A Month of Books: March

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: This is my second attempt on Ancillary Justice. The first one, I hadn’t been in the right mood to enjoy it, and the shifting between timelines frustrated me more than it enticed me. Second attempt, and I devoured it in a few days. The world-building in this is spectacular, though there is a bit of a learning curve. You’re dropped in the middle of things and the story just goes, filling in the world-building as it becomes necessary and, even then, not all of it. Some things remain vague, some things go unexplained, and I personally delighted in having a world (well, worlds) that I could puzzle over. However, that “drop you in the middle” is honestly why my first attempt at this book didn’t go much beyond the first flashback. Which brings up the other potential hurdle: it’s told in a split-timeline structure with the past and the present trading off chapters between them. In some ways, it helped make the past (and betrayals of the past) more immediate; in others, I’m fairly certain that structure is the reason it took me almost a week to read to the point that the past timeline falls off and the narrative remains entirely in the present. Once it narrowed down to one timeline, the rest of the book zipped by (true, there’s also the investment element in there; by that point, I needed to know what happened next). Now, I’m not sure if I truly called the betrayal, or if I’d somehow absorbed knowledge of it when it’d been nominated, but I didn’t find the past storyline as compelling since I knew where it was going, though I didn’t see the why behind the betrayal. The eventual payoff is worth the wait, though.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie: The scope narrows here, going from a massive quest for revenge across an empire to a single space station in orbit around a single planet, though with a much larger cast of characters than the first book. I will be entirely honest, this review isn’t much of a review because I read this one weeks ago and failed to write a review immediately upon finishing, and then COVID-19 happened and my perception of time has turned into dripping molasses, while simultaneously making everything that happened prior to two weeks ago feel like it happened last year. The thing I remember most clearly in this was how so many of the secondary characters on the ship go by title/rank rather than by name and yet, I could tell them apart so easily, the characterization of them was so strong. More and more, however, I do wonder if, perhaps, the guessing of the characters’ gender/sex might be the wrong approach; the more I read, the more I started to feel that the singular pronoun freed characters to act in stereotypical gendered ways without it being a reflection (or subversion) of gender, and the more I read, the more my mental image of the characters flowed. It was an intriguing experience, and though it took me two books to get used to it, I appreciate the approach.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie: Ah, and the conclusion. One highlight was definitely Seivarden’s outrage over the suppurating cuticles oath. That, and how brilliant Station is and its way of leveraging Anaander in order to keep its citizens safe. Spoilers perhaps, but the end is a bit more open-ended than I’d prefer for a trilogy. The main conflict set up in Ancillary Justice doesn’t, precisely, get resolved. The civil war is still waging. Hypothetically, it might become more difficult for said civil war to continue quite the same way as it did before a certain event at the end of Ancillary Mercy, but it isn’t resolved. I was also a bit surprised that the concept of cloning ancillaries didn’t come up before the very end and it was…not so much dealt with as tabled for later discussion…except, this is the final book, so I suppose it’s up to us, the readers, to decide how that turns out?

A Conjuring of Assassins by Cate Glass: Oooooh, I’ve been waiting for this one for months! And then, when it arrived, I was in the middle of reading a trilogy, so set it aside to finish the Ancillary series first, ’cause I’m not blessed with one of those minds that does well with multiple immersive speculative novels being read at once. Much like the first book, A Conjuring of Assassins takes a little bit to get going, and there is some recap sections that if you’re reading the two back-to-back, might tempt one to skim, but once the mystery of Cinque is answered, the pace picks up and it’s spies and magic and grand con games in order to get closer to the Chimera’s target (the Assassins List). There is also more of a hint of the epic in this one. In the first book, there’s an unanswered mystery that could lend itself to epic fantasy, but here, it’s more overt, and the introduction of Teo (and Teo’s mystery) feels very much reminiscent (and pleasantly so) of the writer’s other epic fantasy series under the name Carol Berg (that hint of the epic, of the almost divine, of magic being otherworldly and beyond human understanding, of parallel worlds, of mind-speech). I look forward to seeing where things go in the next book, and what exactly is magic, and how does it tie in with the long-vanished gods? As a side note, it was both weird and unnerving to read a book so heavily based on Renaissance Italy while simultaneously watching news of the epidemic in Italy as it unfolded.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig: Confession: one trope that I absolutely adore is the one of the old and possibly world-weary immortal/near immortal with centuries of memory interacting with the modern (or near modern) world*–bonus points if there’s a love story (not necessarily romantic love; found family love or platonic love are under-explored with this trope, in my opinion). How to Stop Time somehow managed to slip by under my radar until now, and it’s an exemplar of the trope. I did find the major twist somewhat predictable, but didn’t mind it so much. The romance angle is a great deal more downplayed than what the back cover blurb promised (which was fine). It’s more a story of Tim engaging with the world, realizing that his pattern of isolation and being a recluse isn’t working for him anymore, and that his will to live is slowly, but surely, becoming walled in by fear (of discovery, of death, of change), stoked by Henrich, another alba (or very long lived individual). Much like Ancillary Justice, How to Stop Time uses a dual-timeline structure, though this one is aided by the time period being firmly set in Earth historical past. There is, as a note, far more “past” flashback chapters than “present,” and much of the present is quieter, more introspective. The final resolution of the book’s external conflict is a little ho-hum, but then, it wasn’t really about the external conflict, but the internal one. A small warning, but much of the book has a low-key hum of depression throughout, even though it ends on a rather hopeful note. I, personally, found this resonated with me, but others might find it triggering.


* As much as I claim to be a vampire-junky, it’s not the vampire that engages me, necessarily, but rather this trope of immortal/near immortal, and it just so happens that the most common subgenre containing it is the vampire one, which is why I don’t like all vampire stories, but a very particular subset.

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.

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.

Fantasy, Armies, and Economics

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Image by Yuri_B from Pixabay

Today, I want to talk fantasy. And epic armies. And economics.

Yes, they connect.

First off, I have no expert knowledge in this subject. I’m neither an economist nor do I have a military background of any sort. But I read a lot of fantasy, and I write a lot of fantasy, and recently, I’d been mulling on the topic of fantasy warfare when I’d realized an army in a book I was reading had no food. Which then spun off to other musings, and things (namely, my suspension of disbelief) started crumbling. While this…discussion…is more aimed at epic and grimdark fantasy, it can also be applied to military science fiction and more battle-oriented space opera (though I’ve noticed that military sci-fi tends to be more realistic about the, uh, monetary cost of war). Anyway. Onward!

If you, dear reader, intend to introduce some warfare on a grand scale into your fantasy world, I would like to remind you of a few things:

Armies are big.

Armies are expensive.

Armies eat a fuck-ton of food.

They also, as a whole, move very, very slowly. Mobilizing an entire army and having it move, say, twenty miles is an undertaking. Namely because of supply trains. Because your big-ass fantasy army (which shall be, from now on, referred to as the BAFA) is really made up of thousands of people, and if those people are marching and burning calories, they’re gonna need to eat to replace all that energy expended, especially if you want them to then fight when they get to wherever they’re going (I’m not even bringing up the issue of clean drinking water).

L5dSqUwBut it’s not just food. It’s supplies. It’s equipment. It’s (if you have cavalry) all the horses’ tack and their grooms. It’s all those damn tents. The bedrolls. The cookware for preparing all the aforementioned food (unless you’re going to make them all march on hardtack…expect lower moral). Oh, and all the army’s support staff (the blacksmiths, the quartermasters, the cooks, the grooms, the healers/medical personnel, the engineers for the siege equipment, the army administrators—all the logistical supply for the logistical supply). Armies are big. And bulky. And cumbersome. And, when everything is moving in concert with all its various parts, starts to feel insurmountable. When taken as a whole.*

It’s still made up of individuals.

Who also, if they’re doing this as a mode of employment, like to be paid. Where are you getting all the gold necessary to fund this? Honestly, this is usually why my suspension of disbelief starts to waver when the BAFAs come out. If the writer hasn’t built a believable economy, I start to question where the funds are coming from. By the way, you know what’s more expensive than armies? Countries. Good lord, those are giant money-sinks. But back to the armies.

It’s possible they may be unpaid, untrained conscripts. Expect some wholesale slaughter if they’re up against a superior force. Also, expect a lot of desertion. However, a few epic fantasies I’ve read lately have been going the route of religious fanaticism to keep their unpaid, untrained constricts standing in lines. …okay. You can have that once, maybe twice, but seriously, it’s starting to get lazy, imo. And they never seem to fall apart quite as frequently nor in the same way as they do in history…

So. Either you are paying your army or your conscripting them. There’s also a third option: pillage-as-pay (or raiding).

viking-army-fantasy-art-7-4kNow, if you’re going to go down the pillage-as-pay route, there’s one inherent flaw: if there’s no pillaging, there’s no pay. If the food, supplies, and money for your army is going to come from the people you’re invading, all the invadees have to do is set fire to their fields and starve you out. You’ll likely run out of supplies long before they run out of country to flee over. Aaaaaand then you have issues of low moral.

(Seriously. It’s like a giant game of Oregon Trail here.)

Let’s say you don’t want to invade. Instead, you’re on the defending side, fighting back the invasion with a standing army. That still costs. They still need housing. They still need to eat. Else you’re going to get the low moral problem.

Low moral, by the way, means people start to resent you. And people who resent you are difficult to convince to go fight and die on your behalf.**

Now, stepping sideways into a specific example, and something that’s been lately bugging me.

512px-Woodville_Richard_Caton_-_Poniatowski's_Last_Charge_at_Leipzig_1912
Poniatowski’s Last Charge at Leipzig Richard Caton Woodville, Jr.

Cavalry.

Fantasy writers, please stop misusing cavalry. I know, I know, it looks dramatic in the mind’s eye to line your cavalry up with all their shining armor and lances, and have them suicide-charge against the enemy’s cavalry. Cue flashing weapons, crunching armor, horse squeals, and sprays of blood.

Remember what I was saying about armies being expensive? Cavalry is really expensive. Not only do you have to train your soldier to ride and fight from horseback, you need to train the horse…and horses are not cheap. So you’ve got food, housing, animal care, training plus room and board, training, and arming/outfitting for the human (oh, and pay), and this is just one cavalry-person. Fantasy likes to have cavalry numbering in the hundreds upon hundreds, and every one of them costs.

Are you seriously going to throw your cavalry into certain death? Or are you going to keep them in reserve and, if desperate, dismount your cavalry and have them fight on foot? Save the horse for when you actually need a horse—say, for when you need forces to go from point A to point B quickly, or when you need speed for engaging/disengaging, such as having them to flank and harry the sides of a force.

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And while we’re on the topic of cavalry, what about anti-cavalry? Where are the damn pikes? The spears? The pointy-things partially made for downing horses? And what about anti anti-cavalry? I don’t quite remember who said it, but I know it was at a GenCon panel a few years ago, but someone pointed out that those big heavy claymores? Those are for lopping the ends off of pikes so they don’t impale your cavalry. Now, I recognize this needs citation to be accurate, but if it is, where are the claymores?

Warfare seems, at least to my eyes, to be weapons and counter-weapons (and armor, and tactics). There should be depth to war strategy (honestly, this is why I usually avoid writing from the viewpoints of generals; it can be hard to grasp the stakes when we’re talking about thousands and thousands of people being moved this way and that on a map).

Though it’s a common thing to poke at in fantasy, I will also reiterate that horses aren’t machines. There’s a few wonderful series of articles about horses and fantasy on Tor.com, and I highly recommend taking a gander.

Also, a bit older, but this article on Fantasy-Faction about building fantasy armies might be worth a look while you’re at it.


* We’re talking whole armies here, not skirmishes/raiding parties. Smaller groups can get away with less support.
**While, yes, if we’re talking fantasy, there could be other ways to compel an army to fight, such as through magical means. However, this can lead to the army becoming just a homogenized lump of faceless humanity and little more than a prop to introduce conflict into the narrative.

If anyone knows who did the other three images, I’d love to be able to properly attribute them.

A Month of Books: September

Swordheart by T. Kingfisher: Another recommendation from someone (else) I know, and I have found a new favorite writer! It reminded me fondly of both The Paladin of Souls and the Penric and Desdemona series by Lois McMaster Bujold, mixed with the laugh-out-loud humor of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and the whimsy of Princess Bride (the movie more than the book), while being something entirely of itself. And, oh, was this hilarious. To the point that, like Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, I self-banned myself from reading this while at work. Because I have a very loud laugh and I work in a very small library. It’s got romance! And laughs! And swords! And property lawyers (who are heroes)! And some very disturbing things hanging out in trees…

Minor Mage by T. Kingfisher: Because of Swordheart, I needed more by T. Kingfisher. I’m siding with the author and saying this is a kid’s book. Albeit, a somewhat dark kid’s book, but kids tend to like dark anyway (or, at least, I did when I was a kid, so…). Honestly, it’s a cute read. I’d been anticipating funny based off of Swordheart, and this is less laugh-out-loud funny, more wry, but the magic is wonderfully whimsical and I love the idea of an armadillo as a familiar.

All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, and Exit Strategy by Martha Wells: I’m on a novella-spree here it seems, this time, skittering over into sci-fi. I just love the inversion of the idea that if humans were to create sufficiently intelligent AI, that AI would undoubtedly kill us. In All Systems Red, said sufficiently intelligent AI…mostly just wants to be left alone to watch its entertainment dramas. Humans are strange and stressful and difficult to anticipate (and yet, as much as it insists it doesn’t care, SecBot/Murderbot…does; truly, it’s fascinating to pick apart how Wells wrote a character who, ostensibly, desires a bare minimum of human contact and whose only goals are to watch the next episode of its soaps, and yet, manages to make that character extremely compelling). Also, there’s an echo of horror in these (especially All Systems Red and Rogue Protocol, more adventure-thriller for Artificial Condition and Exit Strategy), that eerie kind that I associate more with the creepier Doctor Who episodes, which I very much enjoyed. All Systems Red is an easy novella to binge-read. What am I saying? They’re all easy to binge-read! Case in point, while dog-sitting, I devoured the other three books in the series in a day and a half and am hyped for Network Effect’s release in May of next year. Can’t wait, can’t wait! And, oh, Exit Strategy was an excellent conclusion, though I’m thrilled to learn there will be more.

Why Kill the Innocent by C. S. Harris: While typically I range toward the speculative in my reading tastes, I do so enjoy historical mysteries set pre-modern forensics era*, and this one is a series that I’ve been following for a few years now. The thing I so enjoy about this particular series is the author note at the end, where Harris discusses what parts of the novel were drawn from historical fact, what was supposition, what was entirely fiction, and what was amalgamations of real historical events or people crunched together. This fascinates me. The mystery was one of those where there are so few suspects I kept casting around for that someone that didn’t fit, and though I worked out who was behind it before Sebastian (mostly because of a single development where, if you thought about it, only one character would know that other character intimately enough to successfully frame him), I utterly failed to work out the “why” so it was still a satisfactory mystery.

Who Slays the Wicked by C. S. Harris: And because I’m on a historical mystery kick, book 14 of the series! I’m very behind on these. Anyway, this one is almost an opposite of the previous. With Why Kill the Innocent there was a dearth of suspects, in Who Slays the Wicked, they’re practically teeming. While I wish the red herring suspect wasn’t so obviously a red herring (that Sebastian insisted on suspected for no other reason than it served the plot), the final twist was ultimately satisfying and made a disturbing amount of sense. I’m pleased it went that route, and looking forward to the next one (Who Speaks for the Damned, April 2020).

Going Postal by Terry Pratchett: On a whim, I watched the BBC mini-series adaptation on Amazon, and had the sudden urge to compare/contrast the book to the show (because that’s how my mind works?). BUT I realized I hadn’t read the book in years so cue reread! I hadn’t realized just how subtle stuff is in this one, particularly the sections with Vetinari and the business meetings. I see why, for the show, they gave Adora Belle Dearheart more emotional beats, and transferred some of Moist’s a-hah! moments to other characters. I also see why some of the side-plots with the clacks towers were lessened or removed, so for a more in-depth viewing, definitely read the book (in some ways, it’s like Lord of the Rings; the adaptation alone works wonderfully, but reading the book adds a whole ‘nother layer of nuance). As for the end, the show is more cinematic and dramatic (which, of course) and the book, less so. But the book brings up character conflict right at the end that I hadn’t been expecting and, I think, forgot was there. Still. It’s Discworld, therefore, Sir Terry Pratchett, therefore, absolutely brilliant. Still one of my favorites.

Finder by Suzanne Palmer: More sci-fi! This time, with overtones of a western with an almost Macgyver-esque way of approaching problems (How do you disable space security drones? Answer: vibrating dildos, tennis balls, sticky candy, and foil. How do you fool a gangster into flying a spaceship in your path? Answer: a very fancy suit and a bundle of junk covered in lots of lights). Midway through, the story took a somewhat unexpected jink and there was an extended almost-side quest that didn’t, initially, seem to fit BUT it all comes together rather neatly in the end, and the final bit of trickery Fergus uses is brilliant. Trust that the middle does, in fact, link up with everything else is all I can say. I’m hoping there’s a book two (which it seems like there is; it’s labeled as book one), but Finder also stands alone fairly well. There’s a lot of unanswered questions at the end, which feels like setup for a series (a trilogy, at least).


*My theory for my favoring mysteries set pre-modern forensics is that it tends to be more about talking to people and putting together clues than necessarily putting together evidence. Also, I like reading fair-play mysteries more than mysterious thrillers, personally, because I like to try to work it out myself (I’m usually right about half the time but rarely work out the underlying motive before the characters do). I also love speculative mysteries, but those are a bit rarer to find (especially ones where the murder isn’t a stepping stone to a more traditionally epic plot).

A Month of Books: August

Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold: Reread! Because, for some reason, this time around, I’m reading the whole of the Vorkosigan Saga backward? The series is one of my comfort reads and, when I have no idea what to read next, I pick one up and start reading ’cause I know I’ll enjoy it. Every time through, I come away with new things to analyze. This time, it was plot structure.

The Writer’s Book of Doubt by Aidan Doyle: A bit of a cheat, I suppose, seeing that I haven’t finished it yet, so this semi-review will be truncated, but it’s so far been worth taking the extra time with. Most of the essays are based on blog posts, so tend to be short, but at the same time, since they’re based on concise blog posts, also have a lot of thoughts and information to unpack. And it’s a broad swathe of different topics relating to writing, self-doubt, and the parts (pleasant, unpleasant, and everything in between) of being a creative in a field that depends so much on audience interaction and how to make your way, ranging from hobbyist to professional. Though mostly geared toward writers, quite a bit of it, I think, is applicable to other art forms, so it might be worth a look for non-writers too. Highly recommended (and I haven’t even finished it yet!).

The Orphans of Raspay by Lois McMaster Bujold: *squeeeee* More Penric and Des! I had no idea this released last month (I was a bit distracted) but it makes a wonderful surprise gift in the middle of August. As usual, the new installment of Penric and Desdemona is a joyful delight. Interestingly Pen swears a great deal in this one (true, he is having a very bad day) and he and Des get to go full-chaos-demon/sorcerer on a bunch of pirates–which is definitely the most chaos they’ve indulged in on-screen (I think), and it is glorious. On a writing-craft note, this is an excellent example of ramping-up complications. Every single time Pen has a plan, everything goes completely wrong and he ends up having to come up with another plan…which also goes wrong.

Heart of Fire by Bec McMaster: I’m on a romance-roll, it appears. Also, people with the name “McMaster”? Anyway, romance! And dragons! A combination I haven’t had much experience reading, but now I wonder…why have I not? This was a recommendation from a friend (whose reading tastes and my own often align) and I was not steered wrong! Honestly, a delight to read, Freyja and Rurik’s dialogue/banter is a blast, but most of all, they seem to be having so much fun. There’s an element here of play. Their banter is, often, funny to read, but they’re clearly enjoying themselves, and when the joke is at the other’s expense, it’s consensually at the other’s expense. I like my romances sweet or funny, and this one is both sweet and funny. Also, dragons. It’s interesting though that while the characters get their HEA, the end leaves much unresolved; the pair seem set up for another adventure together, and it’s heavily hinted that even though they have their HEA, they’re going to meet with conflict for their choice later…but the series is constructed as a romance series, meaning the next book will focus on a different couple. But I have downloaded the next so…

Firefly: The Unification War, Part One by Greg Pak, Dan McDaid, Marcelo Costa: Oh, hey, comic! I usually read comics/graphic novels in mass binges when the series is complete (or near completion), but in this case, it was sitting on the New Books shelf at my library and caught my eye. Amusing and entertaining, though I think, if I read any of these in future, I’ll watch the show just before so I can have the character/actor voices in my head. I think it’ll add another dimension.