Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author


A battle between series’ main characters —

I missed this back in 2015, but just spotted it via Twitter: Dabwaha Debate: Magic vs Hidden Legacy

It’s funniest if you’re familiar with both the Kate Daniel’s series and the Hidden Legacy series, so it’s great I only spotted it today since I only read the latter series last year. Actually, I’m not sure which series is my favorite! I liked the Hidden Legacy series a lot, much better than I thought I would from the back cover description. I would gladly go on with it, but I’m not sure Ilona Andrews has any plan in that direction.


Rogan: It is clear that hero and heroine of the books should lead by example. You didn’t get together until fourth book, you are now on book eight and you have yet to finalize your commitment. We are questioning your moral integrity.

Curran: You are not married. You are not even together. You just have this instalust thing going.

Kate: Yes, you are just “forced together” by “Circumstance” so you can make out in public. Your moral integrity seems to be situational. Also, last time I checked, exhibitionism isn’t exactly a behavior people should imitate.

Nevada: It was one time. Your werelion broke into your apartment. And you physically brawl throughout the series.

Kate: You billionaire kidnapped you and chained you to the floor. If you need some self-defense pointers, I’ll be happy to teach you after the debate.

Nevada: Coming from a woman who by her own admission couldn’t hit a barn with a bullet, that’s not much of an insult. I can help you with that.

Kate: I can hit a barn with a bullet.

Nevada: How?

Kate: I’ll just have to throw it.

Rogan: You only have two books left.

Curran: No, you only have two books left. We have three.

Nevada: We are under contract for two more books and unlike the two of you, we’re not going to drag it out and toy with people’s emotions.

That’s a bit from the middle. Click through, obviously, to read the whole thing. Then you can decide who wins. I think . . . I will have to read this debate again before deciding.

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Nominating for the World Fantasy Award

So, the ballot for the World Fantasy Award arrived in my mailbox yesterday.

I have no idea what to nominate. If I can’t think of enough stuff to nominate, I’ll just toss the ballot. But first, I thought I’d ask you all for recommendations.

What novels were published in 2017 that you would like to see nominated for the WFA this year? (Besides mine. Those I remember quite well.)

Did you read any 2017 short fiction that you really liked and would like to see nominated? I can think of just a few novellas — Martha Well’s Murderbot, which I’m a bit uncomfortable with because it was SF and not fantasy; and Bujold’s latest Penric novella, which I liked a lot. What am I forgetting? I feel like there was at least one more novella I really liked.

What about short stories, anything I should check out quickly? Collections?

It looks like CJC still has not received a Life Achievement Award, so I’ll nominate her. It says here that nominees should be at least 62 years old, which I hadn’t realized, but according to Wikipedia, CJC is over that age, so that’s fine.Anybody else I should think of for that?

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Can slick marketing sell bad books?

As if there’s any question. Fifty Shades of Grey, I’m looking at you. Though that wasn’t slick marketing, was it? It was just a straight up offer of porn in the guise of something permissible to read in public.

Here’s a post from James Scott Bell at Kill Zone Blog: Can Slick Marketing Sell Bad Books?

Herein he discusses a publishing phenomenon that predates Fifty Shades by fifty years but did basically the same thing, only it was a deliberate joke from top to bottom. I’d never heard of it. Here’s a bit of the story — click through to read the whole thing if you’re interested —

A Newsday reporter by the name of Mike McGrady, over drinks with some pals, posited that a novel with no social value and even less literary quality could sell, if it was about sex and had a titillating cover. …To prove it, he got a couple dozen of his newsroom colleagues (19 men and 5 women, including two Pulitzer Prize winners) to conspire to write a lurid tome. The simple concept was a housewife having a series of adulterous flings, one per chapter. … The conspirators wrote one chapter each, trying their darndest not to make the writing too good.

McGrady edited each chapter, blue-penciling anything even approaching a modicum of literary quality. … He then submitted it to publisher Lyle Stuart, known for “edgy” books. They accepted it (not knowing it was a hoax) and proceeded to design a salacious cover.

When Naked Came the Stranger hit the stores, the reviewers hit back. The Village Voice said the book was “Of such perfectly realized awfulness that it will suck your soul right out of your brainpan and through your mouth, and you will happily let it go.”

It became an instant bestseller.

Well, at least this is evidence that the success of Fifty Shades isn’t due to the modern degradation of American culture.

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We live in an SF world —

Anybody notice this?

Permitted 3D printed home made in less than 24 hours for less than $4000

Now, I grant you, “house” is a strong term for a teensy little structure that is even smaller than my house, which is pretty small. Here’s a picture:

And here’s a description:

The production version of the printer will have the ability to print a single story, 600-800 square foot home in under 24 hours for less than $4,000. As a part of this effort, ICON has developed cutting-edge materials tested to the most recognized standards of safety, comfort and resiliency and is designed to function with nearly zero waste production methods and work under unpredictable constraints (limited water, power, and labor infrastructure) to tackle housing shortages.

Six hundred square feet! Here’s Chuck Wendig’s wonderful post “An open letter to tiny-house hunters:”

Austerity sounds virtuous. And for some people, it is the thing that motivates them, it is a part of who they are. For the rest of us, not so much. Fad diets often ask you to sacrifice things to which you’ve grown accustomed — and often things your body actually needs — under the auspices of getting healthy. …

Tiny house living will be like this. It’s good for some. Single people in particular — I mean, hey, they do it in New York (usually because they have to, though, not because they want to). But for the rest of us, while we may find some value in paring down and cutting the wheat from the chaff, a tiny house may be a bridge too far. No, we don’t need to live in 3,000 square feet, but we also don’t need to live in an airless, soul-crushing box. Many of us will find joy in having a little leg room when we’re sitting on a toilet, or having a place to put our stuff, or having a table at which we dine instead of standing around holding plates and staring at each other. Many of us like having separate rooms instead of BATHROOM-KITCHENS. It isn’t that romantic having a refrigerator that’s also a toilet, or a bed that’s also a bathtub.

I suppose there’s no intrinsic reason one couldn’t build a bigger (though still single-story) house as repeated modules.

Big or small, though, printing a house, wow. Three-D printing is definitely science-fictiony and getting more so all the time.

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We live in an SF world

Have you seen this?

Walmart just filed a patent for robot bees amid ongoing battle with Amazon

Although entertaining, I will just add that more than 20,000 species of bees have been described and named, including thousands of species that are actually native to the Americas, which honeybees are not. Honeybees have outcompeted and restricted the ranges of many native bees, just as imported starlings have outcompeted and restricted the ranges of native grackles. In my lifetime, grackles have become much less common than they used to be, which is a pity because not only are they native to North America, they are much, much prettier than starlings.

But back to bees.

The peculiar concern over the world starving for lack of honeybees is probably not quite the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard, but it’s right up there in the top ten. Especially since all cereal grains are grasses and all grasses are wind-pollinated.

But, true, bees are important pollinators for lots of flowers and crops that are animal-pollinated. This is an orchard bee, Osmia lignaria:

By an amazing coincidence, orchard bees are pretty often found in orchards — along with about a hundred other species of bees — where they do a good job pollinating fruit trees.

Many native bees are better, more efficient pollinators than imported honeybees. Offhand I would expect that establishing populations of native bees where people want them would be much cheaper and more effective than building millions of robot bees. Of course, supporting populations of native bees might require reducing the population of honeybees … oh, wait, natural causes seem to be helping out with that.

Next time you have the chance, you might go stand next to a flowering crabapple for a while and just watch to see what bees and other insects appear. Out here in the country where none of my neighbors are going out of their way to help honeybees crush native bees, I’ll easily see a dozen species of bees in a few minutes, plus syrphid flies. My favorite bees are the tiny metallic green ones. There are lots of even tinier black ones too.

While Wal-mart may want to come up with new technologies to develop, robot bees may not be the very best choice.

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And Cake! / Blog

Cheesecake-filled Chocolate Cupcakes

March 12th was my dad’s birthday. He turned 84, and since he can no longer travel at all comfortably, my mother arranged for two of his brothers and sisters-in-law to drive up (six hours!) and surprise him with a bit more of a party than he’d been expecting. We all had a good time and heard quite a few stories about Dad’s misspent youth and the various shenanigans he and his brothers used to get up to.

Of course I could have made Dad a cake, but I had a birthday card waiting to be used that said on the front “Watch out for birthday ninjas” and on the inside “They’ll sneak up on you like regular ninjas, but with cupcakes.”

Well, with a card like that, of course I had to make cupcakes. And what better cupcakes than chocolate cupcakes with cheesecake in the middle?

There is nothing the slightest bit unusual about this recipe, versions of which are floating around all over the internet. The cake part is basically a one-bowl chocolate cake, so nothing could be easier. They should rise fine even without eggs. They are not especially attractive as cupcakes go, but what with the cheesecake centers, they don’t need to be lovely in order to be the hit of any birthday party. This recipe makes about thirty cupcakes and believe me, that is not too many.

Okay, so, here we go:

Cheesecake-filled Chocolate Cupcakes

For the cupcakes:
3 C flour
2 C sugar
2 tsp baking soda.
1 tsp salt
2/3 C cocoa powder. I used about ¼ C black cocoa powder and the rest regular, which yielded wonderfully moist cupcakes with a nice chocolate flavor. Black cocoa powder isn’t acid enough to react with baking soda, which might be a concern in some cake recipes, but not in this one because of the vinegar. The baking soda will react with the vinegar no matter what kind of cocoa you use.
2 C water
2/3 C vegetable oil
2 Tbsp white vinegar
2 tsp vanilla

For the filling:
8 oz cream cheese
1/3 C sugar
1 egg
1/8 tsp salt
1 C mini chocolate chips. Various recipes either don’t call for chocolate chips in the filling or use regular-sized chocolate chips. Without going into long-drawn-out raptures about how wonderfully my cupcakes turned out, I suggest mini chocolate chips.

Okay, I suggest you make the filling first so that it’s ready when you want it. Combine all the filling ingredients. Make it as far ahead as convenient and chill it until you’re ready to fill the cupcakes.

Combine the dry ingredients. Add the water, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. Beat two minutes or so. Either spray the heck out of two or three muffin pans or put paper cups in them and spray the inside of the cups. Spoon a generous amount of the batter into 30 cupcake cups, filling them about halfway or a little more. Spoon a Tbsp or so of filling into each cup. Spoon a little more cupcake batter over each to completely cover the filling. Bake at 350 degrees or 20-25 minutes. Mine were done at 20 minutes and looked a little overbaked around the edges, but they weren’t overbaked at all, so I think that might have been the black cocoa powder making them look a little more baked than they were. You could probably stick a toothpick in them to check, but it’s usually pretty clear when cupcakes are baked. When they look done and feel done to a fingertip, they’re done. Cool eight or ten minutes and remove to racks to cool completely.

Now, try to exercise patience. These cupcakes are better completely cool because the cheesecake center is better cool. Refrigerate to store, and I will add that these particular cupcakes are excellent directly out of the fridge and don’t need to be brought to room temp before serving.

You may be wondering whether to use paper cups, so I will add that I baked half in a generously sprayed pale-colored muffin pan and half in a dark-colored muffin pan with lightly sprayed paper cups and they all worked. Not a single cupcake tore. The ones baked without the paper cups were prettier; the ones baked in paper cups rose higher and then tended to collapse a bit in the middle as the cheesecake filling shrank. It’s possible this difference was a function of the color of the pans, which is why I mentioned the color. All the cupcakes were equally tasty and I was quite sad when they were gone.

In my opinion, frosting is completely 100% supererogatory for these cupcakes, but hey, I’m not a big frosting fan anyway. If you’re the sort of person who feels frosting would enhance these cupcakes, you’re probably also the sort of person who already knows what kind of frosting you plan to use on them.

Either way, enjoy!

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Recent Reading: Vikings at Dino’s by Will Duquette

So, years and years ago, I used to read the many book reviews Will Duquette wrote at a blog called The View from the Foothills. Will had a way of getting at the heart of a book; the total antithesis of the sort of review where someone writes “I loved/liked/hated this book” and then goes on for a thousand words and yet you know no more about the book after reading that review than before.

Over time Will’s interests changed, as happens, and his blog shifted much more toward posts about religion and software, and I stopped checking in so regularly. But eventually it occurred to me to see if he might be on Facebook, which he is, and thus I learned that Will had written a book called Vikings at Dinos: A Novel of Lunch and Mayhem – I learned this because he posted about getting a proof of the sequel. So I picked up Vikings, and the other day when I was stuck in a hotel room for a long evening, that’s the one I opened up. It turned out to be a good choice.

When the Viking war party burst through the front entrance of Dino’s Burgers & More, it was second nature for me to slide quietly under my table. When you’re small for your age, it’s often useful not to be noticed. Once on the floor I waited on events, peering out as best I could past the swivel seats and wondering what was going to happen. Vikings are not a usual sight at Dino’s.

The Vikings kill some customers and burn down Dino’s, stomp out, board their longship (which is balanced on its keel in the parking lot) and vanish. Things go on like that for some days, with first Vikings and then a Roman legion and then lots and lots of Mongols on little ponies appearing and sometimes disappearing (but more often sticking around to wreak bloody mayhem on the town).

Various things become clear, like for example Michael, the protagonist is “small for his age” because he stopped growing at about ten or eleven years old. He’s twenty something and does stuff with computers. One exchange that made me laugh went like this:

“What if it’s a magic devise? How are you going to figure that out?”

“No problem. Any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from software.”

Which may be arguable, but is definitely a great line.

There are quite a few nice lines in Vikings, which is a time-travel romp with underlying serious notes. Michael is a great protagonist. That “When you’re small for your age” tagline reappears in different forms; you can chart Michael’s character arc by that line as he becomes much less solitary and much more open to the world.

Michael’s father, it turns out, was a Traveler, a person born with the ability to step easily from one parallel world to another. He passed that ability on to Michael; thus the story that unfolds in Vikings. Unfortunately, Michael’s father was also a “sad, lonely, friendless man;” Michael never knew him, but he basically tried to make sure Michael would be cut off from most ordinary human society too (because he thought a Traveler was more likely to survive that way, evidently). We don’t meet the father in this book, though I wouldn’t be surprised if we do in the sequel. Family relationships are important in Vikings, especially Michael’s relationship with his mother. The foundation is also laid for a possible romance.

What worked for me:

The characters.

I liked Michael a lot, especially as he discovers that quite a few people in the town are actually friends, or would like to be, a startling revelation to a guy who has been something of a recluse. I don’t remember encountering a person who is “small for his age” as a protagonist before. Wait, yes I do: Bee in Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb is very tiny and she does take the pov from time to time, but various things about that book annoyed me so much that I could not possibly appreciate Bee. Also, that’s a slooow-paced secondary world epic fantasy, offering a totally different reading experience than a contemporary time-traveling fantasy like Vikings.

Anyway, Michael was believable and likable. He’s competent, but not unbelievably uber-competent; and a decent guy without being exactly nice.

I liked Michael’s mother, though she didn’t seem quite as believable; and Bernie (named after St Bernadette), who learns better than to be quite so quick to leap to unfortunate conclusions as she was at first. There are quite a few minor characters that round out the cast, and I liked them too, especially the police chief.

The plotting:

This is a short novel and even though the protagonist is in his twenties, I’m pretty sure it would work well for a YA audience as well as for adult readers. It’s fast-paced and the plotting is tight, with just a few loose ends left hanging for the sequel; plus Michael’s character arc is pretty much a YA type of arc as he moves from solitary to engaged with his community. If you enjoy stories that involve time travel, and if you have a kid from twelve on up who also likes time travel stories, I’d expect you’d both get into this one.

I don’t much care for time travel myself, as a rule, but I liked Vikings, partly because it’s actually parallel-universe hopping and some pretty weird worlds are thrown in there for contrast. There’s a pretty horrifying dead world that we see several times, among others.

The writing:

The style is light; it’s funny without being heavy-handed about the humor. It’s quick and fun to read, but not too quick or too fun or too quirky – there’s a limit to how light I like my SFF, and this doesn’t go over that line, so I really enjoyed it. The narrative is first-person, where the protagonist’s voice makes all the difference, and here the overall style suits Michael perfectly. The underlying themes about family and community add depth, also without being at all heavy-handed.

I’m pretty sure this book was self-published, so I’ll add that it’s practically error-free. I noticed two minor her-and-I type errors, but this is the kind of thing that might just happen in ordinary dialogue because in conversation people do sometimes say “I” when they mean “me.” I noticed just one actual typo, which is pretty impressive considering how VERY difficult it is to get rid of Every Single Typo, as I am once again finding out as I move toward the release of Shadow Twin.

Definitely recommended, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for the sequel, which I believe will be called Very Truly Run After.

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Article spinning

Here is a hilarious look at article spinning at The Passive Voice blog:

First The Passive Guy quotes this from Plagiarism Today: “Article spinning is one of the most talked about and least-understood technologies when it comes to online plagiarism…. Article spinning is a technique to generate seemingly original content from old content by replacing words or phrases with synonyms. For example, if I were to write the sentence “The cat walked into the house” an article spinner might reinterpret that as “The feline strolled into the home” or “The kitty wandered into the shelter.”

Then the hilarity ensues as The Passive Guy tries this out with a few well-known paragraphs, including the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, followed by this gem:

Here are the first few sentences of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road:

I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about, except that it had something to do with the miserably weary split-up and my feeling that everything was dead. With the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the road. Before that I’d often dreamed of going West to see the country, always vaguely planning and never taking off. Dean is the perfect guy for the road because he actually was born on the road, when his parents were passing through Salt Lake City in 1926, in a jalopy, on their way to Los Angeles.

And the paraphrase:

I principal met dignitary not long following my wife Furthermore i part up. I needed barely gotten over An not kidding disease that i won’t trouble with banter about, but that it required something to do for the miserably weary split-up and my feeling that All that might have been dead….

It goes on from there, but that’s as far as I got with the paraphrase. Since I only made it through two sentences, I guess that makes the paraphrase literally unreadable, at least for me.

I had not previously been aware of any blog called Plagiarism Today, but I’m glad to have learned something about why spam emails are so very, very badly written. If the spam bots are using article spinning, well, that explains that. Evidently article spinning is less useful for that today, but some students are now trying to use free article spinners to hide plagiarism from Turn It In.

For any student who thinks this would be a fine tool to enhance your plagiarism efforts, I have to say … go right ahead. That will totally work.

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Sequels that are as good as the first book

From Stubby the Rocket at tor.com: Our Favorite Sequels That Are As Good As the First Book

Great idea for a post! Let’s see which second books are pulled out for this list — gosh, only four! That’s a short list. Here they are:

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey

A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L’Engle

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

I’ve read all of those except the one by Hartman. I think I agree that none of them are letdowns from their respective first books. Click through and read the comments to see why each one was chosen for that list.

Now, let’s expand the list because surely there are plenty more sequels that don’t disappoint. For the purposes of this list, I believe I will leave out of consideration various UF series that really take off at Book 3 or later. Let’s stick just to second books.

Oh, and also in the category of things-that-don’t-count, single really long novels that have been broken in half for publication purposes. So things like Black Out / All Clear by Connie Willis don’t count. The second book has to be an actual sequel.

5. The entire Demon’s Lexicon series by Sarah Rees Brennan, including the second book, The Demon’s Covenant, was solid. This is one of those trilogies where every book has a different protagonist. I liked Mae quite a bit as she took the central role in this second book.

6. Doris Egan’s Ivory series is great and I’ve always been sorry she didn’t go on with the series. The second book, Two-Bit Heroes, puts Theodora and Ran into quite a tense situation. The ending is just priceless.

7. Gemina, by Kaufman and Kristoff, was just as good at Illuminae. Same rip-roaring pace, same weird typographic effects, same crazy plotting, different protagonists but tied into the first book; I just can’t wait for Obsidio, which is coming out later this month, I think.

8. The Shadowed Sun is the second book of NK Jemisin’s wonderful Dreamblood duology. I loved the first book, but I really loved the second book.

9. Not books, but I can’t leave this list without mentioning “Terminator II” and “Aliens,” both of which were SO GOOD and much better than their respective first movies.

10. And one more: Land of Burning Sands, the second Griffin Mage book. This is my personal favorite of the trilogy, so as far as I’m concerned, it certainly is not a letdown from the first. It’s one of the sequels where the protagonists are different even though the plot hooks together with the first book. That is a technique that doesn’t work for all readers, but obviously I like it. I remember how much trouble I had starting it — I kept thinking of YA characters and plots — until I finally said, “FINE, the protagonist is 42 years old, let’s move on from there.” That knocked me out of YA mode at last.

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Well, this isn’t creepy at all

I don’t have Alexa because I am just not an early adopter for tech things. At best I tend to think, Oh, that sounds cool, someday I’ll look into that. Hence I’m usually about at least five years behind whatever’s cutting edge, often more — sometimes a lot more.

But this doesn’t make me want to run right out and get Alexa:

Alexa is laughing at users and creeping them out

It’s quiet in the house. Nobody else is home and the cat is fast asleep. Then you hear a disembodied woman’s voice let out a short, mocking cackle.
No, you’re (probably) not being haunted, it’s just Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant malfunctioning in a profoundly creepy way.

Some Alexa users have reported hearing an unprompted laugh from their smart speaker devices in the last day. The laugh happens randomly, when nobody is using the device, or in response to request to turn on or off lights…

Ha ha ha! That’s kind of funny in a thoroughly creepy way.

One Twitter user said their Amazon Echo suddenly began listing names of local funeral homes and cemeteries, also unprompted.

I can’t decide it that one sounds more like (a) someone is making this up, or (b) some hacker has quite a sense of humor. I lean toward (a) since if hackers were playing jokes, surely they’d program Alexa to tell people named David, “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.” But perhaps that’s such an old movie now that fewer people would get the joke?

Since apparently all sorts of hackers and companies can use toys and tv and phone apps and who knows what else to spy on users, it doesn’t seem likely Alexa and Siri are very secure. It’s not something I worry about exactly, but I bet this creepy laughing Alexa won’t appeal to many users even if they don’t care about the potential for Amazon listening in to their daily lives.

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