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Newsletter #81 March - May, 2008

Short Recommendations
by Don Blyly

        Kim Harrison's The Outlaw Demon Wails ($24.95, due February 26, signed copies expected) is the 6th book in the series that began with Dead Witch Walking. Rachel Morgan is a witch who formed a private investigating partnership with Ivy the vampire and Jenks the pixie, and her adventures should definitely be read in order. Kim says that this book was the end of her original planned story arc, and reveals things about the characters that have been hinted at since the first book, but the series has taken on a life of its own and she's already working on the next book in the series.
        Rachel has a demon trying to kill her and other demons who would like to claim her, among her other problems. During the book she learns about her real father, about the secret genetic manipulation that was done to her as a child, and about the ancient relationship between the witches, elves, and demons. After lots of adventures in Cincinnati and the ever-after, she's still trying to find the killer of her former vampire lover, and there are plenty of other plot thread dangling to make me eager for the next in the series.
        Kim Harrison will be signing at Uncle Hugo's on Sunday, March 30, 1-2 pm.

        S. M. Stirling's In the Court of the Crimson Kings ($24.95, due in March) is the sequel to The Sky People ($6.99). This is an alternate history where some incredibly powerful alien force started terraforming Venus and Mars millions of years ago and began populating them with life forms both from Earth and elsewhere. The Cold War is still going on between the U.S.-led West and the communist EastBloc, but both sides have been pouring their resources into establishing colonies on Venus and Mars rather than into proxy wars in third world countries on Earth. The Sky People was a very pulpy story set on Venus, full of lost races and savage critters, and was fun. In the Court of the Crimson Kings involves the 40,000 year old civilization on Mars, with their biological machines and complex palace intrigues. It also has a delightful Prologue set at the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago in 1962 as all the major science fiction writers of the period, identified only by their first names, gather to watch the live TV transmission of the photos from the first lander to reach Mars. It's useful to read the first book before the second book, but I enjoyed the second book a lot more.

        Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road ($21.95, some signed second printings available) is a historical adventure novel set around 950 AD in the area between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea, with similarities to Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series. An odd couple of swordsmen-for-hire/conmen have assorted adventures in interesting locations. I enjoyed it a lot, but wish it had been longer. (It's only about 200 pages of large type, including many very nice full page black and white illustrations).

        The Innocent Mage ($6.99) and The Awakened Mage ($6.99) by Karen Miller is one story split into 2 books. Centuries before the story begins, the magic-using Doranen people invaded the land of the Olken people while fleeing a magical war that had consumed the rest of the world. The evil mage Morg had found a way to make himself immortal and all-powerful. The leader of the Doranen invaders, Barl, created Barl's wall to magically keep Morg out of the Kingdom of Lur. The Doranens have ruled ever since, believing their version of history, which claimed that the Olkens had no magic and the Doranens used their magic to save the Olkens. To maintain this version of things, any Olken found to practice magic is sentenced to death. A small secret circle of Olken magic users have been following a prophecy for centuries that a Olken would be born with great magical ability without realizing his ability (the Innocent Mage) and would save his people.
        Asher, the young man destined to become the Innocent Mage, arrives at the capital city as the old king is near exhaustion from his daily sacrifices to keep Barl's Wall strong, the prince is not capable of working magic, and (unknown to everybody in the Kingdom of Lur), Morg has finally managed to penetrate Barl's Wall, though not with his full strength. Asher is soon being secretly manipulated by the Olken Circle to fulfill the prophecy, while lots of other forces are in play.

        A couple of customers mentioned that Kate Elliot's Spirit Gate ($7.99) seemed to be a step above her already high level of fantasy writing, so I tried it, enjoyed it, and put it on our recommended fantasy shelf.
        In this fantasy world, The Hundred is a rich, fertile area of primarily small towns that share a common religion and customs, but not a strong central government. Minor legal problems are handled locally, sometimes with assistance from reeves--humans who are bonded to huge intelligent eagles and patrol routes looking for problems. Major problems traditionally were handled by magical Guardians, but no Guardians have been seen almost a century, and evil is spreading through The Hundred.
        To the south of The Hundred is a very rigid, mighty empire that calls to mind ancient China. Beyond that, there is a land that was recently conquered by the Qin, a fierce group of horse soldiers that somewhat call to mind the Mongols. Captain Anji of the Qin flees from a politically-arranged death sentence with his new wife and a couple of hundred of his soldiers. Eventually, they reach The Hundred, hoping to be able to support themselves as guards for merchant caravans. They arrive in time to play a critical role in beating back a major offensive by the evil force that is trying to conquer The Hundred.
        The sequel, Shadow Gate ($25.95), is due mid-April.

        I've been hearing great things about Liz Williams' series about Singapore Detective Inspector Chen, and they are finally coming out in paperback. Snake Agent ($7.99) has already arrived, The Demon and the City ($7.99) should arrive around the middle of February, and Precious Dragon ($7.99) should arrive around the middle of March.
        Inspector Chen is in charge of handling supernatural cases in a future China that I would guess is about 50 years in our future. Thanks to internet connections between our world and Chinese heaven and Chinese hell, it's determined that a murdered girl did not arrive in Heaven as expected--so Chen is assigned the case. Seneschal Zhu Irzh is a demon employed by Hell's police force to promote and regulate Vice, and his case seems to tie in with Chen's case, so he comes to Singapore to meddle in Chen's case. Chen has secrets to keep, including the fact that his wife is a demon who he helped escape from Hell. Lots of action and fun follow, and I'm eagerly waiting for the next book.
        Morgan Howell's trilogy King's Property ($6.99), Clan Daughter ($6.99), and Royal Destiny ($6.99) came out a month apart, making it easy to get hooked on the first one and follow-up quickly with the next volumes.
        Dar was from a poor mountain village when she was grabbed by the human king's army, branded on her forehead to keep her from deserting, and told that she would be spending the rest of her probably short life serving the king's orc soldiers. While the king keeps the best of his human soldiers in all-human units, he sends the dregs to serve with the orcs. Dar quickly figures out that she's safer with the orcs than with the humans serving with the orcs, and she begins to learn the orc language and customs. Despite their fierce appearance and reputation, the orcs are just a bunch of young guys who hate war and want to return to their peace-time occupations. But within the fiercely matriarchal orc society they have to go fight for the humans when their mothers tell them to do so, and as long as the orc queen is the captive of the human king the orcs will have to continue to provide sons to die for the king. In the first book, Dar discovers that the king's mage plans to send the orcs into an ambush to try to get them killed off, but she only manages to save a few of them. After the battle, she convinces 5 surviving orcs to desert and she promises to guide them back to their homeland, which she has never seen. Most of the middle book is the adventures involved in getting back to the orc homeland, and Dar starts having visions related to orc spirituality and history. The third book involves trying to free the orcs from human control, and reveals that the evil mage is under the control of a force that has been trying to wipe out the orcs for generations. Dar goes through a spiritual rebirth and is declared an orc in a human body.

        With modern technology, it has become easy to self-publish a book, and many thousands of titles are now self-published each year. Most of the time these are books that had no chance of being published by a major publisher because of the writing, and most of the time the authors have no clue about book publishing and distribution. I'd say that in at least 99% of the cases, self-publishing was a mistake, often based on inaccurate information from the companies that make money off of the inexperienced authors. (Please note that there's a big difference between small press publishing, which often puts out some very good books that have been carefully selected, edited, paid for by the publisher, and marketed by the publisher, versus self-publishing, which usually show no selection process, no editing, no marketing, and where the author pays the publisher to put out the book.)
        Self-publishing often results in desperate authors trying anything to get their books into bookstores, often without even understanding that the bookstore needs a sizable discount to cover overhead. We've even had self-published authors buy mailing lists of bookstores and send un-ordered copies of their books with invoices to every bookstore on the mailing list. Some bookstores now have a rule that they won't carry ANY self-published books because some self-published authors are such a pain in the neck. And some real publishers now won't consider any manuscript from any author who has ever self-published a book.
        When a former employee tried to get me to read a soon-to-be self-published book, I was very skeptical. But he kept bugging me and sent me a computer file of the entire book. I decided to be polite and try it for 2 or 3 pages. I started reading:
        "On one otherwise normal Tuesday evening I had the chance to live the American dream. I was able to throw my incompetent jackass of a boss from a fourteenth-story window."
        The next thing I knew, I was 40 pages into the story, enjoying the hell out of it, and I stayed after closing the store to print out the entire manuscript to take home and read.
        Owen, our hero, was an accountant for a large corporation who worked late one night, and his boss turned into a werewolf and tried to kill him. Owen managed to defeat him but ended up in the hospital, where he starts getting interesting visitors. It seems that our government knows that there are monsters out there, but doesn't want to panic the population. So the government quietly puts out bounties for the monsters, and there's a large firm, Monster Hunter International (established 1895), that's the best in the world at collecting bounties on monsters. Owen's fight was captured on his company's security cameras, and Monster Hunter International got access to the tapes and was so impressed that they want to recruit him as a professional Monster Hunter.
        I loved the book, especially the part about what happened to the elves who came here from the old world. I wrote back that this book should not be self-published. It was so good that it deserved to be published by a real publisher, who could provide a bit of editing, plus promotion and distribution. But the author self-published anyway, and I've ordered a bunch of copies of Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia ($21.95 trade paperback), and we should see them by the end of February. And when the next installment comes out, I'll pick that one up too, even if it is also self-published, in need of a little editing, and a bit overpriced.



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