Thursday, May 29, 2008

Side Note: Radio Silence

Due to some intense and time consuming activities that demand my attention I will be on the leave until June 3rd, until everything clears out and I can return to reviewing and interviewing. When I come back there definitely will be more reviews to throw out. So from now I am falling into Radio Silence.

Bye for now.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Rocannon's World" by Ursula Le Guin

Author: Ursula Le Guin
Title: "Rocannon's World"
Pages: 134

Publisher: Ace (1966)

As it would seem the Bulgarian reprint of Ursula Le Guin’s “Left Hand of Darkness” is a collection of most of the novels from the Hainish cycle. I came across this, while researching the matter, while I was still reading the book and since I finished two of the novels compressed in the first volume I felt like reviewing them separately.

“Rocannon’s World” is not only the opening of the first volume, but is Ursula’s debut as well back in 1966, which for me is the time, when sci-fi as a genre picked up and developed. A fairly short read at the mere 136 pages the plot is very simple, but the story remains sophisticated without troubling the readers mind so much, a trait I admire in Ursula’s writing, clearly demonstrated in her Earthsea novels, which have earned their stature as irreplaceable in my heart.

The protagonist of this tale is the ethnologist Rocannon, who is doing some research for the League of Worlds on the nameless planet simply labeled as Fomalhaut II, which is inhabited by three intelligent races. The Gdemiar resemble Earth’s dwarves by living in cave colonies and displaying wordsmith mastery and their own grip over technology, which has been taught by the league. The Fiia are the friendly gnomes that share a constant telepathic connection among their kind. The Liuar are taller than normal humans, Rocannon being one, and are a race of wars and honor and are divided into two subspecies: the taller blond families are the royalty, while the shorter brunette families are treated as servants.

Interesting to note is that the prologue to this novel “Semley’s Necklace” has been a short story published as a standalone. Semley is a young woman from a royal family, who in search to reclaim her clan’s pride undergoes a space journey to return her family’s heirloom, a blue sapphire necklace, only to find that she returns one generation later with her daughter grown and her husband dead, rendering her efforts pointless.

The great introduction shows a great deal of the worldbuilding in Fomalhaut II, which is still in the Bronze Era, and introduces the characters. Rocannon arrives on the primitive world with a party to determine, whether the planet is inhabited by the army of Faradey, a world, which engages in intergalactic wars and uses primitive worlds as bases. Considering everyone from the party, plus their means of transport, being obliterated by a laze beam and the news of many cataclysmic fires spreading on the planet, the answer is pretty positive.

So Rocannon embarks on an epic journey to find the enemy base and use their communication systems to warn the League. His companion is Mogien, one of the blond Liuar, royalty and grandson of Semley. Considering the lack of technology the story resembles a Tolkinesque plot with a part consisting of different races: Rocannon, Mogien and his servants are joined by the sole Fiia, who survived a slaughtering of his village. To top it off, this Fiia speaks of a prophecy, which involves Rocannon and the sapphire necklace, which basically gets him in lot of trouble, almost costing his life.

In his travels the brave ethnologist earns the reputation of a god status being, because of his special protective suit, which saved him from being cooked and eaten. Rocannon also encounters with two other races that are rumored to inhabit the planet, which are left unnamed. The first race consists of tall angelic creatures with big wings, which are blind and deaf. They serve as the antagonists as their agenda is feeding on the traveling party by sucking their life juices. The second race is supposedly the ancestors of both the Gdemiar and Fiia before they split up and evolved. From them Rocannon learns the art of telepathy. In a very interesting solo spy mission Rocannon achieves his mission and waits for the rescuing team to come get him after the enemy has been obliterated as well. However traveling to him takes too much time and Rocannon dies of age, while waiting for his rescue. As a consolation prize Fomalhaut II is named Rocannon.

The prologue Semley's Necklace begins like this:

"How can you tell the legend from the fact on these worlds that lie so many years away? - planets without names, called by their people simply The World, planets without history, where the past is the matter of myth, and a returning explorer finds his own doings of a few years back have become the gestures of a god."

Apart from being thought provocative, full of depth and simply brilliant, these starting sentences carry the spirit and are at the base of “Rocannon’s World”, “Planet of Exiles” and probably the whole Hainish cycle. There is this blend of past and future, fantasy and sci-fi, facts and myths and the experience of watching a single object or action reflected in absolutely polar perceptions is quite unique. Seeing how humans used to think that lightning was created by gods, how objects like a clock and a gun were magical to human tribes in the uncultivated parts of Earth, we are left wondering whether our mythology doesn’t have a quite believable explanation. One of the leading motifs is that truth is subjective and it depends on the beholder, a fact that has been established in history.

If you are looking for a very short read for the weekend, which packs a decent doze of action and still manages to flex your brain, then by all means check out “Rocannon’s World”.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Interrogate the Author: Starring Jason Pinter

So after my short absense on the scene, mainly because of really bad time management issues and lots of events on my schedule, it's time to return with another exciting issue of "Interrogate the Author", but this time we are going weird. Jason Pinter is best selling author of the criminal Henry Parker series that don't have even a slight trace of the paranormal. However after reading his second novel in the above mentioned series "The Guilty" (reviewed HERE) I wanted to get inside his head and I think I did a pretty decent job at it. Here is the product of my rambling.

1. Hello, Jason. It’s definitely good to have you here at “Interrogate the Author” with me, the delightful host Harry Markov. Now tell me how comfortable do you feel here, considering that you are only non-fantasy authors that have sat on my virtual chair?

Pretty good considering it's only virtual. As far as I know there's no device that allows people to jump through computers and attack me. But give it time. Thing is, even though I don't write in the fantasy genre (yet), I grew up idolizing writers like Terry Brooks and Brian Jacques. They were the first authors I truly loved and admired.

2. When did you decide to become a writer? It’s not like deciding to be a fireman. A person does need qualifications like grammar and well talent. When did you discover you possessed those?

I be had gud grammer my hole lif. Seriously, I've really always wanted to be a writer. When I was younger, probably seven or eight, I would always write short stories that were "inspired be" (i.e. ripping off) whatever author I was infatuated with at that time. So a lot of fantasy quests for various magical artifacts, lots of sword and demons, lots of blood. I loved it. As for talent, I guess that's all relative. I don't think there's a specific time in any writer's life when the light comes on and you say, "Wow, I have talent!" You simply write, take constructive criticism and try to improve your craft every time you write.

3. I see from your biography that your writing aspirations were directed towards screenwriting rather than novels. Are you a movie fan? My PC I think has shown more different movies than the regular cinema, so I understand the love for the 7th art.

I'm a huge movie fan, and for a while I did want to become a screenwriter. I had a friend in high school and our plan was for me to write the movies and him to produce. Now I write novels and he runs several successful restaurants, so go figure. I probably see a movie every other week--more during the summer.

4. What exactly made you think twice about screenwriting and for that matter why crime? You are one of the birds that go with the normal and since I have known only writers, who like to exploit the paranormal, I am curious.

Probably just because I loved writing and I loved movies, and my dream job was to combine the two. I know a lot of authors that have worked in film, and the experiences have run from just wonderful to absolutely terrible. At some point I might try to give it a serious go, but for now the books are my #1 priority. My father is probably the biggest reason I started writing crime novels. We used to live by wonderful mystery bookstore called the Black Orchid, and he would always come home with bagfuls of mysteries, and when he finished he'd always give them to me. That's when I started to love the genre, and especially those that transcended it or crossed over.

5. One of your first bloopers so to say in the first steps in your career was to find an agent before writing anything? What age did you do this, how did you learn that you needed a book first and for that matter did you succeed?

I was a junior in college, and I learned basically from all the form rejections I got from agents who "weren't looking for new clients." Which really means, "We're not looking for you." At that point I realized there was much more to being published, so I did my homework, research the industry, and that's how I ended up interning at a literary agency for a $10 a day stipend.

6. Many writers never really debut with the first ever written manuscript and well you kinda did. I bet that has to do with the fact that you spent five years as an editor or maybe you had a secret manuscript that failed.

I do have that manuscript that failed. It was written before THE MARK, and I couldn't pay anyone to publish it. There's a lot I like about that book, but there are some major problems with it, but most importantly it taught me how to write a novel. Being an editor helps mainly in that you read so much. To be a writer you really need to read everyone--good and bad--to see what works and what doesn't.

7. Speaking of your editor past, I am interest to know the answer: “What do editors want for crying out loud?” and whether “This is not what we are looking for” is polite for ‘you suck’. I am keeping this for the records of course. Statistics and stuff. I’m not biased, nope.

It depends on the editor. Editors, I think, are for the most part polite and despite beliefs to the contrary are aware that every book, no matter how good or bad, is the result of tremendous effort. So there's no pleasure in turning something down (unless the author or agent has been rude or disreputable). A good rule of thumb is that the longer and more specific the rejection, the more thought went into it. If an editor really likes a book or a writer--but maybe didn't get to bid for one reason or another--they'll be a little more specific and often ask to be kept in mind for future work. But again every editor is different. Some simply write form rejections for everything simply to save time. Acquiring books is really a zero sum equation for editors. Either that buy it or they don't, and every moment spent writing a long rejection is a moment that could have been used to help an author under contract make their book better.

(SPOILER ALERT!!!) 8. Now let’s talk about a bit about your Henry parker series. “The Mark” has been released in 2007 and in it Henry parker gets shot in the leg. Now since I haven’t read it and this is the most repeated reference towards the first book I have to ask. Why is it so important?

I wanted this series to be the kind in which actions in future books do have repercussions. Henry isn't a superhero, he isn't some Kung-Fu ninja badass. He's a guy in his twenties who often gets in way over his head. I feel like this gives readers a little more emotional attachment to the characters, since they know every punch he takes, every doubt he has becomes a part of who he is.

9. “The Guilty”, number two in the series, shows Henry in a real tight spot, pressed by the media and on the tail of a new serial killer. How did you come up with the idea for this adventure?

I had the idea for THE GUILTY while I was writing THE MARK. I loved the idea of old myths and legends, especially the one featured in THE GUILTY. So my plan was that if THE MARK didn't sell, I could take that story and make it a standalone novel. And if it did sell, I could take the characters from THE MARK and use that story as the backdrop for a new book. Thankfully the latter occurred.

(SPOILER ALERT!!!) 10. I am also curious to know how the idea of The Boy was born and why you traced him back to Billy the Kid? Are you a fan of the Western mythos?

I'm fascinated with the myth of The Kid, partly because he's one of the most iconic figures in American history--there's a part in the book where it's mentioned that Billy the Kid has inspired more books and movies than any figure outside of Count Dracula, and that's true. Yet despite this, so little is known about his, his origins, his motivations, so I decided to take that myth and play around with it, especially the actual conspiracy theory that he didn't die at the hands of Pat Garrett in 1881.

11. The research around all the two of these major people Billy the Kid and Jesse James seems tremendous to me. How much of the information in the book is real and how much fictional?

A great deal of is real. The theory about his death, Brushy Bill Roberts, the alleged meeting between the two, the attempt to exhume Billy's mother and compare DNA, it's all either true or part of theories that have been given different measures of credibility over the years. I think readers will find a whole lot to keep themselves busy with after finishing this book.

12. Since I love the villains I am interested in the way the Boy thinks. The logic behind his actions is solid and even though twisted makes total senses. Have you had additional help from real psych killers to help build his character?

One of my favorite lines ever is that every villain is the hero in his or her own story. So even though The Boy is a sick, twisted dude, in his mind everything he's doing makes total sense. That's something every clinical psychologist will tell you, that no murderer ever felt like they were doing something wrong. In their mind, it was the right and just thing to do. Their moral compass is just a bit off center...

13. Now a bit about the schematics of the novel. The use of POV struck me as odd in the novel. What were you trying to accomplish by giving Henry 1st person and isolate everyone else in 3rd person?

I did this in THE MARK also, mainly because I wanted many of the supporting characters to have voices in order to flesh out their characters. I hate stock characters, people who just exist seemingly only to further the plot. I wanted every character to be understood, if not sympathized with. Henry is obviously the main character, but I want my books to be like a complex tapestry--in pop culture kind of like "The Sopranos"--where you don't need to focus on Tony in every scene to make things compelling. And having supporting characters who are well-defined, I think, enriches the reading experience.

14. Now Henry Parker is a good person and a journalist. Somehow these too don’t quite mix, but he is believable. How did you decide that he should be a journalist? I sense some Clark Kent moment.

Nope, no Clark Kent moment. I wanted Henry to exist in an industry you don't see too often in crime novels. There are tons of cops, FBI agents, P.I.s, politicians, doctors. I wanted to do something different. And I also wanted his profession to provide another kind of struggle. Henry despises reporters who are also celebrities, and the irony is that after THE MARK he becomes one himself to his chagrin. I thought that would make an interesting dichotomy for the character and could open up possibilities to explore it in future books.

15. What can we expect from the next novel in the series? There have been some loose ends like Henry’s relationship with Amanda and now that he saved Mya Loverne he is back in her life. I smell another love triangle and new trouble for Henry.

I don't want to give away too much, but as I said every wound leaves a scar. People don't just go in and out of Henry's life without leaving a mark (har har). I never really thought of THE GUILTY containing a love triangle--if you read it, I think it's clear who Henry's feelings belong to--but I liked the idea of him being unable to let go of a person who has been hurt by his actions. Redemption is a big theme of the series.

16. In fact how long is your series going to continue and what are your future plans regarding the end of the series? Do you plan on venturing into the field of the paranormal?

As of right now I'm contracted for seven books. If there are more stories to tell with Henry--and assuming readers want more (i.e. they keep selling)--I'd love to keep going as long as they stay fresh and interesting. At some point I'd love to try something new, whether it's sci-fi, fantasy, paranormal, or even the YA series I've been kicking around in my head.

17. Knowing that you are a full time writer actually peaks my interest and yes I drool at the opportunity to not have to go to work. It must be fun to make your own schedule and what is your writing routine?

It's a double-edged sword. I love making my own hours, but it also means you need to be self-motivated. At work you're being paid to do a job, at home you don't get paid unless you write. Deadlines become more important, and distractions are the death of a writer. If you can block those out and stick to a schedule, yeah, it is pretty great.

18. How do you prefer to write? Some like to outline, some like to do it at the spur of the moment, others do both.

As part of my contract I have to show my publisher an outline. I don't think I'm particularly good at writing these nor do I prefer to do it like that, but thankfully my publisher is very understanding that the outlines will likely bear little similarity to the finished manuscript.

19. We are almost near the end and here come the usual questions. From your blog we see that your blogs are international now and Henry gets to speak in quite some languages. Can you share what your agent has done with foreign rights?

My agent sold world rights to MIRA, so they control distribution internationally. As of this moment, my books are available in nine countries in five different languages, and more will be added as the year goes on.

20. For that matter would you like to see Henry portrayed by some hot actor in a movie version of the Henry parker novels? I hear the industry needs thrillers.

Film rights to THE MARK were optioned. As for casting, that's so far from my hands that it's almost not worrying about. I'll certainly hope if the movie gets made the parts will go to talented people. I'd rather a good actor than a hot actor, and thankfully some readers have submitted their choices for who should play Henry (Ryan Gosling, Emile Hirsch and Jake Gyllenhaal are the current favorites).

21. Now for a grand finale. How did you feel, knowing that you were interviewed by a teen, who speaks English as a second language?

I'm impressed by both of those! I speak about a third of a few languages, but haven't fully mastered anything besides English (and some would even argue that point). So congrats to you for reading so many diverse books, and for being about ten years beyond where I was at that age. I'm getting jealous. Let's end the interview before I figure out how to jump through your screen..

Now wasn't that exciting. Every hardcore fantasy and sci-fi fan has to add diversity to their reading diet, so here is the much wanted opportunity to do so with this author and his work. Now to learn more about Jason Pinter, either visit his site or become a reader of his blog "The Man in Black". Be sure to check out "The Mark" (his first novel) and "The Guilty", all on Amazon.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

"Truancy" by Isamu Fukui

Author: Isamu Fukui
Title: "Truancy"
Pages: 432
Publisher: Tor Books

Thanks to the ever so generous Graeme I received “Truancy” as an unexpected gift that got me addicted. For three blissful days I was totally lost in this hardcover edition, which is so unlike me, since my attention span with books ranges to 60 pages at most a day and finishing 400 in three days was impossible to me. I certainly wish more books could force into oblivion.

At first I was very reluctant to setting expectations as everybody knows Isamu Fukui is 17 years old and having had a huge disappointment in “Eragon”, also written by a teen, I had no idea what to expect. However I was not disappointed at all. The story is quite simple. The setting is an unnamed city, which is ruled by an unnamed Mayor in such a manner that turns people into obedient marionettes. This is all an experiment to create the perfect society. The school is the first step to shaping the City’s citizens into spineless humans, but as the system becomes unbearable, revolt is to be expected in the face of the Truancy, an organization of students that oppose the City’s rule.

Tack is the main protagonist to say so, even though there are other characters, who tell the story. He is an average student, who just wants to stay under the radar, until he meets Umasi, a skilled fighter pacifist, and starts training with him. The death of Tack’s sister by the Truant leader Zyid is the trigger that turns Tack into a fighter himself. In Order to avenge his sister Tack becomes a part of the Truancy and even escalates to the position of right hand assassin of Zyid. The plot of “Truancy” revolves around the newest, harshest stage of the war between Truancy and the Educators, who are run by the Mayor and have control over the City. The ending of the book shows a small scale apocalypse and a city lying in ruins.

I applaud Isamu for his great skill in characterization. The dialogue is superb in my own opinion and the protagonists’ points of view are distinguishable although a great deal of head hopping is established. However it’s good that Isamu keeps the cast of narrating characters tight. Each and every character has his or hers dramatic tale that connects them with the others and explains their motifs perfectly. If you have read Japanese manga or watched enough anime, you will definitely feel that specific vibe of nobility, epic drama and honor woven together. This method of storytelling is addictive and offers a lot more suspense for the reader. Another strength that I find is the visual approach to storytelling. I think that this is the literary equivalent to watching a great action movie and the descriptions of the combat scenes are simply mindboggling. Showing high speed motion in a written story is one of the hardest things to achieve and Isamu makes it look easy, too easy.

As conclusion I can simply point out that if you hate school, have hated school and haven’t lived long enough to realize that those were the best years in your life, than this book is for you. In my opinion Isamu has a very bright future ahead of him in the industry.

Monday, May 19, 2008

"Dark Maiden" by Norma Lehr

Title: "Dark Maiden"
Author: Norma Lehr
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Juno books

Dark Maiden by Norma Lehr is an intriguing new read, which can be finished in one breath at its length of 224 pages and the reader is left energized by everything that happens. The pacing of the novel is lightning fast and action seems to fill every page. The book itself goes along the lines of paranormal romance and urban fantasy, settling for the title paranormal suspense.

Sheila Miller is a devastated mother after losing her only child Timmy to crib death. However she is convinced that her baby was killed by an Asian woman, a theory, which is met with wide skepticism from the people around her. Upon moving out from San Francisco and into the suburbs in order to handle stress things go out of control. People close to Sheila and her family start to die in mysterious ways, huge grey foxes are spotted and the personal drama that marked Sheila’s life is threatening to repeat itself. Amongst this chaos Sheila manages to fall in love with Chad, who has come to reopen the mine on the property she lives in. when all of the events point towards and ancient fox demon, which has desire in a magical stone lost in the mine, Sheila doesn’t sound so crazy after all.

What I personally found as great strength in this book is that Normal Lehr delves into the pool of Chinese mythology, even though today the supernatural genre favors vampires and usual shapeshifters. There is a great diversity of motives and elements used from the mentioned fox demons that change into maidens and their lore, reincarnation and love that has lasted for centuries to even dragons and magical amulets with mystic properties. Sheila herself seems to break the paranormal canons as she appears vulnerable and clueless to what happens with her, which is quite the opposite from headstrong and confident women that know what lurks in the shadows.

The whole story is shown through the points of view of a large cast of characters as they have to deal with different situations all connected with the fox demon. While this creates a wonderful sensation of watching a movie, I would have liked to see the story develop through the tighter core of main characters. As other criticism I would also point that I would have liked to see the story expand through another 100 to 150 pages. This is a really great story and I wished it would go on, so that more of the paranormal motives could be intertwined further into the story and into each other and help interconnect the characters better, but in the end I think that “Dark Maiden” deserves attention.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Interrogate the Author: Sylvia Kelso

Hello and welcome to another exciting intsallment of "Interrogate the Author". This time we feature the eloquent Sylvia Kelso as we talk about her book "Amberlight" (reviewed HERE) and writing in all its aspects.

1. Thank you Miss Kelso for accepting my invitation to be interrogated by curious me. Proper manners urge me to ask: how are you feeling?

Proper manners, she replied, straight-faced, urge me to reply, Very well, thank you.

2. As a tradition in my interviews I always like to ask how authors first learned of their creative gift over the written word. I usually refer to it like the grand epiphany. When did you feel that you got what it takes to make it in this business?

I think you may have two or three questions wrapped in one there, Harry. Starting at the tail end, with “this business,” by which I take you to mean publishing, I would first have to ask, what do you understand by “make it”? Get a book in print? Outsell Stephen King? Win the Booker Prize?

Those are all senses of “making it,” but they are very different outcomes. I wd. very much doubt I’d ever make it in terms of the latter two. And in the case of “sell a great many copies,” I don’t think a “creative gift” for the written word has much to do with it. In fact, I can think of several enormous best-sellers, NOT including Stephen King, where creative gift appears to have very little bearing at all.

As for winning the Booker, that’s also unlikely, since they don’t do genre, and I don’t seem to do what’s usually called high literature, nowadays.

Getting published, or at least getting a book in print, is the easiest of the three, but it doesn’t mean much. What happens after that is more important, as in can you amass a readership, or even just produce more of the same? And the answer to that is “It all depends on luck”, and what happens to the market that year. The genre publishing landscape is currently littered with the abandoned careers of people who “made it,” often very comfortably, a few years ago, a lot of them people I would consider had a very good slice of the “creative gift.” So simply getting published is not quite the same “making it,” either.

Although, I’m not quite sure what you mean by “creative gift over the written word.” Gift for words? I’m assuming so. In that case, I don’t think I ever learnt of it, any more than you learn you have a gift for breathing. Putting words together was something I did before I could write. Coming from a family of male yarn-spinners with two women poets in the last generation certainly didn’t hurt.

As for when I felt I had what it takes to make it in this business, lol. I fear nobody can answer that with any surety from moment to moment. At least not right now in genre publishing, unless your name’s Dan Brown or some such. And even there, “making it” depends on such a series of variables, from timing to market taste, that you’d have to say, “Sure, I knew I’d bet on the winner in the Melbourne Cup” – when it was first past the post.

3. From your biography I see that you have aspired to write and have completed several manuscripts in different genres. How do you think has this range between fantasy, historical and sci-fi has influenced your writing style?

If I had to generalize, I’d say probably the biggest influence on my style was the first historical fiction, (not mentioned on the website, since it never even saw an attempt to get into print) which taught me to write *short.* It taught me an awful lot else, especially about 1st person POV, which I tend to prefer, but those are matters of discovering your bent, rather than influencing your style.

Apart from that, what most influences my writing style is the personality of the narrator. Length of sentence, quirks of punctuation, syntax, imagery, are all usually directly related to how he or she (although there may be an It coming up) develops in the text.

4. Was it hard to find your niche in the abundance of genres, if you have one single niche? I ask this because most authors identify themselves through one particular genre and age group.

I don’t think I’ve ever bothered trying to find my niche. I write what plants itself in my head and goes, “Tell me *what happened then*?” And won’t go away until I do. One of them turned out to be the big historical. One turned out to be my first fantasy. The most recent appeared to be heading for a classic supernatural mystery, to use the genre pigeonhole, until the Black Gang, aka the creative component of the writing operation (I stole the name from a Lois Bujold novel) handed me one of their trademark first-scene ticking-hatboxes – in this case, one simple detail that blew my expectations sky high. The whole thing wasn’t a mystery or even a thriller, in genre terms. It was a “time travel romance” as they’re often classified. Like Diana Gabaldon’s.

5. As an Australian author did you find it hard to find an agent ready to represent you in the US, especially if we consider your style, which can be quite challenging?

Firstly, I found an agent after I got publishers, which is mostly the way it works nowadays. I say mostly, because there are always exceptions at the ends of the bell-curve. Secondly, my style – if you’ve only read “Amberlight” then you may be over-generalizing. My mate the French Canadian writer Elizabeth Vonarburg says I have a Voice – an identifiable way of writing – but the style, as in above, syntax, sentence shape, etc., etc. can vary quite a lot.

When I wrote “Amberlight”, though, yes, I was taking no prisoners. I was in the guts of my PhD, reading a lot of high theory on one side, and some push-the-parameter SF and fantasy writers like Joanna Russ and Samuel R. Delany on the other. I wasn’t in print, and didn’t expect to be. I wrote for what I then thought would be the ideal SF or fantasy reader, the one who would know all the words, get all the generic allusions, and demand a twist on the genre’s expectations into the bargain. One who could deal with the style of something like “Dhalgren” and the Neveryon series on the one side, and “We Who Are About To…” or “The Female Man” on the other.

I was also writing as a literal experiment in the field. I was thinking theoretically about what divided SF and Fantasy. I wanted to see if I could walk the divide so closely that readers couldn’t decide which side of the fence the book belonged. In that project I’m delighted to have succeeded.

And finally, the Black Gang were being let off the “hook” of analytical writing to play in the creative alleys. “Amberlight” came out like a geyser. It’s a lot denser and fiercer and generally more “lava-like” – a term of approval from another new mate, Warren Rochelle – than most of my stuff.

6. In connection to “Amberlight”, how did you come to the idea of writing heavy political fantasy?

Lol. See above. If you want to classify it so, I’m delighted, but so far as I’m concerned, “Amberlight” “came” to me as: “city in moonlight, strange - thing - with made-up name, what happened then?”

To tell truth, I consider this book fairly simple, politically. You have a long River with, in “Amberlight”, four different nations up its length. One’s an empire, one a matriarchal oligarchy, one an ungendered oligarchy, one a dictatorship. There are no intra-national factions, beyond the Alight Houses, no race or religious schisms, just four fairly homogeneous nations tumbled together into the storyline.

Though I do admit, Lois Bujold reckons my politics are more complicated than most, grin.

7. In that line of thought, what exactly inspired you to write about a culture and mythology that is gender inversed, having women be the ruling gender?

Well, it’s not precisely the whole culture that’s a matriarchy. Amberlight the city is a matriarchy. The rest of them are common or garden patriarchies, or in the case of Verrain, possibly a gender-balanced oligarchy.

And there really isn’t a mythology for any of them. Amberlight swears by “the Mother” and some of the others like Dhasdein and Verrain turn out to have temples and statues of their gods, but Amberlight has no priests or rituals, let alone myths, and no cosmogony either.

As for the gender reversal, it’s a v. common trope in what is often called “feminist” SF, and I was reading a lot at the time. I did notice the lack of a cosmogony after the writing, when I recalled another of my matriarchies with a very explicit and ideologically twisted cosmogony that still amuses me greatly. I call it my revenge on the Adam and Eve myth.

8. I am particularly interested in knowing how you came to the idea of pearl-rock, because it is a fascinating stone with versatile properties. If I have to be explain it the pearl-rock is a sentient harmless uranium with a temper. So far I have never read anything like that.

That’s quite a good description, except qherrique’s not a stone, in the proper sense, because it grows and feeds, and uranium/stone doesn’t. And qherrique isn’t harmless. I’d have thought the various incidents, even on the way up to the finale, wd. indicate that. But “with a temper” is certainly true.

As for how I came to the idea, that happened just where you see it in the book. Right there in the first paragraph. Where it came from? From where all the good ones come. I’d say from the Black Gang. Fay Weldon would say from Writer A. And if you asked Harlan Ellison, he’d say it came from Schenectady.

9. Considering the epic battles, sieges and war strategies I am compelled to ask, whether writing those scenes were hard?

Nup. That was the fun part. Once the world was set up, and the dominoes rolling, I just let the Black Gang have their heads. But then, Amberlight was exceptionally lava-like. Mostly it just came zapping straight out onto the page.

10. To follow the same thread how did you research for these scenes as well? The strategies and maneuvers on both sides seemed to real, gripping and totally out of the blue.

I didn’t research for that part of Alight at all. I did draw on a lot of the history I read for the big first historical, which was the story of Hannibal, largely the Second Punic War. And there are some crackerjack sieges in that. It starts with the siege of Zakynthos and goes on to the crucial sieges of Syracuse and Capua, just for starters. I nicked a detail direct from the Syracusan siege – the Roman general figured the length he’d need for his siege ladders by asking for a parley right under the walls, and having somebody count the layers of stones. But the circumvallation was straight from the siege of Capua. After that, the river’s presence made everything go “original” – there’s no river at Capua, and no catapults either, but the Hellenistic Greeks loved them. Knowing the details of what Archimedes – who was the scientific mastermind at the siege of Syracuse, btw – knew about hydraulics, etc. was useful there.

11. What I forgot to mention is that I noticed an interesting contrast. Alkhes and his black ink eyes are in complete opposite to Tellurith, who is associated with the white pearl-rock. Is this constant opposing intentional as well, foreshadowing to the fact that they might end up on different sides when the war begins?

Nup. Well. It’s not consciously intentional. The Black Gang are also in charge of motifs, images, echoes and resonances. I once kick-started a novel by writing down scraps of poetry I remembered, because they were “resonant” images. When it was finished, just for interest, I checked the manuscript. Every one of those images had made it in, and I hadn’t consciously included a single one.

12. I saved the thirteenth question for the 13 Houses in Amberlight. I wonder why you chose this number in particular and whether the fatality we give it acts as another skillful foreshadowing? If not I am still curious to know.

Thirteen was an alternate, not necessarily bad significance. Amberlight is a “moon book.” If you look at each chapter, you’ll notice in part 1 they all start with a moon image, and a sun image in part 2, except for Ch. 9, which goes back to the moon. That *is* intentional. And the moon is central to Amberlight, because dark of the moon is when you can cut qherrique. So the city naturally has a lunar calendar: 13 months in what would be one of our years. Tellurith actually tells Alkhes that at one point. And Crafters are particularly sensitive to the moon, as the book also notes, because that’s also a woman’s calendar. A full “normal” menstrual cycle is 28 days. Possibly it’s the oldest calendar ever invented, since some 28-mark engravings and figures have come down from the Paleolithic. So Amberlight has a lunar calendar and 13 Houses, naturally. But of course it’s also the number of a full coven, Wiccan or otherwise, as well as the number of Christ and his disciples.

13. What is your writing routine and what technique do you prefer to use: outlining or just dash out and see what comes out in the end?

I usually get the donnee – the first idea, paragraph, scene – and then I have to sort out a whole heap of stuff to get any further. At that point it’s just a seething mass incubating in the back of the brain(s.) It may also include a huge amount of research to sustain whatever wonder the Black Gang have landed on me in those opening paragraphs.

Somewhere in there, usually as or just after things begin to move out of that back-up stage, the overall narrative arc will begin to emerge. But usually, by then, the Black Gang will be dictating in detail and maybe unloading straight into the conscious mind at 5 or 6 am in the morning, and you know it’s time to get mobile, before the good oil drains away.

From then on it’s business as usual. Write what comes up. Address a whole lot of queries to the Black Gang about what happens next, what the setting/economy/history’s like, who the people are, etc. etc. etc., and write what comes back. Have the BG dry up. Figure out what’s needed – more data, more incubating time, a back-track – relatively minor, those, mostly, in my stuff – and start off again. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Oh, and of course, deal with the unexpected swerves the BG throw into what you *thought* was a fairly organized general direction. The narrator and main female lead in the time travel romance was a nice little Bambi till about Ch. 16. Then she suddenly shot someone in the thigh with a high-power rifle, and the whole final third of the story went somewhere else. Incl. about three extra chapters dealing with the repercussions, and a good long time-out for research into local police emergency procedures …

14. What are your further projects involving?

At this point, I have two books in the promotional pipeline for later in 2008, “Riversend”, the sequel to “Amberlight”, in November 2008, and “The Red Country”, the third of the Rihannar series, coming out from 5 Star in October. Which means a lot of work doing promo, making videos for YouTube and sending ARCs out. Plus a local launch for “Amberlight” in July. And a couple of new leads to follow up for other mss that are currently sitting around in the stable eating their heads off.

Writing wise, I’m in medias res with book 4 of this series. Currently involving a lot of scratching around on the Web for working details of Neolithic and Iron Age houses in the Orkneys, and some critical decisions about language/dialect.

There’s a possible sequel to the time travel romance tapping on the back wall of the brain(s), but there are also some of the horrid knots that come up with time travel, even with conveniently foldable realities a la Everett’s quantum theory. So that one hasn’t got past the opening scene, and is still awaiting a workable answer to, “What happened next?”

15. Now for a grand finale. How do you feel being interrogated by a foreigner, not yet fully stepped into legal adulthood, who speaks English as a second language?

Well, seeing I’m Australian, I’m always being interrogated by foreigners, including one person from Singapore, and all the people from the US who’ve commented on my work on the Web or interviewed me on it, including one Afro-American, and one half-Cherokee. Age doesn’t worry me too much. As for the English, I have had occasion to edit some of yours, in search of what seems like the sense, grin. Otherwise, not a problem.

Now this is the kind of interview I am talking about. That Sylvia Kelso. I was shocked at that last one, embarassed as well, when it should have been vice versa. So this concludes this very informative and interesting installment of "Interrogate the Author". Be sure to check out more about Sylvia Kelso and her work at her WEBSITE, while you can easily sample a taste of her talent with "Amberlight" on Amazon, courtesy of Juno Books.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Side Note 2

April has left me with the very unpleasant feeling to wait for the mail service to deliver books that I have been interested to read for quite a while. “Black Magic Woman”, “The Summoner” and “The Blood King” come from the gracious people of Solaris Books, while Kate Elliot’s “Spirit Gate” comes from Tor’s newsletter. And the most pleasent surprise is "Witchember" by John Lawson, for which I didn't have to ask. How fascinating indeed. It happens for the first time. I am very happy to have these titles and now I think it’s high time to post about what goes on the blogosphere.

~ Robert at Fantasy Book Critic reviews “The Last Wish” by Andrzej Sapkowski and hosts two great giveaways on “The Last Wish” and the “Kushiel Series” by Jacqueline Carey.

~ The lovely Theresa at Fantasy and Sci-Fi Lovin’ Reviews puts up a wonderful review for “Blood Ties” by Pamela Freeman.

~ Chris at BookSwede decides to start a new passion with graphic novels by reading the Sandman series by Neil Gaiman.

~ Mihai at DarkWolf’s Fantasy Reviews hosts an incredible interview with editor John Joseph Adams about his anthology “Wastelands”.

~ Kimberley at Darque Reviews shares her thoughts on “The Darkest Kiss” by Gena Showalter. Yum!

~ Graeme decides to review “The Host” by Stephanie Meyer and if you pay attention to earlier posts you will read the horrors he experienced reading paranormal romance. Quite funny actually.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"Unique Chicken goes in Reverse"

I have had the opportunity to enjoy quiet an interesting short read during my breaks from studying. “Unique Chicken goes in Reverse” by Andy Duncan is a very funny short story that I can’t quite place in a genre as it is odd, but therein lays the actual charm. The main character is Father Leggit from St. John the Baptist, who is sent to the O’Connor’s family to deal with little Mary.

The reason he is called is because little Mary believes one of the chicken, which is all frizzled, to be the manifestation of Jesus Christ. Now the reason behind is that in the bible, which Mary studies at school, has a verse about Jesus actually drawing a comparison between him and a hen. In the actual story the chicken does show some untypical behavior like walking backwards and being isolated from the other chickens. It’s funny to see how the concern of Father Leggit about Mary damaging her psyche over this unorthodox worship, becomes reality but for the Father himself as he seems to develop a phobia of chicken, since obsesses himself to the point everything that comes to mind is the word chicken.

For me this funny read is really thought provoking as it strikes several topics such as belief in God and whether he isn’t every single one of his creations, in this case a chicken. That being said I can’t stop but to ask myself if that God can manifest himself through a chicken, is the human version also possible, but that is just my rambling. Viewing the human psyche is important here and what it can accomplish as in the case of Father Leggit, who manages to delude himself to believe that the girl may not be imagining.

Quite interesting in deed. I recommend "Unique Chicken goes in Reverse" to everyone, who would like to spend 15 minutes in the company of amusing Father Leggit and chicken Jesus.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

"Blood Ties"

“Blood Ties” is another fine specimen of the new breed of TV series that are the silver screen brethren of the Urban Fantasy novels and there are many examples like Moonlight, Supernatural, Charmed (which is pretty much over with but still fits the genre) and Bionic Woman although that is a bit sci-fi.

I am personally left very good impression from this first season that aired last year I think, but me being slow with the new and incredible got to some catching up to do. The plot so far has proved to very loose. Vicki Nelson is a private eye that is in the beginning of her career, when one whacky case involves her with the vampire Henry Fitzroy as a partner and bad demonic tattoos on her hands. Anyways since the case dealt with demons Vicki starts to get more supernatural cases like voodoo zombies, demons, gorgons, incubus, dark elves and everything else you can conjure from the bags of underworld goodies.

While these storylines overlap with some of the episodes of the TV series mentioned above excluding Bionic Woman, it is really nice to see a character quite sarcastic and manly like Vicki Nelson. Probably everyone knows the spunky woman with a mind of her own, but Vicki brings something new the table. I mean the actress Christina Cox. And that something is the macho act. Personally I haven’t seen that strong willed women that I enjoy watching as characters, but Vicki is captivating that she has the behavior that goes along with the attitude. By the way she walks and shrugs, you simply know that she can go headfirst into some mess and get out alive.

The vampire Henry Fitzroy (Kyle Schmid) plays his role very well as a seductive bloodsucker as it comes quite naturally to him. He is a pretty boy and adding the vampire act certainly qualifies him for the claim of one of Anne Rice’s characters. He has the typical vampire charisma and lots of interesting acquaintances that help throughout some of the cases. His background is also very well built leading him back to the Tudors.

The plot that hangs the series together is the love triangle between Vicki Nelson, the vampire Henry and Vicki’s last partner in the police before going solo Mike Celluci (Dylan Neal). It is not the most tension and sizzling love triangle, but there is attraction, jealousy and macho butt- heading, which doesn’t impress Vicki at all. It’s amusing. However you do find a thread that ties the season together as the last episode feature the same demon Vicki fought in the first episode. Now I am all excited to watch season two.

I can’t exactly rate it, because I am left with a lot of mixed feelings, since the plot could have been woven I and not added in the last episodes. So the verdict is 7/10 for the great monster diversity.

Monday, May 5, 2008

"Amberlight" by Sylvia Kelso

Title: “Amberlight”
Sylvia Kelso
272 pages
Juno Books
Publishing Date:
November 14, 2007

“Amberlight” is a really light book as you all can see with its 272 pages and people can be deceived by its length, thinking that this is a quick read. Well I say that this book is everything but a quick read. The novel is political fantasy and a well crafted one as well, intertwining politics and customs of all types to create a complexity to the plot.

The story itself is quite simple. Upon returning from a House wedding, Telluirith, Head of Telluir house, finds a dying man on her way home. He seems to be an outlander with a severe case of memory loss, but it’s clear enough that he is a strong man with possible military background. Telluirith takes care of this man and shows him the customs and deepest secrets of Amerlight and the qherrique, also referred to as pearl-rock with mystical properties. The fact that an outlander is taken care of in one of the 13 Houses of Amberlight causes quite a stir among the community. In the process of restoring his memory, Alkhes as the outlander is named, both fall in love with each other, Amberlight is in a crisis and he escapes twice, the second time causing Amberlight to war with its neighbors and resurfacing as the enemy general. The cause and object of the war is the precious pearl-rock, which in the ultimate end explodes and destroys the city, since it can only be cut by women and tends to explode touched by men.

Sylvia Kelso is a very talented and erudite author, who utilizes some of the more overlooked, yet beautiful words in the English dictionary. I personally had a very, tough time adapting to her style and sentence structure, which continued towards the 100th page I think. From then I was quite able to follow the author’s thoughts. If anybody is looking for brain candy literature, this isn’t it. The novel itself is written through the 3rd deep POV of Telluirith and in present simple tense, which automatically transports to the action at hand. I have so far never read a novel quite like this and I am glad I did. Another aspect is the great tension between the characters as the love relationship between Telluirith and Alkhes is superbly built and opposing them as enemies puts their love to the test. A brilliant performance.

The world of Amberlight is matriarchal, totally matriarchal and it works perfectly. Women are the ones; chosen by the pearl-rock to cut them as the stone is sentient in nature, thus they rule society and can use its powers. Miss Kelso doesn’t hold back on its uses too. The pearl-rock is Amberlight’s energy source and its women use light guns, moving vehicles and ships made from this rock that gathers sun light and transforms it into energy. This fact puts the accent on the female gender. Standard men’s roles as soldiers, crafters, rulers are taken by women, while men are being pampered and have no skills whatsoever. I have never thought that such a world can be built to strike the reader as believable and logic and yet this novel proves it.

Of course this book had its issues with me, once it came to understanding the novel. The narrative of the main character Telluirith is chaotic at times, changing the point of view from 3rd to 1st in a very confusing manner for me. I would have appreciated seeing her thoughts actually marked as thoughts and separated from her internals. Due to this narrative issue and the heavy style - which at times is overwrought, especially in the beginning- the introduction of characters and the world itself become all too confusing. Dialogue was an issue at first too as the author creates expressions with their own meaning in the world itself and finding out from context what they were simply exhausted me.

In the end of the day, everything balances out and I have to say that the concept is interesting, but the execution makes comprehension a tough task. I highly recommend this for the hard core fans of political fantasy that want to experience the authentic feel of royalty and political intrigue.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Stranger than Fiction

“Stranger Than Fiction” is, I can’t really pinpoint what genre it is, 2006 release starring Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Dustin Hoffman and Queen Latifah. I am serious that this is a very weird genre and I can’t believe that this is a comedy/drama.

Like the title suggests the story shown in this thought provoking movie, is indeed stranger than fiction. Harold Crick is a very boring person, whose whole life is dictated by one super weird mathematical routine, which involves counting things. His job at the local IRS makes him even more boring. However one morning he starts his usual routine, when he hears a woman’s voice narrate exactly what he is doing, but in a very erudite way. At first he thinks he is going insane so he visits a shrink, but then directs himself to a literature professor in order to find in what story he is character. Later on we learn that the author plans Crick’s imminent death, which triggers a life altering change in his life. He starts to live like he should have, making his dreams come true and finds even love. In the mean time he discovers who the author is tracks her down. The ending is emotional as the author meets her character and with the ending of his death still not typed, the question is posed: Will she do it? Now I am not telling. Too much of a spoiler.

Oh, I can’t simply explain how much this movie can move a person dedicated to the written word, whether he/she be a writer, reader or author. The reason I mainly blog about this movie is that there is a hint of paranormal: Harold Crick hearing the author at work, which is basically reality intertwining with fiction, one pushing the other. Of course it is connected with literature. Questions pop up and are answered by other people like “What if characters in literary fiction were really real and authors happened to influence their lives. Will they still kill them knowing that they were real? Would assured success tempt them to sacrifice a person for one priceless mark in the world’s library”, while other questions concern human features like bravery in the face of death (knowing that you would die , having the power to stop it and yet don’t all in the name of something of more value aka good literature). The value of life is mainly weighed here and just how people don’t cherish what they have and try to live it at their fullest, when the outcome is near.

The cast was amazing, all big names in the movie field. I usually despise Will Farrell, but he played his character Harold Crick with lots of dedication, further shaping the sap into a believable character, with whom you can sympathize. Emma Thompson is the melancholic author Karen Eiffel and her sad voice with a hint of desperation works quite well for the dramatic part of the film. Besides if you were in a tragic novel, you would want her British voice to sound, while you face death. Dustin Hoffman with his sparky personality adds to the humor as Professor Jules Hilbert, the literature expert. Maggie Gyllenhaal as the baker Ana Pascal is the complete opposite of Harold and adds to the comic atmosphere.

This is so far the best movie I have watched for 2008, even though it’s released in 2006. I feel so luck this year in the movie and book department. I give it a well deserved 10!

Friday, May 2, 2008

"Diary of the Dead"

“Diary of the Dead” is the most recent release in the zombie movie genre, February 15th 2008 and it really offers a new angle in the genre in my opinion. I personally enjoyed it very much, even though it didn’t give me the major creeps. Graeme shared his thoughts on the movie too HERE.

The plot is simple: a group of students film their way to safety in an America, which is flooded by zombies. The movie starts with a short snippet of a camera man, who filmed two victims from a gunfight reviving and attacking everyone in sight. Then it moves on to a scene in a forest, where these students are shooting a horror movie with mummies, when the radio starts broadcasting reports of zombie attacks.

From then on the students appear on different scenery like their campus, a hospital, an Amish farm, homes and warehouses and on every place they fight off zombies. The accent on the movie falls actually on the media and how the 21st century seems to have everyone connected. The characters learn how to beat zombies and that all over the world the same is happening through YouTube and blogs. The whole movie is turned into a video diary with editing from surveillance cameras, security cameras, cell phones and news reports of mass hysteria, born through misinformation and lack of knowing what is happening.

One of the main characters, Debra, who turns out to be the girlfriend of Jason, who stays mostly behind the camera, adds these internals that really make you think. She trails on about the human nature to stop and observe, when tragedy strikes at accidents, but never help. The most powerful is the ending, where two men are shown to shoot at zombies tied to trees. Debra basically explains how barely human people have become and questions whether we are worth saving.

The ending was a bit abrupt for me as the remaining students lock themselves into a vault hidden in a fault and the movies shifts to the said above ending scene. Nobody knows what happens to them really and that is what bugs me actually. It gave the vibe that is not ended properly. Apart from that and some forced dialogue at certain scenes, everything seems just fine.

I think I will give it a 7/10

Related Posts with Thumbnails