The Darwin Elevator is Nigh!

A year ago I bid in the Brenda Novak charity auction on what I thought was a really interesting prize to raise money for Diabetes research. Jason Hough (pronounced Huff not Hugh) made available the opportunity to name a character or company/vehicle/whatnot. Fending off a last-minute challenger, I made sure the Selby Systems LTD (previously appearing in the figure game Iron Tyrants) continued it existence. I struck up an association with Mr. Hough and had the grand fortune to read his first novel, THE DARWIN ELEVATOR, before its release1. As it comes out tomorrow, I wanted to share with you why you should read this book.

Concept: An alien craft deployed a space elevator in Darwin, Australia. A plague wiped out most of the population of the planet, a radius around the elevator the only safe spot to live. A have/have not dichotomy has formed with the oligarchy living in space and the chaff living in Earth-bound slums. Your main character and his crew of scavengers are all immunes, people unaffected by the plague, who gather resources outside the radius of the elevator. Politics, power grabs, gun fights, and the next alien spacecraft fuel this march to the second of a trilogy that will publish over the next three months.

What's great about this book: While one dystopian future is looking much the same as the other, Hough does a great job exploring the world outside of Darwin and up in space at the top of the Elevator. I wanted to continue reading immediately because the setting felt like a fresh take on old tropes. I like the post-catastrophic Earth he's built and I want to explore more.

What's good about this book: Hough handles aliens like Spielberg handled Jaws2. They're coming, but they're not running around Mel Gibson's backyard.

What's refreshing about this book: You'll hear a lot about the pacing. Everyone's all, fast-paced blah blah blah. The second half picks up the clip, so it's definitely a march from beginning to end, but the first half is paced exactly as it should be (and thus the second half is paced exactly as it should be). I kept thinking about how people kept commenting on the pacing, but really what they mean is "There's isn't any extraneous crap in this book". We don't get the history of everything. We don't get a description of every button on a character's jacket. Here's what you see. Here's what you hear. Here's what happens. Bam, let's move on. This is the opposite of a George Martin book, and that's not a bad thing3.

What's familiar about this book: The first chapter has a strong correlation to Firefly. Hough is aware of it and is pleased with the comparison. There is a strong "Why do my plans never work" vibe, but the Firefly comparisons chill as the book progresses and it does NOT read like fan fiction.

What's unfortunately familiar about this book: It had what I thought was a simple but awesome villain. He thinks he should do more, but he isn't as talented as he thinks he is. But he has the power to force himself on other political entities to increase his role. Anyone that's worked in an office has met (and suffered) under such a person. It was pinpoint accurate and I loved seeing him as the villain. Eventually he becomes the more traditional sexual sadist that we see so often, and that actually lessens the character in my eyes. He want from being selfish to being "Evil!" Thankfully, he's not the focus of the story, so there are long gaps between his Evilness.

What's unnecessary about this book: The primary female character suffers sexual violence. As it relates to the villain I mention above, I am of the opinion this was unnecessary for her personal arc or the establishment of the villain as villainous. I've wrestled with this kind of thing in my own writing, and you can here it discussed ad nauseum on the interwebs, but in this case, I take the position that this did not further the character or the story in a meaningful way4

What's really cool about this franchise: Book 1: July '13; Book 2: August '13; Book 3: September '13. If you like one, you only have to wait a month for the next one. That may limit the growth of the author or it may not, but as a consumer, it's cool not to have to wait six years between installments.

Something nitpicky that I liked: I read an ARC, which means it's not the final final version that you'll see printed. It's the mostly final printed version. Even so, the number of errors that slipped through copyediting was lower than what has been happening in years. It's a sorry state of publishing how lazy editing has gotten (either through less talented copyeditors, tighter deadlines, cheaper publishers, or all of the above) so it was nice to see a book that didn't have typos on every page.

All in all, if you're in the mood for some science fiction, pick this one up. When you get to the third book, you'll even get to see Selby Systems make its appearance! If you think to yourself, "Hey, I know a guy named Selby," BAM! That was no accident, fella.

1: Don't worry, I had already pre-ordered it, so the man'll still get his royalties.

2: Interesting tidbit, Spielberg had actually planned on showing Jaws much earlier in the film, but it was his editor who cut the shark until the end. For all those people who think they don't need an editor, even Steven Spielberg needs an editor.

3: I love Game of Thrones, so don't get your undies in a twist. It's book five. I don't give a shit what five courses they had for dinner each day of the week. Chop chop, motherfuckers.

4: There's also a shower scene that some reviewers5 have called male fantasy fulfillment. I don't think that's the case, but it did pull me out of the story as I rolled my eyes.

5: And for those of you that read Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, what was up with that review? "Read this book. Here's everything that's bad with it." Not the ringingest of endorsements. It's Hough's first book, and if this is the point at which he starts his career and grows, we will see some quality science fiction from him in the future. As for me, I'll be reading the second installment come August.


If you know anything about me, you know that my favorite author is Lois McMaster Bujold. And guess what? She has a new book out! There are four categories of Bujold books: Vorkosigan saga, Challion tetralogy, the Sharing Knife, and the Spirit Ring.

The Spirit Ring is the first fantasy book she ever wrote. It shows. It's good, but nothing of the quality you should expect from her. The Sharing Knife is a four-part series that has concluded, though the world has room for more. The Challion tetralogy was not conceived of as a five-part series and there are only three books so far, but there better damn well be five books. This is some of the best fantasy you will ever read ever anywhere period don't argue. And then there is her most famous series, the Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan -> Miles Naismith Vorkosigan series with a bajillion novels, novellas, and short stories (including some stories like FALLING FREE that take place in the setting without any of the main characters).

This most recent offering is CAPTAIN VORPATRIL'S1 ALLIANCE, the often seen cousin of Miles, Ivan You Idiot. As the series has continued, Ivan has gone from a feckless womanizer to someone who is immensely capable and goes out of his way to hide it so no one notices and assigns him more responsibility. This book explores that motivation and it's AWESOME if you're a fan. If this is your first book in the Vorkosigan universe, put the book down and go read CORDELIA'S HONOR2. The book will feel incredibly mediocre unless you've read other books in the series.

Specifically, the climax will disappoint you if you don't know Miles and you don't know Ivan and you don't know the difference between them. I might not have spotted this as quickly if I hadn't seen Bujold in person at a book signing (where she signed my book and I promptly had an anxiety attack and ran away--yeah, behold my coolness). She mentioned that when she was writing, she caught herself writing a Miles book and not an Ivan book. Miles succeeds through perpetual forward motion. Ivan lets things come to him, and you see this in the book a LOT. Faced with a problem, the solution is to wait and hope it goes away. This is most obvious in the climax and if you don't know that this book is entirely Ivan, you might not like it.

But this novel is Ivan. This novel shows Bujold's mastery of character and voice. If you changed the names to something else and read this book, you'd easily know this is an Ivan book.

This book takes place chronologically before CRYOBURN. I know that doesn't mean they were written that way, but I wish they were. This is the better of the two books and CRYOBURN could have used some more work (except for the epilogues--Gregor's makes me cry). I started reading this book on Monday and finished it on Friday. I actually stopped writing on my train ride and just started reading the book.

So here's the short review: You read even some of the Miles books? Read this. You've never read any Miles book? Read CORDELIA'S HONOR. You'll get to this one eventually and you'll be rewarded for taking the extra time.

1 The Vor are a warrior caste on Barrayar, so take the last name and add Vor at the front. This makes names like Kosigan (KOS-i-gan) Vorkosigan (vor-KOS-i-gan). Despite the obvious rule of pronunciation that I applied to EVERY Vor name in the series, I have been pronouncing Vorpatril VOR-pa-tril instead of vor-PAT-ril as Bujold herself pronounces it. Turns out, I've been mispronouncing a LOT of names. E-ka-TER-in is actually e-KAT-er-in. Cetagandan like Set is actually actually like Seat. Even Barrayar which has TWO Rs is Bear-a-yar, which I think is totally unfair and I refuse to pronounce it that way.

2 CORDELIA'S HONOR is an omnibus3 that combines both SHARDS OF HONOR and BARRAYAR. I read SHARD'S OF HONOR every year. I didn't think I'd ever be one of those people, but it turns out I am.

3 Wonder to yourself, how are you going to read all these stories that have spanned nearly thirty years? Don't worry! The publisher, Baen, has collected almost all of them into omnibi. YOUNG MILES, MILES ERRANT, etc etc. The only ones you won't find are MEMORY4, CRYOBURN, and CAPTAIN VORPATRIL'S ALLIANCE. You'll actually find one story included a few times, which has to do about acceptable page counts and subject matter and not any nefarious decision on the part of Baen. Still, crap move not to include MEMORY anywhere.

Because 4 MEMORY is my second favorite Vorkosigan saga book after SHARDS OF HONOR. If you think you can do without this one, THINK AGAIN! Once you've gotten to the MILES IN LOVE omnibus, track down MEMORY and make sure to read it so we can huddle together and giggle about the scene where he wears his medals because that's AWESOME!!! *GOO!*

So...yeah, that's my review. I guess. Lots of fanboyishness in there, but I hope I was honest.


Once upon a time I was a podcaster. In addition to the weekly audio recordings, it also afforded me a place to act like a more professional blogger. I could review books (and in fact, reviewed a Tad Williams book that I had been keen to receive). I no longer podcast (or I should say, I no longer host any podcasts; I would certainly be a guest on a show). That leaves me this location to do book reviews, and I'm more hesitant to do so. Here it makes it feel personal rather than professional, and I don't want people to think I'm attacking their work. (I'm also critical on everything, including my own work, but if people don't know me, they might not understand that.) I still have a review saved in my drafts of a book I LOVE (and have read multiple times) that I've never published because there's one part of the book I have a serious problem with and don't want the author to think I dislike his work.

Despite all that, an author asked me on Twitter to tell him what I think of his book when I was finished, and I can't do that in 140 words, so here it is, my first book review in this journal. Not to leave him out there by himself, I'm also going to review another book later this week. Two in one week! Two! It must be Christmas.

And so we begin. I recently read THE CITY'S SON by Tom Pollock. This is an urban fantasy, and I don't normally read urban fantasy. This is also a young adult novel, and I'm tired of young adult novels. It seems like that's all there is on the market, for the most part. So now that you know that, here are my opinions of the book:

Read it. It's a good book.

Boom. Review done.

Wait, I'm supposed to do more? Okay. Here's the general description: Set in modern-day London, there is a world-within-a-world, but not with fairies, vampires, or werewolves. This is a wholly new concoction of not-humans, which makes this the best urban fantasy I've read in years. YEARS! This is the kind of setting that gets turned into a role playing game and you get to play it for years and years until you forget that it was based on a book.

People live in the walls. People live in light bulbs and depending on what kind of light bulbs they are (phosphorus versus sodium) they may hate the other kind of light bulb person. Trainwraiths that remember their passengers, wolves made of scaffolding, and so on and so forth. It is AMAZING. The setting of this book is so awesome that I could give up the plot and just wander around marveling at the world beneath London.

Which also leads me to my first complaint. Much like Buffy, it is hand-waved away that normal people self-delude themselves if they're exposed to this world. They cannot accept it, thus they do not accept it. They forget or rationalize or in some other way dismiss what they've seen. Except for every human character we meet that actually interacts with them. One of the two main characters of the book is introduced to this world and NEVER EVEN BLINKS AN EYE. She rolls right into it like she's hanging out in Camden Market or something.

I had trouble accepting how readily the human characters interact with the other world, but you get over it just like the book does. It speeds along so you don't have time to think about that (which means you either keep reading and accept it or you stop reading, which I almost did, but I'm glad I didn't).

Speed along because there isn't just an imaginative setting, there's an imaginative history to that setting. You get to learn about the Pavement Priests (SO COOL!), the mother of the streets, the Chemical Synod (so cool, but the long Ses make me think they're speaking in parseltongue). The setting is cool, but so much cooler because of the people that make it up.

Which gets us to the people. Ups and downs here. There are the two main characters, boy and girl. Then there's the female main character's best friend. There was a little confusion for me at the beginning because the best friend's nickname is Pencil and THAT name gets truncated down to Pen. The thing is, I thought they both had nicknames, one was Pen and one was Pencil, so things got really confusing really quick. Once I realized that Pen was Pencil and only one had a nickname, it made more sense. I was also disappointed because I thought Pen and Pencil was a great way to describe their friendship in as few words as possible.

The relationship between Beth and Pen is the high point of this book. As personal interactions go, Pollock nails these two the best. It feels the most natural. It reads the most engrossing, and it feels the most realistic. Second is the relationship between Beth and her dad, which really hits its high point in the middle of the book when neither character are together. It really helps their individual arcs along, and I was a bit jealous at how subtly those arcs had their foundation lain in the early chapters with these two characters. That was some mighty fine character development.

The relationship between the two main characters, well, that was the inspiration for this post. Now that I've finished the book, my opinion remains the same. (The backstory of the male main character is pretty wicked as well, lest you think I am ignoring him.)

Speaking of previous posts inspired by the book, there is also this post. I almost quit reading the book because of the errors. And I'm not talking about "Oh no, that's not an error, it's a Britishism rather than an Americanism". I mean, there are errors. Words missing. Words included that shouldn't be (words included that shouldn't that be). ESPECIALLY at the beginning. It dies down after the beginning but never fully goes away. It's rampant at the beginning of the book and was driving me nuts. This suggests a number of possible options: the beginning of the book received the most revision closest to publication (such as editorial notes), thus was not edited as much as other parts of the book that remained the same. The publisher skimped on editing. Or the author is atrocious at self-editing and that was the best the publisher could do. I'm leaning toward the first option myself, as I want to give both the publisher and the author the benefit of the doubt. (Having worked in book production before moving on to media, I know how, why, and how often publishers skimp on editing to save time and money.)

But lastly, and why I'm over the moon about the book, and why it means so little to you whether you'll like the book, his voice is SO similar to my own. I wouldn't have written this book. I've never been inspired to write urban fantasy. But if you had told me that you were from the future and I had written an urban fantasy and you let me read this book, you might convince me. Word usage, sentence style, cadence. It all sounds like me. And that's not to suggest that my voice makes it superior. It is to suggest that there is HOPE! I have improved significantly over the last year. I've moved on to the next level, I think in my brain. I'm ready to do this! But I'm not doing this. I'm still doing that other thing, and that can make it hard to keep one's chin up. But seeing Tom's book out there, that really makes it feel like there are agents out there that resonate to the way I write (just not necessarily what I've written to date). (That Tom's agent is on my short list of agents I want to work with only sweetens that pot, it is not the cause for this adulation.)

A pessimist (like myself) might think that an agent finding that voice wouldn't want another author that sounds similar, but that sliver of optimism I have in there says, but Tom writes urban fantasy and I never ever write urban fantasy (and with less finality, I rarely ever think of young adult stories either). So let's do this! Regardless of my dominant pessimism or my slight optimism, the simple fact that someone with a voice similar to mine has found an agent and a publisher says that YES there are fish out in that sea, so I need to keep swimming or I'll suffocate and the other fish who aren't those fish will eat me and crap me out to be food for phytoplankton. No one wants that.

So, back to the short review, THE CITY'S SON is worth the cost and worth the read. You should give it a try. I quit books in the first chapter ALL THE TIME, and I made it through this one. That should speak for itself. And follow Tom on Twitter. He's good people.

You Have a Proof, Read the Damn Thing!

Here's a little tradecraft for you. Copyediting and Proofreading are not the same thing. Copyediting often includes proofreading, but it's not its primary goal. It's the icing on the cake that makes your story better. Proofreading does not include copyediting (though occasionally a proofreader will attempt to do so and it usually means a lot of work cleaning up all their bad ideas--but I may be jaded with experiences past ;).

More tradecraft, copyediting costs more than proofreading. In instances where the schedule/budget are tight, you're more likely to see proofreading skipped rather than copyediting even though it's cheaper. Why? Because copyediting is more valuable. It doesn't just fix typos and bad grammar, it fixes holes in your plot, eliminates redundancy and cliche. It makes the story better. And surprisingly, readers are willing to accept a lot of typos if the story is good.

What does that mean? PROOFREAD YOUR SHIT! I hate reading authors talking about how bad their manuscript was when they turned it in. So and So cleaned that mess up and made it readable. Well then put So and So's name on the front cover since you weren't professional enough to make the effort yourself.

Tradecraft: No matter how hard you try, no matter how hard your editor tries, no matter how hard your copyediting and proofreader try, things will get missed. The more crap you leave in your manuscript for others to find, the more crap that will get missed. You get rid of as much as you possibly can before you turn it over. That way what's missed is minor and doesn't make you look like a writing slob.

I'm reading a book right now with an interesting premise and characters, but the frequency of errors is DRIVING ME NUTS! Complete words (articles or short prepositions) are absent in every other chapter. A) it knocks me out of the story. B) how shitty was your manuscript that you turned over that this many mistakes are present? and/or C) how shitty is your publisher that they didn't hire a quality freelancer that could find ENTIRE WORDS MISSING from a sentence.

*pant, pant, pant, pant* Okay, so the lesson, kiddies, is that a book is your face to the world. You can look like a slob and a slacker, or you can suit up and shine. Don't rely on other people to make your shit shiny. Put in the hard work. They'll think better of you for making their job easier and your readers will think better of you because it looks like you know how to write.

The Other Side

I don't only read fantasy and science fiction. I think that's a good thing, to read outside of one's preferred genre. Keeps things fresh. Keeps things interesting. You get a view of how things are done elsewhere (setting doesn't matter as much in some genres as it does in sff where many call it another character in the novel). And you get a view of how things are changing there, maybe something you can use in your own work as well.

For me, when I'm not reading sff, I usually turn to a biography. Jerry Lewis' DEAN AND ME, Steve Martin's BORN STANDING UP, Craig Ferguson's AMERICAN BY CHOICE (a much more solid offering than his fiction BETWEEN THE BRIDGE AND THE WATER1), and more. Some are awesome (see Ferguson). Some are completely self-serving (see Lewis). Some are a train wreck of good intentions (see Meghan McCain's DIRTY SEXY POLITICS). Currently, Russel Brand's first autobiography, MY BOOKY WOOKY. I tend to lean toward performers rather than historical, political, or military figures, who so often make up the bulk of the biography section. I like to see how they were drawn to their art, how they suffered, and how they overcame (if they did). Artists often tend to leave off a lot of the polish. Even with Jerry Lewis writing about how he and Dean Martin loved each other to the very end, he speaks on infidelity and ties to the mob.

With Russell Brand, his fiction follows a consciousness delivery much like his stand-up. Tangents come and go and you have to hold on for the ride. I love the book already because he makes a statement that perfectly sums up my childhood as well. "I was awake as a child." It's such a profound statement that people have trouble understanding unless they lived it. I made the local news when I was in kindergarten. My school did a balloon release2, and I was one of a handful of students whose balloons were found first. They interviewed the larger kids first, so I heard the kind of questions they were going to ask. I was prepared with a cogent, intelligent response, but when they asked me my question, I stuck my finger in my mouth and twisted in place, looking horribly cute. Of course, the entire time, I'm screaming in my mind "WHAT ARE YOU DOING" like some guy at the helm of a spaceship, the controls not responding, the circuit boards sparking, and the ship setting course for the closest star.

I was awake as a child.

I don't think I would have ever heard, I don't think I would have ever articulated that experience if I had not read Russell Brand's MY BOOKY WOOKY. Thanks for that Russell. It's a good read.