Thursday, December 17, 2015

Battle of the 2013 Books, Bracket One, First Round :: The Scholar, the Sphinx and the Shades of Nyx by A. R. Cook vs. The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick

This is our eighth and last first round match of Bracket One of Battle of the 2013 Books, which features The Scholar, the Sphinx and the Shades of Nyx by A. R. Cook versus The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick. The winner will be the book I (Jackie) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

The Scholar, the Sphinx and the Shades of Nyx:  Knox Robinson Publishing, May 2013; 286 pages; cover illustration by Grzegorz Rekas. A. R. (Alison Reeger) Cook has written short stories and short plays, which have received honorable mentions in some journals and digests. Her second book in this YA series is titled The Scholar, the Sphinx, and the Fang of Fenrir.

We begin the story in Cervera, Spain, in the year 1852. David Sandoval, our 16-year-old hero in The Scholar, the Sphinx and the Shades of Nyx, procures an architectural apprenticeship from a family friend who lives in Paris. Despite the misgivings of his parents, David persuades them to let him travel to Paris on his own.

At an inn near Paris, David hears music in the street. The innkeeper informs David that a traveling gypsy show is performing. "Just keep your coin purse close. Got to be watchful of sticky fingers," warns the innkeeper. David meets a young girl and a Scotsman juggler who challenges David to perform in the gypsy show. David does so and wins an old-fashioned dagger that is "curved like a basilisk’s tongue."

That night a strange creature breaks into David's room, entering through the window. The creature's breath soothes David into a peaceful lull, but he wakes himself enough to push the creature away, reach for his knife, and scare it away. He sees his coin purse on the floor and a fancy gold coin on the windowsill. David assumes the creature is with the gypsy troupe.

The next night David steals into the woods to find the gypsy caravan with the intent to kill the creature that attacked him, to potentially save others from such a fate. After finding and creeping into the creature's wagon — smelling the same smell from the night before — he sees a female sphinx, who suddenly awakens. Trying to escape, he is caught and tied up by the gypsies. The creature pulls him into her wagon, and lulls him to sleep with her breath.

The next morning, David, still tied up, observes the gypsy camp as people are eating breakfast. The sphinx is serving her group a delicious smelling stew.

The Doctor and the Dinosaurs:  Pyr; December 2013; 255 pages (with and extra 30 pages for appendixes); illustration by Andrew Bosley. Mike Resnick is a prolific writer of novels and short stories and has edited 40 anthologies. He has won five Hugo Awards and has been nominated over 30 times. He is the author of the Starship series, the John Justin Mallory series, and the popular Kirinyaga series. Resnick's novel The Doctor and the Dinosaurs is the fourth book in his "Weird West Tales" series.

The Doctor and the Dinosaurs takes us on a trip to an alternate version of the Wild West. Doc Holliday is dying in a sanitarium in Leadville, Colorado. An owl rests on the windowsill and watches as Doc coughs up blood and gasps in some breaths. The owl turns into Geronimo who then offers Doc a chance to live about one or two more years if he will help him with a problem. According to the Apache Geronimo, white men are digging for dinosaur bones on sacred Comanche land. Geronimo thinks Doc Holliday can convince the men to stop digging, using any means possible, including Doc’s famous gunmanship.

Doc asks why an Apache leader is helping the Comanche people in Wyoming. Geronimo reveals that the Comanche medicine men plan to resurrect some of the dinosaurs to destroy the white men and end the digging. Unfortunately, once the dinosaurs are resurrected, they can't be controlled and will go haywire and mindlessly kill anyone else in their path, which includes Apache and Comanche, as well as anyone else in their path. In Geronimo's opinion, the better plan would be to simply stop the dig and leave the dinosaurs as bones.

After Doc Holliday agrees to this deal, Geronimo does some chanting. Although Doc still coughs, he feels as he did two years ago. Doc then sets out on his journey, which first takes him to Cheyenne, Wyoming. There, he meets up with Theodore Roosevelt, who is not president yet, and they head in a northwest direction to find the paleontologists' digging site and to see what's what. They notice two Comanche following them.

The Battle:  We have a Wild West alternate-reality fantasy battling against a YA mythological fantasy. After reading the first 25 pages, I find these books to be a good pairing. May the best book win!

In The Scholar, the Sphinx, and the Shades of Nyx, David, our scholar and hero, loves stories and devours books. He is young and ready to embark on his life's journey. Unfortunately, he makes a poor decision, which takes him on a creepy path of abduction and magic.

The book flows well and the storyline so far is interesting. The writing is good, and there are some high-quality vocabulary words, which I appreciate when reading young adult novels. The name-dropping of myths and famous authors, such as "Perseus" and "Victor Hugo," seem to be placed in the story to educate the reader rather than move the story forward. Some references reminded me of the Percy Jackson series.

I wondered why the sphinx and the gypsies didn't rob David and kick him out of their gathering. Why is the sphinx interested in David? The good writing makes me believe the reasons will be forthcoming and plausible.

The Doctor and the Dinosaurs is witty and easy to follow. Humor seeps in a lot. After Geronimo temporarily heals Doc Holliday, Doc goes to a saloon where he sees Thomas Edison entering: a prosthetic-armed man walks into a bar... I was expecting a joke to follow! Then Doc says, "I've still got consumption, but at least I can function." Both seemed funnier while reading the story than they do as I write about it now. But what matters most is how much I liked the words as I read them.

Doc, a true alcoholic, believes that "water was for bathing, whiskey was for drinking, and only a fool mixes the two up." Other quotes worked well in the story and never pulled me out of the story.

Historical figures are fictionalized characters in The Doctor and the Dinosaurs. In addition, many other Wild West and famous names are "dropped," such as, Kate Elder, Lillie Langtree, Wyatt Earp, Ned Buntline, boxers John L. Sullivan and William Smiley, outlaw Johnny Ringo, famous paleontologists Edward Cope and Othniel Marsh, and philanthropist George Peabody. And that was within the first 25 pages!

However, The Scholar, the Sphinx, and the Shades of Nyx also included a few dropping of names: David and Goliath, Napoleon Bonaparte, Victor Hugo, and writer Johann Ludwig Tieck who wrote about Brunhilda.

Both books include data for thought: historic names and mythological references. They seemed to me like books to read along with school topics, although only The Scholar, the Sphinx and the Shades of Nyx is a YA novel.

After reading 25 pages of each book, I (Jackie) enjoyed both books. But for Battle of the Books a winner must be chosen. Although both authors had unique writing styles and cleverly created stories of interest, I choose to continue reading the story that takes me to the Wild West.

THE WINNER: The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick

The Doctor and the Dinosaurs advances to the second round to face The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Battle of the 2013 Books, Bracket One, First Round :: The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke vs. The God Tattoo by Tom Lloyd

Our seventh and next to last first round match of Bracket One of the Battle of the 2013 Books involves The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke going up against The God Tattoo by Tom Lloyd. The winner will be the book I (Jackie) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

The Cusanus Game:  Tor, English translation September 2013; originally published in 2005 in Germany; 538 pages; translator: Ross Benjamin. Wolfgang Jeschle was a German science fiction writer who also wrote Last Day of Creation.

The prologue in The Cusanus Game finds the caravan-leader Emilio awakened by the "hum and rumble" of heavy repellers. One of his guards Bakhtir angrily brings two bruised and bloodied men to Emilio. The men were runners who survived their escape, unlike their other two companions who had died. They had attempted to leave the caravan through the repellers, which create the border between the past and future. Bakhtir's anger and mourning comes because one of the dead men is his son.

The year is 1425, and Emilio has brought supplies for the airship, which arrived from the mid twenty-first century. Emilio and Bakhtir meet holograph men who aren't really there but can communicate while they take supplies. Distraught, Bakhtir attempts to kill one of the future men, resulting in the hasty departure of the airship. Emilio and Bakhtir barely escape.

The first chapter begins in mid twenty-first century Italy where Domenica lives in a war-ravaged town, with the factions still fighting. Domenica needs to cross the bridge over a dry riverbed. Sandbags line one side of the river while armored vehicles and a tank sit on the other side. A man tells her she can't cross because of the danger. "But I live there!" she states. She pushes her battery-dead "lectric" over the bridge. The soldiers let her pass. So, while the factions fight, life continues.

Domenica's boyfriend Bernd is handsome, but flawed. Entertainment in the city is brutal and cruel: one show includes barbaric sex on stage. Domenica is disgusted, but Bernd is entranced. She decides their relationship is over. She crosses paths with a modified military dog who is dying from the inside out due to self-destructing implants. "Help me," says the dog. Domenica gives him a chocolate bar.

War caused trauma seems to be everywhere, from creatures to landscape. CarlAntonio are Siamese twins, with Carl riding like a backpack behind Antonio. Stavros, fellow tenant of Domenica, has a prosthetic tongue—which was cut out while in captivity during the war.

The God Tattoo: Untold Tales from the Twilight Reign:  Pyr; November 2013; 250 pages; illustration by Larry Rostant; Story collection. Tom Lloyd is a British writer who has written eight fantasy books, including the five-book "Twilight Reign" series.

The God Tattoo contains eleven stories. For this book, the 25 pages I read included one and a half short stories.

The first story, "A Beast in Velvet," follows the Captain of the City Watch of Narkang. He is called to investigate a gruesome crime that involves blood, gutted people, and runes scratched on the walls. When a second gruesome crime occurs, the Captain's superior brings in Nimer, one of the King's Men, to help with the investigation. Nimer declares the murders to be either a sacrifice for summoning or banishing daemons or caused by a vampire. Nimer works with the Captain, who eventually comes up with a surprising suspect.

The second story, "The God Tattoo," begins with a large, "white-eye," humanoid creature Daken and his human companion Yamal, walking down the road. They had been fighting in a war on the losing side and now feel dirty, tired, and hungry. Daken observes a traveler riding toward them. Being a white-eye, Daken wants that human for his evening meal. Yamal hopes the traveler has food in his knapsack so he can enjoy a meal as well. When the traveler arrives, Daken attacks him and misses. The traveler uses magic to confuse Daken's vision. The one traveler becomes two and then the traveler looks like Yamal and then he's the traveler again. Daken lunges at the traveler but severely wounds his companion Yamal instead, due to the illusion created by more magic. The traveler says that if Daken does as he demands, Yamal, who is now at death's door, will live.

The Battle:  We have two different types of books to decide between, which is never easy. The God Tattoo is an epic fantasy short story collection that offers stories from the world of the author's "Twilight Reign" series. The Cusanus Game is a futuristic science fiction novel that involves disaster and time travel.

The Cusanus Game is a novel that, so far, offers tragic background stories that come with being in a war-torn country, which we see through the eyes of Domenica. Crude, crass, morbid, and yet fascinating, the stories within the novel both pull me in and push me away. The writing seems masterful at this point. There are some confusing jumps in time, some being centuries and others being months.

Time-travel is involved, but after 25 pages I only know that the humans in the future need supplies from the past. After the airship leaves the past, Emilio says that they have time. But time to do what? Change the direction of the future? I’m curious.

The God’s Tattoo contains eleven stories, and unfortunately, Battle of the Books stopped me in the middle of the second story. The excellent writing pulled me into the stories. The first short story had a nice twist at the end, which I hadn't foreseen. Ending my reading in the middle of the second story left me wanting to find out who the traveler was and to discover more about the magic. The Twilight Reign, so far, seems to offer stories that take place in a violent, coarse world.

Sadly, though, after reading 25 pages of both books, I (Jackie) must choose a winner to advance to the next round of Battle of the Books. Only one book can continue on in the tournament. Even though both books contain believable characters and interesting plots, I really want to learn more about the fate of Domenica and discover her role, if any, in time travel.

THE WINNER: The Cusanus Game by Wolfgang Jeschke

The Cusanus Game advances to the second round, to take on either The Scholar, the Sphinx and the Shades of Nyx by A. R. Cook or The Doctor and the Dinosaurs by Mike Resnick.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Battle of the 2013 Books, Bracket One, First Round :: Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson vs. Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper

This match-up, our sixth, in Bracket One of the Battle of the 2013 Books features Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson going up against Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper. The winner will be the book I (Jackie) most want to continue reading after 25 pages.

Burning Paradise:  Tor Books; November 2013; 317 pages; jacket art by Getty Images; jacket design by Base Art Co. Robert Charles Wilson wrote the Hugo Award winning Spin and has won various other awards. He is a prolific science fiction writer.

Burning Paradise takes us to an alternate reality where WWII never happened. Instead, a 1914 Armistice created, so far, 100 years of peace. However, the United States is not a "free" country. Members of a freedom-seeking underground organization, the Correspondence Society, are being shot, killed, and eliminated. They were forced to go underground after the 2007 massacre of the Correspondence Society.

Somehow, some group or government has engineered a pseudo-human called a simulacrum that looks very human unless it gets ripped apart and the inner guts of green goo, smelling like chlorophyll, oozes out.

Cassie, who is 18, and her 12-year-old brother Thomas have lived with their Aunt Ris for 7 years, ever since their parents were killed in the 2007 massacre. The family is part of the Correspondence Society, and the kids have a plan of escape in case they are discovered. One evening when Aunt Ris is out with her boyfriend, Cassie sees a strange sight out the window: a man, who looks like he's headed to their apartment, is hit by a car. Green goo exiting his wounds reveals him as a simulacrum. Cassie immediately wakes up her brother, they grab their pre-packed bags, and they head to another secret location.

Meanwhile, in a remote farmhouse attic, Ethan Iverson, former University Professor, looks at a video screen showing the approach of a stranger, which he knows is a simulacrum. When he opens the door for the stranger, he zaps it with his 300kv shockgun.

Cassie and Thomas make it to 21-year-old Leo Beck's apartment. Beth Vance, his unpleasant girlfriend, is staying with him. Leo is the son of the famous Werner Beck, a higher-up in the Correspondence Society. Cassie tells her story of the gooey simulacrum, and the four of them grab their bags and squeeze into Leo's car. "So where are we going?" asks Beth.

Trinity Rising:  Tor Books; September 2013; 338 pages; cover art uncredited. Trinity Rising is book two in Elspeth Cooper's "The Wild Hunt" series that began with Songs of the Earth. The third book in the projected quartet is The Raven's Shadow.

Trinity Rising begins with magic as Savin steps through a "Veil" that he created in the air. He ends up in a cold room in a castle. He flicks his finger and a fire bursts forth in the fireplace. A sudden shift in the air lets him know he's not alone as he's drawn to a mirror on the dresser. Inside, instead of seeing his reflection, he looks into a writhing void. A voice comes to him from the mirror asking if he has found "it." Savin says no, and that the task has turned complicated. The voice replies that the master grows impatient. Savin talks about the Guardian and an apprentice that he can't "read." The voice warns that unpleasant consequences will occur if Savin doesn't deliver soon.

In a camp that hints of Scottish bagpipes and clans around a campfire, Drwyn lights the funeral pyre of his father Drw, chief of the chiefs. Drwyn has been impatient for his father to die because Drwyn plans to replace him as chief. Drw finally does die while sleeping with Teia, a young 15-year-old girl. At the evening campfire, Drwyn's musings are interrupted by Ytha, an elder "Speaker." She enters his thoughts, saying Drwyn must bed the young Teia in case she got pregnant by his father, so that any future child by the dead chief could be claimed as his. She directs him that the time is right for a speech.

Teia is alone cleaning dishes while the other single females are at the funeral celebration. Teia is grieving the old chief's death, thinking of him as a nice man. Teia needs to gather more water, so she goes to the creek. Looking in the bucket of water she scryes to see the future. Ytha walks up behind her asking, "Are you scrying?" Teia lies and says no. The Speaker Ytha demands that Teia go to Ytha's tent immediately. Ytha wants to prepare Teia for Drwyn's bed.

The Battle:  We have two different types of books to decide between, which is never easy.

The alternate reality, science fiction book Burning Paradise offers a mystery and creates a many questions: Who are the bad guys? Who's behind the creation of the simulacrums? What is the fate of the kids? What's the purpose of the Correspondence Society? There are hints that Leo Beck plays an important role in this society. Various quotes are attributed to him, such as "Beware the attention of strangers." The society also preaches warnings. "In a crisis, always assume the worst." "Park, warn and run." "No telephone calls."

Ethan Iberson, the former professor, stores and protects files and firearms for the society at his farmhouse. He's been isolated for the past seven years. Ethan claims that "one useful device by which a solitary man could keep touch with sanity was a regular schedule, strictly obeyed." That determined his daily routines, which was why he was well prepared before the simulacrum knocked on his front door.

Normally, I’m not a big fan of alternate reality books as much as fantasy or science fiction. However, this book seems more character driven, which works well for me.

Trinity Rising is full of magic and intrigue and cool medieval fantasy settings. Even though this is the second book in the series, I find it easy to follow, without any feelings that previous information is stuck in here and there. The book has a flow that compels me to read further.

Savin seems to be the probable villain in this novel. I'm curious to find out whether or not he's a pawn or strong character. I also want to know more about the elusive Guardians and the apprentice.

My reading ended with the character Teia, and I wanted to turn the page and see what happened next.

This is a very tough decision. After reading 25 pages, I want to continue reading both books. However, for Battle of the Books, I (Jackie) must choose between them. In this case, I plan to delve into an alternate reality!

THE WINNER: Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson

Burning Paradise advances to the second round to take on Shadow People by James Swain.

To see the whole bracket, click here.