“The Republic of Thieves” by Scott Lynch

Republic of ThievesI just want to say “YAY, GIMME MORE!”, but I don’t think that would be a very good review, so I’ll try and extract some coherence from my general happy feelings about this book.

The Gentlemen Bastards is one of my favourite fantasy series – I love the world, I love the characters, I love the writing, I love the capers, I love the structure. Naturally, I was really excited to finally receive my pre-order of The Republic of Thieves (although I ended up not reading it for over a month because I didn’t want my life to go back to a world where I didn’t have more of the series to read). Also, naturally, the book was not just amazing. it exceeded my sky-high expectations!

With all the hype built up about Sabetha, I wasn’t sure if I should be looking forward to finally meeting her. I was fully expecting her to play a cat-and-mouse game, leading an obviously infatuated Locke on – something I wasn’t looking forward to. Happily, this wasn’t the case – Sabetha is endearing as well as being beautiful, confident and more than a match for Locke and Jean. Her reluctance to put down roots makes complete sense with her determination to be independent in the male-dominated world she lives in (something Locke and Jean have never considered). I also really enjoyed Locke and Sabetha’s relationship; it’s rare that a fictional relationship is so realistically based on good communication.

Okay, now that we have Sabetha out of the way – the rest of the book was also pretty awesome. I really enjoy that I get introduced to a new part of the world every book. Karthain, the dominion of the Bondsmagi, was a really interesting place, and of course, Locke and Jean have a new con to run – rigging an election. Except that this time, it’s not really their choice. The book had a slow start; Locke is still poisoned because of the fallout from his previous adventure, and Lynch does a good/scary job of portraying exactly how helpless he is. Once it gets going though, the plot moves at a breakneck speed.

This book also has extensive flashbacks (they occupy about half the book) about Locke and Sabetha’s time in Father Chains’ gang and how their relationship develops. There are several smaller incidents and then one large adventure, and Lynch does a great job of building a similar amount of tension in the flashbacks as the present day storyline, so I didn’t mind the alternating chapters at all. It was great to get more backstory on the dynamic of the group with Sabetha in it, as well as the awkward-adolescence phase.

I always figured that the Gentlemen Bastards series would veer in the direction of a more traditional fantasy epic (the suddenly vanished Eldren civilisation, the presence of a formal order of wizards), and we finally get our first inklings of that in this book. We find out more about where Locke came from (although nothing can be trusted in these books), and also a little more speculation about the nature of the fallen Eldren civilisation. Nothing is different yet (aside from the usual fallout accompanying Locke and Jean), but I’m excited to see what comes of it.

Okay, I can’t be articulate any more. This series is incredible, and so is this book. Read it!

“The Best of All Possible Worlds” by Karen Lord

I started writing this review over a month ago, and I still don’t think I can do a good job summarising my thoughts about this book, so I’m just going to go ahead and post this.

bestofallpossibleworldsThere are some books that haunt you for days after you’re done reading them, and The Best of All Possible Worlds is one of them.

Many science fiction novels tell stories of species-spanning conflicts, world-changing technologies, and boundary-stretching discoveries. These ideas are what attract many readers to sci-fi, and the Best of All Possible Worlds has its fair share of them. However, the biggest sense of wonder comes from its exquisite portrayal of a developing relationship.

The Sadiri home planet has been destroyed by an unprovoked attack, and some of them settle on Cygnus Beta, a world full of refugees trying to recreate their homes. The worst has already happened. There are probably spies trying to figure out how the attack was caused, starships trying to prevent the disaster, political scheming to gain power. This book does not focus on those people (although you’re very much aware that all of that is going on in the background).

Instead, it focuses on Grace Delarua, a Cygnian government employee and Vulcan-like Sadiri Councillor Dllenakh, whom she is helping with transitioning his people to their new world. They gradually fall in love – yes, this is a technically a romance novel, but it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever read. I think that the romance grows organically from the situations and the characters; it’s not an end unto itself. Dllenakh and Delarua are very believable. There are very few romantic tropes – no instant hatred, no moments of irresistible physical attraction – just two people getting to know and like each other slowly.

Although Dllenakh and Delarua are the main focus of the story, there are a lot of other things that happen. We get to explore Cygnus Beta, whose libertarian policies have led to an enormous variety of societies – feudal, tribal and fantasy-like. We learn more about the history of the universe and the various worlds. The supporting characters are well-fleshed out and grow over the course of the book. Even though most of the book is just an exploratory mission, the plot still advances and we get an exciting climax.

The only complaint I have is that the writing of the ending is somewhat cliché, I would’ve liked it to be as subtle as the rest of the book. That’s a very small quibble though, and overall, I can’t recommend this book enough!

“Agent to the Stars” by John Scalzi

agent to the stars by john scalziI’m a big fan of John Scalzi, and I’ve been wanting to read his first novel, Agent to the Stars, for a while and I finally got the opportunity to when Tor sent me a review copy. (I was going to buy it eventually anyway, but as soon as it arrived, I had to read it!)

The Yherjak are an alien race that want to make contact with humanity, but they are transparent gelatinous blobs who smell like rotten fish. From careful analysis of human movies and TV, they conclude that they’re not likely to inspire an accepting reaction. So they do the most natural thing in the world – hire an up-and-coming Hollywood agent, Tom Stein, to handle their introduction. Of course, hilarity ensues.

Agent to the Stars is a rather silly book. Like all of Scalzi’s work, it’s very entertaining and an easy read, but it doesn’t examine as many fun ideas as his later work (Old Man’s War builds a compelling version of human space exploration, Fuzzy Nation explores sentience and greed). Scalzi started off as a film critic, and this book exposes the breadth of his knowledge of Hollywood, and even though I wished there was more sci-fi, I really enjoyed these aspects.

The characterisation was somewhat one note – everyone is very nice and rational, or can be easily made to see sense and become so. I’m not really complaining, it was similar to an Aaron Sorkin show where everyone is witty and has a similar sense of humour, and that kind of story has its place. The aliens are really polite, and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop and their real plan to be revealed. They’re actually just genuinely nice aliens, though, which was was a refreshing change of pace.

The biggest problem I had with the book was the ending. I don’t want to spoil it, but I found the resolution of the PR problem exceedingly creepy, and it certainly would not make me look kindly upon the aliens. However, if you choose to not think too much about it and read Agent to the Stars as a straight comedy novel, it works really well. It was a bit hard for me to decide how seriously to take the book, since it was ridiculous most of the time, but was occasionally really earnest.

In the introduction, John Scalzi mentions that this book was his “trial” novel, to prove to himself that he could write a full length book. For that, it succeeds tremendously – it’s funny, smart and a really entertaining read. It’s not his best work, though.

Interview with author Douglas Lain + BILLY MOON giveaway!

Douglas Lain’s debut novel, Billy Moon, was released last month by Tor Books. I was excited to be able to interview him to go with my review. I’m also giving away a copy of the book – see the bottom of the post for that.

Lain_AuthorPicHi Douglas! Thanks so much for doing this interview. First question – an adult Christopher Robin and the May 1968 civil unrest in France – I’d never think of those two things in the same thought, but you’ve managed to pull off a whole book starring them both! What inspired you to combine them? (I apologize if you get that question a lot!)

I decided I wanted to put Christopher Robin Milne into the fray of the student/worker strike of May 1968 because the strike was characterized by critics as a mere youthful adventure without any solid aim, and Christopher Milne was a man who’d lived in the shadow of his fictional persona, a character that was forever young, forever immature.  I thought if Milne could be made to see what was mature and redeemable in May ’68 then I might be able to see it too.

I know that Billy Moon is your debut novel. How long have you been writing, and what made you decide to pursue writing?

My first professionally published short story appeared in Amazing Stories in 1999.  The title of the story was Instant Labor and it was later collected in a book called Last Week’s Apocalypse in 2006.  So, I’ve been writing for 14 years if that story marks the beginning, 7 years if we start with my first published book, and just about three weeks if we start with my first published novel.

I decided to pursue writing because I wanted instant fame.  Guess I made a mistake.

Could you tell me a little about your writing process?

Here’s a secret, never actually write.  I picked this up from Slavoj Zizek, my current favorite philosopher.  He says that he doesn’t write, but rather he only takes notes and revises.  That is, he’ll start by taking notes on the subject for his book, using relatively complete sentences, and then when he’s taken enough notes he realizes that all he has to do is edit or revise.

I have lately taken up this same practice.  I take notes and I edit.  Writing has disappeared.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I am in the middle of writing a novella called The Doom that Came to LOLCats for a small press called Eraserhead, and I’m working on a book called “How to Watch Star Trek” that will explain Marxist economics, Situationist tactics, Freudian psychology, and Hegelian philosophy by using Star Trek references, and that will explain Star Trek by referring to Marxist economics, Situationist tactics, and Freudian psychology.

Could you tell me a little bit about the podcast that you run?

The Diet Soap Podcast has that name Diet Soap is a commodity that nobody needs.  It is a philosophy podcast that explores philosophy and politics mostly. The program was recently picked up for rebroadcast on WPRR in Grands Rapids, MI.  I’ve had a variety of guests on the podcast including Michael Parenti, Rudy Rucker, Laura Kipnis, and many others.

I should confess that I was a little bit at sea with Billy Moon. I take great comfort in consistency (probably to an extreme), and Billy Moon seems like a celebration of the impossible. I’m not sure if there’s a real question here, but do you have any comments on that?

I take great comfort in consistency too, but I don’t aim to make people comfortable when I write.  And it’s funny that you should mention the impossible, because the name of my small book tour is The Think the Impossible Tour.

How did you decide what to change in the alternate history Christopher Robin’s life? For instance, Christopher Robin Milne of our timeline did own the Harbour Bookstore, but he was not married to Abigail.

Some of the changes were done for thematic reasons, for instance the real Christopher didn’t have a son with autism but a daughter with some or other physical disability, but I thought autism fit the theme better.  Or, to give another example, AA Milne died in the 50s but I extended his life into the late sixties in my novel in order to work it out so that Brian Jones could make an appearance in the novel, and in order to have Christopher face the death right before the events of May 1968.

In general I fictionalized Christopher Robin Milne, using his life as I knew it from his memoirs as the starting off point.  Probably the biggest difference is that the real Christopher never discovered that he was living in a fiction.

Which books do you think absolutely everyone should read?

Wave of Mutilation, Fall Into Time, and Billy Moon. Or, more seriously, Marx’s Capital, Volume 1.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just links to my podcast, my blog, my Facebook page, my twitter account, and my book.


“Billy Moon” by Douglas Lain

billymoonBilly Moon is Douglas Lain’s debut novel, and it’s one of the most original fantasies I’ve read recently. We follow an alternate version of the grown Christopher Robin Milne, who is still coping with the fame thrust upon him by the success of Winnie the Pooh. Things aren’t helped by the fact that he occasionally runs into things that are just plain impossible, and his son has been diagnosed with autism. As he struggles to connect with his son and make sense of his life in, he receives an invitation to Paris from student Gerrard Hand to join the May 1968 protests. The ensuing events form the meat of this book.

I had the constant feeling that I was missing something while reading Billy Moon, but I also had the suspicion that this feeling was what the author intended me to feel. The themes of the book make sense, the prose is lyrical and flows beautifully, the magical realism is expertly done – sometimes delighting, but often frightening. If you’re expecting a linear story where you know exactly what’s going on, or even which reality you’re on… this is not the book for you. I was left with a whole bunch of confusion at the end, but even though I was confused, at no point did I actually want to stop reading the book.

I wasn’t quite sure whether I should even attempt a review of Billy Moon, since I don’t really have a clear verdict on it. I hope that posting my honest reaction qualifies, even if it’s not in the traditional review format. I did read other reviews, and they seem universally glowing (I was tempted to write a similarly glowing one myself rather than admit to not quite getting everything in it), so I’d definitely recommend giving it a shot (which is easy to do because I’m giving a copy away!).

I plan to do a reread in a few months to see if I can get more from it, though, and I’ll update this post when I do!

You might also be interested in my Billy Moon giveaway and interview with author, Douglas Lain. Keep an eye out for that post!

“The Magicians” by Lev Grossman

Cover_TheMagiciansI’ve been wary of reading The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I’d heard a lot of great things about the book, but I don’t usually like fantasy stories where the protagonists are older teens/adults from our world who discover a fantasy world; it tends to dampen the sense of wonder and discovery that usually accompanies the exploration of a new world. However, the Lev Grossman’s short story set in the Magicians universe in Shawn Speakman’s Unfettered anthology (which I still need to review at some point) persuaded me to finally buy myself a copy, and I’m glad I did!

I’ve heard The Magicians described as Harry Potter meets Narnia, and that’s not a bad description. We follow Quentin, a fairly nerdy and very smart teenager who’s obsessed with the Narnia-like magical land of Fillory. He’s close to graduating from high school when he has a “you’re a wizard, Harry!” moment and gets the opportunity to go to a magical college and soon has more exciting things to worry about than Fillory. But Fillory is not as imaginary as Quentin thinks…

I enjoyed this book tremendously because it works excellently in two very different genres – high fantasy, and contemporary coming of age. Fantasy often comes with a coming of age story, but it’s generally of the type where the protagonist needs to accept his destiny and become the hero he was meant to be. The Magicians has none of this – most of it is the story of Quentin growing up, making real friends, realising the unimportance of high school priorities, coping with the real world after college… all very familiar. Magic is almost secondary until the last quarter of the book where they find Fillory. And even then, Quentin and his friends act exactly how you’d expect regular twenty somethings to act, but Grossman spins it into a great fantasy story, managing to make the same situations both mesmerisingly wondrous and infuriatingly realistic.

On the surface, this seems like a ridiculous book. The protagonist is generally unlikeable, the settings are very similar to books you’ve probably read, and nothing really happens for more than half of the book. Don’t be scared, though, because all of this enables Lev Grossman to tell an entirely new type of fantasy story that’s very much grounded in reality. Read it!

Interview with SFWA Grand Master James Gunn

I was honoured to be able to interview SFWA Grand Master James Gunn about his newest novel Transcendental (here’s my review!) and more. I don’t think my questions even scratch the surface of the experience that Prof. Gunn has had, but there are still lots of fascinating details in there.

www.daileyimages.comFor those readers that haven’t read TRANSCENDENTAL, could you tell us a little about it?

TRANSCENDENTAL is set about 1,000 years in the future when humanity has emerged into the galaxy to find it controlled by aliens who resent the intruders. After a destructive ten-year war, the uneasy peace is threatened by rumors of a transcendental machine in an unknown part of the galaxy. TRANSCENDENTAL tells the story of a group of assorted aliens and humans who set out in a shabby wartime spaceship to find the machine if it exists, as each of them tells his/her/its own story of why they are on this pilgrimage and what they hope to gain from it, for themselves and their species. But lies, betrayals, and death make the spaceship Geoffrey a battleground of hidden forces and motives before it reaches its destination.

What makes TRANSCENDENTAL unique when compared to your other books? What inspired you to write it?

TRANSCENDENTAL is my return to the genre known as the “space epic” with which I started my novel-writing career in 1955 with STAR BRIDGE and THIS FORTRESS WORLD. Now I have returned to it with, I hope, more wisdom and skill to tell a different (and perhaps more human) story.

As for its inspiration, I was thinking about a big topic when I thought of Cory and Alexei Panshin’s THE WORLD BEYOND THE HILL and its suggestion that the preoccupation of Golden Age science fiction was transcendence, and I thought what if there were a machine that could confer transcendence (or the realization of the full potential of the individual), and from there I developed the idea of a pilgrimage to find such a machine and all the motivations for discovering and using (or destroying) it, and the model of another pilgrimage and the stories told by the pilgrims, the “Canterbury Tales.”

This is my standard question for genre writers – how do you approach world building? How do you come up with a plausible universe and how do you make your aliens seem truly alien?

For me the world building (or galaxy or universe building) emerges out of the story premise (unlike Hal Clement, for instance, who invented the world of Mesklin and MISSION OF GRAVITY grew out of that). My premise of a transcendental machine needed a world of the future, a technology of jumps through hyperspace and needing maps of coordinates, a galaxy separated into different spiral arms by gulfs difficult to cross, a galactic confederation of aliens who have developed their own hierarchies and relationships, and a history to support all these and provide substance for the central concerns of the novel.

My aliens are all different because I wanted to show the universality of sapience and the desire for fulfillment of potential that is at the heart of the evolutionary force. And in the stories I gave them an opportunity to tell, I tried to reveal how their cultures differed while their goals (except for my intelligent flowers) were similar, and gave them an opportunity to tell their own stories and show how their home worlds and environments shaped them.

TRANSCENDENTAL is the first book by you that I’ve read (I will be remedying this soon!) Could you tell me a little bit about your previous work? Is it mostly stand alone books, or do many of your books share a universe? Which book would you consider best exemplifies your work?

Like many writers, I started with short stories that grew longer as I continued to write, until I produced the two novels I mentioned above. Though they eventually sold very well in reprint here and abroad (STAR BRIDGE, which I wrote in collaboration with Jack Williamson, will be reprinted next year by Tor Books), they didn’t provide much income at the time, and I decided to get my novel-length ideas published as short fiction before I brought them together as books (which resulted in my advice to young writers, “Sell it twice”). Out of that came STATION IN SPACE, THE JOY MAKERS, and THE IMMORTALS (the last of which became a TV movie and a series (“The Immortal”) in 1970-71. Most readers consider my best book to be THE LISTENERS, but I’m fond of THE DREAMERS, THE MILLENNIUM BLUES, and particularly KAMPUS (which is about the world the student rebels of the 1960s might have made if they’d been successful, one I lived through as the person in charge of public relations for the University of Kansas during that period).

You’ve been writing science fiction for quite a long time now. How has your approach to it changed over the years? Did the changing political climate (e.g. the end of the Cold War and the space race) affect it?

I think I’ve always had the basic goal of taking the science fiction that I loved as a youngster and try to bring to it the literary skills I learned as I made my way through college and life. More and more, though, I found my writing becoming more social criticism (affected, as you suggest, by political and social change in the world), though being categorized as a science fiction writer (which I accept and do not deny) always makes such departures problematic when it comes to publication (thus, for instance, THE MILLENNIUM BLUES, got published only digitally and as print-on-demand and in an Easton Press collector’s edition).

Somewhat related – how has science fiction in general changed over the years? Are there trends that are of particular note?

Science fiction changes all the time. I have a theory that it changes every dozen years or so, when a new editor comes along with a new vision (and a new magazine) of what science fiction can be and do, and attracts writers who didn’t know it could be done that way or found there a place to publish what they had not found before. Mostly science fiction has become more skillfully written in every literary sense, although it has not come up (generally) with new ideas of what to say that match its writing abilities. The Golden Age of science fiction may not have seen as much skillful craftsmanship but the ideas were awesome. To be sure, there are a few new things being done today, but sometimes the slickness of presentation covers a paucity of content.

The British new space epic is very promising and there are some U.S. authors who are doing some exciting things.

Who are your favourite authors, and what books do you consider essential reading?

I have an enduring fondness for the Golden Age writers who were introduced in a four-month stretch of ASTOUNDING in 1939, Asimov, Heinlein, Sturgeon, and van Vogt, and the authors who starred in the early months of GALAXY beginning in 1950, such as the late and lamented Fred Pohl (with Cyril Kornbluth) and Alfred Bester. But my selections are best listed in my six-volume teaching anthology THE ROAD TO SCIENCE FICTION and the reading list for the science-fiction novel course I taught at K.U., twenty-five novels I thought central to the science-fiction tradition (you can find the list on the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction).

Ed. Note: Here’s the website for the Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction and here’s their “Basic Science Fiction Library” page, originally developed from Professor Gunn’s list. The 2013-2014 25 novel reading list for K.U.’s science fiction course can be found here.

Could you tell me a bit about your teaching career and the Center for the Study of Science Fiction that you established?

I began teaching science fiction in a student-organized course in 1969 (I was not the first–a course was taught at Colgate in 1966, and subsequently at Eastern New Mexico and Wooster) and a regular course in 1970. I had been director of public relations for the University of Kansas for almost a dozen years and decided I wanted to go back to teaching full time. I spent the rest of my 23 years before retirement teaching science fiction and fiction writing, and for almost twenty years after retirement I continued to teach the summer Intensive Institute on the Teaching of Science Fiction as well as my writing workshop. Not too long after joining the English Department full time, I discovered that I was doing a lot of science-fiction related projects, teaching, book collecting, conferences, awards, collaborating on projects in other departments, and decided to bring them together into a Center, the first of its kind to provide all of these interests under one organization (though not the first university organization devoted to science fiction), and the University administration and Board of Regents approved. The Center and its projects continue under the enlightened administration of Chris McKitterick and Kij Johnson.

transcendentalWill there be a sequel to TRANSCENDENTAL? I would love to see more of the characters and the universe, and I thought the ending left room for further stories.

I’ve proposed a sequel to my Tor Books editor and even written the first chapter (and even thought about a trilogy!).

I read another interview where you said TRANSCENDENTAL was a commentary on the genre of science fiction. Could you elaborate on that?

Science fiction is a dialogue between authors (and sometimes readers) on subjects of great import for the human species. I’ve always felt that it was important to recognize the dialogue, and TRANSCENDENTAL pays tribute to my predecessors and large and small ways that might be interesting to readers to identify and trace. It’s not necessary to enjoy the novel, but I like to amuse myself by planting such references and perhaps entertain those readers who enjoy this kind of back-and-forth between author, genre, and reader. KAMPUS, for instance, is modeled after Voltaire’s CANDIDE and also has references to quest stories like the Arthurian cycle. If anyone wants to play this game, I might be persuaded to keep score.

Are you working on anything at the moment?

Aside from the sequel (tentatively entitled INSTRUMENTAL), I also have proposed a new and updated edition of my ALTERNATE WORLDS: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF SCIENCE FICTION (which is being reprinted, as well, in China) and I have written my memoir.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’ve written a lot already!

“Transcendental” by James Gunn

transcendentalI’ve never read anything by SFWA Grand Master James Gunn, so I was very excited when I received a review copy of his newest novel, Transcendental from Tor.

Transcendental follows a variety of humans and aliens aboard a starship on a very unique pilgrimage – finding the machine that will help them achieve the mystical concept known as transcendence. The protagonist is Riley, a veteran of the recent Galactic War, who has been placed on the ship to find and kill the Prophet of the transcendence movement. As the journey progresses, though, it soon becomes clear that almost no one on the ship is what they seem.

I really enjoyed this book; it was a great science fiction yarn. It focuses a lot on universe-building and cool ideas, but is still fast-paced and entertaining (unlike quite a few classic sci-fi novels I could name). All of the pilgrims are fascinating characters individually, and together they give the impression of a very diverse and interesting universe. I thought the Canterbury Tales-style stories were a bit of a cheat at first, but the unreliable narration makes the stories multidimensional. The protagonist, Riley is a somewhat bland, but I think that actually strengthens the book – he’s a good representative of the human race, not a special snowflake of a human.

I’m often sceptical of the combination of science fiction and spirituality, even though I think they go naturally together (you always need something that keeps the sense of wonder going), so I was worried about all the hype being built up around the Transcendental Machine. I think it was resolved very well, though, and I didn’t have to suspend my disbelief as much as I thought I would.

I hope that there’s a sequel to Transcendental, because I would really love to spend more time in this universe!

You might also be interested in my interview with author James Gunn about Transcendental, how science fiction has changed over the years and other things.

Interview with author Jason M. Hough + THE DARWIN ELEVATOR Giveaway!

I’m interviewing sci-fi author Jason M. Hough today! I really liked his debut novel, The Darwin Elevator (here’s my review), and I’ll also be giving away a copy at the end of this post!

Here’s the interview.

Jason-hough-author-photo-256x300Tell me about yourself, and how you got into writing.

I’m a father, a geek, and a former game designer. After leaving the game industry I needed a hobby to fill the creative void in my life, and decided to try writing because it seemed like something I could do entirely on my own. This of course turned out to be untrue, there’s a huge team of people involved, but at least at the beginning I was able to scratch my creative itch and work at my own pace.

I love the backstory behind The Darwin Elevator – aliens leave us both a space elevator and a plague. How did you come up with it?

The core of the idea came from my reaction to the standard argument against building a space elevator: it would be too hard to construct. I thought, “who says we’re the ones to build it?” That’s the moment that everything started to click into place.

The sequels to The Darwin Elevator come out in the next few months, so I assume you’re done writing them. What are you working on now?

Most of my time right now is going into interviews like this, plus guest blog posts and that sort of thing. I’m also working on some pitches for new books, which will hopefully turn into a contract soon. I’m anxious to get started on another novel!

This is my standard question for all genre authors – how do you come up with a plausible and interesting world?

All the usual answers probably apply, but one I thing I did that I came up with on my own is this: For each character I wrote up an activity log of what they did the day before the book starts. This helped me flesh out the characters, but also had a surprising bounty of ideas for the world as well. Mundane things like what people wear, how/when/where they shower or eat, these things really help answer basic questions about the world, and having those kinds of details to sprinkle into the story go a long way toward making it interesting.

Which writers are you most influenced by?

Some of my favorites, in no particular order: Guy Gavriel Kay, Richard K. Morgan, Stephen King, Ian Fleming, John Scalzi, George R. R. Martin.

What is your daily writing process like? What are the easiest and hardest parts?

I usually get up early (before 6) and find a coffee shop. This is mostly to get away from the distractions of home, where I have two young boys who want nothing but to constantly play with Papa. While there I’ll write for an hour, then take a break and do my authorly business: tweet, do interviews like this, read science news, etc.

The easiest part for me is writing action sequences. They flow like nothing else! Hardest part? When a small change is having a ripple effect throughout the story, and each fix is causing it’s own ripple. It makes me wish I had an AI I could assign the problem to.

If Skyler could have a sidekick from any other fictional universe, who would it be and why?

That’s a tough one! I’ll go with John “Black Jack” Geary from Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series, for good leadership advice.

What books are you reading right now?

I just finished Nexus by Ramez Naam, which was fantastic. Now I’m reading The Thousand Names by Django Wexler.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Since you asked, I’d love to also recommend a few other books: The Daedelus Incident by Michael J. Martinez, and Bad Glass by Richard Gropp.

The sequel to The Darwin Elevator, The Exodus Towers, is now out, and the concluding book in The Dire Earth Cycle, The Plague Forge, will be released this month.

You can connect with Jason M. Hough at his website (http://www.jasonhough.com) or through Twitter or Facebook.


Enter the giveaway below:

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for arranging this interview and giveaway!

“New Earth” by Ben Bova

New_Earth_Ben_BovaNew Earth follows the first manned Earth mission out of our solar system, an expedition to the surprisingly Earth-like planet Sirius C. When the explorers arrive at “New Earth”, they find much more than expected – intelligent life, and scientifically impossible similarities to Earth. And as they struggle to unravel this mystery, Earth is undergoing its own catastrophes.

The premise of the book was pretty exciting – first contact with a mysterious planet and its uncanny inhabitants. However, the book itself was not very good, mainly because of its characters. I definitely understand that classic sci-fi sometimes doesn’t have the most fleshed out characters, instead choosing to focus on the ideas and plot, and I still enjoy it. New Earth‘s characters were almost comically bad, though – the author seemed to have tried to humanise them by giving them flaws and problems, which take up a lot of the book, but are really stereotypical and badly resolved. For instance, the leader of the expedition, an acclaimed diplomat, is distraught over the death of his wife, which he feels responsible for. All his angst vanishes when he meets his first native girl, with whom he develops a passionate romance instantly, ignoring all concerns from his team. You would think that with his extensive diplomatic experience and his grief for his wife, he wouldn’t go completely native over the FIRST woman he meets… but, no. Most of the other characters have similarly dumb plot arcs, and these arcs take up most of the book.

Aside from these terrible “character growth” plot points, the exploratory team’s behaviour at New Earth doesn’t really make sense. After an eighty year journey to get there, most of the team members seem to favour giving up and returning to Earth as soon as there’s more to the planet than they expected (“there’s nothing in the mission protocols about this!”) Also, wow, humans must be ridiculously arrogant to assume that their orbital telescopes could definitely tell if there was life on the new planet – mission protocols should have covered the possibility. The scientists show no signs of curiosity, and are in general so indistinguishable from each other that their specialty and ethnicity has to be mentioned in almost every sentence they’re mentioned (Longyear, the Native American biologist, Thornberry, the stereotypically Irish roboticist). I’d be so ashamed if human first contact with aliens was with that team.

I didn’t realise that New Earth was part of Bova’s “Grand Tour” series (this is the 21st book set in the same universe), but I found it perfectly approachable as a stand alone. The worldbuilding aspects of the book intrigued me enough that I do want to read more of Bova’s books set in this universe – the glimpses of what was going on in Earth and the other human colonies hint at a rich history. I’d be reading them more to get a sense of his vision of the future, though, and not because I expect them to be good books.