Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author


Finished, more or less

So, this weekend, among other things, I did the final (or possibly semi-final) revision to the sequel to House of Shadows, which is as you perhaps recall going to be called Door Into Light. I am still going to request at least one more beta read, but I don’t expect major changes.

We have five pov characters this time. You remember from House of Shadows, Nemienne and Leilis and Taudde. And also Karah, who for some reason was perceived by a surprising number of readers as a pov character, though in fact she never carried the pov. 

This time all three of those characters are retained as pov protagonists, but also Karah gets a few pov chapters and so does a third sister, Enelle. So, five. That’s a lot, but the action is spread out. We start in Lonne, but almost immediately some characters wind up in Kalches. Then the action is divided between the two locations.  It seemed necessary to include more pov characters in order to let the reader see more of the things that are happening. Even at that, some of the stuff that’s going on offstage is important and provides one or two plot twists. 

Let me see . . . looks like Taudde gets 7 1/2 chapters (many longish), Leilis gets 8 chapters (some longish), Nemienne gets 6 chapters (the first couple short, then longer as her part of the story gets more important) (also she is the only character who gets two consecutive chapters; that’s odd; but I guess I thought that one chapter was getting too long and broke it).

Then Karah gets 1 1/2 chapters and Enelle gets 4 chapters. Enelle in particular gets to show some important stuff toward the end, but as you can see, they’re both secondary protagonists relative to the other three.

It’s 441 pages long, it turns out, according to the KDP template I just put it into. That’s the actual novel, not counting end materials and whatever. It’s about 150,000 words, give or take. Now comes the hard part: Back cover copy. I have no idea. This is so hard. How about:


Life has hardly had time to settle down since the events of House of Shadows.

Leilis, now heir to Cloisonne House, is still finding her balance as an important keiso in Lonne’s flower world.

Nemienne, now Taudde’s apprentice, is still finding her balance between magecraft and sorcery.

Taudde himself, with the solstice — and possible war — fast approaching, is soon going to have no choice but to make his peace with his grandfather, the king of Kalches.

Then a coup in Lonne sends all three scrambling to save themselves, those they love, and two kingdoms from disaster.


I can’t say that I like that very much. I would welcome suggestions. I do think House of Shadows has been out so long that a brief reference to past events and to the important pov characters is important to remind readers of what’s come before. Possibly this is even too brief for that purpose.

As you see, I only spent one sentence on a vague description of what actually happens in Door Into Light. Frankly, I don’t think it needs much more than that. What do you all think?

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Earth is where I keep all my stuff

And I hate packing, so if a terrible catastrophe is imminent, of course I’d rather move the planet itself rather than trying to decide what would fit onto a spaceship ark.

James Davis Nicholl has a post on tor.com about that: (Semi)-plausible strategies for moving a whole damn planet.

You’re living on a perfectly good planet in orbit around a perfectly acceptable star—and then suddenly, the neighbourhood goes to crap and you have to move. For a lot of people, this means marching onto space arks.

Recapitulating Noah on a cosmic scale is such a pain, though. All that packing. All that choosing who to take and who to leave behind. And no matter how carefully you plan things, it always seems to come down to a race between launch day and doomsday.

Why not, therefore, just take the whole darned planet with you?

Fun topic! I had not realized there were so many (or any at all) books in which this happened. Amazingly, I just happened not to read any of the books Nicholl refers to.

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25 Best Space Operas

From Book Riot: 25 of the Best Space Operas. Okay, sure, I’ll bite. Let’s see if my picks are on here:

Nine Fox Gambit is the first book on the list. You know, I really do need to read this one of these days.

Dawn, by Octavia E Butler. And I’m immediately unimpressed with this list. Are you kidding me? In what possible sense is Dawn a space opera?

Let me back up and see what criteria were used to select works for this list … ah, look, there are no actual criteria listed. This is as close as the post comes: 

Space opera novels are so full of luscious world-building, all-around action, and very interesting characters.

That may be so, but as a way of delineating space opera, no way. Good lord above, historical novels could just as well fit these criteria! What a — sorry — totally lazy way to build a list of 25 best anything: don’t bother actually considering what defines the subgenre you named, just throw any SF novel that suits you right on in there. That’s ridiculous.

Here’s the definition that immediately comes to mind for me:

Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that  emphasizes action and adventure, set mainly or entirely in space, usually involving space ships and weaponry on about the level of Star Trek’s Enterprise. It blurs at one edge into military SF and at the other into epic SF.

Here’s a tor.com column about space opera. Here’s their definition:

“Colorful, dramatic, large-scale science fiction adventure, competently and sometimes beautifully written, usually focused on a sympathetic, heroic central character and plot action, and usually set in the relatively distant future, and in space or on other worlds, characteristically optimistic in tone. It often deals with war, piracy, military virtues, and very large-scale action, large stakes.”

Sure, I could see that. I don’t think “competently and often beautifully written” is at all necessary as part of the definition; that’s a defensive reaction to the knee-jerk assumption that space opera is usually badly written. The emphasis on a sympathetic, heroic central character is probably common, but I don’t think it’s necessary. The plot action is necessary. The optimistic tone, yes, I could agree with that. I’d include that in my definition. “Relatively distant future,” no. The level of technology is a lot more important than the timing. Get too far into hyper-advanced tech and you lose the space opera feel, no matter how close or distant the setting is supposed to be.

There are a handful of selections from the Book Riot post I’d select for a list of space operas:

The Vorkosigan books and related novels by LMB

The Ky Vatta series by Elizabeth Moon, though starting with Cold Welcome is, not to put too fine a point on it, crazy.

Barbary Station by RE Stearns. I haven’t read it, but at least it sure looks like space opera.

The rest of theirs, I know nothing about or I don’t think are remotely space opera. Here are some others that I think are clearly space operas:

The Lensman series by EE Doc Smith

Agent of Change and other Tree-and-Dragon novels by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet and others by Becky Chambers

And a zillion others, no doubt, that either I’m not thinking of right this minute or that are arguable. For example, Ancillary Justice. Yes or no for that series? I lean toward no, call that one epic, but I could absolutely be persuaded otherwise. 

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Tsundoku: a word English needs

All those books you’ve bought but haven’t yet read? There’s a word for that.

English is full to the brim with loan words. Let’s steal this one next. 

I don’t really like Taleb’s term “antilibrary.” A library is a collection of books, many of which remain unread for long periods of time. I don’t see how that differs from an antilibrary. A better term for what he’s talking about might be tsundoku, a Japanese word for a stack of books that you have purchased but not yet read. My personal library is about one-tenth books I have read and nine-tenths tsundoku….

The linked article is not really about renaming the TBR pile, though that would be fine with me because “tsundoku” is an attractive, evocative sort of word. Unlike the author of the article — Kevin Mims, writing in the NYT — I don’t have much of a “third category” of “partially read books” in my personal library. Very few. Poetry, mainly. Compilations of Shakespeare’s plays.

Mostly what I have are books I’ve read, plus a smaller number of books I haven’t read. I’d guess maybe 3000 books I’ve read and I know it’s around 400 or 500 books I haven’t read. Let’s say about a 7:1 ratio. Sounds like the author has his ratio the other way around, so he has a proportionally much bigger tsundoku than I do.

Mims ends his article:

The sight of a book you’ve read can remind you of the many things you’ve already learned. The sight of a book you haven’t read can remind you that there are many things you’ve yet to learn. And the sight of a partially read book can remind you that reading is an activity that you hope never to come to the end of.

Perhaps the Japanese have a word for that.

If there’s no word for that in Japanese, I bet there is in some other language. You remember this fun list of words with no English equivalent.

My favorite here is:

Greng-jai (Thai)
That feeling you get when you don’t want someone to do something for you because it would be a pain for them.

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Here’s a headline you don’t see every day:

What it’s like to fall 31 miles to Earth after your rocket fails.

The vehicle carrying Hague and Ovchinin had just taken off from Kazakhstan at 4:40AM ET (2:40PM local time). Just two and a half minutes into flight, the vehicle began to break apart. …

As soon as the failure occurred, the Soyuz capsule carrying Hague and Ovchinin switched into abort mode and separated away from the failing rocket. The astronauts experienced a brief moment of weightlessness while the capsule soared through the air. Then gravity soon took hold, and the vehicle started to fall back the 31 miles down to Earth. The crew members had begun what is known as a ballistic descent. “It’s like tossing a ball high into the air,” said Hague. “At some point gravity takes over and starts bringing it back down.”

It took 34 minutes for the capsule to land. Poor Hague. I mean, glad he and 
Ovchinin are okay, so no need for too much sympathy, but who knows when, or even if, Hague will actually make it to space. I bet competition for slots is pretty fierce.

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We’re living in an SF universe

This is the coolest headline of the day:

NASA’s brilliant plan for a cloud city of airships in the atmosphere of Venus.

Onward with that! 

Such a mission is actually possible, right now, with current technology. The plan is to use airships which can stay aloft in the upper atmosphere for extended periods of time.

As surprising as it may seem, the upper atmosphere of Venus is the most Earth-like location in the solar system.

If we got to the stage of actually building a cloud city of airships, I vote for naming one after Kim Stanley Robinson, since this is certainly consistent with the future he’s shown us in his books.

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Why bugs ruin everything

I like bugs fine … mostly … most of them … unless I open my eyes and find a giant spider on my pillow, for example. (A little jumping spider doesn’t upset me even then.)

But this post is funny enough that I thought I would share it with you anyway. I will justify it by saying that it’s a great example of a casual, inviting writing style.

The Earth is almost the best planet ever. It’s stunningly gorgeous, optimally located in space, and it’s perfectly suited for its magnificent array of flora and fauna to live and thrive.

Almost the best planet ever.

Unfortunately, you can’t be the best planet ever when your clearest defining characteristic is a revolting worldwide bug infestation….

Many categories of insects follow, from the small category of acceptable through the nightmare insects. Click through if you have a few minutes; I almost guarantee you’ll enjoy this post no matter your opinions about insects and other arthropods.

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Recent Reading: Magic Triumphs

First: I liked it a lot.

Second: Yes, fine, everyone is right: you really should read Hugh’s story, Iron and Magic, before reading Magic Triumphs. It’s not absolutely crucial, but it certainly works better that way. For one thing, if the reader hasn’t followed Hugh through his redemption arc, that probably seems a bit iffy; and for another, Elara and Hugh are more settled in their relationship by the time we see them in Magic Triumphs and it’s nice to understand how they got that way.

Third: You know, I think Roman is perhaps my favorite secondary character? I didn’t realize that until this book, although honestly I think I fell in love with him in the previous book, Magic Binds. The idea of having the priest of the black god officiate at your wedding is so much fun, and Roman is so determined to make sure the wedding goes well, no matter what kind of disaster is looming or how utterly indifferent Kate is to the details. Roman is great in Magic Triumphs as well, though his role is smaller.

Fourth: It is absolutely priceless when Erra and Hugh sit down with Roland to sort out their tactics for their huge climactic battle, and Hugh winds up drawing little stick figures to get the idea across to Roland. I really enjoy how Roland, for all his power, is really not that smart and certainly not a tactical genius at all.

Fifth: The resolution worked pretty well. It was plainly going to be tricky to sort things out without having Kate dead at the end. I do wonder how far in advance the authors worked out exactly how they were going to do that? Plainly they had it set up in Iron and Magic, but perhaps not before that.

Sixth: I didn’t see that thing coming with Curran, but it was a pretty nifty deus ex machina moment. Um, so to speak. I’m not one hundred percent sure that Kate wouldn’t have figured that out beforehand. Though I grant, she was pretty distracted.

Now I’m re-reading Magic Binds. I think I’ll work my way backward through the series for a couple of books and then perhaps read Magic Triumphs again.

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Scene, summary, exposition, backstory

At Killzone blog, a post by  James Scott Bell: Mastering the Four Modes of Fiction.

Scene is the action on the page. In movie terms, it would be what you see onscreen, and what you hear in dialogue. It’s the show part of show, don’t tell.

Summary is a narrative recounting of action in order to transition to another scene, or to cover a long period that would be too cumbersome to show. Thus, it’s the tell part of show, don’t tell. (There are other “tells” in fiction, but that’s another topic).

Exposition is story information delivered to the reader. Such information is usually about a setting (description, history, social life) or a character (description, skills, education).

Backstory is history relating to the characters or plot, something that happened before the novel begins. A flashback is all backstory, but sometimes backstory bits are dropped in as part of the narrative.

Bell then uses a particular opening scene to discuss these modes, ending thus:

[T]hree sentences of backstory in the first 2500 words, all together or spread out. Three paragraphs of backstory in the next 2500 words, all at once or spread out.

I’m intrigued, partly because Bell says explicitly that this is not a “rule,” just a suggestion to help a novice writer foreground action and scene in the opening, putting backstory and exposition on the back burner.

2500 words is roughly 8 pages, or maybe a little more, especially if there’s a lot of dialogue. I’m quite sure I have more backstory and exposition in the opening of my most recent WIP … pretty sure, anyway … but you know, maybe not too much more. Let me open it up and check … okay, I have 22 sentences of backstory and exposition in the first 10 pages. Most are in the first 2500 words.

Is this too much? No, I don’t think so. I think in a secondary world, it’s important to draw the scene and establish that this is not our world, and I think it’s important to do that early. Let’s label that “worldbuilding exposition.”

Without opening a bunch of novels to check, I bet it’s likely that most secondary world SFF is going to include more worldbuilding exposition in the opening than most contemporary thrillers.

Still, it’s quite true that the vast majority of the sentences in these first pages are scene, not anything else. I think Bell’s (mostly) right about his emphasis on scene.

It’s a pretty good post. Click through and check it out if you find the subject of novel openings interesting.

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