Saturday, January 29, 2011

King Maker Book Review

Title: King Maker (Book 1): The Knights of Breton Court
Author: Maurice Broaddus
Publisher: Angry Robot
Pages: 400
ISBN: 9780857660527

The legend of King Arthur tells of humanity’s universal desire to see a hero rise, deliver the people from their helpless existence and create a “Camelot”, where all are safe, were the possibilities are endless, and where everyone matters and makes a difference. It also tells how all such utopias are short-lived, must fall, and that chaos must return while the ordinary people wait for the cycle to begin again. (Anyone who flags this as a possible spoiler has much bigger problems culturally than my over-share review.)

The story of hope combined with inevitable tragedy make the King Arthur Legend one of the Greatest Stories Ever Told. As such, it has endured more than its fair share of variations and interpretations on stage, literature, television and movies—a few good and mediocre, and most of them incredibly bad.

The invisible baggage attached to King Maker Book One by Maurice Broaddus cannot be ignored. It’s impossible to approach a new version of the timeless tale without asking, “Do we really need this version?” I’m pleased to report that Maurice Broaddus provides many compelling answers to this question, answers which led me to conclude with a resounding yes.

Broaddus sets his tale among the very real rundown slums of west-side Indianapolis. The homeless huddle under streets that Hoosier natives can point to on a map, but would rarely drive through by choice after dark. While reading this book, I’ve stumbled upon mixed online comments regarding this choice—why not New York or Los Angeles or some other, more recognizable ghetto? I applaud the decision, and not just because I recognize the area he writes about (and clearly, so does he). By refusing to relocate his tale, he reminds the reader that poverty knows no geography. The poor are as equally trapped in Los Angeles as Pittsburgh. To massacre Shakespeare: A gang shooting in any other city would be as dangerous.

With every sentence, Broaddus traps the reader in the slums with his characters. He paints a bleak picture of warring gang members born without a chance, stuck in a school system that’s given up on them. We see kids raised by drug dealers and hookers whose only options are to escape through drugs or to “rise up” through the gang system, only to discover, too late, the lies inherent in those promises.

This is the world of King James White. We begin with the betrayal and fall of his father. Frm there, we’re quickly introduced to the gang and residents of Breton Court and their rival, the crew at the Phoenix apartments. We meet their leaders, Night and Dred, their lieutenants, and the various peddlers, pushers and police caught in the middle. By the time King answers his call to destiny and assembles his posse of “knights” at the modern “round table” (an all-night greasy diner), you can think of few places in greater need of a hero than the modern-day slums of Indianapolis.

The strengths of the novel put a spotlight on what many will consider its weaknesses. King Maker tells a sweeping tale with no less than 20 important characters. In hot, tragic splashes of episodic vignettes, we meet them all, we learn their story. We visit long enough to understand their motivation; we experience their pain and entrapment. In many cases, we learn their fate, and then we move on.

Readers who prefer a more intimate tale, who expect to spend time with our hero King as he broods, ponders and finally accepts his destiny, may be frustrated with this “hit and run” approach. I had my favorite characters: the homeless Merle, King, his girl Lady G. the oddly delightful bigoted police officer Lee and his black partner, the eternally patient and understanding detective Octavia.

Other readers will find much to love and may prefer the company of the ogre twins Machaela and Marshall, or the mysterious and lethal Omarosa, or others, but the result is the same. Your favorites are sharing screen time (page time?) with a large ensemble. Even King occupies less than a quarter of the novel.

I must also admit some frustration with the contrivance of renaming the classic heroes with recognizable variations. Did Guinevere have to be named Lady G, Merlin the Magician “Merle”, along with the similarly dubbed Luther, Lott, and Wayne? But to Broaddus’ credit, he owns the contrivance, and over time, makes the reader see these characters as individuals beyond their archtypes.

This is a world where gangsters kill and mutilate at the first hint of a neighborhood snitch. Where bumbling flunkies meet merciless death in graphic and bloody ways that may traumatize witnesses—that would be the reader. This is a world where the downtrodden pedestrian ducks gunfire on a daily basis, and runs the other way to avoid witnessing an assault.When King and his crew confront the trolls, demons, and dragons, you can absolutely believe an apartment building can be assaulted in broad daylight by a horde of supernatural beasts, and that no one is going to question or even notice the more fantastic elements.

Though not everything works exactly as you might expect, King Maker is a triumph. The book works much better than any jaded reader who has “seen it all before” should have any reason to expect. So while I started Book 1 with doubts, I find myself anxiously awaiting the release of Book 2, and give Book 1 a score of 9 out of 10 TARDISes.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Fallen Blade Book Review

Title: The Fallen Blade
Author: Jon Courtenay Grimwood
Publisher: Orbit

When my review copy for The Fallen Blade landed in my mailbox some time ago, I was reluctant to look at it, let alone pick it up and read it. "Why?" you might ask. Well, simply put, when boiled down it involves vampires and werewolves. And I'll be the first to admit: I'm sick of both. But, as time wore on, and my pile of books to review dwindled, I slowly came around to the idea of picking up The Fallen Blade. And when I finally did, I was glad for it in more than one way.

The Fallen Blade is the first book in a projected fantasy trilogy by author Jon Courtenay Grimwood.

Fifteenth century Venice. In it, Grimwood crafts a brilliant political landscape, populating the pages with the kind of people in higher authority that will make your skin crawl. Throw in a little romance, a dash of swordplay, a riff on one of Shakespeare's most beloved plays that encompasses the first half of the novel, as well as a Venetian secret organization known as the Assassinani, a boy named Tycho whose plagued with vampyric tendancies and a past that's older than he looks, and a prince that heads a force of werewolves, and you've got one hell of a book. And Grimwood does a marvelous and imaginative job of blending these elements together into a solid story.

After digging in to The Fallen Blade I quickly began hoping that it would break the stereotype of the tween-sparkly vampires that have been forced into the entertainment world of today, and I was pleasantly surprised that Grimwood not only broke it, but shattered it. With this novel, Grimwood has managed to bring the myth of the vampire back to the forefront of the fantasy genre while sticking to the ancient lore of the creatures.

I loved the Shakespeare riff that Grimwood plays off of in the first half of the novel, which I won't identify because of spoilers. Although almost instantly recognizable, the first time I caught hints of it, I was unsure, until I read further. Grimwood does a wonderful job of taking Shakespeare's play and using it to his own advantage, while still building a believable alternate Venice around the story. There's so much more I could say about what I loved in The Fallen Blade, but for the sake of accidentally putting any spoilers up, I'll stop here.

I much as I like the ideas in The Fallen Blade, there were a few issues that bothered me as I read, such as: the pace and the switching of character point of view. Now, I can understand the use of this technique, and am rather fond of it myself, but there were parts where the scene and character would switch and made it feel as if things had been left out; not fully explained. The pace itself was also rather interesting: I felt as though Tycho's training by Atilo seemed to be mismatched in that a lot of time was spent on specific things, while other aspects were completely ignored, or only mentioned in passing.

There's a lot going for Grimwood's The Fallen Blade: a tight plot, interesting characters, politics, secret organizations and a world set in fifteenth century Venice that'll keep you turning the pages into the wee hours of the morning. That's why I'm giving it 8.0 out of 10 TARDIS's. I'm definitely looking forward to the sequel.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Putting the (s) back into Sci-Fi Guy(s)

In the first post of 2011 I wrote that I would be adding guest bloggers to the site as the year progressed. I'm happy to announce the newest addition to the Sci-Fi Guys family, is RJ Sullivan, author of the novel Haunting Blue. After much discussion, RJ will be offering a monthly review.

For the month of January RJ will be reviewing Maurice Broaddus's King Maker.

Look for it within the next few days.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Descendant Book Review

Title: Descendant
Author: Bob Freeman
Publisher: Belfire Press
Pages: 334
ISBN: 9781926912004

Move over Scully and Mulder, there's a new duo in town!

For Selina Wolfe and Martin Crowe kicking beastie, demon, werewolf and zombie ass isn't just part of their job description, but a way of life for the two agents who work for a covert branch of the FBI: the Paranormal Operations Division.

Within the first hundred pages of Descendant, Freeman sets about weaving an intricate web of interconnecting stories, building and expanding on the history of his mythos. Throughout this first part of the novel, each story focuses on a single character, introducing and expanding upon their background, building up to the second part of Descendant, which ties all of the aforementioned characters together into one solid story.

Somewhere in the Mississenewa State Forest, a group of high school students release Hell on Earth, starting with a series of murders that shake the community of Mississenewa to its core. When Wolfe and Crowe are called in to investigate these horrible and sometimes grizzly deaths, they quickly realize that it's more than just your typical group of teens dabbling in black magic and satanic rituals. And what stalks the Hoosier Heartland is far worse than anything the teenagers could ever conjure up. It all leads to an ending of apocalyptic proportions; a no-holds-barr smackdown that will leave you wanting more.

Descendant reminded me vaguely of the X-Files, but honestly, Wolfe and Crowe are much more badass than Mulder or Scully ever could be. Namely because of the situations the two agents find themselves in.

From cover to cover, Descendant is packed full of interesting tid-bits of knowledge, all of which end up finding their way into the story. Between ancient bloodlines, unholy alliances and magical orders of great power, Freeman's knowledge of dark magic and its history shows throughout every page.

Besides the story Freeman has written, one of the things I found interesting was the fact that Freeman did all of the artwork for Descendant, and man is it some awesome stuff! From the cover of the book, to the portraits gracing the title pages for the two separate parts, the art definitely stands out and adds another layer to the story.

Although I enjoyed losing myself within the pages of Descendant, there were times where I found myself being pulled from Wolfe and Crowe's world. Primarily because of a handful of words that seemed to find their way upon the pages multiple times in one chapter. Although I enjoyed the word choices in the beginning, by the end I was more than ready to read the last page just so I wouldn't have to read those same words again and again.

Word choice aside, Descendant was one hell of a ride. The familiar world that Wolfe and Crowe populate is as familiar as ours, but yet minutely different to the point of being unsure. Just in case, I'm not going to be looking in any dark corners any time soon! Descendant has earned 7.5 TARDIS' out of 10. I'm looking forward to the sequel. If it's anything like Descendant, it will be worth the wait!

If you're looking for a novel that involves magic, the paranormal and a duo way more badass than Mulder or Scully, and you don't mind supporting the small press, then pick up a copy of Descendant.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Buntline Special Book Review

Title: The Buntline Special
Author: Mike Resnick
Publisher: Pyr Publishing
Pages: 321
ISBN: 9781616142490

The Buntline Special is the first book in a (hopefully) new series by world-renowned Science Fiction author Mike Resnick.

As 2011 kicks off and The Year of Steam begins, I figured why not start it with a book that I've been wanting to read for a while? Thanks to Pyr Publishing, I'm able to review this unique title. Not only did Pyr send me a copy of Buntline Special, but three other steampunk books that I can't wait to sink my teeth in to.

The Buntline Special is one of those books that's, to be perfectly blunt: beautiful. Not only in the cover design, but also in it's concept. It's set in a Tombstone where horseless stagecoaches carry passengers to-and-from; electric lights illuminate the city's streets; bionic and cyborg women tend to men's needs at Big Nose Kate's bordello; and the law (and Doc Holliday) are donned in extremely hard brass plate body armor and gattling styled handguns. It's a wild west where magic can transform a man into a giant bat, and bring a gunfighter back from the dead for one last shootout.

The year is 1881. The United States Government is expanding westward, sending Thomas Ava Edison to Tuscon, Arizona. Along with Ned Buntline, Cyborg Edison is charged with combating the deadly magic of Indian Chief and Medicine Man Geronimo. To protect them, the U.S. Government orders the Earp brothers -- Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan -- to guard them. But the Earp's enterouge increases as Wyatt calls in a few favors from his close friends Bat Masterson and the infamous and notorious Doc Holliday.

But Geronimo's not the Earp's only worries. Along the way the five men will face The Clanton's, and their hired gun: The Thing That Was Once Johnny Ringo, culminating and ending soon after the shoot out at the O.K. Corral.

I grew up on westerns, whether it be reading them or watching them on television with my father. One of my favorite western movies of all times, is Tombstone with Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer and Sam Elliot. The shoot out at the O.K. Corral has always fascinated me in some capacity as well, so naturally, this was an obvious pick for me when I first saw it on the shelf.

There are so many things that I thought were astounding with this book: the weaving of the steampunk elements into the tapestry of the old west, and the history of not only the shoot out of the O.K. Corral, but also the history of the territory, and most importantly the city itself: Tuscon, Arizona. And I particularly loved the twist on Johnny Ringo: a philosophical, well educated shootist turned zombie, and a borderline vampyric Bat Masterson.

As much as I liked The Buntline Special, there were several things that immediately screamed at me upon finishing the book. The language was too contemporary, and the plot holes where large enough that a tank could have been driven through them. And the ending felt like it was slapped on only for future sequel possibilities. The steampunk is definitely there, and it's enough to give this weird western novel a twist, but unfortunately that's it.

Overall, The Buntline Special was a good read; one that I enjoyed, and I know I'll be coming back to, especially if there are future sequels. If you are looking for heavy hitting literature with a steampunk twist, you might want to pass on this one, but if you are looking for one hell of a time, this is your ticket! I'm giving The Buntline Special 7.5 Goggles out of 10.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011: Steam

(AKA: What are you lookin' at punk!?)

2010 was a rather miasma of a mess here on Sci-Fi Guys, with still trying to figure out how to pace everything, and finding time to actually read and write the reviews for the titles I had chosen. These things are my fault, and for them, I apologize. 2011, with any luck, will turn out to be quite the opposite of 2010.

Sci-Fi Guys is going to be changing a bit here in the new year. I've decided to work with a theme for the site this year. And the theme is: Steampunk!

All throughout 2011, I'll be doing reviews for steampunk fiction, while still reviewing the same types of titles that I reviewed in 2010. I'm not sure how the ratio will work out, but I'm hoping for around an equal amount for both types of reviews.

I'm also going to be focusing more on guest blogs as well. I've got a few ideas floating around that still haven't been put to paper, but look for these as well, as 2011 progresses.

I'm really excited for 2011 here on Sci-Fi Guys Book Review, and I hope you'll keep coming back through out the year to see what we've done next.

Until then, Happy New Year!