Warriors 2

Warriors 2 – edited by George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

This is part (2/3) of a series of short story anthologies edited by two of the best known names in the business. (See the review of 1/3, here.) As before, the theme comes with no genre restriction, leading to a good mix of material. Here, there are half a dozen short stories, and David Weber’s 120 page novella.

Naomi Novik‘s Seven Years from Home is a poignant, sharp tale about interstellar politics, war, and diplomacy, told from the perspective of one significant player. It also features some clever ideas about alien cultures, and fairly rattles along. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a novel length treatment and extended development of this setting.

Peter S. Beagle‘s Dirae starts with a seemingly incoherent jumble of words that the reader may skim over, but will return to when the mist has cleared, and the setting, situation, and everything else has become a little clearer. It’s a sort of urban fantasy featuring a female vigilante, and a series of encounters with evil doers. I found it engrossing, and fairly complete and self contained. Thoughtful.

S. M. Stirling‘s Ancient Ways is a post apocalyptic coming together of two warriors, from very different societies. It’s a bit of a romp, though well done, and packing plenty into its restricted format. Good entertainment.

David Ball‘s The Scroll is a very dark and gruesome tale, set in olden Morocco, about the evil emperor, and his cruelty towards his slave work force. I would describe it as a glass half full type of story. It keeps its focus well, and sticks to the task of recounting the suffering, and the attempts to escape from that hell. Definitely dark.

Gardner DozoisRecidivist is a tale about the decline of planet Earth, the race against time by fleets of machines to strip the resources from each threatened locale, and the machinations of the the survivors to try and overcome their tormentors. This is not the weirdest story in the book, but it comes close. I’ll probably go back and read this one again, to see if there’s anything I missed.

Howard Waldrop‘s Ninieslando gets the prize for the weirdest story. Set in the trench warfare of an alternate World War 1, it tells of one soldier’s escape from the killing, and the strange community he becomes part of. One of the key threads is the use of Esperanto, without which the plot sinks without trace. That having been said, there are some subtle, and not so subtle, messages delivered in the course of this short piece. However, I preferred the writing to the story. Interesting experiment.

David Weber‘s Out of the Dark is a military ‘Earth is invaded’ type adventure, with buckets of death and destruction, as the outgunned humans try to fight back. There are some interesting cultural differences on show, and Weber does a good job of making the story crack along. I won’t spoil the plot, so no details. Although I did see the final twist coming, it still worked well. The author has taken the opportunity offered by the longer format, and done a good job. There’s not too much flab, and the action fairly rattles along. Whatever self indulgence is in the story can be excused, given what a good read is on offer. Good stuff.

Conclusion: about the same level of overall quality as the first, it’s an affirmation of the editorial talents of Dozois and Martin. Weber’s was the standout piece, though the experience here has definitely heightened my interest in all the writers. Again, I would give it 7/10 as a package.

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Warriors 1

Warriors 1 – edited by George R. R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

This is part (1/3) of a series of short story anthologies edited by two of the best known names in the business. The theme is obvious, and with no genre restriction, the implementation amounts to a reasonably wide ranging set of five 50 page shorts, and the 150 page novella from Mr Martin.

I bought this after reading Rogues; partly I wanted to do some more short story reading, and partly because I was still looking for more new authors, or new books from old authors – in both cases, at least new to me – to read and enjoy.

Joe Haldeman‘s Forever Bound is a snapshot of one recruit’s experiences in the early days of his call up and training, set somewhere inside the author’s Forever War type history. It’s not bad, but just seemed to be getting going when the ending arrived.

Tad WilliamsAnd Ministers of Grace is a sci-fi assassin story that is a decent page turner. I thought that Williams handled the plot better than the dialogue, but I was intrigued enough to want to see a full length treatment of the world on show here.

Steven Saylor‘s The Eagle and the Rabbit is a historical encounter between a Roman slaver and Carthaginian prisoners. It portrays all too well the nasty, brutish, and short life of the warrior.

Robert Silverberg‘s Defenders of the Frontiers is about a garrison left to fend for itself. I thought it was the most polished, and the story that best fitted the format.

Cecilia Holland‘s King of Norway is the story with the most fighting, being a Viking tale with all the blood and guts you could wish for, and a well written, well imagined sea battle scene as its center piece. This was the only author in the book of whom I knew nothing before, and I was sufficiently impressed to want to read more of her material.

George R R Martin’s The Mystery Knight is set in the world of Game of Thrones, but before the events portrayed in the blockbuster series. His story in Rogues was very disappointing. Thankfully, this is much improved, with decent use of the extra space to develop some of the characters, and unfurl a plot twist or two. It involves a down on his luck knight trying to get back on his luck (and his horse) while stumbling into a wedding and celebratory tournament that are not what they seem. If you have never read Game of Thrones, this is a reasonable taster. But, don’t buy Warriors 1 just to get your hands on this story, unless you are keen to collect the lot. It’s a good story, but not that good.

Conclusion: apart from following up that Cecilia Holland lead, I must sit down one day and work out what the gaps are in my Robert Silverberg reading. That guy can write. In terms of scoring this, I’d say it was around 7/10 as a package.

 

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Rogues

I do not normally read short stories. Over the years, I have made various attempts – in both crime and science fiction, especially – to get more acquainted with that form of fiction, but have never succeeded. So, it took an exceptionally strong review and recommendation for me to buy this collection of newly commissioned short stories, edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, on the theme of rogues. (Surprise!)

Inevitably, the book trades on Martin’s Game of Thrones success by promoting that it includes a new story from that world. And equally inevitably, it’s a stinker. It’s a partial history of the early life of Daemon Targaryen, and reads like a trip through the author’s background notes (or database) with event after event, occasionally freshened up with a sparky comment or two. But there’s no meaningful dialogue, no plot as such, and nothing much of value, except for Game of Thrones’ fanatics.

Fortunately, there are some other works that more than compensate for Martin’s clunker. Continue reading

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Pay $20k and George R R Martin will kill you

From the Register:

Game of Thrones author George R R Martin is running a crowdfunding campaign in which he promises to kill you for US$20,000.

The writer has launched the campaign to support a wolf sanctuary near his home in Santa Fe.

As is the case with most crowdfunding capers, this campaign offers rewards of increasing value for contributions of larger sums. The ultimate reward in this campaign, valued at $US20,000, will see the name of whoever forks over the cash applied to a future Song of Ice and Fire novel. Martin also promises that character will meet a graphic and highly unpleasant death.

In other words, you win and you die, a nice juxtaposition with Game of Thrones’ tag line “you win or you die”.

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George Martin’s Wall

If at all interested in George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones (book or TV version), I heartily recommend this Rolling Stone interview.

I offer this small extract as worthy of note for us former residents of the North Britain.

Interviewer: How did you come up with the Wall?

George R. R. Martin: The Wall predates anything else. I can trace back the inspiration for that to 1981. I was in England visiting a friend, and as we approached the border of England and Scotland, we stopped to see Hadrian’s Wall. I stood up there and I tried to imagine what it was like to be a Roman legionary, standing on this wall, looking at these distant hills. It was a very profound feeling. For the Romans at that time, this was the end of civilization; it was the end of the world. We know that there were Scots beyond the hills, but they didn’t know that. It could have been any kind of monster. It was the sense of this barrier against dark forces – it planted something in me. But when you write fantasy, everything is bigger and more colorful, so I took the Wall and made it three times as long and 700 feet high, and made it out of ice.

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A Storm of Swords – George R. R. Martin

This is the third of the bestselling sword and sorcery (fantasy) series. As with the second book, this is more of the same stuff that was in the first book.

Same stuff: several claimants to the throne competing by, er, sword and sorcery. And political chicanery. Oh, and there’s winter coming and trouble up north. In fact, trouble all around as outlaws and deserters take advantage of the gaping cracks in the rule of law and order.

Same stuff: you may get hungry reading the book. The author is keen to give you the details of what his characters ate. I don’t know why, but this approach brings to mind the phrase: “The condemned man ate a hearty breakfast.” Many of these characters are, indeed, condemned.

Differences? Of the three books I have read, this one dragged the most. There is still plenty of action, and still characters of note falling by the wayside, but to my mind there was an abundance of padding.

For example, there are several cases where characters ruminate about their history, family, predicament, and so on. And then they ruminate some more. Are such ruminations needed? Although I truly do not know – since once minor characters may rise and fall – the distinct impression I repeatedly had was that the author was showing off how much work had gone into his world. In other words, all his family trees, histories, and other background material was extensive, and wasn’t he a clever, hard working, and entertaining author?

Maybe he is, but I am not making the effort to wade through any more of his world. I’m going to watch the TV series.

Read the first two and if enjoy them and you really, really, really must have more, read the third. But don’t expect it to be as good. Of course, you may have different tastes.

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Write like the wind

In a Consimworld discussion (in Mark Pitcavage‘s blog folder) about George R R Martin and his Game of Thrones books, Rick Barber posted the following video. If you know the series, this will strike a chord or two. Otherwise, it might just intrigue you enough to get reading…

My review of the first book is here.

For an enhanced experience, check this out.

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Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin

[This may be the last fiction book review I do for a while. As part of my continuing education in Hebrew, I have committed at least the month of November to only reading Hebrew fiction. Given my skills in that language are at the ‘Janet and John go to school‘ level, you may well imagine this is not a course of action I have taken lightly nor enthusiastically. But. I. Must. Do. It. (Did you get the gritted teeth feeling, there?) So, meanwhile, enjoy.]

This is the first part of a fabulously successful fantasy series (now up to five books) which started in the late 1990s, grabbed a following, and then was given a rebirth by the 2011 launch of an HBO TV series. I have not seen it, but the general impression is that HBO did their usual high quality job.

In a nutshell, the story is one of several families (or houses or dynasties) competing for power – the throne – by the standard methods of war, politics, diplomacy, bribery, alliances, treaties and treachery. In this world – of seasons lasting years – there is a north-south divide, and an even further northern wall to keep out unknown dangers lurking beyond. Winter is on its way.

The technology is roughly medieval, and, at least in this volume, the influence of witchcraft and sorcery is kept almost completely in the background as an atmospheric threat. Almost.

So, it is swords and sorcery, following a tried and tested formula. But is it any good?

Well, beauty being in the eye of the beholder and all that, I rate as one of the better examples of the genre. (This is my third reading of this book, and I have read through the whole lot twice before. That is one measure.) What do I like about it? Martin’s characters are a mix of cardboard and complex. Fortunately, the balance is in favor of the latter. More, the story  is so fricking complex to match – largely because of the extended family relationships, marriages and so on, that it is sometimes difficult to remember who these people are. There is a good appendix to help the reader out, but it would have been a better service to readers to put this at the start! But, strangely, this mix works well. Martin takes real Medieval patronage and chivalry, and builds his world of relationships around it. In other words, Martin succeeds at building a believable world. Because of that, the characters – even the cardboard type – come across as more authentic.

The violence and the skullduggery is done with a flourish, but Martin rarely softens the blow. In fact, his style involves short chapter after short chapter, shifting the storytelling perspective with a kind of continual cliff hanger ending each time, to keep the tension high. It’s like a series of old cinema vintage, but free of corn and fluff.

If you like fantasy, you will enjoy this book. There’s nothing especially novel or revolutionary about it. However, it delivers pure entertainment and acts as one of the best, most solid starting points of a fantasy series, ever. Sure, some of the more modern fantasy writers have shaken free of some of the shackles Martin stayed with, but Game of Thrones is still a fine piece of work. Martin poured his soul into the creation of his world, and it is a privilege to be able to experience it. If, however, you are not a fan of fantasy, maybe this will convert you. But do check out the appendix!

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