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I love Audible –

August 27th, 2014

But that does not mean I want to renew my Platinum membership for next year. No. I got that kind of membership (24 books per year) because it was the most cost effective, but now! Now I am stocked up with audio titles. Plenty to last through the rest of next year and quite possibly the year after that, too. Especially given the special three-for-two deals and whatever else, so really I got more than 24 books last year and again more than 24 this year.

Anyway, I thought I had better use up the rest of my credits quick so I can cancel my membership before the end of September. I used a whopping 12 credits yesterday and have 4 to go, and of course now I find myself just a bit hesitant to use them up in case something else suddenly gets recommended to me.

So, anybody have a particular Audible title they especially love?

Some audiobooks I want on my laptop so I can burn them to CDs, which I prefer for listening to while driving; others I will download onto my phone to listen to while weeding. It turns out I prefer really! long! books for when I am weeding; my favorite length for in the car is 12 hours. That is the right length for listening to in just one dog show weekend, two at the most. The really long ones may as well stretch out over the entire summer, an hour a day or whatever.

This summer I listened to JOHNATHON STRANGE AND MR NORRELL while weeding, plus the drive to Indy and back. Craig, I can now see why some readers consider this an alternate history: it’s because magic was always sort of there, but there was a single major inflection point when the Raven King came out of Fairie and conquered northern England. This really is a beautiful book, but wow do you need to be patient while it unrolls. Eventually it does all come together and I really loved the cascade of events at the end.

I also listened to HOGFATHER by Pratchett. I liked this one much better than the earlier Death books, probably because Death was not dissolved in angst, but actually engaged in an important job. Since I liked Death better, I seemed to like Susan better, too. Even the wizards didn’t annoy me as much in this book as they did in SOUL MUSIC.

Okay, and I only just listened to GHOSTHAWK by Susan Cooper. Um, no one warned me? That it was basically a historical about the tragedy of the American Indians? This is the sort of thing that happens when you avoid reviews because you don’t want spoilers, but watching a tragedy unfold is not necessarily what I would have chosen. I’m hoping I like my next Susan Cooper book much better. Not that this was *bad*, but not what I expected or, frankly, would have wanted.

In case you’re interested, here are the audio titles that I have lined up for the next year or two. You see that I am not likely to run out for a while. All of these are on here either because someone recommended them and they were on my wishlist anyway — but I never make a note about who recommended what, because I’m not that organized, so I have no idea. Or else I got a few of these because Audible was having a special on certain titles and they sounded interesting. Quite an eclectic collection, really, when I line them up and look at them.

Started Early, Took My Dog (Kate Atkinson)

Cleopatra’s Moon (Vicky Sheckter, about Cleopatra’s daughter Selene)

Mistress of the Art of Death (Ariana Franklin)

Splendors and Glooms (Laura Schlitz)

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe (Benjamin Alire Saenz)

Lhind the Thief (Sherwood Smith)

The Goose Girl (Shannon Hale)

Wicked Lovely (Melissa Marr)

Midnight Rescue (Elle Kennedy)

Discount Armageddon (Seanan McGuire)

Steelheart (Brandon Sanderson)

Wolf’s Cub (Mackay Wood)

The Palace Job (Patrick Weekes)

The Freedom Maze (Delia Sherman)

The Blood of Flowers (Anita Amirrezvani)

Cinder (Marissa Meyer)

The Devil’s Cub (Georgette Heyer)

Cotillon (SAA)

Four more credits to use up! Choices, choices.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on August 27th, 2014
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Recent Reading: THE EMPEROR’S EDGE by Lindsay Buroker

August 26th, 2014

So, THE EMPEROR’S EDGE is an indie title, which I picked up because of this review by Sherwood Smith.

EmperorsEdge

Yes, yes, boring cover, but don’t judge the book by it.

Smith said, “The Emperor’s Edge series is one of my favorite types of adventure stories, with double crosses, quick thinking, great action scenes, and a good deal of creative problem solving. One of the best things about the series is the main character, Amaranthe. She begins as a cop, the first female included in the hitherto exclusively male enforcer corps. She’s not gorgeous, or fantastically skilled. She’s . . . likable. And curious. And manages to get herself into a whole lot of trouble without meaning to. . . .the world is a kitchen sink sort of construction, painted in very broad strokes, wherein magic, paper money, trains, zeppelins, and alien technology all exist side by side.”

Okay, so: fun steampunkish worldbuilding, that sounds like it could be good. Police corporal, check, I like do-the-job types with a clear sense of duty. Plus, there’s a scary uber-competent assassin, double check, I love assassins. Heroic action and quick thinking, good, sounds promising.

So, my take after reading just the first book:

The Characters:

I love Amaranthe, who started off in business school and then went into police work instead. She does indeed have a very clear sense of duty. She’s definitely a straight arrow. She’s also determined, quick-witted and good in a crisis. She’s also enough of a thinker to come up with clever plans (though they don’t always go quite right), and she’s very persuasive and good with people. I thought this last characteristic was especially well done; I think it would be hard to write a character like that.

I also love the assassin, Sicarius, because, first, you gotta love an uber-competent assassin, right? And then I love him because he really is, uh, not exactly a straight arrow. In fact, I am compelled to describe him as a cold-blooded killer, but! Not purely so. Just nearly. One can see how his relationship with Amaranthe is likely to change them both. (This is not a romance, just FYI, though there are hints it could go that way in the future).

Here’s the two of them meeting for the first time, right after Amaranthe has been tasked with finding and killing Sicarius and has wisely rejected the segguested seduction approach in favor of pretending she wants to hire him.

Start out asking potential customers questions they have to answer with yes. Consistency is your ally. People are more likey to say yes to a sale after a string of positive responses. Just don’t let them start out saying no.

She cleared her throat. “I’m Amaranthe Lokdon. You are Sicarius, correct?”

“You know who I am.”

“Are you as good as they say?”

“You asked for me by name. Frequently.”

Amaranth tried to decide if his words implied suspicion. His tone never fluctuated. Like his face, his voice betrayed nothing of his thoughts.

“That doesn’t answer my question.” She smiled.

“You have work to propose. Do so.”

So much for the get-them-to-say-yes strategy.

This meeting takes place 10% of the way into the book, and while the initial set-up of the novel is fine, I think the story takes off here. This is not, as I said, a romance, though, so this is not policewoman-meets-super-hot-assassin, which is fine by me as insta-lust situations make me roll my eyes and insta-love is worse. Actually, Amaranthe is attracted to Sicarius, but it’s not at all clear he’s likely to respond – and someone else is attracted to Amaranthe, though she doesn’t know it. It’s kind of a love triangle where each member of the triangle is fairly oblivious to one of the others. I enjoy this set up. There’s loads of room to take the relationships in this series in any direction.

The Plot:

Okay, there is a conspiracy against the young Emperor, and naturally Amaranthe and Sicarius join forces to save him, though it’s not clear why Sicarius would care till right at the end – it’s quite plain there’s something going on there, but not what. So, anyway, Amaranthe comes up with a plan and they recruit various other people to help, including my favorite, Maldynado, a charmingly egotistical Handsome Dude who is so insulted later in the story when the bounty put on his head doesn’t match his idea of his worth. He’s all, “But no one would even risk pulling a muscle to draw their swords to collect such a paltry amount! It’s so unfair!” I honestly think he might be my favorite character, though I really enjoy both Amaranthe and Sicarius and also a secondary character called Books (he’s a scholar).

Then there are magically constructed monsters and nasty medical experiments, witty repartee and fast talking, clever plans and death-defying escapes. I will just give away here that the good guys save the day and the bad guys get what they deserve. This is a quick, fun heroic fantasy, but it’s not fluff; there’s a dark edge to this story.

The Writing:

Very good. The dialogue is clever and I think you will appreciate it, but the writing as such does not call attention to itself. That means this is a story you can fall right into. To me, the beginning seems a tad slow, but in general I don’t mind that when the author is establishing the world and introducing the characters. I noticed zero errors, so Buroker did an admirable job with copy editing and formatting.

The Flaws:

Okay, your mileage may vary, but I must admit I found all three of the main bad guys fairly one-dimensional and, in general, rather implausibly Bad. The Emperor himself is also rather one-dimensional and more than a bit goody-goody. Not that we see much of him, but he gets the odd pov scene. I never like it when an author imposes modern values wholesale onto a character when there is no logical reason for him to possess those values, other than he was just Born Enlightened, I guess. Plus, he has Gentle Eyes ™. His sweet disposition is evident to complete strangers such as Amaranthe within seconds of meeting him.

Also, this is One Girl and A Bunch of Guys, at least in the first book. I suspect and hope that this is likely to change as the series goes on — Smith’s review implies that more female characters appear later.

Okay, despite the Bad Villains and the Good Young Emperor, the central characters, where Buroker put her attention, are delightful. And who knows, the Emperor may develop greater complexity and believability as the series continues, because this is a eight-book series.

Oh, and btw, even though this is a series, THE EMPEROR’S EDGE stands alone very well. This is good since I don’t have time to read the second book right away. I did buy it, incidentally, right after finishing the first book. I loved the ending of THE EMPEROR’S EDGE and I love how that ending sets up the second book. I’m looking forward quite a bit to seeing what happens next.

Buroker’s blog has a good bit of info on how she makes pricing decisions and what she does to promote her books, which is all very interesting and you might want to stop over there and check it out.

THE EMPEROR’S EDGE has a whopping 640 reviews on Goodreads, which is quite stunning and makes it clear Buroker is doing something right.

And one of the things she is doing right is leaving this book free on Amazon to serve as a hook to her series.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on August 26th, 2014
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Watership Up

August 24th, 2014

I got this link from Mike S. — “Watership Down is so depressing. Why not Watership Up?

“I’ve just had a vision,” Fiver said, twitching and snapping as a rabbit caught in a snare. His eyes saw things the eyes of other rabbits did not see.

“What is it, my brother?” Hazel asked.

“Everything…” Fiver began. “Everything is going to be just fine.”

And it was.

Click through to see the other happy scenarios our friends Hazel, Fiver, et al enjoy in that new classic: WATERSHIP UP.

ps. WATERSHIP DOWN is a fabulous book. If you haven’t read it, you really should add it to your no-doubt-immense TBR pile. Put it on the top so you’ll get to it soon. You’ll thank me after you read it. Really.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on August 24th, 2014
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A trope I hate –

August 23rd, 2014

Tropes I enjoy: thieves with a heart of gold; girls/women disguising themselves as boys/men; personifications of Death. I’m sure there’re lots of other tropes that make me perk up when I see them in the book description. These are just a couple I thought of off the top of my head.

Tropes I hate: humanity is evil. Sure, I’m sure there are other tropes I hate, but this is the one I recently encountered. In its more extreme and worst form: all the other species in the galaxy are Good. Only humans are Evil.

As you may gather, I just read a story where this was a feature. It was just a couple of lines in the story, but THIS IS SO STUPID.

Humans, you see, are uniquely icky in that they allow their species to overshoot the carrying capacity, drive animal species to extinction, etc. One gathers there are other things in the etc, but these are the specific Evil Human Things mentioned in the story.

Okay, let me just describe what conditions must be like for every other species in the galaxy:

Resources are unlimited. There is unlimited food for every species, there are unlimited nesting sites / living spaces; whatever you need, you have it. How do I know? Because otherwise, at some point in your species’ evolution, you would be faced with the following choice:

a) You let yourself and/or your kids starve.

b) You make sure you and your kids survive, even if this means other people’s kids starve.

Resources are always limited. Periods of plenty are temporary and local. In periods of environmental stress, if you choose not to use resources yourself because you’re so concerned about the common good, then you will probably not have very good fitness and poof! Your genes will not be well-represented in the next generations. If there is a local famine, you will notice that few people step up and volunteer to starve themselves and their children for the common good. Creatures that nice (or that ridiculously timid, or whatever) take themselves right out of the gene pool. It isn’t possible to get species to behave that way. Unless you construct them, sure, that would work, but it’s not possible for them to evolve.

You know what I think when I hear about a species that is SO nice and SO cooperative and SO unselfish that they do not overshoot the carrying capacity? I don’t think How nice you must be.

What I think is: Wow, you must have developed a vicious totalitarian system right from the start in order to prevent the tragedy of the commons and other types of overuse of resources.

If there is another option besides individuals work to survive and protect their kin and individuals ruthlessly and viciously control the group, destroying their rivals so as to protect their own kin, I don’t see it. And option B doesn’t look to me like it offers much moral high ground to stand on.

I hated this trope when I saw it in Star Trek and it has by no means improved with age. It’s worse than simplistic, it’s ridiculous and offensive. Time to retire the everyone-else-is-so-nice, humans-alone-are-selfish-and-wicked trope. If I never see it again ever, that’d be great.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on August 23rd, 2014
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The world is a science fiction novel

August 22nd, 2014

And then from time to time, we find evidence that the world is really a science fiction novel:

Scientists find a flourishing ecosystem half a mile beneath Antarctic ice

. . . in a lake that hasn’t been touched by sunshine or wind in millions of years, life goes on. . . . Many of the micro-organisms found are single-celled organisms, called Archaea, that survive by converting ammonium and methane into energy in a harsh environment similar to those found elsewhere in our solar system, such as on Jupiter’s moon Europa.

How about that? The obvious conclusion is that there is life on Europa! Right? I, for one, would like somebody to go find out.

Luckily, someone appears to be planning to do just that:

The first Europe-led mission to the outer solar system will explore the icy moons of Jupiter. The European Space Agency approved the JUICE—JUpiter ICy moons Explorer—mission yesterday. The project’s solar-powered spacecraft is scheduled to launch in 2022 and arrive in the Jovian system by 2030 to spend three years exploring the moons Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa…

Pretty snazzy. The only thing I object to is waiting till 2030. Can somebody please find a faster way to do cool stuff.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on August 22nd, 2014
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The World Is A Fantasy Novel

August 22nd, 2014

Once again I have collected pictorial evidence that the world is a fantasy novel:

Balloons in Cappadocia

balloons

Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

A Bridge Somewhere — sorry, Twitter doesn’t always tag pictures very clearly, but isn’t this something?

Bridge

A Cliff Dwelling Somewhere

CliffDwelling

Zhangjiajie

Zhangjiajie

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on August 22nd, 2014
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Writing update

August 21st, 2014

So, in case you’re following along at home:

KEHERA — I’m about 3/4 finished with this first main revision. Any other revisions will be smaller; this one involves lots of cutting near the front of the book, reordering chapters, actual worldbuilding, giving certain characters more important roles toward the end in order to justify their existence, etc. I’m not sure this is the most extensive revision I’ve ever done; in fact I don’t think it is. But it’s fairly big, for me.

It’s moving well, though, and I’m happy with how it’s shaping up, EXCEPT I must admit I am not sure certain aspects of the worldbuilding are clear enough yet. I should probably change and clarify some terminology and do a final pass through the whole book to integrate those clarifications.

But I don’t think I will have time to do that instantly because

KERI — Caitlin just sent me four pages of editorial notes about this. She likes it, though! She thinks my editor will love it! That’s the main thing. She’s suggesting some fairly minor changes, mainly to the tone of some scenes and the emotional development of the characters. She is also suggesting some bigger changes near the end.

This sets up an immediate dilemma: finish the KEHERA revision before switching to KERI? Or switch to the manuscript that’s actually under a deadline before finishing the one she wants to send out to a particular editor, but which isn’t under deadline pressure as such?

My compromise: It is just too painful to think of switching back and forth. Instead, I’m going to try to finish the first pass through KEHERA by the 27th if possible, or at least by the 31st. I will then send it back to Caitlin without necessarily polishing up that one clarity issue because hey, maybe it does work at this point, I’m not the best judge of such things.

Then I will whip through the KERI revision in no more than a week. That will let me send it back to Caitlin with time (barely) to make the mid-September deadline for my editor.

Whew! I will SO be ready for a break during the back half of September.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on August 21st, 2014
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The World Fantasy Award

August 20th, 2014

So, at tor.com, I see there is a petition to alter the award to a bust of Octavia E Butler from its current image of Lovecraft.

I find this offensive.

It is offensive to choose a black woman as an obvious token black woman to represent a fantasy award, when she did not write fantasy. Don’t tell me there’s no difference between SF and fantasy. If that was the case, readers would in general happily read both. I hardly need to point out that they don’t, and that there are A LOT of fantasy readers who never touch SF.

Octavia E Butler was a great writer. Her early death was a tragedy for the field.

I personally loved Butler’s work. I personally hate Lovecraft’s stories.

None of that is relevant to this question.

I gather Lovecraft was clearly racist and infused his stories with racism. That’s too bad, and a fine reason to remove him as the figure representing the World Fantasy Award. But it’s also racist to then look around and pick a black author because she’s black even though she is clearly not an iconic fantasy author. That is tokenism and it is also racist.

Butler was a writer’s writer, a serious fan’s writer; she was never well known. If she had lived, I suspect she would have made her mark as a literary figure with works such as KINDRED, not as a genre author.

It would be fine with me to change the award to honor a writer who wrote high fantasy rather than horror. This person should be deceased (of course) and should have been influential on the field, and preferably have been a prolific writer.

Frankly, I’d be fine with picking A White Dude: Tolkien. You just can’t get more iconic when you’re looking for a fantasy author. But if that’s not okay with people, then fine, go with a figure that isn’t representative of anybody. The Hugo is a spaceship; as far as I’m concerned, the World Fantasy Award could perfectly well be a dragon.

Other views:

From Free Nights and Weekends: “I love Octavia E. Butler. I found her work as a strange black girl in a time before the internet could show me that there were other strange black girls out there. I, quite literally, picked up her books from around the world, squealing with delight when I found one. I wept over the news of her death. Over all the stories that she would never be able to tell. . . . But Butler, for all that I love about her does not have the same standing as Lovecraft when it comes to notoriety. Butler is well known by people who read, really read, science fiction. This is not the case with Lovecraft. Lovecraft’s work has spread to influence other writers, comics, film, etc. Lovecraft is everywhere in speculative fiction and although I would love to see Butler’s work held in the same regard because she truly deserves it, it is not and therefore does not meet Lovecraft on the scale which was clearly used to choose him.”

Nick Mamatas, making that same point but also defending Lovecraft as a writer. I thought I’d include this link because I’ve never read anything by Lovecraft, barring half a story here and there, because horror with tentacles creeps me out. But Mamatas also says, “[Butler]‘s a well-loved figure though, which means that there’s a lot of enthusiasm for the petition right now. It also potentially makes a heavy brickbat for anyone who comes out against the petition.”

I think Mamatas is right, and I think it’s dead wrong to set Butler up as The Token Black Writer in order to create this kind of brickbat.

Yeah, thinking about it again, just quit with the “bust of somebody” award and go with a dragon.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on August 20th, 2014
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Top 100 SFF books flowchart

August 19th, 2014

Of course we could argue all day (and all year) about what REALLY belongs on a list of the Top 100 Best SFF Novels.

But no one is going to argue that this infographic flowchart isn’t the neatest thing since sliced bread.

I’m going to try to post it here and see if it works:

SciFi 100 Books excerpt

Okay, yeah, I think I got just part of it. Click through for the real thing and then click on the flowchart to blow it up. I can just about guarantee you will enjoy it.

My favorite bit so far:

SFF? –> No, I’d rather not be seen in that area of the bookstore –> Prefer a drama? –> Yes –> Romance or Overcoming the odds? –> Romance –> Like a little time travel with your love story? –> No –> Tough

And then, of course, we get two suggestions for romances with time travel. I just got a kick out of the “tough”.

There are a lot of funny bits in this flowchart — I like the flowchart itself a lot more than I like the list of “best 100 titles” included on the flowchart. Ugh, Animal Farm. But the flowchart, yeah, that’s a real work of art.

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Posted in: Blog by Rachel on August 19th, 2014
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Plantar faciitis checklist –

August 19th, 2014

So, sometimes you really don’t need to see a doctor to confirm your utterly typical case of fill-in-the-blank. For example, check all that apply:

Are you a woman?

Middle aged or older?

Do you experience pain in or near the heel of one foot?

That is worst in the morning directly after getting out of bed?

That is also worse when you get up after sitting down for an extended period?

That improves when you walk on it for a few minutes?

That particularly improves if you wear athletic shoes for an extended period?

After wearing athletic shoes all day for two days, do you find the pain has greatly improved?

Do you ordinarily go barefoot a lot?

Does the pain seem worse when you have been barefoot for a while?

When you wear shoes, do you often wear high heels?

Did you develop a problem with your right hip ten months ago so that you have been standing with all your weight on your left foot for that whole time, and now the heel pain is exclusively in your left foot? (I know, this particular category is just for me.)

Anyway, straight checkmarks right down the list for me. Thus my personal diagnosis: plantar faciitis. I am really happy that wearing shoes indoors and out all day has reduced quite crippling pain to near-zero pain. In just days. Evidently many people don’t respond that fast to a change in footwear. There are exercises one is supposed to do, but I confess I have not done them because the shoes alone seem to be sufficient.

Although, yes, wearing shoes at home in the summer is just *wrong.* Hopefully by next summer the problem will have resolved completely.

Incidentally, apparently lots of people do develop plantar faciitis, men and women both. It’s just more common in women.

Anyway, if any of you happen to be experiencing foot pain of this type and wondering if you should do something about it, I suggest a quick change in footwear and maybe you can head the problem off at the pass. I have had pain for just a minute or two first thing in the morning for a couple of years before the problem suddenly got much worse about two weeks ago and sent me to Google. Regular athletic shoes have been great, but I ordered slippers and two pairs of work-appropriate shoes from a brand called Orthoheel. I’m hoping these also work because I hate wearing shoes indoors at home, and I’m really uncomfortable wearing athletic shoes to work.

I have suddenly come up with a new hypothesis, btw. I think I may have some sort of genetic issue that affects connective tissue, because I sure seem to have a lot more than my share of joint problems. To date: jaw, hip, knee, neck, lower back, thumb, other knee, the mysterious hip thing reappearing in a slightly different and more annoying form, ankle, and now foot. I know practically everybody over thirty can check off one or another item on that list, but it seems like an awfully extensive list for one person who isn’t even fifty yet.

Not that I mean to complain.

Okay, yes, I totally mean to complain.

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