No Month of Books for January

I admit, I haven’t done much reading this month. Or, rather, I haven’t done much reading of other people’s writing. I’ve mostly been reading my own. Specifically, that long, still-unnamed fantasy cop drama novel I’ve been working on for the past couple of years. In order to hit my self-imposed deadline of finishing initial edits/getting the book ready for beta-reads by the end of January, I’ve been doing little else.

Okay, that’s a lie. I’ve also  been playing Skyrim. A lot of Skyrim.

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See, I downloaded the “Legacy of the Dragonborn” mod, and for the past few weeks, have been dividing my free-time between working on edits, and working on filling out my fantasy museum. The mod basically turns you into a fantasy Indiana Jones, and you get to go around Skyrim finding relics and/or putting together your exhibits, and pretty much just making your museum a visually stunning place to walk through.

In some ways, it’s very peaceful. In others…I never quite realized the level of frustration I’d feel hunting for a relic knee-deep in Rieklings, and still being unable to find it because it clipped slightly through the chest it was sitting next to and if you didn’t already know exactly where it was, finding it was next to impossible. Or the annoyance of walking into the armory and seeing that one display that’s missing a few pieces…

I’d also forgotten how glitchy Skyrim can be. So many falling mammoths. So many companions that get stuck in the “dying” animation and just…keep falling over. In doorways. Stopping me from walking.

Gr.

Still, if you’re playing Skyrim on PC and find yourself bored with the same-old, same-old quests and dungeons, and you like having a visual marker for your completionist tendencies, I highly recommend “Legacy of the Dragonborn.” If you’re playing Special Edition, the new and improved, completely overhauled version of “Legacy of the Dragonborn” just released. I haven’t tried it yet, but it looks gorgeous.

Thick book.

As for edits, the book isn’t shrinking as much as I’d hoped. What I get, I suppose, for heavily outlining beforehand and editing big-picture stuff as I go. This draft will probably come in at the mid-180,000’s for word count, which leaves me with the puzzle of going with the length OR cutting the book in half and having two 90,000-word books instead.

The danger of the latter is that, firstly, book one won’t “finish,” it’ll end on the cliff-hanger moment-of-change. Secondly, as it is now, the book is a “fair play” mystery, with the murderer and the clues hidden under (a mountain) of red herrings, but hypothetically, a reader could work it out (and they might easily; I won’t know until I get beta-feedback). If the book is split into two, the focus is then less on the mystery and more on the characters and how they go about solving the mystery. There’s also the (smaller) concern that they might appear too short at 90k.

On the other hand, if it remains one book, it’s still 180,000 words. Which is long. Especially for a debut. Especially for a non-epic fantasy debut (it’s probably closer to a fantasy adventure novel than anything else).

Decisions, decisions…

Anyway, A Month of Books will return February.

A Month of Books: December

The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard: I would argue that this is less a novella and more of a long novelette. It is very short, and because of that shortness, it had more of the texture of a short story—of language, sparseness of description, precise but possibly a little linear plotting—than it did a novella, and I admit, I went into it expecting more of a novella approach. That said, the world is absolutely fascinating and I loved the concept of sentient ships (and their names!), especially the idea that since the central core of the ships are born of humans (it’s questionable if they are humanoid, since the description of a ship’s core is vague) they have human blood-relations. The Tea Master and the Detective utilizes the Sherlock Holmes and Watson archetype, with Sherlock as Long Chau, an incredibly drugged but brilliant deductionist (honestly, this interpretation of Sherlock Holmes is the most true to the original source material’s personality and presence I think I’ve seen yet) and Watson as The Shadow’s Child, a sentient ship who brews specially crafted teas to help humans acclimate to “deep spaces.” The cultural world-building is absolutely fascinating, but because of the novella’s short length, it’s much more a story of character and culture than it is about solving the mystery. My only quibble was the sparseness of description when it came to the ships. I had little idea what The Shadow’s Child‘s avatar looked like most of the time, and I’m still unsure if a ship’s core is a humanoid being grafted into the ship or a biological mass of brain and heart.

Pumpkin Heads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks: Oh! Look! Graphic novel! And an adorable little romance story about figuring out the person who’s your person is sometimes your best friend. It’s refreshing to read a story with a bi/pan character where their sexuality and dating history is not considered weird or something to make noise about! Meredith has dated most of her coworkers and it isn’t treated as either, 1. a joke or 2. something reprehensible. Plus! Josiah has never dated anyone, and again, that’s treated as totally valid and not the butt-end of a joke. It is also refreshing to read a graphic novel/comic where the female/fem characters have a wide array of body types! Admittedly, it’s still limited when it comes to heavier body shapes, but it’s better than it usually is. And the art is wonderfully expressive and cute and fits the feel of the story quite well.


And so, we get to half of the reason why I haven’t read all that much this month: TV. Oh, there’s just so much good TV being released. The other half is that I’m currently reading/editing a novel to get it ready for betas, thus, much of my reading brain-space is claimed already. Also, holidays.

First one up: Star Trek: Discovery, Season 2, which I have been waiting for the DVD release for months because I don’t have CBS All Access (this will become a point later).

Star Trek: Discovery, Season 2: Definitely more ‘Trek than the first season. It’s doing it’s own thing, but has callbacks to the Original Series, and with that cliffhanger end, I’m starting to wonder if every season is an almost homage to each of the individual series within the great blanket of Star Trek. First season almost felt like a gritty Enterprise. Season 2 is more Original Series, and not just because of Captain Pike and Spock. Next season seems to be setting up an almost Voyager-esque season. We’ll see if my theory pans out.

My one, major quibble with this season was the events of episode 6: “The Sound of Thunder”, where the Discovery is summoned/led to Saru’s home planet. The setup was intriguing, and I was sure this was going to lead into a two-parter, but then the end happened and I was left feeling very blah. I mean, really? Discovery? You’re just going to leave? You basically set fire to this planet’s (very oppressive, highly morally questionable) society, culture, and political sphere, and then you just…leave and say, “Oh, they’ll sort it out.” Ah, no. I don’t care how much the Kelpiens believe in balance, the Ba’ul were fully prepared to launch a species-wide genocide after thousands of years of oppression and “culling” the Kelpien population for control. You don’t just leave. They are not going to sort this out. I’d be better with this if there was a mention of passing this particular thorny mess to the Star Fleet Diplomatic Corps. That would make sense, where Discovery backs out because they’re not trained for this. But…to leave in silence, then have the Kelpiens swoop in at the end using Ba’ul ships…seriously makes me question if Kaminar has two species any longer, or if the Kelpiens wiped out the Ba’ul and got their tech.

Now, my other quibble is with the series as a whole or, at least, how CBS is making it almost impossible not to pay for their All Access option. See, there’s a moment right at the end of the season that relies entirely on a previously established relationship between two characters…that wasn’t introduced in Discovery. Nope, this was actually in the Short Treks spin-off series, something I hadn’t even realized was a thing. Because I hadn’t known that this was going to be a semi-requirement in order to understand, I then spent an inordinate amount of time switching discs, looking for the episode I missed, then, when I couldn’t find it, assumed it was something I’d forgotten from season 1, so went back to my bingeing. It wasn’t until after watching the two-parter season finale that I found out that one character was introduced in a Short Treks episode, and that’s why I couldn’t find it. *grumble grumble grumble* I may, may, break down and get the All Access subscription when the third season releases, just so I can binge-watch Season 3 and all the Short Treks episodes I missed.

I sobbed at a character’s death. This is not unusual, I sob fairly easily at character deaths, particularly if that character then has a moving funeral (this one did). Favorite scene, by far, was Michael asking Spock if he really thinks the beard is working. *sigh* Highlight of the season.

The WitcherOh, I’ve been waiting for this for months. Months and months and months.

I liked the split focus between the three central characters. That said, I have the benefit of having read some of the books quite a few years ago, which might’ve been for the best. While I was familiar with who was important and why they were in the story, my memory has gone fuzzy on the details, so I wasn’t actively comparing the adaptation with the source material (which I think a few reviewers were, whether consciously or unconsciously). That said, the, er, multiple timeline structure is confusing as all hell, and I can only assume it’s even more confusing for those who have neither read the books or played the games (I’m more recent on the games; I binge-played The Witcher III about two years ago and did a story/craft analysis on it). For the first two episodes and much of the third, I was holding two possibilities in mind: either it’s a multi-timeline story where they didn’t mark the timelines as being separate OR they decided to make everything happen concurrently…which would’ve been odd, but it is an adaptation, so…

It wasn’t until the third episode where there’s some overlap with royals’ ages that I figured out it was the former not the latter, and things started making sense. So my one bit of advice for those who haven’t seen it and haven’t read the books, know that Geralt’s and Yennifer’s timelines are occurring decades before Ciri is even born. Geralt’s timeline is mostly the short stories (most of which can be found in The Last Wish), Yennifer’s is backstory that’s referenced (as far as I remember), and Ciri’s is a lead-up to the events of the first book. In a way, it embodied my frustrations when I read the novels (I clearly remember throwing the first book down with an exasperated cry of, “It’s just a PROLOGUE?”).

Which probably explains the tonal conflict and the occasional sudden shifts in emotional tone between episodes. Geralt’s timeline isn’t running as chronologically as Ciri’s, so there’s gaps and spaces of unspoken years between events (and it’s easy to miss when there’s been a time-skip). While I enjoyed this, I can see how this would definitely rub people wrong.

There were some choices with Yen’s backstory that I was a bit iffy on, but I realize that much of it is drawn from the books (it just hasn’t aged well, in my opinion), and there was a point where I was certain there was a blatant contradiction; they might end up addressing that in the next season, so *shrug*. I also question, if a viewer doesn’t know who Ciri is and who she becomes, whether or not her story would feel as vital/compelling as it does to someone who does know.

Much like with Carnival Row, I await season 2 to see where they take this. I also feel the strong urge to replay The Witcher III: Wild Hunt*.

Other shows binge-watched this month:

  • Shakespeare & Hathaway: Private Investigators, Season 2
  • Death in Paradise, Season 8

Shows that I anticipate binge-watching:

  • Murdoch Mysteries, Season 13**
  • Brokenwood Mysteries, Season 6**

* However! I did just fix Skyrim and I’m happily binge-playing that while working on edits, so…it might be awhile.
** Acorn TV is doing a slow-release schedule for both of these of one episode a week. Which curtails my binge-plans.

Strange Stories, Vol. 1 | Cover Reveal!

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Isn’t that fancy?*

But! Speaking of fancy, a limited collector’s edition of this anthology in hardcover is available for pre-order! Which also will include a t-shirt and an advanced printed excerpt of Forty-Two Book’s upcoming poetry anthology, Putrescent Poems. Strange Stories will also be available in paperback and e-book, if hardcover isn’t your jam.


* Yes, I know, it says August 2019 on the cover, but it’s December. Originally, it was slated for an August release but got pushed back.

A Month of Books: November

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine: Okay, I love this book. It is such a delicious, rich, flavorful book, and it touches on so many things that I, personally, find fascinating. Culture and cultural exchange across cultures. Language and how language changes. The idea of being in love with a culture not your own, and equally being afraid of that culture subsuming yours. The question of what it means to be human. The whole concept of memory and personality, and the effect each has on the other, plus the fascinating question of, if you have two sets of memories, one present and one past, are they the same person? Are they different? And where, when memories of two different people are combined into one brain, we become I and I become we? And what it would be like to experience memories that aren’t yours? (True, I’m biased, since that’s one of the major elements I’ve been exploring in my own novel, so it’s wonderful to see someone else tackling the same questions that I am, but with a different lens and perspective*). I am also excited to learn that this is only book 1, and that all those dangling plot threads at the end might be answered in the next installment (and it’s saying something that I didn’t even notice there were unanswered questions till I started writing this, the end was so satisfying). True, I will now have to wait until 2020 to read A Desolation Called Peace, but will mean that future-me will have the satisfaction of a good read.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir: Irreverently giggle-inducing, often gruesome, and occasionally downright weird. The combination of magic and space ships is both different and pleasantly jarring—those shouldn’t work together, and every so often, don’t seem to work together, BUT the mixture is unique and unexpected, and I felt that outweighed the odd hiccup. In a way, the plot’s structure reminded me of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, with a cast of characters with dubious morals trapped on/in an inescapable location, being murdered one by one, the only suspects each other. And that end. All I will say about that end is “Hm. Now that is interesting.” However, just as a note, the beginning can be a bit tricky; there’s a lot of jargon and quite a few sentences that I needed to read a second time to get their meaning. But once they’re at Canaan House, I found things either smoothed out or I gelled with the writing style, and it became easier, and once a certain conversation happened late in the book, the relationship between the main characters sat better with me. It also has a tendency to leave things visually vague, which calls for the reader to do some imagination legwork. Unrelated to the actual content of the book, the hardcover with the black side-trim is absolutely gorgeous, a total work of art. It’s such a pretty book. Harrow the Ninth looks like it’ll be just as pretty (and maybe answer some of my blasted questions!).

The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold: So. This year at Windycon, I was on a panel devoted entirely to discussing the works of Lois McMaster Bujold, in particular The Vorkosigan Saga (the theme this year was Space Opera), and I realized it’d been awhile since I’d reread the earlier books in the series, seeing that with this latest reread, I was for some unfathomable reason reading the books backwards. So I jumped back and realized…I’d conflated a lot of the events in The Warrior’s Apprentice with events in The Vor Game. Anyway, it’s interesting to go back to young Miles, and to see what’s being setup for later books.

The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold: Continuing my reread in preparation for the panel. Not much to say other than, still vastly enjoyable, four rereads later. Seriously, The Vorkosigan Saga is one of those where I can read and reread and not be bored, even though I know how everything turns out. Instead, I get to look forward to the parts I know are coming, and it’s with giddy anticipation that I read. The Vor Game is still a delightful romp, pre-Miles-as-professional-deep-cover-agent, so it’s just so much fun to see him mess up and save it, and somehow make it look like he was planning for that eventuality the entire time.

Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold: Cetaganda can be a bit…odd, compared to the others. Tonally, in some ways, it’s almost more in line with the later books after Miles is medically forced to retire from his double life as Admiral Naismith. This one is, in a way, an early precursor to Miles Vorkosigan, the Imperial Auditor, since he gets to investigate and do his hero-ing under his own name. Only thing is, all his heroics end up swept under the rug of “so classified, the classification is classified” due to him…saving? what is, ostensibly, the enemy. However, the thing I so love, absolutely love, about this one is the humanizing of the Cetagandans. Up until this point, they were more of bogeymen wearing terrifying face paint; there’s a brief moment of screen-time for them in The Warrior’s Apprentice, but for the most part in the first few books, they’re either a threat in the past or faceless ships. It’s in Cetaganda that we get to see them as individuals…and they are simultaneously characterized as both incredibly alien and incredibly human.

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2019 edited by Carmen Maria Machado (series editor: John Joseph Adams): This one was intriguing to analyze from the perspective of a writer writing and submitting short stories. While the majority of my reading tends to be novels, I do enjoy a good short story, particularly during my lunch break. Anyway, the majority of stories included in this year’s The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy leaned heavily into unusual/nontraditional story structures, often riffing on other forms not usually used for fiction (such as “Poor Unfortunate Fools” by Sylvia Park, which is told as an academic paper, “STET” by Sarah Gailey, which is told through editing notes and notations, and “Dead Air” by Nino Capri, which is an audio transcription), but had its fair share of traditional narratives as well (and an interesting use of second person right off the bat in “Pitcher Plant” by Adam-Troy Castro).

Godblind by Anna Stephens: Hrm. I’m conflicted on this one. On the one hand, I devoured this book in two days, and it’s not a small book. It was compelling and kept me turning pages. On the other, it didn’t feel quite…deep enough for what I was wanting. I like to be entirely immersed in my fantasy, and Godblind seemed more keen on fast pacing than immersion. Yes, it moves at a very quick clip; things start spiraling out of control for the main characters practically from the get-go and don’t let up. But that fast pace is at the expense of the world- and character-building (more so world than character). It also has a lot of viewpoint characters (ten, count them, ten!), which can give you a bit of whiplash when you go from one end of the country to the other in the space of three pages (though if I remember right, Mark Lawrence did something very similar with Red Sister, so it might just be a mark of the subgenre). These two things combined in such a way that the book didn’t—hm—have the chewiness I like in my fantasy. Still, if you’re a fan of fast-paced grimdark, Godblind is a good addition to the genre. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.


* I also have found a new comp title for when I start querying the new novel. Am pleased. Am very pleased.