Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Dork Review #3: Small Magics

Call this the post where I pimp one of the books of an author I met at Ad Astra. Of course, it helps that Small Magics by Erik Buchanan is a well crafted story with engaging characters, which makes pimping it so much easier. Please note, that while I've met the author and do like the guy, everything I write below is my opinion and I have accepted no compensation for this review. Not even a free book. I mean, I bought the book and now I'm giving out free advertising. I really should start charging for this. (Just kidding!)

Anyways, on to the review. Standard spoiler warnings apply.

Where to start. How about with the title, Small Magics. It is appropriate, as the main motivator of the story is the theft of small magics from others by an evil bishop and how it impacts upon the life of Thomas, a young man come home from the Academy to see his family. The bishop has stolen the power to influence others with his voice from Thomas' father, and boy does he use it effectively. The only one that can actually stop the bishop is Thomas, as the young man has the ability to hear and see magic, apparently a rare gift because even the other magically gifted in the book can't see or don't realize what they are doing. The gifts appear to be random, as the gift that Thomas has is completely different from his father's. So while the ability to perform magic is hereditary, how it manifests is different. Kind of an interesting take upon hereditary ability.

This brings up an interesting point, and something I'd like to comment about. I like the way the author deals with how magic is "seen". I've put seen in quotes as there is more than one definition I'd like to cover. The obvious "seen" is how Thomas actually perceives magic. The author does a marvelous job of describing how intense it is to actually see the magic in the world, how it all ties together, and how it is different in everyone. Even those who do not actively use or have a gift seem to be touched by the magic of the world. It is a beautiful testament to how everyone is connected by life.

The other "seen" is the prevailing attitude towards magic in the world the author has crafted. Magic is a dirty little secret, and those who understand that they have a gift and aren't using it without knowing are afraid of being branded as witches. One of the arguments Thomas has to make is the difference between magic, which comes from one of this worlds main four gods, and witchcraft which comes from the Banished, this worlds demon/devil equivalent.

And what organization has made it so that no one can tell the difference between the two, and at the same time made it so only one god is ascendant over all the others, why it would be the Church of the High Father, an analogue of the Roman Catholic church at its worst. The bishop as its representative is a vile, putrescent, slimy, arrogant, bubbling piece of filth that should be burned at the stake, and then the ashes collected and launched into space so that no part of him will continue to pollute the planet. So, in other words, a really well done villain. You want to hate this guy, viscerally. Thankfully the book is not all potshots at the church, as there is a noble character that is on his way to becoming a priest who is intelligent and sympathetic.

As for the hero, Thomas, there is very little not to like about him. He's intelligent and determined with a conscience. Even when he has the opportunity to run he refuses, as he not only wants to save his family but also wants to see the bishop defeated. The artful part about all this is that you believe in this when it happens. The character is consistent throughout the book, and his dedication doesn't seem forced or artificial. Also, he isn't a wanton killer, nor are any of the heroes. They stand up against those who would kill or abuse power, which has always been a very powerful image in fiction, for me at least.

Let me finish by saying that I really enjoyed this book. I enjoyed it so much that I'd recommend it to my friends, family, and random strangers on the street or internet. Pick it up!

Small Magics on Amazon

Small Magics on the Edge website

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Ad Astra 2010 Con Report

Ad Astra was awesome!

This was the first time I've spent the whole weekend at a science fiction/fantasy convention. The only other experience I've had was a Star Trek convention in Niagara Falls years ago, and then I only spent a day at that con. This experience was completely different.

Alright, so here's how the weekend started. Friday I finished work, got home, and finished those last few bits of packing that can only happen when you're just about to leave. Then I was out the door and driving to Toronto, hoping to get there before the start of the con. I made it, with enough time to spare to check in and drop off all my stuff before heading to the opening ceremonies.

The con was packed with panels. I hit three on the first night, even with time to squeeze in some much needed dinner. I nearly had a geek out moment when I saw the two lovely ladies running the con and the Guests of Honor sitting at a table not too far away. Thankfully I didn't completely spaz out, and was able to finish my meal in relative dignity. My favorite panel of the night probably was the Working with Small Presses panel, because it gave me a greater insight into that part of the business and now I think I'll start submitting work to them before attempting to hit the big boys. I like the sense of freedom that was there. I'd have a lot more control over my book, and the panelists came across as very friendly and welcoming. This is important to note, as there was one glaring example of the opposite on a later panel.

After the small press panel there was one on World Building. It was a hoot as well. I must admit, I'm not a big fan of the Forgotten Realms, but I do have to say that I enjoyed listening to Ed Greenwood. I ended up going to a few other panels he was on and it was always a fun experience. The one on System vs. Setting for role-playing games with Ed on Saturday was a real treat.

Another nice thing about the World Building panel was hearing Erik Buchanan, author of Small Magics and Cold Magics (which launched at the con, go Erik), talk about how he ended up putting a lot of fencing terms in one of his books and the comparison between western and Eastern sword-fighting styles. I found this interesting because I love sword-fights, and I trained in Ona Ha Itto Ryu, a style of kenjutsu or Japanese sword-fighting. I had a chance to talk to Erik after the panel and mention it to him, even gave him the name of the dojo I went to in case he was interested. I always love meeting people with similar interests.

Speaking of meeting people, I originally intended to head to the Meet and Greet but somehow ended up going to the Con Suite with Liz, another convention goer, and chatting with her and a few others for the next few hours. It was amazing how quickly 1AM snuck up on us.

I was up early on Saturday, from a mixture of, I think, excitement and the fact that my body is used to getting up early for work. I was out of bed before 6:30AM and ready and willing to hit panels all day long, which I did. The first one was on the Life of An Anthology, and one of the panelists was John Robert Colombo. Now, you may be wondering why this name is important. It's because Mr. Colombo was one of the editors for Tesseracts 14, for which I sadly did not get accepted for. However, when he I got to chatting, and I introduced myself as someone who had submitted and didn't get in he asked me what I'd submitted, and he remembered it! Well, OK, he didn't remember all the details but he mentioned that he and the other editor, Brett Alexander Savory did have a discussion about it, and that Mr. Colombo graded my work as an 85. The main reason I didn't get in was that there were so many works graded at a 90 level. Still, getting an 85 out of a professional editor and creator of anthologies, not too shabby. Mr. Colombo did suggest I ask Mr. Savory about it as he might remember more, which I ended up doing on the last day of the con, and that led me to getting Mr. Savory's card and picking up a couple of books from Chizine Publications, the press he co-runs. Yeah, I'm a sucker for new books, what can I say.

I think I floated through the rest of the day. Really, I was just really blown away by how well my first submission had done. Yeah, I didn't get published, but I was a heck of a lot closer than I'd ever been, and I know my work has improved since I wrote that story. Maybe I'm not as hopeless as that small part of my brain keeps insisting I am. If I take nothing else away from the con, I'll take a renewed sense of hope that I can get my writing out there published one day.

Anyways, enough about hope and all that crap, now on to the rest of the day, or as I call it, the endless sea of panels. I don't think there was a single free moment throughout the day. In fact, there were panels I would have loved to go to booked at the same time, so I had to make choices all day long. So for Saturday and Sunday I targeted the panels that would be the most use to me as a writer, and even then I missed good ones. Oh well, just means I'll have to go next year.

Saturday night there was a launch party for Cold Magics. I ended up running into Liz from Friday night again, and found out we both went to the same university but a few years apart. Small world indeed! The party was a blast. Erik had been selling it all day long at the panels, saying there would be really good chocolate. He wasn't kidding! The chocolate was dark and had some hot pepper in it, so it had a nice bittersweet taste with a little bite at the end.

I also ended up meeting a different Liz at this party, one who is involved in running a convention out in Montreal this October. A few years ago I kept on meeting interesting women named Carrie, with a few variations on the spelling, this year it seems the name is Liz. It's been years since I've been in Montreal, and it would be nice to go to a con outside of Ontario, so I'll have to check the money situation and decide. The con sounds like it would be as much fun as Ad Astra.

Sunday was a blast as well, and I wasn't nearly as tired as I expected considering I'd only gotten 5 hours of sleep each night for the last two days. The only real negative experiences I had during the convention were on Sunday, both involving the same individual who I have now lost a lot of respect for, and that's all I intend to say on that subject. I debated mentioning it at all, but in all fairness to myself I had to put something about it out there so at least I feel better and don't have it bottled in.

Wow, this post went a lot longer than I thought it would. Final word on Ad Astra is I had fun, I'd do it again, and I have some great memories from it. The good outweighs the bad by an astounding amount.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Not Dead, Just Busy

Just a quick post to say I'm not dead, nor have I given up. The last few months have been very hectic, and a bit thrilling as well. Friday I got confirmation that I am now a full time government of Ontario employee! And then, as if that wasn't enough, I went to my first full Sci-Fi Convention, Ad Astra. It was a blast, and expect a more full report later when I have time to write it all down.