Sunday, July 31, 2016

Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers

Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers is one of the best science fiction debuts I’ve read in a long time. It starts with a bang and keeps up a full-throated roar the entire way.

Hail Bristol is a gunrunner who is both respected and feared. She’s also the heir to the throne of the Indranan Empire which she fled in order to take charge of her own life. Now her crew is dead, her ship disabled and she’s being dragged back to become the thing she most wanted to avoid. With her sisters dead and her mother in declining health, Hail must take her place as heir to the throne. The only problem is, people aren’t done trying to kill her yet.

Wagers characters are instantly relatable and likable. Along with Hail, the trackers-cum-bodyguards Emory and Zin make up a strong trio. You get an excellent sense of the characters quickly and they continue to add depth throughout the novel. The return to the palace adds several more characters who up the intrigue as Hail tries to figure out who to trust and who is behind the conspiracy to murder her family and destabilize the empire.

Behind the Throne does a good job of mixing action and intrigue. One of the most impressive things at work here is the world building. Not only do you get to see the beginnings of how the empire works, but you get a glimpse into how it came to be. There are several interesting social constructs in play, but they are layered into the background rather than thrust right in your face. This is a female dominated society with a ruling class and only token acknowledgement of democracy. There are segments of society who want a more full-fledged democracy to replace the hereditary rule. In addition, there is a long-standing but fragile peace treaty with other worlds and the complications that brings with it. There isn’t excessive hand-wringing about these issues; they come up matter of factly and are dealt more in terms of how they impact the crisis at hand. As this is the first book in a series, there is plenty of time to explore this society as needs warrant.

The book has plenty of exciting action sequences along with a generous helping of intrigue that keeps the pages flying by. It’s a self-contained story while also setting up a universe and characters that you’ll want to see more of. I’m on board for whatever comes next. Behind the Throne is one of my favorite reads of the year. Highly recommended!

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Description: Hailimi Bristol escaped from the suffocating court life of Indrana at the age of 19 and changed the course of her life. She became a universally feared gunrunner and, eventually, captain of her own ship. Twenty years later, though, her life is turned upside down by the death of her best friend and lover, the destruction of her ship, and her own effective kidnapping by Royal Trackers tasked with bringing her home. But why? After twenty years?

Because Princess Hailimi Bristol is the only remaining heir to the Indranan throne.

Her sisters have been killed and her mother is ill. Is it a plot by Indrana’s enemies to restart the war that killed her father? Or is it a cabal of men from within Indrana’s own matriarchal society seeking to change centuries of rule by women? For on Indrana, men are second to women and not all are as accepting of that as they seem.

Caught in a whirlwind of plots and assassination attempts, poor Hail longs for the “simple life” of running guns and smuggling. But she can’t run back to that old life. For if she runs away again, Indrana will enter an unnecessary war with the neighboring kingdoms, millions will die, and the Bristol name will disappear forever.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

10 Questions with Victor Milan

I'm very pleased to have Victor Milan stop by today to answer some questions. Milan's second book in the Dinosaur Lords series, The Dinosaur Knights, is out this week. Check below for other stops on Victor's blog tour as well as links to buy the books.

Welcome Victor!

1. What are some of the changes in how you write and approach stories and characters today that are different from when you first started writing?
That was a long time ago.  I’ve always, or at least from very early on, meant to write to entertain – first, me, and then others.  Since I reasoned that if it didn’t entertain me, how would it entertain my readers?  And also that I wanted to write stories about characters who were interesting and lively – again, to me, first of all – so people would care what happened to them.  
So I guess the big change is inspiration.  When I was in high school, the trendy thing to say was that “you can’t turn inspiration on and off like a faucet.” Eventually I learned that, yeah, you kinda can.  For me, inspiration is a constant force, like water pressure – it wants to pour out into the world, but is easily to block.  And that my major task would be breaking all the habits that led me to shut it off.  So, really, it wasn’t a matter of turning it on, as much as stopping myself from shutting it off.
2. How did the idea for The Dinosaur Lords series come together? I've read about your love of dinosaurs, but how did you develop the philosophy, religions and government and integrate it with a dinosaur world?
Back in 2002-3 I decided I wanted to write the book I’d most like to read in the world.  I decided it should be about something I’d loved the most the longest, and yeah, prominent among those things was dinosaurs.  So I decided I wanted a world where human characters could interact with them.
I started working with those parameters, trying to build a credible world for all that to happen in.  And everything evolved from that, along with my desire to make it all, well, cool.  I wanted a world that wasn’t just believable in every aspect I could manage, but was colorful and wild and wonderful.  
And by the way, Paradise is a complete world, with diverse ecosystems as well as human cultures – and, of course, dinosaurs.  What you see, in The Dinosaur Lords and Book II of the trilogy, The Dinosaur Knights, is but a small fraction of that world.  Though there’re hints of and references to other parts of Paradise.
3. How did the inclusion of dinosaurs change the way you think about medieval warfare?
That’s one of the most fun aspects for me, as a history nut with a particular interest in military history:  redesigning warfare in an age of dinosaurs!  
The most obvious element is the role of big dinosaurs, mostly in the three to twelve ton range, in warfare:  the hadrosaurs commonly used by dinosaur knights, and the mobile fortresses – living tanks, in effect – which are Karyl Bogomirskiy’s dread war Triceratops.
A few knights also use big meat-eating dinosaurs as war mounts.  But they’re rare.  Even though, yes, two fairly significant character do ride them, one an Allosaurus, the other a smallish T. rex.
I also eliminated gunpowder from my world, although it was a key element of warfare during the Renaissance, which is the period (around 1500 AD) that most influenced my thinking on war on Paradise.  As my friend S. M. “Steve” Stirling likes to say:  in our world, the large animal problem is solved.  Whereas I wanted a more level playing field – not just for war-dinosaurs, but for wild ones.  I wanted Nature and Humanity on a more equal footing than was present on Earth, even in the early 16th Century.
A second factor was the role of readily-available animal muscle power for transportation and construction, for war and everyday use.  In Nuevaropa, the empire where these books are set, the prime mover is the domesticated nosehorn – Centrosaurus apertus, which grew to about twenty feet long and a bit over three tons.  They make it relatively easy to haul stuff, for commerce and logistics. (And also construction, like road-building.)
One thing you don’t see – at least in these books – is the real bigassasaurs like Apatosaurus or Brontosaurus (they’re back!) in use as trained animals.  They’re prohibitively hard to feed, house, and especially train.  It’s not easy to get the attention of an animal whose head is four stories in the air, like a Brachiosaurus (which is called a Tree-topper titan in Nuevaropa.)  And if you do, they’re just as likely to decide you’re a nuisance and step on you.  So, not really a net positive in the cost/benefit analysis.
4. Does there come a point when you are writing a book that you are satisfied that the story you want to tell is on the page? Or is it something you continue to tinker with until the editor pries it out of your hands?
The former.  I have many vices, of which probably the most deadly is a predisposition to paralysis by perfectionism.  But that “tinker with until the editor pries it out of [my] hands” isn’t part of that for me, thankfully.  I know how I want my story to end when I start, and once I get to The End, it’s all over but the revisions.  And I don’t protract those endlessly.  I know what feels right, and at that point, the draft is done.
It also helps to have the support of my wonderful writers group, Critical Mass, as well as an expert editor who gets what I’m doing with my books, in Claire Eddy, in fixing my drafts.  And again, that’s done when I feel it is, and off it goes again.
5. If you could be one of the characters in your own book, who would you be and why?
Oh, jeez.  I am … not kind to my characters.
My first thought may be Shiraa, who’s a reader favorite, or Little Nell.  Who are both dinosaurs.  Shiraa has a rough go, since early on she’s wounded and separated from her beloved human, whom she thinks of as her mother, and once she heals up travels Nuevaropa searching for “her.” (It’s actually a “he,” the aforementioned Karyl.) But she is a thirty-foot long Allosaurus.  So she has certain advantages.
Little Nell is an Einiosaurus, another smaller “hornface” relative of Triceratops, who’s the friend and riding and pack-dinosaur of Rob Korrigan.  She has a pretty good and placid life – unless you attack her, in which case she’s ready to go to defend herself and Rob, with her bulk and her huge forward-hooking nose horn.
As for human characters, I think her master, Rob Korrigan would be my choice.  He’s a reader favorite too.  He’s a picaro – a clever rogue.  Who’s a good guy at heart.  He has a wry take on the world, and is adventurous in a way I wish I could be, and leads life with a joyous vigor I’d like to emulate.  Then again, the life he gets in the story is way more adventurous than he cares for.  But that’s why they call it “having an adventure,” right?  It doesn’t count if it isn’t uncomfortable and scary.
6. When you are not writing, what are some of your favorite books and authors to read?
Jack Vance is my favorite author.  I like his science fiction novels better than his fantasy, though those are great too.  My favorites are his Demon Princes and Tschai books.  The Dragon Masters was a key inspiration for The Dinosaur Lords.
I’m a huge David Drake fan.  His Hammer’s Slammers stories also had their influence on The Dinosaur Lords trilogy.
I love The Expanse, both the books and the SyFy adaptation.  “James S. A. Corey” is two friends of mine, Danny Abraham and Ty Franck,  who participated in the Critical Mass group I belong to, along with the likes of Melinda Snodgrass, Walter Jon Williams, Steve Stirling, John Joseph Miller, Sage Walker, and Ian Tregillis, as well as up and comers like Emily Mah Tippetts, Lauren Teffeau, Sarena Ulibarri, and M. T. Reiten.  (A certain writer who won’t be named, but whose initials are G. R. R. M. was a founding member, but hasn’t taken direct part in a long time.)   They’re an incredible bunch of writers, and an incomparable resource.  I ‘m beyond lucky to have had and continued to have their help and support.
7. What books or authors inspired you to become a writer?
After initially resisting, for reasons I cannot now call to mind, I came to SF and fantasy in fifth or sixth grade.  Early favorites include Alan E. Nourse, Andre Norton, and Classics Illustrated comics (the best War of the Worlds Martian tripods that have ever seen the light of day, or ever will.) Heck, I probably need to include a key and far earlier influence: Donald Duck Comics and Stories by the great Carl Barks, who among other things helped form my love of words, my vocabulary, and my sense of humor.  
Tolkien.  Of course.  Heinlein.  Of course.  Eventually Robert E. Howard, Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, and H. P. Lovecraft.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the TV show Mannix, which featured something really dumb (the hero runs down streets or parking-structure lanes while baddies chase him in a car, without a) taking cover behind something like a car or cement pillar; or b) getting run over) so prominently that I vowed at the age of 13 that I would prove to the world that thrilling action/adventure entertainment didn’t have to be stupid to be fun.
8. Do you see this series being translated into another medium? Comics, movies, television? Or is this something you think works best on the printed page?
Oh, yeah.  While I’m not a graphic designer or artist by any stretch, I tend to visualize my characters and settings strongly – and to approach scenes as if they’re movies in my mind.  The books and stories are as they are; and I think it would adapt delightfully to graphic novels, movies, or TV.  Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, and The Expanse have shown that quality visual adaptations of quality printed SFF were possible and profitable.  And as with the latter two, I think a Dinosaur Lords screen adaptation would work best as a limited television series.
Also I’d really love to see it adapted to game format, video, tabletop, and RPG.  I think it lends itself well to that – I’ve long been an avid gamer.
9. If you could offer advice to your younger self when you first started writing, what would it be?
Dear High School Me:
You know how you always parrot the other creative kids when they say, “you can’t turn inspiration off and on like a faucet.”
Yeah, no.  You totally can.
Except it’s not really a matter of turning it on.  Inspiration is like water pressure:  it’s always on.  It always wants to come out. You’re just blocking it.  
To get real writing done, and enjoy doing it, you need to learn to let inspiration flow freely.  Stop asking bullshit questions as you write, like, “Is this the right word?  The right sentence?  The right scene?  The right character?” That crap just turns the faucet to “off.”  It’s what the rewrite’s for.
So screw the pseudo-hip posturing and start figuring out how to remove the obstacles you put in inspiration’s path, you adolescent schmuck.
– Future Professional Writer Me
P.S. – Also, quit being such a wienie, and you might get laid before you’re twenty.
10. Anything else you would like readers to know about the world of The Dinosaur Lords and the new book, The Dinosaur Knights?
A few things:
  1. It’s not set on Earth.  Not Earth past, not Earth present, not Earth future, not alt.Earth.  It’s set on a planet called Paradise.  
  2. Paradise is a whole world, with a world’s worth of widely differing environments, ecological and cultural.  What you see in this (first, I hope) trilogy is a slice of both.  It’s far from the whole thing, although you catch glimpses of other lands and societies.
  3. Dinosaurs (and pterosaurs, and marine reptiles) are animals.  Like the animals we know, some are pretty smart and some are pretty dumb.  I used to use the high concept, The Renaissance, with dinosaurs, until I realized that suggested raptors with ruffs and rapiers.  Nope, nope, nope. (And thanks again to that mysterious GRRM fellow for providing the perfect capsule summary!  Yeah, it’s right there on the cover.)
  4. It’s a playground for me to tell the stories I most want to read.  If the thought of knights, or samurai, or various indigenous warriors riding dinosaurs to battle appeal to you, you might want to read ’em too.  Everyone’s invited!
  5. I have an unhealthy fondness for numbered lists.

Thanks for asking me!  I hope I didn’t ramble on too long.
Thanks Victor for being so generous with your time!

Here are the other stops on the tour:

July 1: Fantasy Book Critic
July 4: Kitten Speaks Geek and A Reading Machine
July 5: Suvudu
July 6: Nerdophiles
July 8: Mighty Thor Jrs

Monday, July 4, 2016

All The Missing Girls by Megan Miranda

To paraphrase Hannibal Lecter, we covet with our eyes, what we see. The cover of All the Missing Girls is what first caught my eye. An empty ferris wheel, in the dark, rising out of the trees into a cloudy sky. The title hinting at a mystery and likely tragedy. Then the description of two missing girls, disappearing ten years apart, but linked in the way that small town tragedies are often linked; everyone knows everyone and you never really leave. Add to that a unique narrative device of telling the story backwards, from the 15th day after the second disappearance to the 1st, and you have all the ingredients for a great story.

Megan Miranda tells a great story and she does it with interesting, flawed, even tragic characters. Characters who you can’t trust, but who you become very invested in. The story is told through the eyes of Nicolette Farrell, who left Cooley Ridge 10 years ago after the disappearance of her friend Corinne. Pulled back to help deal with her ailing father, she is no sooner back than another girl goes missing. Annaleise, the missing girl, happened to be the alibi for Nic and her brother Daniel, as well as their friends Tyler, Jackson and Bailey. All of whom were the focus of the investigation ten years earlier.

Miranda brilliant spills out the information, a drab at a time, pulling the narrative forward even as time moves backwards. It’s a little bit difficult to wrap your head around the concept. The characters already know what the reader is just finding out because the action is in their past, but your future. Add to that the fact that none of the characters is completely honest, with themselves or with each other. The story moves ahead with one bombshell after the other as layers are peeled back. Along with facts of what happened with the disappearing girls, truths about the characters and who they really are get revealed.

All the Missing Girls will haunt you even as it thrills you. There is a bit of a resemblance to Shirley Jackson and The Haunting of Hill House in the way that this small town grips you and pulls you back into its clutches even after you think you’ve escaped and moved on. This is a great story that will have you turning the pages to get to the satisfying and haunting conclusion. Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Description:  Like the spellbinding psychological suspense in The Girl on the Train and Luckiest Girl Alive, Megan Miranda’s novel is a nail-biting, breathtaking story about the disappearances of two young women—a decade apart—told in reverse.

It’s been ten years since Nicolette Farrell left her rural hometown after her best friend, Corinne, disappeared from Cooley Ridge without a trace. Back again to tie up loose ends and care for her ailing father, Nic is soon plunged into a shocking drama that reawakens Corinne’s case and breaks open old wounds long since stitched.

The decade-old investigation focused on Nic, her brother Daniel, boyfriend Tyler, and Corinne’s boyfriend Jackson. Since then, only Nic has left Cooley Ridge. Daniel and his wife, Laura, are expecting a baby; Jackson works at the town bar; and Tyler is dating Annaleise Carter, Nic’s younger neighbor and the group’s alibi the night Corinne disappeared. Then, within days of Nic’s return, Annaleise goes missing.

Told backwards—Day 15 to Day 1—from the time Annaleise goes missing, Nic works to unravel the truth about her younger neighbor’s disappearance, revealing shocking truths about her friends, her family, and what really happened to Corinne that night ten years ago.

Like nothing you’ve ever read before, All the Missing Girls delivers in all the right ways. With twists and turns that lead down dark alleys and dead ends, you may think you’re walking a familiar path, but then Megan Miranda turns it all upside down and inside out and leaves us wondering just how far we would be willing to go to protect those we love.