The Hardest Part: James Maxey on Witchbreaker

I said about all I can say so far about Hillsborough, NC author James Maxey’s latest novel, Witchbreaker, in my write-up for the book’s Christmas Day release. Luckily for us, Maxey has a bit more to say about its writing. You might think that after his previous 5 fantasy novels from Solaris Books (The Dragon Age trilogy: Bitterwood, Dragonforge, and Dragonseed; and the first two books in the Dragon Apocalypse: Greatshadow and Hush) and his superhero novels Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn that he’d have the whole novel thing on autopilot. But! Maxey writes that it did take a while — and some effort and re-writing, then some more… — to find the right voice for Witchbreaker.

Witchbreaker: The Dragon Apocalypse 3

By James Maxey:

Witchbreaker is the third book in my Dragon Apocalypse series. My first two books were built around a first person narrator, a ghost named Stagger. Having a ghost tell the story was a wonderful narrative device for me. Stagger blended the advantages of being a nearly omniscient observer (since, as a ghost, he could watch the other characters in private moments without their knowledge) with the intimacy of a single character recounting the tale in his own unique voice. Read the rest of this entry »

Release day: Witchbreaker by James Maxey

James Maxey‘s Dragon Apocalypse series has been a lot of fun so far — and yet every time I say that I feel remiss in focusing on the fun, and not enough on how creative these books are. Shapeshifters, incredible and bizarre powers, awesome relics, and of course mountain-sized primal dragons. The series started with Greatshadow in January — of 2012, just 11 months ago — and introduced our narrator, Stagger, briefly, before killing him. And then allowing him to continue to narrate the book, as well as the second book, Hush, which came out in late June, though it’s Infidel who gets the cover treatment on both:

Greatshadow (Dragon Apocalypse, #1) Hush (Dragon Apocalypse, #2)

And now, before 2012 is even over, a third book in the series is here just in time for your holiday gift card pleasure. First, the publisher copy for Witchbreaker: “Book Three in the stunning Dragon Apocalypse Trilogy — Five hundred years ago, the famed Witchbreaker, Lord Stark Tower, launched a war against the cult of witches, nearly wiping them out. Today, only a handful of women still practice the craft in secret. A young witch named Sorrow has dedicated her life to changing this reality, vowing to wipe out the Church of the Book and launch a new golden age of witchcraft. In pursuit of her goals, she bonds her soul with Rott, the primal dragon of decay, giving her nearly limitless powers of destruction. Unfortunately, tapping this power comes at the cost of her humanity, leading her into a desperate quest to find the greatest witch of all time, Avaris, in hopes of mastering her dark magic before it destroys her. But she’s not alone in hunting Avaris, as fate throws her into an uneasy partnership with a man who wants to be the new Witchbreaker. Can either of them survive their mutual quests when their journey leads them into battle with Tempest, the primal dragon of storms?”

Witchbreaker: The Dragon Apocalypse 3

Right away we know the series has moved to a new chapter. Gone is Stagger as narrator (for readers of Hush, we know his fate, but I’ll omit it here for those new to the series) and we are following the continued storyline of Sorrow, a young witch who featured large in the second half of Hush. She’s been using the technique of nailing various primal materials into her skull to gain mastery over the materials, and may have bitten off far more than she can chew with her latest nail. We’re in for more inventive powers, creative magic, and of course Maxey’s deeply human characters, with their flaws, passions, goals, mistakes, and costs. So! Whether you’re new to the series (in which case, welcome to the story of Stagger, Infidel, Menagerie, the primal dragons, and all the rest) or have been following along so far, it’s a Merry Christmas indeed as today sees the release of book 3, Witchbreaker. Get out those gift cards!

Listings for the physical book:

And listings for ebooks:

What to Do With That Gift Card, Part 1: Fantasy Reads for 2012


Here are some suggestions for what to spend your holiday gift cards on if you are a fantasy reader.

First, a couple of caveats: in order to pare down number of books we need to cover, we the reviewers are sticking primarily with authors or publishers from the southeastern part of the US, and we gave fantasy and science fiction titles for middle grades and teens their own post: .

Starting off in book release date order, from January 2012, we have Raven Cursed, written by Faith Hunter and published by ROC. This is a busy year for Faith and her heroine; the fifth Jane Yellowrock novel was released in October and is further down this list.

Jane Yellowrock is a unique heroine: she’s a shape-shifting skinwalker who hunts vampires…and, irony of ironies, works for a master vampire.

The story is set in New Orleans and the Asheville area of North Carolina, and the author makes great use of the ancient and scary legends peculiar to both places.

Jane Yellowrock herself is every inch the leather-clad, motorcycle-riding road warrior, kicking copious amounts of vampiric backside, during which process blades get broken, guns get smashed and clothing gets shredded.  Through it all, Jane comes across as all woman; Hunter does a wonderful job of showing that femininity and lethality are not mutually exclusive.Raven-Cursed-CoverWebReady

Romance and friendship are strong motivating factors for Jane and both create serious complications in her line of work; when friendship and work become dangerously intertwined, Jane has to come up with a creative solution that lets her and her friends survive.  Some of her friendships become strained in the process, but by the end most everyone is back on speaking terms.

Hunter draws heavily upon Celtic traditions for the magic depicted in this story, and shows that warlock magic is very different from witch magic.

Overall, Raven Cursed is a very good adventure/mystery with a strong female lead, a good twisty plot, and enough fight scenes and Beautiful People to hold any reader’s interest.

In February came the release of the next book in Gail Martin’s The Fallen Kings Cycle, titled Book Two: The Dread. Conflicting family obligations drive the plot in this concluding volume of the cycle. The Summoner-King, the Queen and their baby all have their parts to play but from varying locations.  As is usual for Gail’s plots this one is complicated with enemies, assassinations, and magical issues. Hopefully, the very interesting infant will grow up some and become the subject of a new series.the dread cover

April saw Baen release the new Dave Freer novel, Dog and Dragon. The title and dedication give a clue about who is the key character in this story: Freer dedicated the book to Roland, his Old English Sheep Dog, and the title puts the dog first.

Meb has been separated from her sheepdog Dileas and her friend Finn (a dragon in human form) because she travels by accident from Tasmarin to the land of Lyonesse.Dog and Dragon 2

In the previous book, Dragon’s Ring, Meb was revealed to be a mage of great power in a land where the dragons have kept magic out of human hands by killing all the mages.  Meb believed her name to be Scrap, apprentice to Finn the black dragon and didn’t realize that she was using magic instinctively; she just dismissed it as luck.

In Dog and Dragon, Meb travels through Lyonesse and learns about the magic in that world, while Dileas remains with Finn, leading the dragon through several portals between alternate worlds to reunite them with Meb.  Dileas proves to be a remarkable canine, possessed of unusual intelligence and having no fear of a dragon’s scent.  As the story progresses it becomes quite clear who is the leader of the dog/dragon pair…and it isn’t the dragon. This is a very interesting fantasy world with unusual and well developed characters who will hopefully appear in another volume soon.

Larry Correia is the most frequently appearing author on our list with 3 volumes of 2 different series.  Hard Magic: Book I of The Grimnoir Chronicles was released in paperback in April. This series is completely different from any other fantasy on the market. It is set in a pulp novel style film noir alternate 1930s with magic users being treated almost like mutants are in the X-Men universe. None of the characters are really good guys, they are just less bad so you can root for them.  Jake Sullivan is a complex and interesting main character. His relationships and histories with the other characters make the story feel like the background is very extensive.  Look for Jake’s appearance in a short story in the Baen Christmas volume titled Cosmic Christmas.hard magic pb

May brought us MacBeth: A Novel from A.J. Hartley and David Hewson. Strangely, this was originally an audio book and its popularity led to the print version.  You won’t find it in some bookstores because it is published by Amazon’s publisher Thomas & Mercer.  A.J Hartley also appears on our middle grades list for other fantasy writing, but this one has truly merged his day job as a Shakespeare professor with his fiction writing, with a fantastic result.MacbethPrintEdition-181x300

Thought you didn’t like Shakespeare?  Try this version.  You need not be familiar with MacB…er, “The Scottish Play” to enjoy this tale of intrigue, mystery, and murder.  The authors have made some embellishments here and there, but the story remains intact, and will keep you turning pages right up to the bitter end.

The eleventh-century Scottish highlands are the perfect place for mystery and mayhem: the forbidding terrain and weather make travel difficult, and the characters have to hole up in their castles for day and weeks at a time; this is enough to bring out anybody’s crazy, and when the crazy comes out to play, things get messy.  Really messy.

Hartley and Hewson have added details and plot twists that will surprise even veteran Shakespeare fans, while at the same time remaining very true to the source material; the authors’ familiarity with and love of this material really shines through; the reader will at points feel like he is right there with the characters, especially at the big finish when…but that would be telling.

In June Baen released the paperback of something totally new from this publisher: urban fantasy with an erotic edge in The Wild Side.  This volume was a pleasant surprise when the cover art first appeared on the screen during a Baen Traveling Show. Baen doesn’t release many short story collections in a given year, but 2012 seems to be a banner year for them as this volume and two others made our lists.  Every story in this volume was good and they ran the gamut from funny to dark. Hopefully they will give this genre a try again in the future.

the wild side cover

The most unique take on paranormal urban fantasy in 2012 has to be from Kate Locke in her new series The Immortal Empire with Book 1 being titled God Save the Queen, released in July 2012 from Orbit. Her series is set in an alternate history where the UK monarchy and upper-class are vampires and werewolves. Modern science is used to explain that the bubonic plague mutated to cause vampirism in England and lycanthropy in Scotland. These conditions occur when the “Prometheus Protein” is inherited from both parents, how they are expressed is different in the two countries because at the time of the mutation they were geographically isolated from each other due to the low tech level and the terrain.god-save-the-queen-200

Xandra Vardan is the protagonist, a half-blood vampire who works as a guard for the royals, a position which only the best students from the half-blood academy are allowed to take. Xandra’a mother died when she was young but apparently had some secrets which no one has shared with Xandra. She has normal young adult feelings about abandonment, step-moms, sibling rivalry, and the search for a spouse regardless of the strange alternate world she lives in.

As Xandra uncovers her past and solves the problem of her missing sister, she also uncovers secrets that some aristocrats, including her father, would rather she didn’t uncover. This results in great personal danger, but Xandra has made a couple of new friends who help keep her alive.  Look for more volumes to come in this series: the next volume is titled The Queen is Dead, due for release in February 2013, followed by a third volume, Long Live the Queen.

GraveMemoryJuly also saw the release of Kalayna Price’s newest Alex Craft novel, Grave Memory from ROC. This is the third volume about the grave witch who solves murders by raising the dead and questioning them. This story centers around the raising of a shade who doesn’t remember the days right before his brutal end, which has been classed as a suicide, but this isn’t clear because the shade can’t remember it.  Dark magic appears to have overcome the human will to live and this is a frightening thought for everyone, because the fact that magic could not do that had allowed the magical and non-magical humans to coexist peacefully.  This new dark magic could upset the power balance of the world and result in a power struggle which could endanger everyone.  Alex Craft’s world and her supporting characters are very complex and interesting. The sexy people described in the book and the situations they get into are all interesting without being overly descriptive.  The yearly release of a new book in this series is always a welcome event. Grave Visions is due out in August 2013.

D.B.Jackson’s Thieftaker was released in July 2012 from Tor. This is an alternate history/fantasy set in pre-Revolutionary War Boston.  Familiar faces and places from US History are present, but the addition of people with magical powers makes it obvious early on that this is not our universe’s Boston of the 1760s.

Ethan Kaille is a thieftaker, an investigator who specializes in cases involving magic.  However, Ethan is himself a conjurer, and in a time and place where witches are subject to persecution, he must keep his spell use very low-key, and the local mob queen/thieftaker Sephira Pryce tolerates him (and doesn’t rat him out) because her people aren’t conjurers.

Ethan is hired by local bigwig Abner Berson to find a brooch that had gone missing when Berson’s daughter’s body was found after a riot, and his search leads him into a world of rebels who want to free the American colonies from England.  Riots and other public disturbances are drawing attention to the differences of opinion about England’s right to restrict imports into America.

Thieftaker300A side-effect of Ethan’s conjurations is the appearance of a glowering, gesturing ghost dressed in mail and a tabard, who blends his power with whatever Ethan is using to power a given spell.  In the world of Thieftaker magic requires an external power source; some spells just require some natural form of matter, like leaves or water, but more powerful spells require blood, and people who frequently invoke powerful conjurations carry the scars of many cuts on their bodies.  This elemental take on magic makes the presence as such abilities quite believable in a historical-style world.

Ethan is a well-developed and engaging character who has a bit of a “bad boy” past, and his tiffs with his sometimes-girlfriend Kannice and his sister Bett bring some familial normality into Ethan’s crazy thieftaker world.

Readers who like a good adventure or mystery will find Thieftaker worth their time, and alternate history/fantasy buffs will also enjoy this magical version of Colonial America.

David Weber was very prolific in 2012 and managed to get on all of our lists. His War Maid’s Choice from Baen is the only traditional fantasy to get on the list for July, which was a busy month for book releases. This is the fourth volume in the War God series. Bahzell Bahnakson and courser Walsharno have met their equal in Leanna Hanathafressa and courser mare Gayrfressa.

war maid's choice coverThis volume centers around the adventures of Leanna and shows that she can save the king and kingdom as well as Bahzell can even though she is much younger and a female human. Bahzell plays a part of course, but this volume concentrates on the part Leanna and the war maids play in saving the kingdom from destruction and shows how the attitudes towards women warriors is forced to start changing.  On the romance front, Leanna knows what she wants and the gods agree with her so Bahzell is forced to go along and give up his logic based denial. Leanna’s past and its effect on her family and their retainers is explored and this adds a dimension to her character which wasn’t there when she was a side character.

Overall it is a great read with a heroine who kicks butt and takes names and proves her profession’s usefulness on many occasions. This series of fantasy adventure is always a good read but this one is even better than previous volumes due to Leanna.  Future volumes can explore Bahzell and Leanna together which is alluded to in some clues given by the gods at the end of the book.  Hopefully those tales will come soon.

monster hunter legion coverAugust brought a fourth volume of Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter series from Baen, Monster Hunter Legion. This one has even larger battles because there is a monster hunter convention in Las Vegas and of course that won’t go well.  It is good to be back with the entire group again, after the last volume being almost bereft of Owen Pitt. If you haven’t tried this series and like your vampires destroyed instead of kissed, then you should try it. It has realistic guns, tech, and vehicles, but urban fantasy setting with monsters, not all of whom are the enemy.  The group is based in a county in Alabama which the author invented, but the job of hunting monsters takes the characters all over the place.  Like many Baen books, it has lots of shooting and weapons details, but it also has a group of characters who have relationships both friendly and sexual within the group so you get a bit of romance and family and friends in with the explosions and fighting. It makes for a good mix.

deaths-rival-250In October Jane Yellowrock returned in Death’s Rival from ROC.  Faith Hunter threw the vampires a curveball in this volume: the vampires who previously were always helping humans get well from battle injuries are now the ones getting sick with a plague, quite a shock for beings that haven’t been sick for centuries.  Jane has to figure out where the plague came from and how to stop it, all while dealing with an unknown rival fighting against her boss for the title of Master Vampire of New Orleans. There are some rather unpleasant scenes in this volume, so it is not for the squeamish or underage. The sexual tension is high but there is a lack of sex scenes which seems to get to Jane as much as it will the reader. Lots of eye-candy is described, but Jane and Rick are permanently restricted due to Rick’s job and Jane is at a standoff with everyone else. Plenty of potential for her to make up her mind about the others in later volumes.  New characters introduced in this volume are very interesting and have moved into Jane’s house, which leads to some interesting rather family-like talk and some smirks and some confusion.  The next Jane book is titled Blood Trade and is due out in April 2013.

And last but not least, Larry Correia’s Grimnoire Book II: Spellbound comes out in paperback on Dec 25, 2012, which will make for a positively explosive Christmas!spellbound pb cover

Next from The Exploding Spaceship:    What to Do With That Gift Card, Part 2: Science Fiction Reads for 2012

The Exploding Spaceship’s 2012 Guide for Family Reading

ColumnLogoColorSmallWe get asked by many families at conventions if we have any recommendations for families to read together, so here are some suggestions from among the middle-grade and teen books released this year.  For the middle grades, Rick Riordan books are always a good choice with the newer Heroes of Olympus and Kane Chronicles series being our favorites. 2012 saw the release of Book 3 of both series, The Mark of Athena and The Serpent’s Shadow.  Riordan’s writing craft has improved since his Percy Jackson series, so readers should definitely give these newer series a try.

Newer on the scene but definitely worth the attention of adults and middle grades is the Darwen Arkright series by A.J. Hartley. The first book, Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact was released in paperback in September 2012 and Book 2, Darwen Arkwright and the Insidious Bleck was released in Nov 2012.  The Exploding Spaceship reviewed Insidious Bleck here: .

A new book for middle grades, Hollow Earth, has not received much bookstore attention in the US, but deserves more, is from John and Carole Barrowman.  It was released in October 2012 from Aladdin. They did a few signings but did not venture to the Carolinas, which was unfortunate since the Scottish setting should be well received here because so many people are of Scots-Irish descent. Hollow Earth is a fantasy featuring 12-year-old twins who draw things to life and is set on a Scottish island made up by the authors. The adult and children in the book are quite interesting characters and their relationships are very well done.  The setting has a definite Scottish feel to it but would be easily understood by US children.  The plot is complex enough to keep parents interested as well, so would be a good choice for a family to read together.  John Barrowman is a UK media personality known for acting, singing, dancing and presenting. US fans may know him from Doctor Who or Torchwood.  His sister Carole teaches English and creative writing at a college in Wisconsin.


For quite some time there has been very little teen science fiction released which was actually readable by adults, most of the good teen titles were fantasy. That has changed because David Weber has entered the teen market with new Star Kingdom novels. David Weber’s Honorverse is enjoyable even without the space battles.

A Beautiful Friendship is the first release from Baen Books in the young adult (YA) genre.  The book tells the story of young Stephanie Harrington (an ancestor of the famous Honor Harrington) and her discovery of the treecats.

There are no space battles to be found in this story: it is set entirely on the planet Sphinx, and it is there that Stephanie has her adventures.  Over the course of the tale, Stephanie ages from twelve to fourteen, and Weber does a good job of exploring how her thought processes evolve over time.  The story also provides a peek into the minds of the treecats themselves, which greatly enhances the reader’s understanding of the species.


The story is written so that a newcomer to the sprawling and complex Honorverse won’t be overwhelmed, but presents enough details about the planet Sphinx (which is detailed only cursorily in other Honorverse books) to keep experienced readers interested.

Anyone who enjoys character-oriented space adventure will find A Beautiful Friendship to be a very good read.

The Exploding Spaceship already reviewed Book 2 Fire Season released in November 2012 here: .

For teens, a couple of classic Heinlein tales have been re-released with new afterwards and gorgeous new Bob Eggleton covers by Baen.  Starman Jones, while originally classed as a juvenile work, is actually appropriate for any age, and tells the Horatio Alger-esque story of Max Jones, a highly intelligent but troubled youth who runs away from home and joins a starship crew.

Bad boy Max is pulled into the situation by worse boy Sam Anderson, and there is plenty of excitement for them both, including a young woman who rivals Max in intelligence and 3D chess-playing ability, a landing on a previously unknown planet, and first contact with that planet’s strange inhabitants.


Like all stories of this kind, Max and Sam both live up to their potential, but in unexpected and very different ways.  The rapid pace of the story lets the reader easily overlook the outdated technological depictions and focus on the characters and what they are going through.

In his Afterword, Williamson does a wonderful job of showing that this story about growing up and learning to face the difficult, often painful choices of adulthood is still very relevant today.

Baen’s new edition of The Star Beast will introduce this classic Heinlein tale to a new generation.  The book was first published in 1954, and the passage of almost 60 years has in no way diminished the appeal of the adventures of teenager John Thomas Stuart XI, his ten-legged alien friend Lummox, and his surprisingly modern-thinking (for 1954) girlfriend Betty Sorenson.

Lummox was brought to Earth by one of John’s ancestors and has lived with the Stuart family for generations, during which time the alien has grown from the size of a puppy to truly mammoth proportions, becoming something of a local nuisance, walking through fences and eating the neighbors’ flowers, cars and the occasional noisy pet.  John and Betty are Lummox’s most staunch defenders, and the legal red tape and jurisdictional conflicts they come up against could come right out of today’s headlines.


The stand-out character in the story is Betty, who is what would today be called an emancipated minor, having divorced her parents because they restricted her career choices.  She knows what (as well as who) she wants, and is unafraid to follow those desires by any means necessary, an attitude which probably shocked more than one 1950s-era reader.

The themes of young people working their way toward adulthood and making important life and career decisions in the face of resistance from parents and other authority figures will resonate with modern readers, especially teens, and the futuristic, starfaring society depicted in the story remains believable despite a few amusing technological errors.

In her Afterword, Wen Spencer talks about how her discovery of this 1950s-era book changed her life in the 1970s, and how she holds out the hope that it will do the same for the young readers of the twenty-first century and beyond.

A good fantasy choice for teens which may have been missed by many because of its lack of bookstore presence is the War of Seasons series from Janine Spendlove. War of the Seasons, Book Two: The Half-Blood was released in June 2012. This is the second book of Spendlove’s young adult fantasy adventures of a teenager who falls into another universe and finds herself in Ailionora, a land where fairytale creatures like selkies, pixies, elves and dryads are real.  Story Sorenson (and her pack containing her father’s Marine Corps Ka-Bar knife and some spelunking gear) fell into Ailionora in Book One, where she ended up rescuing the elves by saving their tree, during which time she formed a relationship with Eirnin, the first elf she met.  This makes for a complicated life with the elves because they are not used to having to respect non-elves and having half-elf children is still viewed dimly by many.

The Half Blood cover

Prince Morrigan, the vanquished villain from Book One turns out to not be quite as bad as Story first thought, and may prove useful on her quest to find the cure an illness that afflicts Eirnin.  Her half-sister Adair joins her on the quest, and Spendlove does a good job developing their relationship.  Story loves and cares for Adair but also finds her to be a typical younger sibling (that is, a royal pain.).  Another source of pain is the questing party: In addition to her half-sister, Story is saddled with her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend, Morrigan, and a selkie named Pel, and everyone is at cross-purposes with everyone else.  And of course the quest is not nearly as straightforward as it first appeared.  Spendlove deftly handles the group dynamics and rivalries, creating an engaging and complex quest tale.

The story ends on a suspenseful note, and promises more love-life complications to come.  Hopefully, Book Three of War of the Seasons will be coming out soon.

With its large cast of complex characters, this book has a remarkable level of depth and texture, especially for something billed as YA, and fantasy fans need not be put off by the teen label; this story is great for any age of fantasy reader.

Tonight! “Winter Tales” in Hillsborough!

This evening (Thursday, Dec 13) at 6 pm the Orange County Main Library in downtown Hillsborough will host the storytelling event of the winter season, “Winter Tales” [Facebook], featuring original stories, poetry, and songs composed for the event by five local authors. (Along with cookies and hot cider!)

“Join authors Mur Lafferty, Alex Granados, Gray Rinehart, Becca Gomez Farrell and James Maxey for an celebration of the holiday season with original stories, poetry, and song.”


Raise money for the SFWA medical fund, send John Kessel to watch “The Hobbit”

Nebula Award winning author and NCSU professor John Kessel, who grew up enjoying picking up L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz books as they were published at the beginning of the last century and was of an, er, “advanced” age by the time Tolkien finally got to work, off-handedly quipped that “I know the world does not care, but nobody could pay me enough money to go see ‘The Hobbit.’ Well, maybe someone could, but nobody is going to.” Well… Brent Winter suggested an eBay auction and Kij Johnson a Kickstarter, adding that to work, it would have to be collected for a charity, and John offered that the SFWA Medical Fund would do just fine. So! Let’s do this.

NOTE: I am not an agent of SFWA and am not collecting any money. Only pledges. Pledgers please use the SFWA form to donate to the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund. (And then come back here and add your pledge, so we know your donation is meant to spur on this effort!)

How is this going to work? We’re going to collect pledges for donations to the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund. Once pledges reach certain levels, additional “scenarios” are unlocked. Here are the tiers as agreed to by Prof. Kessel:

  • $250 — Prof. Kessel goes to see The Hobbit (the upcoming Peter Jackson version, in a movie theater before the end of the year, no cop-out home screenings of the Bass-Rankin animated classic) — REACHED (Brent Winter)
  • $500 — Prof. Kessel will write 500 words on the film — REACHED (Jason Erik Lunbderg)
  • NEW: $750 — Prof. Kessel will either before or after the film eat Denny’s The Hobbit-themed Ring BurgerREACHED (Mark Mzyk)
  • $1000 — Prof. Kessel will dress as Gandalf when watching the film — REACHED (Karen Anderson)
  • NEW: $1500 — Prof. Kessel will watch the entire Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings trilogy and write 500 words on this experience — REACHED (Anonymous #3)
  • NEW: $2000 — Prof. Kessel will channel his inner Leonard Nimoy and perform 30 seconds (on video, of course) of “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” — REACHED (Anonymous #3)
  • $2500 — Prof. Kessel will dress as Galadriel when watching the film (and yes there will be documentary evidence) — REACHED (Anonymous #3)
    • BONUS: If we reach $2500, there’s also a “Dial-a-Rant” offer from Melinda Thielbar for the biggest pledge

As to whether or not Prof. Kessel can “pull off” Gandalf? Witness:

Kessel as Wizard

I’ll keep pledges and totals updated here, until/if we get a bigger/better place on board to do this. OK. Let’s go! If you want to pledge publicly, just comment here on the post, or mention @bullspec on Twitter, etc. Privately/anonymously, email me at — happy pledging! It’s a short turn around time, but let’s have all pledges in by the end of Monday December 17 — so John knows what to wear and whether or not to skip second breakfast (or at least elevensies) to save room for that Ring Burger! (And to give us some time to prepare the correct costume…)

UPDATE: 18 December 2012, 10:40 AM EST: TOTAL: $2500 from 65 pledgers:

  1. William Badger, $10
  2. Tom Caswell, $10
  3. Sam M-B, $10
  4. Laura Haywood-Cory, $10
  5. Kij Johnson, $10 $20
  6. Vivian Lee, $10
  7. Paul Celmer, $10
  8. Anonymous #1, $50
  9. John Kessel, $20
  10. Jim Kelly, $20
  11. Christie Yant, $20
  12. Anonymous #2, $25
  13. TL Stinson, $10
  14. Matt Wimberly, $10
  15. Brent Winter, $20 (Film)
  16. Emily Howson, $10
  17. Melinda Thielbar and Richard Dansky, $50
  18. Alex Ronke, $15
  19. Diane Kurilecz, $10
  20. Shelly Rae Clift, $25
  21. Susan Katz, $10
  22. John Morillo, $10
  23. Tony Harrison, $20
  24. Barbara J. Webb, $20
  25. Stacie H., $5
  26. Julie Day, $15
  27. Carrie Cuinn, $20
  28. Jason Erik Lundberg, $25 (Essay)
  29. Dee Lalley, $20
  30. Rebecca Wright, $10
  31. Elizabeth Bourne, $100
  32. Steve Burnett, $50
  33. janetl, $25
  34. John Bowker, $20
  35. Meagen Voss, $10
  36. Mark Mzyk, $20 (Ring Burger)
  37. P Nielsen Hayden, $20
  38. Karen Burnham, $25
  39. Arian Hormozi, $30
  40. Marti Dell, $20
  41. Kevin McNeil, $100
  42. Dario Ciriello, $10
  43. Ada Milenkovic Brown, $10
  44. Juliette Wade, $20
  45. Karen Anderson, $29.90 (Gandalf)
  46. Fuzzy Gerdes, $25.10
  47. Elise Mattheson, $20
  48. Pat Knuth, $20
  49. Madison Roberts and Richard McLane, $20
  50. Madeleine Robins, $25
  51. Bandit, $10
  52. Nicholas Stoute, $10
  53. Jeff Kapustka, $25
  54. Kate Maddalena, $5
  55. Kevin J. Maroney, $25
  56. Warren Buff, $20
  57. Simon Goldenberg, $20
  58. David Afsharirad, $20
  59. C.C. Finlay, $25
  60. Mia Nutick, $50
  61. Tina Black, $25
  62. Nightowl Pictures, $20
  63. Brooke Wonders, $15
  64. Nathaniel Williams, $10
  65. Anonymous #3, $1090 (LOTR, BALLAD, GALADRIEL)

UPDATE: THANKS EVERYBODY! Thanks especially to our Nth hour anonymous donor who contacted me and asked how much was left, and indeed, pledged it all. Unbelievable. New post soon, check for the tag KesselHobbit for photos and video to come. Now we have some work to do on wardrobe…

UPDATE: From John: “I just came back from choosing the gown I will wear as Galadriel tomorrow afternoon at Denny’s, and then at the 4:15 or 4:30 showing of The Hobbit at the North Hills theater. I need to thank all of the people who pledged to the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund in order to make this humiliation possible. You have done some real good for a worthy cause, and you should be proud of yourselves when you are not feeling ashamed for putting me through this. There will be photos and videos, I am told, and I must say with all due modesty that I am stunning in white. Review to follow.”

The Exploding Spaceship: Reviews of Fire Season and Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance

The Exploding Spaceship by Gerald and Angela Blackwell: Reviews of Fire Season and Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance

Fire Season: A Star Kingdom Novel by David Weber and Jane Lindskold (hardcover release Oct 2012 Baen Books, ebook available at

Fire Season is the sequel to A Beautiful Friendship, the first young adult book in Weber’s Star Kingdom universe. The series chronicles the adventures of Stephanie Harrington, the teenage discoverer of the treecats of the planet Sphinx, and her almost-constant companion Climbs Quickly, a treecat with whom she shares an empathic bond.

While the book is aimed at young adult readers, it has everything that Weber’s adult audience has come to expect: complex characterization, insight into the characters’ thoughts and motivation (whether they be human or treecat), and plenty of action and deadly danger.

For her part, Stephanie is an extremely intelligent young woman who at first does not relate well to her peers, but that is changing as she gets older.  The teenage-girl issues, insights and attitudes are very well-handled, no doubt due to Weber’s experience with his own daughters. And the adult characters are handled equally well: Stephanie’s parents and mentors are depicted as intelligent and supportive, not hidebound antagonists who are only out to ruin the young people’s fun, as adults are sometimes depicted in young adult fiction.

Stephanie Harrington’s adventures are some of the best young adult science fiction coming out at the moment; a significant portion of quality young adult fiction is fantasy-oriented, so a strong science fiction series is a welcome addition to the marketplace.

This series is a great choice for family reading as well as an excellent introduction to science fiction for a young fantasy reader, and it is a worthwhile addition to the reading list of Honorverse fans of all ages.

Fire Season (Honorverse: Stephanie Harrington, #2) Captain Vorpatril's Alliance

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold (hardcover release Nov 2012 Baen Books, ebook available at

The fourteenth book of the Vorkosigan Saga chronicles the adventures of Miles Vorkosigan’s cousin Ivan Vorpatril on the planet Komarr. Many familiar characters put in appearances in this volume, but the action remains centered on Ivan.

It all starts when Byerly Vorrutyer convinces Ivan to assist him with a security problem. In a textbook case of no good deed going unpunished, Ivan’s attempt to help the young lady Tej and her blue companion Rish results in a tangled mess involving Ivan’s superiors, the Komarran authorities, and eventually his family including Gregor, the Emperor. Before everything is finally sorted out Ivan and Tej have managed to drag not only their respective families but several planetary governments into the fray.

Since Ivan is the protagonist in this volume, the reader is privy to much more of his motivations and thought processes than when he appears in other stories, and the events in this story are sure to have major repercussions in the Vorkosiverse as a whole, and Ivan’s sphere now includes several new characters who could appear in future books.

Bujold is in her usual fine form here, with an intricately plotted, character-driven tale which will keep you up reading until well past bedtime. Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance is also a good introduction for those new to the Vorkosiverse, because all the major players are introduced for the benefit of Ivan’s new companions.

Any fan of science fiction adventure or character-driven military SF should give this one a read.


The Exploding Spaceship is a new regular column by Gerald and Angela Blackwell, covering books, authors, events, and who knows what else. Their first contribution to the print version of Bull Spec, an interview with Baen publisher Toni Weisskopf, is forthcoming in issue #8.


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