a transformation. From sickness to health, from ignorance to experience, from absence of feeling to wonder or awe or dread. Both arts are about expanding life, helping us become more rightly ourselves.

That might sound like lofty mumbo-jumbo coming from a guy who writes about wizards and dragons.


Imagine a world in which you could peel written words off a page and make them physically real. You might pick your teeth with a sentence fragment, protect yourself with defensive paragraphs, or thrust a sharply-worded sentence at an enemy’s throat.

Such a world is home to Nicodemus Weal, an apprentice at the wizardly academy of Starhaven. Because of how fast he can forge the magical runes that create spells, Nicodemus was thought to be the Halcyon, a powerful spellwright prophesied to prevent an event called the War of Disjunction, which would destroy all human language. There was only one problem: Nicodemus couldn’t spell.

Runes must be placed in the correct order to create a spell. Deviation results in a “misspell”—a flawed text that behaves in an erratic, sometimes lethal, manner. And Nicodemus has a disability, called cacography, that causes him to misspell texts simply by touching them.

Now twenty-five, Nicodemus lives in the aftermath of failing to fulfill prophecy. He finds solace only in reading knightly romances and in the teachings of Magister Shannon, an old blind wizard who’s left academic politics to care for Starhaven’s disabled students.

But when a powerful wizard is murdered with a misspell, Shannon and Nicodemus becomes the primary suspects. Proving their innocence becomes harder when the murderer begins killing male cacographers one by one…and all evidence suggests that Nicodemus will be next. Hunted by both investigators and a hidden killer, Shannon and Nicodemus must race to discover the truth about the murders, the nature of magic, and themselves.

The Task: Ever the worldbuilding nutjob I poked Blake Charlton to explain [yet again] how his world emerged and as nice as he is, he complied. So here it is kiddos. Enjoy.


As a junior in college, I was the only learning disabled student I knew and semi-terrified that I was an admission mistake. I also was painfully earnest about cultivating the “life of the mind.” The previous summer, I had revisited the first books I had read by myself, fantasies all of them. So the genre was in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t searching for an epic idea. It just happened.

Specifically, it just happened in a boring English Literature seminar on Shakespearian tragedy and ancient Greek tragedy. Fascinating syllabus, underwhelming lecture. I was jotting down notes. Back then, I still wrote mostly in a phonetic script, especially for words I had never seen spelled. For example, I might write the word “onomatopoeia” as “onohmonohpeeah.” Next to me sat another junior with whom I had something of a rivalry. We had taken several English classes together and often butted heads about interpretations. I both disliked and grudgingly respected him. At this particular moment, he had stopped listening to the lecture and was eyeing my notes.

“Wow,” he whispered while tapping on my phonetic shorthand, “you really did ride the short bus to school.”

I said something inane like “Tell me about it,” when in my mind I had this image of pulling my misspelled words off the page and using them like a boxing glove to punch him in the face.

I was still steaming after class as I walked back to my residential college. It was a beautiful dark, late-autumn day: the first snow of the year seems only moments away. Yale was built in imitation of Oxford and Cambridge: gothic arches, stone spires, the whole bit. My residential college, Trumbull College is particularly beautiful, abutting the large stain glass windows of Sterling Memorial Library. I found myself wandering around Trumbull’s neo-gothic courtyards and dreaming of clubbing my rival with physically real sentences. In particular, I paced the Potty Court: a stone courtyard that houses a semi-famous stone gargoyle sitting on a toilet.

Suddenly, the idea for Spellwright bloomed in my imagination. In a world where written language could be made physically real, universities would be vitally important. They might have even more spectacular gothic architecture and living gargoyles. In this world, authors would be terribly powerful and, because words had to be physically created, their muscles would be as important as their brains. And of course, being dyslexic would be really, really dangerous. How then would the magic spells behave? At the time I was also studying biochemistry, specifically how the language of DNA made proteins that affect the physical world. I decided that magical language would behave like organic macromolecules: it would have to fold into a correct conformation to become effective.

About an hour later, I had an outline for a young spellwright whose touch caused any text to misspell. Turning that into a novel, however, took eight more years; this is mostly because an interesting basis for a magic system doesn’t make an interesting novel. There’s a lot to consider when world building around magic (one must consider limits to magical power, its effects on society, etc). It took me a while to figure all of that out for myself.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

[Book Review] Catching Fire (The Hunger Games 2) by Suzanne Collins

After the Game ...

Things have changed back home and Katniss has troubles fitting in in her new home in Victory Village. Gone are the days of hunting with Gale who now work in the mine during the day so she has to hunt alone. Gale struggles with Katniss ‘fake’ relationship with Peeta especially since Peeta’s feelings for her are real even if he now has turned his back on her.

To further complicate things Katniss defiance in the Hunger Games has begun to stir up rebellion among the districts and they are making her their symbol. So late at night the day before she and Peeta is to leave on their victory tour of the Districts she is visited by the President that threatens her and everyone she holds dear unless she can prove during the tour that she acted blinded by love.

The second book of the Hunger Games takes the action out of the arena and into the political field and we learn a lot more of the world. The world building really works for me; I just wish Suzanne would write a prequel or something that explains how we went from here to there. I am curious. Sorry for digressing. The return of the stylists was well done and added to my enjoyment of the book especially with their agenda. Another great very emotional scene was when Katniss visited District 11 where Rue her friend in the arena came from.

There is more happening in the story but I won’t spoil the surprises for you.

The characters continue to be well done and that is not only Katniss in all her lovely and frank teenagerness caught as she is in more than one conundrum. The other supporting characters also step out of the book lifelike and often with surprising depts and twists to their personalities or back stories. Suzanne really kept me captivated with this one.

Second books are though and while I enjoyed the Hunger Games greatly I think I enjoyed Catching Fire more. It has more dept to both the characters and the world building. The stakes are higher; it is not just about 24 teenagers trying to kill each other any longer.

Reading about teenagers in situations like this is really chilling especially if you are a parent yourself. Kids should never have to live through anything like this. This story made me think about the world we have out there today.

Catching Fire is a thrilling sequel with a formidable and oh so human female protagonist caught in a love triangle as her world is about to burst into a flaming war of liberation.

Rating: 9/10

Reviewer: Ove Jansson
Copy: Bought it myself

Title: Catching Fire
Series: The Hunger Games 2 (Review of book 1: The Hunger Games)
Author: Suzanne Collins
Audiobook: 10h 41 min
Publisher: Scholastic Audio (2009)
Order from: Amazon US | UK

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games. She and fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and her longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turned his back on her completely. And there are whispers of a rebellion against the Capitol — a rebellion that Katniss and Peeta may have helped create.

Much to her shock, Katniss has fueled an unrest she’s afraid she cannot stop. And what scares her more is that she’s not entirely convinced she should try. As time draws near for Katniss and Peeta to visit the districts on the Capitol’s cruel Victory Tour, the stakes are higher than ever. If they can’t prove, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are lost in their love for each other, the consequences will be horrifying.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

[Cover Battle] The Bulgarian cover for "The Passage"

I sometimes dread, when books I'm excited about [I admit that I want to read The Passage, cause everyone else has] are translated in Bulgarian. Not so much because the translation would suck. I either read it in Bulgarian or in English [don't re-read]. I've come to terms with translated books not entirely capturing the mood of the original language. No, it's the covers that bother me. When Bulgarian publishers try to be creative and fashion a new cover for a bestseller [especially in the SFF field], the results are disastrous.

Take the newest desecration of art. I'm talking about The Passage by Justin Cronin. Look at the covers below. They look good, right? The UK cover [on the left] being superior cover, but that's irrelevant at the moment.

Look at the Bulgarian cover... Right, I will wait for the vertigo to pass.

You can see how the Bulgarian publishing house [Intense] incorporate the concepts of the two covers. They want the pretty trees [US] and some human element to it [UK], because in order for the title to be The Passage, you need a) something to pass through + b) someone to do the passing. FINE. Okay, I can live with it, but really... This looks like a half-assed draft of someone, who has amateurish [at best] Photoshop skills. Everything needs smoothing. I can SEE the pixels on the silhouette, which was so badly inserted in the trees.

AND really, look at so many things done wrong:
1) The font makes me believe that this is self-publishing
2) This ugly, ugly font just brings out the cover design's fault.
3) The logo seems so out of place that it's driving me insane.
4) The actual cover is not hardcover, nor is it the tougher softcover material. NO, they used a thicker magazine type paper that bends and wrinkles into waves. Reinforcing the idea that this is a waste of money and time.

And actually these all could have been avoided, if someone spent a bit more time on it. I think an additional 4-5 hours to smooth out the kinks would have sufficed.

Friday, January 14, 2011

[Review, Part 2] "Walking the Tree" by Kaaron Warren

Title: Walking the Tree
Author: Kaaron Warren
Genres: Fantasy
Softcover: 525
Publisher: Angry Robot Books, February 4th 2010
Standalone/Series: Standalone
Copy: Review copy from the publisher

Botanica is an island, but almost all of the island is taken up by the Tree.

Little knowing how they came to be here, small communities live around the coast line. The Tree provides them shelter, kindling, medicine – and a place of legends, for there are ghosts within the trees who snatch children and the dying.

Lillah has come of age and is now ready to leave her community and walk the tree for five years, learning all Botanica has to teach her. Before setting off, Lillah is asked by the dying mother of a young boy to take him with her. In a country where a plague killed half the population, Morace will otherwise be killed in case he has the same disease. But can Lillah keep the boy’s secret, or will she have to resort to breaking the oldest taboo on Botanica?

Available from:
Amazon - US - UK | B&N | BookDepository


In the first part of my review [HERE] I talked about the plot and pacing of Walking the Tree, without saying much about the worldbuilding. This post will solely focus on the Botanica as a social organism, functioning in an unusual geographical situation. The pacing issues I mentioned in the first review and the repetitive model of the school’s walk find their purpose in the purely anthropological aspect of the novel.

The rhythmic and little altering pattern [walk – welcome feast – customary 30 day stay – sex with the settlements’ men] offers a control sample, establishes the accepted tradition. As the school visits each new settlement Warren layers new elements over this pattern and the reader spots the variables, those tiny differences in seemingly similar people. Considering the issue with overpopulation all settlements are modestly populated and even one distinct trait impacts the social structure of the settlement. They can be caused by the natural resources or cultural developments.

For instance, opposed to almost all settlements the people in Ailanthus have an adversarial relationship with the Tree, because unlike other settlements the Tree grows closest to the sea, thus stealing the land from the people. In Cedrelas, because the Tree produces fruit that makes wonderful wine, people drink and party all night to forget their problems, sleeping through the day. The men in Douglas are violent and there is segregation of the sexes unlike any other settlement. At the same time the people in Rhado are cruel and arrogant, because they have perfected the art of cooking.

Speaking of food, Walking the Tree is a novel about food. Whenever I cracked it open, I felt immense hunger at all the feats, catalogued in great detail. On Botanica, cooking’s an art form and constitutes the islander’s creativity to spawn diversity, when all they have to work with is fish for meat and the few vegetables, fruits and nuts.

Of course, I can’t ignore the small details, which contribute to the overall effect of reading a documentary rather than fiction. Different version of the Myth of Creation, the Death of the Tree, different attitudes towards strangers, prejudices, lore, relationship with the Tree, phobias and all of the other small and invisible details, which suspended my disbelief throughout the novel.

Warren deconstructs our understanding of society – millions occupying the same space, but at the same time remaining utterly indifferent towards each other and so disconnected from our place of origin, nature – and has created a society, subjugated to the whims of a giant Tree. It is a smart reversal of roles, considering how trees disappear due to deforestation and Earth is in imbalance. On Botanica, people have to life according to the Tree’s cycle, but they also live in balance with the Tree. The islanders function in nature’s cycle and don’t parasitize. It’s a certain kind of utopia, albeit some imperfections in the islanders themselves.

Before I conclude my review, I’d like to comment on how Walking the Tree will resonate a lot more with female readers than with male ones. Although the settlements have male Elders to decide who is allowed to walk and male Tale-tellers, the women are the ones to walk the Tree. Apart from the right to travel, women are the ones who choose the men they will sleep with, a rarity in both real and fictional cultures. It is a woman, who discovers the truth about the ghosts inside the Tree and it is a woman, who redefines the world anew. But perhaps most literally, Walking the Tree is the representation of a woman’s journey into womanhood.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Instant Recognition, the books you know by reputation ONLY

I’m postponing the second part of my review for Kaaron Warren’s Walking the Tree for some reflection on me as a reader and possibly hear your opinions.

Instant Recognition: The books you know by reputation ONLY

Today’s topic arose, when I posted an artwork inspired by One Flew over a Cuckoo’s Nest and found myself talking about recognizing the title [much like a trademark], but admitting my ignorance about the contents of the actual book:

Personally, I’ve not read the novel nor do I have any idea what’s it about [it was in the commentary under the image that I learned it involved an antagonist nurse]. This novel along with many others to be frank bring instant recognition, when I hear their titles, because I’ve grown up hearing their titles thrown into conversations – I think One Flew over a Cuckoo’s Nest is even the name of a late talk show in Bulgaria, but that was renamed, so I maybe fabricating memories. But as it happens, I know nothing about this book.

I think I’ll call this phenomenon a ‘reader’s blind spot’, avoiding the term idiot being used in direct connotation with my name. Truth is that I do know things about Cuckoo’s Nest like for instance how it has been filmed into a successful movie and is one of those novels that simply must be read. Or so say people.

I’ve extensive blind spots pretty in pretty much any genre. For instance, I may play along and gag around how GRRM is competing with The Bold & The Beautiful in the category ‘When will it end?’. I can nod my head knowingly at how Jordan used to describe clothes and fabric. I can cheer Jim Butcher for being a force in a largely female dominated genre. How the Left Hand of God was a disaster. But poke me about what goes on inside those and I will shake my head.

I think what contributed to building such a false sense of familiarity with hundreds of books I have yet to read is the Internet: online reviews and Twitter. I poke my head in and it’s a storm of name slinging. Most of the time things don’t register, but sometimes titles and authors stick without me knowing anything else other than second-hand information, hype [with brand new releases] or nostalgia [I grew up on GRRM; Pratchett introduced me to fantasy, etc.].

I don’t know whether to consider this a ‘serious’ issue that I have to address or warn of, but it is something interesting to ruminate upon. I know my shortcomings [not reading fast enough], so I won’t come off as an idiot in actual conversation [evasive small talk 101: Say ‘indeed’ to stop a person from speaking].

HOWEVER, I’m curious. Has this happened to you? Which are the books you know by reputation only? Newer ones? Older ones?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

[Review, Part 1] "Walking the Tree" by Kaaron Warren

Title: Walking the Tree
Author: Kaaron Warren
Genres: Fantasy
Softcover: 525
Publisher: Angry Robot Books, February 4th 2010
Standalone/Series: Standalone
Copy: Review copy from the publisher

Botanica is an island, but almost all of the island is taken up by the Tree.

Little knowing how they came to be here, small communities live around the coast line. The Tree provides them shelter, kindling, medicine – and a place of legends, for there are ghosts within the trees who snatch children and the dying.

Lillah has come of age and is now ready to leave her community and walk the tree for five years, learning all Botanica has to teach her. Before setting off, Lillah is asked by the dying mother of a young boy to take him with her. In a country where a plague killed half the population, Morace will otherwise be killed in case he has the same disease. But can Lillah keep the boy’s secret, or will she have to resort to breaking the oldest taboo on Botanica?

Available from:
Amazon - US - UK | B&N | BookDepository

Cover Comment: I’m more than partial with the novel’s concept and therefore with the cover itself. Vegetation and the color green excite me. I admit I’m not an active outdoorsman, but I can’t help but smile whenever I see either –usually both – and what Greg Bridges here is very beautiful. Notice how incorporeal the Tree looks. Considering how the Tree affects the lives of the islanders and acts as the fundamental deity and central figure in the cumulative core of Botanica’s culture. I think this is more of a technical decision to allow more light and better contrast for the school. It still fits though, because ultimately the Tree is a god for the islander. And deities are more often than not incorporeal.

Review: What Kaaron Warren did with Slights – one of my top 2009 novels – applies here as well, if not twice as much. Warren wrote a story, which could not fit any genre, because it is bigger than any genre definition to hold it down. Warren couldn’t have written this novel. To it felt as if she planted seeds of ideas in ash from burnt pages and manure from leather, then watered it with ink and let the story grow roots. Then a stem. Then veins that wind around the reader, blossoms that digest his mind body, dissolve his mind and absorb his soul into its core. Walking the Tree is too organic to be called a story. Warren birthed a world as realistic as it is fantastical. Warren birthed life.

If by any chance there are faults in this book, I don’t think I would have spotted them – apart from minor pacing issues during the middle. My thoughts on the book will mostly consist of why Walking the Tree resonated so heavily with me, unlike any book in the past two or so years [I’m excluding Vandermeer’s Monstrous Creatures as it is a non-fiction collection].

Warren cross-pollinates a simple written language with complex and heavy laden information about the different settlements on the island, captured in vivid and potent imagery. The best examples are when Lillah maps every settlement on her map, summarizing her stay in a few, but well chosen words. In a sense, Lillah captures the essence of each place she visits and it were those tiny bits at the end of every visit – also acting as chapters – that made this all the more worthwhile of my time. Here are my favorite excerpts:

In her mapping, Lillah told the Tree: Jasmine smelling far too much, clever oiling from the flower, clever thinking brain using fear of spiderwebs, danger for those who have caught child.

Here, the Tree grows Jasmine, the leaves are dark and the Bark is oily.


In her mapping, Lillah told the Tree: the stories are true about these men; they are bred cool but dive for sea sponges. They say they tell true stories but is it truth to terrify us? Do we need to know such truth? And why do they want to steal what would be freely given?

Here, the Tree grows bitter fruit and rich, perfumed flowers. The leaves are pale green and huge, the Bark run through with more insects than I can count.


In her mapping, Lillah told the Tree: Pandana broken legs, fish so good you eat too much trap the teachers let them go.

Here, the Tree grows cruel pictures, awful babies and pawpaw. The leaves are blood red and the Bark weeps.

In this part of the review, I won’t speak about the worldbuilding, because I’ve too much to say there – probably more than it’s needed – so I’ll talk more about plot, pacing and the school as it travels around the Tree. Walking the Tree doesn’t have a plot per se or at least it has a string of short term goals, which is why I maintain my opinion that Kaaron Warren doesn’t write a fictitious tale, but documents real people and real occurrences. The beginning preoccupies the central character Lillah with preparations for her evaluation of whether she will or won’t be allowed to join the school as a teacher and walk the tree. This is where I fell in love with the prose, the direction of the story and effortless exposition of an entire world.

It’s during the actual journey, when I had small issues keeping my enthusiasm as strong as it was in the beginning – although I still loved it – and it had a lot to do with Lillah’s goal being largely to function as a trustworthy teacher, find a lover and continue her people’s tradition. I grew tired of the repetitive construction of these visits, even though they provided nuances to keep the reader’s interest. Here is the right moment to mention that Walking the Tree isn’t for everybody as it grows in every direction and then wander, always exploring and winding.

There are several spikes that jar the reader to attention. The sudden appearance of a ghost and the men in Douglas and rescuing Morace from receiving the treatment being just a few, but I did not detect any definite direction. Through the bulk of the school’s journey Walking the Tree functions more as a travelogue rather than as a novel, which isn’t fatal, but different. The transition to this state is natural and the switch from Lillah’s preparations to meet her Elders’ requirements as a teacher to Lillah’s journey – a journey for the sake of the journey as well as for soul searching – barely registers.

This sort-of aimless approach can be attributed to characterization as well. Walking the Tree features an extensive cast of main, secondary and episodic characters. I can’t say that what it’s a character driven – or plot driven – novel, since Warren manages to spotlight everybody, but does so only fleetingly. Only when their appearance’s important to Lillah’s growth, when they happen to be near her or when they are central to an unusual event. It’s a much more true to the story approach, but it also reduces characters to names on the page. Today’s market is pro character and character driven novels climb to the bestseller chart, so this touch-and-go merry go round can be off putting for some. Personally, I indulged in the worldbuilding.

Where Warren truly impressed me is how he crossed over from this nomadic fantasy into the territory of science fiction / post-apocalyptic as Lillah explores the inside of the Tree and then learns the true nature of it as well as of their whole island. This is a spoiler area, so I won’t be doing any sharing.

Next Part: In the next installment I’ll stop on the anthropological aspects of Walking the Tree, explain why this is a feminist novel and talk about food. Yes, food.

Monday, January 10, 2011

REVIEW: The Reapers Are The Angels by Alden Bell

Hardcover: 302 pages
Publisher: Tor (3 Sep 2010)
ISBN-10: 0230748643
ISBN-13: 978-0230748644
Reviewer: Cara
Copy: Bought online

From the inside cover:
God is a slick god. Temple knows. She knows because of all the crackerjack miracles still to be seen on this ruined globe...

Older than her years and completely alone, Temple is just trying to live one day at a time in a post-apocalyptic world, where the undead roam endlessly, and the remnant of mankind who have survived, at times, seem to retain little humanity themselves.

This is the world she was born into. Temple has known nothing else. Her journey takes her to far-flung places, to people struggling to maintain some semblance of civilization - and to those who have created a new world order.

When she comes across the helpless Maury, she attempts to set one thing right. If she can just get him back to his family in Texas then maybe it will bring redemption for some of the terrible things she's done in her past. Because Temple has had to fight to survive, has done things that she's not proud of and, along the road, she's made enemies.

Now one vengeful man is determined that, in a world gone mad, killing her is the one thing that makes sense...

I was initially resistant to reading The Reapers Are The Angels because I don't like zombies. There, I've admitted it; the very mention of the undead is enough to put me off any book or film that mentions them. However, I decided to face my prejudice as this book has been highly praised by many of my peers. Reading reviews by other bloggers indicated that the undead zombies in Alden Bell's novel are an incidental, background feature rather than the main event and so I settled down with a mug of hot chocolate and started to read.

What soon becomes clear is that this is a post-apocalyptic tale centred around Temple, a fifteen-year old girl. She has been born into this world and knows nothing of what came before. Indeed, the events that created this bleak and decaying landscape are not described and, to a certain extent are not relevant either to the story or to Temple's life. We meet her living alone in an abandoned Florida island lighthouse, surviving on what fish she can catch and scavenged plants. When she finds a man washed up on the beach, back broken, jaw missing, yet still squirming and moving in the sand, Temple recognises him as a 'meatskin' or undead and knows her sanctuary is no longer safe. After smashing his head in with a rock, she packs up and leaves for the mainland. This is her life, forever moving on, avoiding the meatskins, also referred to as slugs. Is she heading for some unknown destination or running away from her short past? Within the first two chapters there are many questions about Temple that keep me reading, looking for answers to why a teenage girl is alone in a hostile and dangerous environment.

For the most part Temple is travelling alone across southern America, haunted by a past that is hinted at throughout but only fully revealed towards the end of the book. When she meets Maury, she tries to seek her own redemption by helping him get to his family in Texas. But she is also being pursued by the enigmatic Moses Todd, a man intent on killing her in revenge for something she has done. While both of these characters provide the plot structure, The Reapers Are The Angels is more of an exploration of how humanity survives in a destroyed world, using the character of Temple as the focal point. And this is what irritated me... for an illiterate and uneducated girl, Temple had too much knowledge, too much poetic lyricism. Amidst the stark and desolate world she inhabits she finds beauty in unusual places. She is a philosopher of sorts and this did not work for me. Neither did the fact that she was able to find food and drink in deserted service stations and stores that were fit for consumption - how would this be possible after twenty-odd years?
"She takes the rest of the box [of peanut butter crackers] and a twenty-four pack of coke, some bottles of water, three tubes of Pringles, a few cans of chilli and soup, and some boxes of macaroni and cheese."
There were several similar examples of current society norms throughout the book that jolted me out of the whole post-apocalyptic scenario and undermined the credibility of the book.

It is fair to say I was disappointed in The Reapers Are The Angels. For me, it did not live up to the hype and I found I was making unfavourable comparisons to other, better books such as The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I also did not like the style of writing, where the dialogue was undifferentiated from the descriptive prose and mostly written in a heavy southern accent
"She takes one and puts it in her mouth to show him.
Mmmm. I ain't had bingberries in I don't know how long . That Albert, he may have been a scoundrel all told, but he knew how to raise himself some crops, didn't he? Go on, eat one." 
Overall I felt I was being expected to suspend my disbelief just a bit too far and that Temple was almost superhuman in her ability to do what she had to do to survive. Temple was an intriguing character, however, I did not really engage with her and it was only the fact that I had agreed to review this book that kept me reading to the end. The Reapers Are The Angels has not changed my mind about zombie novels and it is unlikely that I will choose to read another in the near future.

Rating: 5/10

[Review] Monstrous Creatures by Jeff VanderMeer on Rise Reviews

It's good to start the new year with a review. I interpret it as a sign of productivity for the whole year. It's also a good thing that I start the year with a review of a non-fiction collection written by none other than Jeff VanderMeer. You can see the whole review [HERE].
In short, Monstrous Creatures by Jeff VanderMeer can be best summarized by the book’s own subtitle. It’s deceiving in its simplicity and forwardness. The reader will read essays, articles and reviews in order to participate in this tour. At 254 pages, Monstrous Creatures doesn’t frighten anyone with its length. On the contrary, it only contributes to the fake sense of immediacy, of reading this book in one sitting.

Monstrous Creatures is a beautiful chimera of ideas and opinions. VanderMeer goes for a 360-degree expedition of fantasy in all of its manifestations as well as through significant periods of its evolution. Wherever the fantastical seeps in, be it in books, the act of writing, architecture, art or even nature, VanderMeer follows, documents and then reports with some of the most spectacular and sophisticated turns of phrase I’ve seen in non-fiction.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

[Twitter Talks] What do you do with your TBR? How often do you read?

TBR. To-be-read. An abbreviation that every bibliophile knows. It separates the readers from those foolish mortals that know how to read. If you know what it means, then you probably have a humongous issue with it. It grows and it grows like your waistline during the holidays, but with the only difference you can’t ever stop it from growing.

I have a TBR list of about 3,000 titles [most of which I forget, but trust me I’m promiscuous in my reading]. Those ranked in several categories such as ‘I need to read this and write up a review’ or ‘I will kill someone to get this book and rub its cover all night’ or ‘Hey, I bet that no one will sneer at me, if I read this’ or ‘Man, so that is why people go to university for [non-fiction]’.

I don’t feel like I am contributing to the goal of finish most of these books [before I die], so I asked Twitternauts what their situation was like:

You have massive TBR lists, but what do you do to shorten them? How often do you read on average? RT + answer

I received reports:

@fangbooks I read daily, 3-8 books a week, if I'm bored by page 50(ish) it gets put down and removed from TBR (with NO guilt)

@gavreads I'm trying something new - pick 5/6 books at the start of one month to read in the next and see how far I get. Post a pic on twitter of my 5 books and then read them :)

@belovedsnail Read as much as I can. I read between 2-5 books a week. I have two hours in the train daily. Also, I try to buy less books. Also nearly too stupid to mention as a method. :)

@editormum75 I read lots, and cull out unwanted & unsolicited review books (have to meet both criteria) after a few months.

@WendySparrow I read the most while sick... 2 or 3 books a day... and I got a raging respiratory thing that knocked me down for all October. I've also discovered a cool "sample" feature on my Kindle that helps me knock out lame books from my list... so that too.

@Envyious How often I read on average depends on the time of year, busy with uni & work or on vacation but it's probably bw 6-10 a week

@redhead5318 I usually stare at my TBR pile longingly, get over or underwhelmed, then go to the library. I read at least 1 hr every day.

Try to not buy any more books until I cut down on the pile a little. I read just about every day, so if I'm careful, I manage. Unsuccessfully, most days. Sometimes I try to pull off an "out of sight, out of mind" trick where I ignore news of upcoming releases that I want, just so I can keep my focus on the books that I already have.

Weed it out, stop buying new books until I work it down to something managable. Daily, as much as possible.

@TheTillMonkey I was strict with myself this year: but also usually have 2 on the go at once: one downstairs, one up.

@lecbookreviews I force myself to read them in as close to the same order as I bought them as possible so at least the pile stays 'fresh'.

I read about 50 books a year. I read a little most days. The TBR list keeps growing.

Every time I walk/sit/stand/wait/travel. Literally.

@mostlyalurker I read every day. Sometimes for many hours. I'm a slow reader compared to most & enjoy savoring a good story. Quality over quantity.

@Marthapao I stress out and stop reading completely for a week or two and then devour every book in sight, forgetting to sleep or eat.

I read almost everyday. And I plan stuff out, my Way Beyond Retro feature is in part an effort to get my TBR-pile slimmed down.

@silviamg When it's not rainy season, I read as I get to work. I can read a whole book in a day. Very quick reader. Anthos and non-fic are preferred for me. Easier to read. Thinking of getting ereader, but money must materialize

@stujallen Harry, I try to read as many as I buy but still have a huge TBR pile. Every day I try for hundred pages and about 2 or more books


@BlueTyson Read more, don't watch tv. Pretty simple. If you are speed-challenged, practice, learn to read faster....

@charlesatan Cull your TBR pile into half, then choose 10 books. That's your current TBR pile.

AND Larry [who technically falls into the first category, but seriously, we all know he has a team of trained squirrel readers so he is in the cheaters’ corner]:

I don't keep track of TBR lists. I just read and then buy fewer, more expensive books.

Basically, the idea is to read more. BUT I have one serious enemy. My passion towards TV series. Can you believe that I follow more than 30 titles? No. I can’t either, not until I wrote them down just to make sure I did not miss episodes. How the heck is that possible?

On the other hand, I really do think I’m hitting it a bit too hard with 3,000 books on my own wish list, so I will have to cut down on that.

Well, the ball is in your side of the playground [we are playing Dodgeball]. What do you do when facing your TBR [do you cull it?] and how often do you read?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

[Side Note] I join the Publishing Game

I have pretty much announced this on Twitter, but I might as well make this official here. Right before Christmas, Santa made the best gift ever. I'm an intern at the Apex Book Company imprint The Zombie Feed. I'm excited, because I love the publishing industry. I want to interact with it on every single level.

Review-blogging has allowed me to interact with publishers to a degree, but now I have the chance to go very behind the scene. It's thrilling to be honest and so far I think it's something that I can do without scratching my head. I'm on the other side, guys. I'm there.

Anyway, in the name of full disclosure, I'm saying that when information about The Zombie Feed or Apex Books pops up, this is me doing my bit as an intern. I don't plan on going promo whore on the blog, so you never have to fret about that. To avoid attacks on my integrity, I also won't be reviewing anything from The Zombie Feed or Apex Books. I believe in separating myself as a reviewer from myself as an intern.

So that's about it.

PS: Guys, I made it. *g*

Friday, January 7, 2011

[Side Note] Help Ekaterina Sedia

I know I'm late to the party and that there has been support for Ekaterina Sedia, but I don't think one more would hurt now would it.

Despite the good reviews, The House of Discarded Dreams has not been fairing well out on the field and this is where you come in, dear reader. Help Ekaterina Sedia. Buy the book and show that a book like hers can find its place in today's market.

“Trying to escape her embarrassing immigrant mother, Vimbai moves into a dilapidated house in the dunes… and discovers that one of her new roommates has a pocket universe instead of hair, there’s a psychic energy baby living in the telephone wires, and her dead Zimbabwean grandmother is doing dishes in the kitchen. When the house gets lost at sea and creatures of African urban legends all but take it over, Vimbai turns to horseshoe crabs in the ocean to ask for their help in getting home to New Jersey. ”

For whatever reason, it doesn’t seem to get as much traction as my previous books, despite many positive reviews. So I’m asking you to help if you’re so inclined. Link to this post, or point it out to people who might enjoy a book with horseshoe crab biology and based on immigrant experience, a book with a non-white protagonist and drawing from a culture rarely seen in fantasy. If you read it, please consider posting a review at Amazon or elsewhere. I know there are readers for this book — please help them find it!

I will make sure to buy my copy once I visit the might UK, but this is a novel that I want to see more often. A novel that doesn't set any immediate inbred and bundled-up expectations. It's different. It's mighty.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

[Book Review] The Technician (A Polity Novel) by Neal Asher (Tor UK)

I would like to introduce my pick for Best Book of 2010.

The Technician is about an intriguing alien mystery explored through the life of a few colorful characters. It is also a return to old familiar premises on the planet Masada for us old Asher fans.

Visiting Masada again for me was a bit like coming home and I got to enjoy some of the characters from previous books (You can read my review of them, links are below. The Line of the Polity is the one with most Masada in it).

As usual with Neal's books this one also has an intriguing and well developed back story that tightly fits together with what happened before. I can understand why he went back to Masada. It is such a wonderful quirky place with its weird ecology. There are huge Hooder predators that can swallow a man or a minor car and Gabbleducks (the novel is based on a short story about them) walking around copying human talk but not making any sense; the whole world is wrapped in the mystery of a disappeared alien civilization called the Atheter. On top of this an oppressive theocracy was toppled by rebellion a few decades ago facilitated by the mysterious Dragon's destruction of their orbital lasers. The Dragon was the mysterious being behind much of the intrigue in the Cormac series but it only figures here through its descendants the Dracomen created when the Dragons crashed on the planet.

One of my favorite characters Amistad the war drone from Shadow of the Scorpion is back in charge of Atheter research as events set in motion by the Dragon once again threatens humanity. With him we get to follow a bit of personal growth and development, AI style.

I might be the only one but I thought it was hilarious when Blue, the only colored Dracowoman was introduced, I immediately thought; Neal your rascal, you sneaked in a Na'vi on us. The next explanation that came to mind was the blue pill from Matrix in reverse.

The plot centers on Jeremiah Tombs of the original religious leadership and his journey back to sanity. A theme Neal also used successfully with Mr Crane/The Brass Man. Tombs is not the only point of view or main character in this novel but I enjoyed him most because he changes the most. The characters are well developed with much more 'meat' than in his early novels something I as a character person like and appreciate.

The Dragon's hidden agenda goes like a chain from Grindlinked to this one. That is a nice touch even if there is not much Dragon action in this one. It is more like a heritage.

The Technician is no doubt one of the best new novels I have read this year. It got a fantastic inner journey with fast-paced alien-world action. I am in awe of Neal Asher for this amazing feat of original writing. If you haven't read Neal before you might as well start with this one, you will not be sorry but you will get a bit more out of it if you read the Cormac novels first. Maybe I should add that Mr Asher is very fond of gigantic insects and might get a bit graphic in his descriptions.

Reviewer: Ove Jansson
Copy: bought by me

Rating: 10/10

Title: The Technician

Universe: The Polity
Author: Neal Asher
Genre: Space Opera
Jacket art: Jon Sullivan
Hardback: 512 pages
Publisher: Tor UK, August 2010

Order from: PanMacmillan | Amazon US | UK | sfbok
The Theocracy has been dead for twenty years, and the Polity rules on Masada. But the Tidy Squad consists of rebels who cannot accept the new order. Their hate for surviving theocrats is undiminished, and the iconic Jeremiah Tombs is at the top of their hitlist. Escaping his sanatorium Tombs is pushed into painful confrontation with reality he has avoided since the rebellion. His insanity has been left uncured, because the near mythical hooder called the Technician that attacked him all those years ago, did something to his mind even the AIs fail to understand. Tombs might possess information about the suicide of an entire alien race. The war drone Amistad, whose job it is to bring this information to light, recruits Lief Grant, an ex-rebel Commander, to protect Tombs, along with the black AI Penny Royal, who everyone thought was dead. The amphidapt Chanter, who has studied the bone sculptures the Technician makes with the remains of its prey, might be useful too. Meanwhile, in deep space, the mechanism the Atheter used to reduce themselves to animals, stirs from slumber and begins to power-up its weapons.

Related Posts
Asher, Neal
Agent Cormac Series
0. Shadow of the Scorpion
1. Grindlinked
2. The Line of the Polity
3. Brass Man
4. Polity Agent
Line War

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Resolutions for 2011 [Ahem, read, read, read and be neat]

[I hope 2010 stays dead... DIE, DIE, DIE]

Happy New Year, beloved you guys!

I plan not to do a flashback post. Let's face it, 2010 sucked on a personal level and this reflected on what I did on this blog. Sure, I read some amazing books, but the same time I suffered through a severe burnout. Here I'd like to thank Cara Murphy and Ove Jansson for keeping the blog from completely dying and supplying stellar reviews. Temple Library Reviews would have crashed and burned otherwise.

Okay, no more reflection. Let's skip to the goals.

The goal is to read more mediums, more genres, more publishing houses and imprints. It's time to enter more diversity in what I handle. I do hope I can fit some non-fiction that is far from the speculative genre. I'm not saying that I want to read more as that's a given. I'll be reviewing for a lot of places.

Maintaining a relaxed and regular posting. Not pushing myself more than I can handle. It's a very hilarious goal since I think I've taken more than I can carry. I do hope that after my exam session I can sit down and do some much needed maintenance on the blog and add some blogs to the roll, links and banners.

Maintain a journal about what I read. I want to be organized. I managed this last year, but only until May, when I started my job and then all went to hell. Oh, yeah, and I so hope that I do not miss deadlines. Bah, that would be hell.

So these are my goals. What are yours?
Related Posts with Thumbnails