Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Oh no, we live in a horror universe!

Just found out about an animal that I either (a) have never heard of before, or (b) heard of at some point but I blocked the memory.

Well, why should I be alone in my dismay at this animal? Here, you can all now know about this:

Cymothoa exigua

In the Gulf of California there actually exists a critter, Cymothoa exigua, that targets a fish by infiltrating its gills and latching onto its tongue. It proceeds to not only consume the organ, but will then replace it with its own body, providing the fish with a new fully functioning tongue it uses (probably a bit begrudgingly) to grind food against tiny teeth on the roof of its mouth.

Read the whole thing, if you are in the mood to learn about (yet another) horrifying parasite life cycle.

This would be impossible to put in fiction. No one would ever believe it.

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Reading in January

Okay, well, I couldn’t do a retrospective post about the books I read in 2018 because I read so few in the second half of the year that the whole idea just seemed pointless.

So rather than waiting for the end of 2019, I thought I’d review books read in January, quick while they’re still fresh in my mind.

Therefore:

1) Skye Object by Linda Nagata. Liked it quite a bit, despite feeling the giant squid things were a little over the top.

2) Tracking by David Palmer. I bet no one else here has read that, except for Craig, who’s the one who found it for me. It’s the sequel to Palmer’s Emergence, but Tracking was issued only as a three-part serial in Analog back in 2008. I hear Erik Flint’s Ring of Fire Press will be bringing it out, and if so, this year is a pretty good bet. Also if so, I really hope Palmer edits out 98% of the flashbacks and reprises and so on. Let people get the newly-re-issued Emergence and read that first. Then they won’t need all that tedious flashback material.

I should add, if you decide to read Emergence, it’s good, but go in expecting a superhuman, supercompetent, super-idealized girl as the main character. And if you eventually find a copy of Tracking, don’t expect anything different in that one — except in the latter, we also get a supercanine, supercompetent, super-idealized border collie.

3) Rondo Allegro by Sherwood Smith. I liked it a lot. Good choice if you’d like a slow-paced historical super-slow-burn romance.

4) Making Up by Lucy Parker. I liked it a lot. It’s a romance set in contemporary London. Parker does good romances. I don’t like them as well as Laura Florand, but I do like them quite a bit.

5) Terms of Enlistment and also Lines of Engagement by Marko Kloos. I liked these pretty well, but I’m on the fence about going on with the series. The main immediate problem (huge indestructible alien ship will kill us all) is dealt with at the end of the second book, but reviews seem to indicate that Our Heroes kind of forget about the method they used to snatch victory from the teeth of defeat when they find themselves faced with similar indestructible alien ships in the third book?

I can’t bear extreme protagonist stupidity. If that impression is correct, this would be a classic example. If anybody had read the full series, what do you think? Does Kloos pull it off when he forces his characters to forget how to solve this problem when the they get back to Earth and find lots of indestructible alien ships? Or is that as unbelievable as it seems?

6) Jennilee’s Light by HS Skinner. I liked it a lot.

7) Confidence Tricks by Tamara Morgan. I liked it quite a bit. It has just enough depth not to be too fluffy for me.

8) Securing Caite by Susan Stoker. Another romance. I liked it, even though it is not, perhaps, objectively all that good. It is an interesting exercise in taking a romance novel and stripping out everything but the romance parts.

Here’s what I mean by that:

At the beginning, Caite meets some Navy SEALS. Then those guys get into trouble and Caite is put in a situation where she needs to rescue them. This is actually somewhat believable! (I know, quite a trick!). But what is interesting is how the author: a) shows us the initial meeting; b) shows us Caite finding out the guys are in trouble; c) shows us Caite getting them out of their predicament; but d) skips extremely lightly over the guys getting into that trouble in the first place. A bit is from the male lead’s pov, but not the actual adventure part. That part, the reader is not shown. Very interesting authorial choice!

The greatest flaw with this story, though, is that anybody can see why Caite would be attracted to the SEAL. I mean, that is not in the least surprising. But this book offers an absolutely classic no-holds-barred instaromance, where the guy falls for Caite for no reason whatsoever. LATER she proves to be super brave and well worth falling in love with, but at first? There is just zero reason given for his immediate attraction. Huge flaw, since the story would have worked beautifully if he had hardly noticed her to begin with and then REALLY noticed her because she rescued him and his buddies.

All this aside, I admit I preordered the second book. This is because there’s a teaser at the end of the first one, and the very first thing that happens? A pit bull gets rescued. Awwwww. Not sure any other incident would have caused me to preorder the second book, but what can I say? I am a total softy for a tough guy who rescues a pit bull.

9) Knife Children by LMB. Obviously I liked it a lot, I just posted about that one a couple days ago. Good, solid novella. Hanneke pointed out that it’s great how a novella can show us a slice-of-life with characters we care about and no need for a huge terrible crisis. That’s so true. I mean, I love giant bats as much as the next person, but I definitely enjoyed just peeking in at Barr’s life and seeing him get things in order with Lily.

Okay, now, look how romance heavy this list is! Four, maybe five out of ten. That’s certainly unusual. And you know what happened at the end of the month? For the first time ever, I sort of thought maybe I might like to write a romance.

I believe this is probably due specifically to reading Securing Caite, the least-good story but the clearest, simplest romance in the bunch. The romance beats are super-obvious; the pared-down story makes the romance structure stand out with extreme clarity. All of a sudden I thought, you know, I might like to try this.

So yesterday, with nothing else urgent to do (just finished a revision and zapped that back to my agent; snow day so no work), I went ahead and wrote 7000 words, 22 pages, of a new book. Space opera romance, that is the plan. I have all these great scenes in mind, although halfway through I paint the protagonists into a dire corner and heaven knows how I will get them out again. I have no scenes in my head for that part of the book, yet. Still, getting to that point would probably clarify what happens next.

May turn out to be space-opera-with-romance rather than romance-with-space-opera. I do believe I can already detect a certain shift in that direction. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how long the story holds momentum and rolls on out, and what its main genre turns out to be.

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Secret meaning in details

Here’s a fun post from a writer I follow on Twitter:

SECRET MEANINGS BEHIND THINGS IN A THOUSAND PERFECT NOTES 

A Thousand Perfect Notes is her debut novel. Let me see, looks like a contemporary YA. Here’s what Amazon says about it:

Beck hates his life. He hates his violent mother. He hates his home. Most of all, he hates the piano that his mother forces him to play hour after hour, day after day. He will never play as she did before illness ended her career and left her bitter and broken. But Beck is too scared to stand up to his mother, and tell her his true passion, which is composing his own music – because the least suggestion of rebellion on his part ends in violence.

When Beck meets August, a girl full of life, energy and laughter, love begins to awaken within him and he glimpses a way to escape his painful existence. But dare he reach for it?

Ouch. Tough situation. Toxic families don’t always work for me in fiction (read: almost never). Amazon also says, “Thrilling and powerfully written, this is an explosive debut for YA readers which tackles the dark topic of domestic abuse in an ultimately hopeful tale.”

Well, if it’s YA, I sure hope its ultimately hopeful, yes. Plus that description certainly holds out the promise of ultimate hope. More than hope. From that description, I expect a certain degree of triumph, not merely hope. Anyway, this is a neat post — here, take a look:

1. There are stories behind all of their names!

Ok this one is somewhat sensible and I’m very proud of it! The whole story is actually a Beethoven x Cinderella retelling. I always wanted to do a bit of a modernised Beethoven “reimagined”…and this is it!

➸ “Beck” is short for Beethoven, aka after the famous Ludwig van Beethoven
➸ “
Keverich” (his last name) is the maiden-last-name of the real Ludwig’s mother!
➸ 
Joey’s name came from “Johann” (YES they’re pronounced differently, but this was just inspired) who was the real Ludwig van Beethoven’s father.
➸ 
August Frey is named after August Rush, the movie! So so many people thought I was inspired by This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab….um very much no. I was SO devastated when TSS came out starring AUGUST FLYNN. Like c’mon, universe, that’s rude. But I wrote ATPN in 2015 and TSS didn’t even come out till 2016.

A Beethoven – Cinderella retelling. Well, that’s unexpected. Is Beck both Beethoven and Cindarella in this one? Sounds very possible given the description. … And sure, this tidbit does make me feel more interested in the story. Every now and then I do like a contemporary YA, and after all, this author writes lots of clever, funny posts on Twitter. Sure, all right — Amazon, send me a sample. There.

Meanwhile:

4. Beck’s monologue about hating glitter is author-self-insertion at its finest.

At that point I was doing copious amounts of craft with a 3-year-old niece. And UGH I LOVE HER, but sfshgoshr her obsession with glitter destroyed my fragile sanity.

I hate glitter. It doesn’t love you. It wants to see you dead.

See, this is the kind of thing that makes me follow the author on Twitter, because she’s always saying things like “Her obsession with glitter destroyed my fragile sanity.” Or, well, no, not really, but things with that kind of tone. Mostly she tweets lists, like:

REASONS TO WEAR CLOAKS

• more majestic when you storm off after an argument

• they’re like a cosy burrito hug at all times

• can use all the folds to hide the 12 books you got after you said you’d only get one

• all the wizards are wearing them

• it has pockets

Like that. Very random and energetic, with lots of books and libraries and castles and cake, though never glitter, so far as I recall at the moment. Anyway, moving on:

7. August’s beetroot cupcakes…

…look. Beck is right. Vegetables don’t belong in cakes like that, seriously, August. Get help.

I’m meant to tell you the hidden meaning behind it but it’s only that I have been subjected to this. And writing books is nothing if not working through past traumas.

Hah! I have a recipe for chocolate cake that uses beets. You get this great magenta frosting, it says. I must try it someday. I bet everyone loves it and not a single person is traumatized by the beets, but I must admit I have never actually made this cake or tried a piece, so I *could* be wrong, who knows?

This whole post is so interesting to me because I never do this. I can’t think of a single time a detail in any of my books was “meaningful” in this sense. I’ve never had a character declare undying opposition to glitter (or whatever annoyed me last week) or beets (although I would sympathize with a monologue against beets, actually).

I bet C. G. Drews enjoyed a little Oh Yeah, Still Neat moment every time she hit these details during the no-doubt long editing and copy-editing process, and startlingly enough, knowing about them actually does make me kind of want to read the book. So great job with this post.

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Headlines from our SF world

The ESA Is Taking Steps to Mine Moon Dust

The European Space Agency (ESA) has taken the first of many steps that would be needed to extract resources like oxygen and water from the moon. It’s signed a one-year contract with Europe’s largest launch services provider and former lunar XPRIZE competitor to study the feasibility of mining the moon.

The hypothetical mission would launch by 2025 and focus on lunar regolith, which is a fancy name for lunar soil. While lunar soil has no organic content, it does contain molecular oxygen and water. It also has helium-3, an isotope that has the potential to be a future energy source. The ESA’s website says that helium-3 “could provide safer nuclear energy in a fusion reactor, since it is not radioactive and would not produce dangerous waste products.”

Wow. Sometimes I wonder, but I guess we are indeed heading toward the future.

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Putting time in perspective

Here’s a post that caught my eye largely because of the timeline for a ninety-year-old person. It snagged my attention because my parents aren’t ninety, but they’re pretty close, so this is like the timeline for their lives: Start at WWII and march forward. Here’s television, here’s the Civil Rights era right here, here’s the first man on the moon … I was just thinking, because it was Holocaust Remembrance Day yesterday, how the whole Holocaust is sinking into ancient history for young people today.

The liberation of Auschwitz was seventy-four years ago. Can that even be right? Seventy-four years. For someone who’s twenty today, that was fifty-four years before they were born.

What was happening fifty-four years before I was born? Let me see. The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, launching WWI. That doesn’t really seem like ancient history to me, partly because for me WWI and WWII happened basically together, a one-two punch of violent struggle and human tragedy.

Julian Huxley was at the height of his career. That does seem like ancient history.

Oh, I see William Carrier patented the air conditioner. Not super important juuuust at this moment, with temps here set to fall below zero in a couple of days, but every July, I bless the name of William Haviland Carrier, as the temps go up above 90 degrees for weeks on end.

Well, now, let me see. From the post I originally linked, I note that the year(s) my parents were born are closer in time to the day Lincoln was shot than they are to today. That is indeed shocking. Lincoln really is back there in the mists of history.

A similar bit of trivia: Cleopatra lived closer to today than she did to the building of the Great Pyramids. Wow. Definitely click through and admire this post, which eventually goes straight back to the Big Bang.

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Recent Reading: Knife Children

Somewhat misleading title and cover, imo. Nobody stabs anybody on-screen or anything like that, and there’s only one child … except in the sense that everyone is somebody’s child, I suppose.

Good story, though! Barr, all grown up! That was nice to see. Classic LMB style, a smooth, fun story with lots of serious threads underlying an often humorous narrative.

One of the nicest things about this story is the picture we finally get to see of a pleasant, supportive Lakewalker family. Sure, it’s not completely smooth sailing for Barr when he’s forced to admit the existence of his daughter, now fourteen and with Lakewalker powers coming in strongly. But compared to Dag’s toxic family, Barr’s is fantastic. Compared to Fawn’s initial reception in Lakewalker society, Lily’s is easy and pleasant — of course the situation is a little different since Lily is truly a Lakewalker, but still. The reader can see how much things have changed in the past twelve years.

I thought I would be disappointed that Dag and Fawn don’t appear in this story, but the complete focus on Barr was actually just fine and probably bringing in Dag and / or Fawn would have messed that up by pulling the reader’s attention in the wrong direction. Barr’s a likable, responsible (!) young man now, and the epilogue makes it plain he’s lived down his youthful follies, not that there was much doubt he was going to.

I liked this novella a lot. Hopefully we’ll see a few more in this world as time goes on.

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D&D with contagious diseases

A startling and funny post at tor.com:

Give Your D&D Characters Strange Diseases With This Brand New Supplement!

Keeping track of a character’s health in Dungeons & Dragons has always been important in regard to keeping said character alive. But the real world doesn’t come at you with hit points and healing potions most of the time. You know what your party needs?

Communicable diseases.

Thankfully, a group of medical students who love tabletop gaming thought about this, and decided to cut the world a break. They’ve created a supplement called The Malady Workshop, which will help your Dungeon Master come up any number of horrible ailments for you and your pals to deal with as you battle unicorns and flirt with orcs. From the Dungeon Masters Guild:

Inspired by the vast array of diseases, and the medieval myths that once surrounded them, we embarked on a mission; to enrich other worlds with fantastical diseases.

Surely I’m not the only one who find this delightful. Obviously, just what a role-playing game campaign needs — or a secondary world fantasy novel, of course — fantastical, contagious diseases!

My first reaction, actually is, Yeah, do not need another complicated plot element, got enough going on here in this ginormous novel. But I have to admit, I did then start thinking, Sure, but in the next novel …

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“Most unread” book

This is fun and interesting: codifying books as “most unread” by looking at the most-highlighted passages. If they’re all at the front of the book, you can assume readers are not making it to the end.

This is based on an article written in 2014, so for all we know some book from 2018 has toppled the winner, but:

The most “unread” book came out as Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty, …. At almost 700 pages long, the last of the popular Kindle highlights end on page 26 – barely four per cent of the way through the book.

Others: A Brief History of Time by Steven Hawking — yeah, I didn’t finish that one. Thinking Fast and Slow, which I haven’t tried at all.

I’m somewhat gratified to find here that lots more people finished Catching Fire from the Hunger Games trilogy than finished 50 Shades of Gray.

This line amuses me:

But even The Great Gatsby couldn’t keep people hooked, with an HI 0f 28.3 per cent.

Seriously, does anyone find The Great Gatsby remotely as compelling a page-turner as any book in The Hunger Games trilogy?

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Public service announcement

Just saw this, don’t know how it will look in ten years, but just FYI —

We may finally know what causes Alzheimer’s – and how to stop it

If you bled when you brushed your teeth this morning, you might want to get that seen to. We may finally have found the long-elusive cause of Alzheimer’s disease: Porphyromonas gingivalis, the key bacteria in chronic gum disease.

That’s bad, as gum disease affects around a third of all people. But the good news is that a drug that blocks the main toxins of P. gingivalis is entering major clinical trials this year, and research published today shows it might stop and even reverse Alzheimer’s. There could even be a vaccine.

Alzheimer’s is one of the biggest mysteries in medicine. As populations have aged, dementia has skyrocketed to become the fifth biggest cause of death worldwide. Alzheimer’s constitutes some 70 per cent of these cases and yet, we don’t know what causes it.

It’s looked to me like some families are genetically resistant to Alzheimer’s; for example, in my immense extended family, I know of just one person with Alzheimer’s. Now I wonder about the rate of gingivitis in our family.

If Alzheimer’s is a problem in your extended family, this connection may well be worth paying attention to, and you may want to click through and read the whole thing.

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The art of Middle-Earth

At tor.com, an interview with Ted Naismith, the artist for lots of the art we all think of as quintessential Middle-Earth visual images.

My favorite . . . surely everyone’s favorite?

The whole post is well worth a minute of your time, for the lovely collection of artwork as well as the interview.

UPDATE: Maureen’s comment made me immediately google Alan Lee Tolkien. Here, for those who might like a sample, is the cover to The Fall of Gondolin:

Fine, I have to admit, this is pretty great too. To be even-handed, and since I stumbled across it really fast, here’s an article about Alan Lee.

I still favor Ted Naismith’s work. Now I’m going to probably spend more time than is strictly reasonable looking at their work and trying to work out why.

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