Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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SPFBO book sale today and tomorrow

You might recall the self-publishing fantasy blog-off, organized by Mark Lawrence, where a bunch of self-pubbed fantasy novels go head-to-head in challenges on a bunch of blogs.

This is apparently the fifth year of the blog-off, and a whoooole bunch of participating titles are on sale for 99c for a couple more days. Here’s the list. I get that everyone’s already got a teetering TBR pile, but if you’d like a chance to top off your personal TBR pile, well, here you go.

I note that 36 titles are listed as high fantasy, 14 as urban fantasy, 4 as paranormal, 4 as military fantasy, 10as science fantasy, 4 as humorous fantasy, 2 as timeslip, two superhero, four horror fantasy, 1 fairy tale, 1 slice-of-life, 4 romantic fantasy, 10 sword and sorcery, 6 historical fantasy, and 17 as grimdark.

These aren’t actually all self-published, I guess? Because there’s “Snowspelled” by Stephanie Burgis on this list.

I like the cover for The Wretched, but the title, wow, no, talk about off-putting.

I like the cover for Skies of the Empire, and that title is okay.

I like the cover for Strings of Chance, but the title and author’s name interfere with the cover art.

I guess if I were picking just one cover / title that would cause me to click through and read the description on Amazon … Dragons of Esernes. Plus, it’s a series, the whole thing available as a boxed set for 99c. A girl whose job is taking care of a racing dragon. Fine, okay, I’ll pick it up.

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Forbes gets ambitious, picks seven best science fiction works of all time

Seven is a weird number for a list, I think. Makes it seem like the author of the list just didn’t bother shooting for ten. And for a Best Of All Time kind of list, narrowing it down to ten would be fairly impossible anyway.

Worse, Forbes’ list — which is by Paul Tassi — evidently wasn’t put together by asking “What works have been most influential?” or “What works have been most popular?” It seems to be just a personal list, like “Paul Tassi liked these seven works a lot.” Labeling a list like that “Best” anything is a little, well, questionable. James Davis Nicoll, for example, could do much better with a list of this kind, and probably has, simply because he’s a lot more aware of the history of the genre and far more able to justify his choices.

Single detail that invalidates Forbes’ list: Tassi lauds the entire DUNE series. Wasn’t it Jo Walton who commented that with DUNE, every book in the series is half as good as the one previous?

He also includes the entire ENDER’S GAME series, which is . . . more reasonable, I guess . . . but the quality of that series rises and falls dramatically, so just throwing the series on a “best ever” list without further comment does make me feel Tassi is at best being pretty lazy with his list.

Anyway, click through if you’d like to see which works other than the above appear on this list. At least there is a mix of older and more recent works. I don’t find any of the choices that surprising, though I definitely don’t share Tassi’s tastes when it comes to SF.

I don’t feel up to trying to create a list of the Top Ten SF Works of All Time, at least not right now. I can say that I would probably include DUNE, though of course none of the sequels.

Oh, fine, I’ll give it fifteen seconds and see what instant choices occur to me for such a list:

  1. DUNE
  2. ENDER’S GAME
  3. CYTEEN
  4. “Flowers for Algernon”
  5. RINGWORLD
  6. The Xenogenesis trilogy by Butler
  7. The Gaia trilogy by Varley
  8. A FIRE UPON THE DEEP
  9. The Mars Trilogy by KSR
  10. UP THE WALLS OF THE WORLD

There, not going to try to justify those choices, fifteen second limit (more like two minutes, but still). Of course also this is partially a personal-taste list. I like extremely well-done aliens, an influential factor for several of these choices. In fact, maybe I should pull CYTEEN and put on the entire Foreigner series in its place … but, no, I’ll let it stand as guided by my first impulse.

If you were picking something for a best-SF-of-all-time, list, what one work that I missed would have to go on that list?

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About Mapping Winter

Also, a post someone pointed me to … I think Sandstone on Twitter, but not sure … I was pretty much away from internet access during the past couple of weeks, so it’s been a bit difficult to post things in a timely fashion.

But!

Here is Marta Randall’s own post about re-issuing the new version of her Sword of Winter as the new Mapping Winter.

Keep in mind that I really liked the original version. Granted that I read that when it first came out, in 1983, when I was a teenager; I was not likely to say OH, THIS AGAIN when I hit a cliche. Randall herself was disgusted by the pat ending she was pushed to include:

The worst insult was what I was forced do to my characters. Lyeth rescues, and is in turn rescued by, a boy and over the course of the novel she comes to love and cherish him, so that a threat to his life is what drives the book’s conclusion. That was not enough for the editor, who insisted that I turn the boy into a “hidden prince” – you know, that cliched figure who suddenly and with no grounding is revealed to be The Most Important Person, The Answer to All the Questions, end of story. By this time it was more than obvious that the editor had no respect for my work and refused to devote any of his precious and much-lauded editorial talent on it. Harried and almost at my wit’s end, I shoehorned a prince into the book, the editor accepted it, and the book was published at the precise moment that the publisher’s sf/fantasy line imploded. …

If you’re interested, click through and read the whole thing.

If you never read the original book, it’s still available as a used book via Amazon. I do think it would be interesting and fun to read both versions in quick succession.

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Historical true crime

An interesting Book Riot post on a sub-genre I hadn’t previously been aware of: historical true crime. For example, this sounds fictional:

HOW TO RUIN A QUEEN: MARIE ANTOINETTE AND THE DIAMOND NECKLACE AFFAIR BY JONATHAN BECKMAN

Just before the French Revolution, a sensational trial captivated all of Paris. The focal point was Jeanne de la Motte, a con artist accused of spearheading an audacious plan to steal the most expensive piece of jewelry in Europe…and to frame Marie Antoinette for the heist. This book is at once a detective story, a courtroom drama, and a study of credulity and self-deception in the Age of Enlightenment.

I guess this really happened? Because wow, yes, that does sound audacious.

Many other examples of historical true crime books at the link. Here’s one they forgot or at least did not include: The Great Train Robbery. I read that a long time ago … I had not noticed Michael Crichton wrote it … anyway, it was a fun heist story, and at least based on a true story.

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Sesame swirl cake

Not appropriate for the keto diet, but here is a cake recipe I tried recently and really liked. I made it to use up my black sesame seeds, and I’ll have to make it again because I have about that much left even now. Which will not be a hardship. Well worth making.

Sesame swirl tea cake

2 T black sesame seeds

1 1/2 C flour

1 3/4 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 C tahini

1/2 C plain yogurt, or since I turned out to be out of yogurt and almost out of sour cream, I used 1/4 C sour cream and 1/4 C mayonnaise, which worked just fine.

2 eggs

1 C sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 C vegetable oil

1 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil

Grind the black sesame seeds, which will be easy if you have a spice grinder. If you don’t, maybe a mortar and pestle? If you don’t have that, possibly a food processor, though 2 Tbsp of sesame seeds, that’s a challenge for a full-sized food processor. Still, get the seeds ground if you can. They turn into a paste, not a powder.

Whisk together the dry ingredients. Whisk together the tahini and yogurt. Beat the eggs with the sugar for two minutes. Add the oils in a thin stream while beating. Add the dry ingredients in thirds, alternating with half the tahini mixture at a time. Pour half the batter into a different container and stir in the black sesame seeds.

Spoon the batters in big alternating spoonfuls into a greased loaf pan lined with parchment paper. Cut through with a knife to swirl the batters. Bake at 350 degrees for 55-65 minutes, which turned out to be a bit much for my cake, so next time I will try 325 degrees for 55 minutes and see how that works. Cool for ten minutes in the pan, turn out, cool completely — or as completely as normal human impatience allows — slice, and serve.

Both my parents and I thought this was a success. Pretty, too. The original recipe, which I changed only because I ran out of yogurt, is from Bon Appetit.

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50 must-read fantasy novels by women

This is a Book Riot post, so I’m quite curious to see what fifty novels they’ve chosen from among the thousands and thousands of potential titles. I seldom overlap much in my personal tastes with Book Riot posts, so here’s what I’m guessing: very few older titles (say, written more than 20 years ago) except by LeGuin. Almost no overlap between the fifty I might pick and their list. Nothing that I’d personally place in the top ten.

To make those predictions fair, let’s see which ten I might actually put at the top, which I grant making selections is essentially impossible, but let me try real fast.

Okay. Fantasy, not SF. By women. Top ten of all time. Off the top of my head, in no order except how I thought of them, plus making an effort not to just list a bunch by Patricia McKillip:

  1. The Book of Atrix Wolfe by McKillip
  2. The Changeling Sea by McKillip
  3. The Goblin Emperor by “Katherine Addison”
  4. The Shape-Changer’s Wife by Shinn
  5. Beauty by McKinley
  6. The Lens of the World by MacAvoy
  7. Fortress in the Eye of Time by Cherryh
  8. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrill by Clarke
  9. Inda series by Sherwood Smith
  10. The Raksura series by Martha Wells

Gosh, that was … random. I feel like I could easily pull half the books (and series) off that list and replace them with others. I feel like I could do that half a dozen times with no trouble. I suppose for once I feel like fifty is not too long for a list and than ten is too short. But fine, I’ll go with the above just so I can move on, look at the Book Riot post, and see (a) if there’s any overlap between those ten and their fifty.

Also, I want to count:

b) How many of their fifty I’ve read;

c) How many of their fifty I’ve liked / thought were great even if I didn’t like them;

d) How many of their fifty were published more than twenty years ago.

And …. looks like ….

a) One book appears on both lists: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrill. I can’t say this was actually my favorite book of all time. I liked it, but I doubt I’ll ever read it again. Nevertheless, I think it is great literature and deserves to be a true classic.

b) I’ve read twelve books of their fifty.

c) I liked eight of those twelve; but I do think some of those are overrated.

d) The dates of publication aren’t listed, but offhand I’d say that zero of the works listed were written more than twenty years ago. Oh, I take that back. Mercedes Lackey’s title was published way before that. I think that’s the only one. Never read it myself (Arrows of the Queen). Everything else was published more recently, mostly much more recently.

Well, there, then. That’s officially my biggest problem with the Book Riot list: a near-complete bias against older works. It’s a real shame to see older authors forgotten and older titles ignored.

If you were going to put one “must read” title on this kind of list — fantasy, woman author — and the title had to have been published before 2000, which single title would you choose?

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Stimulants in fantasy worlds

Here’s a post from Marie Brennan at Book View Cafe: New Worlds: Stimulants

The post caught my eye largely because I just finished reading the Memoirs of Lady Trent series. Brennan says:

For whatever reason, I feel like I encounter chocolate only rarely in stories — books like Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s Sorcery and Cecelia(later subtitled or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot) being the exception. I’d also love to know if the depiction of tobacco in science fiction and fantasy has dropped off over time, as smoking becomes less acceptable in real life. As for chewables — coca leaves, betel nuts, and khat — I’m not sure I’ve ever seen them in a secondary world story, except for me putting an unnamed coca-type plant into Within the Sanctuary of Wings. Even chewing tobacco only seems to show up in things that are explicitly trying to feel like Westerns.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a chewable stimulant in any SFF novel either, except that one. Anybody?

Honestly, though, the reason chocolate is encountered rarely is probably that everyone knows cocoa is a New World plant. Right? People may not know that peanuts originated in South America, then were transplanted to Africa, then were transplanted from Africa to North America. But everyone pretty much does know that chocolate is New World. So if you put chocolate into a fantasy novel, that does odd things to the feel of the world.

Stuff that seems normal in a bog-standard fantasy setting: wheat, wild boar, wolves, beer (or ale), tea. Stuff that seems out of place: pronghorn antelope, elephants, potatoes, chocolate.

Incidentally, I’ll raise my hand as someone who needs caffeine to function — but I don’t like coffee or tea (or soda, for that matter). I take 100 mg of caffeine in tablet form the minute I get up every morning. It helps prevent headaches — and it does also make me feel more awake, so at least I understand why people swear by coffee.

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Recent Reading: The complete Memoirs of Lady Trent series by Marie Brennan

I didn’t set out to read the whole series. I have recently been too distracted by real-life stuff . . . that is, by the puppies, of course . . . to work on anything of my own, so I thought this would be a good time to read the final couple books of this series, which had been on my physical-book shelves since whenever they came out. (Checking, I see the final book came out in 2017, so that hasn’t been so very long by my standards.)

So I went back and re-read the third book to get back into the series, since I’d only read it once. Then I went on to the fourth book. Only I didn’t have the fourth book, it turned out. Or if I did, it was buried somewhere in a pile of books, not on the shelf where it belonged. The fifth was right there, but not the fourth! How annoying, when you think you have all the books of a series and settle down to read them and then one is missing! So I had to order it, and while waiting, I went back and re-read the second and then the first books. So I read the whole series, only inside out, starting in the middle and then going backward before getting the fourth book and going forward.

And yes, I could have gotten the fourth book in ebook format, but (a) I don’t like to break a series up in different editions like that; and (b) the covers and artwork and physical appearance of this series are THE BEST, so I honestly wanted the hardcovers. Here they are, in all their naturalistic glory:

Which is your favorite cover? I find it impossible to choose. Perhaps the fourth. Or possibly the first. They’re all so good. The interior artworks is also excellent. So few books get to have interior art, yet it’s such a plus when one does. Or at least, I think so.

Now that I’ve finally finished the series, how do I like it?

I like it a lot — the overall story as much as the artwork and covers

Way back when I read the first book, I saw various criticisms of the ethnocentric attitude of the protagonist and also criticism of the protagonist’s attitude regarding killing the occasional dragon for the purposes of studying its anatomy. My own perception is very different from that of such critics because unlike them (I surmise), I have read actual nineteenth-century books by actual nineteenth-century naturalists, recounting their travels to China or wherever to acquire specimens for museums and so on. Let me tell you, Marie Brennan toned those kinds of attitudes WAY down to make her books more accessible to modern readers. WAY WAY down. She left just barely enough to capture the general “feel” or “tone” of that class of British naturalist, which she did with amazing success. This actually reminds me of Gillian Bradshaw’s historicals set in Classical Greece or Rome. There again, Bradshaw toned down various cultural attributes, such as the general compete indifference to the suffering of unrelated people, in order to make her stories accessible to modern readers. When you’re writing historicals – which the Memoirs of Lady Trent are, in a very real sense, despite the secondary world setting – then that is something the author is going to have to do.

Also, I think the critics were wrong in a more basic sense, as the Isabella, Lady Trent, becomes aware of her insular attitudes in the very first book and shows a great deal of personal growth very quickly – more quickly than is perhaps plausible – shedding ethnocentric attitudes left and right and becoming far more able to deal with highly diverse cultures. This stands her in good stead late in the series, when she –

Ah, never mind. Important spoiler there, if you have not actually read the full series.

Okay, so, spoiler-free comments below:

a) The whole series is excellent, with unusual consistency in quality throughout. My favorite may be the third book. Or maybe the fourth. Or possibly the fifth.

b) There’s a lot of intellectual enjoyment here. The nearest equivalent to this series that I can think of is the Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein. That is different in many ways (plus unfortunately unfinished as yet) but still very similar in, if you will, attitude. If you loved one series, you should certainly try the other, though the tone of the Lady Trent series is drier and, since it’s in memoir form, feels much less immediate.

Another comparison might be CJC’s Foreigner series. Again, very different in a lot of ways, and yet I do think it’s an apt comparison. Imagine the Foreigner series as told in memoir form by Ilisidi, and honestly you might get rather close to the Lady Trent series. That one would give you more of a focus on politics, of course, and no dragons, but still. (Wouldn’t Ilisidi’s memoirs make fascinating reading!)

c) Although I predicted some events (that were admittedly clearly forecast), I totally did not expect the big thing that happened in the fifth book. I was taken by surprise even though I suspected some aspects of that thing. Brennan set it up cleverly.

d) These are mostly slowish in pace, so the reader should ideally be in the mood to settle down and enjoy that kind of story. Because Isabella is, let’s say, not especially emotionally volatile, a reader who enjoys an intellectual journey rather than a lot of emoting will probably enjoy this series more than other readers.

Not to stereotype YA literature, but let us say that if a reader has mostly been into YA, this series might come as something of a departure. I’m tempted to recommend it just for that reason. Diverse in many ways, modern YA seems pretty uniform in preferring emotional intensity, immediacy of “feel,” fast pace, and teenage protagonists. I believe it’s regrettable that young readers today are essentially being told that they should only be able identify with teen protagonists and only enjoy highly emotional stories. This series showcases an entirely different style. I would have loved it as a teenaged reader – a naturalist view of dragons! – and I’m sure some of today’s younger readers would too, especially if they tend toward science and animal behavior, as I did.

e) The science behind the dragons is implausible, but delightful. I don’t buy that you could get, say, varying numbers of limbs in this way. Nevertheless, it’s fun to take environmentally induced lability of development – which of course is very much a real thing – and run with it. This book almost reads like science fiction rather than fantasy; hence the comparisons that come to my mind are not fantasy. The memoir format offers a great advantage, as Isabella is able to make offhanded comments about the state of scientific knowledge during the entire span of her life to date. That’s one of the (many) techniques Brennan uses to make the science in the series feel so real.

This series reminds me of my longstanding desire to redesign the high school science curriculum as a history of science curriculum, something that treats science as a process and an attitude and a type of thought and a mode of discovery, rather than the way it is actually taught, as a handful of Revealed Truths, or actually Revealed Science-y Factoids. I think the reason people today are so susceptible to magical thinking and pseudoscience is that we do not teach any science at all in primary or secondary school, or for that matter in college. We just teach Factoids of Science, as Revealed by the Teacher. Well, never mind, that’s a rant for another day.

Back to the Lady Trent series. Final thought: this series has to be in the all-time top ten for sheer beauty of the actual physical books. Major kudos to the Tor production team for every single design decision that went into this series. Just a fabulous job. There is hardly another series out there where I would deliberately choose to get the hardcovers – even though I now need reading glasses to comfortably read them! – rather than the ebooks. I hear the audio version is also very good, which is great, but again, hardcovers all the way for me for this series. I always keep one or another volume turned face-out on my shelves so that I can enjoy the covers every time I pass through my library.

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Puppies are distracting

Allow me to present the “twins.” Two singletons, due on the same day. I had one c-section done two days early, the other at term, for good and sufficient reasons too complicated to go into. This was July 10th and 12th.

The b/t puppy was 5.7 oz at birth, implying perhaps a poor uterine attachment because that is tiny for a singleton puppy. She took off fast and has hardly been a moment’s trouble.

The Blenheim was 10.4 oz at birth, much more reasonable. She was trouble free for 8 days, suddenly began nursing ineffectively, required tube feeding, aspirated milk into her lungs while asleep — which I have never heard of, but I was looking right at her when it happened — but is now recovering well. That was an exciting week ago. I am happy to report that she is doing much better. She will be on Clavamox for another several days, as aspiration leads generally to pneumonia and she was certainly showing symptoms of that kind.

As I said, doing well now. Nursing fine, but also starting on real food.

So! I feel secure enough at this point to consider names.

The b/t puppy’s father is Ch Snowbird Wicked Good Wizard, call name Merlin. I am thinking of sticking with an Arthurian theme for these puppies, which are my M and N litters.

That would suggest Anara Morgan Le Fey for the black puppy, and Anara Nimue Du Lac for the Blenheim puppy. I like the name Morgan as a call name, not sure about Nimue, though I do like that name. Shorter, one- or two-syllable name would be nice. Nim, Nym, Nymph?

Incidentally, it turns out Cavalier moms, at least mine, are quite willing to tolerate each other and take on mothering duties for both puppies. Kim made my life so much easier by taking care of both babies when Chloe’s mothering instincts took a couple days to come in properly, and now that Kim (like her own mother at this point, in fact) is less interested in motherhood, Chloe is happy to interact with the babies, who are just now getting playful.

So, that’s been my priority for the past few weeks. Barring (another) disaster, the babies should be far, far less trouble for the next little while.

Then… housetraining!

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