Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf, Sept 9th, 2014)-Station Eleven takes place, mostly, in Year Twenty, which is, appropriately, 20 years after 99% of the world’s population is obliterated by a swift killer called the Georgia Flu. The comment is made by one character that it’s kind of a lovely name (after the Georgia of Eurasia, it’s origin), for something that kills so quickly and ruthlessly, roughly 48 hours after infection. The Symphony, a traveling troupe of musicians and Shakespearean actors, is the focus, most prominently Kirsten Raymonde, who was very small when the Flu hit during a production of King Lear,which she was performing in, alongside Arthur Leander, a very famous actor in his 50s that would not die of the flu that night, but of a heart attack, on stage. Kirsten will never forget that night, or Arthur Leander, and she still carries with her a few comics he gave her that day, entitled Station Eleven.
Station Eleven is an apocalyptic novel, but although it takes place pre and post-apocalypse, that’s not what the real story is about. While there’s much to be mined from how humans would survive after such a devastation, and the author does explore this, she focuses on a small group of people whose lives have resonated with one another in some way, be it intimate or fleeting, and of course, their connection to Arthur Leander. As we follow the Symphony in Year 20, they’re traveling from settlement to settlement and performing for those that remain, but they also seek two of their troupe members, and during this search, the narrative branches out to explore Arthur’s life before the fall, a portrait of a sensitive man loved by so many but unable to become settled in his own life, his regrets, his loves, and ultimately, his heartbreak. Meanwhile, the Symphony comes across evidence of a man that seeks to serve his own dark agenda, and who calls himself a prophet. The author makes it pretty obvious that eventually there will be a reckoning with the prophet, but it may not be what you think.
Please welcome David Barnett back to the blog! GIDEON SMITH AND THE BRASS DRAGON, the newest installment in his Gideon Smith series, will be out next week, and he kindly stopped by to answer a few questions about it, and more!
Also, we’ve got 2 copies to give away to 2 US/Canadian winners, so be sure to fill out the widget at the end of the post, and I’ll pick a winner on 9/17.
Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon, the followup to Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl, is out this month! Will you tell us a bit about what Gideon and his crew are up to in this installment?
Well, at the end of Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl (without spoiling it too much for those who haven’t read it yet…) Gideon had been promoted from “boy from nowhere” to “Hero of the Empire”, following the shocking events in the skies over London. It’s been a pretty steep learning curve for him, and he’s had to undergo some serious military training. He’s moved into the former residence of Captain Lucian Trigger and Dr John Reed in Mayfair, with Mrs Cadwallader looking after him. Oh, and Aloysius Bent, now Gideon’s official chronicler, has moved in with him! What Gideon really wants to do, though, is get after Maria and the brass dragon Apep, who were hijacked at the end of book one. And that’s what he does… his adventure takes him to America, which is somewhat different to the America we know. The British still control much of the east, a breakaway Japanese faction has established a progressive meiji on the West Coast, and the Spanish control what we know as Mexico. But the biggest problem for Gideon and Co is Thaddeus Pinch, the despotic, steam-powered cyborg who rules Steamtown (formerly San Antonio). And it looks like he has the dragon… Over the course of it, all Gideon learns a lot about his world, and himself. And his feelings for Maria the mechanical girl…
Helen Giltrow’s debut novel, THE DISTANCE, will be out tomorrow, and she kindly stopped by to answer a few of my questions about it, and more! Please give her a warm welcome!
Will you tell us a bit about your new book, The Distance, and what inspired you to write it?
The book’s central character is a woman who calls herself Karla. For years she sold information to criminals, from behind a façade of wealthy respectability. Now she’s trying to distance herself from that past – but she’s plunged back into her old world when a former client, professional killer Johanssen, approaches her. He’s been tasked with what looks like a revenge hit on an inmate within an experimental prison, and to get in, he needs her help. She knows he shouldn’t take the job. She also knows he will, and so to keep him safe, she agrees. Then she discovers his alleged target doesn’t appear to exist …
The book began life – a long, long time ago – with the character of the inmate: someone who’d been caught up in terrible events and was now trying to live with a crippling burden of guilt. But I knew I didn’t want to write from that character’s viewpoint. I’d been messing around with various options when I suddenly realized: the person to tell their story would be the man sent to kill them.
So originally the story was going to be told exclusively in Johanssen’s viewpoint. Karla appeared in the third chapter, as an incidental figure whom he approached for information. But from the moment she opened her penthouse apartment’s door to him she was fully formed as a character – and completely in charge of the situation. I loved writing her. Eventually she just took over.
Charlotte/Karla is a very intriguing protagonist. Why do you think readers will root for her?
Karla’s a professional criminal who doesn’t agonize about the moral aspects of what she does. But she’s also the kind of criminal you’d want as a friend: fiercely loyal, and with a set of boundaries that she will not cross.
Blightborn by Chuck Wendig (Skyscape, July 2014)-WARNING: If you haven’t read Under the Empyrean Sky, you may want to skip this review, since contains inevitable spoilers (although not much more than you can read in the back cover copy for Blightborn) for Under the Empyrean Sky. You’ve been warned!
In Under the Empyrean Sky, we were introduced to the homespun, very earthy realities of the Heartland, a landscape firmly under the Empyrean’s thumb, or so we thought. In Blightborn, we’re simultaneously immersed in the glittering, very often debauched skyscape of the Ormond Sterling Saranyu, a flotilla of great wealth and dark desires. Cael McAvoy is determined to get Gwennie back, but to do that, he’s got to hitch a ride on the flotilla somehow, and that’s not going to be easy. He’s also got his Obligated, Wanda, on his tail, along with Boyland (Gwennie’s Obligated), who genuinely loves Gwennie and doesn’t plan on letting Cael get to her. Meanwhile, Gwennie is mucking Pegasus stalls under the eye of Balastair Harrington, a geneticist tasked with creating the perfect Pegasus for the Empyrean. Winning the Lottery didn’t yield the riches promised to Gwennie and her family, and all Gwennie cares about is rescuing her family and getting off the Empyrean flotilla. However, rebellion is brewing, in the air and on the ground, and it will prove to throw everyone’s best laid plans into a whirlwind of violence and betrayel.
Please welcome Karina Sumner-Smith to the blog! The first book of her Towers Trilogy, Radiant, will be out this month, and she stopped by to answer a few of my questions about it, and more!
Congrats on the new book (which is already getting great buzz)! Will you tell us a little more about Radiant, and what inspired you to write it?
Thank you! I’ve always had something of a challenge describing Radiant, as it sits between so many genres. I once told a curious acquaintance that I was writing a far-future post-apocalyptic urban fantasy about magic, ghosts, and economics, and memory of their bewildered expression still makes me laugh.
At its heart, I think Radiant is the story of two very different young women from opposing walks of life trying to understand and work with each other in order to survive. Everything sprang from what is now the novel’s first scene, in which a homeless girl, Xhea, takes possession of a ghost who insists that she’s not dead. I wrote a short story version of the tale, “An End to All Things,” and yet I knew there was so much more to the characters and the world. Because I don’t outline, each story is an act of discovery – and to find out what happened to either Xhea or Shai I had to keep writing.
Tell us more about Xhea, Shai, and the City. Why do you think readers will connect these very different girls? What did you enjoy most about writing their characters?
I think what I found most interesting about these characters are their contrasts. They’re from the total opposite ends of their society, and spend much of the book struggling to understand each other.
In the City, magic – a natural energy created by your body – is used for everything, most notably as money. Yet the amount of magic you generate is both an innate trait and a signifier of your worth. On the far end of the spectrum is Shai, a Radiant, a person who generates so much magic that she’s used as a power plant – or a money-generating machine – for her Tower. Shai has literally never wanted for anything; yet the flip side of so much power is that it’s killing her, even as various Towers fight to possess her at any cost. On the other side is Xhea, who has no bright magic at all. She’s so poor that she doesn’t even live in the ruins on the ground, but in the crumbling subway tunnels beneath the Lower City. And yet it’s the very things that make Xhea an outcast that also allow her to be Shai’s very unlikely protector.
I also just loved writing a story that is, at its heart, about a friendship between two young women. Friendship is often overlooked in favor of romantic ties, yet I think it can be such a powerful force in both fiction and our lives.
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Michael Logan is the author of APOCALYPSE COW (winner of the Terry Pratchett First Novel Prize), and his new book, WANNABES, just came out! He kindly answered a few of my questions about the new book, what comes next, and more!
You just released Wannabes a few months ago! Will you tell us about it?
Wannabes is a genre mash-up: horror, fantasy and thriller stitched together with satire. There are three interwoven stories: that of Jackie Thunder, a washed-up pop star who does something incredibly dumb in an attempt to regain fame; Gareth Jones, a talentless drifter who is killing celebrities and taping their tattoos to his body because he thinks he can thereby gain their power, and thus stop himself turning completely invisible; and Murmur, a demon working to destroy great music with the intention of eroding humanity’s creativity, and therefore its ascension to a more divine state. Satan also has a part to play and I portray him as a depressed bureaucrat, struggling with his workload, bitter at his break from God and obsessed with humanity for reasons that become clear later in the book.
Why do you think readers will root for Jackie Thunder?
Jackie is, as one of my friends put it, ‘a self-obsessed twit’, but he is fundamentally a good man who has lost his way, and there is always the sense that he will come good. A key theme of the book is artistic integrity: doing what is right for your art rather than working for fame or commercial success. Jackie forgets this, trying to recapture the fame he once had by producing music he thinks the market wants, and forgetting that when he started out all that mattered was the process of creating and losing himself in the music. 20 years after his career started to go tits-up, he will do whatever it takes to regain fame. Through his attempts to get attention (he deliberately sets out to make himself seem one of Gareth’s potential victims), he gets sucked into Murmur’s shenanigans. Jackie is then faced with the choice of truly selling out or re-finding his mojo and opposing the demonic plot.
Don’t Look Back by Gregg Hurwitz (St. Martins Press, Aug. 2014)-Sometimes I need a straight up, scary as hell thriller to get me out of a reading slump, don’t you? Don’t Look Back scratched that itch, and then some. This is the first book by Gregg Hurwitz that I’ve read, and it won’t be my last.
Eve Hardaway is devastated at the news of her husband’s affair, and quietly goes about the process of divorce, one complicated by her young son, but they’re a good team, and they’re getting by. Before her husband’s revelations, however, she’d bought two tickets to Oaxaca, hoping to rekindle their marriage. So much for that, but she decides a trip like this may be just the thing she needs to make a fresh start, and after leaving her son with a trusted nanny, she sets out for paradise. Sure enough, the Dias Felices Ecolodge is beautiful, and its surroundings even more so. It doesn’t hurt that a handsome fellow lodger seems to be interested in Eve. The bright, sun drenched beauty surrounding the Ecolodge turns dark, however, when Eve discovers that the last person to stay in her room, a journalist by the name of Teresa Hamilton, had gone missing not too long ago, and she continues to find evidence of foul play. Soon it becomes obvious that the group is being targeted by a man that seems more than human, and the lengths that he’ll go to in order to obliterate evidence of his crimes are legion.
As Eve discovers more and more about the missing journalist, her first instinct is to call the authorities, but in Oaxaca, “authority” doesn’t mean the same thing that it means in the states. The people more or less police themselves, and any “official” police are miles away. Hurwitz sets up the eventual cat and mouse expertly. With the ubiquity of cell phones, calling for help is usually just a button touch away, but not in the jungles of Oaxaca, where possession of a satellite phone is considered a must, and finding a cell signal could involve climbing to the top of the highest ruin.
This book is just pure, very scary fun, and its fast pace will keep you very distracted, probably until you finish. The situation that Eve and her adventure group find themselves in is terrifying, and the book’s villain isn’t one that you’ll forget anytime soon. Eve isn’t perfect, but she’s smart and capable, and perhaps most importantly, she’s determined to get home to her son. If you missed finding your perfect beach read this summer, this is it. Eve becomes something akin to a jungle Ripley, and I rooted for her every step of the way. Don’t Look Back is everything you’d want in a thriller. It also didn’t hurt that Megan Abbot, one of my favorite authors, blurbed this. It’s cinematic, blazingly paced, clever, and very satisfying. Like I said, pure fun. Don’t miss it.
Thanks to the lovely folks at St Martins Press, I’ve got a copy of THE BROTHERS CABAL by Jonathan L Howard to give away to one lucky US winner, so check out the book, fill out the widget, and good luck! I’ll pick a winner on Sept. 12th!
About THE BROTHERS CABAL:
Horst Cabal has risen from the dead. Again. Horst, the most affable vampire one is ever likely to meet, is resurrected by an occult conspiracy that wants him as a general in a monstrous army. Their plan: to create a country of horrors, a supernatural homeland. As Horst sees the lengths to which they are prepared to go and the evil they cultivate, he realizes that he cannot fight them alone. What he really needs on his side is a sarcastic, amoral, heavily armed necromancer.
As luck would have it, this exactly describes his brother.
Join the brothers Cabal as they fearlessly lie quietly in bed, fight dreadful monsters from beyond reality, make soup, feel slightly sorry for zombies, banter lightly with secret societies that wish to destroy them, and—in passing—set out to save the world.*
*The author wishes to point out that there are no zebras this time, so don’t get your hopes up on that count. There is, however, a werebadger, if that’s something that’s been missing from your life.
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