Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Out this Friday!

If you have been keeping track, then you know this one is just about to hit the shelves:

If you’ve read SHADOW TWIN, you may be wondering what Cassie wasn’t telling Miguel during their text exchanges. It turns out that while Miguel and Natividad and the rest dealt with disaster out west, quite a lot was going on back home …

***

Something near Dimilioc is killing livestock and leaving strange tracks. It’s probably not Bigfoot … but it might be something even more surprising, and much scarier.

***

A year ago, Thaddeus chose to spare the life of a young black dog kid in Chicago — he even invited the boy to make his way to Dimilioc. It was a memorable incident. Certainly for the kid, who did not forget about that invitation.

***

Ezekiel never makes friends with anyone. Certainly not outside Dimilioc. Yet an unexpected call for help sparks an equally unexpected urge to go far out his way to lend a hand …

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Three Little Pigs, taken apart by Mari Ness

Here is one of Mari Ness’ wonderful columns, in this case analyzing “The Three Little Pigs.”

I always expect to learn something new about any Disney movie or fairy tale Mari Ness discusses, and this is no exception:

[L]ike many fairy tales, “The Three Little Pigs” exists in multiple versions, some with pigs, some without pigs, some with a bunny. (A very specific bunny.)

Really? A bunny? I hope Ness explains that comment in a later post, as she does not here.

This post is actually about fairy-tales-as-political-metaphors.

The story itself functions as a complaint about the quality of houses available in England during the early 19th century and earlier, making a not particularly subtle point about the dangers inherent in low quality homes. And, of course, it offers a warning to those trying to prey on the unfortunates living in those houses: at some point, the tables could be turned. The various European revolutions of 1848 were still in vivid living memory when this story made its first printed appearance in 1853, in the anonymous in English Forests and Forest Trees: Historical, Legendary and Descriptive.

But the anonymous writers and editors were not merely interested in veiled warnings about economic revolutions. They had another political use for this tale….

If you’ve got a minute, click through and read the whole thing.

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How to Read

Here is a post I like a lot, by Robert Heaton: How to Read

Five years ago I realized that I remembered almost nothing about most books that I read. I was reading all kinds of non-fiction – pop-psychology, pop-economics, pop-sociology, you name it – and felt like quite the polymath auto-didact. But one day, after I had finished blathering at a friend about how much I had enjoyed Thinking, Fast and Slow, they asked for a quick summary of the book’s overall thesis. I thought for a while, mumbled something about System 1 and System 2 and how I had only really read it for background knowledge, and adroitly changed the subject.

Here is why I like this post:

Learning comes from repetition, and few people have occasion to think about capital-income ratios after finishing Capital In The Twenty-First Century….

Yes! This is so true (for most of us, like everyone with a normal memory.)

And this:

One completely valid way to deal with this fact is to decide that you are fine with it. Reading Manufacturing Consent is an enjoyable experience and worth doing for its own sake; you don’t want to be viewing all of your leisure activities through the lens of a strict cost-benefit analysis.

YES! I was sort of expecting this essay to fall into either the I Have Diagnosed A Problem or the closely related You Are Doing It Wrong category, both popular among writers of posts and articles and essays, though perhaps questionably so among readers. Robert Heaton luckily has not contributed to that dubious subgenre of holier-than-thou essay-writing.

I’m currently trying to learn a lot about economics. I care a lot about this project, and find it sufficiently compelling that I’m willing to spend my limited reading time for it in a way that optimizes for learning over fun. I’ve evolved a system to help me remember more of what I read. It’s proven quite successful, and has won me such plaudits as “Where did you regurgitate all that from?” and “Well someone clearly just read ‘Why Nations Fail’”. It’s obviously completely made up and not the result of years of (or indeed any) scientific verification, but I have found it to be effective. Here’s a brief summary.

So … read the rest if you are interested.

I will add, I am quite okay with reading a nonfiction book two or three times, thus building up the repetition necessary to remember at last some of the material I care about most. For example, I have read all of Peter Kramer’s nonfiction books at least three times, sometimes more. Ditto with various books about (I’m sure you will be shocked) dogs — genetics and structure and so on. I have An Eye for a Dog on my coffee table whenever I am evaluating puppies and sometimes when I’m not. I read it a little at a time, over and over, with careful attention to the drawings. Then I look for those things in real dogs at dog shows. So this is serious study.

I have never done the kind of writeup Heaton suggests (I can’t draw and canine structure is SO visual). But I wrote up a lot of pages summarizing canine genetics on my other website, so I bet that counts as the kind of study that works for him.

It’s nice to have a knack for just remembering random trivia … ask me what order African elephants are in compared to Asian elephants and woolly mammoths. Go right on, I will remember because that’s just the kind of thing I do remember.

But I absolutely do tell students, practically every day: Read with a pencil in your hand. Write stuff down. Summarize as you go. This will help you tremendously in figuring out the material and remembering it.

Good essay. Click through and read the whole thing if you are interested.

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Grammar Quibble Thursday

Just happened across a line in Gilman’s Red Waters Rising in which she said “…something something something as though …”

YAY, I said, because one of the tiny items that drives me crazy in modern usage is the common “almost as if” and “almost as though.”

What is that even supposed to mean? ALMOST as though?

“It’s ALMOST as though my dog is happy to see me.”

“It’s ALMOST as though he thinks telling me how he feels is going to convince me that his opinion is right.”

No. No no no. It’s actually AS THOUGH, it’s not almost anything.

“Oh, look, Lassie is barking and running back and forth between us and the gate! It’s AS IF she wants us to follow her!” There’s no almost about it, no matter how slow on the uptake Lassie’s people happen to be.

There’s another issue I have, very similar, one that you see ALL THE TIME in modern America:

“People are beginning to catch on to _____’s lies and deceptions.” I hate this! Invariably what the writer means is “People have totally caught on to _____’s lies and deceptions.”

I have seen “beginning to” and “starting to” used in literally hundreds of essays where the author was referring to something that had been going on for decades. Beginning my left toe. The beginning was back in the 1980s, if not earlier. The author does not mean beginning. He or she might possibly mean strengthening, but probably what is meant is not “people are beginning to see this” but “people now universally acknowledge this to be true.”

Anybody would think almost and beginning have subtle meanings that are just too much for our brains to handle. But we know perfectly well what almost means, and we know what starting and beginning mean. How about reserving those words for sentences where they are actually applicable?

And three cheers for Gilman, who said what she meant, that it was as though such and such, not almost as though anything.

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Anatomy of a murder trial

At Book View Cafe, an interesting post on an actual murder trial, posted by Diana Pharaoh Francis.

This is the sort of thing that I kind of like to know just in case it comes up somehow in a future book. Categorize it under How Things Work as well as human interest.

One thing I should have realized but didn’t, was that when there was a major objection, the jury was excused to the jury room and the point was argued (very politely) until the judge ruled on whatever it was. Could this evidence be allowed in? Was that person qualified to say what he was saying? That sort of thing. Once the judge ruled, the jury returned and things went on. If the objection was upheld, then the jury never heard that information. It couldn’t therefore be prejudicial, and the jury couldn’t decide that they didn’t like the prosecutor or defense because of that objection. Totally makes sense, but of course, TV always has them in the room with the judge telling the jury to disregard whatever was said.

See, that is the kind of thing about which television would mislead you. Isn’t it interesting to know how it really works?

I’ve never been called for jury duty. I don’t know why, it’s just never happened. If I were called, I would almost like to participate despite the disruption to my life, just so I would see the trial and the jury process and everything.

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You never know what might turn up when you’re looking for something else

Astronomers went looking for a far-off mystery planet and found 12 New Moons Found Orbiting Jupiter.

I find this immediately entertaining and interesting, even though I do also immediately wonder “And what are you calling a ‘moon,’ buddy?” Sometimes people do seem to want to define rocks that are hardly bigger than baseballs as moons, it seems to me. Are these real moons, and if so, how did we miss them so long?

To be clear, these moons are no Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system. They’re tiny, some barely a mile across, and they are tracing all kinds of weird paths around the giant world.

A-ha. You call that a moon, do you?

The dozen new moons range in size from roughly one to three miles across. Two of the moons are clustered relatively near the planet, and they orbit in the same direction that Jupiter spins. They’re likely the remnants of a much larger moon that has been broken into pieces over the billions of years since the birth of the solar system….

There are a bunch of retrograde moons that also probably are remnants of a larger moon. So at least some of them might have once been real moons.

Okay, well, I grant, my idea of a proper moon is of course formed by OUR moon, which is outsized relative to Earth, compared to most moons that orbit other planets.

Still, these little moonlets are neat to find, I grant you. Also, I sympathize with this comment:

Sheppard took a look at the other giant planets, too, and didn’t find any new moons orbiting Uranus and Neptune. That kind of bummed him out.

“Uranus is the best one to find moons around,” he says, “because you get to name things after Shakespearean characters.”

Now I’m sorry they didn’t find any new little rocks orbiting Uranus…

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Books that will restore your faith in humanity

At tor.com, a post by Kameron Hurley: Five Books That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity

[F]or today, let’s concentrate on the good.

Humans can be good.

So here are a few pieces of uplifting speculative fiction that emphasize our collaborative greatness over our despair. Our passion for creation over destruction. Our struggle to become better together than we are individually.

Kameron Hurley’s books have always sounded too grim and gritty for me, sexual torture in The Mirror Empire and so on. Perhaps I should try something else of hers, though. This is certainly a theme that appeals to me. Let’s see what she picked out:

1. Planetfall by Emma Newman.

[T]he first book in Newman’s series of loosely-connected books about a future where a prophet forms a cult that works together to reach a far-off planet where the prophet believes an alien entity has called to her.

Hmmm.

2. Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi.

This is a winner of a book for anyone who liked Firefly, and for fans of Becky Chambers.

Well, that sounds promising. Adding a sample to my Kindle … now. There.

3. Dark Orbit by Carolyn Ives Gilman. Sounds excellent, like just my kind of thing. Hurley says:

One of my favorite surprise discoveries of the last few years, Dark Orbit is old-school science fiction at its finest. This “science saves the day!” plus “sense of wonder!” standalone novel features a smart, capable scientist who must use her wits to survive. Alien contact, mystery, murder, wondrous landscapes and breathtaking discoveries …

Sample, added.

4. River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey.

Got a sample already. Still haven’t read it, despite the hippos.

5. The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells.

That’s a particularly delightful choice because, of course, there are no actually human characters in this world. But hey, they’re human enough for the story to work, so why not?

I do think this is a good choice, but for this particular theme, I would have picked “All Systems Red.” In that one, the whole plot depended completely on the Murderbot becoming reluctantly attached to the humans it had been sent to guard, even though it really didn’t want to care about them. The niceness of the humans in question was critical to forming this attachment, so I think this novella would have been a perfect choice for this list.

Incidentally, after the four Murderbot novellas, an actual Murderbot novel will be published, so that’s great news for all us Murderbot fans. I just saw the announcement from Martha yesterday on Twitter. Excellent news!

Now, it’s hard to beat the Murderbot novellas, but what other books strike me as particularly good for a list where people, or most people, or at least a lot of people, are decent, kind, nice people? The kind who restore your faith in humanity? There are surely plenty.

6. How about something by LMB? Practically anything by her, but I will pick out the Sharing Knife series because so many of the people in that series are just normal, decent people who occasionally get swept up in brief dramatic events. Of course various relatives have their failings, especially on Dag’s side. Well, on both sides. But practically everyone in these stories is a good, decent person doing the best they can.

7. I’d add the Crown Duel / Court Duel duology by Sherwood Smith to this list. The bad guy is bad, I guess some of the people on his side are bad, but basically a whole lot of good, decent people all over the place. They may misunderstand each other, they may be very different kinds of people, but one way or another, they are almost all good people. Plus willing to go to a lot of trouble and take a lot of risks to make the world a better place.

8. Oh, hello, The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. Surprised it took me that long to think of it. Super-obvious choice.

9. I’m going to toss The Keeper of the Mist in here too.

Lots of ordinary people doing their best in this one, too. Plus, yes, at least one person who is not exactly doing *his* best, but hey.

10. Just thought of a whole bunch all at once, so here we go — The Secret Garden / The Little Princess / Charlotte’s Web / Little Women. The Below the Root trilogy by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Here’s a more recent one: The Dragon With A Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis.

Apparently I needed to think of MG books and then the titles just poured out.

What’s a title you’d add to a list of Books That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity?

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How to build a mountain range

Neat post at Knowable Magazine: How to build a mountain range

There’s only one place on the planet where you can see flamingos roaming salt flats, vicuñas grazing in herds and condors soaring overhead, all as hot springs bubble beneath towering volcanoes. It’s the Altiplano of South America — a nearly 1,000-kilometer-long, otherworldly plateau that stretches from southern Peru through Bolivia and into Chile and Argentina….

Garzione and her colleagues have found that parts of the Altiplano didn’t gain their great height until 5 million to 10 million years ago. That means the Andes did not rise gradually over the last 45 million years, but lurched skyward in dramatic pulses. Cold, dense rock beneath the Altiplano would have weighed it down like an anchor. When blobs of that rock dripped off its underbelly into the deeper Earth, the Altiplano became more buoyant, like a bobber on a fishing line, and rose higher.

From time to time, geology gets exciting! This is a delightful image.

The article is long and involved enough to be interesting. Click through and check it out if you are so inclined. Also, enjoy this photo of flamingos flying over the Andes. I have this as a screen saver. I think it is the single best photo every put on the internet.

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Quora

So, I’ve been answering questions about grammar and dogs and biology and stuff over on Quora. I can’t remember why and how the first one popped up in my inbox, but they’re kind of fun.

Also, sometimes kind of ridiculous.

Here’s a reasonable question, the kind that Quora exists to help with:

Do both sentences have the same meaning, “The bill will be brought to us by the waiter” and “We will be brought the bill by the waiter”?

I presume this question was asked by an ESL person. There are tons of excellent questions like this.

Here’s a question that is perhaps less suitable:

What are the three characteristics of desert vegetation?

The questioner might as well append: Do my homework for me, please!

Here’s another question that strikes me as unsuitable for a different reason:

What kind of big dog breed would be suitable for a woman?

How could anyone answer that? Other than by saying, “All of them, depending on you.” This is an example of a question that should be written to be far, far more specific. I really must admit, I don’t understand why the questioner doesn’t SEE that this question is far too vague to get a helpful response. How can she not understand that if she says, “What kind of big dog breed would be suitable for me, if I won’t be able to provide much exercise and mostly want a dog to watch tv with in the evenings?” Even that is too vague, but it would be better.

Also, there are the sorts of questions that anybody should be able to google in two seconds:

Are monkeys warm-blooded or cold-blooded?

Not only an attempt to get someone else to do homework (at least, that seems likely), but for heaven’s sake, can’t you google “warm-blooded” and “cold-blooded” and then answer that question yourself?

My favorite so far, in a sense:

If I have 7 grams of cocaine and I needed to add enough baking soda to make 9 grams, how much baking soda should I add?

I am not making this up. I am not making up any of these.

I did not answer that one, but someone else did, with an inquiry about whether the questioner had suffered some terrible head injury that left him or her unable to do grade-school subtraction. I did think the more likely explanation in this case was that drugs had melted the questioner’s brain.

At the top of my Quora questions right now:

Are German Shepherds killer dogs or just a dog? My husband wants to get one as a guard dog, but can they be a friend to the family and not turn on their owners?

Sheesh.

Here’s one from yesterday:

In writing, how do I avoid insta-love?

Way too broad, and yet not a bad question. I actually answered that one by referring to the Touchstone trilogy, as the relationship in that one is about as far from insta-love as you can get in a story with an important romance. I hope the questioner reads that trilogy and enjoys it!

Skimming through and answering Quora questions is surprisingly addictive. Has anybody else played around with this platform?

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The very, very worst title ever?

I saw this book in a used bookstore recently and … well. It is hard to express my instant reaction. I mean … the cover is pretty? And completely inoffensive? And then you get that title.

“Blind Your Ponies.” Really? REALLY?

Here is the description from Goodreads:

Willow Creek, Montana. With bold strokes on a large canvas, Stanley West has drawn an entire village of curious and outlandish characters who have been cast so vividly that one can see them, hear them, laugh with them, feel with them – people as real as relatives.

When Sam Pickett comes to the quiet little village to hide from the violence and madness that have shattered his life, he discovers buried and shadowed stories fraught with aching regret, human wreckage, and heartrending bravery – people silently bearing their broken dreams and unbearable sorrows. Can they be aroused by the most unexpected and least likely source in their midst? Encouraged and uplifted to embrace life for all it’s worth? Out of these utterly ordinary lives, West brings forth a startling glimpse into the hidden places of the human heart and characters who will stay with you like old friends long after you’ve turned the last page.

Well, of course it’s literary. What other genre would slap a title like that on a book like this? But even if the “broken dreams and unbearable sorrows” didn’t turn me off, I couldn’t be able to bring myself to read the first page solely because of this title.

Now! I’m sure you are as curious as I was about where in the world that title could have come from. As it turns out, if you skim down some of the reviews for this book, you will discover that commenter Olivermagnus helpfully explains:

The title is taken from an old American Indian legend: A group of Crow warriors returning from a hunt finds that all of the inhabitants of their camp have died from typhoid. In the belief that they will join their loved ones in the afterlife, they blind their ponies and ride them off a cliff.

This story certainly does not counteract my revulsion; quite the reverse. Notice that if this were true, the warriors could have let their ponies go and flung themselves off the cliff without taking the poor beasts with them. But no.

UGH.

To leave you all with a nicer image, here is a pretty horse no one is going to blind and ride off a cliff:

via GIPHY

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