Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Tis the Season

Although I’m a total Scrooge when it comes to Christmas music — I overdosed many years ago and haven’t been able to enjoy most Christmas carols since — I always do enjoy wintry and Christmasy stories as we move through December. This year is no exception.

Partly by chance, I opened Patrice Greenwood’s latest Tearoom mystery a few days ago — Red as Any Blood. I hadn’t realized it was a Christmas-themed story, but it is. I liked it a lot, partly because it was perfect for the season. The title comes from The Holly and the Ivy, by the way. I hadn’t remembered the line, but it is —

The holly bears a berry
As red as any blood
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
To do poor sinners good

If I’d recognized that, I would have known it was set at Christmas. Well, it worked out perfectly even though I did not recognize the lyric.

Once reminded that I do enjoy Christmas-themed stories at this time of year, I recalled that waiting on my Kindle was a Regency titled A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong. Well, obviously this would be a good time to open it up. I like it so far — I like the falcons and I like the two lead characters. It’s going to be a pretty swoony type of romance, that’s clear, but I think I’m in the mood for that.

Speaking of Christmasy Regencies, I do recommend these novels by Theresa Romain. I liked all of them. She’s one of the few writers who can write a sex scene that I can stand to read.

Okay, segue to fantasy — of course The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is a perfect choice to re-read at this time of year.

So is Wintersmith — not for Christmas, but for winter. It wasn’t my favorite of the Tiffany Aching stories, but I think that’s because I didn’t read it in the proper wintry frame of mind.

And of course this year an excellent story to try is Winter of Ice and Iron, which was just picked out as a great seasonal choice by Shana DuBois of the Barnes and Noble SFF Blog.

Rachel Neumeier’s Winter of Ice and Iron is one of the most satisfying fantasy reads I’ve enjoyed all year. I closed the book already aching for more of the characters and setting, and immediately settled in for a reread…

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Good News Tuesday

Okay, here’s a gene I would like inserted in my DNA immediately (but just on one allele, not both):

First Ever Anti-Ageing Gene Discovered in a Secluded Amish Family

Compared to the general Amish population, these 43 people had a 10 percent longer lifespan, and 10 percent longer telomeres (the DNA-protecting structures at the ends of our chromosomes that unravel when the cells reach the end of their lifespans). They also showed lower incidence of diabetes and lower insulin fasting levels. On top of that, the study showed a small indication of lower blood pressure and potentially more flexible blood vessels.

Homozygosity for this allele isn’t great, but heterozygosity is definitely good. It’s not the fountain of youth, but it’s a step in the right direction, hopefully.

Next, of increasing importance given the growing prevalence of resistant bacteria:

Synthetic Molecule That Could Be The Key to Ending Antibiotic Resistance

In a study published in the journal Scientific Reports earlier this November, this team of researchers from UdeM’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine explored a method that could block the transfer of antibiotic resistance genes.

The researchers focused on preventing a mechanism that allows for antibiotic resistance genes to be coded onto plasmids – which are DNA fragments that can carry genes that encode the proteins that render bacteria drug-resistant.

I like this next one the best; it’s so totally futuristic:

Tiny microrobots could be used to cure cancer

Known as “biohybrids,” the microbots can be controlled remotely to deliver life-saving drugs directly to affected areas for maximum efficiency. They are made from biological cells that are engineered with additional features so they can be guided through the bloodstream.

Isn’t that cool?

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Best of 2017

Tally of Books Read for 2017:

Fantasy: 30
Romances: 7
Urban fantasy: 5
SF: 3
Post-apocalypse: 12
Mystery: 5
Contemporary YA: 2
Literary: 6, all but one by Karen Joy Fowler
Historical: 3
Alternate history: 3
Caper novel: 1
Nonfiction: 4
Of this lot, re-reads: 10
DNF: 14

What an unbalanced year. I had no idea how little SF I read this year until I looked over my list. Which is a bit unreliable; there were some months I know I forgot to record some of the books I read. Still, this is a fairly accurate list of my reading for 2017.

Okay, favorites by month. I read from four to twenty books per month, so there’s a lot of variation in how competitive any given month was. Still, I’ll take a stab at picking out one favorite for each month of 2017.

Favorite January: Tomorrow, When the War Began series by Marsden (a re-read)

Favorite February: Hidden Steel by Durgin

Favorite March: Shadow Unit 15 by Bear and Monette and others

Favorite April: Shadow Fallen by Briggs

Favorite May: I read a whole bunch of books in May, lots of them good to excellent, so it’s hard to select one favorite read. But I have to go for the Freedom’s Gate series by Kritzer.

Favorite June: The Under a Graveyard Sky series by Ringo

Favorite July: Burn for Me by Andrews. I’d been saving this one for a reading slump. Loved it.

Favorite August: Knife by Anderson

Favorite September: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Carson

Favorite October: The Last Mage Guardian by Chase

Favorite November: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Valentine

Favorite December: I haven’t really been reading many books this month, so I guess I’ll leave this space blank for now. If I read something fabulous in the next three weeks, I’ll be sure and review it.

Favorite of the Year: Out of the whole year . . . drumroll . . . I have to pick out Freedom’s Gate series by Naomi Kritzer as my overall favorite book or series for 2017.

***

Okay, now to break the favorites down a little differently:

Favorite male lead: Um, here I’m going to go with Innisth Maèr Eäneté in Winter of Ice and Iron. I generally avoid including my own books or characters in these lists, but hey.

Favorite female lead: Lauria from the Freedom’s Gate series by Kritzer.

Favorite lead who is neither male nor female: The murderbot protagonist from The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. There’s not a lot of competition for this spot, obviously, but the Murderbot would be a great protagonist whatever its gender or lack thereof.

Favorite romantic couple: Lucien and Elena in Kiss of Lavender by Florand

Most unexpected plot twists: Knife by Anderson

Story that surprised me the most, in a good way: The remarkably readable Under a Graveyard Sky series by Ringo. I wouldn’t have expected to enjoy a series that hardly bothers with characterization and sometimes suffers from clunky writing plus overt political Messages. But I did.

Favorite secondary fantasy world: The Harbors of the Sun by Wells. Hard to beat the Raksura world.

Favorite fairy tale: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Valentine was not exactly a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, but I liked it a whole bunch and it did echo the fairy tale.

Favorite contemporary: Hidden Steel by Durgin

Favorite historical fantasy: Steel Blues by Graham and Scott

Favorite alternate history: The Eagle and Empire series by Smale

Favorite SF setting: The Murderbot Diaries: All Systems Red by Wells

Favorite UF/Paranormal: Burn for Me series by Andrews

Favorite romance: A Kiss in Lavender by Florand

Favorite mystery: As Red as Any Blood by Greenwood

Favorite Georgette Heyers: False Colors, which I listened to for the second time.

Favorite YA: Thick as Thieves by Turner

Favorite MG: The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Burgis

Favorite art book masquerading as a novel: Above the Timberline by Manchess

Favorite Cover Art: Winter of Ice and Iron. It’s nice enough online, but you have to see it in person to appreciate the lovely metallic sheen this cover has – it shifts from greys to blues depending on the angle of the light. Saga sure did give me beautiful covers.

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Black Dog is Free on Kindle

So, you all probably already have a copy, but just in case you don’t — I’m making Black Dog free for this pre-Christmas season.

Amazon seems to want me to make a book free for only five days at a time. So Black Dog will definitely be free from now until the 12th, but I will attempt to make it free for another five days, and another after that — right up until Christmas.

So if you don’t have a copy, grab one now. Got a friend (or a hundred friends) who might like it? Now’s the time!

Black Dog by Rachel Neumeier, 2016 edition

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The Seven Wonders of the World

So, I happened across a post at the NYT about the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Hold onto that idea for just a moment.

To review, as you may know, the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World were:

1. The Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt, which I’m sure we can all visualize but keep in mind that originally they were covered with white limestone. That must have been just incredible to see.

2. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, which were a seventy-five-foot-tall terraced garden.

3. The Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Greece, a forty-foot-tall statue depicting Zeus seated on his throne, with robes of gold.

4. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, which was 425 feet high, 225 feet wide, supported by one hundred twenty-seven 60 foot columns, and inspired awe in everyone who visited it.

5. The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, which was 135 feet tall and ornately decorated with fine sculpture.

6. The Colossus of Rhodes, which was a statue of the god Helios that stood over 110 feet high, overlooking the harbor of Rhodes.

7. The Lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt, which stood close to 440 feet high and was the third tallest human-made structure in the world; its light (a mirror which reflected the sun’s rays by day and a fire by night) could be seen as far as 35 miles out to sea.

I got all those details from the linked site, btw, it’s not like I knew offhand how tall the Temple of Artemis was.

Of course most of these ancient wonders were eventually destroyed, often by earthquakes but sometimes by deliberate vandalism.

So now, after that review, what about these “New Seven Wonders”?

1. The Great Wall of China.

2. The Taj Mahal

3. Petra

4. The Colosseum in Italy

5. The statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, which stands 125 feet tall and stands atop a 2000 foot hill.

6. Chichén Itzá, Mexico

7. Machu Picchu, Peru

…Okay, as far as I’m concerned, SOMETHING needs to go off the NYT’s modern list to make room for the Great Pyramid of Giza, which even without its limestone facing definitely belongs on any list of Seven Wonders. I guess room should be made by removing Chichén Itzá, because does one really need two super-impressive pyramids on a single list?

But I would be willing to replace the statue of Christ the Redeemer instead, because a 125-foot statue constructed with reasonably modern techniques and materials does not seem as impressive to me as Chichén Itzá.

Also, there are way bigger statues in the world. This list presents the seven largest statues in the world. As far as I’m concerned, the Laykyun Setkyar in Myanmar are big, but a touch gaudy. That might be an effect of the light or something, but I much prefer the Spring Temple Buddha, which is waaaay impressive.

Also, the list ought to include Mount Rushmore. If that’s not in the top seven, make a top ten list instead.

Click through if you like and pick the ONE statue that should be on a list of Seven Wonder of the World. The Spring Temple Buddha is the biggest, but is it the one you would pick?

The picture on that list of the Guan Yin statue is not great — here is a better picture of that one:

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Metaphors

Here at Kill Zone Blog, an interesting post about metaphors:

I don’t want to burst your bubble, but coming up with metaphors and similes is hard. Bad ones are a dime a dozen and coming up with good ones is like banging your head against a brick wall. You will be tempted to farm the over-tilled soil, tread the road already taken, resort to the tried and true. But you have to look through the rain to see the rainbow.

The author of the post, PJ Parrish, draws especially on TS Elliot for examples of metaphors — also Carl Sandburg:

Elliot’s fog — “a yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes, licked its tongue into the corners of the evening.”

Compared with Sandburg’s fog, which — “comes in on little cat feet and sits looking over the harbor on its haunches before it moves on.”

I remember that last line, which stood out for me in high school. In general I didn’t care for anything assigned in high school, but I did like poetry. I still do, though I don’t often seek any out.

You know what stands out to me for beautiful use of metaphor and simile in a contemporary work? The Sky is Everywhere by Nelson. The whole story is like one extended poem about grief and recovery. If that doesn’t instantly appeal to you, let me add that it’s one of best books I’ve read in the past decade. The use of language is definitely one reason why that’s true:

His face is more open than an open book, like a wall of graffiti really.

According to all the experts, it’s time for me to talk about what I’m going through….I can’t. I’d need a new alphabet, one made of falling, of tectonic plates shifting, of the deep devouring dark.

Silence tick-tocks between us, as it does lately.

My eyes move from the lilacs cascading down the path to the several parties of daffodils gossiping in the breeze to the indisputable fact that springtime has shoved off its raincoat and is just prancing about.

I can’t say I’d want to read prose like this all the time — it’s certainly not suitable to every kind of story — but it’s perfect in Nelson’s lovely book. I’ve bought two extra copies to give away so far, to people who were dealing with grief, but you certainly needn’t have suffered a recent bereavement to read The Sky is Everywhere.

In fact, you might enjoy Nelson’s novel more during a happy springtime when the very possibility of bereavement seems inconceivable.

Here at the start of winter, you might prefer this one:

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The first Roman invasion of Britain

This is interesting: Archaeologists find first evidence for Julius Caesar’s invasion of Britain

The first Roman invasion of Britain by Julius Caesar in 55BC is a historical fact, with vivid accounts passed down by Tacitus, Cicero and Caesar himself.

Yet, despite a huge landing force of legionaries from 800 ships, no archaeological evidence for the attack or any physical remains of encampments have ever been found.

But now a chance excavation carried out ahead of a road building project in Kent has uncovered what is thought to be the first solid proof for the invasion….

I hadn’t been aware that Julius Caesar ever invaded Britain.

For novels set during or after the later conquest of Britain, my favorite is Gillian Bradshaw’s wonderful Island of Ghosts. I wonder if she’s ever considered writing one set during this earlier invasion?

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Thank you all —

Thank you all for writing and posting reviews for Winter of Ice and Iron if you’ve already done so.

Or for telling me privately that Winter is one of your favorites or that you think it’s the best thing I’ve had published. Seriously, thank you for letting me know. This means a lot to me.

I get a good deal more enthusiastic about working on current projects when I see that my most recent title is enjoying a positive reception from readers, especially those of you I know personally.

While a handful of reviews make it clear that Winter isn’t for everyone … too bad, but not surprising … I’m happy to see so many positive reviews going up around the internet. Not to dwell on ratings, but do you know, Winter is the first of my books to pop up above 4 stars on Goodreads? You’d think The Floating Islands would have, or at least I would have thought so, but no.

Winter’s rating won’t have settled down yet of course. It doesn’t have many ratings yet — feel free to help out with that on either Goodreads or Amazon or both if you haven’t already — but I am guessing Winter will settle down pretty close to four, hopefully above. This is definitely a nice Christmas bonus.

Here are some lines I am particularly likely to quote in the future:

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

[A] lush and deliciously imaginative world …. The story is tense throughout, with attention focused on its characters and the implications of its worldbuilding. Kehera’s resolute devotion to fighting against the odds even as the world shifts and realigns around her carries through to the cosmically satisfying ultimate battle.

Barnes and Noble

The impressive worldbuilding never gets in the way of the narrative, which remains focused on the characters first — particularly on Kehera, whose steadfast commitment to her mission in the face of incredible odds will keep you rooting for her to the climactic ending. Consider this one proof a satisfying epic fantasy doesn’t have to mean an epic, multi-volume page count.

Washington Post

Rachel Neumeier’s Winter of Ice and Iron (Saga) walks familiar fantasy territory but marks new ground with her emotionally complex characters. … Kehera’s bond with her brother and her newfound companions is deeply felt. Neumeier doesn’t rely on heaving bosoms or overwrought confidences to convey the way people care for and love one another.

Utopia State of Mind review

There’s very little I can say that can even do any sort of justice to the wonderfully intricate story, the characters that get under your skin, and the intrigue seeping through the pages. … The prose is atmospheric and you can almost feel the chill, the ominous tones, and the tension. … This is a dizzying book of magnitude, politics, love, and family. The plot is astounding because of its depth, details, and surprises. … You need to take your time with this, to become immersed in this slow burning fantasy that will reward you if you devote your time to it.

Kirkus Best SFF for November

In this dark fantasy, the fate of four kingdoms is at risk when war threatens the already-uneasy peace between them. Kehara Raehema, princess of the most vulnerable of the Four Kingdoms, embarks on a mission to buy some time. Meanwhile Innisth Eanete, Wolf Duke of Pohorir, whose father is perhaps the leading driving force towards war, wishes to unite the people in peace despite his father’s plans. Kehera and Innisth soon find themselves drawn together as unintentional allies and the only path towards peace might just be joining forces against a greater evil emanating from spirits inhabit the earth itself.

Book Page

Winters in Rachel Neumeier’s Winter of Ice and Iron can get pretty rough. As snow and ice blanket the Four Kingdoms, the obsidian winds rip down from the mountains, the night lasts for days and massive winter dragons terrorize commoners and nobles alike. Fortunately for us, the characters that Neumeier weaves into her tale of ambition, duty and family are more than ready to face it all. … [B]oth Kehera and Innisth hold ties to Immanent Powers, one of Winter of Ice and Iron’s most inventive elements. These magical, non-sentient elementals naturally form over generations, drawing power from the earth, the creatures and the people that inhabit their realm. Neumeier confidently employs these Powers, lending an ethereal and whirling grace to every appearance they make in the narrative. They are both the paint used to color this world and a reflection of the people that wield them.

And Kehera and Innisth are just as enthralling. The two ricochet off one another, giving each a sense of purpose and forward motion. Even with other memorable characters throughout, Kehera and Innisth command the reader’s attention from the moment they meet. … Winter of Ice and Iron is dark and unflinching, but also surefooted and heartfelt. From their first meeting through the gripping final sequence, real emotion and real history drive Kehera and Innisth’s ever-evolving relationship.

Joy Ward (author)

Neumeier’s book is a new classic of fantasy and deserves every award! The story is new and enthralling! The characters are excellent, fully designed motivations and fascinating. In all, this book is one of the best in the fantasy field! Fans of George RRMartin, Lois Bujold, Glen Cook and other masters of fantasy would be well advised to read this and be carried away by it!

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Weird Science Tuesday

So, how about this?

World’s Largest Laser Could Solve Our Energy Problems

With lasers, scientists can recreate fusion reactions that occur within the center of the Sun and create the most extreme conditions on Earth. With the largest laser in the world, you can create temperatures of more than three million degrees Celsius. At this temperature, atoms can no longer exist. The electrons are stripped away from their respective nuclei and you’re left with a soup of ions and electrons – this is a plasma, the fourth state of matter….If done correctly, this fusion reaction could be self-sustaining and the energy produced from the reaction will be larger than the losses, a condition known as ignition….Although NIF are yet to achieve ignition, scientists are working super hard to get there and maybe one day our electricity will come from ‘man-made’ fusion reactions.

It sounds a little pie-in-the-sky, but interesting.

Here’s another:

Mach Effect Propulsion 2016 – it is proven, replicated and will scale to fast interstellar travel

The Mach-Effect thruster is a propellantless propulsion concept that has been in development by J.F. Woodward for more than two decades. It consists of a piezo stack that produces mass fluctuations, which in turn can lead to net time-averaged thrusts. So far, thrusts predictions had to use an efficiency factor to explain some two orders of magnitude discrepancy between model and observations. Here (M Tajmar) presents a detailed 1D analytical model that takes piezo material parameters and geometry dimensions into account leading to correct thrust predictions in line with experimental measurements. Scaling laws can now be derived to improve thrust range and efficiency. An important difference in this study is that only the mechanical power developed by the piezo stack is considered to be responsible for the mass fluctuations, whereas prior works focused on the electrical energy into the system. This may explain why some previous designs did not work as expected. The good match between this new mathematical formulation and experiments should boost confidence in the Mach effect thruster concept to stimulate further developments.

Hmm. Well, in the meantime it could be a handy SF plot device.

Continuing with seriously weird science:

“Structural” water makes for strong new glue

The concept of “structural water” has a long history. It is well known that water molecules near a suitable surface are compelled to ordered themselves into hexagonally shaped, single-layer sheets. In biological systems, molecules can bind to the surface or interior of proteins, which helps make them stable. …The key to making hydrogen bonds strong enough to form a sticky polymer was to use a type of compound called crown ethers. These are ring-shaped molecules that contain numerous oxygen atoms, with two carbon atoms between each. The oxygen atoms are able to form many hydrogen bonds with water. Individually they are weak, but become strong when added together. The team found that their best version of the crown ether molecule, which they called TC7, was a non-sticky powder when dry, but formed a strong adhesive when a small amount of water was added.

Sticky water. Huh. Who knew?

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