Monday, December 8, 2014

An interview with James A. Moore (author of "Seven Forges")

I recently had the opportunity to ask some questions to James A. Moore, author of "Seven Forges", a great fantasy novel, and the start of a series, which I reviewed earlier this year (a review link is provided at the bottom of this page). James was kind enough to give us some insights into his writing style and philosophy. Thus, I am delighted to share this interview with all of you...

James A. Moore

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Sci-fi bookworm: 
First of all, when did you first start thinking about the concept behind Seven Forges, and how much did it evolve since then?

James A. Moore: 
I spent almost a year playing with the notion of doing a fantasy series before I ever started writing anything down. I've always loved fantasy, but I hadn't even read any in years. I was focused primarily on horror and crime fiction for a long while. A friend of mine was talking about old sword and sorcery favorites and that got my mind cooking on the notions. It was around a year later I worked out the outline and first few chapters and then approached AR.

Where did the inspiration for this novel come from? Are there some key writers that you feel have - in some way - molded your approach to writing fantasy?

Fantasy was my first love when it comes to fiction. I read it voraciously when I was younger. So it was really always back there in the back of my head and I enjoyed the genre, I just never really got around to writing in it until I found a story idea that wouldn't leave me alone. I wanted to write something I hadn't already read.

There are so very many. Off the top of my head the writers who influenced this the most are Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock. Stephen King's DARK TOWER books were eye opening when it came to breaking away from the standard mold, but another influence I cannot emphasize enough is Tim Lebbon. His NOREELA books were the first I looked at in fantasy for a very long time and they were so very different from what I'd run across before that I started thinking about fantasy as a real possibility again.

How is it to write fantasy adventures when a few stories in this genre have been getting huge media attention in the past few years, such as "The Game of Thrones"? Does it end up being motivational, or hampering creativity?

Oh, I always look at the popularity of another writer's work as a challenge. I love GAME OF THRONES and I can't get enough of Joe Abercrombie. I'm reading HALF A KING right now and it's a damned impressive work. As far as I'm concerned, that level of success (and talent) just makes me want to try harder to do it right.

Which character was harder to build and explore? And do you think any of your characters felt neglected?

I think the hardest character for me was probably Swech. I wanted to her to be different from any of the characters I've run across before. I needed her to have a certain level of naiveté and at the same time I needed her to be an absolute killing machine. More importantly, I needed her to be believable. I think she turned out pretty well, actually, I think MOST of my characters tend to feel neglected, because, honestly, I always want to spend more time with them and the nature of the beast is that I really can't. These books aren't about Merros Dulver or about Emperor Pathra Krouse, much as I want them to be about each of them. These stories are about a world being changed. The one i wanted to spend more time on the most? Drask Silver Hand. He has a lot to say.

Finally, what word of advice would you give to someone starting to get into the fantasy genre?

As a writer? Read voraciously. Read horror. Read science fiction. Read westerns and romances and murder mysteries. Read history. Read the news. Watch the news. Watch people. World building is a big part of fantasy, and in order to build a world that makes sense, you have to look beyond your comfort zone. The world is a massive place, and there are levels and levels of politics, military powers, ecology and economy that should be understood to one degree or another before you try building a world, because you can't really fix all of that as easily after the fact.

And, of course, write every day. Every day. Write it first. Edit it later. Write.

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SFB note: 
Book 2 of the series has already come out! I have great expectations on further books by James.

[full review of Seven Forges]

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hellhole Awakening

Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Tor, 2013 (my hardcover copy is a first edition, gracefully provided by Tor for review)
Size: Long (my hardcover copy has 527 pages)
Theme: Space Opera
Narrative: third-person
Main character: General Tiber Adolphus
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

A worthy sequel to Hellhole, the story picks up right where the earlier book had left us. It actually felt more like a space opera than the previous book, and a considerable part of it occurs in space. The plot will involve several twist and turns, quite well put together, and finally feature some space warfare.

As a powerful Constellation fleet travels towards Hellholm to fight and capture the rebels, General Adolphus has plans for a trap that might render them helpless. Will he be able to flip the tables on the corrupt Constellation government and take command of their fleet instead? Diadem Michella’s extreme fear of the aliens and rage against Adolphus continues to prompt strong and violent reaction from the Constellation on several fronts, which will eventually backfire as the rebels and aliens are forced to take desperate measured to ensure their safety. The human-alien hybrids continue to build up their colony and will play a major role in the main storyline. Yet, it appears the Constellation is not the only enemy to account for, and the novel will unravel much more about the history of Hellhole and its inhabitants.

The multi-line plot and the fast pace are similar to Hellhole, as is the depth of characters and the scope of the saga. I quite enjoyed reading it, but there was one annoying aspect: as the story shifts focus to a different plot line, the authors repeatedly remind us of the character’s motivations and current status, like a nagging banner that you have seen too often.  Nevertheless, if you like military space operas, you should find yourself immersed in the complex universe of Hellhole.

Related work:

Hellhole Awakening is the second novel in a trilogy; the story started in Hellhole and will draw to a conclusion in Hellhole Inferno.

Monday, November 10, 2014


Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
Tor, 2011 (my hardcover copy is a first edition)
Size: Long (my hardcover copy has 532 pages)
Theme: Space Opera
Narrative: third-person
Main character: General Tiber Adolphus
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

Hellhole is an epic space opera taking place in a universe where humans travel between many colonized planets, using technology that exceeds faster-than-light travel. In this Constellation society, the government is centralized around a cluster of planets, the Crown Jewels, which dominate over a larger group of distant planets on the outskirts of the galaxy, the Deep Zone. For years, the Deep Zone planets have been paying tribute to the ruler of the Constellation, currently Diadem Michella Duchenet.

On one of the Deep Zone planets we find General Adolphus, exiled after his failed attempt at overthrowing the corrupt government of the Constellation and deposing the Diadem. We find Adolphus confined to the blasted planet Hallholme, where the ruined remains of an alien civilization spark only some curiosity, and where convicts, loners and misfits travel in order to disappear or to start a brand new life. However, Adolphus has not given up on his goal of saving the Constellation, and spectacular events unfolding at Hallholme might play a huge role in the future of the human race. And significant changes are at hand, as the Deep Zone planets reconsider their role in the Constellation…

This novel has a nice plot and the story unfolds in a fast yet comfortable pace, through multiple interweaving storylines. There are several concepts reminiscent of Dune, with an apparently worthless and desolated planet becoming a pivotal point in the universe. The characters are a little bit stereotyped but the major ones are still adequately explored. I felt that the interstellar travelling technology, being so exceptional, merited some attempt at an explanation or at least a better description. However, I know that getting into details is a gamble, and in fact Frank Herbert has shown us the power of leaving some mystery behind such aspects.

In my opinion, this novel is not at the same level as Hamilton’s Confederation or Commonwealth storylines, and is far from the complexity and layered narrative of Frank Herbert’s Dune, but it is still rather interesting and intriguing for space opera fans. It follows the style that Brian and Anderson already employed in their Dune “midquels” and “prequels”. Overall, I much enjoyed reading the book, which left me craving for the sequel. Luckily, since I already had books 2 and 3 when reading the first one, this is not an issue!

Related work:
Hellhole is the first novel in a trilogy; the story continues in Hellhole Awakening and concludes in Hellhole Inferno.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Second Harvest

Matthew Hart
Capscovil, 2013 (my softcover copy was gracefully provided by Capscovil for review)
Size: Average (my copy has 366 pages)
Theme: Time travel
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Dexter Maxwell
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

This is a sequel to “The last iteration of Dexter Maxwell”, and continues following the intriguing time-shifting (and now space-spanning) adventures of Dexter and his cohorts. This novel works perfectly as a sequel, since it fills in a lot of blanks that had been left in the first story, and adds to the complexity of the plot. In fact, even though the first novel already featured a detailed storyline, in the second book we find out much behind-the-scenes scheming that had only been hinted at. The role of the families in Venus, what the second harvest is (or is claimed to be), and where Ashion came from, are all finally revealed.

In this novel, Dexter struggles to control his shifting abilities as he attempts to fold Ashion’s plans and prevent doomsday for the entire population of Venus. The book is divided into 4 parts. The first exclusively follows Ashion in the year 3027, as he sets in motion several plans related to the upcoming second harvest. The second is focused on Dexter and his allies, and varies between events happening around the 26th century and those of the 31st century. The third occurs after Dexter goes to Venus, and interchangeably keeps track of both Dexter and Ashion. The fourth and final part concerns the events taking place during the week before the echo effect. There is a big momentum building up to the time of the echo effect, of which we learn much during the earlier parts of the book. In fact, everything essentially revolves around this phenomenon, which has driven the actions of Ashion and the families.

Although the entire book keeps a very nice pace, with events unfolding rhythmically, I did struggle with all the characters and names during the first part. Having read the first novel several months ago, I did not remember some details, and I felt that I was missing out on some subtle but pertinent aspects because of that. I think the author could have provided some hints on what was going on for readers who had either not read book 1 or did it some time ago. Because the families are almost absent from the first book, I felt it hard to keep up with the story at some turns in the first part. However, starting with part 2, that no longer was the case, and it was a very enjoyable read. Maybe I should have spent some time on the character list at the end of the book, but I prefer learning the characters from the plot itself. In any case, the story is compelling and very well written. Readers of the first novel will thrill through this sequel, and left eager for the third novel of the series.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Great North Road

Peter F. Hamilton
Pan MacMillan, 2012 (my softcover copy was gracefully provided by MacMillan for review)
Size: Epic (my copy has 1087 pages)
Theme: Detective drama involving alien species
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Sidney Hurst, Angela Tramelo
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

The sci-fi mystery genre at its best... I start any book from Peter Hamilton with a very high (possibly unfair) expectation, having read so many great books from this British author. Those previous books were all space operas, in fact my favorite genre, so I was unsure if Hamilton would keep his storytelling style and level. But alas, the Great North Road does not disappoint. Hamilton gives us a detail-rich universe, combining aspects of traditional detective stories with futuristic space-faring adventures in alien worlds.

The main plot is based on the assassination of a member of the (vastly wealthy and unorthodox) North family. And while the level of sophistication and professionalism of the cover-up operation could in principle be attributed to corporate rivalries, similarities exist to a murder from 2 decades before, one which has such unbelievable circumstances that the single witness had been in jail ever since. Now, Angela Tramelo might actually be a key factor in the investigation, if they can get her to cooperate. Under the scrutinizing gaze of many around him, detective Sid Hurst will attempt to find the truth behind this complex – and potentially dangerous – situation. Meanwhile, events will unravel in a way that will forever change the human colony in St. Libra, and the migration of the human race through the known universe.

With a vast expanse of locations, characters, and events, the book slowly unveils layer upon layer of the plot, until a convincing conclusion that provides a complete vision of the complex web of interrelated narratives. As in previous novels, the narrative keeps switching between different story-lines (often also revisiting events in the past), through a large number of small chapters. This is very easy to follow and never gets boring. Several twists add to the depth of the story. The action is fast-paced. The main characters are very well explored. Reactions and attitudes are credible. Overall, this was extremely enjoyable to read, and I highly recommend it, both to newcomers to the genre as well as to sci-fi veterans.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Flowers for Algernon

Daniel Keyes
Harvest, 2004 (my copy is from Harvest, 2013), although copyright is from 1959
Size: Average (my TPB copy has 311 pages)
Theme: Human cognition – enhanced skills
Narrative: first-person
Main character: Charlie Gordon
Recommended minimum age: Teenager
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

I picked up a copy of this book because it was on a top 100 sci-fi list that I’ve been slowly collecting for a few years. Having been written in the 1950’s, the book is a precursor in terms of human enhancement through science. It should also be analyzed as having been written that long ago, during the primordial ages of classic sci-fi. The concept behind the story is based on a group of scientists that develop a technique, mixing psychology, neurology, and biochemistry, to boost intelligence. After testing it successfully on a lab mouse named Algernon, they move on to human trials. Charlie Gordon is picked as the first human subject, due to his mental disabilities coupled with a great motivation to learn and become smarter. Everything appears to have gone successful as Charlie quickly becomes more intelligent than all those around him, to the point where he can no longer have a challenging conversation with anyone. However, as Algernon’s mental health starts declining, the question becomes whether the same will occur to Charlie…

The book is told/written in the first person by Charlie. A brilliant writing style allows us to feel how the character is changing along the plot, since in the first few pages Charlie has horrible spelling and grammar, and displays a lack of complex reasoning and a child vision of the world around him, but as the book progresses, he becomes more eloquent but also more self-assured, and later more aggressive. Sadly, once Charlie is truly explored as a character, and one is left with the feeling that much more could have been tackled from the perspectives of Alice, the two main scientists, and even some of Charlie’s acquaintances. As in many other books I have read, I would not have minded having 200 more pages to go through.

This novel is loaded with layer upon layer of significance and food for thought. Charlie’s early innocent thoughts make him a friendly person, and he is never aware of how people make fun of him or put him down. As his awareness expands, so does his perception of how cruel and dishonest human beings can be. He learns about fallacies of the society and struggles to cope with his expanding feelings. Have we not all felt like our eyes being open to a new reality? For certain, the famous sentence “Whereas once I was blind, now I see”, is not very often a positive change. Do we not realize how in our child years, there was a shroud in front of our eyes, and how everything looks different now that our eyes are “open”? And how, as honored and adults, do we look down at the “innocent” and the “different”? In a way, Charlie’s trip from mentally handicapped to highly intelligent reflects all of us, as we travel from child to adult and then to elderly person (given enough time, plagued with senility). It is the cold hard reality of it all that speaks very close to an attentive reader.

The book has no hard sci-fi, nor advanced technologies, but it’s a beautiful tale of human achievement and human relations. Maybe if children had this as required reading in school they would not be so cruel upon others. Or maybe that is just wishful thinking. Would I suggest this novel to any sci-fi reader? Most definitely yes!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Seven Forges

James A. Moore
Angry Robot, 2013 (an advance proof was gently provided to me by Angry Robot)
Size: Average (my hardcover copy has 332 pages)
Theme: Adventure fantasy
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Captain Merros Dulver
Recommended minimum age: Young Adult
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: YES

After several recent sci-fi novels which failed to meet my expectations and made me stop reading for a while, this fantasy book was a breath of fresh air. The story follows Captain Merros Dulver’s quest to the inhospitable and icy region of the Blasted Lands, with the goal of reaching the seven forges, a mountain range from where no expedition has ever returned. Under the orders of the emperor’s sorcerer and right-hand man, he wonders if he will be able to take advantage of the promised reward. Right from the start, things become tough, as in the midst of storms, they are attacked by Pra-Moresh, monstrous wilder beasts known to roam the blasted lands. However, as soon as they are saved by a tribe of people that unbelievably come from the seven forges, the fantastic invades Dulver’s life. What are the real intentions of these people? What impact will this have on the empire? And why does it seem that he will play a huge role in the upcoming events?

The story has a very nice blend of action/adventure and magic. In this first book of the series, only a bit of the veil is lifted, and as we move through the pages, we learn a bit more about the Sa’ba Taalor, their rituals and their motivations. A series of other characters are well explored, and a set of secondary storylines. From the start, I never found the book dull; it keeps a nice pace, while still describing sceneries and exploring some character’s inner thoughts.

Overall, the book was a pleasure to read, changing a bit from my more typical technology-driven sci-fi. I am looking forward to reading where the next book of the series will take this very interesting story…

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Goliath Stone

Larry Niven and Matthew Joseph Harrington
Tor, 2013 (a review copy was gently provided to me by Tor)
Size: Average (my hardcover copy has 314 pages)
Theme: Nanotechnology
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Toby Glyer
Recommended minimum age: Young Adult
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: UNSURE

The concept behind this book appears to be quite simple: a large asteroid is on its way to earth, with its course continuously shifting so that it seems increasingly likely that it will collide. Several years ago, nanotechnology had reached a progress level that a mission was setup to send nanomachines to harvest a small asteroid. In practical terms, the plan was to divert its course so that it would orbit earth and could be mined. However, all contact was lost with the mission, which was abandoned. It appears now that maybe the nanomachines are involved in the recent change in course of the large asteroid. The question is whether they are still trying to perform their initial goal, or whether they are aiming it to destroy earth.

This is not a particularly innovative idea, nor is most of what takes place during the relatively short story. Although I enjoyed it as a light read, the novel is sort of a blunder. In fact, given Niven’s reputation (note I have not yet read the Ringworld acclaimed series, although it is in my to-read pile), I was expecting much more. Characters are shallow and one-dimensional, one of them featuring the archetype of superhuman intellect and capabilities. Subtle hints at the authors’ political views are pressed into the story. The main characters actually did not have to exist, as most of the events would have happened the same without them; I can hardly remember a book where the characters do not influence the result (earth’s destruction or not) in any way. It is also surprising how nobody really stresses out from the fact that the world is about to be destroyed, so apparently all those movies and books where people panic and riot are just pessimistic. What I enjoyed the least was the annoying and impossible to believe dialogues full of witty remarks and comebacks, full to the brim with what I guess the authors must have thought were clever references to sci-fi literature. Curiously, the story ends up being as much on the asteroid as on how the main characters are involved in nanotechnology reshaping humanity, again in an excessive and unfeasible manner.

I’m going to have to call this casual over-the-counter literature, and definitely not to be mentioned in the records of sci-fi. Once you take it as something just to entertain you for a few hours, and to be forgotten afterwards, it’s fine. Just do not have higher expectations than that.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Ender’s World

Edited by: Orson Scott Card
BenBella, 2013 (a review copy was gently provided to me by BenBella Books)
Size: Short (my paperback copy has 282 pages)
Theme: Multi-author essay about the Ender’s Game universe
Recommended minimum age: Adult
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: N/A

This is a collection of short essays about the universe portrayed in the sci-fi classic “Ender’s Game”, much similarly to the concept of “the science of Dune” (edited by Kevin Grazier), which I have reviewed before. The idea is to have the reader revisit the story of Ender’s Game, and in part some of its sequels, giving a fresh perspective on some of Orson Scott Card’s motivations, reasoning, and insights into some of his characters. The book compiles 14 essays, and includes several tidbits from Card in the form of answers to questions posed by fans.

I started reading the book eager to see more about the concepts and the myriad of technology that is featured in Ender’s Game, one of my all-time favorite sci-fi novels. I was expecting a similar approach to that of “the science of Dune”. However, I quickly discovered that among the “fresh perspectives”, almost nothing is about science or technology. The book should have been labeled “fresh psychological perspectives”; contributions are focused on how the characters acted and interacted, how the book has been used in high school education in the USA, and how Card supposedly captured and influenced contemporary military warfare strategy. While I found some of the info on this last topic interesting and novel to me, the rest really did not appear to me. Most of the chapters were on how Ender’s Game influenced that chapter’s author(s). In fact, a couple of authors hardly talk about the story but only about themselves.

Maybe the book can be an interesting read for some die-hard Ender’s Game fans, particularly those wishing to see how other people enjoyed it or what they took from it. I still consider Ender’s Game one of the best books I ever read, but this collection of essays falls short from providing either entertainment or insightful information.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Hermetic Millennia

John C Wright
Tor, 2012 (a review copy was gently provided to me by Tor)
Size: Average (my hardcover copy has 399 pages)
Theme: Evolution
Narrative: third-person
Main character: Menelaus Montrose
Recommended minimum age: Young Adult
Would purchase as a gift to any sci-fi reader: UNLIKELY

After having read “Count to a trillion” by the same author, I had mixed feelings about this novel. On the one hand, I was hoping that finally the story became a space opera. On the other hand, I feared that the author’s proclivity towards verbosity and descriptive narrative got the best of him. Unfortunately, the book reflected my fears almost exactly. Within the global picture of the series, nothing develops concerning Rania’s interstellar trip, and no real follow-up on the hermeticists (aside from a brief appearance to let us know what they were up to). For a book that covers several millennia, I felt like the plot was going nowhere fast, like a gazelle running still on ice.

The story follows Montrose, now as the “judge of ages”, who after his near demise at the end of book 1, has been hibernating with only very occasional periods awake (whenever the need arises for him to intervene on how evolution is moving along on earth), within an extensive system of tombs that he built. The tombs house derelicts and occasional criminals from several ages along these millennia, and keep adding more inhabitants (all slumbering until a brighter future comes). By year 10500, however, problems arise, and much more time than usual is required from him, as the entire tombs system is in jeopardy and the future looks bleak.

The book ends with a “to be continued”. That being said, the end was one of the best parts of the entire novel. The author clearly has a good imagination; at every turn, there are new weird characters, or some new piece of technology. However, rarely anything is decently explored or even explained. I found the characters shallow and the story hard to believe. Almost everyone has a very particularly sense of humor and, even less likely, a lot of characters (from different races, species, and thousands of years apart) employ very similar irony in their speech. Sexual references abound excessively. The author also jammed in the story a bunch of references to sci-fi classics, which add absolutely nothing to the plot. Honestly, it was hard to read through the book, having taken me about three to four times as long as usually it takes to read a novel of this size. Nothing at all in the plot made me curious and eager to read more about. It might be just me, but this series really does not work for me at all.

Related work:
This book is the sequel to “Count to a Trillion” and should not be read before the first installment. A third book in the series will surely follow, as the story ends abruptly (and with a very subtle cliff hanger).


It has been a few months since I last posted a review. This absence was due to some complications in my personal life, which led me to considerably slow down reading, and to be unable to produce any meaningful review. That said, I plan to post very soon several reviews which had been pending for quite a while.

I'd like to thank everyone who checks this blog, I hope my reviews have been in some way useful.