Sunday, June 29, 2008

Debut Showcase Round-Up

I got a bit behind in debut announcements over the past two weeks and I spent an hour at Fantasy Book Critic last week getting caught up (thanks, Robert!). I'll be handling my debut showcases in batches on the weekend for the next few weeks, as a summer slowdown. I expect a nifty little device to be delivered next week that will free up some of my evening time. However, after that it will be the Fourth of July, and the weekend after that I'll be on vacation.

Promise of the Wolves
by Dorothy Hearst
Simon and Schuster

What is the promise of the Wolf? Never consort with humans. Never kill a human unprovoked. Never allow a mixed-blood wolf to live. At least that’s what the wolves of the Wide Valley believe. Until a young wolf dares to break the rules–and forever alters the relationship between wolves and the humans who share their world.

This is the story of such a wolf. Born of a forbidden mixed-blood litter and an outcast after her mother is banished, Kaala is determined to earn a place in the Swift River pack. But her world is turned upside down when she saves a human girl from drowning. Risking expulsion from their pack and exile from the Wide Valley, Kaala and her young packmates being to hunt with the humans and thus discover the long-hidden bond between the two clans. But when war between wolves and humans threatens, Kaala learns the lies behind the wolf’s promise. Lies that force her to choose between safety for herself and her friends and the survival of her pack–and perhaps of all wolf- and humankind.

Set 14,000 years ago, Promise of the Wolves takes us to a land where time is counted in phases of the moon, distance is measured in wolflengths, and direction by the scent of the nearest trail. Years of research into the world of wolves combines with mythical tale-telling to present a fantastical adventure set in a world filled with lore.

Wow; another prehistory novel. This sounds fascinating. I can see myself reading this one.

Gordath Wood
by Patrice Sarath
Mass Market Paperback
Ace Books

Something strange is happening in Gordath Wood, the old woods surrounding a training stable called Hunter’s Chase. The police think Lynn Romano and Kate Mossland have been murdered, but what actually occurred is much stranger. They’ve gone through a hole between worlds, into a medieval society at war. In a world that doesn’t ordinarily have use for women, the danger is great—good thing Lynn and Kate aren’t your ordinary women.

I wish this blurb were more descriptive. It appears to have a parallel story--the investigation about their disappearance and their trip to the older world. Portal novels are always fun.

by Jaida Jones + Danielle Bennett

Thanks to its elite Dragon Corps, the capital city of Volstov has all but won the hundred years’ war with its neighboring enemy, the Ke-Han. The renegade airmen who fly the corps’s mechanical, magic-fueled dragons are Volstov’s greatest weapon. But now one of its more unruly members is at the center of the city’s rumor mill, causing a distraction that may turn the tide of victory.

With Volstov immersed in a scandal that may have international repercussions, the Ke-Han devise an ingenious plan of attack. To counter the threat, four ill-assorted heroes must converge to save the kingdom they love: an exiled magician, a naive country boy, a young student—and the unpredictable ace airman who flies the city’s fiercest dragon, Havemercy.

But on the eve of battle, these courageous men will face something that could make the most formidable of warriors hesitate, the most powerful of magicians weak, and the most unlikely of men allies in their quest to rise against it....

This blurb is also a bit vague, but that's ok because it's getting so much attention that all you need do is Google it and you'll see a bunch of reviews, including these.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Debut Graduates of June

Now that I've been doing this for a year, there are more debut graduates to cover every month. I found four for this month. Here's a little snippet on each of them:  

A Fire in the North by David Bilsborough

This author lives in a tiny village in Java, and therefore maintains no Internet presence (he discusses it here). His first novel, The Wanderer's Tale, came out a year ago Here's the blurb for his second novel, which Tor provided to me as a review copy:

Five hundred years ago a huge force defeated an evil, supernaturally powerful tyrant who terrorized and ravaged those who cowered under his lash. Now, terrible news from the north suggests that someone or some thing is once again preying upon the northern lands, threatening to once again darken the lives of those whose forebears still remember the horrific past.Now, a small, motley band faces a daunting challenge. Led by a brave warrior and a visionary priest, they have finally reached the land to the north. They have seen wonders and endured terrifying experiences, barely escaping from a dizzying series of perils, magical and otherwise. But the direst perils lie before them as they approach the evil that has risen again, its dread power terrorizing and enslaving all who oppose it. Finally, the Wanderer, fated to face the ultimate test, will confront his destiny. A world and its trembling masses await the outcome.  

Escapement by Jay Lake

Jay Lake has published a slew (and I do mean a slew) of short stories, and his debut, Mainspring, was warmly received last year. I have not read it yet, but it's one of those that I'd like to read because it sounds so imaginative. Here's the blurb for the next book:  

In his novel Mainspring, Lake created an enormous canvas for storytelling with his hundred mile high Equatorial Wall that holds up the great Gears of the Earth. Now in Escapement, he explores more of that territory. Paolina Barthes is a young woman of remarkable intellectual ability – a genius on the level of Isaac Newton. But she has grown up in isolation, in a small village of shipwreck survivors, on the Wall in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. She knows little of the world, but she knows that England rules it, and must be the home of people who possess the learning that she so desperately wants. And so she sets off to make her way off the Wall, not knowing that she will bring her astounding, unschooled talent for sorcery to the attention of those deadly factions who would use or kill her for it.  

The Cold Minds by Kristin Landon

I read Kristin's debut, The Hidden Worlds, last year, plus I interviewed her. I found it almost impossible to put down and somewhat disturbing. It is the type of novel that compels you in spite of yourself. I plan to snatch up this sequel sometime soon.  

After Earth's destruction by ruthless machine intelligences known as the Cold Minds, the remnants of the human race fled to the Hidden Worlds. Now, after six centuries of safety, the horrors of the past have returned to finish the extermination. Renegade jump pilot Iain sen Paolo and Linnea Kiaho know that the Cold Minds have found humanity again. To fight back, they need to recruit jump pilots. But the secretive Pilot Masters guard their knowledge—and their ships—jealously. They refuse to admit that the Cold Minds have returned or that anyone not of their number could possess the ability to fly a jump ship. Now, Linnea must prove the Pilot Masters wrong. On the run and desperately searching for allies to oppose the Cold Minds, Linnea and Iain face near-impossible odds. But they know that somehow, some way, they must succeed—or humanity itself will become extinct.…  

Spectre by Phaedra Weldon

Phaedra Weldon's Wraith was one of the first debuts that I announced. Back then, she didn't have a web presence, but now she has a nice website with links to her blog and a MySpace page. Turn up the sound! Here's the blurb for Spectre: 

Zoë Martinique has the extraordinary ability to travel outside her body at will. When she is drawn into an investigation of a series of bizarre murders, in which the victims are missing body parts, Zoë hopes to help her boyfriend, Atlanta homicide detective Daniel Frasier, stop the killer— one she’s sure is from the darkest levels of the astral plane—without letting him find out about her special abilities.Then danger strikes close to home when Zoë’s mother disappears, and Zoë must use all the powers at her command to save her—even though Zoë knows that, in doing so, she may make herself into something no longer entirely human.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

An Interview with Marissa Doyle!

Marissa Doyle's Bewitching Season is truly one of the most exciting debuts I've read this year. It's fun; it's adorable and it appeals to the teenager who still lurks within me. I act like a nineteen-year old groupie on Marissa's outstanding blog, NinteenTeen, commenting on almost every post. I was delighted when Marissa agreed to answer some questions.

Please tell us a little bit about BEWITCHING SEASON and about your inspiration for this novel.

Bewitching Season came from a fortuitous intersection between a writing prompt exercise and the book I happened to be reading at the moment. The book was a biography of Queen Victoria, and the exercise was in a writing group where we were asked to write the beginning of a story starting with the words, "Oh my god, you killed him!" I got a mental picture of a girl in long skirts wringing her hands over the motionless form of a boy on a rug in front of her...and decided she'd been practicing magic on her little brother. The idea of two young witches rescuing Princess Victoria from the thoroughly unpleasant Sir John Conroy quickly followed...the cool part was taking events that actually happened (the unpleasant Sir John part--he tried his nastiest best to force Victoria to promise him a position as her Private Secretary) and take them a step off the path into fantasy (what if Sir John had resorted to magic to achieve his ends?)

Tell us about your favorite scene in BEWITCHING SEASON.

Hmm. I'm not sure that I have any one favorite scene, but I did have the most fun writing the scenes between Persy and Lochinvar. I love writing dialogue, and I loved writing about these two very shy people who were so wrapped up in their insecurities that they couldn't see how the other felt. There was a fair amount of channeling from my own horribly shy teenhood there, in case you hadn't sort of guessed. :)

What about any scene that may have given you trouble?

Writing about magic in a post-Harry Potter world is a huge challenge, because HP has turned into the gold standard for magic in fiction and it's become impossible to escape comparison. I tried to base my magic in these books on traditional English and Wiccan rites and rituals, but also to make it conform to a nineteenth century world. So for example, Persy and Pen always do their spell-casting in Latin because using a foreign language helps them focus their internal magical energies...and Latin seemed to them to be the most suitable language (French was far too frivolous feeling, and they didn't know enough German)...because those were the languages a well-educated young woman in 1837 might most likely know.

Please tell us how you researched BEWITCHING SEASON. Did you have a lot of background knowledge beforehand, or did you research as necessary while you wrote?

I have an academic background in history and historical archaeology, and have been a history geek since seeing "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" on Masterpiece Theatre when I was about nine. So I already knew the broad history quite well--but I wanted this book to be as historically accurate as possible. That meant lots of micro-research on things like clothes (what colors and styles were "in" for spring 1837?) and food and shops and the minutiae of being presented at court and so on...which was huge fun to learn about and try to get across to readers without bogging down in too much detail.

Have you completed any other novels besides BEWITCHING SEASON? If so, can we expect to see any of them in print?

Well, I have two completed books that will never, ever see the light of day because they're so horrible--but that's okay because they're where I learned to write. I think every author probably has a couple of those. They're not a total loss because I've taken the plot from one of them and totally re-written it as a YA which I do hope will be published some day. I've also got two completed adult contemporary fantasies, but right now my agent and I are holding off on trying to sell them while we concentrate on contracted books. The companion to Bewitching Season, tentatively named Twice Bewitched (that might change...not yet sure) will be out next spring, and a third book is in the works (no date yet)--sort of a prequel, as it features Persy and Pen's mother as the main character's best friend.

Please share with us the story of how BEWITCHING SEASON came to be published.

It's pretty boring, really--I completed the book, entered it in a few Romance Writers of America-sponsored contests to get some feedback on it, and started querying agents with it. I signed with Emily Sylvan Kim of Prospect Agency in October 2005, and she sold Bewitching Season and Twice Bewitched a couple of months later. What was sort of funny was that for a long time I had no idea it was a YA--I just thought I was writing romance until a judge from one of those contests said, "This book sounds like YA." It was a HUGE "light-bulb" moment for me because it permitted me to focus as much on my heroine's journey as on her romance.

I understand that the next novel, TWICE BEWITCHED, focuses on Penelope. How many books do you envision in this series? Do we get to read a novel from Lorelei's point of view (please, oh please)?

I've got two more plotted--one that I mentioned above, which takes place twenty years before Bewitching Season during the Napoleonic Wars, and another set a few years after Bewitching Season that features Charles as the main character and in which Lorrie plays a prominent role. The prequel story is what I'm working on right now, and I'm back to having fun weaving history and magic together. The Charles story has a more fantasy plot, and I'm putting it off a bit until I feel I can do justice to writing a male main character POV, which I haven't yet done.

I love your blog, NineteenTeen, and I find it refreshing in that it seeks to educate as well as promote books. What inspired you to start such a fascinating blog?

I think blogging for authors is a great idea--it can get your name out and keep your readers hooked between your books. But when I decided to take the blog plunge I didn't want to do just another writer many of them are TMI navel-gazing or all-promotion-all-the-time, and I didn't want to add to their number. So it occurred to me that I could put my history-geekishness to good use and blog about history as a way to use all the cool bits and factoids I turn up while researching my stories and as a way to educate readers in a fun way about the world my stories are set in. I asked my dear friend Regina Scott to co-host it with me as I probably wouldn't have had the discipline to maintain it alone--she's published 17 Regency romances so she's as history-geekoid as I am, and her first historical YA, La Petite Four, just came out at the end of May from Razorbill. We have fun talking about odd bits of history and trying to show our readers how different and yet how similar life in the 19th century could be to our time.

Do you have anything else you would like to add?

Only that I love to hear from readers and am happy to talk about history and writing and books whenever possible! Thank you for letting me do that here. :)

The Disappearing Post


A few weeks ago, I put up a half-finished post for The Mall of Cthulhu and scheduled it for future publication without realizing I did so. Therefore, a week or so later, a bunch of you got a very unprofessional, unfinished post in your news reader. As soon as I realized it was up, I "unpublished" it. Well, I published it again on Sunday--completed this time--and those of you who subscribe via feed readers never knew it because it never republished on the feed.

Here's the disappearing post. Check it out. This debut looks like another good one.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Debut Showcase: The Mall of Cthulhu

The Mall of Cthulhu (Amazon USA, UK, Canada)
by Seamus Cooper
Trade Paperback
Night Shade Books

A decade ago, college student Laura Harker was saved from a fate worse than death at the hands (and fangs) of a centuries-old vampire priestess and her Satanic minions. Her rescuer, an awkward, geeky folklore student named Teddy, single-handedly slew the undead occupants of the Omega Alpha sorority house, spurred into heroic action by fate itself, inexorably intertwining his and Laura's destinies.

After navigating her way through law school, Laura is now a junior FBI agent assigned to the Bureau's Boston office. Unfortunately, she finds her job involves more paperwork than adventure. Ted, on the other hand, has spent the past decade perfecting the ultimate latte, and works as a barista in a nearby corporate chain coffeehouse named for a character in Moby Dick.

When Ted stumbles onto a group of Cthulhu cultists planning to awaken the Old Ones through mystic incantations culled from the fabled Necronomicon, calling forth eldritch horrors into an unsuspecting world. He and Laura must spring into action, traveling from Boston to the seemingly-peaceful suburbs of Providence and beyond, all the way to the sanity-shattering non-Euclidian alleyways and towers of dread R'lyeh itself, in order to prevent an innocent shopping center from turning into... The Mall of Cthulhu.

Ok, when you know how to spell "Cthulhu" without looking, you are a hopeless geek. And yes, I know what an Old One is, and what the Necronomicon is (but I still need to look to spell that one). In short, this looks like fun. And the "corporate chain coffeehouse named for a character in Moby Dick" just cracks me up. If you've read Moby Dick, you know who I mean. If not, look on your nearest street corner.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Memes and Things

Since I've been tagged twice (by Aidan and Kristen), I figure I'd better respond to this meme. Plus it's a great excuse to put up another odds-n-ends post.

I'm supposed to go to the nearest book, turn to page 123 and copy the fifth sentence. All my books here at my desk are nonfiction, and they sort of surround my head in my corner cube. The absolute closest one is Nolo's IEP Guide: Learning Disabilities. I'd rather not use that one, so I'm venturing away from my desk . . . ok, here's The Sellsword by Cam Banks.

"Theodenes had named it Star, but it was not a saber-toothed tiger kitten."

It doesn't make much sense out of context.

As for tagging, it seems that I'm one of the last to jump onto this meme bandwagon in my blog circle, so if you want to be tagged, consider yourself tagged.

* * *

I'm going to take a new approach to debut showcases, and hopefully, you'll be able to see my first installment later this weekend. I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do; I just know that I'm going to handle them over the weekend. My weeknights are too action-packed (I prefer that term to "hectic") to do debut research during the week.

* * *

I added used copies of Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon and Karen Miller's The Innocent Mage to my stack. There are a few hardcovers that I'd like to review, and I may break down and request review copies for them. They are The Mirrored Heavens by David J. Williams and A Curse as Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce.

* * *

That's about it for today. It's been a kind of lazy week, and the weekend promises to be the same. I'm going to get a new purse, though. That's kind of exciting, isn't it? Even a Wal-Mart purse?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Debut Graduate: The Stars Down Under

THE STARS DOWN UNDER by Sandra McDonald (blog) takes a mystical turn in the universe she created in her first novel, The Outback Stars. Her world was never excessively gritty, but now it is venturing into the realm of space fantasy. What do I mean by space fantasy? Think Star Wars.

However, I could be mistaken. After all, according to Arthur C. Clarke, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." What seems like magic now could very well turn out to have a rational science-fictiony explanation in the third volume in this series.

In The Outback Stars, the point-of-view started with Jodenny Scott and shifted between her and Terry Myell. This technique carried on into THE STARS DOWN UNDER, but while Jodenny had the starring role in book 1, Terry gets his turn in the spotlight in book 2. They are both assigned to the same military installation, this one planetside. Terry is assigned to Supply School, where he runs into some problems because he has declined to undergo "chief initiation", which is where new Chiefs--which is a military rank--are hazed. This hazing is not required, but military traditions can sometime seem like a requirement, and Terry's fellow Chiefs resent his uninitiated status.

In the meantime, a team of explorers has gotten lost in the network of teleportation spheres that Terry and Jodenny explored in the first novel. And now the spheres won't work at all. The would-be rescuers want Jodenny and Terry to try to trigger the spheres, because they were the last ones to use it. After some significant cajoling, first Jodenny tries, then Terry.

The spheres work for Terry. The space marines whip out a set of prewritten military orders that command Terry to go with them, and he must leave Jodenny behind. While searching the worlds for the lost team, Terry has a series of adventures, and the story turns into what I term a space fantasy. Often, the reader is uncertain if what he is experiencing is a dream or reality. Terry undergoes a series of trials that make any Chief initiation look like the pranks of high school boys.

And as an alien species threatens Earth, it becomes clear that Terry has become some sort of chosen one.

There were a few things that I was hoping to see in this novel that I am still waiting for. One is the final disposition of Chiba, the Chief who gave Jodenny such grief in the first novel, and who got lost in the spheres. I doubt the author forgot him, but it looks like I'll have to wait until book three to find out what happened with him. I'm sure he survived, and that he's up to no good.

Another is an explanation of the Debasement of Earth. All I really know is that Earth was Debased through pollution and wars, but there is no specific history. Plus, Earth doesn't seem particularly uninhabitable. Unpleasant, yes--unlivable, not that I could tell.

As a reader, I also wanted to know some of the reasons that some of the characters had for their motivations. Usually, we only know that the character decided to do X. Even if it was a difficult decision, we don't get into the character's heads much. I actually enjoy reading about how a character angsts over a decision.

I also am curious about why Terry was chosen. My suspicion--and I have no insider knowledge--is that he has some sort of mental ability that makes him a natural choice. The plot has hinted at some sort of higher ability throughout both books, so I'm interested to see how this pans out.

The novel kept my attention thoroughout, and I set aside several other novels because this novel did a better job holding my attention. McDonald excels at chapter breaks. Just when Terry is getting into some hairy situation, we switch over to Jodenny, but that turns out to be ok because Jodenny ran into her own set of adventures.

Don't go into this novel expecting gritty military science fiction. However, I hesitate to call it
soft, either. This is the second novel of a trilogy, and like most such novels, there's a lot of plot development with more questions than answers by the end, leaving you itching for the next volume.

This novel is available in hardcover.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Name of the Wind - Opening Chapters

I want to do a "featured debut" of THE NAME OF THE WIND, but not until I'm deeper into it. It is 722 pages and I know it's going to take a while for me to read it. So when I'm about halfway through, I'll make my little widget and throw up all the usual links.

Patrick Rothfuss backs into his novel like a slow-moving semi tractor trailer. The book is large and ponderous, and it moves that way. It even seems to emit a warning that says, "Adventure ahead! Just be patient!" It starts with an innkeeper named Kote, who quickly demonstrates that he is no ordinary innkeeper. He has an apprentice of sorts, named Bast, who appears to know all (or most) of Kote's secrets. Of course, we know from the cover blurb that Kote is really Kvothe, but none of this is revealed to the reader yet.

Lots of things happen while you get this sense of waiting for the story to begin. Chronicler--who is referred to by his title--encounters a band of thieves on his way to Newarre. In the meantime, Kote decides to mount his old sword on the wall of his inn. Then Kote goes out and does battle with a band of demonic spiders--singlehandedly--while at the same time, rescuing Chronicler from the same spiders. Kote takes him home and stitches him up, at which time Chronicler proposes that Kote tells him his story.

They bicker over the specifics of how long it will take to tell the story like two merchants haggling. Eventually, Kote gets his way--it will take three days. Hence the subtitle of the novel, The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One. By the time Kvothe finally starts the story, you are at the end of Chapter Seven, on page 57.

Wow. This was essentially a 57 page prologue. At this point, the narrative switches from third person to first person.

I know from reading other reviews and interviews that it took Rothfuss a long time to sell this novel. According to the bio on his website, the novel was "rejected by roughly every agent in the known universe." The novel starts out terrific, yet it is not one of those openings that grabs the reader by the throat and doesn't let go. Anyone whose been around this blog for a while knows that I don't necessarily prefer fast-paced novels. I enjoyed Across the Face of the World, which moved about as slowly as the novel's title suggests. When I'm reading a long novel, I expect to be kept enthralled for at least a week. You know how it is when you go to a movie and you enjoy it so much that you don't want it to end? That's the sort of reading experience I want from a long novel.

But a pace this slow seems exceptional. On another blog, I jumped into a discussion about a novel that I often mention here, The Once and Future King by T. H. White. My blog buddy wondered if White would have been able to publish his novel in today's publishing world. THE NAME OF THE WIND proves that he probably could have--but it may have taken a great deal of effort. And judging from how well the novel's doing, I have a lot of company in my enjoyment of slower-paced novels.

I'm sure I'll have more to say about the pace in future installments.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Game Review: Morrowind

As promised, here's my just-for-fun review of the computer role playing game, Morrowind.

My computer role playing game experience goes back as far as my reading of fantasy fiction. My first-ever computer RPG was Ultima 5. When I get a computer game I like, I tend to stick with it for years. I loved and still occasionally enjoy Fallout (the first one, not the second one), which came out in 1997 and Arcanum, which came out in 2001. Fallout is an odd little game. It's based on 1950s nuclear apocalyptic novels, yet is set far in the future. Arcanum is perfectly described by its tagline: Of Steamworks and Magik Obscura. Steampunk. Great fun.

Fallout is the closest I've seen to perfection in a computer role playing game. The dungeons aren't too big (a flaw in all the Ultimas and in Arcanum) plus your character gets to run around wearing leather and shooting guns. And it has an engaging storyline.

Morrowind, which came out in 2002, comes close to the ideal achieved in Fallout, but it doesn't quite get there. It's biggest flaw is its conversation system, which is essentially a souped-up version of the badly-flawed conversation in Daggerfall, which is Morrowind's predecessor. However the game gets high marks from me for almost everything else.

Graphics. When I first purchased the game, it ran with no problem on both of our computers, neither of which were state-of-art at the time. I was very pleased when I purchased the game, because it didn't require all the latest and greatest stuff. I don't have the same praise for its successor, Oblivion.

Even so, the graphics are beautiful. I don't tend to require a lot out of graphics in my computer games, which is why I still enjoy Fallout. I'm more interested in the story and the interaction with the characters.

It's great fun to take your character for a swim, battling undersea foes while you are down there. It's even more fun to fly over the city and look down. And the city graphics are simply stunning--especially in towns like Pelagiad and Caldera.

Customizability. The faces are almost all universally ugly. I don't know what they were thinking. The hair tends to stick out in all directions and unless you go for the darkest or lightest colors, it has odd stripes. Since I tend to play warriors, I am only too happy to cover the entire mess up with a wicked looking helm.

You can customize your character to play any "class" you can dream up. Some are highly playable, some will quickly get you killed.

My favorite race is the Redguard, which is a dark-skinned human race. Redguards are incredibly tough and make great warriors. I also like playing Imperials when I'm looking to play a bard or a pilgrim, because they get personality bonuses. I never play elves because I have no interest in magic-using characters, but there are a bunch of elf options, from light to dark. You can also play a lizard character.

Story. The quests are great. Everywhere you go, someone wants to give you a quest. Some are very difficult and require you to hoof it across great distances. Not all involve bloodshed. Currently, my character has a quest to defeat another warrior in songs and poetry. The only trouble with that quest is I have to travel to the most dangerous part of the game in order to get there. I'm en route now.

There is an overarching storyline, which you can begin any time you want. In my current game, I have not yet begun it. I'm having too much fun advancing in the Imperial Legion and House Redoran.

Gameplay. Travel can be a bit slow. You can opt to use travel services, like Stilt Striders, ships or magic portal spells. But if there are no services to get to a destination, your only option is to walk. In Daggerfall, you were able to "fast travel" to any destination by simply entering the destination at a prompt. No such option in Morrowind, but the game geography is much smaller than Daggerfall.

Besides, if you were to fast travel, you would miss out on all the great stuff along the way. The roads are littered with adventure, including caves, tombs and mysterious "sixth house bases."

Otherwise, the gameplay is excellent. You can be as good or as evil as you want and still follow the main quest. You can become a vampire if you want, and then search for a cure. As your reputation goes up and down, people react to you accordingly. Right now, whenever my character enters the Mage's Guild, she is told that she is "almost a legend in these parts."

It can be a bit troublesome to remember all the quests. There is a journal, but there isn't a place in the journal that shows you all the active quests. If great spans of time elapse between gameplay sessions, its a bit difficult to catch up.

Role-Playing. As I stated above, I really don't like the conversation system in Morrowind. Everyone says the same thing about particular subjects. Each character has different subject options, but if you ask everyone about the same things, you will get the same paragraphs over and over. Certain key character have the ability to actually engage in dialog, but they are quite limited.

There is no opportunity to assemble a group of followers, or even to recruit a sidekick. The best you can do is have someone accompany you briefly on a specific quest. Games like Fallout and Arcanum provide excellent abilities to marshal a following.

Endgame. I can't tell you. I never play these game to the finish. They take way too many hours, hours that I never have. This is why I never play online games, either. I play these games every once in a while, just for a few hours of fun.

You can still find "Game of the Year" editions of Morrowind at places like Wal-Mart and Target for a measly 20 dollars. If you purchase a Game of the Year edition, I recommend that you only install Morrowind, not the other two episodes, which are Tribunal and Bloodmoon. Install those when you finish playing Morrowind or are looking for a change of scenery. They significantly change the game in Morrowind, and you probably don't want that at first.

Morrowind is a hugely entertaining and playable game, and I highly recommend it.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Brain Dead

I have been so out of my element this week. I'm a client-server programmer stuck in a TN3270 world. As in IBM mainframes. CICS screens and other assorted horrors, like transactions. In the UNIX world, we called them daemons. It was so much more fun.

I've been stuck in a training class all week. (The very term "training class" is redundant, I might add.) And to make it worse, I'm not even training on the programming end of things. I'm training in a 30 year old end user CICS application. No getting into the guts of CICS (whatever that stands for), which might have been mildly interesting. No, I'm training in how to use the actual application.

My mind is fried. It's like its being rewired, or rather, reprogrammed. I'm used to doing GUI design--figuring out whether the best approach should be to use a combo box, a list box or a group or radio buttons. Trying to anticipate and prevent user errors from ever occurring in the first place. And now I'm learning how to use an application where you select a field by placing an X next to it. (Why X? X isn't necessarily easy to type and it's awfully far from the Enter key, which you must press after you press the X. But I have spared you that rant by deleting it after I wrote it.)

Anyway, for these reasons, I'm going to give my brain a break tonight by playing an older game called Morrowind. And maybe on Saturday, I'll give the game a review, just for fun.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Debut Showcase: The Inferior

by Peadar Ó Guilín (website, blog)
David Fickling Books (Random House)
Excerpt (pdf)

STOPMOUTH AND HIS family know of no other life than the daily battle to survive. To live, they must hunt rival species, or negotiate flesh-trade with those who crave meat of the freshest human kind. It is a savage, desperate existence. And for Stopmouth, considered slowwitted hunt-fodder by his tribe, the future looks especially bleak. But then, on the day he is callously betrayed by his brother, a strange and beautiful woman falls from the sky. It is a moment that will change his destiny, and that of all humanity, forever.

Some debut novels get a lot of pre-publication hype, and this is one of them. A Google search nets reviews and articles everywhere. However, if this novel is as good as Chris (the Book Swede) says it is, then it appears to be well-deserved. (Chris also did an interview.) The first chapter opens with the best hook I've seen in a long time.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Debut Showcase: Superpowers

SUPERPOWERS (Amazon USA, UK, Canada)
by David J. Schwartz (website, blog)
Three Rivers Press (Random House)
Trade Paperback

Madison, Wisconsin: In the summer of 2001, five college juniors wake up with . . . not just a hangover, but superpowers. . . .

Jack Robinson: Grew up on a farm, works in a chem lab, and brews his own beer. Age: 19. Superpower: SPEED.

Caroline Bloom: Has a flair for fashion design and a mother who’s completely out of touch. Works as a waitress for a lunatic boss.
Age: 20. Superpower: FLIGHT.

Harriet Bishop: Studied violin, guitar, and piano . . . and was terrible at them all. Now writes about music for the campus paper.
Age: 20. Superpower: ­INVISIBILITY.

Mary Beth Layton: Is managing a 3.8, but feels like she’s working three times as hard as the people around her.
Age: 20. Superpower: STRENGTH.

Charlie Frost: Has an anxious way about him, and always looks like he’s on day 101 of his most recent haircut.
Age: 20. Superpower: TELEPATHY.

But how do you adjust to an extraordinary ability when you’re an ordinary person? What if you’re not ready for the responsibility that comes with great power? And how do you keep your head in a world that’s going mad?

(An aside: Bless you, Random House, for providing readily-downloadable images, and not forcing me to have to crop an Amazon image.)

Ahem. Sorry about that. Hey! It looks like this summer's crop of superhero debuts has begun! Hmm. Two guys and three girls in a superpower gang. Sounds like everthing's in place for some superpowered romantic rivalries. And I'm kind of curious about the world going mad thing. Did the whole world wake up with superpowers? If so, wouldn't that be fun? Or not?

I'll update this post if someone sends me a link to an excerpt (hint, hint).

Oh, by the way. Notice that my Amazon links no longer have any affiliate information. Too much trouble to make the link and not enough payback. I made 54 cents, and it wasn't even with a novel that I linked here. It wasn't even fiction! Somewhere in the hierarchy of Amazon Affiliate code, this must make sense somehow.

Maybe I'll try Barnes and Noble's program. I hear they have a better shipping deal, anyway.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Feeds and Subscriptions

In my last post, someone suggested that I use FeedBurner to offer feeds and subscriptions. Well, there they are, to your left. You can either subscribe to receive the feed by email, or subscribe to the feed itself. Thanks for the suggestion!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Happy Anniversary, Fantasy Debut

One year ago today, I started Fantasy Debut. It's been a much more interesting year than I expected!

Here are some numbers:

  • Debuts announced: 91
  • Reviews: 29, of which 8 are guest reviews
  • Interviews: 15 (including one that Raven helped with)
  • Guest Posts: 5
  • Contests: 4
  • Best Technorati Authority: 101
  • Current Technorati Authority: Varies wildly, currently inexplicably back up about 20 points to 101. Oops! now, it's back down to 88 so who knows?
  • Visits: 23,590
  • Unique Visitors: 11,856
  • Pageviews: 35,454
  • Number of Countries: 97
  • Number of States: 52 (How does that happen? Turns out there's a region called "not set" and then there's good old Washington, DC.)
  • Top Referring Blogs: Fantasy Book Critic (1,266 referrals), Pat's Fantasy Hotlist (742) and Graeme's Fantasy Review (411) -- thanks to everyone who has sent traffic here!
I know my numbers aren't as high as some other fantasy bloggers, but since this is a niche blog, I'm fairly happy. Those numbers have gradually grown over the past year. Big-name authors don't tend to blog about this site, thus sending me their traffic (although some up- and-coming authors have). I've learned a lot and I've had a lot of fun. If you think my site deserves higher traffic, perhaps you could share the love with a shout-out. I always reciprocate!

Have you any advice for me? Should I run more contests? More interviews (two are in the works)? More guest posts? Something else, entirely? Any complaints? The suggestion box is now open.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Debut Showcase: Into the Storm

INTO THE STORM (Amazon USA, UK, Canada)
by Taylor Anderson (website)
Roc (Penguin)

Pressed into service when World War II breaks out in the Pacific, the USS Walker—a Great-War vintage “four-stacker” destroyer—finds itself in full retreat from pursuit by Japanese battleships. Its captain, Lieutenant Commander Matthew Patrick Reddy, knows that he and his crew are in dire straits. In desperation, he heads Walker into a squall, hoping it will give them cover—and emerges somewhere else.

Familiar landmarks appear, but the water teems with monstrous, vicious fish. And there appear to be dinosaurs grazing on the plains of Bali. Gradually Matt and his crew must accept the fact that they are in an alternate world—and they are not alone. Humans have not evolved, but two other species have. And they are at war.

With its steam power and weaponry, the Walker’s very existence could alter the balance of power. And for Matt and his crew, who have the means to turn a primitive war into a genocidal Armageddon, one thing becomes clear. They must decide whose side they’re on. Because whoever they choose to side with is the winner.

Wow. I think Kimber An will be interested in this one. I can only find an inactive website for the author, but his pages at Penguin has an extensive bio. I also cannot find an excerpt. It looks like it could be science fiction disguised as fantasy, much as Elom was. I'm interested to see if their entry into the alternative world is ever explained. It is the first book in the Destroyermen series, and bravo to Roc for coming right out and admitting that it is a series.

UPDATE! The author provided a website, which I have linked above. I also gave this post a title (doh!).

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Debut Showcase: The Magic Thief: Stolen

The Magic Thief: Stolen (Amazon USA, UK, Canada) (Check out the UK Cover)
by Sarah Prineas (website, blog, ClassOf2K8 page) (Check out "the Device" on her about me page!)
HarperCollins Cool Book Site
Hardcover (16.99)

In a city that runs on a dwindling supply of magic, a young boy is drawn into a life of wizardry and adventure. Conn should have dropped dead the day he picked Nevery's pocket and touched the wizard's locus magicalicus, a stone used to focus magic and work spells. But for some reason he did not. Nevery finds that interesting, and he takes Conn as his apprentice on the provision that the boy find a locus stone of his own. But Conn has little time to search for his stone between wizard lessons and helping Nevery discover who—or what—is stealing the city of Wellmet's magic.

This author contacted me way back when, and she was the one who introduced me to the ClassOf2KX sites. This novel is being published in eleven different countries! This looks like a lot of fun for the younger readers in your life.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Random Chatter

Last night's post was originally scheduled for Saturday night, but I had a sick child on my hands so I took thirty seconds to change the date so it went live last night. My daughter wanted to go to bed at 6:30, but then I wanted to stay in the family room where I could hear her, rather than here in our cave, as we so fondly call our computer room. She slept all night long and woke up perfectly healthy. I wish I could get over fevers like that!

I've been accumulating books at bookstores and various other sources, most of them not debuts. Here are my recent acquisitions:

  • Patrick Rothfuss - The Name of the Wind
  • Cam Banks - The Sellsword (courtesy of the author)
  • J. V. Jones - Fortress of Grey Ice (an incredible bargain in hardcover)
  • Jennifer Estep - Jynx (courtesy of the author)
  • Khaled Hosseini - A Thousand Splendid Suns
  • Anne Rice - Christ the Lord (not a debut but a significant genre-leap for her)
I'll try to keep the non-genre and the non-debuts confined to Saturday posts, which is when I usually go off-topic around here.

I also--unfortunately--have a few novels that were provided to me, but which I have been utterly unable to get into. I gave another one of them another shot last night, but the dialog just felt so icky to me that I again set it aside in favor of Sandra McDonald's The Stars Down Under (also provided by the author).

Among the novels I still want to get my greedy hands on:
  • Jo Graham's Black Ships (interview forthcoming!)
  • Elizabeth C. Bunce's A Curse as Dark as Gold (interview forthcoming!)
  • Jennifer Rardin's Once Bitten, Twice Shy
  • Naomi Novik's His Majesty's Dragon (yeah I know--I've been meaning to get this one since forever.)
I've moved away from ARCs in recent months. The last one that I sought for myself was for The Book of Joby. I've asked for a few on behalf of guest reviewers, and when someone offers and if I'm really hooked by the premise, I'll accept. But for the most part, I actually prefer to purchase my own novels.

I keep costs down by buying used whenever possible. I know that the author doesn't make any money off of it when I buy used, but they don't make any money off me anyway when they send me books (and they actually invest a bit), so I figure its OK. I put up a post on every novel I read, regardless of genre, so maybe I can make up for buying used by generating a bit of publicity.

Why do I prefer to purchase my own novels? Well, for one, it acts as a nice filter for the stuff I cover here, since I have to be willing to plunk down money for it. Also, I get more excited about the book if I've paid for it. I was super-excited about Bewitching Season, plus now that I've contributed to Patrick Rothfuss's bestseller-ness, I'm eager to see if the book lives up to its hype. When I do accept a review copy, I first ask myself, "Is it something I might have purchased on my own?" For the author-provided copies above, the answer was yes.

Which novel do you think I should read next?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Genre Break - Blue Shoes and Happiness

Question: can I still call it "all debut fantasy, all the time" if I take a genre break now and then?

Thanks to my book-lending buddies, I am reading several mystery series. I am reading about an artificial-intelligence crime fighter, a 1930s British psychologist-detective, and a Motswana detective. I figured that I could make up for the fact that I didn't pay for this novel by writing a review.

A Motswana is a native of Botswana from, according to Wikipedia, "the Tswana ethnic group in southern Africa." Precious Ramotswe is a "traditionally built African lady" who runs the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency in Gaborone, Botswana. BLUE SHOES AND HAPPINESS is the seventh installment of this popular series by Alexander McCall Smith.

Mma Ramotswe--she never goes by her first name, always by the social title of "Mma"--is by now a well-known detective. She does not fight crime, and the most alarming foe she ever faced was no man, but a crocodile. She deals with small problems, which are not so small to the people who have the problem. In this installment, she takes on a corrupt advice columnist, a perceived curse, a cheating doctor, and a case of bribery. She also decides to go on a diet. She has always been proud of her traditionally built form, but lately, she is wondering if she is not a bit too traditionally built. In between cases, her assistant, the slender Mma Makutsi wonders if she has frightened off her fiance, and Mma Ramotswe's husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni--who never reveals the names behind his initials to anyone if he can help it, except his wife--buys a chair without consulting Mma Ramotswe. Oh, and they take on a cobra.

Words cannot express how charming this series is. Along the seven volumes, we follow Mma Ramotswe's life and adventures. She starts out single in the first few novels, but life didn't get dull once she got married. She thinks about her cases as she sips bush tea, and more often than not, she cannot expect any pay for her efforts. The cadence of the author's voice is like poetry.

True it's not a fantasy, but I mostly read fantasy in order to be carried away to cultures of the author's imagination. This novel certainly sweeps one away, to the neatly-swept yards of traditional Botswana houses. It's all the more charming because it is based on an actual culture. I devoured this novel over the weekend and I highly recommend the entire series.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Debut Showcase: Night Child

Night Child (Amazon USA, UK, CA)
by Jes Battis (website, blog)
Ace Books
Mass Market Paperback

That’s a dead vampire, I thought. My boss dragged me out of bed at two in the morning to see a dead vampire? I might be an Occult Special Investigator for Vancouver’s Mystical Crime Lab, but a dead vampire is routine, and no reason to disturb a person’s sleep! Then I took a closer look at the body…

Tess Corday soon realizes that there is not going to be anything ordinary about this case. Not the lab results on the cause of death. Not Mia Polanski, the teenage girl living at the address found in the vamp’s pocket, who may well be in thrall to a demon. And certainly not Lucian Agrado, the necromancer who is liaison to the vampire community. Agrado is supposed to be part of the solution, but Tess suspects he might be part of the problem.

Under pressure from her boss, Tess is trying to go by the book on this one. But when Mia reaches out to her, she risks her career to help the girl. And finds herself in the middle of a paranormal conspiracy that will change her life forever.

Or possibly end it…

I spotted this one over at Darque Reviews. (Love the new look, Kimberly!) The author has written nonfiction books on popular culture, making this novel his fiction debut.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Debut Showcase: The Wolfman

The Wolfman (Amazon UK, Canada)
by Nicholas Pekearo
Tor Books


Marlowe Higgins has had a hard life. Since being dishonorably discharged after a tour in Vietnam, he's been in and out of prison, moving from town to town, going wherever the wind takes him. He can’t stay in one place too long--every full moon he kills someone.

Marlowe Higgins is a werewolf. For years he struggled with his affliction, until he found a way to use this unfortunate curse for good--he only kills really bad people.

Settling at last in the small town of Evelyn, Higgins works at a local restaurant and even has a friend, Daniel Pearce, one of Evelyn's two police detectives.

One night everything changes. It turns out Marlowe Higgins isn’t the only monster lurking in the area. A fiendish serial killer, known as the Rose Killer, is brutally murdering young girls all around the county. Higgins targets the killer as his next victim, but on the night of the full moon, things go drastically wrong. . . .

I remember when the author of this novel died. Around writing blogs, a lot of people discussed his death because he was an unpublished novelist. Here is what Tor has to say about his life and death:

NICHOLAS PEKEARO was a young, prolific writer who left the world too soon. While volunteering as an NYPD Auxiliary Police Officer, he was killed in the line of duty, in the very neighborhood he grew up in, New York City's Greenwich Village. He worked in bookstores throughout New York City most of his life, including Crawford-Doyle.The Wolfman is his first published novel.
There is more information about him at The Officer Now Memorial Page. Fantasy Book Critic blogged about this novel last month.

Debut Shout-Outs

Here is a smattering of debut coverage that I've noticed elsewhere recently:

  • Calico Reaction reviewed Halfway to the Grave by Jeaniene Frost.
  • Fantasy Book Critic analyzed The Wolfman by Nicholas Pekearo.
  • The Bodhisattva interviewed David J. Williams (of Mirrored Heavens) at Fantasy Bookspot.
  • The Book Swede reviewed Singularity's Ring by Paul Melko.
  • Jennifer Estep reviewed Night Life by Caitlin Kittredge.
  • Scooper took an advance look at The Accidental Demon Slayer by Angie Fox.
  • Misty Massey took part in her first podcast interview.
  • Urban Fantasy Land looked at Jeaniene Frost's second novel, One Foot in the Grave.
  • Robert also analyzed The Mirrored Heavens by David J. Williams.
  • Joe Sherry reviewed Joe Abercrombe's second novel, Before They are Hanged.
  • Dark Wolf interviewed Bill Hussey, author of the forthcoming Through a Glass, Darkly, and also reviewed the novel.
Great debut coverage, everyone!