A Quick Comment on the Gemmell Award Shortlists, and One of the Nominees. Sort of…

This post is a bit of a break from the norm for me. I’m also not really sure what it’s meant to do. It’s a bit waffley, for which I apologise only slightly, and in not entirely a heartfelt manner. Fiction awards mean very little to me, being neither author, editor, publisher, nor agent. (At least, not yet…) This means I have never (to my recollection) written a post of any worth/note about shortlists or winners.

Brett-DaylightWarUKAward lists tend to pass me by without comment or thought. Invariably, this is because there aren’t any books featured that I’ve read – or, if there is, it is one that didn’t leave much of an impression one way or another. This year has been a bit different, however. For example, Kameron Hurley’s God’s War has been cropping up on a few shortlists, and it’s a book I rather enjoyed. So that made a nice change.

The shortlists for the Gemmell Awards were announced today at Eastercon. In a real break from the norm, the shortlist for the Legend Award (best fantasy) features not only five authors I have read, but also a book I feel particularly strongly about. So I thought I’d write a quick blog post about it. The book in question is Peter V. Brett’s The Daylight War, the third in his Demon Cycle series.

[Before I continue, let me just state that my focus on this book is not an indictment of the other authors nominated for the award. I just feel particularly strongly about this one. The other Legend nominees – Mark Lawrence, Scott Lynch, Adrian Tchaikovsky, and Brandon Sanderson – are great authors, too, whose works I have enjoyed very much. I just haven’t read their nominated novels.]

I’ve been experiencing a phase of fantasy disenchantment, lately. In fact, looking back over the past year or so, I’ve read far less (epic) fantasy than I would have expected. I have picked up and discarded more fantasy novels than I usually do, too. I just can’t get into anything, nor can I rustle up the enthusiasm to sit through hefty tomes.

Brett-DaylightWarUSThere is one clear exception to that, though, and that’s Brett’s series. Every time I think about reading a fantasy novel, I find myself wistfully wishing that the next novel in the Demon Cycle was already available. This is because there are very few authors who do it better. That’s not to say other fantasists writing today aren’t good, or are lacking in talent – far from it. But, really, I think the only epic fantasy series I would happily drop everything to read the next book in, is the Demon Cycle. Everything about the novels just works for me – the story, prose, characters… everything. I don’t think, across the three novels published so far, I’ve come across anything that gave me pause. I read the first, The Painted Man, in three sittings – the final sitting a 300-page marathon, which I finished at 4am. I read the second and third novels back-to-back (something I rarely do), eschewing everything else – true, I was unemployed at the time, and had little else to do; but nevertheless, all I wanted to do was read the books.

I haven’t experienced that level of Reading Insistence since I read Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora – the book that got me back into reading fantasy in the first place (as I think I’ve mentioned ad infinitum on the blog). In the case of Lynch’s series, I went straight out and bought Red Seas Under Red Skies when I was only two-thirds of the way through the first book – I even didn’t mind that it was the (frankly ghastly) shiny red-covered edition. Since then, and given the understandable delay before the third book came out, I have been almost afraid to go back and re-read the series to catch up.

Oh actually, that’s not entirely true – I was also incredibly impatient about getting hold of Brent Weeks’s Night Angel Trilogy. I must have pestered the Orbit publicist to the point of irritation, requesting the final two books… I was also really late to Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, and I do consider Before They Are Hanged to be one of my favourite novels.

Regardless, the point I’m trying to make is that very few epic fantasy novels have really grabbed hold of my imagination and attention. And, I think, none more so than Brett’s Demon Cycle.

So, to bring this ramble back around to the topic at hand, I really hope The Daylight War wins the Legend Award.

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The David Gemmell Awards ceremony will take place at London’s Magic Circle on June 13th, 2014.

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Peter V. Brett’s The Daylight War is published in the UK by Voyager, and in the US by Del Rey. The first two volumes in the series – The Painted Man (UK)/The Warded Man (US) and The Desert Spear are published by the same publishers. Two novellas have also been collected into a single volume: The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold. If you haven’t read them yet, and have any interest in fantasy, then I could not recommend them enough. You won’t regret reading them, I’m sure.

My reviews of the books: The Painted Man, The Desert Spear, The Daylight War and The Great Bazaar and Brayan’s Gold.

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Regarding the Other Shortlists…

For the Morning Star category (best debut), I really enjoyed Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood – it is also the only novel on the shortlist I’ve read.

In the Ravenheart category (best artwork), I actually like them all, and quite a lot. But I don’t understand why any of the covers for Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky fantasy trilogy didn’t make it onto the final list… (I haven’t read any of the novels, but I want to, and those covers are frankly stunning.)

Squirrel, Trapped Indoors, Seeks Alternative Food Hiding Place… Including a St. Bernard…

I found this via io9.com, but had to share it…

Keeping Elfy at Christmas…

WarhammerArmies-HighElves4thOver a decade-and-a-half ago(ish), I was rather addicted to reading the background sections, stories, and special character histories from the Warhammer Armies range of books published for Games Workshop’s tabletop game. They used to be considerable books, actually, before a decision was made to strip out much of the background information, army and character histories, etc. [Boo!] Because of my peripatetic upbringing, I never actually had anyone to play the game(s) with, though, despite my obvious interest in and affection for the fantasy and science fiction systems GW produced – understandably, there was only so much patience my over-worked father could have for them. So, I made up for this by devouring the books and writing Extremely Bad fan-fiction. Like, really, really bad…

Anyway, while selecting my Christmas reading for my trip to Canada, I realised something: an Elf trend. True, it’s a trend that has been broken with a massive time-gap in the middle, but one Christmas, I found Warhammer Armies: High Elves waiting for me under the tree [pictured, above]. Including this year, for the last three Christmases, I will have read William King’s Tyrion & Teclis trilogy. These two characters feature heavily in the (very well-read, now-fallen-apart) edition of WA: HE that I had, which is perhaps partly why I have enjoyed the trilogy so much.

So, I guess, this is how I keep Elfy over Christmas…

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William King’s Blood of Aenarion, Sword of Caledor and Bane of Malekith are all available now, published by Black Library. I would also strongly recommend the Gotrek & Felix series, which he created.

KingW-Tyrion&TeclisTrilogy

I apologise (only a little) for the fact that this post was, basically, all about getting to use that pun…

Jonathan Franzen on Writers and Social Media

JonathanFranzen-AuthorPicIn the October 6th issue of the Atlantic Weekly, author Jonathan Franzen had an article called, “Why Novelists Should Stay Off Facebook”. [Before I continue, I must say I’ve been enjoying the Atlantic Weekly a great deal – it’s a brilliant read for anyone who can’t wait the month between each issue of the main magazine – and I’ve particularly enjoyed the articles on books and literature.]

The author is no shrinking violet when it comes to his opinions on technology, and especially any advancements that have an impact on publishing. He is not, for example, a big fan of eBooks, and has warned that they are “corroding values” and “damaging [to] society”. Anyway, the article was interesting, so I thought I’d offer some comments here, and see what other people think. The article carries a pretty restrictive prescription, especially in this day and age, but if you stand back and take a look at it, there may be some truth in what he writes (subjective and individual truth, of course, as there is no One Way to Write a Novel).

Let’s begin with this comment:

“… the internet in general – and social media in particular – fosters the notion that everything should be shared, everything should be communal. Where that becomes especially dangerous, I think, is in the realm of cultural production – and particularly literary production. Good novels aren’t written by committee. Good novels are produced by people who voluntarily isolate themselves, go deep, and report from the depths on what they find. The result is communally accessible, but not the process itself.”

Do you agree? I sometimes wonder about this. I think there is undeniable value that can be found in utilising social media to reach out to fans, potential fans, and the ever-growing horde of bloggers and reviewers (almost all of whom, I’m sure, use at least Twitter). To be able to reach out and engage with fans of your genre (critically or from their own position as fans), must have value. I can think of a few authors who, early in their careers, have reached out to bloggers to help get the word out about their upcoming debuts. Established authors can also marshall their considerable followings to help promote their own work and causes, or those of others they deem worthy.

I think the most important part of Franzen’s point, though, lies in the “Good novels aren’t written by committee” comment. To that end, he continues:

“What makes a good novel, apart from the skill of the writer, is how true it is to individual subjectivity. People talk about ‘finding you voice.’ Well, that’s what it is. You’re finding your own individual voice, not a group voice.”

I agree with him. There are times when, in my precocious and pseudo-intellectual moments, I get the feeling that an author’s voice has been trampled by the requirements and tastes of their editors and/or agents. Certainly, there are plenty of examples of stunning debuts followed by lacklustre sophomore efforts that bear little resemblance to the style and panache of what came before.

JonathanFranzen-TIMEI wonder if, while he makes no explicit mention of them, Franzen is also passing judgment on the new-and-proliferating online writing forums and communities? Perhaps so, but then I wonder what his opinion would be on writing groups that are “old school” and in-person? Surely the online forums bring the potential for wider and more varied input? If you’re only able to meet and discuss projects with like-minded people from similar backgrounds (geographical and/or socio-economic), then you might miss a trick, or end up regurgitating time-worn cliches and tropes. But what if someone from across the world was able to offer comments and advice? Surely that would help keep things fresh, or spark a wholly original idea? (Gasp! Yes, they must still exist…)

As for his comment about novels not being created by committee… Well, as anyone even remotely interested in the publishing industry and process probably knows, no novel is written in a vacuum, and that there is a committee, of sorts, that will likely put their fingerprints on a novel that is to be published. One novel that was recently sold by my boss, for example, went through a number of drafts, before it was sent to me for a reader’s report, before then being sent to the editor, before being sent to another editor. That’s quite the committee. I don’t think anyone involved suggested anything that would take away or adversely suppress the author’s voice (one which I thought was superb, atmospheric, and at times immersive). But I do wonder if online forums might? If your audience or committee (just to keep using Franzen’s term) has no vested, professional interest in the final product, might that change their prescriptions? There is an online writers group/platform that at least one publisher keeps an eye on. I know of one novel that was picked up based on how much attention it received from users of that platform. To me, it wasn’ that interesting or particularly well-written. The novel equivalent of a camel? (Please tell me I don’t have to explain that metaphor?) That probably sounds like elitist claptrap to many people who read this, or something Franzen (professional Grumpus and naysayer that he is)* might pronounce. But I do think there is at least a kernel of truth in Franzen’s belief that for an author to develop his or her own Voice, one does have to step back from the cacophony of voices and opinions and inputs online.

Franzen-FreedomUKI do, however, think Franzen also doesn’t really understand the ways in which many authors (certainly many in the SFF genres) use social media and the internet. I don’t know of many who reach out blindly or incautiously for input from online communities. Most, at least in my experience, do so for publicity reasons. And for many it seems to work rather well, at least from a critical (if not commercial) standpoint.

Near the end of the article, Franzen expounds on some wisdom that Don DeLillo once shared with him, on the subject of authorial isolation:

“… if we ever stop having fiction writers, it will mean we’ve given up on the concept of the individual person. We will only be a crowd. And so it seems to me that the writer’s responsibility nowadays is to very basic: to continue to be a person, not merely a member of a crowd. This is a primary assignment for anyone setting up to be and remain a writer.”

In other words, writers and would-be writers should Be Aloof? What do you think? Is Franzen wrong? Completely, partly?

Jonathan Franzen is the author of, among others, Freedom and The Corrections.

* That being said, he still seems to have nothing on Brett Easton Ellis on that front…

Author-Of-Many-Genres: Jeff Somers

I was spending some time on Goodreads, recently (as you do), and I noticed that Jeff Somers wrote in a number of genres. On the face of things, that is not at all a groundbreaking discovery. But, given the publishing industry’s preference for author branding, I thought it was interesting that Somers wrote under the same pen-name for all of the genres. Again, not exactly an earth-shattering discovery, but it gives me the opportunity to feature his work on the blog, before I get around to reading any of it. So, without further ado…

Author Bio: “Born in Jersey City, N.J., Jeff Somers has managed to migrate just five minutes away to nearby Hoboken, land of overpriced condominiums and a tavern on every corner. Between weekly drunks, Jeff manages to scrawl enough prose onto cocktail napkins and toilet paper to keep up a respectable fiction career.”

Genres: Avery Cates (Cyberpunk), Ustari Cycle (Urban Fantasy), Lifers, and Chum (fiction)

PrintAvery Cates – THE ELECTRIC CHURCH (debut), THE DIGITAL PLAGUE, THE ETERNAL PRISON, THE TERMINAL STATE, THE FINAL EVOLUTION

In the near future, the only thing growing faster than the criminal population is the Electric Church, a new religion founded by a mysterious man named Dennis Squalor. The Church preaches that life is too brief to contemplate the mysteries of the universe: eternity is required. In order to achieve this, the converted become Monks – cyborgs with human brains, enhanced robotic bodies, and virtually unlimited life spans.

Enter Avery Cates, a dangerous criminal known as the best killer-for-hire around. The authorities have a special mission in mind for Cates: assassinate Dennis Squalor. But for Cates, the assignment will be the most dangerous job he’s ever undertaken – and it may well be his last.

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SomersJ-UC1-TricksterUstari Cycle – TRICKSTER

Magic uses blood — a lot of it. The more that’s used, the more powerful the effect, so mages find “volunteers” to fuel their spells. Lem, however, is different. Long ago he set up a rule that lets him sleep at night: never use anyone’s blood but your own. He’s grifting through life as a Trickster, performing only small Glamours like turning one-dollar bills into twenties. He and his sidekick, Mags, aren’t doing well, but they’re getting by.

That is, until they find young Claire Mannice — bound and gagged, imprisoned in a car’s trunk, and covered with invisible rune tattoos. Lem turns to his estranged mentor for help, but what they’ve uncovered is more terrifying than anybody could have imagined. Mika Renar, the most dangerous Archmage in the world, is preparing to use an ocean of blood to cast her dreams into reality — and Lem just got in her way.

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SomersJ-ChumCHUM

Mary and Bickerman are the center of their circle of friends – but these friends are strangers as well as family to them. In the course of year, under the influence of a stressful wedding and a whole lot of alcohol, relationships and nerves are twisted and broken as the dynamics of the cozy-seeming group shift. Secrets are kept, emotions withheld, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end well for anyone.

Told always in first person, but not the same person, and unfolding in double-helix chronology that provides a “Rashomon”-like narration, “Chum” is the story of love, liquor, and death.

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SomersJ-LifersLIFERS

Three twenty-something guys, who transitioned from collegiate underachieving to corporate bottom feeding sketch out a plan to make a grab for some dignity. They will rob the publishing house that employs their only stable member and results him on a daily basis. Being the bright, perceptive fellows they are, they all quickly realize it’s about the money.

For Phil “Dub” Dublen, it’s a pissed off statement against a dull, meaningless job. For self-styled poet Trim, it’s a chance to actually be outrageous and anarchic as he needs to be. For Trim’s roommate Dan, it seems to be something he does for the same reason he does everything: to vent some anger, having nothing better to do. By the time their master plan is all said and done, nothing has been solved, nothing is better, and nothing, really, has changed. And, in the slightly fractured wisdom of the larcenous trio, this surprises none of them.

Who’s read any of these? I’ve picked up TRICKSTER and LIFERS, and intend to read them ASAP. Any other multi-genre authors you like? Or any you would like me to feature on the blog in either a post like this, or as reviews?

Link: An Interesting Article about Literary Agencies & One of the Most… Ornery of Agents

andrew-wylie-large

Over on TNR.com (the online home of The New Republic), they have recently posted an article about the “Andrew Wylie Rules” and the eponymous Wylie Agency. It’s comprised of a short introduction followed by an interview by Laura Bennett with Wylie himself, in which they focus a fair bit on Amazon’s new publishing ventures.

“Among literary agents, Andrew Wylie is as old school as they come. Dubbed ‘the Jackal’ for his aggressive poaching of other people’s clients, his distaste for commercial fiction and his disinterest in social media is legendary. He is the reigning king of the backlist, profiting mainly off classic titles rather than taking risky bets on new ones. His only criterion is enduring quality, and his client list is eye-popping: Amis, Nabokov, Bellow, Rushdie, Roth.”

That client list certainly is eye-popping. It’s massive! And I recognised very few of the authors listed, save those names everybody knows – those writers who have either transcended the notoriety of most authors (no disrespect intended, there, despite how it sounds), or public figures who have gone on to write (e.g. Kofi Annan). Literary Agencies continue to be rather misunderstood institutions – they don’t get a whole lot of press, in my experience, and as a result they have a rather strange place in the minds of SFF (or reading) fans. As someone who currently works for a literary agency, I thought this was an interesting look at how someone else does it.

Here’s what Wylie had to say about Amazon’s new publishing business:

“I believe that Amazon has its print publishing business so that their behavior as a distributor of digital content can be misperceived by the Department of Justice and the publishing industry in a way that is convenient for Amazon’s bottom line.* That is exactly what I think.”

* Wylie’s argument: Amazon wanted to enter into the publishing business to avoid being accused by the DOJ of trying to create a monopoly over e-book sales and distribution.

It’s an interesting piece. If you’re interested in the publishing industry, I’d recommend giving it a read for just one perspective on one of the major new developments.

Photo Credit: Melville House Article

Gore Vidal’s “Narratives of Empire” Series

Vidal-NarrativesOfEmpire

Has anyone read these? The series, Narratives of Empire is also sometimes known as The Chronicles of America. I’m really interested in reading them (American history and fiction = bound to attract my attention). Most of all, I’m interested in reading WASHINGTON, D.C. (mentioned in Mark Leibovich’s This Town, which I finished last night). Here’s the synopsis:

“History is gossip,” says a protagonist in Washington, D.C., “but the trick is determining which gossip is history.”

It is a trick that Gore Vidal has mastered in his ongoing chronicle of that circus of opportunism and hypocrisy called American politics and which he plays with renewed vigour in this expose of the nation’s capital.

Young Clay Overbury, Senator Burden Day’s assistant, has both a modest background and immense ambitions. Extremely handsome, oozing charm and seemingly dedicated to the Senator’s cause, he is also duplicitous, conniving, and disloyal. But Enid Canford doesn’t think so: she marries him, so providing the Sanford newspaper dynasty with a direct line to the Senator. Her father Blaise, at first loathing his son-in-law, later learns to love him – for all the wrong reasons.

So begins this tale of lust and ambition set in the Republic’s high noon. From the late 1930s to Jo McCarthy’s reign of terror, Gore Vidal charts the seamy, sleazy side of Washington. Mixing sober history with nakedly Gothic melodrama, he provides an intoxicating cocktail of blackmail, betrayal, sexual ambivalence, lunacy and conspiracy – or, in a word, politics.

The novels are apparently all connected, but I’m not sure how essential it is to read them all, or to read them in order. The seventh book, THE GOLDEN AGE, does feature characters from WASHINGTON D.C. and HOLLYWOOD, though.