Category Archives: Books

Books by others; whatever I’m reading.

Because womanpower, that’s why! The Desert and the Blade

Posted on September 1, 2015 by

LozowithTheChangeS.M. Stirling’s The Desert and the Blade launches today. It’s the latest in the Emberverse series, and the sequel to The Golden Princess. (Which is, in turn, the sequel to many other novels.)

The Emberverse is the setting for Stirling’s anthology The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth, which contains my story “Rate of Exchange,” about Finch, a Scout of many Badges of the Morrowland Pack.

What follows is not going to be an unbiased review, is what I’m saying.

This is the latest book in a lengthy multigenerational saga, and my point in bringing it up is, no surprise, that I’m hoping you all might rush out right now, lay your hands on the novel, and read the living shit out of it. If you’ve already read The Golden Princess and its predecessors, you’re doing so already, and don’t need a sales pitch.

For everyone else: why should you jump into a well-established series?

The serious answer is because it’s about a friendship between two women, both barely adults and both grieving for their fathers. Orlaith is crown princess of the kingdom of Montival, while Reiko has become, in the wake of her father’s slaying, Empress of Japan.

They are a pair who have been isolated, their whole lives, by social rank. Though there are people who sincerely love them, neither has ever really had an equal. Royalty is a strange family business: their parents have always had to serve as their bosses as well as loving caregivers. Meanwhile, everyone else in their entire world is essentially an underling. But in The Desert and the Blade the princesses have run away from at least some of their responsibilities, not on a lark but to pursue an important task. They are on a Quest (capital Q definitely applies here) whose purpose is deadly serious. Conveniently, it also takes them away from the formalities of court life, and the restrictions of their day-to-day existence.

As they travel, fight and endure hardship together, they bond.

This seems like a situation quite removed from ordinary life, right? I mean, I dunno about all of you, but I can’t remember the last time I took my favorite vassals on a Quest. But who among us cannot relate to the other side of this experience–that discovery of a kindred spirit, and the early blossoming of a friendship where both parties discover not only that they share common ground… but that it’s ground that is terra incognita to everyone else they know?

What I’m saying is that books whose point is female friendship aren’t exactly thick on the ground. There’s a whole lot of “how she fell in love,” to be had in literature, but vanishingly little attention is paid to the platonic, sustaining, supportive–and, yes, sometimes problematic–ties that form between women. It’s also worthy of note that in Nicola Griffith’s examination of literary awards based on the gender of both authors and principal subjects, books by men about women and girls are virtually non-existent.

Steve should be encouraged, folks. He’s apparently doing something very anomalous.

Hovering in the back of my mind as I read The Desert and the Blade was another rarely-acknowledged and quite uncomfortable element of friendship: few, if any, are truly unconditional. Though they become close, for Orlaith and Reiko, “blood is thicker than water” can never merely be a saying. Their families are, to some extent, their entire respective nations. And though things go swimmingly between them in this novel, their saga isn’t over. The two of them owe a duty to their own that, by its very definition, cannot be put aside in favor of personal preferences. They can only be friends for as long as Montival and Japan have interests that align.

Whew! That’s all rather serious. Here’s the cover, and then I’ll offer up a few lighter reasons to get into The Desert and the Blade.

Here’s one: This book plays against type in a rather delightful way. I can accurately describe it as a book where two princesses get on their horsies, assemble some loyal followers, and go on a quest to find a magic sword! Whee! This makes it sound like anime, doesn’t it? C’mon. It’s princesses!

Yeah.

What we have here is pretty much the polar opposite of a rainbows and ponies marketing fantagasm like… oh, say Sailor Moon. Orlaith and Reiko are real heads of state, hefting heavy armor and making choices that affect thousands of people’s lives. It is not whimsy that drives them into the cannibal-infested realms of the city formerly known as Los Angeles. It’s deadly necessity.

In the unlikely imaginary situation where you’re thrown back to high school and someone sees you with this novel, and asks if you’re, like, really reading a princess book, you can look them in the eye and say “The euthanasia scene will rip your guts out, dude.”

Cannibal stand off! When the going gets tough, the tough stand a good chance of getting marinated, or at least slow-roasted. The stakes are high, because the steaks are people. Or soylent green.

Stirling’s Dunedain Rangers–did I mention these books have Dunedain Rangers, and it’s not a cheat, and it’s awesome?–are starting to forget that their not-too-distant ancestors were Tolkien fans. They are starting to believe the Elvish histories are, you know, history. This would totally happen.

Finally, there’s a thing with the post-Change inheritors of Topanga Canyon that makes me scream with joy. I can’t think of any way to tell you about it, though, without spoilers. Come back after you’ve read it and squee with me.

Steve will be here on Thursday with one of my whimsical interviews… not the Heroine Question, but a new thing called Buddy Buddy. I hope you’ll join us!

Most Thrilling Monday, much thrilling news

Posted on August 31, 2015 by

(null)I’m so pleased that A Daughter of No Nation is included in the Charlie Jane Anders round-up, on io9, of the most thrilling SF and Fantasy books coming out this fall. It’s in great company, with books by Jim Butcher, Steven Baxter… woah, Salmon Rushdie (wasn’t expecting that!), Nnedi Okorafor, Kameron Hurley, Ann Leckie, Tanya Huff and so so many others.

Some of those fall books are coming out in mere minutes, so this week will bring you not one but two author interviews here on my site, along with a write-up about S.M. Stirling’s The Desert and the Blade.

The next couple of weeks will be entertaining and action-packed. There will be Heroine Question interviews on Wednesdays, but I’m not sure what else the blog may hold.  We’ve built a bit of downtime into the early part of the month, and chief among the things I’m looking forward to doing with that time is hitting TiFF like a movie-going anvil. Kelly and I plan to see at least 13 films. As an appetizer for that fabulous experience, we’re also going to a special event tonight, where Pacific Rim director Guillermo del Toro is introducing the 1943 adaptation of Jane Eyre as part of the Gothic Master Class he’s conducting there.

Will Orson hold his own against Toby Stephens? My assumption is no way. But I cannot wait to hear what del Toro says about the Gothic form!!

ChiSeries Powers Activate!

Posted on August 20, 2015 by

imageIf you follow either of us on social media, you could hardly have failed to notice that Kelly and I were guest hosts at the ChiSeries Toronto reading yesterday evening. We got to introduce three readers: E.L. Chen, Tony Pi, and Carsten Stroud. And three musical guests: Kari Maaren, Peter Chiykowsky and the Handsome Devils. It all went swimmingly in both important senses of the phrase–the readings and performances were great, and there were no logistical hiccups.

Tony Pi’s reading, by the way, was from his story “No Sweeter Art.” It’s a Parsec Award finalist for BEST SPECULATIVE FICTION STORY: SMALL CAST (SHORT FORM) and you can hear it here.

Two other things that rocked this week: Primo, Kelly’s cousin Emilly came to town with her boyfriend Darcy and we deliberately set about showing her Toronto in a way that made Calgary look, well, maybe just a bit ho hum. A spin past the Monets, Van Gogh, and Bernini at the AGO to start, a quick trip to the all hats all the time ballcap store for souvenirs, and a run to Tatyana to see if Emilly could discover her inner pin-up girl were all part of the agenda. They spent a little time browsing the food and drink choices on Queen Street, and then we all hit YukYuks for a comedy show hosted by Michelle Shaughnessy.
Secondo: And Jessica, who’s coming to visit, characterized the weekend as DuaCon. And I like that very much. I like the idea of Kelly and I being a free-roaming science fiction convention ready to break out with programming, reading or whatever just when you least expect it.
Here’s a shot of E.L. Chen’s gorgeous ChiTeen cover.

Connie Willis essay, other things…

Posted on June 25, 2015 by

3891536336_0d52c64a4c1.jpgI have a post up on Tor.com called “Where to Start with Connie Willis.” The title’s self-explanatory, and there’s a lively conversation in the comments thread about how communications technology does or doesn’t fit into her work, and whether the age of the smartphone has left Willis’s main body of work looking somewhat dated… and also, of course, how much that may or may not matter.

In completely other news, Child of a Hidden Sea is on the Sunburst Award Honorable Mention list, in the YA category. Peter Darbyshire of The Province has a write-up on some of short list folks from B.C. here.

Darbyshire, by the way, also writes as Peter Roman and when wearing that hat he is the author of The Mona Lisa Sacrifice, among other fabulous things.

Kelly and I are heading out tonight to see the National Theater in HD and Helen Mirren broadcast “The Audience.” I tell you this mostly because I am feeling “Three Things make a Post”-y.

I am still a bit behind on e-mail, but catching up bit by bit.

 

 

On The Loose in Stirling’s Emberverse

Posted on May 28, 2015 by

LozowithTheChange
My contributor’s copy of The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth arrived today, and after about four failed attempts to get a decent picture of myself with the book, I caved to the obvious and shot it with the cat instead. Lorenzo appreciates a good alternate history, I imagine, given that he’s named for a Medici.
(Fanciful? Who, me?)
It’s an honor to be asked to play around with someone else’s universe, and a favor I hope to return to S.M. Stirling one day. I’m so pleased he trusted me with his world, letting me  crayon-scrawl the Change all over the part of Northern Alberta that was my childhood stomping ground. I got to cover it with rodeo in-jokes and local history I learned in grade four and never thought to use, and even took a mild swipe at a certain ubiquitous Canadian coffee/donut franchise. It was a thrill to borrow the keys to the character of Huon Liu, whom I’ve always had a bit of a thing for.
Here’s the opening of my story, “Rate of Exchange.”

The totem marking the pass to the Fortress of Solitude was an enormous man with skin the color of cream, clad in blue and red and with a big “S” emblazoned on his chest.

If not for his size, Finch might have believed him real. The blue of his eyes blazed with lively intensity as they bored down into hers, and his cape rippled in the wind in a way that made him seem as athrum with life as any cub or grown adult. His jet-black hair was real–horse, perhaps?–braided in long strands, bound with beads and feathers. The illusion was so perfect she thought she saw him tilt a brow . . . but then her pinto danced sideways and she saw the old man on the platform, putting a finishing lick of red paint on one red boot.

This kickin’ anthology also has stories by Walter Jon Williams, Kier Salmon, Jane Lindskold, John Barnes and of course by the antho editor and creator of the Emberverse, the aforementioned S.M. Stirling. It’ll be available for sale this weekend. Go, buy, and enjoy!

If I squint as May wraps up, I can see it’s been an insanely productive month. I’ve edited several hundred pages of my current novel, while also writing 7,500 words of critique on student work for Novel Writing III two weeks ago, another 5,500 this week for the same class, and doing a close edit of about 18K words worth of of student manuscripts. I’ve done a whack of coding on the classroom for my next UCLA Extension Writers’ Program summer course, Creating Universes, Building Worlds, begun some long-overdue work on my photo archive, pondered, developed and mostly scrapped an idea for a new novel, flirted with poetry and gone to Peterborough for a ChiSeries reading with Kelly, David Nickle, and Madeline Ashby. The reading was  hosted by the marvelous Derek Newman-Stille, and my first glimpse of Peterborough only made me want more. It’s nice to be exploring Ontario a bit, now that we’ve been here a couple years and are mostly over the transition.
The surges of student critique–three down, one to go!–tend to leave me cotton-headed for a couple days afterward, full of interesting ideas for about-how-to-write essays I can’t quite manage to compose. Instead, I muddle around like a goldfish throwing itself at the glass of its own bowl, trying to figure out why I can’t finish coherent sentences or complete much in the way of useful work. That’s been my state for a day or so now: trying to do some high-end thinking and finding myself, instead, working up feverish internal rants over how obviously I’m slacking. Intellectually, I know better, but sometimes the internal supervisor just won’t shut up.
A buddy posted about having the exact same problem today, on Facebook, and that helped a bit.
Tomorrow’s battle shall be to take a ridiculously long (43 page) Stormwrack chapter of incredible complexity and edit it into two easily followed not-so-convoluted pieces. To that lofty goal I shall probably add enormously surmountable tasks, like acquiring food, and vacuuming.