Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent Reading: The Lost Legends: Tales of Myth and Magic

So, Lost Legends is an anthology put together by a Facebook friend of mine, Adam Jones. He asked if I had a story he could use and I said sure, as long as he was okay with a story that I’d previously published myself (in Beyond the Dreams We Know). He said that would be fine, so I sent him “Lila.” I don’t know which story in that collection is my favorite – I honestly think they all turned out well – but I like that one quite a bit, plus of course I didn’t want to send him a story connected to one of my novels. So, “Lila” it was.

Now Lost Legends is out!

A long show weekend in Hot Springs gave me a chance to read all the stories.I don’t want to go through all the stories in detail, but let’s take a look at the first lines of each story and along the way I will tell you which ones I liked the best.

“The Luck Stone” by Kristen Bickerstaff.

Aoife hated these stupid boots.

She cracked an eyelid open and dragged one ponderous shoe up into the air. She held the boot up until her leg trembled from the weight, then let it fall to the ground with a loud thunk. The iron sole clanged against the loose white rocks scattered around the quarry mainway, shocking Bran into jumping off his perch on the bolder next to her. He shot her a baleful look, his dark eyebrows cranked down low.

This was a pretty good story, about family – birth family and found family. Like so many short stories, it seems to want to fit into a larger novel. I liked it.

“The Problem with Elves” by Ryan Swindoll

Grandmother once said, “Never toss out a rotten egg. I never did.” She had one slipper in the grave when she told me that, and had I been a mite older, I would have asked her to clarify her meaning.

Plenty of charm, as you can see. This story was meant to be light, and it is. There is some crudity to the humor, which basically never works well for me, but in this story it almost does because of the style. Unlike the story above, this is intrinsically a short story – it really could not be a tidbit from a longer work.

“Lila.” Yep, I still like this story a lot.

“Death of a Young Mage” by A E McAuley.

Zavin never expected his clan to be targeted by humans. He wasn’t old enough to wrap his head around the idea that the tall horsemen who terrorized other elves near the cities could reach his desert oasis.

This story’s arc goes like this: tragedy → grimmer → grimmer → completely unredeemed tragic ending. That will never, ever work for me. If this were a novel, it could open this way, followed by personal growth → resolve → dedication to ending this injustice → triumphant or at worst ambiguous ending.  As it is, there’s nothing whatsoever to relieve the tragedy. Obviously this story was not remotely to my taste.

“The Sacred Coal of Zattfu Mountain” by Abigail Pickle

The firepot wrapped its small, pottery shelter around a single coal, the seed of last evening’s fire. In vain, the darkness pressed all its black weight over the closed round form, straining to invade through the two tiny holes in the lid. But the nested coal breathed on in silence, speared the cloud of darkness with two silver-splinters of light.

As you can see, this story is told in a rather ornate style. As well as personifying all sorts of things – the fireport, the darkness – the author makes some unusual word choices that almost, but perhaps not quite, work. “The silent solemn light of the coal waded into his eyes and cast out the tyrant dark,” for example, where wading involves water and this is a coal, so this metaphor seems a little questionable. But in context it works – or almost works – and I wound up liking this story quite a bit. It’s a fairy tale quest.

“Sonata for Snails” by Michael Hustead

Teppo sat on his front porch in the grey predawn light, eyes fixed on the eastern horizon. His eyes burned from lack of sleep and his shoulders and back ached from the hard wood of the porch, but he refused to go inside. He had not missed a sunrise since his beloved Kirsi died, and he wasn’t about to miss it now. Kirsi loved the sunrise. Somehow, in the morning sun, Teppo could almost feel her with him again.

I liked this story, though the bad guy seems kind of over-the-top given the situation. I could not really believe in the explosion of that much violence unleashed by that small a trigger. I still liked the story, though.

“The Vampire” by Madelin Pickett

“From what I could tell, he was a vampire. The way he hated being in the sun, his pale skin, even is incisor teeth were really pointy. I’m not sure where I went wrong.”

As you probably all know, I have trouble with impulsively stupid protagonists. This protagonist fits that description, despite the twist at the end.

“An Inconsequential Miscalculation” by ES Murillo

No one was certain where the Seers had come from, or why they has chosen these four cities to cheerfully lay to waste over the years. They claimed there was a girl (as these things go), that she was missing, and that they wanted her. What they wanted her for they were never clear on, but after the first city unceremoniously blew up, the last three took notice.

This was a really fun story, my favorite in the collection (other than mine). Clever use of parenthetical notes all the way through, as in “A few of the more cautious families (actuaries, morticians).” These made me smile and fit with the overall style, which I enjoyed. But that’s not why I liked the story. I liked the characters and the tone and the whole story worked well for me, even though I didn’t really believe in the bad guy motivation. I’d be happy to read more by Murillo.

“Thundermoon Bride” by Sarah Bale.

The door groans as I open it. I scrape my skin on the rough wood. I’m not supposed to be here. No, I should be locked away in the tallest tower of this castle, where dragons keep watch over every move I make. If caught, I face death. Or worse, and believe me, I know what that means. But I can’t help myself. I have to see him.

Oh, I just can’t help myself. Uh huh. My tolerance for overwrought infatuation is very close to nonexistent. A very short story, with a clever mythological twist.

“Tavernfall” by Ryan Swindoll.

Dear Reverend Scholar Godfrey, Dean of Oxford,

I shall come straight to the point, which is a challenge for me, as I am prone to endless elaboration through the conjunction of a great many thoughts that swirl about my head at all hours of the day and night, probably induced by the unfortunate choices of my youth, for which I live in a state of considerable regret, and from which I hope also for salvation: I need a job.

Okay, that’s funny. A terrible opening for a letter for a job application, in so many ways, but funny. The story itself is an odd melding of ornate history with farce. I didn’t exactly like it, but I can see this story appealing to someone whose taste runs more to slapstick than mine does.

 “The Door” by Michael Hustead

No one ever mentioned the afterlife was so much work.

A clever story involving mysterious thefts. The reader, unlike the characters, is in a position to appreciate the twist.

“The Candlemaker” by Adam Jones

Dorian hefted the pitcher and poured beeswax into the narrow clay vase, keeping his hands steady so the wax fell past the upheld wick without disturbing it. Each layer smothered the next until beeswax filled the vase nearly to its rounded brim. Dorian unwound the wick from the stick that kept it in place, cut it to a fingerwidth’s height, and nodded in satisfaction as it stayed upright, tilting only a little as it towered over the hardening wax.

This candle would be completely ordinary, giving light and slowly burning down to a nub like any other. As far as anyone in Ostwik knew, all of Dorian’s candles were ordinary.

A simple story with considerable charm, “The Candlemaker” is another that feels like it is an incident in a longer book – probably the incident that precipitates the central story arc – though the world and characters would need added depth to hold up through a novel, of course.

Short stories are not a natural length for me as either a writer or a reader, as you all probably know. Nevertheless, I enjoyed many of these. If you like short stories, then by all means pick up this collection and see what you think!

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SFF pets

A column at Book Riot: POINTERS FOR ACTUALLY KEEPING LITERARY PETS

I really like the sound of the first pet, from Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Here’s the description:

As with all cats, rideable lion steeds are opinionated. However, in addition to teeth and razor-sharp claws, these big cats have horns which require some additional respect. Know what you’re doing and have some major confidence before you saddle up. And maybe be able to raise the dead or something, because you’re going to have to top this somehow.

Horned lions! Okay, that cries out for fan art. Sure enough, if you poke around, there’s plenty of fan art. Here’s my favorite: a series of pencil drawings where the horns have been imagined as everything from big horned sheep-type horns to impala-style horns to (my favorite) eland-style horns.

The Book Riot post adds a little note of reality by adding firmly that in real life, keeping a big cat as a pet is a terrible idea. Hopefully that isn’t a revelation to most of us.

To my surprise, this post also includes a book I loved as a kid: My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. Did you ever read that one? It’s in the “kid survives on his own in the woods” subgenre, minus any of the disasters that generally set up that kind of plot. The kid just wanted to live in the woods by himself for a while. There’s a peregrine falcon; hence the inclusion on this list.

I didn’t realize this was the first book of a trilogy. I don’t know about going on with it. I’m so much older . . . and the set up described for the second book makes me wonder . . . I mean, listen:

Two years ago, Sam ran away from New York City to live in the Catskill Mountains. Now his younger sister Alice has joined him and is quietly living in a tree house of her own nearby. Their peaceful life is shattered when a conservation officer confiscates Sam’s falcon, Frightful, and Alice suddenly vanishes. Sam leaves his home to search for Alice, hoping to find Frightful, too. But the trail to the far side of the mountain may lead Sam into great danger.

It’s been two years? His sister joined him? Seriously? What’s with the incredibly hands-off absentee parents in this situation?

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Important pushback against the idea that painkillers are bad

As someone with (mild) chronic pain, who expects her pain to get worse over time; and someone with a father in (serious) chronic pain, I am deeply, deeply concerned about the idea, now current, that Wanting To Not Be In Pain Means You Are An Addict.

But why should I make this case, when people who deal with patients in real life do such a great job making it for me?

Here is Scott Alexander: AGAINST AGAINST PSEUDOADDICTION

Case 6: Sandy is a middle-aged woman on benzodiazepines, a potentially addictive anti-anxiety medication. She has been stable for twenty years. She switches doctors. The new doctor has heard that Benzodiazepines Are Bad And Addictive, so he discontinues them over her objections. Sandy becomes a miserable wreck and has panic attacks basically all the time for a few months. Whenever she tries to mention this to the doctor, he accuses her of being an addict and trying to con him into giving her drugs. After a few months of this, she leaves that doctor and switches to me. I put her back on her previous dose of benzodiazepines, and within two days she feels perfectly normal and gets on with her life.

That sounds like a typical stupid case of inexcusable medical malpractice, as has become common. How common? Well, how about this even more extremely obvious malpractice:

Case 3: This one courtesy of Zvi. Zvi’s friend is diabetic. He runs out of insulin and asks his doctor for more. The doctor wants to wait until his next free appointment in a few weeks before prescribing the insulin. Zvi’s friend points out that he will die unless he gets more insulin now. The doctor gets very angry about this and spends a long phone call haranguing Zvi’s friend about how inconvenient it is that he’s demanding the insulin now rather than at a more convenient time. Zvi’s friend has to threaten the doctor with a lawsuit before the doctor finally relents and gives him the insulin. I like this story because, again, insulin is not addictive, there is no way that the patient could possibly be doing anything wrong, but the patient still gets treated as a drug-seeker. The very act of wanting medication according to the logic of his own disease, rather than at the doctor’s convenience, is enough to make his request suspicious.

Bold is mine, not that I needed to bold anything, as surely those sentences leaped out enough on their own.

Today’s post brought to you on behalf of everyone unnecessarily suffering because of the current fad terror of painkillers. Especially 85-year-old people with chronic pain who have to jump through hoops over and over to continue perfectly reasonable, not to say humane, painkiller regimes.

This is Scott Alexander we’re talking about, so much, much more at the link.

Plus an ending quote because it’s a perfect summation so again, I don’t have to write a perfect summation of my own:

The opioid crisis is really bad. I nevertheless think pseudoaddiction is the most obviously true medical concept this side of Hippocrates. The denial of its existence is a failure of national epistemics that deserves more scrutiny than it’s getting.

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Sequels that stand alone

Here’s a good topic for a list! From Deborah Ross at Book View Cafe: sequels that work well as standalones.

One of the challenges of writing a sequel is the balance between giving the new reader all the necessary background, developing the characters well enough, and yet not boring readers who are already familiar with the cast and setting.  I picked up God of Broken Things unaware that it was a sequel to Traitor God. For most of the book, however, I could not decide if God of Broken Things was indeed a sequel (to a book I knew immediately I wanted to run out and read) or a stand-alone with a rich and brilliantly handled back story.

That’s a good way to decide whether a sequel would work well as a standaone: if it comes across as “rich backstory” rather than as confusing. I haven’t read either Traitor God or God of Broken Things. In fact, I haven’t read any of the (few) books Ross mentions in her post. But this is a good theme for a . . . not top ten list, because I’m sure there’s an infinite number of sequels that work well as standalones, but a list of ten good examples.

Let me see what I can come up with.

In no particular order:

  1. The River South by Marta Randell. Because of the thirteen-year gap between the first book and the second, the latter absolutely does read like a standalone.
  2. Night Watch by Terry Pratchett is a fantastic standalone. It’s the first Sam Vimes book I read, and it got me into the whole Vimes subset of Discworld books. It’s still my favorite of all of Pratchett’s books.
  3. Paladin of Souls by LMB could easily be read as a standalone, and in fact in some ways it should be. Ista is re-imagined in a pretty significant way from how she is presented in Curse of Chalion; that inconsistency disappears if you treat the two books as basically standalones.
  4. Okay, now I’m not completely sure because I read these in order originally. But I think the second two Sharing Knife books by LMB are significantly better than the first two. I wonder how those would seem to a reader who came to them without reading the first two at all?
  5. A Wind in the Door by L’Engel. This is another sequel where Time Has Passed since the first book, though unlike the first book on this list, only one year, as I recall. Still, any sequel where that’s happened is likely to read well as a standalone, and I think this one does.
  6. The Tombs of Atuan by LeGuin. This is actually the only book by LeGuin I ever re-read more than once. It’s by far my favorite of hers. It very definitely stands alone.
  7. The Broken Kingdoms by Jemisin. I think this one stands alone perfectly, with no need to have read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms first.
  8. A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers would probably work fine as a standalone, though I’m not completely sure since I did read the first book first.
  9. The second books of the Griffin Mage trilogy: Land of the Burning Sands. IMO that one works very well as a standalone.
  10. Your Choice Here

What’s a sequel you can think of that belongs on this list?

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The care and feeding of supervillains

You know, James Davis Nicholl has a real gift for writing a great paragraph on just about any theme.

Here’s his post at tor.com on the care and feeding of supervillains.

And here’s his last paragraph:

Granted, by definition costumed crooks will have executive function issues that might make them hard to convince. Happily, anyone who sets out to be a superhero probably has issues of their own. Let yours blind you to the failure modes of an iterated prisoners dilemma and guide you towards Silver Age commensal relationship with your rogues gallery. The bystanders will thank you.

Executive function issues! Ha ha ha! I really did chuckle out loud. A commensal relationship! That’s just as good. Fun column.

Okay! Favorite superhero / supervillain novel, go!

I liked Sinner by Greg Stolze quite a bit. I did think the ending was weak. Still, I should definitely read that one again.

I did not much care for Steelheart by Sanderson. Too much character stupidity.

A few days ago, I started to read All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault, which has a great title, but good lord, soooo much info is dumped on the reader during the extra-long introductory couple of chapters and I lost interest.

I do like superhero novels, though. Particularly the ones that create their own world with new heroes, not novels that feature Superman and Lois Lane, or whatever.

I’m sure I’m forgetting a couple more superhero novels I’ve tried. If you’ve got a favorite, drop it in the comments!

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SFF restaurants and bars

From Julia Bergen at tor.com: 6 SFF Restaurants and Bars We Want to Visit

Great theme!

I bet you’re expecting The Restaurant at the End of the Universe to show up on this list. It does. I would actually put that on my list of five SFF restaurants that I would definitely not want to visit, because I would absolutely not want to get anywhere near Douglas Adams’ universe.

Several of the other choices sound pretty neat, though. Just based on these descriptions, the one that would appeal to me the most is probably MacAnally’s Pub from The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher

But six restaurants and pubs! Six is not the right number for a list. I’m sure I can add four more:

1.Valabar’s in the Taltos series. I can’t think of any restaurants in SFF where the food is described so beautifully. Brust has to be a foodie in real life. Top choice right here. Dzur, is of course, the book that showcases Valabar’s.

2.Sunshine’s bakery in Robin McKinley’s book by the same name. My mother makes excellent cinnamon rolls, but I’m dying to try a Cinnamon Roll as Big as Your Head. Also a Killer Zebra. And a Death of Marat, obviously.

3. World’s End: A Free House. Graphic novels generally don’t really do it for me. The Sandman graphic novels are an exception, and World’s End is such a powerful installment. If pubs count, I’m sure inns do as well.

4. Dina’s Bed and Breakfast in A Clean Sweep and the other books of Ilona Andrews Innkeeper series. This is my least favorite of their series, but it offers the best place to spend the night. I mean, as long as fighting off an alien invasion isn’t necessary that particular night.

There, that’s four!

Oh, one more:

5. Cloisonne House in House of Shadows. Remember that banquet scene? Mmm. That would be a wonderful place for supper and story telling.

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SF animals

Thinking about weird animals that could have come directly from science fiction novels; most particularly about weird animals that are not well known; or aspects of the animals that are not well known.

Because Archon is coming up and there’s this panel. Which I’m moderating. So of course I’m thinking about it.

I’m reminded of this post from earlier this year: Brain architecture is weird. At the time it struck me as amazing, how very alien the design of the octopus brain is, and even the bird’s brain is hardly more similar to the mammalian brain that we all naturally think of as “normal.” But the octopus, yeah, that is weird. Everything about those animals is weird. You know, that would make a good SF story. There’s the sub-genre of stories where we find out that humans were seeded onto the Earth, and of course that makes zero sense unless you also seeded all the other primates and sprinkled hominid fossils hither and yon, among other rational objections.

But it would kinda fun to say, forget humans, octopuses were seeded into the oceans of Earth. Primates are just randomly occurring, boring mammals, but octopuses were established here to … something. Insert plot.

There are many animals that display weird but inherently trivial traits, like the awful tusk design of the babirusa, but then there are those arctic fish with antifreeze proteins in their blood and wow, that is very science-fictiony.

I think we’ll have plenty for the panel, but if you’ve got a favorite science-fictiony animal, please toss it in the comments. I’m sure I’ve failed to think of dozens of really great oddballs of the Animal Kingdom.

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Island Adventures

From Barnes and Noble, this list:

10 Middle Grade Island Adventures to Thrill and Delight Young Readers

Delightful theme for a list, especially delightful since it was compiled by Charlotte Taylor, of Charlotte’s Library blog. Charlotte does weekly roundups of MG fantasy and SF, so she’s on top of the genre in a way that most of us can’t, or at least don’t, manage for any genre. Plus Charlotte’s taste in books is parallel to mine, in broad terms, so any books she recommends are worth a second look. In this case, the list includes some historicals as well as fantasy, such as —

Island War, by Patricia Reilly Giff
11-year-old Izzy is taken by her ornithologist mother for an extended stay on a remote Alaskan island, and 14-year-old Matt arrives at the same time, unwillingly visiting his own father. Though they both have troubles adjusting to their new home, they don’t become friends. Then Pearl Harbor is bombed. The Japanese army invades the island, rounds up all its inhabitants and sends them to camps in Japan. Matt and Izzy escape, and are left behind. They are forced to join forces in order to survive, scavenging for food and always fearful that they will be found. When winter comes, and Matt falls ill, survival becomes even more difficult. This gripping adventure, based on a little-known piece of American history, will appeal to any kid who loves stories of kids surviving danger on their own.

I like WWII stories (as long as there’s a happy-ish ending) and survival stories, so this one sounds appealing to me. This setup reminds me of Island of the Blue Dolphins, which I loved when I was a kid.

In this list, Charlotte stretches out a bit from MG to include Nation by Terry Pratchett, not to mention The Floating Islands.

Not tired of islands yet? Then here’s a list from tor.com: Five Books About Fantastical Islands. Of these, I have one on my Kindle — The Girl with the Glass Feet — not sure where I heard of that one, but here’s the description:

The wintry archipelago of St. Hauda’s Land is the setting for this magic realist coming-of-age tale. Ali Shaw captures both characters and landscapes caught in stasis, woodlands and frozen fens in hibernation. Magic flits between the branches, drifts of jellyfish light the icy waters, and Ida McLaird is slowly turning to glass. Ida’s search for a cure reopens old wounds but also brings the chance of redemption, her journey across the island taking her from heart-stopping danger to nothing less than true love.

And for classics, not only Treasure Island but also LeGuin’s Earthsea — if I remember correctly, the world in that one is essentially a single archipelago.

If you’ve got a favorite book set on an island, drop it in the comments!

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A chance to buy your very own giant robot

Eye-catching opportunity!

This giant 12-ton fighting robot is on sale for $1

Eagle Prime, the crown jewel of MegaBots Inc.’s fleet of sci-fi-inspired piloted robots, is being sold on eBay for a single dollar.  …

“I think it’s time to pass the torch to whoever will do it next and wants to take on the responsibility of the mission,” Oehrlein says. The auction, for which there is no reserve or minimum bid, starts Monday night and will last 10 days.

Granted, this giant robot is evidently a little pricey to transport and operate. Nevertheless, it appears to be a real opportunity for, I guess, the tech-loving kid who has everything. I mean, everything except a giant robot.

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A unique kind of anthology

Okay, so, this is not exactly a collection of stories:

This is actually a collection of vignettes and scenes, from published and unpublished novels by, as you see, a wide range of authors. Here’s the description:

Magic—danger—and the thrill of the chase!

Experience the rush of racing across rooftops with thieves—or the desperation of fleeing an assassin who knows you a little too well. From the fish market of a tropical island sultanate, to the monster-filled alleys of a steampunk London, to a land where souls take different forms as they rise or fall through the layers of the world, this collection of chase scenes and vignettes set in nine distinctive worlds will leave you spellbound.

Find unexpected allies, unshakeable enemies, sudden twists and turns, and always the swiftness of the chase—whether you’re on the hunt, or racing for your life.

This sampler includes an exclusive bonus scene set during the events of Tea Set and Match by Casey Blair, available for free online, and a scene from an unpublished novel by Rachel Neumeier not available anywhere else. The excerpts by Intisar Khanani, Raf Morgan, P. Djèlí Clark, Sherwood Smith, Joyce Chng, Melissa McShane, and Andrea K. Höst are from longer works that are available for sale at all major retailers.

Okay! So, if you’re interested, by all means check it out at Goodreads and enter the associated giveaway!

There will also be a Facebook release party on October 8th, so drop by Facebook and Friend me or any author with an excerpt included in the collection if you’d like to follow posts there on the release day. The hashtag on Twitter is, of course, #SwiftTheChase.

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