Monthly Archives: January 2012

Why It’s not Wise to Steal a Giant

Giant Thief
David Tallerman
Angry Robot Books
mmpb, 416 pp, $7.99 US/$8.99 CAN
416 pp, B format ppb, L7.99 UK/RoW
various ebook formats

With his debut novel, David Tallerman has succeeded in doing what few authors have done.  He has written a story (novel, short story, length doesn’t matter) that made me laugh out loud.  Well, it was more of a chuckle, actually.  But it happened more that once.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to make me laugh while I’m reading, even if I think the story is funny?

I don’t why that is; it just is.  Tallerman pulled it off.  That puts him squarely on my list of authors to read.

Now don’t get the idea that Giant Thief is a humorous novel, such as those written by Tom Holt or Terry Pratchett.  It’s a pretty serious story.  It’s hard to make sudden murder and mass slaughter funny.

The story starts off like this:

Easie Damasco is a compulsive thief.  When the book opens, the soldiers he’s been caught stealing from are discussing the best way to kill him.  They decide on hanging, but before he can expire, the invading warlord, Moaradrid, happens along and orders him cut down.  Rather than waste cannon fodder, he conscripts Damasco into his army.  The same army that’s invading Damasco’s home country.

Now he’s likely to die fighting against his own countrymen rather than at the end of a rope.  Moaradrid has somehow managed to get the Giants to fight for him, something the opposing army doesn’t know yet.  During the battle, the handler of a Giant named Saltlick is killed.  Damasco’s commander orders him to take control of the Giant, which is done by riding on a harness strapped to the Giant’s back.  Then the commander expires of his wounds.

Damasco decides the best course of action is to take Saltlick and flee.  Saltlick is in favor of this idea, especially once Damasco promises him he won’t have to fight again.  Seems the Giants are natural pacifists.

Of course Damasco can’t leave well enough alone.  He has to try for a big score, and manages to steal a small purse from Moaradrid’s tent.  So what’s a kleptomaniac to do once he’s swiped a valuable purse and a conscientious objector?  Head for the hills, in this case literally.

Escaping isn’t as easy as Easie thinks it will be.  There are people waiting for him when he returns to the nearest city.  And there’s more in the purse of value than a few coins.  Damasco finds himself in the center of a battle, both of steel and of wills, for control of what’s in that bag.

If you’re wondering by this point, where’s the humor in all this, it’s mostly at the beginning of the novel.  Things get increasingly grim as the story progresses.

Oh, you mean in the situation.  Do you remember that kid in junior high school (or middle school, if you prefer), the one who constantly had a wise-ass remark on the tip of his tongue and never seemed to take anything seriously?  That’s Easie Damasco.  He’s always got a quip, a happy-go-lucky yet cynical view of things.  It was this sort of humor that made me laugh.  I realize humor is subjective, and this form might not appeal to everyone, but for me it worked.

Damasco also has an unbelievable talent for rationalization and self-justification, traits that constantly land him in trouble.  No wonder there’s a price on his head in one of the cities he and his companions visit.  And he is incapable of keeping his sticky fingers to himself.

Not that this stops him from growing a conscience.  He does begin to see how his actions hurt others, although in fairness to him, there are plenty of people using him for their own purposes.  A mayor, a crime lord, a prince, and a guard captain.  No one is completely without sin in this story.

And it’s a good story, one worth reading.  There are passages where Tallerman captures the interaction between characters like an accomplished pro.  When Mayor Estrada whispers to Damasco the reason she needs him in the war, and her response when he asks her to repeat herself is to yell the reason, Tallerman captured the guilt and conflicted emotion of a decent and honorable person forced to do something dishonorable for the greater good.  It was one of the most effective scenes for me, and it wasn’t the only scene like this.  Tallerman is clearly a good writer, but there are glimpses of greater talent still in development throughout the novel. He’s only gong to get better.

It would be tempting for Tallerman to have a romance develop between Damasco and Estrada.  While that may yet happen in a future installment of this series, Tallerman took the more difficult and thus more rewarding course and refrained.

Another thing Tallerman did well was explain the geography.  I still got turned around as to where places were in relation to each other.  A map would have been nice.  My copy is an eARC, so there might be a map in the final edition.  If not, that’s something Angry Robot might want to consider for the sequel.

David Tallerman is not an author with whom I was familiar before reading this book.  In fact I’d never heard of him. I’d be willing to be his name will become more prominent if he writes more books like this one.  I’ll be looking forward to the sequel, but in the meantime, I’ll be hunting up his short stories.

Franzen Says Ebooks not for Serious Readers

Literary author Jonathan Franzen says that ebooks aren’t for serious readers.  You can read  his comments here.

As a person who considers himself a serious reader, I take great offense at these remarks.  The medium through which a person chooses to read, whether paper, electronic, or (as in my case) a combination of both, is in no way a reflection of whether that person is a “serious reader”. 

Of course, Mr. Franzen doesn’t define what a “serious reader” is.  Is it someone who places a high priority on reading and buys numerous books every year or month or in some cases every week?  Or perhaps it’s a person who only reads serious Literature?  (Capitalization mine.)  

Aside from the brain-dead connection Mr. Franzen tries to make between paper books and responsible self-government, his remarks show just how out of step he is with vast numbers of readers, both here in America as well as other parts of the world.  Franzen is a darling of the literati, those arbiters of taste and snobbery, most of whom wouldn’t deign to read genre fiction.  At least not in public.  Franzen clearly seems to share this elitist view, despite the fact that his books are available in electronic editions.  He states that paper books provide a level of permanence.  He’s also gone on record saying that “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”  I strongly beg to differ, but good fiction is in the eye of the beholder.

Still, I doubt Franzen would recognize good fiction if it bit him in the ass. 

Of course, Franzen’s remarks illustrate one of the results of a recent survey by Verso Digital.  Among their findings was that resistance to ereaders is growing, even among avid readers.  If I’m understanding the survey correctly, the resistance is from people who have never been inclined to read on an ereader.  Frankly, I don’t care what format you choose for reading.  Just don’t take a condescending attitude toward those of us who don’t choose the same as you.

Franzen also says that if printed books become obsolete, he’s glad he won’t live long enough to see it.  Given his attitude, I find it hard to disagree with that statement.  In the meantime, I’m going to read some good indie fiction.

On my ereader.

Happy Birthday, C. L. Moore

Moore with husband Kuttner

Today marks the 101st anniversary of the birth of C. L. Moore.  Moore was an innovative writer who got her start in Weird Tales with the classic story “Shambleau”, which introduced the Han Solo prototype Northwest Smith.  She also created Jirel of Joiry, one of the pioneering heroines of sword and sorcery.  After her marriage to Henry Kuttner, most of her output was collaborative and mainly science fiction.

I wrote a more extensive tribute last year, albeit a day late. I’ll not repeat myself this year, except to say, go read her.  Right now.  Turn off the computer, put down the tablet, and go read her.  Okay, you can leave the tablet on if you download one of her stories.  She’s too important a figure in the field to be forgotten.  While I’m sure others have written tributes today, I haven’t seen any.  Of course the best tribute you can pay authors is to read their works.

The CBS Radio Mystery Theater Available Online for Free

When I was growing up, we lived in several towns, and one of those was Wichita Falls. There was a small radio station there that used to air The CBS Radio Mystery Theater after the 10:00 p.m. news.  I would lie awake for the next hour listening to it when I was supposed to be sleeping.  Some nights I would continue to lie awake long after the show ended if it was a scary episode (there were plenty of those).  The show had a consistently high quality and was produced by producer of the old Inner Sanctum show from a few decades earlier.  It even had the same creaking door.  Henry Slesar and Alfred Bester both wrote scripts, although Bester only wrote for a year.  He had gone on to other things by the time I started listening.

Other than some really low quality cassettes I used to record a few episodes of the show, I haven’t heard The CBS Radio Mystery Theater since 1980, when we moved to another part of the state.

Now all 1399 episodes are available online for free.  I’ve already identified several favorites I want to hear again, and I’m trying to figure out the titles for several more.  While I don’t recall any sword and sorcery, there were enough horror, suspense, and noir stories that I think some of you might be interested in listening.  You can find them here. And thanks to James Reasoner for posting a notice about this on his blog.

Entering the Dark Realm of the Fey

Feyland:  The Dark Realm
Anthea Sharp
Various ebook formats, $3.99 (B&N, Amazon)

It’s been a while since I read a YA novel.  Not quite as long as it’s been since I was YA myself, but close.  (Don’t even think about asking how long that is; I’ll only plead the fifth.)  But there’s been some exciting writing going on in the YA world for some time now, and much of it is either science fiction or fantasy.  Since my son will soon be moving into that age bracket, I’m going to be familiarizing myself with what’s out there and passing on some of my recommendations to you.

The first of these recommendations is Feyland:  The Dark Realm by Anthea Sharp.  Before I discuss the book’s plot or its themes, I want to say something up front.  I have no sisters, my wife has no sisters,  we have no teenage daughters, nor have I ever been a teenage girl.  Teenage girls are some of the hardest characters in fiction for me to relate to.  I can usually relate to children or women, but teenage girls don’t think like I do.  At all.  I taught high school for a couple of years, so I have spent time around them.  They just weren’t on the same planet I was much of the time.  (You could argue I’m not on the same planet as most people most of the time, but that’s the subject of another post.)

Why do I bring this up?  Ms. Sharp has created two distinct characters, one male and one female, and not only made me care about them but made me see the world through their very different eyes.  I had some reservations when I first agreed to review this book because I wasn’t sure I would be able to relate to the teenage female character.  I’m very glad to say those reservations turned out to be completely unfounded. Continue reading

Happy Birthday, Robert E. Howard

Today is the 106th year since the birth of Robert E. Howard.  (Yeah, I know the local time is still January 21, but by the time most of you read this, it will be the 22nd.  Besides, it’s the 22nd east of here.)  I’m not sure what I could say that would do the man justice that others haven’t already said and said better.  After last summer’s disastrous Conan movie, those of us who champion Howard’s work as literature probably have a harder row to hoe overcoming the (at best) misguided notion that his writing is hackwork.  If you are only familiar with Conan through the movie(s), pastiches, or comics, read some of the real thing.  And then read some of Howard’s other writings:  Kull, the horror stories, the historicals, the westerns, the boxing stories, the poetry.  And raise a glass in his honor.  Me, I’m going to celebrate by reading some of the spicy stories

Status Update: Back to the Salt Mines

I’ve been something of a slacker lately, reading some stuff outside the bounds of this blog, traveling before classes start, beginning an exercise program (boy am I out of shape).

Anyway, classes start Thursday, and since I’m in charge of all the undergraduate labs now, I’ve got to herd cats supervise all the teaching assistants, somewhere in the neighborhood of 40-45, starting this afternoon.  I plan to get back to posting on a regular (or at least semi-regular) basis within the next couple of days.  In the meantime, thank you to everyone who has visited in the last few weeks, both here and at Futures Past and Present.  Traffic has been at record levels, and I really appreciate the interest and support, as well as all the comments.

I need to double check my deadlines on some items I’ve committed to review, but I’ve got several indie published books coming up in the next 4-6 weeks that look promising as well as titles by more traditional publishers.  It’s gonna be fun.

The Shadows Darken

Shadow’s Lure
Jon Sprunk
Pyr, $16.00, 391 p.

I want a glowing green girlfriend that nobody else can see or hear who can walk through walls.

Don’t tell my wife I said that.  She would probably entertain objections to the idea.

But it would be convenient to have one.  For instance, she could tell me when danger was around the corner.  Like Kit does in the Shadow series.

Jon Sprunk’s Shadow’s Son was one of the first books I reviewed after starting this blog, and it was good to revisit the world and characters. The publisher’s web site says this title was published last June, but I didn’t see a copy on the shelves of a bookstore until October, which until I started writing this post is when I assumed it was published.  If I’d known it came out last summer, this review would have been written months ago.  Just so you know, there are some mild spoilers for Shadow’s Son in the following paragraphs.   Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Continue reading