Thursday, June 27, 2013

Review of Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley


Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley is based on a fascinating idea: What if queen Cleopatra did not die? What if she used ancient Egyptian magic to become part goddess, part vampire, part monster, and wreak vengeance upon her enemies? The cover and the description of the book sold me for sure, as I’m incredibly interested in Cleopatra’s story, and the ancient world in general. Fantasy mixed with history is a potent combination if done well, and Headley created a really intoxicating novel.

I enjoyed reading Queen of Kings and finished quickly, as it’s written like a thriller for the most part, with short, punchy chapters that pull you in and force you to keep reading. I found the writing to be quite good, though as a writer and editor myself, I could tell this was the author’s first novel sometimes. A little awkwardness crept into the prose on a few occasions, which was usually brilliant.

Headley chose to use the third person omniscient point of view, which is fraught with danger, and for the most part the author did a very good job with it. However, when you use that point of view, you generally sacrifice something as many of the other reviews of this book have pointed out. In this case, it was sympathy toward the major characters. The point of view shifted so often that it was difficult to really identify or get into any one character’s head and empathize with them. The Roman emperor, Augustus (Octavian), seemed to have the most page time, and I found him to be much different than I had imagined. I thought he was a very intelligent and strategic man in real life, but he was portrayed as a bumbling villain, rather than an astute politician.

Cleopatra herself was the most sympathetic, as was Mark Antony, but they did not have as much page time as I would have liked. The early parts of the book were probably my favorite, though the string of convenient coincidences bothered me a little, but fate was being manipulated the whole time by the gods, so I can forgive that. This is a big story that covers a huge amount of ground. Summarizing large events and time periods is good with the third person point of view, and to tell this story the author had to go in that direction.

I’m really interested in what happens next, and really enjoyed how the author used historical events and her own inspired imaginings to weave this fascinating tale. I loved reading about the witches that Octavian and General Marcus Agrippa recruited to fight Cleopatra: the Norse weaver of fate, the Greek witch who manipulated ghosts, and Usem, from the African tribe of the Psylli, who had power over the wind and snakes. Usem was married to the Western Wind, and she an awesome character as well.

Overall, this book is filled with unexpected and wild imagining, and you have to just buy into the crazy plot and not think too much about the decisions of the main characters. Most of the old myths read just like this novel, and the author was giving a lot of nods to the legendary stories of old, which don’t make a lot of sense if you look at them too closely. The author really went for it, and the plot evolved in directions I was not expecting.

I applaud the boldness of the author and will definitely read the planned sequels (it’s a trilogy according to the author’s note). If you love Greek myths, Cleopatra’s story, wild historical fantasy, and ancient Rome, this is a book for you.

Queen of Kings by Maria Dahvana Headley, 4/5 Stars

Paul Genesse
Author of the Iron Dragon Series
Editor of The Crimson Pact Series

Friday, June 21, 2013

Review of the World War Z movie


I watched World War Z tonight and really enjoyed it. (4/5 stars--very tiny spoilers in this post). I love how the amazing book and movie actually go together. The book was impossible to film, and this story adds a really interesting thread to the overall event.

I listened to World War Z on audio book (the 14 hour version) three times (I've never actually read it), and I think the movie is a great introduction to the novel, as the movie happens earlier than the book, which is a retrospective look at the zombie war with Max Brooks (the author) traveling around the world interviewing people about what happened.

Anyway, the movie was scary, intense, emotional, action-packed, well-acted (Brad Pitt was awesome), and paid great tribute to the book. The book and movie are very different entities and I recommend that you watch the movie, and then get the unabridged audio book, which is voiced by A-List actors. If you're a zombie fan, I think it's better to see the movie before reading the book. I think this is a rare case where the book and movie go great together, rather than clashing so much. The book is better, but the movie was excellent.

Here's a great article with links to what led up to the decision to re-shoot the ending of the movie. I found it fascinating. I like the version they went with, but I'm looking forward to seeing the deleted scenes. Read the article here.

I've read all (most?) of the articles linked from this one, above. I'm so glad they changed the ending, as I think this one worked really well. The scenes in Russia (that they filmed in Budapest), will be interesting to see someday. It appears to me they made some big mistakes by not having a strong plan or strong leadership. Starting a movie this big without knowing the ending was a bad idea. At least it worked out in the end, though the cost was high.

Monday, June 10, 2013



No spoilers.

The End of All Seasons by Russell Davis is a fantastic collection of 15 short stories and 5 beautiful poems. I love reading short fiction from master writers, as they take you on a journey using only a small amount of words, and really make you feel something: love, sadness, horror, fear, and espeically wonder.

The heart and emotion conjured up is impressive and inspiring in this powerful collection. Russell Davis is a poet-storyteller for sure, and the stories are like well-crafted sculptures, weighty and full of beautiful lines. Several of the tales left me gasping for air. My favorites were “The Angel Chamber” about a little girl in truly horrifying situation, “The Things She Handed Down,” “Scars Enough,” “Engines of Desire and Despair,” “The End of Autumn” and “The Little Match Girl,” a dark re-imagining of the classic tale in a modern setting. There’s something for everyone, especially for fans of speculative fiction and students of writing.

The End of All Seasons ($2.99 eBook)

Paul Genesse
Author of the Iron Dragon Series
Editor of The Crimson Pact Series

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Necessary Evil (The Milkweed Triptych, #3)Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Review of Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis


(No spoilers)

I really loved this series and it was fun to read the third and concluding novel of the Milkweed Triptych, Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis. The plot threads were nicely tied up, and I was constantly surprised with the direction of the book.

The first two, Bitter Seeds and Coldest War were amazingly good (see my reviews of both) and Necessary Evil kept up the tension. I won’t ruin the first two books here, as the beauty of the series relies heavily on not knowing what’s coming. Overall, I think the first two books had me more worried about the characters and their fates, but Necessary Evil was excellent. I still never knew what was going to happen.

Gretel, the character who can see the future is back and the interludes from her point of view were brilliant. The chapters when we get into her mind were my favorites. The turn her character takes later in the book was unexpected for me, but I can totally understand why it happened. I don’t know what else the writer could have done with a goddess like character to make the rest of the novel work, but I wasn’t expecting the series of events involving her shift. Never trust Gretel is still the best advice anyone can give.

The Coldest War (The Milkweed Triptych, #2)

This was a very unique and ambitious series, and book one, Bitter Seeds was an incredible achievement. Book two, The Coldest War blew my mind, especially the ending, and I wondered how the third novel would compare. For me, the second book was probably the peak of the series as far as high drama and tension, and Necessary Evil was not as epic in some ways, though it was a worthy conclusion. I think reading the three books back to back to back would be best, as there are clues in book one and especially two that will improve the experience of the reader in book three. All the books are so interdependent with each other it’s hard to separate them. Having book two fresh in your mind when reading book two would be best.

The author created such a complicated web that little things mean a lot, and small events change the course of history. Pulling it all together in the finale was a fantastic achievement and the epilogue had a lot of heart. I was so glad to read the last chapter, as some writers fail to deliver there, but Tregillis pulled it off perfectly.

If you’re a fan of alternate history, spies, characters with super-powers, and great writing, read this series for sure.

Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis
Highly Recommended 5/5 Stars

Paul Genesse

View all my reviews

I love this cover much more than the U.S. cover.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


My 2013 Conduit experience was amazing. I was chosen as the local guest of honor (my first time being a guest of honor), and had such a fantastic time. I've never been busier at a con, and was on a ton of panels, did a bunch of events, and met up with a lot of great people. The whole weekend served as the launch for my newest book, A Walk in the Abyss from New Babel Books, which features my novelettes: "No-Tusks" about an underdog orc slave, and the story I co-wrote with Shane Moore, "A Kudekah to Remember" which is about a sasquatch (greyshalk). Many of the events promoted this book, and all in all, it was a "Monster" weekend.

Paul's Friday May 24 Schedule:
1:00 PM - Steampunk: More than just a passing craze? (Paul Genesse, Dan Willis, Brandon Almond, Steve Diamond, Shantall Pitman)

The panel went really well and we had a lot of fun discussing the awesomeness that is steampunk. I really need to turn my novelette, The Nubian Queen in Steampunk'd into a full length novel.
2:00 PM - Keeping Readers Glued to Your Book (no actual glue required) (Larry Correia, Paul Genesse, Eric Swedin, Adrienne Monson)

Eric Swedin was a great moderator and we had a lot of fun discussing tension, conflict, and ways to keep the readers interested.
4:00 PM - Paul Genesse and Patrick Tracy's Reading. Pat read from "Mungo the Undying" and I read from "No-Tusks." It was lots of fun. I also did a public service announcement: Save the Orcs. (Read it below and the video will be available at some point).

Save the Orcs. Every year, tens of thousands of orcs are hewn down to provide experience points, treasure and emergency rations for heartless adventurers. By making a contribution, you can make a difference. They need all the comfort, support and any small, tasty children that you can spare. Please, think of the orcs.

Find the t-shirt here:

7:00 PM—A viewing (on DVD and live) of a hilarious reading of No-Tusks by Pat Tracy and Paul Genesse from ConDuit 2011

8:00-12:00 PM - Orcs vs Giants vs Greyshalks Role-Playing Game

The first big event on Friday was the D&D Game I ran for some all star players. Friday night I hosted: "ORCS VS. GIANTS VS. GREYSHALKS!" It was such an awesome game, with 12 players, plus another 4 more once we got going. The GIANTS of the Bloody Hair Tribe: Patrick Tracy, Larry Correia, Bob Defindi, Jayrod Garrett. The GREYSHALKS: Layne Lowder, Russ Cook, Nate Tooley, Jessica Rice, and Brett Peterson. The ORCS of the Iron Spear Tribe: Steve Diamond, Zachary Hill, Daniel Swenson, Joe Coleman, Don Darling. 

It was one of those games that came out so perfectly. We all had such a good time and it was collaborative storytelling at its best. The game ended up being way better than I had anticipated, and handling that many players was daunting, but it all worked out great. One big highlight was Pat Tracy voicing the dragon, Vermithrax toward the end, and he was incredible. The microphone and amplifier really made it fun.

Getting to play in Shane Moore's world, which we explore in the anthology was so much fun.
Check out the anthology on Amazon here.

Paul's Saturday May 25 Schedule

11:00 AM - Paul Genesse signing with Larry Correia, Patrick Tracy and Zachary Hill

The signing was fun and Pat, Zack and I signed all the A Walk in the Abyss books for the party later.

12:00 PM - Giving your Characters Character: Help for Role Players (Paul Genesse, Bob Defendi, Revan+Joe+Layne from Dungeon Crawlers Radio). 

Great panel on creating characters, and all the guys were so well spoken. I was very impressed.

3:00 PM -The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - a fun, "expert-fan" analysis (Paul Genesse, Blake 
Casselman, Bob Defendi, and Gollum)

We had a lot fun on this panel and discussed the movie with the crowd. We all can't wait for the second movie.

6:00 PM-- Release Party (Here's part of the poster)

SATURDAY 6:00-8:00PM



Author Amber Argyle of the GREYSHALK TRIBE won the growling contest in EPIC fashion. She is terrifying! She was awarded the honorary title of: Chief Grim Throat the Wicked and was named QUEEN OF THE GREYSHALKS!

The skunk tossing contest was won by this very excitable young man, I believe of the GREYSHALK tribe. He was named: Chief Stinky Hands the Pungent!

The Competitive Worm Eating contest was won by Dennis Lundstrom of the GREYSHALK TRIBE who ate 22 disgusting grub worms (gummy worms) in only 60 seconds. He was named: Chief Iron Gut the Worm Digger!!
The GREYSHALK TRIBE dominated the competition, shaming the Bloody Hair tribe of giants, and the Iron Spear Tribe. Julie, particularly loud ORC of the Iron Spear Tribe did win the Howling Contest, but it was of little consolation. She was named: Chief Wolf Snout the Yowler.

Fun was had by all and A Walk in the Abyss had a great book launch.

Paul's Sunday May 26 Schedule
12:00 PM - Write About What You Know (Larry Correia, Paul Genesse)

It was the "Paul and Larry Show." We rocked it and had the audience laughing and learning in equal amounts. Good times and I love being on panels with Larry. He's the man.

1:00 Beat the Geeks: Tolkien Trivia. 

I was invited to participate and was crushed by the Julie Andelin, who smashed me with extreme prejudice. She answered four questions and I got zero. The questions were hard. I had no idea what the name of Frodo's mother was: (Primula), or the other elf besides Elrond who counseled Isildur to throw the One Ring into Mount Doom (Cirdan), or the other two questions. Something about Saruman and when he first looked into the Palantir.  

3:00 PM - Paul Genesse: Guest of Honor Address: Becoming a Dragonslayer: Good Career Move or the Dumbest Thing I've Ever Done.
My keynote address was a modified and longer version of the speech I gave at SLC Nerd 2013. It's only 35 minutes long and the video is below.

Final Panel: 4:00 PM - "The Best Advice I was ever Given…" (Larry Correia, Paul Genesse, Eric James Stone, Dan Willis, Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury). I think we were all a little tired, but it went pretty well and I tried to keep the audience laughing. My best advice: "Don't wiz on the electric fence." (said in the voice of Ren from Ren and Stimpy). Seriously, my best advice: Keep going and enjoy the journey.

The end of Conduit was spent being interviewed by Russ Cook and Tom Carr of Residual Hauntings Revived. We spoke about the role playing game on Friday night and had a great time. This pic pretty much sums it up. I had them laughing. The video will follow eventually.

My 40th birthday was a few days after the release party (May 29th) and my buddy, Russ Cook photo -shopped this picture adding in Pinky and the Honey Badger, which are both mentioned in my keynote address video.


When Angels Wept: A What If History Of The Cuban Missile Crisis by Eric G. Swedin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


This exceptional history/alternate history book chilled me to the core. Students of the Cold War know how close the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. came to nuclear war in October 1962, and this book describes what could have happened. The author purports to be an Australian historian writing in 1996, which is 36 years after The Fire. The book starts with a description of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961. The Kennedy administration inherited the plan from the Eisenhower administration, and JFK never fully embraced the invasion, nor thought through the outcome. The seeds of destruction were sown in that poorly planned and thought out attack on Cuba.

When Angels Wept Eric G. Swedin is a very engrossing and readable history book. On page 167 (of 274) the alternate history truly begins. President John F. Kennedy takes the advice of his generals and launches conventional bombing raids on Cuba to destroy the nuclear missile launching pads the Soviets and Cubans were constructing. Bad weather, or one spy plane flight, done a few days later than it actually flew, could have been the whole difference in global nuclear war.

The book does an excellent job of describing the principal characters, JFK, Nikita Khruschev, Fidel Castro, warmongering General Curtis LeMay, and several others. It also describes the run-up to the conflict, especially the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, which JFK completely bungled. What I never understood before was that JFK’s mistakes during that period informed him later so that he did not make the same mistakes during those 13 days in October. In this alternate version he does make a terrible mistake and attacks Cuba, which leads to nuclear war. The U.S. did not know that the Russians had brought tactical nuclear weapons to Cuba and were prepared to use them in case of an invasion, which turns out to be the trigger for the Kennedy administration.

A nuclear attack by the Russians in 1962 was suicide for them, though Khruschev apparently did not understand that at the time. The U.S. had a far superior bomber force, and many more long-range missiles, which the excellent author, Eric Swedin points out in great detail. General LeMay was correct in thinking that it was a “good time” to have a nuclear war, as the U.S. would devastate the U.S.S.R., but the cost would still be incredibly high for the U.S. and the world. The U.S. would have been the “winner,” but mainland Europe, Britain, China, Japan, Korea, and Russia would have been annihilated. If nuclear war had occurred in the 70’s or 80’s it would have been so much worse, but even in 1962 the nuclear apocalypse would have been beyond awful.

The last 100+ pages of the book make for gripping reading and are terrifying. Reading about the war plans of both sides and seeing what the collateral effects would have been scared me big time. Also, the mention of civil war in the U.S. after the conflict and the surprising vice president who takes office in the next election fascinated me. The conclusions and the analysis of the whole situation make this book worth the read. I had a hard time putting it down and kept thinking about it when I was not reading.

When Angels Wept won the prestigious Sidewise Award and it deserves all the acclaim it has garnered. If you area student of history, or lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, I think you’ll find this book fascinating, and horrifying.

The world came so close to destruction in 1962, and examining the potential outcomes helps us all realize how important it is to have intelligent, well-informed, and strong leadership world-wide.

Paul Genesse

View all my reviews