Wednesday, 31 March 2010

A Remarkable Fantasy Novel: A Review of Goddess Fire

It's time for the last review of March, and I've saved the best for last.

My Review of  Goddess Fire by Meg Westley: 





How do you describe the book Goddess Fire by Meg Westley?   Intricate, superb, well crafted, satisfying, and fabulous are the first words that spring to my mind.  From the opening pages in the dark, chilling corners of an underground prison, to the final, gratifying conclusion the book simply sings.

“Gelfan felt his way along the pitch-black tunnel, his fingers brushing the packed dirt walls. Small sounds surrounded him: moans, sighs, airless whispers.  It had been a long time since he’d heard laughter. In this dark prison beneath the city, few had the energy even to speak.”

Goddess Fire tells the story of the imprisoned Sylvani, their enemies, The Vleth, and those allied to the Sylvani:  Joran, Nys and their fellow dissenters; their picture is illustrated against the background of warring Gods, with the fate of a people and a city at stake.  The plot seamlessly switches the story to highlight characters and situations, and has cleverly scattered chapter introductions full of back-story throughout the book in the forms of writings of the prisoners.

“They removed all the holy relics, the ancient gifts from Leil to the Sylvani.  Most of the priests simply stood and watched in tears, for Leil abhors violence and the priests had sworn to be peaceful, always. But a younger priest, enraged, seized the Shard of Seela and used its ray to immobilize a Dame. The other Dames hacked him to death with their axes.”

The author has executed a stellar effort to shape her world, breathing a vibrant life into the settings and the characters, and lures the reader inevitably within the exceptionally woven prose.   The book has a magnificent depth, wonderfully contrasting the underlying evil of the antagonists against the spirited, and sometimes desperate, struggle of the dissenters and their allies.  The author truly creates fully realised characters, be they villain or hero, with hopes, flaws and vivacity.

This is a must-read for lovers of fantasy fiction.

Goddess Fire is available at
Amazon.ca:  http://www.amazon.ca/Goddess-Fire-Westley/dp/1935361074
Amazon.com:  http://www.amazon.com/Goddess-Fire-Westley/dp/1935361074

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Sci-fi, Witty and Droll: A Review of Nexus Point

 My Review of Nexus Point- The Fall of the Altairan Empire: Book One by Jaleta Clegg:



Nexus Point- The Fall of the Altairan Empire: Book One by Jaleta Clegg is a jaunty science fiction novel mixed well with a little romance, a little wit and a few skewed medieval legends; at times I half expected someone to show looking for the Holy Grail. 

The plot details the trials of Captain Dace after her spaceship explodes and she makes a crash landing on the planet Dadilan, a world off-limits to outsiders.  Right off the mark she is embroiled in the internal struggles of the planet and manages to get herself enmeshed in a mass of trouble. Along the way, she finds allies, a love-interest of sorts and several villainous types trying to kill her.

“I could stand where I was and wait for Ky to find me or I could follow Tayvis. I didn't want to walk barefoot through the forest. Tayvis offered me a better choice than Ky and Leran.”

This book could easily be subtitled The Misadventures of Dace on the Planet Dadilan as the main character gets into one scrape after another.  The author mostly pulls off the plotline, preventing it from evolving into one big clichéd mess, and turns it into amusing, impudent fun.  It does sag a bit in the middle with a few too many coincidental capture and rescue scenarios, with the heroine turned into a target too often for my taste.  Still, the cheeky tone saves it from any true disaster and the book easily gets back on track for the showdown against the villains that spirals into an entertaining free-for-all ending. 

“A group of men charged up the hill. I snatched the blaster. They kept going over the hill. I lowered the blaster.
I raised it again when I saw the man hiding by the boulders, Flago, the dirty little sneak who had sold me out to Clyvus. I slithered out of the bushes to crouch behind a rock.”

The book is an engaging little hybrid sci-fi novel and a nice lively read.


Author Bio:

Jaleta Clegg was born some time ago. She’s filled the years since with many diverse activities, such as costuming, quilting, cooking, video games, reading, and writing. She’s been a fan of classic sci-fi books and campy movies since she can remember. Her collection of bad sci-fi movies is only rivaled by her collection of eclectic CD’s (polka, opera, or Irish folk songs, anyone?).
Her day job involves an inflatable planetarium, numerous school children, and starship simulators. Her summer job involves cooking alien food for space camp. She writes a regular column in Abandoned Towers Magazine–fancy dinner menus for themed parties.
Jaleta lives in Utah with her husband, a horde of her own children, and two ancient, toothless cats. She wants to be either Han Solo or Ursula the Sea Witch when she grows up. If she ever does.

Her first novel, Nexus Point (www.nexuspoint.info), is now in print from Cyberwizard Productions. She has stories published in Bewildering Tales, Abandoned Towers, and Darwin’s Evolutions.  Links are available at www.jaletac.com

Monday, 29 March 2010

Changes and the Beautiful Blogger Award


Just in time for my layout re-design of my blog, I have been awarded the Beautiful Blogger Award by Renee Miller of Renee's Blog: Dangling on the Edge of (In)sanity.  Many thanks to Renee for the award!
Be sure to pop over and read her wonderful blog.

As a recipient of this award I was directed to pass it on to deserving bloggers.  My criteria was simple:  Art (books, paintings, writing, etc.) equals Beauty.   These blogs are full of books, writing, artists, wit, advice and overall cool stuff.  Do pay them all a visit.

My List:

  1. Bertram's Blog
  2. JaxPop 
  3. Themes on Canvas
  4. The Book Buff 
  5. Joylene Nowell Butler
  6. Prose & Musings
  7. Book Hounds
  8. Wolf Maiden Chronicles
  9. Writing Space
  10. Fantasy Pages

Friday, 26 March 2010

Fantastic Authors, Fantastic Stories: A Review of Ménage à 20: Tales with a hook

My Review of Ménage à 20: Tales with a hook:

Ménage à 20: Tales with a hook is a collection of thirty short stories by twenty authors, who also happen to be members of the Goodreads website.  This collaborative effort has produced an eclectic, but highly enchanting compilation.

The stories vary in subject from the softly romantic, to dark fantasy, science fiction and disturbing horror, all tales ending with a twist. Their narrative tones range from creepy to sweet, everyone satisfying to read.  Captivating characters abound, to charm, enthrall, destroy and weep with you as each page turns and the scintillating prose unfolds.

I delighted in all the stories, enjoying each fresh treat presented, but The Knight and the Demon by Henry Lara, The Fine Print by Renee Miller, String of Pearls by Kate Quinn, and Letting Go by Wendy Swore were the standouts for me.  I’m sure other readers will find their own favourites.  There is certainly enough stellar fiction in this book to please and Ménage à 20 is definitely worth recommending.

As a last note, I have something to say in regards to the darkly amusing story Justice; it was cruel and unusual punishment, even for that author!  I still loved reading it, though.

You can find more information on  Ménage à 20: Tales with a hook at this website:
http://www.menage-a-20.com/

or at Goodreads:
http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7261620-m-nage-20-tales-with-a-hook

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

A Substantial Sci-fi Novel: Post-Human

 My Review of Post-Human by David Simpson:


Post-Human by David Simpson is a solid, engaging sci-fi novel.  It’s not flashy or groundbreaking, but it has a nice subtle touch that blends the futuristic elements effortlessly with the more human aspects of the narrative.

"With a 600 degree Celsius surface, Venus might have been hell, and James wouldn’t have had it any other way. His favorite part of the day was his approach to the planet and subsequent descent into the atmosphere."

Post-Human is set some time in the future, in the world of James Keats.  Humans have shaped machines to their own ends, making great advancements, becoming themselves partly machine, with nanobots streaming through their bodies.  Earth seems flawless, until a worldwide catastrophe terminates their idyllic existence.  James and his friends must deal with the aftermath, and the shocking truth of what happened.

"When the clouds began to break, he caught a glimpse of something strange. It was only a momentary glimpse, and he told himself it couldn’t be right. It had looked like flames.  He kept dropping. A moment or two later the clouds abated completely and he saw where he was, over the east side of Vancouver and facing south. His mouth fell open and his eyes widened as he looked at his city. It was on fire."

What I enjoyed most about this book was the matter-of-fact way the author handled the science aspects of the plot.  There were no long-winded, technical explanations; he plunked you right in the middle of the society and whipped you along for the ride.  It was artfully done, creating a complete science fiction backdrop for the novel’s authentic characters.  The book also has some excellent character interactions and nicely written, restrained commentaries on tolerance, humanity and the nature of religion.  The author lets these observations flow naturally from the plot and dialogue and does not thump the reader over the head with his opinions.

I was hoping for a slightly darker ending; things were wrapped up a bit too happily ever after for my tastes, but that is simply a personal quibble.  Post-Human is a great sci-fi novel and a very satisfying read; I definitely recommend it.

You can find David and his book on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Post-Human-by-David-Simpson/75192853532

Post-Human is available at Amazon.ca:
http://www.amazon.ca/Post-Human-David-Simpson/dp/1440136874

And Amazon.com:
http://www.amazon.com/Post-Human-David-Simpson/dp/1440136874


You can read my spolight of the author and the book here:
http://www.examiner.com/x-37362-Canada-Sci-Fi-Examiner~y2010m2d11-A-new-Canadian-scifi-novel

Saturday, 20 March 2010

A Book of Bittersweet, Sublime Creation: A Review of Keeper of Secrets...Translations of an Incident

My review of Keeper of Secrets...Translations of an Incident by Anjuelle Floyd




The stories in Keeper of Secrets...Translations of an Incident, are about what goes unspoken in relationships as much as they are about communication.  The author, Anjuelle Floyd, plays with delightful phrasing, spinning the reader into an enigmatic world of guarded implication, daring the reader to discover the deeper meaning veiled in the words.

"She closed her eyes, saw them flickering green, and herself, Raven, dancing in a ring of fire."

Keeper of Secrets is a collection of eight stories, all connected in some way by an incident that occurs in the first story.  Every story flows along certain themes of inner conflict and resolution, melding into an entirety, while still maintaining each story as a stand-alone narrative.

I found some of the stories worked slightly better than others, but they were all engaging and compelling.  The book plays out as a mosaic, each story a section of a beautiful picture, yet enjoyable on its own merit.  The book explores sadness, regret, secrets and poignant struggles as each character tries to cope with or solve an emotional dilemma that plagues their lives.

"The omnipresence of Jack’s love was imposing.  It had taken everything within Ariane to accept the bracelet and Jack’s accompanying affection."

I enjoyed this book. I liked the lyrical, spiritual quality that trickled from the pages and the complicated, yet hopeful attributes of the characters.  It’s the type of book that you sink into and swirls around your senses.  I can easily recommend it.

Keeper of Secrets...Translations of an Incident is available on Amazon.com

About the Author:
Anjuelle Floyd is a wife of twenty-seven years, mother of three, licensed Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in mother-daughter relations and dream work.  A graduate of Duke University, she received her MA in Counseling Psychology from The California Institute of Integral Studies, San Francisco. She has attended the Dominican Institute of Philosophy and Theology, Berkeley, California, and received her MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, Port Townsend, Washington. She has received certificates of participation from The Hurston-Wright Writers’ Week and The Voices of Our Nations Writing Workshops. She teaches online fiction classes at Perelandra College.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Real Emotional Drama: A Review of When Dreams Bleed

 My Review of When Dreams Bleed by Robin Cain

 
Complex describes the novel, When Dreams Bleed by Robin Cain.  Complex characters with complex relationships are threaded through lies and deception.  The plot weaves a gripping story where people and events are not what they seem on the surface.

The book tells the story of Frank Campelletti's messy relationships with two women, Sadie and Citra, and the sad consequences that arise from the choices all three make.  Their secrets lead to mysteries, violence and tragedy.

“Realising she couldn’t hide the truth any longer, she confessed and told him the whole story.  She watched him pace back and forth in the living room as she got to the end where Billy had threatened her.”

The story that unfolds on the pages is self-assured, artful and well crafted, but the characterizations are the true prize of this book.  The author has created some authentic people, full of flaws, lies and bad choices.  There are bold plot choices that truly resonate emotionally.

“Sick with worry, wondering how far into the abyss he had slid, Sadie tried telling herself that it wasn’t her fault.  She knew she couldn’t have helped him, but she also knew she was kidding herself.  This was all her fault.”

I had some quibbles with minor plot threads left unaddressed or that end abruptly, but none of these issues formed any gaping holes in structure.  Overall, the book flows smoothly, engages your interest and you are inescapably drawn into the lives of these characters and all their troubles. 
I can happily recommend this book.

When Dreams Bleed is available on:
Amazon.ca
Amazon.com
Barnes and Noble

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Interview with a Sci-fi Author

Welcome to Science Fiction Day here at the blog, as I present my interview with Jerry Travis, author of the time-traveling sci-fi series, The Safety Factor:



1. Tell us about your science fiction series, The Safety Factor.
This trilogy, all three books being released more or less simultaneously, is the story of three early 18th century women, who are thrust into the modern world. Two of the women are basically aristocrats, having come directly from Queen Anne’s court. The third is really not much more than a very intelligent peasant girl, who is trying to escape a sordid background.

2. Several people are listed as editors or contributors for those books. Is this series a collaborative effort?

Yes, this is a collaborative work. Since the story revolves around three women, I needed a lot of feminine input to make it work. Indeed, a lot of what my collaborators came up with, shocked even me! Though I’m writing fiction, I try to make things as realistic as possible. I seldom invent anything in the way of human relationships. Most of the personal interactions going on between the characters are based on actual, real-life experiences. Names have been changed, of course, as well as a little Hollywood style “compression” (combining two or more characters into one so that the audience doesn’t get lost in a multitude of identities to keep track of).

3. Why did you decide to write in the science fiction genre?

First of all, I like science fiction! Secondly, the story deals with poignant social issues, which most people would prefer to ignore, despite how prevalent they are in human society. Probably about the best way to address such issues, without losing your audience, is to present them in a science fiction setting. This helps distance the reader from sensitive topics, allowing them to keep an open mind. For instance, the original 1960’s Star Trek is credited with the first inter-racial kiss shown on TV. And remember the half-black, half-white episode? This was the only way to get these things past the network sensors at the time.

4. What is the hardest part of writing in the science fiction genre?

This genre isn’t particularly difficult for me to write in. I’ve got quite a background in science and technology, and science fiction has always been my favorite recreational genre. Good science fiction takes the frontiers of what we now understand of the world around us and speculates about the various places we humans may end up as that knowledge continues to develop. This is my opinion, anyway.

Consequently, some scientific information needs to be introduced into the story. Since your reader may be anyone from a teenager (or even pre-teen in some cases) to a scientist, you can’t assume your reader is familiar with the scientific concepts you’re using. Even if there are a scientist, they may not be familiar with all the branches of science, and in particular the ideas you’re using. So, it’s quite a challenge to present the concepts in such a way that your young readers can understand, and yet not offend the scientist intimately familiar with your topic.

5. Why did you decide to use time travel as a plot device for The Safety Factor?

This may make The Safety Factor story line sound boring, but believe me, it isn’t. My main reason for time travel was to bring human beings together from three different time periods (past, present and future), with their perspectives of the world intact. It’s one thing to talk about how things were in the past. It’s quite another thing to actually be a person from the past and have to struggle with concepts you simply don’t understand.

Believe it or not, almost all of our “modern” view of the world is squarely based on 17th century thinking. I felt the only way to truly understand why we view the physical world around us as we do, is to “become” a person from the 18th century, when scientific thinking had become generally accepted, at least within the intellectual circles of the time. We take so much for granted about how we view the universe around us, that we’ve forgotten where these ideas came from, and what they were based on.

For example, almost all of these 17th century thinkers believed in an “omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent” God. This includes Sir Isaac Newton, Gottfried Liebnitz, and even René Descartes. These beliefs were considered indisputable at the time, and are still - down to this day - incorporated into our “scientific” view of the world.

For instance, take the concept of infinity in mathematics. In my opinion, this is a “holdover” from 17th century (and earlier) thinking that’s never been reevaluated. It is an expression of their omni-x God, whose existence could not be questioned. But in the light of what we know of the universe now, are such concepts even reasonable? The current thinking says there was a definite beginning to the universe (the Big Bang) and there is a speed limit to how fast anything can move (Einstein’s speed of light limitation), so the universe can only be so big. On the other end of the spectrum, Quantum Mechanics seems to indicate there is a “granularity” to space and time, a minimum scale by which anything may be measured. Even Stephen Hawking leans towards the idea of there being a minimum length (the Plank length). Even if God does exist, there is no need for him/her/it to be “omni” anything. It does not require an infinite God to create a finite universe, any more than it requires an infinite person to create an artificial reality. A finite god would suffice to create our finite universe.

All of our science is based wholly on mathematics, the science of measurement. So if our universe is neither infinitely vast, nor resides within space that is infinitely divisible, why do we still think in these terms? Why is infinity still an integral part of mathematics, such as calculus, or even basic number theory for that matter? (In all fairness, there is a branch of mathematics called “discrete mathematics”, which has abandoned the concept of infinity, but this is not normally used in the mainstream and indeed is taught far less than calculus. Incidentally, Newton and Liebnitz “independently” developed calculus in the 17th century.)

We can’t really objectively examine our current “scientific” view of the world without going back and examining where these ideas came from. I thought a good way to do that would be in a fictional setting where people from different eras could interact with each other. That is what I’ve tried to create throughout the Safety Factor series.

6. How did you research your books?

Though I write fiction, I do spend a good deal of time researching what I write. This is important, not only for the suspension of disbelief, but for the ideas you’re trying to present as well. I’m not the sort of writer who writes just to turn a buck. I write to convey ideas, and I know there are a lot of readers out there who want to be exposed to new and different ideas. There are so many well-written, entertaining and informative books out there, why waste your time with books that merely provide entertainment?

When I’m writing, I use my own library, dictionaries and even the internet to do most of the impersonal (fact based) research. I like to seek out real-life events for human relationships, getting most of them from personal one-on-one interviews. I’ve used at least a dozen of my own books to research The Safety Factor series, half of which I acquired just for this project. If I’m in a hurry, the internet can be a good source, especially the Wikipedia, which I’ve used many times (http://en.wikipedia.org).

7. Do you write in any other genres than science fiction?

Yes. I write non-fiction technical books. My latest work along those lines was published in 2006. It’s a 400 page technical training guide for the information technology field. I have some published papers as well.

8. What other books have you written?

For fiction, I’ve only written The Safety Factor series so far. I’m very comfortable with it and will probably continue it for some time. Here’s the current list of available books:

The Safety Factor: The Use of Power
The Safety Factor: The Cost of War
The Safety Factor: Beyond Perfection


9. Is there another book upcoming in The Safety Factor series? Do you have any other projects forthcoming?

Yes, there is another Safety Factor book in the works, though it will probably be some time before it’s published. It will be titled: “The Safety Factor: The Great Lady”. There’s another book I have in mind, more of a YA type science fiction book. The latter is about an encounter between a time traveler and a Pacific Northwest Indian tribe near the turn of the 19th century. The wayward traveler meets and influences a young Indian, who becomes Chief Seattle in later life. The working title is: “Princess Featherhead” and may be changed (not that she is a “featherhead”, but likes to wear feathers in her hair – she is a bit of a featherhead, though).


Curious about Jerry?  Here's a short bio in his own words:

Hello.
My name is Jerry Travis. I’m a third generation storyteller. Both my grandfathers were excellent storytellers. As it child I used to listen to them for hours. My father also told many stories, and as he got older tended to tell the same ones over and over again (to our exasperation at times, especially his stories of WWII). I had never until the past few years thought of myself as a storyteller or a writer, until I started "The Safety Factor" project. In my line of work as an Information Technology (IT) professional, I have written a tremendous amount of technical documentation and training materials. My last major work along these lines was an inch thick, 400 page technical training manual. Don't let that scare you off though, as my fictional writing is very human and down to earth. The attention to detail I've learned throughout my career makes for very realistic and pleasurable reading.

My father was an Army lieutenant in WWII and directly helped bring some of the V-2 rocket technology from Germany over to the United States. He continued on in the military after the war, transferring to the National Guard where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. Simultaneously, he worked at The Boeing Aircraft Company for 30 years until his retirement in 1983. While at Boeing, he worked almost exclusively on government “black” projects as a mechanical and electrical engineer.

After I graduated from college with a Bachelor of Science degree (mathematics and computer science), I embarked on a rather unremarkable career working for the State of Washington in the IT field for 18 years. Then I got a chance to join a small IT consulting company in California and moved there with my wife and two sons. From the San Francisco bay area I entered into an ever enlarging world of technology and politics that took me all the way to Washington DC.

Some of the more interesting places I've consulted for are: The Aerospace Corporation, Bechtel Nevada, Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Department of Justice - Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), Department of Justice - Office of Justice Programs (OJP), Fluor Hanford, HRL Laboratories, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), Social Security Administration (SSA), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Uranium Disposition Services (UDS), and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP).

This experience has given me many stark insights into science, government and politics, which I like to pass on to my readers. I'm sure you will find what I have to say about the real world we live in - presented under the guise of science fiction - as it must be - quite illuminating.

You can check out Jerry and his books at Goodreads and MySpace.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

A Fresh New Fantasy Story: A Review of The Bowdancer

Today, I have the pleasure of sharing my review of the e-book, The Bowdancer by Janie Franz, as part of her virtual book tour:
 
My Review of The Bowdancer
 

The Bowdancer by Janie Franz was a delightful treat to read and a well-realised fantasy story with a soft touch of romance.  This e-book is short, only 31 pages, but it is teeming with a substantive, entertaining yarn.

The plot centers on Jan-nell, the Bowdancer, and the village wedding at which she must perform certain duties.  It is just another day in her life, until things take a decidedly unusual turn; Bastin and his men ask for shelter and aid from the village during the wedding ceremony.  This complication brings romance and a choice for Jan-nell.

“The stranger’s dark beard masked his features, not allowing Jan- nell to determine whether he was mocking her or merely amused. He did not appear menacing though his voice was proud and revealed he obviously was used to getting his way.”

The world of Jan-nell is a very intriguing one and I liked the little touches the author uses to give the world depth.  She manages to breathe a vibrant life into the book and create a character that is extremely easy to relate to and understand.

“But on this great night, the night of a wedding, she would not dance to the chants of tales of long ago, but to drums and bells and pipes alone, allowing the watchers to create their own hopes and blessings for the wedding couple.”

I did find the pacing a bit abrupt in a few of the beginning paragraphs; there were some instances where I had to re-read passage to understand the gist of what the author was trying to convey.  Once you get into the meat of the story, however, the writing hums along without a problem.  The only other complaint is that the book ends far too soon.

The Bowdancer is the first volume in Janie Franz’s Bowdancer Saga.  I can happily recommend this book and look forward to the next instalment of the series.

You can find more information on the series here:  The Bowdancer Saga
The Bowdancer is available at Breathless Press: 
http://www.breathlesspress.com/erotic/romance/fantasy/the-bowdancer.html


Note:  This book was provided free of charge by the author for this review.
   

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