The Exploding Spaceship Recommends Some Good UK Books for US Holiday-goers

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This column features some good reads for all ages which are not currently available in the US.  Many US fans are traveling to the UK for conventions and holidays during the summer months so Your Humble Reviewers thought to provide some suggestions for book souvenirs and gifts.

For the middle grades, we highly recommend The Book of Beasts (paperback from Head of Zeus) by John and Carole Barrowman which is the third volume in their Hollow Earth trilogy. The first two books are available in the US, but volume three has not reached the American side of the Atlantic yet.  These books are very fast-paced fantasy adventures featuring twins who magically animate through their art. They are set on an island off the coast of Scotland (it doesn’t really exist but features of it come from real Scottish places).  The third volume sees the twins separated for most of the book, and so makes the characters change quite a bit and grow in unexpected ways. This is our favorite currently ongoing middle grades series.  The pacing and excitement make this a good choice for reluctant readers and since the twins are Emily and Matt, it is a good choice for either sex. Plotting is good enough that older teens and adults will enjoy it too. And yes, if you Doctor Who and Torchwood fans thought the name was familiar, that is the actor who plays Captain Jack Harkness and his older sister who write the series.

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For all ages over about ten years, we recommend the War-Fighting Manuals (small hardbacks from Gollancz), an interesting series of little handbooks set in a fantasy world where Orcs, Elves and Dwarves are constantly at war and the humans are sort of bystanders. Den Patrick has written 3 very engrossing little books called, Elves War-Fighting Manual, Dwarves War-Fighting Manual, and Orcs War-Fighting Manual. The manuals are from the viewpoint of a human named Sebastian Venghaus, who has extensively researched the three cultures by living with them for an extended period of time.  Each book talks about the weapons, armor, and culture of the race plus you get an idea of how the human is treated when he is a guest. The setting is very interesting, the writing humorous but clean and the books written in such a way that you can open the book to almost any section an enjoy reading from there. As pencil and paper roleplaying gamers since the 1970s, we immediately thought these looked like excellent reference material to run a fantasy adventure campaign, as well as providing some much needed fun reading as an escape from the difficult reading in many of today’s fantasy volumes.

 

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For young adults and adults, we recommend The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick (Gollancz), a coming-of-age story set in a fantasy world with an Italian flavor. It tells the story of Lucien, who is an Orfano, a mutated person. Mutations are cared for by society because the king demands they do so, but they grow up alone and isolated because society doesn’t include them. This is a fascinating setting with a dark tone to it, but it doesn’t have an overall depressing or hopeless feeling; the main character has hope throughout the book, so for those not thrilled with today’s dark fantasy it is still a good read. One of the main activities in the society is fencing, and Patrick provides enough detail to make it feel real but not so much that it feels like the sword is a character in the story. There is quite a bit of death and destruction in the book, but it isn’t gory. However, it is perhaps not a good choice for the very squeamish.

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Note that for those of you not traveling, you can still buy these volumes in the US by going online to a British bookseller. Most of the major ones ship internationally.


Friday Quick Updates: Charles Soule, Teen Author Summer Slam, Maggie McNeill, book clubs, the Baen Writers Bootcamp, and more

Friday, August 15, 2014: Like clockwork, once the newsletter goes out, events I missed come to mind or come pouring in. While I’ve updated the online newsletter with these “NEW-NEW” August events, here they are:

  • NEW-NEW: 15 (Friday) 8 pm — Michael D. Acosta’s film Devolve Babylon to show at Geeksboro Cinema in Greensboro. Recently selected into the Eastern North Carolina Film Festival, DVDs are available at: WWW.gogwellfilms.com
  • NEW-NEW: 19 (Tuesday) 7 pm — The RTSFS book club discusses John Scalzi’s Redshirts at the B&N at Southpoint. “I’m sure we will be [also] discussing who won the Hugos this weekend. For Sept Half a King by Joe Abercrombie and for October Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey.”
  • NEW-NEW: 21 (Thursday) 7 pm — Durham County Southwest Library’s Sub-Genre-O-Rama Book Club discusses Plain Fear: Forsaken by Leanna Ellis, an “Amish-vampire-police procedural romance novel”. More info: http://meetup.com/sub-genre-o-rama
  • NEW-NEW: 29 (Friday) 10 pm — Durham author Mur Lafferty will be the guest for “Mr. Diplomat” at DSI Comedy Theater in Chapel Hill. Free. More info: http://www.dsicomedytheater.com/shows/details/mister-diplomat/

Still that’s only a slice of what’s going on this weekend and next week. Today at 5:30 pm, comics writer Charles Soule will hold a writing workshop at Ultimate Comics, ahead of a signing tomorrow from 11 am to 3 pm. “The writer of Letter 44, Superman Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing, Red Lanterns , She Hulk, Inhuman, 27, as well as the upcoming Death of Wolverine mini series will be in the store signing! Mark your calendar now! Don’t miss your chance to meet one of the newest superstars in comics!”

Saturday, August 16, Ultimate Comics hosts writer Charles Soule (She-Hulk, Wonder Woman, Death of Wolverine).  Ladies of the Night: Short Stories by Maggie McNeill Read the rest of this entry »


Paul Kincaid’s From the Other Side, July 2014: Irregularity edited by Jared Shurin, and other happenings and books pre-LonCon

From the Other Side, July 2014

By Paul Kincaid

Most disturbing news of the month came right at the beginning of July when we learned that Terry Pratchett had pulled out of this summer’s International Discworld Convention in Manchester because of what he calls ‘The Embuggerance’. So far his early-onset Alzheimer’s disease has not affected his attendance at events like that, but now, as he says, it ‘is finally catching up with me’. Though he still seems to be keeping up with his writing schedule. In the same announcement he declared that work on the fifth Tiffany Aching book is well under way.

And while we’re on the subject of best selling writers, a tip of the hat to top children’s author Allan Ahlberg, who this month turned down the Booktrust’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement award because it is sponsored by Amazon. He describes Amazon as ‘a baleful influence on the British book trade’ because of its war with Hachette and its blatant tax avoidance in the UK.

On to books, and the title that really caught my eye this month is Irregularity edited by Jared Shurin and published by Jurassic London [Kobo | Kindle | B&N]. It’s another collaboration with the National Maritime Museum tied in with their Longitude season, which I’ve mentioned before. This time we are offered 14 original stories ‘inspired by the great thinkers of the Age of Reason — those courageous men and women who set out to map, chart, name and classify the world around them. The great minds who brought order and discipline to the universe.’ Except that these stories feature someone or something that refuses to obey the dictates of reason. You’ll get a flavour from the Adam Roberts story that has the irresistible title of ‘The Assassination of Isaac Newton by the Coward Robert Boyle’. Other than the title it doesn’t owe much to Ron Hansen’s classic western, but it does include a time-travelling Robert Boyle, the secret of e=mc2 hidden in a lost work by Lucretius, and lots of quotes from Queen songs. Other authors in the collection include Nick Harkaway, E.J. Swift, Claire North, James Smythe, and academic Roger Luckhurst making a rare and surprising foray into fiction.

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Irregularity / edited by Jared Shurin / Jurassic London, July 2014

Read the rest of this entry »


Coming to Town: Deborah Harkness for The Book of Life, interviewed by Sharon Stogner

Deborah Harkness was at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books on Saturday as part of her ongoing tour for The Book of Life, the highly-anticipated final installment of the bestselling All Souls Trilogy which began with A Discovery of Witches.  The sequel Shadow of Night debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list and in total, over one million copies have been sold in the States with publications following in 38 countries. While we couldn’t have this interview for you prior to her reading and signing, Quail Ridge Books still has signed copies in stock, and for those elsewhere in the country, she still has tour stops in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Houston, Austin, Denver, and Scottsdale, before heading to Canada, Amsterdam, and the United Kingdom.

 

The Book of Life picks up right where Shadow of Night left off. After traveling through time, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to continue their hunt for the magical alchemical manuscript, Ashmole 782, otherwise known as the Book of Life. At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they re­unite with the cast of characters from A Discovery of Witches—with one significant exception—ready to face old enemies. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for the Book of Life and its miss­ing pages takes on even more urgency. In the tril­ogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and forbidden passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowl­edge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.”

Interview by Sharon Stogner

SS: The last book in your All Souls Trilogy, The Book of Life, released July 15. This trilogy had to be an epic undertaking. Are you going to sit back and enjoy some time off or jump right back into another series?

DH: As a matter of fact I’m going to finish up with the book tour and go straight into the classroom for spring semester! I do need a bit of a rest, too, before I commit to another project. All I can say is I have many more stories to tell and look forward to telling them.

SS: What made you want to include a romance in the All Souls Trilogy? Was that aspect harder to write than the other elements of the story? Read the rest of this entry »


Coming to Town: D.B. Jackson (David B. Coe) at Quail Ridge Books for A Plunder of Souls, interviewed by Margaret S. McGraw

D.B. Jackson (also known to fantasy readers as David B. Coe) is an Award-winning author of fifteen published novels. He’s currently on a book signing tour to promote the newly released A Plunder of Souls, third in the Thieftaker Chronicles, and will be at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books and Music on Monday, July 21st, at 7:30pm. Jackson is a frequent visitor in the Carolinas, including the South Carolina Writers’ Workshop, ConCarolinas in Charlotte, and most recently, ConGregate in Winston-Salem. Here, Jackson is interviewed by Durham writer Margaret McGraw about the Thieftaker Chronicles with Tor Books, and his next big project, the Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy series with Baen Books.

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[Interview by Margaret S. McGraw]

MM: Let’s talk about the Thieftaker Chronicles, beginning with Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry. The third book, A Plunder of Souls, was just released this month. You’ve blazed a trail in the subgenre of historical urban fantasy. How did that come about?

DJ: I call the Thieftaker Chronicles historical urban fantasy because the novels combine elements of historical fiction, fantasy, and mystery. The books are set in pre-Revolutionary Boston, and each plot line coincides with some significant historical event leading toward the American Revolution. My lead character is a conjurer who can cast a wide array of spells. And he is also a thieftaker, the eighteenth century equivalent of a private detective, so each novel also revolves around the investigation of a murder or other grisly crime. So there is a historical element, a magical element, and a mystery element: historical urban fantasy.

MM: And how about the buzzphrase “Tricorn Punk”? Read the rest of this entry »


The Exploding Spaceship Release Day Edition: Review of A Plunder of Souls by D.B. Jackson

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Review of A Plunder of Souls by D.B. Jackson (Tor hardcover, July 8, 2014)

This is the third novel in the Thieftaker Chronicles. We are back in Boston of 1769 where a minor smallpox epidemic has hit; enough people are sick that there are houses in every neighborhood with illness, but not so many as to overflow the hospital.

Ethan is called upon by the local minister to investigate a case of grave desecration, but it soon becomes clear that more is going on because shades of the dead are hanging around their last places of residence and not passing on. In most cases the shades have the same type of damage as their desecrated bodies.

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Ethan’s relationships with Kannice, Janna and Sephira continue to change and mature. Janna meets both the other women in Ethan’s life in this book and those encounters are both very enlightening. As Ethan ages and continues to get beaten up for doing his job, getting another type of employment looks better and better. Read the rest of this entry »


Coming to Town: Jeff VanderMeer at Quail Ridge Books for Authority, interviewed by Mur Lafferty

Tallahassee author Jeff VanderMeer has been no stranger to the Carolinas, both through his work teaching at the SharedWorlds teen writing summer camp at Wofford College and quite a few events over the years. We’re thrilled to be welcoming him back again this year as part of his Southern Reach Summer Tour which includes 4 stops in the Carolinas in just over a week, starting and ending with Wednesday events (July 9th and 16th) at Hub City in Spartanburg, SC around readings on Thursday (July 10th) at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books at 7:30 pm and Saturday (July 12th) at Asheville’s Malaprop’s Bookstore at 7 pm. Here, VanderMeer is interviewed by Durham author Mur Lafferty about The Southern Reach series and Shared Worlds; we find out about some giveaways as well as get his thoughts about possible expansions to the trilogy, which will be completed with Acceptance in September.

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Interview by Mur Lafferty:

ML: The Southern Reach trilogy is unlike other books in so many ways, one of the more mundane yet rare things about it is its release schedule. We’re used to publishing’s glacial pace- why three books within a year?

JV: The publisher, FSG, suggested this schedule—they’re very proactive and inventive in how they think about marketing books. Their thought was that three books in one year, in inexpensive trade paperback editions, could create a lot of interest for this kind of series. And then the fact it was FSG meant I felt free to do what I usually like to do with a series: write three very different novels that fit together but don’t follow the usual “rules” for trilogies or for connected books. From my point of view, it was the perfect situation: a perfect plan for the commercial side of things and complete freedom to explore what I wanted to explore, hopefully in a way entertaining for readers.

ML: … And how have you handled the pressure of that speed of production? Read the rest of this entry »


Paul Kincaid’s From the Other Side, June 2014: One Three One, Barricade, the Gemmell Awards, and more

From the Other Side, June 2014

By Paul Kincaid

Okay, we have to accept that, however much we might value its qualities, science fiction can sometimes serve as a repository for the mad, the bizarre, the plain bonkers. Which may be why we get One Three One: A Time-Shifting Gnostic Hooligan Road Novel by Julian Cope (Faber). Cope is, of course, the former lead singer of The Teardrop Explodes who has also written  couple of well-received books on ancient megaliths, and some eclectic works on obscure rock music, so for his first attempt at fiction we could expect pretty much anything; and that’s pretty much what we get. It features a Cope-like rock star travelling around Highway 131 in Sardinia, but along the way we get fascist kidnappers, football fans gearing up for Italia 90, counter-arguments to C.S. Lewis, praise for D.H. Lawrence, and a cast of comic eccentrics with the sorts of names that scream ‘comic eccentric’. It is, in short, a sort of catch-all mess with bits of thriller and sf and football novel and the whole bizarre list of Julian Cope’s obsessions all thrown into the mix, and yet it seems to work. Well, it does if you like time-shifting gnostic hooligan road novels.

One Three One: A Time-Shifting Gnostic Hooligan Road Novel Barricade

One Three One is clearly the oddball novel of the month. Controversy of the month brings us to a debut novel by Jon Wallace, Barricade (Gollancz). I’d been thinking of mentioning the book in this column, since initial reviews suggested it was a moderately-interesting page-turner, but then came Christopher Priest’s damning review at Arc, and suddenly the internet was alight. Wallace didn’t help his cause with a couple of ill-judged if defensive posts, but the controversy did drive a lot of people to read the book who might not have done otherwise, though I noticed that the general reaction afterwards was that Priest had been too generous. But the best thing to emerge from this mess, and the thing I really wanted to draw your attention to, was this superb post by Tricia Sullivan, which amounts to a heartfelt manifesto for those who want to revisit some of the most well-worn of contemporary sf tropes. Read the rest of this entry »


The Exploding Spaceship New Release Edition: Reviews of Deadly Curiosities and The Blasted Lands

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Review of Deadly Curiosities by Gail Z Martin (Solaris Books, June 24, 2014, mass market)

This is a new urban fantasy series set in Charleston, South Carolina. The center of the adventures is an antique shop called Trifles and Folly, which is currently owned by Cassidy Kincaide and her vampire silent partner Sorren. She has a former history graduate student/martial artist named Teag Logan who helps run the place. His boyfriend Anthony is a lawyer from an old Charleston family, who is occasionally enlisted to help find information. Read the rest of this entry »


Coming to Town: Dave Lee for ConTemporal, interviewed by Paul Cory

ConTemporal is this weekend (June 27-29) at the Hilton North Raleigh/Midtown, and artist guest of honor Dave Lee is one of dozens of guests coming to town for the event. Lee’s travel isn’t too far, as his Hatton Cross Steampunk is located in Gloucester VA. An accomplished and award-winning Steampunk artist, he is also an author: his Steampunk western novel entitled Country in Ruin:1865 is published through HCS Publishing and its sequel World in Ruin:1870 is due out in 2014. Here, Lee took the time for some questions from Durham photographer Paul Cory.

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Dave Lee, photo by Paul Cory

Interview by Paul Cory:

Q:  Why Hatton Cross? Is there a particular significance to the name?

A: It started out as a joke. A British friend of mine said the best way to pick your steampunk name was to pick two or more names from London underground stations. There are more than a hundred with very unique names. Hatton Cross is a station and I just liked the sound of it. I’ve always had it in my head that we’d have a group instead of an individual.

Q: How did you get introduced to steampunk, and what about it keep your creativity flowing? Read the rest of this entry »


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