Month: February 2016

Review + GIVEAWAY | The Witch Who Came in from the Cold

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Giveaway is now closed

When I found out the premise and model of storytelling that Serial Box is doing, I knew I wanted it; when I found out who was participating and the quality of the work, I knew I needed it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Review | Forest of Memory by Mary Robinette Kowal

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Mary Robinette Kowal’s Forest of Memory is a new Tor.com novella that (according to my .pdf reader) is about 50 pages. It also happens to be great to read while you soak your feet (which may or may not be how I read it). It chronicles the mysterious and unconfirmed week of a young woman who had gone missing.

The story is told from a first person perspective. The narrator, Katya, is a young woman who deals in antiquities, artifacts from previous years that show their wear. She goes up to look at a fairly rare find, a manual typewriter and dictionary, and is waylaid on her way home by a stranger who appears to be shooting—poaching? meddling with?— deer in the forest. She almost runs into the deer, but when the stranger notices her, he kidnaps her.

The story is fun for a number of reasons. The narrator is unreliable; it’s filled with intrigue; and you find yourself just wanting to know what in the world is going on.

It’s set in a future where people are constantly in touch with one another. People live stream everything. The narrator is particularly well known for this, because the authenticity and story that goes along with the items is as valuable, if not more, than the item itself. The very idea that someone could go missing and show up on the other side of the country without anyone knowing is basically unfathomable.

This brings into question a lot of different topics, like whether you can count on an individual’s memory, how interconnected we are, whether you can really have something be valid and authentic without “proof.” Kowal takes an, at times, round about way of talking about these issues, but the overall impact is no less effective.

The story is suspenseful and entertaining. There are moments where it can be slow, but this is often a good change of pace from the more tense moments of the book. The narrator is likeable, if unbelievable.

This was a pretty perfect evening-in book. Kowal managed to make an interesting world with a captivating plot that leaves you just wanting more. Better yet, she did it all in a story you can read in a sitting.

A big thanks to Tor.com for providing me with a copy of Forest of Memories in exchange for an honest review.

Review | All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders

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If you were looking for a fantasy/science fiction mash up, look no further. Charlie Jane Anders’ new novel, All the Birds in the Sky has you covered, and it’s pretty great.

The story follows two main characters, Patricia, a witch, and Laurence, a computer genius. Patricia and Laurence’s relationship ebbs and flows, but one thing seems to haunt them, especially Patricia; the two of them have been foreseen at the end of the world.

There’s a lot to like about this story, but I’ll start with the one that struck me first: the humor. Anders’ story is rife with the kind of self-aware humor that pokes fun at itself and the genre. Guilds of assassins, secret orders, and talking animals are all used with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor that had me laughing out loud and tabbing pages for the first time in a long while.

But, the story engages in a more serious talk as well about what it’s like to be an outsider, how easy it can be to be misled, and the balance between the fantastic, the scientific, and the radical on all sides.

The character building in the story is well-done. The story follows both Patricia and Laurence from childhood to adulthood, with all the rockiness that entails (skipping the awkwardness of high school and college). Most impressive in this was the establishment of trust in their relationship and the ways it would break down. Both characters are flawed and have their own histories from their years apart. This leads to a lack of trust, sometimes for unwarranted reasons. While some of the moments that result can seem a bit cliché, both characters are very human in their response.

The story also features some crazy plot developments and battles with side characters well-equipped to make things both better and worse, including an AI called CH@NG3M3. While it has more of a contemporary love story kind of feel, it also doesn’t shy away from mystery and actions. Overall, there’s a lot to love.

Charlie Jane Anders is the editor in chief of io9.com and the organizer of the Writers With Drinks reading series. Her stories have appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Tor.com, Lightspeed, Tin House, ZYZZYVA, and several anthologies. Her novelette “Six Months, Three Days” won a Hugo award.

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Let’s Talk | Digitally Native Award Categories

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Self-published stories aren’t a terribly new convention. People have been paying to have their works released for a long time. But, with the advent of the internet and the widely available platform for author promotion and creation, self-publishing has become a common way for authors to get their works into readers’ hands.

I won’t lie. I have some pretty mixed feelings about the widespread use of self-publishing, mostly that for me it often becomes overwhelming to even glance in the way of self-published authors. The mountain of works simply is so hard to sift through that I often don’t tread very close.

However, there are some fantastic self-published works available online.

The Martian, Wool, A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet.

The standouts in self-publishing show that the publishing method isn’t necessarily reflective of the quality of work.

So, how do we accommodate self-publishing in our awards?

The Martian by Andy Weir is very highly regarded. It’s a well loved story with fans coming out its ears. But, to many SFF lovers’ surprise, it wasn’t eligible to be nominated for the Hugo Award in 2014 when it was picked up for publishing by Crown Publishing. The book had previously been self-published and without heavy revisions would not have been eligible. Crown decided to publish the book very much as-is, leaving the work ineligible and retaining its 2011 publication date.

The problem in awards is multifaceted. By and large, I think it comes down to a few issues: exposure, inundation, and gatekeeping.

Exposure

Self-published authors are often the sole marketers for their books. They are the ones who are responsible for sending out review requests, getting the book available, and making sure the book is in the eyes of buyers, all while having to write, edit, and design the book. This is extremely difficult without the web of connections that many publishing houses have.

On top of all this, many readers continue to go to traditional publishers for their books and for those who may be open to smaller press or self-published works, the lack of in-store browsing ability and the difficulty in making your story available in online suggestion algorithms proves a big barrier.

Inundation

In the event that a reader does manage to find their way into the self-pubbed section of Amazon, or Kobo, or whatever platform they may be using, there are so many self-published works that standing out may prove difficult. Not impossible, surely, but hard to do, especially without an existing strong following.

So, what do we do with self-published works that are deserving of awards?

This is the part where gatekeeping comes in.

Currently, the big awards in SFF (not to mention the broader literary community) are difficult to break into and not structured well for self-published authors.

Often, awards are either chosen by panel, or through a fan or membership nominating system. This leaves self-published works out of the loop. Nominating systems for panel awards often require submission by a publisher, and membership and fan nominating systems tend to still require the same-year publication date requirement, which often isn’t enough time for a popular self-published work to “break out,” and clumps those books together with traditionally-published novels, which have significantly more budget and reach.

Again, here I feel conflicted.

Something about this seems so unfair, as though the cards are stacked against self-published works. However, extending deadlines makes eligibility for self-published works opens up the door to complaints that the work isn’t being judges with its peers or that the system is unfair in the opposite way.

The Hugos did recently propose extending eligibility for books not originally published in the US. This wasn’t overly controversial, so maybe I’m worrying over nothing. I can’t imagine people denying the difficulties in publishing and promoting a book on your own.

But, maybe the Kitschies have it right, but by thee token, a digitally native category implies that self-pubbed can’t compete with traditionally published works in content quality.

There’s a “Digitally Native” category there that seems to have served well. The Kitchies is a panel award, though, so I wonder how that would play in to a fan or membership system.

Regardless, something has to change in order for the community to recognize the self-published works that can blow us out of the water.

What do you think? What rules changes or category additions would best serve this purpose?

Yet again.

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It seems like every week (or more) another person lists the “history” or “best of” science fiction and fantasy while failing to mention women, people of color, or LGBTQIA+ contributors to the genre. Surprise.

I’m not going to mention the particular posts prompting this. Suffice it to say that the past two weeks have been surprisingly full of them ranging from well-established bloggers to bookstore lists.

While I find it difficult to imagine a full picture of science fiction and fantasy that doesn’t (at the least) include the works of Mary Shelley, Margaret Atwood, or Ursula K. Le Guin, the argument continues to be made that the “highlights” of SFF are largely male.

Rather than raging against the machine, though that certainly has its place and I’m prone to do it, I’m going to highlight some authors you should try out to broaden your SFF horizons. Huzzah!

Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American woman with a sense of the spectacular. Her most recent novella, Binti, is a fantastic examination of humanity at its most complicated. It takes the examination of race, gender, and their intersections to space and succeeds in every possible way. Plus, once Binti makes you fall in love with Nnedi, her backlist will make your soul scream (in a good way).

Genevieve Valentine is an American author and comics writer. She has a wide range of stories, including The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, a retelling of the twelve dancing girls set in the 1920s and Persona, a futuristic political thriller. She’s a highly acclaimed author well worth the check out.

Rachel Pollack is a transsexual woman who has had a large influence on feminist science fiction and fantasy, the women’s spirituality movement, and a wide variety of authors like Neil Gaiman. On top of her novels, she also wrote for DC comics. Her work is pretty surreal, mixing spiritualism with futuristic and fantasy elements. Her Temporary Agency is definitely the place to start for a temperate taste of Pollack’s works.

Angela Slatter is an Australian author. While most of her works are short fiction, included in a number of short story collections and anthologies, you can also snag her stand-alone novella Of Sorrow and Such. She’s fantastic at creating heart-wrenching stories with complicated characters all in a short period of time. She’s got all the awards to prove it, and a contract for a full novel release this year.

 N.K. Jemisin is just fantastic. I’m just going to gush about her for a minute. N.K. Jemisin is an African American author with some amazing talent. Her newest book, The Fifth Season, is easily one of my favorite books of 2015. She blends non-western settings and characters with fantastic magic and world building. Her characters are ridiculously well developed. I can’t get over her. Go read The Fifth Season. You’ll see.

Angelica Gorodischer is an Argentinean author whose works have been translated into English through Small Beer Press. She came into the scene in 2003 by way of Ursula K Le Guin, so you know it’s got to be good. Her stories focus on more than just the typical character and plot driven stories. They are fairytale like, with settings that act on the story as well as on people and a sort of wide-view of fantasy that’s hard to describe. Her Kalpa Imperial and Trafalgar collections are fantastic. I’ve yet to read her newest, but it’s on my list.

Now, I know what you’re saying, “But, Bree, this list is only seven authors and all are women.”

So true. This is far from a comprehensive list. This is only really the authors who came to mind in the 30 seconds following me reading one of the aforementioned articles about SFF being a male domain. More comprehensive lists are definitely out there. In fact, here are links to some fantastic lists of authors:

 

From Fran Wilde: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2015/08/not-so-invisible-ninjas.html

From women in science fiction (blog): http://www.womeninsciencefiction.com/?page_id=54

SF Mistressworks: https://sfmistressworks.wordpress.com/womens-press-sf/

Lightspeed Magazines POC Science Fiction project: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lightspeedmagazine/people-of-colour-destroy-science-fiction

Kevin Hearne: https://t.co/mQZCjoNYr6

Kev McViegh: https://performativeutterance.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/225-rising/

Or, hey, maybe you know those guys. Here is a list of people on twitter (mostly bloggers and authors who promote, read, write, etc. diverse books. The list is short, but I plan on adding to and maintaining it.

https://twitter.com/reev2550/lists/authors-and-bloggers

Please comment below with your suggestions for people to read, blogs to follow, and the like!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review | Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

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It’s been a few days since I finished Every Heart a Doorway. I can’t help but still think about it. It’s one of those stories that just sticks with you, makes  you think.

It’s about a girl named Nancy who disappeared into another world, an underworld most likely. Her parents, who don’t really know what happened other than that Nancy disappeared, send her away to school. Nancy’s new school isn’t what she’d expected. After being dropped off (rather unceremoniously), Nancy realizes her schoolmates are all like her: children sent off to fairylands and underworlds and magical places only to be sent back to their homes where no one can understand them.

The story is just so sad, in a good way.

It’s all about being left behind, not fitting in, and wanting, wanting something that you know you’ll never get so badly your heart breaks.

Each student had at one point found a world where they belonged. The worlds range the gambit from “high logic” to “high nonsense” and “wicked” to “virtuous.” All of the students describe their trips into these worlds as having gone home for the first time. Being there comes with a sense of utter belonging. This would be fine by itself, but McGuire echoes the loss in the setting she creates. The school is whimsical and filled with mystery, but that all falls a bit flat. Despite free reign of the grounds and rooms chock full of color, the students can’t seem to recover, and neither do we.

From the very beginning, the students make it clear: they will almost certainly never go back, and hope, while all they may have, is more painful than the despair that follows.

In a way, reading the story is eerie.  But, what surprised me most was how much it fit. How could Wendy really go back after Neverland? Could Lucy and Edmond really approach the “real” world the same way after Narnia?

It was the fairytale ending I was wanting.

The children are all a mess. They’re too old for their bodies, fixated on what they’ve lost, and lonely, even among the only people who can really understand them. Each one of them gets their own backstory and personality. Even the crueler among them is humanized, shown to be a bit broken. That’s part of what makes the story painful.

The setting is humorous in its own way. The teachers are all former student, the kids have to go to group therapy, rumors and gossip abound. There’s no escape from cliques even in fairyland exile.

The plot also has some action. While it can seem a slow build, tragedy strikes. Murder and mystery descend. Nancy, of course, is suspect, being from an underworld and the newest student. The action itself leads to heartbreak. It has a bittersweetness that it adds to the story.

At the end, I felt that I knew the characters, like I’d bonded with them and felt their hopes and dreams. Hats off to you, Ms. McGuire.

Every Heart a Doorway will be out April 5th 2016.

I received a copy of Every Heart a Doorway for free in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review | Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

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Giant robots? Check

Aliens? Check

International conflict and clandestine military operations? Check

Sylvain Neuvel’s novel follows a secret military operation to uncover mysterious pieces of a device. Told in interview transcriptions, the story records a search to find the pieces of and assemble a large mysterious statute that seems to expel large quantities of electricity and nuclear energy. The interviews span a number of persons working on the project including pilots, scientists, the director of the NSA, and are all hosted by an unnamed man masterminding the work.

The characters are interesting, though the format means they are very distant. There is some development, but also a sense of superficiality. While I wanted to like them, it was hard to do so, especially when the main foci are fairly closed off and abrasive. They grow more confidential during the interviews, perhaps uncommonly so, all things considered, but overall some is left wanting.

The plot is fast-paced. It follows the creation of the clandestine operation, many things going awry, and its initial conclusion. The story is a bit truncated. You don’t see the characters in action often. You see the fallout of things that have happened instead. This was sometimes done well, particularly during the aftermath and recounting of some major events. The characters’ immediate reactions are ignored in lieu of a bit more reflective recounting. This was interesting to read about.

The story also skips around quite a bit. This can be a bit disconcerting when you consider that there isn’t a timestamp on any of the transcripts. It could be a bit hard to follow, but did quicken the reading experience.

One of the things I enjoyed most about the story was the complexity of the mastermind’s thoughts. While you didn’t see it at first, there’s a lot that comes together in an “ah-ha” moment towards the end. Some of the story was a bit done before, but that was engaging.

This won’t be my favorite story of the year, but it’s an engaging, fast read.