Foriegn Environments

If you have a pulse, and have been around for a few years, then you have probably found yourself in a foreign environment a time or two. Sometimes we volunteer for these experiences – like signing up for a belly dancing class at the local aquatics center…in winter. Other times, we are forced into these situations – like being asked to attend a meeting in proper business attire on the top floor of the Emerald Tower….and be the key presenter. In the SFF world, most of these unique experiences are stumbled upon and pleasantly enjoyed.

I’ve been reading SFF since I could pick up a book, and through all those thousands of pages, I have flown on dragons, run from robots, colonized planets, been lost in an underwater garden. I believe that what we spend our time doing affects the flexibility of our minds, and I believe that reading fiction, the stranger the better, the greater chance we have of adapting to odd circumstances we find ourselves in in day to day life.

I think all of us SFF nuts do this to some extent. Think about that highly analytical coworker (or perhaps that’s you?) that misses social norms and tends to stick to the facts and jokes make whooshing noises as they fly by over head. Yep, sometimes that’s me, and sometimes I compare that person to the highly analytical Spock and modify my human interaction parameters accordingly.

This past week, my foreign environment was the back of an ambulance. No drama occurred, so don’t worry. My man and I recently joined the local volunteer fire and response department, and we got our first run through on the ambulance lights, sirens, location of supplies, and how to work the gurney. This was my first time in an ambulance. Quite frankly. I expected some mild anxiety, because almost nothing good happens that requires an ambulance. Instead, it all made sense and felt quite natural.

So what odd places, scenically, publicly, grammatically ;), have you found yourself in? And what was your reaction?

SFF Links

I’ve decided you need something entertaining, and hence, I have put together a link soup. I also found several SFF movie trailers that amused me, and I hope will amuse you. Enjoy ;)

As you’ve heard, Andrea over at The Little red Reviewer is hosting Vintage Scifi Month and she asked me to do a guest post on something vintage and scifi-ish. I chose Brian Stableford, who has been writing SF longer than I have been alive. Make sure to stop by over there and check out that post along with all the other SF stuff going on this month at Andrea’s.

Carl over at Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting The Science Fiction Experience through the end of February. He already has a few interesting posts up, such as book reviews, one on SFF cover art, and another on SF technologies.

I follow Jacqueline Carey, writer of the Terre D’Ange books, on facebook and she threw up this link to this awesome article about how minorities of all walks have been living lives forever, even if they almost never get featured in mainstream fiction. The article is titles PSA: Your Default Narrative Settings Are Not Apolitical. If you are looking for an excellent article on gender bias, racial bias, or sexual-orientation bias in literature, this is an interesting piece.

You might also have heard that Anya of On Starships and Dragonwings and I over at Dab of Darkness are hosting The Eye of the World read along. If you decide to join us, you can check out the schedule over HERE. Additionally, we are hosting a giveaway of 1 Wheel of Time audiobook (except A Memory of Light as it is not available yet).

The following movie trailers caught my eye. I love going to the theater and some movies are just much more magnificent on the big screen because that is where the special effects have free range, and full sound system accompaniment.

After Earth starring Will Smith

I’m not usually a zombie person, but this trailer had me laughing out loud.

This one features alien sea life and mechanized warriors.

Jack takes on an internship, as a giant slayer!

Hansel and Gretel are all grown up and kick ass!

Inherently Better

Audiobooks are inherently better than print/ebooks.

Yes, that’s what I said and yes, you can argue with me. I am quite comfortable with that.

audiobkjkbxbadgeBut first, let me explain (or bore you with) why I believe this to be so. I started my own little book review blog this past summer and I accept books for review. I can work with audio, ebook, or print. I started off with several audiobooks for review through Audiobook Jukebox. Through them, I had access to a variety of books, some produced by well-known publishers such as Blackstone Audio, Brillance, etc. Other books came from smaller publishers, like Iambik Audio and Mind Wings Audio. I have even had the pleasure of listening to self-published books such as Colony by Scott Reeves.

The vast majority of these review audiobooks have been Good to Beyond Excellent. Truly, I haven’t really had a negative experience even though several were outside my normal genres of scifi, fantasy, and historical fiction.

I have also been accepting ebooks and print books for review. The quality of these books has varied greatly from Why Are You Sending Me A Second Draft to Completely Awesome. Honestly, several of these books, even print which I think is more expensive to produce, have had serious flaws in story development: timeline issues, is it possible in the world you created?, characters melding together, staging issues (such as a weapon is suddenly no longer in the scene).

So, why the difference?

I think it is because someone, perhaps a publisher or even the author, must read the book through out loud in order to turn it into an audiobook. Therefore, several errors are noticed right off and either corrected or the publisher chooses to pass on that book for audio production.

Have you run into books that could have benefited from an ‘out loud’ read through? Do you find audiobooks in general to be of higher quality in the sense of story crafting?

The Pulsing Heart….

TeaBooksNewYears2013….of Dark Cargo is truly Elizabeth Campbell. Over the years, she has invited us DC writers onto her blog one by one and into her life. Beth started Dark Cargo and kept it a quiet little secret for family, posting pics of their various trips to SFF conventions. But then others showed an interest, and Dark Cargo grew, and continues to grow each year.

I have had the great fortune to have known Beth since 1996 when we were both in college, and I have had the immeasurable pleasure of writing for DC since 2010. In fact, Beth took me to my very first SFF convention, Dragon*Con 2010, which opened my world to a whole new universe of people. Yes, there are several thousands of geeks, nerds, bookaholics out there just like me.

As we ring in the new year, my thoughts are on how fortunate, fulfilling, and filled with interesting people my life is. Now keep in mind, these words are coming to you from the countryside sticks of northern New Mexico. The nearest gas station is roughly 10 miles away, the nearest hospital is a solid 45 minutes away, and the nearest fancy food store 1.5 hours away. The bookish blogging community has been very welcoming, to both DC and to myself. For all of that, I am grateful.

And now that we have that mushy stuff out of the way, here is another gratuitous picture of books and tea. All these books were sent to me or strongly recommended by Beth herself. In fact, she made my tea mug. It has circles on it, which I think of as bubbles. In this case, it held peach ginger black tea.

Still In Love 2012

booksI know. You have already heard me gushing twice over about awesome books I read this year (Loudest Reading and New Book Loves). Well, I just couldn’t leave these favorites out. Below are some very worthy books by authors I discovered some time ago and who continue to entertain me, make me cry, make me feel like a real person. I hope you have such authors in your life.

I don't know about you, but Chupa's head looks like some whacked optical illusion in this photo.

I don’t know about you, but Chupa’s head looks like some whacked optical illusion in this photo.

After rereading Ender’s Game, I went on to further explore the Enderverse with Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. This book was so powerfully moving for me on several levels: the clash of cultures, the loss of family and friends, the rebuilding of ties by washing away the lies. I then went out of publication order and listened to Ender’s Shadow, which is basically Ender’s Game retold through the eyes of Bean. It also shares Bean’s back story. Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston is the first in a new series with no punches pulled. If you want to know how the Bugger Wars started, this is an excellent book to pick up and I am looking forward to the sequel.

Heldig, on one of her hyper days.

Heldig, on one of her hyper days.

I have cite Jim Butcher and Ghost Story and Cold Days of The Dresden Files as my favorite urban fantasies of the year. It was sooooo important for me to read Ghost Story back in January as beloved Harry Dresden was left in great peril at the end of the previous book (Changes). I had to know what happened with him and his friends, and his enemies. With one conundrum solved, we are left with another, hence the preordering of Ghost Story which came out at the end of November. This is an excellent series if you haven’t tried it; start with Storm Front.

The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson gets my best epic fantasy read of the year. Dark and darker, hints and mist for the heroes to navigate, and a kick-ass heroine. Need I say more? Mistborn: The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, The Hero of Ages

Snuggly Waffles on clean sheets with a good book.

Snuggly Waffles on clean sheets with a good book.

Three spiritwalkers become entangled in Gaslight Dogs by Karin Lowachee. In a world of seven dieties, an expanding culture clashes with Sjenn of the far north and the warrior tribes of greener pastures. This book took all my attention as I sank into it with each reading. Lowachee forces you to think from another person’s point of view with her writing and I eagerly await her next book.

New Book Loves of 2012

15922261This year held several new-to-me authors that I fell in love with. I already covered some of them over in a post about Loud Reading, but I couldn’t contain myself to a single book love post. What follows are more of my favorite reads of 2012.

As a scifi classic, I know I have had plenty of time and opportunity to read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. After reading this book, I can see why he has such a fan base, even with its few flaws (such as only 1 female main character). The plot, the narration of the audio version, and the lovable AI character made this a keeper on my shelf.

A pleasant surprise in this category was Shifted Perspective by J. Bridger. Were-cocker spaniels. Yep. I bet you weren’t expecting that. This book snuck up on me with it’s quiet way, a light snuffle, followed by a cold velvety nose to the armpit that made me sit up and take notice. I was turned into a cranky child, not wanting to put this book down and staying up far too late on a work night reading it.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed is the first Arabic fantasy tale to save the world using flawed humans who enjoy cardamom tea. There’s ghuls, and shape shifters, and sword warriors, and magic, and bad folks who do really bad things.

The biologist in me was fascinated by the nonfiction Mushroom by Nicholas Money. This read was easily accessible, not too long, and left me with a deep respect for fungi – mostly because they can kill us in oh so many ways.

Now I know this series has been around for many years, and I even heard someone mention a tv series based on the books, but it was only lately that I stumbled across George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. It’s nitty gritty, complex, and full of flawed characters faced with tough decisions. I definitely plan to continue on with the series; in fact I am on the library waiting list for Book 2.

Diane Setterfield entertained by greatly with her The 13th Tale. An eerie tale featuring twins, it was part historical fiction, part ghost story, and one very large part suspense. The audio version worked very well.

Hands down, one of the best origin stories I have ever had the pleasure to read was Zorro by Isabel Allende. Piece by piece, she drew together over a period of years all the bits that made Diego the man we know as Zorro, from his warrior mother, to his years spent in Europe, and his time as a pirate captive, to finally the conflicts as a young man that drove him to put on the mask. Excellent read.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon was unlike any other book I have read. Part fantasy, part historical fiction, and part mystery, it was super intense. Oh, and the audio kept catching me off guard with an accentuated Spanish accent popping off such phrases as, ‘They are just a bunch of ass-lickers!’.

Elif Shafak’s The Bastard of Istanbul was an intense modern-day fiction about a Turkish family of women and their ties to a young Armenian American who comes to visit. Some might call this magical realism, as there is a djinn at some point that no one thinks odd. I enjoyed it because it was different from what I normally read and because it opened the door a little wider for me on the Turkish culture.

Giraffe by J. M Ledgard is a historical fiction based on facts, almost a nonfiction. Basically it is about a group of giraffes brought to a Czechoslovakian zoo and how all these folks are affected by their presence. Let me just say that the ending was not sudden, not over quickly, and was immensely sad. In fact, my man refused to listen to this book because of how sad it made me – but that is a sign that the author got the point across in full color.

GrapesWrath

I am not well versed on the classics and through Darkcargo’s efforts to encourage reading of the classics, I tackled The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck this year. this book was so poignant and moving, especially the ending (which is definitely not shown in the black and white movie). Steinbeck didn’t hold back from showing the gritty parts of Depression Era USA and the affect on migrant workers.

Dracula by Bram Stoker has received so much hype over the years and so many versions of vampires now abound in our world, that I simply did not expect how good this book would be. The suspense is high all the way through, and then there was the description of the Romanian and Transylvanian food that inspired some cooking of my own.

Pico with my book.

Conn Iggulden provided me with many, many hours of entertainment via his Emperor series covering the life of Julius Caesar, a part of history that has fascinated me for decades. From a young Julius running around getting into scraps with other idiot children, to his days captured by pirates, on to Greece, and eventually a long stint in Gaul, and finally Egypt and the birth of his son, and then Rome and his death. The four books in the series are worth the read (The Gates of Rome, The Death of Kings, The Field of Swords, The Gods of War).

Loudest Reading of 2012

hexed-cover-184x300I was very noisy, I admit it. But these book were so damn entertaining and surprising at the same time! I was swearing along with the main characters when they got ambushed; I was exclaiming, ‘No way!’ at inappropriate moments; and laughing dementedly at clever turns of phrases. Let me tell what 2012 reads have had me so engaged in the story that I was laughing out loud, questioning a main character’s decision, or cussing like a sailor.

trappedweb

This year, I took up The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. Think desert Southwest and a 2100-year old druid, Atticus, who looks like a 20-something college student, running an herbal new age shop and who talks to his Irish wolfhound Oberon. This series isn’t as intense as The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, but then, you do find Atticus doing things Dresden wouldn’t do. Oh, and there’s the occasional bare-ass shenanigans. Good stuff. I listened to these on audio and Luke Daniels does an incredible job, especially with Oberon the Irish wolfhound.

Series: Hounded, Hexed, Hammered, Tricked, Two Ravens and One Crow (novella), Trapped

LynchLiesLockeLamoraJake

This was my first year ever to participate in read-alongs, and the first of the first were the first two books in The Gentlemen Bastards series by Scott Lynch. I have Little Red Reviewer to thank for both introducing me to these works and for organizing the read-along. These are excellent nitty-gritty books about a group of young thieves and the unexpected situations they find themselves in, set in a fantasy world somewhat like 15th century Venice, but far more complicated due to the flying sharks, aggressive flesh-eating crabs, and wraith stone. I truly hope someday to read further tales of The Gentlemen Bastards.

MaxeyGreatshadowHeldig

Series: The Lies of Locke Lamora, Red Seas Under Red Skies

James Maxey, the things I yelled out loud while reading your books would probably…..not surprise you. The Dragon Apocalypse series is like no other fantasy I have read, featuring Infidel, a 30-year old princess hiding in a warrior’s role and her ghosty amorous friend Stagger. The series is told from Stagger’s point of view, and he’s dead. And he still goes through hell on this adventure and is far from a simple narrative bystander. The elemental dragons are also a nice touch, being more forces of nature with wills and brains and tempers that roaring, stomping, farting scaled behemoths sitting on gold. I’m really, really looking forward to Book 3 coming out the end of this month.

Series: Greatshadow, Hush, Witchbreaker (due out Dec. 26, 2013)

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Gemma Files, the things you did to me with this series. The Hexslinger series is set in the 1880s desert southwest, with witchcraft, ancient Aztec deities, and some explicit relationships. While I have only read the first two books, they excited me in dark ways and are the definition of cross-genre writing. The characters are complex and Files doesn’t shy away from being explicit in love relationships with these characters, no matter their orientation. I listened to the audio versions produced by Iambik Audio. Gordon MacKenzie is the most phenomenal narrator I have come across. His ability to tackle various accents and languages (think ancient Aztec, Chinese, various American accents, etc.) truly made these books come alive.

Series: A Book of Tongues, A Rope of Thorns, A Tree of Bones

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Lastly, let me take you into the world of nonfiction and investigative reporting at it’s best. Mary Roach, who first entertained me with Bonk (a very distracting book to drive to), a book about investigations, testing, and analysis of human sexuality. I read that book last year, so this year I went on to read two of her other books, Spook (a study on humans searching for evidence of a spiritual side to life), andPacking for Mars (a history of human attempts to explore space). Last year, I also read her book Stiff, a look at what happens to the body once death has set in. These are all excellent because they are so informative and hilarious because of the attention to small details. Roach doesn’t shy away from being a guinea pig either.

On that note, what where some of your loudest books this year? What had you snickering on public transportation, talking to yourself in the lunchroom, and defying the bad guy in the loo?

Coolness of the Internet Book World

I want to cover a few things going on around El Internet. First, as many of you know, this is the gift giving season; perhaps there are those in your life who prefer you give to charity int heir name instead of cluttering up their house with stuff. Perhaps you are just a giving person. Each year my man and participate in Patrick Rothfuss’s World Builders program. This is awesome as many, many authors, publishers, and simple book lovers donate signed or special edition books to Rothfuss to either be auctioned off or given as prizes in random drawings for those who donate to Heifer International through World Builders. The second reason this is awesome is because Heifer International provides such things as chickens, llamas, looms, seeds, etc. to needy communities around the world, along with instructions on proper use, care, and feeding. Such things not only help a family, but a community and provide the seed for a small, local industry (think wool from sheep). So if you donate money to charities and haven’t decided on one yet, I encourage you to check that out. If you are feeling poor this year and still want to help out, check out Rothfuss’s site to see if it’s not too late to donate fancy books to the cause.

Second thing, which is tied to Item #1: Patrick Rothfuss gave a 30-minute interview on Sword & Laser which was pretty darn cool. If you have read his books (Name of the Wind, and Wise Man’s Fear) then you would probably enjoy this interview – and learning where Rothfuss’s first love of reading came from. He also explains more about World Builders towards the end of the interview.

Lastly, some crazy folks over at On Starships and Dragonwings and Dab Of Darkness have decided to attempt the monumental joy (and task) of a read along of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time Series. The read along for The Eye of the World will be starting mid-December. As many of you know, Jordan passed away before finishing his monumental work and Brandon Sanderson carried the torch to completion (final book is due out early next year). 15 books total. I leave it up to you to decide their sanity level.

Release Date

This is Waffles, who doesn’t really care what I read as long as she gets to sit on me.

Today is important. That’s right. Did you forget?

Yeah, I can see you twisting your head around, looking for some clue. Grandma’s birthday? Some anniversary? Was I suppose to retire today?

Today is the day Cold Days by Jim Butcher is released. Yes, I have mine on pre-order. Yes, I’ll be checking the mail like 3 times a day until it arrives. Most definitely, I have read the first 4 chapters Jim Butcher made available on his website.

There are several giveaways running for Jim Butcher’s works. Over at The Ranting Dragon, they have several great articles about The Dresden Files, a giveaway for the first few books in the series (in case you haven’t read the books, but want to), and a print of the Cold Days cover art.

Additionally, The Reading Date is having a giveaway of the audio version of Cold Days.

With all that said, there are a few other books coming out today that I have my eyes on.

Trapped by Kevin Hearne is Book 5 in the Iron Druid Chronicles, another urban fantasy that I have quite enjoyed. I have my audio version on pre-order with Audible.com.

The Unreal and the Real, both Volumes 1 and 2, by Ursula K. LeGuin are also being released. I have read a few of her pieces and based on those alone, hold her in high regard.

What books are you looking forward to as the year winds down?