Friday, May 10, 2013

The Jordan Effect and Why it is Becoming Harder to be a Fantasy Reader

I’ve noticed a somewhat disturbing trend in the fantasy genre recently and I am attributing it to what I’m referring to as the Jordan Effect.  When many people hear this term, they automatically think of the great Michael Jordan.  Alas, the Jordan Effect that I am referring to does not concern Mike, but rather legendary fantasy author Robert Jordan.  Before I go into what the Jordan Effect is and why it has made it much more difficult to be a reader of the fantasy genre, let me explain that when I first started reading fantasy, it was all about trilogies.  This was due in large part to the influence of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and also because publishers felt like they could make a little more coin by dragging a story across a three-book arc.  Trilogies were fine and yes, it was frustrating as a reader having to wait three or four years to get some closure to a series but whatever, I learned to live with it.  When Robert Jordan came along, the fantasy genre got a much-needed shot in the arm and it became almost cool to read fantasy books.  No longer did fantasy readers have to hide the embarrassing covers of their books and cower in the shadows.  People who never read a fantasy book in their lives were reading Robert Jordan.  But that is not the Jordan Effect.  The Jordan Effect is the trend of authors no longer sticking to the traditional trilogy story arc, but publishing huge 5-10 book series - sometimes even 10-plus books.  Look at authors like Steven Erikson, George RR Martin, Brandon Sanderson, Daniel Abraham (who I actually really enjoy reading) and you will see the Jordan Effect’s influence taking root.  My concern is that more and more authors will begin to follow the lead of Mr. Jordan, and who will suffer in the end?  The readers like me who don’t want to have to wait 15 years to see how a series eventually ends will suffer.  Don’t get me wrong, there are still authors out there who are writing nice tidy series that actually get resolved in less than a decade like: Mark Lawrence, John Marco, and Tad Williams just to name a few off the top of my head.  Hell, Joe Abercrombie even has the incredible audacity and gall to write excellent (and this is blasphemy in the fantasy genre) – STAND-ALONE fantasy novels!  Yes they are set in the same world as his famous First Law trilogy, but they have a beginning and an end and this is all wrapped up in one, yes ONE book!  Now the Jordan Effect hasn’t become a full-blown epidemic yet and I hope that it never gets to that point.  However, it is still a little disconcerting to the faithful fantasy reader like me.  Hopefully we can one day find a cure for the Jordan Effect but until then, I will stick to my small group of “go to” authors and hope that they never fall prey to the dark side.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dune Prequel Hate: A Scientific Reading Experiment

So it’s been a long time since I read the original Dune series by Frank Herbert.  I remember enjoying them immensely and when the prequels by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson began hitting the shelves in the late 90’s, I purposely stayed away from them.  My reasons were the same as any other Dune fan: I just didn’t want my experience with the original books to be ruined by a sub-par set of prequels.  Since then I have read a number of books by Kevin J. Anderson (most notably his Saga of the Seven Suns series) and he has quickly become one of my favorite authors.  Having the opportunity to peruse some of the various book-rating websites including Amazon and Goodreads, I have noticed that there are a very large number of Dune prequel haters.  When I say hate, I mean a burning visceral hate that in some cases seems almost irrational.   This got me to thinking about whether this hate for the Dune prequels was an actual dislike of the books themselves and the content, or whether it was fueled by the fact that fanatical Dune fans don’t want anyone to touch the legacy of the beloved originals.  Seeing as I was one of the fans that stayed away from the prequels initially, but has subsequently become a fan of Kevin J. Anderson’s books, I figured that I would be perfectly suited to undertaking a little reading experiment.  After all, I can see the merits of both sides equally.  Are these prequels just plain bad writing, contrived plots, and cardboard cutout characters or are they just targets for the original Star Wars movie-type crowd who hate any change and expanding of what they see as perfection that shouldn't be toyed with?  As I've stated before, I know bad writing.  I've read some bloody awful science-fiction in my time, so I will know immediately if these books fall flat.  But there is something inside me that says that there is something more to the vitriol that I see on many of the previously-mentioned reader review websites.  So I embark on this scientific experiment with an open mind and a loaded Kindle.  I will keep you all informed as to my findings.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Update - 4/10/13

Well it looks a little thin on the review pile right now.  The only thing I have on my plate is a science-fiction book that I won in a Goodreads giveaway called the Ark.  It is by a new author named Thomas Slagle.  So a review for that book should be up in about a week or two.  In the meantime I'm in the middle of a Robert Jordan: Wheel of Time reread.  I've been meaning to do it since the last book in the series was finally released back in February.  Right now i'm on book 5 - The Fires of Heaven.  This is just something that I need to do, since this series is the reason why I picked up a fantasy book to begin with.  I've lived with it for so long that I almost feel obligated to have some closure and be able to move on to the new and fresh voices of the genre who i'm really excited about.  It definitely will not be something that takes away time from my regular book reviews, since they will always take priority.  That's it in a nutshell - one review coming up soon (The Ark by Thomas Slagle) and hopefully a few more to follow soon after that.  I'm excited about the warmer weather and getting to spend some time reading outside for a change.  Talk to you all soon!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Review - Staring Into the Abyss by Richard Thomas

Title: Staring Into the Abyss
Author: Richard Thomas
Publisher: Kraken Press
Release Date: March 1, 2013

Reviewed by: Nick Tab

First off, let me say that I’m usually not a fan of short story collections.  I would rather sink my teeth into a 300-500 page book where I can get into a story and live it for a few weeks, than the immediacy and instant gratification of reading a short story.  So when I found out that Staring Into the Abyss by Richard Thomas was a short story collection, I had my misgivings to say the least.  I am pleased to say that Staring Into the Abyss may have changed my attitude toward the short story format, it’s that good.  There are 20 stories that span a number of different styles and genres.  Yes there are straight-up horror stories, but smattered among the 20 gems are also stories that have obvious science-fiction and fantasy themes.  Take for instance the story Stillness which pays an obvious homage to Vincent Price’s The Last Man on Earth.  Then there is Maker of Flight about a mysterious mechanical bird maker locked in a room where his only task is to make a certain number of toy birds every day.  For what purpose and for who, you’ll have to read it to find out.  But of course, this is a horror collection by and large.  And there are plenty of intense and downright horrific stories here to satisfy any horror reader’s cravings.  Committed tells the story of a video-gamer with serious anger-management issues.  Steel-Toed Boots is an especially disturbing entry describing what happens when a wife decides to find out what is really going on when her husband goes out at night for a couple of beers. Splintered shares some insights into a situation that many people find themselves in: a relationship that just isn’t working anymore for one party.  His girlfriend has an interesting way of addressing the problem and you’ll be both disturbed and delighted by how it turns out.  These are just some of the horror treasures that you’ll find in this fine collection.  The thing that I most enjoyed about these stories was the way Thomas told them through the characters’ own eyes as if you were seeing things in real time as they happened.  The style of his writing really captured my attention.  There was an almost poetic quality to the writing as well.  Thomas used a lot of staccato sentences and sometimes fragmented thoughts as opposed to spelling out each and every detail of the story.  I thought that this style worked very well and added to my enjoyment of the stories as a whole.  My final thought on Staring Into the Abyss is that it is truly aptly-titled in the respect that these stories come across as describing the human-condition at its worst and best.  These are stories where the characters are forced to look at their lives (some of which have not been lived on the straight and narrow) and come to a final resolution that is both real and intense.  If you are looking for a collection of stories that won’t take very long to read but will leave you forever changed, then Richard Thomas has a treat for you.  It is called Staring Into the Abyss and you should pick it up and read it.  Hopefully you will enjoy it as much as I did.

(4 out of 5 stars)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Review - Hidden Empire by Kevin J. Anderson

Title: Hidden Empire
Author: Kevin J. Anderson
Publisher: Aspect
Release Date; August, 2002

Review by: Nick Tab

Honestly, I just don't get the hatred that some people harbor for Kevin J. Anderson.  I think it may be because he is so prolific and his books are so successful that he's been labelled a mainstream "hack" by a select few and not edgy enough for the discerning science-fiction reader. I usually consume about 50-60 science-fiction titles every year and believe me, I have had to wade through some absolute garbage. So I know awful, and Kevin J. Anderson is NOT a bad sci-fi writer. This is not only some of the best sci-fi that I've had the pleasure of reading, it's downright fun and entertaining as well. Hidden Empire is the first book in the 7-book Saga of the Seven Suns. The story begins in a far future where humans have been forced to flee an over-populated Earth. Their ship of colonists was saved by an ancient alien species known as the Ildirans. The Ildirans are an extremely evolved and intelligent race of beings who view humans as cute, but not worthy of being associated with. They allow the humans to live among them in the Spiral Arm, but keep a close eye on them almost to the point of being their caretakers. The humans have formed their own government to maintain a semblance of independence (if only in appearance) called the Terran Hansiatic League. This government is led by a figurehead king who is really controlled by a hawkish politician named Basil Wensclas.  Basil's only wish is to see humans free from the boot of Ildiran oversight and will stop at nothing to achieve that aim. The Terrans (humans) believe that by igniting a gas giant in a nearby system and creating a new star, they can show the Ildirans that they are advanced enough to stand on their own. What they could not foresee was that the gas giant that they ignited was also secretly home to a war-like alien species called the Hydrogues. The Hydrogues are not exactly happy that their home world had been destroyed and begin to unleash a military assault on both Terran and Ildiran interests. These interests include valuable space manufacturing plants run by the Roamers, a small offshoot of the original Terran colonists. The plants are located across the Spiral Arm and operate as production sites for a type of space fuel, or "ekti", that the Ildirans need to power their spaceships. Ekti is literally the lifeblood of the Roamer/Ildiran economy, which has now become entirely threatened by the merciless Hydrogues. This forces the Ildirans and Terrans to form an unsteady alliance as they try to figure out how to combat this newly roused "Hidden Empire". I would recommend this book to anyone who likes good space opera without any reservations. It is not as dense as some of the Peter F. Hamilton books, yet not as fluff as say David Weber's Honor Harrington series either. I'd place Hidden Empire somewhere in the middle, which is a good thing. You don't need a degree in Astro-Physics to understand what is going on but there is just enough hard science to make it interesting. What really drives this book are the characters and the plot. This one is highly recommended.

(5 out of 5 stars)

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Update - 2/5/2013

Just wanted to give an update on what is going on currently and when my next reviews will be coming.  Unfortunately there's this little thing called my MBA program that has kind of cut into my reading time as of late.  I hate it when real life intrudes on my fun time!  The good news is that I should be getting some new stuff to review from by the end of this month.  So i'm really looking forward to that and will have reviews of those books posted sometime in early March.  Right now to fill the time, i'm reading the Heritage of Shannara series by Terry Brooks as a simple mindless escapist read.  I like it because it's something that  I don't have to pay too much attention to.  Brooks has always been a favorite of mine because his books are very fun, fluff, and don't take themselves too seriously.  That's about it for now.  Just wanted to check in and say that i'm not dead and yes, new reviews will be forthcoming in the near future.  Happy reading!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Review - Bigfoot Hunters by Rick Gualtieri (CreateSpace)

Title: Bigfoot Hunters
Author: Rick Gualtieri
Publisher: CreateSpace
Release Date: March 16, 2012

Reviewed by: Nick Tab

In the interest of full-disclosure, I’m a sucker for Bigfoot fiction.  The problem is that up to this point, it hasn’t really been done right.  I read the Eric S. Brown Bigfoot Apocalypse trilogy and came away only slightly impressed.  I’ve always thought that the legend of Bigfoot could provide a talented author with a great opportunity to write a heck of a suspenseful horror story.  So it was with great hope and expectation that I picked up Rick Gualtieri’s Bigfoot Hunters.  The book starts out as a group of campers are getting ready to make their way to a campsite near the area for a weekend of outdoor fun.  This is where I began to see my first issues with the book.  Each member of the camping party was almost a carbon copy of every “hot” young actor that you see in every horror remake movie from the past ten years.  There was no real connection with any of the characters to the point where you were almost rooting for them to purchase the farm, so to speak.  None of them had a compelling story; they were all just beautiful people looking to score with each other.  Now on to the part of the story that I was waiting for – the Bigfoot, or in this case the family of Bigfoot, that begin terrorizing the group of campers shortly after they arrive at the campsite.  They engage in monologue.  Yes, that’s right monologue!  Okay so it’s delivered in the story by means of internal monologue, but it is still monologue in the sense that you get a viewpoint regarding what the Bigfoot(s) is/are thinking.  This was the part that I really couldn't get past.  The few times that I actually began getting into the story somewhat, were ruined by the cheesiness of the internal Bigfoot monologue.  Coupled with this was a side-story about a Bigfoot-adventurer reality show being shot in the same area that was sort of interesting, but in the end didn't really save this from being just an average book.  I guess I will have to keep waiting for a satisfying horror book based on Bigfoot, because this sadly was not it.  I did enjoy certain stretches, especially the scenes where the Bigfoot(s) go on a violent rampage, but there was just too much fluff for me to enjoy it fully.

(3 out of 5 stars)