Sunday, July 8, 2012

Pretty Snake's "Kitty Garden Party" Leggings Purr For Girls

If you're interested in learning more about Pretty Snake, or making a contribution of your own, visit the "Kitty Garden Party" Leggings Kickstarter...

Monday, June 11, 2012

"The Thousand Emperors" by Gary Gibson (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

INTRODUCTION: Scottish sf writer Gary Gibson burst onto the scene in 2004 with a very ambitious debut Angel Stations which made me a big time fan. While having some debut flaws like lack of balance and even too much ambition for the relatively limited page count, Angel Stations is not your "average" debut, but a very complex and mature novel that pays several close readings. His second novel, Against Gravity, quite different in tone was another hit with me and then turning his hand to "popular" new space opera on a galactic canvas and with all the associated paraphernalia, Mr. Gibson completed the Shoal trilogy of which its debut Stealing Light was my top sf novel of the year. 

While planning a return to the Shoal universe at some point, Gary Gibson developed another fascinating universe, "The Founder Network" one - in the 22/23 rd centuries humanity develops wormhole based ftl, only to find a sophisticated ancient system of wormholes, built by the hypothetical aliens named "Founders", system that goes far away in space and time but comes with potentially major dangers as we learn in Final Days.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Thousand Emperors is set in the same universe with Final Days some centuries after the events there and while there are some cool references to it at some point and of course the Founder network and tech is important even indirectly, the book is really a standalone as everything needed is explained.

As structure, the novel is part action adventure, part investigation of the powerful with the attending risks, part sense of wonder all written in the wonderful style that made Gary Gibson one of the top sf authors of today with all 7 books to date read by me the moment I got them, either on publication or occasionally as advanced reading copies.

Most of The Thousand Emperors takes place in Tian Di, a semi paternalistic space empire modeled on the successful semi-democratic Asian states of today like Singapore - led by a council of elders that achieved effective immortality with clones and transcribing personality, protected by an elite force of warriors - the Sandoz - who also benefit by the same treatments.

Separated a few centuries ago from the Western-like Coalition after a successful revolution on its worlds and the severance of the wormholes connecting Tian Di's worlds with the Coalition, Tian Di's people enjoy generally tranquil and prosperous lives but there are some trouble spots and then there is what some perceive as stagnation with science and technology managed by the Council, while the Coalition is rumored to be leaps and bounds ahead.

So despite Joseph "Father" Cheng's wishes - the leader of the Council though not without internal opposition - and even of most of the 85 "inner" members of the Council, there is a seemingly inevitable "reunification" with the Coalition with the first wormhole connecting Tian Di's capital Temur to Darwin the Coalition's capital to be opened soon.

Explaining this better here is an excerpt from the Prologue, which in pure sf tradition is itself a purported "Excerpt from A History of the Tian Di: Volume 1 – From Abandonment to Schism by Javier Maxwell."

"The decades following the Abandonment were hard, lean times, but barely half a century later starships carrying new, retro-engineered transfer gates were already being sent out to reconnect the colonies one to another. It is in this period that the template for the modern political order was laid down.

Although the Western Coalition – by this time, simply the Coalition – had seized political and military control of the colonial governments, the general populations of those worlds had been predominantly drawn from member nations of the former Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. Coalition–Sphere relations were already deeply antagonistic prior to the Abandonment, and became more so, inevitably flowering into a full-fledged revolt a century after the Coalition’s takeover. The uprising proved to be bitter and protracted, but ended with several worlds finally achieving autonomy from Coalition rule. These worlds – Da Vinci (now Benares), Newton (now New Samarkand), Franklin (now Temur), Galileo (now Novaya Zvezda), Yue Shijie, and Acamar – became known collectively as the Tian Di, and were ruled from Temur by a
council of revolutionary leaders numbering nearly a thousand. Although far from being a democracy, this Temur Council provided much-needed stability in the post-revolutionary period.

While the Tian Di and the Coalition co-existed in relative peace over the next several decades, they rapidly diverged both culturally and technologically. The Coalition first renewed and then stepped up its exploration of the Founder Network, despite increasingly alarmed protests from the Temur Council, whose members were afraid of a repeat of the events leading to the Abandonment. It is undoubted that the Temur Council lacked for effective leadership in the years immediately preceding what we now call the Schism, and the power vacuum following Salomón Lintz’s forced resignation as the Council’s Chairman offered a clear opportunity for a man as ruthlessly determined as Joseph Cheng. Cheng soon swept to power on the wave of a popular coup, and the promise that he would sever all transfer gates linking to the Coalition to prevent any possible repeat of the Abandonment. Cheng soon fulfilled his promise and, within days of becoming Permanent Chairman
of the Temur Council, the human race was effectively split in two.

Those few members of the Temur Council who had openly opposed Cheng’s rise to power, including, most prominently, myself and Winchell Antonov, were either imprisoned, forced into exile, or executed on trumped-up charges. It cannot be denied that the period immediately following the Schism was marked by unprecedented peace throughout the Tian Di. The quality of life for our citizens improved by such leaps and bounds that there was, for a long time, little to no demand throughout the Tian Di for moves towards more democratic representation.

The one real exception, of course, was Benares – a world of limited resources, cruelly under-represented within the Council. It was on Benares that Winchell Antonov, having escaped his imprisonment, founded the Black Lotus organization. Antonov is also credited with giving Cheng’ls Council the
less than flattering sobriquet The Thousand Emperors."

Coming back to the book itself, the story follows "master archivist" security investigator Luc Gabion whom we see (nominally) leading a Sandoz strike force closing in the last hideout of Winchell Antonov, hideout that was found by Gabion's painstaking investigation of years. The book just explodes from its first "proper" page - after the prologue quoted above - and it just does not stop for over 300 pages that "demand" end to end reading, so absorbing they are.

Luc turned to see Marroqui stabbing a finger at him from across the hold, his face dimly visible within his helmet.
‘Close your visor, Goddamn it,’ said Marroqui, his voice flat and dull in the cramped confines of the hold. ‘Depressurization in less than thirty seconds. We’re landing.’
Luc reached up and snapped his helmet’s visor into place, ignoring the smirking expressions of the armour-suited Sandoz warriors arrayed in crash couches around him. They were crammed in close to each other, bathed in red light."

There are a lot of nice touches - eg Tian Di seems very "real" reflecting the author's true experiences (meaning doing real work and mingling with the local population not only with the bigwigs in flyby "research" trips...) of living in the east, the sense of wonder is vivid and the action feels mostly "realistic" too with few over the top moments.

There are also a few quieter moments and the characters "have also lives", the lack of which is one the main failings of action-adventure sf...

"Luc arrived back at his apartment without incident and found several messages waiting for him from Eleanor. This time, instead of ignoring them he sent back an immediate response. He had a sudden desperate urge to see her, to hold her in his arms."

The one negative of the book is the lack of ambiguity in the main villains who after a while are quite easy to pinpoint as they almost wear the well known "villain hat", while also being real unsubtle about it as in an emphatic "I am in for me", but I mind this much less in sf than in fantasy and the novel delivers so well in all the other aspects (action, sense of wonder, world building, characters, style...) that this niggle is quite minor.

A top 25 novel of mine for 2012 and another Gary Gibson winner!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Interview with Saladin Ahmed (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Saladin Ahmed Website 
Order “Throne of the Crescent MoonHERE 
Read FBC’s Review of “Throne of the Crescent Moon” 
(Author Photo Credit: Al Bogdan & Saladin Ahmed)

Saladin Ahmed has written a fantastic debut however he didn’t just appear out of thin air. His short stories and poetry had won him many fans and much adoration before his fantasy debut earlier this year. His roots led him to write a debut much different than what fans have been reading for many decades, and was also one of the best books I have read this year. In the forthcoming interview Saladin speaks about his past, his writing background, his plans for the future Crescent Moon Kingdom books and then some more…

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To start with, could you tell us what led you to be a writer in the first place? Also could give us a brief bio? 

SA: I was born in Detroit and grew up in the nearby Arab American enclave of Dearborn, MI. My father introduced me to fantasy and SF when I was very, very young, and he used to have me write little stories and comics for him when I was in first grade. He was always deeply supportive of my creativity, and I feel very blessed for that.

Q] You have taught creative writing at Rutgers University and are also a writing mentor. How does that influence your writing? In that role do you look at writing from different angles? Or is it the same but with a different objective? 

SA: I wish I could say it helps me avoid certain writing pitfalls, but honestly, it doesn't. Quite often I find myself making the same mistakes (or, to put a more positive spin on it, learning the same lessons) over and over. And, often enough, these are the same mistakes I gently correct when made by my students or private clients!

Q: So for someone who hasn't read any of your novels, how would you describe the type of stories that you write, what would be your pitch for the Crescent Moon Kingdom Series? 

SA: One reviewer called THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON 'Sword and sorcery with a lot more under the hood,' and – being from the Motor City - that works for me. Another way to put it might be "Wide-eyed 80s fantasy meets The New Gritty fantasy meets the Arabian Nights."

Q] Speaking of the series, how many volumes have you planned for this series? How far along are you in the next book, and is there anything you can tell us about books two, three and the series beyond(if there are any plans to extend beyond a trilogy)? 

SA: Most readers have said that THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON works great as a standalone, but it is also as the first book of a trilogy. I'm currently writing Book II of THE CRESCENT MOON KINGDOMS, which should be out mid-2013. Books II and II will expand in scope quite a bit, both geographically and in the scale of conflict. Analogues to the djinn and to the Crusades will feature prominently, and the political fallout form the first novel will fuel the story threads in the subsequent titles.

If the series proves popular enough to justify a fourth book, it would possibly be a prequel detailing some of the earlier adventures of the series' older protagonists. But that's just a guess.

Q] You have written two stories called “Where Virtue Lives” and “Judgment of Swords and Souls” set in the same milieu of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms. When you wrote them did you imagine them as leading onto your debut series? 

SA: Absolutely. “Virtue” will give potential readers a good, if rough, taste of the world of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms – and will show those who've already read THRONE OF THE CRESCENT MOON how Adoulla and Raseed came to be a team. Meanwhile, “Judgment” introduces readers to Layla bas Layla, a character who will become very important in Book II.

Q] What made you choose fantasy over other genres for your first book? 

SA: I spent many years in grad school in English, so I've read a lot in a variety of genres. But adventure fantasy is my bread and butter as a reader, and probably always will be. So it's only natural that I came to that genre as a writer.

Q] I was especially intrigued by the Falcon prince character, how did his creation come about? In the case of your book, it is never really clear as to where he stands on a moral scale? Was this intentional and will we get to know more about him in the future books? 

SA: The Falcon Prince is a pretty straight Robin Hood/Thief of Baghdad tribute. But yes he also sort of offers a glimpse at the dark underbelly of the 'dashing thief' archetype. Without giving anything away, I'll say that the final scene (when the Falcon Prince and Adoulla are alone) is inspired by the climax of Alan Moore's Watchmen – our hero has to make a hard decision about what to expose and what to keep quiet.

And yes, there is LOTS more of the Falcon Prince to come!

Q] Your book though a debut, eschews the current trend of breadth-happy fantasy, surprisingly the slimness has not robbed the story of its richness. How did you go about your writing, especially since so many writers love to thicken their plots so as to say! 

SA: It took work! The original outline for THRONE included a lot of material that will appear in Book II and III, but ultimately I chose to keep a fairly tight focus, plot and geography-wise. The sequels will expand quite a bit on these fronts, with multi-thread plots and map-spanning journeys.

Q] In your SF signal podcast you briefly touched upon Batman and revealed that you find the character to be incredibly boring or unrealistic. Coincidentally your main character shares some background with Bruce Wayne as well. Could you expound a bit more on your thoughts? 

SA: Well, they are both clever men who were both orphaned by criminal violence. But I think the difference is largely class-based. Bruce Wayne is a rich kid, so he can look upon his parents' killer as inhuman "criminal scum," completely sociologically Other from the Waynes. Adoulla grew up a street kid, and has ot face the harder fact that the guy who killed his parents is, in some sense, one of 'his people.'

Q] How much of the world of the Crescent Moon kingdoms will you be exploring in the future books, I ask as I’m particularly curious about the Heavenly Wall as shown and what lead to its creation? 

SA: Quite a lot of the map included in the book will be explored in Books II and III. Rughal-ba (the nation that the Heavenly Wall protects) will be central to the action, as will the off-map 'Warlands' – which is basically the Crescent Moon Kingdoms' analogue for medieval Europe.

Q] Earlier you mentioned that your father instilled a love for reading SF & Fantasy, what books did your father encourage you to read when you were growing and as a father yourself, how do you look forward to sharing that same passion with your children? 

SA: My Dad shared so many books, I'm not sure where to begin. But The Hobbit, Moorcock, and Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials stick out.

My own kids are only two, so we're mostly doing picture books. It's just wondrous wathcing them get involved in a story, though. I'm going to try The Little Engine That Could on them soon!

Q] Your main character Adoulla Makhslood has a tinge of melancholy to almost all of his thoughts and actions and this perhaps colors his actions in the book’s plot. Will you be exploring more about the doctor’s background in the future to give the readers some clues about his melancholy? Will he be getting the peace, which he so dreams about? 

SA: That melancholy is a sort of inheritence of the other genre form which Adoulla is drawn – the noir detective story. Readers will certainly learn more about Adoulla in future books – but you'll have to read t find out how things end up for our fat old ghul hunter.

Q: Lastly as a writer, what are your aspirations? Where do you see yourself in a decade from now? 

SA: I'll dodge the second part of that question, since I'm much more focused on where I see myself next week. :) But my writerly aspirations are pretty simple: To provide as many readers as possible with the same sort of wonderful immersion that I myself get from fantasy novels -- and to make enough money to help feed my kids while doing so.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

"The Seven Wonders" by Steven Saylor (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

"The year is 92 B.C. Gordianus has just turned eighteen and is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime: a far-flung journey to see the Seven Wonders of the World. Gordianus is not yet called “the Finder”—but at each of the Seven Wonders, the wide-eyed young Roman encounters a mystery to challenge the powers of deduction."

INTRODUCTION: Outside speculative fiction, no contemporary writer is more appreciated by me than Steven Saylor for his wonderful Roma sub Rosa series with its main character Gordianus "the Finder" who is my current #1 fiction hero.

I summarized my impressions to the Gordianus novels HERE and I reviewed Empire, the second installment in the author's take on Roman history by following about 11 centuries of the fortunes of a patrician family entrusted with a special religious symbol.

What about the author's highly awaited return to Gordianus' adventures in The Seven Wonders? Read on for my take on it, but in brief I have to say that it fulfilled my expectations and even surprised me a bit towards the ending which opens the possibilities of more from Gordianus' early career before his brilliant entrance in the Rome of the high and mighty, when helping Cicero's subtle attack on Sulla's dictatorship in Roman Blood.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Seven Wonders consists of short stories - most published last year in various magazines and anthologies of which I have previously read some four - glued together with an introduction in Rome where we get to see Gordianus' father and an epilogue in Alexandria, where Bethesda appears in the hero's life.

The topic of the stories is self-explanatory and the blurb above covers the needed details more than adequately, so I will talk about the general feel of the book rather than each adventure individually. There is a mystery - sometimes more obvious, sometimes more thriller-like than puzzling - but in each case the setting and the secondary characters are the highlight in addition of course to the still wise-cracking narration of Gordianus.

Structurally The Seven Wonders has the unifying thread of the Mithridatian menace to Rome which leads to the ambiguous motivations of various characters and gives a subtle feeling to the book as a whole which could not be discerned by having read the stories themselves on original publication.

Also as hinted throughout the series, Gordianus is not averse to men either and here he comes out - to us of course as the classical antiquity's mores where different and trickier; I really loved that part and I would just note that more than anything, this shows the difference between the 1990's and 2012 in US social mores and of what is deemed appropriate for publication in mainstream books...

Gordianus' voice at 18 still compelling and while he is appropriately youthful and overall I think I prefer his more mature and wiser voice of the novels, the book gets the balance well in this regard. Also the Rome introduction and the Alexandria finale are outstanding as historical fiction on their own, so there is scope for more young Gordianus, both in Egypt and at Rome, though I still want that promised novel with Gordianus warning Caesar on the Ides of March...

Since most of the stories were published earlier they obviously needed self-containment, so by necessity they tend to be simplistic as mysteries and lack the powerful unity of the novels, while the continual switching of venues tends to break the narrative flow but that was to be expected in what is essentially a "fix-up" novel.

 I would have really loved more about the travel itself as Gordianus and Antipater cover quite a distance in visiting the Seven Wonders and occasionally interesting venues in their neighborhoods - the time is done well, no flying so to speak -but the travel details are skimped on and I missed that.

Overall, The Seven Wonders (highly recommended novel of 2012) is a very good introduction to Gordianus. While not at the level of the best novels in the series, the book does an excellent job within its parameters that impose quite a few restrictions, while managing to have an unifying thread and wonderful first and last parts.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Auctions and Contests News (By Mihir Wanchoo)

This coming Friday, the 15th of June the David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy will be held at the Magic Circle Headquarters in London. These fantastic awards play an important role in spreading public awareness of the fantasy genre and rewarding excellence within the field while also remembering David Gemmell and honoring his contributions to the fantasy field.

In order to raise funds and keep these great awards running, an auction is held every year at the ceremony. This year, Anna Gregson, Commissioning Editor of Orbit Books has been helping to organise the auction lots, and They include: 

-  Have your name featured in an upcoming Terry Brooks novel! 

- A Star Wars Moleskine notebook containing the signatures of over 40 SFF authors including Brent Weeks, Robin Hobb, Peter Brett, Joe Abercrombie, China Miéville, Patrick Rothfuss, Peter Hamilton & many more 

- Have 10,000 words of your manuscript, plus submission letter and synopsis edited by the exceptional editor Gillian Redfearn at Gollancz 

- The original pencil sketch by the artist Didier Graffet of the cover for The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie 

- And Many more items…

Please see details of these lots and more here. They can also be found on the Gemmell Award homepage. All of these lots will be auctioned off at the award ceremony on Friday 15th June. However, for those who would like to bid on an item but can’t attend the event, highest bids can now be submitted by email to "" in advance of the ceremony on the 15th June.

In other contest news, James Rollins's newest book Bloodline is due to be released in the month of June and to coincide with that he's holding a contest in lieu with The Human Society of the United States. The contest details are given in this blog post and therein lies the explanation to become immortalized in the Sigma novel next year.  To quote Jim "Visit the Sigma Store (where ALL profits go to help endangered or abused animals) and order a piece of Sigma logo wear. I'm looking for the most creative use for any of that gear: t-shirt, hoodie, tote bag. Stain them with blood-red paint, burn in some bullet holes, write messages on them, use them in ways unimaginable. In other words, go wild!

As per the rules in the author's own words "Send a photo or appear at one of this summer's book signings wearing any of the altered gear. The photos will be collected and featured on my Pinterest page." At the end of July, James will pick his favorite one--and that person's name will appear in the next Sigma novel coming out in 2013.

NOTE: Banner and author picture courtesy of the DGLA Website and David Sylvian. DGLA Announcement courtesy of Anna Gregson.