Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Pluto is so a planet

In a brief article at The Washington Post, David Grinspoon and Alan Stern declare Pluto is too a planet.

Three years ago, NASA’s New Horizons, the fastest spaceship ever launched, raced past Pluto, spectacularly revealing the wonders of that newly seen world. This coming New Year’s Eve — if all goes well on board this small robot operating extremely far from home — it will treat us to images of the most distant body ever explored, provisionally named Ultima Thule. We know very little about it, but we do know it’s not a planet. Pluto, by contrast — despite what you’ve heard — is.

Click through and read the whole thing for a look at the history behind Pluto’s demotion, and a passionate defense of its planetary status. I enjoyed the sharp tone with which the authors of this post critique the decision to demote Pluto:

Even within our solar system, the IAU scientists defined “planet” in a strange way, declaring that if an orbiting world has “cleared its zone,” or thrown its weight around enough to eject all other nearby objects, it is a planet. Otherwise it is not. This criterion is imprecise and leaves many borderline cases, but what’s worse is that they chose a definition that discounts the actual physical properties of a potential planet, electing instead to define “planet” in terms of the other objects that are — or are not — orbiting nearby. This leads to many bizarre and absurd conclusions. For example, it would mean that Earth was not a planet for its first 500 million years of history, because it orbited among a swarm of debris until that time, and also that if you took Earth today and moved it somewhere else, say out to the asteroid belt, it would cease being a planet.

Shiny knife you just stabbed that definition with. Good job!

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Recent Reading: A Variety

I really haven’t been reading much this year, relatively speaking. Except for re-reads; I’m definitely re-reading more books this spring than new-to-me books. This is partly – mostly – because I’m working on stuff of my own, which always puts a damper on reading new-to-me fiction.

Nevertheless, in the last few weeks, I have managed to read a few new-to-me titles. So:

1. Murderbot: “Artificial Condition,” by Martha Wells.

I didn’t necessarily expect to love the second novella as much of the first (“All Systems Red”), because the first one set a high bar. It just won the Nebula,in fact and a well-deserved win that was, too. But I was hoping the second would make it over that bar. Well, I was very pleased because I think the second novella was just about as good as the first. I feared it would be hard to match the secondary characters from the first novella, but I really loved ART, and I liked the human characters as well.

Favorite detail with ART: When the ship started playing the Sanctuary Moon soundtrack when Murderbot was upset. What a nice touch.

Favorite detail with a human character: When Tapan says it was her fault and the Murderbot says it wasn’t and she says, “I kinda think it was.” Great exchange. Also, though the Murderbot is inclined to blame itself for things, Tapan is right. It was totally her fault. I like how she didn’t let it talk her out of that.

Can’t wait for the third novella. I don’t think it’s a super-long wait; I believe it’s coming out in August.

2. A Thousand Nights by EK Johnston.

My favorite kind of secondary world: tons of Arabic flavor, but not based on any historical Arabia, so Johnston could do crazy things with the metaphysics and significantly tweak the culture and so on. The smallgods are original, for example, and so is the balance between the Skeptics and the Priests. And, the demons, though I believe they’re meant to evoke djinn. There’s a smokeless fire kind of magic associated with the demon that has Lo-Melkhiior, for example.

The story has less emphasis on storytelling than I expected. Also, the plot covers nothing like a thousand nights. What was it, three months or so from start to finish? This is mostly a quiet story, rather slow paced. I like the quieter part of the story better than the fast-paced climactic battle, in fact, although when the protagonist creates all those creatures at the end, that’s pretty snazzy.

The writing is beautiful and rather unusual. The emphasis is so strongly on family that the first-person narrator never, or almost never, refers to family members by name – it’s always “my sister,” “my father,” “the sister of my mother.” That, and a formal manner of speech, do as much as the descriptive passages about the setting to give this story an exotic feel.

3. The 3,000-Mile Garden.

This is nonfiction. It’s collected letters exchanged between the American food writer Leslie Land and the English nature photographer Roger Phillips. The letters are very strongly focused on gardening and cooking, so just my kind of thing.

4. Frederica by Georgette Heyer.

Not my favorite Heyer … I believe that would be CotillionFalse Colors. But I liked it very much from the moment Frederica appeared. Teenage boys are rather unusual in Heyer’s books, and though the romance was okay, my favorite part of this one – by a mile – was the developing relationship between Frederica’s brothers and Alverstroke.

4. Dark Alchemy by Laura Bickle.

The raven saw it first.

His dark eye scraped the horizon, scouring the earth for movement in the lengthening shadows. The shadows crawled across the scrub and the sage, wrapping around lodgepole pines and flickering through bits of grass. A hot breeze ruffled the raven’s feathers, pulling him higher over the land. He sensed something old, something malevolent sliding under the fences and over the rocks . . .

The ravens are pretty neat in this one. Very strange magic all over the place, much of it creepy and disturbing. Alchemy, sure, but other, weirder stuff too. Though the alchemy is certainly weird and disturbing enough all by itself. This story is right on the edge between fantasy and horror … if you have read it, which side of the line do you think it comes down on? The writing is very good, which is crucial for building the creepy atmosphere.

The main protagonist, Petra Dee, is a geologist, so from time to time we get to see neat science-y stuff. Best thing about Petra: the way she refuses to let bad things happen without trying to interfere. Worst thing about Petra: my God, woman, when your father whispers from the spirit world Don’t Go, you might give a little more thought to Plan B and Plan C. Walking into a trap is never admirable unless you have seriously thought ahead about how to deal with that trap in some effective way.

Other comments: The coyote does not in any way resemble a coyote, other than physically. It is your standard fictional idealized-dog-that-we-are-calling-a-wolf, except of course that it’s supposedly a coyote. It has only the merest trace of coyote behavior appended over the dog behavior. I feel compelled to mention here, as no doubt I have before, that neither coyotes nor wolves have the same instincts or show the same behaviors as dogs. They just don’t.

However, as Sig is explicitly a spirit coyote rather than a normal coyote, I guess that’s more or less all right. I mean, the ravens are not exactly normal ravens, and I liked them fine, so I am trying to exercise the same tolerance for the coyote.

Also, my favorite secondary protagonist winds up in an unenviable condition at the end, but since this is the first book of a series, I imagine his situation most likely improves in the second book. There is reasonable closure in this book, so that’s good.

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Best books to read right before heading off on a cruise

Okay, well, posting may be just a little bit light for the next couple of weeks, as I will be thoroughly out of town. My brother and I gave ourselves a serious vacation as a belated birthday present, since February is a terrible month for vacations. So we are flying to Barcelona tonight (unless something dire goes wrong, heaven forfend). Our cruise will depart from Barcelona tomorrow, bounce down the coast of Italy, touch here and there in Greece, make its way back up the other coast of Italy, and end in Venice.

I plan to enjoy this cruise as much as possible, as I’ve never gone on a cruise before and I doubt I will ever go on one again.

I’ve scheduled posts for this period, but I may not be able to add others until I’m back. I believe I should be be able to respond to comments.

I hope to be able to post pictures and comments on Facebook, so follow me there if you’d like. I may try to post some here if possible, but I’m not taking my laptop, only my phone, so we’ll see.

Anyway!

To start the whole cruise thing off right, I thought I’d take a look at a handful of cruise-centric books. Not “beach reads” or anything, but stories actually featuring cruises and cruise ships, like so:

Seventeen Best Cruise Books

The first book listed is “Cruise Confidential”, Brian David Bruns, about which they say:

Bruns’ “A Hit Below the Waterline” is the first in a series of books about the “other side of cruising.” His true tale of a year working for Carnival Cruise Line is at once a soap opera and an expose. His hilarious and bizarre accounts of crew life are captivating (truth is always stranger than fiction, even at sea), which makes this a permanent fixture on the cruise-themed bookshelf.

This is exactly the sort of book I’d like to read before or during a cruise. I’m curious about the other people on the ship — the ones who work for the cruise line rather than the ones who paid to go on the cruise.

Also on the list: books about the cruise industry, books about the actual ships, books about maritime history and the rise of cruise ships. None of that sounds nearly as interesting to me.

Perhaps especially not this one:

Stranded by Aaron Saunders

It might not be the best book to download to your e-reader right before an Alaska cruise, but Saunders’ account of the 1918 sinking of the steamship Princess Sophia, a harrowing disaster on the voyage from Skagway to Vancouver, is hard to put down. What’s even harder to believe is that nearly eight decades later, the cruise ship Star Princess almost met the same fate.

If I were superstitious and thought things went in threes, I’d deliberately avoid any cruise ship with “princess” in the name. Just in case.

How about this one:

The Boxcar Children: The Mystery Cruise in the series begun by Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Boxcar Children series has captivated young readers for nearly a century. This tale follows the Alden kids as their family takes a Caribbean cruise. A false “man overboard” claim could have implications for the professor they dine with each night — is someone sabotaging his relative’s will by delaying his arrival? As always, the children investigate.

I loved the Bobbsey Twin stories when I was a child (and eventually gave the complete set to a woman who had two sets of twins, so I hope some of those children loved them as much as I did). Now I’m experiencing a strong kick of nostalgia, thinking about these mystery series for children. Pity I didn’t know the Boxcar Children was part of the same sort of long, continuing series. Wikipedia tells me there are more than 150 titles now, of which the first nineteen were written by Warner. That doesn’t include this one.

Well, moving on. Perhaps the seventeen books on the above list aren’t enough for you, or don’t tickle your fancy. How about this impressive list of fifty mystery standalones and series that take place on cruise ships? Apparently that’s quite a popular setting!

Unfortunately the linked post just provides titles, with links but without descriptions. Some of the titles are silly enough to suggest the book would be too cutesy for me, but clicking on just a few intriguing titles is enough to establish that others are not so cute and in fact aren’t cozy mysteries, but — is there a term for this? — regular mysteries. For example, these:

Murder on the Lusitania by Conrad Allen

September 1907. George Porter Dillman sets sail from Liverpool on the New York-bound Lusitania for its maiden voyage. Hired by the ship’s captain to pose as a passenger, George is in fact sailing the high seas as a private detective for the Cunard Line. While on board, he expects to deal with only petty crimes – some random vandalism, perhaps a scuffle or two in the bar – but then the ship’s blueprints are stolen from the chief engineer’s room and a man is killed in his cabin…

I might enjoy that even though at the moment I’m more interested in contemporary cruise settings.

Here’s another:

Grave Passage by William Doonan

With only days until their final port, the passengers of the Contessa Voyager learn that their guest lecturer, an ex-F.B.I. profiler, has been found hanging from the ship’s rock-climbing wall. Suddenly their balmy, carefree idyll on the Caribbean is fraught with danger and anxiety. Will someone else be next? What can the shipping line do to ease the passengers fears? Clearly, this is a job for Henry Grave, a professional maritime detective. Join him as he helicopters aboard to solve the crime. His methods and style are unusual, and guaranteed to keep you laughing as you follow him from one hidden clue to the next.

One more:

The False Inspector Dew by Peter Lovesey

The year is 1921. A passionate affair between voracious romance reader Alma Webster and her dentist, Walter Baranov, has led to his wife’s murder. The lovers take flight aboard the Mauretania and the dentist takes the name of Inspector Dew, the detective who arrested the notorious wifekiller Dr. Crippen. But, in a disquieting twist, a murder occurs aboard ship and the captain invites “Inspector Dew” to investigate.

What an idea! Wow.

Surely there are a million romances set on cruise ships? Google is letting me down for that one, but I can’t believe there’s any shortage in this category.

Here at aLibris is a huge list of books featuring a cruise setting — too huge and unwieldy for me to wade through. Here’s the first entry, which sounds too tense for me:

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

This was meant to be the perfect trip. The Northern Lights. A luxury press launch on a boutique cruise ship. A chance for travel journalist Lo Blacklock to recover from a traumatic break-in that has left her on the verge of collapse. Except things don’t go as planned. Woken in the night by screams, Lo rushes to her window to see a body thrown overboard from the next door cabin. But the records show that no-one ever checked into that cabin, and no passengers are missing from the boat. Exhausted and emotional, Lo has to face the fact that she may have made a mistake – either that, or she is now trapped on a boat with a murderer…

No, thanks.

How about SFF that features a cruise ship setting?

I can think of two: the cruise ship in the Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy, which I don’t think we get until the second book, right? But then it is a very important setting after that.

And this one:

The Wheel of Darkness (Pendergast Series Book 8)

In the exciting eighth supernatural thriller from bestsellers Preston and Child (after 2006’s The Book of the Dead), FBI agent Aloysius Pendergast and his ward, Constance Greene, seek peace of mind at a remote Tibetan monastery, only to fall into yet another perilous, potentially earthshaking assignment. The monastery’s abbot asks them to recover a stolen relic, the cryptic Agozyen, which could, in the wrong hands, wipe out humanity. The pair follow the trail to a luxury cruise ship, where a series of brutal murders suggests the relic’s evil spirit might already have been invoked.

This was the second Pendergast novel I read and I had trouble suspending disbelief in both of them. In this case, I could not believe no one just dropped everything and searched every single cabin until they found the bad guy. Following rules is all very well, but good heavens above, there are limits. I had other issues with the plot, but as I recall, this was the single biggest suspension-of-disbelief I encountered.

You know what, now that I think of it, Nicholas Valliard would have wrapped Pendergast’s whole problem up in a tenth the time and with a tenth the drama.

All right! If you’ve got a favorite cruise ship story, especially SFF, drop it in the comments, please. I will be checking comments here from time to time — I hope no one will get stuck in the spam filter during the next two weeks.

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Top Ten Novels With Protagonists Who Are Scientists

So, I’m reading Laura Bickle’s Dark Alchemy, a contemporary fantasy with a weird west setting. It’s a title that’s been on my Kindle’s TBR pile for quite some time, but I thought of it recently and since I’m usually in the mood for a western setting, I actually started reading it.

Lots of creepy stuff going on. Dark Alchemy is right on the edge between fantasy and horror, which is fine – I don’t like real horror much, but this isn’t too horrific for me. Excellent, evocative description, which of course is an important component of building a creepy atmosphere. My favorite thing so far is the thing with the ravens. How do writers come up with these ideas?

Anyway, the protagonist of Dark Alchemy, Petra Dee, is a geologist. (Her father, missing for 20 years, was an alchemist, so one gathers the name Dee is not a coincidence.)

I do enjoy protagonists who are scientists! At one point fairly early on, Petra acquires a sample of blood that fluoresces in certain lighting conditions. Weird! she thinks, and immediately builds a homemade spectroscope to see what the sample actually contains.

My kind of protagonist, for sure. So I thought I’d come up with a list of science-y protagonists and fantasy novels that emphasize science. Let’s see if I can make it to ten without help!

1. Dark Alchemy by Laura Bickle.

2. Land of the Burning Sands by yours truly. Of course Tehre thinks of what she does as a branch of natural philosophy, but science by any other name, right?

3. The Lindsey Chamberlain mystery series by Beverly Conner. Of course this is a departure from fantasy, but hey, I read them pretty recently, they’re fresh in my mind, and I really, really loved them and Lindsey, their archeologist protagonist.

4. The Martian by Andy Weir. Another departure from fantasy – sorry. Still, nothing like having to science the shit out of your disastrous situation. I’m sure there are a million SF novels with scientist protagonists, but this is the one that springs to my mind because the science was so central.

5. The Chronicles of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan. Now, here’s a perfect example. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it at once. I love this series for its successful presentation of the Victorian naturalist frame of mind, just modified barely enough for the naturalist attitudes to be more or less palatable to a modern audience. And, of course, there are the dragons.

6. Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley also treats dragons in sort of the same way, as creatures that are the focus of scientific study, though I grant you the protagonist is not himself a scientist and doesn’t have a very scientific frame of mind.

7. A Thousand Nights by EK Johnston Not the protagonist at all, but in contrast to Dragonhaventhe Skeptics have a perfect scientific frame of mind in a nonscientific world:

“Could you not find out?” I asked of him. “I mean, revered Skeptic, if you took a ball and a lamp, could you not find out?”

He laughed then, and winked one eye at me. “I could,” he said to me. “And I have. Never tell the other Skeptics that, for they will think it blasphemous. They would rather argue about it forever.”

“But then how will they know?”

“They do know, more or less. But in arguing, they will ask and answer a dozen other questions.”

Great, eh? Also, thank heavens, Johnston does not present the Skeptics as opposed to the Priests. There’s a tiresomely common bullet, dodged.

8. Not a protagonist, but the Magic Thief series by Sarah Prineas has got to be the only fantasy setting ever written where someone uses the word “stoichiometry” correctly. Very impressive.

9. Hellspark by Janet Kagan. Linguistics is not quite what I was thinking of as “science,” but the book was great, so it’ll do.

10. And … saving the very best for last … The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein. Not just Rowan, but all the steerswomen – and the kid who’s singlehandedly inventing a science of explosives. An amazing job writing characters with a scientific mindset in a pre-science world.

There – ten! Some more arguable than others, I grant you.

How about you? Got a favorite novel where science is central, or the protagonist is a scientist, or both?

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Anniversary of Mt St Helens

On May 18, 1980, a second earthquake, of magnitude 5.1, triggered a massive collapse of the north face of the mountain. It was the largest known debris avalanche in recorded history. The magma in St. Helens burst forth into a large-scale pyroclastic flow that flattened vegetation and buildings over 230 square miles (600 km2).

Yeah, I remember that well! I hadn’t remembered the details, though.

The eruption killed 57 people, nearly 7,000 big game animals (deer, elk, and bear), and an estimated 12 million fish from a hatchery. It destroyed or extensively damaged over 200 homes, 185 miles (298 km) of highway and 15 miles (24 km) of railways.

83-year-old Harry R. Truman, who had lived near the mountain for 54 years, became famous when he decided not to evacuate before the impending eruption, despite repeated pleas by local authorities. His body was never found after the eruption.

Another victim of the eruption was 30-year-old volcanologist David A. Johnston, who was stationed on the nearby Coldwater Ridge. Moments before his position was hit by the pyroclastic flow, Johnston radioed his famous last words: “Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!” Johnston’s body was never found.

I remember the images of the ash piling up, and the devastation around the volcano.

Here’s a video of today’s important ongoing volcanic event: one of the Kilauea eruptions

Around 2,000 people have evacuated the surrounding area. Lava leaking from the fissures has destroyed at least 26 homes and 10 other structures, according to the Associated Press.

Pretty alarming. Good luck to everyone near the Hawaiian volcanoes!

Here’s a post from The Washington Post about the Yellowstone supervolcano:

Yellowstone is capable of eruptions thousands of times more violent than the Mount St. Helens eruption of 1980. The northern Rockies would be buried in multiple feet of ash. Ash would rain on almost everyone in the United States. It’d be a bad day.

Yeesh. It certainly would.

Intellectual humility is called for here: No one can say with great confidence how much magma it takes to trigger a caldera-forming eruption.

There’s the most important sentence in the article. What the past few years have shown us for sure — drawing on astronomical discoveries as well as terrestrial — is that we don’t understand as much about planetary science as we thought.

This eruption isn’t what I would pick if I wanted to write a post-apocalyptic novel — partly because it’s been done. Mike Mullen did it in his Ashfall trilogy (has anybody read that? I wonder if I should try it?). And Harry Turtledove did it in his imaginatively titled Supervolcano Eruption. (I’m not likely to try that one as I don’t really like Turtledove’s writing.)

Anyway, I’d rather use a major earthquake along the Cascadia fault.

No shortage of geological disasters that are not only possible, but certain to happen eventually …

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Armor in a secondary world

Here’s a post by Marie Brennan at Book View Cafe: New Worlds: Armor

Mind you, not all armor is made of steel. But leather armor isn’t really what games would like you to believe: while leather has been used in many parts of armor-making, as a backing for rigid pieces or a connector between different parts of the armor, on its own, it isn’t actually much use as protection. It works reasonably well against incidental dangers — that’s why motorcyclists often wear it — but even in hardened form, a deliberate attack can too easily cut right through it. Still better than nothing, of course, and the same is true of wooden armor, or the linothorax of ancient Greece. But on the whole, metal was historically your best bet for protection, whether it was bronze, iron, or steel….

Now, as it happens, I was just looking at historical types of non-metal armor because the world of my current WIP is metal-poor, or at least iron-poor.

Did you know it’s possible to make relatively effective armor out of paper? Paper armor may or may not have really been an important thing, but isn’t that a neat concept? If it was used at all, it may have been injected with shellac of some kind.

I bet you can think of one potential issue with paper armor, though:

One problem that they noted with this idea is that the paper armor rapidly disintegrated when it got wet or if it was subjected to repeated blows. This suggests that paper armor, if used, would have been limited to situations where the armor getting wet or being used excessively would have been unlikely.

So I reluctantly gave up on the idea. My setting is very SE Asian in climate, so rain is not going to be infrequent. No paper armor for me, no matter how cool it might be.

Lamellar armor — plates of metal or other materials laced together — was often used, and offers a lot of design options. Apparently this kind of armor was often lacquered to weatherproof it, or just for decoration, which is cool right there. Even more important, the plates could be made of lots of different things — leather, horn, bone, stone (stone? But it’s on the list).

I like the horn option. That sounds neat and lends itself to good visual images.

According to this Wikipedia article: Japanese lamellar armour was made from hundreds or even thousands of individual leather (rawhide) or iron scales or lamellae known as kozane, that were lacquered and laced together into armour strips. This was a very time consuming process.

Yes, pretty sure different styles of lamellar armor are going to appear in my current WIP… probably types made to be cooler to wear! It seems to me that sheer guts and a desire not to get stabbed are not going to protect you from heatstroke in a tropical environment!

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Building a secondary world with idiom

So, I just finished Frederica by Georgette Heyer, which I liked a lot, of course. A bit different from her usual, what with the teenage boys and the occasional wild adventure they bring to the story, along with the more customary slow-building romance between Alverstroke and Frederica. I grant, I don’t quite understand why Frederica and others did not consider the handsome but dim Endymion anything but an obviously good match for the beautiful but dim Charis; I had to take this on faith since to me they seemed imminently well suited right from the start.

Anyway, for some reason, this was the Heyer novel where I especially noticed the unfamiliar idioms so frequently employed. Some paragraphs consisted almost entirely of idiom. For example:

Alverstroke, said Mr Peplow, was a noted amateur of the Fancy: none of your moulders, but a boxer of excellent science, who was said to display to great advantage, and was always ready to take the lead in milling. A Corinthian? No: Mr Peplow, frowning over it, did not think that his lordship belonged to that, or any other, set. He was certainly a top-sawyer, and a first-rate fiddler: might be said, in fact, to cap the globe at most other forms of sport; he was extremely elegant, too: trim as a trencher, one might say; but in an unobtrusive style of his own which never included the very latest quirks of fashion.

Moulders, excellent science, milling, Corinthian, top-sawyer, first-rate fiddler, cap the globe, trim as a trencher! Eight idiomatic words or phrases in a single paragraph! How do you suppose this compares with the average Regency? Of course not every paragraph is like this, but I bet very few Regency authors could get away with this high a proportion of idiom.

Perhaps in smaller quantities, idiom, slang, cant phrases, and figures of speech can do a lot of heavy lifting in building a secondary world, which is after all pretty much a category that includes historical novels, as the past is a foreign country. As far as I’m concerned, coming up with idiomatic and slang phrases and figures of speech is really hard. You know how you will sit and stare at your screen while trying to come up with yet another character name? (If you’re a writer, you know this feeling well, I bet.) Well, it’s just like that for me when I’m trying to come up with slang that is not too similar to any modern American idiom, sounds right for a particular world, yet remains intelligible to the reader. I must admit, I feel pretty good if I can come up with four or five slang phrases or figures of speech for a whole novel, never mind packing eight such phrases into a single paragraph.

I can think of a couple authors who are better at this than I am, though. It must be a knack, like coming up with witty one-liners or being able to just start speaking or writing in iambic pentameter. Plus I imagine from time to time a writer just stares at the screen A LOT as she comes up with enough idiom to suit the world she is building.

1. CJC. For example, in the Heavy Time duology. That’s by no means my favorite of hers; in fact it’s near the bottom. But she gives her unpleasantly gritty, claustrophobic, near-dystopic world a lot of flavor with the language the characters use. A lot of it is work-related slang: Bird watched doubtfully as Ben punched up the zone schema, pointed on the screen to the ’driver ship and its fire-path to the Well. Some of it is pure slang: Brut bad luck. Or He was drunk. Gone out. Everyone knew that. Some of it is based on foreign language phrases absorbed into the language: And brut put, I don’t like this ‘partner’ talk and I sincerely don’t like Bird close with this jeune fils . . . Check out the novy chelovek. . . . Do you want to know quelqu’ shoze?

2. Eluki bes Shahar. Another SF example with amazing use of slang and idiom.

I was minding my own business in beautiful downside Wanderweb, having just managed to mislay my cargo for the right price. My nighttime man had talked me into bootlegging again, and damnsilly stuff it was too, either maintenance manuals or philosophy texts, I never did figure out which … so I was making my way around wondertown, free, female, and a damnsight over the age of reason, when I saw this greenie right in front of me in the street. He was definitely a toff, and no stardancer – you never saw such clothes outside of a hollycast. He was lit up like Dreamstreet at night and wearing enough heat to stock a good-sized Imperial Armory besides. And this being scenic Wanderweb, land of enchantment, there were six of K’Jarn’s Werewolves and K’Jarn himself facing him. I was of the opinion – then – that he couldn’t do them before they opened him up, so, fancy-free, I opened my mouth.

“Good morning, thou nobly-born K’Jarn. Airt hiert out to do wetwork these days or just to roll glitterborn for kicks, hey?”

This is a wonderful book, and it’s the language and voice that make it. If you’ve never read it, you should see if you can find a copy. I will add: the first time I read the whole trilogy, I wasn’t crazy about how it ended. The ending did grow on me later, though.

3. L. Shelby in her Across the Jade Sea trilogy.
I’m sorry I got my feet mixed up.
Brighter than a bean in a bucket.
They went gleeful on me.
Trying to force the truth into their heads leaves me flatter than paper.

My favorite is “Brighter than a bean in a bucket.” Sure, that makes no sense. Neither does “Trim as a trencher.” The point is, if you’re at all accustomed to running into Regency slang, then Shelby’s slang has exactly the same feel to it.

It’s gotta be a natural knack. Wish I had it, because it’s one more way to add depth to your worldbuilding.

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Homo naledi

Remember that find a few years ago, fourteen complete specimens of a previously unknown hominid species, named Homo naledi? The ones found in the cave that you had to creep through a ten-inch-diameter passage to get to?

If you don’t remember, here is the excellent National Geographic article about the find. Click through and read the whole thing if you haven’t yet. Great story about an amazing find.

Here, from that article, is a summary of the characteristics of H naledi:

Click on the image to blow it up.

Now, I wouldn’t consider this definitive — so much in paleontology is subject to revision — but if you’ve been following along, you may have run into one of the articles about the age of the fossils. They seem to be much, much younger than immediately assumed — like 200,000 to 300,000 years old. This means that this species may have overlapped with ours. Here is a good article at New Scientist about that.

Now, here’s a new article at Ars Technica about the brain of H naledi.

Homo naledi’s brain may have been small, but it looked surprisingly similar to ours, according to a new study that suggests that structure may have come before size in the evolution of hominin brains.

Measurements of skull fragments indicate that Homo naledi’s brain was about the same size as that of an Australopithecine—the genus of primates that lived in Africa 2 to 4 million years ago and may be among our early ancestors. Yet the diminutive species was present in Africa long after the Homo lineage appeared and may have overlapped with modern humans. So how it fits into our family tree is not clear.

A new study reveals that, despite the size, Homo naledi’s brain looked quite different from Australopithecus’ and much more like ours, at least in some very important areas.

Very cool stuff!

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Five books with kickass moms

By a complete coincidence, this post by Aidan Moher at tor.com happens to be a great companion to the previous Book Riot post about dads in Romance.

Five books with kickass moms

Several years ago, I became a parent. The birth of my child was a transformative experience, and, since then, I’ve been drawn to stories about parents — their relationships with their children, the way parenthood affects their decisions, the endless possibilities for familial relationships.

Speaking as a non-parent, while I’m sure the birth of your child does re-orient everything in your life, but lots of us non-parents also are drawn to stories featuring parents, in the same way that those of us not involved in a romantic relationship may enjoy reading romances. Just thought I’d mention that.

Anyway:

Today, I’m going to look at four fantasy novels and one series that feature kickass/brilliant/funny/interesting moms. They all have different roles—live in societies with varying expectations—but one thing is consistent: they’re brave, impressive, and they have huge impacts on the world around them. They send ripples through the lives of those they touch — they’re powerful, and it’s difficult not to feel inspired by their actions, or awed by their courage. Some hit like a boulder, others as delicately as the breath of a butterfly’s passing, but the world in their wake is always changed.

Cool topic! Whom does Moher pick out for his list?

1. Jenny Waynest from Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. Great choice! Wonderful choice! I love this book and I love Jenny, and also this novel could be used for a list of great fathers because John Aversin is also very cool.

2. Ezarit in Updraft by Fran Wilde. I must confess I could not get into this book. I had no problem with the mother, but the daughter — the protagonist — is suuuuuch a twit. I couldn’t stand her. No doubt she improves over the course of the book, but I fear I will never know.

3. Jendara in Skinwalkers by Wendy N. Wagner. I haven’t read this one.

4. Lovyan in Daggerspell by Katherine Kerr. Nor this one.

5. Clara Kalliam in The Dagger and the Coin series by Daniel Abraham. Now there’s an interesting choice!

She is not a viewpoint character, and, aside from her husband’s impressions, readers do not get a glimpse at her true wile and courage until the rug is pulled out from under her.

Her fall from grace as a result is swift, but there’s a terrific resilience in Clara as she discovers that though her traditional place of authority has been stripped from her, a truer power has replaced it: freedom. Where some of the other women on this list often match their male counterparts blow-for-blow in physical prowess and martial proficiency, Clara is untrained as a fighter, and possess no aptitude for weapons or fighting. Instead, she manipulates the flow of power around her through social machinations, keen spywork, and bold political alliances.

Gosh. Maybe I’ll pick up the second book of this series after all.

Who’s your favorite mother in SFF?

For my pick … I think it’s hard to beat Cordelia in the Vorkosigan series. Plus she definitely fits the kickass category. especially given that shopping trip she made to the capital that time.

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