Wednesday, September 30, 2020

New Books Spotlight

Welcome to another edition of the New Books Spotlight, where each month or so we curate a selection of 6 new and forthcoming books we find notable, interesting, and intriguing. It gives us the opportunity to shine a brief spotlight on some stuff we're itching to get our hands on.

What are you looking forward to? Anything you want to argue with us about?


Baker, A. Deborah. Over the Woodward Wall [Tor.com Publishing]
Publisher's Description
Writing as A. Deborah Baker, New York Times bestselling and award-winning author Seanan McGuire introduces readers to a world of talking trees and sarcastic owls, of dangerous mermaids and captivating queens in Over the Woodward Wall, an exceptional tale for readers who are young at heart.

If you trust her you’ll never make it home…


Avery is an exceptional child. Everything he does is precise, from the way he washes his face in the morning, to the way he completes his homework – without complaint, without fuss, without prompt.

Zib is also an exceptional child, because all children are, in their own way. But where everything Avery does and is can be measured, nothing Zib does can possibly be predicted, except for the fact that she can always be relied upon to be unpredictable.

They live on the same street.
They live in different worlds.

On an unplanned detour from home to school one morning, Avery and Zib find themselves climbing over a stone wall into the Up and Under – an impossible land filled with mystery, adventure and the strangest creatures.

And they must find themselves and each other if they are to also find their way out and back to their own lives.
Why We Want It: Over the Woodward Wall is Seanan McGuire's first middle grade novel and it's also a companion piece to her superb novel Middlegame (also a Hugo Award finalist novel and Locus Award winner). There's a novel within the novel of Middlegame that is referenced constantly and is critical to that story. Over the Woodward Wall is that novel, now fleshed out. A Deborah Baker is McGuire's second pseudonym (Mira Grant being the other) - but this one is also the name of the author within Middlegame, so it all ties together. Either way, anything new from Seanan McGuire is right at at the top of my list.
 


Bear, Elizabeth. Machine [Saga]
Publisher's Description
In this compelling and addictive novel set in the same universe as the critically acclaimed White Space series and perfect for fans of Karen Traviss and Ada Hoffman, a space station begins to unravel when a routine search and rescue mission returns after going dangerously awry.

Meet Doctor Jens.

She hasn’t had a decent cup of coffee in fifteen years. Her workday begins when she jumps out of perfectly good space ships and continues with developing treatments for sick alien species she’s never seen before. She loves her life. Even without the coffee.

But Dr. Jens is about to discover an astonishing mystery: two ships, one ancient and one new, locked in a deadly embrace. The crew is suffering from an unknown ailment and the shipmind is trapped in an inadequate body, much of her memory pared away.

Unfortunately, Dr. Jens can’t resist a mystery and she begins doing some digging. She has no idea that she’s about to discover horrifying and life-changing truths.
Why We Want It: Paul reviewed Ancestral Night last year for us last year (see his review) and had I read it in time to make either my Top Nine list or my Hugo ballot, it would have easily been on both lists. It is a spectacular space opera and one of the best published last year. Machine is the follow up in the same universe and that by itself would be enough to get me in the door. Elizabeth Bear has also long been one of my favorite authors and each new novel only affirms that, plus the blurb's comparison to Karin Traviss is an added bonus (Traviss's Wess'har Wars is an overlooked series)



McGuire, Seanan. Dying With Her Cheer Pants On [Subterranean]
Publisher's Description
Despite its humble origins, there is no more challenging or physically dangerous teen sport in the world than cheerleading. Cheerleaders are seriously injured and even killed at a higher rate than other high school sports. Their stunts are performed in skimpy uniforms without the benefit of proper safety equipment…and yet they love them, glittery eyeshadow, spirit bows, and all.

And then there are the Fighting Pumpkins, who take that injury rate as a challenge. Students of Johnson’s Crossing High School, they answer to a higher calling than the pyramid and the basket toss, pursuing the pep rally that is rising up against mysteries and monsters, kicking gods with the pointed toes of professional athletes chasing a collegiate career.

Meet Jude, half-vampire squad leader; Laurie, who can compel anyone to do as she asks; Heather, occasionally recreationally dead; Marti, strong enough to provide a foundation for any stunt; Colleen, who knows the rule book so well she may as well have written it; and Steph, who may or may not be the goddess of the harvest. The rest of the squad is ready to support them, and braced for the chaos of the big game, which may have a big body count. Prepare to jump high, yell loud, and look pretty with the Fighting Pumpkins, those glorious girls in the orange and green, whose high kicks could still be enough to save the world.

And if they’re not, it isn’t going to be for lack of trying.

Dying with Her Cheer Pants On includes three stories appearing for the first time anywhere: "Tryouts," "Trial by Fire," and "Compete Me."
Why We Want It: As a matter of practice we tend to spotlight only one selection from a given author so as to spread the light around - but this is my spotlight and I'm as excited for Dying With Her Cheer Pants on as I am for Over the Woodward Wall, just in very different ways. I've been working way through McGuire's back catalog including her stories, but this is the first I've heard of the Fighting Pumpkins. I need this in my life.



Roanhorse, Rebecca. Black Sun [Saga]
Publisher's Description
From the New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Resistance Reborn comes the first book in the Between Earth and Sky trilogy, inspired by the civilizations of the Pre-Columbian Americas and woven into a tale of celestial prophecies, political intrigue, and forbidden magic.

A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun


In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.

Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.
Why We Want It: The trend of epic fantasies moving farther and farther away from what was the "standard" of the European Middle Ages is a welcome one, which is why Rebecca Roanhorse's magical epic of the Americas before Columbus is so damned exciting. Her Sixth World novels were a breath of fresh air in urban fantasy (though that's not a sub genre I'm as well read in) and this is a bold new direction for epic fantasy - part of the changing of the genre. Also, it does have a stunning cover.



Robinson, Kim Stanley. The Ministry for the Future [Orbit]
Publisher's Description
From the visionary, New York Times bestselling author of New York 2140 comes a near-future novel that is a gripping exploration of climate change, technology, politics, and the human behaviors that drive these forces.

Established in 2025, the purpose of the new organization was simple: To advocate for the world's future generations and to protect all living creatures, present and future. It soon became known as the Ministry for the Future, and this is its story.

From legendary science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson comes a vision of climate change unlike any ever imagined.

Told entirely through fictional eye-witness accounts, The Ministry For The Future is a masterpiece of the imagination, the story of how climate change will affect us all over the decades to come.

Its setting is not a desolate, post-apocalyptic world, but a future that is almost upon us - and in which we might just overcome the extraordinary challenges we face.

It is a novel both immediate and impactful, desperate and hopeful in equal measure, and it is one of the most powerful and original books on climate change ever written.
Why We Want It: I can't call myself a Robinson aficionado. He has been publishing novels since 1984 and I've only read his last two (New York 2140 and Red Moon), though I do own a small handful of his earlier novels that I swear I'll get to someday. Regardless of that, I appreciate the optimism that The Ministry for the Future offers that humanity might work together to solve the climate crisis (I write this in early September when the Environmental Protection Agency is doing the exact opposite of its name and mandate and allowing for greater pollution in the name of industry, so I can use a dose of optimism right now).



Vaughn, Carrie. Kitty's Mix Tape [Tachyon]
Publisher's Description
In the final installment of the bestselling Kitty Norville werewolf-DJ series, the paranormal escapades continue with Carrie Vaughn’s most captivating characters, including fan favorite characters like Rick the vampire and Jessi Hardin, paranormal detective, Kitty’s husband Ben, his cousin Cormac the bounty hunter, and the villainous Dux Bellorum.
Why We Want It: One of my greatest discoveries was winning an online contest that I don't remember entering and receiving copies of Kitty and the Midnight Hour and Kitty Goes to Washington in the mail. After giving them the side eye for no good reason, I started to read and Kitty Norville quickly became one of my favorite characters and I could not get enough of the series - and then it ended and Carrie Vaughn moved on. But wait! Here's a story collection and even though I've likely read at least half of the stories in it, there are two brand new Kitty stories! I'm here for this!
 

POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 4x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Interview: P. Djèlí Clark, author of Ring Shout


Hatred. Racism. Marches in the streets. Violence.  Standing tall and doing what you need to do.

I might be describing America right this second, while at the same time describing the America of 1922, of P. Djèlí Clark's novella Ring Shout, available Oct 24th from Tor.com Publishing.  In this dark fantasy historical novella, the film maker D.W. Griffith is a sorcerer, whose 1915 film Birth of a Nation cast a spell that forced our darkest thoughts to the surface. The Ku Klux Klan (and it grosses me out to even type those three words) gain power and have their own plans.  The hatred they feed on, it turns them into literal monsters.  And when monsters rise, so do monster hunters.  In prohibition Georgia, Maryse Boudreaux has a magic sword, a best friend whose a sharpshooter, and enough internal demons to keep anyone up at night. 

Anyone can write a novella about a girl who kills monsters with a magical sword. But it takes someone of Clark's skill to write Ring Shout. He makes it personal, he puts it in your face, he doesn't pull any punches. Visceral body horror, internalized hate, America's legacy of dehumanization. How he managed to cram all of this into less than 200 pages is it's own magic trick. You can read an excerpt of Ring Shout here.

Clark is the Nebula, Locus, and Alex award winning, and Hugo, and World Fantasy nominated author of the novellas and short stories The Haunting of Tram Car 015, The Black Gods Drums, The Secret Lives of the Nine Negro Teeth of George Washington, among many other short stories and short novels. His short fiction and essays have appeared in  Apex Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Fireside Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed,  and Tor.com.  He is a founding member of Fiyah Literary Magazine. His first full length novel, A Master of Djinn, was recently announced. When not writing, he works as an academic historian, studying comparative slavery and emancipation in the Atlantic World.  You can learn more about Clark and his work by visiting his website or his blog, or by following him on twitter

Mr. Clark was kind enough to talk with me about the music behind his new novella, the novella's long (and then fast) journey to publication, how the novella got personal, and more. Let's get to the interview!

NOAF: You mention on your blog that this story was in your head for a long time before you wrote it down. Can you tell us about when and why you decided to write the story down? And while you were drafting it out, did were there any scenes or characters that ended up completely differently than how you had originally imagined them?

P. Djèlí Clark: Yeah, the story was definitely with me for a while—mostly in dreamt up scenes and characters with a smattering of a plot. Visuals or a song could send me daydreaming for a minute. As I’m prone to do, it’s only when I have a full sketch of a story in my head that I start jotting down notes. That was in early August 2016. I sat down and wrote up Ring Shout from start to ending, on the Notes feature on my iPhone. Then I put it down and went and lived the rest of my life. It wasn’t until April of 2019 that it started to become “a thing.” I was sitting in a DC café, on the phone with my editor Diana Pho about a book contract for an unrelated completed full-length novel. The book world being the book world, it probably wouldn’t come out until 2021. My novella The Haunting of Tram Car 015 had just been released and that meant there’d be this big gap before I was next published. Diana asked if I might be interested in doing another novella in between—that is, if I had any ideas. I pitched two concepts, one of which was Ring Shout. It ended up in the contract.

Then came the real trouble. I had nothing written but a set of notes from almost 3 years back and a head full of ideas. I had until about September to turn it into a working story. Planned to get it done that summer. But nope. Academic work and copyedits on the unrelated full-length novel pretty much devoured my writing time. Finally, I got started on August 30, 2019. Two days before it was due. Had to ask for an extension. Then somehow, in the next four weeks, got it written. By that time whole new characters had been added, scenes had changed, and elements of the overall plot had been rewritten—so that it only resembles in passing those original notes from 2016. But hey, that’s the writing process.


NOAF: You also mentioned that “music is integral to this story.” Were there any songs in particular, that got you into the mindset of the story? If Ring Shout had a soundtrack, what might be on it?

PDC: Well, first actual ring shouts. I listened to a lot of those: recorded versions from the early twentieth-century, modern day re-enactors, even attended a live performance. It was those more than anything that kept the story alive. On a long drive, if I was by myself, I’d just play them over and over again and imagine the world I intended to build. I think I started doing that at least since 2015. But like I said there were also visuals mingled with the music. Scenes from Beyonce’s Formation video and the whole sound of it set my synapses firing. When I actually started writing, by chance I was listening to Lupe Fiasco’s album Drogas Wave, and the first five songs on there were a big influence—particularly with Maryse’s sword. In the original draft version there were lyrics from a range of artists: Beyonce, Stevie Wonder, Gregory Isaacs, Marlena Shaw, UGK, Outkast. Then my editor informed me about copyrights, and it was all cut. But yeah, the soundtrack would definitely include stuff like that.

NOAF: You don't pull any punches. Ring Shout is about hate, the Ku Klux Klan, and hate consuming the world. There's racism, racial hatred, body horror, and people (possibly including readers) facing their own demons. How hard (or easy) was this story to write?

PDC: It took some work. Dealing with the Ku Klux Klan, that part was maybe easiest. The whole idea of monstrous Klan members came from narratives I’d read by ex-slaves in the 1930s WPA, some 20 years ago. I’d also grown up in the South long enough to hear tales of the Klan and racial violence. Taking that and melding it into a fantasy, making it the external evil to be confronted—that was cathartic. Dealing with the inner demons the protagonist faces, about hate on an internal level, that was the hardest hill to climb. That took some soul searching and self-confrontations. That got personal.

NOAF: Talk to us about Maryse, Sadie, and Chef. Who are they, and what makes them such compelling characters?

PDC: Maryse is our main protagonist. A sword-wielding heroine out of a fantasy novel. She’s good at fighting monsters, less so at facing her own demons. And she’s got a choice to make. Chef is the Harlem Hellfighter, returned from WW1 to end up on another battlefield, and carrying her own scars. Maryse and Chef I knew were characters before I had names for them. Sadie came later. Brash, foul-mouthed, and deadly with a rifle, she’s the added bit of chaos I thought the story needed. I think, I hope, what makes them compelling is they each have backstories/personalities that make them distinct. That can lead to friction; but as a team, as friends, when they close ranks they’re damn formidable.

NOAF: More than a few reviewers have mentioned they wish the novella was longer, that they could spend more time with characters they loved, especially watching Maryse wield her sword. Were there any scenes that were cut from earlier drafts? Do you have any plans to write more of these characters, or in this world?

PDC: Be careful what you wish for! I’m a habitual over-writer. Every novella or novelette I’ve written started as a short story that got out of hand. With Ring Shout, at least I was aiming for a novella. Even so, there were lots of smaller scenes, longer interactions, character developments, dialogue, etc. that had to be cut, all to keep it under the magic 40k. The final draft I got in was something like 39,980 words. Every copyedit I’ve done since, has been me trying to get things I’d cut snuck back in by trimming prose here and there and not going over 19 more words. Pretty sure I’ve made my editors nervous! Plans to write more in this world? Don’t know yet. But I like to leave the door open.

NOAF: Who were some of your favorite writers and artists, when you were growing up? What about their work made you decide to become a writer?

PDC: Well in SFF, Madeleine L’Engle was a definite influence when I was younger—and there’s an ode to her, of sorts, in Ring Shout. But I didn’t decide to “become a writer” until later in life. Well into my late 20s. Before that, it just wasn’t a path I saw for someone like myself, with my particular identity and background. It was coming across writers like Octavia Butler or Tananarive Due that compelled me to think maybe I could do this—maybe I had a voice to add to genre.

NOAF: What are you working on now? Any new or current projects that you can tell us about?

PDC: A secondary world fantasy novella—about an assassin who is given a seemingly impossible, perhaps existential, assignment. Also, she’s quite undead.

NOAF: Thank you so much! Ring Shout looks incredible and you've also got me all intrigued about this undead assassin.

POSTED BY: Andrea Johnson lives in Michigan with her husband and too many books. She can be found on twitter, @redhead5318 , where she posts about books, food, and assorted nerdery.  

Microreview [Book]: Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones

Night of the Mannequins might be full of shaky anxiety, but its authorial voice is always sturdy.


Certain mental illnesses can color your perspective. Things become skewed and distorted. It's akin to having cinema seem more than just a credible imitation of reality, and instead feel like an overwhelming truth. And with a certain viewpoint, seeing an effigy of a human can convince you that you’re looking at a real, live one. But it’s not just what’s around you that becomes distorted—your interiority can become jagged, making you believe things to be true that are preposterous to most. That mindset can make crimes committed not from ill intent, but with a humanitarian bent--good intentions meshed with harmful actions. Real humans feel like simulacrums and irrationality coils around and obscures all else. Night of the Mannequins tackles that serious issue in a bloody, sometimes very extreme way but its intelligence and depth barely waver.

I’m going to be vague in my synopsis, because part of the fun in Night of the Mannequins is experiencing a specific shift in the story. The novel follows Sawyer – a teenage boy – and his friends. The group discover a mannequin in a creek, and take it as their plaything, developing a comical kinship with it, almost treating it like it’s part of their team. After they use the mannequin for a prank in a movie theatre, it walks right out of the theatre, somehow gaining the ability of mobility. That sight gnaws at Sawyer and devolves him into a spiral of desperation, weeping, and the desire to go to overreaching lengths to minimize the damage he fears the mannequin will cause. Then, a slasher-esque story with psychological undertones ensues.

When mental illness is covered in horror, authors sometimes find it easy to label those with stigmatized ailments as categorically evil. Thankfully, Night of the Mannequins doesn’t do that. All the horrors propelled by mental illness are done from characters with the intense compulsion to be utilitarian and as humane as possible. It humanizes mental illness by delving deep into the thought process of how someone could spiral down into a belief that causes harm, through a rationalization of charitableness.

That rationalization is underscored by the novel’s strong narratorial voice. The tone can pinball from humorous, to heartbreaking, to poetic, to horrific, without jarring tonal shifts. Despite the jumble of contrasting thoughts that twist and overlap like a coiled chain, the story never loses focus and barely stretches out into barren patches of inactivity. When the plot does halt at a standstill, it’s to illustrate the racing, repetitive thoughts from a certain character, which is easily apparent, and doesn’t justify making the reader go through the same line of thought again. The character’s recursive, swirly thoughts are established early on, and would be better if they weren’t hammered home.

The side characters are aptly established for a novella-sized length, but because of the skewed perspective of the story, I never really got a sense of who they were. I can’t fault that too much because it’s a side effect of the premise, but I think there are still ways to showcase and protrude their personality forward under an otherworldly lens.

Fiction is often an exercise in having a real author extract kernels of truth from unreality. The more kernels extracted, the more hard-hitting and real those stories become. And if the story is done right, for a little while we almost forget that what we’re reading or watching isn’t real. Night of the Mannequins takes that all-encompassing delusion that we all have forward and shows a perspective that is completely mired in unreality. But just like how most people cheer on the heroes of a book or movie, this character is moved to do what they think is the right thing and cheer on the seemingly right side. Night of the Mannequins could easily be a vapid slasher novella that keeps you entertained but fades from your memory immediately after reading. But Stephen Graham Jones adds nuance to create a pleasing simulacrum of slasher tropes and makes his story all the better for it.

The Math

Baseline Score: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 For a clever meshing of B-movie and “arthouse” tropes.

Negatives: -1 For a mixed bag of character development.
-1 For a slightly drawn out midsection.

Nerd Coefficient: 7/10

POSTED BY: Sean Dowie - Screenwriter, stand-up comedian, lover of all books that make him nod his head and say, "Neat!"

Reference: Jones, Stephen Graham. Night of the Mannequins [Tor.com, 2020]

Friday, September 25, 2020

Questing in Shorts: September 2020

Over the past month, I've found myself struggling to get much reading done again, as the various stresses of trying to live through Interesting Times have continued to take their toll. However, what I have found this month is that short fiction has come into its own for me: even when I'm not able to get myself motivated to read a novel, I've been able to pick up a story or two and my magazine folder is looking much healthier for it (on the other hand, let's not talk about my ARC folder...). It's not where I wanted to be at with my reading at this point in the year, but I'll take what I can get these days. So, let's see what's been on the menu this month:

Giganotosaurus July - September


I read the last three months of Giganotosaurus stories this month, all of which were excellent if very different in tone and outlook. "Miss Bulletproof Comes out of Retirement" by Louis Evans (August 2020) is an intriguingly meaty deity-superhero type setting with a main character taking on One Last Job which brings her into a conspiracy of the kind she's no longer as prepared to deal with as she used to; the worldbuilding here is first rate as are the relationships between the main characters. "The Pandora", by Stephanie Charette (July 2020), is unpleasant and claustrophobic, dealing with a girl who has been taken in by an abusive older man to shape her into a "perfect wife". Stripped of everything up to and including her own name, "Portia" (Jane) finds a lifeline in a doll which turns out to be sentient and able to enact a body swap, leaving Jane safe inside the Pandora's body while the Pandora withstands the various punishments and trials she is subjected to. The creepy doll trope is cleverly deployed here, leaving us, like Jane, uncertain about the Pandora's motives and unable to decide where to place our trust.

Then there's September's story, "A Wild Divinity" by Rebecca Schneider. This is the tale of Nassa, a woman who is dedicated to the god of reason, until he starts turning up in unexpected places and trying to impregnate her. She ends up taking refuge in the temple of the god most opposed to hers: the Queen of Delight. Initially worried and uncertain about her new situation, Nassa starts to appreciate this new divinity and particularly to forge a bond with Eidel, one of the devotees of Delight. Beautifully paced and set in a world that feels like it could support a whole lot more narrative, Nassa's specific journey, with Eidel and with her gods, is a delight from start to finish, giving space to her growth and tying everything together extremely satisfyingly at the conclusion.


Homesick by Nino Cipri


I've been meaning to read more of Nino Cipri's work for a while and this collection, bringing together 9 of their works, did not disappoint. As the title and the gorgeous cover suggest, this is a collection that's very much about homes: having them, leaving them, and what happens when we are set adrift both emotionally and (this is a speculative anthology after all) in the fabric of reality. Insofar as this collection has a centrepiece, it's the outstanding "The Shape of my Name", originally published on the tor.com website. This is the story of a family in possession of a time travelling device, narrated through the perspective of someone navigating a relationship with their mother as they both work through different points in time and the protagonist comes to terms with her trans identity. The way the time travel affects the relationships here is beautifully done and it's a story that weaves its fantasy and mundane elements together to offer a wonderful, heartbreaking experience.

It's difficult to pick other favourites in here: I enjoyed the novelty of "Which Super Little Dead Girl(TM) Are You", told in the form of a multiple choice quiz about a fictional doll franchise with exactly the premise you'd think; I also highly enjoyed "Not an Ocean but the Sea", and the weird, minor hauntings of "Presque Vue", whose protagonist keeps pulling keys out of their throat and is otherwise trying to live as normal a life as possible around that, as those around him deal with haunting circumstances of their own. All in all, though, this is one of those collections that just works as a whole, and I definitely recommend picking it up to appreciate Cipri's brilliance in this form.

Augur Magazine Issue 3.1


This is my first issue of Augur! And its an interesting, if rather grim place to start: this is an issue themed around "grief, giving and gateways". There are a ton of great poems, stories and even a cute comic, and all in all it was well worth overcoming my usual aversions to PDF for. The issue opens with "Prism" by S.D. Brown, which really sets the tone for what's to come: this is the story of a woman who has a child in prison who is taken away from her, and her attempts to take herself out of her grim reality and find ways to seek him out in the outside world. The horrors of the protagonist's treatment in prison, and the heartbreakingly small glimpses she gets of her son as he grows up under the care of another family, make for a grim but effective exploration of the brutality of the prison system and the racism inherent in the system. One to read the content warnings for, but very effective. Similarly affecting for me was "What Lies Within" by Isha Karki, the story of Swarna, a migrant woman married to a man from another country, who misses the chickpeas cooked by her mother in a way that seems linked to her inability to sleep in her new home. The "princess and the pea" overtones are evident, but this is no story of sensitive royalty and Swarna's experiences are of abuse, forced assimilation and mistreatment at the hands of the doctor brought in to treat her, all leading up to a sudden, devastating ending which feels deeply fitting even as it pulls the rug from under the reader.

My other favourite from this issue was "She Lies an Island", by Michelle Payne. In it, woman who returns to Ireland to see the body of a slain giant which has become a tourist attraction; she is going on the journey for her grandmother, who claims to have met a giant in her own youth. The story juxtaposes the tragedy of the giant's story and the protagonist's grief around her grandmother with an excruciatingly good representation of a sordid tourist experience. From the sleazy tour guide who ended up being the protagonist's uncharacteristic one-night stand from the previous evening, to the awkward behaviour of the other members of the tour group, to the awful activities organised for them when they get to the giant (the done thing is to take a bow and arrow and shoot at its face), it's evocative in a way that only enhances the inherent beauty and mystery of the dead giant herself. In a way, the ending (and yes, this is another grim one) comes as a release, a point of escape from the utterly cringey, miserable situation of the characters even as it ends in total disaster for almost everyone involved. The giant gets a fitting ending, though, and that's sort of all that matters.

Uncanny Magazine Issue 35


I'm behind with my Uncanny reading - in fact, it's possible my subscription has lapsed without me noticing, because those are the kind of times we live in now, folks - and some of the stories in this next-most-recent (I think?) issue worked better for me than others. Firmly on the "yay" side of that equation was "The Inaccessibility of Heaven" by Aliette de Bodard, a story of fallen angels and the humans who live alongside them (I'm not sure if this is in the same universe as The Dominion of the Fallen, though it definitely doesn't feel the same or contain any characters I recognise). It's a tight, intriguing murder mystery that puts its human protagonist in the centre of magical happenings which the Fallen in their life would prefer they stayed out of. Also fun was "The Ruby of the Summer King" by Mari Ness, a fable about the titular character trying to woo the Winter Queen and getting himself, and the entire seasonal realm, into a bit of a pickle over the whole thing. It's a story that takes fairly well-worn tropes and makes something that feels fairly timeless, but which nevertheless had me feeling that I genuinely didn't know how everything was going to turn out. And then there's "A Pale Horse" by M. Evan MacGriogair, which makes up for the sin of having my least favourite story ending line (please, please, stop telling me how much work the characters have to do as you close out your stories, I'm begging you, it drives me up the wall): a story whose plot hasn't stayed with me, but whose evocative sense of place and culture on the West Coast of Scotland, the relationships it forges between its characters, including a protagonist who is seeking belonging across different communities and languages, and the overall sense of an overwhelmed, dying near-future world which nevertheless is full of hope, all adds up to an excellent experience.

POSTED BY: Adri, Nerds of a Feather co-editor, is a semi-aquatic migratory mammal most often found in the UK. She has many opinions about SFF books, and is also partial to gaming, baking, interacting with dogs, and Asian-style karaoke. Find her on Twitter at @adrijjy

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Microreview: In the Black by Patrick Tomlinson

Patrick Tomlinson’s In the Black turns Tomlinson’s penchant for science fiction into full bore Mil-SF Space Opera, starting a new series with space battle, corporate intrigue, and his brand of dry humor.



Captain Susan Kamala  of the Ansari has a problem. Sure, she’s the captain of a class name ship in the CCDF, and she’s worked hard to get that position. But now a second defensive recon drone has “failed” in the 82 G Eridani solar system they are patrolling, and it does look like the Xre aliens are up to something. The seventy year old cold war between the two species may yet turn hot once again, with Captain Kamala on the grill.

Thuk has a problem. Sure, Thuk is the Derstu, the chosen leader of the Xre warship Chusexx, new and fresh, and it is probably a ship better than anything the humans have. But being Derstu is not quite like being a Captain, and Thuk has to see to the crew, as well as the orders from above. Poking at the humans, testing their defenses is a tricky thing to navigate. It's enough to want one to molt their shell. And so when the poking at the human defenses provokes a confrontation, that shiny new ship might get its real shakedown in a shooting match with a human warship.

Tyson Abington has a problem, too. Sure, he’s the CEO of Ageless, Inc. Sure, he has a kickass AI, Paris, which helps him keep on top of running one of the corporations that dominate Human Space. But his company’s colony over on a planet around Teegarden’s Star has a very nasty virus, and news of that when it gets out to the public is sure to hit stock shares. And there are intimations and rumors of other things, other threats to Ageless  in the offing. The corporate sharks are circling, and Tyson is getting the sense that these are moves for high stakes--stakes enough to threaten not just him, not just his position, but worse, his entire corporation.

Their three stories may start, or stop, or even hasten interstellar war in Patrick Tomlinson’s In The Black.

The beginning of the novel, the dedication of the novel, is to David Weber, Walter John Williams, Marko Kloos, and James S. A. Corey. The novel stakes out right away that this is squarely pitched at readers of, and playing in the Military SF Space Opera quadrant of the galaxy of SF. The novel is traditional enough and so well within the boundaries of that subgenre that if Mil-SF doesn’t interest you, this is, full stop, not going to be the novel that is going to give you the most in your reading bang for the buck. This is the novel where Tomlinson decides to see what he can do with a storied portion of SF, but it is not transcendent of that subgenre.

So what do we have here?


The social worldbuilding and the setup intrigued me. The corporate dominated Earth and how the Corporations have taken us to the Stars and run planets and fleets feels somewhat like a variation on the Corporate future of Martha Wells’ Murderbot series, but with the dials turned much more heavily to a militarized and military focused presence in space. I somehow get the sense that the Xre-Human war started off much like the Kzinti and Humans in Niven’s Known Space--the Xre thinking the humans were going to be easy prey and the Humans, caught on the backfoot, nevertheless got to parity and a cold war.. The Xre are much more crafty than the “Attack before they are ready” Kzinti. Tomlinson’s characterization of aliens, as seen in his previous novels, often shows far more nuance and craft than some of the stereotypes seen in Niven’s Known Space. Frankly, I would rather face a Kzinti force than a Xre force any day if I were given the choice between the two. Tomlinson avoids the twin pitfalls of “starfish aliens” that are incomprehensible and “rubber forehead aliens” who really are just humans with a dye job. The Xre are winningly described and characterized and by the back portion of the novel, their actions are comprehensible.

That leads us to the characters that Tomlinson populates his world with. There are archetypes, standard models of characters, basic variants that one finds in a lot of Military SF, Space Opera or not. Tomlinson subverts this from the get go with Captain Kamala and the crew of the Ansari. Kamala is no Smurfette on the ship--the ship, and indeed most of the fleet is crewed by women, because women handle the rigors of space better. It’s a poke in the eye of mediocre Mil SF which has Manly Men doing Manly things in Space, backed up with a logical reason as to why the crew of this ship, and most ships in fact, is mostly women. Tomlinson’s captain and crew are professional soldiers, with quirks, and full fledged personalities. This extends to the Xre, and to Tyson and the characters around him as well. This is not a novel of deep character arcs and development. However, Tomlinson gives a good dynamic range and inner life  to his characters, human, alien and also the AI Paris. Like his previous novels, Tomlinson understands character, especially the absurdity of characters’ lives, and that is a real joy to his writing. And there are other fine notes of dry humor, another staple of Tomlinson's writing that leavens the proceedings. I was expecting the Packers humor, but not the poke at a sit down restaurant chain, just to name two bits.

But it is the nuts and bolts of the Military SF that the novel really focuses on, and where for the most part it shines brilliantly. The FTL is the Alcubierre drive, frame dragging FTL with interesting limitations and restrictions. There is no Ansible (which means that the transmission of information between solar systems has to be by ship, which proves to be something that parts of the plot turns on) There is a definite sense of a cold war arms building up and testing on both sides. Like the 1970’s and 1980s as America and the USSR developed better weapon systems of various kinds, a Balance of Terror, there is a corporate cast to the weapons development, making profit motives an interesting tweak to how the Military tech development and execution proceed. There is plenty of space action as the opposite sides square off, and Tomlinson delivers what Mil-SF readers are looking for in terms of well described action and adventure. At the same time, there is an not so explicit criticism of the corporate military industrial complex (complexes if you count the Xre too) and a real sense of the potential costs of war and who war ultimately benefits.

My major beef with an otherwise high quality novel is the ending. The novel builds up, introduces mysteries, conflicts and sequences, and comes to a conclusion that really isn’t one. There is a final Mil-SF battle and set piece confrontation that is really spectacular, but there is a frustrating lack of finality to this novel, providing no off-ramp for readers who don’t want to read a second novel (or, worse, if a second novel should never happen). I was hoping for something more self contained along the lines of, say, Gate Crashers. I do like the world, the tech, the action and the characters and I would read a sequel, but I was hoping for something a little more self contained. Hopefully there will be more books in the series, so as the cliffhangery bits of this novel won't itch quite so much.

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The Math

Baseline Assessment: 7/10.

Bonuses: +1 for an excellent cast of characters
+1 for excellent Military SF action beats right down the center of the pitch.

Penalties -1 for not sticking the ending.

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 Well worth your time and attention

Reference: Tomlinson, Patrick  In The Black  [Tor, 2020]. 

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.



Wednesday, September 23, 2020

6 Books With Karen Osborne

Karen Osborne is a speculative fiction writer and visual storyteller living in Baltimore. She is a graduate of Viable Paradise and the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, and won awards for her news & opinion writing in New York, Florida, and Maryland. Her short fiction appears in Uncanny, Fireside, Escape Pod, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and more. Architects of Memory is her science fiction debut.  

Today she tells us about her Six Books:

1. What book are you currently reading? 

I wish I could write like Ashley Blooms. I would trade my spleen to write like Ashley Blooms. I am currently reading her first novel, Every Bone A Prayer, which is about Misty, a ten-year-old girl living in rural Appalachia. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this one since I read the first chapter when we were both at the Clarion Writers’ Workshop in 2017. 

Misty can speak to the crawdads and the birds and the bottles and the trees, but she can’t speak to other people about the terrible things that are happening to her. And she has abilities—strange, magical abilities that help her heal and cope. Blooms vividly paints a picture of how it feels to be confused and ten years old, as well as delineating every blade of grass in a Kentucky holler. There’s a moment towards the end where I cried out of sheer emotion—the closest you get to that old Greek idea of catharsis, where a piece of art makes you feel something real. 

And she achieved this on her first time out.

This book is a lyrical brick to the face and a beautiful twist to the gut, and it’s not the kind of novel you read and forget. It’s an important book, the kind that enters the canon. I can’t wait to see what she does next.

2. What upcoming book are you really excited about?

I really can’t wait for Valerie Valdes’ Prime Deceptions, the sequel to her wonderful debut, Chilling Effect, because it has everything I love about sharp, snappy space operas, and wow, do we need that kind of thing right now: a smart, messy mouth on a smart, messy heroine, delightful aliens, lots of action, and a crew you root for from beginning to end. Her series hits all of my happy places.

Humans are in the minority in Captain Eva Innocente’s vibrant galaxy, which owes debts to everything from Mass Effect to the glory of the Cuban pastelito (and they are glorious). She’s the kind of character that will risk everything for her family, whether it’s the sister she needs to rescue from a shadowy crime syndicate or the crew that are slowly becoming her family, too. Every chapter is filled with something that made me shriek with delight, and Valdes’ comic timing is perfect, whether it’s a joke or a reference or simply a fleet of psychic cats showing up at the perfect time. 

Valdes lands a hat trick that space opera writers rarely achieve: the reverent irreverence of Douglas Adams paired with the expansive world of Dune and the full heart of Star Trek and Mass Effect.

I’ll be on La Sirena Negra for as long as she flies.


3. Is there a book you’re currently itching to read again? 

I read Sarah Pinsker’s A Song For A New Day when it was released last fall, and I really enjoyed it. It was a story about a pandemic that made it impossible and deadly for people to spend any time together, and how society spun out afterwards. The book focuses on live music, the lives of rocker Luce Cannon and post-pandemic homebody Rosemary Laws, and what happens after they meet.

And then, uh, we had a real pandemic that made it impossible and deadly for people to spend time any together, one that turned live music into a deadly disease vector and, at the time of this writing, continues to disrupt every aspect of the lives we once knew. The author wasn’t trying to be a prophet, but she ended up nailing every single idea: concerts broadcast over Facebook Live and Zoom, online commerce, you name it.

Thankfully, Pinsker isn’t trying to write a hopeless dystopia, here. This is a story set years and years after the pandemic, a story that’s trying to heal the past and set up a new future. It was lovely to watch Luce and Rosemary brave new trails and follow their hearts. It’s going to be quite the experience to read this book again knowing what we now know about how their world began.


4. How about a book you’ve changed your mind about – either positively or negatively?

I don’t like reading books from my middle school years now that I’m an adult—primarily because I re-read Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. Seeing the Pern series with adult eyes changed everything.

See, I was pretty unpopular in middle school, and the bullying started the moment I got on the bus in the morning and didn’t stop until I got home at night. I have vivid memories of looking out the bus window, staring out the window and hoping a golden dragon would whisk me away. 

That’s all I understood. “Dragons are cool, and fighting Thread is awesome.” It didn’t connect with me that only men were dragonriders, aside from the unimportant riders of tiny green dragons. I didn’t notice that women were hardly even present. I was too young to understand love beyond holding hands with your crush—let alone the sexual fate of the Weyrwoman. Or the implications of her title—that there’s only one of her.

I know Pern is an influential and important work in the canon, and I appreciate that its author was one of the first woman to be recognized for her work in a male-dominated fandom. I don’t want to take away any of that.

But I do think there’s a valid criticism to be made of a world that relegates women to be drudges and bedwarmers and unimportant green riders. And once I recognized that as an adult, I knew I couldn’t go back. 

The dragons weren’t coming for me. They never were. And that made me incredibly sad.


5. What’s one book, which you read as a child or a young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?

My reaction to Pern is why I won’t read Brian Jacques’ Redwall again. It’s just too precious to me.

This was the early nineties, so while young adult books were being written they weren’t quite their own category yet, unless you were into Sweet Valley High, which I definitely wasn’t. So maybe that’s why I glommed onto these books in-between Heinlein and Donaldson and the other tough adult books the librarians were handing me because I was interested in Star Trek. (Donaldson. Really, librarians?)

Redwall was influential because in those years I felt small and worthless and undervalued because I was bullied at school, and Jacques’ tales were all about tiny mice devoted to peaceful lives that nevertheless would defend their friends and compatriots if threatened—and win. There are prophecies and rhymes and long descriptions of delicious food, and fearful woodland creatures getting over those fears all over the place. 

I didn’t see the same problematic issues of Jacques categorizing moral alignment by species/race as I do now, and I stopped reading the series about five books before I’m afraid to go back and read them as an adult lest the magic evaporate.

But wow. A mouse with a sword. A reminder that even the smallest creatures can be heroes. I give this book to every quiet 11-year-old I can.


6. And speaking of that, what’s your latest book, and why is it awesome? 

A lot of people call their debuts the “book of their heart.” Well, Architects of Memory is more the “book of my incandescent anger” or “the book of my existential frustration.” Indentured salvage pilot Ash Jackson is threading a very thin needle after the alien attack that killed her fiance and ruined the company she hoped to join as a citizen. Ash is sick with a terminal illness, but if her new company finds out, she’ll be tossed out of the program. She won’t qualify for citizenship or the health care that might lead to a cure for her condition. On top of all that, she’ll never see her new love—her ship’s captain—ever again.

So that’s the stressful environment in which Ash is working when she uncovers a strange new alien weapon in some battlefield wreckage—a weapon that every company seems to want and that threatens to turn her into a weapon herself.

I think this might be the kind of book you write as an older millennial raised on Star Trek and glasnost and the fall of the Berlin Wall, who was told her entire life that things are looking up, only to be clobbered with war and recession and more recession and more war and now this end-stage capitalistic gig-working hell. I don’t think it was a coincidence that I started writing this book while also attempting to make rent money on a gig platform that required me to pay actual money for the chance to work.

Add in a slice of my own dealings with chronic health issues and a crew that’s been waiting for a story since the turn of the century (since I thought them up in a boring college class, that is), and you have a novel that tries to be hopeful while dealing with things like corporate greed and betrayal and some other surprising things. I’m really proud of Architects of Memory, and I hope readers like it as much as I do.

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POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know?@princejvstin.


Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Interview: Andrea Hairston, author of Master of Poisons

When I started seeing promotional material for Andrea Hairson's Master of Poisons,  there was a turn of phrase that caught my eye: "Poison desert eats good farmland".   Something to know about me is that I live in a college town that is surrounded by farm land. And we're pretty protective of our farm land  and fresh water sources around here.  Anything that harms the land and the water, that harms how we feed ourselves, thems fightin' words. With its sorcery, floating cities, empires on the edge of collapse, powerful storytelling and deadly storms, Master of Poisons is obviously about much more than protecting the land. But, if we don't have land to live on, land to farm to feed ourselves, then what?  Come for the "save the farmland!" basics, and stay for the fact that this book pulls together research and stories that the author has been collecting for her entire adult life.

Hairston's previous novels include Will Do Magic for Small Change (finalist for the Mythopoeic, Lambda, and Tiptree Awards), Redwood and Wildfire, (winner of the Tiptree and Carl Brandon Awards) and Mindscape. (winner of the Carl Brandon Award).   

Of her newest novel, Master of Poisons, Hairston says:

"Master of Poisons is about denial and the empire of lies we’re willing to believe. It’s about decolonizing the mind. I wanted to write myself out of the hopelessness we feel facing devastation. This is a book about the stories we tell and the communities we make to do the impossible. . . .I am an Afro-Futurist in league with Indigenous-Futurists. I want to bring the wisdom of recovered ancestors into conversation with the future."

Not one to limit her artistic endeavors to just ink on a page, Hairston is a playwright and Artistic Director of the Chrysalis Theatre in Western Massachusetts, which has produced everything from scifi comedies to musical workshops, to radio shows and more.  To learn more about Hairston's fiction, essays, and stage work, you can visit her website at andreahairston.com, and follow her on twitter at @AAHairsto.  

After learning about Master of Poisons, I had about a million questions for Hairston, from her inspirations for this novel, to her worldbuilding methods, how music and language plays into her storytelling, to her work on the stage. She was able to take some time out of her schedule to answer many of them.  Let's get to the interview!

NOAF: On a Tor.com post announcing the book, you talked about how you "wanted to write myself out of hopelessness we feel facing devastation". Can you tell us more about this? Was writing Master of Poisons emotional for you, because of the feelings of hopelessness? (as someone who lives in a small city surrounded by beautiful farmland, the idea of farmland dying makes me want to cry!!) 

Andrea Hairston:
Some days a wave of despair inundates me. I feel like a brief speck of dust, struggling to survive the whirlwind, the hellfire. Writing is like prayer. Writing challenges me to feel the world, to find myself in relation to the dirt, the people, the rain, the bees, all living things.  

That’s how and why I wrote Master of Poisons. My emotions are fuel for activism, not a drain. 

We all use our emotions as fuel to create and sustain the changes we want to make, have to make. So, when writing, I don’t feel alone. I don’t feel helpless, hopeless, useless. I know that what I do matters. What we all do matters.  

NOAF: What were some of your inspirations for the novel?  

AH: The films of Guillermo Del Toro—he shows us the other worlds, beautiful and terrible, in our world. Frans De Waal’s books on animal emotion and intelligence—De Waal asks are we smart enough to know how intelligent animals are or wise enough to sense how much they feel? The plays of Pearl Cleage, Alice Childress, Anna D. Smith, and Tess Onwueme—these women recovered lost history, reinvented the present, and reached to the future. The novels of Octavia Butler, Michael Ende, Ursula LeGuin, Nalo Hopkinson, and Tad Williams. They made me feel at home in Science Fiction, and Fantasy. 

NOAF: I love these kinds of epic, lush, complicated worlds, how did you create and design the Arkhysian Empire?  

AH: I tried to write a novella, tried to squeeze the story and the world into 40,000 words or less and it just didn’t work! The characters demanded backstories, geographies, their own particular languages, histories, and cultures. The conjure system demanded a full cosmology. Each language had words that didn’t translate, that had to be explained by stories, myths, and experiences. Nobody ate the same food. Even the trees and rivers wanted to tell their story! 

NOAF: What kind of research did you do for this novel?  

AH:
I’ve been researching this book since the ninth grade so that’s a very long time! I read history, cultural studies, novels, poems, plays. I love going to museums-- and looked at art, maps, sculptures, clothing, pottery, weapons, fabric, tapestries—all sorts of material culture. All praises to the Smithsonian Institute, particularly the Museum of the American Indian and the Museum of African American History and Culture. 

I’ve learned several languages. Learning a new language offers a particular way of seeing the world. Truly, every language makes a different world. 

Decades of doing theatre and performance was also good research. Theatre is great practice for getting inside characters and worlds that aren’t your own. I play balaphon –a West African Instrument with wooden keys and gourd resonators. The polyrhythmic West African music transports me, changes me. Like speaking a particular language, playing music offers me a portal to a new realm. 

NOAF: What is your writing process like? Are you a pantster or a plotter?  

A 12 key balaphon with gourd resonators

AH: So I do both! It’s a polyrhythm. I plot and then fly off with my muse, and then I settle in and plot and then fly off again until I find the end and then I can get the beginning to work. 

NOAF: Without too many spoilers, can you tell us if there was a particular scene that was your favorite to write? Was there a scene that was more difficult to write than you expected? 

AH:
I loved writing stories from the point of view of the animals, of the non-human characters in the novel. These were some of the hardest scenes to write, but also the most fun. I’m allergic to bees and becoming a swarm of them was thrilling. 

NOAF: You are the Artistic Director of the Chrysalis Theatre, a cross cultural performance ensemble, and you teach theatre and playwriting. How has your experiences in live theater and playwriting informed how you write short stories and novels?  

AH: Doing live theatre means you have to rehearse and rehearse yet be ready to improvise with whatever comes up during the performance. Writing for theatre, I’ve rewritten lines after the show has opened. Performers wanted to kill me, but if the lines I handed them were better than what they’d been struggling to get behind, they’d cuss and fuss and then change. So I am a champion rewriter. I revise and revise until I get the story I want. 

I love dramatic storytelling—finding the action, the mystery that propels they story. As I playwright, I love finding the voice of each character, the idiom of their thoughts, the idiom of their world. I bring all that into my novels. 

NOAF: How is telling a story on the stage different than telling a story on the page? 

AH:On stage you have actors, sets, lights, costumes. A novelist has to conjure all that setting in the minds of the reader. No designers or performers to the rescue! No music to underscore or illuminate intentions, motivations, mood. In the theatre, the audience can breathe the same air as the performers. They can taste the actors’ hunger and joy, feel the music of the actors’ voices in their bones. Sitting in your seat, taking in the play, you sync up heartbeats with the rest of the audience and send your energy up on stage to support the performers as they reach beyond themselves. But playwrights don’t write the interior landscape of a character. Word by word, the novelist maps that often complex and always intriguing interior and invites the reader on an intimate journey from self to other. Hours can go by and lost in the book, in the setting and music that the writer has conjured, the reader forgets everything else. 

NOAF: Thank you so much, Andrea, for this enlightening interview!

POSTED BY: Andrea Johnson lives in Michigan with her husband and too many books. She can be found on twitter, @redhead5318 , where she posts about books, food, and assorted nerdery. 

Monday, September 21, 2020

Interview: Jim C. Hines, author of Tamora Carter: Goblin Queen

photo credit: Lionel Davoust

Author Jim C. Hines sold his first short story in the late 90s, and he's been going strong ever since. He cut his teeth on more anthologies than I can count, along with having short stories published in Fantasy Magazine, Clarkesworld, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Oceans of the Mind, Podcastle, and elsewhere.  His first full length novel, Goblin Quest, was published in 2006, and Hines took over a large chunk of the humorous and heartwarming fantasy from there as the writer of the Jig the Goblin series, the Princesses series, the Magic Ex Libris series, and his current Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse series. All this while editing anthologies, speaking at events, and writing short fiction.

His fiction will make you laugh, it will make you think, and some of it will make you cry.  In 2012, Hines won the Hugo award for best fan writer, for his blog work that (among other things) interrogated how women have been portrayed in cover art.    I've been lucky enough to meet Hines in real life, and he is kind, brilliant, humble, observant, and always knows the right thing to say.  (Jim, are you secretly Doctor Who?)


Hines' newest novel, Tamora Carter: Goblin Queen (Available Sept 15) is a middle grade book that starts with roller derby, and then the goblins show up. The novel promises to be an enjoyable read for anyone who is young at heart.  Always the kind of guy who wants to try something new (because why not?), Hines did a Kickstarter to fund the book, and fully funded in less than 24 hours.   You can read the first chapter of Tamora Carter: Goblin Queen here.

You can learn more about Hines' work at his website JimCHines.com , or by following him on twitter, @jimchines.  

Hines was kind enough to chat with me about his new novel, the adventure that is Kickstart, writing Smoosh the Cat, and the pure joy that is writing goblins. Let's get to the interview!


NOAF: What was the inspiration behind Tamora Carter: Goblin Queen? What can you tell us about this story?

Jim C. Hines: Tamora Carter: Goblin Queen is an anti-portal fantasy. In your traditional portal fantasy, your heroes go through a door (or wardrobe, or rabbit hole, or mirror, or whatever) into a magical world and have Adventures. Tamora is a girl whose best friend disappeared into that other world, and she got left behind. But then things start leaking back through into our world, starting with a pair of goblins who show up at the skating rink when Tamora gets out from roller derby  practice.

Basically, I wanted to mess around with the idea of the portal fantasy. Maybe humans aren’t always the heroes rushing in to save other worlds…

And I really wanted to write about goblins again. They’re just so much fun. 

NOAF: Who was your favorite character to write? Why were they your favorite? 

JCH: I don’t know that I have a favorite for this book. Gulk the goblin was a lot of fun, because he’s an unapologetic coward, but he’s also inspired by Tamora, and he loves parts of our world – like Pop Tarts. Tamora’s various pets were great too. They all have such fun personalities. Smoosh the cat is just gross (and based on a cat I had growing up). Her sheepdog Appa just wants to play with everyone, and doesn’t understand why the goblins keep running away. . .  

NOAF: Were there any scenes in Tamora Carter: Goblin Queen that were especially fun to write? Were there any that were especially challenging to write? 

JCH: Every book I’ve written has both. There are scenes that make you want to rip out any hair you might have left, but then there are the ones that feel so right, where everything comes together and you’re just sitting there grinning as you think about it. Those moments make all of the frustration worth it. One of the fun ones was the first time Appa gets to “play” with the goblins. It wasn’t a particularly Earth-shattering scene, but it felt like such a perfect embodiment of the tone I wanted, the sense of fun and chaos, and Tamora’s cleverness when it comes to dealing with potential dangers. 


 

NOAF: Why did you choose to use Kickstarter to raise the funds to print and publish the book? I imagine that self publishing on Amazon would be a lot less stress than running a Kickstarter. (but also, less fun?) 

JCH: Partly, I wanted to try Kickstarter because I’d never done it before. I’ve been very fortunate in my writing career so far, but I really want to try to branch out a bit more. To “diversify my income streams,” or something jargon like that. Writing is how I make the bulk of my living, and I want to make sure I can keep doing it. That means trying new things. 

I also wanted to be able to cover up-front expenses, the biggest of which was hiring a good cover artist. 

NOAF: I think it's fair to say that your Kickstarter to fund Tamora Carter was wildly successful, as you hit your goal within 24 hours, and ultimately raised more than four times the dollar amount you'd set as your goal. Were you surprised at how quickly the goal was reached? What were some things that helped your Kickstarter be so successful? 

JCH: I was both surprised and thrilled at the response. With this being my first Kickstarter, I had no idea what to expect. Especially since I was launching it in the early months of a pandemic. 

I tried to keep my initial goal reasonable, in part to make sure we reached it. Kickstarter is all-or-nothing, so if you don’t reach your goal, the project essentially fails. 

I think what helped the most was that I’m established enough as an author to have fans who both trust me and enjoy my work. The vast majority of supporters were people who have read my stuff and were excited about seeing something new. Plus, you know, goblins and roller derby make everything better, so that helped. 

NOAF: Doing a Kickstarter takes buckets of time, and a metric boatload of mental energy. Would you do it again? And if yes, is there anything you'd do differently? 

JCH: You’re not kidding! It’s basically all of the work that goes into self-publishing, plus a month of fundraising, followed by all of the reward fulfillment. I’m still working on getting books printed so I can mail them out to supporters. COVID-19 and other assorted 2020 chaos has caused some serious delays at the printer, which is frustrating. 

Would I do it again? Probably, if I had the right project. One nice thing about the Kickstarter was that we raised enough up-front money for me to hire a very skilled artist (Leanna Crossan) to do the cover, and then we reached the stretch goal where I could commission her to do three interior illustrations as well. 

I was advised to look into fulfillment services that help out by organizing and mailing out the rewards for you (for a percentage, of course). I'm not sure whether or not I'd try that next time. I'm a bit of a control freak, and I like being able to sign and personalize everything myself. But ask me again how I feel after I've mailed out 300+ personalized books . . .  

NOAF: I've been following your work for some time now, and I know you're always working on something, always playing around with story and character ideas. Do you have any current projects you can tell us about? 

JCH: I just turned in Terminal Peace, which is the third book in the Janitors of the Post Apocalypse trilogy. So my next project is to catch up on sleep and everything else I've put off while I was working on that final rewrite. 

Writing-wise, I'm not sure yet. My agent has been shopping around another middle-grade book, so I'm waiting to see what comes of that. Whatever I do next, I’m leaning toward making it a standalone. Probably fantasy. But we'll see what happens. 

NOAF: Thanks so much Jim! 

 

POSTED BY: Andrea Johnson lives in Michigan with her husband and too many books. She can be found on twitter, @redhead5318 , where she posts about books, food, and assorted nerdery.

Friday, September 18, 2020

6 Books with Kimberly Unger

Kimberly created her first videogame back when the 80-column card was the new hot thing. This turned a literary love of science fiction into a full blown obsession with the intersection of technology and humanity.

Today she spends her day-job time in VR, lectures on the intersection of art and code for UCSC’s master’s degree program and writes science fiction about how all these app-driven superpowers are going to change the human race. You can find her on Twitter at @Ing3nu or on her blog at www.ungerink.comKimberly’s debut science-fiction novel Nucleation will be released in November 2020,

Today, she shares her 6 books with us:

1. What book are you currently reading? 

I just got my hands on Glorious by Benford and Niven.  I haven’t read the first two yet, so I’ve gone back and picked up Bowl of Heaven, the first book in that trilogy. That’s my current “top of the stack”.  There’s been quite a long span between the first book and the last, so I am hugely curious to see how the writing and the characterization has evolved (or if it’s evolved) over that period of time. Writers' styles tend to change as their craft improves or their deadlines get shorter or they gain life experience. I rather enjoy observing that as part of my reading.  I do the same thing with comic book artists, there are a few I’ve been following for years and it’s been fantastic to watch them grow.

2. What upcoming book are you really excited about?

I actually had to go back and look through my pre-orders to see what’s in there.  I’m one of those people who, I see a book, get really excited, then go pre-order it and forget all about it until it hits my Kindle like an un-birthday present.







3. Is there a book you’re currently itching to read again? 

I’ve been thinking about digging back into the Laundry Files, It’s been a little while since the last book came out, the new one should be dropping shortly and I do deeply enjoy the way Stross’ characters do their best in the face of a future that is stunningly bleak when you really think about it (which is part and parcel to playing in that mythos, right?).  It’s unlikely this series will have a good ending and I am hugely curious to see how it all plays out.




4. How about a book you’ve changed your mind about – either positively or negatively?

I… erm… That’s a hard one. I have authors who I have changed my mind about, in fact most authors I’ve met have been very different than I imagined them to be from their work. Books for me are different, I hold them when I read them in my timeline because people can change for better or worse, but books cannot. When I read them now I have a different reaction.  But that’s not really changing my mind, that’s just the evolution of my experiences crashing up against it.  An example of this might be Butcher’s Dresden Files books.  I enjoy the latest books in the series, but the first few books are written with a much younger lens. Current-version me is not a fan of some of the cringeable moments in those books, but if you sit down and do a binge read, you can watch the author’s style and world-choices maturing right alongside the characters through the course of the series, which is absolutely fabulous.  I’d be more careful about recommending them than I once was.  But, I also wouldn’t want the author to do a “revised edition” to bring it in line with who I am now.  I’d rather they keep all those moments so the characters can grow out of them. So you could say that I’ve revised my opinion about the first few books in the series a little towards the negative, but the series as a whole as a positive.

5. What’s one book, which you read as a child or a young adult, that has had a lasting influence on your writing?

Patricia K. McPhillip’s The Changeling Sea is one, it was one of the shortest books I’d run across on a shelf full of epic-length high fantasy texts, but it still managed to be complete and whole and satisfying.  I started reading science fiction with shorter, faster pulpier works like Ron Goulart’s because some kind soul had sold off tons of them to the local used bookstore, so seeing that length of book emerge on modern shelves changed the way that I think about publishing.




6. And speaking of that, what’s your latest book, and why is it awesome? 

Nucleation is a story about what happens when a woman at the top of her game gets her legs kicked out from under her. It’s about working in an environment that values one’s expertise, and how when you climb back up again, you may find your view has changed.  Throw in a healthy mix of remote-space travel, nano-robotics and an alien race that’s a mirror, not of us, but the things we create, and I think, I hope, you’re going to find Nucleation worth your time.






Thank you, Kimberly!

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I’m just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.