Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author


Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off: general comments

So, I happened across the SPFBO posts at The Fantasy Hive, where a handful of reviewers had been cutting their thirty entries down to six semi-finalists. I noticed because one of their entries was Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis, so that caught my eye.

They followed a format where they eliminated four books and picked one semi-finalist, six times. Their comments as they work through all these entries are interesting, especially as five different reviewers rapidly provide their reactions , so click through if you’re interested in reading them: first set, second set, third set, fourth set, fifth set, sixth set.

If you’re interested, here are the semi-finalists, pulled together so you can see them, with their individual reviews linked:

A Tale of Stars and Shadow is the one selected as the finalist, by the way.

What interested me most were the patterns in the comments, as reviewers nixed one entry after another from the thirty they’d drawn to review. Here’s a reasonable if rough summary:

–One entry that went way too heavy on the Message

–Two that had significant faults in worldbuilding

–Three or four that were considered to have problematic content in some manner; eg, rape jokes; brother sexually attracted to sister, things like that.

–Eight that had problems with typos, grammar, incorrect word choices, or awkward phrasing

–Ten that had problems with flat exposition, flat plot, and/or flat characters

I will add, plenty of entries won praise, including a good handful that were not chosen as semi-finalists. But it was interesting to me to see what faults turned up, and in what proportions.

I sometimes pick up a sample or (more rarely) a full copy of a self-published book because (a) it was recommended by one of you; (b) it was recommended on Twitter and the reviewer happened to say something that caught my eye; (c) I follow the author on Twitter and like them there; (d) I happen to see it at a really good price and it looks interesting.

I’ve actually tried previously a couple of the thirty books reviewed by the Fantasy Hive reviewers, and a couple others from the 300 entries total. They didn’t necessarily work perfectly for me, but I finished several of them. Since I DNF books pretty easily these days, that says something.

Interestingly, in glancing over all the reviews from The Fantasy Hive, the one that caught my eye the most was not a book that even made it to the semi-finalist stage. It was this one:

Here is the description:

To the Iruk people of the South Polar Sea, the crew of a hunting boat is sacred–a band of men and women warriors bound by oath and a group soul. But when Lonn leads his crew away from the hunt to pursue his dream of a treasure ship, they find more than an easy bit of piracy.

The ship belongs to the witch Amlina, and after the Iruks carry off her possessions, they are robbed in turn. Worse, one of their band is taken–Glyssa, the woman Lonn loves.

To rescue her, the Iruks must join forces with Amlina on a perilous voyage far from the seas they know. To Lonn and his mates, nothing matters but saving Glyssa. But Amlina knows much more is at stake. Among her possessions is an object of ancient power. In the wrong hands, the Cloak of the Two Winds can unravel the age-old magic that keeps the world from chaos.

Here are some selected comments from Fantasy Hive reviewers, one comment each from five different reviewers:

Cloak of the Two Winds boasts some really innovative and immersive worldbuilding, including day-to-day details and hardships of the Inuit-like lifestyles (traversing the ice on skates, returning to their home and struggling to make it warm again, preparing food, etc). — Laura

I got myself a new word courtesy of the story and kindle dictionary:  “rime,” frost formed on cold objects by the rapid freezing of water vapour in cloud or fog.  Which is by way of saying there is a nice turn of descriptive phrase here. — Theo

My initial reaction to Cloak of the Two Winds was that I loved it: I loved how different the setting was, I loved the cultural set-up, I loved the character interactions (which felt natural and distinct and not at all forced) — Beth

[I]t was unlike anything I had read before. It’s not groundbreaking, but it does carve out a new course on frigid seas. — Mike

I really enjoyed this one, and will probably finish it after the contest. I love the concept and the world that doesn’t feel like I’ve read it 100 times before! The characters were interesting and not like cardboard cutouts. — Julia

Several of these reviewers also noted that the quality of the prose went downhill after the first chapter. Still, I find all this intriguing enough that I want to take a look for myself, so yept, I’ve now got a sample to check out.

If you want to dive more deeply into the SPFBO entries, here is the list of the ten finalists, with all their reviews linked.

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All time best fantasy novels, as chosen by people who may not read much fantasy

The Best Fantasy Novels Of All Time [Updated], from Forbes.

Forbes. Right. My immediate response, without looking at the list: Uh huh, let’s pick ten novels non-fantasy fans have heard of and there you go. Tolkien, I expect. The Game of Thrones, obviously. Harry Potter, probably. What else has been super popular? Oh, I bet The Name of the Wind is on here. Let me see, let me see . . . okay, I’m guessing Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrill, which is not that popular (I think?), but is so widely regarded as a great novel that it seems fairly likely to have made anyone’s list.

Fine, whatever, enough guessing, let’s take a look and just see if the list is as utterly derivative and obvious as seems likely.

Aaaand . . . not quite! Four of my five guesses are indeed represented, though. I do feel this level of predictability suggests a lack of careful thought or a lack of awareness of the genre. Picking the most obvious possible titles probably does speed up writing the column, though.

Anyway, here are Forbes’ picks, out of order:

The Lord of the Rings

The Game of Thrones

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

The Name of the Wind, which I have actually never read, and which therefore may enjoy (?) special status as the single novel that has sat unread on my TBR shelves the longest. I know a lot of people love it and some people hate it. I guess I should try it, but who knows if the trilogy will ever be finished, and that makes me somewhat reluctant.

Harry Potter is not on this list, so I assume the author of this post excluded YA.

Then the rest of the list is filled out with titles I didn’t guess.

The Last Unicorn, which, sure, I should have guessed that one.

Tigana, which is a defensible choice, though not actually the one of GGK’s I’d pick.

The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch, which I would not have expected. I wouldn’t pick it, but I have to agree, it’s a good, solid novel, a standout in the “gritty fantasy” category.

The Blade Itself — that’s by Joe Abercrombe, as you may know.

And finally two novels I’ve never read:

Mistborn, by Sanderson of course. He’s such a popular author, but I’ve read very little by him and haven’t been super-impressed by those of his that I’ve tried.

The Darkness that Comes Before, by R Scott Bakker, which I don’t recall even hearing about, so that’s startling. Oh, I see, it’s the first book of The Prince of Nothing series, which I have heard of. It’s supposed to be extremely dark with lots of sexual violence, which is why it’s never stuck around on my radar.

All right, the list has some redeeming entries on it. However, I don’t agree that “popular” equals “great” and I’m not keen on any list where the author apparently has never heard of Patricia McKillip. Or if he has heard of her, he doesn’t think she’s great, so there you go, obviously I am never going to be impressed by his lists.

Obviously I should throw together a list of my own. Fine, I’ll take five minutes and do that. The first choices are easy:

1) The Lord of the Rings. It doesn’t matter how obvious this choice is. Plainly TLotR deserves its spot on any list of Top Ten Fantasy Novels Ever Written.

2) The Last Unicorn. I have to agree with the Forbes column this far: this is just a perfect little gem of a tale.

3) Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. I will probably never, ever re-read this tome, far less listen to it again — I “read” it in audio format. The last few chapters move briskly and I could hardly put the book down at that point. Until I got to the ending, I had absolutely no trouble putting it down, and frequently did. This novel kept me company while weeding and gardening for an entire summer. Massive thing. But yes, it is a great book, which I admire very much even if it is not one of my personal favorites.

4) The Book of Atrix Wolfe. I know, I know, it’s almost impossible to pick one book by Patricia McKillip. But when I’m forced to narrow her whole list down to just one novel, this is the one I pick.

5) Death of the Necromancer. Not my personal favorite of Martha Wells’ novels, but so well put together.

I’m starting to slow down, as my personal preferences start to interfere with picking novels I think are objectively great. Should I put The Goblin Emperor on here? What about The Curse of Chalion? How about a zillion others? Mapping Winter, which a commenter just reminded me of. Rosemary Kierstein’s Steerswoman series is (a) unfinished and (b) not really fantasy! Why didn’t I think of it as a candidate for all-time-great-science-fiction?

All right, fine, I gave myself just five minutes, let me press ahead:

6) The Curse of Chalion. I know many people prefer Paladin of Souls, but I do think Curse is the superior novel.

7) The Shadowed Sun and The Killer Moon by NK Jemisin. I know her more recent Broken Earth series got a lot more attention. I loathed the protagonist(s) too much to read more than the first part of the first book. This is the duology I’d pick.

8) The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay. I really don’t know why Tigana is the one that tends to get picked out of Kay’s oeuvre. I think Lions is the superior book, and I don’t even think it’s close. If I were picking a second one of his, it wouldn’t be Tigana; it would be Under Heaven.

9) Bridge of Birds by Hughart. Everyone who hasn’t read this delightful little masterpiece should rush right out and find a copy.

Gosh, I don’t know how to pick just one more. All right, I will throw a dart semi-blindly at novels and series I think might fit in this slot … let me see … okay:

10) The Shadow Campaigns series by Django Wexler. Really outstanding epic fantasy.

Please weigh in on the comments! What belongs / doesn’t belong on the Forbes list, and on mine?

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Giving thanks —

Along with “five places I’d like to visit,” we might pause to consider “five things I’m grateful for at this moment.”

So —

1) Even though I haven’t finished a single project this year, and the year is practically over, I’m grateful I have written 80-90,000 words of two different manuscripts. SURELY I’ll be able to finish one or both soon!

The 4th Black Dog book, Copper Mountain, is the one I’m actually working on at the moment and might even finish this very year (if much later than I’d hoped).

The other is a science fiction novel that I thought of as a space opera when it started, but it’s not really a space opera. I’m not sure what it is. I got very stuck on it at the 80,000 word mark. So far I’ve tried taking it on in three different ways, none of which I like.

But hey! I do have 80,000 words of it sitting here! For which I am determinedly grateful, because surely I will be able to bring that book to an end eventually.

2) My two babies!

Yes, I only got one puppy from each mother. Yes, I lost a lot of money by breeding two girls and getting zero puppies to sell. But! These are both very nice puppies.

Naamah, the white one, is a lot like her mother — slender, short-coated (so far), with excellent structure. But Naamah has a significantly prettier head than Chloe, so that is exactly what I wanted from this breeding. She also poses beautifully. She should do very well in the puppy classes and I look forward very much to showing her. Besides her future as a show dog, she is also personable, charming, very active, a bit shy of new situations (we’re working on that), very attached to me, and altogether a delightful puppy.

Morgan, the black one, is not much like her mother at all! She is a solemn little thing. Her structure is not as nice right now, but was superior at eight weeks and ten weeks so is very likely to come back as she matures. She has a lot more bone and is going to be a heavier type, but still probably well within the standard. Pretty head! I hope and believe she will take after her grand champion daddy. She doesn’t have a shy bone in her body and never meets a stranger, but wow, she does not pose automatically the way Naamah does. I am having to specifically teach her to pose.

These new babies are welcome additions to the Teeming Horde, plus they both housetrained easily and early, for which I am indeed grateful.

3) I am very pleased and grateful that Leda won two majors this year, thus guaranteeing that she will become a champion in the near-ish future. I didn’t expect it. She’s not as pretty as her sister Kimmie, but she is a solid youngster with plenty of bone, shorter-cast, and I think that is what put her ahead. Plus she’s cute when she tips her head sideways:

Plus I’m grateful that Conner won a major. He does need one more, but surely in 2020 my handsome young dude will get that major. Poof, instant champion, that’s all he needs to finish.

4) Leaving the dog theme, I’m grateful I’m in reasonable health. Sure, I deal with chronic pain issues. I’m grateful (truly!) that these are minor and that I can deal with them via OTC painkillers and exercises and so on.

While I’m at it, I’m grateful for the continuing reasonable health of my various relatives, and very grateful Dad likes reading, as his mobility has become so restricted that heaven knows what he would do if he didn’t have a near-infinite supply of books.

Can you imagine what it would have been like for an elderly mobility-restricted person in the 1500s? Or the 1200s? Or in 1000 BC? Even if his family took care of him, how difficult and frankly boring his life would have been before the modern day!

So I’m deeply grateful, as always, to have been born now, and here, and not as, say, a hunter-gatherer at any point in humanity’s deep history.

5) Bringing my focus back to smaller and more immediate things, I’m grateful for all the writers whose books I’ve read this year. I haven’t kept track of books read, but I’ve been doing a ton of re-reading all year. I’m very grateful to every author who’s written such outstanding novels that I can go back to them again and again and love them every time.

I just re-read Nicola Griffith’s Aud Torvingen trilogy The writing in those is sooooo stunning. Griffith breaks rules in the best possible way, as when she opens The Blue Place with a couple of fragments. The writing is just so … lush. Reviewers throw that word around pretty casually. They should stop. This is the type of writing that really deserved that term. Lush, rich, extraordinarily sensual … Griffith pours more attention into building the physical, sensual world than literally any other writer I can think of.

I’m grateful to her for writing this trilogy, and to all the other many and varied authors whose work has brought me such pleasure this year.

I hope you all have a happy Thanksgiving!

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Five fictional places you’d like to visit

Okay, natural extension for the “five real places you’d like to visit” meme: What are five fictional places you’d like to visit for a vacation? Not to live, just to visit. Assume a competent tourism industry and not only that, but you can assume any horrible world-shattering cataclysms, wars, dark lords, and other emergencies will hold off while you’re there. You get a nice vacation before or after a crisis, or in a locale where the crisis is temporarily in abeyance.

I know, limiting it to five would be really hard! But let me see. I don’t want to pick low-hanging fruit by saying Rivendell or anything like that. I want to pick things a little less obvious. Also, I have zero desire to visit any location in a world with slapstick elements, such as Hogwarts or any place on the Diskworld.

The choices below are mostly in the order I thought of them, not in any kind of priority order.

1)The City and the City.

I don’t entirely believe in Beszel and Ul Qoma. But what a remarkable idea. I would like to visit the city and the other city and just experience this whole unseeing thing, or watch citizens of the two cities manage to unsee the other city.

2) The Temple City of Duvalpore in Martha Wells’ The Wheel of the Infinite.

What a beautiful place. All those lovely canals and temples and palaces. Of course the right time to visit would be during the festival when the rite when the Wheel is redrawn.

3) The Quaddie habitats in LMB’s universe. I’d like to see the Minchenko Ballet. There aren’t any good covers for any LMB novel (right?), but at least this version of Diplomatic Immunity tries to feature a Quaddie.

Admittedly, it doesn’t do a very good job. But sure, points for trying.

4) Larry Nivan’s Ringworld. Here’s the artwork, sans text, because hey, Michael Whelan’s art is always worth emphasizing.

This would be a fantastic place for a working vacation — imagine being a naturalist here. I would want to stay for a good long time. A year, maybe, rather than a couple of weeks. Not sure I’d want to actually live there forever, but a loooong vacation for sure.

5) The Floating Islands.

I would really like to visit the Floating Islands, try to see the dragons, eat the amazing food, and just generally sight-see.

How about you all? Which SFF world would you pick for a vacation?

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Five places

Paul Weimer got a great response to his tweet last night, asking for “Five places you’ve never been, but would like to visit.” There are so many answers now it feels pointless to jump in on Twitter.

One of the funniest:

Charlie Stross‏  @cstross



The M31 galaxy

… Gosh, that scaled up fast didn’t it? …

I wouldn’t be that creative.

1)Petra, because that “rose-red city half as old as time” is one of the all-time great lines of poetry.

2) A great nature preserve in Australia. Two: one in the interior and one in the coastal rainforest. No place like Australia for great wildlife. I’ve been to the African savannah, but I’ve never been to Australia.

3) Hawaii. It’s right there, comparatively speaking, but I’ve never been there. Lounging on tropical beaches is okay, but I’d like to stroll up a Hawaiian volcano with a naturalist to explain the flora and fauna. It would be, um, my fourth volcano? I think fourth.

4) India. Which does not really narrow down the answer, because then which part? I could do a top twenty list and barely touch India. But I’ve heard the south is great. Maybe Hyderabad. And then Agra for sure.

5) Sure, what the heck, Mars. On a nice guided tour, after the tourism industry is mature. I’m not interested in experiencing the adventure of death on Mars. Strictly safe, comfortable sight-seeing. But what sights!

Where would you all go, if you could go anywhere and there was a nice hotel and a guided tour?

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Oh hey look what’s almost out!

The twentieth book in the series! Wow, twenty books. Amazon says it’s out January 20th, which is practically right around the corner.

Bren Cameron, diplomat in residence, usually represents the ruler of the atevi state. But Ilisidi, the dowager, has been known to borrow his services from time to time–and she has her own notions how to solve the simmering hostilities in the south of the atevi continent, playing one problem against another.

This time, she is betting the hard-won northern peace–and the lives of the people–on being right. She has commandeered the Red Train, taken aboard what passengers she chooses, and headed for the snowy roof of the world, where a hard-scrabble town and its minor lord are the first pieces she intends to use.

Ah, so Ilisidi is going to be front and center. That’s fine with me. Watching her operate is always a pleasure.

It’s been quite a wait, and I admit I haven’t even read Alliance Rising, which as you may recall is the book that bumped this one down the queue. It’s been sitting on my coffee table all this time, where I can sneer at it for not being a Foreigner book, I guess.

Anyway, here’s the untrammeled artwork for this cover —

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Sorting out Elizabeth Moon’s Oeuvre

So, do you even know how many books Elizabeth Moon has out there? I knew it was a lot, but it occurred to me again because I was thinking about The Speed of Dark and how enormously different it is from her other work.

She has nearly 30 novels out, that’s how many. Wow.

Also, she is one of the authors who is just all over the place when it comes to how much I like a particular book. Andrea K Höst? I’d rank all of hers from about seven stars to ten stars. Martha Wells? Again, about seven to ten stars. CJC? About seven to ten generally, but with a couple falling into the one- to two-star range. Barbara Hambly, just about the same, plenty I really like a lot and just a couple I detest.

Elizabeth Moon has several I just love, quite a few I like, and then a whole bunch I . . . sort of feel meh about. Essentially all the time (but not quite), the “meh” books are the ones where the pov scatters hither and yon, so that there is no real protagonist. I just have a hard time with those; I don’t care enough about the characters. When Moon sticks to just one protagonist, I get drawn in much more strongly, as a rule. So if you’re familiar with Elizabeth Moon’s work, I bet you can now predict pretty easily which books of hers will tend to wind up on top. There are some exceptions, though, both ways — books I just don’t like that much even though they have one important protagonist and books I like much better even though the pov scatters. The protagonist thing is a tendency, not an iron-clad rule.

Okay, so, let’s do this.

Right on the top of the whole genre:

Speed of Dark. Of course. This standalone near-future SF novel is a total masterpiece. The voice! The sentence-level writing! The storytelling! And yes, very most especially the voice, which is just flawlessly rendered. Have you all read this book? If yes, surely you agree. If no, what are you waiting for? (!!!???)


The original Paksennarion trilogy. A nearly flawless military fantasy story, starting when Paks is a new recruit and going all the way through to her ultimate assumption of the duties and powers of a paladin. A classic hero’s journey character arc in a story that’s told exceptionally well, from the sentence level all the way up to the broad strokes of storytelling.

Hunting Party, which is the first of the Heris Serrano space operas. This is one of novels that to me symbolizes the rebirth of space opera: adventure stories involving spaceships, but with perhaps more attention paid to characterization than the earlier space opera. Plus, in this case, horses.

Very good:

The other two Heris Serrano novels, Sporting Chance and Winning Colors.

The first Vatta’s war series, five books starting with Trading in Danger and starring Ky Vatta as the first and most important protagonist. This series moved fast enough, and the secondary protagonists held my interest enough, that when the pov began to branch out I continued to find them engaging. In some ways this series reminds me of the Chanur series by CJC, except all the characters are human, obviously. And the situation isn’t as dire. And, well, everything is different, actually, but in some ways the two series still seem alike to me. Feel, I suppose, and the sense of increasing urgency, and Ky’s relationship with the eventual male lead reminds me of Pyanfar’s relationship with one of the mehendo’sat — I mean the tension between trust and mistrust on both sides.


The Gird duology. For some reason, even though there is just one primary protagonist, and even though I liked him, I still never connected to this duology the way I connected to the Paksennarion trilogy. Too slow? But then I often like slow-paced novels. But these, well, not as much. I read them a couple of times, but not with any great enthusiasm. I don’t know why.

Okay, I guess:

The Esmey Suiza duology, the new Vatta’s Peace books, and the Paladin’s Legacy series.

The biggest problem with these is, yes, the proliferating number of pov characters. In some cases I just do not find most of the pov characters interesting.

For example, in the Paladin’s Legacy quintolgy, I didn’t care about Arcolin — I still can’t understand why Elizabeth Moon didn’t choose to focus on the wounded soldier Arcolin recruits as a new captain. I though he was by far in the best position to carry that plotline. I didn’t care about Phelan, except that the Lady of the Elves was acting like such a complete nitwit and she was right there in his sections of the novel, so I disliked many of his scenes. I liked Dorrin okay, but my favorite, hand’s down, was Arvid the thief, and he got very little time on stage compared to some of the others.

This is the kind of situation that makes it hard to maintain interest in a story — too many characters I don’t care about, plus details I actively dislike (the Lady is an IDIOT), plus details in the worldbuilding that make no sense, and there we go, I lose interest, give away the first couple-three books of the series, and go on to some other series by some other author. I had similar problems with all the books in this category, though in Ky Vatta’s continuing series, the IDIOT role is played by various subordinates who aren’t that important except for their role in occasionally saying incredibly stupid things. (But surely you don’t think someone’s out to get you, just because your shuttle was shot down and your survival suit was sabotaged?)

Haven’t Read:

I actually turned out to have missed out on several of Elizabeth Moon’s books, including the Planet Pirates trilogy and Remnant Population. If you’ve read those, what did you think?

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Recent acquisition: Necronomnomnom, by HP Lovecraft (and Mike Slater)

One of my brothers found this, um, cookbook, at WindyCon last weekend and showed it to me. It’s wonderful, but the dealer was out of copies by the time I made it to his table – which is no problem, of course, since Amazon is always willing to ship. So here’s my copy, which arrived yesterday:

It’s a cookbook, obviously. Why else with the “nomnomnom” thing, right? It’s good looking on the inside too, all manuscript-colored with cursive footnotes in blood-red ink.

Some of the recipes are almost sorta kinda written in the regular way, but some are, ah, customized to fit the theme. Let me give you one recipe. Ordinarily I customize all recipes, but I’m not sure I would dare to mess with this one, which I’ll therefore give you verbatim:

Deep-Fried Deep One

Offerings to Vengeance

1 large egg of the fowl of the wood, as Sadogui doth favor

1 Tbsp of the best offering to be found in the Maze of N’yo

(Use the Eye of Azoth; it is dangerous to go in body! The Hunter will abide this small trespass. We know.)

1 tsp seasoning from the Old Bay of Elders

¼ tsp salt of the Sea

1 Tbsp finely chopped Herb of Mysterious Purpose

1 lb lump crabmeat, ritually cleansed and purified

½ lb fresh pink-fleshed fish of the river and sea

1 ½ Tbsp unseasoned crumbs of bread, more if needed

3 Tbsp unsalted butter, to ease the transition

Wedges of the Citrus in Yellow are always welcomed

Visitation of Wrath

Make ready an altar of flat metal, line this with the alchemical foil.

In a commodious vessel, join forcibly the egg, mayonnaise, spice of the Bay of Elders, salt, and parsley. Take the flesh of the sea dwellers, mingle them blasphemously in the eyes of their Sleeping Lord. Fold all this now together, with care that flesh can still be recognized. When this is done, raise the bowl high, twice, then sprinkle with crumbs. Lower the bowl to the Earth that the One Below may see what has been done in his name!

Shape in the old way, into eight disks, and place upon the prepared altar. Cast them into the darkness and cold for one twelfth of one of your numbered days. Heat the salve of transition in the proper implement and exult as the disks sizzle and brown! Brown them as the sun would the husks of our briny foe, turning them and cooking them on each side for 4 minutes. The are delicate – have care if you wish the center to hold!

Remember the Mongol and the Turk when they came to aid us in Averoigne. We remember our allies, and we shall serve together again!


Okay, is that clever or what? “Maze of N’yo” was clear after a second, but if the written recipe hadn’t translated Herb of Mysterious Purpose” as parsley, I would have had to guess. On the other hand, I would have guessed parsley. Plus after the fact, hello, parsley is often included for no obvious reason, in recipes or as a little sprig on the plate so “mysterious purpose,” sure. The author tried hard with the salmon, right? He never said “salmon,” but “pink-fleshed” is pretty clear and there aren’t many fish that spend time in both the rivers and the sea. He doesn’t say to poach it first or whatever, so I suppose you’re supposed to use raw salmon? It gets cooked in the patties, after all. I must admit I might use canned.

Also, these patties are not actually deep fried, as far as I can tell; they’re just pan fried. I guess “deep fried” is just a play on “deep ones.”

Still, no matter how you handle this recipe, it sounds pretty good. I think I’ll try it. I’ll even lift the bowl high twice and lower it to Earth once. Wouldn’t want the One Below to miss what has been done in his name.

Let me quote some recipe titles for you . . . let me see . . . okay: Sacrificial Lamb. Pallid Bisque, I like that one. Tsathogguambalaja – which includes the instruction, “1/4 lb tuna or any unwary finned sea denizen; rend this offering to chunks.” Really puts one in the mood for a cozy supper. Here’s a recipe for “The Fate of the Elder Ones” that I believe uses star fruit. Without the drawings, I would be less certain. Ha ha ha, here’s The Cake in Yellow! That’s great, even though all I know about the King in Yellow is that there’s some sort of influential story by that name or something.

I’m definitely going to make some things out of this book, but should I with my hundred other cookbooks or put it somewhere by itself? Not sure.

This will probably be the craziest cookbook I buy this year. However, maybe not. It turns out that if you order Necronomnomnom from Amazon, they are happy to suggest other cookbooks you might like. Like, say, this Firefly cookbook, which does sound kind of neat. I’m a lot more familiar with Firefly than Lovecraft, too . . .

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Gritty fantasy versus grimdark

Continuing my recent effort to pull apart horror, dark fantasy, gritty fantasy, and grimdark — which means it’s time to define grimdark! Which, of course, I’ve done before.

My opinions about grimdark haven’t changed. As far as I’m concerned, grimdark = unrealistically grim and dark. This is a form that elides beauty, honor, love, and any sense of the ineffable. An important criterion is that both the protagonist(s) and the world wind up worse off at the end. A grimdark novel is probably also gritty because grimdark usually (always?) draws on the ugliness of the world to fit its themes about how awful everything is.

For me, the quintessential grimdark novel is Joe Abercrombe’s Best Served Cold. In this novel, we see:

a) A protagonist who is betrayed by her employer and left for dead, who sets out for revenge, but later starts to have doubts about the whole revenge thing, except she is pulled along despite herself. She is not permitted to reconsider in any real way, but she does find out she was actually betrayed much more deeply than she had at first thought, by someone she really trusted. Themes: trust is for fools, you are helpless clay in the hands of vicious fate.

b) A second protagonist who has resolved to be a decent person, but who is pulled along by the story in such a way that he cannot keep to this resolution and fails completely. Instead, he becomes embittered and a much worse person. Themes: It’s impossible for decency to survive contact with the world; sure enough, you’re helpless putty in the hands of vicious fate.

Reading this novel created my complete and apparently permanent distaste for grimdark. There were things I liked about The First Law trilogy, even though the bad guys win, and a character who is trying to become a better person completely fails and becomes a much worse person, and the character who was being set up to defeat the ultimate bad guy fails, and so on. The First Law trilogy is very definitely grimdark, but I did like two of the characters. Sort of. Even though they were awful people in nearly every way. I did finish the trilogy. But after Best Served Cold, I will never again read anything that seems like it’s heading in a grimdark direction.

In contrast to grimdark, gritty fantasy is not unrealistically grim; gritty can and does includes the beautiful as well as the horrible — see Locke Lamora’s relationship with Jean, for example. In dark or gritty fantasy, if the protagonist is worse off at the end, it’s because there’s a cliffhanger and another book is expected, because in the end the story will reach a satisfying (or no worse than ambiguous) conclusion. Of course, if the first book looks too much like grimdark, I won’t personally go on to the second; every now and then I encounter a book like that. Karen Lowachee’s Gaslight Dogs was like a book of that kind. One of the characters started off weak and ended up a monster. Was this supposed to be resolved in a second book? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter; I couldn’t bear to go on with this story even if a second book appeared.

So, to sum up:

In grimdark, if something is beautiful, it’s likely to be ruined, corrupted, or crushed.

Character arcs point downward. A weak character is probably going to be corrupted or ruined by the end. If he chooses to strive to overcome his flaws and tries to become a better person, he fails.

If the world (or some part of it) was ruled by a tyrant at the beginning, it’ll probably be ruled by a worse or more terrifying tyrant at the end. If people were oppressed at the beginning, they’re still oppressed at the end, though details may have changed around the edges. If they’re fool enough to celebrate, the reader can see how deluded they are.

In grimdark, the world is ugly. It’s not just uglier than the reader first expects. It’s ugly right to its core. In the spectrum that encompasses horror, dark fantasy, gritty fantasy, and grimdark, this is true only of grimdark.

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All time best SF novels

So, yesterday I declared that Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark is, in my opinion, one of the great science fiction novels of all time. Naturally I now feel I should place it in the context of a top ten list.

This is not a list of “most popular” or “most well known” or “most frequently considered great.” I’m not sure how far off the beaten track I’ll get with all these entries, but I’m pretty sure the discerning reader will notice that I admire sociological science fiction.

I’m not going to try to sort anything out within this list. All of these are great books, full stop. I don’t even care whether or not they had a marked impact on the genre; I’m judging the books solely in themselves. Also, I don’t generally like grim tragedies, so I haven’t read Hyperion or various others that often get picked out for lists of this kind. I’m sure it’s brilliant, but obviously I have to stick to books I’ve actually read. Not only that, but loved enough to read several times, so I remember them and appreciate them — unlike The Diamond Age by Stephenson, which I only read once.

In other words, like all lists of this kind, this one is a personal list, even though I’m trying to pick only objectively great books. These are also all science fiction because in this list, I’m steering clear of fantasy.

1. The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

2. Cyteen by CJC

3. Dune by Frank Herbert

4. The Mars trilogy by KSR

5. The Foreigner series by CJC — I know; it’s not necessarily okay to uinclude two works by the same author, but here we are.

6. A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

7. The Gaia trilogy by John Varley

8. Imperial Radch trilogy by Ann Leckie

9. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein

10. The rest of these are novels, but for my last pick: The collected short stories by Cordwainer Smith.

I realize that Ursula K LeGuin is a glaring absence. Unfortunately, though they may be great novels, I actually did not like and did not finish either The Dispossessed or Left Hand of Darkness. Beautiful, beautiful writing. But I didn’t connect with any of the characters.

Okay! So, given these lists are inherently personal, which science fiction, not fantasy, novels would you definitely pick for inclusion on a list of top ten greatest science fiction novels ever written?

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