12 Reads Of Christmas: 2011 Personal Year’s Best

It’s that time of year again. And I find myself reflecting on a year filled with books. I read 52 books a year just for SFFWRTCHT alone. And this year, between guest blog posts, reviews, research, and more, I added at least 23 more books on top of that. I lost count, truthfully, and I’m not going to go through Goodreads to find out. So we’ll say I read 75 and call that close enough. In any case, this list is not a ranking of everything I read. Instead, I’ve chosen to list books which most impacted me as far as opening my eyes to possibilities. The books on this list either showed me new genres, new ways of looking at old genres, or new approaches to them in ways which have stuck with me and left me thrilled and challenged as both writer and reader. With that in mind, here’s my 2011 Personal Top Reads:

1) The Flying Machine by Andrew Mayer — Okay, steampunk’s been done already. Cherie Priest mastered it, we’ve all heard. Gibson, Powers, Jeter and Blaylock launched it. But wait. Here comes a new writer whose not only done it but added superheroes and written a tale the likes of which we haven’t seen since Jules Verne? The Society Of Steam series launched with The Flying Machine and steampunk has never been so fun. A great read, with fun characters, good action and good humor.

2) Soulless by Gail Carriger — And speaking of humor, nothing made me laugh more than Gail Carriger’s Soulless, the first of four Parasol Protectorate books in her original series and now she’s just about to launch a new one. Werewolfs, vampires, Victorian England, even the Queen herself appear amidst the quirky characters. This is fun and funny. A great read.

3) Greywalker/Downpour by Kat Richardson — Harper Blaine was just your average, small time Pacific Northwest PI until a man  beats her to death. In those two minutes, while she’s dead, something changes her forever. When she comes back, Harper can see dead people. Not in a ‘Call Bruce Willis, Mommy, this is odd” kind of way but a “Hey, Drac, you been taking your vitamins? You’re pale as a ghost kind of way.” Vampires, Ghosts, magic and witches transform her life. Written in 2006 I can easily understand why this urban fantasy novel took off, and the sixth book, Downpour, from 2011, is just as good. Harper’s now used to her powers, so to speak, and so are the undead used to having her around. This time she witnesses a ghostly car accident whose victim blames a nearby small resort community. When Harper goes to check it out, she finds a sinister cabal gathering forces with a dark art and she must stop them before it’s too late. Great characters, great use of Pacific Northwest locations, great mystery elements and pacing that carry you suspensefully through to the end.

4) Diving Into The Wreck by Kristine Kathryn Rusch — Kris Rusch is no stranger to most of you, she also writes mysteries as Kristine Grayson and edited the mighty Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for several years.  In this great new space opera series of which two books are out this year and another follows in early 2012, the protagonist, Boss loves to dive historical ships found adrift between the stars. Sometimes for money, but mostly as a historian. She wants to know about the past—to experience it firsthand. Then one day, Boss finds the claim of a lifetime: an enormous spacecraft, incredibly old, and apparently Earth-made. It shouldn’t be here. It can’t be here. And yet, it is. Boss is determined to investigate and so hires a group of divers to explore the wreck with her,  but the past won’t give up its treasures without blood. Really good stuff based on several short stories which have appeared in Analog.

5) The Disappeared/Consequences (Retreival Artist) by Kristine Kathryn Rusch — her other series started from short stories, about former cop turned retreival artist Miles Flint starts with The Disappeared and continued through 7 novels with an 8th coming out this month. Flint helps hunted innocents, convicted of crimes against alien races which they don’t really understand and didn’t intentionally commit, to hide themselves and start new lives, to disappear. But somehow his clients turn up dead. Someone is hunting them or revealing their identities and Miles has to stop them. Great books with a combination of space opera SF and mystery-police procedural elements. A whole lot of fun. With some well developed, interesting alien cultures.

6) The Unremembered by Peter Orullian — A musical magic system where spells are sung? Need I say more? Well how about this, if you’re mourning the coming end of The Wheel Of Time, you’ve got seven books ahead of you in Orullian’s Vault of Heaven series. Yep. And this first one reminded me how much I love epic fantasy. It’ll remind you too. Great characters, great worldbuilding, epic good v. evil. And musical magic. Who could ask for anything more?

7) The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams — Ok this one’s been around a while. 1988 copyright. But I’d never read it and I am having a ball. It’s a long, dense book with lots of characters and description and there are three more books to follow, the last in two parts, but there’s a reason this series has been hailed as epic fantasy on a Tolkien-esque scale. An epic evil is rising and two brothers are fighting over their father’s throne, threatening to divide a kingdom. Great stuff, rich settings, action, and characters with politicking, dragons, trolls and more.

8 ) Goblin Corps by Ari Marmell –Ari Marmell has written D&D adventure packs and tie-ins, but in Goblin Corps he writes a heroe’s adventure with the bad guys as heroes. That’s right,  top goblins including an orc, a kobol, a bugbear, a troll, a doppleganger, an ogre and a gremlin are sent by the Goblin king to recover objects of power that will reverse the course the Dark Lord’s defeat, only to uncover a more sinister plot that threatens them all. They’re not the easiest group to like or root for yet Marmell pulls it off and never stops entertaining with good action and humor along the way.

9) Black Blade Blues by John A. Pitts — John A. Pitts’ urban fantasy series about apprentice blacksmith Sarah Beauhall was one of the best surprises of the year for me. Anyone who’s ever hung out with SCA members or gone to a Ren fest will appreciate this story, about dragons taking over the financial power as brokers and businessmen who come up against an ancient dragon killing sword when Sarah uncovers it while doing props for a movie. They come to destroy it and try and destroy her in the process and Sarah fights back to save her lover and her friends. Great coming of age drama, good humor, and a lot of fun. A great read all around. And book 2 arrived late this year.

10) Pathfinder Tales: Plague Of Shadows by Howard Andrew Jones — Howard Andrew Jones, Managing Editor at Black Gate Magazine and editor of many anthologies of classics from the likes of Harold Lamb, etc. burst onto the scene with two terrific novels this year, Desert of Souls, with Asim and Dabir–follow ups coming in 2012 and beyond– and this Pathfinder Tales D&D tie-in. I’d never read any D&D books before and I imagined silly stops in the action for the characters to roll dice and other game-play nonsense but there’s no such thing. This is good adventure, sword and sorcery fantasy with strong characters, a well thought out world and magic system, and a lot of fun. I had a blast. Made me want to get back into D&D regularly again after twenty years and I’ve read several others since. Good stuff for the fantasy lover in this line.

11) Firebird by Jack McDevitt — The third SF title on my list is part of an ongoing series about the antiquities agent Alex Benedict  and his assistant Chase Kolpath as they help wind up the estates of the deceased deep in a distant solar system only to uncover deeper mysteries surrounding the objects and the people themselves.  This time reknowned Physicist Christopher Robin has disappeared and left a trail of   interstellar yachts flown far outside the planetary system where they too vanished. Following Robin’s trail into the unknown puts Benedict and Kolpath in danger. McDevitt writes like a classic Golden Age writer, which anyone who’s read my posts here knows sold me right away. Just a lot of fun with good SF elements to boost the mystery.

12) The Black Prism by Brent Weeks — Gavin Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world, high priest and emperor, a man whose power, wit, and charm are all that preserves a tenuous peace. But Prisms never last, and Guile knows exactly how long he has left to live: Five years to achieve five impossible goals.  When he discovers he has a son, born in a far kingdom after the war that put him in power, he must decide how much he’s willing to pay to protect a secret that could tear his world apart. Great magic system. Great characters. Great action. Epic fantasy in a unique setting with lots of tension and excellent pacing. Weeks was new to me but he already has the best selling Night Angel Trilogy and you won’t want to miss this new one either. Book 2 comes in Fall 2012.

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

‎4 5-star & 8 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Unbelievable Day

Today started out badly. But never has a day so quickly turned completely around and gone off the map. I mean toilet overflow with chunks kinda day. Yep. That’s what I dealt with first thing this morning. Disgusting. Sorry to share. But there’s a point.

Then, just reading my Facebook wall, I find this: http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Explorations-The-BN-SciFi-and/The-Best-Science-Fiction-Releases-of-2011/ba-p/1241244

As usual, I check it over and prepare to send it out for others to see. Then I get to the Honorable Mentions. Just scanning, mind you. And my mind is blown.

My debut novel is listed.

I know Paul from Facebook and B&N Book Clubs. Nice guy. We’ve chatted a few times. He invited me to send my novel, so I did. In August. Never heard a word. I figured he didn’t review it. Maybe he didn’t like it. Maybe it just didn’t catch his interest.

I am stunned, amazed, humbled and honored.

I feel legitimate in a whole new way. And so privileged.

If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out here https://bryanthomasschmidt.net/the-worker-prince/

And if you’ve read it, please review it on B&N, Amazon, Goodreads, etc. Sales are steady but slow. And I guess I feel like there’s an audience out there who would enjoy it I’d like to see discover it.

Thanks to all for the support and encouragement!

Especially those mentioned on my Book Day Thanks. Thanks to Paul Goat Allen as well!

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

‎4 5-star & 8 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.  Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble’s Best SF Releases of 2011.

Why I Used A Real Religion In The Worker Prince & Why You’ll Enjoy It Anyway

Boy, we live in strange times. That’s never been more clear to me than by watching the way some people blanch at the audacity I must have to put a real religion in my novel. The Worker Prince is the story of Moses retold as space opera. The story of Moses is a story of ideological and racial bigotry. How do you tell that without ideology? I think the real objection is that I chose Christianity. I chose Christianity for two reasons: one, I grew up in it so I know it very well. Two, ideological bigotry against Christians is growing in the world today. And thus, it gives my story a relatable culture for readers. Yep. I am not going to assume that those taking issue are all ideological bigots nor that they all are the very ones who are discriminating against Christians today. Why? Because most of that bigotry is done by well meaning people who have bought political pundits’ hyperbole and failed to look into the facts. But at the same time, it saddens me a little to see people write the book off because of it as some seem to be doing.

I spent a lot of time thinking through this novel before I ever tried to write it. 25 years, in fact. And the time spent writing and revising, this was one of the issues foremost on my mind. I grew up in a culture where ideological and other differences used to be respected. The country was founded on freedom, after all. I’m not writing about Klu Klux Klan or other hate groups here. I am writing about a large group of believers who make up one of the largest faith groups in the Western world. I also spent time vetting the story with non-Christian readers. The majority of people who blurbed my book and beta read it were people who do not share my faith. Why? Because, honestly, I am not writing an evangelistic book. I am writing entertainment. I have no desire whatsoever to use The Worker Prince to change your mind about anything except perhaps the fact that ideological bigotry is just as evil as racial bigotry and other forms. That’s the sole agenda.

Take a look at the reviews (you can find links at the bottom of this page as well as blurbs). Not one accuses me of being preachy. Even the one who didn’t finish it because she doesn’t care for books with religious themes (that’s her reason–she raves about the book in other aspects) specifically said it’s not preachy. I worked hard on this aspect because I respect readers. I hate being preached at. The last thing I want to do is do it to you. So I was very careful what and how I present any religious content. In fact, the Christian Bookseller’s Association members who publish speculative fiction wouldn’t touch it. That’s right. This book isn’t Christian enough for them.

It’s odd to me that people have such an issue these days with reading books they know will be outside their worldview. I do it almost every time I open a book. The majority are not written by Christian writers, and, even when they are, no two people share the exact worldview so there are always differences. And in science fiction and fantasy, you especially find few religious writers. Should I just not read it then because I don’t share their views? It particularly bothers me when writers show this bias, because as writers, we cannot hope to understand our world and write about it if we don’t examine it well. And even more so, if we stay inside our box, how can we write characters different from us in a way that readers will believe it? How can we address the topics we want to address believably if we don’t examine them from many sides? I honestly don’t know a way. People of faith live all around us. Don’t you think getting a long with people is easier when you can respect their beliefs? And how can you respect them, despite disagreeing, if you don’t take the time to learn about them? The same applies to them respecting you.

It’s hard to write about a religion of any sort and not be preachy. It’s hard with strong world views, in fact. Try it. You’ll see. I put a lot of work into this. It was not easy. So it’s actually a matter of pride I take in my craft that I accomplished that. And I think anyone could read it, regardless of their beliefs, and get enjoyment. It’s a fun story. Again, check the reviews on this  page, if you don’t believe me. I am getting mostly 4-star or higher reviews. Most from non-believers. That should tell you something about the book.

Do you like action? Humor? Larger-than-life characters? Fast paced plotting? Space ships and laser guns? What about family politics? What about societal political manuevering? What about romance? Friendship? They’re all in The Worker Prince and more.

So, if you like Golden Age stories and old fashioned heroes (plus modern heroines–none of those weak damsels in distress for me, no), I encourage you to give The Worker Prince a shot. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Okay, it’s a first novel, it’s not perfect. I’m still learning my craft. Doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it. In fact, my beta readers all are raving about book 2. The Returning will be out next Spring or Summer. Maybe you can learn from watching my craft evolve. They say it’s way better. (It’s harder for me to see from the inside, of course, but some aspects were a lot easier to write this time around). I even toned down the religious stuff because a) I’d already established that in book 1 and b) I am sensitive to reader’s feelings. It’s the only real barrier people seem to have: the inclusion of a real religion. Otherwise, the story entertains, engages, carries them away. Isn’t that what good stories are meant to do? I’d sure like to read more of them.

If you agree, check out my book. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

326 pp · ISBN 978‐0‐9840209‐0‐4 ·Trade Paperback/Epub/Mobi · $14.95 tpb $3.99 Ebook  · Publication: October 4, 2011

Trade paperback only

 EPUB or MOBI — please specify in notes on order

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

TV Review: Falling Skies

Well it has action, it has aliens, and it has mankind defending itself from invasion by a mysterious, ruthless enemy which enslaves their children. Why am I not more excited? Because this looked like a rip off of so many things that came before.

First, you have vigilantes fighting it out against aliens. Where have I seen that? “V” and “War Of The Worlds” and, well, even “Battle: Los Angeles” have resemblances.

Second, the aliens use robots? Where have I seen that? “War Of The Worlds.” The aliens are bugs? “Starship Troopers.”

Okay, so these are tropes and they’d be fine except for one thing. The characters aren’t well developed. Okay, to be fair, TV series take a while to develop their characters. So maybe that’s in the works. But Will Patton’s human army leader is just an ass. Nothing likeable about him at all. Not a single redeeming quality in how he acts or treats everyone around him with contempt. Noah Wyle’s lead fares better, but even he seemed overwhelmed and dominated by circumstances and people rather than being the take charge get it done hero we’d expect and want to see.

Now to be fair, I watched this right after the closing of HBO’s monumental, phenomenal specific “Game Of Thrones,” which turns every trope on its head, is very original, very well acted, well produced, etc. So I had high expectations. But I want more Science Fiction on TV. I want shows that last longer than one or two seasons. Still, I see networks time and again going back to the same well and thinking they can repeat success by doing so. Give us something we haven’t seen before. No, it’s not enough the alien attack is six months old. So we missed that part and you saved on your budget issues? So what? Really. Give me something I haven’t seen really–some kind of unique alien, unique alien motive, weapons, something. What if this was an alien attack on a world we had almost destroyed environmentally? Much further along than our current state? I’m just throwing that out there but surely there’s something new they could have done here.

The special effects are fine. The production values fine. Is it watchable? Until something else comes along, yes. Up against “True Blood,” unless “True Blood” really drops off in quality, no, “True Blood” will win. Ultimately it’s better than most of the made for TV mess SyFy tries to pass off as quality progamming. But coming from the guy who made war movies fun again with “Saving Private Ryan,” we have a right to expect a lot more. Richard Rodat and his team failed to deliver. I want this to succeed, don’t get me wrong. I want this to rake in the ratings. I want it to encourage more SF programming being developed. I just don’ t think the pilot was impressive, and only if they kick it into gear and surprise us, making it better, do I think it will survive the fate of so many similar series. I won’t stop watching. I won’t stop rooting for it. But I will continue to long for what might be.

Movie Reviews: Super 8, Pirates Of The Caribbean 4, Green Lantern

Well, I’ve seen three speculative fiction movies in the past week–one great one and two which I think were really good. I enjoyed all three. Two were in 3D, in both cases unnecessary and just a jab by Hollywood for more money. But regardless, I recommend them to genre film fans and general audiences as well.

“Super 8” is an homage to the kind of movies Spielberg made in the lates 70s and throughout the 80s, the movies I grew up on like “Goonies,” “E.T.,” “Close Enounters Of The Third Kind,” etc. A charming story about a group of friends (kids) who witness a train accident while trying to make a home made horror movie and uncover a government conspiracy involving aliens, missing pets, and military coverups going back decades. Their hometown is overrun and almost destroyed but the kids and two of their parents, fight against the destructive forces both manmade and alien and struggle to save the town.

This movie had good characterization, good humor, warm family moments, strong special effects and a good plot. The ending was a bit muddy and left some plot holes, such as did the kids finish the movie, which was a driving motivation for one of the characters, and does the government get a comeuppance? Also, what was the alien doing with the humans he hung in his lair? The ones freed seemed to recover quickly, what were his plans for them? Why were the dogs all found in other counties? They ran in fear? The alien sent them away? These plot points were really left mostly hazy. Sure the main government baddie died and the alien they held captive escaped, but there wasn’t as much satisfaction at seeing that rubbed in their face because the movie ended there without a little closure scene. I also felt the opening train crash was so over the top that it made everything else kind of pale by comparison and become almost anti-climactic. Yes, it was the pivotal moment for the story, but it no other moments matched it at being spectacular.

The movie captured its setting, the late 70s in a small coal mining town, very well, in my opinion. It was reminescent of “October Sky” in that sense. It also had the combination of heart warming family moments and young love which really played real and were very relatable for the rest of us. Lots of “I’ve been there moments,” including the dreams of the circle of kids and their interactions with each other, their families and the community. The military guys tended to be a bit cardboard, as they often are in these kinds of films, but they were not in any scenes where a central, developed character didn’t appear. Even some of the potentially cheesy moments with the alien and horror aspects were well handled. A few of the twist and turns also weren’t what I expect them to be. Hands down one of the best movies I’ve seen in years and one of the few I didn’t mind paying current ticket prices to see.

I didn’t know what to expect from “Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” The last two movies were jumbled masses of over ambitious plotting and subplotting which left me less satisfied than the original franchise launching film. I expected this one to be more of the same over the top style, but I think the filmmakers wisely stripped this one down a bit. The plot, a race to find the Fountain Of Youth, was really kept in focus and the few subplots were far less in number than the previous films.  Johnny Depp played Captain Jack Sparrow with his usual flair and comedic touches and the character was less cartoonish than it ought to be after so many outings with such a similar lead.

The Zombie stuff was actually underplayed this time around and that was a nice change. I got bored with that after the first three films and enjoyed seeing more human on human pirates and less of the underworld magic themes. They did have some of it, of course, but even Barbossa got a but humanized by losing his leg and seeming thus less invincible. Rush chewed the scenery as usual but it was amusing watching him try and sell himself as part of the Upper Crust establishment and interact with characters who would ordinarily hold him in great disdain.

Keith Richards was fun as Jack Sparrow’s father and Penelope Cruz did well as Sparrow’s long lost love interest/nemesis. Altogether, I thought this was an enjoyable entry, even though none of the “Pirates” movies have ever been strong on making sense or even caring if they do.

The third film I saw was “Green Lantern.” I was always intrigued by Green Lantern as a kid. He was a different kind of hero, with real science fiction elements even more so than many of the other League of Justice members. He was portrayed as a bit older (at least to my childlike eyes) with his gotee and haircut, but he was amongst my favorites in the cartoon League and one I always wanted to know more about.

This film is really an origin story, telling the tale of how Green Lantern is chosen and comes into understanding and accepting his calling. Ryan Reynolds adeptly handles the lead. Having first discovered him in “Two Guys a Girl and a Pizza Place” and only seen him since in comedies, I wasn’t sure if he’d make it too campy for my taste, but although there were a couple campy moments, the humor was well handled and he was given strong dramatic moments. The character was well rounded with real weaknesses of character and self-confidence which he had to overcome. The other Lanterns were more cliched but none of them had much screen time. The main baddy Paralox was also really underdeveloped but Hector, the scientist pawn of Paralox who was a childhood friend of Reynold’s Hal Jordon character had multiple dimensions and even some real sympathetic moments with his difficult, judging father. It’s hard to grow up in the shadow of such a man, terminally misunderstood by family and even friends and never feeling respected or appreciated. A lot of geeks and others can relate to that and it was handled well.

Hal Jordan’s initial cockiness is also played well as well as his tendency to abandon people and situations he cares about when it requires too much responsibility or work for him. Having to make the choice to take on responsibility for saving his planet forces him to rise to the occasion or risk the lives of the woman he loves and the planet he calls home in ways which challenge him and force him to dig deep to succeed.

The big weakness for this film was the 3D was underutilized. So many great opportunities to just blow me away went by with either weak 3D or 2D. I literally have to think hard to remember any spectacular 3D moments and other than the scenes of flying on the Lantern’s planet, I can’t think of any. I also think the story wrapped up a little too neatly with the final confrontation not having enough twists and turns. It was like Jordan just knew what to do with pieces planted earlier. He didn’t have to think very hard or improvise as he went. The odds were supposedly incredible but it was all too neatly handled for my taste. This is where filmmaker and studio’s desire to keep the film a certain length may have caused them to sacrifice storytelling–a weakness all too often the case in these films today.

The film is visually stunning with great aliens and special effects. I’d like to see some of the various alien races developed more in fact in future sequels. I also felt the action scenes played relatively well and the characters had good chemistry, although the damsel in distress heroine could have benefitted from more character development.

Still I recommend all three for people who like genre films. “Super 8” in particular is not to be missed.

For what it’s worth…