Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Clarkesworld Magazine, Issue 57, June 2011

“Semiramis” by Genevieve Valentine – With the world heavily affected by a global climate dramatic change, the narrator, who is the administrator of the Svalbard Seed Vault, has a personal plan besides monitoring the seed conservation. The story is set into an apocalyptic future, where the world is partially flooded, with the level of water still rising. “Semiramis” has the touch of a biblical theme, but with a definite human touch, guessed in the case of the global climate change and experienced at first hand in the case of the birds populating the Svalbard’s cliffs. The story also has a certain depressing and hopelessness feeling, accentuated by the narrator’s desires, probably never to be fulfilled, to see something he planted grow or the flowers blossom into their known colors, but which he can only imagine by looking at their seeds. Despite the fact that “Semiramis” does not have much of a plot or conflict, the reasons behind the narrator’s actions remain a mystery, after all he is a mystery himself, I really liked Genevieve Valentine’s story. It has a bitter taste and it hits too close to our day to day reality, but it is delivered with a beautiful, personal touch.

“Trickster” by Mari Ness – In a fantastical world, the hero of the story is asked by one of the gods, Trickster, to kill one of the other gods. Mari Ness creates with just a few strokes of her pen a pretty strong pantheon of thirteen gods and an equally interesting character. Mari Ness alternates the passages revealing the main storyline with those in which the protagonist reveals her knowledge about the gods. These is an effective approach since the author limits the information of the respective pantheon to the character’s knowledge, surrounding the gods with an air of uncertainty and also giving more credibility to the main character. Why the Trickster acts in this particular way and why the protagonist follows this course of action knowing quite well who she is dealing with remain questions with vague answers. However, the end of the story puts everything I learned about the gods into a new perspective and salvages a bit the storyline that failed to move me too much. Although its main storyline left me indifferent “Trickster” proved to be an interesting story in the end, with a wonderful premise, a pretty strong character and an unexpected finish.

The fiction section of this issue of Clarkesworld Magazine looks good, although I felt differently about the two stories, with “Semiramis” the stronger one, I believe that they are not totally unbalanced and offer the reader a very pleasant experience.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cover art - "Blackdog" by K.V. Johansen

Did I buy books only because of their covers? I could say never, but that would certainly be a lie. It did happen, not very often, but it did. I can say though that for some time my criteria of buying books changed and it is not solely based on the cover artwork anymore. Although I cannot promise that would not happen again at some point in the future. Especially since covers such as the one seen in this post exist. For my today’s drooling over a cover artwork Raymond Swanland is at fault again and the publisher to be blamed is Pyr, which encouraged the artist to create yet another wonderful cover after their editions of James Barclay’s “Legends of the Raven”.

I said that I no longer buy books based solely on their cover artworks, but I still stop and admire them without taking into consideration the authors’ name or the book title. At first. Because the cover artwork does more than to delight my eyes and soul, it sends me in search of information about the author and book in question, if these are a mystery to me. This is the latest case, Raymond Swanland caught my attention with his amazing cover, for almost the same familiar reasons, the attractive art, the colors and the dynamism, but sent me in search of information about K.V. Johansen and “Blackdog”. A multiple award winning and nominated author, especially for children and young adult speculative fiction, K.V. Johansen published more than ten novels, but also collections of stories, picture and non-fiction books. Pyr will release K.V. Johansen’s latest novel, “Blackdog”, in September this year and although I cannot say that the novel’s synopsis I found on their website didn’t thrill me excessively, it still made me quite curious about it.

With all the honesty I say that I still ponder whether I should buy K.V. Johansen’s “Blackdog” at the moment, the mix of information about the author and novel and I admit that the cover artwork too incline the balance towards the purchase of the title. There is also an excerpt of “Blackdog” on K.V. Johansen’s website, but I wasn’t able to read it so far and can’t take it into consideration yet. But whatever my decision will be I have to say that the cover artwork did its job in this case, more so than the huge lettering that can be seen on some book covers. I mention the lettering, because it could have been the case here as well, Pyr could have opted to highlight the author’s name and the awards won by K.V. Johansen so far, but for me those would not have had the same effect as Raymond Swanland’s cover artwork.

Long ago, in the days of the first kings in the north, there were seven devils. . . .In a land where gods walk on the hills and goddesses rise from river, lake, and spring, the caravan-guard Holla-Sayan, escaping a bloodily-conquered lakeside town, stops to help an abandoned child and a dying dog. The girl, though, is the incarnation of Attalissa, goddess of Lissavakail, and the dog a shape-changing guardian spirit whose origins have been forgotten. Possessed and nearly driven mad by the Blackdog, he flees to the desert road, taking the powerless avatar with him.

And long ago, in the days of the first kings in the north, the seven devils, who had deceived and possessed seven of the greatest wizards of the world, were defeated and bound with the help of the Old Great Gods. . . .

Moth was once Ulfhild the King’s Sword, wizard and warrior of the north. And she was once Vartu Kingsbane, one of the seven devils of legend. Moth cares little for the fate of a minor goddess of the earth like Attalissa, but at the command of the Old Great Gods she is hunting down her former comrades, though how her enemies have compelled her obedience is a mystery even to her lover, the bear-demon Mikki.

And perhaps some of the devils are free in the world, and perhaps some are working to free themselves still. . . .

Necromancy, treachery, massacres, and rebellions, gods dead or lost or mad, follow hard on the devils’ heels. But it is Attalissa herself who may be the Blackdog’s—and Holla-Sayan’s—doom.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Title spotlight - "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" by Ransom Riggs

I have a list, very large, of titles that I wish to read without bringing in question the new books due to be published in the near or distant future. Still, such a thing will be impossible therefore my list grows almost on every day basis with a title, old or new, that I spotted. Recently, on one of my constant online places to visit, Stainless Steel Droppings, I discovered a book that otherwise I believe it would have skipped my attention, Ransom Riggs’ debut novel, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”. As soon as I found Ransom Riggs“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” a series of factors set in motion my immediate decision to place the novel on my reading list and on my next shopping list. First of all, it was the title of the novel. I admit that I was mesmerized by the title of Ransom Riggs’ novel from the start and I am absolutely certain that I would have picked the book from the bookshop shelves if I saw it there only because of its title. Second, it is the recommendation made by Carl, the editor of Stainless Steel Droppings, in the review he posted on his blog. Third, it was the book trailer of the novel that looks really good. 2 minutes that are very efficient, an atmosphere and setting that make my imagination go wild already and it would make a reason enough on itself for me to check the novel. Last, but not least, it is the synopsis that promises a very interesting experience and adventure for the novel. And the mix of fiction and vintage photography sounds appealing to me. With so many attractive reasons there is no wonder for me that Ransom Riggs“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” ended up on my list of books I wish to read and that I am looking forward to grab a copy of the novel released by Quirk Books two weeks ago and start reading it.

A mysterious island.

An abandoned orphanage.

A strange collection of very curious photographs.

It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, an unforgettable novel that mixes fiction and photography in a thrilling reading experience. As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow - impossible though it seems - they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

Monday, June 20, 2011

2010 Bram Stoker Awards

Last Saturday, in an awards ceremony held at the Long Islands Marriott Hotel and Convention Center, New York, the winners of the 2010 Bram Stoker Awards were announced:

Superior Achievement in a Novel: “A Dark Matter” by Peter Straub (Doubleday/Orion)

Superior Achievement in a First Novel (Tie): “Black and Orange” by Benjamin Kane Ethridge (Bad Moon Books)

“The Castle of Los Angeles” by Lisa Morton (Gray Friar Press)

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction: “Invisible Fences” by Norman Prentiss (Cemetery Dance)

Superior Achievement in Short Fiction: “The Folding Man” by Joe R. Lansdale (from “Haunted Legends”, Tor)

Superior Achievement in an Anthology: “Haunted Legends” edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas (Tor)

Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection: “Full Dark, No Stars” by Stephen King (Hodder/Simon and Schuster)

Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction: “To Each Their Darkness” by Gary A. Braunbeck (Apex Publications)

Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection: “Dark Matters” by Bruce Boston (Bad Moon Books)

Lifetime Achievement Awards: Ellen Datlow & Al Feldstein

Specialty Press Award: Joe Morey (Dark Regions Press)

Congratulations to all the winners!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Title spotlight - "Three Messages and a Warning" edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo & Chris N. Brown

One of the things that I love about speculative fiction is the chance of exploring new worlds and settings. I believe that this must be a consequence of my love for travel, since I do love to explore our world too. I do not get the chance to travel as much and as often as I would certainly like, but I do have my share of travels. Still, there are plenty of opportunities for travel and discovery of new countries and cultures and that is with the help of fiction. I love to read authors from different parts of the world and to discover their corner of life through their fiction (although lately this aspect suffered a bit in my readings). It is a bit of travel too. A new opportunity to discover our world or step over the boundaries of reality will arise in December this year when Small Beer Press will release an anthology of contemporary Mexican stories of the fantastic, “Three Messages and a Warning”, edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown. As the presentation of “Three Messages and a Warning” states I am certain that Enrique Jiménez Mayo and Chris N. Brown’s anthology is a collection that satisfies my both attractions for speculative fiction and exploration of our vast and fascinating word:

This huge anthology of all-original Mexican science fiction and fantasy features ghost stories, supernatural folktales, alien incursions, and apocalyptic narratives, as well as science-based chronicles of highly unusual mental states in which the borders of fantasy and reality reach unprecedented levels of ambiguity. Stereotypes of Mexican identity are explored and transcended by the thoroughly cosmopolitan consciousnesses underlying these works.

Here is also the table of contents of “Three Messages and a Warning” in alphabetical order and a small introduction of the editors as it is found on Small Beer Press’ website:

Lucía Abdó – “Second-Hand Pachuca”
Maria Isabel Aguirre – “Today, You Walk Along a Narrow Path”
Ana Gloria Álvarez Pedrajo – “The Mediator”
Liliana V. Blum – “Pink Lemonade”
Agustín Cadena – “Murillo Park”
Karen Chacek – “The Hour of the Fireflies”
Alberto Chimal – “Variation on a Theme of Coleridge”
Ana Clavel – “Warning and Three Messages in the Same Parcel”
Yussel Dardón – “A Pile of Bland Deserts”
Amparo Dávila – “The Guest”
Óscar de la Borbolla – “Wittgenstein’s Umbrellas”
Beatriz Escalante – “Luck Has Its Limits”
Bruno Estañol – “The Infamous Juan Manuel”
Iliana Estañol – “In Waiting”
Bernardo Fernández – “Lions”
Esther M. Garcia – “Mannequin”
Claudia Guillén – “The Drip”
Hernán Lara Zavala – “Hunting Iguanas”
Mónica Lavín – “Trompe l’œil”
Eduardo Mendoza – “The Pin”
Gabriela Damián Miravete – “Nereid Future”
Mauricio Montiel Figueiras – “Photophobia”
Queta Navagómez – “Rebellious”
Amélie Olaiz – “Amalgam”
Donají Olmedo – “The Stone”
Edmée Pardo – “1965”
Jesús Ramírez Bermúdez – “The Last Witness to Creation”
Carmen Rioja – “The Náhual Offering”
Pepe Rojo – “The President without Organs”
René Roquet – “Returning to Night”
Guillermo Samperio – “Mister Strogoff”
Horacio Sentíes Madrid – “The Transformist”
Gerardo Sifuentes – “Future Perfect”
José Luis Zárate – “Wolves”

About the Editors

Born in Boston and raised in San Antonio, Eduardo Jiménez Mayo holds an undergraduate degree from Harvard University in Hispanic literature and a doctoral degree in the humanities from a Catholic university in Madrid. He has taught undergraduate literature courses at the University of Texas in San Antonio and recently obtained a doctorate in jurisprudence from Cornell Law School. He has published translations of books by contemporary Mexican authors Bruno Estañol, Rafael Pérez Gay and José María Pérez Gay. In recent years, he has also published scholarly studies on the Spanish poet Antonio Machado and the Mexican fiction writer Bruno Estañol. Lately, he has conducted readings and lectures on the subject of literary translation at the invitation of Cornell University, New York University, The New School and the Juárez Autonomous University of Tabasco.

Chris N. Brown writes fiction and criticism from his home in Austin, Texas. His work has been variously described as “slick, post-Gibsonian, and funny as hell, like Neal Stephenson meets Hunter S. Thompson” (Cory Doctorow), “Borges in a pop culture blender” (Invisible Library), and “like a cross between Mark Leyner and William Gibson” (Boing Boing). He also contributes to the group blog No Fear of the Future.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Cover art - "Shadows Linger" by Glen Cook (Romanian edition)

There is no need to reinforce my love for Raymond Swanland’s works, I mentioned him as one of my favorite artists in plenty of occasions. Some of his cover artworks that come to mind as soon as this subject is opened are the ones for Glen Cook’s “Black Company” titles. One such cover can be admired also on the Romanian edition of Glen Cook’s novel, “The Black Company”, released by Millennium Books. However, for the second novel in Glen Cook’s series of novels released on the Romanian market Millennium Books went for a different artwork, but similar in tone and approach to the ones made by Raymond Swanland. The respective cover is produced by Wenjun Lin, an artist unknown to me until now, but with a very interesting portfolio that can be seen here. Although the artwork featured on the Romanian edition of Glen Cook’s “Shadows Linger” was not specifically made for the cover of the book it works perfectly. It has the same composition and dynamism as the artworks produced by Raymond Swanland, but it keeps a measure of originality and personal approach. As a matter of fact, the eye can be tricked at a first glance. It is a wonderful choice.

I said before that Millennium Books’ efforts on the cover artwork of their titles are excellent and I would like to say it again. Especially since their covers bring freshness and joy on a market that seems to be complacent in a lukewarm and characterless situation when it comes to book covers.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Galileo Awards 2011

My busiest time of the year, so far, it is almost over. Therefore starting from last few days I slowed down a bit and enjoyed a bit more of free time. I still have plenty of things to catch up, but I am certain that slowly I will manage to resume all of them.

First of all, as much as I would have liked to attend Bookfest, a Romanian National Book Fair, and the award ceremony of the first edition of the Galileo Awards, I wasn’t able to do so. But here are the winners of the 2011 Galileo Awards:

The best volume: Oliviu Crâznic – “…și la sfîrșit a mai rămas coșmarul” (…and at the end remained the nightmare) (Vremea)

I will honestly admit that this novel was not my choice in any of the voting stages. I didn’t find Oliviu Crâznic’s debut novel on my liking and the reasons for this can be seen on the review I wrote for his novel here on my blog.

The best short fiction: Costi Gurgu – “Îngeri și molii” (Angels and Moths) (Galileo 2)

I am not familiar with this short story, so I cannot say where Costi Gurgu’s story stays with me. However, I did read some of Costi Gurgu’s works and although they didn’t put his name among the ones of my favorite writers they were quite interesting.

Galileo Award for the entire career: George Anania

I only read one novel of George Anania, written together with Romulus Bărbulescu, “Doando”, but unfortunately I can’t remember much about it. As far as I can remember it is a novel about galactic exploration and conflict of civilizations.

Still, I can catch up on some of the works and writers nominated for the inaugural edition of the Galileo Awards, because Millennium Books publishes an anthology dedicated to the stories and writers nominated in 2011. Here is the complete line-up:

Cuvînt înainte (Foreword) – Horia Nicola Ursu
George Anania – Prisăcarul (The Beekeper)
Oliviu Crâznic – …şi la sfîrşit a mai rămas coşmarul (…and at the end remained the nightmare) (fragment)
Michael Haulică – Microtexte (Microtexts)
Mircea Oprita – Inginerii financiare (Financial Engineering)
Liviu Radu – Mestecenii (The Birches)
Cristian-Mihail Teodorescu – Electro-magneto-muza (Electro-Magneto Muse)
Ştefana Cristina Czeller – Slujesc Zeului Cîine (I Serve the Dog-God)
Costi Gurgu – Îngeri şi molii (Angels and Moths)
Florin Pîtea – Vînătoarea de sfincşi (The Hunt of Sphinxes)
Marian Truţă – Cumania 2010 (Cumania 2010)

Congratulations to all the winners!