Saturday, March 27, 2010

What else is in WARRIORS?

For those of you who are wondering whether the rest of the stories in the new WARRIORS anthology -- besides Diana Gabaldon's "The Custom of the Army" -- are worth reading, here is a short description of the ones that I liked, in no particular order. (Everybody's tastes differ, so this is strictly my personal opinion. If you have any comments on the stories in WARRIORS, feel free to post them here.)

Some spoilers below. Don't read below if you don't want to know yet!

S

P

O

I

L

E

R

S

1) "Forever Bound", by Joe Haldeman. The story of a futuristic military program in which a team of five men and five women are "jacked", forever linked to one another by means of an electronic implant in each person's skull which enables them to share the thoughts and feelings of all of the other members of the group. An intriguing premise, and somewhat reminiscent of the movie "Avatar".

2) "Clean Slate", by Lawrence Block. An incest survivor turns serial killer, in an attempt to wipe out the memories of her father's sexual abuse. Chilling, but very well-written.

3) "Soldierin'", by Joe R. Lansdale. A humorous look at the Buffalo Soldiers, a troop of black cavalry fighting Indians on the frontier, circa 1870. I liked the narrator's cynical outlook on life, and his dry wit.

4) "The Pit", by James Rollins. Dog-lovers will find this story disturbing, although it has a positive ending. The story of a dog stolen from its suburban home and forced to compete in a series of savage dog-fights in which losing means death. Told from the dog's point of view. (If you want to read a much lighter and more enjoyable story from the point of view of a dog, try THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN, by Garth Stein. I loved that book, and I'm not even a dog-owner.)

5) "The Girls from Avenger", by Carrie Vaughn. This is the story of Em, one of a group of female pilots during World War II known as the Women's Air Service Pilots (WASP). When one of her fellow female pilots is killed in an accident, Em battles the sexism and condescension of the men in the chain of command in order to learn the truth of what happened to her friend. A well-written story, one of my favorites in the collection.

6) "Out of the Dark", by David Weber. A tale of alien invasion of Earth, told partly from the point of view of the aliens (which I found quite amusing at times) and partly from the point of view of the human survivors. The story ends with a completely unexpected plot twist.

7) "The Scroll", by David Ball. I liked this story very much. A man is captured by the emperor of Morocco and given a brutal choice: kill, or watch others die instead. But he is a Christian, and so he refuses to give in to the emperor's demands. A fascinating, and ultimately heartbreaking, contest of wills ensues.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A little news

WARRIORS Update

As of 3/25/2010, Amazon.com appears finally to have fixed the issues with the WARRIORS anthology (containing Diana Gabaldon's latest Lord John story, "The Custom of the Army").

The Kindle version of WARRIORS reappeared on Amazon's site yesterday. Click here to download it. The hardcover edition is also available on Amazon, here.

I have no connection whatever with Amazon.com. I did, however, mention the problems (and the frustration they were causing!) to Diana on Wednesday, and it appears that she may have contacted someone who could actually do something about it. So, if I helped in some small way to get the problem fixed, I'm happy about that.

Family Tree in German Edition of ECHO

Some of you may have seen the Fraser/MacKenzie family tree which was included with the German edition of AN ECHO IN THE BONE. Susanne Pilastro, a German fan who created this very detailed and beautifully illustrated family tree, was kind enough to post a photo of it on Compuserve so that those of us who do not have access to ECHO DER HOFFNUNG can enjoy it, too.

The link to the picture of the family tree is here.

*** PLEASE NOTE ***

Susanne has asked that people NOT post this picture all over the Internet! If you want to link to the discussion about it on Compuserve, or to the photo itself (as I did above), that's fine, but please don't upload the picture to your own site.

Comments and questions about the family tree should be directed to dante-milano@web.de (or post in the thread on Compuserve). If you are a German-speaker, you can visit Susanne's OUTLANDER blog for more information.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Book Review: BLACKOUT by Connie Willis

Like many OUTLANDER fans, I'm a lifelong reader of time-travel stories. I loved Connie Willis's novel, DOOMSDAY BOOK, about a time-traveler who goes back to the year 1348 and the Black Death, and so I was really looking forward to the newest Connie Willis time-travel book, titled BLACKOUT. The premise is similar to DOOMSDAY BOOK: time-traveling historians from the mid-21st century going back to observe past events -- in this case, in WWII England during the time of the Blitz. It's a time period that I really don't know much about, and so I was intrigued, and looking forward to this story very much.


However....BLACKOUT left me feeling underwhelmed. It is deliberately being marketed as the first half of a two-part story, and I'm not sure I'm going to bother with the second part when it comes out later this year.

Warning: Major spoilers below! Don't read below if you don't want to know yet.

S

P

O

I

L

E

R

S

The opening pages set the tone for the whole book. Characters rushing around from one place to another, pages and pages of very tedious explanations of how person A just missed encountering person B, and maybe B's gone off to X, so person A goes chasing after them, only to discover they're actually at Y instead, but "Better hurry because the [wherever they're going] is about to close!" ....which sends A racing off again, in a fruitless and futile search for whoever it is he's trying to find. This sort of situation occurs over and over and over again throughout this book. It got very tiresome after a while.

The sections set in the year 2060 suffer from the same curiously low-tech communications system that was evident in DOOMSDAY BOOK. No cell phones, no answering machines, no Internet, no email. And this is supposed to be 50 years in our future? I didn't find it believable.

I liked many of the parts set in WWII-era England. The descriptions of what life was like during the Blitz, what the shelters were like, how people were warned that even lighting a match for a cigarette at night could be enough to draw an enemy bomber....I found all of that very interesting. Ditto the children being evacuated (I didn't know they had housed evacuee children in manor houses, for example). And the Dunkirk storyline was quite interesting, too.

(Fascinating to think about these events from the perspective of an OUTLANDER fan, by the way. It's very easy, after reading this book, to picture Roger and his mum and grandmother hurrying to the nearby shelter in a tube station, or living in a small flat somewhere in England with blackout shades drawn tight over the windows every evening. Or Roger himself, as a frightened five-year-old orphan, sent off to live with his great-uncle after his mother was killed in the Blitz.)

Most of the things I didn't like about this book concerned the time-travelers themselves. I thought they seemed to be far too dependent on their historical research, instead of using common sense. At one point, a character realizes that she needs to learn to drive. So instead of potentially embarrassing herself by not knowing how to open a 1940's car door (!), she goes back to the time portal (the "drop") and returns to the future to get instruction on how to drive a car. What's wrong with simply watching carefully and copying what other people from that time period are doing?? (Can you imagine Claire or Roger popping back through the stones to look up information from the historical record every time they encounter an unfamiliar situation? Neither can I.)

Several of these time-travelers seemed to lack common sense, being much more concerned with trivialities than with observing the people around them (which was, I thought, the point of the time-traveling in the first place). They seem unable to think quickly or cope with the unexpected...hardly desirable qualities in potential time-travelers! (Kivrin, the time-traveler from THE DOOMSDAY BOOK, seems by contrast both far more intelligent and far better prepared to cope with changing circumstances than any of the time-travelers in this book.)

As one of the reviewers on Amazon put it, "I would not drop this lot off in a mall parking lot far from home and expect them to live." And while that's a bit harsh <g>, I think it's not much of an exaggeration.

In the last part of the book, the incessant refrain, "But this was time travel!" became really annoying after a while. The idea was that their rescuers had (literally) "all the time in the world" to find a way to get to the time-travelers stuck in 1940, so why hadn't they come? I couldn't help asking a different question: If the time-travelers had all the time in the world to plan and prepare for their various journeys into the past, why were they in such an ungodly hurry in the beginning of the book, rushed into assignments without sufficient preparation, etc? It didn't make any sense to me, except as a way to set up the plot.

All in all, I have to say I was disappointed with this book. I really wanted to like it, but in the end, the negatives outweighed the positives. The book ended with a cliffhanger, but not one that's powerful or interesting enough to make me eager to read part 2 of the story.

The sequel, ALL CLEAR, is due out in November 2010.

Monday, March 22, 2010

All About Romance article on audiobooks

I was interested to see that Outlandish Observations was mentioned in the "All About Romance" blog today. The subject: favorite audiobook narrators. And #2 on their list is none other than Davina Porter, narrator of the unabridged OUTLANDER audiobooks.

As many of you know, I've been an OUTLANDER-audiobook addict for about the last three years. (I'm currently listening to DRAGONFLY -- again <g> -- on my iPod.) I just love Davina Porter's readings.

As the "All About Romance" article puts it:
With her Scots heritage (English father and Scottish mother) as well as the fact that she is married to a Scot, [Ms. Porter] knows how to deliver those Scottish accents and can effectively perform numerous dialects in one scene – and often all men. Describing Ms. Porter’s voice isn’t an easy task since there is so much to praise. It’s completely soothing to the ear, cultivated, engaging, and basically “right on” for any character.

If you haven't yet listened to the OUTLANDER audiobooks, you can hear free samples on audible.com. (That's the way I got hooked, back in the spring of 2007. <g>) And all of the unabridged audiobooks are available through Recorded Books.

Oh - and the reason for my blog being mentioned in this article? That would be the very interesting two-part video interview with Davina Porter which I blogged about in early 2009. (If you haven't yet seen it, it's well worth watching. A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at what it's like to do what she does.)

The ironic part about all this, of course, is that I'm not actually a reader of romance novels. <g> Diana Gabaldon sometimes talks about readers who "wouldn't be caught dead in the Romance section of a bookstore", and I am definitely one of them. Not that I have anything against Romance as a genre, I hasten to add! It's just not a genre that appeals to me. So I'm amused and flattered that my blog got a mention on a site that's geared toward readers of romance novels. Thanks very much to Lea Hensley at All About Romance for the article!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

OUTLANDER Links, Part 9: Historical Events

Here are some paintings and other images showing events depicted in the OUTLANDER and Lord John books.

"Death of Brig-General Simon Fraser Ygr of Balnain (1729-1777)" by Benjamin West. I found the image below on the Clan Fraser of Canada site. (Click on the picture to see a full-size view.) Can't you just imagine Jamie kneeling by the General's bedside, with Claire nearby and William hovering somewhere in the background?



"The Idle 'Prentice Executed at Tyburn", by William Hogarth (1747). Whenever I read the part in BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE where Lord John encounters the mob at Tyburn, I think of this famous engraving. The amount of detail in it is just amazing. (Again, click on the picture to see what I mean.) Whether it's a representation of a real or fictional hanging at Tyburn, it certainly gives a very vivid impression of what it must have been like!



"French Fireships Attacking the English Fleet off Quebec" (painting by Dominic Serres, the Elder, 1767). This incident is portrayed in Diana Gabaldon's new Lord John story, "The Custom of the Army".



An antique postcard depicting the Citadel of Quebec and the Plains of Abraham, with a view of the famous cliff. There's a lot more about this incident in "The Custom of the Army".



And finally, here is a photo I found on webshots.com which shows the Leannach farmhouse, near Culloden, where Jamie waited with the other officers who had survived the battle.

Old Leanach Cottage

If you find these links interesting, check out my previous "OUTLANDER Links" blog entries:

OUTLANDER Links, Part 14: 18th Century Clothing

OUTLANDER Links, Part 13: Plants and Herbs

OUTLANDER Links, Part 12: Standing Stones

OUTLANDER Links, Part 11: Science and Technology

OUTLANDER Links, Part 10: Weaponry

OUTLANDER Links, Part 8: 18th Century Medicine

OUTLANDER Links, Part VII: Gemstones

OUTLANDER Links, Part VI: Wildlife

OUTLANDER Links, Part V: Castles and Palaces

OUTLANDER Links, Part IV: Native Americans

OUTLANDER Links, Part III: All Things Scottish

OUTLANDER Links, Part II: Colonial North Carolina

OUTLANDER Links, Part I: Culloden

What Do These Things Look Like?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Leaf on the Wind" coming in November

I discovered today that the upcoming anthology, SONGS OF LOVE AND DEATH (formerly known as STAR-CROSSED LOVERS), is available for pre-order on Amazon.

This is the collection that contains Diana Gabaldon's story, "A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows", the story of Roger MacKenzie's parents.

According to the Amazon listing, the publication date is November 16, 2010. Look here for the table of contents, and here for excerpts from "Leaf on the Wind".

Monday, March 15, 2010

"Custom of the Army" FAQ

A lot of people have been asking about Diana Gabaldon's latest story, "The Custom of the Army". I thought I'd try to collect the answers in one place. Please pass this on to anyone you think might be interested. (Last updated September 1, 2011.)

1) What is "The Custom of the Army" and where can I find it?

This is a Lord John story, a 30,000-word novella, originally published in hardcover in March, 2010, in the WARRIORS anthology (edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois). The story is also available in paperback in WARRIORS 3, which was published in August, 2011.

2) Where does this story fit into the timeline of the other Lord John books/stories?


"Custom" takes place in 1759, after the events in BROTHERHOOD OF THE BLADE and "Haunted Soldier".

3) How can I get an autographed copy of WARRIORS or WARRIORS 3?


All of Diana Gabaldon's books are available through the Poisoned Pen bookstore, which is her local bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona. They ship all over the world. If you want a signed copy of WARRIORS or WARRIORS 3, please contact the Poisoned Pen.

4) Is there an audio version of "Custom of the Army"?


Yes.  The unabridged audio version of WARRIORS (including "Custom") was released in CD and mp3 versions on March 29, 2011.

5) What about a Kindle edition of WARRIORS?


You can download the Kindle version of WARRIORS here.

6) There are three different mass-market paperback editions of WARRIORS.  Which one contains Diana Gabaldon's story?

"The Custom of the Army" is included in WARRIORS 3, which was released on August 2, 2011 in mass-market paperback format (that's the small size paperback).  Look here for more details, or click on the picture below to go to the Amazon order page for WARRIORS 3.



7) I haven't yet read AN ECHO IN THE BONE. Can this story be read before ECHO?


Yes. There are a few places where it will help to be familiar with the events of ECHO, but I think you can definitely enjoy "Custom of the Army" even if you haven't read ECHO. (The story does, however, assume some degree of familiarity with the previous Lord John books/stories.)

8) Where can I go to discuss this story?


There's an in-depth discussion on Compuserve here.

9) What is the significance of the title, "The Custom of the Army"?


Read the story and you'll find out. <g>

Saturday, March 13, 2010

More fun with Random Art

While we're waiting for Diana Gabaldon's new Lord John story, "The Custom of the Army", to be published on March 16, I thought I'd see what the Random Art site could do with the title of the novella.



The Custom of the Army - This one was my first attempt. It's a little abstract and unfocused for Lord John, so I don't like it as much as the later ones.




Custom of the Army - a military man (all straight lines and orderly rows of geometrical shapes), but with something (his hidden sexual desires, maybe?) threatening to break free and disturb the precise, orderly patterns of his life.




CUSTOM OF THE ARMY - Surely there's some Deep Meaning in the fact that this picture came out as a tartan pattern? <g> Lord John's feelings for Jamie, perhaps?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

WARRIORS on Kindle



Just a quick update on the upcoming WARRIORS anthology, which includes the Lord John story "Custom of the Army". It appears that the Kindle edition will, in fact, be available on the March 16 release day after all.

I just heard about this today and I wanted to pass it along while there is still time to pre-order the book. Please spread the word to anyone you know who might be interested. Thanks!

UPDATE 3-25-2010 9:05 pm: The Kindle edition is back up on Amazon's site. (Yes, it really is there this time!) I fixed the link to point to the updated page. If you find it's still not working, please try again later.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Controversy, and Diana's reaction

* * * SPOILER WARNING * * *

Don't read below unless you have finished AN ECHO IN THE BONE. Major spoilers below!

S

P

O

I

L

E

R

Those of you who follow the discussions in Diana Gabaldon's section of the Compuserve Books and Writers Community will surely have noticed the explosion of posts there in the "ECHO: Claire and Lord John" thread in the last few days, regarding the Claire/Lord John subplot in the last part of ECHO, and various readers' reactions to it.

This particular discussion on Compuserve has been one of the liveliest we've had since the initial discussions right after ECHO came out last fall. It's also been the subject of some pretty heated debate on the LOL Books Board (although Judie has since decided to close down that discussion).

As Diana herself said:

There's usually at _least_ one mega-inflammatory episode in each new book, that leads to long-term arguments.

No question at all, the Claire/Lord John subplot is by far the most controversial part of AN ECHO IN THE BONE. (To put it mildly!) And it has led to a lot of criticism among the fans. I won't attempt to restate the arguments here. I just wanted to point out a few of Diana Gabaldon's more lengthy and interesting responses.

Diana's response to the comment that Claire's actions (particularly, having sex with Lord John) seemed out of character.

Was the last section put together hastily as a result of deadline pressure? No, says Diana. It was deliberately constructed that way.

I mean, look at it logically. I've written six books--large, complex ones--prior to this. Three million words, about, _all_ (I think) executed with care, precision, and one heck of a lot of internal engineering. And all of them _different_, in terms of style, structure, approach, and theme, even while they involve the same people.

So ask yourself--why on earth would I suddenly lose my mind and abandon both pride and sense and just slam something out? I'm a <cough> Rather Big author these days; I can't be forced to hand over a manuscript if I don't think it's ready to go. (In fact, I've _never_ given a publisher a manuscript before I thought it was ready, no matter what my sales status. As I've often said, my only obligation is to the book.)

Construction of Section 7 - an exchange of emails between Diana and her editors, discussing the events in the last part of the book.

Some thoughts on the subject of readers' expectations.

I would encourage you to read through some of these threads on Compuserve, if you have time. (Please note, there's at least one small excerpt from Book 8 in the "Claire and Lord John" thread, so if you are an excerpt-avoider, you may want to skip over any posts in that thread with "spoiler space" in them.)

And you're welcome to come and post your own reactions on Compuserve, any time. As I've said before, we're always happy to see new people on the forum, and Diana likes to hear from her readers.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Some Scottish humor

Check out this video (thanks to Karen Pestana for the link!) I thought it was hilarious.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Outlander Book Club

This week I finally signed up as a member of the Outlander Book Club. This is a fairly new site, started only a few months ago, but I'm impressed with the amount of activity and the number of topics under discussion there.

They have individual discussion board folders for each of the OUTLANDER books, with many sub-topics in each folder. Those of you who have enjoyed my "OUTLANDER Links" posts will find this one -- featuring pictures of people and places from ECHO -- particularly interesting (check out the painting of Andy Bell, with that unmistakable nose!)

The Outlander Book Club is currently running a contest where you can win a signed copy of AN ECHO IN THE BONE. Details here. But even if you decide not to enter the contest, do take a few minutes to browse through the site. I think you'll enjoy it. (The site is free, but you need a login id and password in order to post there.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

OUTLANDER video parody

Here's the latest addition to Diana Gabaldon's YouTube channel. Thanks to the ever-vigilant Nikki Rowe for keeping an eye out for gems like this! I think it's hilarious.



My favorite bits:

  • Black Jack Randall's maniacal laughter
  • The itty-bitty stone circle (well, Claire does describe it in the book as a "miniature henge", but I never imagined it as quite that tiny!)
  • "That's MY ginger!"
  • Three words: fake chest hair <g>

UPDATE 3/4/2010 6:27 am: Check out this reply from the video's creator, which Nikki posted on Compuserve this morning.

Monday, March 1, 2010

February poll results

Here are the results of the February poll:

What do you think about the upcoming OUTLANDER graphic novel, THE EXILE?

  • 37.1% - I just want to see more of Jamie and Claire's story, and I don't care how we get it.
  • 17.0% - I'm looking forward to getting a different perspective on the events of OUTLANDER.
  • 12.6% - I don't like the sample artwork I've seen so far. The characters don't look like what I imagined
  • 7.5% - I'm glad that Diana wrote the script and is working closely with the artist.
  • 6.9% - I like what I've seen so far, and I want to see more.
  • 7.0% - I'm not crazy about the idea, but I'll probably buy it anyway.
  • 5.0% - I'm interested, but $25 is a lot of money for a 200-page book.
  • 4.4% - It's a terrible idea. I don't want to see Jamie and Claire turned into comic book characters.
  • 1.9% - Not sure yet. I want to see more of the sample artwork first.
  • 0.6% - Other

There were 159 votes in this month's poll.

I didn't vote in it myself, but if I had, I would have gone with the second choice, because it intrigues me to think that there were things going on during the timeframe of OUTLANDER that Claire did not see or know about, and I suspect that the graphic novel may shake some of our assumptions about things we thought we already understood in OUTLANDER. Should be verrrrry interesting!

By the way, in case you're wondering, when I ran a similar poll in January 2009, the top two results were reversed. In that poll, the "I just want to see more of Jamie and Claire's story" option got 17.4%, and "I'm looking forward to getting a different perspective on the events of OUTLANDER" got 42.2%. (I suppose that's a result of the timing. It's been five months since ECHO came out, and already people are desperate to see more of Jamie and Claire. <g>)

Thanks so much to everyone who participated!

The March poll is a broader question, about the OUTLANDER series in general. As always, I'm fascinated to see what you all think.