Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Fifteen Opening Scenes

So, that recent post on some of Gene Wolfe’s opening sentences has put me in the mood for a First Sentence post. Plus I happen to have accumulated fifteen new books and samples on my Kindle, one of which is actually by Gene Wolfe himself. Let’s take a look, starting with that one.

Some of these I acquired because of BookBub ads, by the way; and you may remember others cropping up in the comments of one fairly recent post or another. About a third are samples; the rest I have the whole book. I’m not going to mention which are which, especially as this doesn’t reflect how enthusiastic or hopeful I feel about the novel; it’s more a simple reflection of price. Those BookBub sales are often so good that I just pick up the book outright rather than opting for a sample.

I tried initially to limit myself to just the first sentences, but so often if you just go on for a bit, you get a much better look at the opening. These are mostly the first paragraph, or several paragraphs if the paragraphs are short:

1. Pandora, by Holly Hollander, by Gene Wolfe

The German 88 mm gun was undoubtedly the most famous artillery piece of World War II. It fired a 22 lb shell and could pick off a tank a mile away. The Germans called it the “Gun Flak;” it weighted 5.5 tons, it had an extreme range of nine miles, and it killed thousands of Russian, British, and American soldiers.

I got all that out of a book.

A shell from a German 88 almost killed my father, twice. I didn’t get that from the book – he told me about it the first time.

Okay, I have to say, I think this is definitely an engaging opening. I can hardly imagine a reader getting just this far and not turning the page.

2. Liberty, by Alasdair Shaw

The suns reflected off her mirrored glasses as she walked across the dry grassland. A scarf covered her face against the dust whipped up by the occasional gust of wind. Her grey robe parted with every step, revealing glimpses of the black firmsuit underneath. She carried no weapons; they wouldn’t help her this time.

You see how the author tries to establish tension right away. I think this is pretty effective.

3. A Thousand Nights by EK Johnston

We do not know why we came from the sea to this hard and dusty earth, but we know that we are better than it.

The creatures that live here crawl beneath a crippling sun, eking what living they can from the sand before they are returned to it, as food for the sand-crows or worse. We are not troubled by the sun, and sand is but a source of momentary discomfort to us. We are stronger, hardier, and better suited to life. Yet we struggled here, when first we came.

All this is italicized in the original. I suspect we might be listening in on a story here rather than actually starting the real novel. Or this might be a prologue. I like it, either way. It’s got poetry and rhythm.

4. To Journey in the Year of the Tiger, by H Leighton Dickson

It was hard to believe that a man could see twenty-three winters before he began to live. It is harder even to believe that his life began all at once, on one night, with the occurring of three obscure and apparently random things: the death of a bird, the flash of golden eyes, and the first of One Hundred Steps. But for Kirin Wynegarde-Grey, it did happen, just this way. His life began, as all great and terrible things do, in the Year of the Tiger.

I like the last sentence quoted above. I am less keen on the way the author starts so many independent clauses with “It” – that’s a weak way to begin a sentence imo – and also not super-keen on the repeated use of the word “things.” If a student brought me an English paper with these features, I would suggest that many instructors don’t care for fake subjects like “it” or for vague nouns like “things.” Looking at student papers may have left me over-sensitized to stuff instructors dislike, though. What do you think? On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best, how well does this opening work for you?

5. The Years of Rice and Salt, by Kim Stanley Robinson

Monkey never dies. He keeps coming back to help us in times of trouble, just as he helped Tripitaka through the dangers of the first journey to the west, to bring Buddhism back from India to China.

Now he had taken on the form of a small Mongol named Bold Bardash, horseman in the army of Temur the Lame. Son of a Tibetan salt trader and a Mongol innkeeper and spirit woman, and thus a traveler from before the day of his birth, up and down and back and forth, over mountains and rivers, across deserts and steppes, crisscrossing always the heartland of the world.

I’m biased here because I think the concept for this novel is neat and because I think KSR is a fine writer, especially for setting and plot, if not necessarily for characters that are powerfully engaging. Anyway, I like this. I like the artistic fragment this selection ends with.

6. Mansfield Park Revisited, by Joan Aiken

The sudden and unexpected death of Sir Thomas Bertram, while abroad engaged on business relating to his various properties in the West Indies, could be a cause of nothing but sorrow, dismay, and consternation to the baronet’s friends in England.

You remember the post about “sequels” by authors other than the original author of the series. The next several entries came from that post and its comments. All I can say at this point is that Aiken seems to me to have captured Austen’s style with sentences.

7. Thrones, Dominions: A Lord Peter Wimsey mystery by Jill Paton Walsh

”I do not,” said Monsieur Théophile Daumier, “understand the English.”

“Nor does anybody,” replied Mr. Paul Delagardie, “themselves least of all.”

We’ll just have to see. I would have really liked Sayers to write more Peter Wimsey novels after Lord Peter’s marriage to Harriet. I would be very happy to like this novel, but who knows?

8. Fair Winds and Homeward Sail: Sophy Croft’s Story, by Sherwood Smith

Miss Sophia Wentworth shivered, her back pressed against the empty fireplace in what had once been her family’s little sitting room. It was nearly empty of furniture, forcing the mourners to stand.

A fresh gust of wind caused the steady rain to tap at the fogging windows, but it was not the emptiness, the damp, or the bitter November air that had so thoroughly banished all the cheer fro the once-cozy chamber. That was entirely due to those gathered inside.

Sherwood Smith occasionally writes a post at Book View Café about Regencies and other historicals, or about Jane Austen, or about some related topic. If anybody can write an Austen sequel, surely she can. I look forward to trying this one.

9. Beginner’s Luck by Kate Clayborn

They never could remember whose idea it had been, finally, to buy the ticket.

This was frustrating for them all, not because any one of them wanted to have special claim on the ticket – whatever else they’d forgotten about the night, none of them ever questioned the fact that the ticket had been for all three of them, that they’d split the winnings on the off-chance they won. It was frustrating because it seemed so unlike all of them to even think of buying a lottery ticket.

I remember nothing about why I picked up a sample or the whole book for this one, but I do find this quite charming and engaging.

10. Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien

You know in the movies when someone says, “You can’t fire me, I quit!” … maybe don’t do that in real life. Unless you don’t mind working as a server in your parents’ Chinese restaurant for the rest of your life.

A cozy mystery, obviously. I hope I like it, but from this opening I get the impression that the protagonist is probably young, impulsive, overly dramatic, and not really someone I will appreciate. We’ll see how the story looks a few pages or a chapter further in.

11. Death Came in Through the Kitchen by Teresa Dovalpage

The Cuban customs officer lifted an eyebrow at the bridal gown – a white satin bodice with tulle appliqués, sheer sleeves, and a two-foot train – and took a long, suspicious look at the couple.

I remember a bit about the description of this mystery. I’m certain to go on with it because of the interesting setting

12. A Kiss Before the Apocalypse by Thomas E Sniegoski

It was an unusual warm mid-September day in Boston. The kind of day that made one forget that the oft-harsh New England winter was on its way, just waiting around the corner, licking its lips and ready to pounce.

Remy Chandler sat in his car at the far end of the Sunbeam Motor Lodge parking lot, sipping his fourth cup of coffee and wishing he had a fifth.

I have no idea why I picked this up. It seems okay, I guess? I’ll just have to go on with it and see how it unfolds over the next few pages.

13. The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

The new client sat in the chair reserved for customers, levelly gazing at The Shadow’s Child – hands apart, legs crossed under the jade-green fabric of her tunic. The tunic itself had been high quality once, displaying elegant, coordinated patterns, but it was patched, and the patterns were five years old at least, the stuff that got laughed at even in a provincial backwater such as the Scattered Pearls belt. Her skin was dark, her nose aquiline. When she spoke, her accent was flawlessly Inner Habitats. “My name is Long Chau. You have a good reputation as a brewer of serenity. I want to use your services.”

Now, this one, I know why I picked up. I’ve heard a good deal about it. I’ve only read a little of Aliette de Bodard’s work so far – Red Station Drifting – which I didn’t really like because I didn’t like any of the characters. I love this opening, though. A brewer of serenity! That makes this opening for me.

14. Strangehold by Rene Sears

Water slapped against the side of the boat. Matthew pulled the oars hard, pulse beating in his throat. The boat rocked into shore, bottom catching on sand. Matthew pulled in his breath and waited. He needed to set foot on the shore, but he couldn’t make himself. He hovered, hands clenched on the boat’s edge, then pushed himself out.

His foot splashed into shallow water. No one died. He stepped onto land.

No matter what happened next, it was a sweet step.

This neither appeals to me nor turns me off. It’s another where I’ll just have to go on for a bit and see how it unfolds.

15. In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennen

So far, magic school was total rubbish.

Elliot sat on the fence bisecting two fields and brooded tragically over his wrongs.

He had been plucked from geography class, one of his most interesting classes, to take some kind of scholarship test out in the wild. Elliot and three other kids from his class had been packed into a van by their harassed-looking French teacher and driven outside the city. Elliot objected because after an hour in a moving vehicle he would be violently sick. The other kids objected because after an hour in a moving vehicle, they would be violently sick of Elliot.

Elliot ignored the other kids and hung his head out of the window. In a disdainful way.

What a total twit Elliot seems! But Sarah Rees Brennen is playing that up for all its worth and I get the feeling the pov might turn out to be fun. Also, this beginning is so artful. I especially like the fragment that ends this selection. That’s just wonderful.

Okay, which of these fifteen selections catches your eye in a good way (or a bad way)?

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Books about learning to talk to aliens

Here is a post by Martha Wells on tor.com: 5 Books About Learning to Communicate with Alien Species

By a not terribly remarkable coincidence, I’ve read all five (well, six really) of her choices. (This isn’t remarkable because I read one of them on her recommendation.)

Her choices are:

Leviathan’s Deep by Jayge Carr — I loved that book and read it to pieces. I should re-read it again. The aliens aren’t too very alien in this one.

Survivor by Octavia Butler — ditto for this one, though if I remember correctly, Butler herself didn’t like it and never had it re-issued. I’m glad I have a copy because I love it. Like Martha, I read it when I was a teenager; just as she says, it had a big impact on me.

The Chanur books. OF COURSE.

A Judgment of Dragons
by Phyllis Gotlieb. This is the one I read on Martha’s recommendation.

Uhura’s Song and Hellspark by Janet Kagan. YES YES YES. Both are wonderful. The first is a Star Trek tie-in and the second is an original-world SF novel. I love them both soooo much. What a shame Janet Kagan didn’t write two dozen more novels.

Okay, so, click through and read Martha’s comments about her choices.

Now, let’s make this a list of ten rather than five (or six). It’s trickier than it might be because Martha Wells already got so many of the ones I would have thought of. But let’s see:

6. Embassytown by China Mieville isn’t my favorite book ever, but what he did with the aliens and the humans and the attempts of each to understand the other was fantastic. Not totally believable, mind you.

Avice Benner Cho, a human colonist, … cannot speak the Ariekei tongue, but she is an indelible part of it, having long ago been made a figure of speech, a living simile in their language.

It’s a wild idea, and as I say, not entirely believable. But fantastic anyway.

7. FOREIGNER! The entire Foreigner series! It is this! I mean, you could put a lot of CJC’s books into this category, but the Chanur books and this series are the ones that really make communication-with-aliens the central thing.

8. Oh, I know! A Darkling Sea by James Cambias. There’s a great choice right there. Wonderful aliens, two kinds; one much more alien than the other. There’s one I truly do need to re-read, and sooner rather than later. Communication issues abound between humans and both alien species.

9. The only really believable telepathic aliens ever: The Tines in A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge. Those two kids who are lost on the planet; what a challenge they face as they try to figure out how to communicate with the aliens and whom they can trust.

10. Your entry here: ______________________________________________________________________________

What novels can you think of that showcase communication between humans and aliens?

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You don’t have enough real problems —

When you are complaining about the boring design of eReaders.

Does anyone else think that ereader designs have gotten, well, rather boring?

I was looking at the new Jezetek ereaders this morning when I couldn’t help noticing how similar they looked to all other Kindle competitors out there. They were basic black rectangles with a screen and a few buttons, just like Onyx and Kobo’s devices.

I don’t know about Nate Hoffelder, author of the post linked above, but I mainly use my Kindle to read books, not as a centerpiece for the dining room table. Somehow it never occurred to me to consider the actual appearance of the physical object, rather than its ease of use and the appearance of the text on its screen.

Top Three Things I Don’t Care About:

The physical appearance of my eReader, as opposed to its functionality.

The physical appearance of my phone, as opposed to its functionality.

The snazzy design or lack thereof of my laptop, as opposed to its functionality.

When the device in question is meant to perform a function or a set of functions, then my attention is on the functions, not the color of the casing.

Functionality does include physical dimensions, weight, and placement of buttons. One of the reasons I like reading on my Kindle is that it is light and easy to hold with either hand, whether my tendinitis issue is acting up or not. Functionality does not include color or a streamlined space-age look or whatever Hoffelder seems to care about.

I may be out at the far end of this probability curve, though, as I also barely care at all about the physical appearance of my car either. I gather a lot of people care a lot about cars, but I don’t really get this. I don’t want it to look like a total junker, but other than that I don’t care. So maybe the majority of people are dying for zebra stripes on their eReaders or something. How about it? Do you care whether your eReader stands out from the crowd as a physical object?

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Gene Wolfe’s Beginning Sentences

Great post by Matthew Keeley at tor.com: Begin at the Beginning: The Great Opening Sentences of Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe is probably the greatest writer I haven’t managed to appreciate. I read about, I dunno, a third of The Shadow of the Torturer when I was pretty young, and I must admit I didn’t like it at all. Torturer = hard sell for me, and besides that the story went on and on and on and Severian wasn’t even out of the city yet. I was more impatient back then, or else other elements conspired to keep me from tolerating the slow build. Like, I mean, the protagonist is a torturer.

Anyway, that was it for me. Yet I think essentially everyone agrees that Gene Wolfe is a world-class stylist. I know perfectly well he has written many books that do not feature a torturer as the main character and are not set in the same world. In fact I have The Wizard Night on my TBR shelves right now, in the hope that it will be different enough to work for me.

Since I know perfectly well that Wolfe is a much-admired writer and stylist, this post caught my eye even though I have never actually read any of his books.

Here is what Keeley says about The Wizard Knight’s opening:

The Knight, the first half of The Wizard Knight, is framed as a letter from the narrator. It begins: “You must have stopped wondering what happened to me a long time ago; I know it has been many years.” We learn soon enough that the narrator quite literally vanished off the face of our earth and that he is writing to his brother. In his new world, The Wizard Knight’s narrator styles himself Able of the High Heart, yet more often he seems to be Able of the High Hand: He is frequently callous, occasionally brutal, and consistently insensitive. In retrospect, we can see this from the first sentence. What kind of brother does Able think he has? Who would ever stop wondering?

Well, I don’t know that this comment makes me more likely to shuffle the book to the top of the TBR pile. But we’ll see. I should try it just to find out if it will ever work for me. That way I can give it away promptly rather than keeping it around indefinitely.

Keeley only shows three beginning sentences in this post. Too bad! But there are comments about some of Wolfe’s other books, so that’s good.

This one sounds perhaps a touch more appealing than The Knight:

Pirate Freedom is a relatively recent book and a comparatively straightforward one; I wouldn’t rank it as his best, though it’s among his most accessible and includes, should you ever need them, useful pointers on surviving a knife fight.

Hey, you never know when you might need such tips, right? Anyway, “among his most accessible” is the sentence I noticed here.

Here’s another comment about one of Wolfe’s standalones: The Devil in a Forest is another comparatively simple book, about growing up and the glamor of evil.

Well, ugh. Thus we see how a quick one-sentence review can do the job for a potential reader. “Accessible” isn’t a word that normally matters to me in a review, but for Wolfe it is a plus. “About growing up and the glamour of evil” is a huge turn-off and instantly makes me take that one off my list of Gene-Wolfe-Books-To-Try. Only if I fell in love with other books of his would I try a story about the glamour of evil.

If you’ve read a lot of Gene Wolfe’s books, which would you recommend to someone new to his work, and why?

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The ridiculous things bullies think up amaze me

Had you heard about this?

Cockygate: Faleena Hopkins Has Registered a Trademark on Cocky, and is Using it to Threaten Other Romance Authors

I heard about it on Twitter first, and now The Passive Guy has a post about it.

The comments on both posts are quite educational and sometimes funny, so click through and read some of those if you have time.

Here’s an example of a threat that an author named Jamilla Jasper received:

Hi Jamilla,

My name is Faleena Hopkins, author of Cocker Brothers, The Cocky Series,

The Federal Trademark Commission has granted me the official registered trademark of the word/mark “Cocky”, no matter the font.

Trademark Registration number: 5447836

I am writing to you out of professional respect so that you may rename your book “Cocky Cowboy” which shares the same title as my book, and republish all of the versions (ebook, paperback, and Audible) on Amazon to keep your ratings and money earned. My attorney at Morris Yom Entertainment Law has advised me that if I sue you I will win all the monies you have earned on this title, plus lawyer fees will be paid by you as well. I will do that – but I would rather give you the option. I have had this series established since June 16, 2016 and I take all of the hard work I put into establishing it very seriously. Your hard work I also take seriously.

You have the opportunity to adjust, rename, and republish before taking further action. You can do so on Amazon without losing reviews.

Thank you,

Faleena Hopkins

Can you imagine? I mean, really?

It makes me want to immediately write a romance novel with “cocky” in the title so that I could get one of these threats and compose a suitable answer. Though you’d think her lawyer would tell her she is out on a very thin limb here, apparently Hopkins is still sending these types of letters to people and continues to try to get Amazon to remove random romances with “cocky” in the title from their ebook store and so on. This suggests she genuinely thinks she has a case. And yet … suppose that she thinks she is completely right, legally. I know, but just suppose that she does. Even if she were correct legally, which seems quiiiite unlikely given the comments at Passive Voice, this would still be such a mean, bullying thing to do. I’m glad to learn that trademarking random words for your own special use is not possible, but who … who … would think of trying to do it and then bullying random people for daring to use Your Special Word? What an unpleasant person this Hopkins seems to be.

Well, at least a lot of authors, including me, are learning something about trademark law from this, so that’s a plus.

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Show Shots From This Past Weekend

I did get some actual writing done this weekend because Cavaliers went in the ring quite late all three days. It’s the sort of writing where you start with 186 pages and fiddle around for three hours and get a lot done and wind up with 180 pages … like that. I am about finished fiddling, after which I should be able to start moving forward again. That will be nice.

But every afternoon, I drove to Purina Farms, showed Conner and Leda, and drove home.

Then I just hung out doing nothing much the rest of each day. I’m not an evening person anyway, and driving long distances make me tired and often a bit head-achy.

It was a worthwhile weekend, though. Conner picked up three more points by getting Best of Winners each day. Good job Conner! I was not surprised at all. He really is a handsome young dude and very, very few judges seem to care about that mustache of his. He has nine points now, so he has caught up to his litter-sister Kimmie. He took twelve one-point shows to do it, whereas unbeatable Kimmie did it in nine straight shows. Now they each need just six points to finish their championships, but they have to get them three at a time, as “majors.”

Leda, Conner and Kim’s 9-month-younger sister, got Winners on Saturday, so that was her first point. That judge liked her structure and movement and general type enough to forgive her iffy bite. I was a bit surprised and quite pleased. She is a very nice puppy and shows VERY well given her age (7 months) and level of training (zero). (I do appreciate a puppy who is a born show girl and makes me look like a great trainer instead of a totally lazy trainer.) Naturally I made a note of the judge, though I don’t know that he would decide the same way if Leda were older. Judges are sometimes more forgiving about bites in puppies because they know the bite can change (and I sure hope it does, in the correct direction).

Well, I was showing as much as possible recently because the point schedule changes on the 16th of this month. After that date, till this time next year, in Missouri and Illinois, it’ll take ten girls entered at one show to make a 3-point major in girls. Eight boys, which is even less likely because there are almost always (many) more girls entered than boys. Those numbers are hopeless. I haven’t seen more than four to six girls entered anywhere near here for more than a year — generally fewer. I don’t plan to enter any more shows in Missouri or Illinois this year and I most sincerely hope no one else does either. Let the AKC bring the points down to some reasonable level if they want entries from Cavalier people in this region.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, it’s only 6-6 for a major — that is, six boys or six girls. That makes Arkansas look sooooo inviting. Kentucky and Indiana need seven girls, which is also not bad. I spoke to another Cavalier person this weekend and traded contact information. I believe we will be arranging to enter as many of our girls as possible (five between the two of us) in one or two Arkansas shows. With luck (and one more entry from some random person), we will build a major and then win it. I could honestly see Conner and Kimmie finishing together in just one weekend, Kimmie to make the major in girls and Conner beating her for Best of Winners even if he is the only boy entered. That means he would “cross-over” so that he would also get a major. Then I could pull Kimmie out of any remaining shows to give other girls a chance to win. (You see I immodestly expect Kimmie to beat all other girls. Well, Kimmie is really very pretty! Plus I am probably a little tiny bit biased. And a bit overly optimistic.)

Here are a few of my favorite shots from this weekend’s show. That Golden just happened to look wonderful at the moment I snapped the picture. The others are a Kerry Blue whose handler posed her for me, a Papillon who posed on his own, and a Beauceron puppy who was just ultra charming but difficult to catch in a microsecond of stillness.

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Recent Reading: Precious Dragon by Liz Williams

So, Precious Dragon is the third book in the Inspector Chen series, set in Singapore Three. And Hell. Quite a bit of this one is set in Hell.

I went on with this series largely because after I posted about the second book, Pete Mack said that both Heaven and Hell were going to come under new management and then the general situation would start to improve. This was exactly what I needed to hear, because the general worldbuilding was pushing some of my claustrophobia buttons. This is not literal claustrophobia; it has to do with dislike of a world where people are mostly stuck in pretty awful lives followed by (in Liz Williams’ particular world) pretty awful afterlives, with not much of a way out. For me, any setting with this feature sets a fairly significant barrier in the way of reading enjoyment no matter how good other aspects of the book may be. This is probably why it took me years to read the second Inspector Chen book even though I liked the first.

Well, I didn’t realize that things would start moving in a better direction quite so promptly after the second book, but this is the book where the new management happens. I suppose mentioning that could count as a spoiler, but it’s clear the story is heading in that direction from pretty early on. In fact, a lot of the plot is predictable by the time you get halfway through it – say, about the time Zhu Irzh acquires his grandfather’s heart. Maybe earlier than that. This is fine! At least, it was fine for me, because of course the fun part is seeing how everyone gets to the ending. Plenty of twists along the way.

Also, in this story, so many minor characters have pretty satisfactory endings. I liked that. I was especially fond of Mrs Pa and her grandson. Here is one of my favorite tidbits:

The days had settled into a routine. Each morning, Mrs Pa and her new grandson walked down to the market. Everyone made a great fuss over Precious Dragon. Mrs Pa had been hard put to explain how, after being married for only a few days and being, in any case, dead, her daughter had somehow managed to produce a two-year-old child with the demeanor and vocabulary of an elderly gentleman, but people seemed to understand. It was pretty odd, but then so were a great many things.

I found this whole thing with Mrs Pa and her grandson completely charming, even though Williams is not the least bit subtle about Precious Dragon. You could say the author is hinting and foreshadowing stuff about this character, but it’s really more like dropping Heavy Clue Anvils on the reader. However, she must have done that on purpose because it would be impossible to view anything about Precious Dragon as subtle. I liked everything about Mrs Pa and her daughter Mai, though, and I enjoyed Precious Dragon very much.

Exactly why Mai (Mrs Pa’s daughter) ever got involved in this situation is totally not clear to me. I wonder if it gets explained in the 4th book? Right now it looks like one heckava coincidence that Mai winds up in the right spot to do this and that and take place in various events.

I liked Chen here, but he played a very minor role in the book and honestly did not need to be there. Zhu Irzh works well for me in this one, though; and we did see just a little of Inari for a change. But as far as I’m concerned, Mrs Pa stole the show for the book.

Well, regardless of Clue Anvils and mysterious coincidences, I liked this installment a lot, certainly better than the second book, and I’m will be going on to the 4th book quite soon. I’ve been ordering these as used hardcovers because I like the covers much better than the kindle editions; however, I see the fifth book is essentially unavailable except in kindle format. Oh, well. I am not such a stickler about sticking to a single format for a series as I used to be. At least all the books are available in one form or another.

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Great Siblings in SFF

Naturally this is a topic that comes up from time to time, as readers of taste and discernment obviously like stories that emphasize great sibling relationships. Also, I thought of it because Lili just posted this review of The Mountain of Kept Memory at her blog Utopia State of Mind, in which she said, “The relationship between the two siblings … is at the heart of the novel, and only strengthened by the dual perspective. Both of them stand so well on their own – having their own quirks and weaknesses – but together they are stunning.”

So that’s satisfying! Also, doesn’t that immediately make you want to list off other SFF stories where sibling relationships are central? Well, it does me, so:

Ten Wonderful SFF Stories Where Siblings are Central:

1) The Mountain of Kept Memory, which gets to go first because after all it sparked this post.

2) The Black Dog series, because hey, obviously.

3) Before we leave my personal books, one more: House of Shadows. In the sequel, Door Into Light – which I still expect to bring out later this year – we will see a little more of some of many sisters mentioned in the first book.

Plenty of room left for authors who aren’t me! Onward –

4) The Demon’s Lexicon trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennen, which is just about the first story I think of when I think of siblings. I love Jamie and Mae so much, and if you take Alan and Nick as brothers, which I do, then you’ve got two wonderful sets of siblings in this trilogy.

5) Triss and Pen in Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge. I really love sibling relationships that are strong and positive from beginning to end, but I also love relationships that start off negative and then go through a 180 degree turn as the story progresses. (The other way around, no. That I would hate.)

6) Nevada Baylor and her sisters Catalina and Arabella, plus her cousins Bernard and Leon, in Ilona Andrews’ Hidden Legacy series. The wonderful family dynamics is one reason this is my favorite Ilona Andrews’ series.

7) Medraut and Lleu in The Winter Prince by Elizabeth Wein. A difficult but ultimately fulfilling book for me.

8) Cat and Bee in the Spiritwalker trilogy by Kate Elliot. They’re cousins, but they were raised as sisters and anyway, you don’t have anything against cousins, do you? Okay then.

9) In Crown Duel and Court Duel by Sherwood Smith, Meliara and Branaric are quite different from each other and play off against each other quite well. I admit I did not really like Meliara until she grew up a little and got a clue, but by the end I liked her a lot.

10) Your entry here: ______________________________. What story did I miss that features a great sibling relationship?

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Pitching your novel in one sentence

A series of entertaining and possibly educational posts at Janet Reid’s blog:

Part A: Pitch me your book in 15 words.

The entries are in the comments. My favorite:

Kate Higgins
An accidental stowaway from OZ reluctantly learns adaptation from starkly non-magical residents of dustbowl Kansas.

Or maybe:

Cecilia Ortiz Luna
Miguel suspects psychologist Emily committed a perfect murder.
Emily believes she conducted a perfect experiment.

But quite a few are effective! Click through if you like and read them all, or —

Part B: Janet’s picks and her comments

Interestingly, she did not pick out the Oz one that caught my eye. Well, these things are subjective, of course.

Part C: Here is a post where Janet is currently taking sample pitches, this time with an extra paragraph of explanation allowed as well. Comments were still open at the time I posted this.

I’m so impressed that anybody can manage a 15-word zinger of a line for their novel.

I’m trying to think now how I could possibly do that for, say, WINTER OF ICE AND IRON.

“She’d do anything to protect her people. He’d use anyone to protect his. Can they — ” Oops, that’s fifteen words right there. Also, no obvious suggestion of genre.

It seems like it would surely be easier for stories that are more straightforward. How about the Wings of Fire series?

“Dragons have been at war forever. Can five young friends fulfill a prophecy and bring peace?” That’s sixteen words. Also, kind of boring. How could you capture the charm of the story in 15 words?

Let’s try one we all know: The Curse of Chalion.

“Cazaril wants nothing but a peaceful life. But Iselle will never secure her throne without him.” — and I’m already at sixteen, and imo this doesn’t capture anything important about Caz. How about this:

“After the past years, Cazaril hopes for nothing but peace. But Iselle will never secure her throne without him.” That’s up to nineteen words, but fifteen words is practically impossible! I do like it better.

How about it? Can you do the Curse of Chalion in fifteen words?

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Cool discoveries from astronomy

Did you hear about this?

These diamonds are tiny, flawed, and may come from a long-lost planet

In 2008, a rock laced with tiny diamonds hurtled through miles of thickening nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide, its exterior heating up as it raced through the thick air. A telescope tracked its progress, watching as the asteroid-turned-meteor exploded. The violent burst 23 miles above the ground sent fragments speeding toward their resting place, dark against the sands of the Nubian desert in Sudan….

A new study published in Nature Communications today offers a dramatic origin story for the meteorite. Based on materials found inside the diamonds nestled within, researchers think this may be the remnant of a long-lost planet or planetary embryo; one that was still in its infancy when the chaos of the early solar system obliterated it.

In this case, the diamonds aren’t the most important part of this story. They’re just the heavy-duty packaging for much more precious cargo held inside. While a jeweler might see a bit of rock trapped inside a diamond as a flaw, to a geologist it is precious. Because of their strong crystal structure, diamonds can preserve minuscule bits of material that would otherwise disappear under the relentless changeability of the universe over time.

Neat, eh? Diamonds as packaging for the long haul. They think this particular rock was created as part of a “planetary embryo” early in the formation of the solar system, but was destroyed in a cataclysmic collision with other such embryos.

While on the subject of interesting rocks:

I saw this image of Rosetta’s comet on, I think, Twitter. Very eye catching! Do you see the tiny LA below the comet? Sure gives a great idea of the size of the comet!

Googling around, I found this: The Many Faces of Rosetta’s Comet 67P

And this: Mission Complete Rosetta’s Journey Ends in Daring Descent to Comet.

“Daring” is a silly word considering the Rosetta spacecraft was obviously unmanned. I presume the controllers did not feel there was anything daring about dropping their spacecraft on the Rosetta comet. Nevertheless, very interesting!

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