Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Here’s what Ann Leckey has been working on:

Via File 770, I noticed this: Provenance gets realer

Lecke says: Provenance is set in the Ancillaryverse but does not concern the same characters and is not set in Radch Space

Good thing it’s in the same universe because the cover is obviously meant to indicate that. Really boring cover, but then I wouldn’t have bought the Ancillary novels just to admire their covers either.

Goodreads says: A power-driven young woman has just one chance to secure the status she craves and regain priceless lost artifacts prized by her people. She must free their thief from a prison planet from which no one has ever returned. Ingray and her charge will return to her home world to find their planet in political turmoil, at the heart of an escalating interstellar conflict. Together, they must make a new plan to salvage Ingray’s future, her family, and her world, before they are lost to her for good.

Well, I’m just as glad this book isn’t set in Radch space, since we all know how young people curry favor with their superiors in order to rise in status themselves in the Radch Empire, don’t we? I would prefer to see Ingray use something other than sexual favors to get what she wants.

I don’t much care for this cover copy. “She must free their thief…” — whose thief? Took me a minute to realize the pronoun “their” went back to “artifacts.” Not clear why you’d need the thief particularly, or why the thief would have the faintest interest in Ingray’s future.

Well, I’m sure it will all make far more sense in context.

I don’t expect this to be as good as the Ancillary series because I don’t expect any of the characters to be remotely as interesting as Breq. That would be a tough act for any protagonist to follow and presuming Ingray is actually human, I don’t see how she can measure up. But I expect I will like the book a lot anyway.

Provenance is due out this fall, I see. I’m looking forward to it.

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Good News Tuesday

Wow, check this out:

3D printed bionic hands trial begins in Bristol

The world’s first clinical trial of 3D printed bionic hands for child amputees starts this week in Bristol.

They are made by a South Gloucestershire company which only launched four years ago.

If the trial is successful the hands will become available on the NHS, bringing life-changing improvements for patients.

Everything about this is amazing.

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Equinoid aliens

Here’a a fun couple of posts from Judith Tarr:

Horses in Space: Evolving the Equinoid Alien, and

Imagining Space Horse Culture: Stallion Security Forces and Badass Mares

Wow, totally an idea after my own heart! I am mostly interested in culture and sociology, but sure, let’s take a look at the biology first. Tarr looks first at a major sticking point: lack of opposable thumbs:

One obstacle might be the fact that horses are hooved animals, and therefore (humans might think) severely limited in their ability to build and manipulate technology. Even the word “manipulate” implies hands and, more specifically, opposable thumbs. Hooves in contrast are literally blunt instruments.

Elephants get around this problem by having long, supple, extremely manipulable trunks with a “finger” or two on the end. Horses don’t have anything close to this, but their upper lips are amazingly flexible and extensible. They have a surprising degree of shall we say dexterity with their teeth as well. I have one who can untie people’s shoes (and he has proved that he knows exactly where to tug, which means he has a sense of the structure of a knot; he also understands English sentences, but that’s neither here nor there, here), and there are horses who have to be locked in with combination locks or padlocks because their lips and teeth can jigger latches and fasteners.

Impressive, but I’m not too thoroughly persuaded. Still, you could tell me that a species has done more with their mouth and lips and so on than regular horses and I might buy that. Though then you might be pushing from “horse” toward “tapir.” It’s a start, though. Plus Tarr discusses other possibilities, on the grounds that ancestors of modern horses had multiple toes and there’s no reason a horselike alien couldn’t have coopted extra toes into a manipulative role.

Then she goes on into much weirder ideas . . .

Meanwhile, in the post on culture:

Herd animals may be vegetarians—mostly—but they aren’t pacifists. Their social order is built around a fluid hierarchy with the senior mare in charge, her favored seconds keeping order, and the herd stallion serving as security force, sometimes assisted by his own second who will breed the superior’s mother and daughters. Outside stallions will raid the herd and try to draw off mares, plus there’s the need to contend with predators as well as rival bands moving in on the same territory.

There is war, and it can be ferocious. Mares get into raging fights, mostly involving kicking (a horse kick is a powerful thing—just ask my dog who caught a glancing blow and now has a plate and three screws in his elbow). Stallions will wage full-on battles with battering hooves and tearing teeth…

They sure will. Lots of good stuff here. Tarr winds up:

Dang. Now I want to see how this works in a story. The psychology of a horse is not the same as that of a human, though there are some similarities. Herd structure is different from pack structure, and there’s a level of cooperation that isn’t quite so easy or straightforward for humans. Not to mention the subtlety of horse body language and the tropism toward moving in groups.

I second that! I’d love to see someone take a really serious stab at pulling this off. Elements Judith Tarr mentions that I would like to avoid in such a story: I personally have a strong distaste for Fantasy Telepathy in my science fiction, and I am sick to death of biological technology where you “grow your spaceship.” I know writers are just trying to come up with something different from human technology. But I wish everyone would try harder to avoid this total, and totally implausible, cliche.

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Since I’ve been reading Military SF lately —

This post at DIAL H FOR HOUSTON caught my eye:

Today’s offering? Rick Shelley’s Lieutenant Colonel.

If you didn’t figure it out from the title, or the cover, Lieutenant Colonel is Military Sci-Fi (Mil-SF for short), a genre devoted to chronicling how and why people are gonna shoot at each other in the future. And, also unsurprisingly, Lieutenant Colonel is the fifth book in Shelley’s “DMC” series, with each earlier book having sequential titles like Lieutenant, then Major, then Captain, and so on. Not exactly creative, but what can you do.

In any case, this series centers around a dude named Lon Nolan as he works his way up through the ranks in the Dirigent Mercenary Corps (from which we get the “DMC” acronym). Lon is your typical officer– professional, honorable, and … kind of boring. Dude makes Honor Harrington seem like Hamlet. Wait, no, that’s not a good analogy, ’cause Harrington gets shit done. But I digress.

I suppose I might perfectly well like the series in question, but here’s the part I wanted to share with you all:

Hah hah hah!

Let me see, one of my favorite Military SF series is Tonya Huff’s Valor series. Okay: Fake swear words, check. Primitive alien savages, yep, check that box in the first book. Bugs, probably some of the Other species are like bugs. Power armor, check. I would be surprised if there’s never a Sun Tsu quote, but I don’t remember any in particular. On the other hand, the cover features someone with a gun, but it’s not a laser rifle — shoots bullets of some kind, I believe. And the series isn’t published by Baen — it’s DAW (I just checked). No monarchy, whether presented as a good thing or otherwise . . . nope, don’t think you can win at Bingo with this one. I can think of some that come much closer — I wonder if this Bingo board was put together with an eye toward Falkenberg’s Legion?

There are a few boxes missing, though:

At some point we see a reprise of The Battle of Rorke’s Drift. I’ve seen that in at least three novels, probably more. At this point I can recognized Rorke’s Drift a mile away.

At some point someone says something like, “We’ll make a solitude and call it peace.” It’s a good quote. Very effective. I’m sure I’d use it myself if I were writing a MilSF story.

I’m sure there are others, too, but those are the ones that spring to mind.

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We only rate dogs. Please stop sending us pictures of polar bears and toasted marshmallows

Here is a funny collection of photos sent to WeRateDogs on Twitter (@dog_rates)

It’s a cute account to follow if you happen to be on Twitter. If not — and I grant the highly politicized Twitter of 2017 is hard to take — then at least you can enjoy all the pictures in this post. My personal favorite in this set is the “rug without a dog” picture.

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Questions to ask a prospective agent

I had no idea what to ask my agent when she first called me lo these fairly many years ago. Here is Kristen Nelson offering tips for that moment:

5 Qs Authors Don’t Ask but Should When an Agent Offers Rep

I will say, I don’t see and don’t care about the initial version of any contract. The final version shows what changes have been made. Generally there are lots and lots of changes. I don’t need further assurance that my agent is determined and tenacious when negotiating. Especially since she does update me now and then if she is going back and forth with a publisher on one clause or another (generally the noncomplete clause, but there are others).

Anyway, if you should be in the position of deciding whether to sign with one agent or another, here you go, this should help.

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The Mythopoeic Awards Finalists for 2017

I’m always interested in this award, which tends to emphasize works that accord with my personal taste. Here are this year’s finalists in the adult novel category:

Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature

Andrea Hairston, Will Do Magic For Small Change

Mary Robinette Kowal, Ghost Talkers

Patricia A. McKillip, Kingfisher

Maggie Stiefvater, The Raven Cycle: The Raven Boys; The Dream Thieves; Blue Lily, Lily Blue; and The Raven King

Jo Walton, Thessaly Trilogy: The Just City; The Philosopher Kings; Necessity

The Mythopoeic Society handles series, as you can see, by allow a series to be eligible the year it is completed. Or a book within a series can be eligible if it stands alone. I haven’t read Jo Walton’s Thessaly novels, but I agree that none of the Raven Cycle books stand alone, so nominating it as a series seems like the way to go for that one.

Le me see, let me see… I’ve only read two of these finalists: the Raven Cycle and McKillip’s book. I attended a reading for Ghost Talkers and liked what I heard, but haven’t read it yet. I do keep meaning to read The Just City, which I have on my Kindle, I’m pretty sure. My guess is I’ll find it intellectually interesting but not necessarily emotionally engaging. We’ll see.

I do think that Kingfisher was not necessarily one of McKillip’s top ten works. I mean, I enjoyed it, of course. But I’m not sure it seemed cohesive to me. I liked it better the second time I read it, so maybe it will continue growing on me over time.

The Raven Cycle is beautiful and impressive and I loved it. I do think the ending was a bit weak, to be honest. Still, I can definitely understand why it’s on this list and I wouldn’t mind a bit if it won.

Anybody read Hairston’s book? That’s the one I haven’t heard anything about.

For the finalists in the other categories, click through to File 770 and check out the full list.

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Recent Reading: The Black Tide Rising series by John Ringo

So, this quadrilogy was an unexpected pleasure – unexpected because I only picked up the first book as part of the Military SF bundle and I’ve already looked at and deleted about half of the books in that bundle. But I enjoyed Ringo’s book quite a bit and, as you see, went on with the series promptly.

The books are:

Under a Graveyard Sky
To Sail a Darkling Sea
Islands of Rage and Hope
Strands of Sorrow

And the series is complete with those four books.

I started the first one when we lost power during a recent thunderstorm – your phone produces its own light, see, so you can easily read on it when the lights are out. It started just a tinch slowly, but picked up fast. It’s a zombie apocalypse novel, as you may know. Here’s how it starts:

“Alas Babylon Q4E3,” the text read.

“Bloody hell.” And it really hadn’t started out as a bad day. Weather was crappy, but at least it was Friday.

Steven John “Professor” Smith was six foot one, with sandy blond hair and a thin, wiry frame. Most people who hadn’t seen him in combat, and very few living had, considered him almost intensely laid back. Which in general was the case. It came with the background. Once you’d been dropped in the dunny, few things not of equal difficulty were worth getting upset about. Until, possibly, now.

Now, this is not too promising imo. I am not just wild about this kind of direct physical description of the protagonist. I just tend to prefer a closer third person pov rather than this kind of omniscient narrator third person type of pov. That’s probably just me. I would also say that several of the sentences here are clunky and awkward, and I don’t think that’s just me. This sentence:

Most people who hadn’t seen him in combat, and very few living had, considered him almost intensely laid back.

is so awkward it’s actually hard to understand if you read it fast.

There are other instances of clunky writing all through this series, as you’d probably expect based on this beginning. The story has several other problems. Like, long expository passages, sometimes very textbooky, that are inserted basically as voiceovers from the narrator. That didn’t bother me, but when instead inserted into dialogue, these passages don’t necessarily fit the voice of the character who is supposedly speaking or thinking. In one spot in the last book of the series, the author completely breaks the fourth wall, which is especially jarring since that’s the only place it happens. Plus the author’s political views become a little bit over-preachy every now and then, especially toward the end.

Also, what is it with some male authors who seem to really get into writing super-duper ultimate kickass teenage girl characters? I’m thinking of Joss Whedon here, but at least there’s a supernatural explanation for Buffy. Summer is less believable to me, but there you have futuristic SF science. Ringo doesn’t have anything but the whim to create a thirteen-year-old female super-soldier and drop her into a zombie apocalypse, where she smashes her way through all the zombies in the entire world. A girl who is Thirteen! Years! Old! He does mention briefly that Faith has muscle density “almost like a male.” Suuuure she does. Faith is just not a believable character. At all. I will add that a couple of the male characters – well, one – was almost as unbelievable as Faith, so there’s that.

And yet . . . and yet . . . this series was so much fun! I whipped through it super-fast and enjoyed almost every moment. In fact, I totally experienced a book hangover after finishing it, and found myself so unable to read anything else that I gave up on anything new and went back and re-read LMB’s Sharing Knife series instead.

What this series has going for it:

1. Faith isn’t great with words, which makes her more sympathetic than total perfection would allow. Also, her character development is actually pretty good over the course of the series. “Trixie” is a nice touch – both incarnations – but Faith really does have more depth than is apparent at first. Also, it *is* fun watching her smash her way through all the zombies in the entire world, even though it takes a dedicated suspension of disbelief to accept this plot element.

Also, thankfully, Faith is not involved in any romantic subplot. Whew.

There is practically no romance anywhere in this series, incidentally, and not a whoooole lot of character development in general. Even Faith’s sister Sophia is not as well developed or interesting as Faith herself, imo. But I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that character was probably not Ringo’s first priority when writing this story.

2. The clunkiness of the writing almost completely disappears in the forward sweep of the story. For me. YMMV, but the fast pace and ratcheting tension and all those good things made these books just about unputdownable. So, yeah, this is definitely a plot-driven story, and a really fun read on that basis.

3. The worldbuilding and technological details are just great. Ringo obviously put a lot of thought into his zombie apocalypse and its aftermath. I loved it! I didn’t really believe in the complete downfall of civilization and the survival of only about 1% of normal people, but given that scenario, Ringo did a fantastic job working it all out and bringing civilization back from the brink.

If you liked . . .

I’m going to say that readers who really got into Kristoff and Kaufman’s Illuminae / Gemina / Obsidio series might very well enjoy Ringo’s zombie apocalypse. In a lot of ways I’d say the reading experience is similar. The Illuminae series is particularly noteworthy for its crazy-creative use of fonts and text effects, but considered as a story, it is also fast-paced and plot driven, with unbelievably competent teenage protagonists and minimal character development. The writing in the Illuminae series is probably better although it’s hard to compare directly because the structure is unique. There is definitely a lot less exposition in the Illuminae series, but I strongly suspect that readers who enjoyed the fast-paced story will also get into Ringo’s Dark Tide series. Obviously Ringo’s books are not YA, but that distinction doesn’t impress me much since when I was a teen there was no such thing as a YA section in most libraries and bookstores. There’s lots of blood and gore in Dark Tide, but I’ve never noticed younger readers shying away from blood and gore. Besides, there’s far less deliberate torture and so on than you get in The Hunger Games and spinoffs.

For a more impatient reader, I will say, if you try Graveyard Sky, be sure and get past the initial build and wait for the lights go out in New York. That’s the point at which the story really takes off.

I think my dad would really enjoy this series too, so I guess my next step is to pick up paper copies for him.

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The Pleasures(?) of Pessimism

From the New York Review of Books, an article by Tim Parks: The Pleasures of Pessimism

Why do we read writers who are profoundly pessimistic? And what sense are we to make of their work in our ordinary, hopefully not uncheerful lives?

I am not speaking about the sort of pessimism concerned with the consequences of our electing this or that president, or failing to respond to world famine or global warming, but what in Italy came to be called il pessimismo cosmico. The term was coined in response to the work of the nineteenth-century poet and thinker Giacomo Leopardi, who at the ripe old age of twenty-one decided that “all is nothing, solid nothing” and he, in the midst of nothing, “nothing myself.” The only reasoned and lucid response to the human condition, Leopardi decided, was despair: hence all positive action and happiness must always have the quality of illusion.

Speak for yourself, Tim. Some of us definitely do not read writers who feel that the only reasoned and lucid response to the human condition is despair. Some of us think Leopardi was probably suffering from clinical depression, and are not keen on either wallowing in that mindset or implicitly privileging a mindset born of pathology.

Click through and read the whole thing if you are so inclined. Then, for an antidote, I recommend the nonfiction book Against Depression by Peter Kramer, in which Kramer spends quite a lot of time deconstructing the idea that the depressed, despairing perspective is somehow morally superior. It’s especially interesting because Kramer himself feels some sympathy with this viewpoint — far far more than I do, not that that’s hard — but he still knocks the idea of depression equaling artistic depth or moral superiority completely to pieces.

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