Review: Imager by L.E. Modesitt Jr.

Review: Imager by L.E. Modesitt Jr.Imager (Imager Portfolio, #1) by L.E. Modesitt Jr., William Dufris
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Imager Portfolio #1
Pages: 432
Published by Tantor Media on April 13, 2009
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Although Rhennthyl is the son of a leading wool merchant in L'Excelsis, the capital of Solidar, the most powerful nation on Terahnar, he has spent years becoming a journeyman artist and is skilled and diligent enough to be considered for the status of master artisan—in another two years. Then, in a single moment, his entire life is transformed when his master patron is killed in a flash fire, and Rhenn discovers he is an imager—one of the few in the entire world of Terahnar who can visualize things and make them real.

Rhenn is forced to leave his family and join the Collegium of Imagisle. Because of their abilities (they can do accidental magic even while asleep) and because they are both feared and vulnerable, imagers must live separately from the rest of society. In this new life, Rhenn discovers that all too many of the "truths" he knew were nothing of the sort. Every day brings a new threat to his life. He makes a powerful enemy while righting a wrong, and he begins to learn to do magic in secret. Imager is the innovative and enchanting opening of an involving new fantasy story.

My Review:

This was a re-read for me. I first read Imager when it originally came out in 2009 because the cataloger in the next office was cataloging it and said it looked good. He was right. In fact, he was so right that I continued to read the series over the next decade. I finished the current final book in the series, Endgames, last month, and just couldn’t let this world go.

I hope I don’t have to, but the jury is still out on that.

The Imager Portfolio was written in a different order than the events take place in the created world of Terahnar. In the internal chronology, Scholar is first and Imager’s Intrigue is last. As the stories were written, Imager is first and Endgames is last. The internal chronology has the events of the, let’s call it the Quaeryt Quintet, first, the Alastar/Charyn Quartet second and the Rhenn Trilogy third – even though Rhenn’s story was the first one written.

I found myself really curious to see if the circle closed, if the events that occurred in Quaeryt’s, Alastar’s and Charyn’s stories actually led to the situation that Rhenn finds himself in at the beginning of Imager.

Also I remembered the original trilogy as a damn good story, and wondered if that would be true on a re-read. Actually a re-listen, as this time I got the unabridged audio.

There are themes that occur in all three of the subseries. I remembered Rhenn as a young man who had already planned his life, and was executing that plan, when fate intervened and he discovered that he had imaging talent.

I’ve invoked Rhenn’s memory often over the years, because his story is an interesting variation on the coming-of-age theme that so often permeates epic fantasy. Neither Rhenn, nor the author’s other heroes in this series, come of age during their stories. They are already adults, albeit generally in their 20s.

Instead, these are coming-into-power stories, where the protagonists have to adjust life plans that they have not only already made but have already begun working towards. They find themselves in unanticipated situations and things go sideways. They have to adjust and change to survive.

Or they won’t.

Within the opening chapters of Imager, I was both pleased to learn that the earlier history of Terahnar, and the country of Solidar, was anticipated from the beginning. Rhenn tours the Council Chateau with his father, and sees portraits of both Rex Regis, the man who becomes Rex in the Quaeryt Quintet, and Rex Defou, the Rex who is overthrown in Madness in Solidar. He also eyes a bust of Rex Charyn, the last Rex, whose exploits are completed in Endgames.

I’ll admit this worries me a lot about the possibility for further crises in the history of this place to be explored. Because the circle does seem to close and the loose ends do seem to get wrapped up.

I can still hope.

On re-listening to the story, I discovered that while I had lost most of the details of the story over the years, the outline was still clear. And still wonderful to read – or have read to me.

While at times Rhenn feels a bit too good to be true, he is also an intelligent and likeable hero. We do see more of his early years than I remembered, but the story really kicks into high gear when Rhenn is in his mid-20s, at the point where he is forced to give up his dreams of becoming a master portraturist and crosses the Bridge of Hopes to Imagisle.

From there, the story is off to the races, almost surprisingly so for a story that goes into a great deal of detail about Rhenn’s training as an imager. If you enjoy books that cover intensive training periods, this one is a treat.

Because Rhenn is not just learning to become an imager, he’s learning to become a spy and assassin and whatever else the College of Imagers needs him to become to keep the College, and the country of Solidar that defends it and that it defends, safe.

If he can manage to survive all the assassination attempts on his own life, that is.

Escape Rating A: This was as good as I remembered it. The story spends a bit more time than I recalled on Rhenn’s early years as a journeyman portraturist, which are necessary but not nearly as interesting (or potentially deadly) as his life rising through the imager ranks while trying not to end up dead.

One of the themes that has carried forward through the entire series is just how important the female characters are to the survival and success of the male protagonist. Seliora, like the life-partners of the heroes of the other stories, is Rhenn’s equal – and he recognizes that.

On the flip side, one of the things that grates more than I remembered is the negative attitude that Rhenn’s mother in particular displays towards everyone of Pharsi origin, like Seliora. Her constant stream of prejudice wears on the reader’s ears every bit as much as it does Rhenn’s.

Scholar by L. E. Modesitt Jr.As much as I wanted to slap his mother silly, it’s Rhenn’s story that I came to see. Or rather hear. It does feel like it fits in its proper place in this history, and follows very well after finishing Endgames.

Anyone who loves epic fantasy and has not indulged in the Imager Portfolio could happily start here, as I did in 2009. Scholar would make an equally fine start, at the beginning of the internal history.

Wherever you begin, there’s a LOT to love in this series, If you have not yet begun, I envy you the journey.

Review: Tricked by Kevin Hearne

Review: Tricked by Kevin HearneTricked (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #4) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles #4
Pages: 368
Published by Random House Audio on April 24, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Druid Atticus O’Sullivan hasn’t stayed alive for more than two millennia without a fair bit of Celtic cunning. So when vengeful thunder gods come Norse by Southwest looking for payback, Atticus, with a little help from the Navajo trickster god Coyote, lets them think that they’ve chopped up his body in the Arizona desert.

But the mischievous Coyote is not above a little sleight of paw, and Atticus soon finds that he’s been duped into battling bloodthirsty desert shapeshifters called skinwalkers. Just when the Druid thinks he’s got a handle on all the duplicity, betrayal comes from an unlikely source. If Atticus survives this time, he vows he won’t be fooled again. Famous last words.

My Review:

I wasn’t looking for something to link between Tony and Anne Hillerman’s Leaphorn, Chee and Maneulito series about the Navajo Tribal Police and Thor: Ragnarok, but I found it anyway. It’s Tricked, the 4th book in the Iron Druid Chronicles.

Hel is the daughter of Loki, not Odin, but just as in the movie, she does preside over the realm of the dead who do not qualify for Valhalla. As far as Atticus is concerned, the big problem is that she has possessed the body of his late friend, the Widow MacDonogh, in order to chase him down all that much more effectively.

In Hammered, Atticus and his friends killed Thor and crippled Odin, along with a whole bunch of the Norse pantheon. Hel wants to thank him for making her victory at Ragnarok inevitable. When he spurns her thanks, she sets her dogs on him. Not just dogs, of course, but also beings native to the Four Corners Reservation where he is currently hiding out.

She sends skinwalkers. And gives them a compulsion to find and eat Atticus O’Sullivan.

Not that he wasn’t there to deal with them anyway, in a roundabout sort of way, but she’s just made it way too personal.

This story is just full of roundabout ways by roundabout people, because Atticus is on the rez to pay Coyote back for helping to stage his death. His recent raid on Asgard has left the denizens of several pantheons out for his blood. Not because he messed with the Norse, but because he has proven that he can successfully mess with any of the gods – and none of them want that to get around.

Atticus in in a big mess – as per usual. Coyote did him a big favor, and now he wants a big favor in return. Coyote died for him twice – not the he wasn’t absolutely certain he’d come back – both times. But in return, Coyote wants Atticus to create a gold mine in the middle of the rez, so that the gold can be used to fund a renewable energy empire.

Coyote is a trickster, so Atticus knows there has to be a catch, and a big one. But Coyote isn’t scamming the locals, who are, after all, his people. And he’s not exactly scamming Atticus. But he’s also not exactly not scamming Atticus. He’s just being Coyote.

As is usual with Atticus adventures, figuring out what is really going on is going to result in a lot of bloodshed – some if it even belonging to Atticus himself.

And there will be a butcher’s bill to pay. Whether the results will be worth it – only time will tell.

Escape Rating A-: This one had some absolutely hilarious moments. The sequence about the relative measurements of shitload, buttload and fuckton had me grinning for several miles on the treadmill – and laughing out loud. I know the other people at my gym think I’m crazy.

In spite of the trademark snark, in full abundance in Tricked, this story also had its darker elements. As I said in my review of Hammered, it feels as though the series has turned a corner, and that things are going to get darker from here. In Tricked, we saw several of the loose ends left over from Hammered try to wrap themselves like nooses around Atticus’ neck.

But the action in Tricked revolves around Atticus fulfilling his deal with Coyote. One of the problems of working with Coyote is that he just can’t stop himself from trying to get the better of every deal. He is, after all, one of the quintessential trickster avatars. So while Atticus is more than willing to pay his debts – he is unwilling to pay more than his fair share – particularly without being asked first. No one enjoys getting taken advantage of over and over again – which is always Coyote’s aim. He really can’t play it straight.

So Atticus finds himself saddled with one job that he can barely handle, and one that is way, way outside his skillset, while frequently wondering which is which. As usual, he’s making it up as he goes along.

Because Oberon is sidelined for much of Tricked, his outsider commentary and comic genius has to be picked up by someone else. In Tricked, those roles are taken by Frank Chischilly, the hatałii who is conducting the ceremonies to bless Coyote’s operation.

Frank is an old man, and a very powerful one. His Blessing Way ceremony is providing real magical protection. And while he doesn’t know exactly what either Atticus or Coyote are, he is aware that they are much more than they appear to be. He’s pretty sure about Coyote, and I believe that the only reason he can’t identity exactly what Atticus is that that what Atticus is is considerably outside his cultural magical framework.

Frank is not humorous in the same way that Oberon is. Frank mostly plays straight man to some of Atticus wilder moments. But his wry humor and outsider’s perspective often result in a chuckle rather than the guffaws that Oberon generates. But he does provide some of the story’s lighter moments – until he provides the darkest one of all.

As snarky as Atticus is, this story is still much darker in tone than the first two books in the series, Hounded and Hexed. Atticus’ actions continue to have mounting consequences. But as serious as things are, there are points where it might have been better to cut to the chase a bit. The repeated attacks of the skinwalkers, while always life-threatening and scary, began to have a sameness about them. The skinwalkers don’t have a lot in the way of imagination. Or strategy or tactics.

But Atticus’ snarky and irreverent point of view always carries the reader along. I’ll be continuing with Two Ravens One Crow, the novella that sits between Tricked and Trapped.

Review: Hammered by Kevin Hearne

Review: Hammered by Kevin HearneHammered (The Iron Druid Chronicles, #3) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: urban fantasy
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles #3
Pages: 336
Published by Brilliance Audio on July 5, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Thor, the Norse god of thunder, is worse than a blowhard and a bully — he’s ruined countless lives and killed scores of innocents. After centuries, Viking vampire Leif Helgarson is ready to get his vengeance, and he’s asked his friend Atticus O’Sullivan, the last of the Druids, to help take down this Norse nightmare. One survival strategy has worked for Atticus for more than two thousand years: stay away from the guy with the lightning bolts. But things are heating up in Atticus’s home base of Tempe, Arizona. There’s a vampire turf war brewing, and Russian demon hunters who call themselves the Hammers of God are running rampant. Despite multiple warnings and portents of dire consequences, Atticus and Leif journey to the Norse plane of Asgard, where they team up with a werewolf, a sorcerer, and an army of frost giants for an epic showdown against vicious Valkyries, angry gods, and the hammer-wielding Thunder Thug himself.

“Kevin Hearne breathes new life into old myths, creating a world both eerily familiar and startlingly original.” —NICOLE PEELER, author of Tempest Rising__________Unabridged, 8 audio discs, 9 hours 43 minutes

My Review:

I mostly listened to this, and usually while working out. But I finished up reading the ebook, because my workout ended in the middle of the climactic battle, and I just couldn’t wait to see how issues resolved.

They mostly didn’t. And that’s probably as it should be. The book ends with a lot of loose ends still jangling.

Hammered feels like the “turning point” book in the Iron Druid Chronicles. Although Atticus faced a certain amount of trouble in the first two books, Hounded and Hexed, at the end of each book Atticus was able to settle down after a job well done and live what counts as his normal life while waiting for the next crisis to jump up and bite him in the ass.

Hammered has a much different tone, and there was a strong sense throughout the story that however things ended, life was never going back to what passed for “business as usual” for Atticus, his Irish wolfhound Oberon, and his apprentice Granuaile, no matter how things turned out.

The warnings from both the Morrigan and Jesus that Atticus was stepping into a pile of shit that was going to rain crap all over everyone were not the only hints that he was messing with something that should never have been messed with, but they were the biggest and certainly the freakiest.

And of course they don’t stop him. He gave his vampire friend his word that he would take him to Asgard to help him kill Thor – no matter what it takes, and no matter what it costs.

Even if that cost is higher than he ever wanted to pay.

Escape Rating A: I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am absolutely loving this series in audio. I’m not sure how consuming one right after another would work if I were reading them, but as something to listen to on the treadmill, Atticus’ snarky sense of humor read in Luke Daniels’ marvelous voice is just about perfect.

I smirk, I chuckle, I snigger and occasionally I even laugh out loud. A lot. The scene where Jesus shows up to have a beer with Atticus and deliver his warnings – along with a rather painful lesson – had some fantastic laughter inducing moments.

But the overall tone of Hammered is pretty darn serious. Atticus is making plans to take his vampire friend and lawyer Lief as well as his werewolf friend and lawyer Gunnar to Asgard so that they can finally get revenge on Thor for some pretty seriously awful stuff.

Atticus spends a lot of the book making contingency plans. If he comes back, he knows that the gods, not just the Norse gods but multiple pantheons of gods, are going to be after him, and he needs to leave Tempe and lie very, very low for a while, along with Oberon and Granuaile. He does a lot of serious leave-taking all around, and his farewell to the Widow MacDonagh had me sniffling.

But Atticus is also planning for the reality that he might not come back, something that Granuaile doesn’t want to hear or deal with, and who can blame her?

It’s obvious throughout the story that whatever happens in Asgard, it certainly won’t stay in Asgard. Some of their very assorted company will not make it back, and even if they do, Atticus life will be irrevocably changed. The creatures who will be coming after him will be bigger, badder and a lot more powerful.

The story is going to get darker from here – and it’s going to be one hell of a ride. Even if that’s where it goes.

I have a feeling that the events in Hammered are going to be crucial for the events in the next several books, And I can’t wait to find out. I’ve already got the audio of the next book, Tricked, cued up and ready to begin.

One final comment. As Atticus and Lief’s very motley crew get ready for the trip to Asgard, there are several chapters where all the participants tell their individual stories of just why they are willing to possibly throw their lives away for a shot at Thor. The individual stories are absolutely riveting, and all are ultimately tragic. But the storytelling sequence itself reminded me very much of the author’s epic fantasy, A Plague of Giants, which is told in its entirety as a bard telling stories to a crowd. I found myself wondering if the genesis of that book might be in this sequence. Whether it is or not, A Plague of Giants is marvelous!

Review: The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

Review: The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas PrestonThe Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston, Bill Mumy
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: adventure, archaeology, history, nonfiction
Pages: 304
Published by Grand Central Publishing on January 3rd 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A five-hundred-year-old legend. An ancient curse. A stunning medical mystery. And a pioneering journey into the unknown heart of the world's densest jungle.
Since the days of conquistador Hernán Cortés, rumors have circulated about a lost city of immense wealth hidden somewhere in the Honduran interior, called the White City or the Lost City of the Monkey God. Indigenous tribes speak of ancestors who fled there to escape the Spanish invaders, and they warn that anyone who enters this sacred city will fall ill and die. In 1940, swashbuckling journalist Theodore Morde returned from the rainforest with hundreds of artifacts and an electrifying story of having found the Lost City of the Monkey God-but then committed suicide without revealing its location.
Three quarters of a century later, bestselling author Doug Preston joined a team of scientists on a groundbreaking new quest. In 2012 he climbed aboard a rickety, single-engine plane carrying the machine that would change everything: lidar, a highly advanced, classified technology that could map the terrain under the densest rainforest canopy. In an unexplored valley ringed by steep mountains, that flight revealed the unmistakable image of a sprawling metropolis, tantalizing evidence of not just an undiscovered city but an enigmatic, lost civilization.
Venturing into this raw, treacherous, but breathtakingly beautiful wilderness to confirm the discovery, Preston and the team battled torrential rains, quickmud, disease-carrying insects, jaguars, and deadly snakes. But it wasn't until they returned that tragedy struck: Preston and others found they had contracted in the ruins a horrifying, sometimes lethal-and incurable-disease.
Suspenseful and shocking, filled with colorful history, hair-raising adventure, and dramatic twists of fortune, The Lost City of the Monkey God is the absolutely true, eyewitness account of one of the great discoveries of the twenty-first century.

My Review:

The road to The Lost City of the Monkey God begins with a high-tech Indiana Jones and ends with Guns, Germs and Steel, with a couple of detours for pestilential diseases and “academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small.” Except that in this case the stakes are not small at all, and the story is fascinating from beginning to end.

This is a true story. It’s a story of obsessions both great and small. And a story about con men, soldiers and scientists. And ultimately, it’s a story about the price that we pay for the knowledge that we gain.

There have been legends about this city, whether under the name Ciudad Blanco or as the title describes it, the Lost City of the Monkey God, since the time of Hernan Cortes and the conquistadores. The Spanish conquerors of Central and South America came across many, many stories of fabulous lost cities of gold and jewels. One of the most well-known of those legends is that of El Dorado, the city of gold.

But a film producer named Steve Elkins was particularly fascinated with the legends of Ciudad Blanco, the white city that was supposed to be hidden somewhere in the Mosquitia province of Honduras. Honduras as a country in modern times has been through some very hard and violent times, and the Mosquitia province is infamous for its dangers, not just from the hazards of its jungle terrain, but from the guns of the narco-traffickers who make Mosquitia their home.

While the narco-traffickers have not always been the problem that they are today, the jungle has always been there. During the great age of European exploration in the 1800s, and even afterwards, there were multiple attempts to locate the famous “White City” but to no avail. Very few of the documented expeditions seem to have even gotten close to this mythical place, and one of the best documented was recently discovered to be completely fraudulent.

It seemed like an obsession that was doomed to never be fulfilled, but technology caught up to dreams. On the ground, the jungle swallows everything, but from the air it’s a different story. Or at least it is to LiDAR imaging, a combination of lasers and radar that can see through the dense ground cover to the remains of any structures underneath.

Initially, the story was first to discover, well, if there was anything to discover. It took years and money and grants and cooperation from multiple organizations and at least two iterations of the Honduran government to finally get permission to survey possible sites, and then even more money and permissions to get the still top-secret LiDAR on site to survey the possibilities.

Which turned out to be enormous, both literally and figuratively. The story in The Lost City of the Monkey God is about the author’s participation in these expeditions, both the original LiDAR mapping and the “ground-truthing” with archaeologists a few years later, to make the jungle yield up her long buried secrets.

And exact her toll.

Reality Rating A: The Lost City of the Monkey God is one of the most absorbing pieces of nonfiction it has ever been my pleasure to listen to. June is Audiobook Month, and I’m thrilled to have such a marvelous story to recommend. For a science fiction geek, that Bill Mumy, Lennier from Babylon 5 (also Will Robinson from the classic Lost in Space) read me a story just added to my enjoyment. His voice conveyed just the right tone of understated enthusiasm that seemed perfect for this story.

And the story itself is fantastic. There’s something for adventure readers, history buffs and even science geeks. That’s a lot of groups to appeal to.

It’s not just that the author distills a lot of historical research into great reading, but that the research he has to distill is just so interesting. They say that all myths and legends have a grain of truth in them, and it’s that grain of truth that Elkins and his team are hunting for. But there’s a lot to wade through. Finding out that the best documented case was a complete load of bunk just added to the wild and crazy aspects of the story.

There’s a “you are there” aspect to the author’s story of the expeditions themselves, and it rings true because he actually was there, waiting out the rain and dodging snakes with the rest of the team. There’s a lot of emphasis on the dangers of the environment, the romance of its pristine nature and the changes and destruction that are made in the pursuit of this great archaeological treasure.

And it is a great treasure, not in the jewels and gold sense, but in what it adds to the knowledge of a lost people and their society.

This is also a story that reminds the reader that “nature bats last” on multiple vectors. Unlike so many discoveries of supposedly lost civilizations, the cities in Mosquitia really were lost. This is not a story where the locals know all about the place but it isn’t considered “discovered” until white men find it. In Mosquitia, the cities were abandoned in the early 16th century, the jungle closed in, and the remote nature of the valley along with the dangers of the few methods of getting to them meant that no humans went there. This was a place where you actually couldn’t get there from here, even when “here” was defined as the next province. Traveling through the dense jungle, as opposed to flying over it and dropping in on a helicopter, was too hazardous for anyone from any culture to attempt when there was no one to see and nothing that anyone knew of to gain.

But nature also bats last in the Guns, Germs and Steel sense. The devastating pandemics that obliterated the Central and South American civilizations in that same 15th and 16th century time periods were not the type of diseases that die without a human host. Oh no, these pathogens were quite happy to cook themselves into new and more virulent strains in animal and insect hosts, while patiently waiting for a new batch of humans to enter their lair. As the expedition members did, with life-changing and sometimes life-threatening results.

For the reader, this is a journey that will stick with you long after the final page. For the participants, its aftermath will shadow the rest of their lives.

Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi + Giveaway

Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi + GiveawayThe Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi, Wil Wheaton
Format: audiobook, ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Interdependency #1
Pages: 334
Published by Audible Studios, Tor Books on March 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The first novel of a new space-opera sequence set in an all-new
universe.

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible -- until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars.

Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war -- and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

The Flow is eternal -- but it is not static. Just as a river changes course, The Flow changes as well, cutting off worlds from the rest of humanity. When it’s discovered that The Flow is moving, possibly cutting off all human worlds from faster than light travel forever, three individuals -- a scientist, a starship captain and the Empress of the Interdependency -- are in a race against time to discover what, if anything, can be salvaged from an interstellar empire on the brink of collapse.

My Review:

My first thought upon finishing The Collapsing Empire was “Oh…My…GOD

The second was that rolling your eyes while driving is a really bad idea, especially if you do it OFTEN. Actually I had that though much earlier in the book, when I was doing a LOT of eye rolling. The ending is far from an eye roll situation, but the advice still stands.

So i’m back to the Oh My God reaction, which I’m still hearing in Wil Wheaton’s voice as the reader of The Collapsing Empire. Which I listened to, pretty much everywhere, sometimes rolling my eyes, often smiling or even outright laughing, from the surprising beginning to the even more astonishing end.

Which isn’t really an end, because it’s obvious that this is just the beginning of a much bigger story, which I hope we get Real Soon Now, but don’t actually expect for a year or more.

So what was it?

The title both does and doesn’t give it away. The Empire, in this case the human empire that calls itself the Interdependency, is about to collapse. Not due to warfare or anything so prosaic, but because, well, science. The interstellar network that keeps the far-flung reaches of the Interdependency interdependent is on the verge of an unstoppable collapse.. So what we have at the moment is the story of the maneuvering and machinations as what passes for the powers that be, or that hope to be the powers that become, jockey for position (and survival) in the suddenly onrushing future.

And humans being humans, while some panic there are a whole lot of people who remain so invested in the status quo that they are unwilling to act because any actions upset their positions now, and they hope, very much against hope, that the predictions are wrong. Not because they really believe in their heart of hearts that they ARE wrong, but because they want them to be wrong so very badly.

Any resemblance between the Interdependency and 21st century America is probably intended – but agreeing or disagreeing with that statement doesn’t change the sheer rushing “WOW” of the story.

That story of the empire that’s about to collapse is primarily told through the eyes of four very, very different people (not that the side characters aren’t themselves quite fascinating). But as things wind up, and as the empire begins to wind down, we get our view of the impending fall mostly from these four, or people who surround them.

The first is Ghreni Nohamapeton, the most frequent source of my eye-rolling. Ghreni is a slippery manipulative little bastard, but he is about to be hoist on his own petard. Or possibly not. He thinks he knows what’s coming, and of course, he doesn’t. Or does he?

Kiva Lagos may possibly be the most profane character it has ever been my pleasure to encounter, in literature or out of it. And her constant, continuous cursing sounds a bit much in an audiobook, but perfectly fits her character. Kiva is also manipulative as hell, and mercenary into the bargain. But somewhere between the hells, damns and f-bombs, there’s a heart. Or at least the desire to one-up Ghreni that provides some of the same functionality.

Marce Claremont is about to be the bearer of very bad tidings – if he can survive being the chew toy between Ghreni and Kiva long enough to deliver his message. And even though he knows that the delivery of it means that he really, really can’t go home again. Ever.

And finally we have Cardenia Wu, the recent and very reluctant Emperox of the Interdependency. A woman who is about to experience the very extreme end of that old saying, “be careful what you wish for, because you might get it.” As a great man once said, “Some gifts come at just too high a price.” And that’s true whether you have to dance with the devil to get them, or just roll dice with fate.

Escape Rating A: I listened to this, and also have the ebook. I expected to switch between, but in the end just couldn’t tear myself away from Wil Wheaton’s marvelous reading. He does a terrific job with all of the voices, and adds even more fun to a book that was already fantastic.

But I need that ebook to look up all the names. It seems as if none of them are spelled quite the way they sound. And the ship’s names are an exercise in absurdity from beginning to end. (This aspect may be an homage to the late Iain Banks’ Culture series). But the first ship we meet is the “Tell Me Another One” which is this reader’s general response to Scalzi’s work. I want him to tell me another one, as soon as possible. But also, and as usual, everyone’s leg is getting pulled more than a bit, and not from the same direction.

Lots of things in this story made me smile, quite often ruefully. The scenario is painful, and as this book closes we know that the situation in general is only going to get worse, and possibly not get better. But for the individuals, life is going on. And the characters exhibit all of the sarcasm that this author is known for.

Some of it has the ring of gallows humor to it, and that’s also right. No one is likely to come out of this unscathed by the end, and that’s obvious to the reader from the beginning, even if not to the characters.

This is also a story of merchant empires and political skullduggery. And yes, there is plenty of commentary on that aspect to chew on for a long time, quite possibly until the next book in the series. Like so much of Scalzi’s work, The Collapsing Empire makes the reader laugh, and it makes the reader think, quite often at the same time.

Ghreni and Kiva both represent different ways in which the current systems of the Interdependency have been taken to their extreme limit. But Marce and Cardenia are the characters that we sympathize with. They are both operating against impossible odds, and we like them and want them to succeed. Whether they will or not is left to the subsequent books in this series.

And I really, really, really can’t wait to see what happens next.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Because this is part of my annual Blogo-Birthday celebration, I want to share the love. And the books. John Scalzi is one of my favorite authors, and I hope he’ll become one of yours too. To that end, I’m giving away one copy of any of Scalzi’s works, (up to $20) to one lucky commenter on this post. This giveaway includes The Collapsing Empire, but if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of Scalzi, Old Man’s War is probably the best place to begin.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Book Review: First Lord’s Fury by Jim Butcher

Format read: audiobook purchased from audible, print book purchased from Barnes & Noble
Formats available: Hardcover, Mass Market Paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: Codex Alera #6
Length: 465 pages
Publisher: Ace Penguin
Date Released: November 24, 2009
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

For years he has endured the endless trials and triumphs of a man whose skill and power could not be restrained. Battling ancient enemies, forging new alliances, and confronting the corruption within his own land, Gaius Octavian became a legendary man of war-and the rightful First Lord of Alera.
But now, the savage Vord are on the march, and Gaius must lead his legions to the Calderon Valley to stand against them-using all of his intelligence, ingenuity, and furycraft to save their world from eternal darkness.

I’ve had the hardcover of First Lord’s Fury on my shelves since it was first released. I’m astonished to see that I’ve been carting it around for three years. I think I didn’t want the Codex Alera series to end. It’s been a big sprawling mess of fun.

And that turned out to be kind of a problem. There are a lot of crow-begotten politics involved in the Codex Alera, and it took me a while to catch up to who was still backstabbing whom–while the Alerans were literally in a fight to save, not just their kingdom, but their entire species. Talk about “fiddling while Rome burns”. And an apt cliche, Alera Imperia owes a lot to Roma Imperia, including its legions.

But the Roman Empire didn’t have magic, at least as far as we know. Alera certainly does.

The center of the series has been Gaius Octavian, but at the beginning, we don’t know that’s who he is. He’s just Tavi. And that was the point. He learns to be First Lord very differently from his predecessors by growing up without the knowledge of who he is, and without the ability to furycraft, to do magic.

He works his way up through the ranks, as a furycrafter, as a legionnaire, as a man. He deals in what is, with or without power. He makes allies that someone who is used to being at the top of the heap would never think of.

The “powers that be” wish that he were anything but what he is. But then, his times demand someone like him. Because the enemy is not another race like the Alerans. They’re not human. They’re not even the Aleran’s ancestral enemies, the Canim. Who are, in truth, intelligent canines. The Alerans and Canim turn out to have common ground.

The enemy is the Vord. And they are insect versions of Star Trek‘s Borg. Just as implacable, just as absorptive  and just as deadly. They do not negotiate, they consume everything in their path.

Tavi has returned in defeat from the lands of the Canim, with the last of the Canim host as his allies, to Alera. The Canim were supposed to kill him. Instead, they’ve returned to bring down the Vord or die trying. Because if they don’t, the Vord will cover the land and there will be nothing left of people or Canim or free will. Only slaves and death.

He’s not supposed to make it. He’s not supposed to reach the last stronghold in time. There’s not enough time and too much ground to cover. But he has more power, and more allies, than anyone expects.

Because Tavi knows how to bring down a foe when they have all the power and he has none. It’s what he was trained for.

Escape Rating A-: Rating this is difficult. It took me quite a while to get back into it, because the politics are very complex. This series is meant to be read from the beginning. Start from Furies of Calderon. Everything is layered, one piece on top of another. Everything matters.

Once I got into it, I couldn’t stop. There were so many different threads, and they were all fascinating to follow. Tavi’s final maturity, in some ways, wasn’t as interesting as the other things that were going on. You knew he was going to get there in time. The only question was, how? His handling of the situation with Valiar Marcus was beautifully done, but I don’t want to spoil it.

Kitai is a terrific, absolutely magnificent example of a female warrior who is different and equal. She represents the outsider’s point of view so well. Her people are less civilized, for certain values of civilized, than the Alerans, so she is able to comment on Tavi’s society in a way that he can’t see.

The Canim are fascinating because they are not human, yet Tavi makes common cause with them. Any warm-blooded, free-thinking race has common cause with him against the Vord. How he works past ages of prejudice and war was, not just interesting, it was often slyly amusing.

The Vord, however, were just a bit too much like the Borg. Really. Plant-based Borg, complete with queen.

About the audiobook. The reader, Kate Reading was great. She voiced all of the parts, including the Canim, who have incredibly rough bass voices that must have been absolute hell to do. However, there were horns blaring at the end of every chapter that drove me nuts. I could seriously have done without the horns, but that wasn’t what made me stop the audio and switch to print. I just couldn’t stand the suspense by the last 50 pages and had to find out how it ended.

If you like epic fantasy and have somehow missed Alera, you’ve missed out on something terrific. And the series is complete, so you can read the whole thing all at once without having to wait. Treat!!!

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Local Custom by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

Format read: ebook purchased from Baen Books, audiobook purchased from Audible
Formats available: Mass Market paperback, Trade Paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Space Opera, Science Fiction Romance
Series: Liaden Universe #4
Length: 320 Pages
Publisher: Baen Books
Date Released: February 2001
Purchasing Info: Authors’ Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Master trader Er Thom knows the local custom of Liaden is to be matched with a proper bride, and provide his prominent clan Korval with an heir. Yet his heart is immersed in another universe, influenced by another culture, and lost to a woman not of his world. And to take a Terran wife such as scholar Anne Davis is to risk his honor and reputation. But when he discovers that their brief encounter years before has resulted in the birth of a child, even more is at stake than anyone imagined. Now, an interstellar scandal has erupted, a bitter war between two families–galaxies apart–has begun, and the only hope for Er Thom and Anne is a sacrifice neither is prepared to make…

I have been meaning to re-read the Liaden Universe books for a while now. I loved them when I initially read them (meaning I swallowed them whole) in 2005-2006, but haven’t kept up with the newer ones. That “so many books, so little time” problem rears its ugly little head yet again.

When I heard that Audible was releasing the entire series in audio, I decided that was my opportunity. I could listen to everything! “Foolish Terran!”as the Liadens might say.

Sometimes when we revisit a beloved book we remember fondly, the re-read makes us wonder what we saw in it the first time. Memory does not hold up on close re-inspection. This was absolutely not the case with Liaden.

I started with Local Custom, because that’s where I started the first time. There are multiple possible entry points for the Liaden Universe, but two of the traditional ones are Local Custom or Agent of Change. (Agent of Change was written first but Local Custom occurs first in the internal chronology with most of the same cast of characters.)

The story is every bit as marvelous the second time around as it was the first time. Possibly more so, as I understand the background without remembering every single detail of each individual book.

Local Custom is both space opera and romance. Er Thom yos’Galan knows his duty to his clan is to take a contract wife and provide his clan with an heir. Duty to the clan is everything to a Liaden. But his heart is still fixed on the Terran scholar Anne Davis, a woman he met while overseeing his clan’s far-ranging business as a Master Trader. He should have let the thought of her go long since, but he cannot. So he takes leave of all his obligations, and they are more than Anne Davis ever knew they were, to see her one last time, and say a final “Goodbye”. Only to discover that she has already given him his heir, not knowing that the Master Trader she loved is actually heir to the richest clan on Liaden. And that she and her son are now pawns in a deadly game.

Escape Rating A+: I wish I had more pluses to give. I started to listen to the Audible recording, and became so caught up in the story that I found myself hunting for excuses to do things that would let me listen longer. I wasn’t getting anything else done!

I gave up and bought the entire ebook bundle from Baen, and finished the book that way. I enjoyed the audio, but it was just taking too long. My only regret about the audio is that Audible wasn’t able to get the rights for the original audio recording by Michael Shanks. I would love to hear him read the story as Er Thom.

If you enjoy space opera, and have never read the Liaden Universe books, start now. If you like romance in your science fiction, start with Local Custom. If you prefer more adventure and intrigue in the mix, choose Agent of Change as your starting point. But start now.

(If you do read ebooks, Baen is very reasonable about ebook prices. Everything is either $5 or $6 and they have downloads for every format you can think of: Kindle, EPUB, RTF, HTML, Read Online! Baen also does not use DRM.)

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

I just finished, and by that I mean I finished it about an hour ago, Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris. Deadlocked is book 12, for anyone who doesn’t already know, in Harris’ quirky tale of the telepathic waitress in the fictional small-town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. It’s also a slightly alternate world where vampires are not only real, but everyone knows they’re real, because some enterprising inventor created a synthetic substitute for blood that allowed them to come out of the coffin.

And that’s where the fun began, in 2001, with Dead Until Dark. It has been mostly fun for those of us reading the series. It has not been fun for the heroine of this little tale, that telepathic waitress, Sookie Stackhouse. Sookie’s journey has been one crisis after another. The more she has learned about the world of the supernatural, the darker and more dangerous her life has become.

Be warned, Deadlocked is book 12 in an ongoing series. I will do my best not to include spoilers for Deadlocked, but there’s no reasonable way to say much about book 12 without spoiling something in books 1-11.

Deadlocked is the perfect title for this book, because Sookie’s life is deadlocked as the story opens. Eric Northman, her vampire lover, is the vampire “sheriff” of Shreveport and the surrounding area, including Bon Temps. However, his sire promised the Queen of Oklahoma that Eric would marry her, not long before the waste of space (I can’t type something disgusting enough) was killed. On Sookie’s front lawn.

Eric, Sookie, and Pam, Eric’s second-in-command, murdered the deputy of the King of Nevada. The man who Eric owes fealty to. The fact that the bastard was trying to kill them doesn’t matter. They should pay for his death. The King is in Shreveport to collect.

Sookie’s boss, and best friend, Sam Merlotte, is a were, a shapeshifter. His current girlfriend is second-in command of the local pack. Jannalyn hates Sookie, for no reason that Sookie can understand, except that Jannalyn thinks Sam and Sookie might be more than just friends. They’re not.

Then a girl dies. On Eric’s front yard this time. In the middle of a party. Just after he drank from her. It shouldn’t have anything to do with Sookie. But it does.

Her fae grandfather left her with a gift. It grants one wish, the wish of her heart. And everyone wants it. Or want her to use it.

Or wants her to die.

Escape Rating B: Too much of the first 2/3rds of the book is setup, and a lot of that setup involves Sookie’s situation just getting more and more, I want to say pitiful but that’s not quite it, let’s say worse, by the hour. Things shouldn’t be able to sink any lower, but they just keep heading downhill.

It is pretty obvious who the responsible parties are for everything that’s going wrong in Sookie’s universe. Why Sookie can’t see it, we’ll say dramatic license. The clues were pretty obvious and the herrings were very, very bright red.

On the other hand, the last third of the book saw the loose ends being knitted together. Every person, or at least every supernatural creature, who ever crossed Sookie’s path seems to be making a final appearance, a curtain call, one way or another. The author has announced that the next book will be the last in the series.

Lucky 13. How appropriate for a book about the creatures that go bump in the night. Or considering this series, maybe hump in the night is a better phrase.

A few notes on the audiobook version, read by Johanna Parker. Because the story is told from Sookie’s perspective, Ms. Parker is primarily voicing Sookie, although she does deepen her voice or drop her accent to represent the other characters when they speak. Her narration works because she is able to make herself sound like Sookie, at least to this listener. It sounds like Sookie is telling me her perspective on events as she is witnessing them. It’s marvelous. Occasionally, you want to slap her for concentrating on the wrong things, because you’re caught up in her telling you her story.

I just wish Sookie had gotten her act together sooner. She spends way too much of the book being passive. The narrator has a good handle on voicing Sookie’s inner dialogue. It would have made a better story if Sookie had less inner dialog and more outer action the first two thirds of the book.

Lord John and The Scottish Prisoner

June is Audiobook Month according to the Audio Publishers Association. So it’s absolutely right and proper that one of my reviews this month be the audiobook version of the latest entry in one my favorite series.

I listened to The Scottish Prisoner over the last week or so, and I was sorry to see it end. While this is the third in her Lord John series, it could be counted as the tenth, or tenth-ish, in one of my favorite reads, the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. (For more on my long-running love of this series, read my Lovestruck post)

But where the main line of the Outlander series can either be classified as historical fiction, time-travel romance or some lovely stew mixing the two, the related Lord John series is something else again.

Lord John Grey is a character in the Outlander series. He’s a member of the English aristocracy. He is an officer in his brother’s regiment. He’s a younger son, for which he’s quite grateful, because it means that he will not be expected to provide the family with an heir to the title.  Lord John is homosexual at a time when that was a crime. His family, or at least his brother the Duke of Pardloe, is certainly aware, but the understanding is tacit and not spoken. They are gentlemen.

Lord John Grey meets Jamie Fraser, the hero of the Outlander series, when he is in charge of Ardsmuir Prison, after the Jacobite Rising of 1745. As Laird of Lallybroch, Jamie is the highest ranking prisoner. They are, after a fashion, equals. They are not friends, but perhaps frenemies.

Until John betrays that almost-friendship by not merely letting his secret slip but by revealing that he desires Jamie–who is beyond appalled. And Jamie never trusts him again. Not even after John saves his life. With Jamie’s wife, Claire, gone back to her own time and lost to him, Jamie’s not sure he wants to be alive.

John Grey’s life centers around his military service. A younger son, with no family of his own, his career is as a army officer. He serves in his brother’s regiment. And that’s where he keeps getting himself into trouble. Because John solves, not mysteries quite, but problems. Usually military problems wrapped up in politics.

In the case of The Scottish Prisoner, the problem is that a friend, one of John’s exes, was a military attache in Quebec. He found evidence of military peculation, meaning that a high-ranking officer was cheating the Crown, and shortchanging his men, by selling off equipment and supplies. The officer in question was making oodles of money, but that practice is highly illegal. Treasonous, in fact.

John’s friend assembled the evidence, painstakingly, painfully, and died in Quebec. Entrusting John to see that justice was done to the bastard. Said bastard, naturally, being not just high-ranking in the military sense but also well-connected.

And holed up on his Irish estates. Ireland was practically a foreign country in the 1750s. Somehow, the military embezzlement was mixed up in something else, too. Rumors of an Irish Jacobite Rebellion.

That’s where Jamie came in. He was a prisoner, very loosely speaking, working as a groom on an estate in the Lake District. John needed someone familiar with the Jacobites to go with him to Ireland. His brother the Duke decided that Jamie was the perfect person, in spite of the fact that Jamie and John weren’t speaking.

If Jamie kills the aforementioned bastard, the Greys will have complete deniability. Jamie is, after all, a convicted traitor.

But he goes anyway. Because he’s afraid there might be a rebellion brewing. And he wants to prevent it. Jamie knows it will fail.

By the end, Jamie Fraser and John Grey discover that starting with the truth builds a better beginning for respect than a comfortable lie. But everything else they started out with was dead wrong. They began in an attempt to do the right thing. It turned out that they hadn’t a bloody clue about what that might be.

Escape Rating A+: I did not want to see this one end. Not at all. I wanted to find out how it all worked out, but I didn’t want it to be over.

Because I listened to this instead of reading, there are two “tracks” to this review, story and interpretation.

The Outlander story has a twenty-year gap, where Claire is in the 20th century, and she thought Jamie died at Culloden. We know where the gap has to end at, the trick for Gabaldon is to fill in the blank. This works. Jamie’s pain at Claire’s absence is like an aching wound, she is there in spirit, and we see the effect she still has on his life. But he’s still alive. And we see Jamie and John work their way back from loathing on the one hand and unrequited desire on the other towards the mutual respect they finally achieved by the time Claire reappears in Voyager. It was a very rough road.

About the reading. I am beyond pleased that Recorded Books used two narrators. The story has two very distinct points of view, John’s and Jamie’s. They resisted the temptation to have one actor voice both parts and had Jeff Woodman voice Lord John Grey and Rick Holmes portray Jamie Fraser. Based on the descriptions of these men in the series, they are such completely different physical types that they shouldn’t sound anything alike. Having two different actors voice them ensured that they didn’t in the reading.

The Scottish Prisoner will have to tide me over until Written In My Own Heart’s Blood, the next installment in the Outlander series. The projected release date is early 2013.

Ebooks in Public Libraries: Whither, Which, How

The Digital Public Library of America discussion list has kicked into high gear again, in anticipation of an in-person meeting at the American Library Association Midwinter Conference in mid-January, 2012 in Dallas, Texas.

The piece of the discussion that has caught my interest concerns the future availability of ebooks for public libraries to loan to patrons — and whether lending ebooks to patrons should be part of any public library future.

Statistics are showing double the ereader penetration in the US population from this time last year, not counting multi-function tablet (i.e. iPad) use. Libraries really don’t have the luxury to pretend this isn’t happening. The question remains what they can do about it.

The other question is, what do libraries provide? The “Big 6” publishers are increasingly skittish about providing ebooks for public libraries to lend.

  • Only Random House just plain lets libraries buy their ebooks to lend to patrons.
  • Harper Collins sells to libraries, and every time the copy has been checked out 26 times, the library has to buy it again.
  • Which puts Harper Collins ahead of Penguin and Hachette, who have both stopped selling ebooks to libraries.
  • And even further ahead of Simon and Schuster and Macmillan, who have never sold ebooks to libraries.

But back to the DPLA, which has been discussing the future of ebook publishing as it relates to libraries. There’s been a particular thread about commercial fiction and public library patrons.

The assumption that keeps niggling at me is that all the current trends will continue, and that the only changes we will see will be for the worse from the perspective of the library as institution.

My interpretation of the trendline being predicted is that the publishers will continue their unfortunate circling of their wagons, and that the lending rights that libraries have traditionally enjoyed with physical materials will disappear in the electronic age as publishers attempt to preserve their profit margins. Brilliance Audio’s scheduled January 31, 2012 withdrawal from the library download market is another step in this trend, as is the support of many, many publishers in the library marketplace for SOPA.

Publishers are worrying about their profits because those profits are based on a physical distribution model, and the physical distribution model is collapsing. And the publishers are becoming less optimistic about digital being their savior than they used to be, at least according to recent reports out of Digital Book World. So they are hanging on to every penny they can. Publishers have always feared that books borrowed from libraries have represented sales lost. But with physical books, sales to libraries were impossible to prevent.

With ebooks (and e-audiobooks) publishers don’t have to sell to libraries. So some of them are increasingly choosing not to — especially the big ones who believe that their authors don’t need libraries to help them develop a following.

But there are a lot of authors who do want their books, especially their ebooks, in libraries. I was interviewed by author Lindsay Buroker for an article on her blog about how self-published authors could get their books into their local libraries.

Self-published authors and authors who are published by small independent publishers are searching eagerly for ways to get their books into libraries. Increasingly those books are exclusively ebooks. Many of those authors would even be willing to donate a copy to their local public library (maybe not every public library, mind you, but the one in their own hometown) just to get readers.

In the print world, they used to be able to donate actual books. But in the digital world, what’s the mechanism? They don’t want to donate rights, they want to donate a couple of copies, and quite likely DRM-free copies at that, but how can they do it?

And for anyone who doesn’t think there is money in self-published authors, remember that Amazon has offered special incentives for self-published authors to make their work exclusively available through the Kindle Selects Program for 90-day periods.

This a a world that is changing faster than the “Big 6” can keep up with, which is why they are circling those wagons.

So, in this corner, we have the big publishers who either haven’t entered the library market or are sounding a retreat.

And in this corner, we have a lot of independent publishers and self-published authors who would love to enter the library space and are hungry for readers–readers that libraries know how to provide.

Libraries need  the equivalent of Smashwords for libraries. This may turn out to be something like what OverDrive will be when the big publishers have dropped out of the library market, with the addition of a method for self-published authors to donate copies or for libraries to buy copies of their work and lend it.

From a library institutional perspective, the library would miss the big blockbuster books. But we may not be able to keep those no matter what we do.  What we would get is a lot of popular content of the type that public library patrons read, popular genre fiction of all types. It would even cost less for the library than the current model. It might even be possible to have enough material so that people would have to wait forever for an ebook.

Yes, it would be different from how public libraries do ebooks now. But the future is going to be different. The question is, can we work toward making it different in a way we can have some control over? Can we have a future with a chance at a win-win?