Sunday, May 31, 2009

Random Things

I added my "Other Debut Coverage" box back to the blog and got rid of all the old shared items. I shared some new stuff that came up recently, so be sure to check it out. This was always a good way for me to showcase what other bloggers are doing, and now that the pace of debuts has slowed back down, I think I'll be able to keep up. I found a good way of "cheating" to make things easier on myself!

I'll probably mention it every once in a while to remind you feed readers of its existence.

The Twitter Count chicklet refused to play nicely with other HTML, and I didn't want it taking up space in a box by itself, so until I can solve that problem, it's gone. You can subscribe to my twitter feed just under the box of my latest tweets. And I must say, I've been better about tweeting lately.

Clockwork Heart has been very, VERY good. No first-novel pet peeves so far, AT ALL. And there's not one, but TWO interesting male characters with whom the main character could form a romance. I like that. I don't like to be able to peg the guy who will get the girl from the first page. I guess that's why this blog isn't called Romance Debut.

I'm also going to write my review of one of my Discovery Showcase novels. I expect to post something in the next few days.

I think my latest Discovery Showcase, where I put my impression at the end of the post, worked out very well. I'm going to do that from now on. But I'm afraid I'm going to have to strip all formatting on all excerpts from now on. It's gotten to be too much of a struggle.

Today, Kat from Fantasy Literature and I are going to have a book exchange!!

I really need to arrange for some more author guest posts around here . . . and I need to get going on Epic Fantasy Week.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Discovery Showcase - Silver Mage

Note: I'm changing things again! My reaction is at the end of this excerpt instead of in a comment.

Silver Mage (Amazon USA, UK)
by CM Debell
Genre: Fantasy
Published by Matador

Blurb

In the first age of Andeira, men and dragons brought together the two halves of the elemental magic of the world to create a union through which the magic, and the world, could support and renew itself.

When war broke out, that union was destroyed, deliberately severed by the long-dead mages in a desperate attempt to stop their enemies. They knew the price of their actions – the dragons would disappear from Andeira until such time as it would be safe for them to return, stripping the world of half the elemental magic it needed to survive.

What the mages did not realise was that their enemies would survive the severing of the union, threatening the prophecy created by the dragons to ensure their return in a later age.

Three thousand years on a crippled world is slowly dying. New powers have risen in the world, powers that have no wish to see a return to the old ways, and the ancient enemy is stirring once more. For the few who remember what Andeira has lost, time is running out for the prophecy to be fulfilled.

But in the wrong hands, prophecy is just another weapon.

Excerpt (2,000 words)

In the last days of the Golden Age of Andeira an old man stood alone on the mountainside, waiting for his enemy to come to him. The night was silent, shrouding him in its heavy darkness, and though it hid the world from his sight he could still see. Far below him, surrounded by black peaks, lay the home of the dragons, the birthplace of life on Andeira, wild beautiful Andeira that both races cherished and kept whole by their union. A place that once had welcomed him but was now closing itself to his kind. The sadness of it brought tears stinging to his eyes but he brushed them away. There was no place now for that grief. Too many others were crowding in on him—for a friend lost, for everything he loved that was slipping away.

For the fault that was his, for the pride that had led him to keep it to himself.

And yet I hoard my secrets still, even now when the world is collapsing around me.

His hands clenched tight in the folds of his robes. I keep them because it is my duty, he told himself fiercely, but the reassurance was empty, for the secret he had kept had brought them to this.

‘Duty?’ murmured a voice from the darkness. ‘What a burden that must be, Lorrimer.’

The fear slivered down his spine but he refused to let it show. He turned slowly, looked into the eyes of the other.

‘I did not think you would come.’

A wry smile tugged at his enemy’s mouth. ‘Then why are you here?’

Lorrimer held his gaze, straining to see past the shutters that kept out the world. He shrugged. ‘Hope, perhaps. Fear, mostly.’

‘Fear?’ Aarkan quirked an eyebrow. ‘You fear me?’

Lorrimer shook his head. ‘What you are becoming, not what you are.’

A soft laugh answered him. Aarkan moved closer, youth and strength where he was old and bent, confident where he knew only doubt. Lorrimer looked at the man who had brought his people to the edge of ruin, and felt a stab of bitter grief for everything he had been. Tall and dark, black hair brushing his shoulders, Aarkan returned his gaze. His skin was coloured a deep tan by the sun, his hard, handsomefeatures sculpted from granite. Features so achingly familiar, changed beyond all recognition.

A smile twitched that face to wry amusement as Aarkan permitted his silent scrutiny. Arms crossed over his chest, he was utterly composed.

Why should he not be? Lorrimer thought bitterly. He has within him now more power than any mortal creature.

‘What am I becoming, old one?’ Aarkan asked then, gently mocking.

Lorrimer closed his eyes, holding back the emptiness. He wondered where Srenegar was, knew the great dragon would be near. Had to be near, for these two could no longer hold themselves apart for long. They had looked into the heart of creation, just as he once had. They had seen the power that it held, and they had opened the way to the river of bright power that would carry them on its soaring, glorious tide to the centre of all things.

‘Something other than you were born to be.’

‘Something greater.’

‘No.’

The denial was instinctive. It was utterly wrong, this thing they had done, that they tried to do. They were the children of Tesserion, the Maker of life, charged to stand guard over her creation not to remake it, as this man would do. To preserve the world as she had made it, as it was meant to be.

Long ago when Andeira was young, Tesserion the Maker gave her first gift to the world she had made. She gave the dragons. Wild and free they roamed the empty world, wielding the elemental magic that was their birth-gift, but the world was still unfinished and their magic incomplete. Tesserion had another race to birth, and Men followed after and brought about the dawning of the Second Age of creation. To Men she entrusted the other half of the magic that was Andeira, the elemental power that brought forth life and carried it home in death.

Two halves of a whole, utter opposites yet perfectly matched. The magic that divided them brought them together. Together they took the final step; they joined their magic, tied it tight, and bound themselves to one another. Earth, Air, Water and Fire, made pure at last, brought forth the last element and allowed it to pour out into Andeira, the Spirit of Tesserion breathing life into a half-made world.

That union defined existence; it made existence possible, perpetuated through every generation. Lives shared, made richer for the sharing. Twin magics wielded as one. It was a partnership that served the needs of both races, that tempered their vulnerabilities and their strengths, and it made the world whole at last.

But for Aarkan and Srenegar, having looked into that darkly beautiful place at the heart of creation, it could no longer be enough.

‘Give up this folly,’ Lorrimer pleaded. ‘Do not challenge the council. Return –’

‘To what I was? Is that why you came? Did they send you to reason with me?’ Aarkan shook his head. ‘You cannot stop me, Lorrimer, nor should you try. This is my right.’

The old mage felt he might drown in the sorrow of it. ‘None of us has that right, Aarkan. You trespass where you do not belong and if you choose not to see that, others cannot be so blind. This union you seek is wrong. To join one soul with another is to take creation into your own hands, and that was never the province of any save the Maker herself. Such a thing as you will become was never meant to walk Andeira’s fair lands. It takes neither courage nor strength to resist you. If we want to live, we have no choice.’

He saw anger then, a wildness seeping into his enemy’s eyes. Aarkan took two fierce steps foward before control pushed back the shadows of madness­—the madness that would consume him and tear him apart before it destroyed him utterly. Breathing hard, hands clenched, he recovered himself, and Lorrimer knew real fear then, knew how close he had come.

‘I do not bring death to my world,’ Aarkan told him, his voice rough-edged by anger. ‘Why should I wish to destroy? What would be left for me to –’

‘For you to rule?’

Met by silence, the quiet words echoed around them for an age. Then Aarkan threw his head back and laughed out loud to the wind. ‘Does not the Maker rule her creation, old man? Should I not do the same with mine?’

Lorrimer felt something break inside him then. What have you created? he wanted to ask, but he feared the answer. So instead he turned away, gazing once more at the world he loved that was changing.

‘I have come to warn you.’

‘How noble. What is your warning? That the council will refuse me? That my own people have turned against me?’ It was said mildly, but there was sudden fire in Aarkan’s eyes. And somewhere out in the vastness of the night a dragon was stirring. ‘That it must be war if I refuse?’

‘What need have you of such warnings? No, I have come to show you your future.’

‘My future?’ Aarkan scoffed. ‘What can you show me, old man, that I have not already seen?’

‘You see only what you choose,’ Lorrimer replied, taking his courage in both hands. ‘Not what is, not what will be.’

Aarkan took a step back, and Lorrimer felt the shifting strands of his magic grow. ‘Do I?’ he asked silkily, and as he spoke the landscape around them began to change. Behind the mountains the sun rose, though the dawn was hours away, and its golden light shone down on a new world. A world that Lorrimer knew, and yet was not his. ‘I will show you what I have seen, Lorrimer, what you have seen.’ And the far-flung web of his magic settled around them.

Lorrimer saw the Maker’s world brought to glorious bloom under a golden sun, the smallest blade of grass full to overflowing with Tesserion’s grace. Even the sky seemed to shimmer, a heat haze of swirling magic, and the breeze that plucked at his cloak whispered with life. But his eyes saw more clearly than Aarkan’s. Beneath the heady, frantic pulsing of life lay the start of the decay, and he knew this vision for what it was, the last flowering of Andeira before her decline. Before the sheer power of the magic Aarkan would unleash burnt her to a husk.

It would pass in a heartbeat, that moment of pure perfection, the instant in time that Aarkan’s vision held steady by force. It would pass and leave behind it a dead, decaying world, empty of life, but even knowing this he could not help but glory in it.

‘You see what I will do?’ Aarkan asked, his voice unsteady with rapture. ‘Do you not see?’

And Lorrimer did see. He saw to the very heart of it, to the ambition that twisted his enemy’s soul. No longer content with partnership, no longer content to be constrained by the limits of mortality, they believed themselves to be poised on the edge of something infinitely greater. Lorrimer ached to his bones at the tragedy of it, for he had once stood where Aarkan stood now, and he too had dared to dream this dream. The man before him was no longer truly a man, and his dragon had no kinship now with others of his kind. No longer two souls, not yet one, the individuals they had been were crumbling away and in their place was something other. Where two races had brought to each other one half of the elemental whole, they sought instead to make just one, born of the two, that would be the elemental whole.

Aarkan believed he could rise to the greatness of Tesserion herself, and her creation would be his to control. But he was wrong. There would be no glorious flowering of Andeira, there would be no ecstatic triumph over their mortal natures. Instead there would be a war that would bring an end to his world, as those two became one and that one knew neither who nor what it was, only the hunger for power.

‘I see,’ Lorrimer replied, tearing his gaze from the treacherous vision lest it snare him too, as it had almost done, so many years ago. ‘But do you? Look closer, my friend. At the heart of life there is only death.’

Silence, so cold and deep it seemed to freeze them both, then rage rose in a sudden wave, sweeping aside that beautiful, dying world. The night crashed down, hiding the light of the burning sun, and the dragon in the mists below screamed in fury.

‘Even you deny this?’ Aarkan demanded. ‘Even you, who has seen what I have seen?’

‘Even I, more than anyone. My friend, you do not know what you have done.’

Lorrimer expected to die then. He had seen his death in Aarkan’s eyes, but it did not come and he would never know why. He wanted to believe that even at the brink of his descent into the creature he would become, there remained in Aarkan enough of the man he had been that he could not murder one who had been a friend. But as Lorrimer looked one last time into his face he saw no recognition there, only dark anger and darker purpose, and the dragon that raised itself up behind him. The thundering of great wings fanned the air into eddies, snatching at Aarkan’s cloak so it whipped behind him like living shadow. Then they were gone, leaving him old and alone at the ending of the age.
Discovery Showcase Information

Here are the upcoming Discovery Showcases, in the order in which they may appear:
  • Tamar Black - Djinnx'd
  • Prophecy of Hope
  • The Heroes of Nightingale
If you want to have the first chapter of your unpublished or self-published novel featured at Fantasy Debut as a Discovery Showcase, please read how to do so here.

My Thoughts

Some comma errors were very distracting at first, but by the end of the opening paragraphs, I stopped noticing problems and was just caught up in the story. Some of the elements may be a bit cliched (dragons, power-hungry antagonist) but the blending of dragon and human power was intriguing. Yes, it was done in Dragonriders of Pern, but not in such a way that the union was forbidden, and that had the potential to unmake all of creation.

I found the dialog smooth and polished. It's too bad the opening paragraphs weren't grammar-perfect, because the rest of the excerpt is quite gripping. So if you jumped down here to read my thoughts, I think it's worth reading the rest of it.

I loved the line in the blurb about prophesy in the wrong hands being just another weapon.

I get the feeling that this is a prologue; that the old man is not the main protagonist. If I had the book, I would keep reading.

I'd love to read your reaction as well!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Grr. The Chinese Spammers are Back

Why does't Google do something to combat the comment spam problem? It could even be something as simple as preventing a commenter from posting a comment in a different language than the original post. Or, it could be context-driven. They are SO SMART about delivering context-sensitive ads in Gmail, AdSense and their search engine--why not apply the same technology to comment spam?

Since I hate captchas and moderating my comments, I'll just keep manually quashing them as the spammers post them.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Some Book Nibbles - Which Should I Read Next?

I have a bunch of debuts that I've sampled lately, and I thought I'd post my thought on what I've read so far.

(I have actually finished a book recently. It is What Happened to the Indians by Terence Shannon. I'm going to be reviewing it for Self-Publishing Review, but I'll post a snippet here.)

The only current debut in this group is Night of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont. I'm finding it a bit opaque. After a prologue (the subject of a future post) that didn't engage me with any characters, I was ready for the official chapter one. However, it reads a bit like a vocabulary exercise. We have a "verdigrised helm" (which means its tarnished from copper), a menhir (which is an oblisk) and "almond eyes of burning gold nictitated to life." (I had to look that one up, and it means "to blink"). This kind of hits on a reader pet peeve of mine. I subscribe to the Mark Twain school of thought when it comes to readability, and that is to "Use the right word, not its second cousin."

The rest are older debuts.

Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti engaged me immediately, and has the strongest hook of the group. It's about a young woman who delivers messages over a clockwork city by means of a set of mechanical wings. It opens with her rescuing the occupants of some sort of skyway car that is about to crash.

Innocent Mage by Karen Miller reads like a character development novel. I'm finding it readable, but also easy to put down. Its about a young fisherman who goes off to live in the big city. Little does he know his coming was prophesied, and that the friends he recently make are carefully shaping his destiny.

I'm actually about one-quarter of the way through Griffin's Shadow by Leslie Ann Moore. It continues with the story of Jelena as she goes to meet her father, the king of the Elves. Right away she finds herself in the midst of political manuvering. The repressed half-elves of the novel are fascinating, and there's a satisfying amount of conflict, especially from an unexpected source. However, there are so many point-of-views in this novel that I'm having trouble keeping engaged.

I've read the first three chapters of The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. It's about a modern-day girl who runs away from both her hometown and her ability to read lace, which is a way to read the future. She is called back to town--Salem, Massachusetts--when her lace-reading elderly aunt disappears. It is both readable and engaging, and I could easily keep going.

I snagged a copy of Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley at the used bookstore last month. Last night I read the prologue, which interested me deeply. (That's they thing about prologues. They work when they work, and they don't when they don't. Probably the worst prologues for me to get through were the ones written by Robert Jordan.)

I'm looking to read something non-challenging. Which one do you think I should read next?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Just For Fun - Marvel Illustrated Pride and Prejudice #1

As an obsessed Jane Austen fan who has been an comic book fan in the past, I gushed unabashedly over Marvel's adaptation of Pride and Prejudice when I first learned about it. It was a bit hard to find at first, but it finally showed up at my local Books-a-Million. I had arranged to meet Kat of Fantasy Literature there, and I hope I didn't make a bad first impression on her when I was all over the comic book like the younger Bennet girls on men in red coats.

Now that the second issue is due out, I remembered to blog about the first.

The issue, which was penned by romance author Nancy Butler and drawn by Hugo Petrus, takes us from the famous first lines ("It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.") all the way through the end of Jane's visit to Netherfield. The text holds no surprises, which is just as it should be. Ms. Butler's job appeared to be picking out the bits of dialog that propelled the story along, and with as few narration balloons as possible, manage to tell a fifth of the story in a standard-issue comic book. It can't have been easy. She did make subtle alterations to dialog--enough to make footnotes and explanations unnecessary. For example, Mrs. Bennet says:

Tiresome man! You must call on him, of course. Mr. Bingley is to marry one of our girls. You know they will be left penniless once you are gone. Indeed you must go, for it will be impossible for us to visit him, if you do not.
and Mr. Bennet responds,
You are over-scrupulous, surely. I dare say, Mr. bingley will be very glad to see you. I will send a note throwing in a good word for my little Lizzy.
This condensed a whole page of dialog into two lines, plus throws in a hint of the Bennet's financial situation, which doesn't come up until much later in the book. I think Ms. Butler stuck very well to the spirit of the text and the feel of the dialog.

I was impressed by the artist's strict adherence to the fashions of the day. And indeed, true Austenophiles would demand nothing less. It was good that they recruited a romance author as the writer. I imagine she also served as consultant.

At first I wondered why Mrs. Bennet was not in an empire waist gown, but then I realized that it was entirely probable that Mrs. Bennet would wear fashions that were popular in "her day." You can also see the traces of the youthful beauty that she must have had once in order to attract Mr. Bennet in the first place. Jane and Lizzy are exactly what they should be, with Jane a blond and Lizzy a brunette. Contrary to the cover image, Lizzy does not look like Jennifer Ehle from the A&E Adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Lydia is a sultry beauty, Kitty a plain redhead and Mary a snooty-looking brunette. The artist used great restraint with various feminine attributes--there's hardly any cleavage to be seen in the entire issue.

As for the men, Mr. Bingley is a sideburned blond, with an everpresent smile. Mr. Darcy is predictably dark and handsome--no surprises there. I do wish the artists had found a way to make him something more than a generically handsome Ken doll.

The letterers--Alejandro Torres and David Sharpe-- had a bit of a boring job, with only straight dialog to letter, hardly an explanation point in the whole thing. The only text effects appear when Jane goes to Netherfield in what becomes a thunderstorm, with a KRAKKKA BOOM. I'm glad they didn't intrude with too many text effects. I'm curious about how they plan to handle Darcy's letter. It went on for pages and pages in the book, and could surely fill an entire issue by itself. I hope they attempt to portray it in how them imagine Darcy's handwriting to look.

The ads seemed completely misplaced, since certainly Marvel's usual readers will not be reading this comic. So the ads for The Immortal Iron Fist, Wolverine, Spider-Man and Cable are a jolt. I think the advertising department should come up with a different advertising model for the Marvel Illustrated series, since certainly the readers of those comic are unlikely to pick up an issue of a slavering Wolverine. At the very least, they should offer different artwork. If they wish to lure a reader of Pride and Prejudice into picking up an issue of Wolverine, then perhaps they ought to show artwork featuring Wolverine's more gentle side.

All in all, it was well worth the $2.50 that Books-a-Million charged for it, which is half the price on the cover. Just a tasty morsel of fun, which is just what a comic book ought to be, and wholly without the usual embarrassing artwork.

More on Feeds, Plus Upcoming Stuff

If you're interested in seeing how many comments each post has without clicking through to the blog, you might want to subscribe to my Feedburner feed. This didn't work a few months ago (part of the reason I didn't publicize my Feedburner feed), but it is mysteriously working now.

I keep track of both feeds, so it doesn't make a difference to me which feed you use.

~*~

Since the number of debuts each week has dropped, I'll have more time to do my favorite type of reviews--the As-I-Read-It kind. I'm currently sampling two books: Knight of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont and The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. The Lace Reader came out a few years ago, but now it is debuting in England, which is why I was sent a copy. Has any of you read either?

I'd also like to arrange for some more guest posts. Anyone you'd like to hear from?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Mystified by Feeds

I've long been mystified by Feedburner, and I'm pretty tech-savvy. It persistently tells me that I have 40 or so subscribers, when according to the Blogger Dashboard, it is closer to 286, with that number constantly going up. I'm clueless. I've put a new subscriber button on my site that will direct new subscribers through Feedburner. Maybe that will help. Advice is welcome.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Genre Break - Series Review - Gaslight Mysteries

Followers of my Twitter feed will know I've been cheating and reading Victoria Thompson's Gaslight Mysteries. Every now and then, I do take what I call a Genre Break, which recharges my fantasy-craving brain cells.

I first learned about this series via Mystery Robin's post on Enduring Romance. After a long delay, I finally bought the first three book in the series and immediately handed them off to a friend, because I knew she would like them as well. Well, she read those books and passed them back to me; then she bought and read the next six books, and passed them all to me as well! And now, I've read the first three books.

These books make me remember why I need to read novels by seasoned authors every once in a while. They are so wonderfully written that I can just utterly lose myself in the story. Debut novels tend to have little annoyances and after reading a long string of them, I get too critical. And the genre of fantasy has its own annoyances--such as the ever-villain and ubiquitous youthful male protagonists--and every now and then, I just need to get away from them for a while.(That isn't to say that mystery doesn't have its own problems, such as the villain monologue and the everlasting romance. But at least those problems are different.)

Sarah Brandt is a midwife during the 1890s. She comes from a background of privilege, having been born to the wealthy Decker family. However, she married a doctor--who her family considered beneath her--and at the start of the series, is estranged from her family due to mysterious circumstances after her husband's death, three years previously.

Frank Malloy is an Irish cop with the New York police department. The police during this time period are famously corrupt, and Malloy seems to fit right in with them. Sarah can hardly stand him, but she pesters him into actually solving the first case that brought them together. With Sarah's help, of course.

They both have prejudices against each other's profession--Malloy because he thinks a midwife botched the childbirth that killed his wife, and Sarah because the police wouldn't investigate her husband's death without a bribe.

Ms. Thompson portrays Malloy unapologetically as a product of his time. He's working long hours in order to pay the significant bribe necessary to buy a captaincy. He regularly beats confessions and clues out of suspects and witnesses, and when he doesn't beat them outright, he uses intimidation. People know he's a cop at a glance, even though as a detective sergeant, he never wears a uniform. But somehow, in spite of all this, Malloy is completely likable. I admit it--I read the book for him.

Sarah can get annoying from time to time. When she's on a case, she tends to pester potential suspects until she wears out her welcome. But she has no qualms with bugging someone who she thinks is guilty, so we can't fault her for that. And she has endless patience. Her medical knowledge even allows her to occasionally kick ass. But don't worry, she does not have the "kickassitude" heroine of today's urban fantasies. And Malloy thinks his efforts to attain her good opinion is ruining him as a cop.

The first book, Murder on Astor Place, was good enough for me to jump right into the second, Murder on St. Mark's Place. That one was so good that I eagerly read the third one at once, Murder on Gramercy Park. The first two novels focused a lot on character development. We learn exactly why Malloy wants his captaincy, and it's not out of pure greed. We learn a little about Tom Brandt's mysterious death. Of the three, Murder on St. Mark's Place is my favorite. Gramercy Park did not focus enough on character development to satisfy me.

At this point, I've had my fill, and will be turning back to fantasy. When I've read the next three books in the series, I'll put up another post.

If you occasionally like mysteries, I can't recommend this series highly enough.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Discovery Showcase - The Proving

The Zambinos of Blue Hill: The Proving (Amazon)
Author: Will Azeperak (Amazon blog)
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult
Profanity: None
POD Publisher: iUniverse, Inc. (November 16, 2003), 284 pages, illustrated.

Blurb:

By the mid twenty-first century civilization will be colonizing the near reaches of the solar system. Honor and honesty will be highly valued. People may choose to receive a brain implant, called a grain, which imparts great knowledge. It is customary to perform a proving-a feat of intellect that proves that the grain is operational.

In the year 2063, you will find the Zambino family residing at 125 Puffin Rock Road in Blue Hill, Maine. Even for these remarkable times the Zambinos are not your average family. Chookanoo Zambino and his genetically engineered, adopted brother Scoom can't wait to get their grains and then, build a spacecraft for their proving.

They can count on help from family, friends and the household robot, Zimbit.

But, ancient spirits from beyond have a different proving for the Zambino boys. What do they have in common with a Civil War solder, a Nez Pierce warrior, a Roman centurion and the crew of a schooner that disappeared in 1891? Discover the secret reason Scoom was genetically engineered by a renegade scientist.

So, liquefy some electricity and fire up the hyperbaric engines-it's time to go for a ride with the Zambinos of Blue Hill.

Chapter 1
The Duchess and the Whale
 
September 12, 1891: On board the schooner Grand Banks Duchess, 30 miles off the coast of New England:
 
            “Mr. Wendell, are you sure that you and these men wouldn’t rather stay on board the Duchess?” Chancy Morgan asked with a slight Irish brogue.
            “All the same, Mr. Morgan, We’d feel safer in the dories. That monster has its sights set on the Duchess,” the ship’s quartermaster Sam Wendell, replied as he held onto the rope handles of the ladder, one foot on deck the other on a ladder rung. Three small dories rolled over the waves behind him. The men in the dories anxiously rowed out to sea. Sam then turned to Elizabeth Sully, a passenger. The young woman stood on the heaving deck. Her long yellow dress flapped in the wind. She held tight a thick shawl around her shoulders and neck. The wind whipped about strands of her auburn hair that was otherwise tied up in a bun, “How about you madam? I’ll ask you one more time—if you and your two children would come with us?”
            Chancy turned to her, “Mrs. Sully, I heartily recommend that you stay on board.”
            “Thank you, Mr. Morgan and Mr. Wendell, for your concern, but I have made up my mind to stay on board the schooner.”
            “Very well madam, I’ll ask you no more.” Sam then turned to the remaining crew, “How about you Manito, Juan, Old Ned—coming with us?”
            “I ain’t giv’n up this vessel without a fight.” declared Ned, the old, the white whiskered, first mate.
            “No Sam, we stay with our ship.” replied Manito, a tall slim, Portuguese fisherman, as he patted Juan on the shoulder. Juan, also Portuguese gave a cautious nod to Sam—Juan spoke no English.
            The ship’s captain, Howard Reech, leaned over the gunwale as Sam Wendell and most of the crew of the Grand Banks Duchess rowed off in the small dories, “God’s speed Sam—and watch them growing swells!” the captain shouted.
            “I pray that that monster returns to the deep, Captain Reech!” Mr. Wendell called back. “And, I pray for your safety!” he added as the dories disappeared over the Atlantic swells.
            “We’re not the ones in little dories,” the captain mumbled to himself as he turned towards the few remaining crew and two passengers. “Well Mrs. Sully, Mr. Morgan—we will proceed on to New York, as planned.”
            “Captain, do you think that the whale, or whatever it is, will attack?” Mrs. Sully asked.
            “It could swallow us up, like Jonah himself.” Old Ned said with wide and excited eyes.
            “Oh, pipe down Ned, you’ll frighten the poor woman.” The captain huffed as he attempted to light his pipe.
            “You pipe down, it could happen! That’s one big whale—I can tell by the boil that rises when it moves.” The old sailor fired back.
            Mrs. Sully turned to the captain, “Captain Reech, I am no more frightened than anyone else on board this ship. But, that creature has been following us for three days.”
            “Madam, I honestly, don’t know what that whale will do. But I do know that with this wind, the Duchess can out run it and we’ll make harbor in a day and a half. Then I’ll send out word about the dories.”
            “I hope that you are right Captain, for our sakes and the sakes of my two children.”
            Chancy attempted to produce a reassuring smile, “Mrs. Sully, I have studied all things scientific, including marine science, and I can assure you that there is no whale with a throat large enough to swallow a man, much less an entire ship.”
            “Thank you, Mr. Morgan; I hope that you too are right.”
 
            The men dug their oars in deep and pulled their dories over the heaving swells. Sam Wendell kept his eyes fixed in the direction of the Grand Banks Duchess. Only the ship’s sails could be seen against the darkening skies. With each swell the yellowed canvas poked above the cold gray waves and caught the pink light of the setting sun.
            Then, one of the men, eyes wide and fixed, stood in his dory and silently pointed towards the Duchess’s position. The men watched in horror as a bright blue glow appeared over the waves and then subsided. A great deep thrum made the water dance all around the dories and reverberated up through the floorboards. The men lifted their feet in alarm.
The vibration subsided. The sails of The Grand Banks Duchess did not appear with the next up-swell.  The men sat in stunned silence.
“May God have mercy on their souls,” a shaken Sam Wendell prayed.
Chapter 2
The Doctor’s Work.
Miami: October 13, 2052:
 
            A dull red spot on the cold steel door grew into a brilliant shower of white-hot sparks as an electron laser burned through the metal. The bright laser illuminated the dark laboratory. The laser flashes cast eerie dancing shadows on the walls through the laboratory equipment. Drops of incandescent molten steel plopped onto the floor. The laser cutter inscribed a glowing rectangular path around the inside of the door’s edges.
            For a moment, all was quiet, except for the still sizzling laser cut. A loud bang shattered the silence and the cutout section of the door blasted into the room. A large, black chrome robot peered into the opening. It was still holding its massive hand in a fist, having just punched the door in with pile driver force. The cutting laser, in its other hand retracted into the machine’s arm. The robot made a growling sound as it ducked its head below the top edge of the door and stepped into the room. Lights on the robot’s head and body switched on and beamed into the darkness. The letters “FBI” lit up in blue across the robot’s chest.
            “All right, the smashbot’s through, we’re going in.” lead agent, Victor Zambino spoke into his radio headset. He stepped behind the robot and reached up and grabbed a handle that was situated behind the robot’s neck. Victor pulled down and a platform unfolded out from the robot’s back and hung like a hiker’s backpack. Victor switched on his rifle and stepped up onto the platform. He was now back to back with the robot.
            “Ok, Charlie, let’s go.” Victor said to the robot.
            With another growl the robot advanced slowly through the abandoned laboratory.. Two other agents, with rifles ready, scampered in behind the robot.
            “Bioscans are clicking, but nothings moving.” a voice came over Victor’s radio.
            “Vic we’re watching the monitors, but we don’t know what we’re seeing,” another voice crackled into Victor’s headset.
            “Birthing equipment—Mellonini’s got this place full of gene grafters and birthing tanks.” Victor replied.
The robot walked past a large complicated machine. Parts of it were a tangle of wires and tubes. In the center was a soft, gelatinous sac that had been cut open. Sensors and tubes covered the sac’s outer walls.
            “Be careful Vic.” the voice said.
            “Mellonini’s not the booby trap type,” Victor replied, “Just keep the press back, ok.”
            “Don’t worry Vic—the press doesn’t seem too anxious to crowd in. I think they’re afraid of what Mellonini’s got in there.”
            “Yeah, me too. I’m stepping off the smashbot.” Victor said as he jumped off of the robot’s backpack platform. He walked up to the birthing machine and ran his hand over the metal framework. “This is a very sophisticated meat grower,” he said as he peered into the glass covering of the machine’s inner chamber.
            Victor motioned to two other agents, “Jane, Ty, look at this.”  The agents cautiously flanked Victor and looked into the chamber. “See, here, the sac’s been cut open.”
            “A birth?” Jane asked
            “That or a reject,” Victor said as he turned to Ty, “Anything more on the bioscanner?”
            The agent held up the scanner, a biological material sensor, “Just organics, nothing metabolizing...” A red light on the scanner began flashing. The scanner’s display flashed the message: Mobile Organic.
            “Where?” Victor demanded in a hushed tone.. Ty pointed at a door at the far end of the room.
            “Charlie, follow the scan, shield all field agents.”
            The robot growled and stepped forward. Weapons popped out of the robot’s arms as its heavy footsteps thumped the floor. The agents huddled close to the smashbot and followed it to the simple wooden door. Victor looked down at the bottom of the door.
            Light was shining out from the inside.
            “Okay Charlie, open with the knob and aim to cover.” Victor said as he adjusted a setting on his rifle from subdue to wound.
The robot reached down and gently wrapped its large hand around the doorknob. The latch clicked and the robot slowly pushed open the door. A soft light poured out from the room. The sound of happy music was playing—children’s music.
         Jane craned her neck and peered around the smashbot “It’s all pink and blue in there.”
            The smashbot walked into the room and came to a stop in front of a large baby crib, its head tilted down to look inside of the crib. The crib had solid walls and the agents couldn’t see what was inside.
            As Victor walked around Charlie, he spotted a robot standing at the opposite side of the crib. It was an unusual robot in that it had a pleasant face and was wearing an old fashioned nurse’s hat.
            “Cover me,” Victor said as he cautiously approached the crib and looked in.
            “Ge!” a tiny voice called out and made the agent’s hearts jump. Jane and Ty stepped out from behind the smashbot to see Victor smiling as he stared down into the crib.
            “Stand down Charlie.” Victor said as he swung his rifle behind his back and it automatically latched onto the back of his suit. He then leaned into the crib. The other two agents carefully looked over the edge.
            A furry baby with a cat’s face lit up into a smile when he spotted Victor. He reached his arms up to Victor. Victor reached into the crib and lifted out the white furred baby. He held the baby up and looked him over. The child kicked with delight. His hands and feet were human, but covered mostly with fine short fur.
Victor pulled open the baby’s diaper, “He’s a boy.”
            The baby’s face was distinctly a cat face. His ears were on top of his head with small tufts of fur at the tips. Victor noticed that fur on the sides of his face was long and hung down almost to his shoulders in two pointed tufts. Victor’s grain, a brain implant, recognized this fur type to be bobcat or lynx. But, in spite of the baby’s cat-like appearance, he displayed distinctly human characteristics. His eyes were human, with round pupils in the middle of two bright green irises. His smile was human.
            “Well, look at you,” Victor said as he gathered the baby into his arms and tickled his belly. The baby smiled and studied Victor’s face. “Did bad ol’ Dr. Mellonini make you?”
            The nurse robot then held out its arm to Victor and handed him a note. It was hastily handwritten. Victor took the note and read, “His name is Scoom he needs a family”. He studied the note and called upon his grain to identify the handwriting. “It’s Mellonini’s handwriting—we must have gotten close.” Victor then tickled the baby again, “Okay, we’re coming out.” Victor radioed to the outside world…
 
(Stopped chapter preview at excerpt limit of 2000 words.  Thanks for previewing The Proving)
You may purchase The Proving at Amazon.
Discovery Showcase Information

Here are the upcoming Discovery Showcases, in the order in which they may appear:
  • Tamar Black - Djinnx'd
  • Prophecy of Hope
  • The Heroes of Nightingale
If you want to have the first chapter of your unpublished or self-published novel featured at Fantasy Debut as a Discovery Showcase, please read how to do so here.

(If I run out of works to showcase, I may just put up one of my own unpublished novels!)

By the way, if you haven't already voted in my poll concerning the future of these Discovery Showcases, please do so! You'll find it in the upper left corner.

As always, constructive comments are welcome and encouraged!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Debut Author Index - June, 2007

I decided to start indexing my authors. Right now, I'm starting at the beginning and I'll go month by month. Eventually, I'll go through all of these posts and arrange them in a way that makes more sense (like alphabetical). But I've got to start somewhere, so here it goes.

The author links are to every post I tagged with the author's name, or to my early attempts at debut showcases. Links to novel titles go either to multiple as-I-read-it reviews, or a single review. I didn't do debut showcases when I started, so some authors only have links to the author names. (There was no point in linking to the same place twice.)

Durham, David Anthony - Acacia: The War with the Mein, The Other Lands
Estep, Jennifer - Karma Girl, Hot Mama, Jinx
Gee, Emily - Thief with no Shadow, The Laurentine Spy
Grossman, Austin - Soon I Will be Invincible
Hammond, Warren - KOP, Ex-KOP
Landon, Kristin - The Hidden Worlds, The Cold Minds, The Dark Reaches
Shearin, Lisa - Magic Lost, Trouble Found; Armed and Magical, The Trouble with Demons
Marr, Melissa - Wicked Lovely (1st chapter), Ink Exchange, Fragile Eternity
Robins, Lane - Maledicte, Kings and Assassins, Sins and Shadows (as Lyn Benedict)
Taylor, Richard - The Haunting of Cambria (1st chapter)
Weldon, Phaedra - Wraith, Spectre, Phantasm

It's kind of amusing to see how I did things way back then.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Debut Showcase: Salt and Silver

Salt and Silver (Amazon USA - UK - Canada)
by Anna Katherine (website - blog)
Tor Books
Released April 28th
Excerpt

Publisher's Blurb:
One night six years ago, Allie and her friends got drunk and chanted a fake spell they made up... and accidentally opened a portal to Hell. Now it resides in the basement of the diner Allie runs, and it's a pain in the ass -- mystical crap is always coming out, and then it has to be killed. Demon guts get everywhere, stuff gets smashed up, there are salt circles and sigils all over the place... It gets tedious.

The up side is that Allie gets her own personal demon hunter guarding the Door and killing the demons: a sexy and mysterious, Stetson-wearing, snide-remark-making, dark-eyed demon hunter named Ryan.

But after six years of jibes and sexual tension, the Door disappears at the same time there's a surge in demonic activity -- and no one seems to know what's going on. Not Narnia the bitchy psychic witch, or Roxie, a kickass demon hunter from the other side of town.

It's not Allie's idea for a team of demon hunters to find another Door and go into it to see if Hell is about to take over Earth, but she definitely wants in on that plan. After years of seeing the havoc a Door to Hell wreaks on the world, she's ready to grow up, take responsibility for helping open a Door in the first place, and kick some demon butt.

Okay, and she'd also like some quality make out time with Ryan, and mortal peril is always a turn-on, right?

Kind of a long blurb, but it works. I find this more interesting than the average urban fantasy because it appears that the demons are solidly on the bad guy's side. Anna Katherine is a pseudonym for two publishing industry professionals. I won't divulge their identity, but they tell me that their names are right there on the copyright page, so it's a badly-kept secret.

Please let me know of any upcoming or recently-released debuts via this webform.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Epilogues - Love 'em or Hate 'em?

Endings tend to happen one of two ways. The plot builds up to a climax and then poof! It's over. Or, the plot builds up to a climax and poof! It's over, but then you get to see the aftermath. Whether or not it is labeled as such, I think of such aftermaths as epilogues.

And I just love epilogues. I read stories for the characters, not the plots, and if I'm enjoying a story--especially a standalone where I'll never encounter the characters again--I want to see a bit of how the characters are doing after the climax, both physically and emotionally.

Sometimes, the author fools you and when you think the epilogue is going on a bit too long before you realize that it's not an epilogue after all--it's the buildup to another climax. This happened to me with The Red Wolf Conspiracy. I had mixed feelings--I thought the story was over--but it was mostly a positive reading experience.

Other times I think argh! Need. Epilogue. Now! This happened with Grimspace. Sometimes, when the novel ends abruptly, the publisher adds the first chapter of the next book. This is always appreciated.

I've been taking a genre break, reading the excellent Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson, and they all have satisfying epilogues. So did The Trouble with Demons by Lisa Shearin.

Do you enjoy reading epilogue chapters? Or are they just a waste of paper?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Happy Debut Day - Ice Song

Ice Song by Kirsten Imani Kasai, is a trade paperback published by Del Rey in trade paperback format. Here's the blurb:

There are secrets beneath her skin.

Sorykah Minuit is a scholar, an engineer, and the sole woman aboard an ice-drilling submarine in the frozen land of the Sigue. What no one knows is that she is also a Trader: one who can switch genders suddenly, a rare corporeal deviance universally met with fascination and superstition and all too often punished by harassment or death.

Sorykah’s infant twins, Leander and Ayeda, have inherited their mother’s Trader genes. When a wealthy, reclusive madman known as the Collector abducts the babies to use in his dreadful experiments, Sorykah and her male alter-ego, Soryk, must cross icy wastes and a primeval forest to get them back. Complicating the dangerous journey is the fact that Sorykah and Soryk do not share memories: Each disorienting transformation is like awakening with a jolt from a deep and dreamless sleep.

The world through which the alternating lives of Sorykah and Soryk travel is both familiar and surreal. Environmental degradation and genetic mutation run amok; humans have been distorted into animals and animal bodies cloak a wild humanity. But it is also a world of unexpected beauty and wonder, where kindness and love endure amid the ruins.
This sounds fascinating. Liviu loved it over at Fantasy Book Critic. Happy Debut Day!

~*~

Know about an upcoming debut? Please tell me about it!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Review: Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom

Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom (Amazon USA - UK - Canada)
by Tim Byrd (Doc Wilde Headquarters - Blog - Personal Website/Blog)
G. P. Putnam's Sons
Hardcover - 15.99
Excerpt

Publisher's Blurb:
There is never a dull moment when it comes to Doc Wilde and his family of swashbuckling explorers. Brian and Wren have been trained from an early age to keep up with their worldfamous father. With their driver Declan mac Coul and their butler Phineas Bartlett in tow, there is no obstacle they can’t overcome, no evil they can’t defeat, including mutant frogs from another dimension.

With an over-the-top nod to classic pulp adventure series, Tim Byrd has created a rip-roaring ride. Buckle your seat belt, and hold on tight!

~*~

Mr. Byrd has done what I would have thought was impossible. He has written an adventure story with almost no internal conflict whatsoever. And it works.

The Wilde family is a world-famous family of adventurers. Doctor Spartacus Wilde is the dad; tall and golden, with a muscular physique, the brains of a scientist, and so cool that he can handle anything--even the sight of his ten-year-old son plunging off the side of the Empire State Building. Throughout the story, nothing ruffles him. Well, one thing does. But only for a few minutes. He is an expert in everything he does--martial arts, marksmanship, foreign languages, nanotechnology--you name it.

His children, Brian and Wren, are his carbon copies, but each has a unique personality. They can think quickly while plunging off the side of a building, or while being dragged through underwater caves by mutant frogs. Their training is over-the top, and then back over it again. When they argue, they switch languages to try to trip each other up. And they love each other to pieces.

The Wilde family is assisted by two trusty employees, Declan mac Coul and Phineas Bartlett. Declan is a bearlike Irishman, and Phineas is a proper British majordomo. They insult each other mercilessly, but are the best of friends.

And then there's grandpa. He's gone missing. Again. The kids' reactions?

Cool!

For naturally, it's time for an adventure.


The adventure is a blend of Cthulhuian gods and a 10-year-old boy's passion for all things squishy--like frogs. I mean, who can possibly find a frog anything but harmless? If anything, there a bit icky, but they don't even have claws! They have little suction-cup thingies. Look at it. It's kind of cute . . . in an amphibian kind of way.

Not Mr. Byrd's frogs. They are green menaces! They have claws and gnashing teeth! And tentacles!

It's fun. It's also smart. There's all sorts of interesting stuff in this little novel, like dark matter, nanotechnology (in a rather over-the-top way) and a smattering of Latin.

I can't finish this review without some remarks on the typography. It's partially straight-up novel, but interspersed throughout the text are comic-book effects, like this:

 

The whole book is this fun. It's only fault is that it's too short. Way too short. So short, that I wonder why they made it a hardcover. But like all juvenile hardcovers, the price is reasonable, especially considering all the great typographic effects. Amazon has a good deal on it.

Fun for everyone, age 10 and up!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Discovery Showcase - Adjusting the Rules

Due to popular demand, I have changed the rules to the Discovery Showcase. I will now offer my feedback for every excerpt I post. I think I was too cautious before, and as a result, most of the time no one offered any comments at all. This must have been disappointing to the authors (unless they get a rush of sales, which is another kind of feedback). Someone needs to break the ice, so I guess it will be me!

I am a skilled critiquer. I joined Critters Workshop way back when in the 90s, but now I have my own small pool of critique partners and beta readers. My time with Critters (and others such as Zoetrope and Critique Circle) taught me how to critique, so hopefully I will be of some use to you.

I'll start with this Saturday's entry. What's the Discovery Showcase? Read about it here.

Tomorrow's post: A review of Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Bring on the Men. And the Women.

Sometimes, I receive a book in the mail that just comes at exactly the right time. There's something I've had a bit too much of in recent books, and that is boys. For quite a while, I've been reading novels that feature an endless parade of boys.

  • Kvothe - The Name of the Wind (for most of the book)
  • Neb - Lamentation
  • Arlen - The Warded Man (for most of the book)
  • Pazel - The Red Wolf Conspiracy
  • Tick - The Hunt for Dark Infinity
  • Brian - Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom
And it kinds of make me miss the men:
  • Eddie La Crosse - The Sword-Edged Blonde
  • Marlowe - The Mirrored Heavens
  • Royce and Hadrian - The Crown Conspiracy
And . . . uh . . . I can't think of any others.

To be specific, I'm craving a story about a grown men where he is the point-of-view character. Written by a male author. That isn't too gritty.

Of the aforementioned boys, I did get to read about Arlen when he was grown up, but by then he was . . . well . . . painted. And he subsequently lost a bit of his humanity. For a while, anyway. Kvothe is a man at the beginning of the story--and is very interesting--but then we spend most of his story in his boyhood. And Marlowe . . . well, I don't want to give it away. Royce and Hadrian were part of a plot-driven story, and we didn't spend a lot of time in their heads, except toward the excellent ending.

Anyway, about the well-timed review copy. Night of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont arrived in the mail last week, and check out part of the blurb:

Witnessing these cataclysmic events are Kiska, a young girl who yearns to flee the constraints of the city, and Temper, a grizzled, battle-weary veteran who seeks simply to escape his past. Each is to play a part in a conflict that will not only determine the fate of Malaz City, but also of the world beyond …

Promising! I also have Winterbirth, and Kat from Fantasy Literature has set aside her copy of The First Law trilogy for me (we're local to each other, so we do book exchanges). That ought to keep me for a while.

Anyway, I understand that the coming-of-age story is very popular in fantasy literature. But they always seem to involve boys. A couple of popular and fairly recent exceptions are Kristen Britain's Green Rider series, and Elizabeth Haydon's Rhapsody, both which I read. 

As an adult person, I like reading about adults at least half the time. And right now, I'm in the mood to read about a guy. Preferably older than 30, but I'll take a twentysomething if I must. I'm really looking forward to reading The Other Lands by David Anthony Durham because I'll get to read about my favorite character--Dariel--as a grown man (hopefully) while he explores the Other Lands in the title. I'm also anticipating Burn Me Deadly by Alex Bledsoe.

All this got me to thinking; how many fantasy novels can you think of--besides urban fantasies and paranormal romance--that features grown women? They've got to be out there, but I've only had my head in debuts lately, and I can only think of a few--Carole McDonnell's Wind Follower, Jo Graham's Black Ships, and Clockwork Heart by Dru Pagliassotti, which I have but have not read yet.

What is your favorite novel about grown-ups, either men or woman?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Review: The Hourglass Door

The Hourglass Door (Amazon USA - UK - Canada)
by Lisa Mangum (website blog)
Shadow Mountain
Hardcover - $18.95

Publisher's Blurb:

His past. Her future. Can love bring them together in time? Abby s senior year of high school is going according to plan: good friends, cute boyfriend, and college applications in the mail. But when Dante Alexander, foreign-exchange student from Italy, steps into her life, he turns it upside down. He's mysterious, and interesting, and unlike anyone she's ever met before. Abby can't deny the growing attraction she feels for him. Nor can she deny the unusual things that seem to happen when Dante is around. Soon Abby finds herself drawn into a mystery whose roots reach into sixteenth-century Florence, and she uncovers a dangerous truth that threatens not only her future but the lives of those she loves.

~*~

Under ordinary reading circumstances, I would never have tackled The Hourglass Door without reading an adult novel or two first. I've been reading lots of YA or novels with young protagonists, and it's time for some grown-up books. However, I really wanted to read and review it close to the release date.

Despite my less-than-perfect mindset, I really enjoyed The Hourglass Door.

I've read that it's very Twilight-esque, but since I've never read Twilight, I couldn't say. It is about a young American girl who falls for a foreign-exchange student from Italy, who appears to have secrets. The girl's name is Abby, and she's a popular girl who spends her life trying to fulfill the expectations of those around her. The boy's name is Dante. He always wears fingerless gloves and is careful to never touch anyone.They come together via the school play, of which Abby is the assistant director. Dante is an extra.

Abby already has a boyfriend named Jason. Jason is strangely disciplined for a young boy, even to the point where he refuses to kiss Abby until the perfect amount of dating time has gone by--three months. Abby's two best friends are important characters as well, Valerie and Natalie. Valerie will just break your heart. The novels is written in first person from Abby's point of view, and there is little to no snark.

Abby doesn't know Dante very long before she realizes that he has mysterious powers. Abby, unknown to herself, has powers as well--everyone keeps telling her that she's "special." However, no one--not even the bad guys--will say just how she is special, and it got a bit annoying after a while. This and the author's tendency to dictate rules that the reader is expected to accept without explanation or logic are the few annoyances of the novel.

Dante and Abby are drawn to each other, which of course causes conflict with Jason. Adding to the conflict is a mysterious Italian band, whose members are making an extended stay in town. And there's also something mysterious about Dante's uncle, Leo. And what is with the strange device in his cabinet?

Ms. Mangum has mastered the art of increasing tension. She builds and builds the tension, with each unsolved problem piling on until Abby is standing there at the end, a crucial decision entirely up to her. At this point, the novel has traveled in a perfect circle. I do wish Abby could have been a bit more independent at the end, as she was entirely too dependent on Dante. The final action was her own, but she was held in someone's thrall almost to the last minute. Yet Dante was able to fight off the same influence, and then help Abby fight it. I would have preferred that Abby shine on her own.

The Hourglass Door was an engrossing read, with an engaging heroine and a likable--but not always capable--hero. It is a very clean read, but tackles some difficult subjects. It has some humorous moments, as well as those awkward high school moments that I enjoy re-experiencing--through another's eyes!--via a novel. After the ending is a chapter that serves as an epilogue. And there, we learn that there will be a book 2. I liked the way it ended, it was very unexpected, and made me think I know which direction the series will head in next. It will be cool if I'm wrong--but it will also be cool if I'm right.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Happy Debut Day!

Today is the release date for The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum. I've read it, enjoyed it, and meant to write my review in the wee hours this morning before work, but Blogger was experiencing an outage. So I'll try to get that written up tonight. In the meantime, Happy Debut Day to Lisa Mangum!

Have you ever been waiting for something and found it hard to concentrate while doing said waiting? Well, I've been waiting for a rather exciting "yes" or "no" for the past two weeks, and I'll be danged if I can get motivated to write much of anything, including blog posts. If I get a "yes", I'll tell you all about it. If it's "no", well, I'll probably never mention it again.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Debut Showcase: Night of Knives

Night of Knives (Amazon USA - UK - Canada)
by Ian C. Esslemont (no website found)
Tor Books
Hardcover - $25.95

Publisher's Blurb:
The small island of Malaz and its city gave the great empire its name, but now it is little more than a sleepy, backwater port. Tonight, however, things are different. Tonight the city is on edge, a hive of hurried, sometimes violent activity; its citizens bustle about, barring doors, shuttering windows, avoiding any stranger’s stare. Because tonight there is to be a convergence, the once-in-a-generation appearance of a Shadow Moon – an occasion that threatens the good people of Malaz with demon hounds and other, darker things …

It was also prophesied that this night would witness the return of Emperor Kellanved, and there are those prepared to do anything to prevent this happening. As factions within the greater Empire draw up battle lines over the imperial throne, the Shadow Moon summons a far more ancient and potent presence for an all-out assault upon the island. Witnessing these cataclysmic events are Kiska, a young girl who yearns to flee the constraints of the city, and Temper, a grizzled, battle-weary veteran who seeks simply to escape his past. Each is to play a part in a conflict that will not only determine the fate of Malaz City, but also of the world beyond …

Drawing on events touched on in the prologue of Steven Erikson’s landmark fantasy Gardens of the Moon, Night of Knives is a momentous chapter in the unfolding story of the extraordinarily imagined world of Malaz.

This book has a convoluted history. The author co-created the Mazalan world with Steven Erikson in the 90s. Erikson, of course, has gone on to make this world extremely popular. Night of Knives has been previously published by a small press along with another novel; now Tor has acquired them both. I received a copy of it last week, complements of Tor.

If you know of an upcoming debut that would benefit from a showcase similar to this one, please tell me about it here.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Movie Review - Star Trek

For my at-home vacation, my husband and I were originally going to see both Wolverine and Star Trek. We decided to only see one movie, and Star Trek won without much debate. I like Hugh Jackman and all, but the idea of so much violence didn't appeal to me. And wherever there's Wolverine, there's violence. We'll probably get the DVD. After a trial rental.

So anyway, we caught the 9:45 AM showing of Star Trek this morning (Friday--this post will take me a few days to write).

Star Trek was my first exposure to science fiction. Sometime during the Nixon Administration, they started showing the reruns on TV and I didn't want to miss anything, including the opening. And so, that's when I started watching the news, because Star Trek was on just after the 6 o'clock news. Along with the drama of Watergate, I got to watch such classics as For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky (which was my all-time favorite), along with The Trouble with Tribbles, The Doomsday Machine, and too many others to list.

I really can't go into a plot synopsis because . . . well, even if I told you why, it would give away the premise behind the movie. Instead, I'll give a general two thumbs up (two of my own thumbs, that is) and stress that the story is entirely fresh. Expect nothing that is familiar except the characters.

I'll also go over each character and give you my impressions. That's a lot more fun, anyway.

James T. Kirk
Chris Pine played a very solid Kirk without attempting to emulate William Shatner's portrayal too closely. The producers appeared to be very careful not to make Jim a pretty boy. He's rough-and tumble, just as Kirk ought to be, and very likable. And he doesn't get the girl! He spends most of the movie either bloody, scarred-up or both. Check him out in this image with Spock. He looks like this--or much worse--throughout the movie.


Spock
Zachary Quinto did an extremely faithful portrayal of Spock. In fact, he did a better job playing Spock than did Leonard Nimoy, but I think he was trying to be true to the Spock from the TV series rather than the softer Spock from the movies. And look at what a pretty face he has! Altogether a stunningly faithful portrayal. It must have benefited Quinto to have Nimoy on hand.

Dr. Leonard McCoy
Karl Urban's portrayal of Bones was my hands-down favorite. When he yelled, "I'm a doctor, Jim, not a ___!" the entire theater applauded. Not only is he simply adorable as an actor (the above picture doesn't do him justice), he was absolutely true to DeForest Kelly's style. It was almost a homage. And I loved that he called Jim "kid". It kind of reminded me of Harrison Ford as Han Solo.
 
Montgomery Scott
Simon Pegg was pretty adorable as Scotty, too. He showed up at about the time I was beginning to think they scratched Mr. Scott's part from the script. The accent was perfect and the producers did not make him the Highland Hunk that I feared. And his pet is great!

 
Uhura
I wasn't thrilled with Zoe Saldana's portrayal of Uhura. She's beautiful and all, and a capable actress, but she just didn't seem to have Uhura down at all. Her Uhrua was rather fiery and passionate, and I recall Uhura as being calm, serene and almost mystical. Part of the problem was the way her part was written, I'm sure. And what was with the romance between her and . . . well, I'd better not say.

 
Pavel Chekov
Anton Yelchin played a very fun Pavel Chekov. As in Star Trek IV, they played with Chekov's accent ( who could forget "nuclear wessel") and he was comic relief as well. He didn't have a huge part, but it was fun and faithful, and he got to save the day in at least one way, and he was so cute I just wanted to pinch his cheek.
Hikaru Sulu
John Cho played a solid and dependable Sulu. He got to kick some butt at one point with a nifty collapsable sword. And he saves Kirk's life with said sword. Like Chekov, he didn't get a lot of screen time, but he did a great job with the voice.

What about the rest? Some Star Trek tropes make it into the movie, such as The Guy in Red Who Always Dies, the weird spaceships, and the time travel. It was fun and reasonably intelligent, and most certainly leaves the option open for future episodes. It inspired a Star Trek Oldie weekend, and we even got my daughter hooked. We will certainly buy the DVD. This is a must-see for Star Trek fans, especially fans like myself who didn't really get into any of the other series. And as per a recent spoof on The Onion, it is also something that people will actually want to watch, whether you are a lifelong fan or not.


Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As 'Fun, Watchable'

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Discovery Showcase - Jaunt

Jaunt
by Erik J Kreffel
Science-Fiction Thriller
Trade Paperback: $18.95 (Amazon) - E-Book: $5.00 (Lulu)

Blurb:
2144. Three caches of enigmatic jewels are discovered in Asia, artifacts from an extraterrestrial crash that bear a disturbing capability to alter time. Special Agents James Gilmour and Greg Mason must overcome distrust of their assignment and travel through time and space to prevent the Russian-led Confederation of Independent States from assembling a temporal superweapon from these jewels to conquer not just the world, but history itself.

The Confederation, however, has other plans. It possesses Strela, a new class of missiles, thanks to the jewels, that can bring the spacecraft’s secrets home to Russia. A new World War—and World Order—appears imminent. If Gilmour succeeds, no one will know. If he fails, no one will be around to know....

Chapter One

“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t put a bullet through your skull, Yastanni!” Special Agent James Gilmour spat, leveling his sidearm against the temple of Doctor Nouhri Yastanni, who cowered on the bedroom floor of his four-star Parisian hotel.

His head held taut by Gilmour’s partner, Special Agent Greg Mason, Yastanni answered in his thick Iranian accent, “What’re you doing in my room?! I’m here for the trade show! My government will be very displeas—”

“We don’t care about your leisure activities while you’re in town!” Drawing his face closer to the stunned man, Mason produced a palm-size black canister. “Look familiar? Where and how did you receive these neutronic particles? Why do you have this canister, which was reported missing from the Sudbury Quantum Laboratory last month?!”

Shivering under the combined grasp of Gilmour and Mason, Yastanni’s mouth contorted, forcing out the weak words, “I’ve...I’ve been producing them for the past sixteen months...since I’ve...received seed particles and schematics for a neutronic device from a mole code named HADRON in North America....”

Gilmour nuzzled the barrel of his pistol into Yastanni’s sallow skin. “And...?”

“The neutronic particles are being funneled to the Confederation government in Russia...they’ve paid me one hundred million euros for every batch of particles I can produce that will yield a neutronic warhead—”

“Who is HADRON’s handler?! What is HADRON’s location?!”

“I—I don’t know...contact was arranged by someone in the Confederation—”

Gritting his teeth, Gilmour fought against every fiber of his being not to strike Yastanni in the gut. “You’d better hope you have a good advocate, Doctor...you’re gonna need one now. Have you got all that, Mason?”

“Every second,” Mason said, removing a circular device adjacent to his left eye; it was a webeye, which had recorded in its blue iris the proceedings of Yastanni’s capture for his prosecution. “He’s going down.”

The agents pulled Yastanni to his feet and smoothed out the wrinkles in his suit jacket and trousers, making him presentable again. Yastanni started to straighten his tie, but Gilmour slapped his hands away.

“I think that’s good enough.”

“Ready for your day in the World Court?” Mason taunted. “You’d better clear your schedule for the next few years....”

“Hey, Chief! We’ve got Nouhri! Web A.D. Leeds!” Gilmour shouted, craning his head back.

“Already on it,” acknowledged Section Manager “Chief” Grant Louris, the pair’s immediate supervisor. He left his observing post at the room’s threshold and walked into the corridor brandishing a holobook—a multi-purpose holographic ledger—in his left hand.

Keeping Yastanni in line with his pistol between the doctor’s shoulder blades, Gilmour wore a triumphant smile. “Thanks, Doctor...you just made our sweat all worthwhile.” He glanced to Mason. “I think he’s sorry, don’t you?”

Mason clapped Yastanni’s arm and pulled him forward. “Sorry he got busted!”

***

Racing out the hotel, Gilmour, Mason, Chief and a squad of Parisian gendarmes headed towards an idling paddy wagon, scurrying before the webmedia converged with their skycraft to witness the catch.

“Keep your head down!” Gilmour barked. A sack had been placed over Yastanni’s head, but he was still lit by the sodium lights from the hotel front despite the agent’s best efforts.

The trio hoisted Yastanni aboard the paddy wagon, but instead of a waiting celebration, another agent, Tommy Bell, pulled the trio aside at the wagon’s rear doors. “Agents! A.D. Leeds is recalling you immediately! He’s scrambling a jumpjet to take you back to D.C. this evening.”

“What?!” Gilmour flashed an indignant look to Louris, but Chief merely shrugged.

Mason not so subtly dismissed the greenhorn’s message. “Agent, we’re going to Brussels to arraign Yastanni. Those’re the laurels, got it?”

“I’m sorry, sir. A.D. Leeds has invoked Clause 452.”

452...that was an immediate recall back to the Intelligence and Investigation Agency’s HQ, with grounds for permanent dismissal from the Agency if disregarded. Whatever the hell was going on, Gilmour thought, Leeds wasn’t fooling around. The only thing he could think of that rated so high in the IIA’s protocols was an international incident on par with Congress declaring war.

Gilmour shook his head and sighed. “Talk about a whimper.”

“I’m sure there will be others that’ll be a bang,” Louris said, the weariness in his voice betraying his decades of service to the IIA. “Agent Bell, web A.D. Leeds our acknowledgement. Boys, looks like we’re going home.”

***

Fighting off the flight lag back to Washington, Gilmour and Mason put on their best professional countenances and swiftly made their way through the IIA’s stuffy basement corridors—a relic of the defunct Federal Bureau of Investigation—and towards the Level Three Conference Room, where they expected Leeds to be waiting for them. Instead, Agent Bell diverted the pair to the office of Leeds’ secretary.

Harold Leeds and his secretary were inside, as was a slight figure, an Ivy League professor-like look to him. Tension oozed from the place, making Gilmour pause.

“Agent, why are we going here?”

“A.D. Leeds’ orders, sir.” Bell gestured the pair inside, then locked the door.

Gilmour and Mason noticed that Leeds didn’t appear particularly pleased by this older man in his battered tweed coat and tie; he had all the hallmarks of someone who normally disdained the work of the intelligence community, let alone be seen wandering the Agency’s recesses.

“Doctor,” Leeds said, “these are my top agents in the Global Intelligence Directorate of the Washington Bureau, James Gilmour and Gregory Mason.”

The visitor, his once-red hair flecked with silvery strands, extended his hand. “Pleased to meet you. I’m Doctor Richard de Lis, of the theoretical studies laboratory in Ottawa. I have been sent here specifically on orders from Solicitor General Rauchambau and Secretary of Defense McKennitt to secure both of you.”

Gilmour shook de Lis’ hand. “Why us?”

“There is a situation in Ottawa demanding the critical attention of the IIA—”

“Just a moment,” Mason interrupted. “I don’t think you realize the severity of the situation my partner and I are currently embroiled in. We’ve invested years in uncovering the ties the Confederation has with illicit neutronic technology trafficking—”

“I understand, but this operation has been declared a Presidential Priority, trumping all else,” de Lis declared. “Your presence has been requested from the highest echelons, agents. As of now, all other assignments you have are on hold. Without you at my disposal, the balance of power in the world could be lost to the Confederation or the Central Asian Conglomerates. And I don’t mean temporarily.” Beneath the doctor’s near-stoic demeanor was a twinge of fear. “I mean forever.”

~*~

JAUNT is available either as a trade paperback for $18.95 (Amazon), or as an eBook for $5.00 (Lulu).

Discovery Showcase Information

There are currently six excerpts in the queue. Here are the upcoming works, in the order in which they may appear:
  • The Zambinos of Blue Hill: The Proving
  • Tamar Black - Djinnx'd
  • Prophecy of Hope
If you want to have the first chapter of your unpublished or self-published novel featured at Fantasy Debut as a Discovery Showcase, please read how to do so here.

(If I run out of works to showcase, I may just put up one of my own unpublished novels!)

By the way, if you haven't already voted in my poll concerning the future of these Discovery Showcases, please do so! You'll find it in the upper left corner.

As always, constructive comments are welcome and encouraged!