The lost audiobooks of Roger Zelazny reading the Chronicles of Amber

When I was a kid, my whole circle of D&D-playing, science-fiction reading pals was really into Roger Zelazny's ten-volume Chronicles of Amber, but somehow I never read it; for years, I'd intended to correct this oversight, but I never seemed to find the time -- after all, there's more amazing new stuff than I can possibly read, how could I justify looking backwards, especially over the course of ten books? Read the rest

How To: play Vlad Taltos in an RPG

Vlad Taltos is the (anti)hero of Steven Brust's stupendous, longrunning fantasy series (which is nearly complete, a generation after it was begun!); Issue 220 of Dragon magazine (August 1995) included a feature by Ed Stark explaining how to play the human assassin and witch who lives amidst a race of nearly immortal elves, against whom he bears a serious grudge. I just love that there's a stats-sheet for Vlad! The only thing that would make me happier would be the next goddamned book. Read the rest

Steven Brust's "Good Guys," a hardboiled noir urban fantasy, with everything great about Brust on proud display

Steven Brust is a literary treasure and his longrunning Vlad Taltos series, now nearing its final volume, is a good example of where his strengths lie: hardboiled plotting, snappy dialog, weirdly realistic and plausible depictions of magic, and a sensitive eye for power relationships and their depiction, all of which are on display in his latest, outstanding novel, Good Guys, about the minimum-wage sorcerers who investigate magical crimes on behalf of a secret society.

Listen up: you really owe it to yourself to read 15 Vlad Taltos novels, seriously

I have been reading Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos novels since I was a pre-teen and singing their praises on Boing Boing since 2006, and with the occasion of the publication of Vallista, the fifteenth and nearly final volume in the series, I want to spend some time explaining to you why goddamnit you should really consider reading 15 books, get caught up, and finish this sucker with me, because if there was any justice in this world, the Vlad books would have a following to shame The Dark Tower at its peak.

Steven Brust's "Hawk" - a new Vlad Taltos book!

Hawk, the 14th book in Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos series, is a moving, funny and tantalizing end-game glimpse of the assassin, reluctant revolutionary and epic wisecracker. Cory Doctorow explains why he's been reading this generation-spanning series of Hungarian mythology, revolutionary politics, and gastronomy for more than 30 years.

What Makes Jo Walton So Great

Yesterday, I reviewed "What Makes This Book So Great", a collection of Jo Walton's brilliant book-reviews from Tor.com. Today, Tor editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden has posted his essay on the book, entitled "What Makes Jo Walton So Great." It's a tremendous read, and a great frame for the book, which is flat-out great. Read the rest

Raising money to help Steve Brust and Emma Bull's medical expenses

Two of the greats of science fiction and fantasy literature, Emma Bull (War for the Oaks and many others) and Steven Brust (the Vlad Taltos books and many others) have coincidentally gone for surgery at the same time. Emma had a thyroidectomy on August 8th to investigate a 4 cm nodule on her thyroid. Steve had a defibrillator implanted on Aug 22.

And yeah, neither of them are adequately insured. Because writing is an entrepreneurial, economically marginal arts career, and its practitioners are often not able to buy insurance on the "open" market, especially as they enter middle age. Most of the US writers I know rely on spouses with "straight" jobs for insurance. But Steve isn't married, and Emma is married to another writer, Will Shetterly.

Writer Scott Lynch published a name-your-price novel called Queen of the Iron Sands. He's announced that two thirds of the proceeds from this book will go to Steve and Emma.

He's done this off his own bat, without Emma or Steve asking for it, because they're not the sort of people who ask. But it sure sounds like they could use it.

Update: Steve Brust says,

This is very, very sweet, and I'm tremendously grateful for what Scott and everyone else is doing. But you need to know that, as of a couple of months ago, I DO have health care coverage--after the congestive heart failure, Those Who Decide Things decided I was partially disabled (which I guess is true; it's slowed my work down) and I'm now on MA, which is how I was able to get the surgery.

Read the rest

Brust's Tiassa: versatile fantasy in three modes

Steven Brust's Tiassa is the thirteenth volume in the long-running Vlad Taltos series, a fantasy epic that combines hard-boiled crime-writing with economic critique, revolutionary war, fine cookery, and (naturally) swashbuckling sword and sorcery. Vlad Taltos is an Easterner (a human like us) among Drageareans (immortal, magical faerie folk who belong to one of several noble "houses" that influence their character and profession). At the series' start, Vlad is an assassin within the Jhereg house (which controls the crime in Brust's world), working through his fury and shame at having grown up in the Easterner underclass by killing Dragareans with gusto. Over the series' many volumes, Vlad gets entangled in revolutionary politics, is married and divorced, meddles in the affairs of the empire, dies and is brought back from the dead, and more. Brust clearly delights in writing this character and this world, and each volume has some clever structural trick that enhances the story -- for example, previous volumes have been organized around explaining the items listed on a laundry ticket and the dishes served on an elaborate menu.

Tiassa is structured in three novellas, spanning ten years of Vlad's life, with some interstitial matter. The first novella, "Tag," is a caper story set in the early part of the series and is told in the Chandleresque, hard-boiled style that characterized the first few books. The middle novella, "Whitecrest," is a story of political intrigue set during Vlad's exile, told with expert timing and a lot of wit. The final novella, "Special Tasks" is told in the style of The Phoenix Guards and its sequels, a highly mannered, absurdist adventure story in the mode of Alexander Dumas. Read the rest

Steven Brust's IORICH: sword and sorcery and law and order

I've written before about Steven Brust's delightful, epic Vlad Taltos novels, a long-running series of sword-and-sorcery novels about a wisecracking human assassin in a land where the ruling class is composed of ancient, long-lived elves from a variety of noble houses named for animals. Brust has turned out a dozen of these novels to date (plus five more books in the style of Dumas, set centuries before the Vlad books), and they are, to a one, absolutely cracking yarns, Fritz Leiberesque novels where the steel flashes, the spells swirl, death is dealt, heroism is on display, and cunning saves the day.

But Brust's novels are also, to a one more than just fantasy novels. Each one is also a meditation on power, on freedom, on fairness, on economics -- even on cooking. And Brust doesn't use the action to sugar-coat the "message" -- no, the message, such as it is, is integral to the action revealed through it, naturally and engrossingly, so that each book is an education unto itself.

Take Iorich, the latest book, published last week. Iorich has the exiled Vlad Taltos returning to the capital city -- where he is a hunted man -- to rescue a friend from prison. And while Vlad has to do plenty of fighting and sneaking and skulking to get her out, the main method he employs is to use the law. And so Brust is able to skilfully blend a remarkable treatise on politics, law, justice, due process and even military ethics into a novel in which there is enough sword and sorcery to fill a dozen Vallejo paintings. Read the rest

Brust's JHEGAALA, smart, hard-boiled swords and sorcery with great poleconomy subtext

I've been reading Steven Brust's Vlad Taltos books since I was a boy, and nothing pleases me more than discovering a new one on the shelf, as I did this week, picking up the paperback of Jhegaala, the eleventh volume in the series.

For the uninitiated, Vlad Taltos is a human assassin in a strange world where humans occupy the eastern kingdoms and the rest is run by the Dragaereans, a long-lived elfin race whose sorcery is far more formalized than humanity's witchcraft (the human culture on Dragaera is based loosely on ancient Hungarian culture, and the magic is derived somewhat from Hungarian animist mysticism). Vlad lives among the Dragaera, pledged to the house of Jhereg, a mongrel house that you can buy your way into (the others are hereditary), whence come all the crime lords and assassins. In Vlad's storied, ten-volume adventures, he goes from street-punk to crime-boss to lordling to political operative, embroiled in a magnificently realized fantasy world that leaps off the page with a fascinating poleconomy, literary tradition, spirituality and history ancient and modern.

Vlad is a hard-boiled, wise-ass hero, whose narration is part of what makes the series so irresistible, laden as it is with deadpan humor, great observation, wicked emotional truths, and a keen gourmet sensibility (seriously: the food and drink in this book are so well described that I spent the entire time while reading it yearning for one of the marvellous cups of coffee or the hearty bowls of stew that Vlad subsists on through much of the tale). Read the rest

Steven Brust's Dzur: witty and exciting heroic fantasy

Over the weekend, I finished Dzur, the latest volume of Steven Brust's snappy, swashbuckling heroic fantasy novels about Vlad Taltos and the world of Dragaera. I've been reading these since I was an adolescent, and I feel like they've grown up with me.

The Vlad Taltos books tell the story of a human assassin in a magic, Zelazny-esque world where animal-like, near-immortal faerie folk are the dominant political and economic force. Humans (called "Easterners") live in ghettos and are used as peasants, cannon fodder, and punching-bags. Vlad starts out in the first novel, Jhereg, as a kitchen-boy who finds better employment as an enforcer for an organized crime syndicate, loving the work because it lets him beat up Dragaerans.

As the series progresses (it's up to book 10 now), Vlad rises to become a crime-boss, then a force in the empire, then an exile. Brust uses this rise and fall to show us his extraordinary grasp of the subtleties of the economics and social factors underpinning feudal states, stripping away the whitewash that lurks behind the Shire, Arthur and his knights, and every other narrative of noble kings and willing peasants.

With Dzur, we have something of a return to the classic Vlad Taltos book -- Vlad, lately returned from exile, is wanted by the entire Jhereg (the crime syndicate) and must execute a plan to save himself and his ex-wife from its grasp, but without the benefit of his old gang and influence. Vlad's approach to this is cunning, surprising, and buckles a crapload of swash. Read the rest