Paul Kincaid’s From the Other Side, October 2015: British Fantasy Awards, David Mitchell’s Slade House, Hal Duncan’s Testament, Julia Knight’s Swords and Scoundrels, and more

From the Other Side, October 2015
By Paul Kincaid

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

Good grief, it can’t be award season again already, can it? Apparently, it can. Or at least, we have had this year’s British Fantasy Convention, and with the convention come the British Fantasy Awards. An interesting selection this year, not least because there are so many women among the winners. These include the Robert Holdstock Award for Best Fantasy novel, which went to Frances Hardinge for Cuckoo Song (is that the first YA novel to win the Best Fantasy award?), the Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer went to Sarah Lotz for The Three, and the Karl Edward Wagner Award went to Juliet E. McKenna. There’s a full list 0f winners here.


And since it’s Halloween, let’s keep in the mood with the best haunted house novel of the year, which is, of course, Slade House by David Mitchell. It’s a sort of pendant to last year’s The Bone Clocks – very “sort of” – with more stuff about immortality, and one of the key figures from last year’s novel reappearing at the climax of this one. But here he recasts the story as horror, with a particularly creepy brother and sister tempting their victims to a weird and wonderful house that no longer exists. Being Mitchell, of course, he tells the story in a variety of different voices, the first of which is one of the funniest things he has written, until it starts to turn nasty. Apparently, Slade House began life on Twitter, so if you follow Mitchell you’ve probably encountered bits of the novel before in 140-character slabs, not that you’d notice from the finished thing. Read the rest of this entry »

The Exploding Spaceship Reviews The Builders by Daniel Polansky


Review of The Builders by Daniel Polansky ( November 3, 2015)

As fans of Mouse Guard, Mice Templar and Redwall stories, Your Humble Reviewers were thrilled to find an animal adventure story among the novellas. The Captain is a mouse who wears a hero coat, boots and a hat. He is fierce looking for a mouse because of a scar running down his face across where his right eye should be. He calls all his old cronies to meet at a bar called the Partisan’s. The party consists of a French-sounding stoat named Bonsoir, an opossum named Boudica, Cinnabar the red salamander, Barley the badger, a very fat mole named Gertrude, and an owl called Elf who has an injured wing. They had all served in the war with the Captain and have skills which will contribute to a special operations group (or an adventuring party, depending on your perspective). They have all settled down to a civilian life in a country devastated by war but will meet the Captain and hear what he has to say because he’s their leader.

The Captain is planning one last attack in order to destroy their remaining enemy and to discover who in the group betrayed them the last time. They encounter an armadillo, and have an adventure on a train before heading to the bad guys’ impregnable fortress. It becomes clear that some in the group decided that they wanted to go out with a bang, so although some of the creatures die, they got to die in battle and on their feet.

the builders cover

All the creatures are highly detailed characters who each have their own introductory section where the Captain goes to find them at their civilian location to convince them to come to the appointment at the bar; then each enters the bar in the next scene. How the other characters act toward them reveals quite a great deal about the group dynamics. Their quirks and personalities make their relationships complex, and of course they don’t all agree on anything other than that they will follow the Captain. Many had thought him dead or at least finished with battle but all those he approaches appear even though some needed to be tricked. Read the rest of this entry »

Coming to Town: Marko Kloos, author of the Frontlines series, for HonorCon at the Hilton North Raleigh/Midtown

Marko Kloos is the author of the Frontlines series of military science fiction. Born and raised in Germany, Kloos has has been a soldier, a bookseller, a freight dock worker, a tech support drone, and a corporate IT administrator. A graduate of the Viable Paradise SF/F Writers’ Workshop, he now lives in New Hampshire with his wife and two children. Their compound, Castle Frostbite, is patrolled by a roving pack of dachshunds, colorfully illustrated as “a team of awesome space-merc dachshund outlaw heroes blasting their way across the sky” in the header image on his website.

The Frontlines series is set in the early 22nd century, where North American Commonwealth “welfare rat” Andrew Grayson enlists in the military “for a shot at real food, a retirement bonus, and maybe a ticket off Earth.” (The only other remotely plausible way out is by drawing a winning lottery ticket for a colony ship settling off-world, and that’s as remote as any lottery-winning dream can be.) We get to see both this all-too-plausible and too-near future Earth of grim poverty and ever-escalating action and space battles through Grayson’s eyes as he encounters the wonders and horrors of a Solar System-spanning conflict with the alien Lankies.

Kloos joins a fantastic lineup of military science fiction — including Taylor Anderson, David Weber, A.G. Riddle, David Drake, Tony Daniel, and Chris Kennedy — at this weekend’s HonorCon at the Hilton North Raleigh/Midtown, with individual day and full weekend passes still available. It’s a further escalation of HonorCon’s roots as a convention focused almost entirely on Weber’s Honorverse — complete with many attendees in full Royal Manticoran Navy uniform — into a truly full-spectrum military science fiction convention. (Though, still, certainly, with the RMN out in full regalia in full force!) I’m looking forward to catching as much of it as I can.

While Kloos was already getting rave reviews (and comparisons to Scalzi, Haldeman, and Heinlein) for his first two Frontlines novels, Terms of Enlistment (initially self-published, then quickly snapped up and republished by Amazon’s 47North) and Lines of Departure, it’s fair to say that his stature in the science fiction world was raised both by his Hugo Award nomination and by the grace and clarity with which he declined the honor. That’s one of the several topics in the following interview, conducted via email ahead of (just barely!) today’s “boarding action” and other first day festivities at HonorCon. Enjoy!


Q: Are you familiar with David Weber’s Honorverse series, around which HonorCon has grown? Or Weber’s other ongoing SF series, Safehold?

I’ve been a fan of the Honorverse books since On Basilisk Station, so yeah, you can say I’m familiar with it. ;) One of my friends clued me in on the Honor Harrington books three or four novels into the series, a good while before I decided to get serious with my own writing. I have not however read any of the Safehold stuff yet.

Q: How did you get involved with this year’s HonorCon? Read the rest of this entry »

Coming to Town: Taylor Anderson, author of The Destroyermen series, for HonorCon at the Hilton North Raleigh/Midtown

Texas author Taylor Anderson is the New York Times bestselling author of the Destroyermen series. A gunmaker and forensic ballistic archaeologist, Taylor has been a technical and dialogue consultant for movies and documentaries, and an award-winning member of the National Historical Honor Society and of the United States Field Artillery Association. He has a master’s degree in history and has taught that subject at Tarleton State University.

The Destroyermen series, beginning in 2008 with Into the Storm, concerns the fate of the United States Asiatic Fleet in World War II, and while I will leave it to you (and Wikipedia) to learn of its real history and fate, Anderson’s books carry a Great-War vintage “four-stacker” destroyer from that fleet (along with pursuing Japanese battleships) into a squall, which acts as a portal transporting both pursued and pursuers into an alternate earth where humans never evolved. There, the two dominant species (the peaceful Lemurians and the warlike, reptilian Grik) are at war, and sides must be chosen, escalating the conflict into a global war that with 2015’s Straits of Hell comprises ten novels, with an eleventh, Blood in the Water, due out in June 2016. (Perhaps I should have read the publisher synopsis of Blood in the Water before asking my final, foolish question, but! as usual, I leave my “own goals” for your enjoyment.)

Anderson headlines a fantastic lineup of military science fiction — including David Weber, Marko Kloos, A.G. Riddle, David Drake, Tony Daniel, and Chris Kennedy — at this weekend’s HonorCon at the Hilton North Raleigh/Midtown, with individual day and full weekend passes still available. It’s a further escalation of HonorCon’s roots as a convention focused almost entirely on Weber’s Honorverse — complete with many attendees in full Royal Manticoran Navy uniform — into a truly full-spectrum military science fiction convention. (Though, still, certainly, with the RMN out in full regalia in full force!) I’m looking forward to catching as much of it as I can.

Here, Anderson took the time via email to answer some questions about Weber, Navy weapons systems research, careless anachronisms, audiobooks, alternate histories, and, yes, a really, really stupid one about Blood in the Water. Enjoy!


Q: Are you familiar with David Weber’s Honorverse series, around which HonorCon has grown? Or Weber’s other ongoing SF series, Safehold?

Yes.  I read David’s On Basilisk Station about sixteen years ago and loved it.  I quickly devoured the rest as they came out and always look forward to the next.  I was honored to meet David at DFW-Con, around the time my second or third Destroyermen novel came out.  We had a long, vastly entertaining conversation, and I was amazed to discover I’d become friends with one of my all-time favorite authors!  I hadn’t begun reading the Safehold Series until about that time as well, and one of the things that struck us both, I think, was how much alike we think in a number of ways.  We’ve corresponded since, sometimes just going on for hours about ballistics or historical weaponry.  He called me several months ago and told me about this year’s HonorCon.  I thought “it’s been too long,” and said, “I’ll be there!”

Q: Your military SF concerns Naval battles in both a “mundane” alternate historical setting (actual 1940s ships and armaments) with various technological adaptations from the alternate Earth’s dominant species, wholly original to your work. Have you kept up with current Navy weapons systems research, like the recent demonstrations of lasers and rail guns, which certainly put today’s reality in line with yesterday’s science fiction? Read the rest of this entry »

The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Supersymmetry by David Walton


Review of Supersymmetry by David Walton (September 1, 2015)

The physics-loving Kelleys of Superposition are back! This time Dad is retired, Sean is a Marine and the twins created in the last book, Sandra and Alex, are a cop and a physicist. Alex is working on a project with technology related to that which caused the incident fifteen years before. The brainchild behind it is a neurotic but brilliant man named Ryan Oronzi.

The varcolac return, of course, and for some reason seem really upset with the twins! Sandra and Alex eventually figure out why, but Your Humble Reviewers prefer to avoid giving away spoilers. The physicist gets taken over by the varcolac just like Jean was in the last volume. These physicists who think too much of themselves are really loved as takeover victims by the varcolac, probably because it doesn’t take much to push them over the edge into crazy actions against humans. They think other humans are inferior already so half the varcolac’s job is done before they even enter their brains.

supersymmetry cover

We loved how Sandra the nerdy cop seems to actually have as much ease at grasping the concepts as her physicist sister. She spends much of the book feeling somehow inferior, but the universe as it is left at the end of the story leaves her in a much happier place than she was at the beginning.

The teleporting technology and the science behind all of the other technology used makes for a very nerdy quantum physics mystery. The female Kelleys are the main characters though, so the female engineer of our review team found it easier to understand their motivations and be sympathetic than with Jacob in the last book.

The book has a good mystery plot with many twists and surprises, which we have tried not to give away here. Sandra and Alex are much more developed characters in this story. They are quite clearly two different people although both were Alessandra until they were 14. They have familiar young adult woman issues and concerns, including having problems unique to siblings. Also they have the concern that they may someday merge back into one person. This hits Sandra particularly hard but she gets support from her new scientist grad student friend Angel.

This is an enjoyable, fast-moving hard science fiction mystery. If you like quantum physics or mysteries then this is the book series for you.

The Exploding Spaceship HonorCon Special Edition: Reviews of A Call to Arms and The Search for Gram


We have a military science fiction column this week because David Weber and Chris Kennedy will both be guests at Honorcon ( this weekend. This is a regional military science fiction convention which has many events centered on Weber’s Honorverse. [Editor’s note: This year, HonorCon has expanded its programming to truly become a fully-fledged general military science fiction convention, with additional guests including Taylor Anderson (of the Destroyermen series), Marko Kloos, A.G. Riddle, David Drake, Tony Daniel, and more.]

Review of Call to Arms: Book 2 of Manticore Ascendant by David Weber, Timothy Zahn and Thomas Pope (Baen, October 6, 2015)

This is the story of the further adventures of Travis Long, who has now been through officer’s training and is a junior lieutenant posted to a recruiting station. His former shipmate Lisa Donnelly puts in an appearance as the owner of a dog which needs a sitter, and later in the book as Travis’ sometime dinner companion. They aren’t posted together, so their relationship continues to grow as the book continues.

People from outside the Manticore system come sniffing around trying to see if there is a wormhole in the system, but no one finds it in this volume. The locals haven’t figured out exactly what was going on, but they find the ship rather suspicious. The ship gathers enough data that “pirates” raid the system in order to take Manticore.

call to arms cover

The Manticoran fleet of course isn’t taking that lying down so we have quite an epic-level battle between the navy plus the system defense boats against the invaders. We see quite a few ships die, and see the King and other members of the government discover that they have lost family members. It is an interesting time because many Manticoran leaders had been trying to get rid of the navy, saying it was no longer needed. Suddenly, it is the only thing standing between them and a bombardment from orbit by pirate ships. It will be interesting to see how that shifts the government’s priorities in the next volume, particularly when the wormhole junction is finally found. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hardest Part: Delilah S. Dawson (writing as Lila Bowen) on Wake of Vultures

I recently had the chance to play chauffer for Georgia author Delilah S. Dawson, in town for appearances both at the SFWA Southeast Reading Series and the SIBA trade show. I learned many things. Dawson: knows her D&D editions; is as fascinated as anyone would be by a display of bizarre medical texts and archaic medical apparatus; has an appreciation of American transcendentalism; will totally impulse buy and eat Frankenstein candies of unknown provenance; and she had a really, really, really intriguing book coming out soon, pitched as “It’s Lonesome Dove meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer with a biracial, genderqueer heroine.” That book, Wake of Vultures, is out now in print, ebook, and audiobook editions. Elsewhere, Dawson wrote about the Big Idea behind the book, and here she writes about the hard part of giving into a story of questionable marketability she was starting to obsess about (and would instigate a new pseudonym!) instead of playing it safe and writing another “Delilah S. Dawson” young adult book. Enjoy!

— Essay by Delilah S. Dawson, writing as Lila Bowen —

Every story involves the writer taking the reader’s hand and urging them to jump out into the unknown. Some books are like hopping in a shallow, pretty rain puddle, but Wake of Vultures was more like leaping off a cliff. The hardest part was getting over my own fear of failure.

The inspiration for Wake was a late night tweet. This one, in fact:

It started as a joke but quickly became an obsession. Read the rest of this entry »


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