Kelly McCullough


Review the First: Libyrinth [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], by Pearl North.  This is a postapocalyptic YA novel which opens in the Libyrinth, a library so massive it’s almost a city.  Opposing the Libyrarians are the Eradicants, who seek to destroy the written word.  What starts out with a Fahrenheit 451 feel gets more complex when Haly, who has the ability to hear books, is captured by Eradicants.

There’s a lot I liked about this one.  The written word vs. oral tradition conflict taken to such extremes was both fascinating and highly disturbing.  The random excerpts Haly hears from various books throughout the story added a layer of surreality.  And of course I enjoyed her little goblinlike companion Nod.

My one problem with the book comes from Clauda’s story, which felt too neat.  Without spoiling the ending, the wing felt too much like a deus ex machina on two levels.  Overall though, a good, thoughtful read.


Next up is Spellcrash [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy], by Kelly McCullough.  If you liked the other books, you’ll like this last one.  If not, don’t read it.  You definitely need to read the first four to understand this one, which takes all of the open plot threads and brings them together in one raven-shaped snarl.

These are fun, fast reads, and I’ve enjoyed them all.  I liked how McCullough wrapped things up, though occasionally it almost felt too neat.  Overall, a very satisfying ending.

One aspect bugs me.  I appreciated McCullough’s take on the Persephone myth in book two, which is treated as rape with no excuses or minimizing.  Persephone is back in this book … and her treatment made me uncomfortable.  Our hero Raven is a trickster.  It’s his nature, and McCullough stresses how these mythological figures are incapable of denying that divine nature.  Yet Raven is ever serious with Persephone.  She is his maiden in a tower, very much on the pedestal.  While I appreciate McCullough’s awareness of the trauma and pain the character has been through, it felt like she’s defined by her victimhood.

It’s still a better treatment of rape than in many books I’ve read, and I did enjoy this book a lot, but I’m continuing to try to sort out my reaction to that particular aspect.


I received The Guild [Amazon | B&N], Seasons 1 + 2 for Christmas.  The Guild is a web-based show about a group of online gamers, and it’s very much geek humor.  I wanted to like it, but I’m afraid it didn’t really work for me.  My biggest problem is that I just don’t like the characters.  They have their moments, and Felicia Day’s character comes closest to being sympathetic, but I wasn’t invested in them.

The second season was better than the first, so I may check it out online to see if it continues to improve.


Finally, there’s Chicks Dig Time Lords [Amazon | B&N | Mysterious Galaxy].  (My copy is extra awesome, since it’s autographed by editor Lynne Thomas.)  From the back cover:

“A host of award-winning female novelists, academics and actresses come together to celebrate the phenomenon that is Doctor Who.”

As a new fan, this was an interesting read.  I think the more of a fan you are, the more you’ll appreciate the book.  For me, there were some essays that I had to smile and nod, as they referred to doctors I hadn’t met yet, or storylines I didn’t know.  But there’s something neat about making that sense-of-wonder connection, which is what you get in a lot of these essays.  A fun read for fans, but don’t hand it to someone unfamiliar with Doctor Who.


Your turn.  If you’ve read/watched any of these, what did you think?  Or if you want to talk about another recent read, feel free.  I can always use more books for my wish list!

First Book Friday: Kelly McCullough

Welcome to the last First Book Friday of 2010.  I’ll be taking a break for the next few weeks, but we’ll hopefully get more author stories next month.  Finishing out the year is Kelly McCullough.

Kelly’s series blends mythology, magic, and hacking, but most importantly, he also writes about webgoblins.  And as we all know, goblins make everything better.  (Click here for my thoughts on some of his books.)

Kelly’s web site doesn’t include much biographical information.  Therefore we are free, nay obligated, to make stuff up.  I’ll start by revealing that Kelly McCullough used to make extra money as a crash test dummy for Go Carts.


I started writing seriously in 1990, finishing my 1st novel in about four months. I did it mostly because I’d met a wonderful woman who I intended to marry.

I wanted to have something approaching a normal life as well as a successful marriage and for me that meant giving up theater a career trajectory I had been on since the age of 11. Writing a novel was artistic methadone for my theater addiction. It also turned out to be a much more compelling artistic drug, at least for me, but I didn’t know that going in.

The novel was called Uriel and it’s currently trunked. It was a contemporary fantasy written around a mafia hitman/vampire protagonist and the return of magic into the world with the coming of the harmonic convergence. Despite that, it actually didn’t suck and I may some day write it again from scratch since I still love the plot. It even got some moderately hard nibbles from big New York houses. If I’d known then what I know now I might have been able to rewrite it to spec from one of those rejections and sell it to the editor in question.

Not knowing that and having my first-born novel rejected was the best awful thing that ever happened to me because it forced me to keep growing as a writer and to try something different. If I’d sold Uriel straight out of the gate, I might well be into my second decade of a mediocre but possibly quite successful career.

My 2nd novel was a fantasy farce called Swine Prince. It also got serious attention from New York, though it never quite cleared the bar. It’s on its third major incarnation at this point and off seeking a publisher once again. It’s fast, it’s funny, and in its current form it might well sell. Not selling it right of the gate was the 2nd best awful thing that happened to me, for pretty much the same reasons. You might be starting to see a pattern.

My 3rd novel was a traditional fantasy piece, book one of a trilogy. It’s currently trunked, but might well be rewritten and sold since the world and magic system I built it on provides the scaffold for my Kingslayer books, three of which are forthcoming from Ace in 2011 and 2012. Not selling it was the 3rd best awful… Etc.

My 4th novel was a category-defying book called WebMage [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], call it cyberfantasy with humorous undertones. I wrote it in 1998/1999 after taking a novel hiatus to write short stories. It’s the book that got me an agent. It started being shopped around in 2000, the year I was a Writers of the Future winner but it didn’t sell then, and that was the 4th most…

Somewhere in here, I formulated my basic view of the publishing industry and breaking in. Selling your book is like trying to knock down a brick wall with your forehead. It seems an impossible task until you remember that your forehead heals and the wall doesn’t, so if you’re persistent…

I wrote a 5th book, Winter of Discontent, and a 6th, Numismancer, and a 7th, The Urbana. As I was outlining my 8th, Chalice, I got a call from my agent. It was in the middle of the biggest family mess of my entire life which was an awful thing with no redeeming features.

Because of that, I was pretty distracted when I got the call. So much so that it wasn’t until my knees gave out that I realized my agent was telling me he’d just landed a two book deal for WebMage and a sequel. Then I was sitting down.

The funny thing was that I wasn’t wildly happy, as I’d always expected to be when I got that news. No, I was just profoundly relieved. All of the work and sacrifice and pain wasn’t going to have been for nothing. Later, I was happy and giddy and all those other things, but the first feeling was simple relief. I hadn’t chosen the wrong path.

I wrote two more novels before WebMage hit the shelves, Chalice, and the sequel to WebMage, Cybermancy.

So, how do you get from first book written to first book on the shelves of your local bookstore? In my case, you write a bunch more books. You keep going no matter the disappointment and you keep trying to make each book better than and different from the last one, and someday the wall comes down.

Open Book Thread

I’ve fallen behind in book reviews, so I’m going to do a multibook post, starting with Mainspring [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], by Jay Lake.  Lake envisions a clockwork universe where the Earth orbits the sun on a great track, with an equatorial gear twenty miles wide … and the Mainspring of the world is winding down.  Apprentice clockmaker Hethor Jacques must find the Key Perilous and rewind the Earth’s mainspring.

I loved the “What if?” of this book, the central idea and the exploration of how a clockwork universe would work, both the mechanics and the implications for the inhabitants of that world, their beliefs and ideas.  (Though I still don’t understand how such a world would have seasons.)  The characters … Hethor took a while to grow on me.  And there’s an underlying noble savage thing going on with the southern “correct people” that makes me uncomfortable.  Overall, I think the idea was stronger than the story, but the story wasn’t bad, and the idea was fascinating.  I’m interested in checking out Escapement, the sequel.


Next up is MythOS [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon], by Kelly McCullough.  This is the fourth of McCullough’s books about magical hacker Ravirn/Raven and his webgoblin Melchior.  I’ve enjoyed this series a lot.  They’re fast-paced, interesting, page-turners with just the right amount of humor.  Or maybe I just have a weakness for all things goblin.

This time around Raven finds himself in an alternate universe, one which runs on a Norse mythology OS instead of the Greek system he’s used to.  It’s an interesting switch, and livens up the series as Raven gets drawn into new conflicts and has to figure out a whole new system of magic.  The second book remains my favorite, but I’d put this one as runner up.

This is the fourth book in a series.  If you liked the others, you’ll like this one.  If you didn’t, why are you still reading the series?  Really, people…


I mentioned Laura Resnick‘s Doppelgangster [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] in her First Book Friday post — this is book two in a series that started with a Luna title, then jumped to DAW.  You can tell it’s a second book, but Doppelgangster stands alone pretty well.  The most fascinating thing to me about this book is that it’s urban fantasy in which the protagonist is pure human.  No magic, no mixed genetics, no nothing.  That’s something I haven’t seen much of, and I enjoyed it.

Esther Diamond is a struggling actress and waitress in New York.  Her restaurant gig happens to be a popular mobster hangout, and the mobsters are starting to die from magical means.  Diamond and her friend Max the Magician need to figure out what’s going on and stop it.  To complicate things, her potential boyfriend Lopez is also a New York detective — and he doesn’t believe in magic.  The mobsters sometimes felt a little over-the-top, but overall it was a fun adventure.


Finally, there’s Dog Days [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] by John Levitt.  Our hero Mason is a gifted magician, though he appears to lack the discipline to fulfill his potential.  He’s currently making a living as a jazz magician.  More importantly, he has a magical companion named Louie, an ifrit who takes the form of a small dog.  For everyone who’s gotten tired of fantasy authors and their cat-loving ways, this is the book for you.

The magic system was fairly loose and undefined, but this worked with Mason’s improvisational style, which fits well with his jazz background.  But that may not be enough when a powerful enemy decides he wants Mason dead, for reasons that would spoil the whole book if I shared them.  I appreciated the mystery and revelation, though the bad guy felt a bit flat.  But sometimes evil, nasty villains make for fun reading.  Plus, magic dog!


So there’s some of what I’ve been reading over the past few months.  What about you?  If you’ve read any of these, what did you think?  If you’ve been reading something else, feel free to share.  I need to build up my wish list for the holidays 🙂

Books Read

Haven’t posted any book reviews lately.  Shame on me!  Must remedy this…

First up, The Secret History of Moscow [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] by Ekaterina Sedia.  From the synopsis:

“Galina is a young woman caught, like her contemporaries, in the seeming lawlessness of the new Russia. In the midst of this chaos, her sister Maria turns into a jackdaw and flies away – prompting Galina to join Yakov, a policeman investigating a rash of recent disappearances.”

If you’re looking for quick-paced, action-heavy fantasy, this probably isn’t the book for you.  If you’re looking for deep characterization and a much richer cultural background than your average American fantasy novel, I’d definitely recommend it.

Not a cheerful book, but I enjoyed it a lot, particularly the characters from Russian folklore.  I think the Celestial Cow was my favorite.  Sedia has a beautiful writing style, and it’s so refreshing to read something different.


Next up, CodeSpell [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy] by Kelly McCullough.  This is the third book about Ravirn, descendant of fates and magical hacker extraordinaire.  CodeSpell continues where the last book left off, with Raviern working to restore Necessity while trying to survive a new and powerful enemy.

These books are in many ways the yin to Sedia’s yang.  Short, fast, and fun.  I zip right through them, enjoying the ride immensely.  With that said, I didn’t think this one was quite as good as the previous book, Cybermancy.  Cybermancy felt like it had a clearer plot, and the issues surrounding Persephone made that book far more powerful to me.  In CodeSpell, I didn’t feel as emotionally invested in saving Necessity.

I did enjoy seeing Ravirn’s development. It was interesting to see McCullough show how his growth affected his relationships.  Zeus was fun to meet in this one, and of course I always enjoy Melchior the webgoblin.

If you like my goblin books, I think there’s a good chance you’d like this series.  And if you enjoyed the first two Ravirn books, go pick up CodeSpell.  I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in #4.


Currently reading Michael Jasper‘s book A Gathering of Doorways [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].  Like much of Jasper’s work, this is a modern-day fantasy with a cast of vivid, flawed, gritty characters.  No pretty quests here.  Gil and Melissa are a farming couple whose marriage is already in trouble.  When their son Noah goes missing in the Undercity, they each set out to try to save him.

I’ll have more thoughts on this one later.  For now, I’m enjoying learning about the Undercity, though I wish I could have gotten more information earlier in the book.  The strained relationship between Gil and Melissa is painful, but believable.  I don’t think it’s my favorite Michael Jasper work (I’d probably reserve that for The Wannoshay Cycle), but I’m most of the way through and hoping to finish it up before heading to ConFusion.


Your turn.  If you’ve read any of these, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  And what else has everyone been reading lately?  Any recommendations for the rest of us?

Book Roundup

I picked up a copy of Kelly McCullough‘s Cybermancy [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], in the dealer’s room this weekend and read it on the plane ride home.  I reviewed WebMage [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], earlier this year, and Cybermancy was even better (which is how it should be).

Basically, if you liked the first book, you should definitely pick up the second.  Cybermancy brings back magical hacker Raven/Ravirn and his webgoblin companion and throws them into even more trouble than last time. It’s got the same fast pacing, the same humor, but McCullough also shows a more serious side, taking an unflinching look at the story of Persephone.  I really appreciated his take on that one. Ravirn’s relationship angst felt a little too predictable, but nowhere near as bad as your average sitcom, and overall I really liked this one.  Book three is already on my wish list 🙂


Other new books to check out:

Bitter Night [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by Diana P Francis.  Book one of the Horngate Witches Books.

Indigo Springs [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by A.M. Dellamonica.

By the Mountain Bound [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy], by Elizabeth Bear. This is the prequel to All the Windwracked Stars.

So, anyone have any thoughts or comments on these?  If not, what else is out there that we should all be reading?


Jim C. Hines