Monthly Archives: June 2012

Beyond the Wall edited by James Lowder

Go beyond the Wall and across the narrow sea with this collection about George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, from A Game of Thrones to A Dance with Dragons.

The epic game of thrones chronicled in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has captured the imaginations of millions of readers. In Beyond the Wall, bestselling authors and acclaimed critics offer up thought-provoking essays and compelling insights:

Daniel Abraham reveals the unique challenges of adapting the original books into graphic novels.
Westeros.org founders Linda Antonsson and Elio M. García, Jr., explore the series’ complex heroes and villains, and their roots in the Romantic movement.
Wild Cards contributor Caroline Spector delves into the books’ controversial depictions of power and gender.

Plus much more, from military science fiction writer Myke Cole on the way Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder shapes many of the leading characters to author and television writer Ned Vizzini on the biases against genre fiction that color critical reactions to the series.

Thanks BenBella Books and Smart Pop Books for providing me a review copy of Beyond the Wall. If you are a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire then you will definitely love the essays in Beyond the Wall. Each essay explores a different facet in A Song of Ice and Fire with contributors ranging from some of the biggest names in modern Fantasy to experts on the series.

My favourite essays were the ones that looked at things in the series that a casual reader would miss. Such as in “An unreliable World”, Adam Whitehead talks about how unpredictable seasons affect the ability for people to tell time. Due to this uncertainty, people in Westeros rely on personal anecdotes as a scale on history.

Daniel Abraham has a wonderful piece in this book detailing the difficulty in the story’s transition from book to comic. I always thought this is something very trivial to do and never imagined so much work must be put in to ensure there is a climax in each comic issue. Reading his essay also made me realise why the characters in the HBO series is a lot older. This is because the producers cannot legally show children in brutal situations.

In “Art Imitates War” Myke Cole analyses the series from an angle that I never thought of before, which is how the characters in the series deal with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and how it empowers or destroys them. I’ve never been to war myself so it was extremely fascinating to read about the different conditions that people go through to cope with crisis and how the characters in the book mirror them.

This is a wonderful companion book to A Song of Ice and Fire series and is highly recommended to any fan who wants to dig deeper into the series.

The Emperor’s Gift by Aaron Dembski-Bowden

The Grey Knights are all that stands between mankind and the ravages of Chaos. Since their secretive beginnings during the Horus Heresy, these legendary Space Marine daemon hunters have journeyed into the dark realms of the warp – and beyond – in pursuit of their supernatural enemies. Through an intensive regime of psychic training, new recruits are brought to the clandestine fortress of Titan to join the hallowed and vaunted ranks of the 666th Chapter. More than ever, these legendary battle-brothers must be vigilant and ever ready to defend the Imperium for the forces of Chaos are never truly defeated, and Armageddon beckons…

If you’re a fan of the Warhammer 40k universe then you don’t need an introduction for this book. Just the phrase “First War for Armageddon” is enough for you to buy this book. However this book is much more than just the war on Armageddon. It’s about the events leading to the Grey Knights deployment on the planet and the aftermath between the Inquisition and the Space Wolves.

This story simply put is just epic! Dembski-Bowden is really on top of his game right now. Just when you thought his stories couldn’t get any better, he would come up with something like this to surprise you. The description and mannerisms of the Astartes cannot be more apt. Dembski-Bowden has really captured that slightly autistic, can’t read human emotion thing that Space Marines do down to a tee.

I found both Hyperion and Inquisitor Annika Jarlsdottyr to be interesting characters. Hyperion is the newest member in his squad and also has the potential to be the strongest amongst them. However he is often over-confident in his abilities and reckless in his decisions which resulted in the death of a fellow brother. It is in Hyperion’s reflection on his guilt that we realise these genetically enhanced beings aren’t that different to us.

As for Annika Jarlsdottyr, a Ferisian born Inquisitor, she must decide between upholding her task as part of the Inquisition or siding with her homeworld when the Wolves decide to go against the orders of the Inquisition and harbour the survivors of Armageddon.

The last third of the book deals with the fallout of the war on Armageddon. The Inquisition wants to eliminate the entire population to stop any knowledge of Chaos from spreading, whereas the Space Wolves want them to live on so not to waste the lives of all the warriors that died protecting the civilians. Debmski-Bowden does a great job portraying all the different views involved and it makes you question what is a fair price to pay to save further lives?

If you are new to 40k lore or casual fan, you will appreciate the story for what it is. For the more avid fans, the appearance of Daemon Prince Angron, Logan Grimnar and even just the mere mention of Ravenor will make you squeal with excitement. In fact, after reading this book, the Ravenor trilogy will be the next Black Library book that I would read so I can see how Hyperion ties in with that story.

Simply put, you should read The Emperor’s Gift if you meet any of the following:

  • You’re already a follower of 40k lore or a Black Library reader
  • You’re looking for a Black Library novel that you can start with
  • You have never read anything by Aaron Dembski-Bowden
  • You want to support charities as a portion of the book’s proceeds go to Cancer Research UK and the SOS Children’s Villages charity.

Brave New World: Revolution by Matt Forbeck

Ask Not What Your Country Could Do For You. Ask What It Could Do To You.

John Cruise — better known as the superpowered delta Patriot — only wanted to serve his country, which has suffered under martial law since the assassination of the First Lady back in 1963. For years, he did so as a member of Delta Prime, the federal paramilitary organization dedicated to keeping deltas and the rest of the population in line. Then, during the Bicentennial Battle, Chicago disappeared in a blinding flash of light, taking the world’s most powerful deltas with it, along with Patriot’s wife.

Today, in 1999, Patriot leads a group of rebel deltas known as the Defiance, all of whom are on the run from Delta Prime. He hopes to find a way to break scores of their imprisoned friends out of New Alcatraz, the only place on the planet strong enough to hold them all. But then, while rescuing college student Lisa Stanski from a pack of Primers, the unthinkable happens.

Patriot gets caught.

Now it’s up to the rest of the Defiance, including Lisa, to figure out how to break Patriot out of New Alcatraz before his old pal Ragnarok, now the leader of Delta Prime, has him executed without trial, under the direct orders of President John F. Kennedy himself.

Brave New World: Revolution is the first book in the Brave New World Novels and also the first novel released from Matt Forbeck’s 12 for ’12 Kickstarter project. I didn’t know what the books would be like or if superhero stories would be any good in novel format but I supported the project anyway because I believed that Matt knew what he was getting into and he would do a good job of it.

Now having read the first book, I can honestly say that I’m proud to have supported him in this project.BNW: Revolution is just one entertaining and solid superhero story with pretty much everything you would want in the genre. With all the superhero movies coming out in recent years and Avengers breaking box office records worldwide, Forbeck couldn’t have picked a better time to turn his superhero RPG into novels.

Like other books by Forbeck, BNW: Revolution is an enjoyable and engrossing read. The story is broken down into bite-sized chapters and you will find yourself reading through them quickly. My only complaint is that the chapters often jump to another character’s point of view and if you don’t pay attention to the tag at the beginning of each chapter, you may find yourself confused as who is telling the story. I remember there was this one chapter where Lisa was being chased by the government and the one immediately following began with an interrogation and I thought for a while that it was Lisa who was captured.

The world building in this novel is of course excellent as it was used as the background for a number of RPGs. It is a superhero universe that is similar yet distinctive enough to not clash with other franchises. The heroes in this novel have cool superpowers but not too powerful to seem broken. You wouldn’t be disappointed to learn that there are plenty of scenes in the book where our heroes put their powers to use.

The characters have a very comic book feel to them and not overly complex which is perfectly fine for a superhero novel. Patriot is the dark brooding hero, Lisa is the new kid and Ragnarok is the mean villain of the book. They all live up to their roles in the story and are extremely fun to read.

BNW: Revolution is an excellent start to the trilogy, one that would make any superhero comic fan happy and I can’t wait to see how events will unfold in the next story.

Into the Mist: Silver Hand by Steve Finegan

Thirteen-year-old Gabe Wrenn has always taken refuge in his imagination. Refuge from his hovering mom and bullying brother. Refuge from the smirks and stares of his classmates. Refuge from his epilepsy. But now his imagination seems to be running wild. And he can’t stop it. And the only person Gabe can confide in is a girl who thinks his “weird brain” is the key to unlocking the secret of the Brynmor Witch.

Into the Mist: Silver Hand is a brilliant novel that brings back a lot of memories for me. It reminds me of reading fantasy novels when I was young and the excitement and thrills that I get when turning through the pages. The book is basically two stories in one and Finegan does a marvellous job balancing and blending a modern day coming of age story with a traditional fantasy story set to a Celtic background.

The story is about Gabe, a 13 year old boy who is suffering from mild Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. His mother overprotects him because of this and as a result he doesn’t get to do things boy of his age do and branded as a freak by some. Despite his condition, one thing that Gabe does well is his drawings of a heroic figure he calls Corvus. This talent is quickly spotted by Ellie, the girl next door at his new home.

Through their adventures together they discover that Gabe’s epilepsy is not as simple as it seems. In fact when Gabe has his seizures or auras as his mum would call it, he would appear in an ancient wood as the Celtic legend Mabon. Ellie believes that Gabe is somehow linked to this Mabon and Gabe must do everything he can to save Mabon’s world.

As I said before this novel is two stories blended together. In the modern world Gabe has to deal with alienation and embarrassment because of his condition. Through his actions as Mabon, Gabe gains the strength to face his fears and to stand up to the bullies which ends in an intense and dramatic confrontation. At the same time, Mabon’s world, Elfyth is facing an invasion from the Grayman and his undead army. Gabe has to juggle between being himself, as well as Mabon as he faces challenges in both worlds.

Just as Rick Riordan has brought a new perspective to ADHD and dyslexia in his Olympians series, Finegan has turned TLE into something that is a gift in this book. Some of the world’s most creative mind suffered from epilepsy and some argues that it was epilepsy that gave them the extra insight and flair in their works. In the book, Gabe went from being afraid to finally accepting it as part of who he is and he can’t rely on drugs to make him feel better.

While staying true to Celtic mythology, the author does a pretty good job bringing it to live. However in this first book we are only getting glimpses of Elfyth but I’m sure we will see more of this world in the next book when Mabon faces the Grayman and his army.

Just as the book reaches its climax, the story ends. I don’t dislike cliffhanger endings and I understand why it ended like it did but I still prefer if it didn’t finish with so many loose ends.

Gabe and Ellie are fantastically well written characters and it was an extreme pleasure to read the exchanges between the two of them. Overall, I found Into the Mist: Silver Hand to be a marvellous read and I look forward to the second part Into the Mist: Bringer of the Dawn which comes out in 2013.

For more information on Steve Finegan and Into the Mist series, please visit his website athttp://www.stevefinegan.com/.

Challenges read for:


2012 Self-Published Reading Challenge – Book 10

 


2012 Ebook Challenge – Book 18

Kingdom by Anderson O’Donnell

In a secret laboratory hidden under the desert, a covert bioengineering project—codename “Exodus”—has discovered the gene responsible for the human soul.

Somewhere in the neon sprawl outside the nation’s collapsing economic core, a group of renegade monks are on the verge of uncovering a secret that has eluded mankind for centuries.

In a glittering tower high above the urban decay, an ascendant U.S. Senator is found dead—an apparent, yet inexplicable, suicide.

And in the streets below, a young man races through an ultra modern metropolis on the verge of a violent revolution….closing in on the terrible truth behind Exodus—and one man’s dark vision for the future of mankind.

Welcome to Tiber City.
Kingdom is the debut novel from author Anderson O’Donnell. A fantastic dystopian science fiction thriller with some concepts that reminds me of the film Gattaca as well as the 2012 Arthur C. Clarke shortlisted novel The End Specialist/The Postmortal by Drew Magary.

In Kingdom, Morrison Biotech has spent the last few decades perfecting the recipe to create the ultimate human being, one with the charisma and leadership skills to run a country and yet someone the corporation can control. The one thing they can’t decipher is the “Omega gene”, a gene that appears to have no functions but when omitted, the subjects all breakdown within a couple of years.

One man seems to know the answers though. Jonathan Campbell, once co-founder and mentor of Morrison, thinks that the “Omega gene” is the key to human soul, the antenna that receives instructions from above. Without it the drones will always remain soulless. Campbell has had enough but Morrison needs him to finish what they started.

Meanwhile a young man is discovering a secret that would rock the foundations of his world…

O’Donnell vision of the future, especially where our science would take us isn’t rosy at all. What if we progressed from using our knowledge to treat genetic defects to using it to fulfil our narcissistic needs? What would happen to our world then? Can the world really be sustainable with all these perfect and healthy beings running around? This leads to the interesting Tiber City itself, a sort of heaven and hell rolled into one place. The rich has their glamorous and glitzy district while the poor lived in the city’s slums.

Another interesting part of the book is the flawed characters. Jonathan Campbell is drowning himself in an alcohol induced stupor over the events he has set in motion and Dylan Fitzgerald is going through a self destructive phase trying to come to terms with his own identity. O’Donnell does a good job in exploring the turmoil and emotions going through these characters.

This novel is a good and fast read with an ending that alludes to the birth of a new age and I can’t wait to see how things will turn out in the other stories. Recommended to anyone who is looking for a bit of grimness in their science fiction.

PS. I have recently interviewed Anderson O’Donnell and I will be posting up his answers shortly. In the meantime, please visit his blog tour and have a chance at winning a Kindle Fire while you’re at it.

Interview with Anderson O’Donnell

Welcome to the second stop in the Kingdom Blog Tour. I’m delighted to have Anderson O’Donnell here to answer a few questions. Kingdom is the debut novel from O’Donnell, a fantastic dark science fiction thriller telling the story of genetic science going too far. You can read my review of the book here.

Without further ado, here are the questions.

1. I’ll start off with something easy first. Can you introduce your debut novel Kingdom to our readers?
Hi Ken. My pleasure. I appreciate your interest in Kingdom, and your kind words about the novel.

A dystopian, biopunk thriller, Kingdom is the first installment of my Tiber City trilogy. Here’s a brief description from the back of the book:

In a secret laboratory hidden under the desert, a covert bioengineering project— codename “Exodus”—has discovered the gene responsible for the human soul.

Somewhere in the neon sprawl outside the nation’s collapsing economic core, a group of renegade monks are on the verge of uncovering a secret that has eluded mankind for centuries.

In a glittering tower high above the urban decay, an ascendant U.S. Senator is found dead—an apparent, yet inexplicable, suicide.

And in the streets below, a young man races through an ultra modern metropolis on the verge of a violent revolution….closing in on the terrible truth behind Exodus— and one man’s dark vision for the future of mankind.

Welcome to Tiber City.

2. The science behind the story is fascinating. Do you have a background in genetics or did you do a lot of research?
Writing Kingdom required a crash course in genetics—well, at least to the extent that an English major can pull off a crash course in genetics. But I didn’t have a choice, as I was in love with the concept behind Kingdom: What if there was a gene for the human soul? And, if such a gene did exist, could it be replicated by bioengineering? So I had to know enough about genetics to allow the reader to remain immersed in the story, and to (hopefully) not make a complete ass of myself.

But, on the first draft of Kingdom, I think I tried to overcompensate for my lack of scientific-background. Consequently, too much of the initial text got dragged down by a highly technical exposition on genes and gene transfer technology. And while I think I managed to get the basic ideas right, it was a boring read. So I tried for a more delicate balance: enough science to allow for the suspension of disbelief, but not so much that the narrative flow would collapse.

3. The events in the book occur not too far from now. Why did you pick this particular time period instead of say the far future?
I picked the near future because I think that a number of the issues Kingdom tries to address—society’s obsession with, and over-reliance on, technology; the pursuit of physical perfection at the expense of our human nature, of our souls; cultural amnesia—are very much current issues. I think its easier to address these ideas if you keep people on familiar footing, so to speak.

4. In Kingdom, Morrison Biotech is planning to introduce “Designer babies” to the market. Do you think our society will one day head towards that direction?
Sadly, I do. To me, it seems like a natural progression and, at the moment, I have the sense that the only real impediment to more fantastic bioengineering/augmentation is technical—not moral or philosophical.

5. The events are pretty grim in the story. Recently Neal Stephenson calls for a more optimistic and realistic approach to the Science Fiction genre – one with more creative inventions and solutions. What do you think of that?
I love Neal, and he’s had a huge impact on my development as a writer. But I don’t think writers can necessarily choose how to present their story. We’re just conduits through which the narrative flows. The reason why sci-fi has, I think, taken on a more dystopian and pessimistic tone is because the future isn’t what it used to be: we’re less focused on space travel and more concerned about the extent to which society seems to be unraveling.

6. Can you let us know what we can expect in the next Tiber City story?
Absolutely. Book Two of the Tiber City Trilogy (tentatively titled “Exile”) should be out next summer. Without giving away the ending of Kingdom, I can say that a new antagonist takes center stage, and that the Order undergoes a profound transformation. The Zero movement is going to have a considerable role in the sequel, and, finally, an old friend makes a pretty shocking return—some might even call it a resurrection.

7. You recently posted a soundtrack to Kingdom on Twitter. Do you find music help you with your writing?
Music is critical to my writing. There are mornings when I’m up at the crack of dawn (hell, when it’s still dark) and it feels like all the caffeine in the world isn’t going to kick start my writing—that’s when I need music. My tastes are eclectic, although punk will always be my first love. And I’m talking classic, first wave punk (with a few exceptions). There’s a British band, Kasabian, whose music conveys a lot of the emotions I try to find with my writing. And when I’m in that “writer’s zone,” trance music—Armin van Buuren, Paul Van Dyk, Above and Beyond, Marcus Schultz, Aly and Filla, John O’Callaghan —keeps me going, keeps pushing me forward, toward those emotion’s I’m trying to capture.

8. Do you have any other projects you are working on besides Tiber City?
At the moment, I’m focused on the Tiber City trilogy, but not just the novels—I’m always looking for new mediums in which to tell my stories. I think, for instance, graphic novels would be a great way to expand on some of the Tiber City mythology. Plus, there is marketing work to be done, and additional research for the final two books. And I have this pesky “day” job that takes up way too much of time. So, for now, its Tiber City, 24/7.

9. What are you reading at the moment (fiction and/or non-fiction)?
I’m actually reading “Different Seasons” by Stephen King. How I missed this one is beyond me. And, as I try and keep a non-fiction going at the same time, I’m almost done with “Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life” by Winifred Gallagher. It’s a very compelling take on how lack of attention is impacting our quality of life. Highly recommended.

10. Finally what are you most looking forward to in 2012?
The birth of my second child; he or she will be arriving in August, and I am thrilled. And terrified. And, from a professional standpoint, I’m curious as to the impact it’ll have on my writing—delirium can yield some fascinating prose.

Its been a pleasure Ken.

Thank you. And thank you to your readers!

Anderson

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Kingdom is out now and you can get it at the usual places. If you enjoyed this interview, do drop by the other stops in the Blog Tour and remember to enter the competition at Once Upon A Time for a chance to win a Kindle Fire.