FEATURED REVIEW: The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig

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 Kaleb Russell

After reading this book, I‘ve realized how amazing Chuck Wendig is. Somehow he manages to write great books and give out even greater writing advice through his blog at www.terribleminds.com, which you should definitely check out after reading this review.

Deep down, under the streets of New York City, lies the Great Below, the Descent, or the Underworld. It is a great expanse of deadly denizens, monstrous cults, and even the Gods themselves who are trapped in the eternal hell.  That is until the humans, accidentally, open the gates to hell; allowing said creatures into the infinite above to rape and kill any and all the humans who reside there; to feed on their pain and make the world for humans a living hell. And these deadly creatures don’t care if they used us up completely; they only want to cause chaos on the world above them. 

Then there is The Organization. A variety of different gangs, formed together in order to keep control of prostitution, crime, and drug trade in the city of New York. The main drug being Cerulean, otherwise known as The Blue Blazes. One of the Five Occulted Pigments originating from the Great Below; it gives the user enhanced strength and allows them to strip away the veil the monsters use to hide themselves from anyone who hunts them.  One of whom happens to be one of the strongest, most vicious thug of The Organization.

He goes by the name of Mookie Pearl. Butcher, bar owner, breaker of bones (both human and demon). Don’t let the name fool you. He’s an intimidating, hulking figure who is only good at bashing the heads of anyone who trifles with The Organization. Or his estranged daughter, Nora, who comes to Mookie telling him she plans to change the game and become the next big crime boss of New York. Right after that Mookie learns the boss of The Organization, Konrad Zoladski, has terminal lung cancer. The Boss knows he doesn’t have much time left on this earth, so he decides that his grandson, Casimir, will become his successor and take control of The Organization and all that comes with it. But Casimir is not ready and he knows it. It’s then that Casimir comes to Mookie for help. He asks Mookie to find another one of the Five Occulted pigments, a purple substance known as Death’s Head, which is said to cure any disease or even bring the user back to life. The fact that no one has even seen this Pigment makes Mookie skeptical, but when he starts searching for it he finds more than he’s looking for and chaos ensues. 

The Blue Blazes was a spectacular book. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but after I continued reading it I fell in love. The world building in the book was good. We learn the origin of the Organization, the monsters that inhabit the Great Below and the Five Occulted Pigments from Mookie as he goes around the city, searching for something that might not even exist. Most of the information is given to us through the means of a journal entry by a man named John Atticus Okes, a man who delved into the Great Below and never returned, at the beginning of every chapter. I found it helpful and felt eager to read John’s story as he slowly goes mad in the Great Below. With those we could move on in the story rather than have most of it introducing the world and more time was spent developing the characters. 

Another thing I loved about the book were the action scenes. I felt they were fast paced and well executed. It felt like I was actually there to witness the battle between Mookie and all the creatures of the night. My favorite thing about The Blue Blazes was the family dynamic between Mookie and his daughter Nora who is constantly at her dad’s throat for abandoning her and her mother. I don’t believe Nora’s character was as fleshed out as I’d liked it. She acts like a spoiled brat throughout most of the novel and even admits it from time to time. But even with that I still enjoyed how Mookie was always willing to save his daughter even with all the things she’d done. Some fathers wouldn’t go through that much trouble to help their children when they are in dire need of help. It made my heart warm when reading it. Mookie isn’t the big bad monster everyone makes him out to be. In truth, he’s a man who loves his family and friends. I sympathized with him whenever something went wrong with him on his journey. 
Honestly, I have nothing to gripe about. This was a great book and when I try to think of any negatives, my mind draws a blank. 

Final Verdict: Why are you still here?! Stop reading this review and go out to buy The Blue Blazes this minute! It’s an amazing book and you’d have to be doped up on the Blue not to see it. 

And please let me know if you found this review helpful as well as what you feel like I need to work on. Thank you for reading.

S&L Podcast - #184 - Threeways to Save Humanity

There’s so much you can do with us this week, including bringing Neil Gaiman to the stage, discovering 20th century high fantasy, and saving humanity. And how we can save humanity makes Tom blush. Plus, we wrap up this month's pick, Dawn by Octavia Butler!

Download direct link here!

WHAT ARE WE DRINKING?    

Tom: Original Sorghum Malt Beer - Bard's Tale Beer Company, LLC    
Veronica: Racer5    

QUICK BURNS 
    
"After extensive research, the Jane Austen Centre in Bath has determined what Jane really looked like and it's Mary Robinette Kowal - successful Rothuss impersonator, puppeteer, and regency author"    

    
A TV series based on The Elfstones Of Shannara has been greenlit.
    
    
Daniel Abraham has an update on The Expanse TV show, including first casting news and the creative team behind the television adaptation.
    
There is currently a kickstarter campaign for a theatrical adaptation of 5 of Neil Gaiman's short stories, a bunch of the backer rewards are various books and things signed by Neil Gaiman and he's in the video so check it out if you're a fan.
    
World Fantasy Award nominees were announced, as were two Lifetime Achievement Award winners.     

PICKS    

Killian: Finished The City and the City by China Miéville earlier today and was absolutely blown away by it. Here's my review: I think I'll read a Feist book next for some light, mindless fun.   
    
Rabindranauth - Finished Royal Assassin earlier, dived headlong into Assassin's Quest immediately. I will forever kick myself for not reading these incredibly brutal books before now.
Here's my review.    
     
COMING SOON

July 29
Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch is out in paperback

July 31
Equoid: A laundry Novella by Charles Stross

August 6
The Widow’s House (The Dagger and the Coin) by Daniel Abraham
Rise of the King: Companion Codex, II (Companions Codex) by R. A. Salvatore
The Magician's Land: A Novel by Lev Grossman"    
    
Find more upcoming releases at swordandlaser.com/calendar    
    
BARE YOUR SWORD 
    
A Suggestion for New Topics on Club Picks    
Are there any "high fantasy" books that take place in the 20th century?   
Local Group Meetups     
Amazon Unlimited    
    
BOOK OF THE MONTH DISCUSSION    
    
Wrap-up Dawn by Octavia Butler    
What did you think? (full spoilers)    
What Makes Us Human?    
Ending issues (here be spoilers)    

Next Month's Book: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is our August book    

S&L Podcast - #182 - Ken Liu Translates Success

Ken Liu's short story "The Paper Menagerie" swept the Nebula, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards. His short story, "Mono no aware" won the 2013 Hugo, and his novella "The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary" was also nominated for a Hugo. We caught up with him at this year's Nebula awards and asked him if he takes writing-enhancement supplements.

Download direct here!

S&L Podcast - #181 - The Promise of More Blood

We break down our June book pick, Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan, and find out why its actually four or five books and its gods are not what they seem. Also we set up our July pick from Octavia Butler and decide whether warp speed is actually coming or not.  
Download direct here!

WHAT ARE WE DRINKING?    
Tom: Boddington's Pub Ale    
Veronica: Earl Grey Tea    
    
QUICK BURNS  

3 more Expanse novels announced - Ben    
IXS Enterprise (IXS-110) - Bookshelf
Every Game Of Thrones Scene Broken Down By Book, Chapter And Episode  
WINNERS: 2014 Campbell and Sturgeon Awards
 

PICKS    

Tom: Cibola Burn by James S A CoreyTraveling in Space by Steven Paul Leiva     
Veronica: Shattered by Kevin Hearne, though I'm still a book behind!   
  
Sandi - I finished listening Hollow World this morning. I really liked it. Kind of a modern H.G. Wells/Jonathan Swift vibe. I'm now starting On the Steel Breeze. I love the narrator, Adjoa Andoh. She played Martha's mother on Doctor Who and was one of the narrators of Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor.     
    
Find more upcoming releases at swordandlaser.com/calendar    

BARE YOUR SWORD    

Monthly meetups!    
Uncharted-esk Books by Josh    
How do you find new books to read? by Alexander   
Should We Read Comics/Graphic Novels As Group Reads by Killian    

BOOK OF THE MONTH DISCUSSION    

July Book is Dawn by Octavia Butler       
Wrap up Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan    
"The revolution will not be...?" by Sean    
Let's talk about the ending by Joanna    
    
ADDENDUMS

Looking for something ELSE to read? Wish you could read 20 books in the space you usually read one? Can't decide between scifi and fantasy? WE HAVE SOLVED ALL YOUR PROBLEMS. The Sword and Laser Anthology combines 10 great scifi and 10 great fantasy stories from new authors found RIGHT HERE in our audience. And the stories are fantastic. Even Patrick Rothfuss thinks so. Head on down to your favorite online bookseller and search Sword and Laser Anthology or point your favorite Web browser to swordandlaser.com/store.   

Listeners who complete the survey will be entered in an ongoing 
monthly raffle to win a $100 Amazon Gift Card. 
 

Survey!
Take the listeners survey at podsurvey.com/laser

FEATURED REVIEW: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

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 Derek Brown

It turns out that you can go home again. Or at least you can if you're Stephen King.

I just finished this, King's sequel to a much earlier work. The Shining is the story of a small child, trapped in a world so much more dangerous than the one other kids inhabit, because he has a special talent. A power that supernatural forces want to consume. In Doctor Sleep, we get to see that small child, now grown, haunted by the same affliction that nearly drove his own father to murder his wife and son. Not his power, but the drinking problem he now has, the only thing he has yet found to suppress his terrible, awesome power, and keep the ghosts of his childhood quiet. 

To me, this story is largely about demons. Recognizing the worst of them for what they are, and realising that you are never alone with them.

Its also a story about another small child, afflicted (or gifted) with her own set of abilities, and because ka is a wheel, and it always turns, this little girl is also chased by supernatural forces eager to consume her. 

I can't overstate how much I enjoyed this book. I first read The Shining over 20 years ago, and its one that's always really resonated with me. Getting to revisit the landscape of that work with King, seeing what happened to Danny Torrance after the events at the Overlook Hotel, and finding out how his life turned out because of it was a lot of fun. 

Fans of King's other novels will find a healthy helping of the usual Easter eggs here as well. If you've read any of his other books, you'll enjoy the many references to King's integrated universe. 

The only item to note (and it's not a negative, but it is a warning), would be that I consider either reading The Shining or seeing the original Kubrick movie a definite prerequisite to reading this book. Preferably both, so you'll know the correct version of the story that King uses to jump from, but also so that you'll have the awesome imagery from the movie to help light the way. 

S&L Podcast - #179 - Flintpunk and Geekomancy

Would you like to be in a George R. R. Martin Book? Got $20K? Don't mind being killed? Good. You can help wolves. Also we give our first impressions of Brian McClellan's The Promise of Blood and talk Geekomancy with Michael Underwood

Direct download!

S&L Podcast - #176 - Martians and Panda Pants

Veronica is back from China to regale us tales of motorboating pandas, but first we announce our June book pick and wrap-up The Martian by Andy Weir. Is it as scientifically accurate as so many say? We get an aerospace engineer's perspective. 

Direct download here!

Watch the hangout here on YouTube.

WHAT ARE WE DRINKING?    

Tom: Smithwick's     
Veronica: Anchor California Lager    

QUICK BURNS  

So what do you think of this year's winners?
Nebula Winners    
Former PC Gamer editor Gary Whitta is writing a Star Wars film    
LOCKE LAMORA TV series in the works: update    
FINALISTS: 2014 John W. Campbell Memorial Award    
H.R. Giger passes away    

PICKS    

Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi    
Dreams of Gods & Monsters    

Find more upcoming releases at swordandlaser.com/calendar    

BARE YOUR SWORD   

Godzilla (2014)    
Fan-Made Trailer For Jim Butcher's Next Dresden Files Book    

BOOK OF THE MONTH DISCUSSION    

June book: Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan
WARNING: Hachette and Amazon are having a fight which may affect shipping times for print copies. Might want to buy print copies elsewhere for the time being.    

Order Promise of Blood from Powell's
Order Promise of Blood from Amazon

Brian McClellan interview on Sword and Laser   

Wrap-up the Martian    

Peril overload.    
think a movie adaption is possible?    
-- Ridley Scott in talks to direct Matt Damon in The Martian    
What does NASA think about The Martian?    

Tom at BayCon May 23-26

Memorial Day weekend I'll be in San Jose for BayCon 2014! The theme this year is Honor, which is in no small part because the writer guest of honor is creator of Honor Harrington himself, David Weber. There's lots more honor to go around as well with Artist Guest of Honor is Ursula Vernon, and Fan Guest of Honor Sally Woerhle

I'll be succeeding Veronica Belmont as toastmaster. That's some big toast to fill. Her's where I'll be popping up throughout the weekend. 

Friday May 23

1:30 PM Opening Ceremonies, Ballroom A

5:00 PM Doctor Who: Why it is still going strong 50 years later? Camino Real

8:00 PM Meet the Guests,  Ballroom E-F

Saturday May 24

11:30 AM Interview with Writer Guest of Honor David Weber, Ballroom E-F

3:30 PM Internet of Things on Saturday Camino Real

5:00 PM KickStarter and How to use it successfully, Camino Real

Sunday May 25

10:00 AM Interview with Toastmaster Tom Merritt, Ballroom E-F

11:30 AM Battling Creationism and Pseudoscience, Stevens Creek

5:00 PM  BoF: Podcasting BayCon 2015, Lafayette

S&L Podcast - #174 - A Wrap-up of Earthsea

Veronica is traveling in China, so we pre-recorded this episode and took the opportunity to properly wrap-up A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Leguin. We also kick off the rest of The Martian and promise to be better about these sorts of things once Veronica is back. Still, on the bright side, we are putting in practice a ton of great suggestions from the audience. Yay audience!

Download show here!

WRAP-UP WIZARD OF EARTHSEA

The ending

Finished it, loved it, more Earthsea please!

ADDENDUMS

The Sword and Laser Antholgy: You. Can. Buy it NOW!

S&L Video: Author Spotlight -N. K. Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin writes fiction that reads like history in the best way. But could it also be romance? We ask N. K. Jemisin that and how she's able to keep a day job and still write amazing fiction. We also find out what trope she'd like to give a rest. It's our season finale and we couldn't think of a better person to help us wrap things up in style!

Download audio here. 

Download video here.

Sword and Laser at the Nebula Awards

The Nebula Awards weekend is coming up in San Jose May 15-18, with the awards themselves announced Saturday night the 17th.

Although Veronica is out of town, Tom will be there with Josh Lawrence to interview as many authors as we can trick into sitting down and chatting with us.

So far we’ve managed to get a few. If you’d like to suggest what we should ask, here are the links to the Goodreads threads where you can post your questions.

Scheduled
Emily Jiang
Ken Liu
Ann Leckie

Tentative
Samuel Delany
Dr. Gregory Benford

FEATURED REVIEW: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

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 Carolina Gomez

Freedom, like anything else, is relative.

Why I read this book

Last year (2013) I read my first book from Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman, and loved it. The way she threw fiction elements while making a very impressive critique of society was amazing for me, and so I wanted to keep reading her work. The Handmaid's Tale has been mentioned several times as an iconic part of her work and when I saw it on my recommended on Audible it was a no brainer to get myself a copy.

What the book is about

The book is set in a dystopian future, taking place mostly in what used to be Massachusetts. After a "terrorist" attack, a theocratic, Christian regime has taken over. Women have lost any right they might've had and all "sinners" (homosexuals, people who committed adultery, people of other faiths) have been either killed or "re educated" (are you cringing already?) . The story is told by a woman we learn to know as Offred, this implying that she is a possession of a man with Fred on his surname. Offred has been made a Handmaid which in this new country, more than servant, implies child bearer. It is explained through the book that due to chemical contamination, radiation and other factors, procreation has been in declined in the country, and hence the government have established that officials not only have a wife, but also access to women (the handmaids) that will carry their child, sort off surrogate mothers. After delivery, the child is given to the wife to raise. Offred's destiny depends on her submission and her ability to bear children.

First impressions 

Listening to this book was hard, mostly because of the way women are treated, but also because you feel that this speculative work of fiction could easily take place again (references to other theocratic regimes are easily spotted, particularly Iran). Jumps from present to past are sometimes abrupt, but it carries a good feeling of how train of thought sometimes takes place and, in my case at least, makes the connection with the protagonist even deeper. That type of writing made me feel pain, angst and helplessness as Offred was feeling them too.

Final thoughts

Is hard for me to put into words my final thoughts. See, I have a lot of feelings when I think of this book, but they are not easy to put into paper, simply because they touch so deep. But let's try.

I felt rage as a woman, at to how women were treated. I've read some other reviews saying "well this would never happen; oh our society would never let this happen to women". And yet look at all the contraception legislation in the USA, most of the definitions are being taken by male politicians, and people are going with it.

I felt afraid of this being a plausible thing, maybe not right now where I am, but somewhere in the world there is right now a totalitarian movement, feeding, slowly maybe, and growing and getting more and more powerful. There are things that seem to happen suddenly when you are far away, but is just because you weren't in site to see the tiny changes that carried a big one. And this applies to any type of changes, positive or negative, particularly since this label is so subjective. The critic about how money was not physical anymore hit a stroke in me. I never thought about how I rely on plastic more and more. Not on credit, but I use my debit card most of the time and hence my contact with physical money has been decreasing more and more.

I felt sad at the different situations Offred had to go through, leaving her past behind, having so many memories, so many loved ones that she lost, almost overnight.

I felt a bit frustrated at the end of the book, because I wanted more closure, but at the same time, the way the author rounds the whole thing up, made me "forgive" the not knowing.

I loved Claire Danes as a narrator. At first I thought her tone was a bit flat, but this was at very beginning when the character was just stating facts. As emotions surged, as different characters appeared, so did new tones, new inflictions in her voice that made me get more into the whole story.

Nobody dies of lack of sex, is lack of love we die from