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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

GUEST POST: Robert Brockway: Author of The Unnoticeables

Visit Robert Brockway's Website Here
Watch the Book Trailer for The Unnoticeables Here

Fantasy Book Critic is pleased to welcome Robert Brockway. Robert is a Senior Editor and columnist for and is the author of the latest urban fantasy/horror novel, The Unnoticeables. The Unnoticeables was released by Tor on July 7, 2015.

Robert Brockway has stopped by to talk about his love of sci-fi/fantasy and his latest book. 


My favorite part of sci-fi/fantasy is the world-building. I love coming up with premises and extrapolating out the rules of that world, its environments and creatures. It’s great fun.

If you’re lucky, you might even figure out a good story to tell in that world.

If you’re unlucky, somebody will then come along and ask you to explain it.

I wrote a book called The Unnoticeables — a weird genre mash-up somewhere between horror, sci-fi, and urban fantasy - and for some reason people keep asking me what it’s about. Did you know they do that, when you write a book?

If I had known, I would’ve written a book about divorce, or battleships, or something else that could be explained away in a word or two.

Instead I wrote this strange trilogy about angels, monsters, faceless kids, punk rockers, and stuntwomen that spans decades and jumps back and forth in time. I really screwed myself here.

Honestly, it all went awry from the central premise, which started like this: There’s a theory that everything can be described with sufficiently complex numbers. Given enough space and time, you could map every particle in the universe — assign it a space on a grid, describe its functions, behaviors, composition, etc. — and if you can do that, well, then everything is basically just numbers, right?

Oof, already you see the problem.

Let’s try again: There’s a thought experiment which says that everything that could possibly exist is described within pi. Pi is, as far as we know it, a non-repeating infinite number. Since it goes on forever without reliably repeating itself, somewhere in that string of numbers there’s eventually going to be a bit that describes something real. Let’s say it describes a small rock. In a non-repeating infinite number there will be a string of digits that describes the shape of the rock, the weight, how old it is, etc. Eventually, because we’re talking about infinity here, there will be a string of numbers that describes that rock and the beach it sits on — how many grains of sand, their relative positions to one another, the strength of the waves. And so forth. Carry that thought far enough, and you’ll come across a string of numbers that describes that rock, that beach, and you, stubbing your toe on it - the number of cells in your body, the series in which your neurons fire to form your thoughts, the wrinkles at the corners of your eyes, the intensity and volume at which you screamed when you kicked this stupid pebble.

Somewhere in pi, our entire universe is mapped out. Not only that, but every possible universe is described as well — infinity is infinite, after all.

Yeah, I know. My next book is going to be about ‘a down on his luck airline pilot trying to find love’ or something.

Working from the premise that the universe and everything in it can be described mathematically, I came to the conclusion that, for most things, there’s probably a simpler way to express those numbers. There are probably bits that cancel each other out, more efficient algorithms that could model the same behaviors, redundancies in the code. In short, everything is a math problem.

What if something could solve it?

That’s how I got my villains: things my characters call angels — bright balls of light that sound like screaming static and exist solely to maintain the purity of the universe. They’re problem solvers. And the problems they’re solving are human beings.

Hopefully you followed my thought process down the rabbit hole far enough to see how I came up with this world. But then there was the whole mess of coming up with characters. For that, I had to think about who would hate this premise the most: Who is least amenable to a universe where we’re all just numbers, waiting to be neatly solved and filed away? I came up with two wildly different types of people united by a shared concept: Punk rockers, and aspiring actresses. Punks despise the idea of conformity, of doing what you’re told just because you’re told to it. Aspiring actresses, by their very nature, have to believe  that they’re so inherently talented and special that they can make it in a field where literally millions are trying and failing every day. Despite how awkward they would both find each other’s company, those two types of people share one defining character trait: They love and treasure individuality.

That all follows logically, right? The premise, the world, the monsters, the characters, the conflict — it all just sort of fits together. I was confident of that, in writing the book. Perhaps too confident. Because it all came crashing down the moment somebody asked me the big, impossible question:

“In one sentence, describe your book.”

If you figure out how to do that, email me. I’ll buy you a coke. 

 More about The Unnoticeables 

There are angels, and they are not beneficent or loving. But they do watch over us. They watch our lives unfold, analyzing us for repeating patterns and redundancies. When they find them, the angels simplify those patterns, they remove the redundancies, and the problem that is you gets solved.

Carey doesn’t much like that idea. As a punk living in New York City, 1977, Carey is sick and tired of watching the strange kids with the unnoticeable faces abduct his friends. He doesn’t care about the rumors of tarmonsters in the sewers, or unkillable psychopaths invading the punk scene—all he wants is drink cheap beer and dispense asskickings.

Kaitlyn isn’t sure what she’s doing with her life. She came to Hollywood in 2013 to be a stunt woman, but last night a former teen heartthrob tried to eat her, her best friend has just gone missing, and there’s an angel outside her apartment.

Whatever she plans on doing with her life, it should probably happen in the few remaining minutes she has left of it.

There are angels. There are demons. They are the same thing. It’s up to Carey and Kaitlyn to stop them. The survival of the human race is in their hands.

We are, all of us, well and truly screwed.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

"Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances" by Neil Gaiman (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)

Official Author Website
Order Trigger Warning HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Graveyard Book
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Ocean At The End Of Lane
Read The New Yorker Profile on Neil Gaiman

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "The monsters in our cupboards and our minds are always there in the darkness, like mold beneath the floorboards and behind the wallpaper, and there is so much darkness, an inexhaustible supply of darkness. The universe is amply supplied with night."

There is a diversity of material in Neil Gaiman’s third and latest collection of short fiction, Trigger Warning. It is a potpourri of twenty four pieces, if we take as a single piece the entry called A Calendar of Tales, which, itself, holds a dozen. They are not all, despite the collection title, dark or frightening. He brings in some familiar names, David Bowie, Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who, Maleficent, Snow White, a traveler from other Gaiman writings, Shadow Moon, twists endings into satisfactory curls for the most part, wanders far afield in setting and content, well, within the UK anyway, tosses in a few poems for good measure, and even offers up a few chuckles. He is fond not only of science fiction as a source, but of Scottish and Irish legends as well. If you are not smitten with the story you are reading at a given moment, not to worry, there is another close behind that is certain to satisfy.

Gaiman is overt in noting the absence of connective tissue among the tales. But there are some themes that pop up a time or three. Living things interred in walls, whether after they had expired or not. A bit of time travelling. Fairy tales are fractured. Favorite writers are admired

In the introduction, Gaiman tells us a bit about the origins of each of the 24, a nifty item to check back on after one has read them all. Some of the material has been developed for other media. Checkout the link to a more-than-text offering re the Calendar of Tales, for one. Overall I found Trigger Warning is a pretty good survey of Gaiman’s impressive range. He seems able to realize the dreams of the alchemists by transforming what seems every experience he has and every notion that crosses his interior crawl into gold. And some of the stories here are glittery indeed.

I quite enjoyed the collection. The uplift of the best more than made up for the downdraft of the lesser. If you enjoy fantasy, with a good dollop of horror, you could definitely give it a shot.

======================================= THE STORIES:

1) Making a Chair – A poem about the writing process.

2) A Lunar Labyrinth – A tribute to Gene Wolfe – a traveler who enjoys roadside oddities is brought to a maze that is brought into a form of darkness by the full moon. Here is a link to a site that will clue you in on the roadside oddities in the USA. There is a book on such things for the other side of the pond, but I did not find a comparable link

3) The Thing about Cassandra – An imaginary connection becomes real, with a delicious twist

4) Down to a Sunless Sea – An abominable feast, but with some just desserts

5) The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountain – A not wholly human dwarf engages a local man to lead him to a cave reputed to be filled with tainted gold – I could not get the image of Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister out of my tiny mind while immersed in this one. Sometimes the truth hurts.

6) My Last Landlady – The rent is definitely too damn high

7) Adventure Story – A bit of fun guaranteed to make you smile

8) Orange – A teen who thinks she’s all that may indeed be – another smile-worthy item

9) A Calendar of Tales – I won’t go into each – the collection was written from ideas received on-line. I found it a mixed bag, with March (Mom has a big secret), August ( a tale of fire and foolishness), September (a magic ring with the quality of a bad penny), October (a sweet tale, involving a Jinni), and December (a hopeful time-travel piece) my favorites

10) The Case of Death and Honey – A fantastical tale in which a certain Baker Street resident takes on the mystery of death itself

11) The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury – a tribute to Gaiman’s mentor

12) Jerusalem – On one of the dangers of visiting the city

13) Click-clack the Rattlebag – Stories can be scary, regardless of the age of the teller

14) An Invocation of Incuriousity – A time-travel piece – don’t touch the settings

15) And Weep, Like Alexander – One possible reason why we do not have some of the futuristic inventions we expected long ago – cute, not scary

16) Nothing O’Clock – A Doctor Who tale with a timely solution

17 ) Diamonds and Pearls: A Fairy Tale – A fable with a moral

18) The Return of the Thin White Duke – The completion of a story begun and abandoned while back for a magazine project on David Bowie

19) Feminine Endings – Beware of street statue-performers

20) Observing the Formalities – Maleficent as narrator of a poem about proper forms

21) The Sleeper and the Spindle – A fairy tale with a nice twist

22) Witch Work – A poem on the limits of witchy magic

23) In Relig Odhrain – A poem on a saint who suffered an awful demise

24) Black Dog – Shadow Moon stops in an ancient pub and is drawn into some serious darkness, scary fun.


NOTE: This review was originally posted on Will's blog. Neil Gaiman author picture by Kimberly Butler.
Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Instruments Of Control by Craig Schafer (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Official Author Website
Order The Instruments Of Control HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Winter's Reach

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Craig Schaefer was born in Chicago and wanted to be a writer since a very young age. His writing was inspired by Elmore Leonard, Richard Stark, Clive Barker & H. P. Lovecraft. After reaching his 40th birthday he decided to give in to his passion and since then has released six novels in about fourteen months. He currently lives in Joliet, Illinois and loves visiting museums and libraries for inspiration.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Livia Serafini must die.

To the Church she is a heretic, tried in absentia and sentenced to burn. To her brother Carlo, she stands as a threat to his corrupt rule and a symbol of resistance. To her new "allies" in the east, she is a pawn to be played and sacrificed as they see fit. They don't hear the whispers that follow her in the streets: whispers of hope, and the name of a long-dead saint.

When Livia rises up to fight, she will not rise alone.

Across the ocean, Felix struggles for control of his family's fate against the crime lord Basilio Grimaldi. Basilio is wealthy, ruthless, and the master of a hundred killers. All Felix has are his wits and his courage. It won't be enough. To break free, and to save the lives of everyone he loves, he'll have to face the darkness that followed him home from Winter's Reach.

And as the Owl's horrific vengeance unfolds, her coven teeters on the brink of civil war. All the dominoes are in place now, lined up from the frozen north to the swamps and ruins of a dead empire, and set to tumble at one man's command. When they do, a world will fall with them.

FORMAT/INFO: The Instruments Of Control is 315 pages long divided over fifty-six chapters. Narration is in the third-person, via Felix Rossini, Werner Holst, Lodovico Marchetti, Amadeo Lagorio, Simon Koertig, Livia Benignus, Basilio Grimaldi, Mari Renault, Hedy, Renata, Bear, Dante Uccello and a couple of other minor characters. This is the second volume of The Revanche Cycle.

April 19, 2015 marked the North American paperback and e-book publication of The Instruments Of Control and it was self-published by the author. Cover art and design is by James T. Egan of Bookfly Design.

CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a vast character cast, and focusing on political, religious and magical intrigue. The Revanche Cycle is very reminiscent of the works of Jennifer Fallon, Tad Williams and Daniel Abraham.

ANALYSIS: The Instruments Of Control is the sequel to Winter's Reach and a cracking read in itself. We are back with all our POV characters who survived the last book. Livia has had to flee to a neighboring country which has its own designs about the seat of Papal power a la the France-Rome situation with multiple popes and Anti-popes. Felix is stuck with his bargain to save his family and now has to deal with Basilio Grimaldi and his Faustian pact. Faced with a marriage proposal, he can't avoid, he learns that all might not be lost as his Grimaldi bride-to-be; Aita has ambitions of her own.

There's also Mari and Werner who are now returning to Mari's land of birth in the search for a certain sect of Knights. What they don't know is the people hunting them are getting ever so close. Simon Koertig is still upset about his supposed failure and is incensed now that Lodovico has made Felix off limits to him. Simon being Simon will not let that be and endeavors to bring his morbid plans to fruition. Think of him as Coyote to Felix’s Roadrunner with the only difference being that this isn’t a cartoon. Lodovico's revenge is slowly becoming sharper in clarity and that doesn't bode well for the merchant lords of the city of Mirenze. Lodovico's plans are revealed and it all boils down to a Bruce Wayne concept but with a major Lex Luthor outlook.

Renata is the new POV character introduced in this sequel and she's on the run for her life. Forced to do so due to her closeness with Felix, she encounters a strange person on the road who might be her salvation but also doom her all the same. Amadeo Lagorio is forced to witness a schism in the church that he loves however he believes he's on the right side of things even though he doesn't quite agree with Livia's methods. Lastly there's Owl the witch who is hunting Mari & Werner for the death of her pupil and things slowly become a bit clearer on the magic that's secretly prevalent in the world.

Overall the second volume builds upon the tension strewn across the various threads and the readers get to see further twists and newer sides to all the characters, which we have seen so far. Once again the characterization is the story’s forte. From Simon, Livia, Mari, Werner, Dante, Felix and the rest, each and every POV character gets their chance to shine and shine they do. This volume is more about the personal hardships that individuals have to face & the bleak choices they have to make. There’s a horrible death in the book that the author doesn’t show but you can feel its effects immediately afterward and throughout the story. There are a couple of characters whose lives take a dark turn. One by choice and the other by someone’s manipulation, both paths are very sad to read but riveting nonetheless. Full marks to the author for writing about female characters in a way that doesn’t stick to tropes and even trying their hardest to go their own in a hard, patriarchal society.

Craig Schafer know how to pace his story and even with a big cast of characters as these, he still manages to keep the narrative ted down tightly. The pace never slackens and the reader will be consistently surprised with all the plot twists of this second volume. There are quite a few and none more than the shocker of a twist in the last third, which then continues on to a very shocking climax. I liked how the author inverts various tropes (about characters) and keeps the reader guessing about the track that will be taken by the POV characters. This book is truly dark because of all the brutality that is showcased within the story. Not all of it is physical, much of it is also psychological and the rest is just people making the best of bad decisions that they face.

As for drawbacks, I didn’t find any besides the lack of a map, which would certainly helped in understanding the story from a geopolitical standpoint. Sure some folks might find the darkness of the story a bit too much for their liking but it’s entirely subjective. There’ s also the increased focus on political machinations and slow increase of magical intrigue. Overall this is a nuanced story set in a dark, medieval world that is very reminiscent of our own. In this regard, it’s very similar to ASOIAF in its political situations and the influence of clergy/royalty in affecting the lives of commoners.

CONCLUSION:  The Instruments Of Control is a dark sequel that further lays bare the author’s intentions. The Revanche Cycle is a grand mix of human ambition, political ambition, greed and many more elements that are the basis of most famous historical sagas. Be sure to grab this series as it’s turning out to be something special. As for me, I can’t wait to get my hands on the 3rd volume Terms Of Surrender.
Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (Reviewed by Joshua Redlich)

Order The Buried Giant HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Kazuo Ishiguro is the author of six novels, including the international bestsellers The Remains of the Day (winner of the Booker Prize) and Never Let Me Go. He received an OBE for service to literature and the Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He lives in London with his wife and daughter.

OVERVIEW: King Arthur has been dead some years, and a mysterious mist of forgetfulness covers Britain, shielding the Saxons and Britons who live together peacefully from their memories. Axl and Beatrice, two elderly Britons, realize the existence of this mist as their dear son whom they have not seen in years becomes more and more difficult for them to recall.

Determined to see him again, they decide to set out on the journey they’ve so often discussed taking and visit their son in his village a few days walk from their own. They know their trip to hold many dangers—some strange and otherworldly, others the result of their age and physical aptitude—but none of their planning has prepared them for the Saxon warrior, his orphan charge, and the mysterious knight who join their company, turning their path away from their son and toward restoring their memories and ridding Britain of the cursed mist that plagues it, a mist brought on by the terrible dragon Querig.

FORMAT INFO: The Buried Giant, a literary fantasy, is Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in a decade. Divided into four parts, the 317 page book is told in the voice of a first person omniscient narrator who remains outside of the story until the final chapter.

The Buried Giant was published on March 3, 2015 by Knopf, an imprint of Random House, and it is available as a hardcover, large print paperback, e-book, and audiobook.

ANALYSIS: Readers of fantasy tend to enjoy the genre because they value story and plot above other aspects of a book, while fans of literary fiction, I would imagine, are more concerned with the author’s actual ability to put words on paper, focusing instead on the themes they write about and the way they present them. So when I discovered The Buried Giant, a fantasy written by an author of literary fiction, I was more than intrigued. I thought, here is going to be a book with all of the magic and mystery of a good fantasy and all the craft of a master writer, which there is no doubt that Kazuo Ishiguro is. While I can’t speak for fans of literary fiction, as I am not one myself, I admit that I found the book disappointing.

That isn’t to say there aren’t parts of the story I found enjoyable. The use of an elderly couple as the main protagonists is something I have never seen before in fantasy, and it is a refreshing change. Additionally, the setting, an ancient, post-King Arthur Britain where trolls and dragons and magic are not just superstitions, is beautifully rendered and highly believable. And the theme of the story, the power and importance of memory, is beautifully fleshed out.

The mist of forgetfulness perfectly evokes the foggy feeling one feels in their own head when trying to remember something they cannot, and the ultimate question that plagues the characters throughout the story is one that is interesting to contemplate: is it better to retain all of your life’s memories or to forget some good ones in order to keep the bad ones at bay.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much else I cared for. The story itself moves at a glacial pace that even the two elderly protagonists would find slow, and all the while nothing happens. The book is just one encounter after another with a handful of characters who are only mildly interesting. There is hardly any action at all, and in the few instances where there could be, it is brief. Even the final showdown with the dragon, which one would expect to be exciting, is uneventful and boring.

Another problem I had with the book was that it was extraordinarily predictable. Just by reading the synopsis of the book, which tells of a mist of forgetfulness and a couple who want to visit the son they are already starting to forget, one could successfully figure out the outcome of the couple’s journey. As the story continues and certain characters cross Axl and Beatrice’s path, more accurate predictions are easily made. The only twist at all is not so much the occurrence of something unexpected as the sudden realization that a well-liked character might not actually be deserving of such fond affection, while another who comes off as untrustworthy and slightly irritating might be. That change is probably the most enjoyable part of the entire story, as it’s the only time when it feels like something is actually happening.

Yet despite being slow, boring, and unsurprising, the most unbearable part of the book is the repetition. Every single character, though particularly the knight, repeats themselves constantly, to the point where two could be conversing and both are just repeating a single thought that doesn’t even relate to what the other is saying, as if they are just speaking to themselves. Unfortunately, conversations like these occur far too often.

CONCLUSION: Ultimately, I would not recommend The Buried Giant to readers of fantasy who seek suspense and plot development in the books they choose to read, and I caution readers of literary fantasy to approach at their own risk.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015

"A Court of Thorns and Roses: A Court of Thorns and Roses 1" by Sarah J. Maas (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit Sarah J. Maas' Official Website Here

OVERVIEW: When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to demand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she's been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and George R. R. Martin, this first book in a sexy and action-packed new series is impossible to put down!

FORMAT: A Court of Thorns and Roses is the first novel in a new young adult/new adult series. It is a slight retelling of Beauty and the Beast mixed with Faerie lore. The novel is heavy on the romance with fantasy and faerie lore slightly mixed in.

A Court of Thorns and Roses was published May 5, 2015 by Bloomsbury Children's. It stands at 416 pages.

ANALYSIS: My love for Beauty and the Beast got the better of me again. When I saw that A Court of Thorns and Roses was marketed as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast but with a faerie lore twist, I knew I had to give it a try.

A Court of Thorns and Roses is very much a romance novel. Sure, there is action and faerie court politics, but the main bulk of the novel centers around the budding romance between Feyre and Tamlin. The heavy focus on romance is enough to turn a lot of readers away, but if you are in the mood for a well-written YA/NA novel, this is definitely for you.

Think of this more of a supernatural romance with slight fantasy elements mixed in. Keeping this in mind, you won't be disappointed. However, if you are looking for a fantasy novel with slight romance, this won't be for you.

The comparison to Beauty and the Beast is a bit over exaggerated. Tamlin (the beast) is anything but a beast. He's an eye-catching pretty faerie. Sure, he kidnaps a young girl and keeps her prisoner, but he spoils her till no end and they fall in love. The times when Tamlin was 'mean' weren't overly beastly. His meanness was more because our main character, Feyre felt he was doing her an injustice and not because he was truly mean. Take it as a very loose retelling of the story and you'll be fine.

Sarah J. Maas has crafted a faerie world that is dark, and interesting. While it is not super original, she gives it enough of a twist that it will keep readers interested. Even though I found some of the creatures and elements throughout the novel to be familiar to me, I wasn't bored. Between the fast paced nature of the writing (the beginning is a bit slow, but at about the 50% mark things pick up) and Maas' ability to add a bit of flair to the story, I was drawn in.

Now, when it comes to the characters in the story, I had a harder time with this aspect. I found that while I enjoyed the world building and setting in A Court of Thorns and Roses, I struggled to really form a connection with the characters. All of the characters seemed one-sided or just dull.

There is one character who was interesting – Lucien – but he is more of a background figure and side character. I found myself disappointed when he wasn't involved with scenes in the book, but frustrated when Tamlin would be the main focus. I just found Tamlin so plain and flat. Yes, he was good looking, but he came across as very robotic and stiff.

While I enjoyed reading the novel, there is one aspect that kept nagging me - the 'instalove' between Feyre and Tamlin. I couldn't push away the feeling that Feyre felt that since Tamlin was a High Lord, she had to love him and had to fall in love with him. There just seemed to be no chemistry or real connection between them. This is just my opinion, but it felt very forced.

There was a certain point in the book where Feyre starts referring to Tamlin as 'my lord' and 'my High Lord'. When I read this, I was curious as to when Feyre became so passionate about Tamlin because she could have cared less just a few chapters before. I understand that romance can subtly blossom, but this just seemed random and forced. In fact, there was more chemistry and interaction between Feyre and Lucien than there was with the romance we were given.

There is a teaser for a possible new romance, which seems more interesting than what was going on with Tamlin. I am pretty excited to see where this leads, as I wasn't really feeling the whole Feyre and Tamlin romance.

Another aspect that was slightly annoying, and this was stylistic, was the way Maas wrote the narrative for the main character Feyre. The character would be narrating the story and there would be parts where the character would pause to think, but it was written into the writing. For example: "Does he want me...... me a lowly human" or "There is ..... a sickness in this land ". See the ..... represent pauses and thinking. This is usually found in Internet conversations, so seeing it in a novel was a bit unsettling. If it had been used once or twice, it would have been okay, but it was used frequently to the point it got a bit distracting.

Overall, A Court of Thorns and Roses is a thrilling, well-written book for the right reader. It is by far not a perfect book, there are things that could have been better and once you get past the sluggish start and instalove between the characters, there are parts that are really, really well written. Maas is talented and there are times in this novel where she really shines (fight scenes for example), but unfortunately the heavy focus on romance overshadows the good parts. This is the first novel in a series, so it will be interesting to see where Maas takes the series.
Monday, July 20, 2015

Guest Post: So Grim It's Cute Again (or: the Fallacy of the Turtle) by Max Gladstone

Nihilism feels charmingly lighthearted to me these days.

Maybe that feeling springs from my memories of high school. Young Max never went full Goth, but he hung out with folks who did, or who went what passed for goth in rural Tennessee—the Marilyn Manson and Aleister Crowley contingent, dyed-black hair and spiked collars and long gloves, teenagers born with a gift of laughter and a feeling the world was mad. Artful sneers as far as the eye could see.

Kind of makes you want to build a time machine just to go back and ruffle folks’ hair, doesn’t it? “Of course! Life is meaningless! Morality is a lie! Joy a cruel joke we keep playing on ourselves! Staaaaare into the abyss where once there was your sooooooooul.” Aw, sweetie! It’s cute! And to this day it’s a fun sort of ideological vacation, you know, a retreat to a simpler time when we thought Quentin Tarantino movies should be read at face value, that Alex in A Clockwork Orange responds reasonably to a world of hypocrites, that everyone who doesn’t understand that love and hope are disgusting jokes, that human life is just vipers eating vipers all the way down, is fooling himself. Look at us, for we are the moral hard men-or-women!

I suspect that "cute-grim" feeling is part of the plan in some fantasy universes—especially dear Warhammer 40,000, land of Space Marines and Shoulder Pads and Everything Wot With Guns On, a setting so maximalist and self-consciously grim that it might as well be wearing a NIN t-shirt smoking clove cigarettes out back of the dining hall in 1995. And, like that kid in the NIN t-shirt, part of the fun comes from the fact that the arch-cynic's ideological position is absolutely safe.

You’ve been in a fight, probably, or failing that a sparring match of some kind. If not, here’s how it works, in my experience: someone’s trying to hit you. You want to hit them back. If you’re fighting with any kind of rules, though, it’s not that difficult to turtle: to put up your dukes, practice your guard, and lock yourself behind a defensive wall. The problem is, you never hit this way. You can dance around the ring, you can block every strike, but if you ever want to do more, you have to break your perfect defense. To win, you have to strike.

The trick, of course, is that striking opens you up. If your punch gets blocked, you're open for a knee to the ribs, an elbow to the face. There’s no sound in fencing quite so soul-crushing as the whisper of your blade across your opponent’s forte, because she caught your lunge in a parry and her riposte won’t miss. If you’re not in a striking contest, then each grab becomes an opportunity for a lock, a bar, a shoot.

(Oh, and before someone brings up Ali: Rope-a-Dope only works if you really are biding your time. If you never once hit back in all your thirteen rounds, St. Peter won’t pat you on the back and hand you the victory in a decision.)

A bit of turtling makes sense. Life’s hard for a kid, no matter how many advantages you’ve stumbled or been born into. You live in a world you didn’t make, and one you don’t have much power to change. Trying to use the little power you do have, opens you up to enormous reprisals from people with power, and when you look to your comrades for support you’re like as not to find a raised eyebrow and an aloof expression. Your mistake was caring, in the first place. It’s scary shit.

So people, especially dudes who get taught fear isn’t something they should feel, and as a result never learn how handle it—they turtle. Get those dukes up, but never, god, hit anything that might hit back. Dance around the outside. Scorn commitment and hope because they’re exposure. Don’t, god, make common cause with anyone who seems worse off than you—they can’t help. And when someone tells you the world’s shit and nothing changes and nothing makes the pain stop, you listen, because it means you’re right to keep those damn dukes up. Raise shields. Do not engage. If you must engage something because you’re drowning in isolation, then hit the easiest target you can find, in a moment of weakness if you can.

Life can seem pretty grim, for a kid. But there’s a kind of comfort to the grim. In that world, you’re right not to work, not to change, not to stretch out your hand. I was about to write here, “we all have to grow up sometime,” but we don’t, really. We can stay locked behind those walls. We can resign ourselves to a world we can’t change, and tell ourselves that’s what realism looks like—even though in fact we’ve never felt the real, we've never felt the pain of trying, because we’ve convinced ourselves it’s not worth the effort. Not caring is a pretty good defense strategy. But if we don’t take a chance, we waste our brief opportunity to build a better world. Better to try something scary, I think, than to live in fear.

So when I sat down to write a story about a protest—a story about people rising up against a powerful, vicious system, ordinary men and women against god-shattering magic, I tried to start not from cynicism, but from hope. The central characters of my book Last First Snow stand against enormous odds—because they're fighting for something they believe in. They want to protect their homes against magical gentrification, against a system that's come to break them. In fact, both sides of the movement are full of people who care. Protesters care about their homes and families and livelihoods; Temoc, their leader (sort of) cares about his gods and his family; the King in Red, revolutionary lich-turned-utility magnate, cares about protecting his city, and keeping it free of the gods who almost destroyed him; Elayne Kevarian, tasked to negotiate a settlement, cares about peace and her friends and the future. They all strive. They all reach out. And because of that, they're all vulnerable.

That’s real danger, real darkness, I think: once you care, once you fight, you can lose. The odds are against you, the climb’s uphill, it’s dark, and you’re wearing sunglasses.

Sounds a bit like heroism, doesn't it?


Official Author Website
Order Last First Snow HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Three Parts Dead
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Two Serpents Rise
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Full Fathom Five
Read The Mahabharata: A Recollection and Q&A with Max Gladstone
Read "Gods, Monsters, Magic & Metaphor" by Max Gladstone (guest post)
Read Max Gladstone's review of Adi Parva by Amruta Patil

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Max Gladstone has taught in southern Anhui, wrecked a bicycle in Angkor Wat, and been thrown from a horse in Mongolia. Max graduated from Yale University, where he studied Chinese and was nominated for the John W Campbell Best New Writer Award. He is the author of The Craft Sequence which consists of Three Parts DeadTwo Serpents Rise, Full Fathom Five, and Last First Snow.


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