Sasquan: Day 4

By yesterday (Saturday. It was yesterday when I originally wrote this post.), I had come to accept that pretty much anything I could learn and hear on a general panel is something that I could also have learned online or in a book, especially if it’s writing related. Therefore, I drilled down and focused on connections and autographs, things that I cannot get in some way just by being online.

I did attend one panel, but I can not even remember what it was—it obviously wasn’t incredibly important. (Looking back on the pictures, it was a

I did attend 2 Kaffee Klatches, with Mur Lafferty and Joshua Bilmes. The KK with Mur was a delight—she’s an excellent author and a nice and funny person. I’ve been a fan of her I Should Be Writing podcast for years, and I’ve read both of her Shambling Guide books, so I was excited to finally meet her. The KK was really informal, and it provided a nice opportunity to get to know Mur and her other fans.

The Bilmes KK was quite the opposite. Bilmes is the president for life of a literary agency which represents, among others, Sanderson, Brett, and Charlaine Harris. He’s a much different person from Mur, and the KK was run much more strictly. We went around the circle and introduced ourselves, then asked a single question which he answered at length. At the end, we talked about submission. It was very educational, and also, I expect, will be a valuable connection in the future. I did not, however, get any kind of personal connection or conversation out of the KK. I found both KKs to be highly valuable, and I am glad I attended both, they were just completely different.

After that, it was time for some fun. I went to the signing up some up-and-coming kid named George R. R. Martin. You should look up his stuff. Some of his books are pretty good, and he might be big some day.

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Then I went through the Sanderson signing line, getting him to do dueling signatures for me. I’ll do another post once I get home and can unpack everything about the dueling signatures, which is a project I quite enjoyed working on. I felt a little silly going through his signing line after hanging out with him for dinner and playing Magic with him, but I did it and he was nice, as always. I also helped out to a small degree with directing his signing line, an enjoyable task that I would like to do more of in the future.

Post Sanderson, I went to dinner with Alice and Lyndsey. The food was decent, and the company was great.

The big event of the day was the Hugo Ceremony. I debated not going, simply because of all of the debate and nastiness surrounding the various parties contesting the award this year. However, while I am definitely intending to attend future cons, I’m not sure when I’ll get back to another WorldCon, and I knew it was going to be a historic Hugo ceremony regardless of the outcome, simply due to the number of voters. So, I went. I ended up sitting next to The Peter, which was awesome, and Scott Lynch and Elizabeth Bear were sitting a few rows in front of me.

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Hugo Crowd.

The ceremony itself was run by David Gerrold and Tananarive Due, who did an excellent job of entertaining the crowd and moving through the various ceremonies of the evening which had to happen before the awards themselves were given out. And then the awards were given out.

Wes Chu won the Campbell award, which set the tone for the night. Wes was the only non-puppy nominee on the slate and, in the opinion of many, the best writer of the group. I’ve read his latest book and it is freaking amazing. He deserved this award, and I expect that he would have, at the least, come in second even without the puppy nominees, if not outright won the award. He got up on stage and gave what I felt to be the most hilarious speech of the night, and had parts of the crowd in hysterical laughter.

During the ceremony, the grim reaper and a Dalek both put on appearances, keeping the mood as light as possible. They were quite well done, and I got a group picture with said dalek after the ceremony. The organizers put their full effort into making the ceremony as good as they could, and I personally think they succeeded.

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L-R: Nate, Alice, Dalek, Peter, Lyndsey, Me.

The rest of the awards proceeded apace, with many of the expected nominees winning. Before last night (Saturday), there had been a total of 5 “No Award”s given over the entire course of the Hugos’ 65-ish year history. Last night, as you’ve probably heard, there were another 5. All of the puppy-dominated categories were completely shut down, and the awards were tense for both the presenters and the audience.

The best novel award was presented by Kjell Lindgren, from the International Space Station. The award went to The Three-Body Problem, the first translated work to ever win a Hugo novel award. It was an amazing experience, and regardless of everything else was a historic moment for the Hugo Award.

I’m glad that I attended the ceremony, and I think that, regardless of the politics surrounding it, several awards went to deserving winners–Wes Chu in particular. Looking at the long-lists, I think the biggest travesty was that The Slow Regard of Silent Things didn’t even get a novella nomination. Regardless, I attended the Hugos and then crashed so I would be a little rested for the last day.

ARC Review: The Dinosaur Lords

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A world made by the Eight Creators on which to play out their games of passion and power, Paradise is a sprawling, diverse, often brutal place. Men and women live on Paradise as do dogs, cats, ferrets, goats, and horses. But dinosaurs predominate: wildlife, monsters, beasts of burden – and of war. Colossal planteaters like Brachiosaurus; terrifying meateaters like Allosaurus and the most feared of all, Tyrannosaurus rex. Giant lizards swim warm seas. Birds (some with teeth) share the sky with flying reptiles that range in size from batsized insectivores to majestic and deadly Dragons.

Thus we are plunged into Victor Milán’s splendidly weird world of The Dinosaur Lords, a place that for all purposes mirrors 14th century Europe with its dynastic rivalries, religious wars, and byzantine politics…and the weapons of choice are dinosaurs. Where we have vast armies of dinosaur-mounted knights engaged in battle. And during the course of one of these epic battles, the enigmatic mercenary Dinosaur Lord Karyl Bogomirsky is defeated through betrayal and left for dead. He wakes, naked, wounded, partially amnesiac – and hunted. And embarks upon a journey that will shake his world.

Disclaimer: I received an advance copy of this book from a friend. This has in no way affected my review. Dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs on a Richard Anderson cover with a GRRM cover-quote. I feel like reviewing this book is going to be completely redundant.

I first want to note that I have been anticipating this book so highly, and worked so hard to find myself an advance copy to read, because of that cover and its art. I’ve actually done this with a fair number of Tor books, including some without Richard Anderson cover art, and despite the old adage, I do sometimes judge a book by its cover. Cover art is important, and Irene Gallo did a brilliant job commissioning the art on this one. I’m nearly as excited about seeing the art for its sequel (Yes, there will be a sequel!) as I am for the book itself. To everyone who contributes to making these books look so awesome, thank you. And now, back to talking about this book specifically.

Dinosaurs.

The premise is, obviously, what made me pick this book up in the first place. I saw Jurassic Park when I was a kid. I had my dinosaur phase. I’m still having it, if I’m honest. Two little dinosaur figures live on my desk at work, and I went to see Jurassic World right after it came out. I fondly remember the Dinotopia days, and so I’ve been wanting more novels with dinosaurs. Dragons are all fine and good, as are other mythological or otherwise invented beasts, but, perhaps because they were once real, nothing can quite compete with the dinosaurs. Even if this book had had a lousy plot and been otherwise miserable, I would have read it all for the dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs.

They’re used quite heavily, too. Figuratively and literally. Milán realizes what a gold-mine he’s sitting on here, and he mines it deeply. He has done an incredible amount of world-building around the dinosaurs, right down to the chapter epigraphs that list the various species and explain their uses and quirks. They pervade the society of the novel, and they’re utterly brilliant. The terremoto (You’ll know what I mean when you read it) is a great example of this.

Dinosaurs.

The rest of the world-building is great as well, and I mean that literally. I really want a map to help me understand exactly what’s going on (The ARC didn’t have one. I’m looking forward to getting my finished hardcover with the maps.). It feels like we simultaneously are, and are not, on a different version of Earth’s Europe. The Spanish influence is incredibly strong here, and it shows in the dual names that many places—and species of dinosaurs—have. One of my favorite examples of this is montañazul, a portmanteau of montaña and azul, which is called in English Blue Mountain.

Dinosaurs.

The plot takes a while to get going, and the first section of the book can be quite confusing. I urge you to stick with it. Once the second section starts, things begin to make a lot more sense, and we quickly settle down into following just a few viewpoints in a nice, linear fashion. While the plot still gets bogged down with the worldbuilding at times, it has a good sense of forward drive and it makes for an engaging book.

Dinosaurs.

Other than the occasional drag of the plot, my biggest complaint is the rape scene. (Warning: There’s a rape scene.) It felt largely unnecessary to the plot. Thankfully, Milán appears, at least for now, to be handling the aftermath much better than some other books I’ve read, and I have hopes that he’ll continue to do so in the next book.

Dinosaurs.

And yes, there will be a next book. If I recall correctly, Milán has said that The Dinosaur Lords is the first in a trilogy, which is the first of a pair of trilogies, and we definitely get glimpses of much larger plots beginning to move in the background of the world. They’re only teased at, however, and you can safely push them to the side and focus on the awesome in the rest of the book, though you may want to pay them more attention if you’re reading this at a later date and lucky enough to be able to pick up The Dinosaur Knights immediately after finishing, as I have a feeling it’ll have a lot more of the large-scale plot in the foreground.

Dinosaurs.

Milán did a great job with the diversity of the world, too, not only with the many species of dinosaurs and their abilities, but also with the characters themselves. They come from all walks of life, various nationalities and races, and he does a great job of representing non-straight characters of various types throughout, including casting them into important roles. I’ve come to start expecting at least a minimum of diversity from the novels I read, and the book soared well clear of that bar.

Dinosaurs.

In summary, nobody had sex with a dinosaur. It was the worst dinosaur erotica I’ve ever read. But, if you’re looking for something a little different, while The Dinosaur Lords felt like a mess at the very beginning, once the plot settles down, it is a great dinosaur adventure novel. The diversity of both characters and dinosaurs was awesome, and the eponymous dinosaurs pervade every page of this amazing novel, which lives up to most of the hype of the cover. Four out of Five stars, and I’m eagerly awaiting the next novel in the series.

Dinosaurs.

Victor Milán.

Amazon.

Goodreads.

Favorite Books of 2014

This list is going to be presented in 2 parts. The first part is the books I read for the first time in 2014, but which were not released that year. The second is 2014 releases that I read and really enjoyed. I didn’t put any rereads on this list, to prevent it from being 100% Sanderson. Neither list has a strict number of books on it, they’re just however many books I really enjoyed. I’m hoping this list will be longer next year, as I want to get more reading done. (Goals/resolutions post coming… Tomorrow?)

2014 Most enjoyed backlist books.

3. The Last Unicorn

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This is something of a classic that a lot of people couldn’t believe that I’d never read–and I see why. It’s not an epic tale, but it’s a touching one. It’s a beautiful story that just resonates in some way that is timeless and is difficult to describe. Really good read, and quick too. Definitely recommended.

2. The Android’s Dream

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I think one of my problems with many sci-fi novels is that they try to dig into the technology to make it “hard” sci-fi, and they do it wrong. Often, it’s obvious that the author has no idea what they are talking about, and it just makes me cringe. This happens particularly often in the realm of computers… Or perhaps I just notice it more because I’m a computer science major in college and spend an unhealthy amount of time working with the things every day. That’s why The Android’s Dream was so incredibly refreshing. It’s computer technology, hackers, aliens, and all the stuff that makes sci-fi cool. Done right. It’s very accurate, but it’s also riotously funny, completely self-contained, and never gets distracted from the hugely entertaining plot. This one really exceeded my expectations and I’m surprised there isn’t more hype about it. You can find my review here.

1. A Storm of Swords

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Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire is a modern classic, and it’s hard to believe that I only started reading this series in 2013 and finished in 2014. (Up to A Dance with Dragons, the last book that is actually out.) GRRM is an absolute master of characterization and satisfying, interesting grey characters. I’m constantly left in awe of his work, and the second half A Storm of Swords, with The Red and Purple Weddings, the trial and combat, and the appearance of a certain someone in the epilogue, is one of the most gut wrenching and amazing things I’ve ever read. You can get away with not reading the books after this, but everyone should at least read up through here. It would be criminal not to.

2014 Most enjoyed releases.

6. What If?

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This is a non-fiction book, which is why I’ve stuck it at the end of the list. It’s quite a departure from my usual fare–I typically only read books like this when I have to for a class. This one, based on the popular What If? columns that xkcd writer Randall Munroe offers up on his website, is simultaneously one of the most entertaining and educational books I’ve ever read. You don’t need to be an uber nerd to understand what’s going on here–Munroe does a great job of explaining the results of his questions without going into the unnecessary details of the formulas he had to use. You will enjoy this one regardless. I promise. My review is here.

5. The Mirror Empire.

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I really enjoyed this one a lot. It had some of the most creative worldbuilding that I’ve ever seen. More inventive, honestly, than even some of Sanderson’s worlds. It really blew my mind, and the plot is utterly brilliant as well. I wish I could have said I completely loved it, but it left me confused in places and I felt it could have used a little smoothing out. Still, I did enjoy it, and I have high hopes for the next book in the series, Empire Ascendant. My review can be found here.

4. Ghost Train to New Orleans.

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This was a fun little read that I wasn’t quite expecting to be this good. I’m not a huge urban fantasy fan (Though a few of my friends are trying to convert me.), but I enjoyed the first book in the series enough to get this one on release day. If we’re going purely by enjoyment versus expectations, this one exceeded my expectations more than any other book on the list. My review resides here.

3. The Crimson Campaign.

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Brian McClellan in one of those guys who just won’t stop writing good stuff. In-between producing an amazing novel every year, he’s written several short stories and novellas in his powder mage world, which explores what happens when magic meets (and comes from) gunpowder. It’s a fascinating blend that I haven’t seen anywhere else, and his ability to ramp up the tension is superb. His first book, Promise of Blood, was an excellent, solid, four-star book that even earned him a well deserved cover-quote from Sanderson himself. The Crimson Campaign was even better in every way, and I tore through it as soon as I had the chance. Highly recommended. My review can be found here.

2. The Emperor’s Blades.

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This book was getting a lot of hype, so I figured that, when I received an ARC, I should probably read it. I did. I’m glad that I did. It was utterly incredible. I have never read a book with such incredibly tense pacing, certainly not of this length. What Staveley has managed here is nothing short of magical, especially in his debut. This isn’t just a book that I highly recommend, this is a book that I very nearly demand that you read. My drooling review is here.

1. WORDS OF RADIANCE.

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(I know that’s not the cover, but it’s one of the amazing end-pages and it’s just too beautiful to not use.)

I do not have enough superlatives to describe this book. Sanderson’s early books, Elantris and Warbreaker, are good, with very powerful surprise endings. He outdid himself with the Mistborn trilogy, which is still one of the most feels-inducing, beautiful things I have ever read. There are, perhaps, only a handful of books in all of fantasy literature that I would compare to the Mistborn trilogy, and most of those would be to describe how Mistborn is better. Then Sanderson wrote The Way of Kings. It is incredible. Simply put, when I read it, my initial thoughts (When I could think again) went something like, “This is the best book I have ever read. There will not be a better book. I’m sorry to all of the other books I ever read.” I felt the same way when I reread it last year. And then Words of Radiance came out. My mind has never, ever, been blown so much. World of Radiance is as big of an improvement on The Way of Kings as the Way of Kings is over every other book written. I was not able to write a review that did this book justice. I’ll try when I reread it, but I’m not making any promises.

That’s it for me. I read a total of 42 books, plus numerous novellas and short stories in 2014, and these were the ones I most enjoyed. I hope everyone else had a great year and found many books that they enjoyed as well! I’m looking forward to 2015 and the books it will bring. 🙂