2/19 On the Bookshelf . . .

Horns

Was delighted to receive a copy of Joe Hill’s latest book, Horns, which I don’t have any idea of what it’s about, though I’ve started reading it and so far the main guy has grown some horns and might be the devil.  But after 20th Century Ghosts and Heart-Shaped Box, I’m looking forward to Horns.

“SUM: Forty Tales From the Afterlives” by David Eagleman (Pantheon, 2009)

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There is one absolute certainty in this life and that is that we are all going to die, at some time.  Battles, wars, and crusades have been waged and fought for days, years, and even centuries over what exactly happens when we shuffle off this mortal coil and . . .

From David Eagleman, who heads the Laboratory of Perception and Action at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas and is the founder of the Initiative on Neuroscience and Law, comes a unique and unusual book called SUM: Forty Tales From the Afterlives.  With a strong cover quote from Philip Pullman, SUM presets forty “What ifs?” as Eagleman ponders the many possibilities of what might exist in the next life, if there is one.  For some it would be a fantasy come true, for others a nightmare; a personal heaven, or a feared hell.

Eagleman approaches the book from a scientific point of view, analyzing each possible afterlife in an empirical way and weighing its validity:  some entries are short, some are long; some have a lesson to teach, others propose a moral at the victim’s expense.  And what can the reader take from SUM?  Don’t expect to be convinced one way or another from Eagleman on whether there really is an afterlife.  It is a collection of entertaining stories that at the very least will stimulate the intellect into dreaming of another world.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on April 16th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“City of Thieves” by David Benioff (Viking Adult, 2008)

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From David Benioff, author of The 25th Hour and screenwriter for The Kite Runner, comes an original tale of adventure, laughter, and ongoing mystery set against the backdrop off World War II and the Siege of Leningrad.  City of Thieves is a fast-paced, enjoyable book that will have you telling your friends about it.

Lev Beniov is a Leningrad local, fondly referring to the city of his birth as Piter after Petersburg.  Left to fend for himself with some friends, he spends his days starving, foraging for food.  When a dead Nazi falls from the sky via parachute, he ransacks the body for food.  He is soon captured by the Russian army and is imprisoned expecting execution, because all findings are required to be turned over to the Russian army.  In prison he befriends an unusual man named Kolya, a deserter.  The Colonel surprisingly offers the two a deal for their freedom and survival: to find twelve eggs in less than a week for his daughter’s wedding cake.

And so begins a most unusual adventure, filled with danger, horror, and hunger.  But Benioff keeps the book fast-paced and entertaining with the back and forth banter between the main characters: Lev is a seventeen year old virgin, and Kolya is a very vocal sex addict.  While at times the language and actions of the characters force readers to remind themselves it’s 1942, it is nevertheless a quick read that you won’t soon forget.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on April 16th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Lamentation” by Ken Scholes (Tor, 2009)

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New author and winner of Writers of the Future, Ken Scholes, offers up the first book in a projected five-book series known as The Psalms of Isaak, featuring the complexity and political intrigue of George R. R. Martin with the artistic touch and historical feel of Guy Gavriel Kay. Lamentation is a subtle fantasy novel that does not seek to dazzle readers with nonstop action, but instead introduces them to a complicated world where there is no clear definition between good and evil for the different kingdoms, where each decision that is made will have important and far reaching ramifications.

Lamentation begins with the end of a beloved city, Windwir of the Named Lands.  All that remains is a curling column of smoke reaching into the sky after the casting of a catastrophic spell that razes the once great city to nothing but ruin and dust.  The main characters of the kingdoms of the Named Lands – Rudolfo, Lord of the Ninefold Forest Houses; Petronus, the Hidden Pope of the Androfrancine Order; Sethbert, Overseer of the Entrolusian City States; Jin Li Tam, daughter to the king of the Inner Emerald Coast – all pay witness to the devastation and must now begin putting the pieces together to find out who is behind this terrible destruction and to punish them accordingly.  The evidence rests on the word of a young boy, Neb, who witnessed the event, along with the survival of a merchservitor named Isaak who proclaims he is to blame for it all.  Yet he is but a robot, a machine that was ordered to do this; human hands and minds are ultimately behind this cataclysmic event.

Ken Scholes has created a wonderfully original world where it is not immediately clear who is fighting on the side of good and who isn’t.  Each character must be severely question on where their intentions lie and what they hope to achieve.  Scholes also uses a fresh blend of steampunk where there are mechoservitors to perform important duties, and mechanical birds that are used to send messages, as well as a special kind of magicks that uses elemental forces and materials for abilities like invisibility and speed. Lamentation is the first book in a great new series from a strong new voice in the world of fantasy.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on March 31st, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Ken Scholes check out BookBanter Episode 21.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith (Quirk Books, 2009)

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Wait a minute!  Check that again.  Did you read it correctly?  Yep.  Definitely says Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.  And the cover proves it.  Well now, there’s something you don’t see everyday.

Writer Seth Grahame-Smith has an eclectic oeuvre, author of Pardon My President, The Spider-Man Handbook, and The Big Book of Porn; he’s now a member of a growing group of writers who’ve decided there’s more to Pride and Prejudice than just the words penned by Jane Austen.  In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Grahame-Smith works on a simple premise: what if in the world of Mr. Darcy getting to know Miss Bennett the dead did not stay dead, but became zombies searching for delicious brains.  Grahame-Smith has created a new art form here in taking a good percentage of the original text and inserting his own text alongside it.  His talent is in using the same voice as Austen, so that the new scenes featuring zombie mayhem and impressive martial arts skills from the Bennett sisters are written in the same tone and therefore aren’t different or jarring.

There are two different schools of training in this world.  The Bennett sisters are trained martial arts professionals, having spent years training under Master Liu in Shaolin, China.  They each know how to use a variety of different weapons, though Elizabeth is best with her katana.  When the five are together, facing a horde of zombies, they execute the Pentagram of Death fighting move that never fails.  While Mr. Darcy was trained in Japan, under his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the most famous zombie killer in all of Britain.  Along with the help of her highly trained ninjas, she is unstoppable.  That is until she must face Elizabeth Bennett in an ultimate showdown over Mr. Darcy’s hand.

Austen fans need not worry that Grahame-Smith has ridiculed a work of art, but has merely added and in some ways “improved” it, giving the story a new look and new subplots.  He even provides a Reader’s Discussion Guide at the end of the book.  The last question reads: “Some scholars believe that the zombies were a last-minute addition to the novel, requested by the publisher in a shameless attempt to boost sales.  Others argue that the hordes of living dead are integral to Jane Austen’s plot and social commentary.  What do you think?  Can you imagine what this novel might be like without the violent zombie mayhem?”  After reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies you won’t be able to.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on March 31st, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Seth Grahame-Smith check out BookBanter Episode 27.

“The Map of Moments” by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon (Spectra, 2009)

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Bestselling authors Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon continue with the next novel of the Hidden Cities series, after Mind the Gap, with The Map of Moments set in the remarkable city of New Orleans.  The authors take on the divisive issue of Hurricane Katrina and the wrecked city that was left after August 2005, bringing to life the noir underbelly of New Orleans, as well as throwing in a healthy dose of the fantastic.  The Map of Moments is a great book you won’t soon forget.

Max Corbett is a college professor who left New Orleans for what he thought were some very good reasons, the most important of which was Gabrielle: a student and love of his life for a short while.  She stole his heart with her beauty and vivacity, then she cheated on him, so he left.  Then Hurricane Katrina happened.  He never called anyone, doesn’t know who’s alive and who’s dead; more importantly, he hasn’t heard anything from Gabrielle . . . until he gets the call with the news.

Max goes to New Orleans for the funeral and to face his demons.  He is then told by a strange man that there’s a way he can go back and change history; there’s a way he can save Gabrielle.  But first he has to travel to the special locations on the map he is given, The Map of Moments.  Each moment will take him back to an important moment in time, a place that was monumental in New Orleans history.  As Max travels back to each of the moments, he learns a lot, as he slowly puts the piece together, the mystery grows and unravels before him.  It is a dangerous world of black magic and the fantastic, not to mention the people who know what he’s up to and are out to kill him.

The Map of Moments is what happens when two great storytellers get together: a fantastic story set in an incredible city, with heavy doses of magic and mayhem.  It will keep you riveted to each page, as you pray for it never to end, but still wanting and needing to know what happens.

CLICK HERE to purchase your copy from Bookshop Santa Cruz and help support BookBanter.

Originally written on March 31st, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Christopher Golden check out BookBanter Episode 12.

“The Kingmaking: Book One of the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy” by Helen Hollick (Sourcebooks Landmark, 2009)

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Originally published in Britain during the early 1990s, The Kingmaking is the first book in the Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy from British author Helen Hollick.  With the tagline “a novel of Arthur as he really was,” Hollick certainly does her research in bringing to life the possible idea of a war king known as Arthur that would grow to become the magical, immortal legend.

The Arthurian legend is an interesting one that has seen and continues to see countless retellings, due to the fact that there is very little evidence proving the existence of a warrior king known as Arthur; mentions of Merlin and Guenevere are even rarer, while Lancelot is a complete fabrication by Chrétien de Troyes in the twelfth century.  What is known is that the fifth century was a very turbulent time for Britain with the desertion by Rome and its forces; the invasion of the Saxons, Angles, and Jutes; and the invading forces of the Scots and Picts from Ireland and Scotland respectively.  Britain was a melting pot of different peoples, and the Britons were left wondering what to do after being supported and protected for so long by the Romans.  It was in this time – it is thought — at the dawn of the Middle Ages, that a warrior king arose to defend the Britons and lead them to defending their country.

Hollick uses Wales as her setting for Arthur and his people, using Welsh names like Gwenhwyfar (for Guenevere), Cunedda (for Gwenhwyfar’s father), and Uthr (for rightful king of Britain and father to Arthur).  While Camelot is thought to be located near Glastonbury and Tintagel is to be found in Cornwall, with the invading forces pushing the Britons back, Wales was a very likely location for Arthur and his people.  Hollick also uses characters who were known to exist, like Vortigern who supposedly ruled the Britons for some time and was purportedly the one to invite the Germanic forces from the mainland to defend the Britons against the Scots and Picts.  There is Hengest and Horsa, the ruthless Saxon Brothers, Hengest’s daughter Rowena, as well as some of Vortigern’s own offspring, Vortimer, Catigern, and his daughter Winifred.

Hollick writes of a world and life that is becoming somewhat familiar, with the growing genre of medieval historical fiction, joining other epic novels like Pillars of the Earth, World Without End, and Cathedral of the Sea.  These are not the romanticized and glamorous characters of Chrétien de Troyes, Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, or the famous musical Camelot.  It is a cold, harsh world, where much blood is shed and many die.  Hollick does a wonderful job of balancing the narrative with the different characters, and not just keeping it to one person as is common in other Arthurian sagas.  She also maintains the historical accuracy, using the tools and the skills that existed in the world of the fifth century, and yet making The Kingmaking a fast-paced, action-packed start to one of the best Arthurian series to be written.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on March 30th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Contagious” by Scott Sigler (Crown, 2008)

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Scott Sigler began his writing career by recording podcasts of his books and attracting the interest and support of listeners around the world. This eventually landed him a publishing contract. After the success of last year’s Infected, Sigler quickly followed up with the sequel Contagious.

It looks like the world is pretty much doomed. The aliens have invaded and they’re slowly taking over by infecting people on the genetic level with a virus that grows and takes over the body. Symptoms of the virus include indicators of the common cold, as well as the need to kill your fellow man for no apparent reason, and some scary looking blue triangles. Humanity’s hope rests on the shoulders of former football star Perry Dawsey who was actually infected, but under the skillful hands of Margaret Montoya, was brought back from psychopathic insanity, albeit agonizingly. Dawsey now has the ability to know where the aliens are mounting a new offensive, but he is a reckless killer who gives new meaning to the term loose cannon.

Sigler has a specific over the top style, holding nothing back. His characters are loud, large, overbearing, and not for those looking for finesse. But this world is a tough place, and you have to be tough to make it through. It’s all about balancing the costs: how much are human lives worth? Under the government of a new President, decisions have to be made, quickly, with little time to consider repercussions. It is, after all, the end of the world.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on March 16th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The Black Mirror and Other Stories: An Anthology of Science Fiction From Germany and Austria” Translated by Mike Mitchell, Edited by Franz Rottensteiner (Wesleyan University Press, 2009)

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In this fascinating new collection from Wesleyan University Press, readers get to see a great anthology of original science fiction from Germany and Austria spanning over a century of work.  Editor Franz Rottensteiner offers a lengthy introduction spanning the entire history of science fiction in Germany and Austria, going into detail on the important authors starting back in the eighteenth century and continuing up to the present.  Rottensteiner also does a great job of discussing German and Austrian writers who were eventually published in American magazines and anthologies and became popular in the United States.

The anthology is divided into sections by era, the first five stories being published in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  In this early period, science fiction stories were a lot more ponderous and philosophical, critiquing the way of life and its meaning and worth.  In the next era, set between the World Wars, Hans Dominik in “A Free Flight in 2222” has the world not developing space travel and not making it to the moon until the early twenty-first century; but after this hurdle is reached, we travel on to each of the planets by the end of the century.  It is an interesting outlook from 1934 on a space race that in reality began with the moon and essentially stopped there.

In the title story, “The Black Mirror” from 1983 by Erik Simon, the world has made first contact with an alien race, but because of the distance, ships from Earth and ships from their planet take years to arrive.  And now the aliens are arriving with a new invention: a giant silver mirror of immense beauty on one side that cannot be broken or shattered.  On the other side is a black mirror that is in fact nothingness.  It is a black hole in which an unbelievable darkness can be seen, and whatever is thrown into it, disappears forever.  At first humanity is delighted at this amazing invention, and then begins to consider every possible item that can be tossed into it, without regarding any consequences.  “Bit by bit , they’ll throw the whole universe,” one alien says to the other, uncertain as whether humanity has doomed itself.

From the more recent period, there are stories debating the merits of technology and the Internet and whether in the long run it will benefit or hinder humanity.  What is perhaps most interesting in this collection is that science fiction stories from Germany and Austria are really no different from those written by American authors.  Ultimately, humanity has always and always will hold a great fascination for the future and what it may entail, no matter what country or culture they are from.  The Black Mirror is a great science fiction collection that opens a great window into a world of foreign literature that many English speakers have never known, which will hopefully lead them on to reading more of these works from other countries.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on March 15th, 2009 ©Alex C. Telander.