Review: Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

LibriomancerLibriomancer (Magic Ex Libris: Book One) by Jim C. Hines (9780091953454): 2013 (DAW)

Books are magic.

You don’t have to be convinced of that. The connection that is forged between a reader and an author is real and well-documented. Without that magical bond formed by scribbles on the page, websites like this wouldn’t exist.

But what if that connection was greater? What if that resonance was so great that some gifted people could reach into books and pull objects out of them, use that magic to affect the world around them? What if that magic birthed magical creatures that roamed the world and we had to be protected from the dangers of that magic? This is the central premise of Jim C. Hines’ Magic ex Libris series which begins with Libriomancer.

Isaac Vainio is one such libriomancer, one of the Porters, a secret society founded by Johannes Gutenberg (of printing press fame) to protect the world from various supernatural threats. He was banned from the field from delving too far into the magic (that way leads to madness) and has been delegated to cataloging duty in a small town in Upper Michigan. His quiet life is disrupted when a band of vampires that have leaked out of the pages of a Stephanie Meyer novel attack him at the library. With the help of Lena Greenwood, a motorcycle-riding dryad, he manages to escape and is drawn into a plot involving the kidnapping of his therapist, the disappearance of Johannes Gutenberg, and the very real possibility of an all-out war between the vampires and the Porters.

First and foremost, Libriomancer is a fast and fun ride. Hines has a quick wit and keeps the prose flowing. The tone is light, though this is deceptive—he delves into some fairly deep waters from time to time. Even when he’s dealing with heavy themes, his touch is gentle. The novel opens strong, gets a little bogged down in details toward the middle, but really opens up in the last third and delivers a strong climax, setting things up nicely for the next book in the series while wrapping up the main story in a satisfying manner. Mostly, this is a book about “how cool is that” and, for the most part, it delivers.

Libriomancy, as a concept, is a real winner. There is some potential here for some interesting uses of this magic system. One would think that the possibilities would be endless, but the book does address some of the abuses that could come from it. Apparently Gutenberg, the founder of libriomancy, magically sealed some books to keep them from becoming too dangerous. There will be no one running around with the One Ring, for example. And there is an interesting, though short, discussion on why pulling a time machine wouldn’t work. Unfortunately, as a character, Isaac is a bit of a one-trick-pony. His uses are fairly repetitive—either a variation on a gun, Moly from The Odyssey, or a cure from a gaming text. Even the characters comment on it. However, toward the end of the novel, you see glimpses of some of the potential of the magic system that perhaps will be revealed later in the series.

Character-wise, Hines delivers a likeable, if flawed, protagonist in Isaac. He tends to overestimate how much he can handle alone and tends to rush in too much (which got in him trouble with the Porters in the first place), but he is very sympathetic and is a good guy. He also acknowledges his flaws and mistakes and tries to do better by them, which is a nice change. Overall, he’s a finely drawn character, if a little typical of the geek-hero.

Lena is also a strong character, though sure to be controversial. She’s a dryad, created by magic, and therefore her nature is dictated by that magic. She tends to take on the personality traits partial to her lovers, and, as such, her free will is suspect (and thus is her character’s strength). Hines handles this with consideration and thoughtfulness, but his light touch may belie this consideration. In the course of the novel, her lover is taken and presumed dead or turned by vampires. Therefore, in order to ensure she doesn’t lose herself, she turns to Isaac to take on the role of her lover. But, in this she makes a choice–she is fighting for herself. In the text it is clear that she has such a strength and lust for life that there may be more to her than what was written on the page. However, one must acknowledge that there is an ugly history to the whole male fantasy of the dryad sex slave that hangs over the plot. Whether Hines is successful in working out from under this is the question. I felt that he handled these themes well and with consideration. Your mileage may vary.

Overall, Libriomancer is a fun, fast-paced adventure that, though a bit on the light side, offers some interesting ideas and relationships.

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Schoolyard Logic: Sad Puppies and Hugos

Hugo AwardFor those of you that follow such things, this year’s Hugo award nominations have erupted into a kerfuffle of galactic proportions. You can get some of the details here, here, and here. Also some opinion (from both sides) here, here, here, and here.

Obviously, a lot has already been said on this subject. But it weighs on my mind a bit, so I thought I’d take my swipe at it.

According to the Sad Puppies campaign, they want to take back the Hugos from literary and message fiction put forward by mostly politically liberal writers. They want a return to old fashioned adventure fiction. So they put out a very public slate of recommendations for nominees and encouraged others to follow suit. Brad Torgersen, who lead the campaign this year, describes the problem thusly:

A few decades ago, if you saw a lovely spaceship on a book cover, with a gorgeous planet in the background, you could be pretty sure you were going to get a rousing space adventure featuring starships and distant, amazing worlds. If you saw a barbarian swinging an axe? You were going to get a rousing fantasy epic with broad-chested heroes who slay monsters, and run off with beautiful women. Battle-armored interstellar jump troops shooting up alien invaders? Yup. A gritty military SF war story, where the humans defeat the odds and save the Earth. And so on, and so forth.

These days, you can’t be sure.

The book has a spaceship on the cover, but is it really going to be a story about space exploration and pioneering derring-do? Or is the story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation, with interplanetary or interstellar trappings?

There’s a sword-swinger on the cover, but is it really about knights battling dragons? Or are the dragons suddenly the good guys, and the sword-swingers are the oppressive colonizers of Dragon Land?

A planet, framed by a galactic backdrop. Could it be an actual bona fide space opera? Heroes and princesses and laser blasters? No, wait. It’s about sexism and the oppression of women.

Finally, a book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues.

Or it could be about the evils of capitalism and the despotism of the wealthy.

The Puppies and their followers claim that this “message” fiction, fiction with themes that speak to social ills on our own world and in our own time, is inherently inferior to that of the plot-driven tales of derring-do that we all know and love. Which is why such books do so well on the bestseller lists and such movies and television shows do so well at the box office and in the ratings.

The Puppies also claim that the SJWs (“Social Justice Warriors”, whom they dub those of a decidedly politically liberal slant) have put forward whom they wanted to win for years. By putting out an actual public slate, they’ve merely done out in the open what their socio-political counterparts have done behind the scenes. To be honest, this smacks a bit of conspiracy thinking to me. If it’s true, then there is a secret cabal of liberals that actually run all of the independently-operated Worldcon conventions and influence the votes of the memberships. Or, even more unlikely these liberal SJW authors that write unsuccessful, inferior fiction send out their hordes of followers (which they have despite their lack of success?) to vote their personal slates of fellow liberal SJW authors to keep the rolls pure. It doesn’t make much sense. If there is a secret cabal, then it must be very mobile in order to influence a series of independent conventions and memberships. The logistics must be staggering. It’s more likely that the SJW authors are actually successful authors because the Worldcom fandom wants to read their stuff. Occam’s razor and all that.

I have to say, as a librarian and a blogger who tries to follow trends, the winds are changing. Its not a secret cabal, but a shift in the demographics that we are seeing. The world is changing and I think that many that follow the Sad Puppies way of thinking simply don’t like they way the wind is blowing.

But the reaction strikes me as a form of schoolyard logic. “They’ve done it for years, so we’re going to do it, but better!” Like I said, I don’t think it’s being done in the first place. But even if it were, is it really taking a high road to take this tack (to mix my transportation metaphors)? If its wrong for one side to do it, then its wrong for either side to do it. If your grievance is that the Hugos are supposedly broken because of some supposed bias on the part of the process, then fix the process, don’t game the system.

But maybe, just maybe, it isn’t that there’s a problem with the process. It’s a problem with the results. The world is changing. People’s tastes are changing. People still want to explore strange new worlds, but they also want to be made to think about the world they live in. There’s nothing wrong with that. Believe it or not, SciFi and fantasy have always done that. Heinlein himself did it a time or two. So did Roddenberry. But I suspect that the problem isn’t as much with the works themselves but between the writers that produced them–and that is what is truly sad about this kerfuffle.

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Review: Hawk by Steven Brust

Hawk by Steven BrHawkust (9780765324443): Tor (2014)

It’s been years since Vlad Taltos has been back to the Imperial city of Adrilankha. He’s been on the run from the Jhereg, the Dragaeran House of the criminal underworld, who he made extremely unhappy. He’s not been able to see his friends, his son, or his ex-wife, Cawti, in all this time. He’s also had to wear a Phoenix Stone to shield himself from sorcerous scrying, cutting himself off from magic. But Vlad’s tired of running. And now he’s a got a plan to get back in the Jhereg’s good graces (hopefully). It all hinges on the collection of certain objects, the study of obscure trade laws, a bit of witchcraft and sorcery, the help of his old friends, and learning to think like a hawk. And staying alive long enough to make it all happen.

Hawk marks the triumphant return of Vlad Taltos to Adrilankha and, in some ways, a return of the series to some of its old form. Back is the iconic (and ironic) assassin, wisecracking his way through the city with his familiar, Loiosh, on his shoulder, dodging danger at every turn and staying two steps ahead of his enemies (most of the time). It was good to see Vlad back on his home turf and getting some of his own back from the Jhereg. It’s been far too long. It was also good to see his friends again, especially Kragar. And smoggy Adrilankha, a character unto itself. The novel is a homecoming and doesn’t disappoint.

What also doesn’t disappoint is Brust’s writing. The dialog is witty (as per usual) and the prose is clever and quick. There is never a dull moment in the book–and this is a novel in which much of the book is spent with Vlad walking up one side of the city and down the other. Quite the accomplishment.

All in all, an enjoyable return to a remarkable series.

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Published! “Thirty Nine” Appearing in Stupefying Stories!

Stupefying Stories March 2015My second published short story (entitled “Thirty Nine”) now appears in the March edition of Stupefying Stories. You can pick up your copy for Kindle at Amazon here.

“Thirty Nine” is the story of a failed inventor who finds that perhaps he’s discovered a bit more than he’s bargained for in his latest failure.

Don’t forget, there are also some other stupefying stories in this issue you’ll want to check out as well. So pick up your copy of Stupefying Stories!

ADDENDUM: You can get the print version of the book from Amazon here and from CreateSpace here.

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Review: Tome of the Undergates (The Aeons’ Gate Book One) by Sam Sykes

Tome of the Undergates

Tome of the Undergates (The Aeons’ Gate Book One) by Sam Sykes (9781616142421): 2010 (Pyr)


For me, the term has always had a romantic connotation. Swashbuckler. Explorer. Hero. But in Sam Sykes’ exciting and rambunctious series, the word is synonymous with cutthroat, murderer, and associated only with those who would take on the vilest of jobs. They are a step below even mercenaries and sell-swords. Adventurers are scum of the earth–and the protagonists of Sykes’ book are hard-pressed to prove their reputations as otherwise.

There’s Lenk, their leader, a talented swordsman who hears a deadly voice in his head spurring him on to kill. Then there’s Kataria, a barbaric schict who farts in her sleep (and doesn’t smell very good otherwise) who adventures in order to kill as many humans as she can. The rogue, Denaos, is everything the reputation of the adventurer encompasses–cowardly, murderous, and drunkenly carousing. Gariath, the haughty dragonman, is enigmatic and violent, as prone to injure himself as the humans in his path. Asper, the cursed priestess, tries to do good but finds her faith in humanity waning as she follows her companions into danger time and time again. Finally, there’s Dreadaeleon the wizard, who follows knowledge for its own sake and whose magic can prove dangerous to both his target and to innocent bystanders.

This ragtag group are all on a quest to find the Aeons’ Gate for their patron, a priest by the name of Miron Evenhands. But while onboard a ship bound for their next destination, they are attacked by pirates who target Evenhands–or, more precisely, a tome in his possession. When the tome is ultimately taken by a demon allied with the pirates, the adventurers agree to chase it–and the demon–down. Of course, the fate of the world hangs in the balance–as well as a thousand pieces of gold.

Imagine if Joe Abercrombie wrote RPG fiction and you’ll get a feel for this novel. Deeply gritty with a sense of the absurd and a through-line of humor, the prose is highly enjoyable. The characters are somehow likeable, despite their many flaws. These are definitely not characters you want to be or to be around, yet you continue to want to read about them. It’s clear that the author is having a great deal of fun with his story and that comes through in the reading. It’s contagious.

The plot is a pretty straightforward adventure story. The events of the novel are set up by a long sea battle that takes up a good third of the book. Still, there are monsters, sirens, a strange warrior race, demons, all manner of good stuff in here. It is definitely not light on the action.

All in all, Tome was an excellent opening for a series that I want to read. I’ll be looking for the next book in the series, Black Halo. Highly recommended.

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