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Monday, June 30, 2008

"MultiReal" by David Louis Edelman

Read Excerpts HERE

Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu:

INTRODUCTION:MultiReal” is the second book in David Louis Edelman’s wonderful Jump 225 trilogy after “Infoquake”, which was nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best Novel and named Barnes & Noble's Top SF Novel of 2006. This review of “MultiReal” contains some spoilers of “Infoquake”, which I strongly suggest you read first since “Multireal” picks up exactly where that book ends. However, there are numerous appendixes in “MultiReal” that summarize “Infoquake” and provide lots of necessary details about the Jump 225 world, so “MultiReal” can be read as a standalone. “Donald Trump meets Vernor Vinge” was used as a quick soundbite for “Infoquake”, while “Matrix meets Boston Legal” should do for “MultiReal”, though truly both books are much richer than that.

SETTING: About 500 years or so in the future, Earth is quite different than today. After a period of chaos and disintegration in our near future, the Reawakening spurred by the science of bio/logics started and currently we are in year 360 of the new calendar. Based on a three-legged stool of hardware—1) nanotech machines implanted at or even before birth containing a variety of standard tools for maintenance of human tissue, 2) software programs that control the machines, 3) and a huge repository of free and independent medical information—this science has revolutionized society. Its founder, Marcus Surina, is credited with beginning the renaissance of the human race and is the most revered scientist ever, while his descendants—some quite famous and productive on their own—control one of the most powerful corporation/creed/dynasties ever based in Surina's hometown, Anda Pradesh, in what is India today.

However there are no nation states anymore, just a multitude of local civic groups providing the basic services of government. The L-PRACGs are organized usually around a central tenet, use formulas of free market tenets to determine the blend of services/taxation they provide, and the vast majority are not localized in one place. People choose which L-PRACG(s) they subscribe to. However the true power rests with The Defense and Wellness Council, the military and security arm of Earth, theoretically subordinate to a Prime Committee elected by L-PRACGs and various major corporations. The head of the committee, currently Len Borda, is quite a powerful ruler, least as long as he can convince the citizenry that the issues at hand deal with global security. There are fringe groups that are not attached to the global network called the Data Sea, most notably the religious groups based in the Holy Land collectively known as Pharisees, the Pacific Islanders and orbital colonies beyond the reach of the Council power.

The other important power in society is the press as embodied by powerful opinion commentators and/or news and gossip providers called drudges in a very nice touch since they mostly resemble the original one of today.

The scariest threats to the system come from data disruptions believed to happen because of local stresses to the Data Sea, called Infoquakes. Since people's health depends so strongly on bio/logics and the Data Sea, Infoquakes kill, sometimes in vast numbers.

The most competitive industry is the software one based around fiefcorps which are limited time partnerships. There is a ranking system Primo, and to be number one on Primo is the goal of every ambitious businessman. The less glamorous maintenance work is done by memecorps which are publicly funded and take a longer view. Most middle and upper class children are raised in hives with their peers rather than at home.

Natch is one such fiercely ambitious businessman with Donald Trump-like qualities and “Infoquake” is mostly about his rise from a somewhat atypical middle class childhood to the achievement of being number one on Primo. By trickery and for a short time, but enough to catch the eye of the latest scion of the Surinas, Margaret—a genius herself—developed a technology that has the potential to change the world dramatically. The technology is called MultiReal and the fight for its control is the subject of this book.

FORMAT/INFO: The trade paperback ARC I have stands at 458 pages of text followed by 50 pages of appendixes regarding the Jump 225 world, including a summary of “Infoquake” that I tried to compress above just in case the book is not fresh in your memory and so you won’t get lost in “MultiReal”. The book is divided into four named parts, each subdivided in numbered chapters. The narration is third-person present tense following several main characters, of which Natch and his fiefcorp analyst and “keep Natch straight” friend Jara get the most face time. The ending occurs at a natural point in the narrative and sets the table for “Geosynchron” which should be a cracking end to the trilogy.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: It took me some time to fully get into “MultiReal” since the motivations, choices and actions of the characters depend a lot on this wonderful Jump 225 world built by Mr. Edelman, and it’s been two years since I read “Infoquake”. So I provided a longer than usual Setting part of the review to get you up to date with the book so you can dive straight in and not get lost. Once I immersed myself in the world of Natch and Jara, the book became a true page-turner that I could not put down, and when the final page came I was sad since I really wanted more.

While “Infoquake” was a narrative about Natch and contained quite a lot of backstory that sometimes interrupted the flow of action, “MultiReal” starts on a roll with the government thugs led by second-in-command and Borda's designated successor, Magan Kai Lee, on a raid to Natch's apartment and it goes on like that to the end.

Once Margaret Surina licensed MultiReal to the Surina/Natch fiefcorp, and gave him core access to MultiReal, Natch was a marked man. Margaret was sitting at the top of her tower surrounded by a powerful guard while slowly losing her mind to paranoia, so when Len Borda decided that Natch had no intention of giving MultiReal access to the Council, it was an easy choice where to go for it.

But what is this MultiReal that people are prepared to go to so many lengths to control? It is nothing short than a revolutionary bio/logics program that allows users to go through millions of iterations of possible realities in a second. Remembering that pretty much everyone is connected to the Data Sea, it means that a user of MultiReal can do very improbable things at least for a short while. So in vivid demonstrations, we see people shooting dart guns in such a way that darts meet in the air, people being influenced to sell their wares at vastly reduced places, people being effectively paralyzed and unable to do anything. It is simple—as long as you have MultiReal and the person in front of you does not, you can go almost instantly through millions of possible short term futures and choose one that you like however improbable is. If both have MultiReal they tend to cancel out each other’s intentions as shown in the shooting contest. Of course it also depends on technicalities like the number of cycles allowed.

So in the hands of the Council and no one else, MultiReal is the ultimate tool for control. In the hands of the people it may be the ultimate tool for freedom, but also the ultimate tool for chaos, and given the intensive computational requirements, there is a fear that unlimited use will lead to Infoquakes. No wonder Margaret was scared about its potential and effectively handed it to the first person she found that she believed ruthless and amoral enough to stand up to Len Borda and other interested parties, but would not try to use it for his own ends. Anyway the use is limited and tiring on users, so a single person with it is not a threat, but an organization and especially the police/military, well it's a different kettle of fish. Maybe it would have been safer to hide it forever or destroy it, but Margaret could not destroy her masterpiece that should immortalize her in the Surina pantheon, though she kept it hidden for a long time.

Failing to catch his prey and embarrassed by the drudges mysteriously present at the scene, Magan decides on a different strategy. In his rise to power, Natch has not been the most rule-abiding businessman there is, and while his provable transgressions are of a wrist-slapping type, he has committed quite a lot of them, 120 to be specific. And many drudges hate Natch since he is not the huggy, endearing type either, so they are mostly happy to take their cue from the Council and blacken Natch's name. In a surprising move Magan effectively gives control of the Surina/Natch fiefcorp to Jara, the straight-shooting analyst who, in a nice sideplot, acts out her infatuation with Natch on the Sigh network. The cornered Natch is willing to go to any lengths, including threatening to ruin the career of his closest childhood friend and follower, rich engineer Horvil, to get his way, so Jara and Natch have a big time fallout when she stands up to him. Natch goes to the anti-Borda libertarian LPRACGs for allies, and later to his childhood mate/nemesis, ultra-rich manipulator Brone, while Jara struggles to keep the fiefcorp alive.

Natch is still up to his old tricks and is one step ahead of most of his enemies, but can he stay one step ahead of his presumed allies?

Jara struggles to do “the right thing”, but what exactly is the right thing?

The combination of extraordinary world building, compelling characters that grow on you in Jara and Natch, legal intrigue, political maneuverings and fast action made “MultiReal” an even more entertaining book for me than “Infoquake” which I loved too. Better pacing and a more compact time frame make “Multireal” technically more accomplished too and I really have the highest hopes for “Geosynchronous”.

Highly, highly recommended…

NOTE: The Mass Market Paperback reprint of David Louis Edelman’sInfoquake”, the first book in the Jump 225 trilogy, is out now (June 24, 2008) through
Solaris Books and can be ordered HERE.
Sunday, June 29, 2008

Rest In Peace, Michael Turner (1971 – 2008)

Without a doubt, my favorite comic book artist of all time is Michael Turner. From when he first exploded onto the scene with Witchblade to his creator-owned property Fathom, starting his own company in Aspen Comics, and to providing covers for both DC and Marvel, I’ve diligently followed Michael’s career. In fact, the majority of my comic book collection mainly consisted of Michael Turner pieces, which I bought solely for the artwork. So when I visited Newsarama today, I was completely stunned by the news that Michael passed away. Since 2000, Michael has been fighting cancer, and while he’s had a number of setbacks, he always managed to bounce back and I was pretty sure he was going to conquer his disease. Alas, that wasn’t the case and all I can say is that my thoughts & prayers go out to Michael’s family and friends, and that I, along with countless others, will miss the artist’s presence…

Included below is a letter from Vince Hernandez to
Newsarama—read the original post HERE—a biography about Michael Turner and Aspen Comics, and a few of my favorite Michael Turner pieces of artwork:

Hello all,

Unfortunately it's with great sadness that I must inform everyone that
Michael Turner tragically passed away last night, June 27th at approximately 10:42 pm in Santa Monica, Ca. Turner had been dealing with recent health complications arisen in the past few weeks. More details concerning Turner's passing, and services, will be given shortly.

Anyone wishing to send their condolences to
Michael Turner's family is encouraged to send to:

Aspen MLT, Inc.
C/O Michael Turner
5855 Green Valley Circle, Suite 111
Culver City, CA, 90230

Aspen also encourages anyone wishing to make a charitable donation to please send to
Michael Turner's requested charities: The American Cancer Society Or The Make-A-Wish Foundation

About Michael Turner and Aspen Comics:

In 1994,
Aspen MLT, Inc. founder Michael Turner moved from Tennessee to California to begin his comic book career. Working for Top Cow Productions, Michael started off doing background illustrations but soon helped to create and launch the comic book series Witchblade in October of 1995. Quickly growing to become one of the most successful comic book titles of the 90s, Michael served as an integral part of Witchblade's immense popularity, which has since been adapted into a TNT television series, an anime series, a manga comic book, and a forthcoming film adaptation. Shifting focus, Michael went on to debut his first creator owned series, Fathom, in the summer of 1998. An instant success, Fathom was a smash hit and earned the honor of becoming the number one selling comic book of the year. In the fall of 2002, Michael departed from Top Cow Productions to start his own publishing company, Aspen MLT, Inc.


Aspen MLT, Inc. continues to publish cutting edge comic book properties, spearheaded by successful new properties such as Soulfire, Shrugged, and Ekos in addition to Fathom. As well, Michael Turner and Aspen MLT, Inc. have provided covers for the comic industry's leading events, including Marvel Comic's top-selling series Civil War, DC Comic's best-selling series Justice League of America, and an Eisner Award-nominated cover run on DC Comic's Identity Crisis as well as collaborating with DC Comics on the popular Superman: Godfall mini-series. Other projects included covers to the Onslaught Reborn mini-series, and such titles as Wolverine Origins #1, The Incredible Hulk #100, Ultimate X-Men #75, Uncanny X-Men #500, Fallen Son: The Death of Captain America, World War Hulk, Ultimate Wolverine, etc. In 2006, Aspen joined forces with television giant NBC to create the online comic adaptations for the mega-hit television series Heroes.
Friday, June 27, 2008

"Havemercy" by Jaida Jones + Danielle Bennett

Read Reviews via SF Reviews

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jaida Jones is a twenty year old Barnard College, Columbia University student studying modern Japanese literature. Jaida previously worked as an editor for both Harris Publications and Scholastic, while her poems have appeared in Hanging Loose Press, Mythic Delirium, Jabberwocky, Where We Are, What We See, and The Best Teen Writing of 2004. “Cinquefoil”, a collection of her poetry, was published by New Babel Books in November 2006. She also writes The Shoebox Project, a popular Harry Potter fan website.

Danielle Bennett, twenty-one years old, is from Victoria, B.C., where she studied English literature at Camosun College. “Havemercy” is their first novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: Thanks to its elite Dragon Corps, the capital city of Volstov has all but won the hundred years’ war with its neighboring enemy, the Ke-Han. The renegade airmen who fly the corps’s mechanical, magic-fueled dragons are Volstov’s greatest weapon. But now one of its more unruly members is at the center of the city’s rumor mill, causing a distraction that may turn the tide of victory.

With Volstov immersed in a scandal that may have international repercussions, the Ke-Han devise an ingenious plan of attack. To counter the threat, four ill-assorted heroes must converge to save the kingdom they love: an exiled magician, a naive country boy, a young student—and the unpredictable ace airman who flies the city’s fiercest dragon, Havemercy.

But on the eve of battle, these courageous men will face something that could make the most formidable of warriors hesitate, the most powerful of magicians weak, and the most unlikely of men allies in their quest to rise against it...

CLASSIFICATION: Don’t let the cover art and Plot Summary fool you. There may be dragons, magicians, war and a little steampunk in “Havemercy” that may at times recall
Naomi Novik’s Temeraire and Glen Cook’s The Black Company, but the book is definitely not your typical epic fantasy adventure. Instead, the novel has a lot more in common with Sarah Monette’s unique Doctrine of Labyrinths fantasy series, including multiple first-person POVs, distinctive character voices, in-depth study of characters & relationships, and male homosexuality. Where the two differ is in their presentation with “Havemercy” much more accessible and not nearly as dark or graphic as Sarah’s novels, although the book is still recommended to adults because of explicit language and certain themes.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 388 pages divided over sixteen chapters and includes a map of Volstov and the Ke-Han Empire. Narration is in the first-person and alternates between four different point-of-views: Margrave Royston, Rook, Hal and Thom. “Havemercy” is self-contained, but much of Volstov, the Ke-Han Empire and the surrounding lands are left unexplored. Plus, the authors are writing a semi-sequel :)

June 24, 2008 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “Havemercy” via
Bantam Spectra. Cover artwork is provided by the fantastic Stephen Youll.

LIVIU’S TAKE:Havemercy” was not quite the book I was expecting based on the blurb and cover. Instead of being a standard human/dragon fantasy, this book is much more complex and interesting than that. And despite being almost 400 pages long, it's a very fast read and I almost did not put it down.

Like in most debuts there are some pacing imbalances, and the book lacks a strong distinctive voice at the beginning being split between four POV's. Two of them are relatively inexperienced youths, and one is an exiled magician feeling sorry for himself. Only pilot and all around tough guy Rook has a very distinctive voice in the first several chapters. But then Thom and Hal start maturing fast in the crucible of events and their voices become very distinctive, while Royston the magician, starts to find a new zest for life and through his eyes we experience life with the movers and shakers of Volstov.

The title character, metal magic sentient dragon Havemercy, has only a supporting role, though the parts when it appears are as good as any in similar fantasy.

Royston, sophisticated and worldly, dreads nothing more than his exile at his ultraconservative brother's estate in the middle of nowhere. Hal the poor, somewhat naive, distant relative that is groomed as Royston's nephews’ tutor hungers for knowledge so the encounter between the two is like kindling a fire. The emotional undercurrents between the two men enliven the action in the isolated countryside. When the magician is emergency recalled to the capital, what will happen with the budding relationship between the two?

In the capital, Rook, the ace of the fourteen elite Dragon Corps—pilots that ride sentient, metal dragons built by the magicians of Volstov—messed up his peacetime behavior one too many times. Because of this and Royston’s misdeeds, both of which, while unrelated, involved important personages of a country the ruler of Volstov is desperately courting for an alliance, something had to be done. But while Royston is just one of many magicians and could be safely exiled, Rook, and by extension the Dragon Corps, are essential, so a compromise is found requiring a sensitivity trainer for the tough pilots.

That is a merciless job, so Thom a “graduate student” and protégée of a powerful magician gets it, attached with the big carrot of being set for life if he succeeds, and the implicit stick of obscurity if he fails. But Thom has a secret of his own and is tougher than he seems. After the inevitable hazing at the beginning, Thom earns the respect of Master Sergeant Adamo the leader of the Corps, and slowly of the others. Only Rook keeps hazing Thom and when that backfires, he makes it his ambition to break the plucky youngster in any way he can. But life has a way of surprising people...

The main plot of the book becomes discernible after a while, the tension builds very nicely and the ending is fitting and excellent. While the book is self-contained there is ample scope for a sequel.

A big positive surprise for me this year and highly, highly recommended.

ROBERT’S TAKE: Like Liviu, “Havemercy” was not the novel that I was expecting. After all, it’s a fantasy debut written by twenty-year-olds, one of whom is a huge Harry Potter fan, with a picture of a dragon on the cover… Let’s just say I made assumptions and was quite delighted to find that “Havemercy” had much more in common with
Sarah Monette—who I feel is one of the most original authors in the genre today—instead of say, Christopher Paolini'sEragon” ;)

The most significant similarity between “Havemercy” and
Sarah Monette’s The Doctrine of Labyrinths is the characters, including multiple first-person perspectives. But where Sarah mainly alternated between two POVs, Jaida & Danielle tackle four different narratives. And like the protagonists in Monette’s novels, each character in “Havemercy” owns their own unique voice, although Rook is by far the most distinctive and strongly reminded me of Mildmay the Fox because of his tough-guy attitude and vulgar slang. Margrave Royston meanwhile, reminded me of Felix Harrowgate—both are magicians, nobles of a sort, and homosexual—while Hal is a country-raised distant cousin of minor nobility who possesses a ‘natural proclivity for learning’, and Thom is a commoner who has remade himself into a cultured ‘Versity student. The only problem with the latter three narratives is that they are strikingly similar in style to one another with only minor variances, but on the plus side, all four of “Havemercy’s” protagonists are fully-developed characters that readers can sympathize with and their interaction with one another is both believable and compelling—all important qualities in a book of this nature where characterization is the driving element rather than plot or worldbuilding. And in this regard, I’d say “Havemercy” is quite successful, because I found all four characters charming in their own way and really enjoyed their different dilemmas…

Where “Havemercy” falters as a book is with the story and worldbuilding. Of the former, very little of consequence actually happens. Royston has an illicit affair with the heir of Arlemagne—one of Volstov’s important allies—and is subsequently banished to his brother’s country estate in Nevers, where he befriends Hal. Rook meanwhile, gets caught up in his own Arlemagne scandal, and in punishment, the Dragon Corps are forced to take ‘sensitivity training’ under the young student Thom. Between these two storylines—which is basically a love story and a deep character study of what makes the Dragon Corps different from everyone else—you have two-thirds of the plot in “Havemercy”, although there’s also a subplot involving long-lost family members. It’s about 260 pages in that “Havemercy” introduces a third storyline involving the centuries-long war between Volstov & Ke-Han, and the Well—the source of the Volstov magicians’ magical Talents—where the book really takes offs and provides most of the story’s excitement. In other words, “Havemercy” may be a fast-paced read, but the novel comes up a little short in the thrills and adventure department :) The real problem with the plot though is not the lack of heart-pounding action, but its simplicity, particularly how easy it is to anticipate what’s going to happen because of all of the foreshadowing, like certain characters falling in love, others discovering they’re related, and finally defeating the Ke-Han once and for all.

As far as the worldbuilding, I really liked how Jaida & Danielle introduced readers to their world in bits & pieces through the eyes of their protagonists—such as the Dragon Corps through Thom or Volstov through Hal—rather than overwhelming us with boring info-dumping. The issue I had with this system is that there just wasn’t enough information provided. The complicated history between Volstov, Ke-Han and Ramanthe; the European/steampunk-influenced setting; the capital city Thremedon; Talents; the Well; Basquiat; Volstov’s allies…the authors tell us about these different places and concepts, but because they only give us the barest minimum of details, the world never really comes alive, not like the characters do. Heck, Havemercy, the novel’s title character, and her fellow dragons—half machine, half magical weapons of war—are little more than a gimmick, and are nowhere as interesting as their dysfunctional riders :)

Of course, where the plotting and worldbuilding may have been lacking, Jaida & Danielle more than make up for it with their strong writing skills—I was particularly impressed with their aforementioned characterization and some surprisingly astute observations about human behavior—and charismatic personalities :) In fact, one major advantage “Havemercy” has over
Sarah Monette’s novels, is how much more appealing and likable the book is, and with the right push, I really think “Havemercy” could attract a wide audience.

In conclusion, I highly suggest giving Jaida & Danielle’s debut novel a chance. It may not be a perfect book, but “Havemercy” has wonderful characters, is written with irresistible enthusiasm, is both fun and intelligent, is refreshingly original, and could be one of the year’s biggest surprises…
Wednesday, June 25, 2008

"Escapement" by Jay Lake

Read Fantasy Book Critic’s REVIEW of “Mainspring” w/Bonus Jay Lake Q&A

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jay Lake is a science fiction and fantasy author of over two hundred short stories, four collections, and four published novels including “Rocket Science”, “Trial of Flowers” and “Mainspring”. Jay also won the 2004 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and has edited several works including the upcoming “Spicy Slipstream Stories” (w/Nick Mamatas). Other upcoming releases include “Madness of Flowers” (Night Shade Books), the “Other Earths” anthology (w/Nick Gevers) and numerous short stories…

PLOT SUMMARY: Paolina Barthes is a young woman of remarkable intellectual ability—a genius on the level of Isaac Newton. But she has grown up in isolation, in a small village on the Equatorial Wall, and knows little of the world. Desperate to get to England and the knowledge available there, Paolina sets off on an adventure that brings her astounding, unschooled talent for sorcery to the attention of those deadly factions that would use her…or kill her.

Threadgill Angus al-Wazir was the Chief Petty Officer on HIMS Bassett, lost on the Wall while attempting to relieve General Gordon’s expedition. Al-Wazir survived, only to be court-martialed. But now his knowledge and experience is crucial to England’s latest project: to bore a tunnel through the Wall into the Southern Earth—an undertaking that may unleash unholy terrors upon the British Empire.

Emily McHenry Childress is a librarian at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. A spinster, she is devoted to her Library and to the avebianco, a world-spanning secret society that works to preserve and share knowledge. It was she who set Hethor on his path to rewind Earth’s Mainspring. And it is she who is being blamed for the death of William of Ghent. But when the ship carrying her to her fate is attacked, Childress suddenly finds herself the lone survivor, in a game more dangerous than she could ever imagine.

Separately and together, these three will journey far across an imaginative alternate Earth where the workings of the universe are visible, but the workings of the human soul are still mysterious…

CLASSIFICATION: Like “Mainspring”, “Escapement” is a smart, creative and distinctive blend of late 19th century steampunk, alternate history, fantasy, and science fiction with travelogue/coming-of-age elements, theology and philosophy all mixed in. Unlike “Mainspring”, “Escapement” is much more sophisticated, due mainly to the novel’s intricate plotting, complex characters, and thought-provoking world views.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 384 pages (Hardcover) divided over twenty chapters and an Epilogue. Narration is in the third-person via Paolina Barthes, Emily McHenry Childress, and Threadgill Angus al-Wazir in that specific order. “Escapement” occurs two years after the end of “Mainspring” and is mostly self-contained, but there are several references to “Mainspring”, and “Escapement’s” Epilogue—not to mention several unanswered questions—leaves little doubt that there will be another sequel :)

June 24, 2008 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “Escapement” via
Tor Books. The eye-catching cover art is once again provided by Stephan Martiniere.

ANALYSIS: In my opinion, Jay Lake’sMainspring” was a novel full of great potential that was hindered by inconsistent writing and execution. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and was looking forward to reading the sequel. Happily, everything that worked so well in the first book has been retained in “Escapement”, while most of the problems were corrected, resulting in a greatly improved sequel that is everything “Mainspring” could have been and much more…

Looking back at my review of “Mainspring
HERE, I had several issues with the book—notably the description of Jay’s clockwork universe, the characters, the pacing, and the execution of certain concepts like religion and gender roles. Starting with the setting which is one of the novels’ strengths, Jay does a much better job this time around at rendering his creation—a Victorian/steampunk-influenced alternate Earth, set in the early 1900s, where God’s handiwork is in constant evidence by the giant brass clockwork that encircles the world. Why the setting is so much more effective in “Escapement” is partly because of the more consistent manner in which the author details the novel’s environment including many exotic locales—Africa, England, the Equatorial Wall, Taiwan, Chersonesus Aurea, France, Mogadishu, a city of Brass Men, life onboard an airship and a submarine, etc—but also because the descriptions are more coherent. So where I had a lot of problems visualizing a specific place or object in “Mainspring”, the world depicted in “Escapement” is more vibrant and much easier to imagine.

Another reason why the setting works so much better in the sequel is because Jay broadens the horizon of his world. In other words, “Mainspring” only gave readers a tiny glimpse of his creation backed by superficial worldbuilding, but in “Escapement” that glimpse becomes a panoramic vista encompassing not just the British Empire, but also China’s Celestial Empire, The Solomnic Kingdom of Ophir and such secret societies as the Silent Order and the avebianco whose purpose is to “acknowledge and preserve God’s work in the world, while advancing the labors of Man.” In addition to this widening canvas, Jay’s worldbuilding is much more thorough, including the establishment of different cultures, religions, philosophies, schools of thought (Rational Humanists, Spiritualists) and world politics as well as expanding on the misogynistic attitude that was hinted at in “Mainspring”. What I enjoy most about this world however, is the way Jay seamlessly integrates actual history with the fantastical like the Strasbourg Cathedral and a waterfall city in thrall to a Lovecraftian sea monster…

Character-wise, “Escapement” features three main protagonists rather than just the single hero found in “Mainspring”, and unlike Hethor Jacques who may have been likable but lacked depth and emotional connectivity, Paolina Barthes, Threadgill Angus al-Wazir, and Emily McHenry Childress are characters you actually care about. What I like about them is threefold. 1) They each have distinctive voices and personalities: Paolina is smart, but naïve, fueled by youthful determination and harbors a strong dislike toward men because of the way she has been treated. Al-Wazir is coarse and brutish with language reflecting his persona—fewk, Johnnie foreigner, fuzzy wuzzies, etc—but is extremely loyal and the kind of person you want guarding your back. Childress meanwhile, is married to her job and while cultured, lacks any worldly experience and is naïve in her own way. 2) The characters are fully developed. So not only do we get a sense of where they came from and what they believe in, but we also get to see the characters evolve over the course of the novel. And 3), the characters are human, meaning they make mistakes, sometimes act selfishly, and are forced into difficult decisions. Another improvement over “Mainspring” is the novel’s much stronger supporting cast—a major issue I had with “Mainspring”—which effectively complements the three main characters. Of these, I particularly liked the Brass man Boaz and the eccentric Doctor Professor Lothar Ottweill who speaks in a Yoda-like manner: “Not my problem is this”, although my favorite character in the entire book was al-Wazir :)

As far as the story, I thought “Escapement” was significantly more rewarding than its predecessor, largely because the plotting is more complex, weaving together several different subplots and themes including a race between China and the British Empire to create a tunnel through the Equatorial Wall into Southern Earth, thought-provoking political intrigue, free will vs. a Divine plan, and so on. But it’s also because the story is more imaginative than “Mainspring” with a city of Brass men; an underground mechanical transport system; the aforementioned sea monster; a massive penis-shaped steam borer, and a stemwinder that measures the heart of Creation some of the novel’s most creative examples. On top of that, the pacing is much more consistent than it was in “Mainspring”, and because of the three alternating narratives, the book’s tempo is actually increased along with the novel’s excitement factor. Lastly, I was really impressed with how ethnically diverse “Escapement” was and loved the numerous references to “Mainspring” including the loblolly boy Clarence Davies, al-Wazir & Childress of course, learning the final fate of the HIMS Bassett, William of Ghent, the avebianco, and the various mentions of Hethor :)

CONCLUSION: As much as I hoped “Escapement” would be a better effort than its predecessor, “Mainspring”, never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate such a vast improvement. Be it prose, characterization, worldbuilding, plotting, dialogue, creativity or execution, the difference between the two novels is just staggering. To compare, “Mainspring” is like an appetizer, tasty and entertaining, but ultimately unsatisfying, while “Escapement” is the main course, rich, savory and thoroughly fulfilling. In short, Jay Lake’sEscapement” is one of the best releases of the year, highly deserving of award recognition, and recommended to anyone who loves reading…
Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Winners of the Dean Koontz, James Rollins and Jay Lake Giveaways!!!

Congratulations to Elaine Conte (Florida), Beth Mahoney (Nevada), and Korinne Crandall (New York) who were all randomly selected to win a COPY of Dean Koontz’s graphic novel “In Odd We Trust”, thanks to Ballantine Books!!! “In Odd We Trust”, a prequel to Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas series, is officially out today and you can read Fantasy Book Critic’s review HERE.

Congratulations also to Douglas Warren (Texas), Ellen Stafford (UK), and Sharon Fagen (Florida) who were all randomly selected to win a COPY of
James Rollins’The Judas Strain” (Paperback Version) and Robert Allen (Virginia) who won the GRAND PRIZE including copies of both “The Judas Strain” (Browse Inside) and the new Sigma Force novel, “The Last Oracle” (Browse Inside), all thanks to HarperCollins!!! “The Last Oracle” is out today and you can read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “The Last OracleHERE, which also includes a Bonus Interview with James Rollins.

Finally, congratulations to Ruth Utterback (California), Israel Yeres (New York), and Joan O’Toole (New Jersey) who were all randomly selected to win a SET of
Jay Lake’s novels, “Mainspring” and “Escapement”, thanks to Tor Books!!! Like the others, “Escapement” is officially out today and you can read Fantasy Book Critic’s review HERE. You can also read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of “Mainspring”, “Escapement’s” predecessor, HERE along with a Jay Lake Bonus Q&A :)
Monday, June 23, 2008

"The Last Oracle" by James Rollins w/Bonus Q&A

Official James Rollins Website
Order “The Last Oracle
HERE
Read An Excerpt
HERE
Watch An Interview with James Rollins HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: James Rollins is the pen name of Jim Czajkowski and is the New York Times, USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of “The Judas Strain”, “Black Order”, “Map of Bones” and many other adventure thrillers. Jim also writes fantasy under the pseudonym James ClemensThe Banned and the Banished, the Godslayer Chronicles—and recently penned the Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull movie novelization. Jim is also a veterinarian in Northern California and can often be found underground or underwater as an amateur spelunker and scuba diver.

PLOT SUMMARY: In Washington, D.C., a homeless man dies in Commander Gray Pierce's arms, shot by an assassin's bullet. But the death leaves behind a greater mystery: a bloody coin found clutched in the dead man's hand, an ancient relic that can be traced back to the Greek Oracle of Delphi. As ruthless hunters search for the stolen artifact, Gray Pierce discovers that the coin is the key to unlocking a plot that dates back to the Cold War and involves bioengineered autistic children who possess savant talents—mathematical geniuses, statistical masterminds, brilliant conceptual artists…

Meanwhile, halfway around the world, a man wakes up in a hospital bed with no memory of who he is, knowing only that he's a prisoner in a subterranean research facility. With the help of three unusual children and a chimpanzee, he makes his escape across a mountainous and radioactive countryside, pursued by savage hunters bred in the same laboratory. But his goal is not escape, nor even survival. In order to thwart a plot to wipe out a quarter of the world's population, he must sacrifice all, even the children who rescued him…

CLASSIFICATION: Employing the same formula found in James Rollins’ other novels, “The Last Oracle” is an exciting blend of cinematic action and adventure, techno thrills, historical fiction and a splash of the fantastical. Think Michael Crichton meets Dan Brown crossed with Mission Impossible, Indiana Jones and National Treasure :)

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 448 pages divided over four ‘Parts’, twenty-two chapters and a Prologue/Epilogue. Also includes ‘From the Historical Record’, an ‘Author’s Note to Readers: Truth or Fiction’, and various maps, diagrams and sketches interspersed throughout the novel. Narration is in the third-person via a large cast of characters including heroes, villains and supporting players—Gray Pierce, Painter Crowe, Yuri Raev, Savina Martov, Elizabeth Polk, Trent McBride, Lisa Cummings, Kat Bryant, etc. “The Last Oracle” is the fifth entry in the Sigma Force series and like the others, the book is self-contained, although it does deal with a subplot from “The Judas Strain” and also gives readers a hint regarding the next Sigma Force novel—one word: Dragon. The Sigma Force books are written so readers can jump on at any point, but I recommend reading at least “The Judas Strain” before starting “The Last Oracle”…

June 24, 2008 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “The Last Oracle” via
HarperCollins Canada and William Morrow. The UK edition (see inset) hits shelves September 4, 2008 via Orion Books. The US cover design is by Kris Tobiassen while the interior schematics are provided by Steve Prey.

ANALYSIS: Long-time followers of James Rollins will no doubt know what to expect from his latest offering, “The Last Oracle”, but for those unfamiliar with the author’s work, here’s what you can look forward to:

The Good1) The action is nonstop, pulse-pounding and stylish, like straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster, and similar to Jim’s other adventure novels, “The Last Oracle” alternates between a number of different subplots—interagency politics, a desperate escape, solving a thousand year old puzzle, and stopping a nefarious scheme that could kill millions—which provides ample quantities of thrilling escapades and nail biting cliffhangers. 2) Jim utilizes a number of scientific concepts in his novels which are fascinating, all the more so because they are based on factual data including being able to see into the future, neuromanipulation, remote viewing and some cool gadgets like urumi (whip-swords) and cell phone guns :) 3) Jim also integrates numerous factual historical elements into his books which are likewise fascinating. In this case, we have everything from Pythia, gypsies and Dr. Josef Mengele to Chernobyl, Jasons, and autistic savants. While the scientific and historical elements are based on fact, it should be noted that Jim likes to venture into science fiction/fantasy territory and “The Last Oracle” is no exception. 4) Reading one of Jim’s adventure novels is like reading a travelogue of exotic locales—in this case, “The Last Oracle” takes us from Washington D.C. to Russia and into India. 5) Lastly, Jim is a polished writer who knows how to spin an entertaining yarn led by energetic prose and breakneck pacing.

The Not so Good1) Characters are shallow, conventional and unsurprising. In other words, good guys are good, bad guys are bad, and so on, so even though a few characters end up switching sides in “The Last Oracle”, their decisions fit in with the nature of their personalities. As far as depth, Jim relies on character development from previous Sigma Force novels, so if you’re just starting the series with “The Last Oracle”, you might find Gray and company to be a little one-dimensional. 2) The novels are inundated with cheesy one-liners, although Jim restrains himself in “The Last Oracle” aside from a really bad ‘Uranus’ quip ;). 3) Jim utilizes a number of deus ex machinas to help his characters get out of impossible situations, which leads to the novels’ lack of tension because we never worry about Sigma Force not saving the day or that someone will die, although a few secondary characters are refreshingly killed off in “The Last Oracle”. And 4), while the scientific/historical aspects in Jim’s books are no doubt intriguing, the data provided tends to be of the superficial variety.

CONCLUSION: I enjoyed reading “The Last Oracle” like I’ve enjoyed reading all of James Rollins’ novels, but at the same time the book was a minor disappointment. The problem, at least for me, is that Jim’s action-adventure + science + history + mystery + save the world formula is starting to feel a little stale. So even though the novel introduces a few interesting twists like continuing a subplot from the previous Sigma Force adventure, a cool foreshadowing of the next book in the series, and one of the most emotionally moving moments the author has ever written, reading “The Last Oracle” feels awfully familiar. So while “The Last Oracle” is another fun, thrilling and entertaining novel by James Rollins, and I'm sure it will be successful, I think it’s time to shake things up a bit and inject some freshness into the series…

BONUS FEATURE — James Rollins Author Q&A:

Q: Including Sandstorm, “The Last Oracle” (June 24, 2008) is your fifth Sigma Force novel. What made you decide to turn Sigma Force into a series, what are the advantages/disadvantages of a connected series opposed to the self-contained novels you used to write, and how many more Sigma Force novels can readers expect?

James: I don't know how many Sigma books will be in the future. I have mapped out the personal arcs for the current cast of main characters. As to the genesis of the series, it started with “Sandstorm”, where Sigma was first invented. Up until that point I had been sticking to stand-alone novels, mostly because I had a problem with other series where one character constantly gets into trouble. What I call the “Jessica Fletcher Syndrome” from Murder She Wrote…where one woman is constantly stumbling over dead bodies. So I resisted doing a series…until Sigma Force appeared in “Sandstorm”. I thought rather than basing a series on a single individual, what about basing it on a group? A group allows me to shine the spotlight on various individuals and shift that spotlight around between books. Also, with the series based on a group, I could do one thing: put all the characters in mortal jeopardy. I wanted to create a series where MAIN characters could be maimed, permanently disabled, or even killed. So Sigma was born.

Q: Your James Rollins novels are known for their blend of thrilling action-adventure, cutting-edge technology, historical mysteries, and a splash of the fantastical and “The Last Oracle” is no exception, combining bioengineering with the Greek Oracle of Delphi. Could you talk a bit more about some of the science, history, and geography that was chosen for “The Last Oracle” and the research that was involved?

James: The book started from my fascination with human intuition. Is it real? If so, where does it come from? One of the interesting bits of true science I explore in this novel is the fact that humans (for no known reason) DO have the capability to see about three seconds into the future. This research has been tested at multiple universities. But I don't want to go into too much detail here. As to the historical mystery, “The Last Oracle” delves into the history of the Greek Temple of Delphi, where a group of women inhaled vapors and cast out prophecies that would change the course of Western Civilization. But I also explore the origin and history of the Gypsies in this novel. As to geography, we'll be journeying into India and into one of the most toxic and dangerous places on the planet (but you'll have to read the book to discover what that is).

Q: Speaking of research, I’m curious about how you approach a new novel. For example, do you start from scratch when you’re working on a new book or do you have a pile of ideas that you can choose from when you’re deciding what to write next?

James: I guess I start with the three main tent poles to the story: the historical mystery, the science behind the story, and the exotic locales. I research those elements while constructing the skeleton of the plot. And after that, I'm ready to write, to basically put the flesh on that skeleton.

Q: Besides your adventure novels, you also write epic fantasy under the pen name
James Clemens (The Banned and the Banished) including The Godslayer Chronicles. Of this, two volumes have been released so far in “Shadowfall” and “Hinterland”. Now obviously you’ve been pretty busy with “The Last Oracle” and the Indiana Jones movie novelization, but how far along are you with the third Godslayer book and when might readers expect to see it? In the meantime, would you be able to give us a taste of the new book, like maybe a working title or a small preview...? Also, how many volumes do you have planned for The Godslayer Chronicles?

James: I do have more plans for the Godslayer books. In fact, I'm in talks with my agents on finalizing that. The working title for Book Three is “God-Sword”, but I doubt that will be the final title. Besides continuing the storyline, we'll be discovering much more about Laurelle, her past, and her perilous journey to a god hidden in the heart of a volcano. As to the number of books in the series, I have two trilogies plotted. “God-Sword” will finish the first arc (after Shadowfall and Hinterland), but then there will be a second trilogy of stories with many of the same characters.

Q: On a related subject, how do you balance the time you spend writing as James Rollins as opposed to writing as James Clemens? I’m interested in your answer because as James Rollins you’re a perennial New York Times bestseller, but as James Clemens you don’t seem to be nearly as popular. So what kinds of factors are involved in this process?

James: I basically switch from thriller to fantasy, then back again. Once upon a time, I tried writing both simultaneously, but it was a disaster. As to popularity, oddly enough both names are equally as successful—just not in the same markets. The fantasy novels sell very well abroad, where the thrillers currently sell stronger here in the States. But ultimately it doesn't matter. I write what I love to write, and I'm just happy anyone is reading them!

Q: As mentioned earlier, you were selected to write the novelization of the movie
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, which was released May 22, 2008. First off, you’re a big fan of Indy so how cool was it to be chosen to write the novelization? Secondly, how different was it writing a book based on a script as opposed to writing your own original fiction? Incidentally, where does Kingdom of the Crystal Skull stack up compared to the other Indiana Jones films?

James: Oh, yeah, I'm a huge Indy fan. In fact, I remember seeing Raiders for the first time. There was a sneak preview of that movie, and I had to be the first to see that movie. I'm just sort of that sort of movie geek (and proudly so!). In fact, I still have a “May the Force Be With You” button from being one of the first 100 people into the first screening of Star Wars. So I had to see that sneak preview of Raiders. BUT I had also booked a white-water rafting trip for that same day. I remember paddling really, really fast to make sure I was out of that river in time to make the movie. I didn't quite make it. I had to go straight from the river to the theater. So I watched Raiders with soaking wet sneakers and damp clothes…and all in all, it's not a bad way of watching Raiders, added a little something to the viewing.

As to writing the novelization, it was a different bird from writing my own story. I first read the script back in the late spring of 2007. At that time, security was as tight as a bank vault, and to even read the script, it required a drive over to Lucasfilm studios in the Presidio of San Francisco. But over time, I was allowed access to the script at home and granted a key to a site where still shots from the movie were uploaded. So between reading the script, talking with the screenplay writer (the amazing David Koepp), and viewing the shots from the production department, I was able to begin working on the novel.

I found it an interesting and fascinating challenge. It was both involving and liberating: deconstructing the script, creating internal monologue, expanding some scenes, contracting others, and inventing brand new scenes. The studio gave me a fairly free hand. And all in all, I was able to add about a dozen entirely new scenes that aren't in the script or movie.

As to which movie I liked the best…despite my own involvement, I have to still say nothing surpasses Raiders! (But then again, it might have been because of the wet clothes.)

Q: Regarding your own books, when are fans going to see one of your novels hitting the big screen? After all, they’re tailor-made for the theatres and I believe a couple of your titles have already been optioned. So any updates?

James: Actually at one time or another, almost every book has been optioned. Hollywood spends a lot of time nibbling at the books, so hopefully sometime we might see a project greenlit for full production. In fact, just this past two weeks, I've fielded inquiries from various sources into the Sigma series, the books “Amazonia” and “Ice Hunt”, and The Banned and the Banished fantasy series. So keep your fingers crossed.

Q: Just for fun though, which of your books would you most like to see turned into a film and who would you want involved with the adaptation?

James: I personally would love to see “Amazonia” made into a movie, mostly just because of all the strange animals in that book. Like the piranha-frog (a mutated cross between a flesh-eating piranha and the poisonous dart frog). I'd love to see the McDonald's tie-in for that movie: “buy a Happy Meal, get a plushy piranha-frog!”

As to dream actors or screenplay writers, I'd leave that to the experts. For me, the characters in my head ARE the characters, so it's hard for me to pick actors to fill the various roles. But I'd love to do a cameo in the movie…perhaps even being chased by a piranha-frog.
Sunday, June 22, 2008

GUEST BLOG: Gail Z. Martin on “Playing God”

Order “The Summoner” + “The Blood King
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Reviews of “The Summoner” + “The Blood King
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s INTERVIEW with Gail Z. Martin
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s 2008 Hawthorn Moon Sneak Preview of “Dark Haven

Continuing the 2008 Hawthorn Moon Sneak Preview of Gail Z. Martin’s “Dark Haven”, the author agreed to guest blog on Fantasy Book Critic about a topic that has been interesting me for a while now—religion in speculative fiction, specifically “Playing God”:

When Robert asked me to contribute a guest blog, I gave him a couple of topic ideas, and the one he liked best was Playing God—The pluses and perils of inventing a fantasy religion and using it as a worldbuilding and character-building device. I was on three panels at ConCarolinas that danced around this same theme. So here we are.

If you’ve read The Summoner and The Blood King, you know about the Lady. The Winter Kingdoms have a dominant goddess-based religion with a sacred Lady that has four light aspects and four dark aspects. Different kingdoms—and different characters—worship differing aspects, resulting in highly divergent world views although it’s technically the same deity.

I’ve had some folks ask me why I chose to interweave the Lady into the books. It’s true that in much SF/F, religion only shows up as the bad guy. The Magisterium in The Golden Compass and the Karsites’s worship of the Sacrificed God in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar series come immediately to mind. I suspect that may be because many of the writers I’ve talked with share a common bond of having experienced toxic versions of religion growing up. SF/F tends to attract people who question the status quo, ask difficult questions and who have learned to look behind the curtain for the guy who is pretending to be the Wizard. There are a lot of flavors of religion that frown on that sort of thing—harshly. I’ve written elsewhere about my own experience with that. Been there, done that, got the scars.

On the other hand, it’s impossible to really understand world history without factoring in religion. It’s one of the major currents—along with cultural, economic, climate/health and political, to name just a few—that shape the course of history. So to take a big picture view of the Winter Kingdoms, as we begin to do in Dark Haven, I felt I had to have a framework that included religion. And with a character who is a Summoner, who stands on the line between life and death and frequently intercedes for souls as they depart, it seemed natural for me to include a religious frame of reference.

I chose to create a religion because I didn’t want to deal with the emails debating dogma about real religions. I also wanted to come at some concepts and ideas without having doctrine and dogma get in the way. So the religion of the Winter Kingdoms is not any “real” religion although it has very deep roots in a wide variety of cultures, religions and traditions.

Which brings me to the point of “playing God.” Authors and dungeon masters do that anyhow, with or without a religious component. That’s our job. You want a real struggle between free will and predestination? Try developing the story arc for a book. Regardless of how you think the real universe works, reading a book or gaming entirely based on randomness wouldn’t lead to very coherent results. It might be closer to real life than we’d like to think, but not satisfying for entertainment. (Someone once said that the difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.)

For me, I think that adding the different variations in belief among characters and kingdoms makes the world more real and more complex. Think of Jonmarc Vahanian, who has been happily agnostic all these years until he ends up friends with a Summoner and starts to have experiences that shake his world view. Or Tris, who has glimpsed all of the aspects and realizes that all of the wars and problems that have happened over differing views of the Lady made no sense at all. In Dark Haven, we start to see more of the interpersonal and international problems that arise from differing views.

So how about the thornier problem of a deity that actually occasionally intervenes. Is that automatically the dreaded deus ex machina? I don’t think so. This is where the plot element of religion mirrors the real element in that it is a highly subjective experience. To a person of faith, divine intervention is frequent and subtle. Viewed without the lens of faith, those are coincidences at best and random chance at worst. Who’s right? We won’t really know for sure until it’s too late to argue about it. But it’s important to realize that every day, people of all faiths all over the world ask for divine intervention for everything from finding car keys to healing a terminal illness. It’s called prayer.

What are the rules when it comes to making up a religion? This is where authors are at a disadvantage. In the real world, religions are built layer upon layer by many generations and incorporate influences from all over the world and other belief systems. Authors have to fast-track that process and still remain believable. For me, I think there are a few essential elements. The religion has to have its own symbolism and rituals. It needs to attempt to explain the essentials of life and death. It will relate to moral codes as well as patterns of everyday life. It should help its practitioners make sense of the randomness of nature, even if its practitioners vary widely in their understanding and often disagree. The most benign elements will be horribly misconstrued by someone. It will inevitably be twisted by those who seek to use it to gain and hold power. And at the same time, it will be embraced by those who have a vision for unity. To those who stand outside, it will appear to be superstition. To those inside, it becomes the lens through which life achieves meaning. Some practitioners will take a big picture view, while others become petty legalists. Some will use it to justify their own prejudice and hatred and will cite it as permission to do great harm. Others will find in it the roots of healing and wholeness. A mess—just like real life.

I think that for it to work, the author has to “believe” in the religious framework of the book in the same sense that he/she believes in the reality of the characters and the world while writing. Absent that belief, the plot is bloodless, like moving markers around a board. Authors flirt with interesting boundaries between the real and the imaginary. But if we aren’t the first, best citizens of our imagined worlds, who will be? So the religion of a fictional world, like its characters, climate, political structure and social framework must be “real” enough to the author that he/she can make it real to the reader. Whether or not it bears any relation to the author’s real-world ideology is not relevant. That’s why they call it “fiction.”
Saturday, June 21, 2008

Hawthorn Moon 2008 Sneak Preview of Gail Z. Martin’s “Dark Haven”

Official Gail Z. Martin Website
Order “
The Summoner” + “The Blood King
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Reviews of “
The Summoner” + “The Blood King
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s
INTERVIEW with Gail Z. Martin

The effects of Jared the Usurper's reign of terror go further than anyone imagined, striking at the stability of the Winter Kingdoms. Undead forces align against Lord Jonmarc Vahanian of Dark Haven in a struggle for power between mortals and the vayash moru, while magic has become a dangerous and unpredictable force. Meanwhile, as King Martris Drayke prepares for his wedding, he must also prepare for war against rebels still loyal to Jared even as Isencroft is on the brink of civil war over the looming reality of a joint kingdom. Only one thing is certain—the Winter Kingdoms will be changed forever, and innocence will be the first casualty…

In February 2009,
Solaris Books will publish “Dark Haven”, Book Three in Gail Z. Martin’s The Chronicles of the Necromancer, following “The Summoner” (Volume I) and “The Blood King” (Volume II). In support of “Dark Haven’s” pending release, Gail Z. Martin has launched the 2008 Hawthorn Moon Sneak Preview and has asked Fantasy Book Critic to participate. So to find out more about “Dark Haven”, please visit any of the links below:

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Dark Haven Excerpt I
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Dark Haven Excerpt II
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Audio Reading from Dark Haven
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Gail Z. Martin Videoblog Message about Dark Haven
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Ghost in the Machine Podcast about Dark Haven and the Winter Kingdoms
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Interviews with King Martris Drayke and Lord Jonmarc Vahanian
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DragonPage’s Interview with Gail Z. Martin
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Book Club Discussion for The Summoner
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Book Club Discussion for The Blood King
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SF Signal’s Dark Haven Feature
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SciFi Chick’s Hawthorn Moon Giveaway
~Request Signed Bookplates
HERE for The Summoner and The Blood King
Friday, June 20, 2008

"Mainspring" by Jay Lake w/Bonus Q&A

Official Jay Lake Website
Official Jay Lake Blog
Order “Mainspring
HERE
Read An Excerpt
HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jay Lake is a science fiction and fantasy author of over two hundred short stories, four collections, and three published novels including “Rocket Science” and “Trial of Flowers”. Jay also won the 2004 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and has edited several works including the upcoming “Spicy Slipstream Stories” (w/Nick Mamatas). Other upcoming releases include “Escapement”, “Madness of Flowers” (Night Shade Books), the “Other Earths” anthology (w/Nick Gevers) and numerous short stories…

PLOT SUMMARY: One night in the town of New Haven, a young Clockmaker apprentice named Hethor Jacques is visited by the Archangel Gabriel and charged with a duty: To find the Mainspring of the Earth and rewind it using the Key Perilous, saving the world. Thus begins a long and dangerous journey from the Northern Earth, across the Equatorial Wall, and deep into the South Pole as an innocent young man seeks to fulfill his mission in the face of overwhelming odds with only the aid of unlikely allies and the power of his faith…

CLASSIFICATION: I’ve never read a book quite like “Mainspring”, so it’s a bit difficult to describe, but there’s some Victorian steampunk in the novel, alternate history, a traditional fantasy quest, coming-of-age elements, a travelogue, and theological philosophy. Tone-wise, “Mainspring” almost reads like a YA novel if not for some really violent scenes, interspecies sex, and the deeper religious musings. I would recommend the book to readers who like their speculative fiction intelligent, thought-provoking, spiritual, and exotic :)

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 320 pages (Hardcover) divided over twelve chapters. Narration is in the third-person exclusively via the sixteen-year-old Hethor Jacques. “Mainspring” is self-contained, but certain subplots are continued in the sequel, “Escapement”, which introduces a new storyline. June 12, 2007 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “Mainspring”. The Mass Market paperback version was released April 29, 2008. The cover art was provided by
Stephan Martiniere.

ANALYSIS: Up till now, my exposure to Jay Lake has been limited to the author’s short fiction which either really worked for me or was underwhelming. “Mainspring” falls somewhere in the middle with the parts that I liked and disliked usually related to one another…

For instance, I loved the concept of Earth being part of a giant clockwork mechanism constructed by God, complete with colossal gears and springs. What I didn’t like so much was the haphazard manner in which this backdrop was described with certain aspects depicted in great detail while others were left frustratingly vague like the Mainspring itself. I also liked the Victorian/colonial time period, but was disappointed by how little this alternate Earth was explored. After all, you would think that giant brass clockwork and an Equatorial Wall separating the planet into two halves would have a major impact on the world socially, politically and economically, but that’s not the case—at least from what little we get to see.

I also loved the novel’s religious angle, particularly the idea of an entire quest driven by faith and divine intervention. The problem with this idea is that Hethor Jacques is just not convincing in his role as the world’s savior. Like why is his faith so strong, why does he have god-like powers, and why is he the only one who can rewind the Mainspring—other than Gabriel stating he was ‘created in the image of the Tetragrammaton’? For that matter, why is the Mainspring unwinding in the first place? It’s not just the unanswered questions though that are bothersome; it’s the characterization as a whole including Hethor’s lack of development, an inability to emotionally connect with Hethor, and a weak supporting cast—the last is more because secondary characters only appear in the novel for a short time…

Another problem with the novel’s religious angle is that Jay barely scratches the surface of the impact that such a perpetual miracle as God’s clockwork would have on peoples’ different faiths aside from the Rational Humanists and tweaking Christianity a bit—horofixes, a Brass Christ, etc:

“Our Father, who art in Heaven
“Craftsman be thy name
“Thy Kingdom Done
“Thy plan be done
“On Earth as it is in Heaven
“Forgive us this day our errors
“As we forgive those who err against us
“Lead us not into imperfection
“And deliver us from chaos
“For thine is the power, and the precision
“For ever and ever, amen.”


The good thing about Jay’s approach is that the novel never gets preachy or too heavy-handed. Nevertheless, it would have been nice if the author had played around more with this area of the book. Similarly, I wish Jay would have expounded on the misogynistic attitude toward women that is only hinted at in the novel…

Story-wise, “Mainspring” is certainly imaginative and entertaining with its exotic locales, incredible wonders and dire perils—candlemen, airships, ‘winged savages’, a city of sorcerers, earthquakes, a tribe of non-human primates, et cetera—but the plot is fairly straightforward and is plagued by uneven pacing like rushing through important junctures of the book. Personally, I think the novel should have been fleshed out more which would have given the story, characters, and the world room to grow.

CONCLUSION: Even though “Mainspring” is marred by inconsistency—specifically the characterization, pacing, descriptive prose and the execution of certain concepts—I still enjoyed reading Jay Lake’s novel. After all, the book is highly creative, smart, and manages to challenge the mind, stimulate the imagination, and is fun to read all at the same time. The problem with “Mainspring” is that it had all of the potential of a modern-day classic. Because of its inconsistencies however, the novel is a flawed effort that exasperates almost as much as it amazes. Nonetheless, I have high hopes for the sequel…

BONUS FEATURE — Jay Lake Author Q&A:

Q: “Mainspring”, your
Tor Books debut, has been described as “Theological steampunk set in a mechanical universe” (Kirkus Reviews) and has evoked comparisons to everyone from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Gene Wolfe, Philip José Farmer and China Miéville to Ian R. MacLeod, Adam Roberts, and even Robert Louis Stevenson. How would you describe “Mainspring” and where did the influence for the book, particularly the setting and the plot, come from?

Jay: “Theological steampunk set in a mechanical universe” isn't a bad description, actually. I was playing with two basic ideas when I wrote the book.

One, essentially theological, was the inversion of the relationship between man and God in our everyday world. (And I say this as a committed secular humanist.) Essentially, to see God in our world requires faith. Logically at least, atheism should be the default position. I wanted to write a world where it required faith to *deny* God, and there are no atheists, only dissenters. One of the underlying puzzles of a universe like mine is why existence isn't completely deterministic. Why would there be free will at all?

The other idea was essentially genre-driven, which was the literalization of the Renaissance idea of God the watchmaker. If you investigate the teleological argument for the existence of God, you find something that looks a lot like Intelligent Design, which is funny, since I'm a fierce critic of the intellectual fraud that movement represents. To that end, I have my little jokes in the books, such as populating an explicit Young Earth creation with Australopithecines and Neanderthals. But mostly I thought the image of a sky full of gears was just darned cool.

The decision to set it in a Victorian (or pseudo-Victorian) era was mostly stylistic. I could have pushed this story back a century or so, but not much more because of the plot's need for a world-spanning political and transportation infrastructure. I could have pulled it forward into a contemporary analog, but frankly, I thought the ornamentation and underlying themes of steampunk served as a much better flavoring for the story I wanted to tell.

Q: One common criticism toward “Mainspring” was that while it started out strongly, the ending fizzled. Did you have any problems writing the conclusion and what is your response to this criticism?

Jay: That was the greatest struggle for me. The published ending of “Mainspring” is not the original draft ending. I worked with my
Tor editor, Beth Meacham, to revise the first ending I'd created, which she (correctly) found untenable. I don't personally think the ending fizzled, because if I did, I'd have rewritten it again. As for my response to that criticism, I fall back on my very consistently held view that the story belongs to the reader. If it fizzled for some critics and fans, then it fizzled. The lesson to me is that I need to understand why some people saw it that way, and do better in the future.

Q: “Mainspring” was your large publisher debut. Could you tell us a bit about your journey in finding a publisher for “Mainspring”, how you ended up at
Tor, and what you feel are the positive/negatives between a major & indie publisher?

Jay: My agent and I first started working together in the fall of 2003. At the time I was very focused on short fiction and wasn't actively seeking representation for a novel. I had some smaller properties around—“Rocket Science” for example. I wrote “Mainspring” in the original draft, and we began shopping it in New York along with a book called “The Murasaki Doctrine”. In the mean time,
Fairwood Press picked up “Rocket Science”, which came out in the summer of 2005, while that fall Night Shade Books contracted me to write “Trial of Flowers”. Around the end of 2005, Tor made an informal expression of interest in “Mainspring”, which went under contract in the early 2006.

If you look at the timing, it kind of all happened at once. I don't think either of the indie novels had an effect on “Mainspring” selling to
Tor, at least not directly. The novel sold on manuscript, and the strength of my growing reputation as a short story author. Remember, this was the year after I won the Campbell.

I have been extremely happy with
Tor. They have given me brilliant covers, and launched my books strongly enough for them to get traction in the market. Beth is a wonderful editor, and they've taken good care of me.

At the same time, to belabor the obvious the experience of working with a major publisher is very different than the experience of working with an indie publisher. With an indie publisher, the author tends to be very close to the entire life cycle of the book—cover art, marketing plan, production process. In major houses, those functions are siloed. The author has a close relationship with their acquiring editor, a passing relationship with their copy editor, while everything else happens on the other side of the silo wall.

I don't have a value judgment about that, not at all, but the differences certainly can result in sharply varying experiences.

Q: In “Escapement”—Publication Date: June 24, 2008—you return to the world of “Mainspring” with a new story that follows Paolina Barthes. Could you talk a bit about the new characters that show up in “Escapement”, the themes explored, and the world itself, specifically any new locations/concepts that are introduced?

Jay: In “Escapement” I moved a bit away from the heavy theology and philosophy that underpins “Mainspring” and more toward an adventure or thriller format. It's almost a Boy's Own book in its way, albeit two of the three protagonists are female. The underlying metaphysics of the world are still firmly in place, and still drive many story elements, but they take a back seat to a faster-moving, more complex plot.

"Escapement” centers on Paolina Barthes, a girl born in a very poor, isolated village along the Atlantic coast of the Equatorial Wall. Her intelligence and insight are on a par with Isaac Newton's, but her opportunities are as barren as the place she calls home. When chance brings an English boy to her village—a survivor of the HIMS Bassett expedition in “Mainspring”—she seizes the opportunity to follow his backtrail and head for England, the seat of learning and power.

I chose to focus on a girl as answer to myself. “Mainspring” has a handful of female supporting characters, but the book is very “boy”, and I wanted to open up both my writing and, hopefully, my readership. I use her story to talk about more individual issues than I addressed in “Mainspring”—personal choice, responsibility, the human need for opportunity, still set in the framework of the tension between determinism and free will established in the first book.

At the same time, in order to give more angles on the story, I promoted two minor characters from the first book to their own POVs. Angus Threadgill Al-Wazir, the improbably named chief petty officer from Bassett, and Emily McHenry Childress, the Yale theology librarian, each come to the forefront in their own way. Al-Wazir is an old British tar, entirely lacking in formal education but very wise and canny with his years of experience. Childress is very educated, but utterly sheltered in her life as a New England spinster. Each of them is sent twisting across the world, until all three characters intersect, providing three very different world views.

With three characters, I also widened the scope and settings. Al-Wazir spends much of the book either in England or in the equatorial regions of Africa. Childress is kidnapped by the crew of a Chinese submarine and taken from the North Atlantic to Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and ultimately Sumatra. Paolina finds her way from West Africa to France, then back again, before winding up in Sumatra as well.

My own childhood was spent largely in Southeast Asia and West Africa. I have finally used my memories of those times and places most directly in fiction with this range of travel and arc of setting.

Q: I believe you’ve been working on a third volume set in the same milieu as “Mainspring” and “Escapement”. Can you give us a progress report on this book and any details about the title, tentative release date, etc.? Also, do you have any other stories—be it novels or short fiction—planned for this world?

Jay: I've written one piece of short fiction in this world, “Chain of Fools”, which is still looking for a home. I have committed to a novella for
Subterranean Press, which I hope to write this summer. (My recent bout of colon cancer has derailed my writing schedule, and I don't have everything back on track yet.)

I have worked out much of the plot details of a third novel in this setting, called “Tourbillion”. One of “Escapement’s” secondary characters, Boaz the brass golem, will be the primary protagonist of “Tourbillion”, and the book will reunite both the themes and characters of the first two books in a plot set amidst a World War I analog being fought between England and Imperial China.

The book is not yet written, and I do not expect it to be out until about 2011. My 2009 book from
Tor will be “Green”, a decadent fantasy which stands completely outside the “Mainspring” continuity, while my 2010 book is still under discussion.

Q: Moving on, you’re writing another novel series called The City Imperishable which is being released through
Night Shade Books. So far only “Trial of Flowers” is currently available, but possibly the sequel, “Madness of Flowers”, will be published by the end of the year. Could you tell us what this series is about, why readers might enjoy it, and your plans for the series?

Jay: Indeed. I am very fond of “Trial of Flowers”, and wish more readers shared that sentiment. One of the perils of indie press is that the quirks of indie distribution can keep a good book down. Nonetheless, we are doing “Madness of Flowers”, a sequel which will be released in December of 2008, per the
Night Shade catalog.

This series is wall-eyed, pedal-to-the-metal decadent urbanism. The first book takes place almost entirely within the walls of the City Imperishable, capital to a lost empire that has long since been reduced to a trading center with fading dreams of glory. A succession crisis with magical overtones has paralyzed the government, while the dwarfs of the city—a class of people mutilated in childhood, rather than a magical race _pace_ Tolkien—are rising in revolt. It has sex, violence and politics in glorious surfeit.

Madness of Flowers” goes beyond the walls to explore the social aftermath of the events of the first book. The City Imperishable's last remaining tributary city, Port Defiance, is breaking free under pressure from dwarf refugees, while the fabric of dwarf society unravels completely. The long-lost last emperor threatens to reappear after centuries of being presumed safely dead, as the City and her interests are attacked by pirates, giant wasps, and the weight of history.

I have notes for a third book, “Reign of Flowers”, but right now there are no plans to publish it. If MADNESS does well, I will revisit the question with
Night Shade, but until I have publisher interest the project is shelved.

Q: Besides novels, you’ve also published over 200 short stories and have done some editing work including the upcoming “Spicy Slipstream Stories” w/
Nick Mamatas. Can you talk about “Spicy Slipstream Stories”, any short stories that are being published this year, and any other writing projects that you’re currently working on or plan on starting in the near future?

Jay: Yes, I've had quite the ride in short fiction. In 2008 I have about 15 or 20 stories coming out. A few highlights: Earlier this year I had a story at
Clarkesworld of which I am particularly proud, “The Sky that Wraps the World Round, Past the Blue and Into the Black”. This June, Jim Baen's Universe is running “Last Plane to Heaven.” This fall, Paper Golem Press will be publishing Alembical, which will include “America, Such as She Is”. That novella may be the best piece of short fiction I have written yet in my career, insofar as I can tell.

I have two editing projects due out this year, “Spicy Slipstream Stories” and “Other Earths”.
Nick Mamatas and I came up with SSS several years ago, as a sort of meta-take on the whole slipstream craze. I've done a fair amount of serious work in slipstream, especially with Deborah Layne on Polyphony volumes 1-6, so it seemed like a lot of fun to do a genre mashup between slipstream and the classic traditions of pulp. “Other Earths” is an alternate history anthology edited with Nick Gevers, due out from DAW though I'm not sure of the release date. We've got some very nice work in there from some Big Name Authors, as well as Young Turks and newcomers. If I hadn't co-edited it, I'd be quite jealous about not being in the ToC.

Q: Speaking of short stories, why is the vast majority of your bibliography of the short fiction variety and how different is it writing short fiction opposed to long-form novels?

Jay: The vast majority of my bibliography is short fiction simply because of the time investment. I can publish about two novels a year, while in that same span of time I can get anywhere for 10 to 20 short stories into print. Add to that the fact that I was active in short fiction for half a decade before I became active in the long-form.

They are definitely different arts. I sometimes use the metaphor of cabinet making contrasted with framing carpentry—both use the same set of tools, but to very different ends. Short fiction is cabinetry, while novels are like building houses.

What a lot of people don't think about, and what that metaphor ignores, is the degree to which different forms of short fiction vary from one another. I'm of the opinion that the distance between flash and novellas is greater than the distance between novellas and novels, for example, yet we consider the span of flash-to-novella to fall under the short fiction rubric.

Q: Staying on this subject, do you have a favorite short story that you’ve written or a particular anthology or collection that you were proud to be a part of?

Jay: Picking a favorite short story is a bit like picking a favorite child. Nonetheless, as I mentioned above, I'd have to say that “American, Such as She Is” is probably my strongest work to date in short fiction. As for being a part of things, my proudest moment was being included in
Postscripts issue 1, alongside Brian Aldiss, Ray Bradbury, Joyce Carol Oates, Gene Wolfe and a handful of other big names. Getting the signature sheets in the mail for the limited edition back in the spring of 2004 was the moment when I realized I was a real writer.

Q: Recently you were diagnosed with cancer and underwent a successful operation. How much of an impact has this ordeal had on your life, both personally and professionally, and will this experience affect your writing in any way?

Jay: It's had a profound impact on my life at all levels. Cancer is an emotional disease that spreads like wildfire among the patient's family and friends, every bit as much as it is a disease of the body. The hardest part of this experience was seeing the fear in the eyes of my parents and my child.

I can't help but think this will deeply affect my writing, but it's probably years too early to tell exactly how. As a practical matter, I am now circulating a book proposal called “A Tourist in the Land of the Slow”, for a narrative non-fiction book about the history of cancer, current treatments, and my personal experience of the disease.

Q: In closing, is there any thing you’d like to say to your readers?

Jay: Read more. Of whatever you like. If you're a writer, write more. We need each other.

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