Sunday, 29 January 2017

Shock Value!




Shock value: the potential to provoke a reaction of sharp disgust, shock, anger, or fear.

When people say, "That <Insert Act of Violence> was only added in for shock value." they are not complimenting an author.

But if they say that something was added in for comedy value ... not so much. And how about, "You only added that in for interest value," or "Come on, you only wrote that bit to make me feel a sense of wonder and awe." I can't remember ever seeing that.

So what is wrong with shock value?

A book generally comprises highs and lows. Few readers consume books hoping for a constant feel-good story, The darkness in a book allows the bright spots to shine more brightly. There's less joy in a victory if you haven't come face to face with the consequences of failure first.

So is the accusation of shock value just made by those upset at being more shocked than they wanted to be? Sometimes it might be.

I think the truth though is that "shock value" is, or should be, aimed not at criticizing the notion that a book might shock us but at clumsy implementation. It's hard to imagine that many people really think a book should never shock its reader ... but doing so by having a ghost jump out and say "Boo!" or by some other method that a particular reader does not find effective may provoke calls of "shock value".


TL:DR - generally it's not the shock they're complaining about, it's seeing the mechanics of the process.






Saturday, 28 January 2017

REVIEW: A Dance With Dragons

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This is the review I did for the Sunday Express. It only appeared in hardcopy so I can't link it.

Since it's a national newspaper and many of the readers may never have read a fantasy book, let alone the first four in the ASOIAF series, the review is less about this book and more about the series and the author. I hope to make them the gift of a great reading experience. 

My rating for the book is set in the context of the alternative works of fantasy on the shelves rather than in an attempt to rank this volume amongst its predecessors (I would say significantly better than A Feast For Crows - less good than the first three, still excellent)


[Sunday Express review]

By the time you reach the end of George Martin’s A Dance with Dragons you will be nearly two million words into A Song of Ice and Fire, a sprawling epic fantasy series that is for many readers the single most defining work in the genre for a generation. A Dance with Dragons is itself over four hundred thousand words (one thousand printed pages), not that far shy of the whole of The Lord of the Rings or War and Peace - not that literary worth is measured on weighing scales.

Martin’s series, starting with A Game of Thrones, has been a slow-burning phenomenon, dwarfed only by the colossus that is Harry Potter. Right now all the volumes are on the Amazon top twenty list. When A Dance With Dragons was released in hardback last month it immediately became the fastest-selling fiction hardback this year in the UK.

It has probably been the most anticipated (adult) fantasy novel ever published, helped of course by the recent excellent serialisation of the first book by HBO. A significant contribution to the anticipation has been the six-year wait since the last book, a source of controversy and teeth grinding amongst the readership. Internet grumbling about the delay reached such a pitch it prompted Neil Gaiman to blog to fans: ‘George Martin is not your bitch’. Whilst the books may roll out of the printing house on a conveyor belt, the words themselves cannot simply be squeezed out of the author by mounting pressure!

So, has it been worth the wait? There was a five-year wait for book four, A Feast for Crows, and many fans felt the novel didn’t fulfill the promise of the first three, making the critical success of book five the focus of still more intense speculation.

Martin’s success stands on the simple fact that he has brought to the fantasy genre the mature skills of realism, characterisation, and observation more commonly associated with literary fiction, and married them to a vivid and endless imagination. His commercial success derives from the fact that the books are addictively enjoyable. 

You don’t need to be a reader of fantasy to enjoy Martin’s work. Martin writes primarily about people. You will have fallen in love with, or at least be fascinated by, his characters long before you see your first dragon. By that point you’ll believe in the dragon because you believe in the people through whose eyes you see it.

A Dance with Dragons advances the story with more purpose and scope than its predecessor, reacquainting us with favourite characters (Tyrion, Jon, Dany, and Bran) we’ve not seen since A Storm of Swords (2000). The story ranges across thousands of miles from icy wastes to dusty desert, expanding the incredible diversity of Martin’s world, showing stories on the small scale (Arya’s training) and the grand (Daenerys’ realpolitik). And although the 1000 pages meander through many lives and situations, there are hints at the ultimate convergence and conflict of disparate story threads, a slow building sense of momentum, and finally a rising tension and pace that drives us breathless to the edge of several cliffs. 

One quote that stuck with me is “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” And George Martin offers you a fair portion of those thousand right here.

Turning the final page you can only be disappointed . . . to find it is the last, and you’ll immediately want to reach for the next volume. And there maybe lies the rub.

Edit - and 5 years later it's really starting to rub!


You can go and 'like' my review on goodreads, if you like.

(interestingly, to me anyway, although this book has a Goodreads average of 4.3 and a staggering 49% of its readers gave it a 5*, of the 30 reviews with the most likes - forming the first page of reviews - only 4 give it 5*. Which just goes to show how much we like to bitch and to read bitching!)

Monday, 23 January 2017

Red Sister giveaway on Goodreads. Just click and you're in!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Red Sister by Mark  Lawrence

Red Sister

by Mark Lawrence

Giveaway ends March 23, 2017.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter Giveaway
It's signed too!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

List of Lists ... Six

(I did this last year, the year before, the year before, the year before and the year before ... I'm doing it again!)

2016 has been kind to The Wheel of Osheim!


Below are the 28 'Best of 2016' lists that I know of featuring The Wheel of Osheim (presented in chronological order of publication). The two main reasons for assembling this list of lists are:

i) A thank you to the reviewers in question. It's a labour of love maintaining a book blog.

ii) You're probably here because you liked The Wheel of Osheim. These reviewers (or in one case, these 200,000+ voters) appear to share your taste in one book, perhaps you will enjoy the other books on their lists.



Quill to Live
Elitist Book Reviews
Queen of Blades
Leona's Blog of Shadows
Fantasy-Faction
Nerdbot
Sublime Perspectives
Fantasy Book Critic
Reddit Stabby Awards
Best Fantasy Books
Grimdark Magazine
Kristen Reads Too Much
Laura M Hughes
ATG reviews
The Royal Library
Konjam Random
Lynn's Book Blog
Grimdark Readers and Writers chose it as their best book of 2016
Derek Alan Siddoway
Book Scrolling
Bibliosanctum
The Reading Frenzy
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
From the Dust Returned
Mighty Thor JRS
Bookworm Blues
Goodreads Choice Awards

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Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Stabbies - reddit r/fantasy awards 2016

It's all about the Stabby. The voted award handed out each year by r/fantasy in many categories, including Best Book, Best Debut, and Best Self-Published Book. 


Check out the official results and the nominations



The book results (many more categories on site)


Best Fantasy 2016

Image result for morning star pierce brown
Morning Star - Pierce Brown

The Obelisk Gate - N.K Jemisin

The Wheel of Osheim - ME!!!!!!

Age of Myth - Michael J. Sullivan

City of Blades - Robert Jackson Bennett

Blood Mirror - Brent Weeks



Best Fantasy Debut 2015

Image result for ninefox gambit

Ninefox Gambit - Yoon Ha Lee

All the Birds in the Sky - Charlie Jane Anders

Steal the Sky - Megan O'Keefe

Too Like the Lightning - Ada Palmer

Paternus by Dyrk Ashton



Best Self-published / Independent Fantasy 2015

Image result for mirror's truth fletcher
The Mirror's Truth - Michael R. Fletcher

Unsouled - Will Wright

The Demons We See - Krista Ball

Path of Flames - Phil Tucker

Paternus - Dyrk Ashton


Congratulations to all!


Despite The Wheel of Osheim managing a measly finalist place, I did get a surprise compensation for the second year in a row in the form of the Stabby for favourite active author on r/fantasy. So HOORAY! Many thanks to everyone ... I promise to only use it on people who annoy me in any way at all.


See the results of the 2015 Award2014 Award2013 Award and the 2012 Award.

Reddit r/fantasy has 145,000 members (up from 85,000 last year and 69,000 the year before) and is the most active fantasy forum on the internet. Well worth checking out - though the interface is a steep learning curve at first.

http://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Charity Book Auction! (completed)



NOW ENDED


As part of the Booknest 100 signed books charity drive I am hosting an auction that closes at 9pm GMT on Wednesday 11th of January.

The highest bidder will have delivered to their house 20, yes TWENTY, fantasy books signed by the authors involved.

This little lot includes works by bestsellers like **ME**, Anthony Ryan, Christian G Cameron and Michael Sullivan, and by authors who I know should be bestsellers if they aren't already, like Daniel Polansky and Myke Cole, as well as fine writers like Luke Scull, Mazarkis Williams and Phil Tucker.

Image result for path of flamesImage result for emperors knife

We also have SPFBO finalists Dyrk Ashton, David Benem, & Daniel Potter, Voyager 2017 debutante Anna Spark-Smith, and highly regarded authors Jen Williams and Emma Newman!

And many more that are largely unknown to me but very likely that's due to my ignorance!

01) Mark Lawrence ~ The Wheel of Osheim (US edition) 02) Daniel Potter ~ Off Leash 03) Michael J. Sullivan ~ Age of Myth 04) David Benem ~ What Remains of Heroes 05) Anthony Ryan ~ The Waking Fire 06) Aderyn Wood ~ The Raven 07) Daniel Polansky ~ TBA 08) Phil Tucker ~ The Path of Flames 09) Emma Newman ~ Between Two Thorns 10) Amanda Bouchet ~ A Promise of Fire 11) Jen Williams ~ TBA 12) Ulff Lehmann ~ Shattered Dreams 13) Luke Scull ~ TBA 14) Sue Tingey ~ Marked 15) Anna Smith-Spark ~ The Court of Broken Knives 16) Timandra Whitecastle ~ Touch of Iron 17) Christian G. Cameron ~ TBA 18) Dyrk Ashton ~ Paternus 19) Myke Cole ~ TBA 20) Mazarkis Williams ~ The Emperor's Knife


So, TWENTY fine, signed, fantasy books. I'll even put a dedication and a doodle in mine or send you an alternative if I have it!

Image result for waking fire

What am I bid? Winner takes all, losers lose nothing!

All the money goes to the fine international charity Doctors Without Borders.

You can bid in the comments but you must also email me at empire_of_thorns@yahoo.co.uk

I will post the current winning bid here.


Current Winning Bid

£430 ($516) Heine F
£417 ($500) Rich Craft  *lead bid*
£417 ($500) Anonymous (has emailed)
£333 ($400) Rich Craft
£185 ($222) Jeff Wooliscroft
£180 ($216) Anonymous (has emailed)
£175 ($210) Jeff Wooliscroft
£150 ($180) Ben
£115 ($138) Curtis Vidulich
£87 ($104) Alex de Jong
£60 ($72) Shinda
£50 ($60) Anonymous (has emailed)
£40 ($48) Parmenion Books








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Monday, 9 January 2017

Self-Publishing ...exchanging gate-keepers?

This is a ponder piece rather than an opinion piece.

Despite having run the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off for two years I don't have strong opinions about self-publishing other than to say that there are definitely brilliant self-published books and that being brilliant does not guarantee that they will take off.

Here's my thought.

To get a book off the ground you need either a lot of luck or a significant push. Any book needs to break the noise barrier and achieve a critical mass of readers before it can launch as far as its quality can carry it.

If you get a good deal with a large publisher they will put their weight behind you and it helps a lot. Bloggers will be interested because the publisher's name carries a cachet (an expectation of quality), and the book will be in stores. This all gives significant advantage.

But the big publishers (and the literary agents who have their attention) are the much-maligned gate-keepers. It's their opinion that keeps countless books from the public. The tastes and guesses of a handful of people are standing in the way of writers having their work tested in the crucible of public opinion. That's the theory, and it is true. It sounds elitist.

Now consider the alternative. Self-Publishing allows anyone to put a book immediately before the general public. The trouble is that so many books are put into the public eye this way that almost all of them are overlooked, and that brilliant books can flounder.

So, many self-published authors consider how they can help themselves. Many spend some dollars. They might buy a great cover. They might pay for some Facebook adverts etc. And with swift access to sales statistics I have already seen sensible scientific approaches to this where an author spends in one way, looks at the impact, spends in another, looks at the impact etc.

It seems clear that these publicity strategies will be honed and shared, with ever more bang-per-buck delivered.

But what then? Consider two authors with equally good books. Jenny A is a stock broker and Sarah B stacks shelves at Walmart. Jenny drops $10,000 into tried and tested book publicizing methods. Sarah B does not. Jenny has purchased herself a much better chance of success.

But if they approached a traditional publisher both would stand exactly the same chance. Suddenly the elitism of the big publishers is sounding egalitarian and the even playing field offered by self-publishing is sounding as if it can be tilted in favour of those with money.

Conclusion? I don't really have one. There are problems on both sides of this fence. Do you feel better thinking it was the opinions of a minority of supposed experts that kept you from success or that it was your inability or unwillingness to invest (gamble) enough in publicizing your own book? Neither sounds good.

On the plus side, it is certainly still possible to do well following either route if you have a good book and some luck!


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Sunday, 8 January 2017

GRRM toon

Offered up as a fan rather than a critic.

(in pieces for better visibility)
(click for detail)

Saturday, 7 January 2017

REVIEW: The Long Earth

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Everyone loves Sir Terry. I love Sir Terry. I love the books & have great respect for the man. This review is simply my opinion of the success of this particular collaboration. I'll be 1st in line for the next T.P book and I'd even give T.P + S.B another go. 

From the slew of 4 & 5* reviews already on show I may be out on a limb on this one - so don't listen to me - give it a try.


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Collaboration. It’s a word with an unfortunate aftertaste. Collaborators get a bad rap. Sir Terry Pratchett’s collaborations with other notable authors have been limited. In 1990 we saw Good Omens, produced with Neil Gaiman. On the crest of that success Pratchett found another partner in Larry Niven but this effort floundered with Niven producing Rainbow Mars in 1999 as a solo work built upon some of their shared ideas. And now 2012 sees The Long Earth, a collaboration with Stephen Baxter. The accompanying promotion contains a photo of the two grandees locked in combat before a laden bookshelf. A certain degree of dynamic tension does help in collaborative writing, too little and you get compromise writing, too much and it’s never going to get finished. I think here both men were pulling punches and the pages could have benefited from a good blooding!

Collaborations can be port and stilton good, or marmite and custard bad. I suspect it’s impossible for two fine writers like Baxter and Pratchett to serve up anything wholly unpalatable, but the Long Earth feels long, although it is short, and is decidedly blah. Think porridge.

The Long Earth is science fiction. In science fiction the IDEA tends to overshadow the characters and even the story. Here the IDEA has flattened both. Glimpses of story and character may be seen poking out from the margins of the IDEA, vital juices pooling. You can’t see much but you can see enough to know you don’t need an ambulance.

The Terry Pratchett of Discworld fame has not shown up to this party. There’s rarely a smile in The Long Earth, and never a laugh. The idea explored is that Earth sits in one of an infinity of parallel universes and that these become opened up to humanity such that pretty much everyone can step through them like moving from one card to the next in a deck of cards. We get to hear a lot about the impact this has on humanity, both social and economic. Sometimes we hear this from characters who pop up and are not heard of again, giving the book a disjointed feel. Of the hundreds of thousands of Earths open to Joe Public almost all are Earth as it would have been without us. A lot of time is spent detailing minor evolutionary variations in the flora and fauna, to the point where you just don’t care about one more slightly smaller elephant or slightly uglier crocodile. A lot of time is spent hopping from one forest world to the next. It’s an idea that is interesting in a paragraph but becomes increasingly dull over 300 pages.

The writing, line by line, is fine. It lacks trade-mark Pratchett sharpness but it does the job. The story arching over chapters is . . . not gripping. There’s essentially no tension in it. Our heroes (a young man who is very good at moving through the worlds, and an artificial intelligence named Lobsang) are exploring, they don’t have any clear goals stated, nothing is after them, they have no serious problems, they don’t appear worried or even to care that much, and thus as a reader one tends to a similar disposition.

The book ends with a bang, but it’s a rather ineffectual one that is, like the bulk of the book, hard to care about. I’m a fan of Sir Terry’s work and I applaud his willingness to experiment with new styles and new writing partners. I hope he keeps doing it. I cannot though, hand on heart say I enjoyed this book. Not even a little.  


Edit: RIP Sir Terry - you left us many great books to remember you by.


You can go and 'like' my review on goodreads, if you like.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Personality

Here's an exercise for you.

Take a handful of main characters from your recent fantasy reads and think hard about how you would describe their personality.

For many of my favourite books I could wax lyrical about the main characters, but for many popular works of fantasy (some of which I enjoyed) I find that there is less to say.

The fact is that the genre loves a generican hero. For many main characters what we remember is what they did, not who they were. Our list of things to say about their character is often:

i) Brave/plucky
ii) Tries to do the right thing.

Writers like George RR Martin and Robin Hobb give us real people with deep and believable personalities. Others (and I'm not saying the books are bad) give us a two-legged vehicle designed to exercise the plot and into whose shoes we can imagine ourselves.

 And of course the danger in writing strong characters with clearly defined personality traits and personal histories that steer their course is that the reader finds themself reading about the character rather than seeing the world through their eyes and sharing their experiences on a deeper level. But that's the catch 22. If the character is a blank ... whose experiences are you sharing ... and what's deep about it?

The art is to write real and uniquely interesting characters but to bring to the fore enough of their common humanity that the reader can bond with them, care about them, laugh, suffer, and fear with them. And that's a hard art to master.





Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Go on, do it again!

Releasing a new book is a nervy business. Will it be loved or loathed? Or worse, ignored...

When it's a first book the set of worries are somewhat different. Will anyone care? Will you be able to make a living at this? Will the people who have gambled on you make their money back?

Once you've had a successful book there are new worries. What will my readers think of this one? The more successful the first book/s the brighter that spotlight, the more palpable the tension.


I have been lucky enough to have had my trilogies written before the first book hit the shelves. This has meant I haven't ever been in the position of writing the next book while readers react to the first, or while they look my way and start tapping their feet and checking their watches.

When Red Sister comes out in April I won't have anyone who has been waiting for it for years or who has strong opinions about what will or should happen between the two covers. I won't have to write Grey Sister while the internet forums reverberate with whispers and then howls of "Hurry up!"


So I have considerable sympathy for the incredibly successful authors of two books that are high on my "waiting for" list.

Sure, they have their millions of dollars and their legions of adoring fans to console them and they don't really need my sympathy, but I know what I would be feeling in their place.

Writing is a private business. You do it in your own head. It drops from your brain into a file via the  medium of a keyboard. Sure, after you finish you share it and then you would like people to read it in their thousands. But you don't want them standing at your shoulder when you type.

More than that though ... if you do something special ... in writing terms a book that captures the imagination of millions ... on a small scale it's like shooting a basket ball through the hoop from the  centre line ... and an audience gathers ... "Do it again!" they say. Suddenly it's a lot harder.

George RR Martin and Patrick Rothfuss have both written books that have set them squarely in the spotlight's glare. A vast number of people *love* what they have written so far. The story that each has crafted has become part of popular culture. They have almost inadvertently taken on the responsibility for satisfying the demands of their readers' imaginations, and they're now having to do it with everyone "watching".

If you look at the ire which some fans hurl their way for the length of the wait for the next book it makes you wonder what their outcry might be if when the book does eventually show it fails to satisfy. If the characters take different paths from those the readers want or expect...

I guess JK Rowling experienced the same thing, but her readers were not (in the main) grownups with loud internet-driven voices. She didn't meet them en masse at conventions or in the spaces were she hung out.

And as the wait stretches out it seems it must ratchet up the tension in every aspect of this reader-author relationship. It increases the numbers waiting, the expectation, the impatience, the intensity.

It bears remembering that Martin and Rothfuss haven't published books (in the series that get all the focus) for longer than I've been in print. It's been a fair chunk of both their lives since they have had to offer up for re-inspection the characters to which they are tied in the public mind. Long enough for a man and woman to meet, fall in love, conceive a child, birth that child, have another, and another, send the first to school, then the second...

If it were me, and I had a story out there that was held in such high regard and whose next installment was so eagerly anticipated, and for which I would be so publicly held to account ... I think I'd be terrified, honestly. Writing brings many rewards but in such circumstances I think I would be tormented by a, perhaps misplaced, sense of responsibility and guilt. Another part of me would want to buy a yacht, sail off, and forget it all.


I have absolutely no insight into the particular circumstances or challenges either author is facing. I know every writer has a different experience. I've loved their work so far and I'm resolved to wait without complaint for the next installment. There are many fine authors to keep me entertained in the mean time. All I can say is that while I envy their success I also know that I don't envy the pressure I would feel in their shoes.

Even putting Red Sister onto the shelves is making me nervous and I hope I'm never in the position of having to write when people are waiting on me to finish.