Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent Reading: City of Bones and Wheel of the Infinite.

Whew, what a weekend! I didn’t work on any of my own projects because, see, it’s finally warmed up, and the soil’s not too wet, so I started this project, building a low terrace to slow down runoff down this slope. Of course I plan to plant shrubs up on a low (very low) berm along this area and then run a path in front of the shrubs, once I’ve got things set up so the path (it’ll just be mulch) won’t get washed away.

Anyway, I want to see if any of the many bayberry suckers are rooted enough to transplant and use, but if not, I have some deciduous hollies on their way, so I’ll use those.

And then I sprinkled a lot of seeds out: Nolana, vinca, phacelia, poppies — various things. After which it hasn’t rained. It was supposed to rain. Very annoying if I have to go water this huge area tomorrow morning before work.

ANYWAY, after all that I deserved a break, right? So I read Martha Wells’ WHEEL OF THE INFINITE. Just finished it. You know what? It may be my favorite of hers. At least, it’s right up there. But hang on a second, because let me mention CITY OF BONES first. As it happens, these two books make a great contrast.

I read CITY OF BONES last week and it was fine, I liked it a lot, but out of the ten Wells’ books I’ve read so far, it is my least favorite. Don’t let that put you off if it’s already on your TBR pile, though, because I eventually figured out what was bothering me about it and it wasn’t a quality issue. It was this:

CITY OF BONES gave me claustrophobia.

I don’t mean literally. I’m not actually claustrophobic. And there were no tiny little dark places involved. No, it’s the whole society in CITY OF BONES; it’s so closed-in and limited, and not in a good way. You’ve got these cities surrounded by a desert wasteland — worse than a normal desert, all these poisonous predators, and deadly ghosts, and in fact there are also cannibals that specifically lie in wait for travelers. So normal people can’t just stroll into the desert, right? And of course most people can’t afford to travel with a well-armed group because they are crushingly poor because of how the society is constituted. And what that means is, nearly the whole book is set in this one city with a despotic elite crushing the great mass of citizens (and it’s worse if you’re a noncitizen). So there you are if you’re a normal person in this city: struggling to make a living, with virtually no safeguards from thugs and thieves and whatever, and with way too many people above you who can kill you at a whim, and you can’t leave.

So for me this was a grim setting. Really, it is a dystopia. If it had been supposed to arise from the contemporary world, or if it was more SF than F, then if it were published today it would certainly be marketed as a dystopia. I was distracted the whole time by thinking, Thank God that’s not me! Thank God that’s not me!

Don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression: the ending is fine. The bad guys mostly get what they deserve, and so do the good guys, and it’s fine. But still.

Interesting tidbit about CITY OF BONES, though: we have a male main character and a female main character, and there is no romance. Occasional sexual tension, but no romance. When’s the last time you saw that in a fantasy novel? I wonder if Martha Wells intended to put in a romance and then just couldn’t? Because truly it would not have suited the two protagonists to fall in love with each other. She was completely right not to take that obvious path. Of course if you really strongly prefer a romance in your fantasy, this would count against the book; but I thought it was great to have these two people not suit each other and basically realize it and pretty much not go there.

So, all this is an interesting contrast to WHEEL OF THE INFINITE.

In WHEEL, we do have a (understated) romance. But you know who is involved? One of the very, very few mature woman protagonists in fantasy. The only comparable protagonist I can think of offhand is in Bujold’s PALADIN OF SOULS.

Maskelle, from WHEEL, is about as far from a swooning young girl as you can imagine. She is powerful and sure of her power — for various reasons she has areas of insecurity, but she is basically able to move through her whole world without being physically afraid of, well, anything. That is just about unique for a female character in fantasy.

That Wells manages to give Maskelle serious obstacles to overcome despite this set-up is pretty amazing, but she does, of course, or else there wouldn’t be much of a story. But I loved Maskelle; and I also loved Rian, the secondary protagonist; and I loved the way they fit together so perfectly despite being from such different societies — in fact, Rian was really set up, because of his background, to need someone like Maskelle. And vice versa, actually, since Maskelle was carrying a little too much baggage from her backstory to easily build a relationship with someone from her own society.

And what a difference between Maskelle’s society and the one in CITY OF BONES!

The Celestial Empire is open, peaceful, civilized, beautiful, and above all spacious. No claustrophobia here!Plus, it is clearly based physically on a country such as Thailand: tropical, with breadfruit growing in people’s gardens and a very serious rainy season. I love the physical sense of being there Wells gives us with her fabulous descriptive ability — and I love that being there would be actually fine. The Celestial Empire sounds like a great place to visit, and not at all a bad place to live. So long as they don’t accidentally mess up the cosmic balance of the entire — well, never mind.

I still do have Wells’ new YA, EMILIE AND THE HOLLOW WORLD, to read. And her two Stargate tie-in novels. Other than that, well, I look forward to seeing what she writes next — and re-reading my favorites in the not-to-distant future. So far, out of all of Martha Wells’ books, I still love the Raksura trilogy the best. But I think WHEEL OF THE INFINITE may be second, possibly before even The Fall of the Ile-Rien trilogy.

How about you? If you’ve read Martha Wells’ backlist, which one is your favorite?

And let me add just one current picture of the baby. Yes, she climbed in there by herself.

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Best of the Best

The previous post made me think: What are the best books by great prolific writers? I mean, you can hardly tell someone to try CJ Cherryh — you have to give them a pointer toward a particular title that makes a great intro to her work, right? And the same with all those other prolific and super-prolific authors out there.

For me, some would be (in the order they occurred to me):

CJ Cherryh — the Chanur trilogy and Cuckoo’s Egg.

Patricia McKillip — The Riddlemaster trilogy and The Book of Atrix Wolfe and The Changeling Sea.

Martha Wells — The Raksura trilogy, still my favorite of her books so far.

Gillian Bradshaw — Beacon at Alexandria

Guy Gaviel Kay — The Lions of Al-Rassan

Terry Pratchett — Nightwatch

Sharon Shinn — the Safe-Keepers trilogy, The Shapechanger’s Wife

Tim Powers — On Stranger Tides

Ursula K Le Guin — The Tombs of Atuan

Tanya Huff — the Valor series

Any of you have specific title suggestions for prolific authors other than Smith?

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Soon-to-read: Sherwood Smith

So, I like this guest post by Sherwood Smith, just up over at Fantasy Book Cafe.

Modern history toward the front, grading into this:

“There were also the games, such as ‘portraits’. These are verbal, or written, pictures of famous court figures, delving behind the courtly mask. One is described cleverly, sometimes in poetry, and perhaps secrets revealed or alluded to. Then participants must guess who is depicted.

Madame de Sevigny and her cousin Bussy-Rabutin were hailed everywhere as quite good at this game, but where the latter confined himself to scoring off the king’s mistresses with his wickedly apt observations (and ended up kicking his heels in the Bastille), Madame Sevigny was far more delicate. And insightful.

She was also good friends with one of the blockbuster best-seller novelists of the day, Madame de la Fayette, whose La Princesse de Clèves went through countless editions. Everyone in Europe was reading it, as well as her other works. Now it is sometimes counted as the first modern French novel, the first psychological novel, but for centuries, the only writers of the period you heard about in school were Moliere, Descartes, Cervantes, and of course the great (male) writers of England.

Yet I venture to say that Madame de la Fayette was at least as influential; people were not only buying her novels for the stories, they were using them to winnow out the ways of court. Or, put a different way, the novels had become guides to civilization, the rules of etiquette. And what is more fundamental in shaping the way we behave and think?”

French history and the history of women writers — very interesting to read about! There’s lots more in this post, which you should certainly click through to and read if you have a moment.

But! The pressing question for me now is, since I somehow have never read anything at all by Sherwood Smith, what should I try? I like complicated history and politics in a fantasy novel, so lots of them sound good.

I will say I just picked up a couple of titles on my Kindle, but I picked them pretty much at random from a long, long list of titles. Anybody Sherwood Smith fans out there want to give me an extra pointer?

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Once more, about those Hugos —

An interesting post here.

I think I agree with one of the commenters, Kevin Standlee, who says the trick may be to get a lot more people involved with nominations: “If you want to make an impact on these things, I recommend making an active effort in talking up those works and people you think ought to be nominated starting in December, just before the nominating ballots come out. For that matter, set up a location for accumulating people’s recommendations, like the LiveJournal Hugo Recommendations group (http://hugo-recommend.livejournal.com). . . With a populist award, you have to get people’s attention.”

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Best paranormals of the decade —

What do you think belongs on this list?

I’m far from an expert on paranormals. Seriously. I get confused by the INFINITE NUMBER of fantasy novels with covers that depict A Woman With Weapon And Animal and the whole subgenre blurs together, so I only ever have read the ones recommended by particular bloggers whose taste I mostly share. Which has worked for me, but it means I’m only familiar with a small subset of paranormal auhors.

But Barnes and Noble recently did such a list: best 20 paranormals. Well, it IS B & N, maybe their list compiler (Paul Allen) was influenced by popularity more than by quality. Or not. But I have to say, not loving his top picks.

Kim Harrison’s series . . . sorry to point this out, but this is the one where Harrison refers to an animal as a “mink” all the way through her first book (and for all I know, all the way through her series), when the animal she is describing is actually a least weasel. Such a turnoff. I know, that’s just me. But I also didn’t like her excessively impulsive, idiotically emotional main character. Well, yes, I know, that’s just me, too, but give me a woman like Martha Well’s Tremaine ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.

I haven’t read many of the B & N picks — five out of the twenty — but the ones I have read certainly would not make MY list of top paranormals. For example, any Laurell Hamilton after the first three or four is definitely not going to be on my list — too much sex for me, at the expense of not nearly enough plot.

Much, much closer to my own taste is this top ten list from Angieville. Angie certainly isn’t going by popularity! Check out some of her selections:

Sunshine by McKinley — I never thought of it as a paranormal romance, but of course it is! And it is a wonderful book! I loved everything about it — the way it starts off looking like our normal world and then takes a sudden hard left turn into weirdness, the characters — all of them, really, including quite minor secondary characters — the creepy, creepy vampires. Even Con is creepy, though on him it looks good. I only wish McKinley would write a sequel.

And A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb — that is one of my favorite books EVER, any genre, though again I hadn’t thought of this ghost story as a paranormal.

Angie also calls out Charlaine Harris, whose books I do enjoy though I don’t necessary grab each one the moment it comes out; and Patricia Briggs — you all know how much I love Patricia Briggs — and Ilona Andrews, who is my second-favorite paranormal author after Briggs.

Angie’s other five picks include books by Rachel Caine, Jeri Smith-Ready, Kat Richardson, Rachel Vincent, and Cassie Alexander — click through if you’re interested in the exact titles Angie chose for her list. Only the last of those authors was already on my radar. So . . . given that I am right there with Angie for five of her picks, I’m inclined to add all of her other picks to my wishlist, too.

If *I* were trying to pick three, just three, paranormal novels that totally establish how great this genre can be . . . perhaps for someone who had never read anything but Twilight, or who thinks the whole subgenre is nothing but Twilight — For me it would be Moon Called, the first Mercy Thompson book by Briggs; Sunshine by McKinley; and then either Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews (I don’t think that series took off till that book) or A Certain Slant of Light by Whitcomb. That last choice depends on whether I think my hypothetical introducee would prefer adventure or a quiet, literary romance.

What would be on your top-three list for paranormals?

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Ambushed by a new writing project

So you know I decided to take off April and not write, because April is supposed to be a mad gardening month. And it will be, too, as soon as it QUITS SNOWING. I tell you, you’d think this was MN and not MO. Honestly.

Though all the plants I ordered from nurseries will arrive in the middle of the month, so at that point mad gardening will of necessity ensue, even if it is still chilly.

And besides that, there’s a major Cavalier specialty April 18, 19, 20, and 21st. I would LIKE to put novice rally titles on my teenagers, so might be good to get some training done, right? Especially since I have already paid the entry fees. And then I am showing them in the breed ring for the first time, and Pippa in Veterans, and I’m judging Children’s Handling, so busy busy and hence not the best time to get into serious writing, obviously; plus there’s the new baby puppy distracting me.

So all this is true, but almost the moment I decided on a holiday, I suddenly had this inspiration about how to re-tool the very first fantasy trilogy I ever wrote and make it work as a single stand-alone novel. It’ll work, it’ll be coherent and self-contained and actually pretty good. I think. And since I’m just playing anyway, if it doesn’t wind up going anywhere, so what? Any extra pages that turn up in April are just icing on the cake, right?

So I’m removing two out of three protagonists and nearly all their associated secondary characters and plot elements.* Poof. Gone. No ghosts! I am sorry to lose the ghosts, especially the ghost dog.** I think I am keeping the Gods, though I’m not completely sure about that yet. The place-bound Powers, like a sort of not-very-comfortable genii loci, are still a very important plot element. The basic geography of the world, yes, no need to change that. Nice to have all the towns named already! And all the characters, for that matter.

So far, I’ve written about ten pages . . . but I already have about 12,000 words, because I’ve hooked in that many pages from the original manuscript. So far. Lots more will be brought in soon. Rewritten, certainly, but some of it not all that much. I can see stuff coming up: I need to assign a minor role to a different character, because the role is still there but the character who used to fill it is gone. And there are a couple scenes I may keep, but switch the pov to the remaining protagonist. And so forth and so on. You know how it is with continuity and consistency and all that; standard housekeeping.

Skimming through the original ms, I see I had no idea about pacing. And it is so cluttered! Nice to feel like I have learned something in the past five years.

Anyway! Still planning to read the rest of Martha Wells’ books in April, sure, but it may take longer to get through them than I thought, now that I’ve picked up this little project. Looks like a snazzy month ahead!

* For those few of you who are familiar with the trilogy in question: I’m cutting Meridy and her whole plotline, and Herrol and his whole plotline (including Pereith Norrir and Diollin and everything to do with them). I’m keeping Carad Mereth as a plot driver. The main protagonist is Kehera and the secondary protagonist is the Wolf Duke. Not sure how the endgame is going to play out now.

** I can see myself picking up Meridy and the ghosts and figuring out how to fit them into a different book. If I keep the ghosts as a minor element in Kehera’s story, I could in theory bring Meridy back in for a different story in the same world, so I might do it that way.

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Hugo Nominees for 2013

If you’re interested in the full lineup, it’s here. Meanwhile, here are the novel-novella-novelette-short story categories:

Best Novel (1113 nominating ballots cast)

2312, Kim Stanley Robinson (Orbit)
Blackout, Mira Grant (Orbit)
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, John Scalzi (Tor)
Throne of the Crescent Moon, Saladin Ahmed (DAW)

I’m actually not very happy with this list. Frankly, I think Redshirts was emminently readable, actually loads of fun, but hardly groundbreaking or important or whatever the term is I’m looking for that means Hugo-worthy. Clever, though, granted. What did any of you think, if you’ve read it?

I haven’t actually read Blackout, but it’s hard for me to see how Grant pulled that one into coherence given the magical stuff that happened at the end of the second book — magical in the sense of extremely unbelievable in an SF novel — but as I say, I haven’t read it so I honestly don’t know. I will have to reserve judgement until I actually read it, which I guess I better get it ordered. Maybe it is brilliant and flawless! I have to say that the writing in both the prior books was very, very strong. Especially in the first book, imo. Anybody else read this series? Have you read the third book yet?

And, Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance? While I loved it, I mean, Bujold, right? But I don’t know that I would put it at the top of her work. Though, not surprised to see it on this ballot, either, since popularity certainly counts for the Hugo.

I definitely expected Railsea because, hello, Mieville? I haven’t read that one either, I admit, but I sure expected to have to read it before voting. Very surprised to see it didn’t make the list. And I also definitely expected The Killing Moon by Jemisin, which I loved. I’m thoroughly disappointed that one isn’t on there.

I’m going to have to read both the one by Kim Stanley Robinson and Throne of the Crescent Moon. I did admire Robinson’s Mars epic, but . . . not like I’ve ever wanted to read it again. I have a hard time thinking I’m going to fall in love with 2312, but you never know. I’ve kind of had Crescent Moon on my radar for a while, though, so I do look forward to reading that one. I may read 2312 first, save Crescent Moon for dessert, as it were.

First I really want to read the rest of Martha Wells’ books, though, while I’m on a roll. I believe she has fourteen out, but not sure that counts EMILIE, which isn’t quite out yet. So, if it’s fourteen, then eight down — six to go! I am plainly missing a couple, since I only have three more on my Kindle, I see. Must sleuth around, find out what I’m missing.

Okay, onward —

Best Novella (587 nominating ballots cast)

“After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall”, Nancy Kress (Tachyon Publications)
“The Emperor’s Soul”, Brandon Sanderson (Tachyon Publications)
“On a Red Station, Drifting”, Aliette de Bodard (Immersion Press)
“San Diego 2014: The Last Stand of the California Browncoats”, Mira Grant (Orbit)
“The Stars Do Not Lie”, Jay Lake (Asimov’s, Oct-Nov 2012)

Haven’t read any of these, but the novella category was excellent last year, I’ve heard great things about several of these and I’m actually pretty excited about them.

Best Novelette (616 nominating ballots cast)

“The Boy Who Cast No Shadow”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Postscripts: Unfit For Eden, PS Publications)
“Fade To White”, Catherynne M. Valente ( Clarkesworld, August 2012)
“The Girl-Thing Who Went Out for Sushi”, Pat Cadigan (Edge of Infinity, Solaris)
“In Sea-Salt Tears”, Seanan McGuire (Self-published)
“Rat-Catcher”, Seanan McGuire ( A Fantasy Medley 2, Subterranean)

Check out that self-published novelette! Glad to see that on there. I do hope it’s excellent. Seanan McGuire is of course also Myra Grant, and I do think she can be an excellent writer even though I personally did not get into her paranormal series and had issues with the plotting in the zombie trilogy. Amazing how many nominations she picked up this year. Maybe I should read the third book of her paranormal series, even though I wasn’t crazy about the first two? Any familiar with this series — I mean the October Daye series of course — does it improve sharply after the first couple?

Best Short Story (662 nominating ballots cast) — yes, only three nominees:

“Immersion”, Aliette de Bodard ( Clarkesworld, June 2012)
“Mantis Wives”, Kij Johnson (Clarkesworld, August 2012)
“Mono no Aware”, Ken Liu (The Future is Japanese, VIZ Media LLC)

Oh. My. God. “Mantis Wives”? A) It’s not a story, it’s a series of scenes. B) They are horrible torture scenes. I am honestly not very happy to see that on the ballot — even though I loved Kij Johnson’s novella from last year, “The Man Who Bridged the Mist.”

I liked “Immersion” fine, I can vote for that without flinching, but I have to say, I’m definitely going to vote for No Award before “Mantis Wives.” You can read that one here if you want to weigh in on it.

Anyway, there you go! Anybody read 2312 or Crescent Moon or any of the novellas? What did you think of them?

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Puppy cuteness overload

She spots a potential victim

The attack!

Pressing her advantage

It always amazes me how fast puppies develop. Last week this puppy was barely on her feet — now she can bounce around like anything. Same with playtime: a week ago, five minutes out in the living room wore her out and then she crashed for five hours or so. Now it takes half an hour to wear her out, and she’s up again in two hours or so. In just one week!

She mostly wants to play with her mother, which is only barely satisfactory, as Kenya is not very playful. Single puppies are at such a disadvantage! Of course, I play with her. She thinks of me as “hands” and “feet”. She is so surprised when I put my face down to her level — she growls and backs away from this enormous strange not-dog person. Then she edges forward and bumps me with her nose. Next week she will not just be climbing into my lap, but licking my nose.

Soon she will be able to keep up with the teenagers a bit better and she will switch her focus to them. I do hope Folly and Giedre make room in their duo for a little sister. Maybe I’ll send one of my teens to stay with friends for a few weeks to help the other bond to the baby.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to name this baby Anara Honeysuckle Rose, btw. And, yes, I will probably call her Honey.

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So, The Death of the Necromancer —

Is kinda like if Javert joined forces with Jean Valjean to go after Thenardier — if Thenardier were a servant of the Devil.

And also, admittedly, if Valjean were a master criminal, and Javert not quite so rigid.

Plus: necromancy! Desperate flights into the sewers! Ladies with all the acting chops! In summary: this book was all kinds of fun, even though I continue to love The Fall of Ile-Rien trilogy better.

Also! I actually read this in paper, because I had a used hardcover on hand. And you know what? I actually prefer the reading experience on the Kindle, because it is lighter, and also easier to prop up so I can read during meals. Plus, since I have all of Wells’ books on Kindle except the Raksura trilogy and this one . . . well, anyway, I’m giving the hardcover away and picking up this one on Kindle.

The thing I like least about the Kindle? That I cannot give away books. I already knew I gave away a lot of books, some to the local (tiny) library and some to people who like SFF who I know can’t afford to buy a lot of books.

What I didn’t realize is that it actually kind of bothers me — not fingernails-on-the-chalkboard bothers, but it does bother me — if I can’t get rid of books I don’t really like. I mean, of course I can take them off “the device” and put them just in the archives. But . . . usually I give those books away. And now I can’t. I am forced to look at them listed in alphabetical order every time I scan through the books in the archives. And the people I might have given them to, who might have enjoyed them, don’t get a chance to find out.

And I don’t like it. Even if as a writer, I’m all for encouraging different individual readers to buy their own copies, thankyouverymuch. This isn’t necessarily a conflict, anyway, since whomever I give my hardcover of DEATH OF THE NECROMANCER to may fall in love with Martha Wells and buy her other books. So, listen, Amazon, get on that, okay?

How about you? Would you (do you?) get rid of a lot of the books you buy by giving them away? Would it (does it?) bother you to be stuck with those books forever?

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