A World in Itself

I wrote this as a comment in a metafilter thread. If you don’t know metafilter, you should. The topic was trees and plants we love.

 

I love the song we are singing today, the long slow tale of trees.

My first and best friend was an oak, and I grieve her still today. As a child, my fingers fit into the grooves of her bark. I spent hours discovering the lives hidden, making their home in her. Ants on their invisible highways. Caterpillars wondrous in their strangeness, moths well camouflaged discovered as hidden treasure, and once the glorious green of a luna stunning my eyes, a gift of beauty not meant for me but that I shared in nonetheless.

But that tree’s hours were long ago, in the way we humans measure time.

So today I celebrate the bloodberry, native here in this hot wet place. It flowers and fruits long, often at the same time. It grows fast, wild, abundant. Small leaves, small flowers, small fruit. Bees of many kinds crowd its blossoms. The tiny glowing red berries are just the size to feed baby birds, so many species will attend at once. The hawks are not much of a bother here, because the thin branches will not hold their weight, and the small leaves obscure birds who might otherwise be prey. After watching the wild mockingbirds harvest and feed their young, I gathered those same berries for orphans in my care, that they could know their native foods and have a better chance of surviving. I have seen ducks standing beneath it, gobbling every berry that can reach, and I have fallen into quiet laughter watching these ducks hop – hop! – to reach the brilliant sunstruck globes above them, and sometimes succeed.

It is not a tree. It is itself, a wiry and wild shrub, but I always feel there is a knowing in it. And when its children have escaped the flying ones and sprung up around their parent’s feet, I  have lovingly rehomed them, to spread this wonder. I have moved to a new home myself, and the scion of the bloodberry grows here alongside me. And I think we will be good friends.

STORYBUNDLE LIVE!

9561D84E-7F09-4667-A95C-8760A7B5FBC3Got a text from my friend Kirsten: “Picked up your Storybundle. This is a great deal!”

Kirsten’s a reader after my own heart. Voluminous, wide-ranging. It can be hard to keep up with our hunger for new worlds, new ideas. New adventures!

Kevin J. Anderson has helped fuel our bookish dreams with a new Storybundle of a dozen adventure SF books. Heads up: this bundle only runs for three weeks from August 29 through September 19. 

The bundle includes Anderson’s newly released collection, Selected Stories: Science Fiction Volume 1, (including his first piece of published science fiction, from back when Kevin was only 12!). You also get the Fiction River anthology Superpowers edited by Rebecca Moesta, and the new anthology Bridge Across the Stars, edited by Rhett Bruno.

The nine novels in this bundle range from wild adventure SF (Nobless Oblige by Uri Kurlianchik, Shadow of Ruin by Quincy J. Allen featuring Colt the Outlander from Heavy Metal magazine, created by the Aradio Brothers, and Steampunk Banditos, the new Felix Gomez novel by Mario Acevedo), to edgy thought-provoking science fiction (Albatross by R.A. MacAvoy and Yours Truly, and Crecheling by D.J. Butler), disaster black-hole thriller Singularity by Bill deSmedt, and solid, compelling science fiction The Soul Eater by Mike Resnick, The Application of Hope by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Dry Creek Crossing by Dean Wesley Smith. Books enough to keep even Kirsten reading for a while.

With Storybundle, you name your own price, minimum of $5 for the base level of five titles, or $15 minimum for the full dozen.  And, what makes me most particularly happy: a portion goes to support Challenger Center for Space Science Education!

I am proud to support Challenger Center in making great science education materials available to teachers and students. And you can support space education, too, while joining Kirsten, me, and likeminded readers in ending summer with big adventures!

Follow this link for more info, or to get this Storybundle now! 

Happy as a Cat in a Box

IMG_7010Here’s Kyle on my desk, joining me in listening to the final chapters of the Albatross audiobook. Kyle APPEARS drowsy, but he is in fact purring busily.

As am I. Breaking open a bottle of elderflower and rose lemonade to celebrate! I’m so pleased with the way this project turned out. I hope to announce its availability for you soon.

Meanwhile, Kyle and I already have the first chapters of SHIMMER waiting for us to hear. Time to break out the catnip!

I’ve been sick recently, and minus the use of my right hand and arm. And we all know what pain and meds can do to you. However, I HAVE managed to do some reading of classics (Prisoner of Zenda…thank you, Project Gutenberg!) and some more contemporary books and stories. Watch for reviews coming soon.

And also maybe some photos of my new glove collection. Or maybe photos of Kyle with my glove collection. (Yes, he found that box too. But one cat photo per post, yes?)

 

 

 

A Voice Fills the Air

pexels-photo-185030.jpegOne of the best parts of my day: opening the digital file and listening to the sonorous voice of the Reader working his way through Albatross.

His audition recording impressed me very much. But I’m usually reading books rather than listening to them. So I did a simple market test, and checked in with a few friends who are audiobook people. John, who first asked me about getting Albatross  in audio, seemed a good place to start. I popped in on John while he was working, and played a clip.

Me: What do you think?

John: You need to hire that man RIGHT NOW.

The others who heard the sample had a similar response, and Bertie was herself delighted. So we did extend an offer, and he signed on. The chapters I’ve heard so far are really solid. I can hardly wait for you to hear them! I’ll post links as soon as the audiobook is available. And more on the man himself once the project’s wrapped.

Foz Meadows Sees Your Tropes and Uses Them for Silage

IMG_6889I was reading this book during the aftermath of a horrific mass murder in our local high school. This quote is really sticking with me: Apathy breeds more evils than defeat. So, you know, keep fighting. I kind of want it on a t-shirt. Thanks, Foz, for helping me get through this rough time. 

Spoiler warning: I usually try to avoid spoilers in my reader responses. I can’t really do that here; this book is too complex and so you’re fairly warned.

I present for your consideration An Accident of Stars, Book I of the Manifold Worlds, the ambitious portal fantasy by Foz Meadows. (Note 1) I say ambitious because it’s almost as though Foz sat down with a LIST OF PORTAL FANTASY TROPES, and went down the list intentionally reversing or dismantling each one. (My Foz quotes here are not actual quotes. It’s my imagination of her process, every time I’d see her turning some other expectation on its head.) Here’s a few:

  • Protagonist from “real” world is a Chosen One in the new world. Special gifts or powers. I can imagine Foz: “Ohellnoez. Normal girl.”
  • Protagonist is an orphan. Foz: “Nope. Nice family. Supportive. Conveniently offstage, but everybody’s alive and caring.”
  • Protagonist has Special Problems. Foz: “Nope. Sexual harassment at school, all the girls face it, and some (implied) have it worse.”
  • Adults Don’t Understand/Won’t/Can’t Intervene…well, okay, that trope sticks around but it feels like it’s making a point that Yes This Is What The Real World Is Like for Teens; especially resonant with the #metoo movement.
  • We follow the Protagonist through their journey to the other world, experience the world with them, then follow them home. Foz: “Y’know, let’s have another viewpoint right away, before we even get through the portal. And then, a bunch more. But we’ll actually let the main character change and grow, instead of just being a boring narrator placeholding for the reader.”
  • Guys have a bunch of adventures. Foz: Let’s have most of the major characters be females. Even the nominal villain, let’s have the real interesting one be his wife. Let’s see her more often, too. And…the warriors are women. And the religious leaders. And the guys are kind of sidelined, and it’s really not fair, let’s make that really visible! (To be fair, the male characters are also interesting, and the older one has some nuance. The younger one is less developed. But there’s only so much you can do in the space of one novel.)

 

(I can practically smell the burning rage coming from some folks who are still jammed up into the idea of ButFictionHasToLookTheWayIExpectItTo.)

It goes on and on. Instead of a love triangle or epic hetero romance, there are complex relationships: friendships, polyamory, parent/child, complex families, siblings, subject/ruler, worshiper/priestess, etc. We see trans representation, aromantic representation, genderqueer, bi…a whole rainbow of gender and sexual orientation. BUT unlike a number of fantasy novels I’ve read recently, these relationships aren’t painted in graphic detail. This keeps things more YA friendly (and, honestly, a number of my older friends have told me they’re a bit overwhelmed with the volume of sex in some recent fantasy novels, so I’m happy to point them here.)

I really admire the way Foz tackles Big Social Issues around gender, race, identity, religion, sexuality head on. Representation is so vital! And Foz dives in head first, into the deep end. Let’s be very clear: this is a book I don’t think I’d have had the nerve to tackle writing. At least, not without having seen Foz do it first. And maybe not even then, because parts of it are so honest. There’s a vulnerability in that, and some writers just aren’t comfortable opening themselves that way. I am blown away by this author’s determination to Not Shy Away From Hard Subjects.

Sometimes it feels as there may be too many issues being grappled with here to fit easily within the structure of one story. As a result, we get more exposition chunks than we might otherwise; that can pull the reader out of the story flow. The framework is solid: newcomer has to learn the new ways. But there’s so much complexity, so much to fit within that framework, that it feels a little forced sometimes. This wouldn’t keep me from recommending the book, though…(cue moment of personal reflection)… Sometimes exposition feels weighty because we’re being exposed to something outside our usual understanding. For example, I’ve never been in a polyamorous relationship; this may have made the explanations for the complex marriage customs seem longer to me than they actually were. (Note 2) (If my TBR pile weren’t so big, I’d re-read, with my self-evaluation glasses on.)

Back to the book. I like the magic systems, with their built-in flaws that keep things interesting. The world is complex, with some well-developed scenes that made me feel that I was really seeing the place the characters were experiencing. The plot is intricate and as tightly interwoven as the braids that are a recurring image in the novel. The characters are diverse, multi-dimensional, well thought out with their own motivations and goals.

Between themes, characters, worldbuilding, and plot … I wonder if An Accident of Stars might have been better served by being TWO books. Each of these areas left me wanting a bit more development. I wanted to see more of the characters, more of their worlds, have a bit more space to breathe around the social questions. But I understand that pacing is important, so I’m going to trust that Foz and her editors made these choices for reasons. (And leaving them wanting more is not generally seen as a bad thing.)

I’ll definitely be picking up Book Two. This was a really solid, ambitious work for a first novel. Congratulations to Foz for a trope-bashing extravaganza! And, hey Foz? You know…keep fighting.

(Note 3)

 

(Note 1) Foz and her husband came to my attention recently due to egregious and unfounded attacks by some hacks with more time than skill, in writing OR online detective work. I pulled this book to the top of my TBR pile as a gesture of solidarity. Because it’s not a good idea to let the malicious voices be the dominant ones in a conversation just because they’re loud and annoying.

(Note 2) It’s a good thing to read books that represent people who don’t look, act, love, believe just as you do. It strengthens our understanding, increases our ability to identify with other humans. It makes us better people. And if it makes us uncomfortable? Well, sometimes we need to be uncomfortable.

(Note 3) I read an early print version of this book. I understand that later versions have had the formatting errors corrected.