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Posts Tagged ‘other people’s books’

Spark of Life: Wendy Nikel on THE CONTINUUM

Super-competent protagonists can be a lot of fun — but sometimes it seems like there’s a cap on how much fun they can be. When the character is ready for everything, has a skill for every challenge and a solution for every problem, there’s never really any uncertainty about how it will turn out. Which is why our Spark of Life guest this week, Wendy Nikel, looked for a way to put her super-competent heroine out of her element, into a situation where she’d really have to stretch to win.

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Wendy says:

cover art for THE CONTINUUM by Wendy NikelI’ve always been fascinated with time travel stories, so when I sat down to write THE CONTINUUM, I knew that was what I wanted this story to be about. It was the third of November when I’d decided I wanted to try my hand at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), when I started writing that day, I had little more than the premise and a few key scenes to work off of.

My story, I’d decided, would be based on a short story I’d written a few months earlier about a time traveler returning home from a vacation in the past. Only instead of focusing on the time traveling tourist herself, I wanted this story to be about the people who work at the travel agency, whose responsibility it is to bring them safely back to the present from their adventures. So I started writing about Elise, a professional time traveler who jumps around through time, helping out clients who get into sticky situations on their vacations to the past. I settled in to pen an adventure about her dangerous rescues, perilous circumstances, and the struggle to protect the space-time continuum as she travels about in history.

But I think I knew, deep down, that Elise was a little too good at her job, a bit too skilled with blending into the past eras where she frequented. She was the James Bond of time travelers — always having a Plan B in mind, never losing her cool. She knew more than anyone else around her and was able to think her way out of any tough situation. And while those stories can be fun for a while, my subconscious realized it’d be a more interesting story if she was taken out of her element and presented with a situation that really challenged her and where she wasn’t confident of her success.

Before I really had time to plan out where the story was going next, she was being sent on a mission where she wasn’t going to be able to rely on her knowledge of the past and familiarity with historical customs. She wasn’t just going to be able to call upon her research or prior experiences. She was going to be sent somewhere new, where she’d never been before, and that was going to be the true test of her meddle:

Elise was going to be sent into the future.

Once I realized that’s where the story was taking her, the rest fell into place: the connection to her previous mission that takes place in the opening chapters; the internal conflicts that she faces; and the lessons she needed to learn about herself, her work, and time travel. For a skilled time traveler, the past is too predictable, too “safe,” and with the shift to the future world, I opened up for myself a chance to explore the unknown — for Elise, for myself, and for my readers.

As of January 23, 2018, THE CONTINUUM is available in ebook and print formats via World Weaver Press! (LINK)

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From the cover copy:

Elise Morley is an expert on the past who’s about to get a crash course in the future.

For years, Elise has been donning corsets, sneaking into castles, and lying through her teeth to enforce the Place in Time Travel Agency’s ten essential rules of time travel. Someone has to ensure that travel to the past isn’t abused, and most days she welcomes the challenge of tracking down and retrieving clients who have run into trouble on their historical vacations.

But when a dangerous secret organization kidnaps her and coerces her into jumping to the future on a high-stakes assignment, she’s got more to worry about than just the time-space continuum. For the first time ever, she’s the one out-of-date, out of place, and quickly running out of time.

Wendy Nikel is a speculative fiction author with a degree in elementary education, a fondness for road trips, and a terrible habit of forgetting where she’s left her cup of tea. Her short fiction has been published by Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Daily Science Fiction, Nature: Futures, and elsewhere. For more info, visit wendynikel.com or sign up for her newsletter HERE and receive a FREE short story ebook.

Books read, late November and December 2017

Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett. Continuing my desultory wander through the Discworld books. This one was about fairy tales, which entertained my folkloric brain, and about the nature of stories, which I inevitably eat up with a spoon. I’m not sure the attempt to work in voodoo-style magic was entirely successful, but I do appreciate that it was there.

Vassa in the Night, Sarah Porter. So, you can generally separate urban fantasies into closed (only a few people know about the magic stuff) and open (everybody knows about the magic stuff). This book . . . laughs in the face of that separation. It is a world where people don’t admit to the existence of magic, but also don’t bat an eye at the fact that there’s a store called BY’s that dances on chicken legs and kneels down for you to enter when you sing their advertising jingle and if you’re caught shoplifting, the proprietor will decapitate you and stick your head on a spike in the parking lot. They may complain about the fact that the city’s health inspectors don’t do anything about the rotting heads, but they never question the underlying premise. Which makes for a very weird narrative dynamic — but not an unsuccessful one, if you can go along with it. So: a retelling of Vasilisa the Beautiful with a very damaged protagonist and a lot of family issues to sort out. Recommended if you like that kind of thing.

Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Largest Museum, Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino. Nonfiction about the Getty Museum and its history of buying black market antiquities (which makes it clear that the Getty is FAR from the only museum with this problem; it’s just one of the few to face prosecution as a result.) In many ways the content was intensely frustrating, because it’s this whole sequence of “well, you’re an improvement on your predecessor, but AUGH could you stop it already with your own problems.” The second guy in charge of acquisitions at least wasn’t committing blatant tax fraud? But he bought wholesale into the narrative that museums weren’t feeding the black market, they were nobly rescuing artifacts that would otherwise vanish into private collections. And then his successor, Marion True, showed a remarkable ability to talk out of both sides of her mouth on the matter, simultaneously championing better practices while also turning a deliberate blind eye to all the things she was warning against. I really don’t know what to make of her, because she genuinely did lead the charge to improve things at a time when everybody else was still talking out of only one side of their mouth (the one excusing it all), but at the same time, ye gods, the hypocrisy. She’s the one person who basically refused to talk to the book’s authors, which contributes to the ambiguity of “what the hell were you thinking?”

Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth: Her Stories and Hymns from Sumer, Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer. A collection of texts related to Inanna, including her descent into the underworld, the death of Dumuzi, etc. Interestingly, it includes not only the scholarly translation and notes on same, but more speculative and personal theorizing on the meaning of the texts. This sometimes wanders close to the edge of New Age territory, but not, I think, in a way that leaves the evidence behind.

Redeemer, C.E. Murphy. I may make a blog post about urban fantasies and their settings with this and The Coroner’s Lunch as my exemplar texts, because if you asked me, do you want to read a novel about an organization of demon hunters and the young woman with an inborn gift for defeating demons, I’d yawn. Doesn’t matter how interesting your approach to the cosmology of demons and their slaying is; I’ve just read too much of that for it to hold much interest anymore. But when you take that story and set it directly after WWII, where your protagonist is literally named Rosie and worked in a factory riveting airplanes together, and she’s worried about losing her job and the independence it gave her because all the men are coming home and reclaiming the workplace, and the love triangle happens because she hasn’t seen her boyfriend in three years and they’ve both been massively changed by their wartime experiences and the other guy in the triangle is grappling with the fact that he was sent home early after trashing his leg for life . . . now I’m interested. Because now you’re showing me something new, something I haven’t read or watched a dozen times before.

The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria, Carlos Hernandez. Short story collection. I received it as a Christmas present and finished it about two days later, which is a good sign. These stories mostly feature Cuban-American protagonists and freely mix science-fictional ideas with more magical realist material. I found it helpful to keep Google Translate open on my tablet while I read, not because you have to know what all the Spanish means, but because I liked to add that context where my own remembered vocabulary fell short. My favorite story was probably “More Than Pigs and Rosaries Can Give,” about a man going back to Cuba in an attempt to find and speak to the ghost of his mother, who died heroically during the Cuban Revolution, except that I feel like the story cut out early, going for the funny ending line rather than closure. Fair warning, though: these stories feature quite a lot of dead mothers, and also one story that, while hilariously funny (it literally made me laugh out loud more than once), can be read in a kind of disturbing dubious-consent light.

The Night Orchid: Conan Doyle in Toulouse, Jean-Claude Dunyach, trans. various. I’ve been meaning to read this for ages, ever since I met Jean-Claude Dunyach at Imaginales in France (he’s the one who provided me with ebooks of this and another collection). Although his afterword says that he writes science fiction because he thinks the world is a wonderful place, many of these stories are pretty bleak: there’s a lot of stuff about memory and its loss, alienation of both the psychological and literally “aliens from outer space” sort, and hackers or AIs who have thoroughly lost comprehension of the world of the flesh. The most cheerful story is probably the title piece, which is a very nineteenth-century tale featuring Arthur Conan Doyle’s character Professor Challenger and a beast that likes opera.

These last two titles in my year’s reading made me realize: I do much better with single-author collections than I do with anthologies. There’s generally (though not always) more of a unified feel to them, which tells me that despite what I might think, I apparently respond more to authorial voice than to subject matter when it comes to keeping my attention focused on a single book.

Books read, uh, most of 2017?

Okay, so the last time I posted about what I’d been reading was in February, at which time I noted that I’d fallen out of the habit of book-blogging and wanted to get back into it. Welp, clearly I fell right back out again.

My log for 2017 is not complete, I know — I failed to log things in my file as well as write about them here. And it will be even less complete as I exclude various things like my own work (re-read for editing purposes), things I’ve read for review or critique, things I’ve blogged about already, and the pile of folkloric epics I’ve been reading for research (the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Mahabharata, the Popol Vuh, the Kalevala, the Táin Bó Cuailnge, and a very abbreviated rendition of Journey to the West). But it’s still a decent pile, so let’s get started.

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Books read, January 2017

I’ve fallen comprehensively off the wagon of recording what I read and posting about it, but I’d like to get back to that. So, without any attempt to catch up on the year or so that I missed, here’s the log from January.

Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley, Charlotte Gordon. The premise of this dual biography is that Wollstonecraft and Shelley influenced each other, even though Wollstonecraft died a few days after giving birth to Shelley. The mother-to-daughter influence is easy to see; the daughter-to-mother influence is much more heavily inferred, based on the idea that Wollstonecraft was concerned with the future and with the lives of women, ergo with the life her daughter would have. I’m not quite sure I buy that half of the premise as much as the introduction made me expect, but that in no way stops this from being an excellent book that vastly expanded my understanding of both women. I had no idea how many other books both of them had written, nor the degree of respect Wollstonecraft had during her lifetime. (A respect that vanished almost immediately after she died, thanks to her husband’s misguided attempt to “rehabilitate” her image to the way he wanted to see her. She went from “respected intellectual” to “whore;” her daughter, who likewise got revised by her daughter-in-law, went from “whore” to “respectable Victorian wife.”)

Ninefox Gambit, Yoon Ha Lee. [Disclosure: the author is a friend.] The opening battle scene was gruesome enough, thanks to the exotic technology used, that I wasn’t sure what I would think of the book overall. Once I got past that, though, I was thoroughly sucked in (and the rest of the book is much less gory). The genre is space opera, but because the functioning of exotics is based on the enforcement of a calendrical system and heretical deviations from that system can make the tech stop working, it reads to me like fantasy poured through a mathematical framework. The worldbuilding reminds me of Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning, not in any of its specifics, but in the sheer wealth of detail, much of it the sort of thing I don’t usually encounter in science fiction. And despite the fact that I am thoroughly sick of the “asshole genius who makes everybody dance to his tune because he’s so damn brilliant” trope, Jedao was my favorite character in the whole novel. There are ways to make that trope work, and this is one of them.

Women in Practical Armor, ed. Ed Greenwood and Gabrielle Harbowy. Anthology I backed on Kickstarter, themed around female warriors. Most of what’s in here is very much classic D&D/sword-and-sorcery fantasy. My favorite story was probably the one that took the antho title most literally: “Pride and Joy” by Eric Landreneau, wherein the hazards of boob-plate armor get hammered home.

The Just City, Jo Walton. First of the Thessaly series. Athena gathers together people from throughout history to found the city described in Plato’s The Republic and see how it works out. By dint of its subject matter, I mentally classify this with utopian SF, but from the start it’s clear that while the Just City is an attempt to create a utopian society, it is deeply flawed in multiple ways. (As Apollo says at one point, what Plato knew about love and relationships would fit on a fingernail paring.) If, like me, you are the sort of person who bounces in glee at the prospect of seeing Athena and Socrates square off in a public debate, this is the book for you.

Elfquest: Fire and Flight, Wendy and Richard Pini. Re-read. I love this series so much. For more detail, see the re-read posts (but beware spoilers).

Everyday Things in Premodern Japan, Susan B. Hanley. “Premodern” here specifically means the Tokugawa period, with some attention to what came before and after for context. Hanley’s main thesis is that, contrary to how Victorian travelers portrayed things, the quality of life improved massively in the Tokugawa period, in large part due to technological advancements that came out of the Sengoku/Warring States period immediately prior. What I found the most interesting was the discussion of how many aspects of what we now think of as traditional Japanese culture were Tokugawa-era responses to limited resources: with the country closed to outside influences, they had to make do with what they had in their islands, and this influenced everything from food to architecture to clothing to sanitation. (When you don’t have enough arable land to waste much of it on livestock, you don’t have animal manure to use as fertilizer, so human waste becomes a valuable enough resource that you not only put in place systems for removing it to agricultural areas, you start having problems with people stealing it.)

The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character, Samuel Noah Kramer. I must have bought this back in high school or early college, because the price sticker on it is from Half-Price Books, which I used to frequent in Dallas. The book itself is a mildly interesting read, but I would love to compare it against something more recent, because I imagine the state of Sumerology has come on a bit in the fifty years since this one was published. I welcome any recommendations from the commentariat.

May I call to your attention . . . .

First of all, my friend Mike Underwood’s Genrenauts Kickstarter campaign is already nearly funded, because I’ve been crazy busy in the last week and a half (house-buying drama; turned out okay, thank god), but you’ve still got eighteen days left to back it. This is the “Season One” collection of Genrenauts, comprising six novellas (two already published, four to come), plus a bunch of extras. If you’re not familiar with the series, it involves a group of highly-trained agents parachuting into alternate realities governed by the laws of different genres, seeking to right imbalances that threaten the stability of our own world. Basically, catnip for anybody who likes thinking about and playing around with the tropes of narrative — which of course is why Mike started writing them, and why you all should read them!

Second, I’ve put up two items for auction via Con or Bust, a nonprofit that helps fans of color attend conventions they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. The first is a signed hardcover of In the Labyrinth of Drakes, and the second is a 9-CD edition of the audiobook for A Natural History of Dragons, narrated by the amazing Kate Reading. It’s for a good cause, so please, bid high!

Tales of Enchantment!

(I play too much Dragon Age. The word “enchantment” always comes out in Sandal’s voice in my head.)

I’m very pleased to announce “Tales of Enchantment,” a giveaway of more than 40 historical fantasy romances, plus a Kindle Fire to read them on. It’s organized by Patricia “Pooks” Burroughs, a fellow member of Book View Cafe, and features various other familiar BVC faces, like Irene Radford, Patricia Rice, and Sherwood Smith.

My own contribution to the bundle is an ebook of Midnight Never Come. Some titles swing the emphasis more toward “history,” some toward “fantasy,” and some toward “romance;” with more than forty books in the pile, there’s plenty to match all kinds of tastes.

The giveaway ends in seven days, so get your name in now! And note that if you share it and somebody else signs up from your share, you get extra chances to win. So spread the word!

PB-Giveaway-Brennan-Marie

#5DaysOfFiction: Day Four

One day left until the release of In the Labyrinth of Drakes! And so we move into the fourth of Five Days of Fiction, celebrating the ten-year anniversary of my first novel being published.

Today we turn our thoughts to the worlds in which the stories take place. Your question, should you choose to answer it, is: which fictional world would you most want to live in? With the stipulation that you get to choose what type of person you’ll be in that world; you won’t be J. Random Starving Peasant. (Because let’s face it, most fictional worlds would really suck if we were J. Random Starving Peasant there.)

This might not make the top of my actual list of Fantasy Retirement Destinations, but I have a very deep fondness for the World of Two Moons, aka Abode, which is the setting for the Elfquest graphic novels. Being an elf there doesn’t guarantee you a happy life — you only get to live forever if nothing kills you first, and since the time period for the main story is pretty much the Neolithic, there are quite a lot of hazards that might get you — but even a nasty, brutish, and short life as an elf tends to be at least a century long, and in the meanwhile, you’re my favorite type of elf in pretty much any story, anywhere. I love the different tribes, their different perspectives on the world . . . all of it.

Which is why one lucky respondent will receive a copy of the first Elfquest graphic novel! Let us know your favorite world in the comments, and in the meanwhile, here’s the guest answers!

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~ I want to live in Iain M. Banks’ Culture. A space-faring utopian society that actually works? Bring it on! — Jaine Fenn, author of the Hidden Empire series

~ Iain Banks’ Culture, because no one is a starving peasant there, unless they want to be. — Sean Williams, author of Hollowgirl

[editorial note: okay, we’ve got a little theme here . . .]

~ That’s a tough one. Overall, I think it’ll have to be the Discworld. — Juliet McKenna, author of The Tales of Einarinn and The Aldabreshin Compass

~ The Discworld. I’d live in Ankh-Morpork. Daughter of a minor merchant, teaching herself witchcraft and sometimes making a muddle, which she would then need to clean up while attracting as little attention as possible. — Alex Gordon, author of Jericho (coming out tomorrow!)

[editorial note: aaaaaaaand another theme . . .]

~ Middle Earth, if I could be an Elf. Amber, if I could be one of Oberon’s children. — Alma Alexander, author of Empress

~ Well, damn. Struggle as I might, I can’t find anywhere I’d rather live than Middle Earth. I am a cliche, apparently. — Chaz Brenchley, author of Bitter Waters

[editorial note: theme number three!]

~ I’m going with the standard boring answer of the Star Trek universe, because it’s basically a post-scarcity paradise for writer slackers like me. I wouldn’t be one of those high-achieving Starfleet assholes, either. I’d write books (or holodeck adventures or whatever) during the day, and replicate myself some world cuisine at night, and live easy. — Harry Connolly, author of The Great Way

~ Also impossible to answer, but let me pick Cat Valente’s Fairyland for the moment. — Pamela Dean, author of Owlswater (due out later this month!)

~ Pern. But only if I can impress a dragon and completely overhaul the rampant sexism. Which I will do. With my dragon.

Seriously, though. There are many worlds I might want to visit, but the idea of having a psychic link with another sentient being such that I would always have that shared, unconditional love? Yeah. Sign me up. — Alyc Helms, author of The Dragons of Heaven

~ Does any writer not name their own world? Probably a few. But I would take a manor overlooking Veridon any day of the week. — Tim Akers, author of The Pagan Night

~ I think it would give me great joy to live in one of Patricia McKillip’s nested worlds, the ones that are full of music and riddles, secret libraries and ancient manuscripts, ink-stains and books, books, books. — Leah Bobet, author of An Inheritance of Ashes

~ Harry Potter, as long as I could be a wizard. — John Pitts, author of Night Terrors (due out on April 11th!)

#5DaysOfFiction: Day Three

Day three of the Five Days of Fiction! We’re halfway through the celebration of ten years since the publication of my first novel. And In the Labyrinth of Drakes comes out in just two days!

Today’s question is: what’s a favorite book or series of yours? Note that I say a favorite, not the favorite; I couldn’t single out one above all others if you paid me. So just pick whichever one you most feel like squeeing about right now. 🙂

Me, I’ll go with Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, and especially the first book, The Game of Kings. (Not to be confused with A Game of Thrones.) It’s brilliant historical fantasy with amazing characters and complex plotting and holy crap her prose and THAT DUEL and I could keep raving but I won’t.

Instead, I will give away a copy! Tell me a favorite book or series of yours, and you may be the lucky respondent who wins a lovely trade paperback of The Game of Kings.

Let’s see what our guest bloggers had to say . . . .

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~ Iain M Banks’ Culture novels. They’re beautifully realised, fun, and witty. — Jaine Fenn, author of the Hidden Empire series

~ The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell. Its impact reminded me of what fiction can be. Many authors say they are inspired by a bad book to think “I could do better than that.” The Sparrow gives me something to aspire to instead. — E. C. Ambrose, author of Elisha Barber

~ The Discworld books. If I had to pick, I’d go with the Watch books. But it’s a difficult choice. I love the Witches and Death books almost as much. — Alex Gordon, author of Jericho (coming out on Tuesday!)

~ God, so many, but if I have to pick just one, I would say that Tanith Lee’s The Silver-Metal Lover is perhaps one of my ‘just about perfect’ books. It hits pretty much everything I love: an unconventional romance, philosophical complexity presented in a stunningly clear and simple way, gorgeous prose, an ending that is ‘right’ for the story being told. Just… unf. I love that book. It destroys me every time I read it.

A close runner up would be Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. Everyone focuses on the gender pronoun thing, which is an interesting bit of culture-building, and yet that completely overlooks what I think of as the meaty brilliance of that book, which gives the reader the experience of a multi-perspective non-human consciousness in a way that the reader can still relate with and connect to. Fucking genius. She manages to balance multiple high-concept themes – colonialism/post-colonialsm, diffused consciousness, artificial consciousness, gender identity, sub-altern identity – without skimping on any of them, and unlike a lot of high concept books that can be plodding, she does it via a ripping action tale with some really fun ‘tagonists. — Alyc Helms, author of The Dragons of Heaven

~ The Long Price Quartet, by Daniel Abraham — Tim Akers, author of The Pagan Night

~ That’s tough, but I have to go with Lord of the Rings, which changed my life when I was 10. It shifted my brain in ways I had never imagined. — John Pitts, author of Night Terrors (due out on April 11th!)

~ Ah, the impossible question. Sorry, I can never come up with an answer to that. I can offer you two excellent recent reads – Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho, and Down Station by Simon Morden. Both offer me things that I’ve loved in books ever since I started reading – vivid, believable characters and compelling narrative with twists and surprises. — Juliet McKenna, author of The Tales of Einarinn and The Aldabreshin Compass

~ There’s a level on which that changes from month to month, but the book that is my soul, the book that’s woven into my bones, is Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn. I read it the first time when I was exceptionally young, and reread it about once a year; every time I open it, it feels like a wild, beautiful, terrible wind blowing in. — Leah Bobet, author of An Inheritance of Ashes

~ I’m not one for picking a single favorite above all others, but The Chronicles of Prydain and Red Harvest were pretty influential for me. — Harry Connolly, author of The Great Way

~ This is utterly impossible to answer, but I will just randomly say Jo Walton’s Thessaly books, because Plato’s Republic meets the real world is just such a rich concept and she does it with so much style, grace, humor, and pure weirdness. — Pamela Dean, author of Owlswater (due out later this month!)

~ *rolls mental dice* A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K Le Guin, another fave from my youth. — Sean Williams, author of Hollowgirl

~ How about the whole Tolkien oeuvre? The Amber series? The Lyonesse series by Vance? And how about something like Guy Gavriel Kay’s “Tigana” which is not part of a series but which tears my heart out and gives it back into my hands still trembling like a bird?… — Alma Alexander, author of Empress

~ If “favourite” means “read most often over a lifetime”, that would be Tolkien again, LotR: how predictable is that? But actually now my favourite series for revisiting is Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books, which I can read on a yearly basis. — Chaz Brenchley, author of Bitter Waters

#5DaysOfFiction: Day Two

It’s day two of the Five Days of Fiction, my celebration of ten years since the publication of my first novel! The winner of yesterday’s giveaway is @lauracwhitney on Twitter, with her lonely cloud being befriended by a unicorn. 🙂

With only three days left to the release of In the Labyrinth of Drakes, my next question is: what writer would you say has had the biggest influence on your life?

This one’s a no-brainer for me: Diana Wynne Jones. Specifically, her book Fire and Hemlock, because I distinctly remember putting it down and thinking, “I want to be a writer.” I’d made up stories before then (see yesterday’s post), but that was the first time I really thought about telling stories for other people to read. My career rests on that foundation; it’s hard to imagine a bigger influence than that.

As you might expect, the winner for this giveaway will receive a copy of Fire and Hemlock; I’m going to try to track down the library edition I read when I was nine or ten, but no promises. You may wind up with a different cover.

On to the guest responses! (I specifically asked my guests who influenced them as a writer, but for the purposes of the giveaway, any kind of influence is fair game.)

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Books read, February 2016

The Wicked + the Divine, vol. 1: The Faust Act, Kieron Gillen (writer) and James McKelvie (artist).
The Wicked + the Divine, vol. 2: Fandemonium, Kieron Gillen (writer) and James McKelvie (artist).
The Wicked + the Divine, vol. 3: Commercial Suicide, Kieron Gillen (writer) and James McKelvie (artist).

(I’m listing them all together for the sake of convenience, but they were interspersed with other things.)

This is a comic book series set in a slightly alternate version of our world, where every 90 years there is a “Recurrence”: twelve gods manifest in twelve mortal hosts (not the same gods every time). They become instant rock stars, or period equivalent, with people falling at their feet in ecstasy; within two years all twelve are dead.

The storytelling here is a little bit disjointed — especially in the third volume, which is basically a collection of one-off issues that go into more detail on a selection of this particular Recurrence’s pantheon. But even when the story is moving forward, it often does so in a fashion that’s a little hard for me to follow; what I thought was the through-line turned out very much not to be. Despite that, I’m enjoying the series. I like the variety of gods: at the start of the series, not all twelve have manifested yet, but you’ve got Amaterasu, Baphomet, Minerva, Lucifer, the Morrigan (and Badb and “Gentle Annie” — she switches between aspects), Inanna, Woden, one of the Baals, and a Tara nobody’s quite sure of — there are several different Taras she could be. The gods appear to be no respecters of detail; Lucifer is a woman, Inanna is a man, and there’s discussion of what it means that Amaterasu showed up in the body of a white Englishwoman.

The main thing I will say — and I don’t think this is a spoiler — is that I don’t trust a single word that comes out of Ananke’s mouth. She is (in some theogonies) the Greek personification of Necessity, and she seems to be some kind of mentor figure to the pantheon each time around. She is also a highly dubious character, and I’m looking forward to seeing what’s really up with her and the whole Recurrence thing.

Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho. A fun romp, though ultimately it didn’t hang together as much as I wanted it to. You’ve got the decline of magic resource in England, the challenges to Zacharias as the Sorcerer Royal, the troubles on Janda Baik, and Prunella’s mysterious legacy — but because all the Janda Baik stuff was offstage, being reported second-hand by characters who mostly didn’t stick around long enough to make much of an impression, it felt more tacked-on than I would have liked. And Prunella’s backstory wound up being wholly unrelated, except insofar as she happened to be involved with the rest of it. Certainly it’s possible to go too far with linking things, tying every narrative strand up in such a neat little bow that it comes across as entirely contrived. But this didn’t link them enough for my taste (a Big Revelation doesn’t mean much if the facts revealed are entirely without context), and the resolution of some of the problems felt much too convenient — all the stuff at the seaside, basically. But I very much liked the complexity of the relationships between the two protagonists and their surrogate parent figures, and the fact that Prunella keeps one very practical eye on the necessity of securing her future by ordinary means.

Yamada Monogatari: To Break the Demon Gate, Richard Parks. Set in the same continuity as his Lord Yamada stories. I mentioned after reading the collection that the last piece felt much less like a short story and much more like setup for the novel; well, it turns out that it’s literally the beginning of the novel. It works much better in that context. Overall, though, I prefer the short stories — not necessarily because there’s anything wrong with this book, but just because I like what the stories are doing better. Each one of them tends to be a bite-sized look at some aspect of Japanese folklore, with Lord Yamada investigating and solving the mystery, then resolving the spiritual problem; here the same thing is generally true, but the additional wordage is almost entirely filled with politics instead of additional supernatural things, and that’s not really what engages me with this series. Plus, I do think Parks leaned overly hard on the “my protagonist and narrator has figured out what’s going on, but you the reader must remain in the dark” trick — which I know is a trope of a certain kind of mystery fiction, but it works better for me in third-person stories, or at shorter lengths. It made the Lady Snow stuff fall kind of flat in the end. Still, I’ll go on to read The War God’s Son at some point.

The Dragon Round, Stephen S. Power. Read for blurbing purposes. This was pitched to me as “the Count of Monte Cristo, with dragons” — which, yes, thank you, I’ll take that. As it turns out, it was less Monte Cristo-ish than I anticipated; it lacks the element of “mysterious and fabulously wealthy nobleman” which I think of as being the defining characteristic of that story type. But it’s a revenge tale, and one with certain kinds of complexity I very much like: for starters, when Jeryon is dumped into a boat by his mutinous crew and set adrift, he’s not alone. There’s an apothecary with him, a woman who refused to go along with the mutiny. And it turns out that the whole survival at sea/on a deserted island narrative feels 300% fresher when it isn’t just a tale of Rugged, Manly Individualism; Jeryon and the poth (as she mostly gets called, though she does have a name) have complementary skills that are both necessary, and along with struggling to survive, they have to figure out how not to kill each other during the lengthy period of time when they’re the only two human beings around.

As for the rest of the story — it doesn’t go the way you expect it to, and knowing not to expect the usual is probably helpful. I didn’t actually realize while I was reading this that it’s the start of a series, and the series is not about Jeryon getting his revenge. According to Power’s website, it’s about changes in the way humans and dragons interrelate — and Jeryon’s quest for revenge is more of an inciting incident than the spine of the tale. So if “revenge story” is not your cuppa, this may still be interesting to you.