Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Battle of the 2014 Books, Bracket One, First Round :: Mentats of Dune by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson vs. Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci

We continue the first round of Bracket One of the Battle of the 2014 Books. The bottom half of the draw begins with Mentats of Dune by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson against Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci. The winner will be the book I (Aaron) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

Mentats of Dune: Tor hardcover, March 2014, 445 pages, cover art by Stephen Youll. Mentats of Dune is the I-lost-counth prequel to Frank Herbert's Dune, co-written by Herbert's son Brian and Kevin J. Anderson, one of the most successful authors in the field of SF/F. Mentats of Dune takes place after Sisterhood of Dune. As the story opens, Gilbertus Albans, founder of the Mentat School where people are trained for machinelike precision of thought, is receiving a visit from the Emperor's brother, perhaps the true power behind the throne. The galaxy is unstable because Manford Torondo, leader of the Butlerians, has stepped up his crusade to eradicate all high technology (except for, y'know, whatever he needs) at the same time that Josef Venport, head of the VenHold Spacing Fleet, has vowed to embargo any planet that follows Torondo. Political machinations abound.

Tin Star: Roaring Brook trade paperback, February 2014, 233 pages. Tin Star is young adult science fiction. Cecil Castellucci has written several other YA books, although this is her first straight science fiction book. She is also a rock musician and film director. The star of Tin Star is Tula Bane, who is traveling with her family to help establish a new planetary colony, when the leader of the expedition, Brother Blue, beats her and leaves her for dead on a remote space station staffed entirely by aliens. When Tula recovers from her beating, she tries to make contact with her family, only to be told that their ship was destroyed.

The Battle: With Mentats of Dune, Herbert and Anderson have to start by arranging a lot of pieces across a complicated board. Through 25 pages, they manage this deftly, highlighting through different characters' viewpoints the seemingly inevitable conflict between the Butlerians and VenHold. I think it will quickly start to seem dry if you aren't a Dune fan, but then this book is so not written for people who aren't Dune fans.

As to Tin Star, let me first say that one part of reviewing has become much less fun for me since I started selling my own stories: the harsh review. I know now how it feels when you have a great story concept, but it just doesn't come out the way you wanted it, or it does come out the way you wanted it and yet readers don't appreciate it. So let's try to get through this quickly . . .

The opening section of Tin Star does not work for me at all.

The language strikes me as klunky from the opening line ("There are few things colder than the blackness of space."), and does not capture the voice of a teenaged girl.

The story makes no sense. The bad guy tries to murder Tula because she starts to have vague suspicions that he's up to something. What he's up to is knowingly sending a shipful of colonists off to die, so if he wants to get rid of Tula, all he has to do is stick her back on the ship. Instead, he tries to kill her, then tells her mother that Tula's not coming, and the mother doesn't even ask to say goodbye before leaving her daughter, maybe forever. Howzat?

The description of outer space is hazy at best, with details not well thought out, e.g., the narrator discusses how many years old an alien is, as if their years would be the same as ours.

Most importantly, the opening of Tin Star puts its protagonist through hell. She loses everything. She is stranded in another solar system with not a single human being to ask for help, and promptly learns her entire family has died. If you are going to start your story like that, you need to be prepared to show a character in soul-wrenching agony. The beginning of Tin Star does not capture that at all. Instead, it feels like Castellucci has wiped away Tula's whole family as a formality to get the real story started. Tula really deserves better.

THE WINNER: Mentats of Dune by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

Mentats of Dune advances to the second round, to face either The Last Weekend by Nick Mamatas or Glen Hirshberg's Motherless Child.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Battle of the 2014 Books, Bracket One, First Round :: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer vs. The Talent Sinistral by L.F. Patten

Merry Christmas! We come to the midway mark of the first round in Bracket One of the Battle of the 2014 Books with Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer versus The Talent Sinistral by L.F. Patten. The winner will be the book I (Aaron) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

Annihilation: Farrar, Straus & Giroux trade paperback, February 2014, 195 pages, cover art by Eric Nyquist. Annihilation is Book 1 in VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy, which continues with Authority and Acceptance. Our unnamed narrator is a biologist, part of a four-woman expedition into "Area X," a strange uninhabited place that has defeated eleven prior expeditions. The team immediately discovers a vast and mysterious subterranean structure, which our narrator insists on referring to as the "tower." Their initial trip down finds strange growths on the wall that spell out an odd message. Meanwhile, our protagonist realizes that the team leader, a psychologist, is using post-hypnotic suggestion to control the others.

Jeff VanderMeer is the acclaimed author of the Ambergris series, widely considered a landmark in the "New Weird" subgenre, among many other works. He has won the World Fantasy Award for his writing and his editing and has been nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel, among many other honors.

The Talent Sinistral: Stone Dagger trade paperback, January 2014, 435 pages, cover art by M.S. Harris. The Talent Sinistral is a fantasy epic in which certain outcasts bearing a brand on their left hands possess psychic talents. In the opening pages one of these sinistral, a somber fellow named Kier, is ambushed, only to be rescued by a brash young man named JonMarc. Kier is surprised to discover JonMarc is a slave. Before long, JonMarc's master is murdered, and Kier moves quickly to help prove JonMarc's innocence. As far as I can determine, The Talent Sinistral is the first published work by L.F. Patten.

The Battle: To be honest, often a first-round match between an acclaimed author and a new self-published writer turns out to be no contest, for many new indie writers can't actually write. But this time I have to put some thought into deciding this battle because, I am pleased to report, L.F. Patten can really write. So let's get to it . . .

Right out of the blocks, there is something very peculiar about the expedition in Annihilation. We do not know just when or where this is happening, and we're not sure the members of the expedition know either. The members are not permitted such basic equipment as a cell phone, but they do carry things they don't understand:
Our most outlandish equipment consisted of a measuring device that had been issued to each of us, which hung from a strap on our belts: a small rectangle of black metal with a glass-covered hole in the middle. If the hole glowed red, we had thirty minutes to remove ourselves to "a safe place." We were not told what the device measured or why we should be afraid should it glow red.
I'm going on a limb and saying these ain't pagers. Serious shit is going on here, and somebody has deliberately chosen to keep the members of this expedition in the dark. Through 25 pages, we haven't gotten very deep into the characters, but they have enough personality and there is enough hint of our narrator running from an unhappy past to keep us interested.

The strength of the opening pages of The Talent Sinistral is the development of the relationship between our two main characters, Kier and JonMarc. Kier quickly comes to find JonMarc equal parts fascinating and infuriating, as in this scene, where they argue about the morality of just how the streetwise JonMarc saved Kier:
"I'm grateful for the rescue. Truly. But to murder a man by stealth, without even bothering to confront him——it just isn't . . ."

"Honorable." JonMarc spat the word. "Then tell me, how would you have done it, Captain?"

"I'd have tapped his shoulder and taken him as he turned."

A caustic laugh. . . . "Take my advice, brassy. If you mean to explore Castémaron's back alleys after dark, learn to respect those who make their living out there, preying off such as you. Leave your highborn niceties behind. . . ."

JonMarc's patronizing tone infuriated Kier. . . . "That's a load of tripe. Without those so-called 'niceties,' we'd all live like wild beasts, preying off one another. What kind of survival's worth that?"

"Mine is."
I like that Patten allows both men a valid point, without loading the deck in favor of either. And if you're expecting that JonMarc protests overmuch and will turn out to have a heart of gold, the fact that he is later found to have stolen from Kier might give you pause.

I'm enjoying both these books through 25 pages and would be pleased to keep reading either. But the intractable Battle of the Books rules require me to choose one. My decision comes down to two factors.

First, Annihilation scores a lot of points for originality. The surreal writing style is distinctive, and the opening section promises an unusual story, different from anything I've read in recent memory. Meanwhile, The Talent Sinistral, although nicely written, is setting up a pretty standard swords-and-sorcery tale. There's nothing wrong with swords and sorcery, but Annihilation is harder to put down because it is so different.

Second, Annihilation has moved deeper into the plot through 25 pages. I don't know what's going on yet, but I've seen enough weirdness and picked up enough hints about the strings tugging at our characters that I am intrigued and want to read more. Through 25 pages, The Talent Sinistral has introduced two of the main characters, but we have no idea what they're going to do for the rest of the book; the good-against-evil struggle mentioned on the back cover has yet to materialize in any way. And the Battle of the Books format can be unforgiving of slow developing storylines.

THE WINNER: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation continues into the second round, where it will take on What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Battle of the 2014 Books, Bracket One, First Round :: The Dagger of Trust by Chris Willrich vs. What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton

After an atypically fair contest between two honest-to-God comparable books in our last battle, we now return to the Battle of the Books sweet spot: outrageous apples-to-oranges comparisons. This battle matches a Pathfinder RPG tie-in, The Dagger of Trust by Chris Willrich, against a non-fiction book, What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton. The winner will be the book I (Aaron) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

The Dagger of Trust: Paizo paperback, February 2014, 426 pages, cover art by Lucas Graciano. The Dagger of Trust takes place in the universe of the Pathfinder fantasy role-playing game. We've had several Pathfinder novels in the Battle of the Books, and they have made a strong showing, always competing well and one time advancing all the way to the semifinals. The Dagger of Trust opens with our heroine Corvine Gale and a group of friends barely escaping a mob that went mad when touched by a strange glowing fog. Corvine sends for help from two wizards at the Rhapsodic College in Oppara, Sebastian Tambour and Gideon Gull. As her message arrives, Gideon Gull is taking a strange test that challenges him to win a debate while simultaneously preventing an assassination.

Chris Willrich is a new fantasist best known for his Gaunt & Bone series of swords & sorcery, including the novels The Scroll of Years and The Silk Map. We will be seeing Gaunt & Bone in an upcoming bracket of the Battle of the Books.

What Makes This Book So Great: Tor hardcover, January 2014, 446 pages, cover design by Jamie Stafford-Hill. What Makes This Books So Great is a collection of posts Jo Walton wrote for the Tor.com blog, giving her thoughts as she rereads some of her favorite books. And anyone who has read Walton's Hugo-winning novel Among Others knows that she loves to talk about favorite books she's rereading. The first 25 pages of What Makes This Books So Great consist of an introduction and seven columns.

Jo Walton is the author of ten fantasy novels to date plus a great deal of short fiction, poetry, and essays. In addition to her Hugo Award for Among Others, she won a World Fantasy Award for Tooth and Claw. Her latest novel My Real Children will be in a future BotB bracket.

The Battle: Let's see, a novelization of a role-playing game against a collection of non-fiction. Rational people quail at the notion of comparing such, but here at the Battle of the Books, it's what we live for!

25 pages in, both of these books are entertaining and easy to read. The Dagger of Trust combines the fantasy elements of the Pathfinder RPG with a fog that drives people into a homicidal frenzy——as in James Herbert's novel The Fog, not the John Carpenter movie The Fog, if I have my deadly mists straight. (Actually, I'm not certain this fog isn't a Pathfinder game element; I know nothing of the game other than it's in the style of D&D. Thankfully, the Pathfinder tie-in novels do not require prior familiarity with the game.) The writing is clean and the story moves along at a nice pace. The opening section ends on an ominous note, when Gideon Gull is warned, "The dagger of trust is the sharpest blade of all."

But 25 pages in, through the Prologue and Chapter One, I don't feel I have much insight into any of the The Dagger of Trust's characters. Neither do I have a good sense what the main storyline will involve, since most of the first 25 pages were occupied by Gideon Gull's debate/assassination test. That was a good set piece, but it feels tangential to the plot. So while I'm enjoying The Dagger of Trust through the first section, I could put it down right now without any great regret.

What Makes This Book So Great looks like a collection of book reviews, only of older books not new ones. But it quickly proves more interesting than just that. In each essay, Walton isn't simply talking about a particular book. She's thinking a particular thought and using one or more books to illustrate. So her piece on A Deepness in the Sky isn't about how much she likes that novel, or it isn't only about that anyway, it's about how an author can use a reader's knowledge to create a tragic irony that is never explicitly mentioned in the text. Vernor Vinge did that making use of what readers knew from reading A Fire Upon the Deep. The chapter on Jack Womack's Random Acts of Senseless Violence is about what sometimes causes good books not to find the audience they deserve.

In a post on "mainstream" vs. genre fiction, Walton observes that in A.S. Byatt's The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye, "the djinn is a metaphor in exactly the way Kelly Link's zombies aren't a metaphor." Worldbuilding is an integral part of genre fiction but not mainstream, so readers of the two types of literature bring different expectations of what is important to the story. Walton summarizes:
In the old Zork text adventures, if you tried to pick up something that was described but not an object, you'd get the message "that's just scenery." The difference between a mainstream novel and an SF one is that different things are just scenery.
Last night I watched a 2006 movie called Cashback, about a young artist who becomes depressed after breaking up with his girlfriend. It's a nicely done film, but it probably would have driven me nuts if I had seen it in the past. For in the movie, the protagonist develops the ability to freeze time. Whenever he chooses, everyone else stops frozen as a statue while he can still move around. And with this magical ability, he proceeds to do . . . nothing. Nothing at all. He doesn't think of stealing anything or spying on anyone or performing amazing feats. He does disrobe some women, but only to draw them, not to try any of the naughty ideas that would occur to most of us. He learns that others have this ability but makes no attempt to investigate. These possibilities are the first things that went through my mind, but the script and the character never show any interest in them.

Still I was able to enjoy Cashback and not be driven nuts partly because Jo Walton's essay was fresh in my mind. Walton didn't discuss Cashback, but her analysis explains it perfectly. In this film, the ability to freeze time is scenery. It's strictly a metaphor, and not at all what the film is about.

Which is all a long-winded way of arguing that the Battle of the Books isn't so unfair after all. Write down whatever you like, science fiction or fantasy or YA or horror or even non-fiction, and I'll read 25 pages. And two days later, if I'm still thinking about what your wrote, if it's affecting my perceptions of things around me——say, a random movie I watch late at night——then you win.

THE WINNER: What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton

What Makes This Book So Great advances to the second round, to face either Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer or The Talent Sinistral by L.F. Patten.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Battle of the 2014 Books, Bracket One, First Round :: The Barrow by Mark Smylie vs. The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

We continue the first round of Bracket One of the Battle of the 2014 Books with The Barrow by Mark Smylie versus The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley. The winner will be the book I (Aaron) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

The Barrow: Pyr trade paperback, March 2014, 587 pages, cover art by Gene Mollica. The Barrow is fantasy set in the universe of the author's Artesia graphic novels. As the book begins, Stjepan Black-Heart leads a small band of ruffians raiding an ancient and (they hope) abandoned temple buried in a remote hillside. Among his group is Erim, a highly libidinous young woman masquerading as a man. Most of the group is looking for gemstones and other treasure, but Stjepan seeks a map to the legendary Barrow of Azharad. At the close of 25 pages, it seems he will have to fight his way out of the temple to claim the map.

As mentioned, Mark Smylie is the creator of the military fantasy graphic novel series Artesia. He is also an illustrator and the founder of Archaia Studios Press, a graphic novels publisher. The Barrow is his first prose novel.

The Emperor's Blades: Tor hardcover, January 2014, 476 pages, cover art by Richard Anderson. The Emperor's Blades is also medieval fantasy, Book One in the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. Through 25 pages, our viewpoint characters are Kaden and Valyn, the two sons of the emperor. Kaden is the emperor's heir, yet he is the one living a quiet life in a remote monastery. As the story opens, he finds a slaughtered goat missing its brain; when he returns to report, he is placed in the hands of a new and cruel master. Meanwhile, Valyn is in training with an elite fighting group who ride giant hawks into battle. They are investigating a ship whose entire crew was killed, when word comes that the emperor is dead.

Brian Staveley has taught and edited. As far as I can determine, The Emperor's Blades is his first published fiction.

The Battle: For once, we have an apples-to-apples comparison in the Battle of the Books. The Barrow and The Emperor's Blades are both epic medieval fantasies by first-time novelists. So what will set one of them apart to advance in the Battle of the Books?

Let's start with the prose. One expects a first-time novelist to have some ragged passages, and that's the case in The Barrow. Smylie's writing is often too wordy, beginning with a rambling first paragraph that could easily be condensed to half its length. In contrast, the writing in the opening pages of The Emperor's Blades is remarkably clean and confident, occasionally elegant. If I hadn't seen the author's name, I might have believed this the work of an accomplished fantasist like Daniel Abraham or Elizabeth Bear.

Next, the characters. In The Emperor's Blades, Kaden and Valyn both come across as very sympathetic in the opening pages, although I'll want to see some flaws emerge as we move forward. Meanwhile, in The Barrow, Mark Smylie seems to be building his main characters up as Joe Abercrombie-style lovable rogues. I like the concept, but I'm struggling a bit with the execution. In particular, the only distinguishing characteristic of Erim so far is that she is incredibly horny. The very first passage from her point of view has her getting wet thinking about three men she heard in a tavern boasting that they had all violated a prostitute at once. Certainly there's nothing wrong with a female character being interested in sex, but that doesn't strike me as something that would turn many women on. If it does turn Erim on, is that really the very first thing we need to know about her?

Through 25 pages, the worldbuilding in both books is just getting started, but already the universe of The Emperor's Blades is capturing my interest. Part of that is some nice scenery, like the great flying hawks. But it's also partly because Staveley does an excellent job of hinting about this universe between the lines. For example, the fact that the emperor's two sons live far away from the capital and are hard at work, not at all treated like royalty, says something interesting about this society, which makes me want to read more.

Finally, let's talk about the storylines. The first 25 pages of The Barrow are building up to an underground battle, while at the same time letting us know where the story will go next: a quest for the ominous-sounding Barrow of Azharad. That is a solid opening for Battle of the Books purposes. The opening passages of The Emperor's Blades show us the emperor's two sons in separate remote locations and introduce two bits of intrigue: who or what did in that goat and who killed the crew of that derelict ship? Then, unexpectedly, the very last line of the opening 25-page section is, "The Emperor is dead." The lives of our young main characters are about to be turned upside-down. This is such a pitch-perfect way to end the opening section, it's obvious Brian Staveley wrote his book with the Battle of the Books in mind.

THE WINNER: The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley

The Emperor's Blades moves into the second round, where it will take on Empress of the Sun by Ian McDonald.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Battle of the 2014 Books, Bracket One, First Round :: The Raven's Shadow by Elspeth Cooper vs. Empress of the Sun by Ian McDonald

We begin Bracket One of the Battle of the 2014 Books with The Raven's Shadow by Elspeth Cooper taking on Empress of the Sun by Ian McDonald. The winner will be the book I (Aaron) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

The Raven's Shadow: Tor hardcover, March 2014, 567 pages, cover art by Dominic Harman. The Raven's Shadow is the third book in the high fantasy series The Wild Hunt, the first published work by British author Elspeth Cooper. The previous volumes were Songs of the Earth and Trinity Rising. Songs of the Earth competed in Amy's Battle of the Books Summer 2012 bracket. This version of The Raven's Shadow was preceded by the Gollancz UK edition, released August of last year.

The primary protagonist of the Wild Hunt series is Gair, a young man blessed or cursed with a connection to a type of magic called the "Song." He's been learning to use his power, but apparently with mixed results.

As The Raven's Shadow opens, Gair is licking his wounds from a battle he barely survived; he believes that a close friend was not so lucky. One suspects Gair will soon be off to seek vengeance, but in the first 25 pages he is too dazed yet to think about that. Meanwhile, other major characters——Masen, an apparently well-intended older magician; Savin, clearly an evil sorcerer; and Ytha, a power-hungry sorceress——are converging on the north, where further conflict looms.

Empress of the Sun: Pyr hardcover, February 2014, 280 pages, cover art by Larry Rostant. Empress of the Sun is the third volume in McDonald's Everness YA series, after Planesrunner and Be My Enemy. Be My Enemy competed in Battle of the Books Bracket Six, where it reached the semifinals before falling to Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey. But I liked it well enough that I ended up finishing it and also reading Planesrunner. Ian McDonald is a science fiction writer from Northern Island who has won the Hugo Award and many other awards and accolades. Because I am a fan of McDonald and enjoyed the first two Everness books, I named Empress of the Sun one of the "seeded" books in Bracket One of the Battle of the 2014 Books.

The Everness series involves travel between alternate universes, with steampunk elements thrown in for fun. Our teenaged protagonist Everett Singh is on the run from the authorities who control the ten known alternate Earths. They want Everett because he possesses the "Infundibulum," a computer program devised by his father, essentially a map of all the nearly infinite (I assume it's "nearly" infinte, because how you could have a map if it's infinite?) alternate Earths out there. Everett doesn't trust those powers, for good reason, so he's keeping the Infundibulum to himself while he searches for his lost father.

As Empress of the Sun opens, Everett has just used the Infundibulum to help his gypsy-like friends escape on their huge airship from an Earth dominated by out-of-control nanotechnology. Two problems. First, the escape didn't come off as well as he hoped, as the airship has promptly crashed on a lush, overgrown version of Earth. Everett feels blamed by his friends, who assume he made a miscalculation. Second, Everett M. Singh, an alternate version of Everett assigned to find the first Everett, followed him to the nanobot world and only managed to get away by promising the nano groupmind, the "Nahn," to help it escape its quarantined universe. He has carried a piece of the nanotechnology to the first Everett's home, where he thinks he has it trapped in a peanut butter jar. Uh huh.

The Battle: This battle features two books that are both third in a series, which would make for a fair contest, except that I've read the first two books in Ian McDonald's series (as well as plenty of his SF for adults), while I've never before read anything by Elspeth Cooper. But the Battle of the Books is nothing if not subjective and arbitrary, so let's proceed . . .

The first few pages of The Raven's Shadow read like fairly routine high fantasy. The characters recite the names of various locations in the north, giving me a sense of unease that the author will feel compelled to take us to each of them in turn. But the fact that the book defies high fantasy convention by not including a map of these places bodes well.

Where my reading glasses started to prick up was the introduction of the sorceress Ytha. Ytha does not come across as a nice person, but perhaps not an evil one either. Rather, she is an ambitious person, whose personality has been shaped by the rules in this realm, a place of ongoing power struggles in which women are not expected to participate. We see her manipulate the thick-skulled chief she ostensibly works for, and then lead a ceremony with seventeen women with magical potential:
Firethorn seared her skin and the force of the binding knocked all the breath from her lungs. She staggered, gasping as heat spread outwards from the hand-print, raced over her skin and lifted every hair on her scalp. It surged into her breasts, sank into her secret places. She was a woman seventeen times over and she knew it in every bone, every fibre, felt it the way the earth felt the quickening of spring. . . .

By the Eldest, this felt good. As good as the first time she'd ever wielded her power, against the fat herdmaster who'd wanted her to suck the juice from his root when she was ten, and laughed at her when she said she'd be a Speaker one day. As good as the day she'd taken the mantle from old Brynagh and, for the first time, saw a man kneel at her feet instead of the other way around. Better. With power like this, she would bow her head to no one.
That's a nicely written passage that makes me interested in this character's story. Through three chapters, however, I'm less interested in the main character Gair, who hasn't yet had the chance to do much of anything.

Turning to Empress of the Sun, it's a good idea at the start of the third book in a series to let readers know that this book won't be just a rehash of the prior books. Ian McDonald accomplishes that by immediately crashing the airship that has been Everett's safe haven into a jungle. Not only does this disrupt the story, putting Everett and his friends in danger and thwarting his plan to find his father, but it has a great impact on Everett emotionally:
Mchynlyth and Captain Anastasia were bent over the hatch. Everett ached with guilt.

"Is there something I can do . . ."

Mchynlyth and Captain Anastasia turned at the same time. The looks on their faces froze him solid. He died . . . there, then, in a clearing in an alien rainforest in a world that didn't make sense, in a parallel universe. Died in his heart. He stepped back.

He had never been hated before. It was an emotion as strong and pure as love, and as rare. It was the opposite of everything love felt, except the passion. He wanted to die.
This is the opening scene of the book, and it simultaneously draws me into the storyline and makes me feel sympathy for Everett. I don't feel any such sympathy for his double Everett M., however, since even for a teenager, helping the Nahn escape its universe is unforgivably irresponsible. It does make for a good story, though, putting not just the entire Earth but nine entire Earths in jeopardy.

The opening pages in the third book of a series are all about quickly offering new readers reasons to become interested while reminding returning readers what they liked about the previous books. In the opening pages of The Raven's Shadow and Empress of the Sun, Elspeth Cooper does that well, and Ian McDonald does it superbly.

THE WINNER: Empress of the Sun by Ian McDonald

Empress of the Sun advances to the second round, to face either The Barrow by Mark Smylie or The Emperor's Blades by Brian Staveley.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Battle of the 2014 Books, Bracket One

Announcing Bracket One of the Fantastic Reviews Battle of the 2014 Books!

We started the Battle of the Books at the Fantastic Reviews Blog as a fun way to try to keep up with the great volume of review copies we were receiving. (For more about why we started the Battle of the Books, click here. For all the rules, click here.)

The good news is we've done seven brackets so far, discussing over 100 books. We've had a lot of fun and gotten some great feedback from the authors both here and at Twitter and other social media.

The bad news is we have definitely not kept up with all the review copies flowing in. Real life got in our way. I, Aaron, the primary reviewer at Fantastic Reviews, had some personal issues that kept me out of a reviewing frame of mind for quite some time. (They also kept me from writing much fiction, but check it out -- I have a story coming out soon in F&SF!) A huge thank you to Amy for filling in for me while I was on hiatus (even as she was dealing with her own, totally separate, personal issues). Now I'm back and energized, and we're ready to take on the mountain of books we've accumulated.

In a valiant (please don't say hopeless) attempt to catch up, we're going to alternate between brackets of the new books we're receiving and brackets of the 2012 and 2013 books that we didn't already cover. Starting with our first bracket of 2014 titles.

Our first Battle of the 2014 Books will feature 16 contenders from 2014. We've selected four "seeded" books that I'm especially looking forward to (marked with asterisks), placed one in each quarter of the bracket, then filled out the rest of the bracket randomly. Here are your matchups:

First Quarter of Bracket:

Elspeth Cooper
Raven's Shadow
Ian McDonald
Empress of the Sun***

Mark Smylie
The Barrow
Brian Staveley
The Emperor’s Blades

Second Quarter of Bracket

Chris Willrich
The Dagger of Trust
Jo Walton
What Makes This Book So Great

Jeff VanderMeer
(Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
L.F. Patten
The Talent Sinistral
(Stone Dagger)

Third Quarter of Bracket:

Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson
Mentats of Dune
Cecil Castellucci
Tin Star
(Roaring Brook)

Nick Mamatas
The Last Weekend
(PS Publishing)
Glen Hirshberg
Motherless Child***

Fourth Quarter of Bracket:

Snorri Kristjansson
Swords of Good Men
(Jo Fletcher)
Patrick MacAdoo
Damn Zombies
(Severed Press)

Brandon Sanderson
Words of Radiance***
Mandy Hager
Into the Wilderness

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Some notes on the field:

-- Classifying books before you read them is tricky, but I'd guess this bracket features 7 fantasies, 5 science fiction novels (3 of them targeted at the YA market), 3 horror novels, and 1 non-fiction book.

-- I believe 11 books are by men and 5 by women.

-- It looks like 6 of the books continue an existing series, 5 are the first volume in a new series, and 5 are stand-alones.

-- 6 books come to us from Tor, 3 from Pyr, and 1 each from Farrar Straus Giroux, Jo Fletcher, Paizo, PS Publishing, Roaring Brook, Severed Press, and Stone Dagger.

Good luck to all our contenders! Let the new bracket of book battles begin!