Monday, June 26, 2006

Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik released her first book, Temeraire (UK) or His Majesty's Dragon (US) just a few short months ago, to much fanfare and accolades. (Including many from myself) Thus far there are three novels in the Temeraire series, and all have been or will be published this year. After reading the first, I was extremely excited to see what she would do with William Laurence and Temeraire next. After reading Throne of Jade I can only wonder if the book was not rushed to market. The title should have been Sophomore Jinx.

Throne of Jade is a bloody catastrophe of a novel. The plot was absurd, the ending a yawnfest, and the main character, Temeraire himself, playing a small bit part in the action. In His Majesty's Dragon, Novik seamlessly blended a passable Patrick O'Brian with Anne McCaffrey at her best, yet in Throne of Jade, the best of McCaffrey was nowhere to be seen -- dragons were talked about but rarely had any screen time.

Oh, and the passable O'Brian has turned into a travesty of a depiction of naval life.

I wanted to love this novel. I snatched it from the book store shelf with glee; I broke down and bought a softcover -- anathema to a collector -- and was punished mightily for my sin against bibliophilism.

Novik had me with Temeraire. She lost me with it's sequel.


Collector's Notes:

Do not buy paperbacks.

Monday, June 19, 2006

River of Gods by Ian McDonald

Every so often there is a science fiction novel that acts as a catalyst for change in the genre. A visionary with a tale so new and vivid that it spawns copycats and subgenres and critical thought -- true breakthrough works from forward thinking artists. Samuel Delany, J.G. Ballard, William Gibson, Vernor Vinge, and now Ian McDonald.

River of Gods is the third major novel of modern speculative fiction set in the lore of India. The first, Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny received the Hugo Award for best novel in 1968, and the second, Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie won the Man Booker Prize in 1981 and was voted the 'Booker of all Booker's' in 1993.

River of Gods outshines them both.

The meek need not enter, for River of Gods is as complex as it is lush, as forbidding as it is human. This is no Heinleinian juvenile, McDonald requires as much from the reader as he offers. If you'd but work through the gnarled and horny shell to get to the bitingly sweet and fiercely piquant juice underneath, what awaits is the best science fiction novel of this newborn century; the most important SF novel that has been released in my 18 years of fandom.

The story centers around a large, seemingly unrelated group of people in India, about 40 years into the future. Tantalizingly slowly, McDonald weaves these incongruous threads into a sumptuous tapestry of artificial intelligence, Hindu spiritualism, human desire, and staggering advances in foreign culture.

Justly and unfairly nominated for the Hugo Award for best novel in 2005, River of Gods hadn't a prayer of winning, due to it not having been released in the United States until early 2006. It's a crying shame too, because no novel has deserved the Hugo Award so obviously in twenty years. Thankfully it has yet to be nominated for the Nebula, and the SFWA has the opportunity to somewhat right a grievous wrong.

A relative newcomer to Science Fiction fandom, I'd always wondered what it would be like to have lived in the times that saw the releases of masterful works such as Stranger in a Strange Land, or The Foundation Trilogy, or Nineteen Eighty-Four.

I no longer have to wonder.


Collector's Notes:

Looking for a book to invest in? I can't think of a better choice than River of Gods. The UK hardcover from Simon & Shuster is the true first edition, and is already becoming scarce on the collectible market. The US first edition from PYR Books has been recently released (March 06), and is a steal at cover price or less. Ever imagine getting in on the ground level of Neuromancer or Dhalgren? Here's your chance.

Buy two, because you'll never want your library to lack this title.

**Pyr Books is a newcomer to science fiction publishing, but with River of Gods they gain instant credibility as a powerhouse in genre fiction. They've certainly gained my attention, and look for more reviews of their titles on this site soon.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Collector's Spotlight: Robert Jordan

Robert Jordan (James Rigney Jr.) has been incredibly influential in high fantasy since The Eye of The World was released in 1990. His signature series, The Wheel of Time, is a monstrous force in fantasy sales, and has brought new meaning to the term 'epic.'

His work, whether it be fantasy, historical fiction, or a western, features heroes with human faults and human problems. I imagine this comes easy to Rigney, because he's a hero himself. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Bronze Star with valor device for gallantry in combat in Vietnam. He is also the recent survivor of a deadly blood disease; a battle which he has refused to lose.

The first edition, first printing hardcover of The Eye of The World is Robert Jordans most rare and sought after book. While 4000 copies of the Advanced Reader's Copy were printed, only 2000 of the first edition hardcover were printed, the rest being produced as trade paperbacks. Of the 2000 hardcovers, over half went to libraries.* Due to the popularity of the series, this scarcity has skyrocketed the price of a 16yr old book to the 1000 dollar mark. I do not have access to information about the UK editions of Jordan's work, and apologize for the lack. If anyone has that information, please leave a comment.

*These numbers are from discussions I've had with Robert Jordan himself.

**Note on Pricing: All prices are listed as a suggested price, (Books are worth what they sell for. Could be more, could be signifigantly less.) referring to a book in Fine condition, and in American dollars.

The Wheel of Time

The Eye of The World
-US ARC, TOR *rare* -- $200-$400
-US First edition, first printing HC, St. Martin's Press *incredibly rare* -- $900-$1200
-US First Edition, Trade Paperback, TOR *rare* -- $300-$500
-US First edition, second printing HC, TOR -- $500-$600
-US First edition, third printing HC, TOR -- $150-$300

The Great Hunt
-US ARC, TOR *rare* -- $100-$250
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $600-$800
-US First Edition, Trade Paperback, TOR -- $100-$200

The Dragon Reborn
-US ARC, TOR *rare* -- $100-$250
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $400-$600
-Leatherbound Presentation Copy, TOR *incredibly rare* -- $1000-$1500

The Shadow Rising
-US ARC, TOR -- $100-$250
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $200-$500
-Leatherbound Presentation Copy, TOR *incredibly rare* -- $500-$1000

The Fires of Heaven
-US ARC, TOR -- $75-$150
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $200-$500
-Leatherbound Presentation Copy, TOR *rare* -- $400-$800

Lord of Chaos
-US ARC, TOR -- $75-$150
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $75-$200
-Leatherbound Presentation Copy, TOR *rare* -- $400-$800

A Crown of Swords
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $50-$100
-Leatherbound Presentation Copy, TOR *rare* -- $200-$700

The Path of Daggers
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $50-$100
-Leatherbound Presentation Copy, TOR *rare* -- $150-$500

Winter's Heart
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $40-$60
-Leatherbound Presentation Copy, TOR *rare* -- $90-$250

Crossroads of Twilight
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $30-$40
-Leatherbound Presentation Copy, TOR *rare* -- $150-$350

Knife of Dreams
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $30-$40
-Leatherbound Presentation Copy, TOR *rare* -- $150-$350


New Spring
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $30-$40
-Leatherbound Presentation Copy, TOR *rare* -- $150-$350

Legends Anthology
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $80-$150
-Signed and limited leather edition, TOR *incredibly rare* -- $1500-$2000

The World of Robert Jordan's the Wheel of Time
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $50-$75

Other Works:

The Conan Chronicles
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $25-$50

Further Chronicles of Conan
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $25-$50
As Reagan O'Neil
The Fallon Legacy
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $50-$100

The Fallon Pride
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $25-$50

The Fallon Blood
-US First Edition, first printing HC, TOR -- $25-$50
As Jackson O'Reilly

Cheyenne Raiders
--US First Edition, first printing HC, Forge -- $25-$50

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Black Pockets and Other Dark Thoughts by George Zebrowski

She asked, "Didn't you love me?"
Bruno said, "There are some people you want to fuck, and other's you don't. It wears off."

Black Pockets and Other Dark Thoughts is a collection of short horror work from George Zebrowski. Mostly known for his science fiction novels Macrolife and Brute Orbits, Zebrowski slips on the horror hat impeccably with Black Pockets. He accomplishes the trick by never really changing what it is he is writing about -- people.

Hearkening back to the days of horror comic books and youthful conceptualizations of new and unique super powers, Black Pockets is both incredibly fun and eerily familiar. There is not overly much terror per se, but there are quite a few moments where the dark thoughts you'd never utter aloud are shockingly displayed on the page before you. It's disconcerting, thought-provoking, chock full of neat ideas, and overall a very good collection.

I believe the strongest story in this collection to be The Wish In The Fear. A man, Frank, is having a hard time keeping other peoples thoughts out of his head, to the point where he has a hard time figuring out which thoughts are his own, and which are unwelcome invaders. This confusion, this paranoia, manifests itself in Frank foundering into dementia, and the ride is well worth the price of admission.

The headlining story, Black Pockets, tells the story of Bruno, an everyman downtrodden by a lifelong bully. Bruno is given a secret power to gain revenge upon any person who has done him harm, but the benefactor of this gift is the very bully he most wishes to exorcise. Any sort of revenge is available to him -- except for that which he most yearns for. It's a neat story with creepy underpinnings, but the ending is very Stephen King's It-like. (As in, it pretty much ruined the tale for me.)

Black Pockets and Other Dark Thoughts was published by Golden Gryphon Press, the seeming heirs to Arkham House, and this collection certainly reads like it was published by Arkham. In a mostly good way.


Collector's Notes:

George Zebrowski is somewhat collectible, though fans of starship sagas rarely translate to fans of horror, and so this book might not hit a chord with his fanbase. Either way though, this book, like all Golden Gryphon Press books, had a limited press run. (In this case, it was 2000 copies)

There were and are a lot of collector's whose goal was/is to collect every book ever printed by Arkham House. I foresee the same for Golden Gryphon in the future, and if that is true, this book will certainly be collectible. Just how collectible and in how much demand, is a very good question that I am unable to answer.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Move Under Ground by Nick Mamatas

Move Under Ground is the story of Jack Kerouac and company in a Lovecraftian setting. The Beat writers have been personal favorites of mine for as long as I can recall; with Neal Cassady acting as a seminal icon of my childhood. Coupled with the Lovecraftian mythos that was instrumental in my falling in love with the genre of speculative fiction, an amalgam of the two both excited me as a prospect, and generated considerable distress that it would not be pulled off adequately.

I need not have feared. Nick Mamatas achieves a seamless blend of the dialectic worlds, and Move Under Ground is a feat worthy of song.

Kerouac is seeking nirvana on Big Sur, but is never quite complete without his kindred Neal, and so when Cassady writes to Jack telling of strange goings on and a 'wakened sleeper,' Kerouac decides that it is time to return to the road.

Jack finds the world has become even more strange since his last fling with living, indeed eldritch horrors abound, and a non-Euclidean city has risen from the sea. Kerouac meets up with Cassady once more, and their travels take them to New York, where they face off against the Mythos, and each other.

Do you need to have read Kerouac and Cassady and Burroughs to enjoy this book? Lovecraft and Derleth? Perhaps not, but you should read those books, regardless of the answer. Mamatas speaks to us in the unquestionable voice of Jack Kerouac, and that alone deserves to be savored.

Move Under Ground deserves the classification of cult classic, both from the inmates of Arkham and the yearners of the Beat Generation.


Collector's Notes:

Move Under Ground has not yet garnered the attention it deserves, and perhaps will not until Mamatas writes more novels and attains more acclaim. However, a copy of the hardcover from Night Shade Books is a worthy investment, both because it could very well become a cult classic, and because it is quite deserving of being read, and would not be amiss on any book shelf.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Bone by Jeff Smith

Bone is the Eisner and Harvey Award winning children's fantasy comic by Jeff Smith. In 2004, Smith collected all of the 55 issues of the serialized comic into a single omnibus edition, a format that has proven ideal for telling the epic adventures of the Bone cousins.

The tale begins with Fone Bone and his cousins Smiley and Phoney wandering aimlessly due to being kicked out of Boneville. They are soon separated by a plague of locusts, and Fone Bone finds himself in a not-so-peaceful valley on the eve of winter. (Winter comes fast in the Valley.) He meets a mysterious red dragon, a bug named Ted, and two numskulled rat creatures who are very interested in eating him. (Smith has the rat creatures act much like the trolls in The Hobbit, Bone is able to escape while they decide just how to cook him.)

After a long winter without his cousins, Fone Bone meets the beautiful young lady Thorn, and is brought back to her home to meet Thorn's Grandma Ben. With the help of Thorn and Grandma Ben, Fone Bone is able to locate his cousins, just in time for the Great Cow Race.

As the tale progresses, we realize that this is not just another children's comic book. Before long, we are thrust into an epic fantasy worthy of Tolkien. Thorn is not what she seems, and neither are the Bone's. The lines between good and evil are blurred in a manner not often rendered in children's fantasy. There are grandiose battles and perilous sorcery, we are taken to dragon graveyards, ancient castles, and mythic ruins, all the while providing humor to lighten the depth of the story. Smith has done a wonderful job in creating a fantasy for people of all ages, and in Bone, has created one of the better comics in the history of the medium.


Collector's Notes:

The winner of nine Eisner Awards and nine Harvey Awards, Bone is among the most critically acclaimed comics of all time. The single issues have various values, but the first printing of the first issue can command $200.

At $40 (or less) for the complete edition, you get an incredible value, and a book that belongs on the shelves of fantasy fans of any age. Certainly a great gift to give to children who are looking for something after they're done with the Harry Potter books.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Salt by Adam Roberts

Adam Roberts, in addition to being a sharp new voice in British science fiction, is also a professor of literature, an SF critic, and a satirist. His The VaDinci Cod is an excellent lampoon of the stupefyingly popular and criminally stupid The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown. Salt, published in 2000, is his first science fiction novel.

Humanity is just beginning to reach for the stars. A veritable wagon train of ships bearing different peoples with contradictory cultures heads out to colonize Nebel 2, a planet that appears to have everything needed to support human life.

The story is told from the viewpoints of the 'leaders' of the two most divergent cultures. On the one hand we have the devout religious conservatives named the Senaar, led by the criminally manipulative Barlei, and on the other an anarchist society called the Alsists that rejects any and all forms of government and hierarchy. By random chance during space travel, Petja seems to be accorded a leadership role in the Alsists, a position he does not want, and one his fellow anarchists do not recognize.

But hierarchy is all that Barlei can understand, and the Alsists repeated ambivalence to his authority sparks a disjunction between ships before they even reach their destination. Barlei uses his wits to arrive at Nebel 2 first, and so the Senaar get first choice of settlement locations.

Only, Nebel 2 is not all that was promised. The planet is a desert of salt, it's bodies of water negligible, the air poisonous without filters, and the surface unlivable without massive permutation. A situation that calls for all of the colonists to work together towards a common end -- which is why they do no such thing.

Roberts is very heavy handed with his disdain for political conservatism. It's quite funny at times, and you can tell that he tries to see the situation from both points of view, but can't help skewing the vision and tossing in barbs at poor Barlei.

Salt has everything that makes science fiction grand. The ideas are plentiful and well-considered, the interstellar travel was accomplished well, and human beings take priority over both; their fears and hatreds, passions and weaknesses, all woven into an all-too-trite tapestry. It's a crying shame, because instead of a very good first novel, Salt could have been the next Dune.


Collector's Notes:

Unreleased as yet in the American market, now is a good time to discover Adam Roberts. Unfortunately, the UK hardcover from Gollancz is glued, not sewn, and the book appears to be poorly crafted. All the same, check it out.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Book Sale - Night Shade Books

From now until Monday, June 12th at 11:59 pm, you can get 40% off your order at Night Shade Books with a minimum purchase of three books.

****Must enter NSB0640 as the coupon code to recieve the discount****

Night Shade is one of the gems of small independent press, featuring authors such as Iain M. Banks, Steven Erikson, H.P. Lovecraft, Lucius Shepard, Graham Joyce, and Joe Haldeman. Their books are finely crafted and I've yet to read book from them that I have not enjoyed.

I would personally recommend:

The Fourth Circle by Zoran Zivkovic
London Revenant by Conrad Williams
Move Under Ground by Nick Mamatas
War Stories by Joe Haldeman

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Hugo Awards 2006

The Hugo Award is Science Fiction's version of the Oscar. It is the pinnacle of awards, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a work of speculative fiction (Fantasy works are now eligible for the award). Named for Hugo Gernsback, the man who coined the term 'Science Fiction,' founder of the first Science Fiction magazine, and an influential writer in his own right. His novel Ralph 124C 41+ (1911) first envisioned radar, a technology we take for granted today. Gernsback is often referred to as the father of Science Fiction, though there were many fine practioners before him. First presented at the 11th World Science Fiction convention in 1953, The Hugo has been the pre-eminent award in genre fiction ever since.

Past Hugo Awards have been given to some of the most important SF novels of all time, such as The Left Hand of Darkness, Starship Troopers, The Forever War, Ender's Game, and A Canticle For Leibowitz, and at other times it has been awarded to questionable works. (Which I will not name) (Harry Potter)

This years Hugo Awards proves to be a tough batch to call, at least in the novel category. The nominees for Best Novel are:

  • Learning The World by Ken MacLeod
  • A Feast For Crows by George R.R. Martin
  • Old Man's War by John Scalzi
  • Accelerando by Charles Stross
  • Spin by Robert Charles Wilson

A tough choice, and I have to admit I've been waffling on a decision. I make no secret of being a huge fan of Martin and Stross, and Spin by Wilson blew my mind. Scalzi's book was very fun, if a bit flawed, and should certainly be considered one of the best debuts of last year in the U.S., if not quite deserving of the Hugo. I'm not a fan of Ken MacLeod's work, yet I dutifully trudged through Learning The World after it was nominated.

Charles Stross deserves a best novel Hugo at some point, but I don't feel that Accelerando is his best work. A Feast For Crows is undoubtedly the weakest of Martin's series thus far. Spin had amazing ideas and that old-fashioned sensawundah that makes SF so special, but I felt it lacked in the character department. Like I said -- tough choice.

My award ballot looks like this:

1. A Feast For Crows by George R.R. Martin
2. Spin by Robert Charles Wilson
3. Accelerando by Charles Stross
4. No Award
5. No Award

I'd like to note the books that did not garner a nomination but should have:
  • The Warrior Prophet by R. Scott Bakker
  • Vellum by Hal Duncan
  • The Hidden Family by Charles Stross
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • London Revenant by Conrad Williams
  • The Carpet-Makers by Andreas Eschbach

Of course, not all deserving books can be nominated, but these all deserve at least as much recognition as the nominees.

The nominees for Best Novella are:

Another tough category, another difficult choice. As good as Kelly and McDonald's stories were, I have to give the edge to Kelly Link. Magic For Beginners, the story and indeed the entire collection was transcendant, the best collection I read last year, in a year of sublime collections.

My award ballot reads:

1. Magic For Beginners by Kelly Link
2. Burn by James Patrick Kelly
3. The Little Goddess by Ian McDonald
4. No Award
5. No Award

The Nominees for Best Novellette are:

I really enjoyed The Calorie Man, and Two Hearts was a very good story, by The King of Where-I-Go was both suitably strange and conjured the American South so vividly, I felt I was back there.

So goes the ballot:

1. The King of Where-I-Go by Howard Waldrop
2. Two Hearts by Peter S. Beagle
3. The Calorie Man by Paolo Bacigalupi
4. I, Robot by Cory Doctorow
5. No Award

The Nominees for Best Short Story are:

The short story category is really the only no-brainer category. Margo Lanagan is bloody incredible, and Singing My Sister Down is the best of her superior output.

My ballot shall read:

1. Singing My Sister Down by Margo Lanagan
2. No Award
3. No Award
4. No Award
5. No Award

I don't bother with most of the other related categories. For instance, what fan can judge who the best editor is? It becomes a choice of who picks the best stories for their magazine or collection -- and to be perfectly honest, the magazines do not matter anymore. If a short story is good enough, the story will end in a collection or anthology. This will probably sound like blaspheme to the old guard, but times change.

One of the other categories I do care about is The Best Artist award. The art gracing the covers of our books is oftentimes what lures fans to a new author. And sometimes, like this year, an artist stands the speculative fiction world on their heads.

The nominees for Best Artist are:

I'm a longtime fan of Whelan for his covers on the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. They were favorites of mine as a child. Donato Giancola is inarguably a master in the field. However, this year than can be no choice but John Picacio. Have you seen his new cover for A Canticle For Leibowitz? For the new paperback of Gateway? No contest.

The ballot looks like this:

1. John Picacio
2. Donato Giancola
3. No Award
4. No Award
5. No Award

The Campbell Award is named for legendary editor John W. Campbell, and is given for the best new author. The nominees are:

Just one question people, where the bloody hell is R. Scott Bakker? Incredibly disappointing.

My vote will go to:

K.J. Bishop


Now I'm quite certain that all my choices won't win, these are just my opinions. There are a lot of links to wonderful stories here, and I hope you all enjoy them as much as I have. See you at Worldcon in LA.

Price Guides

-Robert Jordan

-George R.R. Martin

-China Mieville