Sleeps With Monsters: Thorns and Wings and Dragons

A new column over at Tor.com:

Aliette de Bodard’s The House of Binding Thorns and Michelle Sagara’s Cast in Flight don’t, on the surface, have much in common. One is a gothic, atmospheric novel of treachery and politics set in a decaying Paris, deeply interested in the politics of family and community and colonialism; while the other is a second-world urban fantasy novel starring a beat cop whose fun, light voice conceals some deeper thematic concerns with class and privilege, growing up and belonging.

Books in brief: Mead, Dietz, Sagara, Wexler, Shepherd, De Pierres, Andrews, Arnason

Richelle Mead, Gameboard of the Gods and The Immortal Crown. Penguin, 2013 and 2014.

Bah. These started out promising and rapidly descended into annoying – and in The Immortal Crown, nasty evil-religion kidnapping-and-selling-pubescent-girl-children-into-life-of-abuse because… religion? I dunno, mate, I just work here. Also Odin and Loki show up – how do you make the Norse gods boring? People seem to be managing it left and right these days – and oh, yeah, I almost forgot, there is rape by deception.

William C. Dietz, Andromeda’s Fall and Andromeda’s Choice. Titan, 2014. Second book: review copy via publisher.

I want to talk some more about these books – remind me to talk some more about these books – about what parts of them work really well and what parts of them don’t work at all. But I largely concur with the Book Smugglers’ review of Andromeda’s Fall – it’s not a very clever book, but it is a fun one.

Michelle Sagara, Cast in Flame. Mira, 2014. Review copy via author.

Read for column. Good, fun next installment in series. If you like the series, read this book! It is a return to the city of Elantra, and lots of things go boom.

Django Wexler, The Shadow Throne. Ace, 2014. ARC via Tor.com.

Review here at Tor.com. Very fun book!

Mike Shepherd, Vicky Peterwald: Target. Ace, 2014.

Awful horrible sexist problematic WTF BOOK. Read for review for Tor.com, though heaven knows if they’ll publish my expletive-laden review.

Marianne De Pierres, Peacemaker. Angry Robot, 2014.

A fun book that mixes science fiction and the fantastic. Not entirely tightly plotted, though.

Ilona Andrews, Magic Breaks. Ace, 2014. ARC via Tor.com.

Latest series installment. Read for review for Tor.com. Fun.

Eleanor Arnason, Big Mama Stories. Aqueduct Press, 2014.

Read to talk about in a column. Interesting collection.

Michelle Sagara’s TOUCH

Reviewed over at Tor.com.

It can be difficult to review quiet books. Books where the emphasis is on the interpersonal moments, where all the freight falls in the relationships between characters, in subtle cues and moments. Books where the tension is mostly between people of good will and the exigencies of circumstance. Touch isn’t a flashy book. You only realise how well it’s succeeded as a novel when you pause to reflect on how much it’s made you care, and in what ways.

I forgot to link to it when it first went live. It seems Tor.com are putting up the reviews I’ve sent to ’em quite rapidly.

A brief summation of some books read over the last weeks

I am a very irregular blogger. Well, I never promised otherwise.


Amalie Howard, The Almost Girl. Strange Chemistry, 2014. ARC.

Reviewed at Tor.com. I fear I may have been rather unkind to the poor thing.

David Weber, Like A Mighty Army. Tor, 2014. ARC.

Review forthcoming at Tor.com. Very much following the tone of previous Safehold books: more wargaming than character development.

Marie Brennan, The Tropic of Serpents. Tor, 2014. ARC.

Review forthcoming at Tor.com. Sequel to A Natural History of Dragons. I like it. Lots.

David Drake, The Sea Without A Shore. Baen, 2014. Electronic ARC.

Next in Drake’s entertaining RCN space opera series. And, in the way of that series, very enjoyable.

David Weber and Timothy Zahn, A Call to Duty. Baen, 2014. Electronic ARC.

Set in the early days of the Star Kingdom of Manticore, the setting might be David Weber, but the style, energy, verve, and attention to character is all Zahn. I like Zahn’s work: I tend to like it best when he’s playing with other people’s toys, and whatever one may say about Weber’s latest works, he has an impressive toybox when it comes to Manticore and its navy – and its navy’s history. I liked it a lot, and I’m delighted to hear that it’s only the first in a contracted trilogy.

Courtney Milan, The Countess Conspiracy. Ebook, gift.

Excellent historical romance involving science. I like science.

Faith Hunter, Death’s Rival. Roc, 2012.

Fun violent urban fantasy.

Sharon Shinn, The Shape of Desire and Still Life With Shapeshifter. Ace, 2013.

Not exactly interesting romance with minimal point to the fantastic content.

Libby McGugan, Eidolon. Solaris, 2013.

Reviewed for Vector (forthcoming). Oy, how boring and irritating was this book.

Michelle Sagara, Touch. DAW, 2014. ARC courtesy of DAW.

An excellent sequel to the excellent Silence. I should be reviewing it for Tor.com shortly.

Linky is all out of fizzy caffeine

Tom Simon on Creative discomfort and Star Wars:

That creative discomfort can make all the difference between great writing and dreck. One could argue the point endlessly, for there are examples to the contrary — snap decisions that turned out to be brilliant, slowly gestated ideas that still turned out useless. I would maintain that such cases are outliers: so much depends on the talent of the individual writer, and on sheer luck. What we want here is a controlled experiment. We could learn a great deal by taking the same writer and putting him through a series of similar projects. In half of them, he would have all the time he wanted to brainstorm, to throw away ideas when he came up with better ones, to tear up drafts, to indulge his creative discomfort. In the other half, whenever he had to make a decision, he would simply take the first workable idea that came to mind. Unfortunately, we can’t hire a writer to go through such an experiment. Fortunately, the experiment has already been made. The writer’s name was George Lucas.

Martin Lewis reviews Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels, 1985-2010 at Strange Horizons:

Broderick and Di Filippo turn on the fire hydrant of reference, retire to a safe distance, and let the pressure hose of words flail wildly about, bashing the reader’s brains in… We could charitably say that Broderick and Di Filippo have their hearts in the right place but they are obviously utterly unaware of the manifold traps of words like “indoctrinated” and “exotic.” Unfortunately, such cluelessness recurs, amplified…

…[M]y abiding impression of The 101 Best Novels is of being constantly blindsided; I ended the book not informed or entertained but baffled by these sentence-sized bolts from the blue. I’m sure if Broderick and Di Filippo had a couple of thousand words to write about any of these individual novels or any of the themes they touch on then they would acquit themselves admirably—they obviously know their onions. But their task was something else and, thankless though it was, they were not equal to it. Compression has crushed the life out of their wit and intelligence, leaving the reader with a mangled corpse of a book, punctured by broken bones and leaking shit.

Michelle Sagara, A Question About Male Gaze:

I’ve been thinking about books, written by men, in which women are handled well. Or, to be more specific, in which I think women are handled well. It’s a question I used to be asked while working at the bookstore, and therefore a question I’ve turned over on the inside of my head, time and again.

And this morning, because I am writing and my creative writer brain has slowed, I have returned to this, having spent an evening reading about male gaze.

All of the male authors I’ve recommended or cleared as “writing women well” (Sean Stewart for example) are entirely absent male gaze.

Cora Buhlert has things to say about Grimdark Fantasy:

There is a time in the life of otherwise privileged young western people where they become disillusioned with the world around them, once they figure out that parents and teachers are fallible and may even be jerks, that revolutions don’t necessarily lead to freedom, that voting for the right guy doesn’t necessarily mean that the wrong guy won’t win. And the young people going through those realisations tend to develop a taste for dark and gritty entertainment, because hey, the world is bad and western democracy does not work as advertised and now they want entertainment that tells it like it is. For most people, this phase starts sometime in their mid to late teens, which is also why the teen version of grimdark fantasy, dystopian YA, works so well. By their mid twenties to early thirties at the latest, they usually grow out of it. You can actually see this development in the work of several writers and artists. Alan Moore is a good example of this. His earlier work – Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Marvelman, his run on Captain Britain (all written in his late twenties to mid thirties) – is much darker than later works such as Promethea, Tom Strong or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, all written when he was in his late forties to early fifties.

With a follow-up here.

The King of Elfland’s 2nd Cousin on conservatism and epic:

Here are the aspects I’m curious about:

– Aesthetics. Does our current conception of epic fantasy preclude certain imagery, metaphors, sentence construction, etc.?
– Structure. How do trends in epic fantasy constrain the narrative structures viable within the sub-genre?
– Themes. Are there thematic areas which epic fantasy cannot explore? Moral, ethical, political, sociological models it cannot dramatize?

Max Gladstone talks about the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Victoria Brittain: England’s War on Terror is also a War on Women.

Linky needs to catch up with logging her reading (and write faster)

Marie Brennan on How to write a long fantasy series:

It took three years and two months rather than the two years I initially planned, but I have, at very long last, finished the Wheel of Time re-read and analysis. And as I promised quite some time ago, we’ll end with what I’ve learned.

This post, unlike the others, is not WoT-specific. I’ll be referencing the series, because it’s the primary source of my thoughts on this topic, but the point here is to talk about the specific challenges of writing a long epic fantasy series — here defining “long” as “more than a trilogy, and telling one ongoing story.” (So something like Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books wouldn’t count, since they’re a conglomeration of multiple trilogies.) My points probably also apply to non-fantasy series, but other genres are much less likely to attempt multi-volume epics on this scale, so I’m mostly speaking to my fellow fantasists.

I do not pretend this is in any way, shape, or form a recipe for commercial success with an epic fantasy series. After all, most of this is a checklist of errors I feel Jordan made, and you could paper the walls of Tor’s offices in fifty-dollar bills with the cash he made for them. Nor am I claiming artistic failure awaits if you fail to heed this advice; you might squeak through on luck, or just really good storytelling instinct. But I do feel that bearing these points in mind can help the would-be writer of an epic series avoid falling off some of the more common and perilous cliffs.

Michelle Sagara with Where Is My Outrage? Here It Is:

The title refers to this post, by author Nora Jemisin. It is worth reading. It is not going to make your night any happier.

But then again, I’m not going to make your night any happier. I don’t know if people will find this post triggery–but it will descend, in all probability, into rant and a genuine, visceral anger. So this might be the time to scroll past.

Leah Bobet on Freedom To Read:

And we need to learn that: so people of all ages can see some of the world and decide who they want to be. So we can not just think critically, but realize that you can disagree with certain things.

I learned that what you want and what you’re talented at aren’t necessarily the same thing, and why that’s okay, long before I washed out of my first professional choir and had to face that I would never be a career musician. I learned that gay people are just people, with loves and ideas and problems, before the first friend ever came out to me. I understood something of how wonderful my city could be years before I started to explore it.

I read those things in books. That was a good thing in my life.

I am glad nobody took those books away.

Joe Abercrombie on The Value of Grit:

Grit is an inclusion. Not grit is an absence. Nothing to prevent gritty books including the ennobling, the clean, the beautiful. Indeed, I’d argue that the extremes of darkness only allow the glimpses of light to twinkle all the more brightly, if that’s the effect you’re after. Clean books deny themselves a chunk of the physical and emotional spectrum.

(As an aside: finding Abercrombie talking about grit as an inclusion makes me think about archaeology’s pottery analysis and what inclusions of different sorts of materials in ceramic fabrics tells you about their origins. Yes, I am that kind of geek. Although not as much as some people I know…)

Aidan Moher at A Dribble of Ink has some Hugo nominations and is gracious enough to consider me in the Fan Writer category. Really, me, I don’t think work done for money ought to count, but apparently it does – so thanks, man. I think you should be nominating Martin Lewis or Maureen Kincaid Speller instead, but it’s nice to be noticed.