Archive for the Blog Category

Pumpkin, reprised

November 26th, 2014

I’m sure you all already have your Thanksgiving menus set, but just in case you have urgent pumpkin needs, here is a post to fifteen pumpkin desserts that are not pumpkin pie! From Willow Bird Baking, a blog which is NOT, I warn you, your friend if you are on any kind of diet, especially a low-carb diet. Nevertheless:

PUMPKIN MAPLE PECAN ROLLS WITH PUMPKIN CREAM CHEESE ICING.

PUMPKIN SPICE PULL-APART BREAD WITH BUTTER RUM GLAZE.

DRUNKEN PUMPKIN GINGERBREAD SNACK CAKE.

GOOEY “GERMAN” PUMPKIN SKILLET CAKE.

PUMPKIN STREUSEL SWIRLED CREAM CHEESE POUND CAKE.

PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE CINNAMON ROLLS. These look really good and are something I’m likely to make in the (very) near future, though probably not tomorrow.

SOPAPILLA PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE BARS.

LAZY PUMPKIN AND PECAN PIE POCKETS.

PUMPKIN TRES LECHES CAKE.

BROWN BUTTER PUMPKIN CAKE CHEESECAKE WITH SALTED CARAMEL. The name sucks you right in, doesn’t it?

VANILLA CUSTARD-SOAKED PUMPKIN POKE CAKE.

PUMPKIN AND PECAN PIE PASTRY BRAID.

ONE-SKILLET GOOEY PUMPKIN COOKIE CAKE.

PUMPKIN OAT CAKE WITH BROILED COCONUT ICING.

PUMPKIN PECAN STREUSEL BRAID.

Plus a link to last year’s amazing-looking non-pumpkin Thanksgiving desserts. I tell you, that that woman is an overachiever in the dessert department.

Enjoy!

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on November 26th, 2014

Cool SF Links

November 25th, 2014

Just thought I’d point out a few interesting posts from around and about:

First, at Rinn Reads, a cool If You Like ____ —-> You Might Like _____ post, leading from YA science fiction to adult science fiction. I don’t really differentiate that much between YA and adult in the first place, and not only that, I’m hampered by not having read many of the recommended on either the YA or the adult side of that post. But it’s a cool idea. You could do it by theme:

If you liked The Adoration of Jenna Fox —–> try … what? The Speed of Dark? That one is about what what it means to be “normal” or a “full” person, and about “playing God” by changing people.

Also, here’s a post about virtual reality at Oh, The Books.

Similarly, in Ready Player One, the OASIS becomes a main way of life for much of the developed world. Space is limited, and many people live in stacks upon stacks of trailers — not very comfortable living conditions. So, they step inside the OASIS, a huge virtual universe for them to explore. Many people work in the OASIS, and school is done completely virtually (each student gets a set of school-assigned visor and gloves!).

I’ve heard a lot about Ready Player One. Maybe it’s pinged my radar enough that I should go ahead and add it to my wishlist.

In a guest post at Fantasy Book Cafe a few days ago, Martha Wells recommended some older SF titles. Has anybody but me (and Martha Wells) read Mirabile by Janet Kagan? I really enjoyed all three (3) of Kagan’s books, including Hellspark and her Star Trek tie-in Uhura’s Song. Unfortunately, I don’t think she ever wrote any other books.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on November 25th, 2014

Cats . . . sort of

November 25th, 2014

People do sometimes come up with curious hobbies. And luckily (?) thanks to the internet, we are likely to find out about them.

I mean, we all know that the internet is full of cat pictures and kitten videos. Why, I myself have been known to indulge in the occasional kitten video.

But check this out from tor.com:

Blue-SharkCat-BrynnMetheney

This is a shark cat! Brynn Metheney, who creates critters for D&D and other games, came up with this concept and has done a whole selection of shark cats. Including a calendar, available (along with lots of other things) from her store. In case you think you might like a shark cat calendar for your office, say. I suspect it would be quite a conversation piece.

On the same theme, sort of, have you ever checked out The Worst Cat tumblr? Here is an example:

Worst cat

Welcome to the Worst Cats. Some people like all breeds of cat. But I think some breeds are just gross.

THINGS PEOPLE ARE SAYING ABOUT The Worst Cats:

“Oh man I don’t like looking at deformed animals” – coworker

“I don[‘t think that’s a cat, Sara. How did you find out about this cat” – cat expert
“It looks like a combination between a cat, a dog and a pig. Is that what they look like when they’re newborn?” – friend
“That’s disgusting. Are you trolling me?” – computer expert
“That is a hippo” – someone who knows nothing about cats

This is oddly funny. I bet it won’t surprise you to know that someone then started a tumbr called “The Worst Hippo.” With, of course, pictures of cats. Some of the cats are pretty peculiar, even for cats.

Okay, I can’t leave you with a hippo, or even a shark cat. Let’s have a proper kitten:

cutest-kitten-gifs-dog

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on November 25th, 2014

“May” vs “Might”

November 24th, 2014

You know the kind of thing where you know what’s grammatically right but you don’t know the rule? And people do it wrong and you flinch but you can’t explain WHY they’re wrong, you just know they are? For me that feeds into occasionally telling a student, “I can’t explain it, but I’m right, do it my way.” But then you’re all like, WHAT IS THE DAMN RULE ANYWAY?

Well, I finally looked up the difference between “may” and “might”, and, let me tell you, there are a lot of different opinions about this, way more than about any other grammatical thing I’ve ever looked up. I mean, the difference between “who” and “whom” is simple — subject vs object — and even the difference between “which” and “that” is relatively simple — nonrestrictive vs restrictive clauses — and at least everybody agrees. But people are all over the place when it comes to “may” vs “might.”

Some grammar websites insist the two words are nearly interchangeable except that “might” suggests a somewhat lower probability than “may,” but that can’t be right because way too often when I’m reading, I stumble over “may” when I know, I KNOW, that it should be “might.” It wouldn’t feel so wrong if the only difference was a perception of lower probability.

Other websites say that “might” is the past tense of “may”, so that you say “He might have been eaten by the dragon” rather than “He may have been eaten by the dragon,” but that can’t be right either, because I can easily put either of those sentences in a context where it would sound right, like so:

“Gavin hasn’t come in this morning; I’m afraid he might have been eaten by a dragon.”

“Well, yeah, Gavin may have been eaten by a dragon, but you know that won’t stop him — he’ll come back as a ghost in a day or two, so we have to be prepared to face him again!”

Do those sentences sound right to you? I actually think that I could read both of them with either the “may” or “might” and all the versions sound okay to me — definitely not wrong enough to make me stumble if I were reading a story got one of these stentences.

Finally I visited my favorite grammar website, which neatly encapsulated another difference:

Avoid confusing the sense of possibility in may with the implication of might that a hypothetical situation has not in fact occurred.

And I think this is the one that writers often get wrong. In the first dragon sentence above, Gavin might have or may have been eaten by the dragon. Either would work because you are expressing a possibility, and I suppose “might” could express your opinion that the possibility is not very likely, but I don’t think even very sensitive readers would stumble over either version.

But try this sentence:

“Gavin might have been eaten by the dragon, but it turns out he dodged past and successfully made it into the wizard’s castle.”

In this case, you couldn’t use “may” because you are talking about a hypothetical possibility that didn’t happen. If you used “may,” sensitive writers would stumble.

I *think* this is the most common situation where I feel the wrongness of “may.” I am certain that it’s always “may” that is the problem, never “might.”

So I guess if you try to boil it down, it’s more or less like this:

“Might” sometimes is used to express a low probability — lower than “may” — but this is subtle and doesn’t matter much.

“Might” is usually the past tense of “may” and in general you want “might have,” not “may have.”

“Might” is used to indicate that something that might have happened, didn’t.

Or something like that.

Posted in: Blog, The Craft of Writing by Rachel on November 24th, 2014

Recent Reading: The Adoration of Jenna Fox

November 23rd, 2014

So I’ve been reading only SF lately because of SF Month, except unfortunately I haven’t liked a couple of the books I’ve read recently enough to review them. I’ll just tell you: it was FOR DARKNESS SHOWS THE STARS by Diana Peterfreund and SHIP BREAKER by Paolo Bacigalupi. I did like them both, actually, but not enough to write a review. The former suffered because I knew it was supposed to be an SF retelling of PERSUASION and it did stick quite closely to the original plot and even the names from PERSUASION. Wow, do you ever set yourself up for a negative comparison when you try to follow Jane Austen. Peterfreund’s writing kept annoying me because it wasn’t Austen, and more than that, when you strip out the writing, the actual plot of PERSUASION is an angsty romance and I simply spent the whole time rolling my eyes.

Who would be able to do an Austen retelling? My vote is for Naomi Novik. I thought she captured the style pretty well in Temeraire, though then she went on to tell an adventure story rather than a comedy of manners. But I think the writing style is just crucial if you want to do an Austen retelling.

Then I did like SHIP BREAKER, only . . . not that much. I liked it a lot at the beginning and then started to have issues with it as it went on. (Nailer’s druggy father really kept focused enough to track him down on a cross-country flight? Really?) And partly because of the use of Nailer’s evil father as The Bad Guy, the plot seems very predictable. We just know the father is going to be right there over and over, reappearing magically at the right time to be scary, and that the final battle will be between Nailer and his father. Poof, there that final battle is, zero surprise. And besides that, well, I don’t know. To me, the characters seemed to kind of flatten out as we went on. And the ecological message is heavy-handed — at least once Bacigalupi speaks to the reader directly because there is simply no way Nailer would think about Orleans in the terms he does. He doesn’t even have the vocabulary, except now and then when Bacigalupi forgets his character’s limitations because it’s so important to deliver the Message.

Well, that sounds too negative. Actually, I did like the story fairly well. I see the sequel starts off with Tool, the half-man, as the protagonist. I thought Tool was by far the most interesting character, so I may go on and pick up the sequel.

But then I really wanted to read a top notch SF story if I could, so that I could review it for SF Month. So I went back and re-read THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX by Mary Pearson because I loved it when I first read it and because I’ve had the sequel on my TBR shelves for a while.

Jenna Fox

I used to be someone.

Someone named Jenna Fox.

That’s what they tell me. But I am more than a name. More than they tell me. More than the facts and statistics they fill me with. More than the video clips they make me watch.

More. But I’m not sure what.

“Jenna, come sit over here. You don’t want to miss this.” The woman I am supposed to call Mother pats the cushion next to her. “Come,” she says again.

I do.

“This is an historic moment,” she says. She puts her arm around me and squeezes. I lift the corner of my mouth. Then the other: a smile. Because I know I am supposed to. It is what she wants.

“It’s a first,” se says. “We’ve never had a woman president of Nigerian descent before.”

“A first,” I say. I watch the monitor. I watch Mother’s face. I’ve only just learned how to smile. I don’t know how to match her other expressions. I should.

“Mom, come sit with us,” she calls out toward the kitchen. “It’s about to start.”

I know she won’t come. She doesn’t like me. I don’t know how I know. Her face is as plain and expressionless to me as everyone else’s. It is not her face. It is something else.

“I’m doing a few dishes. I’ll watch from the monitor in here,” she calls back.

I stand. “I can leave, Lily,” I offer.

She comes and stands in the arched doorway. She looks at Mother. They exchange an expression I try to understand. Mother’s face drops into hre hands. “She’s your nana, Jenna. You’ve always called her Nana.”

“That’s all right. She can call me Lily,” she says, and sits down on the other side of Mother.

This is the first chapter of THE ADORATION OF JENNA FOX, which I first read when it came out, in 2008. I really enjoyed it and thought it was very well put together, and I still think so after just re-reading it a few days ago.

It’s beautifully written, with a spare, straightforward style that unobtrusively creates Jenna’s voice and draws the world around her. The mysterious world, because Jenna has just woken up from an eighteen-month coma and finds everything about her life baffling. Her memories are not just spotty, but highly peculiar She remembers how to speak, but not exactly what words mean, so she has to look them up:

Curious adj. 1. Eager to learn or to know, inquisitive. 2. Prying or meddlesome. 3. Inexplicable, highly unusual, odd, strange.

She knows her mother is her mother – or at least she has been told so – and as she watches videos her parents took of her as she grew up, she can see how much she was loved. And she can see how hard she tried to deserve that love. But she doesn’t remember any of that. And beyond the wasteland of her personal memory, everything just seems . . . odd.

There is something curious about where we live. Something curious about Lily. Something curious about Father and his nightly phone calls with Mother. And certainly something curious about me. Why can I remember the details of the French Revolution but I can’t remember if I ever had a best friend?

This is at its heart a story about family and love and the importance of self-determination, and most of all about what it means to be human. The first time I read it, I was afraid the ultimate message was going to be anti-science, but I’ll give this much away: in the end that is not the case. Not only that, but this is one of the tiny handful of SFF titles that both makes modern Christianity a visible part of life and gives religion a positive spin: though the story could have presented an underlying faith vs science opposition, it didn’t do that, either. This one is a winner in every sense: unusual, beautifully told, with a plot that you sort of see coming, but not exactly.

The sequels:

I just finished the second book, and here’s my take on that: THE FOX INHERITANCE is not a bad book, and a lot about it is good, but it is not in any way necessary. The first book in many ways is superior taken as a stand alone; I think it loses a little bit when you read the sequel. But only a little bit; if you really love the first book and want to go on with the sequel, that’s fine!

Where ADORATION is a slow, introspective story, THE FOX INHERITANCE is much more action-packed, though it deals with some of the same themes as the first book, especially the what-it-means-to-be-human thing. It is much more futuristic, set a little more than 250 years in the future, and I do like how Pearson handles that, with all kinds of surprising things that you can see possibly existing but almost no explanations. I can see this turning off some readers, but I liked how someone would casually mention the partitioning of America and then the story would just go on.

However, I found many important aspects of the plot highly predictable and reading about Kara highly unpleasant. I did go on to order the third book, which is clearly a direct sequel of the second, so obviously I found it good enough for that. Especially since the problem with Kara has now been solved. But my personal recommendation is: the first book is definitely a thumb’s up, but there’s perhaps no need to rush into the sequels — and you may not feel much impulse to go on because the ending of the first book is beautiful.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on November 23rd, 2014

Wow, here’s an unexpected chance to stock up on classic titles

November 22nd, 2014

It seems that 600 classic titles have been made available online, in standard ebook formats, by Open Culture.


Download 600 free eBooks to your Kindle, iPad/iPhone, computer, smart phone or ereader. Collection includes great works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry, including works by Asimov, Jane Austen, Philip K. Dick, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Neil Gaiman, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf & James Joyce. Also please see our collection of Free Audio Books, where you can download more great books to your computer or mp3 player.

How about that? I’m going to pick up some for sure. And maybe even read some of them. Eventually. *So many books, so little time!*

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on November 22nd, 2014

Standalone titles: Fantasy and SF

November 21st, 2014

Over at tor.com, we have a list of seventeen standalone fantasy titles. Now, mind you, a standalone is a mixed blessing. Because one of those titles is THE GOBLIN EMPEROR and how many of us are weeping because there isn’t a sequel planned? Right?

Goblin

Even so, I must admit I’m often more likely to pick up a book, especially by a new-to-me author, if it stands alone.

other books I’ve read and loved from tor.com’s list: lots, actually, but particularly:

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells

The Last Unicorn by Peter Beagle

Wait, wait, but they include Those Who Hunt the Night by Barbara Hambly, which kind of changes the topic from “books that are completely standalone” to “books that stand alone well enough that you don’t have to actually buy the sequels”, which is an entirely different kind of list and much much broader. Phooey, I say. A list for standalone titles should include ONLY titles that stand ENTIRELY alone in their universe.

Also! Why are only fantasy novels listed here? Quick, let’s list some great standalone SF novels, because I’m sure there must be lots. I don’t know that I can get to seventeen strictly from memory, but I’ll try for ten. So in no order, as they occur to me:

1. The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

2. And All the Stars by Andrea K Höst

3. The Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias

4. Embassytown by China Miéville

5. Cuckoo’s Egg by CJ Cherryh

6. Have Spacesuit Will Travel by Heinlein

7. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson

8. The Witches of Karres by James H. Schmitz

9. Hellspark by Janet Kagan

10. The Martian by Andy Weir.

There! That wasn’t so hard. That’s certainly a wide range, too: everything from quite hard SF to basically science fantasy. I bet you can all think of others.

Not to mention lots of other fantasy titles that aren’t on tor.com’s list. Like just for example *most* of Patricia McKillip’s books, not to mention The City in the Lake, which is not only a standalone right this minute, but always will be, because unlike some of my other titles, I have no plans to write a sequel.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on November 21st, 2014

Comments are functioning!

November 20th, 2014

I hope there will be no further problems with comments, but certainly at the moment the comment function is working fine! So please share your own favorite pumpkin recipe, or add a comment about your favorite CJC novels, or mention your personal favorite alien species in SF — whatever you like.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on November 20th, 2014

Just a week to Thanksgiving, and I don’t like pumpkin pie

November 20th, 2014

I like turkey and stuffing and green bean casserole and okay not Brussels sprouts, but everything else on the table is likely to be tasty. I need to mention to my mother that I want to make the stuffing this year because I have some snazzy recipes pulled out and really want to try the one with chestnuts and sausage.

But though I appreciate tradition as much as the next person, pumpkin pie isn’t really my thing. If you, too, would like to work pumpkin into the menu without actually making a pumpkin pie as such, here are some recipes that will let you do that. All of them are tasty, though as you will see some are not meant to be replacement desserts at all — just to use pumpkin so that you can feel that you are properly following the (culinary) spirit of the holiday.

1. Way better than pie: Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake

1 1/2 C vanilla wafer crumbs or gingersnap crumbs
1/2 C finely chopped pecans
1/3 C melted butter

2 8-oz pkg cream cheese, softened
3/4 C sugar
1 tsp vanilla
3 eggs
1 C canned pumpkin
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

Combine crumbs, pecans, and butter. Press onto bottom and 1 1/2 inch up the sides of a nine-inch springform pan. Bake at 350 degrees for ten minutes.

Combine cream cheese, 1/2 C sugar, and vanilla until well blended. Beat in eggs one at a time. Set aside one cup batter. Add remaining sugar, pumpkin, and spices to the rest of the batter and mix well. Spoon pumpkin and plain batters alternately over the crust and cut through with a knife to swirl. Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes. If you have problems with cheesecakes cracking, then you might try reducing the heat to 300 degrees after forty minutes and baking longer. The cheesecake is done when the center looks almost set and jiggles only very slightly when you gently shake the pan. If there are tiny cracks around the edges, the cheesecake is almost certainly done (and probably slightly overbaked, but it will be fine).

Run a knife around the edge of the springform pan but don’t remove the edge. Cool completely. Chill overnight. Remove the rim and serve.

2. A casual lunchtime dessert for the Thanksgiving holiday: Pumpkin-Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 C butter, softened
1 C sugar
1 C brown sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
2 C all-purpose flour
1 C quick oats
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 C canned pumpkin
8 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugars. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine dry ingredients and add in three portions, alternating with half the pumpkin between portions. Stir in chocolate chips. Drop onto cookie sheets and bake at 350 degrees for 9-12 minutes. These are really good, so if you wouldn’t ordinarily combine pumpkin with chocolate, try them and see for yourself that it works.

3. For breakfast during the holidays: Pumpkin-Pecan Biscuits with Honey

I’m not a huge fan of pumpkins, pecans, or honey — but I love these biscuits. Give them a try. I’d personally suggest serving them with ham, btw.

2 C flour
1/4 C sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 C butte
1/3 C chopped pecans, toasted. It’s easiest to toast pecans before chopping: put them on a baking pan in a 350 degree oven, shake the pan after four minutes and then again after 3 more minutes and then again after 2 minutes, until the pecans smell toasted and look a shade or two darker.
2/3 C canned pumpkin
1/3 C light cream (half and half)

Combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter with a handy pastry cutter, or two knives, or pulse the dry ingredients in a food processor, and the butter, and pulse to cut in. A heavy pastry cutter with good sturdy blades (not wires) is easy to use and a nice item to have around, though. Anyway, stir in the pecans. Combine the pumpkin and light cream and stir in. The dough should be stiff. Turn it out on a floured surface, knead a couple of times, pat out 1/2 inch thick, and cut out with a 2-inch cutter or whatever you have handy. Place on parchment-lined baking sheets. Gently knead the scraps together, pat out again, and cut out more biscuits. Bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Serve with butter and honey (even if you’re not crazy about honey, try one with just a tiny bit of honey and see what you think).

4. Avoiding desserts? Or just really dislike pumpkin? For lunch the day after Thanksgiving, try Pork-Pumpkin Chili

1 lb pork tenderloin (or pork shoulder, or beef chuck, or, I guess, chicken), cubed
2 Tbsp oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-4 poblanos, chopped
1-2 jalapenos, chopped
2 tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 C chicken broth, or beef broth, or hey, turkey broth. Whatever.
15-oz can pumpkin
1/4 C heavy cream

Brown pork in oil. Add onion, garlic, poblanos, and jalapenos and cook, stirring, five minutes. Add cocoa powder, cumin, cinnamon, maybe a tsp of salt, and stir a couple of times. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 30 minutes (for pork tenderloin; an hour for pork shoulder, 2 1/2 hours for beef chuck, or 20 minutes or so for chicken. I used beef because that’s what I had. I simmered it at a low heat for an hour, reduced the heat to very very low and left it for an hour and a half while I went out. The lowest heat on my induction stovetop is barely warm enough to melt chocolate, so this was like a slow cooker temperature.)

After the meat is tender, add the pumpkin and cream (I used a generous quarter cup of coconut milk since I didn’t have cream around). Heat through. Taste and add more salt if necessary.

With a longer cooking time, the onions and chilies will just about melt into nothing. This is perfectly okay. With a shorter cooking time, the onions and so on will have more of a noticeable presence, which is also fine. I’m trying out different chili recipes for an upcoming chili cookoff and this one was both unusual and good. The pumpkin is not an identifiable presence, but it adds body and smoothness and cuts the heat. If you try this and it turns out to be too spicy for you despite the pumpkin and cream, try serving it with elbow macaroni or for that matter with rice, like a curry, which is what I’m going to try tonight.

There you go! Enjoy your Thanksgiving, all you Americans out there! I have a lot to be thankful for this year; I hope you all do too.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on November 20th, 2014

Another look at CJ Cherryh –

November 19th, 2014

Okay, so I’m still having trouble with comments, so if you have a comment, please email me at rneumeie@gmail.com and I’ll post it myself, okay? The problem is being worked on, so hopefully it’ll be fixed soon.

Meanwhile!

Mary Beth emailed me a comment about Cherryh’s “horses” in the CLOUD’S RIDER duology as aliens (though not quite sentient, maybe).

CloudsRider

Though I did like the horses in those books (“I want bacon!”), this duology wasn’t my favorite of Cherryh’s work, and I said so, and we had a conversation about dangerous carnivorous horses compared to My Pretty Pony Pal horses in fantasy, and about Cherryh in general, and I realized that really there have been quite a few Cherryh books that were not my favorites. So, here’s my top five picks for Cherryh, not necessarily the ones I’d recommend to just anybody new to her work, but my personal favorites. And my personal bottom five, just for balance.

CJ Cherryh’s Greatest Hits:

1. The Chanur series. Love it. Aliens and action and spaceships and complicated politics, and actually I think you can see Cherryh’s growth as a writer when you compare the first three with the fourth that was written later (Chanur’s Legacy).

2. Cuckoo’s Egg. The reason I didn’t put this in my “Great aliens” post is because the point of the story is not to make the aliens alien, exactly. Culturally they are distinctive, but psychologically they are imo quite human, and deliberately so. But it’s a great book, a standalone, short, with an intimate feel, truly one of my all-time favorite stories.

3. The Foreigner series. Okay, I love it, but I wouldn’t really suggest someone new to Cherryh start with a fifteen book series. Hah hah hah. No. But it is one of my favorites. Here’s Ann Leckie’s comments about the first book, which clearly explains both why I love this series and why I wouldn’t expect it to work for just everybody.

4. Paladin. This is one of Cherryh’s fantasies, one set in an alternate China.

Paladin

This is a wonderful story, very closely focused on just one POV character. My guess is it would probably seem too slow to some readers, but I love the day-to-day feel of the story. Actually, in some ways it reminds me of A Stranger to Command by Sherwood Smith — both emphasize day-to-day detail of military training. Anyway, Goodreads says: “Now betrayed by the Emperor he once protected, master swordsman Saukendar leaves the way of the sword behind him forever–so he thinks. When a headstrong peasant girl burning to avenge her murdered family demands that he train her, Saukendar is faced with a momentous choice. Send Taizu away, never see her again–or join her and destroy the tyrant who has nearly destroyed them both.” This is basically true, although the story opens years after Saukendar retires from the world.

5. Cyteen. I’ve re-read this one a bunch of times, though I must admit I skip ahead till young Ari appears. I loved the sequel, too, though for me Regenesis was all about watching Justin and Grant and Ari and everyone get their lives in order and only a tiny bit about actually finding out who initially killed the older Ariane Emory.

The bottom of Cherryh’s barrel:

5. Forty Thousand in Gehenna. Watching the slow-motion destruction of the society established on Gehenna is just rather painful, especially since we see a good many people live not very pleasant lives during that part, so the whole first two-thirds of the book are not a very enjoyable read, at least not for me. I liked it better once we skip forward to the new, altered society that eventually grows out of colony.

4. Wave Without a Shore. Too weird for me, or something. It’s been a long time. Maybe I should try it again. But the fact that I’ve never re-visited it says something right there.

3. Brothers of Earth. There’s putting your protagonist through hell, and then there’s putting your protagonist through hell. I can see some of the ideas from this book echoing forward into later work, the whole throw-one-human-into-an-alien-society thing that Cherryh returns to again and again, but imo the Faded Sun trilogy was so much better.

2. Faery in Shadow. Caithe mac Sliabhan is under a curse that can’t be broken, only sort of slanted to be a little less cruel. The whole thing is just too grim for me.

1. The Rusalka series. I read the first book, didn’t like it, bought the second book, never actually picked it up off the shelf, and eventually gave them away. This was Cherryh’s only Total Failure for me, since I did keep all the rest of her books, even those I haven’t re-read. Now I’m sort of inclined to go back to Wave Without A Shore. Maybe I’d like it better now.

How about you all? If you’re a CJC fan, what are your top and bottom picks? Are they totally different from mine?

Remember, if you can’t comment in the ordinary way, just email me at rneumeie@gmail.com

COMMENTS

Elaine T says: Way up at the top of the bottom list is DOWNBELOW STATION. It never worked for me. But I keep it because stuff in it is central to so much of her other sf.
Agree on Faery in Shadow. A friend of mine on a mailing list that CJC participated in swears the author thought FiS was a comedy, BTW. My friend and I agree that we don’t see how. Voyager in Night & Port Eternity, Brothers of Earth and the Hunter thing. Hestia.

Ones I revisit or that haunt me:

SF: Finity’s End, Rimrunners, 40K (I think I’m trying to understand it….) CYTEEN, CHANUR (all of it), WAVE WITHOUT A SHORE, parts of Foreigner, but not all of it, FADED SUN TRIPOINT, FORGE OF HEAVEN (maybe for the fashionistas).

Fantasy: Paladin, Goblin Mirror, FORTRESS (all but ICE which I pretend never happened), RIDER/Finisterre (I know it’s a planetary colony, but it reads like a Western crossed with sf/f elements, ok?), assorted short stories like THE LAST TOWER and a couple from Sunfall… The Teen was really taken by the Rusalka trilogy and I’ve had to reread it recently to be able to discuss it with her as she wants – it’s better than I remembered, and the last book definitely improved with her rewriting it. OTOH, said Teen has also created a Character Irrationality Scale and named it for one of the Rusalka characters who is extremely irrational.

And at this moment I’m rereading SERPENT’S REACH.

Me: I love the phrase “At the top of the bottom list.” Yep, that’s how I feel about 40 Thousand in Gehenna. And in fact I feel pretty much the same way about Downbelow Station, too. I see you didn’t limit yourself to five: that’s cheating!

I really like the Faded Sun trilogy and The Goblin Mirror; actually I also really like Voyager in Night and Hunter of Worlds (not so much Port Eternity, but I don’t hate it). Ugh, I’d forgotten about ICE, which I also pretend never appeared and is definitely on my bottom-five list, but I love the rest of the Fortress series.

A comedy, seriously? I don’t get that any more than you.

And I love love love the idea of a Character Irrationality Scale, but I don’t plan to re-read Rusalka in order to peg it to the irrational character in that one. I could use Julie from Set This House in Order, though.

Posted in: Blog by Rachel on November 19th, 2014