the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for August 2014

Editor and author Henry Herz’s new anthology, Beyond the Pale, features short fiction from Jim Butcher, Gillian Philip, Saladin Ahmed, Peter S. Beagle, Jane Yolen and more!  Beyond the Pale is available from Birch Tree Publishing, and is already getting glowing reviews from some of our community’s brightest rising stars. Henry was kind enough to write a guest post for Little Red Reviewer that contains excerpts from some of the stories (which is awesome unto itself!).

BeyondThePale

Prose Lessons from the Pro’s

By Henry Herz

Henry writes sci-fi and fantasy books for kids. His picture book Monster Goose Nursery Rhymes will be published by Pelican in 2015. He is editor of a YA fantasy anthology, Beyond the Pale, which will be available August 1.

Take a moment, close your eyes, and recall a few stories that truly engaged you as a reader. Now doff your reader’s hat, and don your analytical writer’s hat, You’ll recognize certain writing techniques reliably employed by the pro’s. Using senses other than sight, evoking emotions, using rich voice, taking action, and describing scenes vividly are powerful tools for creating characters you care about, immersing you in a fictional yet believable world, and raising the stakes for readers. All well and good, you say, but how do I master those methods?

Just as a lion is the product of all the zebras it’s eaten, a writer is the product of all the books he or she has read. Reading the works of skilled writers is a fabulous way to hone your craft. So, if you want to master the above techniques, a great place to start is to read examples of them. The following excerpts from Beyond the Pale, illustrate how to effectively employ these tactics.

Invoke Multiple Senses

The following scene from “Hooves and the Hovel of Abdel Jameela” by Saladin Ahmed does a wonderful job of pulling the reader into the story by using senses other than just sight.

Her voice is more beautiful than any woman’s. And there is the powerful smell of jasmine and clove. A nightingale sings perfumed words at me while my mind’s eye burns with horrors that would make the Almighty turn away.

If fear did not hold your tongue, you would ask what I am. Men have called my people by many names—ghoul, demon. Does a word matter so very much? What I am, learned one, is Abdel Jameela’s wife.

For long moments I don’t speak. If I don’t speak, this nightmare will end. I will wake in Baghdad, or Beit Zujaaj. But I don’t wake.

She speaks again, and I cover my ears, though the sound is beauty itself.

The words you hear come not from my mouth, and you do not hear them with your ears. I ask you to listen with your mind and your heart. We will die, my husband and I, if you will not lend us your skill. Have you, learned one, never needed to be something other that what you are?

Cinnamon scent and the sound of an oasis wind come to me.

 

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I’m about to close up a very successful give away (you should totally go check it out!). Doing giveaways can be very daunting, it’s like baking bread. You do the kneading, you sit around while it rises, you’re pretty sure you measured everything right, it looks good when it comes out of the oven, but you have no way of knowing if it’s a success until you rip off that first piece and pop it, still steaming, in your mouth. Good bread, or bland over cooked bread?

cut bread

Looks good so far.. . .

My first give away was a disaster, I don’t think I got a single entry. Worst. Loaf of Bread. EVER. Here are some tips, and things I’ve learned along the way about how to make your book give aways successful. Because I like sharing. And giveaways are actually very fun!

 

The Why, the What,  and the How

Why should you do a give away?

  • A publisher is offering you a giveaway copy of a book you enjoyed/want to promote
  • You have duplicate copies
  • You have a bunch of ARCs that are sitting around
  • You want this book to get into the hands of another fan.

A few tips on writing a great GiveAway blog post:

  • Put the word “give away” in the post title. You want people skimming their readers, or Feedly, or whatever to see right away that there is a give away involved.
  • Show the cover art of the book. Put in the blurb that’s on the back of the book. If you reviewed the book, link to your review. Link to the author’s website if you want.
  • author blurbTalk up the book! What subgenre is it? Who might like it? Is it being advertised as similar to Game of Thrones, or the Sookie Stackhouse books, or satire or horror, or something else? Scalzi or someone else really cool blurb it?
  • If you didn’t read it, or don’t plan to, it never hurts to link to or quote some positive reviews of the book. Again, you are trying to build excitement.

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and when I say “goodies”, I mean books.   It’s been one of those weeks where I just want to curl up in a ball with a book (or six) and hibernate.  So i did.

nexus

A business trip last week with lots of down time (not to mention 2 hours stuck on an airplane each way) meant I had plenty of time to read. Finished Tobias Buckell’s Hurricane Fever, and got half way through Nexus by Ramez Naam.  Was craving laziness, comfort reads, and aliens when I got home, so zipped through Issola by Steven Brust and got a good start on Migration by Julie Czerneda.

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then I checked the mail, to find these beauties:

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Echopraxia I won from a giveaway over at Bibliotropic, and I’d requested Gleam from Jo Fletcher Books. The Watts I’ve been drooling over since I first heard about it (Blindsight will, as one blogger put it, will “blow your mindhole”), so yeah, I’m just a little excited about Echopraxia. And this Gleam book just looks hella fun.

Scale-Bright - Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Then I checked my e-mail and the twitters.  Accepted a review copy of Bastion Science Fiction Magazine #6, and was in the right place at the right time to get a review copy of Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s Scale-Bright.  And Scale-Bright? it’s gorgeous.  Do you like edgy, gorgeous prose, mythology that shimmers and glints like the surface of a summer stream, and frustrated deities? If yes, you’re gonna want Scale-Bright.

bastion-SciFi August

What does all this mean for you?  That hopefully I’ll be kicking out some smart reviews soon!  oh, and did I mention I’m frying my brain over my review of Robert Jackson Bennett’s City of Stairs?  Sometimes when I’m reading a galley, I’ll dog-ear a page that’s got something I want to remember. Here’s what the book looked like after 1st reading. 2nd time through I wrote down a list of page #s I wanted to remember. That list was very long, and didn’t include any of the already dog-eared pages.

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Here’s to hoping my brain is in high gear review writin’ mode pretty soon!

kaleidoscope anthoKaleidoscope, edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios

published in August 2014

where I got it: received review copy from the editors (Thanks Alisa and Julia!)

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The tagline for Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Rios’s new anthology Kaleidoscope is “Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy stories”, but what’s in this collection goes much deeper than that.  I really wasn’t sure what to expect, and I very much appreciated the depth of variety of the stories, everything from contemporary fantasy, to parallel universe, to futuristic schools for shapeshifters, to ancient Chinese mythology, to accidental humor,  to a superhero story, and to one so ambiguous it could take place anywhere or anytime. As promised, the characters are diverse, (mostly female, some are queer, some with disabilities or disorders, many are ethnic minorities), and while some of them have already found acceptance, others have a tougher road to travel. A number of the stories deal with being an ethnic and/or racial minority, and being torn between doing whatever it takes to be accepted by your peers, and keeping to the traditions of your parents. Even as horrible things are sometimes happening and characters are in dark places, these are incredibly hopeful, optimistic stories.

 

I think many readers will agree that the two finest  stories in the collection are “The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” by Ken Liu and “Walkdog” by Sofia Samatar.  Multiple award winning Ken Liu is with good reason famous for his short fiction, and Sofia Samatar is a rising star, and in fact just won the Campbell Award.  In Liu’s “The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon”, Yuan and Jing are struggling with saying goodbye as Jing’s family prepares to move away. The two young women “fall” into the Chinese story of Zhinu and Niulang, who fell in love and were then forced to live apart (their stars are on the opposite side of the Milky Way). The story of the ancient lovers is beautiful in a way only Ken Liu can do, and if you’ve never read him, this is a wonderful introduction to the magic he does with words.  “The Seventh Day of the Seventh Moon” is a story of first love, and how to accept that your first love isn’t forever.

 

When I stop to think about it, Sofia Samatar’s “Walkdog” is also a story of first love, or at least about realizing you care deeply for another human being.  Yolanda is writing a paper for school, and you’re going to get a smile on your face reading this, because it looks like every research paper everything 9th grader has every had to write, complete with introduction, thesis statement, discussion of research and conclusion. Samatar has left in all of Yolanda’s spelling errors, unnecessary footnotes, and other errata, which just adds to the fun. So you’re smiling, and maybe laughing, and you wonder why Yolanda keeps going on this tangent about her classmate Andy, when her paper is supposed to be about the urban legend creature the Walkdog, which steals kids. This is not a very long story, and Yolanda realizes what’s happening as she’s writing the research paper, and she’s practically begging her teacher to help her, asking why someone didn’t do something earlier so the horrible thing didn’t have to happen. How can something that starts off so goofy turn so tragic so quickly? A testament to Samatar’s prowess, “Walkdog” will be on my Hugo nominations next year.

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I’ve got books to give away!  But we’re gonna do this the fun way. And by fun way, I mean blind date with a book!  that means I give you a little bit of info about the book, and you get to decide if it looks interesting.  I won’t tell you the title, or the author, but I can tell you that these are all new books published in the last 12 months,  from publishers like Orbit, Tachyon, and Titan Books. They were all sent to me as review copies, and either I have duplicates, I’ve read them and don’t plan to read them again, or it’s a title I opted to skip on.

Here’s the rules:

– due to the cost of shipping overseas, this give away is for US only

– let me know in the comments which book(s) you’re interested in, and yes, you can request more than one. To be eligible, you *must* specify your choices (None of this lazy “they all look good!” stuff), by referring to the wrapping paper color, or one of it’s descriptors, or something useful. If we don’t already  know each other, please leave me a way to reach you – twitter, e-mail, etc.

– Give away closes midnight, eastern time, Sunday Aug 31st.

Winners will be announced in early September.

now that the pesky rules are out of the way, here’s what is up for grabs:

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cibola burnCibola Burn, #4 of The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey

published  June 2014

Where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Orbit!)

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The first three books in the Expanse series were a complete yet open ended space opera, with a very definite change in where the story could have gone at the end of book 3.  Now, in book 4, we’re exploring story arc those changes.  The ring that opened at the edge of our solar system allows our ships to travel through any one of a thousand gates. On the other side of each gate is an empty solar system, all with at least one habitable planet. But all the planets are empty, there’s no one to be found. Who built the gate system, and where did everyone go?

 

The people on the Barbapiccola don’t care about where everyone went. They are running out of oxygen and water, and no port will accept a ship of refugees. What choice have they, but to go through the ring and hope for the best? If their ship survives the journey, there will at least be a planet with breathable air and gravity on the other side.

 

Fast forward 18 months, and the “refugees” are now “colonists”, making a life for themselves on Ilus.  Back home, the charter for mining rights to the planet has been awarded to Royal Charter Energy, who sent a provisional government and security to the planet.  The opening scene of Cibola Burn is a small group of terrified and angry colonists blowing up the landing pad on the planet and inadvertently blowing up the provisional government’s landing shuttle. Not the best way to make a first impression, to say the least.

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Stuff. I’ve been up to it lately.
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In the pages of Apex Magazine I interviewed author John Moran about his haunting story “The Sandbirds of Mirelle”
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And hey, if you’re a subscriber, that issue has an excerpt from Zombies and Calculus, to which i say shut up and take my money.

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Over at SFSignal I reviewed Wolfsbane, the third book in Gillian Philip’s fantastically fun (and addictive!) Rebel Angels series.
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I made pickled daikon radish. They were crunchy and delicious,  but omg, that stench. It could srsly knock a person down.

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Yesterday I picked my first ripe tomato off my tomato plant. There is tomato basil cheesy bread in my future! Tomatoes are late this year because my plant didn’t get enough sun.

I finished reading Cibola Burn by James S.A. Corey and the Kaleidoscope anthology edited by Alisa Krasnostein and Julia Ross. Hoping to have time to work on reviews this weekend.
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And I signed up for SciFi November!  Last year the fabulous Rinn of Rinn Reads organized the massive insanity known a SciFi November. This year, because she values her sanity, she recruited the ladies from Oh The Books! to help run the shindig. So, yeah, you should go over there and check it out. And sign up to do cool stuff. Because, like, it’s fun. and cool.

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girl with all the giftsThe Girl With All The Gifts, by M.R. Carey

published June 2014

Where I got it: rec’d ARC from the publisher (Thanks Orbit!)

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There once was a little girl named Melanie. As far as she knew, she was a happy, healthy little girl. And why shouldn’t she be? She gets to see her friends at school, she adores her favorite teacher Miss Justineau, and she always tries her best to be polite to the grown ups who help her. Even when they are holding a gun to her head.

 

Author M.R. Carey builds the tension up slowly but very steadily, at first giving us a fish eye lens view into an underground bunker where under the sharp eyes of Dr. Caroline Caldwell and Sergeant Parks, a very select group of children are fed, sheltered, education, observed, and then vivisected. Caldwell’s mission is of the utmost importance. She’s looking for a cure. And besides, if Melanie and the other “children” were still human, they’d cry out in pain when the good doctor sliced their skulls open with her scalpel, right?

 

Ever heard of Cordyceps?  How about Ophiocordyceps?  It’s a fungus that really likes ants and sometimes spiders, and it especially enjoys threading it’s mycelial hairs into the nervous system of the critter.  What happens next is pretty disgusting.  As an aside, M.R. Carey wrote a great guest post over at SFSignal, about the science behind The Girl With All the Gifts, and about Cordyceps. He even links to a video about it. I got about halfway through the video before I screamed “eye bleach!”.  Even after five minutes of thinking about baby My Little Pony unicorns snuggling with fluffy kittens, I still want to bathe my eyes in Clorox and throw up a little. So, there’s that.

 

The gist of The Girl With All the Gifts is that Ophiocordyceps has evolved, it has mutated to infect people, and it has terrorized humanity.  Terrorize probably isn’t the right word here. Because Ophiocordyceps is nothing more than the little fungus that could. And what it can do will horrify you.

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california bonesCalifornia Bones by Greg Van Eekhout

Published 2014

where I got it: borrowed ARC from My Bookish Ways

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Writing a magic system readers will resonate with is a tricky thing. Some readers like them to work like, well, magic, with hands twirling or fingers snapping, other readers need something a little more meaty. I’m a meaty girl, and I go crazy for a magic system that’s complicated, expensive*, and intimately connected to the physical body of the magician. I want there to be some chemistry, some science to the whole thing. For lack of a better term, I want the magic to feel plausible.  That said, it took less than one chapter for me to completely buy into and fall in love with the magic system in Greg Van Eekhout’s California Bones.

 

*And by expensive, I don’t mean money. I mean if you screw it up, you’re probably going to die. So don’t screw it up.

 

This is a magic system that is based on ingesting the bones, tissues, and fossils of the thing whose properties you want to use.  And where else to find the fossils of ancient magical creatures, like mammoths, griffins, mastodons, eocorns, krakens and basilisks but southern California’s La Brea Tar Pits? Ingest the ancient residues of these creatures, and take into yourself the powers of long life, fire, invisibility and other powers.

 

This is the magic of ancient bones. This is osteomancy.  And excuse my language, but it is fucking brilliant.

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Yes, I just turned “River Song” into a verb.  and you can to!  In fact, you probably already have.

 

Has this ever happened to you?  You’re innocently surfing the interwebs, skimming through your twitter or tumblr feed, when you hit on an article, or story published online, or podcast. You read, comment, download, and then realize the article/story/podcast/cartoon was from two years ago.   But time has gone all wibbly-wobby, this is happening *right now* for you, so who cares that the information is at least a year old? So you e-mail or FB or tweet the person, letting them know how much you enjoyed the post/podcast/etc. You gracefully (or not) imply how much you are looking forward to their future work. You hope you don’t sound too stalker-ish.

 

If it was a face to face conversation, they might be looking at you a little funny.  The enjoyment of whatever it was, it’s your present, or your very recent past (like, yesterday).  But for them, it’s been months or even years since they even thought about how much that podcast was a pain to edit, or what their inspiration was for that blog post. It takes them a second to remember the specific whatever that you’re talking about, and then a smile comes across their face.

 

Your present is their past. in fact, your future is also their past, because you’ve got an entire season of podcasts to catch up on.

 

You’ve just River Songed them.
And because the person is very polite, they will patiently wait for you to catch up. To do anything else would  make it painfully obvious to you how far apart your time lines are. it would be impolite. it would give spoilers.
And spoilers wouldn’t be fun for anyone, would they?

river song spoilers


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.