The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Shadow and Flame by Gail Z Martin and Grave Visions by Kalayna Price

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Review of Shadow and Flame by Gail Z Martin (Orbit, March 2016)

This is the fourth volume of the Ascendant Kingdom Saga. Blaine McFadden has to deal with the aftermath of restoring the magic to the kingdom. Some of the fighting appears to be due to an unknown enemy pushing some factions to fight Blaine and his allies, so they try and uncover who is behind the problem. The vampires are gearing up for a civil war which would leave Donderath a land full of death and destruction so Blaine and his vampire allies are trying to find a solution which can prevent the war.

They find one, but it involves a trip to Velant for some of his allies and they must travel through some monster-infested waters. So, most of this volume has two story streams: Blaine and those who are in Donderath in one; in the other, those who are on the ship going to Velant, traveling overland there and then returning by ship to Donderath. The streams merge briefly then a party goes to solve the vampire civil war problem while the others are trying to hold down all the points being attacked by bad vampires and their allies. These plots are interwoven well and it is easy to follow the flow of the story.

Kestel (Lady McFadden) does many heroic things in this volume to keep her husband alive. She and others are pushing for Blaine to think beyond being the most powerful warlord in Donderath and to actually take the throne as King. Placing a King on the throne will give the country some magical protections which it currently lacks and desperately needs for combatting nefarious folks from across the seas. Blaine isn’t so sure that he wants the throne, but as everyone tells him, that’s a very good reason to place him on it!

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Ghosts continue to play an important role in the story, so Tormod Solveig the necromancer plays an important role in the story, as does Connor Bevin who can see, speak to, and be possessed by ghosts, including the vampire Wraith Lord. Connor hosting the Wraith Lord is again crucial for the success of parts of their mission and Connor gets the worse end of the deal again. He does however fall in love in this volume.

This volume has wonderful battle scenes at both the individual and group level, with some great ones featuring various people’s magical attacks or illusions. The good vampires also play a crucial role in several battles and the strategy for their use seems to be improving but unfortunately the bad vampires’ strategy is improving too.

Several characters including Blaine and Connor end the story in rather different personal circumstances than they started, so it will be interesting to see how these changes are reflected in future stories. Several of the supporting characters get more backstory time and this made several of them much more interesting and not just a bit part as they were in previous volumes. Some of these characters are fascinating, especially the long-lived vampire ones, so hopefully they get more story time and maybe even their own short stories.

So it is epic fantasy in a post-disaster fantasy world inhabited by interesting people who are mostly of common origin since the disaster killed most of the nobles. The fight to feed, clothe and house everyone while trying to fight battles makes for a more complete look at the world than just battles would. The characters are complex and have quite interesting senses of humor. Quite an easy read even if it is over 500 pages. This is definitely an epic fantasy series to pick up, particularly if you like things more complex than quest stories.

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Review of Grave Visions by Kalayna Price (Roc, February 2016)

This is the fourth Alex Craft novel. Alex is a grave witch who can raise the shades from dead bodies. This means that she deals with a great many crime victims. Usually she goes to the morgue to raise them but some very strange deaths in locked rooms mean she has to visit some crime scenes in order to determine if the police or the Fae Investigation Bureau is in charge of the case. She discovers she really doesn’t like crime scenes.

Falin has been ordered by his queen to share Alex’s living space, so he is crashing at her place and this causes numerous problems. Alex’s boyfriend Death has been told by his bosses that he can’t see her anymore, but he doesn’t seem to take that as seriously as Alex does. Plus, with her being present at some crime scenes, she encounters him or his coworkers on several occasions. She ends up having to work several cases with Falin which further complicates her life.

To make her life even more interesting, Alex is ill and has little energy, although being in Faerie seems to help. The solution to her illness means she has to do a job for Falin’s queen, so dealing with court and the crazy queen make her life even more difficult. She also has to deal with her father when he sends someone to basically kidnap her since she wouldn’t return his calls. What he has to say doesn’t help matters in the least! However, he is able to explain why she is ill and even presents a solution if she is willing to take it. Alex of course never does anything the simplest way when it would mean giving up some of her freedom so she finds another solution but getting to it requires solving some complex drug ring problems and murders which involve Faerie and Nekros City residents.

This story reveals several sides to Nekros City that we have not glimpsed in previous books, and the details given make it seem even more real. Alex’s male person problems (Falin, Death, her father) make for a young adult life that no reader will envy but she does make progress towards sorting it out in this volume. You get a glimpse of Falin’s past and how he ended up working for the queen which gives you a window into his internal conflicts about Alex and the queen.

This is a very intriguing setting with complex characters and an interesting take on Faerie and magic. Alex is a messed up heroine but her struggles to find out who she is give the reader a deep look into the setting, its history, and politics which are very complex because you have mortals and fae involved.

This is one of our favorite urban fantasy series so we hope it continues.

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Paul Kincaid’s From the Other Side, March 2016: Patrick Ness, Aliette de Bodard, Ian Whates, and new books from Gollancz and Orbit

[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, March 2016
By Paul Kincaid

March turned out to be the height of the awards season in the UK this year. The month began with the presentation of the Kitschies, and ended with the presentation of the BSFA Awards.

I said, last month, that I was becoming worried about the Kitschies, and was immediately reassured that there was nothing to worry about, and that next year the awards will go back to having a longer gap between the announcement of the shortlists and the presentation of the awards. In which case, I wonder whether the unusual haste this year might have had anything to do with fitting into the schedule of Margaret Atwood who turned up unexpectedly (curiously attired with a squid-like device on her forehead) at the Award ceremony. A fortuitous occurrence, since she won the Red Tentacle for The Heart Goes Last, which meant that four of the five winners were present to receive their tentacles. Patrick Ness won a discretionary Black Tentacle for the fund-raising effort he put in on behalf of Syrian refugees, which raised over $1 million in a remarkably short time (and which I wrote about here last September). Jet Purdie won the Inky Tentacle for the cover art of The Door That Led to Where by Sally Gardner (and then immediately donated his winnings to Patrick Ness’s fund). And Tade Thompson won the Golden Tentacle for his debut novel, Making Wolf. The one absentee was Square Enix, who won the Invisible Tentacle for “digitally native fiction” for their game Life Is Strange.

  Continue reading

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April Newsletter: The Festival of Legends and Oak City Comicon, readings from Fred Chappell, Ernest Cline, and Felicia Day, Welcome to Night Vale “live”, new books, news, and more

Vol 6 No 4. Friday, April 8, 2016: Well, March may have been a bit of a quiet month as far as events go, but April is just absolutely packed, with big events from The Festival of Legends this weekend, Oak City Comicon next weekend, the East Coast Gaming Conference’s Expo Day, and the nearly month-long North Carolina Science Festival, to readings from North Carolina’s legendary storyteller Fred Chappell with his first fantasy novel in almost 50 years, bestsellers Ernest Cline and Felicia Day, comics signings, regional science fiction play premieres, and an entire shelf of new books. It’s quite a month, and Saturday alone is packed, with two multi-author comics signings, the first of two days at Optimist Farm in Apex for The Festival of Legends, the launch party for John Claude Bemis’ new novel The Wooden Prince in Hillsborough, and another performance of The Nether at Durham’s Manbites Dog Theater.

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Add to that that in each of the next three weeks we’ll have three authors whose appearances are on the level of a highlight of the year, with Fred Chappell (hosted by Quail Ridge Books at St. David’s School’s Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, April 12, by The Regulator Bookshop on Tuesday, April 19, and by McIntyre’s Books on Saturday, April 23), Ready Player One author Ernest Cline (at Flyleaf Books on Tuesday, April 19), and The Guild and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog star Felicia Day (presented by Flyleaf Books at Cat’s Cradle on Wednesday, April 27) and this month may require you to make some hard choices on how to spend your time!

   Continue reading

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

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Review of Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (Tor.com April 5, 2016)

There are many fantasy stories about young people who travel through portals to other lands, but none quite as interesting and unique as this story set in a school for young people who have returned from such journeys. The descriptions of clothes showed their uniqueness, and by looking at their colors and styles you could get a good idea of the type of world they had visited. It was clear that it helped new student and protagonist Nancy sort by visual shorthand the other students who might understand her; it made the school seem very vibrant with wildly different color palates and styles. Each student was a distinct character but the styles of dress helped sort the cast of characters into factions quickly so as to avoid confusion over the large number of people. Nancy’s encounters with each student gave details about them individually. The story has many interesting and complex characters that are all suffering and trying to find others who will understand that suffering. In many ways the characters are typical teens, but their travels have left them feeling more out of place even than their siblings.

It was heartbreaking to realize that what Nancy’s parents did to her carefully packed suitcase was a common occurrence with new students. That one action told you all you needed to know about her parents and what they thought of her and her experiences. All the students needed someone to understand them and it was quite clear that the older students and the faculty at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children fill that need very well.

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A murder mystery within a closed setting like a school always has interesting dynamics as everyone realizes one of them had to have committed the horrors. This one had added craziness because people were constantly trying to search for a door back to their world and the students who had traveled to different types of worlds didn’t understand each other very well. Nonsense-world visitors and Logic-world visitors both looked at the other group as suspicious because they didn’t understand the other group. In addition the adults were hoping to screen the underage students from danger but as the killer struck in various locations it became clear that was not possible.

Some likable characters were killed off of course because it was a multiple-murder mystery and others found their door back to their world but several students are still there at the end of the novella. Your Humble Reviewers look forward to seeing what new students appear in the next story and what type of adventure this disparate cast of characters will get into next.

All readers who like school stories, portal adventures or urban fairy tales like those of Charles DeLint should immediately go and buy this novella!

Buy: IndieBound (hardcover, $17.99) or Kobo (ebook, $9.99). Note: Purchasing using these affiliate links helps both bullspec.com and your local independent bookstore.

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March newsletter: George Takei, Tom Angleberger and John Claude Bemis, Erik Larson, Captain Pyewacket’s Unauthorized Excursion, new books, news, and more

Vol 6 No 3. Sunday, March 20, 2016: Beware the Ides of March! Well, I should have, as I’ve been sick all week. Still, I have to get this newsletter out today, because it’s the last chance to tell you about both Henry Vogel’s Kindle Scout campaign and Paul Celmer’s “IGAAKS” Kickstarter.

But first! Some imminently upcoming events:

Oh Myyy! Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Strip Mall! The Wooden Prince (Out of Abaton, #1)

  • March 21 (Monday) 7:30 pm — Guilford College’s Bryan Series of lectures welcomes: “George Takei, a noted actor and activist with a signature wit, shares the story of his family’s forced internment as Japanese Americans during WWII—a seemingly forgotten part of American history. George also talks about his rise to celebrity as a sci-fi icon, his remarkable journey as social media luminary, and his passionate fight for LGBTQ rights and marriage equality in America—empowering others to beat the odds and make a difference.”
  • March 24 (Thursday) 6 pm — Flyleaf Books hosts Tom Angleberger and John Claude Bemis for an “author double-header”. From John: “I’m teaming up with Tom Angleberger for a fun-filled evening sharing about our new books, performing feats of strength and daring-do, discussing everything from Guardians of the Galaxy and Star Wars to Da Vinci-robots and the mysteries behind our writing processes. You and your young book nerds won’t want to miss this singular evening! Tom is the best-selling author of the Origami Yoda series as well as the brand new illustrated novel Rocket and Groot: Stranded on Planet Strip Mall, the first in his Marvel trilogy based on Guardians of the Galaxy.” What John doesn’t mention is his own book, the just-published Steampunk Pinnochio retelling Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince.
  • March 25 (Friday) 7 pm — Quail Ridge Books hosts (at Meredith College) Erik Larson – ‘Dead Wake’ (off-site ticketed event). Larson will be at McIntyre’s Books the following morning (Saturday, March 26) at 11 am as well, for Erik Larson – Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. (Narrative non-fiction.)
  • March 26 (Saturday) 2 pm — If you missed her events in January and February, McIntyre’s Books hosts local author Lindsay Starck – Noah’s Wife. “In the tradition of Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish and Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, Noah’s Wife is a gorgeously written, brilliantly introspective, fable-like novel reimagining Noah’s Ark for our modern times.”
  • March 26 (Saturday) 9 pm — Arcana hosts Captain Pyewacket’s Unauthorized Excursion II, a “time traveler’s dance party” with Emmett Davenport and Lady Attercop. “Appropriate dress admired but not required – show us your own personal spin on the 1800’s-1940’s or just come and enjoy the show!”

And now on to those imminently expiring campaigns I mentioned in the opening paragraph of the newsletter: Continue reading

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Last Day for both Henry Vogel’s Kindle Scout campaign and Paul Celmer’s “IGAAKS” Kickstarter

It’s the last day to nominate Raleigh author Henry Vogel’s The Counterfeit Captain in the “Kindle Scout” program, which awards a book deal to titles based on user voting. So! Help Henry out, all it takes is a few seconds, and if his book does end up winning, you get a free copy. “Losing consciousness as her starfighter bleeds air, Captain Nancy Martin expects a lonely death. Instead, she awakens in a cavernous, empty docking bay. When she is mistaken for the vast ship’s mythical Captain, Nancy finds herself allied with ship native Sko against the enemy who attacked her starfighter. Soon, Nancy is on the run from her enemy, unaware of the far greater menace who controls the ship. Can the counterfeit captain unravel the ship’s mystery before her opponents destroy her?” And as first lines go, this one’s pretty darned good: “What a stupid place to die.” Henry did have a very, very successful Kindle Scout campaign last time around, but didn’t quite get over the final bar. Second time’s the charm, right?

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It’s also the last day (well, 26 hours to go) for frequent Bull Spec contributor and Durham author Paul Celmer’s Kickstarter campaign to fund a production-scale run of his IGAAKS eyewear. What are Igaaks, you ask, beyond “a modern fashion take on the ancient Inuit sun visor”? Well, you may have seen me out at conventions or other events wearing the ones Paul made me way back in 2010. They’re always a great conversation starter, drawing people over to my table to try them on or ask, “Hey, can you really see out of those?” Yes, yes you can see! Paul’s now making them in a variety of cuts and finishes, and somehow (I haven’t caught up with him yet to find out the full story) his Igaaks have made it all the way to Hollywood as well, as seen in the trailers for the forthcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows worn by villain Bebop:

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Pretty cool, eh? But Paul’s campaign is about 50% short of its $5,000 goal, with barely over 24 hours to go. If you’ve been wondering about getting a pair, or just want to help a Durham artisan get up and running, do check them out today.

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Paul rocking the “Bull Spec” Igaaks back in 2010 at NASFIC.

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Pieces of Hate by Tim Lebbon

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Review of Pieces of Hate by Tim Lebbon (Tor.com, March 15, 2016)

This story consists of two parts, Dead Man’s Hand and Pieces of Hate. They are The Assassin Book One and Book Two. The assassin’s name is Temple and he is pursued by Gabriel, whose origin story is told in the second book. The stories are set in the town of Deadwood in the Dakota Territory during the late 1800s, and on a privateer ship and in Port Royal, Jamaica during the 1600s. There are flashbacks to hundreds of years before this to Gabriel’s life in Wales.

When Gabriel was living in Wales, his family was horribly murdered and it put him in a bad spot when confronted by the conjurer/assassin who did it. He follows any clues he can get to the location of the conjurer and is destined to chase him until he gets his revenge. Each place he finds Temple is where someone sent the assassin to kill someone famous. In these two stories the assassin’s targets are Wild Bill Hickok and Henry Morgan.

The first story is told from the viewpoint of a young shop owner named Doug who meets Gabriel in Deadwood when Gabriel comes to kill the conjurer called Temple. By this time period Gabriel and his horse look like Death because the wounds he gets when he fights the conjurer don’t heal properly and when he is near him the scars burn. Each fight results in a new scar.

Weird things began to happen in Deadwood involving dead people and dark magic. Gabriel fights Temple and when they both leave town Doug’s life goes somewhat back to normal and he lives out his life there, always on guard for more dark magic conjurers.

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During the 1600s Gabriel gets passage on a privateer ship and meets a clergyman named Sparks when he follows the conjurer to Port Royal. The ship and its crew have an adventurous journey but eventually arrive in Jamaica, where they discover that Temple and his target have both left town. They follow in order to try and save Henry Morgan. They catch up with Henry, his crew, and Temple. A big battle ensues and Temple goes overboard. Continue reading

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Wonder Woman at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee

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Review of Wonder Woman at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee (Random House Kids, March 1, 2016)

This is the first book in the DC Superhero Girls series, which is a new series for middle grades. The entire concept of superhero books with female characters is awesome! This series is being backed with dolls, action figures, and cosplay items at Target, plus an animated special.

For Your Humble Reviewer who has been wanting Wonder Woman books, dolls, and action figures since watching Lynda Carter on television in the 1970s, it meant a happy discovery on book release day which resulted in a quick order from the local B&N. The book was read in one evening, and a run to the local Target led to leaving store with bags full of Wonder Woman wonderfulness.

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Teenage Wonder Woman wants to leave her home on Paradise Island and go to high school, like all the other teenage superheroes she sees on social media. She already flies around the world saving people, but because she grew to her teen years so isolated, she doesn’t understand other cultures and social norms. When she starts high school at Super Hero High, her lack of familiarity with social norms and teen culture mean that she really is the “new” girl. Continue reading

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The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Review of Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor.com, March 8, 2016)

Katya is a futuristic antiques dealer from the West Coast. She is riding her bike on a forest trail and pulling a trailer along behind. Her latest acquisition, a typewriter, is in the trailer. Her sales are dependent on clients believing her videos and social media posts about where in this post-disaster United States she acquired her items. This of course requires being constantly connected to the internet and her customers.

Suddenly she is completely cut off from all outside connection and she discovers a man and a deer nearby. Her discovery means she is a danger to the man and his boss’s project so she gets kidnapped and taken to his camp. The events which unfold in the camp and the relationship between Katya and her captor are the centerpiece of the story. Her captor’s boss and his attitudes and tastes also play a role in Katya’s fate.

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Kowal’s descriptions make the forest, the deer, the camp, and the characters spring right off the page. It is a profoundly creepy story, and Your Humble Reviewers do not wish to spoil it overmuch. The extensive use of technology and how the lack of it influences the story and Katya’s choices makes the reader look at present-day technology and social media in a new way. It is not a very flattering look at present-day society.

If you like science fiction with a touch of creepiness or urban fantasy set in a natural world, you will love this story. It’s set in the future, but the forest setting makes it feel like urban fantasy. Like many of Kowal’s stories, it is one that makes you think and will leave an impression long after reading.

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Paul Kincaid’s From the Other Side, February 2016: The Kitchies, Mieville’s This Census Taker, Pinborough’s 13 Minutes, 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, February 2016
By Paul Kincaid

I’m beginning to worry about the Kitschies. Last year, as I reported, the award seemed to go for a secret ceremony: most people didn’t even know about it until the day itself. This year, they have at least announced the date and venue of the award at the same time that they announced the shortlists, but they have allowed just two weeks between the shortlist and the presentation. Why the rush? I’m not sure that really allows the judges time to revisit the books and consider their verdict, particularly as the same jury has to decide between the five books shortlisted for the Red Tentacle and the five books shortlisted for the Golden Tentacle; but as others have pointed out, it certainly doesn’t allow anybody else much time to acquire and read the books, which stymies the sort of general discussion of the lists that is usually the lifeblood of awards.

And one of the things that usually marks out the Kitschies is the quality of the shortlists, idiosyncratic, bringing to our attention books that often don’t get noticed by the sf field. But this year the shortlist for the Red Tentacle novel award is: The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood, Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson, The Reflection by Hugo Wilcken, The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin, The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts. It’s a solid shortlist, but it doesn’t reach into unfamiliar territory the way we have come to expect of the Kitschies. With the exception of the Wilcken, these are hardly books that have escaped the notice of the sf field. The Jemisin was shortlisted for a Nebula on the same day that the Kitschies shortlist was announced, and the Hutchinson (which I persist in regarding as one of the very best novels of 2015) has already been shortlisted for the BSFA Award. Continue reading

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