Thursday, November 27, 2014

Tough Travels – Bugs

Every Thursday, Nathan (over at Fantasy Review Barn) leads the gang in touring the mystical countryside, looking for fun and adventure. His Tough Traveling feature picks one of the most common tropes in fantasy each week, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones, and invites us to join in the adventure. All are invited to take part, so if you're joining the journey late, no worries . . . we'll save you a spot in the caravan.

This week’s tour topic is: BUGS

BUGS - Not in the Tough Guide but it should be. Let’s all find anything creepy or crawly, big or small, six legs, eight legs, or more. Bugs, bugs, bugs.


It's one of the longer series on my TBR pile, but Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt caught my eye precisely because of its insectile component (particularly the Wasp Empire). If, like me, you've yet to dive into the series, just check out this excerpt from the secret histories of the Moths - “An age ago, before all records, before metal was smelted, before writing began, the great insects came . . . There were those amongst the people of that time who reached out, until they could touch the essence of the insects, the perfection and the ideal that shaped them. They stole the merest spark of that power, and took it within themselves, and spoke to the insects in their own language. This was the first Art. These were the first Kinden. All others despaired and died.”

It's been a long while since I read it, but I'm pretty sure it was A Man Rides Through (Book 2 of Mordant's Need) by Stephen R. Donaldson that had some epic insect horror. There's a scene in the book where a very creepy, very unsettling sort of assassination attempt takes place, orchestrated by zombie corpses reanimated and controlled by a horde of cockroaches squirming around inside. The plan is, once they've found their target, they erupt from the zombie corpse like a volcano of six-legged insanity, overwhelm their victim, and literally consume them. I don't remember a lot about the series, but that scene most definitely sticks with me.

The original Riftwar Saga from Raymond E. Feist had a very interesting insect aspect. The cho'ja were a hive-mind alien species from the Tsurunuanni Empire, on the other side of the Rift, who followed the commands of their Queen into battle with the inhabitants of Midkemia. They were warriors with shiny black exoskeletons, segmented bodies, and multi-jointed limbs that could wield tools and weapons, and which had the added protection of razor-sharp ridges running along the edge of each arm. Their eyes were multifaceted, like an insect, but their faces were largely human. While they're portrayed as monstrous killing machines during the Riftwar, we see a more civilized side of them later on in The Empire Trilogy with Janny Wurts.

Another selection from the towering TBR pile is China Miéville's Perdido Street Station and The Scar (a standalone sequel). What caught my attention in the former is the Slake Moth, a giant moth that feeds on human consciousness, leaving its victims mindless husks. Apparently, they're also the source for an addictive drug, which is the only reason anybody could be stupid enough to bring them into the city. In the latter, it's the island of sentient, intelligent humanoid mosquitoes known as the Anophelii that intrigues me. The men, apparently, are relatively harmless, gentle souls who flit around feeding only on nectar and pollen. The women, however, have been described as voracious, ravenous blood-eaters who can suck you dry in the blink of an eye.

Next we have the Priest-Kings of Gor from John Norman. The Gor novels are too often dismissed as nothing more than bondage-fueled fantasies, but they're actually quite clever and imaginative. Something of a hybrid between the pulp fantasy of Robert E. Howard and the sci-fi adventure of Edgar Rice Burroughs, their contribution to today's trope is the giant, hyper-intelligent insectile race that's responsible for bringing Tarl Cabot (and other various humans) to the planet of Gor (Counter-Earth), and for keeping Gor primitive by monitoring and eradicating any attempt to advance weaponry or technology. The Priest-Kings are an ant-like race, communicating by scent, with a single Queen standing apart from an all-male race.

Finally, we have one of my absolute favorites, the leaches from Brian Lumley's Vampire World trilogy (an epic fantasy offshoot of his Necroscope saga). In his world, vampires are men and women infected with a symbiotic leech-like parasite that puts great demands on the host in terms of feeding on blood, but bestows inhuman strength, speed, mental control, and mind-boggling metamorphic abilities. Each leech produces a single egg in its lifetime, with its human recipient becoming one of the most powerful (and dangerous) Wamphyri around. The leeches themselves lack intelligence on their own, but have an instinctive drive to seek out and bond with a host. All but immortal, these symbiotic beings known as Wamphyri are the most monstrous, most malevolent vampires I've ever encountered in literature.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Excerpt and Giveaway of Tides of Maritinia by Warren Hammond

Thanks to the good folks at HarperCollins, we're offering up a teaser excerpt of next month's Tides of Maritinia by Warren Hammond, along with a giveaway of the book!

Before we get into the goodies, though, let me introduce you to Warren and his creation . . .


Tides of Maritinia by Warren Hammond
Expected publication: December 2nd 2014 by Harper Voyager Impulse

Maritinia is at the far edge of the Empire, a planet with little economic value in the Sire’s sphere of influence.

And it’s just rebelled.

The people of Maritinia believe the Empire will not care that they’ve broken free. But the Empire is built on the belief that if an insignificant planet can revolt, then other, more important planets might follow suit.

So the Empire sends an agent to Maritinia with a mission: assassinate and replace one of the conspirators, and do enough to sow discord that when the soldiers do land, any opposition will be quickly crushed.

Thus Jakob finds himself immersed in the inner circle of the madman who led the rebellion. A raw recruit with only his political officer—a separate consciousness inserted into his brain—to speak with, Jakob is out of his element as an operative. And while he falls deeper into the conspiracy, he begins to question everything: the despotic admiral in charge of the coup, his feelings for a native woman, and—most troublingly—whether he still agrees with the will of the Sire.


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About the Author

Warren grew up in the Hudson River Valley of New York State. Upon obtaining his teaching degree from the University at Albany, he moved to Colorado, and settled in Denver where he can often be found typing away at one of the local coffee shops.

Warren is known for his gritty, futuristic KOP series. By taking the best of classic detective noir, and reinventing it on a destitute colony world, Warren has created these uniquely dark tales of murder, corruption and redemption. KOP Killer won the 2012 Colorado Book Award for best mystery.

Warren's latest novel, Tides of Maritinia, released December of 2014. His first book independent of the KOP series, Tides is a spy novel set in a science fictional world.

Always eager to see new places, Warren has traveled extensively. Whether it’s wildlife viewing in exotic locales like Botswana and the Galapagos Islands, or trekking in the Himalayas, he's always up for a new adventure.


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HarperCollins has offered up one (1) copy of the book, either as paperback (US only) or an ebook (available internationally).

a Rafflecopter giveaway


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Chapter 1

I was an assassin.
And a virgin.
I didn't mean to say I'd never had sex; stabbing flesh with flesh was the best kind of stabbing there was.
I was a virgin because I hadn't knifed for real. Never put blade to skin and loosed a river of blood. Never sliced through muscles and organs. Never drove a blade deep to the core.
Never put my lips to the flame and blew out another's soul.
Never until Maritinia.
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Kneeling on the restaurant's rooftop, I scanned the watery horizon until I spotted a few slivered strokes of brown against the endless sprawl of rolling emerald and gold. The boats came from the Empire's Ministry, sunlight glinting off five domes at the horizon's edge.
This was the last flotilla of the afternoon. He would be on one of those boats. My target. Colonel Drake Kell.
My throat was dry. Strange that it could get so dry on a world that was nothing but water. I tried to tell myself it wasn't fear. But it was.
I wiped sweat from my forehead. Again. Pol must have noticed. <You need to relax, Jakob. You've trained for this.>
<I know,> I replied, my words traveling down the little channel in my thoughts. That was how I communicated with the consciousness living inside my skull. Pol was what I called him. Short for Political Officer.
<You're ready for this,> he said.
I sucked in a deep, calming breath and tried to believe he was right. He should know. He'd been through this before. Countless times. For centuries, he—or one of his many duplicate consciousnesses—had been coaching operatives like me. More than a coach, though, he was a companion and a comrade. A confidant. A source of strength.
No way I could do this without him.
Crouching to stay hidden, I moved away from the wall, shoes crunching on broken tile. From the corner of my eye, I spotted a crab disappearing under a roof shingle. This planet was infested with the damn things.
A few more steps, and I'd moved far enough that nobody would see me if they looked up from the quay. I stood straight and stretched my arms to the cloudless sky, muscles gleefully unknotting.
I paced back and forth. Had to get the blood pumping. Get the circulation circulating.
Feeling refreshed, I moved back to the whitewashed wall, dropped back down to my knees, and checked for crabs before propping my elbows on the stone.
Chin resting in my right hand, I looked to the east. The flotilla was closer but still a long ways off. <You see how slow they move, Pol?>
Of course he did. He saw through my eyes and heard through my ears. <You must be patient.>
<How can they stand to move so slow? How do they ever get anything done?>
<You know they have no choice.>
I knew. The Sire's wisdom had been drilled into me all my life. I was from Korda, home world of the Sire. A world at the center of an empire of ten thousand worlds.
I'd traveled a long way to get to Maritinia, an ocean-covered planet on the farthest fringe of the Outermost Ring. Like all the other worlds in the Outermost Ring, it was too far from the Empire's Core to be controlled at gunpoint. The Empire was far too vast to station armies and fleets in every corner.
A more clever solution was required: population control by means of technology control.
For the Maritinian people, that meant no technology. None at all. No plastics or metals. No electricity. No computers or robots or engines. Nothing beyond wheel, pulley, and lever.
Assert technological control and with it came political control. Such was the wisdom of the Sire.
<But look at them, Pol,> I said with a grin. <Couldn't we just slip them a couple outboard motors?>
<You say that because you're impatient. The Sire's wisdom is long-term. Besides, they have the squids.>
Yes. They had the squiddies. I supposed that was better than paddling. Not much faster, though.
A small contingent of roughly one hundred of the Empire's finest soldiers and administrators could manage a tech-restricted world like this one. It led to a remarkably stable system. It had worked since the Empire's founding three thousand years ago.
But not anymore. Not here. Maritinia had gone rogue.
And one of my mission's numerous goals was to find out why.
But first the traitor had to die.
If only those boats would hurry up. Infuriating things moved like drugged snails.
The waiting was the worst part. So much nerve-wracking, hair-pulling, crazymaking time to fuss and worry. Fourteen months since the Eyes and Ears of the Empire gave me my orders. Fourteen months. Maritinia was that far.
But those fourteen months were the easy part—I was training. I was doing. I'd made landfall eight days ago, though. Eight days with nothing to do but wait. And watch the tide go in and out. And think.
A sharp pinch made me jerk my elbow away from the wall. I rubbed the sore spot and looked down to see a pair of pincers retreating under a stone. Damn crabs got me again.
<You got too close. You have to be more careful.>
<Oh, there's a helpful nugget. I wish you could feel pain, Pol. I really do.>
I unbuttoned my sleeve and reached inside to rub the skin near my elbow. <I hate this place.>
I missed Korda. Illustrious home of the Sire. A civilized world. We'd tamed that fickle Mother Nature millennia ago. Smothered her by blanketing the globe with so many cities that they'd merged into one enormous metropolis that wrapped the entire planet in stone and steel. It was a beautiful place. A testament to the engineering skills of the Empire.
Looking to the setting sun, seeing the swaths of pink and purple sweeping the sky, I supposed this place had some natural appeal. But as far as I was concerned, it was the kind of appeal best appreciated in a painting.
Turning my gaze eastward, I saw that the flotilla of skiffs was finally getting close. Wouldn't be much longer now.
I felt the tension in my gut, springs winding tighter and tighter.
To distract myself, I turned my attention to a pair of barges coasting in from the north. They rode low in the emerald water, their holds pregnant with kelp. Gliding to a stop, the barges were boarded by sweat-soaked Jebyl dockhands, who began the tough work of wrestling sopping bails of kelp down bamboo ramps to the pier, where woolly mammoths flapped their ears while awaiting their cargo.
I always knew that life in the Outermost Ring was different, but this world, with its winds and rains, and its rotten-fish stench, and its disfigured beggars, and barefoot children was so … so … crude.
At times, I wondered if the Empire should even bother retaking this planet. But all the ten thousand worlds served their purpose. The Sire smiled upon those who contributed, no matter how small. How these people could've shunned Him, I didn't know.
The sun dropped below the watery horizon, the cool of dusk already on the air. Me, I was still sweating.
Sun departed, the rolling swells of the sea had lost their sparkle, and emerald water faded to a mosslike green. The golden kelp fields could hardly be called golden anymore. More like brown mustard now. And the domes of the Empire's Ministry in the distance had lost their luster, brilliant silver dimmed down to the dull gray of concrete.
It was as if the sun had pilfered this world's only riches on its way out.
Only the skyscreens still shone brightly, the stern-faced Admiral Dii Mnai—the self-appointed ruler of Free Maritinia—looking down on Maringua, his capital city. The man was a mystery to us. After seizing control, he'd severed communication with the rest of the Empire, and we'd not had much information on him beforehand. For a world like Maritinia, there had never seemed a need.
The voice came from deep inside my head. <Jakob? You're going to miss the colonel.>
I jerked my eyes back to the docks. <I know. I know.> Eyes on the docks.
<Do you see him?> asked Pol.
I did. Colonel Kell was easy to spot, his walking pace seemingly twice as fast as anybody else's. Of course, to me his bustling stride was normal. Kell was from Korda just as I was, his internal metronome forever swinging at a citified tempo. I watched him and his two guards move along the quay, coming in my direction.
<Are you ready, Jakob?>
Dread welled up from deep inside. Brittle nerves felt ready to snap. But I swallowed hard and answered in the affirmative. I can do this, I told myself. I can.
My knees creaked and cracked as I stepped across roof tiles and down a set of stairs that led to a meandering marketplace. I strolled past the first two fish stalls before turning right and exiting onto the quay just in time to fall in step about ten feet behind the colonel and his guards.
Kell moved with authority, head up, shoulders square, each step perfectly placed. His bootheels clacked sharply on the stone, precisely the way you'd expect of a lifelong military officer, one who clearly still knew how to handle himself. He was a real man, this Kell, a decorated veteran of the Secession Skirmishes, commander of dozens of ops, a true leader, and later a diplomat.
I was no match for Kell. My training wasn't good enough or long enough. What in Sire's name had I gotten myself into?
Until fourteen months ago, I was just an Analyst Second Class, a fancy title for a simple bureaucrat. A pastry-eating, coffee-and-cream-drinking, clock-punching pencil pusher complete with a wardrobe full of nothing but dark-toned suits that needed to be let out an inch per year.
A lifelong slacker foolishly trying to live up to Daddy's expectations. I was a pretender. A fraud …
<I wouldn't get too close, Jakob.>
<Right.> I slowed down, taking one step for every two of my hyper heartbeats. Letting Kell reel out a ways, I allowed the crowd to swallow every bit of him except for his cap, which bobbed regularly into view.
From experience, I knew early evening was a busy time on the quay. Tethered boats would take on supplies. Wheelbarrows full of fish would head for the markets, eel tails hanging over the edges. Herds of mammoth would be shepherded into their stables by gangs of young boys adept at the most deaf-making whistling I'd ever heard.
But tonight all that commotion was invisible to me.
The only thing I could see was the traitor's cap.
The only thing I could hear was the insistent hammer of my heart.
The time was near. Time to do the job I was sent to do.
Assassinate the colonel.
Nobody could see me do it. Nobody could ever find his body. Because once he was dead, I was going to take his place.
Meet the new Colonel Drake Kell.

Waiting on Wednesday: The Very Best of Kate Elliott

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Very Best of Kate Elliott
Expected publication: February 10th 2015 by Tachyon Publications

Strong heroines and riveting storytelling are the hallmark of groundbreaking fantasy author Kate Elliott (Crown of Stars, Crossroads). Elliott is a highly-compelling voice in genre fiction, an innovative author of historically-based narratives set in imaginary worlds. This first, retrospective collection of her short fiction is the essential guide to Elliott’s shorter works. Here her bold adventuresses, complex quests, noble sacrifices, and hard-won victories shine in classic, compact legends.

In “The Memory of Peace,” a girl’s powerful emotions rouse the magic of a city devastated by war. Meeting in “The Queen’s Garden,” two princesses unite to protect their kingdom from the blind ambition of their corrupted father. While “Riding the Shore of the River of Death” a chieftain’s daughter finds an unlikely ally on her path to self-determination.

Elliott’s many readers, as well as fantasy fans in search of powerful stories featuring well-drawn female characters, will revel in this unique gathering of truly memorable tales.


I know you're never supposed to judge a book by its cover . . . but look at that cover! Seriously, Elliott is one of those authors I really know I should be reading more of (Crown of Stars, Crossroads, and Jaran are all on my TBR list), and these best-of anthologies are a great way to begin. I just nabbed a digital ARC, so I'll be getting started on it soon.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Tips for Surviving a Killer by Lincoln Crisler (GUEST POST)

Tips for Surviving a Killer

In the wake of Skinjumper’s publication, it occurs to me that I should attempt to provide some sort of public service, instead of simply shilling my novel. So, I got together with my significant other—to whom the book’s dedicated, by the way, to brainstorm some tips for surviving a killer. She has a Masters’ Degree in Psychology, not to mention a real education—ten years of living with me! These are in no particular order. Keep in mind, not all of these will apply to all situations or all killers, and you’ll probably only have a chance to try one or two—so choose wisely!

  • The best sort of tools for a more aggressive approach can probably be found in the kitchen or garage. You may have seen this written elsewhere as the stereotypical “don’t piss a woman off in the kitchen, or a man in the garage,” but I personally (Lincoln) would be more dangerous in a kitchen, and I’ve met women who’d be more dangerous in the garage. But chances are, one of these places would be your place of power if a killer came after you in your home.
  • The macho approach might not work, though. Connie advises not necessarily trying to “out-Alpha” a killer, because the wrong sort (is there a right sort?) would take that as a challenge to step their game up, making things even worse for the victim.
  • Try to play on their sympathies. Connie thinks women could parlay a “bathroom” or “feminine issues” excuse into a chance at escape while I’m thinking one could possibly ask for a last cigarette, giving him or her the chance to grab the “pack” from a drawer where a weapon is hidden.
  • In a similar vein, Connie advises maybe asking the killer about their motivations and offering sympathy of your own. Humanizing themselves in their own eyes could help you. Try to get to the root of their issue and let them know you feel for them—at least until you can get to a weapon or a lockable door. You can, of course, humanize yourself by talking about your family, your job, etc. Psychopathic killers don’t view people as “people” the way normal folks do.
  • Finally, don’t investigate loud noises when you’re home alone, look behind you when you’re running away or herd yourself into a room from which there’s no alternate route of escape. You know; if you’ve seen it in a movie, don’t do it.
  • And, if all else fails, you can always SING:


If you think you might be ready to tackle my killer, you can check out the first chapter of Skinjumper here.

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About the Author

LINCOLN CRISLER has been writing and editing horror and science fiction since 2006. His first novel-length collection, Queen & Other Stories, is now on sale from Apokrupha. His debut novel, Skinjumper, and third anthology are scheduled for publication in the fall. A United States Army combat veteran and non-commissioned officer, Lincoln lives in Augusta, Georgia.






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About the Book

Skinjumper by Lincoln Crisler
Published November 24, 2014 by Ragnarok Publications

Rose Bennett, a young, recently-widowed mother, comes face to face with a newly-minted murderer and learns that there are much scarier things than raising a child alone in an unfamiliar town. Terry Miller has discovered three things in a very short amount of time: his high school sweetheart's been cheating on him with his father, killing is fun, and if he does it just right, he can switch bodies with his victims.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

Another great week with some big titles making their way through my hands:


Congrats to Erin M on being the lucky winner of Prince Lestat!

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Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

Nothing new in the mail this week but, on the digital front, new arrivals included What's Dead Pussykat by Sam Stone (which caught my eye with it's promise of gargoyle-like monsters and a gaggle of vampire women), Journals of Horror edited by Terry M. West (which he offered up after my review of his novel earlier this week), A Play of Shadow by Julie E. Czerneda (which I'm still hoping will land on my doorstop as a physical review copy, but I just couldn't wait any longer), and The Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin (which I've been meaning to read for ages now, so an omnibus edition is very attractive).

 

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf:

Prince Lestat by Anne Rice
It's been a while since I last read Anne Rice, and I never expected to see another vampire tale but here it is. If you've yet to snag a copy, stop by on Monday for our Q&A and giveaway.

• Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish
A surprise review title that arrived on my doorstep and immediately caught my attention with its promise of  a modern-day “Indiana Jane” who reluctantly navigates the hidden supernatural world.


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Fantasy Review: The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley

In a stunning follow-up to The Emperor's Blades, Brian Staveley builds upon the character-driven adventure of the first book, expanding the history, mythology, and world-building to suitably epic proportions. More than that, The Providence of Fire reveals the treachery of the first book to be merely the opening gambit in a complex, wide-ranging game of conquest and rebellion.

Like the first book, this second volume follows our three protagonists - Adare, Valyn, and Kaden - through their own journeys to discover the truth about the situation in the Annurian capital, and to avenge the death of their father.

Those who felt Adare got shortchanged in the first book will find the narrative balance more to their liking here, although they may not necessarily like her role in the affairs of the Unhewn Throne. In fact, none of the siblings come off as entirely noble or heroic here, with each of them forced to make difficult choices, and ever more difficult alliances. Valyn starts out strongly, but slowly withdraws from the foreground as the book progresses, largely riding the wave of circumstance and waiting for his opportunity. As a result, the women of his wing get to step up and become narrative POV characters themselves. Kaden has a lot to say and even more to do, and there's no doubt he forcefully claims his role as a leader of empires, but his approach is not quite what we've come to expect. Having said that, he definitely grows and develops the most of anybody here, and you have to respect his ability to seize every opportunity and twist it to his own purposes.

None of that is a complaint, however, merely an observation of how much is going on in the novel. There are plots and counter-plots aplenty, with multiple armies on the march, and far more threats to the throne than were hinted at in the first book. Where I felt Staveley stumbled a bit in the plotting of The Emperor's Blades, I did say at the time that I suspected much of the story had yet to be revealed. Wow, was I ever right! As we discover, the empire is under siege from without and within, with spiritual, mythological, historical, and political foes each having a hand in the war that's brewing. By the end of this second volume, the entire conflict has been turned on its head, and we're left wondering what version of events we can trust. What originally seemed to merely be a play for power, a plot to seize the throne, may be a well-intentioned effort to save the empire from its own failings, or merely the opening gambit in a genocidal disaster.

The Providence of Fire is a massive tome - about 25% longer than the first book - that demands your full attention. It's a complex, complicated story, but that's precisely the kind of depth I was looking for here. It's just as well-written as the first, with the words flowing naturally upon the page, and the political strategies are just as fascinating as the battles. I'm not entire sure where he's heading with things, but I do hope the immortal/mythological element doesn't overwhelm the human struggle. It certainly adds an interesting facet to the tale, and really calls into question everything we assumed we knew about the events of the first book, but the siblings have to remain legitimate protagonists for the series to work. Fortunately, I think it's clear Staveley understands that balance, and I suspect there's still more complexities to be revealed as we move into book three.

Most definitely recommended.


Hardcover, 608 pages
Expected publication: January 13th 2015 by Tor Books