Monday, August 31, 2009

Reviewer Time: Side Note

Another month has rolled by and suddenly I realized that it’s been three months since my “Reviewer Time” feature started and there are still so many people left unquestioned and uncommented.

I still have three month’s worth of commentaries and interviews to conduct, when the last one will air on December the 27th, if my calculations remain correct and there aren’t any sudden shifts in plans. Even with six months of these posts I am still just touching the tip of the iceberg and I mean the iceberg that is the speculative fiction reviewer blogs. My plan is to span over and branch towards other genre bloggers in order to see the different mind frame of readers that enjoy mainstream, mystery, thriller or historical novels.

In any case I plan on opening a group for signups on Book Blogs and Wonderlands around October, when supposedly I will have more free time. The summer caught me off guard with a demanding shift job, which didn’t allow me much time to prepare or organize myself, so that it’s all springing up in the moment. Well no longer. To do it properly I am even going to introduce you to this month’s participants.

September 6th: Paul Stotts from “Blood of the Muse”
September 13th: Michael from “Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf & Book Review”
September 20th: Graeme from “Graeme’s Fantasy Book Reviews”
September 27th: Colin Lesley from “Highlander’s Book Reviews”

As an extra special request, I am starting to post weekly the same question hoping to have some reaction for later month. The idea is that for September I will think up all the questions, which will finally be individualized depending on the reviewer. However from October I want to ask questions that you the readers always wanted to ask reviewers. So how does that feel as an idea?

Zombie Week: Link Extravaganza

As Zombie Week progresses I think it’s time to sit down and prepare a Linkage Extravaganza to honor how much the love of zombies has penetrated culture. To help me with this task I have invited my special zombie buddy Thea from the legendary Book Smugglers, who has provided the essential recommended comic book experiences with zombies, while I dig through the links and present my own link list with some of my reviews and other references.

Zombie Fiction:

The Living Dead Anthology:
~ Opening Post
~ Closing Post

Zombie Television:

Dead Set

Zombie Articles: [Found over at the most hilarious website]

5 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Apocalypse Could Actually Happen
Zombie Movies
What’s your Contingency Plan?
Zombie Survival

Zombie Comics [Thea's Corner]

Harry has graciously invited me over to help blog during his fantabulous zombie week, and I'm doing my best to share my love for the walking dead! Today, I give you some great zombies in comics that are not to be missed!

1. The Walking Dead series by Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore/Charlie Adlard

As Harry's covered in his review, this is a series that is not to be missed for any zombie fan. The first issues follow cop Rick Grimes, as he awakens from a coma in a hospital room only to find that the world he's known has been overrun by zombies. Anxious to find his family, Rick heads to Atlanta. Part of the charm of The Walking Dead is that, like all the best works of zombie fiction, it is not so much about the zombies as it is about the people who have to live in a world that has gone mad. Rick and his crew of survivors overcome insurmountable odds as they try to stay alive and ahead in a post-apocalyptic world, encountering trouble not only with the undead, but with the living as well. The later issues haven't been so hot, but you gotta admire Kirkman's ever-changing situations for Rick and the survivors. Really awesome stuff, and essential for any zombie fan.

2. Marvel Zombies by Robert Kirkman, Sean Philips and Arthur Suydam

Totally gimmicky, but it completely worked - well enough to span four different miniarcs and other spinoffs. My favorites have to be this first collection and the Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness crossover, though they all are pretty entertaining (if lacking any depth or substance whatsoever). You know how it goes. In an alternate universe, all our beloved Marvel superheroes (and villains) have turned into zombies and have used their superpowers to completely devour the Earth. Fabulous fun.

3. The Goon by Eric Powell

Imaginative, funny, and smart comic following The Goon - a scarred, enormous muscley orphan raised in a Carnival - and his sidekick Franky as they face off against The Goon's archnemesis, the evil Zombie Priest. The Goon has been going strong since 1999, though I've only discovered it this year. And it's awesome.

4. The Zombies That Ate the World by Jerry Frissen and Guy Davis

The dead have come back to life, and the living are forced to coexist with them under rule of law. At least, this is how it is in Los Angeles circa 2064. This is a crass, irreverent, freaking hilarious eight-issue book. And there's no denying that Guy Davis is a wonderful artist.
5. Black Gas by Warren Ellis

I really like Warren Ellis. For all his trippy and bizarre shiz, Black Gas is a great take on zombies in comics. Smoky Island, a small island off the NE coast of the USA, lies on a fault line in the middle of Smoky's woods, forming a strange geological bump called "The Bulge." Young Tyler and his girlfriend Soo are vacationing on Smoky when the Bulge splits open, and black gas flows out from the bump and is blown over town. The gas is no ordinary gas, of course, and the inhabitants of Smoky Island become twisted creatures with insatiable urges to eat and murder and screw. It's a brutal, nasty comic filled with gore, violence and sexual depravity. In other words, it's a hard core zombie fan's dream.

6. Escape of the Living Dead by John A. Russo and Dheeraj Verma

Everyone knows that George Romero was the co-creator of Night of the Living Dead, and then went on to finish his masterpiece series (Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead). But lesser known is John A. Russo - the other creator of Night of the Living Dead (who would then go on to finish another cult classic, Return of the Living Dead). This limited eight issue comic is a direct sequel to Night of the Living Dead but outside of Romero's other works. Do I even need to get into why you should read this comic?

7. Tales of the Zombie by Steve Gerber and Pablo Marcos

Going back to the '50s and '70s for this one, Tales of the Zombie (get the Essential Tales of the Zombie graphic novel) collects the tragic story of Simon William Garth, coffee plantation owner who is killed in a voodoo ritual but brought back as a zombie by cult leader Layla (out of her love for Simon). Simon is supposedly mindless (controlled by an amulet), but when his daughter or others he loves are in danger, he is able to protect them of his own volition. The thing about Simon don't really know how to feel about him. You feel for him because he's under a shitty voodoo curse, but he's also pretty scary and...well, hollow like a zombie. This trade paperback is a great deal too, since it collects essays on zombies from the originals.

8. Awakening by Nick Tapalansky and Alex Eckman-Lawn

Zombies are slowly coming back to life around the world, less of a full-scale takeover than it is a dangerous but controllable threat. In Park Falls, private eye Derrick Peters investigates a string of disappearances and deaths, and it becomes clear that zombies are the cause. The best part about this book is the artwork - it's terrifying and beautiful, like Steve Niles but much better.

9. Zombie Tales by Keith Giffen and Ron Lim and many others

As the title suggests, this is not a linear story but rather a collection of six separate zombie tales - ranging from funny to irreverent, to horrific and gory. Some are better than others, but it's still worth checking out.

10. Toe Tags by George A. Romero

Technically, Mr. Romero only wrote the first three issues of this six-issue mini, set in the same universe as his films. Ok so this is a slightly offensive comic for women (Judy, the main chick is ridiculously proportioned, cussing like a mofo and wasting zombies with nasty weapons and clad in a thong. Yeah.), but it's written in the spirit of a grindhouse b-movie. The art is solid, and though there isn't much in the way of subtlety or ingenious insights that are in Mr. Romero's trademark films, it's still worth reading. So that's my list o' comics. Which zombie titles are you into devouring? I'm all ears. And brains. And other assorted body parts...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Zombie Week: Gallery

In order to diversify my Zombie Week program and show just how much I love zombies I am going to showcase three pieces that represent zombies in three different faces and if I am not completely mistaken in three different techniques and art styles as well.

First stop is “Zombie Bride”, a piece done by Mark Brooks, one of Marvel’s illustrators and a fantastic comic book artist. This piece is the sum of my fascination with comic book art and horror as well, not to mention zombies as well. First we have the flattering, if anatomically improved and boosted, feminine features that combined with the menacing and demonic face expression create the perfect paranormal femme fatale. This defiant sexuality is an element I have always been attracted to and usually goes hand in hand with horror. Now the zombies here are more or less portrayed in their demonic origins as the scourge of hell rather than a genetic plague and through the artist’s attention to detail we get an interwoven tapestry of grotesque and horrifying creatures. Splendid, huh?

Second stop is “Zombie Mosaic”, painted by German artists Steffi Schütze and Christian Nauck, who do a lovely job to create a flowing composition with strokes that bring a certain mist quality as colors blend into each other. It’s a very harrowing and haunting image that combines zombies and the Wild West in a gripping manner. My attention is immediately drawn to the center, where the warmer colors are and my heart skips a beat taking in the gruesome details. After that my eyes wander into the edges, where the night melts into the horizon and the scenery seems almost tranquil. There is a certain balance between the horror and eerie peace.

Last but not least we have “Zombie” by digital artist Ian Fields-Richards, who shows the god like capabilities of photo shop by adapting this stock photo into this portrait of emptiness and loneliness. Apart from the obvious superiority of his work and technique he manages to give something as a message in his work by veiling human emotional states with rotten flesh. In my opinion zombies can stand as a metaphor for a long list of subjects, but the dissatisfaction with life, especially in this time and age, and denied contact as well as human warmth can carve the soul out, leaving an empty and decaying shell caught in one sheer moan of despair. I simply love it.

Reviewer Time: Tia Nevitt from "Fantasy Debut"

This week on “Reviewer Time” I have invited one of the community’s most established and branched out reviewers namely Tia Nevitt from “Fantasy Debut”. Last week I decided to bring in some fresh blood with the fledgling “Only the Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy”, so now in order to counterbalance I’m featuring someone most blog commenters and lurkers have come to recognize as THE place to sample debut authors.

“Fantasy Debut ” raises an interesting topic about the mission of the creator and the blog’s function in the community. The number of publishers is growing, the number of books is growing as well, niches are created every year and the system of genres evolves in complexity and diversity. As a result more blogs spawn and try to cover as many titles as possible, but it often happens that content is repeated, since most bloggers have eclectic tastes and changing tastes and moods.

Defining oneself with just one movement or subgenre is nearly impossible and yet blogs about urban fantasy, shapeshifter romance and even geographically restricted fiction appear. Tia has managed to define her blog with one mission statement that does not overwhelm her completely and still stay true to her wide taste in fiction. Presenting debutants in a genre you are already well versed in not only gives you the opportunity to observe the shift in movements and usage of tropes and stories, but also allows you to compare them with what came before these debutants and search for the familiarities as well. I speak this as a reviewer seeing the merits, while as a reader it’s great to come to one sole place to learn about new names from across the wide spectrum of speculative fiction.

Apart from its function and mission statement “Fantasy Debut” continues to surprise with diverse content outside the multiple genres presented. Reviews from Tia and her contributors are in moderate length, written in conversational stream on consciousness that can easily relay the experience and general vibe around a novel. Tia is quite responsive to comments and acts a certain information bank with ready opinions for whatever you want to ask and she supplies interesting tidbits from the publishing scene.

“Fantasy Debut” is a mix from multiple elements that can be traced to many blogs, but the true uniqueness comes with her special Wednesdays dedicated to discussing writing and its aspects in order to take her readers behind the curtains of how a book is made. As a writer myself I also find it quite informative and productive to read published authors discuss topics that can affect my writing for the better. Another nailer in how awesome this site is the very humanitarian effort to help unpublished writers and self-published authors find a publishing house or at least receive a general feedback from a wide variety of readers, which is a valuable testing for potential buyers. “Discovery Showcases” try to break the myth that all self-published work is unbearable and un-publishable in a traditional manner and as such are second-hand works, if not third.

I’m done with my commentary here, so now let’s move to the interview bit:

HM: As per the “Reviewer Time” agenda, I start with the same old personal questions. What I really want to know is who Tia is in her life outside “Fantasy Debut”?

I am a wife of 20 years, a mother of one, an aspiring novelist, an accomplished calligrapher, a software developer, and a middling musician.

HM: So now that we covered the bio part, let’s do something fun and list the three things your readers would have never guessed about you?

Dang, I think my readers know me pretty well. I don't go into my personal life much, but here's my best shot:

I've been collecting coins since I was 11. I check every penny that comes through my wallet for a wheat penny. I hit the jackpot and found two in the past week--the first time I've encountered any in about a year. I also am to blame for helping to take bicentennial quarters out of circulation, as well as all the interesting nickels that came out in 2004 and 2005.

I was in the Air Force. My long-term readers probably know this. They might not know that I I worked on T-37s and T-38 as an aircraft mechanic. Despite being around cute pilot trainees all day long, I married a fellow mechanic.

I'm entitled to claim Irish citizenship any time I want, due to the fact that one of my parents is from Ireland.

HM: When and how did you decide to enter the blog-o-sphere and review?

Tia: I wrote a review of Eragon after I read it, but had nowhere to put it. I sat on it for four months, tinkering with the idea of starting a review blog, but I didn't actually start it until Lisa Shearin's Magic Lost, Trouble Found came out.

HM: It’s a no brainer why you chose “Fantasy Debut” as the name is pretty self-explanatory about the activity in your blog, but how did you come to focus only on debuts? Most bloggers, myself included, are quick to dart where the stream directs them and devour one book after the other without a set niche, which is quite unlike what you have going on.

Tia: I knew that I would have limited time to devote to blogging, so I needed a focus. I also had a long-term love of discovering new authors. I decided that focusing on debuts would be a nice, narrow niche that would not overwhelm me. I'm overwhelmed sometimes anyway, but I guess that's a good thing, because it means that new authors are continuing to find publishing homes.

HM: In a barrage of questions let’s cover the early days of “Fantasy Debut”. Was it an easy launch and start? How were you received and also how did you supply your debuts?

Tia: Lisa Shearin made the early days of my blog very exciting. She discovered that I was blogging on Magic Lost, Trouble Found as I was reading it, and she was my first commenter. Linnea Sinclair also found me, and she directed me to Kimber An's Enduring Romance blog, and we have happily been reading each other's blogs ever since.

I purchased my books at first, and then various editors and publicists started contacting me after three or four months. It was very exciting.

HM: I am quite curious about this debut business of yours. Does this mean that you never follow series or return to the authors you enjoyed with their debut?

Tia: I follow quite a few series. I post what I call, "Debut Graduates" which are the author's second book and beyond. I recently posted reviews on Sandra McDonald's third novel (The Stars Blue Yonder) and Nathalie Mallet's second novel (The King's Daughters).

HM: Not a while ago, you posted about the lack of debuts on your shelves. How is the situation evolving since that post and also do you have any backup plans, when your shelves don’t replenish soon?

Tia: I'm not sure when this happened. I always have debuts on my shelves, and I have at least ten of them right now, along with double the number of books from other genres.

HM: You’ve also started a very interesting feature called the Discovery Showcases, which aim to promote self-published novels and find homes for unpublished ones. What prompted you to start this one and where do you plan to take it from here?

Tia: Every once in a while, I was getting review requests by self-published novelists. I didn't have enough time on my hands to go much beyond the scope of my blog, so I sat down and brainstormed what I could do for them. The Discovery Showcase was the result of that brainstorming session. I read each Discovery Showcase excerpt, and I have gone on to review one of them at The Self-Publishing Review. I hope to review more, but I had this feature on temporary hiatus for the summer. I've just contacted the next author on my list so I can get this feature rolling again.

HM: Judging by this showcase program I take it your view towards self-published is more favorable than the average reader and reviewer. Can you have your say about this new direction in publishing?

Tia: Well, it's not really new, but it's much less expensive than it was even a decade ago. For the most part, I think self-published novelists are trying to get their stuff out there too soon. I've written three novels, and while I like to think two of them are publishable, the first one will never go before another editor or agent. Writing a novel is hard and it takes a lot of practice. Breaking in is like breaking into the movie or music business. It's very difficult. It takes a lot of determination and tenacity. And above all, luck. There's no good way to circumvent the system.

However, there can be no doubt that it is getting harder and harder to break in. Lots of authors land agents, but never manage to sell their stuff. And among certain readerships -- such as Christian and various ethnicities -- self-publishing is more prevalent and more respected.

Since I've started this program, I have developed more respect for the self-published author. I can't afford to do what they have done myself--neither in time nor in money--but I respect that they are working so hard to get their stuff out there.

HM: One of the oldest questions here discussed the topic about fantasy and sci-fi and their acceptance by the so called mainstreamers. Every single reply so far has announced that speculative genres are mainstream already. Since I don’t like repetition I’ll put a spin on this one and ask why do you think people deny this mainstream status to fantasy and sci-fi? Is it something to do with fan behavior as well?

Tia: I would not agree that speculative fiction is mainstream, but after movies like The Lord of the Rings and the popularity of the Harry Potter books, it is certainly more mainstream. My own mother doesn't go near fantasy or science fiction unless it's in movie form, and even then, she's picky. My father will only read hard science fiction along with thrillers and the like. Their reasons are simple--they like to read about "real" stuff. They probably have some preconceived notions about fantasy being nothing but fairy tales for adults.

In my family's case, fan behavior probably has nothing to do with it. They probably have no notion of fan behavior at all. It's all about the content and their individual tastes.

HM: Your blog is known for the diversity of the debuts read and reviewed. You’ve enjoyed traditional fantasy, sci-fi and urban fantasy alike, so can you speak about the much critiqued urban fantasy? How true are the accusations of endlessly repeating tropes and is it a spent genre already?

Tia: I do see a lot of similar ideas. For a while, it was vampires. Now, the focus seems to have moved to various other undead like zombies and demons. I'm really not a fan unless it's something fresh and fun, like Would-Be Witch, by Kimberley Frost (ooh! Her second book is out soon!), my favorite debut of the genre. I'm not into gritty, bloody or cold-fleshed.

HM: Now let’s speak a bit about reviews. What’s your signature, when it comes to writing one and also could you drop a wee advice for the newer generation of reviewers?

Tia: I'm not sure I have a signature. I have a loose format: summary, overall impression, critiques, praises, closing paragraph. I try to fit it in 800 words or less.

As for advice: you'll get more respect of other reviewers (and more linkage) if you're not afraid to throw a well-deserved critique into your reviews. I hate criticizing as well, and when I have a lot of critiques, I'll generally focus on the top three. If I got all the way through a novel, chances are I've liked some of it, but there have been occasions when I've barely been able to stick it out. That in itself deserves some positive words. If I truly hate a novel, I'll take the most time to write the review. In one case, I went back and forth for three weeks, and enlisted the opinion of another reviewer.

HM: Connected with the last question, I wish to talk about negative reviews. I bet that you have had to write unfavorable reviews for debuts and from your personal experience, how does one go about a situation like this, if the novel is supplied by a publisher? I am asking this as a sort of guideline for newer reviewers.

Tia: You need to go ahead and do it. Tor sends me the most books by far, and one of the first books they sent me got a review that was decidedly lukewarm.

I'm more uncomfortable with posting negative reviews when the book was supplied by the author. I do it anyway--just ask David J. Williams, author of Mirrored Heavens--(who is very cool, by the way) but I hate doing it. This is because I've already had contact with the author--sometimes friendly contact. A negative review in this case feels so much like a betrayal. For this reason, I prefer to receive any complementary copies from the publisher. That way, I can keep a bit of distance. I have also been known to buy my own copies, check books out of the library and trade books at the used bookstore.

HM: Apart from enjoying reading the written word, have you ever had any writing aspirations of your own?

Tia: Oh, yes. Three novels down, two on hold, one in progress.

HM: Which are the authors you favor and have had most exciting times with and on the opposite spectrum, which are the ones you couldn’t connect with and avoid since?

Tia: Lisa Shearin, Jennifer Estep, Amanda Ashby, Nathalie Mallet, and Sandra McDonald have all been very exciting to interact with. Janet Lorimer, Carole McDonnell and Mark Ferrari have both been very supportive of my writing. Lots of people have been very kind. Taking time to make a connection always makes an impact.

I've rather not say anything negative about anyone.

HM: What are your personal pet peeves when it comes to the speculative fiction genres?

Tia: Right now, I'm getting tired of young boy coming-of-age novels. But it could be that I've just read too many back-to-back lately (and I'm in the middle of another one).

HM: Is there a tendency for these pet peeves to resolve?

Tia: That's why I read mysteries from time to time. I really do need a genre break every now and then!

HM: I am not sure what a closing question sounds like at this topic, so you are free to some some closing words on your own regarding reviewing.

Tia: It's been a lot of fun. I just wish I had more time for it! I also wanted to say thank you to you for featuring me on your blog, and for taking the time to write such insightful questions.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

"One Eyed Monster" or Cinema's Descent into Stupidity

The inspiration for this post came to me after I spent around two hours with breaks watching an absurdity called “One Eyed Monster”. This is a B-movie about an alien possessing porn legend Ron Jeremy’s nine-incher and rape-murder the cast of an adult movie, who are stuck in a cabin during a blizzard.

The existence of such a premise alone poses the question: How far can people stretch the limits of creative stupidity? In the case of the Fields brothers, the creators of this movie, I’d have to guess that they can extend it the way Mr. Fantastic does with his extremities. But this idea wouldn’t be as bad, if it only remained an idea. Alas since there is a movie, then there was a whole group of people, who gave green light to this project, which poses another question: How low are the criteria in the movie industry to allow the shooting of this film, even if it’s a B-Movie? Apparently they go very low. I understand that today everybody has the freedom to put out any kind of content and I support this idea, but I am also a supporter of the idea that there should be at least a form of inner censorship that can say enough is enough.

Since I sound like a prick right about now, you must be wondering why I watched it and not say, delete it into oblivion, but instead bashing a very bad movie, when an intelligent person wouldn’t bother. That afternoon I had a friend over and our longest tradition together was to download and watch something extremely weird or idiotic and make fun of it. It’s a great way to manage stress, but this movie got me thinking where the movie industry is headed. Don’t think of me as a movie snob, because I believe that there is a cinema for every cultural need a human being can develop.

As such I also believe that there are movies that are solely created to entertain in one form or another without the need for mental input from the viewer. Transporter was all about action and adrenaline, while the first Scary Movies drove me to a heart failure with laughter at low brow humor and slapstick stupidity. I like it when a movie just triggers a mood that lasts and doesn’t involve much thinking, but I really like it when they are done right.

But where is the quality in the purely made for entertainment movies? This is question that “One Eyed Monster” led me to. This year has been very weak with movies made for that purpose. “Bride Wars” was bland; “The Haunting” as well; “The Spirit” and “Crank: High Voltage” almost made me vomit, while “Transporter 3” bored me and parodies haven’t been that great either. It would seem that right about now we are subjects to a steady stream of sequel series. Action is let loose without much of a plot like the edited mess of blurs that is Crank: High Voltage and nudity and sex are tastelessly served.

I guess sex is a major part in the movie industry, since sex generally sales, but lately this marketing technique has been boosted to new heights. For instance the upcoming “Jennifer’s Body” will heavily rely on Megan Fox exuding sex appeal rather than her acting ability. I think the movie will be good, but there are far too many grisly results where sex doesn’t help at all like the dildo scene from “Van Wilder: Senior Year”, “Crank: High Voltage” and “Zombie Strippers”, where necrophilia and striptease blend into something mind numbing.

I don’t judge, because for every movie there is a willing audience and I know that people wouldn’t enjoy things I watch and read and like in general, but I can’t help, but worry about the path the movie industry has taken. If the blockbuster list and new, strange productions speak about the taste in entertainment of today’s general viewer, then doesn’t that mean that flick by flick the general movie goer is dumbing down?

What do you think about this?

"Highschool of the Dead"

What better way to start Zombie Week than with a Japanese spin on the survival horror genre with zombies and the undead. Incidentally “Highschool of the Dead” is one of my random manga picks for the Japanese Reading Challenge and can easily fit in Carl’s R.I.P challenge, but let’s not push my luck and stick with this title being a shared submission for just two events.

The great thing about Japanese horror artists and writers is that they are demented, brutal and they seem to be caught in a race to out-scare, out-gross and out-disturb one another, which gives plenty of creative material to take zombies and kick the scare factor to overload. I wish to point out that despite this manga series features a main cast predominantly in its teens, this is seinen manga, aimed for a male audience between 18 and 30 usually. This alone promises no censorship and the output of gore is industrious. The series so far have 23 chapters out with three extras, but sadly has been in hiatus since June 2009, which doesn’t fair well in Japan’s ever competitive and fast paced publishing world.

So, why is this, a perfect choice for the zombie fan? For one, if you are like me, then you most certainly have read and experienced the zombie the way Westerners have so far. The change of scenery, culture and human behavior is refreshing, while at the same it gives the reader the opportunity to enjoy survival horror in a different manner. Japanese tradition in entertainment is marked by over-the-top performances. Westerners enjoy subtleties and gradual building, whereas from my experience with manga, the Easterners magnify every element surrounding a story.

In “Highschool of the Dead” every trip is an ambush of undead, every argument becomes a scandal that reopens old still aching wounds and action sequences toy with what’s believable and what is fairly impossible. The cast is an example of what I am illustrating here. Almost all characters are high school sophomores or seniors, who all have fighting capabilities like the sadistic Saeko, who is excellent at close combat, or Kohta, a frighteningly good and nutty sharpshooter. Although it’s believable that teens in Japan do have useful skills, since there is not a single teen in Japan not enrolled in a sports or arts and crafts or science club, how long can a group of teens last in a metropolis filled with the undead? Not to mention their luck in raiding the house of a sniper in Japan’s Special Assault Team. It’s plausible, but unbelievable at the same time.

I recently started Chapter 14 ‘Dead Storm Rising’ and can testify that as far as plotting goes Japanese manga writers know how to start small and then expand to let the reader see the bigger picture. As it does, the reader sees other survivors, the generational gap and attitude between teens and adults as well as seedy agendas forming. This a dark survival story with a lot of scares, moments of disgust by living and undead alike as well as the typical for horror genre sexual tension. It’s the kind of inner human exploration the horror genres executes in a manner that only can originate from Japan.

A zombie must-read.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Challenges: R.I.P IV + Zombie Week

I think that for the sake of relying everything I want to share with you without stretching things for months I will have to work extra and post extra. As you might have noticed I am madly adding clickable banner to my sleeve of widgets and it’s fairly easy to commit to challenges considering that they really resonate with what your reading and passion consists of. This week I managed to get enrolled in two extra events, which pour tainted ambrosia into an onyx goblet for my dark mind to enjoy.

First stop is the R.eaders I.mbiding P.eril IV [R.I.P IV for short] hosted by none other but my dear and oh-so-sophisticated blogger buddy Carl V. over at “Stainless Steel Droppings”. This reading challenge starts September the 1st and ends October the 31st and invites participants to relish into the twisted world of dark tales. Genres acceptable are gothic literature, paranormal, horror, mystery, dark fantasy, suspense and thriller. A blend of these is even more welcome. As usual Carl has set out his challenges disguised as perils and among the four I have taken up the most ambitious perils of them all:

Read Four books of any length, from any subgenre of scary stories that you choose.

I think it’s going to be easy, since my reading consists of dark stories, because those are the ones that make me tick. I seem to have something for doom, gloom and the dark. Here is what my reading list will look like for the upcoming two months:

“Scar Night” by Alan Campbell
“Necropolis” by Tim Waggoner

“Book of Secrets” by Chris Roberson

“Raven Wakes the World” by John Adcox
“There was a Crooked Man” by Edward Morris

“Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley
“24 Bones” by Michael F. Stewart

Reading the fun bits about being in this challenge I came across another one, which made my heart scream with joy. I am speaking about Zombie Week, which starts August 29th and ends on September 5th and promises a lot of fun with reviews, guest posts and giveaways. All, naturally, dedicated to our undead flesh-eating scourge of the apocalypse: the zombies. I have made out a whole program dedicated to the zombies. If all goes well, this is what you will be reading for the next few days alongside regular posts.

Aug. 29th: Highschool of the Dead ~ manga review
Aug. 30th: Zombie Art Showcase
Aug. 31st: Linkage of my previous zombie posts
Sep. 1st: Marvel Zombies vol. 4
Sep. 2nd: Walking Dead ~ comics
Sep. 3rd: Thoughts on Zombies

Sep. 4th: Drag Me To Hell ~ movie review
Sep. 5th: I am keeping this as a surprise.

"The Calling" by David Mack

Title: "The Calling"
Author: David Mack
Pages: 336
Format: Novel
Genre: Urban Fantasy [officially a supernatural thriller]
Publisher: Pocket Books

What you can expect: An urban fantasy with an unlikely protagonist by the genre’s standards and rules so far with a touch of Christian mythology and a CSI/Law & Order aftertaste.

Pros: A protagonist that exists outside the urban fantasy male mold for danger boys; a decent albeit loose spin on Christian beliefs.

Cons: Unmemorable and more often than not stale prose, which is a matter of taste really, but I can’t be dishonest with my dissatisfaction. Another kidnapping story without reinvention of the trope.



No one would guess by looking at Tom Nash that he's extraordinary, and that's just fine with him. A tall, broad-shouldered jack-of-all-trades from Sawyer, Pennsylvania, Tom has a knack for fixing things. He also hides a secret talent: he hears people's prayers. Stranger still, he answers them. Maybe it's because he's a handyman, but Tom feels compelled to fix people's problems. Which is all well and good -- until the soul-shattering plea of a terrified girl sends him on the darkest journey of his life....


Heeding the call and leaving his home for New York City, Tom discovers a secret world beyond the range of mortal perception -- a world of angels and demons and those who serve them. With the guidance of a knowing stranger named Erin, Tom learns that he himself is one of The Called, born with a divine purpose and a daunting task: to help the powers of Heaven in the war against the agents of Hell, an army of fallen angels known as the Scorned. Thrust into an epic battle of the sacred and the profane, Tom Nash must find the girl who prayed for his help -- because her fate will determine whether humanity deserves to be saved, or damned for all eternity....

Characters: As you might have guessed already, I am not going to be as flattering as I would have liked to be with “The Calling”, but what can you do when a book doesn’t work for you other than share why it didn’t. As usual I will start with characterization and then move down to the other components. Surprisingly I had no issues with characters at large.

There is no denying that David Mack is a veteran as his long list of accomplishments in tie-in fiction and scriptwriting speak for themselves. His experience shows through in the character department with protagonist Tom Nash, who as a choice for main character excited me. Not many UF titles have a middle aged handy man with a pregnant wife; a wife that actually earns more than him. At the same time Tom is devoted to following through with the tasks provided by his divine vocation to hear prayers without much fuss. There is no dangerous sex appeal or hormonal denial of one’s given stand in the paranormal world, which I find refreshing and as execution well-performed.

From the support cast I enjoyed main villain Frank Kolpack, a dirty cop with a calculative mind and general fondness of big figure sums, and Anna Doyle, the kidnapped Phaedra’s mother. Frank is one of those Machiavellian characters that you can only admire in how they manipulate the elements around them and juice a situation for their own gain, while Anna is a very strong character. Her grief didn’t move me one inch, but her snappy anger-fueled repartee with her daughter’s kidnappers certainly made her one of my favorite characters from the whole novel.

While I enjoyed the axe handle wielding Erin Sanchez, Mack’s attempt to embroider personal tragedy and emotional issues to her spunky and aggressively sunny personality failed and just stereotyped her along so many other urban fantasy heroines. A not-so-realistic character was twelve year old Phaedra and here the reasons are too many. For one it’s a pain-stacking task to create a psychologically believable twelve year old, since children at that age are still in the phase of maturing and caught between childhood and teenhood. Since the novel itself is not YA and the target audience consists of adults I felt challenged to think as a pre-teen and justify her actions and behavior.

Story: “The Calling” as I already mentioned is an out-of-the-box project for urban fantasy as a genre and I praise the uniqueness that Mack brought to a world, where Good and Evil are represented by the Called and the Scorned, fractions that are built similarly. Each fraction has Seekers, who hear prayers, Sentinels, who have offensive abilities, and Sages, who are the generals above the foot soldiers in the ancient conflict. Members of both fractions are kept hidden from being captured or discovered by divine powers that work in subtle ways. So far so good, but the world this time is not enough to arouse my interest, when prose and plot border on dull.

Yes, as far as my personal preferences go and experience with fiction and entertainment media, Mack produced a rather predictable and easily forgettable novel. His prose is what I would call Spartan and rather states than evokes imagery. Longer paragraphs listing the items in every new setting killed the mood so many times. I guess, it’s fair to mention that the kind of simplistic approach resonates with his protagonist’s personality, but it certainly acted off-putting to me.

The instant I cracked the book open I knew that it would end on a positive note. We have a generally good-natured and untroubled character with the best possible intentions and a case, which involves a kidnapped by the bad guys child that can shift the balance. There is no mystery or suspense here that indicates that the good guy will fail or that he was in any peril, even while running from the Russian mob and the Scorned. I guess I am jaded in that department.

The Verdict: Not bad a transition into a different genre. It could have gone way worse and I am glad Mack avoided the common combinations of tropes and devices in urban fantasy, but it’s not quite as much as I expected it to be and I expect it to fade altogether from my memory quite soon.

Rating: 2 out of 5 shiny stars.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Trailer Promotion

To be honest I have never really paid much attention to book trailers before, because they are not like movie trailers. Usually they involve a strange tune and a collage of stock pictures and some lines that don’t get me as excited as I should be. However this was the first time I saw a video book trailer, provided by Zeitghost media for “The Birthing House” by Christopher Ransom and “Evil by Heart” by Chelsea Cain. Enjoy.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Reviewer Time: Alec and Michael from "Only the Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy"

It would seem that there is an anomaly or a very persistent Murphy Law preventing me from delivering a timely Sunday post. This week it was a mild after night-shift fever, which passed as soon as I went back to sleep. Now apology aside it’s time to check out the latest guest on Reviewer Time. So far I have been presenting well seasoned and established blogs alongside a few blogs from the second generation, around 2008. So for the first time I will present a new, 2009 entry to the world of blogging, namely “Only the Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy”, which has been around since this April. To join me in on the interview is Alec, the founder, and Michael aka ediFanoB, our very own beloved commenter, but back on the blog at hand.

When I started back in April 2008, I did so without a plan, without the traditional ‘where do you see yourself after 200 posts’ game plan, without a very set idea what made me different or a good blog design. My concept of running a review blog seemed very limited and I also happened to be quite unorganized, a top notch trait that remains ever so efficient. So I feel mighty fine, when I see a blog have a decent start and founder Alec manages to do so. From name to design and activity, “Only the Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy” fairs better than I did back in my starting days and certainly becomes known faster than most second and third generation reviewers. For the four months the site has been active it managed to pick 62 followers and earn a BBAW nomination for Best New Blog. To me it seems like a good and tight start.

Content-wise I have to say that not over-active as in a post a day or even more, which I view as positive since it makes lazy and forgetful readers such as myself follow a lot easier, “Only the Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy” offers diversity. Alec and Michael deliver fiction reviews and as of recently even one movie review, which bear their own distinctive structure compared to ones used by other bloggers such as the FBC crew or Kristin at Fantasy Café. I find Michael’s way of reviewing books disturbingly entertaining with the I-have-a-split-personality-disorder vibe, which makes me feel like I am in a King novel for no apparent reason. Apart from these minor oddities these guy’s reviews offer sophisticated breakdown and logical argumentation.

Reviews are paired with extensive and juicy weekly roundups provided by Michael and rants, discussions and open to all questions provided by Alec. Only time will show the evolution of all these elements, but so far the creative brew behind this review blog is a solid formula.

Now let’s proceed with the joint interview.

Harry Markov: Let’s start with the personal questions. As usual you will be required to supply some bio information. Who is Alec in real life and what does one day look like for him? The same question goes for Michael.

Hey Harry. First off, thank you for having Michael and me over for a chat. It is an honor to sit in this hallowed chair and share a bit about myself and the blog. Ok, lets get down to business.

New York is an amazing city and I wish I had the time to explore it all. Sadly, my day job often finishes after the sun goes down and leaves little room for extracurriculars. Monday through Friday pretty much blur into a coherent mass of legal conundrums and bad political jokes. I work as a paralegal in a law firm across form City Hall. The few hours of freedom I manage to snatch after closing down my work terminal are, more often than not, spent in front of my personal terminal working on the blog—my girlfriend Christine is starting to get jealous. That’s the daily routine for you, minus the fairly regular encounters with aggressive subway panhandlers.

Michael: Hello my screen name is edifanob and on the other side of the screen people are used to calling me Michael. I'm a 50 year young/old crazy guy who is a happily married since 1991. I share my life with my awesome wife, my perky daughter who will turn 18 in November, and our two crazy cats Pablo and Lili. We live in a small town near Frankfurt on the Main in Germany. I work as a programmer in the European IT department of a Japanese parent company. A normal day. Hmm. From Monday to Friday = Get up 6 a.m., breakfast and newspaper reading with my daughter, 45 minutes reading a book, shower, go to work (luckily only a five minute walk), return from work between 4.30 and 6.30 p.m., dinner with family, watch TV with family (including a nap on the sofa), Internet from 10.30 p.m to 1 a.m., sleep. On Saturday and Sunday working time is replaced by other activities ( I have unpleasant duties at home like cleaning the cat toilet..)

Harry Markov: In the fun spirit of list-making, please tell us four things that people would probably never ever guess about you. Alec:

* Three college friends and I plan to take over the world. My provisional title is Imperial Duke of Propaganda. I like to think the blog is good practice.
* More seriously, I will be attending law school next year. Wish me luck, I am going to need it.
* I have a pathological disgust of eggplant. No joke.
* I am distantly related (through marriage and four times removed) to the late, great Isaac Asimov.


a) Originally I'm a left-hander. Since I broke my left arm at the age of seven, I'm now ambidextrous. People are always impressed when I use a hammer with right and left hand.
b) Due to several injuries in my youth I was well known in the local hospital. The doctors called me “crash pilot“.
c) I don't like cars and I don't drive. I'm the satnav of the family.
d) I own two stuffed animals. A red dragon which I bought at Hamleys in London and an octopus which I bought in Berlin. They keep me company when I read...

Harry Markov: Now to go nearer known territory, Alec. What’s the origins story behind your site?
I had a dream Harry, and it told me to bring good science fiction and fantasy to the huddled masses. Ha, I wish. In truth, the blog has been a fairly selfish project. It is both a catalogue and a journey; a chance for me to work on my overly academic prose and talk about a genre that I love. Like a lot of blogs, OTB started because I had some free time on my hands after college. Instead of wasting it in virtual realities, I decided to take up something that was relatively productive. Lo and behold, a blog was born. The wonderful conversations that I have had and the relationships I have developed are all icing on a very tasty cake.

Harry Markov: To stray away from the creator a bit. This question is aimed towards Michael. How did you transition from reviewer’s most beloved commenter to a contributor and become involved with “Only The Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy”?

Michael: I expected a question like this. In April 2008 I created my “ediFanoB“ (in the meantime I also use edifanob) profile and signed up GOODREADS. I was looking for a community and a place to maintain my book lists. It didn't take long until I discovered blogs – book blogs. I started with German blogs but the more books in English I read the more I wanted to read about these books. It didn't take long until I „found“ A Dribble of Ink , Pat's Fantasy Hotlist and many more. It was a new world for me and I knew from the very beginning that I wanted to be more than a lurker. I described myself as an active reader. By the time I got in contact with several blogger amongst others Mihai the guy behind Dark Wolf's Fantasy Review and Harry from Temple Library Reviews. And with that I go the opportunity to look „behind“ a blog. I was impressed about the time and work you have invest in order to run an appreciated blog. At this time I posted often my admiration and I always underlined that I will never run my own blog. As this was happening, my blog link list grew and grew. Fortunately I discovered the advantages of google reader, without which I couldn't follow all these wonderful blogs. Within this time I started to add comments which I called “reading impression“ to the books I read in GOODREADS. Beside this I signed up in several online comunities and posted a bit more. Due to my workload, my time commitment varied greatly. The final step began with a mail from Alec on the 10th of May (which is by the way my wedding anniversary). At this time I was open-minded for the next step and Alec „caught“ me with following words:

I see that you post on pretty much every SF/F blog out there and was wondering why you don't have a blog of your own? Is there a particular reason for that or am I just not finding it?
If you are interested I would love to have you post on my blog since you are so well informed. If english is an issue (I see that you live in germany) I would be more than happy to review your articles/reviews prior to posting. Let me know what you think.
- Alec“

I don't won't to bother you with my answer. Only some spotlights: „You couldn't find my blog because I don't have one.“ „I'm the one between blogger and lurker.“ „Of course it is of interest to do a bit more than only writing comments.“ And that's what I'm doing now.

Harry Markov: Why did you choose “Only The Best Sci-Fi/Fantasy” as a name? And how do you determine what’s the best?

Alec: The name was a mistake. When I started the blog I got a bit carried away with reading a bunch of SEO articles and all that nonsense. It could have been worse though, as my first attempt at a title was ONLYTHEBESTSCIFI/FANTASY. Luckily, that test blog got deleted the next day. If I could change the name now, I would probably make it more personal. I could go with “Alec’s Science Fiction Coldlist”, no? Regardless, for better or worse, what is done is done, and the name stands.

There is no such thing as an objective evaluation of a book, especially in speculative fiction. In my mission statement I make it pretty clear that “best” is what I think is best. To be fair, my practices have evolved somewhat since the fateful day I wrote the mission statement, but generally speaking, it still stands. I try and review only books that have impressed me in some way—ones where I have developed an emotional relationship with the characters. The practice eliminates about two thirds of what I read, and biases me somewhat towards character driven narratives, but that’s life.

Harry Markov: Connected with the last question, how did you become addicted to fantasy and sci-fi?

If I had to trace the impulse to its origin, I would say it all started with The Wreck of Zephr by Chris Van Allsburg, a children’s book I recommend to this day given its profound sense of mystery and wonder. Since I was educated in the French system at the time, I also worked with an English tutor twice a week. He introduced me to Roald Dhal, and it was all down hill from there. After that, I plowed through C. S. Lewis and the Lord of the Rings on my own. The coup de grace came when I was given the first three books of the Wheel of time for my 12th birthday. I don’t think I left my room for a month.

Michael: I have been reading books since I learned to read. Around 1975 I discovered that fantasy and sci-fi were for me. I read the German edition of Dune, Lord of the Rings, and other books. From 1978 to 2008 I read the German sci-fi penny dreadful „PERRY RHODAN“. It was only in the nineties that I really became addicted to fantasy. That was the time when I started reading Tad Williams, Robin Hobb, Mark Anthony and other authors whose books have been translated to German..

Harry Markov: Now let’s rewind to the beginning in a barrage of questions. Did you feel it was easy? Was it easy to supply enough books and how were you received at first?

Supplying books has recently become an issue, with my discretionary spending being tight and all. I am pretty sure I could remedy the situation by actually bothering to request review copies and ARCs from publishers, but it somehow feels wrong. I know that it isn’t, that more or less everyone does it, but it just feels… wrong. See, I even have a hard time explaining it to myself.

My initial reception to the blogosphere was, for lack of a better word, awesome. Partly because I had a lot more free time to interact with other bloggers, but mostly because there is just such great energy and momentum behind the launch of a new blog. The SF/F/H community is just a wonderful and eclectic mix of people who don’t hesitate to speak their mind and give you great pointers. Plus, there is all the excitement of learning new technologies—lets just say the first month made for a wild ride.

Michael: Since I started to read and comment on blogs it was a challenge to find quality reading time. And with contributing to the blog, the challenge is growing. Therefore I always look forward to my next holiday because this is the period where I find the most time to read. Books? I read around 50 books per year. I buy an average of 5 books per month = one year = 60 books. That means my pile of unread books is growing and growing. And then I get books at Birthday and for Christmas. Oh, and I win books through giveaways; they just keep adding up. I have around 160 unread books. Even better is my list of books which I want to buy and read: there are 1054 books on the list. But what else can you expect from a book addict...

Harry Markov: What’s your approach to writing reviews, your signature so to say that makes you different from all the others? Can you give a tip or share something insightful about the craft?

Alec: That’s a tough one. First off, I would say that every review is original in that it is a wholly subjective product; there is little if any objectivity in the creation. That understanding has always been at the center of my process. As such, when I write a review, I try to acknowledge that I am publishing a highly personal opinion. This expresses itself, I hope, as candor and forthrightness. More importantly, I get straight to business in a review—I hate fluff and the Star Trek paragraph structure (scientific statement followed by a watered down version of the scientific statement, followed by water). I think you will find, generally speaking, that every word holds significant weight in my reviews, and that a lot of thought has gone into the process. Whether or not this is a winning recipe remains to be seen—get back to me in six months and I’ll let you know.

Michael: Wow! A tough question for a review newbie. So far, I wrote and posted only three reviews. I tried it for the first time last year and I failed, miserably. After this negative experience I tried to mention in comments that I'm not a reviewer. For my second attempt, I read a lot of reviews from different people who used different styles. I was pretty sure that I needed a formal structure that would fit me and my style if I was to try again. Alec has his own style. I read his reviews and I liked his style and the formal structure. I found that it worked for me too. I proceeded to ask Alec if he would post a review of mine and he said yes. So I sat down and wrote my first review and found my own way of filling the structure. This is directly connected with my intentions: My reviews should explain to reader why I read a book. What I liked/disliked. I try to speak in pictures and enrich the review with additional information. Anyway, I'm still learning and, in parts, still experimenting. It is a gripping process. In order to write a review I must be in the right mood; I often listen to music and I always write the first version on real paper. For the following steps I use my notebook (searching information, links and so on). I have only one tip: Don't look at other reviewers. Be yourself. Find your own voice.

Harry Markov: What’s your reading schedule? How do you arrange your day to find time to read and review to keep up relative activity?

: Lack of time is a defining characteristic of the human condition, and I am no exception. I read on the commute to work, which nets me about forty minutes a day, and try to set aside at least an hour and a half a night, before bed. Oh, and Sundays are pretty much reading day. Given the pace at which I read, this gets me through anywhere from 2 to 3 books a week. I try and work out a posting schedule with Michael before the week starts, but that practice has met with little success on my part. Michael, on the other hand, is the ideal of German efficiency and planning; I like to think that we balance each other out.

Michael: That is always a challenge except when I'm on holiday. I always try to read 45 minutes up to one hour in the morning before I go to work. Then I try to steal one more hour in the period between coming home from work and going to bed. Furthermore, I almost always take a book with me and read whenever the opportunity presents itself—like this week where I had to go to the doctor and had to wait 40 minutes, which, of course, I spent reading.

Harry Markov: In retrospect, have you ever done a negative review and how did you handle the situation? Every once in a while a book comes that doesn’t agree with a reviewer and there was a heated discussion revolving around negative reviews and what comes afterwards. Was there any fear of ruining your relationship with publishers?

Any publisher that can’t handle a negative review shouldn’t be in the business. That said, I have only ever written one truly negative review, which was Kay Kenyon’s Bright of the Sky, as I generally just skip books I didn’t like. I have thought about posting blurbs instead of an honest review, but I personally dislike the practice; I am not here to parrot someone else’s opinion, and I have made a commitment to posting only the “best” books.

So far I posted three reviews and all of them have been positive. I used to read books until the end, even I didn't like them. Nowadays I give every book that I start 50 pages to convince me that I should keep going. Believe it or not, there was only one book in the past three years which I didn't finish. I choose my books very carefully. To be honest, I don't want to write negative reviews because I don't want to waste my time reading books I don't like.

Harry Markov: Now, how do you think you and your blog have grown from your first post up until now? Did the formula ever change and can you describe the path of your evolution?

Alec: The wheel of time turns… The blog has most definitely grown since it first began, especially with the addition of Michael’s posts. What started out as blurb like fanboy reviews have morphed into more educated and concise interpretations. I challenge myself with every review that I write, and I like to think that it shows. I initially started out with a bullet point type format: “Highlights,” “Lowlights” “My Take in Brief” ect. I found the structure to be a bit stifling and so have come to adopt a more holistic approach. A review is not the sum of its parts; it needs to be aware of itself, have a destination, and make a point all at the same time—while enticing the reader to follow along. I am not quite there yet, but I am approaching a structure that I am proud of, and feel comfortable working with. Self improvement is not masturbation.

Michael: I think I'm a stimulating force for the blog. Alec and I are an interesting team. We live on different continents. There is an age difference of around 25 years. But we are unified by our love for sci-fi and fantasy books. I think that there is a positive development since I started to contribute. We started with exchange of e-mails. Nowadays we chat several times per week about us and the blog. I also have grown. I'm glad that Alec gave me the opportunity to post reviews. I can also say that we have some interesting ideas for future.

Harry Markov: Apart from enjoying reading the written word, have you ever had any writing aspirations of your own?

Alec: Up until a few months ago, I would have answered in the negative. Recently though, I have begun exploring military science fiction, and it has been an eye opening experience. Think David Webber meets Tanya Huff, with a little irreverent humor thrown in. I am taking baby steps, trying for something that is both light and entertaining, with a focus on character development and good dialogue. I like my output so far, even though it is a bit rough, but like they say, the best thing to do is keep writing.

Michael: To be honest: NO. I know never to say never, but I'm neither a writer nor a salesman. I'm happy to write comments, write a weekly post, write reviews from time to time, and read all these gorgeous books, but that’s where I draw the line.

Harry Markov: Which are the authors you favor and have had most exciting times with and on the opposite spectrum, which are the ones you couldn’t connect with and avoid since?

I wrote a post on those amazing shivers you get from reading, and only three authors have ever done that for me. That said, they aren’t necessarily the ones I enjoy most. Lately I have been really into David Gunn type close quarters military science fiction. Tight, focused, and packed with action. The experience is similar to watching transformers; you go for the cool robots, the explosions, and sexy actors. Oh, and Joe Abercrombie is totally awesome, I laughed for a good long while after stumbling across his Tolkien joke… the guy just has a great sense of humor.

Michael: How can I say something about authors when I know so few! I favor a lot of authors and the list is still growing, with those both new and old. Here is a selection in no specific order: George RR Martin, Robin Hobb, Tad Williams, Mark Anthony, Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, Joe Abercrombie, Greg Keyes, Lynn Flewelling. Anyway I'm a big fan of long series. And no, I didn't read the Wheel of Time. I tried but I gave up after 80 pages. I must admit that in the meantime I began to enjoy to read stand alone books.This week I got my copy of BEST SERVED COLD by Joe Abercrombie and I can't wait to read it.

Harry Markov: What are your personal pet peeves when it comes to the speculative fiction genres? Is there a tendency for these pet peeves to resolve?

I harbor the common prejudices. I generally dislike YA and UF, hate anything with dragons (with very few exceptions), can’t stand vampires, and will not read anything where there is a half naked person on the cover. I am a stickler for internal consistency, and I will often put down a book if the author spams the dues ex button or uses the word ‘luck’ too often. Hmm, now that I just excluded over 70% of all speculative fiction, I guess you could say I like everything that’s left. As for resolving my totally unjustified biases… nah, I like them just the way they are.

Michael: I have a few general pet peeves. Nothing related to a specific genre. I'm no friend of the rating and ranking of book because it tells me nothing about a book. As I mentioned before I'm a member of GOODREADS. There you have a rating up to five stars. Most of the books I read get five stars. This just express that I liked the book. I prefer reviews which tells me something about the style and the writing. Also a list of pros and cons is highly welcome. But I appreciate most when a reviewer can explain to my why he/she read and liked the book. After reading blogs for nearly one and a half years, I can tell you from experience that sooner or later you will prefer to read reviews from people who share your tastes.

I think I found my solution: I don't care about ratings and rankings. And this should be the solution for everyone.

Harry Markov: What do you think of self publishing? This is a very interesting topic as of late with the numbers of authors self-publishing on the rise and the treatment they receive not only from reviewers, but the whole book publishing community including readers.

I obviously love the idea and have read a number of great self-published novels (after getting my arm twisted a little). I do have some reservations on the subject though. The main problem for me is trust. I trust the big name speculative fiction imprints to deliver quality material a high percentage of the time. Since I am working with a small budget, to maximize my enjoyment and minimize my risk, I am pretty much forced to read books from imprints that I trust. The percentages are just not the same with self-published material; for every great self-published novel that I receive, I get at least nine that read like an angsty teen’s Live Journal. Nevertheless, the relationship between good self-published material and the review blogging community is hugely symbiotic—it’s a clear feedback loop. I have no idea where the relationship will end up, but I see it as a hugely positive one.

Michael: I think it is a great opportunity, especially if you publish in ebook format. But I must admit I'm a real old fashioned book lover. For me a book is a book when it is made of paper and you can smell the printer's ink. Beside this there are so many unread books waiting for me that I don't have time to look for self-published books.

Harry Markov: Do you think there are still areas fantasy has slipped that you would like to cover in other mediums? And how far do you think the fantasy/sci-fi culture will enter mainstream? This I ask because art purists denounce fantasy and sci-fi on a regular basis and yet they keep coming back full speed ahead.

We are mainstream, people just don’t realize it yet. There are more science fiction movies scheduled for release in the next year then there have ever been, and their numbers at the box office are through the roof. It’s all about numbers my friend, and in this case the numbers tell us that science fiction and fantasy are both sexy and popular. More importantly, the line between speculative fiction and purportedly mainstream works is so blurred its practically nonexistent. Admittedly, the book industry is a little behind the curve but that is because they are structured around the idea of difference; they are protecting their turf and I don’t blame them.

Harry Markov: Also there has been much denouncing of urban fantasy in pretty much the same vein mainstreamers give fantasy and sci-fi the cold shoulder. Where do you stand in this matter?

Alec: Urban fantasy should be taken outside and shot. I have even organized a book burning for anyone that’s interested. More on point, like I hinted at in the previous question, everyone needs an other, and for science fiction and fantasy that other is urban fantasy. In my opinion, the issue is also a bit clouded by jealousy, but that’s a whole other interview Harry.

Michael: If you don't like it, then don't read it. The best example is my family. My wife loves urban fantasy (J A Ward, Charlaine Harris, Stephenie Meyer, just to name few authors). I like Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series. That is markedly different urban fantasy. But we respect each other and we are far beyond mocking one another’s reading choices. The opposite is probably true when we talk about what we read. I somehow can’t shake the feeling that the denouncing of urban fantasy is an artificial discussion in order to arouse attention.

Harry Markov: I am not sure what a closing question sounds like at this topic, so you are free to some some closing words on your own regarding reviewing.

I want to thank you for the interview Harry, it was a real eye opener for me and a great chance to put things in perspective. You really do a great job here. Since I am fairly new to the review-o-sphere I don’t have any parting words of wisdom. I’ll just wish everyone a good day and happy reading.

Michael: I'm still surprised at my personal development from April 2008 when I signed up for GOODREADS until now, where I contribute weekly to a blog. Everything is possible... even for book addicts.

Harry, thank you so much for the „challenge“ of answering your questions. At the beginning I had the declared intention of answering every question in a precise way, and not letting myself get carried away. But, the older I get, the more bubbly I get. I hope I didn't depart from tradition with my partially meandering answers.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

SF/F/H Reviewer Linkup Meme v. 2.0 is LIVE!

John Ottinger, the amazing man behind Grasping for the Wind, has created yet another web force meme with the reincarnation of his popular SF/F/H Reviewer Linkup Meme v. 2.0. Enjoy!


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7 Foot Shelves

The Accidental Bard

A Boy Goes on a Journey

A Dribble Of Ink

Adventures in Reading

A Fantasy Reader

The Agony Column

A Hoyden's Look at Literature

All Booked Up

Alexia's Books and Such...

Andromeda Spaceways

The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Ask Daphne

ask nicola

Audiobook DJ


Australia Specfic In Focus

Author 2 Author



Barbara Martin

Babbling about Books

Bees (and Books) on the Knob

Best SF

Bewildering Stories

Bibliophile Stalker


Big Dumb Object

The Billion Light-Year Bookshelf

Bitten by Books

The Black Library Blog

Blog, Jvstin Style

Blood of the Muse

The Book Bind



Booksies Blog


The Book Smugglers


The Book Swede

Book View Cafe [Authors Group Blog]

Breeni Books


Cheaper Ironies [pro columnist]

Charlotte's Library

Circlet 2.0

Cheryl's Musings

Club Jade

Cranking Plot

Critical Mass

The Crotchety Old Fan


Daily Dose - Fantasy and Romance

Damien G. Walter

Danger Gal

It's Dark in the Dark

Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews

Darque Reviews

Dave Brendon's Fantasy and Sci-Fi Weblog

Dead Book Darling

Dear Author

The Deckled Edge

The Doctor is In...

Dragons, Heroes and Wizards

Drey's Library

The Discriminating Fangirl

Dusk Before the Dawn


Enter the Octopus

Errant Dreams Reviews

Eve's Alexandria


Falcata Times

Fan News Denmark [in English]

Fantastic Reviews

Fantastic Reviews Blog

Fantasy Book Banner

Fantasy Book Critic

Fantasy Book Reviews and News

Fantasy Cafe

Fantasy Debut

Fantasy Dreamer's Ramblings


Fantasy Magazine

Fantasy and Sci-fi Lovin' Blog

Feminist SF - The Blog!


Fiction is so Overrated

The Fix

The Foghorn Review

Follow that Raven

Forbidden Planet

Frances Writes

Free SF Reader

From a Sci-Fi Standpoint

From the Heart of Europe

Fruitless Recursion

Fundamentally Alien

The Future Fire


The Galaxy Express


Game Couch

The Gamer Rat

Garbled Signals

Genre Reviews


Got Schephs

Graeme's Fantasy Book Review

Grasping for the Wind

The Green Man Review

Gripping Books



Hero Complex

Highlander's Book Reviews


The Hub Magazine

Hyperpat's Hyper Day


I Hope I Didn't Just Give Away The Ending

Ink and Keys

Ink and Paper

The Internet Review of Science Fiction



Jenna's Bookshelf

Jumpdrives and Cantrips


Keeping the Door

King of the Nerds


Lair of the Undead Rat

Largehearted Boy

Layers of Thought

League of Reluctant Adults

The Lensman's Children

Library Dad

Libri Touches

Literary Escapism

Literaturely Speaking

ludis inventio

Lundblog: Beautiful


Mad Hatter's Bookshelf and Book Review

Mari's Midnight Garden

Mark Freedman's Journal

Marooned: Science Fiction Books on Mars


Michele Lee's Book Love

Missions Unknown [Author and Artist Blog Devoted to SF/F/H in San Antonio]

The Mistress of Ancient Revelry

MIT Science Fiction Society

Monster Librarian

More Words, Deeper Hole

Mostly Harmless Books

Multi-Genre Fan

Musings from the Weirdside

My Favourite Books


Neth Space

The New Book Review


Not Free SF Reader



OF Blog of the Fallen

The Old Bat's Belfry

Only The Best SciFi/Fantasy

The Ostentatious Ogre

Outside of a Dog



Pat's Fantasy Hotlist

Patricia's Vampire Notes

The Persistence of Vision

Piaw's Blog


Post-Weird Thoughts

Publisher's Weekly



Random Acts of Mediocrity

Ray Gun Revival

Realms of Speculative Fiction

Reading the Leaves

Review From Here

Reviewer X

Revolution SF

The Road Not Taken

Rob's Blog o' Stuff

Robots and Vamps


Sandstorm Reviews

Satisfying the Need to Read

Science Fiction and Fantasy Ethics

Science Fiction Times


Sci-Fi Blog


Sci-Fi Fan Letter

The Sci-Fi Gene

Sci-Fi Songs [Musical Reviews]

SciFi Squad

Scifi UK Reviews

Sci Fi Wire

Self-Publishing Review

The Sequential Rat

Severian's Fantastic Worlds

SF Diplomat



SF Gospel


SF Revu

SF Safari

SF Signal

SF Site

SFF World's Book Reviews

Silver Reviews

Simply Vamptastic

Slice of SciFi

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

Solar Flare

Speculative Fiction

Speculative Fiction Junkie

Speculative Horizons

The Specusphere


Spiral Galaxy Reviews

Spontaneous Derivation

Sporadic Book Reviews

Stainless Steel Droppings

Starting Fresh

Stella Matutina

Stuff as Dreams are Made on...

The Sudden Curve

The Sword Review


Tangent Online

Tehani Wessely

Temple Library Reviews

Tez Says

things mean a lot [also a publisher]

True Science Fiction


Ubiquitous Absence



Urban Fantasy Land


Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic

Variety SF


Walker of Worlds

Wands and Worlds


The Wertzone

With Intent to Commit Horror

The Wizard of Duke Street

WJ Fantasy Reviews

The Word Nest


The World in a Satin Bag




Young Adult Science Fiction



Cititor SF [with English Translation]




Foundation of Krantas

The SF Commonwealth Office in Taiwan [with some English essays]

Yenchin's Lair






Fernando Trevisan

Human 2.0

Life and Times of a Talkative Bookworm

Ponto De Convergencia




Fantasy Seiten

Fantasy Buch

Fantasy/SciFi Blog


Welt der fantasy

Bibliotheka Phantastika

SF Basar

Phantastick News



Phantastick Couch


Fantasy News

Fantasy Faszination

Fantasy Guide

Zwergen Reich

Fiction Fantasy


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