So, this has been a weird Christmas season for me. Recently I have been seriously distracted. Concentrating on work of my own has been impossible. Usually when I’m starting a new project, or thinking about picking up an interrupted project, I have scenes in my head – I work out the plot and dialogue of many scenes before I start seriously working on a book, often years in advance, and I continue playing around with scenes in my head all during the writing of the book. The hardest part for me is putting in the transitions between scenes I already have in my head, which is sometimes quite tedious; and forcing the development of a new, necessary scene when I get stuck on a plot point, which is less tedious but a lot more difficult.
Anyway, none of that kind of mental work (or play, whatever) has been going on lately. Since early December, my attention has been fixed on other things. I will just go ahead and say at this point that I bred Kenya, that it was an extremely difficult pregnancy (which was expected), that two living puppies were delivered by c-section on the 21st, and that the smaller puppy – markedly less well developed than the larger – died after about 24 hours. The remaining puppy is thriving, and Kenya is doing all right, but working to make that happen has been rather fraught from time to time. Also, what with one thing and another, I will not actually be able to relax about this puppy till he is weaned. If all is well at that point, he will be super cute and I will post pictures.
The one puppy looks okay as far as markings go, which is all I can tell at this age. The markings on his face are quite symmetrical, which is important for a show dog. If he turns out to be as glamorous and well-structured as his parents and especially if he turns out to have the extraordinary vigor and longevity of his grandfather, Kenya’s father, well, it will all have been worth it.
I wasn’t going to explain all that until a happy outcome was clearly guaranteed, but if I’m going to mention from time to time that I’m distracted and stressed, I don’t want people thinking that perhaps I or a close relative or friend has cancer or something else equally horrific. No. The situation with Kenya and her puppy has been and will be stressful, but it’s not like *that.*
But, given the above, I have been reading a whole lot of books in order to get through this stressful period. But if a book is to offer an escape from stress, it has to be the right book; ie, I have wanted comfort reads. For me that means nothing that places significant demands on the reader. Nothing too emotionally intense, nothing where the reader is ever much in doubt about a happy outcome. Nothing too clever or intricate with the worldbuilding. Mostly this means re-reads; or if I’m going to try a new-to-me book, then it means a careful survey of reviews.
Back in early December when I first started doing hours of uterine monitoring every day, I started with:
The Solar Clipper series by Nathan Lowell
I read five of the six Solar Clipper stories. Quarter Share, Half Share, Full Share, Double Share, and Captain’s Share. The one I skipped was the last of the series, Owner’s Share. The reviews of that one made me shy away from it.
I liked these quite a bit as casual, light SF reading. Lowell wrote these, I would say, as kind of SF space opera without the adventure.
What is in these books, you may ask, if not space battles and pirates and aliens and all the other normal accoutrements of space opera? Well, daily shipboard work and making friends and establishing a co-op for small-scale personal trade, transitioning to taking on more authority and working on much larger-scale trade in the later books.
Writing stories that are practically without adventure is nearly but not quite a unique concept. There are a few others out there. Lee & Miller have written a few Liaden books in a similar vein – I mean the Jethri stories, of course. Anyway:
Characterization in the Solar Clipper series I liked the protagonist, Ishmael Wang. I didn’t actually *believe* in him – he is very much a Gary Stu type of character, right down to alllll the women falling in love with him – but I managed to like him despite that. He’s too good to be true, far too socially competent for his age and background, but this didn’t really bother me. I liked the way Ish excels partly because he’s intelligent and a particularly good test-taker, but mostly because he works really hard. Getting ahead because you work hard is way different from being born heir to a prophesy or with special magical powers. I definitely appreciated this aspect of the series. The other characters were generally pretty one dimensional, but I didn’t actually care given my frame of mind. The stories works well for what they are trying to do.
Plotting in the Solar Clipper series: The thing I liked least about the series is how the author would set up some kind of important relationship toward the end of one book, then leap ahead in time, shed the earlier characters (except for Ish), and never bring them back in any substantial way. For example, considering how important Bev and Brill are to Ish in the first few books, they are startlingly absent in the later ones. Oh, the author mentions Bev at the beginning of the 4th book, but casually, just to dismiss her so that Ish can move on.
The writing in the Solar Clipper series: Not in general actually clunky, but not particularly interesting either. I will say, the writing improves over the course of the series. By the 4th book, which is my favorite, the writing is better, particularly the dialogue. Also, there is more of an actual plot in this book. Incidentally, the 4th book would do fine as a standalone if you were inclined to dabble in this world without actually committing to the whole series. Come to think of it, the 5th book also stands alone.
Overall rating: Ratings are hard. Um, three out of five? Five and a half out of ten? Flawed, but quite enjoyable if you are in the mood for this kind of thing. The 4th book, a significant step up from the first three, was probably more like a four out of five, seven out of ten.
Next, I read:
The Across A Jade Sea series by L Shelby. I really enjoyed this trilogy when I first read it, and it held up well for me in re-reading. Then I went on to Shelby’s other series, starting withCantata in Coral and Ivory, but it didn’t work for me. I would say that this one is clever rather than immediately engaging, which is not a bad thing, but not what I needed at the time. So I switched to:
Deeply Odd and Saint Odd by Dean Koontz. I had to re-read the former before I could read the last book in the series. I was positive that Koontz was going to reveal various things in the last book that would tie this series into another of his books, explaining some of the more peculiar aspects of the worldbuilding, but he didn’t. This does mean that he left some important things unexplained. Perhaps this is partly why I liked the last book okay, but not as much as I hoped.
Then I turned to an old favorite: The Touchstone Trilogy by Andrea K Höst, plus the Gratuitous Epilogue. Actually, I read the Epilogue first because it is practically the ultimate comfort read, and then went back and read most of the trilogy, skipping just the first bit and picking up where Cassandra’s talents are first being tested by the Setari.
Unfortunately, I ran out of Touchstone novels. But fortunately I had fallen behind with Ilona Andrews novels, so I read:
Magic Breaks and Magic Shifts by Ilona Andrews. Like the Odd Thomas series, I had to re-read the next-to-last book before I could go on to the actual latest book. These were perfect: engaging, fast pace, lots of action, snappy dialogue. And, not to spoil it, but I never for a moment doubted that Eduardo would be rescued, so that definitely helped make Magic Shifts a suitable comfort read. I’m so pleased the authors are going on with the series because I’m not tired of it at all. I like the direction they’ve taken it.
What I’m reading now: Gunmetal Magic by Ilona Andrews. I’m re-reading this one because a nice familiar world with characters I like and a romance with a happy ending is perfect.
What I will read after this: By the time I’m done re-reading some of Ilona Andrews and picking up some of Andrews’ newer titles like Clean Sweep, maybe I’ll be ready to ease back into my own work. Then maybe I won’t be reading much for a month or two, which would be fine, because really two months of not working on my own stuff is a longish break and I would expect that, as Kenya’s puppy continues to thrive, I will find my enthusiasm for Shadow Twin rekindling.