Thursday, October 25, 2012

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Your Cities by Anaea Lay

The Story Recommendation of the Week is for "Your Cities" by Anaea Lay. "Your Cities" first appeared in the June 2011 issue of Apex Magazine, but I didn't stumble across it until a year later. Luckily, it's recently been republished in audio form at Tina Connolly's Toasted Cake podcast, which gives me a fresh opportunity to recommend it.

"Your Cities" is set in a near future when cities have inexplicably started wandering about, trampling folks in their paths. The narrator addresses the tale to a former lover, who she(?) believes is somehow responsible for these bizarre occurrences. The lover vanished in New Orleans, just before that city awoke:
I’ve tried to picture it ever since, you strolling into a city anybody with any sense had long since fled. You whistled; I’m sure you whistled. But then what? Did you crawl into the city’s bed and stroke its shoulder, nibbling on its ear and whispering tidings of morning, the way you would for me? Did you wrap your arms around it and speak of love and sex and waffles, coaxing it past the foggy stages of fresh wakening and into the warmth of your voice?
In the space of only about 1500 words, Anaea Lay creates a wonderful mood to this piece, effectively using the collapse of our urban and suburban civilization to frame the narrator's personal loss. Who can't identify with a failed relationship that makes you feel like the whole world is crumbling?

I believe "Your Cities" was Anaea Lay's first professional sale, but she has since appeared in Penumbra, and has stories forthcoming at Strange Horizons, Apex (again), and Shock Totem. I met her at Worldcon and told her I liked this story——she adamantly denies instantly turning beet red, but her giddy tweet moments later about her first fan contact is a matter of public record. I believe Anaea will soon be winning over a great many more fans.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Battle of the Books, Summer 2012, Second Round :: Age of Aztec by James Lovegrove vs. Silver by Rhiannon Held

The second round of the Summer 2012 Battle of the Books continues with Age of Aztec by James Lovegrove against Silver by Rhiannon Held. Whichever book I most want to keep reading after 50 pages will advance to the semifinals.

Age of Aztec: Solaris paperback, 507 pages, cover art by Marek Okon. Age of Aztec is a standalone SF adventure novel in the Pantheon series. James Lovegrove is a British author of a number of SF, horror and dark fantasy books. Age of Aztec advanced to the second round by defeating The Ultimate Game by Sean Austin.

In the first 25 pages, an Aztec blood rite at the London ziggurat was attacked by the terrorist called the Conquistador. The Jaguar Warriors blasted what they thought was the Conquistador with their lightning guns, but it was just his empty armor. The Conquistador escaped. Chief Kellaway of Scotland Yard killed the inspector responsible for the debacle. Inspector Mal Vaughn was promoted and given the Conquistador case.

Mal Vaughn and her assistant Aaronson go to London ziggurat. Mal determines that the Conquistador avoided capture by hiding for hours among the dead bodies of the sacrificial victims.

Rich English businessman Stuart Reston takes an aerodisc flight to Palermo. He’s interested in purchasing an obsidian mining company on the slopes of the volcano Mount Etna, and tours operations. The mining company’s Italian CEO thinks Reston is an uptight, but no nonsense type of guy.

An Aztec priest is brutally murdered, along with his two bodyguards, at Heathrow Airport. The TV News questions if it was the work of the Conquistador. Later, at Regent Park amphitheater, there’s a stage performance containing aspects of Aztec mythology.

Silver: Tor book trade paperback, June 2012, 317 pages, cover photograph by Trevillion Images. Rhiannon Held is a US writer. Silver, an urban fantasy, is her first novel, and start of a planned series. Silver advanced to the second round by defeating Destroyer of Worlds by Mark Chadbourn

In the first 25 pages, Werewolf Andrew Dare tracked down an unknown lone werewolf who smelled of silver. He found an injured, scrawny, somewhat deranged woman who talked to herself. She can no longer change into a wolf. She told him that Death called her Silver. Andrew coaxed Silver come with him. Someone hurt Silver by injecting her arm with silver.

Andrew decides to take Silver to the Roanoke pack house. He hopes that she’ll become more lucid if treated by their doctor. But Silver fears she will lead “the monster” to the others.

Andrew, who works outside the pack as an enforcer, isn’t entirely welcome in the Roanoke house. Rory, the Roanoke Alpha, doesn’t recognize Silver and is unwilling let her stay because she’s a madwoman. They don’t know where Silver is from, but Rory wants one of the Western packs to take her. Andrew queries several unhelpful Western alphas about possible were disappearances.

The Battle: We have a alternate world, military SF novel going against a contemporary urban fantasy with werewolves. Two very different books.

The first 25 pages of Age of Aztec was filled with brutal action scenes. The start of the next 25 pages wasn’t and dragged. The characters, for me, couldn’t carry the pace. But the next action scene worked, although it featured an Aztec priest getting murdered in the toilet.

I had problems getting into the characters. It didn’t help me that the first thing I learned about Inspector Mal was about her one-night stand. I disapproved of the Italian CEO’s demeaning jokes about his wife. I’m not sure of Stuart Reston's motivations.

The bit about the Aztec Empire using fusion plants to control eruptions of the world’s volcanoes seemed implausible.

Silver, on the other hand, is character driven, and not action packed. Death’s only appearance is in a speaking role in Silver’s mind. There’s been minimal action, only a slap away of an unwanted hand, and a slap in the jaw for insubordination. Shifting forms between human and wolf isn’t traumatic.

I found Andrew Dare to be a likable character. Andrew wants to do the right thing for Silver and investigate the threat. Silver is an interesting, but damaged character. Silver thinks her silver-injected arm contains snakes. I like that Death talks to her using the voices of dead people, and that Death takes people to get their voices.

This battle comes down to which I’d personally rather read: brutal action or slow-paced character building. Age of Aztec is more of a thrill ride, but I personally care to find out what happens with the werewolves.

THE WINNER: SILVER by Rhiannon Held

Silver by Rhiannon Held advances to meet either The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen or The Mongoliad: Book One by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear & five others in the semifinals.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Battle of the Books, Summer 2012, Second Round :: Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper vs. Taft 2012 by Jason Heller

We continue the second round with Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper versus Taft 2012 by Jason Heller. The book I most want to continue reading after 50 pages will move on to the semifinals.

Songs of the Earth: Tor Books hardcover, March 2012, 467 pages, cover illustration by JS Collaboration, Book One of The Wild Hunt. Elspeth Cooper is a UK writer. Songs of the Earth is her first novel.

In the first 25 pages, Gair, a novice Church knight with inborn magical ability, was found guilty of witchcraft. Gair was granted clemency, to the protest of Elder Goran, and sentenced to branding and banishment instead of death. A stranger, an older man named Alderan, helps Gair. Unfortunately, a witchfinder is already on Gair’s trail.

Gair must leave the parish by dusk. Alderan gives Gair back his lost clothes and sword. Gair and Alderan hurry, only to have their horses slowed by traffic near the city gate. Gair gets anxious. Later, in the hills near the parish boundary, the road is blocked by knights who are Goren’s men, and the witchfinder. Gair refuses to be taken. Gair and Alderan manage to outwit and pass through the other men.

Elsewhere, the Gatekeeper Masen learns that the Veil, the boundary between our world and the Hidden Kingdom, is weakening. He captures, using a magical net, a magnificent stag that a came through a Gate when running from a hunter on other side. Masen returns the stag to the Hidden Kingdom where it belongs.

Taft 2012: Quirk Books paperback, June 2012, 249 pages, cover illustration by Doogie Horner. Jason Heller is a culture journalist and author. Taft 2012 is his first novel.

In the first 25 pages, Former President William Howard Taft mysteriously appeared covered in mud at a White House press conference in 2011, almost a hundred years after he went missing. Secret Service agent Kowalczyk shot Taft in the leg. Taft's identity was confirmed by DNA tests and his knowing a secret presidential ID code.

Taft is moved to a secure DC apartment, designated Big Boy One. Agent Kowalczyk commands his security detail. Taft gets annoyed with history Prof. Susan Weschler. Congresswoman Rachel Taft (Ind.-OH) invites her great-grandfather to Thanksgiving dinner. Kowalczyk brings in a (Wii) game console so that Taft can play golf. Taft is recognized and mobbed like a rock star when walking toward the Library of Congress. Next time going out, Kowalczyk makes Taft incognito in T-shirt and baseball cap. Taft shares a table at a deli with an African-American woman.

The Battle: These books are very different in subject and tone. Songs of the Earth is a medieval-like fantasy with a powerful church and outlawed magic. Taft 2012 is a modern-day political satire about a former US President back after apparently hibernating for nearly a hundred years.

In Songs of the Earth, I really liked that magic was termed song and used by the power of will. I’m curious about the Hidden Kingdom, which seems peopled by fey or elves. But, on the other hand, I found it odd that Alderan would decide to ride with Gair, a convicted man, and leave the city. When Gair used his magic, I liked the special effects on Gair, but it didn't much alter the situation.

I liked the readability of Taft 2012. The inclusion of snippets from other media humorously added other points of view. Historical facts about Taft and his comments about our society were inserted interestingly. But not much really happened to advance a plot.

Both books are good in their different ways. I could have continued with either. But after some thought, I decided that I’d rather continue reading about former President Taft.

THE WINNER: TAFT 2012 by Jason Heller

Taft 2012 by Jason Heller will advance to meet The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis in the semifinals.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: Gastrophidia by Nathaniel Lee

The Story Recommendation of the Week is for Gastrophidia by Nathaniel Lee, from the September 2012 issue of Ideomancer.

"Gastrophidia" is about a fellow named Hurley, who has a snake in his belly. Specifically, a viper. Sharing his body with a snake gives Hurley a crotaline perspective on things; for instance, he likes his tiny apartment because he thinks of it as a den——no sense having more space than you need.

The snake emerges at night, although perhaps Hurley is dreaming:
It slipped along Hurley’s pock-marked skin, brushing against him with the susurrus of scales on flesh. It was warm from its time inside him, and he felt it coil down one leg and up the other with a tingling shudder. Its feathery tongue danced along the sensitive skin along his side, down his thighs, on the bottoms of his feet, and Hurley clenched himself tight in an agony of glee, unwilling to twitch or flail and risk injuring the snake. It lay itself along the length of Hurley’s body, its tail-tip wrapped around one ankle, its blunt, blood-slick snout next to Hurley’s ear, and began to sing to him. The snake had a woman’s voice, deep and husky, and he could never quite recall the words to the song the next morning. Hurley knew, though, that the snake loved him and thanked him for his pains . . .
Hurley's life becomes complicated when the snake takes exception to Hurley's overbearing boss.

"Gastrophidia" is a short, fun story, but thought-provoking at the same time. It's well worth checking out. I also note that this is the third SROTW to come from Ideomancer, which consistently finds very interesting work from relatively new authors.

Nathaniel Lee, who sometimes shortens his name to Nathan Lee and other times expands it to Nathaniel Matthews Lee, has published short stories in such venues as Daily SF, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and Abyss & Apex. He seems to prefer writing at short lengths, and posts flash pieces at nearly a daily rate on his Mirrorshards site.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Battle of the Books, Summer 2012, Second Round :: Faith by John Love vs. The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis

Our initial second round match of the Summer 2012 Battle of the Books pits Faith by John Love against The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis. The winner will be the book I most want to continue reading after the first 50 pages.

Faith: Night Shade Books trade paperback, January 2012, 373 pages, cover art by Adam Paquette. Faith, a science fiction space opera, is the first novel by British author John Love. Faith advanced to the second round by defeating My Vacation in Hell by Gene Twaronite.

A single unidentified, seemingly invincible space ship called Faith has been making unexplained raids on systems in the Commonwealth.

In the first 25 pages, Faith blew up a cruiser defending the Bast solar system, leaving one mortally wounded survivor. Then in the Anubis system, Faith took control of an automated freighter convoy. The military cruiser Wulf was disintegrating freighters to prevent Faith from crash landing them onto a moon base.

After the shrouded ship Faith passes, and Wulf turns to follow. The remaining freighters stop. Faith doesn't attack undefended civilian targets. But She faces and destroys Wulf.

Commander Foord and First Officer Thahl of the Outsider class space ship Charles Manson are ordered to defend the Horus system from Faith. They know what happened at Bast and at Anubis. They’re also aware of recent events in the Isis system, where five warships and the Outsider ship Sirhan encountered Faith. Faith easily disabled all the Isis ships. Sirhan picked up the survivors and left. Then Faith uncharacteristically subjected the city of De Vere to a smelly and humiliating, but not deadly, attack. Commander Ansah of the Sirhan, a former love interest of Commander Foord’s, is charged with desertion and cowardice. The book relates Ansah’s trial.

Once in the Horus system, Foord visits Thahl’s Sakhran (non-human) home.

It’s stressed that only an Outsider class ship fighting alone and unconstrained has a chance against Faith. The Outsider ships are outside the normal command structures, and crewed by outsiders, including sociopaths and psychopaths.

The Coldest War: Tor Books, July 2012, 251 pages, volume two of The Milkwood Triptych, cover art by Chris McGrath. The Coldest War is a fantasy alternate history book. The Coldest War got here by edging out Fair Coin by E.C. Myers in the first round.

British warlocks and a handful of Nazis with superhuman abilities powered by batteries secretly fought in World War II. The Soviet Union took over most of Western Europe. Britain remains a free country. The year is 1963.

In the first 25 pages, brother and sister Gretel and Klaus escaped from a high security Soviet research facility with some help from their superhuman abilities. In England, Reinhardt, whom the children call the Junkman, was trying to reverse engineer a battery to regain his special powers. William Beauclerk, younger brother of the Duke of Aelred, apparently did wicked things for Britain during the war.

When Klaus and Gretel arrive in London, Gretel, who is a seer, wants to go to a rummage sale. There they run into Reinhardt, their former Nazi associate. Reinhardt reluctantly leads Klaus and Gretel to his junky flat. Gretel shows Reinhardt that she has a blueprint for the batteries, something Reinhardt desperately wants. Gretel rips the blueprint and tells Reinhardt that he can earn the pieces by doing errands for her.

Raybould Marsh was formerly a British MI6 spy. He and his wife Liv have grown apart and their marriage is stressed by their caring for their severely impaired son. Marsh drinks alone in the pub until he’s belligerent and gets thrown out.

The Battle: We have a military space opera set sometime in the future going against book two of a fantasy alternate history series set in a different not too distant past.

Faith gets a brownie point for outrageously having a posh city sprayed with synthesized sewage. The Coldest War gets a brownie point for speculating a Soviet space station, and for Marsh having Haggard books stashed in his garden shed hideout.

Faith upped its game this round, but emotions seemed held in check. Ansah showed mainly indifference at her trial, and seemed resigned to her fate. Foord gave his concerns for Ansah their allotted time.

More emotions were at play in The Coldest War. Klaus realizes that he never truly understood what freedom meant. Reinhardt gets ticked off by Klaus and Gretel. Marsh rages at the world for what his life has become.

I’m curious about the next encounter with the mysterious ship Faith. But the richer setting and deeper emotions displayed in The Coldest War, despite my lack of knowing the entire back story due to my starting this series with book two, were enough to overcome Faith in this battle.


The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis will advance to meet either Songs of the Earth by Elspeth Cooper or Taft 2012 by Jason Heller in the semifinals.

To see the whole bracket, click here.