July/August Newsletter: Events with Tony Daniel, Gwenda Bond, Christos Gage, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, and Drew Magary, and the 2016 Manly Wade Wellman Award goes to…

Vol 6 No 7. Thursday, July 28, 2016: Oh, what’s another newsletter coming out near the tail end of the month? At least this time I’m going to go ahead and call it now: there won’t be another newsletter going out until September.

First, though, while there are events tonight and tomorrow and this weekend that deserve your attention, it’s only once a year that I get to pass along North Carolina science fiction and fantasy news at this level: The 2016 Manly Wade Wellman Award goes to…

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Charlotte author John G. Hartness for his novella Raising Hell. Presented at ConGregate during an awards ceremony on Saturday, July 16, this is the third annual award, voted on by the combined membership of North Carolina science fiction and fantasy conventions (illogiConConCarolinasConTemporal, and ConGregate), covering works published in 2015 written by North Carolina authors. In his acceptance speech, Hartness expressed his honor at being included among his fellow nominees this year: Darin Kennedy (for The Mussorgsky Riddle), Ursula Vernon (for Castle Hangnail), and Gail Z. Martin (Vendetta and War of Shadows) and Gail Z. and Larry N. Martin (for Iron and Blood). 115 titles were eligible, from 65 different authors. It was an incredible year of new science fiction and fantasy from the authors of our state! The news has already been picked up by both regional places like the Charlotte Observer and the NC Writers’ Network as well as by Locus Magazine and File 770, among others.

All right. Now on to those imminently forthcoming events:

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews City of Wolves by Willow Palecek and Sparrow Falling by Gaie Sebold

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Review of City of Wolves by Willow Palecek (Tor.com, July 26, 2016)

Alexander Drake is an investigator for hire in a dark city called Lupenwald, which has a Victorian technology level and resembles England in some ways. It has commoners and nobility, a strong pub culture, and different factions fight over who is the rightful king. Most of the adult men at the time of the story have served a few years before in the army of one side of the other in the most recent battle over the throne.

Drake is a commoner and does not work for nobility unless the money is very, very good. He takes this particular case because he gets nabbed off the street by some thugs who bring him to someone who is working for a nobleman. The job offer comes with a big pile of gold so he isn’t too resistant to investigating the death of the man’s father. The man’s death is much more complicated than it seems at first. Every piece of evidence Drake turns up seems to lead irrevocably on toward a solution which makes no sense.

Drake ends up making some discoveries about his client, the client’s family, and eventually about all nobility, which changes his entire world view. This knowledge could pose a danger for him so it will be interesting to see how many nobles try to kill him in later adventures!

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Drake is a rather disreputable bloke, and so a grey character. He has honor of a sort but isn’t above some sneaking about and under-the-table money-changing. He does pay his debts though, and deals fairly with his clients.

The setting is dark and somewhat creepy, with many dogs and wolves present. Magic is shown to be available for hire (by the rich, at least), but no magicians are present in the story. There are reasons for the canine influence which are unknown to the reader or to Drake until the end of the tale. The city feels alive and lived in by too many people: dirty, smelly, and grimy. The pub Drake goes into on the first page, the Stool and Rooster, feels like a nasty dive in the worst part of town. But since he is almost broke, it is a cheap place to get a drink.

It was an easy read which was done in one sitting and was just the right length to give a break from the day job; it would be the perfect length for a commute by train or bus. There are not really any female characters of any importance and so it’s difficult to tell about the treatment of females by the society. Drake seems to respect them, but you don’t really see other characters interacting with females much. Perhaps this will be explored in future cases.

Overall this is an enjoyable Victorian urban fantasy within a world which has obviously not been explored completely in this short tale, so Your Humble Reviewers look forward to future cases featuring Drake and some new clients.

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Review of Sparrow Falling by Gaie Sebold (Solaris, July 26, 2016)

Eveline Sparrow is a school teacher now, which is quite a change from her former days as a thief and scoundrel in Shanghai. She has relocated to England and founded a school for girls like her younger self. Both her foster mother and her biological mother live there, too, and the two of them can never agree on anything. She has to constantly remind them that the pupils will not respect her if they hear one of the older ladies dressing her down. This makes for a rather stressful life for Evvie, and the bill collectors arriving about the butcher and grocery bill don’t help her stress level.

Evvie realizes she must do something to bring in some money. She decides the best thing is to offer security services to rich people whom she knows are a bit shady. Her first mark turns out to be a bit shadier than she expected and he employs someone who knew Evvie before she become a school owner. Both of these facts lead to a much more complicated situation than Evvie had envisioned.

Her best friend Liu, who is half fox god, gets involved and this leads to the other Folk being involved too. They end up using a changeling to prevent a kidnapping which would have started a war with Russia. The Folk world and the normal one tend to mirror each other more than the Folk would like to admit, so unwary humans can do the bidding of Folk and cause a disaster in their own world.

The houses and buildings Evvie visits are detailed and each have a different feel but the city of London as a whole does not really play as a backdrop. The setting is more on a local scale which follows Evvie about, with the journey to new places not being very important. Because Your Humble Reviewers have lived in London, there was no problem following the sections of town being discussed, but for US readers not so familiar with the city, the setting would seem rather vague and jumpy. More detail of the city as a whole would be helpful in understanding where the school’s location and the location of other buildings fit into things; even just a map would be very helpful. The characters at one point require a vehicle to reach their destination, which could be rather puzzling to Americans who don’t get the scale of everything, nor the idea of constantly clogged streets even though there are no automobiles yet.

The various students, Evvie, and both of her moms all living at the school made for a lively home situation, and everyone playing off each other gave details about each character. Evvie gives the reader some information via her thoughts and fears, but conversations and loud complaining by one of the moms gave much more insight into the situation.

Not having read the first Evvie book turned out to not be much of a problem as this volume is a much different type of story, apparently. She is an interesting character but seems a bit stunted romantically. It is unclear if she is supposed be that way or the author just didn’t want to deal with it in this volume. Most ordinary needs like food and drink, clothing, and housing are discussed, but the lack of romantic partners was odd. Perhaps future volumes will address it.

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Nightshades by Melissa F. Olson

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Review of Nightshades by Melissa F. Olson (Tor.com, July 19, 2016)

So … what if humans were sharing the planet with vampires and those creatures kept their presence a secret until now? How would the FBI deal with the situation if some of those newly-discovered vampires were kidnapping and killing teenagers outside of Chicago?

These are the questions that Olson’s novella answers, and it answers them in a very engaging and entertaining manner. Young Alex McKenna is the lead character. He has an interesting family history with the FBI, and his best friend for many years always acts as his second in command. Both of them are very young to be in charge of a unit, much less an entire city’s agents. The division dealing with vampires has lost many agents, so McKenna must select more people for his team. The process of selection gives insight into Alex and his second, Chase, as well as the people being selected.

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Alex uses some unusual tactics to get the information he needs to make his team complete and get the necessary intel to find the vampires. How they solve the crime and the details of the final confrontation are things that Your Humble Reviewers do not want to give away, but we will say that the plot was not a straightforward one easily guessed and there were several surprises stemming from the characters’ actions.

It’s a police procedural urban fantasy set in the modern day, so procedures, weapons, buildings, and most details of the setting are realistic, but as vampires are present, it must be an alternate world. Since Your Humble Reviewers also write police procedurals (although set in the future), we were quite pleased to find one in our Tor.com reading material. We don’t think we would like to live in a world with vampires running wild, but it is an excellent contemporary place to visit!

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Friday Quick Updates: Serafina and Millarworld in the Triangle, a big ConGregate preview, and more!

Friday, July 15, 2016: It’s going to be a fantastic weekend in High Point, so whether you’re driving or taking the train (it’s less than a block walk from the station to the hotel!), travel safe on your way to ConGregate! But before I go on (at length!) about ConGregate, there are also a few things happening in and around the Triangle this weekend, so I’ll get started with those:

Serafina and the Twisted Staff (a Serafina Novel) Cover Millarworld Annual 2016

  • July 15 (Friday) 6 pm — The Streets at Southpoint Barnes & Noble in Durham hosts Asheville author Robert Beatty for Serafina and the Twisted Staff, book two in his 1890s Biltmore-set series for young readers after Serafine and the Black Cloak, out from Disney-Hyperion.
  • July 16 (Saturday) 11 am to 1 pm — Ultimate Comics Raleigh hosts a MILLAR WORLD ANNUAL #1 signing: “Join writer and artist of the American Jesus story in the new Millarworld annual this Saturday the 16th at Ultimate Comics Raleigh from 11am-1pm! Steve Beach and friend-of-the-store writer Cliff Bumgarner join us for the signing of the brand spankin’ new MILLARWORLD ANNUAL!”

OK, now! Let’s talk about ConGregate!

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Time Siege by Wesley Chu and The Ghoul King by Guy Haley

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Review of Time Siege by Wesley Chu (Angry Robot, July 12, 2016)

When we last left James Griffin-Mars, he had rescued his sister Sasha and made it back to the Elfreth and his friend Elise. Now he has to find someone who can treat Sasha’s illness and convince them to come back to Earth with him. All his time-jumps without the medicine provided by ChronoCom have left him feeling very ill and cranky, so in order to deal with his life he self-medicates with alcohol.

This volume explores James’ fall into alcoholism, the repercussions this has on Sasha and Elise, the fighters who depend on him, and how he and all of his friends deal with his drying out. Of course the fight against Co-op is going on while he is dealing with his personal issues. He and Grace had been able to find someone to conduct time salvages for the Elfreth but these don’t always go as planned.

Elise ends up allying with several other tribes and eventually with most of the tribes in Manhattan in order to co-ordinate defense, farming, and treatment of the injured. The coalition ends up with some unexpected allies in the final battle against Valta which will have far reaching implications for Earth and ChronoCom in the future.

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This volume has many great battle scenes and some great individual fights with both James and Elise (she has a robot that she rides in to fight). The supporting characters really shine with realistic portrayals of friends, squad mates, martial arts training mates, and families who come from many different tribes. James and Elise both make some surprising discoveries about themselves and each other during the course of the story. James and Elise are not young adults which Your Humble Reviewers (who are middle aged people) thought was great. Adventures are not the sole property of the under-thirty crowd! Continue reading

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Paul Kincaid’s From the Other Side, June 2016: Brexit, Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett, Charles Stross, Simon R. Green, Peter Newman, Mark Lawrence, Jenny T. Colgan, and more

[Editor’s Note: From the Other Side is Paul Kincaid’s monthly column on books and news from the other side of the Atlantic.]

From the Other Side, June 2016
By Paul Kincaid

So, in an inexplicable fit of self-destructive folly, the UK has voted to leave the EU. It’ll be a while yet before all the fall-out becomes clear, but we’ve already seen massive economic problems, Scotland talking once more of independence, and the two major political parties tearing themselves apart. Somehow, I’m not going to be overly surprised if we see a revival of the traditional British catastrophe novel sometime in the next year or so.

For now, however, it’s been something of a quiet month in publishing terms, at least compared to all the big names with books out last month. But we’ve still got Stephen Baxter; after his collaboration with Alastair Reynolds last month, he follows up with a collaboration with Terry Pratchett this month. The Long Cosmos (Doubleday) is the fifth and last volume in their Long Earth series, and presumably the very last book from Sir Terry. In this episode, the Long Earth receives a message from the stars, a message that leads to the construction of a computer the size of a continent, a computer that heralds the next stage in the evolution of post-human society.

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Another ongoing series continues this month with The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross (Orbit), the latest in his Laundry Files sequence. In this instance, an unfortunate bout of vampirism ends with Alex Schwartz being forced to join the Laundry, and his first mission takes him back to his home town of Leeds, where he has to confront both his parents and a Goth girlfriend. On a slightly different tack, there’s Dr D.O.A. by Simon R. Green (Roc). Green seems to have spent a fair bit of his career producing work with echoes of others, and this is no exception, as you can tell when you discover that the hero of this new Secret Histories novel is Eddie Drood, also known as Shamen Bond (there can’t be many writers who would mix Charles Dickens and Ian Fleming so cavalierly) who in this novel has been fed a poison that’s impervious to magic cures and treatments.

Dr. DOA Cover The Malice Cover Continue reading

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews The Dragon Hammer by Tony Daniel and The Conclave of Shadows by Alyc Helms

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Review of The Dragon Hammer: Wulf’s Saga 1 by Tony Daniel (Baen, July 5, 2016)

Tony Daniel writes YA alternate history in which the Vikings and Spaniards colonized America instead of the English. The story is set in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Wulf is a 16-year-old who is the third son of the Duke, so he is not even the spare heir. He is trying to figure out what he wants to do in life and he has a great love of history and reading but he has been trained as a warrior since he was small and so can’t decide. He has the normal issues of a teen: trying to figure out his career choice and females, then discovering that love doesn’t follow your parents instructions on who to marry, even if that would be a good alliance.

He leaves the castle on a hunting trip with his father and they get attacked. This leads to Wulf having a leadership role he never thought possible because his brothers aren’t there. He has to step up and take his father’s place and organize the allies and the strategy for battle against the invaders. He also has to deal with a foster sister/cousin who seems at first to have more in common with their enemies than with the Duke’s family.

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The setting is wonderful and rich, with recognizable geography from Virginia and even some familiar animals and plants. The magic is interesting, with all types of half-human animals who are sentient, a magic tree which talks to Wulf telepathically, and some vampire-like telepaths who perform blood rituals. Wulf, his family, his servant faun Grim, and all the half-humans he meets are all more than cardboard with some conversations revealing quite a bit about the society, relationships and religions.

It is definitely not a society we would want to live in, but it is a very rich fantasy setting which is an interesting place to visit!

We see Wulf change and grow up quite a bit in this volume and look forward to the next one, where hopefully he can get his love life sorted out.

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Review of The Conclave of Shadow by Alyc Helms (Angry Robot, July 5, 2016)

Your Humble Reviewers loved the crazy family relationships which caused no end of problems and mysteries in this book. Other characters not being aware of the relationships also lent some interesting complexity to things. The Asian-American flavor of the book was done well, with the main character having to deal with Chinese gods who in some cases have very traditional views. Mixing superheroes and Chinese mythology meant we were very happy to find this series.

Having not read all of the previous volume due to Day Job overload, we were concerned about being lost but there were just enough what-happened-before explanations to not feel lost nor feel that the story was dragging. It moves very quickly and is actually quite short. We wished for more of Missy’s adventures when we had reached the end.

The San Francisco setting in this volume makes you feel like you are there, particularly in Chinatown. Having been there several times and wandered the streets on foot, it felt like we could see where Missy was and could envision the businesses she was visiting.

The superhero with the coat and fedora hiding in shadows made us think of older pulp detective/superhero stories like The Shadow and Doc Savage, but everything has a modern, more feminist feel to it. So the setting and plot feels retro but the characters are very modern and in many cases female. Also, there were no characters who don’t like others based on race, gender, or sexual orientation, which is a much-needed change from the older stories.

If you like dark detective or superhero stories then this is the series for you. We will be looking forward to more stories!

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NC author release day trifecta: Tony Daniel’s The Dragon Hammer, Karissa Laurel’s Arctic Dawn, and Stuart Jaffe’s Killing Machine

I don’t always make the time for a full specific “release day” post, instead just sharing a link or two on Facebook and elsewhere, or just letting the newsletter do its job of letting folks know what’s coming. But! Today’s quite the day, with three new books out from NC authors:

The Dragon Hammer (Wulf's Saga #1) Arctic Dawn (The Norse Chronicles, #2) Killing Machine (Nathan K Book 2)

The Dragon Hammer by Tony Daniel (Baen), beginning a new young adult fantasy series “Wulf’s Saga”, in which “the sixteen-year-old third son of a duke in an alternate Viking-like medieval America must face invasion by confederates of a colonial Roman empire based on vampiric blood slavery.”

Arctic Dawn (The Norse Chronicles #2) by Karissa Laurel (Red Adept Publishing) — “Alone and exhausted after her month-long sojourn as a shooting star, Solina Mundy flees to southern California to lie low, recuperate, and plot a survival strategy. The one person she trusts to watch her back is her best friend, Skyla Ramirez. But Skyla has been missing for weeks.”

Killing Machine: Nathan K, #2 by Stuart Jaffe — “When a brilliant hacker calling herself Robin Hood steals proof of a corrupt Senator and hides it away, those who will be exposed go on the warpath after her. Nathan K is her only hope to survive the relentless attacks and escape death.”

Enjoy! And put Thursday, July 28 on your calendars, as that’s when Quail Ridge Books hosts Tony Daniel for his local launch party!

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June Newsletter: Manly Wade Wellman Award nominees, new books and events and news, details for Chuck Palahniuk at The Regulator, Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s NC events, and more!

Vol 6 No 6. Thursday, June 30, 2016: It’s been almost two months since the May newsletter went out, and there’s plenty of news to to pass along, along with the usual monthly haul of new books and new events to pass along.

First off, there’s still time to place your final votes for this year’s Manly Wade Wellman Award for North Carolina Science Fiction and Fantasy, as nominations do not close until late on Friday, July 1. If you missed the news earlier this month, the nominees were announced at ConCarolinas for the third year in a row, and this year’s 6 nominees are:

Raising Hell Cover mussorgsky-cover100011-678x1024 iron-blood-c5DEADLY-CURIOSITIES-VENDETTA war-shadows-30b9be5ccf49c338dbb0d8ba1506cc49 article-hangnail-0525 Continue reading

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Steeplejack, Return of Souls, Spells of Blood and Kin, and Pride’s Spell

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Review of Steeplejack by A.J. Hartley (Tor Teen, June 14, 2016)

Steeplejack is set in the ethnically diverse industrial capital of a land resembling Victorian South Africa. The viewpoint character is Anglet Sutonga, a young woman who repairs steeples. The death of a fellow steeplejack soon sends her on an investigation to discover what happened to him. His death is just a small part of a much larger scheme threading through the city across class and racial barriers.

Bar-Selehm is a city of towers and spires which is shared by three distinct groups. The city’s finances, government, military, and gem trade are controlled by white people from far away who came to settle there when mineral wealth was found with the support of the indigenous blacks who have given up tribal life. Ang is from a tribe of people from another part of the continent who are brown and they fill the lower level jobs in the city. Most of Ang’s people live in a ghetto outside the city proper. Farther from the city are the local tribes of black people who generally have a lower tech level. All these groups and the city itself are greatly detailed as Ang runs through, by, and into them.

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The wealth of the city was generated by trading luxorite, a glowing mineral found in the region. One of the towers in the center of the city has an enormous piece of luxorite which lights up the sky at night but shortly after the death of the young steeplejack, it is stolen. A politician from the party not currently in power hires Ang to find out who killed the steeplejack and how that death is related to the luxorite theft. Continue reading

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