Thursday, September 29, 2011

To Nisi Shawl they sing: Nisi Is Our Queen!

Nisi Shawl is a much-loved, award-winning writer and inspiration to so many. She is also the co-founder of the Carl Brandon Society whose mission is to "increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction." Please do read her beautifully crafted autobiography. I can't begin to do it justice.

This had to be one of the most enjoyable interviews I've conducted. I requested an interview after hearing she was asked to be Guest of Honor at WisCon last year (2010). It's been a long time coming, but you'll find it was worth the wait. I interviewed Nisi on Friday, September 23rd. She'd been cooking bangers and mash for a book group later that night. The book in question was English, thus the bangers and mash.

AW: What do you do when you're not cooking, reading or writing?

NS: Sleep? Take walks. Bird watch on same. Sing. That's about it. I lead a very circumscribed life. I do seem to travel a lot. I also teach a bunch of 5th and 6th graders for a week every spring as part of Centrum's Young Artists Program. It is the most fun! Kids catch on so fast.

AW: So how was your GOH stint at Wiscon last year?

NS: It was amazing! People kept coming up to me and giving me pies, clothing, jewelry, food, flowers. They kept prostrating themselves at my feet. They made up a song about me and sang it whenever I came around. The first time people sang to me was after my reading. That was pretty intense, with the clapping and dancing.

I hope I gave as good as I got. My mom, my youngest sister, two nieces, and a nephew also attended. It was fabulous.

A little investigation about that song revealed that the music was written by S. J. Tucker. The lyrics were written by K Tempest Bradford, Nivair H. Gabriel and Amal El-Mohtar. And here it is:


Nisi is our queen; Nisi is our queen;
Her awesome makes us want to sing:
Nisi is our queen!

Nisi wears a crystal crown;
She never, ever makes us frown.
That's why POC all sing:
Nisi is our queen!

Nisi can write anything;
And never, ever phone it in;
That's why WisConites all sing:
Nisi is our queen!

AW: Can you elaborate on the prostrations and pies?

NS: The prostration was people lying on the floor in front of me like a traditional African salute to rulers. It's traditional African as in, it actually has crossover with my religion. In my tradition it is called a "kunle" ("KOON-lay"). We do it in front of priests. It has meaning in other parts of the world, too. Near Eastern, European, Far Eastern rulers all had this salute given them, at various historic times.

Most notably on this occasion I was "kunled" by Ama Patterson and Andrea Hairston. (Andrea is one of WisCon's 2012 GOHs.) I had to lift those women up from the floor. Royalty is a mutual thing.

AW: May I ask what religion?

NS: My religion is known as "Ifa" ("EE-fah") or "Orisha" ("Oe-REE-shah") Related to Vodun, Santeria, and so on.

AW: And the pies?

NS: I think I exaggerated, and there was only one--a rhubarb pie from Kathi Nash. It magically appeared on my dresser. The pie was very, very, very good.

Another high point was giving my speech and having people stand up to applaud. I sang during my speech.

And looking out in the audience and seeing my family.

AW: I wish I could have been one of them. I would have hollered too. What did you sing?

NS: I believe there's a video of it. I sang two Michael Jackson songs: "I Wanna Be Where You Are," and "Never Can Say Goodbye."

AW: Do you have to write to pay the bills?

NS: Oh, yes, I do have to write to pay the bills, and worry is part of that gig, it seems.

AW: If all things (meaning pay) were equal, which would you rather write? Poetry, short stories, or novels?

NS: They don't have so much to do with each other that one is a choice over the other. I think there are novel times in my life, and short story times, and poetry times. I used to not want to write novels because I couldn't maintain the same interface with the world for the length of time writing at that length would take. At 55, nearly 56, that is no longer a problem. I think I am naturally at a novel stage in my life. But I have yet to sell one of the three novels I've actually completed, let alone the one currently in progress. On the other hand, I have sold what, four stories this year? No, make that six. Three coming out this fall. What I'm trying to say is, "All of the above."

AW: What's coming out in the Fall?

NS: October 1, a short story called "Just Between Us" in a new magazine edited by Leslie What called Phantom Drift. I had despaired of ever publishing this one, though it's dear to my heart. It's really weird. The end of October, "The Return of Cherie," an excerpt from my Belgian Congo steampunk novel-in-progress, comes out in the second lesbian steampunk anthology, Steam-Powered 2. In November, "Beyond the Lighthouse" will appear in the River anthology edited by Alma Alexander. I wrote it in like nine days, and I'm really proud of it.

AW: Is Phantom Drift a print or ezine?

NS: Print. Hard to believe, isn't it, in this day and age? The cover and subscription info can be found here.

AW: Tell me a little bit about the steampunk novel you're writing now.

NS: I got into writing it by saying I would two years ago when on a panel at World Fantasy. I would love to just concentrate on doing it. Anyone wants to buy a chapter for a $100, I will kick one out for you. Don't want to say too much, but I have the characters, outline, conceit, and the first five chapters done, in addition to the excerpt appearing as "The Return of Cherie." It's a sort of alt history, with protagonists modeled after Josephine Baker, Colette, E. Nesbit, H.G. Wells and numerous others, including some indigenous Kongolese figures. And some Macao Chinese, too! It is so much fun when I get to work on it.

AW: I know what you mean. It's the starting that's hard. And the stopping.

NS: Right!

Nisi invites you to join her on facebook and twitter.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Terminal World - a sci-fi, steampunk feast!

Terminal World
Alastair Reynolds
Ace (Penguin) 2010

Review by Clare Deming

The setting in Alastair Reynolds' Terminal World is a unique creation of far future science fiction and steampunk. The story leaps about this bizarrely awesome place, taking us from the vertical city of Spearpoint with its tiered levels, to the roving airship band Swarm and the drug-mad Skullboys. For reasons lost to history, Spearpoint is divided into fluctuating zones where different levels of technology function, all controlled by the Mire somewhere at its heart.

When a post-human angel falls from the Celestial levels, his body is brought to the local pathologist, Quillon. As the doctor examines the angel's remains, the creature awakens and warns Quillon that he is in danger. Few know that Quillon was once an angel himself, experimentally modified to survive in the lower technology of Neon Heights. He remembers little of his former life, but has managed to stay hidden among humans through repeated surgeries and anti-zonal drugs.

Quillon flees through secret tunnels, the railroad, and a steam-powered bath house. Spectral agents from the Celestial levels pursue him, and his only weapon fails as he crosses into more primitive zones. Guided by Meroka, a heavily-armed and foul-tempered woman, Quillon leaves Spearpoint for the unknown.

Quillon and Meroka struggle to escape a gang of Skullboys and the carnivorgs that feed on human brain matter. When the doctor finds a woman and her child left trapped in a cage, he insists on freeing them, even though the woman is marked as a witch. As Quillon is dragged further from everything he has known, a massive zone shift occurs that devastates Spearpoint.

The plot speeds on, with barely a slow moment. Quillon must solve the challenges of the zone shift and investigate the nature of the tectomancers, while dodging suspicion, betrayal, and hiding his own nature.

While this novel is not set in the Victorian period, there are definite steampunk elements. Much of the action takes place on airships, complete with goggles and clockwork gadgets. One important character in the level of Steamville is a patched-up android powered by a calliope. Yet, there are hints of a lost technology and space-faring civilization here as well. I was intrigued by Quillon's world, but at the conclusion felt a little disappointed that I didn't have all the answers I wanted.

Overall, this was one of the most intriguing and entertaining novels I've read this year. I loved the colorful characters and their interactions, and the plot was twisty and inventive. If Mr. Reynolds decides to write another book set in this world, I would pick it up right away.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Will NASA build FTL drives with the help of TOR/Forge writers?

In late August, Tor/Forge and NASA announced their publishing partnership in which the writers will be paired with scientists to produce what NASA called "NASA inspired Works of Fiction". Is this an inspired attempt to keep the dream of space flight alive in the midst of economic crisis and cutbacks? Will writers turn out novels so chock full of NASA-inspired science that they will be an advertisement for NASA rather than lusciously logical novels full of imagination and engaging characters? We'll see. I'll see sooner than most - and let you know. ;)

I'm equally at home with numbers and words. I can't draw a decent stick figure, but I can paint a vivid picture with words. I don't think I'm predominantly left- or right-brained. Maybe that's why I write sci-fi. I should take a poll. I imagine many sci-fi writers are similarly equipped. It should be interesting to see what happens when writer geeks and science geeks unite.

Meantime, you might get a chuckle or two from Jon Methven's speculation about this pairing, complete with graphics and diagrams at THE AWL.

But what will the real possibility of faster than light travel do to those books? Isn't this good timing - relatively speaking...

CERN may have found a particle that moves FASTER THAN LIGHT! That's excellent news for sci-fi authors like me who insist that we must have FTL travel and the heck with E=MC2.

This is a year old, but I loved the graphics. How are those warp bubbles coming?

I'm definitely going to check this out on Monday. Join me.

And here's a little sci-fi music to kick your weekend off right. Oh. You still have Friday. Too bad. Today's my Friday. ;)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

iBoy and the slippery slope

Kevin Brooks
Scholastic, Nov. 2011

Reviewed by Ann Wilkes

Let me preface this review by saying that I can count how many Young Adult (YA) books I've read on one hand. I don't think I even read many when I was young. Anyhow, now with Scholastic throwing books at me, I thought I'd check some out.

The premise for iBoy, or rather the scientific foundation behind the premise, is holier than Swiss cheese. But if you agree to just play along, the story will reward your efforts. Just think superhero comic and go with it and you'll enjoy the ride. You see, our "hero" Tom Harvey is hit by an iPhone from the 30th floor of a building. That's a neat trick in itself, since the assailant was actually aiming at him. I can totally get that bits of the phone could lodge in his brain. But what they do from there is the stuff of comic books.

The bits of the iPhone intertwine with his brain in such a way that he can do anything an iPhone can do - search the net, make and receive calls, take pictures and video, use apps and more. iBoy can also listen in on any cell phone conversation, send calls anonymously and shock people at will - as in give them an electrical shock. Data streams along his skin as it glows and shimmers. Normal, boring Tom Harvey becomes iBoy.

As soon as Tom wakes up from the coma caused by the impact, he learns that the girl he was going to meet on that fateful day was undergoing an attack herself. His new-found powers give him the means to act on his desire for revenge and his frustration at the lack of justice. But each time he uses his powers to punish Lucy's attackers, he changes, becomes somehow less human.

He chooses to tell no one of his powers. He's afraid the doctors will keep him for more poking and prodding and he doesn't want to worry his grandmother who is raising him. His very real struggle with his morals and the weight of carrying so many secrets is what makes this novel so compelling.

The book is probably 60 percent inner dialog, so you really get to experience his anguish and turmoil firsthand.

I was very close to hitting him then. I really wanted to smack him in the head and wipe that stupid look from his face. Not because he was grinning, not even because he'd momentarily lulle me into almost feeling sorry for him . . . but simply because of his complete lack of remorse for what had been done to Lucy. I mean, how could he even think about apologizing to me without feeling sorry for Lucy?

It was totally unbelievable.

And I knew then that it was a waste of time trying to reason with him, or trying to appeal to his better side, because he didn't have a better side anymore. I just had to treat him as nothing. I had to ingnore my disgust, bury my anger, and just use him to get what I wanted.

I looked at him, letting him see the coldness in my eyes.

I also appreciated the author's use of the short blurbs from literature or reference materials at the beginning of each chapter. In addition, he included little insets of listings that iBoy has brought up in his Internet searches here and there.

What surprised me about this novel was the adult (and by adult I mean profanity, not mature) language and the adult content. It also includes a gang rape (though, thankfully does not depict it) and torture. Scholastic says it's for readers in grades 9-12.

The best thing about this novel is Brooks' portrayal of the effects of trauma and the slippery slope of compromising our morals. Tom lives in a project in a city in England. Things might differ and be called by different names, but teenagers have the same struggles the world over. They need to be loved, accepted and want to become independent.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Star Wars wars and last chance for bids for the Browncoat Ball

Star Wars fans are talking about the changes to the new Star Wars Blu-ray boxed set. has what they call the best Internet reactions to the changes.

Next Media Animation has a whole fan animation to express its views.

Japanese music, anime and manga will be celebrated in Los Angeles at the AM2 event scheduled for Father's Day weekend, June 15-17 at the Anaheim Convention Center and adjacent hotels. Mark your calendar and learn more at

****UPDATE - Deadline has been extended to Oct. 14****
I don't usually do this, but the deadline is tomorrow and I'm a Browncoat through and through, even though I haven't been to a ball yet. Hopefully someone will win the bid who's within driving distance of me. :) And just to get you in the mood, here's a Firefly clip.


About the Browncoat Ball (BCB)

The inaugural Browncoat Ball was held in Chicago in 2004, with the goal of establishing an affordable, annual, nonprofit event created for fans by fans, capable of bringing Browncoats from geographically diverse locations from all over the world together to celebrate Firefly, Serenity and our fabulous fandom. The BCB has been held in San Francisco (2006), Philadelphia (2007), Austin (2008), Portland (2009), Charlotte (2010) and will be held in Providence (Warwick, RI) in 2011.

Hosting the BCB is a labor of love. While the central BCB Steering Committee will share planning materials and tips and offer assistance in the fundraising and promotional process, the 2012 hosts should respect the fact that it is hard work to host a successful BCB, but it is extremely rewarding.

Since the BCB is a small event and cannot sustain comping volunteers, a guiding principal of the BCB since its inception is that everyone pays their own way (attendance, lodging, airfare): committee members, volunteers and attendees alike. This way, the attendees do not subsidize the volunteers or committee members.

About the BCB Steering Committee

The BCB Steering Committee is comprised of former Browncoat Ball organizers from all previous years. These are the people who put together their own proposals and were on the ground working when they hosted the BCB in their neck of the woods. The BCB Steering Committee exists to evaluate proposals and provide guidance to the current host committee and all future event bidders. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact the BCB Steering Committee at bid @browncoatball. com . Please state the nature of your inquiry in the subject line of the e-mail.

Request for Proposals

We are now accepting proposals for the 2012 Browncoat Ball. Applications for hosting the 2012 BCB should be completed and e-mailed to bid@browncoatball. com . (with "BCB Proposal" in the subject line) by September 16, 2011. The BCB Steering Committee will review the proposals, make follow-up inquiries and render a final decision by October 7, 2011. The selected host committee will have until October 14, 2011 to accept/commit and the 2012 location will be announced at the 2011 Ball on Saturday, October 22. (The host committee does not need to be in attendance at this year's BCB in order to be selected.)

Serious applicants should send a proposal with the following information:

1. A statement from your group about why you would like to host the 2012 BCB.

2. Proposed dates for the event (a non-holiday weekend, ideally in August,
September or October 2012).

3. Proposed location, including the city and, if possible, a specific hotel that would have reasonable rates and at least 20-25 rooms available for the proposed dates. (This doesn't have to be the final location, and multiple sites can be proposed if that is preferred)

4. Estimate on the total cost of a ballroom/banquet facility that has availability during the proposed dates, including room rental and catering. Financial details for previous BCBs are available for reference.

5. A list of 3-5 additional Firefly/Serenity 'verse-themed activities that could be done at or near the BCB site and an estimate and explanation of the costs associated with these activities (for example, transportation to and from the event, admission fees, food charges, decoration costs). All activities and related transportation costs should be included in the BCB ticket price.

Think creatively! Some of the best activities cost very little, can be tied in easily with the Firefly 'verse and don't require a ton of planning. For example,
the 2004 BCB included a Chinese Welcome Dinner and Tea Ceremony on the rooftop of the hotel, the Train Job Luncheon on a privately chartered commuter train and an Afternoon in the Core with suggested activities around Chicago. Additional details from past BCBs are available on request. The sky is the limit! This can be more of a brainstorming list of possible activities rather than a final list.

6. Additional transportation details such as how far the BCB site is from a major national/internatio nal airport, what transportation options exist to and
from the airport and how much they cost, and how far the site is from other major cities within driving distance. Please take into consideration the
availability of accessible options for Browncoats with disabilities for all aspects of the event.

7. Total estimate on the operational costs (not including lodging and airfare) and estimate of ticket cost (we suggest between $100 and $150, but other price points will be considered depending on offerings), including possible options for different event packages. Suggestions regarding package options available upon request.

8. Coordinating Committee: A tentative list of 5-10 people willing to:

- Make facility reservations and coordinate event planning

- Register guests

- Promote the event, including Internet updates, newsletters and invitations

- Be the Webmaster for the 2012 Web site. (If no Webmaster is available, the BCB Steering Committee can maintain the Web site, but the 2012 hosts must be willing to provide/edit/ review the text for the web site.) There is a forum, as well as MySpace, Facebook and Yahoo! BCB groups, that the hosts can use to promote the 2012 BCB.

- Handle incoming and outgoing money and create and work within a budget (treasurer). This is extremely important, as the 2012 hosting committee will
bear the financial responsibility if the event goes over the budget. The BCB Steering Committee will provide financial summaries of the prior events to the 2012 hosts to give you an idea of what you can look forward to with regards to expenses, although the cost of the event will vary depending on the location. You are then required to provide a similar financial report to reflect how your event was managed, so future events can benefit as well.

- You can propose to host a BCB in an area other than where you live, but at least two 2012 coordinating committee members should live/work near the site being proposed.

- Committee members must be willing to commit to approximately 3 or 4 conference calls or conference chat sessions with the BCB Steering Committee so all parties can be sure things are still on track and to discuss any major changes, if any.

- At least one of the coordinating committee members should be named Amy. If you do not have a committee member named Amy, you may nominate one of your committee members to be an honorary Amy. If you fail to provide an Amy for your committee, one will be provided to you by the BCB Steering Committee.

9. Contact information, including name, e-mail address and evening phone number for one member of the coordinating committee who will serve as a contact for notification purposes. (The BCB Steering Committee will in turn provide the 2012 hosts with contact info for consultation purposes.)

10. Your commitment to maintain a positive attitude and have a good time!

NOTE: The real estate adage "location, location, location" does not necessarily hold true as the primary factor for the selection of the winning BCB proposal. While the BCB Steering Committee does like to see the BCB move around geographically, we are also concerned about costs, event specifics and the commitment of the bidding committees. Don't let the current or past locations of the BCB discourage you from putting together a proposal. Even prior locations will be considered. We are considering forcing the Chicagoland Browncoats to host the 10th anniversary BCB in 2014!

Also, don't worry if you've never been to a BCB before -- none of the BCB Philadelphia 2007 bid committee members had been to a ball before they submitted their winning proposal. And if you've submitted a bid before, please try again -- we only do this once a year and it has taken some committees 3 bids until they were selected. The bottom line is that the BCB wouldn't be possible without Browncoats.. . Browncoats like you!

end announcement

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Worldcon interview, Conjecture and Uncle Remus

Karina Fabian uploaded the interview she did with me at Worldcon last week. Is my nose really that big?

I went to Conjecture last weekend. Conjecture is a very intimate little con. It's friendly and well organized. As someone who had back to back panels, a little time between them would have been nice. They pretty much go to the top of the hour and the next one starts about five minutes late. Not such a big deal, though when all the panels are on one small floor. In fact, I kept saying, "Down in the dealers room," because it usually is in a lower floor. But the dealers room and art show are also on that small floor. And the con suite. There's no green room.

The panels were loads of fun, though, with lots of interesting people and everyone playing nice.

I wish I had gone to the iron hack panel. Sounded like a hoot. I sat on a similar panel at SpoCon 2008. I still think Mark Ferrari and I can make that story into something worthwhile.

I actually had an audience for my reading, which is always a plus. I read a new story that has only just received one rejection (as soon as I got home) and "Troll Games", which is always so much fun to read. I've pretty much got the troll voice down.

One of the absolute highlights was finding a Song of the South DVD in the dealers room. I've been wanting it for ages. It's not available in stores in the States. Now Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah is stuck in my head. And I haven't even had time to watch it yet.

Another regret regarding the con was its location in the butt end of town. I could have been anywhere for all of San Diego I experienced. The only thing it was close to was a mall. I'm sure I've mentioned before how much I hate shopping.

I did get to see most of Eytan Kollin's grossly abbreviated medieval weapons demonstration. It's usually opposite a panel I'm on.

Next con for me is OryCon in Portland, OR. Meantime, I'll be emceeing and reading at a Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading in Santa Rosa, CA at the Sonoma County Book Festival on September 24th. It's a great event, not to be missed if you're in the county or an adjacent one. They block off a section of downtown for the one-day event.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Happy Anniversary Star Trek!

On Sept. 8, 1966, the first episode of Star Trek ("The Cage") aired heralding a new era of science fiction TV. Star Trek was every bit as ground-breaking as "All in the Family". It touched on social issues in ways like only science fiction can. Creator Gene Roddenberry often put humans, or even aliens, in situations that challenged their morals, tested their beliefs and shined a spotlight on their shortcomings. In Star Trek, Roddenberry dared to imagine humanity rising above greed, materialism and racism.

Forty-five years later, his influence continues. The Science Channel is paying tribute to Roddenberry in Trek Nation, a documentary airing Nov. 30th that follows Roddenberry's only son, Rod, as he "explores his family legacy and the crusade his father’s passion and curiosity for exploration."

Here's a sneak peek:

And because we can never get enough, here are three of my favorite scenes. Enjoy!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Opportunities abound - including a trip to space!

In honor of its 50th Anniversary, the Seattle Space Needle is sending some lucky space-lover into space! They have lots of other prizes. Entering the contest gains you access to the grand prize of a private (as in not NASA, not by yourself) rocket ride into the heavens - a sub-orbital jaunt, really. But how cool is that? Find out more here.

Phoenix Pick's free ebook for September is A. A. Attanasio’s Radix . This from Phoenix:

This particular edition of Radix is scheduled to be taken off the market
during January 2012 (due to contractual reasons), so this may be one of
your last chances to get this, what the author considers, his favorite
edition of the book.

Readers will also have the option of purchasing other books of the Radix
Tetrad at a substantial discount when downloading the free ebook
(instructions will be given on the download page).

A young man's odyssey of self-discovery in a world eerily alien, yet
hauntingly familiar.

Set thirteen centuries in the future, A. A. Attanasio meticulously creates
a brilliantly realized Earth, rich in detail and filled with beings
brought to life with intense energy.

In this strange and beautiful world, Sumner Kagan will change from an
adolescent outcast to a warrior with god-like powers and in the process
take us on an epic and transcendent journey.

Carl Schirmer spontaneously transforms into light. Then, 130 billion years
later, when all of spacetime is collapsing into the vast nothingness of
the cosmic black hole, Schirmer is remade from the remnants of his light.
He is reborn in time’s last world, the strangest of all—the Werld.

“An instant classic.”—Washington Post

“RADIX is sheer pleasure to read: brimming with living characters,
splendid adventures...It is an exhilarating novel.”—Minneapolis Tribune

The Coupon Code for September is 9991421 and will be good from September 2
through September 30, 2011. Instructions and download link, as usual,
through our online catalogue at

**end PR**

And if you're anywhere near San Diego, attending Conjecture will give you a multitude of opportunities to hear from yours truly! This year's theme is Incredible Worlds and their GOH is Allen M. Steele.

Here's my so sweet schedule of panels for this small, but long-running con in beautiful San Diego.

Friday 2PM Post Apocalyptic Fever
Friday 5PM Care and Feeding of Writers' Groups
Friday 6PM Are There Any New Stories?
Friday 7PM Reading

Saturday 3PM Alien Libraries
Saturday 5PM A Feudal Future: SF as Fairy Tale
Saturday 7PM How Will We Feel When We're No Longer Made of Meat?

Sunday 11AM Comedy in SF & F

I can't wait! I'm going to make sure to hit Seaworld and the beach while I'm there, too!

And though Renovation is over, look what's in store for Worldcon 2013 after Chicon (Chicago 2012):

LoneStarCon 3 wins 2013 Worldcon bid for San Antonio

August 20, 2011

RENO, Nev. – The World Science Fiction Convention will return to Texas for the first time since 1997 after voting results announced Aug. 20 at Renovation, the 2011 Worldcon, awarded the right to host the international conference to the Texas in 2013 bid. LoneStarCon 3–the 71st World Science Fiction Convention–will be held Aug. 29-Sept. 2, 2013, at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas. The Mariott Rivercenter and Mariott Riverwalk will serve as the host hotels.

The guests of honor list for LoneStarCon 3 includes Ellen Datlow, James Gunn, Norman Spinrad, Darrel K. Sweet and Willie Siros, with Paul Cornell serving as toastmaster and featuring special guests Leslie Fish and Joe R. Lansdale.

**PR truncated**

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Well of Sorrows, a rousing fantasy

Well of Sorrows
Benjamin Tate
DAW, 2011

Review by Clare Deming

Colin Harten isn't happy in his new home of Portstown. His parents have brought him over the sea to the New World to escape an anticipated war in Andover. Some of the problems of Andover follow them. In Portstown, only those favored by the ruling Proprietor's Family are given the prime jobs and preferred homes. Colin's family is stuck in Lean-to, a rough tent-city of outcasts. Bullied to his breaking point, Colin fights back. Unfortunately his enemy is the son of the Proprietor, and Colin is harshly punished. At the same time, Lean-to's inhabitants clash with the Proprietor's forces over the discriminatory treatment. The people of Lean-to are given an ultimatum and leave Portstown to explore the dangerous interior of the continent, claiming land for the Proprietor's Family, but being given a chance to make a better life for themselves.

Bizarre storms and rumors of fierce natives don't stop the expedition from venturing up the Escarpment. It isn't long before they encounter the Alvritshai and Dwarren and discover the fate of previous expeditions. As the second section of the novel begins, Colin has changed (literally) and is far removed from the kid he once was. His journey as the protagonist of the novel takes a unique path.

Elements of the stereotypical epic fantasy novel might include a naive young hero, elves and dwarves, mysterious evil, and battles involving multiple armies. In Well of Sorrows, there are elements of all these things, but Benjamin Tate is able to arrange these components in a fresh way that makes for a rousing tale of exploration, politics, and war.

The magic that develops was surprising. Small spoiler: When Colin gains the ability to stop or slow time, this gives him power and aggravates his emotional scars. It's like an addiction in its irresistible allure and, whether he sees it coming or not, the price he pays for its use. Colin's power appears similar in nature to the evil that emerges, and I imagine that in the next volume, his internal battles will become tougher.

I'm not sure if it's really a criticism since it didn't detract from my enjoyment of this novel, but I couldn't help but draw parallels between the Alvritshai and elves, and the Dwarren and dwarves. There may be readers who have an allergy to anything remotely elvish or dwarvish. In this story's world, these non-human races have their own creative qualities that bring them to life and make them unique. One of my favorite touches was how the Dwarren ride small antelope native to the plains, rather than some fantastical beasts.

After the nail-biting opening section, in which the settlers from Portstown set off into the unknown, I felt like the pacing slowed. However, the Alvritshai and the Dwarren are introduced in greater detail, and Colin has to regain his bearings. I had already grown interested enough in Colin's predicament that this didn't keep me from reading onward.

Well of Sorrows is the first book in a planned trilogy, and I plan to read the next volume when it is available. I would recommend this book for anyone who enjoys epic fantasy where the elves get muddy and the hero struggles against both internal and external problems. There is a lot of originality here, but as the title implies, it is a dark tale, and I'm not sure how Colin will fare in the end.