FEATURED REVIEW: The Tyrant’s Law by Daniel Abraham

Welcome to our Featured Reviews! In this series, we'll be highlighting book reviews by the S&L audience. If you want to submit a review, please check out the guidelines here! -Veronica

Review by Emily Carlson

Since this book is the third in the series, there are mild spoilers for the earlier books in this review! Be warned…

The Low-Down 
The Tyrant’s Law is the third book in the Dagger and the Coin Quintet by Daniel Abraham. The series as a whole follows the emergence of a cult, worshipers of a spider goddess who gives them the ability to tell the difference between spoken lies and spoken truth. As this cult gains prevalence in the political sphere after centuries of exile, the layers of lies and deceit within the court begin to crumble. The regent of the kingdom is a devotee of the new religious order, using its truth-telling abilities to interrogate and weed out dissenters from within the court. But as more and more men and women begin to doubt his motives and his abilities, his death list grows longer and his friends are fewer and far between. New power vacuums lead to chaos and the hungry spider goddess urges her followers to swallow all of the world into her cult of truth and to purge the world of all liars in the process. 

Key Themes
Truth and lies, self-deception, genocide, imperialism, DRAGONS, banking, poisoned swords, MORE DRAGONS

What’s Good 
Like the previous books, Tyrant weaves back and forth between plot-lines and characters, allowing Abraham to show us both sides of the war. Some characters are more interesting and original than others, and this form of narrative allows the reader to avoid boredom with any one story. Furthermore, Abrahams is obviously a darling of the emerging “low fantasy” sub-genre and this allows us a glimpse into multiple layers and classes of life within the kingdom. 

    Ultimately, Tyrant is about conquest and about the nature of deception – deception of the self and deception of others. One character named Kit, an apostate priest who has abandoned the spider goddess, points out the flaws in the human-lie-detectors taking over the country. Their lie detectors are only as reliable as the people they question. That is, priests can determine confidence rather than truth. If they were to ask, “Is it raining outside?” their lie detector would only be triggered if you knew you were giving the wrong answer. If you think it is raining but it’s actually try as a bone outside, their spidey-senses don’t get tripped. This leads to a multilayered understanding of the truths within the novel. It’s not as simple as who is lying, but rather who has the correct information and how are they interpreting it, etc. 

    There are also some real character gems within the novel. The tyrant whom the book is named for, Geder, is one of the most sympathetic and horrifying villains I’ve ever read. While he orders the slaughter of children and rages like a child himself, it is very easy to understand him on his own terms – a man who has always felt powerless and foolish and is now gifted with ultimate power and a gravity that makes his previous enemies shake in their boots. He tries to use his power to protect the young prince and give him a safe kingdom to rule when he comes of age. But he does it with a petty selfishness that leaves others horrified at his actions. 

What’s Less Than Good
I have a real problem with one of the main characters – the gristled captain of the guard, Marcus Wester. He is a man tortured by his own past which has also lead him to develop a savior complex for any young women in peril. I have a hard time connecting with Marcus simply because he feels overdone and a little less than believable to me. Furthermore, his impulsive actions in the book feel forced, almost like a poor plot device to force the narrative forward, rather than authentic expressions of his desperation. Also, I’ve never been one for stoicism.  

    Additionally, Abraham’s general style is slow paced. This is definitely a commitment-level series and a commitment for a novel. Although it is enjoyable, many readers will probably find themselves tapping their fingers waiting for a chapter to be over. Don’t pick this book up expecting a fast paced read; it’s not Tolkien, but it is certainly weighty. 

The Final Verdict
Sticking with Tyrant is not a bad thing; the plot in this novel seems to finally come fully into bloom (about time, after 900+ pages!) and a lot of what has been hinted at in the previous novels is finally developed. As a part of the series, Tyrant definitely represents the rising action. Tensions are boiling over, armies are moving, and characters are in peril. More than anything, this book made me excited for the Abraham’s upcoming release in the series, The Widow’s House. Fans of the series will be excited to finally get some answers (or at least some new questions to chew on until August), and I would recommend the series to anyone with some time on their hands and an affinity for slow-burn fantasy and the up and coming genre of gritty/low fantasy. 

FEATURED REVIEW: The Martian by Andy Weir

Welcome to our Featured Reviews! In this series, we'll be highlighting book reviews by the S&L audience. If you want to submit a review, please check out the guidelines here! -Veronica

Review by Dara Heaps

The Martian starts with our protagonist, Mark Watney (a smart Andy Dwyer from Parks and Recreation to me) getting struck by shrapnel from a communication satellite as he and his crew mates evac on Mars, leaving Watney behind. This premise could be very dry with all of the technical details about oxygenators and CO2 scrubbers and water reclaimers but author Andy Weir  makes it interesting. Watney has such a great voice and he's very funny, pulling the reader into the story and immediately making Watney sympathetic. 

Lucky for Watney, he is a botanist and mechanical engineer, making him well-suited to survive alone on another planet. He's able to fix problems that arise (make water from rocket fuel, build things out of spare parts, repair his home) and grow some food from Earth soil mixed with Martian soil (yay potatoes! Boo human manure. Smelly business). To keep things interesting, (Mark is alone. Things would get boring if things didn't go wrong) bad things sometimes happen. It's fun to see how Mark figures out how to solve these problems with his limited resources.

The book also follows NASA personnel on Earth as they make plans to rescue Mark. We also spend some time with Mark's crew mates aboard the Hermes. These characters aren't as fleshed out as Watney is but that's alright. After all, this is Mark's story. The NASA folks have interesting interactions and plenty of disagreements about the right course of action. I enjoyed the Earth parts as much as Mark's parts.

Not only is the plot to The Martian gripping but the writing is great as well. It's descriptive but not overly technical without sacrificing the emotion. The research that went into this book shows. Everything that happens seems totally plausible. The technology is basically modern day with perhaps a few advanced pieces of hardware but nothing that's space magic. I'm kind of floored that this is Weir's first novel. It completely blew me away. Maybe in a few years, this will be turned into a movie. Gravity meets Moon!


FEATURED REVIEW: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Welcome to our Featured Reviews! In this series, we'll be highlighting book reviews from the S&L audience. If you want to submit a review, please check out the guidelines here! -Veronica

UPDATE: Macmillan Audio has made a clip of the audiobook available, read by Michael Kramer. Remember, you can get a free audiobook using our link at Audible!

Executive Summary: If you enjoyed The Way of Kings, I'd be really surprised if you didn't like this one as well. Mr. Sanderson does an excellent job building on the foundation he laid down in the first novel. 

Full Review 
This is a really hard review for me to write. I probably won't do the book justice. I'm very selective about which books I give 5 stars to, and even more selective about which books I deem favorites. When I read The Way of Kings it was easily added to both lists for me. And now so is this one.

While I didn't have the same wait as anyone who read the first book when it came out, there was at least enough time to build up a sense of anticipation and a little bit of dread while I waited for this book to come out.

Would Mr. Sanderson be able to build upon the momentum of The Way of Kings or would things recede a little like most series tend to do for me? A ten-book, 10,000+ page series is really ambitious. It would be easy for things to go off the rails at any point along the way. I'm here to say: so far, so good.

I can only assume that Mr. Sanderson is writing this series specifically for me. Sure there are other people out there who seem to like his books. But there are many who are critical about them. While I may be critical of some of his other books, you won't find that here. I loved every minute of it.

The pacing might still be considered slow by those who found that the case in The Way of Kings, but I think it moves along faster as he doesn't have to do the kinds of setup he did in the first book.

One common comment I saw about book 1 was: "What is the point of Shallan here?". This book should answer that question for those people. While The Way of Kings focuses on Kaladin, this is Shallan's book.

Don't fear Kaladin fans. You'll get plenty of him in this book, but he's just not the main focus here.

Once again this is a book that just kept building momentum as it went. It started as a book I looked forward to reading each night and changed to a book I had to force myself to put down.

The structure of the book is once again the same where you have 5 parts with various interludes between each. We are introduced to some pretty interesting new characters in these short interludes, as well as revisiting a few of those we met in The Way of Kings. I would have to say that while I enjoyed them all, Lift, the young thief was my favorite. I hope we'll be seeing a lot more of her in future books, and not just the interludes.

The prologue is set at the exact same time as the prologue from The Way of Kings, only told from Jasnah's perspective instead of Szeth. This was a cool approach that I hope continues in the next few books at least. I'd like see Adolin's and Dalinar's take on these events at least.

I'd be remiss to review a Brandon Sanderson book without at least mentioning the magic system. I love the world building so far and the characters, but it's the magic system that once again shines the brightest. We learn more about surgebinding and how it works, but there is still so much left to discover. 

His creativity not only at coming up with rules for various magic systems, but at how he applies those rules in ways I would have never considered always makes for great sequences.

Overall I was really happy with this book. Kaladin is still my favorite character, yet I think I might have enjoyed this one more despite his reduced focus. Shallan really developed from an interesting side story into a proper main character in her own right.

I am already looking forward to and dreading just a bit book 3 of this series. Will Mr. Sanderson be able to work his magic yet again? Well since he's writing this series for me personally, I'm sure he will.

FEATURED REVIEW: Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo

Welcome to our first Featured Review! In this series, we'll be highlighting book reviews from the S&L audience. If you want to submit a review, please check out the guidelines here! -Veronica

Review by Casey Hampton

I dig the basis of this book. A generational spaceship has been exploring so long that it's forgotten its purpose (coughing-allegory). They find a planet that has evidence of horrible stuff that happened to the planet's inhabitants. The explorers quickly depart only to discover an enormous alien spaceship adrift. Next, they explore the alien spaceship and discover, wait for it, wait for it, horrible stuff that happened to what appears to be humans that mirror what they found on the planet.

Richard Paul Russo writes a slow burning SF thriller that ultimately fizzles. If you read this anticipating the end justifying your reading, disappointment lies ahead. But if you read this for the experience, then I think you can find happiness or at least some measure of satisfaction.

No spoilers, but my favorite character is the coffee-growing dwarf who occasionally drinks too much of his homebrewed whiskey. 

I was underwhelmed with the whole theological dilemma that's hoisted and hung on the hook. Is there a God? If there's a God, why do bad things happen? Oh, they happen because we have freewill? Oh, we have freewill, and God feels guilty because he gave it to us?

There's nothing wrong in asking these questions or writing a story about them. I'm grousing because for as much as these issues were intended to drive the narrative, they're never satisfyingly resolved. In the end, they act as more of a distraction (allegorically ironic?) and less centrally relevant. I just wish Russo had been subtler and allowed the reader to make more of the connections rather than painting such a vivid theological landscape.

As previously mentioned, the book's conclusion is a bit flat. But the best part, my favorite part, was when they were exploring the enormous alien ship. So good, why didn't we get more of this? I could have been as happy as a clam at high tide to be shown more of those endless passages and odd little rooms with their secrets.

Now accepting your book reviews!

As you guys know, we don't typically post reviews here on the website, and this is mostly because Tom and I rarely have time to read books outside of the actual book club. However, we'd love to feature reviews from you, our audience! 

If you think you'd like to submit a book review for the blog, head over to the Reviews FAQ and learn more! We think this will be a great way to highlight other books as well as highlighting the talented writers we have in our very own community!

S&L Anthology Cover Revealed!

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We are very excited to show you the cover art for the Sword & Laser Anthology! Created by artist Cliff Nielsen, each globe within this crazy storage center is a self-contained world. This is how we think of the Anthology itself: twenty worlds that you can easily lose yourself within. 

So yes, this means we are almost ready to send the Anthology out into the world! Just wrapping up a few tiny edits, waiting on some blurbs, and then it will be out into the universe! We hope you love it as much as we loved putting it together.

Thanks for coming to Borderlands!

My dog didn't RSVP...

My dog didn't RSVP...

We had a fantastic time at the meet-up at Borderlands Books in San Francisco! Luke Pebler read his Anthology story, The Same International Orange, in front of the live audience, and we had a fantastic live song from Sky Corbelli! You can listen to it below. It's about the Dresden Files! 

We all had a blast, and we hope to do more meet-ups in the future (and not just in San Francisco). Thanks again for coming!

Season 2 Teaser!

We are wrapped on Season 2! We shot twelve episodes over three days, so needless to say.... we are pooped. But the important thing is that we have twelve amazing Author Spotlights in the can, and we can't wait to share them with you!

So stay tuned! Edits are going to start this week, and we should have the first episode rolling out in Feb. Remember, it's all thanks to you wonderful Kickstarter fans, and we are eternally grateful! 

San Francisco Meet-Up, Jan 20th at Borderlands!

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Hey everyone!

If you're in the Bay Area, please come join me and Tom at Borderlands Books on January 20th at 5pm. We'll be reading selections from the Anthology, discussing the current book pick (TBD), and then heading across the street for adult libations afterwards!

The event is free, but we'll have plenty of copies of the February book pick on hand to purchase. Plus, Borderlands is awesome, and you won't be able to leave the store empty-handed! 

If you plan on attending, please RSVP on the Goodreads event page! Hope to see you there!

 

A message from Aaron! Re: Kickstarter

That's right, we have only 3 days left on the Kickstarter! It has been an amazing month, and we can't wait to bring Season 2 to you guys! 

But we are still trying to reach our second stretch goal, and we have some big things planned... including getting a certain someone to speak! Can you guess who?

We added a few new reward levels, in case you missed them:

$60 - A Sword and Laser stein. 

Suitable for filling with mead or romulan ale! (plus the DIRK & HEAT RAY and KNIFE & MASER level rewards).

$60 - Sword and Laser Kindle case or sleeve. 

Put your Kindle in a case that shows off your a member of the world's greatest SciFi and Fantasy book club! (plus the DIRK & HEAT RAY and KNIFE & MASER level rewards)

$75 - USB Drive with all the audio and video episodes of Sword and Laser! 

(plus the DIRK & HEAT RAY and KNIFE & MASER level rewards).

So if you haven't pitched in yet, or want to raise your reward level, now is the time!! Thank you!

S&L Podcast - #149 - Interview with Nicholas Kaufmann

This week we introduce you to Nicholas Kaufman, author of the new book Dying Is My Business  among many others! We cover questions about writing in an urban-fantasy world, whether self-publishing is worth it, and mispronouncing names (we'll give you one guess who started that topic...).

Nicholas Kaufmann's website 
http://www.nicholaskaufmann.com/

Nicholas Kaufman's Live Journal
http://nick-kaufmann.livejournal.com/

[GUEST POST] Nicholas Kaufmann on Why Some Boxes Should Never Be Opened
http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2013/10/guest-post-nicholas-kaufmann-on-why-some-boxes-should-never-be-opened/

Download the video here

Direct link to podcast!

S&L Podcast - #147 - Interview with Bradley P. Beaulieu

Bradley P. Bealieu, author of The Lays of Anuskaya,  was nice enough to take some time to chat with us about his books, his blogs and more. He's even a podcaster! We milk for details about his forthcoming book Twelve Kings in Sharakhai and put a few of your questions to him as well. Enjoy!

Bradley P. Bealieu's website Quillings.com

Download direct file here! 

S&L Podcast - #140 - DragonCon 2013 with Jim Butcher!

Another year, another wonderful DragonCon! This time we're joined by Jim Butcher, one of our favorite authors (and yours). We discuss his upcoming steampunk series The Cinder Spires, his tips for new authors, and who the best fantasy writer would be to have on your side in a bar fight.

Direct download link here! 

S&L anthology acceptance emails have been sent!

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Hello everyone! 

After many months of reading, arguing, fighting, blood oaths, sacrificing to the gods of literature, shoot-outs at dawn, etc... we have picked our twenty selections for the Official Sword & Laser Anthology!

If you have received an email from us, congrats! If you have not (by the time of this blog posting) then you didn't make this round. But let us just say that this task was nearly impossible, considering the amazing talent and writing skills that so many of you exhibited with your submissions. We are truly awed by all of you, thank you. 

Also thanks to our crew of intrepid submission readers, including Josh, CJ, Becca and Aaron. The final judgments came down from Tom and me, so please direct all of your hate mail to us specifically ;)

Again, I can't stress enough how difficult it has been to make these choices. We all became very protective over our favorites!

If you want to discuss more, please head over to Goodreads. Congrats again to our anthology contributors!

 

 

S&L Podcast - #134 - Interview with Gene Wolfe

Sketch of Gene Wolfe by Murray Ewing

Sketch of Gene Wolfe by Murray Ewing

Were you expecting a wrap-up episode for Among Others? Sorry kids, Veronica decided to go on vacation, and all you get is this lousy interview with legendary author Gene Wolfe. Just kidding, the interview is awesome. 

We'll be back next week with our wrap-up and kick-off for the July pick!  Hope you voted!

Download the direct link for this episode!