Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Least favorite cliche

Have you got a particular cliche that sets your teeth on edge more than any other?

I do. Here it is:

“If you kill me, you’re no better than I am!”

Or anything remotely similar to the above, such as:

“We can’t kill him! We’d be no better than he is!”

Or even:

“Yes, of course he’s our deadly enemy and has sworn to destroy everyone we love, but we can’t strike the first blow!”

You know what? You can totally strike the first blow. That will not make you as bad as he is. HE is the guy who bites the heads of kittens for fun (or whatever). YOU are the one who protects the kittens. There is not the remotest comparison and never could be, and your insanely stupid decision right at this moment is going to let the bad guy tear the entire world apart or plunge the entire country into a civil war. But hey! At least you will hopefully find it comforting that you didn’t strike the first blow!

As you might possibly guess, I hit a plot point like this a little while ago in a book I’m reading, and OH MY GOD but I detest it.

And that is why the first twelve seconds of this clip constitute possibly my very favorite moment in all of SFF:

I swear to God, if any villain EVER says anything remotely like “You can’t shoot me, you’re the good guy!” to my protagonist, that villain will get shot in the next half-minute of action. And no protagonist of mine will EVER say, “Oh, we can’t kill him, that would make us no better than he is!”

MY protagonist will nuke the bad guy from orbit, if it’s the only way to be sure.

Okay, that’s my rant. If you’ve got a particularly hated cliche in mind, drop it in the comments!

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I’m sometimes startled by all the books I haven’t read

You know what’s coming out shortly? This:

And have I read the last couple of her Natural History of Dragons series? I have not. They are on my actual, physical shelves, with their beautiful covers turned out so I can admire them, and yet here we are.

Fine. Today, I will take the first one of that series off the shelf, bring it upstairs, and put it on the coffee table. That should hopefully force me to re-read it fairly soon so I can go on and re-read the other books I’ve already read and then finish the series.

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The most shocking plot twists

I was just thinking about startling plot twists.

I don’t mean “and then she woke up” kinds of things. That is not a plot twist, it’s blatant cheating on the part of the author, which is why it’s universally hated by everyone who has ever been subjected to it. Probably by a good many people who have never seen that kind of ending, but can imagine how awful it is.

Nor do I mean “then the protagonist succeeds after all, against all odds” kinds of things. That’s not really a plot twist either, even if it’s super-clever and you didn’t see it coming. You knew all along the protagonist was going to succeed somehow. It’s interesting to see how, especially if the author does something clever that is not a deus ex cheat, but it’s not a twist.

I’m sure there are many many many wonderful, shocking plot twists out there, but I’ve thought of three. One is more, um, twisty, than the others, so from least shocking to most shocking:

1) Echo in Emerald. The plot twist is a small one, but it really made me sit up straight. I may have yelled out loud. You all might see it coming when you listen to or read this book, but I did not.

2) The Demon’s Surrender. This one kind of falls into the “protagonist succeeds in a surprising way” category, but it was so unanticipated that I’m going to count it anyway. The whole trilogy, which starts with The Demon’s Lexicon, has a lot of startling moments. Very intense trilogy. I truly must read something else by Sarah Rees Brennan this year.

3) And All the Stars. No one is EVER going to see THAT coming. I would put actual money on that bet. No one. Ever. Andrea K Höst has pulled off some startling plot twists here and there, but this one is unbeatable.

If you have a favorite shocking plot twist, drop it in the comments! If you’ve read And All the Stars, well, agree or disagree about this particular plot twist being absolutely at the top? Have you possibly got a contender that might beat it?

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And the winners are …

Random numbers generated: 8, 10, and 2. If one of those is your position in the comment queue, I’ll be emailing you in just a moment to let you know how to contact Sharon Shinn and request your code.

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Non-epic fantasy by GGK

Interesting review here for a new novel by Guy Gavriel Kay: A Brightness Long Ago.

Looks like this one came out, let me see, a few days ago. This is the first I’ve heard of it. Here’s what the post at tor.com says:

We all know how the story of the chosen one goes. We all know of fellowships formed around unlikely heroes who come from nothing but become something like legends when they declare against the darkness. We all know that the fate of the land, or the larger world, or perhaps the entire galaxy, hangs in the balance in this tradition of fiction. A Brightness Long Ago isn’t about any of that. Instead, it’s interested in what we don’t know—in the little things that happen to the little people, in particular.

Isn’t that interesting? About as far from, say, The Fionivar Tapestry, as you can get. Little people, doing little things. How about that.

This review goes on:

Imagine what fantastic fiction could look like if its designers deliberately directed our attention away from the centre of the stage. There, where there is less light, and the shadows are correspondingly softer, “richness and sorrow can be entangled.” There’s no pure good in this place, and no absolute evil. Indeed, in what can be interpreted as a declaration of intent, what simple wickedness there is in A Brightness Long Ago is dispatched fast—done away with within half a chapter, in fact.

This strikes me as a little unfair. Last I noticed, one can perfectly well get all the grays in the most epic of all epic fantasies; that’s hardly a quality that’s restricted to slice-of-life fantasies. Anyway, I do like the idea of doing away with the Big Bad in the first chapter and moving on with a different kind of story. I like that a lot!

Amazon’s description doesn’t make this novel sound quite as non-epic as the review. That description includes this paragraph:

Vivid figures share the unfolding story. Among them: a healer determined to defy her expected lot; a charming, frivolous son of immense wealth; a powerful religious leader more decadent than devout; and, affecting all these lives and many more, two larger-than-life mercenary commanders, lifelong adversaries, whose rivalry puts a world in the balance.

Two larger-than-life mercenary commanders, lifelong adversaries, whose rivalry puts a world in the balance … you know, I might have seen a situation like that in a previous GGK title. Well, that kind of conflict certainly seems adequate to frame whatever other kinds of stories Kay is tellling in this new novel of his.

I’m definitely looking forward to this, though I couldn’t begin to guess when I’ll get to it.

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Speeding through audiobooks, really?

Here’s a post that begins, provocatively:

Reading is dead.

The nature of books has evolved. Society and technology have changed. Forcibly, our approach to reading has taken on new forms to accommodate a different way of life.

Obviously that first line is just bait. The article isn’t even arguing this position. I’d say the author is cheating, sticking a line like that in the front of the article and then going off in a different direction. But click through if you wish, read the whole thing, and see if you agree.

But it’s the section on audiobooks that caught my eye. Here’s that entire section:

There is some skepticism behind audio, as some people feel that it doesn’t provide the same level of immersion as reading. A study notes that you can absorb information almost as well through audio as reading (whether they’re fully equal is another topic of debate). In some cases, the narrator’s tone can even help listeners to better understand the meaning behind texts.

The issue with audio, though, is that humans are prone to multi-tasking. If you’re typing up an email or cooking a meal while listening to the narrator, the message can become lost. Personally, I like using audiobooks when I’m less likely to be distracted, such as when waiting around or going for a walk.

Lately, speeding through audiobooks has become popular. Some people zip through a book at 2x, or sometimes even 3x the regular speed. While they claim that no information is lost, should we be approaching material this way?

A book is not simply an open box waiting to be checked off. Going through a book is an experience — one that requires absorbing the material, reflecting on it, and coming out having learned something new. Similar to how creative moments happen during quiet periods, our insights from books happen during periodic pauses.

I have problems with all of this, probably because I’m not interested in audiobooks as a medium by which to learn stuff, but as a medium by which to relieve the tedium of long drives, extended sessions of weeding, and walking the dogs. I don’t particularly care about absorbing information , even if I’m listening to nonfiction; and possibly a certain limit to the “immersion” and the “experience” is desirable if one is listening to a book while driving.

I thought I had a pretty good imagination, but it’s hard to imagine listening to an audiobook while also writing unrelated emails. Is there actual evidence that anybody actually does this on a routine basis? If you, yourself, routinely listen to audiobooks while also writing emails, watching television, holding a conversation with someone on an unrelated topic, reading the newspaper, or anything else remotely similar, please drop that into a comment. Failing to see a comment like that will be taken as evidence that this kind of multitasking, where people are simultaneously putting verbal attention into multiple unrelated tasks, does not actually occur.

I’d agree that “going through a book is an experience,” but not that this experience necessarily involves “learning something new.” I certainly wasn’t listening to the Echoes trilogy to learn something new, and offhand I would suggest that this may not be the primary motivation for anyone who is listening to fiction.

But the primary thing is … speeding through audiobooks? Really?

Are people really listening to audiobooks at two or three times the normal rate? That seems remarkable, and I can’t quite see how that would work. I’m trying to imagine it, for fiction or nonfiction, and frankly I just can’t see it. For fiction, surely that would ruin the experience, even if you don’t define “experience” as including “learning something new.” And for nonfiction, surely speed-listening would almost entirely prevent you from remembering the material?

Well, maybe not. I’m a pretty visual person and never got much out of lectures while I was a student. Maybe someone more oriented toward lectures would find speed-listening a viable option, even though I find the idea mind-bogglingly weird.

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Sharon Shinn: Giveaway of Uncommon Echoes Trilogy

Today, a guest post from Sharon Shinn!

—————————————————————————————

Those of you who regularly read Rachel’s blog know that she has kindly written reviews of my new “Uncommon Echoes” trilogy: Echo in Onyx, Echo in Emerald, and Echo in Amethyst. For those who haven’t seen her reviews, here’s the short description of the trilogy:

In the Kingdom of the Seven Jewels, only the highest nobles are attended by echoes—creatures who look exactly like them, who move with them in perfect synchronicity, but who have no thoughts or volition of their own. Centuries ago during wartime, the echoes were a gift from the triple goddess, who bestowed them as a way to keep nobles safe from constant attempts at assassination.

But what if an echo wasn’t always exactly as it appeared—?

The trilogy was released in March by Audible.com and currently the books are only available in audio. But print and digital editions will be coming out in late June or early July for those who prefer to read the old-fashioned way (if digital counts as old-fashioned).

Rachel invited me to do a giveaway on her blog, so I’m going to give away three free download codes, one for each book. (Taken together, they do tell a single overarching story, but you should be able to read each book on its own with no trouble. If you read one of the later books first, you’ll ruin one or two surprises—but not the biggest surprises.) Let us know in the comments if you’d like to be part of the drawing, and I’ll pick names a week from now, on Monday the 20th.

To give a little more insight into the books, I thought that here I would answer three of the questions I’ve gotten most often since the audiobooks have come out.

1. Where did you get the idea for the echoes?

It’s actually hard to remember! I know I was thinking about what happens when titled nobles get married, and one person brings various servants and companions into the other person’s house, and what kind of tension that might cause. From there it was just a step or two to the concept of the echoes—companions who accompany their originals everywhere they go, from ballroom to dining room to bedroom. How would that work? Wouldn’t it be weird and awkward, at least in some situations? What kind of person would you have to be to not find it weird and awkward? Could I create a story in which echoes just seemed to be a normal part of life? And could I then create a way to disrupt that normalcy so that an echo being “different” could put my main characters in jeopardy?

When I was writing the first book, I joked that my one-sentence description of the story was “‘Orphan Black’ meets The Far Pavilions.” Maybe not quite accurate, but…

2. Why do you switch point-of-view characters in every book?

I’ve done this in almost every series I’ve written. Partly because even when I write a series, I tend to write standalone books—I wrap up the main plot and the main romance in a single story so that a reader who comes to the series at any point can still read and enjoy the book in hand. And partly because world-building is such an important part of the fantasy genre, and once I’ve gone to the trouble of building a world, I find it fun to explore it from a number of different viewpoints.

That was particularly true with this trilogy. Once I’d established the basic concept of the echoes, I wanted to look at a couple of different ways to disrupt the idea—to truly make the echoes “uncommon.” So some of the questions I tackled were: What happens if an echo dies? Would it be possible for someone to move between bodies—from original to echo to echo? Under what circumstances could an echo gain consciousness and a personality of its own? Those story ideas were so dissimilar that I wanted to work with different voices to tell each one.

3. Will you write more echo books?

Maybe! I have an idea for one—about somewhat disreputable twin sisters who pretend to be an echo and an original so they can attend fancy parties and scam the nobles. Of course, Something Goes Wrong and they get swept up in royal intrigue. Not sure yet if I’ll write it, but I think it sounds like fun.

If all that sounds intriguing, sign up today for the drawing! Thanks, Rachel, for the chance to talk about my books.

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Sharon Shinn’s giveaway —

All right, people, this is a head’s up: a guest post by Sharon Shinn will appear here on Monday, and if you’d like a chance to win a code for one of the three Echo books, you’ll want to drop by next week and comment on that post.

You already know I thought these were great to listen to, so if you’ve got any plans for a roadtrip or like to listen to audiobooks while walking your dogs, make a note and be sure to check back next Monday, the 13th of May.

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SFF novels with smaller stakes

Here’s a post about novels where the world doesn’t get saved:

Books that celebrate smaller, more intimate stakes (and shout-out to Eric Smith for introducing me to the phrasing!) and eschew focusing on the larger stakes, though, can feel like they’re far and few between or like they never existed in the first place, which is a shame because people have always written these types of stories too, even won acclaim with them. ... my definition for inclusion on the list is two-fold:

  • No galaxy/world/kingdom-changing plot unless it’s the B-plot (and ideally a C-plot).
  • The book must have been memorable to me for its small stakes.

Before you click through, I will say: the use of “small” or “intimate” stakes in this post is not a synonym for “low tension.” At all. The problems are often on the level of one person’s success or one person’s life, but they’re often pretty dire problems. I’m speaking here of the ones I’ve read myself, obviously. At least one is probably rather society-changing and I question it’s inclusion.

Still, click through and peruse the list if you have a moment. Here are some of the books you’ll find: Greenwich (Susan Cooper), Tombs of Atuan (LeGuin), Beauty (McKinley). Also The Changeling Sea and Winter Rose (McKillip).

With the exception of Greenwich, which was hardly my favorite in that series, these are all books I just loved. And I certainly agree about their intimate focus. The list also includes a whooooole bunch of more recent titles, of which I’ve read only a couple — Scorpio Races (Stiefvater) and Archivist Wasp (Kornher-Stace). I don’t agree that latter one belongs on this list, though I understand why the author of the list declared it did.

There are sooooo many titles that could easily be added. Let me try to add ten more that fit particularly well and that I particularly love. These are not in any order, just as they occurred to me right this minute as I wrote this post.

1.Bone Gap (Ruby)

2. The Girls at the Kingfisher Club (Valentine)

3. The Sharing Knife quadrilogy (LMB)

4. A Closed and Common Orbit (Chambers)

5. The Echoes trilogy (Sharon Shinn)

6. “Blood” (Sharon Shinn), which is from her collection Quatrain.

7. Come to think of it, also Fortune and Fate (Shinn again) I realize it’s kind of cheating to include so many different stories by the same author, but still. You know, actually, The Shapechange’s Wife also fits.

8. Chanur’s Legacy by CJC. This is Hilfy’s story, as you may recall, so the stakes are very high for Hilfy, but the fate of her world and species doesn’t hang on the outcome.

I included one novella above, so here’s another”

9. “Buttercups” (Robin McKinley). That’s in her collection A Knot in the Grain. I think it’s the standout novella in that collection.

10.

I’m sure I could come up with a tenth, but why should I do all the work when all of you are probably saying, “How could she possibly have forgotten ________? Please drop whatever obvious title I’ve forgotten in the comments!

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