Friday, June 28, 2013

Books that Rocked My Reading World

I turned 60 this last Monday. 
I know!  
Who would have thought I'd still be alive after all I've been through! Well, I personally haven't been through a lot, but the books I've read have taken me on quite the journey, and I lived to tell about it! I have lived my life in two parallel universes--one in the real world working a job and raising kids, and one immersed in strange worlds, talking to dragons and fighting the good fight.

My parents were a bit eccentric. (Understatement of the year.)

Dad thought we should read what ever we want to read and of course we wanted to read what Dad read, so my sister and I cut our reading teeth on E.E. 'Doc' Smith's Lensman Series.

This presented a problem at times in elementary school when we brought the book we were reading and it was deemed  to be 'lurid and unsuitable' by our teachers, frequently with negative consequences. My sister's teacher went so far as to tell my mother, "A third grader should not be reading such trash!"  My mother's response was that children should read whatever they wanted if they understood the words.

The series begins with Triplanetary, two billion years before the present time. What a great notion THAT is! The plot devices developed in this series of serialized tales forms the core of what we think of as traditional science fiction.  George Lucas liked it so much he used it in Star Wars.

The other great influence on what I instinctively thought of as 'Literature' was written by Lester Dent -- yes folks, my sister and I adored 'Doc Savage'

 Clark Savage (or "Doc" to his friends), had no special powers, but was raised from birth by his father and other scientists to become one of the most perfect human beings in terms of strength, mental and physical abilities. Oh yeah! Prime reading for a ten-year-old!

Then, holy-what-the-heck! My sister, Sherrie, and I discovered Fritz Lieber! That is when we really got into trouble. 

Swords and Deviltry was first published in 1970, by Ace books.  One of the true pioneers of the genre of epic fantasy, Fritz Lieber originally wrote the three main tales that comprise this book as short-stories for several now defunct Science Fiction and Fantasy magazines, with ‘Induction’, appearing in the 1957 collection ‘Two Sought Adventure’ which was later expanded without ‘Induction’ as ‘Swords Against Death’. In ‘The Snow Women’, Fafhrd is introduced as a young barbarian of eighteen years who is still living in his mother’s tent. More than anything he wishes to see the world, and longs to hear any news of ‘civilization’, and especially the fabled city of Lankhmar. Fearing the dark magic of his mother and obsessed with the need to see the world, a series of events leads Fafhrd to abandon his wife, whom he marries as a last defiant gesture simply because she is carrying his child.  The curses of his Mother and his spurned wife follow him.

After Fritz, we discovered Anne McCaffrey (do you hear the angels singing?)

And Heinlein!
And Tolkien!

Avidly, I read Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Piers Anthony, M.A. Foster, Roger Zelazney--so many of the great masters of the genre that I can't possibly name them all in one blog-post. When I read a book today, my unconscious mind judges it by the standards of the masters of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

A great book must have a great plot. It must have compelling characters, who are a bit larger than life. The worlds it is set in must be vivid and colorful! Don't give me a rehashing of J.R.R.--take me someplace new and wonderful and introduce me to new people. Take me into your mind!

Having spent my formative years fighting with my sister over who got to read dad's Analog first, and having eagerly shared every crumb of any book, from Tolkien to McCaffrey to Heinlein with her, my notion of what constitutes a good tale was formed.

So now you know the underpinnings of my lust for literature-of-the-fantastic variety. I suppose it is clear where my love of swashbuckling bad-boys and bold women originated. And I thank you all for giving me the opportunity to talk about that love here! 

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Best Fantasy Art Book Covers

Sometimes the books I read are good, but not so good that I want to blog on them. That gives me the opportunity to blog on the gorgeous art that covers fantasy books! This weeks post is on that one thing that will sell me a book no matter how bad the blurb--the cover. Since Christmas we have seen some really wonderful  covers go through here...and some not so wonderful covers, but we only say nice things here, right?  All of the books I read that make it here are really wonderful reads that I enjoyed, in some cases despite the bad blurbs and dismal cover art! For me, the book is what counts, and an indie author 's resources often don't stretch to include purchasing fine art for the cover!  Some, however do, and a few of those covers on books I've seen since January are featured today's post.

The two best covers of the year so far for me are on Jeffrey Getzin's wonderful novellas, Shara and the Haunted Village, and  A Lesson for the Cyclops. The artwork for both novellas is by the amazing Carol Phillips.

Both covers really represent the stories well and the attention to detail in the artwork is amazing.  For an indie author to put his resources into such fine covers for novellas is quite unusual, and I applaud his decision to do so.


Next on my list of eye-candy book covers is The Fire Rose, by Mercedes Lackey. This is a book published by Baen, so one would hope the art would be lovely, and it is. It has been out since the mid-nineties.


Another book that I bought for it's cover was The Winds of Khalakovo, by Bradley P. Beaulieu. It is a debut novel and bodes well for this author. The art represents the tale beautifully, and creates just that hint of mystery that sells books to people like me!


Another book that was intitally purchased for the cover was Magnus Opum by Aussie author Jonathan Gould. I LOVED this cover, because the stark simplicity reminded me of J.R.R. Tolkien's original artwork for his Lord of The Ring series.

The amazing simplicity of of Gould's cover hints at Magnus's story, and just as the picture by Tolkien of Bilbo on the Barrel coming to the huts of the Raftelves, it entices to you just look at it and think about the story.


Of course, A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson gets a gold star for the cover. TOR publishing never fails us when it comes to great fantasy artwork.


My final offering today is the cover of Tad Williams wonderful fantasy, The War of the Flowers.  I was moved to buy this book off the rack just by seeing this cover, and the book more than lived up to it. It was mysterious, and made me wonder about the tale.


For me, good fantasy does not have to be covered with great artwork. Many times indie authors don't have the resources to invest in art for covers; I should know! But if there is a fine picture on it, even if the blurb is bad or nonexistent, I will always buy the book for its cover.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Blood Numbers, Dean Frank Lappi

This week I read Blood Numbers, book II in the Aleph Null Chronicles, written by indie author Dean Frank Lappi. The Aleph Null Chronicles has to be the most unique fantasy series ever written. The first book is the reissued novel, Black Numbers.

Sid is the Aleph Null, his power of Black Numbers awakened, but he cannot yet manipulate those numbers. He journeys with his friends Crowdal, Melinda, Mrs. Wessmank, Maelon and Writhgarth to a faraway land that may hold the key to his powers. Along the way he meets a powerful woman who awakens his first feelings of true love, but who may also be the one destined to destroy him.

Sid is pursued by evil forces from all directions. His former childhood friend, Tris, now rules the Oblate and commands a power of numbers equal to, if not greater than his own. He also controls the seductive yet violent Korpor, and together they are weaving a plot to capture Sid and take control of his Black Numbers.

Sid is also hunted by a sadistic and violent warlord and his death squad who has his own plans for Sid. But worst of all, a forgotten and ancient evil has been unintentionally freed from its millennia-long prison, a nightmarish being that has one purpose...

To destroy the wielder of Black Numbers

I read Black Numbers when it was first published and I was gobsmacked. The writing is beautiful, the plot is devious and seductive, the characters are deep and fully formed. Blood Numbers follows and delivers the same raw emotions with a punch just as elegantly delivered.

These books are in many ways a traditional fantasy, in that they are peopled by both humans and non-humans, magic is involved, and setting is a beautifully detailed place that could never exist.  But Lappi crosses the line into horror without losing the any of the qualities that I love in an epic fantasy.  We have a true Good versus Evil plot, a completely believable system of magic, incredibly frightening creatures and a plot that doesn’t stop.

I want to say at the outset that in this series, magic is expressed both sexually and through mathematics. This is a series where sexuality is central to the expression of the magic, and it is at times explicit. This tale is not always nice, at times it is brutal. This is not erotica; this is a tale with uncomfortable plot twists, but plot twists a true fan of horror will not be able turn away from. These books are not for the faint of heart, or for those who shy away from explicit and at times, violent sex. Yet the sex is not for prurient purposes. Lappi’s magic is created by melding high mathematics (the sort that explain the universe) and that most powerful of human drives, sex.

The central protagonist, Sid (Sidoro) grew up with a hard, uncaring father.  Sid's father taught him how to use mathematics, believing with all his heart that Sid was the Aleph Null—a prophesied wielder of the Black Numbers who will rule The Oblate. It is central to the plot that for the Oblate to control Sid, they would have to control his sexuality and the Korpor is central to the Oblate. Sid's violent and frightening encounters with the Korpor are the stuff of nightmares.  To top that off, many people want to see Sid dead, because of what he is, and how he threatens their position and power.

Tris, the man Sid always thought was his friend rules the Oblate and controls the Korpor, and is now pursuing him, intent on killing him. Fortunately for Sid, he attracts friends who are willing to risk their lives to protect him. Sid inspires great loyalty in his friends. Crowdal, Mrs. Wessmank, Writhgarth, Crowdal and Maelon are each uniquely individual and have their own stories. All the characters are wonderful in this series, but Crowdal is bold, witty and, dare I say it? Sexy in his own right. Indeed, all of Lappi's characters are clearly visualized and compelling.

It is a dark series, and there are some very disturbing moments, but it is also an amazing journey into those most basic of human emotions--friendship, love, loyalty, lust for power, and boundless ambition. For Sid, there is danger in falling in love. For me as reader, this was an unparalleled adventure.
The author has said in an editorial disclaimer, “The mathematics in this series were intentionally described without going into any mathematical depth. I wrote it this way because I wanted the math to be conceptual as a way to explain magic, for it to be more visually spectacular than mathematically precise.”  I have to say that this makes it MUCH more enjoyable for me, as I am most decidedly NOT a mathematician.

As with the first book in the series, Lappi has created another tale that makes you both afraid to turn the page, and terrified not to.  You want to see what will happen next. When I reached the final page, I couldn't get this book out of my mind.  I could never have predicted this ending—and now I must have the next book!