Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author


Recent Reading: KAREN MEMORY by Elizabeth Bear

So different from the Eternal Sky trilogy! That one was epic fantasy, with broad scope and about a million pov characters. I enjoyed it and admired it, but I liked Karen Memory quite a bit better, mostly because it’s got just the one protagonist and I loved her voice.

Neat cover, too.


Yes, that is an octopus behind the protagonist.



You ain’t gonna like what I have to tell you, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. See, My name is Karen Memery, like “memory” only spelt with an e, and I’m one of the girls what works in the Hôtel Mon Cherie on Amity Street. “Hôtel” has a little hat over the o like that. It’s French, so Beatrice tells me.

Some call it the Cherry Hotel. But most just say it’s Madame Damnable’s Sewing Circle and have done. So I guess that makes me a seamstress, just like Beatrice and Miss Francina and Pollywog and Effie and all the other girls. I play my sewing machine tax to the city, which is fifty dollar a week, and they don’t care if your sewing machine’s got a foot treadle, if you take my meaning.

Which ain’t to say we ain’t got a sewing machine. We’ve got two, and old-style one with a black cast-iron body and a shiny chrome wheel, and one of the new steel-geared brass ones that run on water pressure, such that you stand inside of and move with your whole body, and it does the cutting and stitching and steam pressing, too.

Them two machines sit out in a corner of the parlor as a kind of a joke.

I can use the old-fashioned one – I learned to sew, I mean really sew – pretty good after Mama died – and Miss Francina is teaching me to use the new one to do fancy work, though it kind of scares me. And it fits her, so it’s big as your grandpa’s trousers on me. But the thing is, nobody in Rapid City sells the kind of dresses we parlor girls need, so it’s make our own patterned after fashion dolls from Paris and London and New York or it’s pay a ladies’ tailor two-thirds your wage for something you don’t like as well.

But as you can imagine, a house full of ladies like this goes through a lot of frocks and a lot of mending. So it pays to know how to sew both ways, so to speak.

Really pays. Miss Francina and me, we charge less than the ladies’ tailors. And it’s easier to do fittings when you live with the girls. And every penny I makes goes into the knotted sock in my room for when I get too old for sewing. I have a plan, see.


Okay, I know people argue about what is “really” steampunk, and I don’t think I’ve read enough maybe-steampunk to have an opinion about that, but I’d certainly call Karen Memory steampunk. It’s got airships, but it’s also got powered armor – steam powered! – only it doesn’t seem intended to be armor; it’s meant for thing like . . . sewing machines. You fill the machine’s reservoirs with water and kerosene, strap yourself in, and off you go, sewing.

You know why you have crazy things like this? Because of genius inventors who pay the mad science tax and then have the right to tinker with crazy machines. The mad science tax is my very favorite detail in this crazy, visually spectacular, comic-book-y world. This book is definitely setting-heavy. Most of the story takes place in Rapid City (took me forever to figure out Rapid City is located where our Seattle is), a city constructed with all these raised sidewalks and things way above the original street level, so you have the new sidewalk level at about the level of third-story windows and when you leave by the front door, you have to climb a ladder to get up to the main streets. The whole city is young and vibrant and still under construction. By construction workers wearing powered armor, of course.

So the setting is baroque and delightful. The story is set after what I guess must have been the equivalent of the Civil War, with slaves freed but women not yet able to vote, and a gold rush going on in Alaska. There’s a Wild West feel to the story despite the west coast setting, with a marshal from the west tracking down a killer and other elements you’d typically see in westerns. Plus you get Bear’s attention to detail, which adds depth and a feeling of reality to the setting despite its crazy steampunk elements.

The plot is also very comic-book-y, with criminal masterminds and foreign agents and mad science. Add one desperate crisis after another, and villainy and heroism and desperate rescues and daring escapes and all like that. Definitely a roller-coaster ride of a book.

Karen Memory . . . I mean Memery, and I’m not sure why Bear chose to fiddle the spelling like that and then title the book as she did . . . anyway, Karen’s much-loved father died when she was a teenager, and that’s why she became a prostitute. Madame Damnable is one of those extra kind and competent madams who runs an enlightened whorehouse where the prostitutes are happy to earn a decent living turning tricks, so that’s pretty much as unbelievable as the steam powered sewing machine. Not that Bear doesn’t pull it off; the trope works perfectly well here; it’s one of the ways she draws a super distinct line between the Good Guys and the Bad Guys, and in this kind of story you want that line to be just as distinct as you can make it, I think.

Anyway, Karen is a fine protagonist: engaging voice, courageous, determined. And the supporting characters are good, if drawn in quick, clichéd lines – I don’t mean that as a criticism, and the use of stereotypes – the big, competent, polite marshal who always gets his man, the Comanche sidekick who sneaks around on rooftops and rides so well, the Chinese ninja-type – who is a woman, but still – and so on: all of that is perfect for the dime-novel plot and the over-the-top steampunk setting.

One nitpicky detail. No, two.

First, you know how in the movie “Titanic” everyone had pretty much the attitudes common to the age, except for the protagonists who had Enlightened Modern Attitudes About Everything, so that the audience would be able to identify with the protagonists in a self-satisfied kind of way. Well, Karen Memory pretty much does that, too. Karen has such modern thoughts about race and sexism and how all people are worthy of respect, it kind of made me roll my eyes. Do you *really* think a whore whose father was no one special would feel offended at being expected to use the servant’s entrance to the mayor’s house? Don’t you think a woman of the time would kind of find that normal, perhaps even appropriate? Wouldn’t tradesmen delivering goods come to a side door of Madame Damnable’s house, at least during working hours? So I thought this kind of thing really did niggle away at the reality of the setting, or perhaps I mean the the veracity of the voice. I thought Bear could have questioned the racism and sexism of the setting more via subtext rather than making her protagonist a bit too good to be true.

Second, and this is probably just me, but I hate, hate, hate love at first sight. One glimpse, hardly a word exchanged, and the protagonist has lost her heart permanently. How lucky for her the love object turns out to return her feelings! Isn’t that convenient?

It’s not that Bear doesn’t more or less pull this trope off, because she is a really good writer who can make stuff like that work. More or less. But I long for the day the protagonist falls hard at a glance and the love object is just not interested and the protagonist has to deal with her stupid insta-crush not working out.

Despite these details, I want to reiterate, this is an entertaining, beautifully told story with an ornate, delightful setting and a compelling narrator. You get good guys you can root for and bad guys you can hate, and the good guys totally win and the bad guys totally lose, and there are a whole bunch of dire, exciting moments on the way to that happy ending.

Overall rating, four and a half stars, rounding up to five when I actually go over to Goodreads and Amazon to rate this cause that’s how I roll.

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How many of these books have you read?

This article is a bit silly — I mean, the title is actually “What Ivy-League Students are Reading That You Aren’t”, which strikes me as, well, silly. I mean, does the author — Christopher Ingraham — mean that “we” aren’t reading those books NOW? Because whether or not we read them in college, there’s no special reason to expect us to be reading them again right this minute, is there?

Also, when he looks at “all books assigned,” he includes . . . textbooks! Like Campbell’s BIOLOGY. That’s *really* silly.

But I like this one bit where the article checks out the books that are most assigned in actual English classes. Here Ingraham compares the books most assigned overall to the ones most assigned by the Ivies. That’s at least mildly interesting, don’t you think? So here:

All Schools:

Canterbury Tales
Paradise Lost
Heart of Darkness
The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock
The Yellow Wallpaper
Young Goodman Brown
The Awakening

That actually strikes me as a pretty good list! I don’t think “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a novel, though. Isn’t that a short story? Creepy? A woman is going insane? Pretty sure I’m remembering the right story.

Interestingly, I’ve read (at least parts of) everything above The Love Song of J. AP. Below that, only “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I’ve never even heard of Young Goodman Brown.

Overall, though, I’d say this list is reassuring considering we keep hearing that today’s college freshmen are reading on something like the seventh grade level.

To compare, here’s the list from the Ivies:

Canterbury Tales
Paradise Lost
The Faerie Queen
The Spanish Trilogy
Heart of Darkness
Jude the Obscure
Twelfth Night

Persuasion! That’s good to see. The non-Ivy students are missing out if they never read Austen. And the Ivies get to read a comedy as well as a tragedy, lucky them. Still, reasonable overlap, I’d say. Again it seems peculiar to include one of these works — “The Spanish Trilogy” is a poem, not a novel — I mean, a relatively short poem, not like The Faerie Queen or whatever — so I really don’t think the criteria for these lists were sufficiently strict.

Although I’m pretty sure I’ve read Frankenstein, I’m almost totally sure it wasn’t assigned in school. Did any of you have Frankenstein actually assigned?

I’ve read eight works from those two lists combined, which is about half of the fifteen works total.

I’d never heard of three of these works: Young Goodman Brown, The Awakening, and the Spanish Trilogy.

I actually enjoyed three of these works: The Canterbury Tales (we only read bits of this), Persuasion, and Twelfth Night.

I loathed one of these: Heart of Darkness.

How about you, these lists spark any fond or loathsome memories?

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Adverbs are not the work of the Devil

Despite widespread vilification, adverbs are actually perfectly all right. They can in fact be extremely useful.

As evidence, allow me to present ten works by authors that I think are widely recognized as stylists and wordsmiths. I think you’ll know who wrote each of these works:

1. The Changeling Sea: The sea, it seemed to Peri, had taken her mother as well as her father, and left some stranger wandering despairingly among her cooking pots.

2. The Left Hand of Darkness: Rainclouds over dark towers, rain falling in deep streets, a dark storm-beaten city of stone, through which one vein of gold winds slowly.

3. Under Heaven: Some holy men and hermits in their mountains and forests might deliberately act otherwise, going through days like blown leaves, defined by the absence of will or desire, but his was a different nature, and he wasn’t holy.

4. The Hero and the Crown: Galanna’s Gift, it was dryly said, was to be impossible to please.

5. Hild: Like her mother’s words, and her father’s, and her sisters. Utterly unlike Onnen’s otter-swift British or the dark liquid gleam of Irish.

6. The Book of the New Sun: Doubtfully, the boy Eata suggested that we go around. A lift of his thin, freckled arm indicated the thousands of paces of wall stretching across the slum and sweeping up the hill until at last they met the high curtain wall of the Citadel.

7. A Fine and Private Place: The balcony weighed the raven down, and the shopkeeper almost caught him as he whisked out the delicatessen door. Frantically he beat his wings to gain altitude, looking like a small black electric fan.

8. Un Lun Dun: It wasn’t that it wasn’t moving; it was furiously not-moving. By the time they got close to the climbing frame, they were creeping exaggeratedly, like cartoon hunters.

9. Howl’s Moving Castle: Fanny looked relieved. Lettie could be awkwardly strong-minded at times.

10. I expect you’ll all recognize this one: When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton. Bilbo was very rich and very peculiar, and had been the wonder of the Shire for sixty years, every since his remarkable disappearance and unexpected return.

I found all these examples of adverbs within a page or two of the beginning of each book.

I rest my case.

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Ravenclaw is okay

So, FINE, bowing to internet pressure, I finally bothered to register at Pottermore so that I could take the Sorting Hat quiz, which I’ve never taken before.

I should add that although I like the books perfectly well, I perhaps may not have been quite as invested in the outcome as some people who recently found themselves sorted into questionable houses by the new improved Sorting Hat.

It says Ravenclaw means wit, wisdom and learning. Sounds fine!

If you have recently taken the new quiz, did it agree with the old? Or do you feel your new assignment is ALL WRONG and you DON’T KNOW HOW TO COPE?

I did enjoy the Twitterstorm about this a few days ago, which is why I went ahead and took the quiz after reading this post.

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Sentence fragments: are they okay?

Short answer: Yes, if you do it right, so that they work.

Long answer: Here’s Chuck Wendig’s much more extensive answer to this same question.

Chuck provides many instances of authors using sentence fragments, or as they’re sometimes called when used on purpose for effect, English minor sentences. But he doesn’t illustrate this with the example that leaped to my mind which is this:

An April night in Atlanta between thunderstorms: dark and warm and wet, sidewalks shiny with rain and slick with torn leaves and fallen azalea blossoms. Nearly midnight. I had been walking for nearly an hour, covering four or five miles. I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t sleepy.

This is the beginning of THE BLUE PLACE by Nicola Griffith, and these few lines sold me on the book. Yes, because of the sentence fragments. I found this opening evocative and I appreciated the craft demonstrated by the use of those fragments. (It was indeed a really good book, btw).

When Dickens introduces Abel Magwitch in GREAT EXPECTATIONS, he suddenly starts using a whole bunch of fragment sentences. I don’t have the book in front of me, so I can’t quote it, but it’s true. Get out your copy and look at that scene.

I’m sure fragment sentences can be used to do all kinds of things, but in both the cases above and also in some of the ones Chuck quotes, fragments are being used to still the action and paint the scene. It’s as though the author is using a cinematic technique, slowing or stilling the camera’s motion to allow the viewer to see the images.

Of course this is not the same as using fragments accidentally because you just can’t tell the difference, which I hope is still rare in published fiction.

Chuck doesn’t mention it, but imo, on the other side of grammatically correct writing, comma splices can be used to give a sense of rushed speech or rushed thought, which can also be useful. For all I know, someone somewhere has even pulled off actual run-on sentences in a way that worked, though I can’t think of an example.

Chuck’s comments boil down at the end of his post to:

Writing involves a series of stylistic choices.

Sometimes these choices mean breaking rules.

It’s okay to make these choices as an author.

It’s okay to not like these choices as a reader.

Yep. That.

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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


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?


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.


2. Genevieve Valentine, Persona


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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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