Category Archives: Books

Books by others; whatever I’m reading.

The Change, feminism, and S.M. Stirling’s THE GOLDEN PRINCESS

keep readingI reviewed The Golden Princess for Bookworm Blues on On September 23rd. This is the latest in S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse, and is set several generations after the Change. (The Emberverse has its own Wiki, so if you’re looking to study up, go here.)

The Golden Princess focuses on a new generation of Montival movers and shakers: Princess Orlaith, her brother and their various friends and followers. In the former category is the Empress of Japan, Reiko, a young ruler far from home. Like Orlaith, she’s grieving the sudden loss of her father even as she takes on new responsibilities.

Reiko is on a quest  much like the one that brought the magical Sword of the Lady to Orlaith’s royal dad, Rudi MacKenzie. I won’t rerun the review here, but two weeks later a couple other things about the book have come to mind as the story settles into my consciousness:

First, this is a book about two young women forming the kind of friendship that might, given their respective political roles, be truly world-altering.

Second, the Change is starting to be seen by this new generation of younger characters as the way things have always been. This is not to say they don’t know about the Industrial world and information age–all of which came to a crashing halt a few years before Y2K. That history’s very much available to them, but the advanced technological period of human history is, more and more, being perceived as the blip. We are a aberration, a brief interruption in a feudal way of living that is seen, by its citizens, as more “natural.”

It’s a believable evolution in mindset. You can see it in action yourself if you try to tell a nine year old about life before TV (No! It really happened!) But what intrigues me about this paradigm-shift in these books is that the remarkable young women dotted through the narrative don’t have much sense that the weird industrial period coincided with a whole lot of feminist activism. Without it, few of them would be queens, royal couriers or knights-at-arm.

This is emphatically not to say that Stirling is ignoring the same history of activism, or downplaying the challenges faced by women in his brave new world. The big baddies in this world make a gruesome art of oppressing women, and The Golden Princess
contains, among other things, one character’s brush with sexual assault and an intriguing reference to a female-dominated Japanese civil service.

Sexual politics aren’t the point of this book, but they’re there, and they’re both subtle and intriguing. It wouldn’t be right or desirable to watch Orlaith and Reiko sit around jawing about the advances their great-great-grandmothers made, battling glass ceilings their descendants couldn’t even imagine. But that blip–us, and our values–are part of what makes this particular fictional revival of the medieval lifestyle so interesting.

Meanwhile, the spectacle of two mighty queens becoming besties is one of the most enjoyable elements of the story.

Number Two Jane Austen Hero

cranford memeLast night, as Kelly and I were falling into a not-very-deep literary conversation, I decided I’d expand the conversation by posting the following question on Facebook:

Alyx Dellamonica -15 hrs · Toronto ·

 Assuming we all agree that Mr. Darcy is Jane Austen’s most desirable hero/dudebro/prospective mate, who is second in the pecking order? Is it Knightley? Bingley? Henry Crawford?
(Of course, I was kidding about Henry Crawford.)Now, as I write this post, the unofficial poll results are:3 people say “What? Darcy? No way!”

Edward Ferrars and Henry Tilney are getting no love at all, and Mr. Knightly, from Emma,  gets one hat-tip. There’s some quiet praise for Edmund Bertram.

The two contenders are: Colonel Brandon and Frederick Wentworth… and it looks like Brandon’s pulling ahead.

There’s been some talk about whether the fire of fannish love, in each case, was sparked by the literary characters or by their portrayals in film and TV. Is Darcy the undisputed cock of the Austen walk solely because of Colin Firth? Will Alan Rickman lock the number two spot for Colonel Brandon? Even Edmund Bertram’s supporters mention Johnny Lee Miller in a yum-yum favorable context.

Speaking of delicious Darcy goodness, have you all seen The Lizzie Bennet Diaries?

Your thoughts on this burning issue are always welcome.

Ten Books that Left Bite Marks

keep readingOver on Facebook, several people tagged me in the “list ten books that have stayed with you” meme. It has taken me awhile to get to it, in part because the moment I started, I realized I needed a list for childhood faves and a second one for books that had an impact since I’ve been an adult. Here’s the latter list, in no especial order:

Lincoln’s Dreams, by Connie Willis. When we were first married, Kelly and I took turns reading each other novels that were important to us. She got to the crisis in this book one evening, shortly before I had to head off to work at an all-night answering service. I phoned her as soon as things got slow and begged her to finish it over the phone. It took her until 1:00 in the morning. I started rereading it the next day.

How Few Remain, by Harry Turtledove. This was my first real introduction to long-form alternate history, and the first scene whereby a not-assassinated Abraham Lincoln is talking to trade unionists about their rights blew my brain right out of its skull. (I keep tchotchkes and TTC tokens there now.)

Mystery, by Peter Straub. This could just about go on the childhood list. It’s a book I’ve returned to, every couple years, since I was in my teen.

I have a love-hate relationship with Straub’s work, and with the Blue Rose novels particularly. This is the one I love beyond reason: it’s perfect, in terms of its writing and the story it tells, and the fact that he ret-conned the story later causes me actual physical pain.

Zodiac, by Neal Stephenson. Early Stephenson often makes me happier than later Stephenson, though I have mad love for Snow Crash, too. This one, with its poisoned lobsters and anti-pollution activists, goes straight to my enviro-geek heart.

The Shape of Snakes, by Minette Walters, absolutely fascinates me. I reread it just about yearly. The ending gets me every time.

In the Woods, by Tana French. I’ve gone on at length about this one, and its gorgeous prose and unreliable narrator, before.

The Blue Place, by Nicola Griffith. And its sequels. Lesbian noir, with a point of view so convincing it makes you feel as though someone’s reached inside your brain and rewired you.

The Rift, by Walter Jon Williams, a man who has written so many brilliant novels. And yet this is the one I love: a retelling of Huck Finn as a modern U.S. disaster novel. Heart, heart, heart.

The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde. An alternate world where people care about literature the way people here care about football. With time travel to boot. Oh Emm Effin’ Gee!

The Closer, by Donn Cortez. Another book whose final line just kills. This was written prior to Darkly Dreaming Dexter, but the concept is similar. Is it darker? Less dark? You decide.

I will not tag others–I’m coming late to this meme and figure everyone who wants to play has done so–but I will note for anyone who’s interested that I plan to post the childhood books list in the not too distant, so even if you did the above exercise, you can jump on that wagon too.

Here’s Moxy Fruvous to play us out:

Watts it all about? Echopraxia and a look back at Starfish

photoI’ve been reading and revisiting the fiction of Peter Watts this month. I knew I’d be doing a review of Echopraxia, see, so I decided to take a look back at Starfish via the Tor.com “That Was Awesome” series. Peter and I are friends now, and we’ve even been published in the same Polish magazine. But I didn’t know him back in 2000 or so, when his first book came out and I reviewed it for Locus. The look back tells about how my not-entirely-positive review sparked our friendship. I won’t cover the same ground here. Instead, I give you the Cliff’s Notes: both books are excellent, but the newer one is better. Both will reward every second you spend on them. And if you want a taste first, try this Tor.com free short, which is a tie-in to Echopraxia. It’s called The Colonel.

D.B. Jackson – My Shelves Runneth Over

Guesting today on the site is D.B. Jackson, also known as David B. Coe, the award-winning author of more than a dozen fantasy novels. His first two books as D.B. Jackson, the Revolutionary War era urban fantasies, Thieftaker and Thieves’ Quarry, volumes I and II of the Thieftaker Chronicles, are both available from Tor Books in hardcover and paperback. The third volume, A Plunder of Souls, has recently been released in hardcover. The fourth Thieftaker novel, Dead Man’s Reach, is in production and will be out in the summer of 2015. D.B. lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two teenaged daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.

I come from a family of readers, and so, perhaps not too surprisingly, I also come from a family of writers.  But the thing is, neither my father nor my mother was a writer; on the other hand all four of us kids have written professionally in some capacity, which is pretty remarkable.  The common denominator for all of us was books.  My parents’ house was filled with them; every shelf overflowed with paperbacks and hardcovers, novels and biographies. When I reached a certain age — maybe I was eight — my father set up my own set of bookshelves in my room, fixing brackets to the wall so that I could adjust the shelves as I needed. He had done the same thing for my three older siblings before me.  It was a rite of passage in our house.

My parents instilled in all of us a reverence for the written word. They didn’t spoil us; they limited gifts of candy or toys to our birthdays and Christmas.  But they were always willing to buy us books.  Always.  And the truth is, I’m much the same way with my kids.

I didn’t read a lot of fantasy or science fiction early on, though eventually, with the help of a camp counsellor, I stumbled upon my first novel in the genre that would dominate my adult life.  And I’ll get to that in a moment.  But the first reading influences I remember were pretty standard kid fare.  There were a series of books that I absolutely loved titled _____ Do the Strangest ThingsBirds Do the Strangest Things, Fish Do the Strangest Things, Insects Do the Strangest Things, etc.  They were essentially the written, kid-friendly equivalent of a David Attenborough nature special.  I couldn’t get enough of them.  I read every one of them, and then read them again.  And again.

Though I remain a dedicated nature enthusiast, I don’t write natural history, and so it would be easy to assume that these books had little influence on my writing career.  But I believe they had a much greater impact on me than one might imagine.  They fed a deeply rooted intellectual curiosity and taught me — as my parents hoped they would — that books held answers, not only to all the questions swirling around in my young brain, but also to those questions I hadn’t yet thought to ask.  I don’t think it’s too great a stretch to say that these books, and others like them, started me down the path to academia, which, in turn, steered me toward my writing career.

The other books that I remember gobbling up in my youth were the Hardy Boys mysteries written under the name Franklin W. Dixon.  These were the Grosset and Dunlap re-imaginings of the series published initially in 1959 and popular through the 1960s and 1970s (which is when I was reading them).  They weren’t great literature, they weren’t terribly challenging as kids’ reading went.  But they were enormously fun.  If Birds Do the Strangest Things, satisfied my burgeoning curiosity, these books fed my craving for adventure, danger, thrills — all the things my comfortable suburban childhood lacked.

And so, by the time I went off to sleep away camp for the summer as an eleven year-old, I was primed for a new kind of book that would be both engaging and exciting enough to allow me to move on from the Hardy Boys, which I was already starting to outgrow.  Enter The Hobbit.

I didn’t actually encounter the book that summer.  Instead, I tried out for a dramatized version of Tolkien’s novel.  I had already discovered early in the summer that I had a flair for drama (no one who knows me now will be at all surprised) and when the opportunity came to audition for this newest production, I took full advantage. Yes, I was cast as Bilbo Baggins.  It helped that I was short for my age . . .

I fell in love with the story, and more I was fascinated by the world revealed to me by the script.  Elves, dwarves, wizards, dragons — what was not to love.  It had never occurred to me that there were books like this waiting to be read; I certainly never dreamed that there were similar books written for adults that would allow me to pursue my new-found fascination with magical stories well past my childhood.  But when the summer was over, I found the novel version of The Hobbit and devoured it.  Then I read The Lord of the Rings, and after that Ursula LeGuin’s EarthSea Trilogy.  By then, I was hooked on fantasy, and I have been ever since.

But I think it bears repeating that I’m not an author because of Tolkien.  I wrote my first “book” when I was six; writing stories was always my favorite school activity.  My early experiences with fantasy didn’t set me on the road to a career as a fantasy author; the sheer act of reading had taken care of that long before.  The environment created by my parents and their exuberant love of all things book were the most formative forces in my childhood.

DBJacksonPubPhoto800It would be pretty easy to imagine my own kids rebelling against my love of reading, which my wife shares. “Dad’s an author? Great. Hand me the remote.” But early on they discovered the same thing I did:  Books are treasure boxes; they just beg to be opened. Their favorites have been the Magic Tree House and the Magic School Bus, Harry Potter and most recently the Hunger Games books. To be honest, I don’t care what titles they’re drawn to — as long as they’re reading, I’m happy. Sounds like something my Mom and Dad would have said.

David blogs, is active on Facebook and Goodreads, and Tweets. Give him some love here in comments or go forth and beard him in his lairs.

 

Cover Reveal: Child of a Hidden Sea

Here it is–the cover of my upcoming June novel, Child of a Hidden Sea. The artist’s name is Karla Ortiz and her blog’s here.

Ready? Okaygo!!

The text from the book jacket reads:

One minute, twenty-four-year-old Sophie Hansa is in a San Francisco alley trying to save the life of the aunt she has never known. The next, she finds herself flung into the warm and salty waters of an unfamiliar world. Glowing moths fall to the waves around her, and the sleek bodies of unseen fish glide against her submerged ankles.
The world is Stormwrack, a series of island nations with a variety of cultures and economies—and a language Sophie has never heard.

Sophie doesn’t know it yet, but she has just stepped into a political firestorm, and a conspiracy that could destroy a world she has just discovered…her world, where everyone seems to know who she is, and where she is forbidden to stay.

But Sophie is stubborn, and smart, and refuses to be cast adrift by people who don’t know her and yet wish her gone. With the help of a new-found sister, and a ship’s captain who would rather she had never arrived, she must navigate the shoals of the highly charged politics of Stormwrack, and win the right to decide for herself whether she stays in this wondrous world…or is doomed to exile.

Establishing horror in five paragraphs or less… #amreading

DSCN0555One of the exercises I run past my “Creating Universes, Building Worlds” group is to start a piece and, within five paragraphs, establish the speculative subgenre–fantasy, horror, cyberpunk, hardSF, whatever.

Then I have them rewrite the same fragment in a different genre.

It always yields interesting results, and something that’s pretty consistent, from class to class, is that few people tackle horror and many of those submissions are less in your face, less out-and-out unabashedly horror, less easy to identify than the fantasy, the dystopian near-future SF, the time travel, and the space opera.

I was reminded of this today when I read “each thing I show you is a piece of my death,” by Gemma Files and Stephen J. Barringer, because by the time I hit the word canker, I’m not in any doubt. And from there the authors just dial it up:

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
–The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, William Shakespeare.

Somewhere, out beyond the too-often-unmapped intersection of known and forgotten, there’s a hole through which the dead crawl back up to this world: A crack, a crevasse, a deep, dark cave. It splits the earth’s crust like a canker, sore lips thrust wide to divulge some even sorer mouth beneath–tongueless, toothless, depthless.

The hole gapes, always open. It has no proper sense of proportion. It is rude and rough, rank and raw. When it breathes out it exhales nothing but poison, pure decay, so bad that people can smell it for miles around, even in their dreams.

Especially there.

Through this hole, the dead come out face-first and down, crawling like worms. They grind their mouths into cold dirt, forcing a lifetime’s unsaid words back inside again. As though the one thing their long, arduous journey home has taught them is that they have nothing left worth saying, after all.

Because the dead come up naked, they are always cold. Because they come up empty, they are always hungry. Because they come up lost, they are always angry. Because they come up blind, eyes shut tight against the light that hurts them so, they are difficult to see, unless sought by those who–for one reason, or another–already have a fairly good idea of where to start looking.

It’s a great story, if you’re looking for a creepy read.

2013 Books Read

keep readingHere’s the annual list of everything I read last year. It’s a new low, numerically–between the move and a couple other things, I wasn’t in the right headspace. I did read a fair number of short stories, but I often forgot to record them. A few made it to their own list, though, at the bottom. Of those, my favorite was the John Chu story

The best novel for me, this year, was Hild, by Nicola Griffith. You probably remember that I reviewed it, here.

1. Best American Science and Nature Writing, edited by Dan Ariely and Tim Folger
2. Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
3. The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondatje
4. The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey
5. Suspect Identities: A history of fingerprinting and criminal identification by Simon A. Cole
6. The Murder of the Century: The Gilded Age Crime that Scandalized a City and Sparked the Tabloid Wars, by Paul Collins
7. Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, by Matthew Goodman
8. The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
9. Black Rubber Dress, by Lauren Henderson
10. The Given Sacrifice, by S.M. Stirling
11. The Summer of Dead Toys, by Antonio Hill
12. Hild, by Nicola Griffith
13. The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History, by John M. Barry
14. The Voices In-Between, by Charlene Challenger
15. Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn
16. The Shining Girls, by Lauren Beukes
17. Wolf Hall, by Hilary Mantel
2 student novels, plus partials

Short Stories
About Fairies,” Pat Murphy
The Water that Falls on You from Nowhere,” John Chu

Running of the Bulls” by Harry Turtledove
Brimstone and Marmalade,” by Aaron Corwin,
Dormanna,” by Gene Wolfe
House of Dreams“, by Michael Swanwick