Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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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?


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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When to stop fiddling and leave it alone

Via The Passive Voice blog, I noticed this, linked from The Legal Artist: Why J.K. Rowling Should Walk Away From Harry Potter Forever

We revere authors and creators of valuable intellectual property. We assume they know what’s best when it comes to their work. And sometimes that’s true! …But as fans, I think we’ve been burned by too many Special Editions/ Director’s Cuts/ sequels/ prequels/ sidequels/ reboots/ and preboots to feel anything but trepidation when a creator remains involved for too long with their own work. …Remember too that history is replete with authors who aren’t the best judges of their own work; George Lucas is a prime example of how far from grace one can fall simply by sticking around for too long. And I want Rowling to avoid that fate.

All evidence indicates that she’s not stepping away. …

To my eyes, the seams are already showing. Three years ago, Rowling publicly stated that she wished she had killed Ron out of spite and that Hermione really should’ve ended up with Harry. The fact that she admitted this publicly is problematic enough – it shows a tone-deafness to the effect her words have on the fan-base (which is surprising considering her generosity to her fans). It also suggests that she might not have a full grasp of what makes the story work (i.e. that Harry’s arc isn’t about romance). 

This is interesting. I haven’t been following events regarding the Harry Potter universe because I don’t really care. I liked the books fine, I saw one or maybe two of the movies, but I did not hit this series at a particularly impressionable age and so that’s pretty much the sum of my reaction: it was fine, might re-read the series sometime, maybe not, I’d put Tui Sutherland’s Wings of Fire series well above Harry Potter, moving on.

But it makes me think of some of the information that dribbled out about Peter Jackson’s LotR movies, about the kinds of ideas he entertained while making the movies. Things like: Hey, and then Sauron can come out through the gates and fight Aragorn! Really terrible ideas that show he did not get some of the most central themes of the novels.

The difference is, Jackson was not the author. It’s impossible to imagine Tolkien himself coming up with an idea like that.

Or almost impossible. I gather in an early draft, “Strider” was a Hobbit called … something undignified … oh yes, “Trotter.” And the name remained “Trotter” for a shockingly long time.

It only goes to show.

Anyway, sure, there are times when it’s best to look politely away when the author is making clearly untrue statements about her own work, and Rowling is certainly known to make such statements from time to time. No, Hermione should not have wound up with Harry because yes, Harry’s character arc was not essentially a romantic arc.

The author of the linked post, Greg Kanaan, suggests that after your book or movie or whatever has become a major cultural artifact, it’s time for the author to stop messing with it. He has a good point.

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So, yesterday I happened across a discussion of foils. Not aluminum foil, nor those slender little dueling blades, but literary foils. It was a pretty neat discussion, on a podcast called Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff, which is mainly a podcast for gaming, but also touches on weird historical trivia and, I don’t know, movies and cooking and a broad collection of this and that. As I say, this particular recent tidbit was about literary foils. I’m sure there are various blog posts on the topic here and there, but I don’t think I’ve seen that kind of discussion elsewhere, so I thought I’d share some of it with you, relating these ideas to SFF along the way.

So, foils reflect the protagonist. This isn’t the same as an ensemble cast, because there should be a single protagonist along with one or multiple foils; the protagonist need not be the same as the point of view character.

Four types of foils:

1. Sidekicks.

Sidekicks serve as actuators, pushing the protagonist to act. I’m sure this encompasses all the sidekicks who are kidnapped, thus driving the protagonist to rescue them, but Ken and Robin pointed to a different role for a sidekick in Archie in the Nero Wolfe books, who is definitely a great example as (a) Archie is definitely playing the sidekick role, constantly shoving at Nero to make him take action; (b) Archie is the one who actually does stuff, while Nero never (hardly ever) leaves the house; and (c) Archie is the pov character, but not the protagonist.

This is all true and Archie is a great example, but let me look around for some SFF sidekicks.

I think Rian might serve as this kind of foil for Maskelle in The Wheel of the Infinite. He does a lot more than motivate Maskelle to act, though he does sometimes serve that function. He also sometimes drives the action through his own actions, plus he plays an important role as someone for Maskelle to explain things to, which is a role assigned by the podcast to a different kind of foil, below. Of course in the real world we do expect categories to blur. Nevertheless, Rian does not take on enough importance to serve as a secondary protagonist or take the male lead role in a romance – that’s a relatively unimportant subplot. I would say he fits into the story as a sidekick. Florian is a sidekick for Tremaine in The Fall of Ile Rien trilogy too, probably, though there’s a big ensemble cast there.

2. Companions.

Companions serve to offer an accessible viewpoint to the reader when the protagonist is not that accessible, or to observe the action for the reader. The obvious example is the Doctor’s various human companions, but this kind of foil is particularly essential in fiction when the protagonist’s pov is never shown to the reader; eg, Dorothy Dunnett’s Game of Kings. Lymond is practically the reverse of “accessible,” by design. The various ordinary people who move in and out of his orbit, taking the pov role, serve both to humanize Lymond and as a window through which the reader can observe the action.

However, that isn’t an SFF example. Many fantastic examples of companions must exist. For “accessible, human viewpoint in the midst of strangers,” I think of Bren Cameron, but he isn’t a foil for anybody; he’s the primary protagonist. A better example is Costis, who serves as a humanizing, accessible viewpoint character for Gen in The King of Attolia. MWT plays with viewpoint a lot in this series, but in TKoA, Gen is almost as inaccessible as Lymond in Dunnett’s series – showing how well it can work to set the protagonist at a distance from the reader.

3. Confidantes.

Confidantes serve as someone to whom the protagonist can explain things – often a pretty clumsy way to handle backstory or other kinds of information — though Martha Wells used Rian to good effect as the person to whom Maskelle could explain things. Overlap for sure in the role of a confidante and a sidekick, but I would not call Rian a confidante.

If you do have a confidante, that character can also serve as a source of advice for the protagonist. Including, sometimes, bad advice, thus providing a push to the plot.

A good SFF example of a confidante would be, let me think … okay, Annova is this kind of foil for Zoe in Troubled Waters. She’s the kind of confidante who offers good advice and emotional support to the protagonist, and who occasionally serves as a motivator by, for example, being poisoned by mistake when the target was Zoe.

According to Ken and Robin, a confidant may also serve as a thematic contrast or support to the protagonist. The example offered in the podcast was Horatio to Hamlet, where Horatio serves as a contrastingly active character. Here I disagree. The term ‘confidante’ is a not right for someone who a thematically contrasting foil, because plenty of foils of that kind do not serve in any way as confidantes. So let’s break that out as a separate category:

4. Thematically contrasting foil.

In The Thousand Names series, Marcus is thematically the opposite of Janus bet Vhalnich. Marcus is open, honest, decent, and ordinary as opposed to extraordinarily secretive and brilliant and ruthless. He also gives the reader a more accessible pov character compared to Janus. This series offers a great ensemble cast, but Marcus is the one who is both a secondary protagonist and a foil for Janus.

In the same series, Jane serves as the same kind of foil for Winter. Jane is volatile and selfish and charismatic whereas Winter is steady and calm and responsible. She is not charismatic through sheer force of personality, like Jane. Winter’s charisma is much quieter; it’s the kind that draws people to her as they get to know her. Jane’s volatility pushes people away as they come to know her better.

5. Parallel foil.

Parallel foils reinforce the protagonist’s nature or themes or character arc or whatever. The podcast argues that this can be the villain, in the “I am your dark shadow” way, but I’d say that is a thematically contrasting foil, whereas there is actually a different kind of character who is a thematically parallel foil.

When you say parallel foil, the character who springs immediately to mind for me is Ronsarde in Death of the Necromancer. He is clearly this kind of foil for Nicholas. They echo each other in so many ways, which is why Ronsarde presents Nicholas to the queen as his protégé and why Nicholas resents that so strongly.

So, I’d say there are (at least) five types of foils, which no doubt blur together a good deal. I haven’t thought explicitly about this when tossing secondary characters into my own books, but let me see …

Well, Elise is a confidante for Kehara, through the first part of The Winter of Ice and Iron. Let me see … hmm … Maybe Tassel in The Keeper of the Mist is a companion for Keri. A very important companion, if so, but then every kind of foil can indeed be very important.

I don’t believe I’d say that there are any foils as such in The Mountain of Kept Memory. The important characters play various important roles, but I don’t think any of them are foils. Oressa is too alone, and really so is Gulien, and Gajdosik is not a foil at all, but an important secondary protagonist. Or that’s how I see them.

Hmm, maybe in The Floating Islands. I could make a case there for several of the other male students being foils for Trei.

Anyway, an interesting topic, and I’m glad Ken and Robin happened to pick that for one of their rare-ish forays into “writing good.”

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