Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Hangover Giveaway-- "The Doomsday Vault" by Steven Harper

This is a giveaway for all the people out there (like me) who were too busy giving away candy to write up a real post for their blog. Courtesy of Penguin Books I have a copy of The Doomsday Vault: A Novel of the Clockwork Empire by Steven Harper to offer for giveaway.

In a clockwork Brittania, Alice's prospects are slim. At 21, her age and her unladylike interest in automatons have sealed her fate as an undesirable marriage prospect. But a devastating plague sends Alice off in a direction beyond the pale-towards a clandestine organization, mad inventors, life-altering secrets, and into the arms of an intrepid fiddle-playing airship pilot.

Just add your information to the form below to enter (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once the contest ends) and I will randomly pick a winner by Tuesday November 22nd. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

**Contest Closed**

"The Alloy of Law" by Brandon Sanderson

I have a confession to make; I haven't read the "Mistborn" trilogy. I've been meaning to for the longest time and even read a good portion of the first book. But, like so many reviewers, I got sidetracked by books that I had committed to review and and haven't returned to the series. But when I heard that The Alloy of Law was a book that I could read as a stand-alone novel, I jumped at the chance.

Waxillium Ladrian has lived in the Roughs for twenty years and made his name as a no-nonsense lawman. But Wax is also the heir to the Ladrian estate and when his uncle is killed in an accident, he is forced to return to the big city of Elendel and try to salvage the family fortunes that have been nearly ruined through years of mismanagement. It's a tough adjustment for Wax. The city might look mannerly on the surface but, in its own way, it's even more treacherous than the Roughs. Yet Wax is determined to do what is required of him, even considering a marriage of convenience, to set things right.

Also complicating matters is an unusual spate of robberies Elendel had been experiencing before Wax had returned from the Roughs and, though he is tempted to investigate, Wax decides to leave the problem in the hands of the local constables. But when the robberies begin to escalate to kidnappings the crimes become harder to ignore. And when someone close to Wax becomes the latest victim he has no choice but to get involved.

At first glance "The Alloy of Law" looks to be a steampunk fantasy. But Elendel is moving into a modern electrical era and one is more likely to see electric lights rather than steam powered mechanicals. The feel is definitely that of a magical Wild West thanks partly to the style of dress that incorporates bowler hats and cravats as well as multiple discreetly hidden pistols. The railroad is still a big part of life in Elendel as mechanical cars are yet too expensive for common use and a horse and carriage are still the most common way to get around the big city. The upward mobility of the technology is rather useful to a Twinborn like Wax (known as a "Crasher," the mix of a Coinshot and a Skimmer) who is able to draw on metals like iron and steel for power.

“The Alloy of Law” is lighter in tone than I thought it would be and it has a sense of adventure that is a lot of fun. At its heart it’s a story of friendship, loyalty and honor. Wax is torn between a longing for his old life and a commitment to his new one. When his friend and protégé Wayne shows up hoping to encourage Wax to investigate the robberies committed by the Vanishers, the story is given an extra depth as the interactions between the two reveal more about Wax’s struggle than any part of the earlier narrative. The banter between the two characters has a natural flow and makes it easy to connect to the story.

But if I had to pick my favorite aspect of the story it would have to the powers displayed by Waxilliam and Wayne. Because "The Alloy of Law" is a book that comes later in a well-established series, the system of magic isn't spelled out as specifically as it would have been in earlier books and it is assumed the reader will have some basic understanding already. If you're like me, and coming to the book without the foundation of the earlier books, the mechanics of Ferumancy and Allomancy-- as the magical systems are called--can seem a little confusing. I understand little more than the fact that metal is the conductor and that a person can 'push' or 'pull' on a metal to propel themselves around space, draw or repel a metal object, and speed-up or slow-down time within a limited space. But one doesn't need to fully understand the mechanics to really enjoy the way the characters soar through the air. The fight scenes have such a flair to them that I couldn't help but envision a Wild West version of "The Matrix" and I found myself nurturing the hope that I might see this on a movie screen someday. Gunfights on a speeding train have never been this cool before.

Having been a fan of Sanderson ever since I read "Elantris" I had high hopes for "The Alloy of Law" and they were definitely fulfilled. It amazes me that Sanderson can write so many books, including doorstops like "The Way of Kings," and yet write so consistently well. I also think he has shown considerable growth since "Elantris" when it comes to writing dialog (the only weakness I thought existed in that book) and I really enjoyed the interplay between the characters. "The Alloy of Law" also has a very strong sense of atmosphere and a well-drawn culture. I wish that I had gone into the book having read the earlier Mistborn trilogy because I was unable to fully understand references to characters, now legends, from the earlier books, but that's something I plan on remedying immediately. The book also surprised me in that it didn't turn out to be a stand-alone book after all and there will surely be sequels to follow. But I wasn't at all disappointed thanks to great characters, lots of action and an engrossing setting. I can't wait to read more.

4 and a half  out of 5 stars.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Audiobook Review: Thorn and Talon by Dan Abnett

Though this Audio Drama from The Black Library isn’t due to come out until early December, after giving it a listen I just knew I had to review it in time for Halloween. These are some great eerie tales set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe; very different from any of my prior experiences with this series. Over the course of two discs, three short stories unfold starting with the tale of…

Master Imus’s Transgression

In a universe in which magic and the supernatural are caused by Chaos – an energy originating in hyperspace and responsible for the creation of all manner of demons, is it any wonder that a strange occurrence might occur even in the most mundane of jobs? Master Imus is a bookkeeper, an accountant, who has come to Inquisitor Eisenhorn to turn himself in for discovering a forbidden number. It is the number of Chaos itself, capable of hiding other numbers as well as itself, and possibly even more dangerous should it fall into the wrong hands. Now Eisenhorn must determine how this lowly bookkeeper came to discover the number; was it purposeful or is there a larger picture.

I thought this story was perfect for my first introduction to Eisenhorn. He remains a bit of an enigma at the beginning of the tale, as it is told from Imus’s perspective and the listener only knows as much as Imus himself does (or reveals to Eisenhorn). I quickly realized that the Inquisitors such as Eisenhorn fit into a much different story structure than what I’ve been exposed to so far in WH40K fiction. Up until now, they’ve been very focused on the war and the Astartes supersoldiers as well as the religious aspects which are merged into their crusades against alien civilizations as well as the human heretics.

But here what we have is more like a detective story, taking place within the trappings of the WH40K universe, and all the “rules” created within that framework. There are a couple of fairly horrific moments within this story, where the actors really convey the intensity of the scenes and brought it all to life. It was during this first story that I began to think that this might be a perfect listening experience for just prior to Halloween. That feeling only continued with…

Regia Occulta

Inquisitor Eisenhorn finds himself stuck for an extended stay on a backwater world, and as a lark decides to help out a Commissar who is investigating a series of murders which appear to have been committed by a serial killer. Normally that would be below Eisenhorn’s station, but as he begins to look closely at the victims, he starts to wonder if this isn’t a much bigger case than he at first imagined.

As the second story featuring Eisenhorn, this continued to be a great way to expand upon what I had already learned about him in the first story. He is a Psyker (think psychic powers) but now we learn that he can talk to the recently deceased, turning this into a bit of a ghost story. As we learn more about his abilities though, we also learn more about his limitations – exposure to Chaos energy can have a debilitating effect on him, and he is not as all-powerful as an Astartes warrior as he and the Commissar ultimately face off against the killer.

I thought the twist of the link to the physical location was a great hook for the story, though I’m loathe to mention any more without ruining it. While I enjoyed the previous tale, this story really convinced me that this was going to be a favorite in the Black Library Audio Dramas. The sound effects and voice work were just top-notch here, which only continued in…

Thorn Wishes Talon

The whole cast of characters (and actors) comes together to tell this story of Eisenhorn’s greatest pupil, Ravenor, who responds to a summons from his teacher to a world of apocalyptic cultists. Ravenor and his team of warriors and psychics come under heavy resistance from the cultists as they infiltrate an ancient alien ruin, but what awaits them there may be even more disturbing. Because Eisenhorn has learned what the cultists know – that one of Ravenor’s team will be responsible for bringing into our universe a Chaos demon who will be disguised in human form, a powerful creature who just may bring about the apocalypse. But can they trust Eisenhorn, who appears himself to be in league with a Chaos demon he once battled…

This again for me was my first introduction to Ravenor and his team, and it’s well done for any newcomers. He has five people reporting to him, each of whom has a very distinct personality and specialties which make them important to the story. The listener even gets a glimpse into the backgrounds on a few of them through the course of the tale, including Ravenor himself, who is a rare handicapped character being confined to a hoverchair (wheelchair-like) construct since losing most of his body in battle.

I’ve already mentioned the entire cast participating this time around, and of course that brought it all together nicely. Likewise it was interesting to see Eisenhorn much later in his career, referred to here by some of Ravenor’s team as an “old-man”. But the sound effects, which have been spectacular up until this point, and the music reach a pinnacle in Thorn Wishes Talon. Between the rainstorm which is linked to the psychic demons and their unearthly screams, to the thundering of the giant mechanical Titan, and the flow of the music – this entire Audio Drama is a feast for the ears.

Just when I begin to wonder if my love of The Black Library’s Audio Dramas has begun to wear off, one comes in and just blows me away. Perhaps it’s partially because of Dan Abnett’s writing, but the audio work is fantastic this time around as well, doing exactly what the best of these books should do by immersing you in the story. If you’re going to check out an Audio Drama by the Black Library, I can think of few better than to start with Thorn and Talon.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What if Superheroes Were Zombies

I followed a link posted by John DeNardo from SF Signal to Naldz Graphics and came across some striking artwork that transforms our favorite superheroes into zombies. Here are a few examples.

Now those would make some interesting Halloween costumes wouldn't they? Click HERE to see more.

"Chronicle" Trailer

I just stumbled across this. It looks like it has potential to be interesting in a low-budget kind of way.

Chronicle: February 2012

Three high school friends gain superpowers after making an incredible discovery. Soon, though, they find their lives spinning out of control and their bond tested as they embrace their darker sides.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday

This is a blog meme hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine

This week's can't wait to read selection is:

Seven Princes (Books of the Shaper)
by John R. Fultz
Orbit Books
January 3, 2012

An Age of Legends

An ancient sorcerer threatens the balance of the Five Kingdoms. He arrives, unannounced, to slaughter the court of the King of Yaskatha. Only Prince D'zan and his bodyguard survive the horrors as the dead walk and the blood runs.

An Age of Heroes

Now, D'zan must call upon his father's allies to reclaim his throne. Seven Princes from across all the lands— the three sons of the Giant King Vod, the Princes of Uurz — a natural leader of men and his brother, the scholar - and the war-like Andoses, heir to the throne of Shar Dni. Each are loyal to their own cause and each has their own destiny.

An Age of War

But not all destinies are legend. Some will fight. Some will fall. Some will rise. One thing is certain— war is coming. Princes will clash and blood will run.

This looks like some good, old-school fantasy.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Giveaway! "I. Robot: To Protect" by Mickey Zucker Reichert

Courtesy of Penguin Books I have one copy of  I, Robot: To Protect by Mickey Zucker Reichert to offer for giveaway.

First in an all-new trilogy inspired by Isaac Asimov's legendary science fiction collection I, Robot.

2035: Susan Calvin is beginning her residency at a Manhattan teaching hospital, where a select group of patients is receiving the latest in diagnostic advancements: tiny nanobots, injected into the spinal fluid, that can unlock and map the human mind.

Soon, Susan begins to notice an ominous chain of events surrounding the patients. When she tries to alert her superiors, she is ignored by those who want to keep the project far from any scrutiny for the sake of their own agenda. But what no one knows is that the very technology to which they have given life is now under the control of those who seek to spread only death...

Just add your information to the form below to enter (all information is guaranteed confidential and will be discarded once the contest ends) and I will randomly pick one winner by Tuesday November 15th. No multiple entries please-- all multiple entries will be discarded. Open everywhere.

Good luck!

**Contest Closed**

"This Means War" Trailer

Chris Pine? Tom Hardy? I'm in!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Yes, You Can Sell A Book By It's Cover

I just saw the cover to "Blackbirds" by Chuck Wendig-- and now I want to read this book. All it takes is that cover and the one-line blurb posted at Angry Robot,  Meet Miriam Black. She knows how you’re going to die. And when. It’s now. Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig. In stores and online in May 2012, -- and I'm sold. Isn't it gorgeous?

But I've always been a sucker for a good cover-- which is probably why I like fantasy so much. There's nothing better than reading a good book and pausing to look at the cover; something I miss when I read a book on my eReader.

I just got "Alloy of Law" by Brandon Sanderson in the mail and the cover is awesome in person, though I would have read the book if it was wrapped in a brown paper bag. But, as with "Blackbirds," I can be persuaded to pick up a book almost entirely on the merits of its cover; the last such book being "The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer" (which was unfortunately not as compelling inside as I had hoped).

I find that I'm often drawn to covers that have a gauzy, ethereal style or bright splashes of color-- which presents a problem in that I'm not always in tune with the story that goes with the cover. YA fiction seems to have some of the most striking covers but I'm not always too interested in what follows.  The title of "The Treachery of Beautiful Things" seem really appropriate in this context-- don't you think?

When I was younger I was fascinated by the covers to "The Snow Queen" and "The Summer Queen" by Joan D. Vinge-- I still think they're fantastic.

The downside to my visual preferences is that when I see an unappealing book cover I immediately pass judgement on the book behind the facade. Self publishing has produced some really unfortunate examples.

I kind of feel bad for pointing that out....but what is going on with the strange silhouettes and the floating, disembodied suit of armor? And the middle one? I think I'm actually a little more put off by the title.

But self-publishing doesn't have a bad-cover monopoly. Here are a few that caught my eye that went through the traditional publishing process.

I'm not sure what's going on here. Is she feeding him a freakishly large strawberry?

What happened to Wonder Woman?

I've picked this up a few times but I'm always put off by the cover-- it looks like bad Photoshop. (A shame because I think the book might actually be pretty good-- I think this is one for the eReader).

I admit it, I'm shamelessly superficial. I should know better because I've read many, many books that don't live up to their covers-- and vice versa.  How about you? Do you shop by book cover, or are you more evolved than that?