Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Wait! I, too, am Hugo-eligible this year

A fan very kindly contacted me to ask about wordcounts on the Black Dog short stories, because she wants to nominate one or more of them.

That’s enormously flattering. Just in case any of the rest of you would like to do the same, it turns out they all fall into the “Novelette” category.

The category lengths don’t make much sense to me and so they don’t stick in my head very well, but I looked them up and here they are:

Short story is under 7500 words.

Novelette is between 7500 and 17,500 words.

Novella is between 17,500 and 40,000 words.

And of course Novel is anything above 40,000 words.

A bit to my surprise, even my shorter stories in the Black Dog collection are above 7500, though not by much. The longest is just under 13,000 words. So they’re all novelettes.

Also, if you want to nominate something and aren’t sure what the wordcount is, when I was looking that up, I also noticed that the Hugo people say:

Don’t worry if you have not counted the number of words in a story that you want to nominate. Firstly you can check with some recommendation lists such as the ones linked to on this site. If the story is listed there it will almost certainly be in the right category. And if that doesn’t help, guess. The people who administer the voting are there to help, and they will generally move your nominations into the correct category if you have them wrong.

Good to know.

In my opinion, “The Master of Dimilioc” is the best of the bunch. I’d be very pleased to see it nominated, obviously (or any of the others, it goes without saying). There were fewer than fifty novelettes listed on the Hugo Eligible Spreadsheet a few days ago. I’m just saying.

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A close look at five first pages

So, at the moment, I’ve read four works I’d consider nominating for awards this year: Ancillary Mercy, The Country of Ice Cream Star, Uprooted, and Bone Gap. These comprise one space opera, one near-future dystopia, one fairy tale-style fantasy, and one contemporary fantasy that weaves mythology in with contemporary setting. All have excellent worldbuilding in their different fashions, and all have excellent writing; I mean, obviously. That’s why they’re on my current short list. Other than that, it’s a disparate group, that’s for sure.

At this point, I have six more award-eligible novels on my Kindle – I mean novels that have gotten a fair amount of attention and that I’m thinking might have a reasonable shot at getting nominated for awards this year. These are:

Karen Memory, by Bear, which I’m about halfway through and like a lot.

The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps, by Wilson, which Martha Wells recommended, and which won the 2016 Crawford Award, and which was available inexpensively for Kindle.

Persona, by Valentine, an author whose previous work I’ve seen recommended and which I picked up last year when it was a Kindle daily deal.

The Grace of Kings, by Liu, which was $2.99 on Kindle when I went to get a sample.

Silver on the Road, by Gilman, same as the above, and

The Lie Tree, by Hardinge, which I notice won the Costa Book of the Year award recently and which I was willing to pay more for because Cuckoo Song was fantastic and I’m now a Hardinge fan.

I also have samples of eight more eligible novels on my Kindle, and let me just point out to any interested publisher that the reason I don’t have the full books on there is because they’re priced way higher than, say, The Grace of Kings, or even The Lie Tree.

Anyway, I thought it’d be interesting to take a look at the five novels I have right here but haven’t started yet (I’ll post comments about Karen Memory in a few days, probably). So, in no particular order:

1. Kai Ashante Wilson, The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps

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The merchants and burdened camels went on ahead into the station at Mother of Waters. The guardsmen waited outside. Tufts of rough grass broke from the parched earth, nothing else green nearby. Demane squinted at the oasis. Palm trees and lush growth surrounded the lake, dazzle reflecting from the steely surface. Just look at her, Mother of Waters; was anything in the world more beautiful –?

“Sorcerer,” said the captain, tapping Demane’s arm. He got out of the way. Tall and thin, Captain escorted the caravanmaster to the front of the gathered brothers.

Earthy and round, the little man hopped up on a rock. “Your choices, gentlemen.” Master Suresh l’Merquerim broke it down for them. “Leave us; and join some other group of saltmen going straight back north. Do so, and you go home beggars. Three silver half-weights are what you’ll get from me, and not a whoring penny more. But permit me to ask: Who here has balls? That man I invite to press on with us! Hard men will be required on the road down past Mother of Waters, when we come to the Wildeeps, and later reach the wide prairies north of the great lady herself, Olorum City. Such men of courage as are among you, they shall know a rich reward once we arrive in Olorum. Loot, and more loot, I say! In Olorum, I shall open up a heavy bag. You will stick a greedy hand down into it, and grab out just as much silver as one fat filthy fist can hold.”

Nor had the caravanmaster quite finished. “We stay in Mother of Waters only for one night: tonight. Tomorrow dawn, this caravan hits the fucking road again.” Suresh really could stand to slow down on the cussing. While it was true that most brothers showed purer descent from that half of the mulatto north supposedly more blessed with brawn than brains, and for the merchants it was the other way around – brighter of complexion (and intellect?) – did it necessarily follow that one group deserved fine speech, while the other should get nasty words sprinkled on every single sentence?

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Comments:

If you’re considering picking this one up, let me just mention that the Kindle version has appallingly annoying paragraphing, with neither indentation nor skipped lines to show where one paragraph ends and the next begins. I’ve never seen that before and don’t know if it’s fixable. I’m not sure yet whether I’m going to find the book readable as-is.

Also, I may be biased by the paragraphing, but nothing about that beginning looks especially noteworthy. I don’t think it’s all that catchy, actually. Well, to be honest, it’s another paragraphing issue that’s bothering me – I don’t think Wilson is paragraphing between characters as he should. I don’t know whether this might be another weird formatting thing or whether it’s part of Wilson’s style, but I don’t like it.

And the last sentence I quoted above is maybe a little clunky and confusing.

Let’s see what Goodreads says:

Since leaving his homeland, the earthbound demigod Demane has been labeled a sorcerer. With his ancestors’ artifacts in hand, the Sorcerer follows the Captain, a beautiful man with song for a voice and hair that drinks the sunlight.

The two of them are the descendants of the gods who abandoned the Earth for Heaven, and they will need all the gifts those divine ancestors left to them to keep their caravan brothers alive.

The one safe road between the northern oasis and southern kingdom is stalked by a necromantic terror. Demane may have to master his wild powers and trade humanity for godhood if he is to keep his brothers and his beloved captain alive.

Hmm. I sure don’t get any hint of that from the first page. I see this book has a rating of 3.76 and 130 reviews right now.

Well, I’ll go on with this one, at least to the end of the sample, because after all, Martha Wells recommends it. And it did win that award. If I think it’s worth going on with, I will consider getting a paper copy because of this stupid paragraphing issue.

Next:

2. Genevieve Valentine, Persona

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The International Assembly audience hall was half-empty – too empty, Suyana might have said, in her first year there, when she was still surprised by the distance between good public relations and good politics. Now, looking across so many empty seats just made her heavy to the bones.

“Georgia,” the proctor called. “Germany. Ghana. Gibraltar.”

Missed opportunity, Suyana thought, every time the proctor’s eyes fell on an empty chair. An open vote was one of the rare times Faces pretended at politics. You were voting the way you were told, but even pretending was something and she couldn’t imagine giving it up.

The rest of your life was photo shoots and PSAs and school visits and saying what your handler told you to say, and going to parties where you tried desperately to look like you belonged amid a sea of other Faces who were higher on the guest list than you were.

Suyana put up with the rest of it because three or four times a year, she got to raise her hand and be counted. And today was a vote, and only half were here.

Some – the ones who ranked above her on guest lists – didn’t bother. Some feared what would happen if they did the wrong thing in front of the Big Nine, and their handlers had advised them to steer clear.

Her stomach twisted.

“They might as well just decide without us and inform us how we voted by mail,” she muttered.

Magnus said without looking over, “Try and sound professional, please, on the incredibly slim chance a reporter has a camera on you.”

No chance. The United Amazonian Rainforest Confederation had only been interesting three years ago, when the outpost got blown to pieces. Cameras had watched her for six weeks, until some other story broke.

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What do you think? Sounds . . . I’m not sure. The idea of having to sit through day-to-day corrupt politics where the fix is in, well, it’s incredibly off-putting. Suyana as a protagonist seems to have a life that I would run the other way from. I mean, I would run a literal marathon in the other direction if someone wanted me to take this woman’s place. And I am definitely not a fan of jogging, so that’s saying something.

I assume Suyana is torn away from her ordinary life, though. Let’s see, here’s what Goodreads says about Persona:

An acerbic thriller from a Nebula award finalist, set against the backdrop of a near-future world of celebrity ambassadors and assassins who manipulate the media to the point where the only truth seekers left are the paparazzi.

When Suyana, Face of the United Amazonia Rainforest Confederation, secretly meets Ethan of the United States for a date that can solidify a relationship for the struggling UARC, the last thing she expects is an assassination attempt. Daniel, a teen runaway-turned-paparazzi out for his big break, witnesses the first shot hit Suyana, and before he can think about it, he jumps into the fray, telling himself it’s not altruism, it’s the scoop. Just like that, Suyana and Daniel are now in the game of Faces. And if they lose, they’ll die.

Yeah, not sounding like anything I would particularly go out of my way to read. It has a rating of 3.42 and 90 reviews at the moment.

Moving on:

3. Ken Liu, The Grace of Kings

+++++++++++++++

A white bird hung still in the clear western sky and flapped its wings sporadically.

Perhaps it was a raptor that had left its nest on one of the soaring peaks of the Er-Mé Mountains a few miles away in search of prey. But this was not a good day for hunting – a raptor’s usual domain, this sun-parched section of the Porin Plains, had been taken over by people.

Thousands of spectators lined both sides of the wide road out of Zudi; they paid the bird no attention. They were here for the Imperial Procession.

They had gasped in awe as a fleet of giant Imperial airships had passed overhead, shifting gracefully from one elegant formation to another. They had gawped in respectful silence as the heavy battle-carts rolled before them, thick bundles of ox sinew draping from the stone-throwing arms. They had praised the emperor’s foresight and generosity as his engineers sprayed the crowd with perfumed water from ice wagons, cool and refreshing in the hot sun and dusty air of northern Cocru. They had clapped and cheered the best dancers the six conquered Tiro states had to offer: five hundred Faca maidens who gyrated seductively in the veil dance, a sight once reserved for the royal court in Boama; four hundred Cocru sword twirlers who spun their blades into bright chrysanthemums of cold light that melded martial glory with lyrical grace; dozens of elegant, stately elephants from wild, sparsely settled Écofi Island, painted with the colors of the Seven States – the largest male draped in the white flag of Xana, as one would expect, while the others wore the rainbow colors of the conquered lands.

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And so on. Actually, Le Guin had an opening a lot like this in The Left Hand of Darkness, which as you know I read recently. I mean: not an Imperial Procession, of course. But a ritual filled with pomp and spectacle. I find this kind of scene vastly more inviting than the political minutia of Persona, no question about that, but I also can’t help but think: Le Guin did it better. Her prose was just more graceful. This is serviceable, I’ve got a picture of the scene, and yet. Well, Le Guin does set a high bar as a prose stylist, I think.

It’s five more pages before we meet the two boys that I presume will be protagonists. I don’t mind that, but I expect that some readers will look at this and declare that the book is too slow. This is a really long book, though, so it seems fine to me to take some time setting the scene.

Goodreads says:

Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, and shapeshifting gods. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice.

Well, that seems like it is kind of a set up for tragedy. I see it has a rating of 3.76 and 500 reviews. Maybe I will read some of the reviews before deciding whether to go on with it.

4. Laura Anne Gilman, Silver on the Road

+++++++++++++++

Izzy leaned against the railing and watched the sun rise over the far end of town. Flood wasn’t much to look at, she’d admit. Sun-greyed planks and local stone: there wasn’t much point in prettifying with paint when the wind and sun would only beat you back down to plain again.

The way the story’d been told her when she was younger, a gospel sharp had ridden into town befor there was much of a town at all, just the saloon and a couple-three homesteads, looked around, and pronounced that they’d be the first washed away, come the Flood. The name’d stuck. But the sharp had been wrong about the important thing: Flood had dug its roots in deep and stuck, too. In addition to the saloon, there were a dozen storefronts now, and a bank, and thirty families living within town limits. “Thirty pieces of silver,” the boss called them, and would shake his head and laugh, and say they’d gotten that story all wrong, too.

The boss had a sense of humor, Izzy thought. Not a man could say he didn’t.

The sun was stretching higher over the rooftops now, and the town was beginning to stir; she could hear Missus Wallace calling to her chickens, and then the blacksmith’s hammer rang out, a pause followed by a series of steady blows. Hiram was always the first to work each morning, and his forge never cooled entirely, the scent of brimstone and hot metal always in the air. Izzy breathed in, letting the familiar stink settle in her chest. Her bare toes curled and relaxed against the dry wood of the verandah, the morning sun touching her upturned face.

Winters were bad, dry and cold, and in summer, the sun got hot and the ground got hotter and mostly folk stayed under shade if they could. Just now, though, Flood was nearly perfect.

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Okay, I like this. The voice is clear and distinctive and helps to set the scene. So far, just based on the first page, this is definitely the one I would be most inclined to go on with. Of course I have always kind of liked western settings, and we never have gotten too many stories with this kind of setting. This book has been on my radar since before it was published, actually, so I was pleased to see the ebook price set so low. It’s a Saga title, and I did mention they were (sensibly, imo) going to be playing with low ebook prices this spring.

Anyway, let’s see what Goodreads says:

On her sixteenth birthday, Isobel makes the choice to work for the devil in his territory west of the Mississippi. But this is not the devil you know. This is a being who deals fairly with immense—but not unlimited—power, who offers opportunities to people who want to make a deal, and makes sure they always get what they deserve. But his land is a wild west that needs a human touch, and that’s where Izzy comes in.

This one has a rating of 4.06 stars — that’s definitely promising — and 115 reviews so far.

All right, and the last one for now:

5. Frances Hardinge, The Lie Tree

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The boat moved with a nauseous, relentless rhythm, like someone chewing on a rotten tooth. The islands just visible through the mist also looked like teeth, Faith decided. Not fine, clean Dover teeth, but jaded, broken teeth, jutting crookedly amid the wash of the choppy grey sea. The mailboat chugged its dogged way through the waves greasing the sky with smoke.

“Osprey,” said Faith through chattering teeth, and pointed.

Her six-year-old brother Howard twisted round, too slow to see the great bird, as its pale body and dark-fringed wings vanished into the mist. Faith winced as he shifted his eight on her lap. At least he had stopped demanding his nursemaid.

“Is that where we are going?” Howard squinted at the ghostly islands ahead.

“Yes, How.” Rain thudded against the thin wooden roof above their heads. The cold wind blew in from the deck, stinging Faith’s face.

In spite of the noise around her, Faith was sure that she could hear faint sounds coming from the crate on which she sat. Rasps of movement, breathy slithers of scale on scale. It pained Faith to think of her father’s little Chinese snake inside, weak with the cold, coiling and uncoiling itself in panic with every tilt of the deck.

+++++++++++++++

Oh, I’m right there with Faith! I also feel sorry for the poor snake. Did I ever mention that I really like snakes? I admire the big guys, the boas and so on, but I used to have a couple of little corn snakes. Then for a brief while I had a lot of corn snakes, as the female laid eggs. (I sold the babies eventually, because no one really needs that many snakes in one apartment.)

Anyway, I’d call that an engaging opening. Well, I have confidence in Hardinge. Everyone else here is new to me, or at least pretty new. I’ve read a couple of Liu’s shorter works, but that’s it. I don’t know anything about The Lie Tree, I just bought it because of the author, so let’s see what Goodreads has to say about this one:

When Faith’s father is found dead under mysterious circumstances, she is determined to untangle the truth from the lies. Searching through his belongings for clues she discovers a strange tree. A tree that feeds off whispered lies and bears fruit that reveals hidden secrets. The bigger the lie, the more people who believe it, the bigger the truth that is uncovered.

The girl realizes that she is good at lying and that the tree might hold the key to her father’s murder, so she begins to spread untruths far and wide across her small island community. But as her tales spiral out of control, she discovers that where lies seduce, truths shatter. . . .

Wow, creepy. This one has a raiting of 4.28 and nearly 180 reviews.

To put all these in perspective, Seveneves, which I haven’t read, has 3700 reviews and Uprooted has 5600. So I’m not sure that any of the titles above has a prayer of making it onto, say, the Hugo short list. Perhaps of getting a Nebula nomination, though, or a nod for the World Fantasy Award list.

Anyway, do any of those catch your eye? As always, if you’ve read these, comments are welcome!

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Finished!

Well, pretty much finished, for now. With The White Road of the Moon, of course.

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Interesting things to note:

Of the five sentences that had no period at the end, I only caught one. Michelle caught four more. I wonder whether any are left for the copy editor? Wouldn’t you think those would jump out at you? It’s amazing what you miss.

I myself caught the two pronoun mistakes left over from replacing a deleted character with a character of the opposite sex. Wow, that would be jarring for the reader if one of those made it into the finished copy! Luckily they’re easier to spot.

Words I searched for and removed many instances of: very, really, nodded, sharp, intangible. Michelle’s the one who caught the over-use of “sharp.” It was in there 58 times. Now it’s more like 20 or so, which should be okay. Of course, “very” was in there 258 times. There are still quite a few instances. Sometimes it honestly does sound right, and of course sometimes it’s not “You’re very tall” but rather “standing at the very edge of the cliff,” which is a completely okay use of the word.

I’m sure the copy editor will still find many many many places where I repeated a single world four times in one paragraph. Sigh.

Still, the important thing is that my editor thinks the plot is coherent and the ending makes sense. Lots of little scribbled “Yay!” and “Fantastic!” comments in the margin at the end of the penultimate and ultimate chapters. Soooo satisfying. Endings are hard! Always a great pleasure to find one has pulled that off.

Next, gotta send my agent a note to the effect that comments would now be welcome on the last of my four under-contract manuscripts. And then choose the next project to work on … a Black Dog short story, maybe, to get me warmed up, and then the SF novel I have had in the back of my mind for a couple years. I have maybe 50 pp or so written. I need to re-read those and think about how to go on with that story.

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Mari Ness analyzes “The Lion King”

My opinion: Very pretty movie, some nice animation, love the setting, some of the songs are fine. Not quite clear on why prey animals are so super-excited at the birth of a predator, but okay.

Not okay, actually. That’s ridiculous.

The bad guy is the uncle? Really?

The hyenas starve without lions to be the boss and I guess hunt for them and so on? Really? ???!!?? Way to reinforce a completely false picture of hyenas as scavengers, when they are way more effective predators than lions.

But moving on to the actual themes of a human story being told with animal characters:

What an appalling abdication of responsibility, and it takes your girlfriend showing up to make you realize you have blown off everything important? UGH.

So, well, I realize everyone else loved this movie, but I was rather hoping Ness would take it apart a little, though I didn’t expect her to hit quite the same reasons I didn’t like it.

Here is Mari Ness:

How exactly did this ritual of allowing a mandrill to dangle a small baby lion off the edge of a cliff develop? And speaking of this mandrill, when, exactly, did he learn martial arts, and who, exactly, taught him? Are the animals in “I Just Can’t Wait To Be King” singing along in the hopes that if they do, they won’t get eaten, or because they, too, kinda side with Scar on the “Get Rid of Mufasa” thing and figure that a cute little lion cub has got to be better than a king who forces them to bow down to the lion cub that’s going to eat them? What is the anteater doing in that scene? How, in the barren land that Scar created out of Pride Rock, did Timon find enough grass to make a grass skirt and do the hulu? Or does Timon just carry long blades of grass around for just that sort of emergency? Can a little lion like Simba really grow to full size on a diet of bugs? What’s with this desert that appears between the Pride Lands and where Timon and Puumba live? Why does not one lion ask Scar for proof that little Simba is dead?

And bigger questions: Why, exactly, in a film about taking personal responsibility seriously, is one of its most memorable songs—Hakuna Matata—all about avoiding that responsibility? It’s the African savannah—where are the leopards and cheetahs? (Actually, I do know the answer to that one—”cut from the script.”) And finally, how did Scar get all of the minor volcanic eruptions to explode on cue like that during his song, not to mention getting a pillar of stone to lift him to the sky at the appropriate moment?

Though I applauded everything in these paragraphs and invite you all to click through and read the entire post, I will admit that my very, very favorite tidbit is the admittedly trivial complaint about the anteaters. I though I was the ONLY PERSON EVER to notice the out-of-place anteaters, which are not an African species (giant anteaters are South American).

Anyway. I will admit the Broadway show was actually very impressive, even if I still thoroughly disliked the plot and most of the characters. But for Disney movies, this is always going to rank near the bottom for me.

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The 1941 Retro Hugo

I’m pulling this out of comments, with thanks to Mike S, in case any of you find it interesting or helpful:

Mike says:

This year’s Hugos also include the 1941 Retro Hugos, for works published in 1940. Those include

The Wheels of If – L. Sprague de Camp (seminal alternate history/parallel world story)

Three stories by Heinlein: Requiem (especially appropriate in the age of Musk and Bezos), , The Roads Must Roll (a trademark Heinlein look at the social and political ramifications of a technology), and If This Goes On– (to which every SFnal revolution-against-repression down to The Hunger Games owes a debt)

Robbie – Isaac Asimov (first of his robot stories)

Gray Lensman – E.E. Smith (the prototypical space opera, and still one of the best)

Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius – Jorge Luis Borges (surreal and difficult to describe, but classic Borges)

File 770 has links to ebook anthologies of short stories and novelettes now in the public domain that are eligible for nomination.

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Thanks, Mike! Looks like the links go to free collections of stories, suitable for epub or Kindle.

Also provided: tables of contents for the collections.

Although these stories are historically interesting and I’d probably like many of them, I doubt I’ll have time to do more than dabble a toe in the shallow end of these collections. For me, the Retro Hugo pretty much falls under So Much To Read, So Little Time.

If any of you want to specifically recommend particular stories, though, I’ll try to take a look at a least a couple, because I do like the *idea* of the Retro Hugo Awards.

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Lifting our eyes to the stars

Of course you all noticed how cool last year was with regard to astronomy, and of course we all firmly believe that aliens are building a Dyson sphere around Star KIC 8462852, which certainly deserves a real name after all the fuss, I must add.

I’m expecting and hoping that 2016 continues the trend, and I’m pleased to see a scattering of newsworthy items related to space, if not to alien Dyson spheres:

First, it looks like Luxembourg is going to start developing techniques for mining asteroids. Go, Luxembourg! Show the rest of the world how it’s done! I’m particularly pleased to see that this has prompted a US company to form a Luxembourg subsidiary.

And second, it seems that Elon Musk is ready to explain the plans for getting to Mars. This is a great time to make that effort, with “The Martian” hopefully revving up enthusiasm. Go, Elon Musk!

Berger also reports that Musk may take a flight up to the International Space Station as a tourist in 2020 or 2021, likely aboard a Crew Dragon. “I don’t think it’s that hard honestly,” he said of any possible training regimen. “You float around.”

2020 is honestly seeming REALLY close to me. Great to think of this much progress by then.

Third, to file under Apocalypse Someday, it looks like the Andromeda galaxy is set to collide with our galaxy.

The Andromeda galaxy in the far north lies a comfortable 2.5 million light-years away. But it is rushing towards us, with no hope of deviation, at 250,000 accelerating to a million mph.

Anyone want to do the math to see how long it takes to travel 2.5 million light years if you’re moving a million miles per hour? Lessee, 5.9X10^12 miles per light year, 2.5 million light years, 8760 hours per year . . . looks like about 1.7 billion years, rounding it off. The point is, no need to worry about it. If we haven’t committed species suicide by then, I expect we’ll manage to cope. Galaxy collision would be something else, though. It probably happens all the time, really, but still.

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Recent Reading: BONE GAP by Laura Ruby

Bone Gap is one of the many 2015 releases I was hoping to read before nominations for this year’s Hugo close. As it happens, I had a few days after I basically finished this current round of revision for The White Road of the Moon, and while I was waiting for a marked-up manuscript of the same to make it to my house – it was delayed, and I needed to go over it before finishing the current revision — I had a chance to read something off my Urgent TBR pile.

The marked-up paper copy of my manuscript looks like it will be easy and quick to go through as well, so Yay! I will probably shoot it back to my editor on Monday, after which I’ll be free to choose something else to read. I’m thinking I will probably read Karen Memory, since I have it on my Kindle and the beginning is catchy.

Anyway! Bone Gap:

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The people of Bone Gap called Finn a lot of things, but none of them was his name. When he was little, they called him Spaceman. Sidetrack. Moonface. You. As he got older, they called him Pretty Boy. Loner. Brother. Dude.

But whatever they called him, they called him fondly. Despite his odd expressions, his strange distraction, and that annoying way he had of creeping up on a person, they knew him as well as they knew anyone. As well as they knew themselves. They knew him like they knew that Old Charlie Valentine preferred his chickens to his great-grandchildren, and sometimes let them roost in his house. (The chickens, not the children.) The way they knew that the Cordero family had a ghost that liked to rifle through the fridge at night. The way they knew that Priscilla Willis, the beekeeper’s homely daughter, had a sting worse than any bee. The way they knew that Bone Gap had gaps just wide enough for people to slip through, or slip away, leaving only their stories behind.

As for Finn, well, they thought he was a little weird, but that was okay with them. “Yeah, that boy’s nuttier than a honey cluster,” they might say. “But he’s a fine-looking nut. A sharp nut. Our nut.” Finn, they were sure, had his heart in the right place. Just the way they did.

Eventually, though, they found out that there was a good reason for Finn’s odd expressions, his strange distraction, that annoying way he had of creeping up on a person. A good reason he never looked anyone in the eye.

But by then it was too late, and the girl they loved most – and knew least of all – was gone.

MAY
MILK MOON

The corn was talking to him again.

It had been a warm winter and a balmy spring in Bone Gap, so everyone with a field and a taste for corn had plowed and planted earlier than they’d ever dared before. On the last day of his junior year, exactly two months after his life had burst like a thunderhead, Finn walked home from the bus stop past plants already up to his waist. It was his favorite part of the afternoon, or should have been: the sun was bright and hot in the sky, the corn twitching their green fingers. Corn can inches in a single day; if you listened, you could hear it grow. Finn caught the familiar whisper – here, here, here – and wished it would shut up.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

What I like about this beginning: Everything in the prologue is so misleading! Go back and look at that line: They knew him as well as they knew anyone. We are going to find out that practically everything “they” know about everyone is wrong. I love this.

Although I should add that the town of Bone Gap really does have gaps “just wide enough for people to slip through, or slip away.” That part is true.

What I don’t like about this beginning: You can’t tell how misleading the prologue is until after you’ve read the book. And when I encountered it for the first time, that prologue was kind of a turn-off. It looks like we may be forced to re-live some horrible tragedy and that we may be forced to inhabit the pov of a creepy kid who did something awful to a girl. The cover doesn’t help because it has a horror vibe.

If you all hadn’t insisted Bone Gap was a great book, if I’d opened this book in the bookstore and just read the first couple of pages, I wouldn’t have gone on with it.

What Bone Gap is not: It does have a horror vibe to it, so that cover is actually appropriate. But it isn’t really horror. You could call this story dark fantasy, but I’m not sure that is the best term, either.

What Bone Gap is: a contemporary story that reverberates with myth; in particular, with the Persephone myth.

The quote from Lockhart on the front cover refers to this story as magical realism. I don’t think that’s quite correct, though I can understand why some readers would tend to put it in that category. In magical realism, magical things are part of the setting and taken rather or granted by everyone. In Bone Gap, the only people who perceive the magical layers of the world are Finn and Petey (Priscilla). Well, and Roza, of course, who has been kidnapped. And Charlie Valentine, who is not what he seems. But no one else perceives the magical aspects of the world.

Though this book is clearly fantasy, I could see this being pushed as a mainstream literary novel. I wonder if it was marketed that way?

Anyway: What I particularly admire about Bone Gap.

The characterization. I love Finn and Petey; Finn’s brother Sean and Petey’s mom Mel. I love the relationships between all these people! I do blame Sean a little for not trusting his brother more, but I can see why he didn’t; and I also blame him for letting Roza go, but I definitely see what led him to do that.

I love Finn’s bravery, which is the courage of the loner who has learned to go his own way regardless of what other people think; and I love Petey’s ferocity and strength, a kind of strength which is different from Finn’s, and complementary. And Roza’s courage, which is different again – the strength to endure, and to keep trying to rescue herself, and never give up. Roza honestly does not come across as too good to be true even though everyone loves her.

I particularly love Finn, who is face blind. I don’t mind telling you all about this twist partly because I think it is incredibly obvious. I acknowledge that I may perceive this as obvious partly because I recently read Oliver Sacks’ The Mind’s Eye and partly because I’m moderately face blind myself, though not nearly to the degree Finn is, of course. But that bit about never being able to tell the male actors apart in movies is definitely something I recognize! But also, I don’t think it will hurt anything if you know about this twist going in, even if you wouldn’t have picked up on it till Petey figures it out near the end.

It’s so unusual for an author to hand a protagonist some kind of issue like this, and here Finn’s face blindness is beautifully elucidated as well as integral to the plot.

The elegant construction of the story. I love the use of the corn and the cornfields; I love how the idea of “what people know” is constructed and deconstructed; I love how the Persephone myth looms behind the contemporary setting. I want to read this book again just to appreciate its structure.

Which is not to say I understand everything Ruby was doing. I don’t understand the presence of the black mare; she helped bring Finn and Petey together and she helped show them the magic behind the ordinary world, but I can’t see how she actually fits into the mythology of the world or how she was integral to the plot. Though of course I loved her, because magical horse, what’s not to love? I also don’t really understand the dog that Roza befriends. If he was in the underworld, was he not dead? And if he were dead, how could he be brought with her back into the world of the living? But again, I’m willing to accept the dog because he’s a great dog. Also, I feel like perhaps Ruby had something in mind for those sorts of elements that does make them integral to the story and I’m just missing it. Ideas, if you’ve read this book?

The actual sentence-level writing is also very strong. The single most delightful element was the playful use of the concept of the essay prompt by Finn and Petey. Because they’re both thinking of college application essays, they play around with coming up with the most ridiculous prompts, a game which Finn then uses to construct a poem that finally makes Petey accept that he really does love her. Describe someone who has had the biggest impact on your life using only adverbs. Furiously, smoothly, ferociously, surprisingly, deliciously, quickly, slowly. These are presented to the reader one at a time so we can appreciate each one.

The ending. Love it.

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Hugo nominations are open —

You may know that Hugo nominations are now open! The nomination window closes March 31st.

You’re eligible to nominate if you were a member of last year’s convention (Sasquan), if you are a member of this year’s convention (MidAmeriCon II), or are a member of next year’s convention (Worldcon 75). You can, of course, join this year’s Worldcon in Kansas City whenever you like, and if you join before the end of March, you’re eligible to nominate. Whoops, Linda S reminds me that this is not true! You had to be a member before the end of January in order to nominate. Too bad!

But you can still join this year, of course, and thus you’d be eligible to nominate next year. For example, you could then nominate MY books, if you happened to want to…

There is an incredibly handy spreadsheet here, listing eligible works. One hundred eighty novels have been added to that spreadsheet so far, including the three novels which I have tentatively pegged for nominations.

Thirty-five novellas, forty-seven novelettes, and a hundred fifty-six short stories are also listed on that spreadsheet.

There is zero chance I will read everything listed, obviously. I mean, that’s not even vaguely possible, even if I did nothing but read and play with puppies for the next two months. I already know more or less which novels I would like to read. But I will probably read *some* of the shorter works off those lists.

Martha Wells has a couple of recommendations so far at her livejournal. She says: I’m not sure what all I’m nominating yet, though two will definitely be for The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson and short story “The Demon of Russet Street” by Jessica Reisman (which is online here: http://www.3lobedmag.com/issue27/3lbe27_story5.html )

I notice that neither of these works is yet on the spreadsheet nomination lists. The chances I’ll read them is very good, so I guess I’ll figure out how to add stuff to the spreadsheet if necessary. I noticed The Sorcerer of the Wildeeps is $2.99 for the ebook on Amazon, so I already picked up a copy.

NOTICE TO PUBLISHERS: LOOK HOW EASY THAT SALE WAS AT THAT PRICE.

Ahem. Moving on.

1. The works I am seriously considering nominating so far

a) Uprooted by Naomi Novik

b) The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman

c) Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

d) “Penric’s Demon”, the novella by Lois McMaster Bujold. It’s not just that I don’t read many novellas — I really liked this one!

e) UPDATE: Okay, you were all right, I really loved Bone Gap! I still have to mull it over, but maybe I will wind up nominating it. Really nicely put together.

2. The three four novels I would most like to read before the end of the nomination period:

a) Bone Gap by Ruby. So many of the book bloggers I particularly follow loved this book. It took me a while to get a copy (because of the price, yes), but I do have it on my Kindle now and I started it last night.

b) Walk on Earth a Stranger by Carson, which ditto, except I don’t actually have a copy, so we’ll just see how much I really want to read it. I have a sample, at least.

c) Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard by Schoen, which came out at the tag end of 2015, so I don’t know what kind of chance it has of being noticed by enough people. Amazon describes it this way:

In a distant future, no remnants of human beings remain, but their successors thrive throughout the galaxy. These are the offspring of humanity’s genius-animals uplifted into walking, talking, sentient beings. The Fant are one such species: anthropomorphic elephants ostracized by other races, and long ago exiled to the rainy ghetto world of Barsk. There, they develop medicines upon which all species now depend. The most coveted of these drugs is koph, which allows a small number of users to interact with the recently deceased and learn their secrets.

The thing with the uplifted species sounds fantastic. The thing with the drug sounds ridiculous, but the book is getting good reviews and I’m hoping it seems less silly when you’re actually reading the story. The price for the ebook is $12.99, which also sounds fairly ridiculous when I have never read anything by Schoen before and have no idea what he’s like as a writer. I have a sample on my Kindle and I suppose I will read that and then consider just how much I want to go on with it.

d) Update: I just realized that Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear belongs in this category. I actually have it in my possession right now, so I expect I will read it next.

3. The three novels I would most like to read but am scared of:

a) The Fifth Season by Jemisin. It just sounds so utterly grim and tragic! Like so:

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

I just don’t quite know if I can stand to even start this book.

b) The House of Shattered Wings by de Bodard. It sounds like it is probably at the edge of too gritty for me — or beyond the edge. Like so:

Paris has survived the Great Houses War – just. Its streets are lined with haunted ruins, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine runs black with ashes and rubble. Yet life continues among the wreckage. The citizens continue to live, love, fight and survive in their war-torn city, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over the once grand capital.

Also, stories involving angels are often kind of a turn-off for me. Not always. But I’m wary of the fallen angel trope.

c) The Grace of Kings by Liu.

I hear there are a zillion pov characters and a huuuuge sweeping epic plot, and frankly I am not all that wild about such books. Also, Ken Liu has tended to fall into a documentary nonfiction style in his other work, and I’m wary that this book might read like a history textbook. Also, Three-Body Problem had imo utterly wooden characters and boring writing, and since Liu was the translator, I don’t know how much of that perception might be due to his work rather than the author’s. Soooo . . . not sure I’m ready to invest much time in this.

4. The long list of novels I would really like to take a look at between now and the close of the nomination period:

Six of Crows by Burdugo. I was not super-crazy about Shadow and Bone, so her 2015 title is not really that high on my must-read list.

Scorpion Rules by Bow. I liked Plain Kate, but not as much as a lot of people did, so ditto for this title.

The Sorcerer and the Crown. I KNOW, ALL RIGHT? I know you all loved this book! I read the sample and frankly did not find the beginning all that catchy or compelling. But yes, all your up-votes for this book means I would like to go on with it and see if it grows on me.

Silver on the Road by Gilman. The description just sounds intriguing and promising.

The Lie Tree by Hardinge. After reading other books by

The Invisible Library by Cogman. I’ve heard good things about this.

Court of Fives by Elliot. It sounds a touch cliched. It really does. Yet if Kate Elliot wrote it, surely it is an interesting take on the standard kid-enters-important-competition subgenre?

Archivist Wasp by Kornher-Stace. I know almost nothing about this book, but I’ve heard it mentioned in glowing terms.

Persona by Valentine. I’ve heard good things about earlier titles by Valentine, which makes me interested in this one, but I haven’t read any of her work yet.

The Just City by Walton. Honestly I’m not sure it’s my kind of thing. I would expect to engage with it intellectually, but probably not emotionally. I’m unlikely to nominate a book I appreciate mainly or entirely on an intellectual level. But . . . who knows?

Aaaand …

The Pyramids of London by Höst. I was totally not going to read this until the series was complete. But I’m uncomfortable with that plan considering this book is eligible. I think it would be truly excellent if something by Höst got nominated.

Though I don’t think the chances are at all good that could happen. I suspect that in order to have a chance, a book must have gotten quite a lot of attention already, as reflected by the number of Goodreads reviews and so on. That most likely is going to kill the chances for BARSK, too, simply because a book that came out at the end of December seems unlikely to be competitive compared with a book that’s had nearly a full year to gather momentum.

I’m more likely to nominate works that I love that I also think have a chance of getting through the nomination process. So . . . we’ll see.

Comments about the above titles (or other titles) are welcome! Especially the three I’m scared of. If you’ve read them, what did you think?

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The overlap between eBooks and “maybe” books

Several comments to the previous post about frustration with the increase in ebook prices! I want to comment more extensively about that.

Mona says: Regarding the kindle price > hard copy price: So ANNOYING! I really want to buy that book, but I’m not going to pay $6+ for a book I can’t sell, lend, transfer, or even hold in my hands! Ridiculous. …I’ve lost count how many books I went to buy on Amazon, and then this very issue stopped me.

Elaine says: I figure publishers want readers to buy the paper copy. instead they’re losing my business for a lot of ‘maybe’ books. I’m getting harder and harder to convince to buy a high priced e-book. Sometimes I’ve liked a sample, then looked at the price – and decided to pass and try the library, or just something else.

And of course Hanneke says: Anything below $10 looks cheap (like an easy buy) to Dutch eyes! … $15 to $20 is normal, even for popular (kids’) books that have been in print for decades

To which last comment, my response is, WHOA, BRILLIANT WAY TO NOT SELL BOOKS.

Anyway, my point is this:

I am 100% certain that by raising ebook prices, publishers are going to move fewer books through legitimate markets, while increasing the incentive for readers to shift to libraries, used books, and ebook piracy. To me as a reader this is mildly annoying. As an author who is not a mega-bestseller, it is infuriating.

I wonder how many of you came across posts last year about how ebook sales are falling relative to print sales? I sure did, and some articles attribute this to ebooks hitting their natural ceiling of acceptance. This is not very persuasive. I’m not sure who out there can fail to see that as ebook prices rise, sales will inevitably fall, as described for example here:

The Wall Street Journal reports that Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster have all reported declining online book sales after inking deals with Amazon that gave the publishers more say in the prices for their titles.

A look at the Kindle store found that each of the five big publishers – which also includes Penguin Random House and Macmillian – have an average cost of $10.81 per e-book, while online books from others had an average price of $4.95, research group Codex Group LLC found.

What a shock! As prices rise, demand falls? Who would imagine such a thing! Next we will discover that when you drop objects, gravity still causes them to fall! And yet some people still find this hard to believe, evidently:

Still, other publishers tell the WSJ that e-book sales aren’t a result of the Amazon deals. In fact, he says the industry is a “title driven business. If you have a good book, price isn’t an issue.”

The attribution of the “he” in the second sentence there is not clear, but one gathers it’s an “industry professional.” Well, buddy, no wonder Amazon is eating your lunch. Price isn’t an issue! Really! You know, if you believe that one, I don’t know what to tell you. But if you want a great bridge, I have one riiiight here.

I’m sure it won’t amaze you all that the connected poll indicates that 94.7% of respondents disagree with the price-doesn’t-matter guy.

I hear that Saga — you know, the Simon and Schuster imprint that’s bringing out two of my books this year and next — is going to be playing with lower ebook prices this spring. WELL, GOOD. I hope they CRUSH THE COMPETITION so obviously that even the most committed price-doesn’t-matter people realizes that just possibly they are a trifle overoptimistic on that one. Naturally, I would be particularly pleased if *my* books crush the competition! Onward with that!

Anyway: for me as a reader, anything over $10, I will just wait until the price comes down or until I can get it used unless the book is:

a) Exactly what I want to read right this minute and I can’t stand to wait.

b) By Patricia McKillip or CJ Cherryh.

c) A beautiful cookbook that I really want. Those almost never come down to the $10 level, and no wonder, as photograph-heavy as they are. So there’s no point waiting for that to happen. I often pick up used copies, though, if the publisher’s price is really high.

Categories (a) and (b) overlap sometimes, but not all the time. And probably there are other authors who join those two from time to time. But the fact is, there are A LOT OF BOOKS. If one seems to be priced excessively high, then what the heck, I will read something else and just wait for the price to come down or for used books to appear. When I was a struggling student, I routinely waited years for the mass market paperback to be released. This is just like that, except my TBR pile is way more extensive and seriously, I would not run out of stuff to read for years if I quit buying new books altogether.

I am CERTAIN that publishers are losing a TON of “Maybe I’d like this” sales to readers who complete that sentence, “but since it’s so expensive, I guess I’ll read fill-in-the-blank instead.”

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Why agents reject a manuscript

Well, one agent. Kristen Nelson has a pair of interesting posts up:

#1 Reason I Pass Even If The Writing Is Good

The #1 reason I pass on manuscripts with good writing is because of a lack of pacing.

Just recently, I read a submission where I thought the writer was extremely talented. As I was reading, I couldn’t help but think that the beginning seemed ponderously slow. I gave up before page 100 despite some lovely lyrical prose on the page. I glanced at the query letter again and there it was, the word count for the story.

Interesting! I would have thought that might be easy to fix, but Kristen obviously has found that in her experience it can be far otherwise. Too bad!

This particularly catches my eye because I’m certain I have said here, more than once, that a slow build does not (usually) bother me and that I often enjoy a slow beginning.

#2 Reason I Pass Even If The Writing Is Good

Lack of story conflict for the protagonist.

To put this another way, the main character doesn’t have enough at stake to drive the story. … I recently read a full manuscript in which the writing and world building utterly charmed me. I loved spending time in the space the writer had created. But I arrived at the end of the novel and realized that being charmed was all there was to it. …Even if the writing and the world are charming, no stakes means no conflict.

Again, interesting! You will recall I recently wrote a post about enjoying low-stakes stories, at least in a series where I already know the characters. I used The Sharing Knife universe as an example where I would be happy to read about Dag and Fawn and everyone just living their ordinary lives. Lots of you chimed in with other examples of low-stakes stories you have enjoyed or would like to read.

Even more interesting, Kristen asked for a revision and resubmission in the second case, but not the first. I would have SWORN the revision would be 100% easier in the first case rather than the second. Shows what I know!

But I can see both points, of course, and I expect the proportion of readers who won’t touch a book unless it has a fast build and high stakes is probably higher than the reverse.

I am now curious, though: What criticisms of a book actually make a book seem more appealing to you, rather than less? I realize that there could be infinite answers here, but this slowness thing is one that I encounter all the time.

For example, a book I am quite looking forward to trying is Rae Carson’s WALK ON EARTH A STRANGER. Here are some lines that leap out of Goodreads reviews for this book:

Khahn (The Grinch), who rated it two stars: What a disappointment. This book suffers from something that has plagued every single Rae Carson book I’ve ever read, however good they ended up being: it’s slow as molasses.

My response: Really? Sounds promising so far.

Stephanie Burgis (five stars) says: One of the most absorbing and immersive books I’ve read in a very long time, and most definitely one of my very favorite books of the year. Exciting, smart, feminist, romantic, and utterly compulsive reading!

My response: Ooh, sounds great! That slow pace doesn’t sound like a problem at all!

Marissa (Rae Gun Ramblings) (three stars) says: I liked this I did. But sadly it is no where near A Girl of Fire and Thorns. Those books were amazing genius. This is more like a good solid historical fiction with the tiniest bit of fantasy. The fantastical element is SO small though.

My response: No problem! I love well-written pure historicals!

So you see how personal reader reactions can be, and how what is meant as a definite criticism may not come across that way. Which is fine! But it makes me wonder whether agent reactions are going to be just as personal to the sorts of queries Kristen Nelson is talking about, or whether agents have mostly been trained to look for commercial features like fast pace and high stakes. Even then, I suppose they would not necessarily all perceive the pacing as *too* slow for the same book.

Also, as a side note: Listen! Publishers! Are you *trying* to kill your sales? I am not going to buy an ebook for more than ten bucks unless I know FOR SURE that I will love the book! Do you *realize* that the Kindle price for WALK ON EARTH is higher right now than the hardcover price? What is with that? The pricing for this book has definitely stopped me from grabbing a copy to gaze at until I have time to read it. If I don’t get around to reading it before nomination windows close for various award, this will be why.

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