Genre: Science-Fiction/Speculative Fiction
Publisher: Angry Robot
REVIEW Sometimes it is difficult to classify a work of fiction. One my enter into it with a genre in mind, but once the reading begins it becomes confusing because it does not follow the rules. Through the years there have always been those who claim that breaking the norms of classification is bad and that has always been the battle between the old guard and the young lions when it comes to culture. Brett Savory’s new book is a perfect example of how one might break the norm.
A Perfect Machine opens up in an unknown city in an unknown era, in an unknown universe. To be perfectly honest there are quite a few details in this tale that are unknown and that is one of the strengths. Henry Kyllo is a runner, part of a ritual that has been played for a long time in the city. A sort of hunt that usually leaves him laid out riddled with bullets, but that doesn’t really matter since he always bounces back. That is just one of the strange abilities afforded runners, that and the fact that they cloak the entire affair to those who happen to experience it, very much like a memory that fades away. The healing comes with a price and every time new bullets penetrate him Kyllo’s body is altered. One night Kyllo goes overboard and gets his final dose of lead, while his best friend Milo is decapitated, the only way to kill runners apparently.
Kyllo, thought to be dead by his nurse girlfriend Faye, begins to change instead and turn into a monstrous machine and Milo turns into a ghost, following his pal around.
At the same time the head of the runners, a man by the name of Palermo, has his own issues. A young man named Krebosche is looking to expose the gang and traditions of the run and exact revenge on those involved in the death of his sister and girlfriend. A girlfriend who happened to be Palermo’s daughter. The stories cross as everyone ends up at Faye’s apartment where Kyllo is turning into something completely new.
There is a lot going on in Savory’s tale and yet the reader is often times left feeling that they do not know what is happening. The plot is easy enough to follow, as are the various characters that come in and out, but it is all those things that surround the story, the setting and background that may leave you wanting more. A Perfect Machine is billed as a science-fiction, but lacks several of the qualities that belong to the genre, or at least it would appear so. We are never, initially at least, informed of what the runners and their counter parts the hunters are; the next step in human evolution, robots or aliens, there is no mention of year or parallel universe and the setting seems to be quite similar to our own. Question is if this is necessary or if it would remove focus from what is important or if it is a conscious measure to make the book lighter on technical jargon and speculative motifs that might alienate most readers.
There is something slightly absurd about A Perfect Machine, despite the language being strong in its simplicity, and the suspension of disbelief is difficult to set aside. There are so many things that happen; men turning into machine, ghosts in the vein Patrick Swayze, vengeance as found in the works of Mickey Spillane and humans hunting each other like Surviving the Game, at times it feels like you’re reading a Golden Age comic with better writing. Savory does make it work on some level, but one might ask if sticking to just a couple of speculative aspects wouldn’t have been better.
We here at W.A.R.G are proud to present our inaugural podcast episode; our interview with Eric Scott Fischl about writing and his debut novel Dr. Potter’s Medicine Show. There are probably quite a few issues to work out in the process and there is no plan for how often we will do these, but hopefully a few more.
The episode features the music of Krale and Disfigure from NCS.com
Dr. Alexander Potter, disgraced Civil War surgeon, now huckster and seller of snake-oil, travels the wet roads of the Pacific Northwest with a disheartened company of strongmen, illusionists, fortunetellers, and musical whores. Under the quiet command of the mysterious, merciless, and murderous Lyman Rhoades, they entertain the masses while hawking the Chock-a-saw Sagwa Tonic, a vital elixir touted to cure all ills both physical and spiritual… although, for a few unfortunate customers, the Sagwa offers something much, much worse.
For drunken dentist Josiah McDaniel, the Sagwa has taken everything from him; in the hired company of two accidental outlaws, the bickering brothers Solomon Parker and Agamemnon Rideout, he looks to revenge himself on the Elixir’s creator: Dr. Morrison Hedwith, businessman, body-thief, and secret alchemist, a man who is running out of time.
Eric Scott Fischl writes novels of speculative historical fiction and the supernatural. He lives in Montana’s Bitterroot mountains.
Publisher: Daw books
Back in September 2016 we reviewed the prequel to The Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, Of Sand and Malice made, we called for more desert and more of the heroine Çeda and Bradley Beaulieu delivers nearly 600 pages of just that.
REVIEW With Blood Upon the Sand is book number two in the series The Song of the Shattered Sands and the readers once again get to follow the adventures of the once White Wolf Çeda. As to not spoil the first books for those who might become interested after this review we will avoid to delve too much into the plot. In her continued effort to bring about the downfall of the Twelve Kings, legendary tyrants of the desert landscape, Çeda has become one of the Maidens. As such she has the opportunity to fight them from the inside and free the asirim, slaves to the Kings, but loosing to The Moonless Host, a revolutionary type organization has made them vengeful and out for blood.
With Blood Upon the Sand is definitely what Empire Strikes Back was to A New Hope. It manages to delve deeper into the story and characters than the previous books, just like a sequel should, but that might be to simplify things. Even though Twelve Kings was a great read there were points one might have considered a bit too heavy and why not? The first book in a series is often used to set the scene, present the characters and add history. It gives the reader a chance to slowly immerse themselves in the setting, plots and various subplots. With that out of the way Beaulieu shows that he can flex his other muscles and flew them he does. There is a breeziness to the language of this book that was not as present in the first one. That is not to say that said language is simpler, on the contrary, but without the weight of giving detail to background and descriptions Beaulieu can concentrate on character interaction and driving the story forward; and this makes for a thrilling page turner.
What also feels different in the sequel is the fact that the story branches out in an almost vine like fashion. Twelve Kings mostly gave the reader Çeda’s point of view and her story and that was expected, but now Beaulieu flips the script and allows us more insight into the other players in this oriental drama. It is only one of the ways he manages to keep an already intriguing story alive, as well as introducing deeper plot twists, new magic and mythical objects. As stated in other reviews; the strength of a great story is to avoid the hackneyed tropes or at least reuse the same in a new and interesting way and Beaulieu shows us that he is a master of this time and time again.
At the heart of it all the same theme so common to fantasy stays true; The Heart’s Desire and the battle between good and evil, although what this desire might be or who stands on what side may be up for debate. The language is consistently strong, as is the plot, and it balances from everyday training and dialogue mixed in with an almost thriller like quality reminiscent of any Cold War drama. All in all the melding of tropes in a new cauldron brought to the boil truly results in a delicious and easily digested stew.
With Blood Upon the Sand is a perfect transition from the initial act of Twelve Kings to the inevitable climax of the next installment, it sets the stage perfectly and adds the right amount of actors, intrigue and backdrop for something awesome to come down the road.
So the call for more Çeda, more desert is coupled with more intrigue as well as cloak and dagger, bring it on and quickly.
With Blood Upon the Sand is released on February 7th and the first installments The Twelve Kings in Sharakhai and Of Sand and Malice Made are available wherever you might find books.
Here at The Guild we are always interested in having an array of culturally engaged people say their piece and therefore we invite the author Ani Fox to guest post today. Fox has recently released the book Autumn War, classified as a cyber-thriller, but more about him after a word from the man himself.
In Defense of Fun
I never thought I’d say this but… the Sad Puppies do have a point. Lost inside all that vitriol and under the carpet bombing emotionalism they managed to say one thing I found myself not entirely against. Fair disclosure – I know a lot of those authors personally. Or used to. We don’t talk much these days.
Literature should be fun, especially speculative fiction. I believe this. Not all literature is and we accept some awful journeys because the writer or the story or both are just that damned good. I’d rather drink broken glass than read Toni Morrison. Beloved just got cross listed as horror and rightfully so. Her works are soul stirring and profound. They also make me want to find a bell tower and jump. After electrocuting myself with a live grenade soaked in cyanide. They are anything but fun. They are painful but valuable work.
Boris Akunin on the other hand writes novels I blow through. He’s every bit as profound as Morrison and in translation his language can go toe to toe with the Nobel Prize winning master. He’s that good. Not a word out of place, not a phrase wasted. More than that, he can write in any genre he chooses. He’s the master of his own voice as well as the photo perfect pastiche. His stuff tends to be fun. Not only fun and sometimes fun comes last, but it’s in there. It’s worth the ride for the ride alone.
Morrison feeds you vitamin broth and brussel sprouts; Akunin pours you various kinds of coffee, some bitter and black, some sweet and mysterious. Now I like sprouts and have been known to drink veggie broth without physical threats. But I can distinguish them from ice cream and pizza. Readers can and do as well.
Robert Heinlein showed us how to sneak profound ideas under a canopy of action and adventure, to insert the philosophical into the fun. Like vitamin rich ice cream. Stranger in a Strange Land is the gateway drug to ontology and epistemology; Starship Troopers to political science and psychobiology. Students all around the world bitch and moan as Shakespeare and Homer are dusted off year after year in the English speaking world and rammed down their uncomprehending throats. But those guys knew how to have fun.
As You Like It, The Tempest, for you grimdark fans; Titus Andronicus. Genius and bloody good fun once you understand all the dirty puns and sly asides. Homer – whether a poet or a writer’s collective of poets across generations – ol’ H knew how to entertain. The Iliad and The Odyssey have vampires, gods, vengeance, sexcapades, disguises and reversals, boat and chariot chases (because car chases had to wait for Ronin), the antihero and lots, nay endless, arrays of naked women frolicking everywhere. It makes the Kardashians look the 700 Club Christmas Special.
Since we invented speculative fiction with The Epic of Gilgamesh (or Tale of Genji or Songlines of Red Belly Black…take yer pick), creators of the genre have buried the lead. We’ve wrapped up all the secret thinking and moral conversation in heroes, gods, vampires and demons, sex and murder, all the good stuff. Because these beings help us play out the situations we wish to investigate. The genre Speculates. It invents and interrogates a future of some sort or an alternate present, perhaps a better or worse or different past. As a way of making literature, it seeks to make history its bitch. And if we borrow from George Santayana, those who don’t end up being history’s bitch. Or you know, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Fun insulates the mind from the terrible pummeling it takes being exposed to ideas. Think fear of women in power ain’t relevant today. Then ponder Lady Macbeth and the 2016 election cycle. Literature holds us in its sway precisely because it entertains the whole mind from lizard brain and amygdala to the shiny blinking tips of the frontal cortex on maximum serotonin blitz. We still talk about the Scottish Play centuries later because Shakespeare injected that bloody little tragedy with adventure, intrigue, deception, faithlessness, lust and hatred. Trust me, we might dislike ourselves for admitting this, bit for humans that counts as fun.
Now I’m a writer and I like to think I sucketh not. But I’m no Toni Morrison. I know my limits and frankly I‘m nowhere good enough to get away with sticking my fingers into my reader’s heart, wiggling them around and forcing them to turn the page. I rely on props. Explosions, villains, hackneyed plots inverted, genres and stock characters twisted to make things interesting. So I emulate Akunin, who does all that but transcends the story. It’s a path to perfection one might reasonably follow.
Because given the choice, I’d be honored beyond comprehension to serve Toni dinner but I’d prefer to have Boris at the tale. I bet he’d be a lot of fun.
About Ani Fox:
Ani Fox lives in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg – the heart of ancient Europe. He’s published short fiction in Jim Baen’s Universe as well as in the Ragnarok Publications anthology Corrupts Absolutely? The Autumn War is his first published novel. In his spare time he holds down a day job, serves as Editor in Chief for the European Review of Speculative Fiction and does what his cat tells him. He holds a BA in History from the Rutgers University, a PhD (ABD) in World History from the Australian National University and a PhD in Indigenous Theology from ULC Seminary; none of which make him more fun at parties.
Nothing is as it seems. After the mysterious death of his family, retired operative Spetz has come looking for answers, using himself as bait. The shadowy Syndicate has made him a job offer that a deranged cadre of Nazi super-soldiers, the various global Mafias, and a ship full of eco-fanatics would all prefer he decline. By midday, the U.S. Government has declared him a terrorist, and an unseen adversary has offered more than a billion dollars to have him killed.In this covert global war, Spetz is forced to call in some favors from former associates: a rogue Artificial Intelligence, an ice-cold femme fatale, and a rescue team of former Soviet saboteurs. Among his enemies are Zeus, a genetically engineered soldier who styles himself a god; Mika French, the best assassin alive, and Hans Gutlicht, a mad scientist with a grudge…and the man who raised Spetz. From the icy waters of the Canadian North Atlantic to the burning sands of Las Vegas, Spetz must keep two steps ahead of everyone, outfoxing some of the most brilliant and dangerous operatives alive. To unravel the conspiracies behind the Autumn War, he does the one thing he’s always resisted: join ‘The Game.’ But can he win it in time to stop his faceless enemy? For Spetz, it’s gotten very personal. Game on.
E-book editions of The Autumn War are available now. Print editions are expected to hit the shelves any day, so keep an eye out for this title in the wild!
Publisher Website: www.ragnarokpub.com