Archive for March, 2012

In Fury Born

Posted: March 30, 2012 in Reading, Shelf of Honor

I’m going to make no bones about this, In Fury Born is one of my favorite books of all time. This has been a Shelf of Honor book since I first read it years ago by an author I’ve been reading for almost twenty years. And that’s hard to do at twenty eight. I read my first David Weber book back in the mid nineties, mass market sized hardcover library version of On Basilisk Station, the first of the Honorverse books. I must have not read Fury until after 2006 because I’ve got the expanded version rather than the original Path of Fury version. I had been reading a lot of swords and magic and needed a change of pace and Weber is one of the best at space operas.

Short back of the book version of what goes on … Alicia DeVries is a bad ass space Marine. Seriously, the best of the best and gets tapped into the appropriately elite drop commando unit, the Emperor’s Cadre.So the first chunk of the book is Alicia’s progress from recruit to Cadre to the front lines. She racks up all sorts of combat medals but gets seriously betrayed and retires out early to a frontier planet. Oh hello pirates! The pirates start pwn’ing face all over the sector kill off everyone she cares about. How’s she going to get back at them? There are still three hundred pages left! Oh that’s right, a Greek fury gets into her noggin too. And they hijack a sentient space ship. Time to own some pirates.

So yeah. I’m going to try to avoid getting all spoiliery but my level of “spoilery” and yours might be different. Fair warning.

Fury is actually the original version plus a “novel length prequel.”  If you didn’t know about it, you might not notice. If you are looking for it, the break where the original started is blatent. When the story shifts to post-retired Alicia and the frontier, some of the info dumps repeat. They’re not lengthy or obnoxious, you can’t be a published author for decades and not know how to do it well, but they’re there. Character descriptions and the like. It’s like reading a book and it’s sequel back to back, which essentially this is.

But yeah, this book has so many things I love to read. Let’s count. One… space marines! I’m no hardcore military SF guy. I’ve read some that lean too heavy on procedure and the bureaucracy of the military. But Weber doesn’t do that. There are full fledged characters inside the uniforms. This is the norm across the board for all the Weber books I’ve read. The book jumps POVs a lot, even though Alicia is the primary focus, but Alicia isn’t all knowing and the other POVs are crucial to knowing what goes on. But even in little chunks of text that follow a base lieutenant or smuggler boss who is about to die after a page and a half, there’s still a sense that there’s more than just a cardboard cutout. So space marines with souls. Alicia is a confident warrior but one who knows killing isn’t always the answer. She shows this through her deeds and not just thoughts.

Two… multiple personalities. It sounds like a cliche soap opera thing, but I find it interesting as hell. When it’s done well, it’s not derivative at all. In Fury it’s not a psychosis but rather more than one entity living in the same noggin. My love of the tropes of psychological SF probably stems from the early Zelazny I like such as Roadmarks and all that New Wave stuff from the 70s. Character driven stuff is always my favorite and the battles inside someone’s mind are the best way to get to know them. Notice I avoided saying “getting inside their head” until now. So literal and figurative bam on that.

Three… modern mythology, or in this case, future mythology. I first read this book, WebMage by Kelly McCullough and American Gods all around the same time. It has become one of my favorite subgenres partly because it’s pretty new on the scene and partly because it mixes up all the conventions of the genre I’ve been reading for ever. Now most of the modern mythology stuff is current day,Fury is the only one I can think of that takes the ancient deities and plops them down in the future. So in addition to the uniqueness, Weber makes Tisiphone, the titular fury, into just as much of a proper character as any of the others. In some ways, she has the most growth of any of them.

There are some similarities to Honor Harrington but in no way is Alicia just Honor with a rifle. Especially in the later Honorverse books, there’s a whole lot of diplomacy. I could see Alicia dealing with people, but not so much being a stateswoman like Honor gets to do. They’re both fighters to be sure, but I see Alicia as a predator that stalks prey where as Honor always seemed to have more patience, to lay in wait. I think a lot of that has to do with the differences of person to person combat versus ship to ship combat.

So three of my favorite things rolled up into one action packed book. The action is visceral without being gory or gratuitous and when Weber gets down to space naval combat, there’s no one I’ve read better. A full blooded Weber space battle is the Platonic ideal of a space battle. Seriously, if I ever teach writing space combat, anything he writes can be Exhibit A.

If you have even the remotest interest in space operas and/or military SF, check this book out immediately. Don’t let the addition of the mythology bent sway your hand, this book is worth it.

Next up, Arctic Rising by Tobias Buckell.

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Book Run

Posted: March 25, 2012 in Reading, Stuff

Yesterday while on a coffee date with my wife, we randomly decided to go on a book run. (Bonus, I got a few pages of writing done first) Now in Rhode Island that’s not an easy thing to do. Whatever your feeling of the large uber retailers, Borders and B and N were the only games in town. And now Borders is gone. Oh sure, I bitched about the constantly shrinking genre section and how they didn’t always share my penchant for mass market size paperbacks. But that was our hood. There was one nearby when I lived in Connecticut and then I had the one in Cranston once I moved out here. It was familiar, it was comfortable and most of the books I own came from there.

What’s left for bookstores?

I won’t go to B and N. It was never as good as Borders anyways and I’m not yet at the point where I’ll deal with the staff I know works at the local B and N. There’s a nifty little place in East Greenwich but emphasis on the little and they seem to stick to surplus hardcover and large paperbacks they get wholesale from bigger places. Hard to find the genre stuff I like in there but they do have a wicked sweet kids book section. Someone has reprinted the old Choose Your Own Adventure I read when I was a kid and I got a few from there.

And that’s it for Rhode Island.

Anyone who lives near enough to drive to Connecticut though needs to go to The Book Barn. It is the largest and most epic used bookstore ever. There’s always something fun to find there, especially if you want to check out some older genre stuff. Most of my Zelazny came from The Book Barn. But the Book Barn, just like the place in EG, is for a very specialized need. Fortunately Books-a-million bought up the empty shell of the Borders in Connecticut.

Now we’ve only been there twice now and holy hell BAM is waaaaay out of their demographic. Before they moved into Connecticut, I never heard of them. They’re big in the south. A good 35-40% of the store is nothing but ultra christian stuff. So much so I spent the first fifteen minutes in the store thinking they wouldn’t have a scifi fantasy section. I couldn’t care less what religion people are but BAM is pushy about it. I could easily rant about it for another thousand words but I’m going to cut myself off at that. They’re pushy about church and, even if I agree with your ideas, I don’t like pushy.

But for all the dearth of options to actually hold a book before buying it, I was successful in my book run. Two I’ve had sitting on my To Buy list for a while and three I discovered new in the shelves, which is why I like stores.The Larsson book finally came out in small paperback to match the other two in the series I have. I did see a few other books I want but that whole penchant for mass market size came up again.

  • The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi
  • Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire
  • Magebane by Lee Arthur Chane
  • After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn
  • The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson

I’ll add these to my To Read pile with a Joe Abercrombie and Benjamin Tate. Now I’ve happily got a few different flavors of the genre waiting to be read. Having options is good. This should tide me over until the new China Mieville comes out.

Signed Sealed and Delivered

Posted: March 22, 2012 in Stuff

If you follow me on ye old twitter, or if you follow Tobias Buckell, you saw this…

Me (in RI) with my Arctic Rising copy signed by @tobiasbuckell courtesy of my sis (in OR)

And now the rest of the story that doesn’t fit into the tiny little box of twitter.

First of all, because this is driving me crazy, I didn’t flip the photo or anything like that. For some reason when I pressed the button on my phone to use the camera that faces me, it mirrored the shot. Dunno why. Only the third pic I’ve taken with the phone even though I’ve had it for a year. Also, at first I had this crazy face thing going on, and I didn’t want to look like I was going to murder the book.

So back in January I was reading his website and saw that his book tour was going to hit Beaverton Oregon on March 2. “But you live in Rhode Island and have never been farther west than Milwaukee” you say. And in response I say “How did you know I’ve  been to Wisconsin?” and once I get over that you know creepy amounts of my travel history (also, Milwaukee smells really bad) I tell you that my sister used to live there. It’s a suburb of Portland has she’s raved to my whole family about the epic bookstores that are out there. So BAM! I call her up and make this happen. I double up my copy of Crystal Rain with her birthday present (which was an awesome Hartford Whalers hat) and mail it all out across the country.

March 2 happens, as they do every year. And I went back to my twitter from that day so I can quote what I said and realized “Oh… I did a blog about this three weeks ago” and completely forgot about it. Well this version has a picture.

I’m gonna finish the rest of the story anyways!

So Sara and my brother in law, Sir Greg the Brave, hit up the book signing and because they’re awesome got me Arctic Rising. Since I had pontificated in the tiny box of twitter about how there was this multi state book signature thing going, when she got to the front of the line he was all like “Oh! So you’re the sister!” Or at least that’s how the story was told to me. At work today, I got a text from my wife saying that the book showed up this morning before she had to go to work. I was all excited all day. I got home and found the box wrapped in a dozen layers of saran wrap, one of my arch enemies. I maul it. For some reason the box was soggy anyways. Dunno how that was possible with all the saran, but the books were ok.

The best part is on the inside of the book it says “For Mike – Good like with all your own words. Tobias Buckell”

It’s kind of amazing how motivating a few little words from someone I’ve not met in person can be.

Eifelheim

Posted: March 21, 2012 in Reading

This morning was new book day… yay!

That means I just finished Eifelheim by Michael Flynn. Took me a week and a half but that’s not an indictment against the book so much as it is against the amount of free time I’ve had since I moved to the new position at work. I picked up this book at Boskone last month based off seeing Flynn on the Alien Characters panel. He wasn’t the most talkative, I don’t know if that was by choice or just everyone else had a lot to say, but it really stuck in my head how he said the 14th century villagers were more alien in their thought process than the actual aliens.

The book bounces back and forth between a modern day scientist-couple. One is a cliologist and the other a physicist. I had to go “Double you tee eff is a cliologist?” and google was all helpful in telling me it is the mathematical study of history. Reading the book it came off more as meteorology and history since it was all the study of patterns. So he’s trying to figure out why the town of Eifelheim hadn’t had any settlement in it since The Plauge and she’s trying to study all the layers of realities and the stuff that physicists do. They make up maybe a third of the book, maybe even less. The meat and potatoes of the book is about Father Dietrich, of the titular village, makes contact with the Krenken.

The Krenken are grasshopper-like aliens who pop into the Black Forest crash landing style. The Krenk are closer to the reader than the villagers are. Dietrich is a scholar for his day, having been a student with guys like Occam and Bacon out in Paris. He convinces the village that the Krenken aren’t demons but “travelers from a distant land” and the village and the aliens live out what days they have left on the cusp of the plague.

So that’s the short version without giving anything away that wasn’t on the back cover of the book. The scientists part of the book was at it’s best when they were uncovering things you could place in the medieval storyline which hadn’t happened yet and vice versa. Through most of the book though, I was antsy to get done with them and get back to Dietrich and the Krenken. Their information was important for all I wanted to get over their chapters.

The book was very fascinating in the challenge of writing these characters true to their thoughts. As a writer I’ve found that writing characters as different from me as possible made for better characters. Made me stop and think about what they were doing and why. When a character is too close to yourself, it’s easy to gloss over things that are familiar. So as a writer, having an entire cast way out in left field must have been a wicked challenge. Seeing it done with such authenticity was a joy to read.

Pacing wise, it was steady. It never picked up that much through most of the book but that wasn’t a bad thing because of the aforementioned character building. It did get more intense, if not actiony, in the last act of the book. All in all, I did enjoy the book heartily predominantly for the characters. It’s definitely a thinking book, a little philosophical SF.

Next up is a reread off the Shelf of Honor. I wanted a change of pace. So far this year it’s been Song of Ice and Fire, Control Point and this last book. So all but one have been swords, hence the change in pace. I have this massive “to buy” list and didn’t realize how small my to-read list had shrunk. My copy of Arctic Rising hasn’t made its way back to Rhode Island from Oregon yet and I had nothing straight up sci fi in the pile. It became a toss up between David Weber’s In Fury Born and Eric Nylund’s Signal to Noise. The former won out because Signal‘s sequel is in my to buy pile and Fury has space marines *and* parts of the Greek pantheon. So off to my book and let’s have at it.

Music and Writing

Posted: March 19, 2012 in Shelf of Honor, Writing

So as promised, Music and Writing.

This is a snippet of the query I put out there last week…

I’ve had the interplay of music and writing on my mind ever since I read Jeff VanderMeer‘s Finch as part of The Sixty-Four last year. In the back “About the Book” page there was a paragraph saying Finch has an official soundtrack by a band called Murder By Death. The writing influenced the band and the music “was a substantial influence on the book’s mood and tone.” Direct quote. I really wish that had been printed in the front of the book and I saw it before I read it.This has completely fascinated me and I’ve run across it again with Lauren Beukes Zoo City.

I got a few answers back and frankly the answers are a bit different than I thought they would be. I don’t consider that a bad thing. It’s kind of like when you watch Mythbusters and they get more excited over the unexpected results than anything. Some examples….

Shelf of Honor author Kelly McCullough (@KellyDMcC) said via ye ol’ twitter…

I almost never write to music. Only when I need to block out some other sound and never with lyrics. I find it distracting.

The epic Jim Brady (@UrHumbleNarr8or) echoed the same sentiment although I must have accidentally deleted the response because I can’t find it for the life of me. I swear it was a similar thing.

So out of all the responses I got, the overwhelming opinion is that silence is golden. The only dissenter was over on the page I posed the question and only partial. Myke Cole (@MykeCole ) said that silence is only sometimes golden and music without lyrics is for the rest of the time. I actually did a similar thing writing papers back in film school. Once I learned the lyrics to an album, I couldn’t use it for work anymore. But papers for class didn’t get infused with the mood of my music like proper writing does. (They just got infused with sleep deprivation hallucinations)

Why is this? It actually did take me off guard and I got to thinking why my opinion is different. Not that I think there is anything wrong with the way my creativity works, it just got me curious. The better to understand it is the better to take advantage of it and all. First of all, I’m a white noise kind of person. I’ve had tinnitus as long as I’ve known. I thought it was normal until I was 22 or so. I sleep with a fan on or will have the tv on in the background when I’m doing other things. But that’s kind of a minor thing. When I got back into writing I had an hour long commute to Connecticut. Driving down the interstate on a road I’ve driven a thousand times even before starting that commute gave me a lot of time to space out. I got in the habit of plotting out scenes and chapters and such while driving. It was actually creepy sometimes because I’d space out and then be in another state. In college on my CT to NH run, I forgot all of Massachusetts. But I very rarely drive without music so the two became associated with each other. A little Pavlovian. I can’t do quite or low tempo music when I’m driving, even if it’s music i like. I end up with a lot of punk, metal and experimental weird stuff. (I was a college radio DJ after all, weird is part of the recipe)

Tub Ring‘s Secret Handshakes is officially the unofficial album of the current novel I’m working on. “Cryogenic Love Song” has a very drifting in space kind of feel I built a scene around. Ironically enough, in my head I changed the song to a different one on the album. The early notes I’ve been storing up for the next novel I tackle has a main character as front man for a punk band. Living vicariously through my characters in that one. I have a mental image of that one tied in with The Descendents “When I Get Old.” These are all songs I rock out to when I’m driving, often very loudly with the windows open.

I like to think that some of the tempo and energy can rub off on the writing I’m doing. I think if I could manage a bit of that it would be quite beneficial to my writing and maybe give me an excuse to find new music.

Genre Gems

Posted: March 18, 2012 in Genre, Reading

Putting off the Music thing until tomorrow because the latest musings from Sam Sykes got me thinking.

A lot of what he talks about how the fantasy genre is perceived as a quest to find the gems in amongst the trash, to use less swears than Sykes. I cut my teeth on high fantasy in the 90s when I started reading my parent’s books when I was ten. I had Lord of the Rings read to me and then I was done on kids books. Until 2000ish my reading was rooted in one era of the genre. I fondly remember reading things like the Night-Threads books by Ru Emerson and did a summer reading book report in high school on one of the Sword of Truth books. I enjoyed the whole lot of them.

But it got to the point where I wanted something more. Sometimes that’s been finding new takes on the same genre stuff like the first time I read The Scar. Sykes uses The Lies of Locke Lamora as an example and that’s been one of my favorites, sitting on the Shelf of Honor. But now when I walk into a bookstore, finding that fresh new take on something is getting harder and harder. I think that’s partly that I read a lot but it can’t be that alone. First of all, bookstores are rare as all hell in Rhode Island now. But when I look at a shelf I think “You all clearly watched a lot of Buffy when you were in high school.”  It’s frustrating to see the same stuff on the shelf time after time again repackaged into a different cover. It’s a part of why I started getting back into writing again, I was just tired of the same old same old.

But that doesn’t mean you can ever stop looking. The “Girl kicking supernatural ass” sub-genre may be derivative of Buffy, but I still found My Life as a White Trash Zombie. Twilight may have destroyed vampires but go check out Fat White Vampire Blues for a different take on it. It took a lot to find those

Lately I’ve found the best way to find new awesome books are to see what writers I enjoy are reading. Hell, I picked up Sykes’ books based off of Scalzi’s “I do not wish Sam Sykes dead” blerb.

I’ll always want to go back to the pillars of the genre, I think everyone does from time to time. They’re pillars for a reason. I’m sure the stuff we’re reading brandy new now, might be considered derivative in ten years and we’ll still be looking for that new cutting edge voice while having nostalgia for what came before. The genre sometimes seems stagnant but I see it as a challenge to do something awesome.

Short Stories

Posted: March 15, 2012 in Reading, Writing

So life kind of interrupted any sort of mojo I intended for this week. A minor plumbing disaster followed by special order parts from Providence. Lame but fixed now. I still intend to do the music and writing thing this weekend or Monday but in the meantime, I’ve had short stories on the mind.

So my other short story I had out there in limbo got a big ol’ thumbs down and frankly that didn’t surprise me. “Non Player Character” has had a very hit or miss response. As you can probably guess from the title, it involves gaming. Gamers who have read it got what was going on and loved it. Non gamers had no idea what was going on and half still didn’t see it even after I tipped off what was happening. It’s a very weird experimental piece that doesn’t really use paragraphs… that sounds odder than it really is. I originally wrote it because I wanted an idea specifically thought up of to be short. I naturally write long so there was the challenge of it and it double upped its challenge quotient and became a way to play with narrative form. It splintered off from a novel idea I have sitting in my notebook.

And that’s where I think my problem is.

“Non Player Character” is a prologue and/or backstory for a novel. “Nobility by Night” was episodic in nature even when it was an idea for a short film prior to being a short story. My Shakespeare side story and the not-so-short dungeon escape… the common thread of all my short stories is that there is always more to them. I think that may be the downfall I’ve got with them. I can never quite contain a story to short, even when there aren’t too many words on the page, the story wants more than I give it. I was trying to think of a new story to work on while the others were out in limbo and nothing I thought of was small enough which led to my thought train I just described.

Trying to get into a short story kind of mood, I’ve been trying to read more of them. And… I’m just not feeling them. I don’t want to run around bashing people because it’s not like they’re written badly, I’m just not the right audience for it I guess. I read one the other day that was a doctor telling a patient he had an incurable in-the-future disease and gasp he only had a hundred years left to live. I finished it and had a meh all rolled up with a “Someone likes this kind of thing but I dunno them.” If that’s what people want, someone will give it to them but it sure won’t be me. I’m not into writing thousand word mediocre puns.

So I just worked on my novel. Which is a good thing, lets me ramble on as I like. It makes me think that the way I tell stories just isn’t suited for small things. I always ask Then what? or What’s next? or How did that happen? It’s at once uncomfortable and relieving to think that short stories just aren’t right for me. I don’t want to limit myself and I want to push my writing. Staying in a safe zone isn’t any way to get better but where’s the line that says “Eh, you might want to stay back there.” It’s like when I’m playing on my xbox, I want a good balance of challenge to success. I’m not going to give up on short stories but I think I need to stick to more of a “As long as it needs to be” mentality.