Friday, August 17, 2018

Microrreview [book]: Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio

Empire of Silence starts a new space opera series, chronciling the rise to power of a protagonist who is destined to do great and terrible things to alien species and humanity alike.

Hadrian Marlowe is a criminal, on the edge of his survival, captured and scheduled to be executed for his crimes. We are told he is guilty of genocide of an alien species, and mass murder, including that of the Emperor himself, destroying a sun and killing billions of human beings in the process. He is a terrible, mythic figure in the far future he inhabits. And now he is stands ready to tell his story to readers.

Empire of Silence starts his life story, starting with his upbringing as the son of an Archon, the presumptive heir to a rich and powerful noble who is himself one of the most powerful vassals to his liege lady (the mother of his wife). In other words, it is a position of privilege and wealth and power undreamed in a far future feudal future. Hadrian does not want particularly to be Heir, he would rather be a scholar. However. his father has plans of his own for his son, and they revolve around the powerful religious arm of the Empire, the Chantry. The collision of those desires land Hadrian on a distant planet, with nothing save a chance to rise to his terrible destiny.

There are some interesting things the book does well. There are touches of the worldbuilding that really sung to me as a reader. The main character is very interested in languages, has multiple languages under his belt, and so the text spends lots of time with other languages, their nature and structure  The book  makes use of those other languages as a tool for description as well as worldbuilding and character development. In the moment, in the head for these details, the novel shows it's richness and strength, best.

There is a rich and varied universe in here, too, beyond language. There are extensive appendices at the back with names, planets, and concepts and these concepts are also well introduced into the book. The author spares nothing in filling his world with these concepts. The appendices explain that the book is a translation into classical English, with approximations, which is why the book is full of classical references and names, especially for military terms. This does reinforce the feudal future nature of the world, but gives it a Greco-Roman cast to that feudal future more than a Medieval one.

For all the novel tries to do well, there is, for me as a reader, a gigantic and unmistakable flaw in it’s worldbuilding and that is the ill conceived sense of scale and expanse of the Empire and other polities around it.  We are told and shown very early that the Empire is very big, huge, sprawling across arms of the galaxy in size. It’s been around for millenia. And yet, the faster than light travel that the Empire and other worlds have is painfully slow and the distances are just too vast for believability that this entity could last. Hadrian wants, early on, to be a emotion-free scholar like his beloved tutor Gibson, a scholiast. He is told that as he gets on board the vessel, that it will take a total of 13 years and that he has to be a cryogenic freezer for the trip. And this seems to be the norm, since there are passengers who have already been on the ship in the freezers for 21 years, on a voyage to yet somewhere else. These time frames just don’t work in the real world. How can the Empire maintain itself and keep from fracturing again and again when it takes years for the Empire to actually do anything. There is a FTL communications system, which does help, but if it takes years for an Imperial fleet to get to a rebellious system, that system has plenty of time to lay in enough surprises for any incomers.

Trade and commerce are even worse. What merchant on a spaceship is going to take a ten year journey in a freezer with only automatic controls to guide oneself? Especially since there are no guarantees that bad things won’t happen on the far end because of failed technology? Or, oops, in the four years it took you to get there from the next system over, the planet has a plague and you can’t even refuel, sorry. Also there is a mention at one point that the alien indigenous members of a planet had been taken off world to others, as use as slaves. How? How did they manage to freeze them successfully in the first place, given how little they actually know about the alien’s biology?  The book also makes uranium of all things, an extremely valuable resource, enough that it’s made the fortune of the Marlowe family. That’s really this galaxy-spanning civilization can do? Uranium? Even with the theoretical technological restrictions?

The problem of Hadrian, though, is inescapable even when the novel was head-down on a planet and the worldbuilding of the galaxy could be ignored. We remain entirely in Hadrian’s point of view, without deviation, and frankly, if you are going to serve up a main character who has a grand destiny to stride the stars, parallax is precisely what you need. Even Irulan-style epigrams would have been welcome to give us some perspective outside of the man’s own head. Instead, I felt trapped with a character I wanted perspective on more than a deep dive into his discursive thoughts.

In addition, Empire of Silence, in my opinion,  is trying too hard to be Dune. Although as noted above, there is plenty of invention, a fair amount of it is in straight up aping of Herbert’s novels. The parallels get repetitive in the worldbuilding over, and over. Religious order with lots of power and independent of the Emperor. Check. Strong theoretical bias against certain kinds of technology. Check (although that prohibition and regulation seems to often be more lip service than anything we see inside the story). Personal shields that stop missile and beam weapons but not hand to hand combat? Check. People trained to work with statistics and logic, instead of forbidden computers. Check. Past History that hints at a revolt and reaction against Artificial Intelligences. Check. Atomic weapons possessed by Houses, but not allowed to be used. Check. Intrigue between Houses, including the importance of bloodlines. Check. Hints at a cosmic, grand destiny for the main character right from the start. Check. It became a game for me to try and spot these sorts of things as the novel progressed. The main character starts on a lush edenic world where he has power, journeys to another world, loses his power and status, and has to build it up again. Instead of a desert world, he is on a ocean dominated world. And so forth.

By the end, with Hadrian’s life story only partly begun, I felt something I should not feel at the end of reading a book: relief. I am, sadly, not inclined to read more in the universe. Starting off with this being a Confessions style narrative tells me that I know where Hadrian Marlowe is going to end up...and frankly, there is a lack of interest in the character for me as a reader to want me to fill in the gap between the ending of this book, and his imprisonment. Certainly, parts of the world are rich and interesting, even if as an aggregate it makes no sense, but the desire to see more of the universe when I am not invested in Hadrian enough to want to do so? No.


Baseline Assessment 6/10

Bonuses : +1 for strong and interesting individual ideas on worlds and cultures
+1 for immersive description

Penalties : -1 for the inescapable problems of the basic space opera conceit.
-1 for a lack of perspective on a main character badly in need of one.
-1 for trying too much to ape a classic SF novel without being it’s own thing

Nerd Coefficient :5/10: problematic, but has redeeming qualities

Reference:  Ruocchio, Christopher: Empire of Silence[DAW, 2018]

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.

Ruocchio, Christopher [2018]

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Gen Con From Afar

It has been two years since I have made it to Gen Con and I found myself glued to my social media feed lamenting with the other GenCan't participants. Despite not actually attending the convention, I am happy to report on some of the big developments that I enjoyed.

Games Generating Buzz:
Nyctophobia by Pandasaurus Games - Nyctophobia is the fear of the dark and is from first time game designer Catherine Stippell.  Catherine wanted a game she could play with her uncle, who is blind, and developed this semi-cooperative game that features up to four players who wear black out sunglasses and have to rely on verbal communication and by feeling near them on the board. In Nyctophobia, one player assumes the role of a villain right out of a horror film that is pursuing the other players in the woods. The players have to navigate a maze of trees to accomplish their objective and make it to their escape vehicle. As I mentioned earlier, the survivors can only feel their immediate surroundings and need to communicate effectively to one another if they hope to survive. This is one I have had the good fortune of playing and it is unlike any other tabletop experience I have had.

Forbidden Sky by Gamewright - We finally have a new cooperative Forbidden game from designer Matt Leacock.  Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert are staples in my house and I am very excited to take to the sky! Players are in the center of a storm and have to connect a series of wires to power their escape rocket. Gamewright only sold 100 copies of this game per day so I will have to wait until September until I can play this one with my family.

Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr by Hub Games -If you have ever wanted to play a board game in which you are part of a nursing staff who provides care for the terminally ill you are in luck! In this game you are tasked with trying to save Billy Kerr who just had a massive heart attack.  You do this by delving into his troubled past and piecing together his memories. The goal is to get him to confront his regrets so he can die in peace. This is a game I definitely want to try, but I'm not sure how often I could play a game with this heavy of a theme.

Big Announcements:
Machi Koro Legacy - Pandasaurus Games surprised everyone when they announced that Machi Koro is getting the legacy treatment! The godfather of legacy games himself, Rob Daviau, teamed up with JR Honeycutt to figure out a way to allow players to experience a 10 game narrative set in the Machi Koro Universe. At the end of your 10 game journey, players have a unique edition of Machi Koro that they can play with their friends. Definitely going to pick this one up to play with the family.

Return to Dark Tower - Restoration Games was somehow able to figure out the murkey copyright issues with Dark Tower and announced a sequel to the game that came out in 1981. In the game players must work together to gather resources, fight off bad guys, and ultimately take on the tower itself. Restoration Games has produced some amazing titles thus far (I can't wait to get Fireball Island!) and they don't seem to be slowing down.

POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Thursday Morning Superhero

Pick of the Week:
Babyteeth #12 - This series has evolved effectively and we are treated to a quieter issue that lulls the reader into a false sense of security only to have the rug swept out from under them. Sadie is desperate to return to the Red Realm to save her son.  The only person who is capable of opening it from this side is Simon, a child who recently returned from the Red Realm and his mother doesn't want him to endure any more pain. As a parent this issue really resonated with me and I think it is a big reason why I have enjoyed this series as much as I have. The dialogue between Sadie, her father, and Simon's mother is very moving, when they aren't shouting at each other. The tease at the end of the issue has me salivating for issue #13.

The Rest:
Ether: The Copper Golems #4 - Boone and his crew manage to shut down one of the portals being powered by a copper golem, but don't quite understand who is opening these portals between the Ether and Earth and their motivation. Their journey brings them to the Enchanted Primeval Forest where they are greeted by a master storyteller who enchants most of the group in a series of tales tapped to their inner most psyche. This allows us to experience a series of mini-comics within this story that are an absolute delight. Not sure how Matt Kindt and David Rubin will be able to wrap things up with the next issue, but I will  be there for it.

Gideon Falls #6 - The first chapter in this series reached a stunning conclusion in a very trippy issue. Father Fred is attempting to save Clara and has an unexpected trip in and out of the mysterious Black Barn that is a central force in this series. I don't pretend to understand what the Black Barn is, but Clara's brother is involved and there are dark forces at play. Meanwhile, Noton and his therapist have found the door to the Black Barn and hatch a plan to assemble it. Very curious to see what happens as Norton begins to assemble the pieces of the Black Barn he has been collecting throughout the city of Gideon Falls and I'm worried that we will meet Clara's brother in the near future and it doesn't bode well.

POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

My First Gen Con

96 Hours at the Biggest Gaming Convention

For the last few years, Gen Con has been something both too close and too far away. I've been either too cheap or too broke to attend, even though Indianapolis is (relatively) close to home. I decided to make the trip this year and I had a great time!

The Games

As my first Gen Con, I attended as a fan. I came to play games I don't get to play in my area. Pre-con, I signed up for six games across the four day con, one of The Strange, one of Numenera, and four of The Dark Eye. I knew these would be beginner/introduction type games, but I've owned all of them for a stretch of time and I just wanted a guided experience in playing them.

The Dark Eye - The Dark Eye (TDE) is Germany's version of D&D. It's their most popular RPG and has had one continuous setting that's evolved over its 30+ years. As it was described to me at least twice, it's more Brothers Grimm than Tolkien. Each region of its setting is some form of ancient Europe, from a raiding viking nation, to warring dark age states, to Arabian Nights-esque deserts. In some ways, TDE is more complex than D&D.

The first aspect that stuck out the most to me was contested attack rolls. In D&D, and most RPGs, attacks are reduced to a single roll: your die roll modified by a skill bonus/penalty against a target/to-hit number that belongs to your enemy. The defender, more or less, stands there while the attacker takes a swing at them. TDE makes this a little more interactive. The attacker rolls against their own skill. When the attacker fails, it's because they missed. If they succeed, the defender doesn't just stand there. The defender gets to roll a dodge or parry against their own respective skill, which gets more difficult the more you have to do it in a single round. This back and forth can slow combat down even more than in other games, but it feels like it's giving more agency to both players, which high skill attackers having the ability to miss less often by rolling against their own numbers, and defenders get a chance to user their own skill to avoid the attacks. These are important because the penalties for damage are harsh in TDE, with successive life loss increasingly making it more difficult to act. In three game sessions, I don't think we killed anything, but we definitely damaged enemies to the point of retreating. I love this because it sets up a game where enemies can have names and grudges and reappear or redeem themselves, while D&D is largely a monster mash. Not that there's anything wrong with a monster mash.

The other interesting aspect is skill rolls, which require three dice rolls against three of your character's ability scores. That may sound like it's inviting three opportunities for failure, but your skill rating allows you to negate failures. This balancing effect means that you can more often succeed at skill checks in things that you're good at, and your level of success can be quantified because your remaining skill points improve the quality of your success. This also gives built-in narrative reasons reasons for failure. If you succeed on strength and agility during a climbing roll, but fail in courage, you've basically described for yourself how you failed; you're physically capable of climbing that thing, but in that moment you didn't have the heart.

I signed up for four games, but only attended the first three. In those three games, I bullied a serf as a good-looking viking-for-hire at a wedding between rival nations, I lost my temper and charged as fast as my dwarven warrior's legs would carry me at handful of orc slavers, and I deftly picked locks as a high-skill but extremely squishy thief. After three games, I'd seen enough to be thoroughly impressed.

Numenera and The Strange - (some light disclosure: I backed a kickstarter for an updated version of Numenera) I'm combining these because they're the same game system (the Cypher System) for two wildly different settings. Numenera takes place a billion years in the future, where we've lost knowledge of how technology and magic work so they're indistinguishable and wildly dangerous, and The Strange is like The Laundry Files meets Sliders. The Cypher System reduces ability scores to just Might, Speed, and Intellect, abstracts skills, and gives everyone disposable powerful magic items. It's kind of the opposite of TDE, where the GM rolls nothing but sets difficulty of the action, so every roll is unopposed. To affect these rolls, you can spend points out of your ability score pools. The catch is that these same pools count as your life counters, so physical damage drains your might, then your speed, then your intellect, and then you're dead. Since this wasn't an on-going campaign, everyone was pretty loose about using their ability pools, and no one died, but I could see how an on-going game would prompt more conservative play and result in more failed rolls. The settings were both interesting, but I think I enjoyed the octo-post-apocalyptic medieval world of Numenera more than the The Strange's bioengineered sci-fi dimension of Ruk.

Battletech - Hey, wait a minute. I didn't sign up for this! But I did skip on that last TDE session. I tried to get into a game of Dungeon Crawl Classics, but it was full, so I hopped over to the Battletech tables for a refresher on that system. It's still high on the number crunching and wargaming end of the spectrum. But my Jenner outmaneuvered my opponent's Panther and I got up in his face and lit him up like a Christmas tree. His PPC would've hurt if he landed a hit, but he couldn't make it happen. We ran out of time, but I scored it as a victory.

The books I brought from home that went completely unused.
The Exhibitor Hall

Whoa. This was my FLGS except packed full of people. Just games on games on utilikilts on dice on games. It was just an unholy amount of people and stuff in one place. I'm not much of a browser though, so my experience here was checking the map for a vendor I wanted to visit, squeezing through the hordes of people slow walking or browsing until I found them, checking out what they had, and then moving to the next vendor. So I saw a ton of stuff, but I'm allergic to pitches so I didn't stop to play much. I did walk out with my Numenera kickstarter rewards (two massive 400 page tomes), Scum and Villainy (Blades in the Dark in Space), The Sprawl (cyberpunk PbtA), and Vampire: The Masquerade V5.

Cyberpunk and space!
Stray Thoughts

There was a ton of cosplay, but I learned that for every picture in a Best Cosplay album, there's at least 50 okay cosplays that didn't make the cut. Good efforts but sometimes the seams were showing or I could tell what they were going for, sort of.

Here's a real shocker: no one really stank. I squoze through a ton of people in that exhibitor hall, and I wasn't constantly gagging on someone's body odor. Dumb stereotypes of stinky gamers were deeply challenged!

Another shocker: I didn't come home with con crud. Again, extremely close to a lot of people at times but didn't get sick at all!

I stayed at a hotel near the airport and that was a mistake. I'm cheap and those rooms were cheaper than downtown, but they're very isolated from everything (seriously, nearest gas station was a mile away), so everywhere I went was a 15 minute Lyft. I could've saved on Lyfts and spent that money on the hotel room. Lesson learned there.

I'm not going to bother taking any books next time I go. I took a small selection, but I got way more mileage out of my Kindle Fire with Dropbox and my game book PDFs. I made the mistake of picking up my Numenera kickstarter books before I was done for the day and had to carry them around everywhere to the detriment of my back.

There was essentially no D&D. Wizards of the Coast wasn't there. Some other people were running D&D games, but it was very surprising to me that the biggest RPG in America wasn't at the biggest gaming convention in the world.

"Includes PDF" is a decisive feature!
Next Time?

Will I go back? Almost definitely. Maybe not yearly, but I had a lot of fun and I'd love to go again. Next time, I'd like to explore more panels and opportunities to learn, but I'm definitely still going to play some games, new and familiar. And maybe take some pictures next time.


POSTED BY: brian, sci-fi/fantasy/video game dork and contributor since 2014

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Microreview [Book]: Latchkey by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Latchkey takes the genre-bending mythology of Archivist Wasp and grounds it in a bigger, busier world, creating a different but worthy reading experience.

First, a confession: I was never on the Archivist Wasp bandwagon when it first came out. While it was on my radar, it never quite bubbled up to the top of the list, and by last year it was just another title to sigh over when browsing the Small Beer Press catalogue. Maybe someday, I thought, once I've read all the other books, I can read that one... Anyway, it turns out the fastest way to push a book up your to-be-read pile is to win an ARC of its sequel, and thanks to the generosity of Mythic Delirium, Latchkey's publisher, I ended up doing just that. While I'll focus the rest of this review on talking about the book whose title is at the top of the page, let me just quickly note two things. First, my response to Archivist Wasp is that it's an objectively very accomplished and unusual book that was enjoyable but didn't quite hit me in the way it seems to have done for others. (It also needs noting that this is a rare female-led YA without any romance plot). Second, it's going to be hard for me to review Latchkey without comparing it to its predecessor, which means there will be mild spoilers for Archivist Wasp itself. If you haven't had the pleasure of the first volume yet, I recommend you do so before reading on.

Latchkey opens several years after the events of Archivist Wasp, in a post-apocalyptic world where the ghosts of the dead are a constant presence. Isabel, formerly known as Wasp, used to be the Archivist - a young woman chosen through ritual combat to be the ghost hunter for a religious sect dedicated to an entity named Catchkeep. Following her adventures in the Underworld with a nameless ghost, learning about a pre-apocalyptic child soldier project called "Latchkey", Isabel has overthrown the abusive systems governing her own life and that of the girls around her (who, side note, were all being trained up to murder her in ritual combat themselves), and built a tentative relationship with the neighbouring town of Sweetwater. But her upbringing and experiences in the underworld have left Isabel with serious trauma, and its hard for her to connect with communities of people who had previously seen her as a rival or a weapon. In Latchkey, an existential threat to the village collides with the (literal) return of ghosts from Isabel's past, as it becomes clear that the route to saving her people's future, and to helping undo some of the harm inflicted on the ghosts of the Latchkey Project, are inextricably linked and in Isabel's hands.

Despite being a continuation of the story told in Archivist Wasp, with many of the same characters and a similar tone, Latchkey ends up hitting quite different notes to its predecessor. Where the first book was a slim, focused narrative with strong notes of a mythological journey - Wasp is literally travelling through the underworld, after all - Latchkey feels in some ways like a more straightforward blend of mystery and action. That's not intended to be a criticism, as the space the book opens up is put to great use showing us how Isabel's world has changed and expanded since her journey with the ghost, bringing a strong sense of wider community and more in-depth worldbuilding to the series. One basic but obvious thing is the different use of names: in Archivist Wasp, almost nobody has a name except for Catherine Foster, the ghost Wasp and her companion are tracking down; Wasp herself only reveals her true name under serious pressure, as part of a pivotal scene for her character. In contrast, Latchkey has a "normal" level of background names for all the people in Isabel's orbit, which immediately throws the questions of identity in Archivist Wasp into much sharper focus by contrast. As Isabel uncovers information about more of the Latchkey children, their names obviously become an integral part of the process of reclaiming their identities, and it makes the lack of name for "the ghost" (i.e. the original spirit who took Isabel to the underworld, who is himself a product of the Latchkey project) even more poignant.

The stronger plot thread for Isabel's "present" also means that Latchkey is a much busier book than Archivist Wasp. Most of the time, this is handled well, although I felt some of the balls got dropped on occasion. For example, a lot is made about evacuation of Sweetwater's non-fighting population into the subterranean tunnels, which ultimately only seems to serve as a vehicle for getting Our Heroes underground for an adventure despite lots of signalling about the kids not having enough supplies or responsible adults which ultimately comes to nothing. Also, the last 15% of the book feels like it's transparently heading for a cliffhanger ending, which is frustrating: if these scenes are setting up your next book, dear author, is it possible to put them in that book so I will actually have the right, fresh emotional reaction to them by the time that books comes out? I can see the logic behind subverting expectations and ending Latchkey with some quieter scenes completing the arc about reclaiming identity, rather than the more traditionally climactic battle, but because there's so obviously too much to do to wrap it up in the remaining pages, the execution didn't work for me.

In the end, I'm left personally very happy with where Latchkey took the story, but with some questions about execution and a sense that for some, the tonal direction this sequel takes might undermine the unique, detached feeling of the first volume. Archivist Wasp was so self-contained that this doesn't feel like a necessary continuation, but it's certainly one that makes the most of its foundations and delivers a strong, intriguing new facet to Isabel's world. I'm still not sure this is a series I'm ever going to love, but it's one that continues to interest me, and Kornher-Stace is doing a lot of very thoughtful, interesting things with Isabel's story that are sure to appeal to those who enjoy well-crafted genre-bending YA.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 Caused me to write a review where "gosh, most of the characters have names" seems like an insightful comment.

Penalties: -1 Could fall flat for long-time fans depending on what you liked about the original.

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10 "an enjoyable experience, but not without its flaws"

POSTED BY: Adri is a semi-aquatic migratory mammal most often found in the UK. She has many opinions about SFF books, and is also partial to gaming, baking, interacting with dogs, and Asian-style karaoke. Find her on Twitter at @adrijjy.

References: Kornher-Stace, Nicole. Archivist Wasp [Big Mouth Press, 2015]
                    Kornher-Stace, Nicole. Latchkey [Mythic Delirium, 2018]

Monday, August 13, 2018

Nanoreviews: Rock Manning Goes for Broke, Impostor Syndrome, Half-Off Ragnarok

Anders, Charlie Jane. Rock Manning Goes for Broke [Subterranean Press]

The opening chapters of Rock Manning Goes for Broke seemed awfully familiar and it wasn't until a bit later that I realized Anders was expanding her stories from the John Joseph Adams / Hugh Howey apocalyptic anthologies The End is Nigh / Now / Has Come. That is only to say that parts of this short novel may well feel familiar to other readers as well.

Rock Manning Goes for Broke is a gonzo over the top novel of guerilla film making that mixes up with some deadly serious militia and propaganda. Anders is one heck of a storyteller and as different as this is from All the Birds in the Sky, it's just about as good. It's short but packs a real punch.
Score: 7/10

Baker, Mishell. Impostor Syndrome [Saga]

Baker closes off her Arcadia Project trilogy with Impostor Syndrome and she swings for the fences. We get the internecine war within the Project itself, the seelie and unseelie fae are edging closer and closer to their own war if Millie Roper and her peers at the Los Angeles branch of the Project can’t get their own house in order, and Millie’s partner is wanted by the police for a murder he probably didn’t commit. Oh, and Millie’s borderline personality disorder seems to be deteriorating to the point that she’s barely holding on (compared to my memory of the first and second books – it was always there, but the stressors in Millie’s life are escalating – like the war).

I’m not sure Impostor Syndrome fully lived up to the promise and expectations set in Borderline and Phantom Pains. I want to say that she doesn’t quite stick the landing, but the landing is fine. It’s the wobbly part when all the balls in the air that somewhat exceed her grasp. This metaphor doesn’t exactly work. Something about Impostor Syndrome just didn’t work for me as much as the previous two books. It could be the pervasive and occasionally overwhelming destructive pain Millie is persevering through. It could be that Baker attempted to do just a little bit too much with this final book, but if that’s the case – it’s more impressive that she reached and strove to do more than to settle into something that might have been stronger but not as challenging to pull off. If you’ve come this far and read the first two, The Arcadia Project is worth finishing up. It’s just perhaps not as strong of a third novel as one might have hoped for.
Score: 6/10

McGuire, Seanan. Half-Off Ragnarok [DAW]

When I realized early on that Half-Off Ragnarok would not feature Verity Price, the protagonist of the first two Incryptid novels, I was skeptical. Alex was a new viewpoint character and I was very comfortable with Verity. I needn't have worried. It took a few chapters for Alex (or for me) to find the groove, but once the truth about a secondary character was revealed - the story took off in high gear and never looked back. In spite of my initial skepticism, Half-Off Ragnarok is now my favorite of the first three Incryptid novels.
Score: 7/10

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.

Friday, August 10, 2018

6 Books with Sam Hawke

Sam Hawke has wanted to write books since realising as a child that they didn’t just breed between themselves in libraries. Having contemplated careers as varied as engineer, tax accountant and zookeeper Sam eventually settled on the law. After marrying her jujitsu training partner and travelling to as many countries as possible, Sam now resides in Canberra, Australia raising two small ninjas and two idiot dogs. City of Lies is her debut novel.

Today she shares her 6 books with us...

Echoes of Understorey
1. What book are you currently reading?

Technically I’m on a fun hiatus because I’m behind on submitting my MS so I’m not allowed to read til I’m done writing – which means that I haven’t read any books for a few months (terribly depressing, I know). I just have a teetering pile of books I want to read. I’ll give you my couple from the top of the pile:
- Echoes of Understorey, by Thoraiya Dyer, which I hear is even better than the first Titan’s Forest book. Her worldbuilding and prose are always top notch!
- We Ride the Storm, by Devin Mason, which I picked up after I met and was utterly charmed by its excellent author at Continuum this year (the opening line is pretty spectacular, also!)
- Witchsign by Den Patrick, the Traitor God by Cameron Johnston, and From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris are all getting great reviews and are by cool people, so would like to get on top of those, too.

 2. What upcoming book you are really excited about?

Probably Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett is the one I’m looking forward to the most. He wrote one of my favourite fantasy trilogies of recent years (the Divine Cities) and Foundryside has the thieves and heists in city state, Locke Lamora kind of vibe that I dig. Special mention to The Monster Baru Cormorant (because the Traitor was amaaaaazing) though I am scared of how much it is going to hurt me.

  3. Is there a book you're currently itching to re-read?

I don’t know when I could possibly justify re-reading with my TBR pile but I have a very strong temptation to go back and do the entirety of the Realm of the Elderlings now that it’s complete. Robin Hobb did such an incredible job of bringing together threads from all the previous novels into the final book that I am really looking forward to rereading to pick up on all the subtleties I inevitably missed.

                                  4. How about a book you've changed your mind about over time--either                                              positively or negatively?

                                   There are books that definitely don’t hold up to an adult re-read and some I                                           suspect don’t but am too enamoured of my memories to try. I won’t name                                             names! :)

 5. What's one book, which you read as a child or young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?

Oh, that’s a tough one, isn’t it? We’re such sponges at that age, learning so much from writing without necessarily recognising what we’re learning. I do remember reading Catch 22 as a teenager and that being one of the first times I’d seen a scrambled narrative and such an effective combination of desolation and absurdist humour. It blew my mind.

6. And speaking of that, what's *your* latest book, and why is it awesome?

My debut, City of Lies just came out. It’s about a brother and sister whose family is responsible for protecting the ruling Chancellor, chiefly by poison testing, and who are forced to take on their roles earlier than expected when their uncle and the Chancellor are murdered with an unknown poison. The city is besieged and the siblings have to work together with their odd skillsets to find the traitor targeting the new Chancellor – their best childhood friend – and stop the city falling to aggrieved rebels. You might think it’s awesome if you like mystery/thriller/escalating tension in your fantasy, complicated family relationships, mysterious lore, non-patriarchal societies, and decent people trying to do the right thing in trying circumstances.


POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.